historical maps

I went to see an interesting talk by David Rumsey on friday (the Long Now Foundation has a lecture series; sounds like a lot of other neat stuff is coming up too.)

Rumsey has a collection of 10,000+ historical maps scanned in at extremely high resolution, and has been doing a lot of really cool stuff with them, like taking old maps, correcting their scale to match up with reality, and letting you crossfade between old and modern maps of the same area; placing the maps on a globe and letting you zoom in from space; combining the maps with topographical data and letting you fly through 3D scenes; and all kinds of stuff. Not only is there a vast amount of data on his site, there are also really cool visualization tools.

If you're running Windows, you should check out his site, because it looks like there's some really cool stuff in there.

It's a shame I can't get any of it to work!

<LJ-CUT text=" --More--(42%) ">

He's got four ways of accessing the data, the idea being, give people a taste of it with simple tools, and let them download the more complicated tools once they realize that the data is useful to them. Good plan, except I can't get any of it to work:

  • The JavaScript-based browser says it should work with Mozilla, but it doesn't for me on Linux, even when I turn off Privoxy and enable popup-window-spamming.

  • For the first time in almost six years, I downloaded and installed the Java runtime on my machine, only to find that his Java client doesn't work either. It appeared to download an entire second copy of the Java runtime, along with an application. However, this application doesn't run in a browser, it only works if you launch it with a Windows .exe, and WINE doesn't like it. So no luck there.

  • The "GIS Browser" Java applet does some crazy thing, but one that doesn't involve actually showing maps or anything. It lets me draw circles. Oooh, circles.

  • The "Collections Ticker" Flash dingus does work, and seems to be a functional entry-point to the JavaScript-based browser, but you can't really browse from there, since there doesn't seem to be any way to search by name. So that lets me see (and zoom around in) certain maps selected at random, but nothing intentional.

Moral: if you insist on having a UI that is more complex than the typical web page, Flash (sucktastic though it is) is probably still the most portable way to do it.

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15 Responses:

  1. lars_larsen says:

    You could try using crossover office (new version of Wine) and run IE under Linux.

  2. ultranurd says:

    I use Safari on OS 10.3, and the Insightâ„¢ Browser doesn't function at all (it loads once I disable popups, but it doesn't seem to be able to do anything), and the Java version seems to be trapped in a never-ending cycle of reloads.

    It sounds sorta cool...

  3. jkonrath says:

    I think the browser-based thing worked for me - I'm using Mozilla 1.2.1 in Linux, a pretty much stock configuration. When I click on the Insight Browser link, it opens up a huge popup window with a narrow bar on the left. I can click on "group" and select something and after churning for a bit, it opens up a bunch of thumbnails you can click on. I haven't messed with it any more than that, but it all does look pretty cool.

    I'm curious how the printing part works. Maybe I can create some kind of diversion at work tomorrow and send a hundred or so pages to the TekPhaser that belongs to marketing.

    • It seemed to work for me, too, using Galeon 1.3.14 (mozilla 1.6 based) after I enabled pop-ups for that domain. I was able to zoom well into Boston on the 1830-something map of the Eastern US using controls on the bottom right hand of the page.

      I don't even have a printer to try that stuff on.

  4. endquote says:

    And the Java version requires you to allow write access to your local machine. And then still doesn't work in Safari.

  5. charkes says:

    Many of the maps I saw (but could not enlarge in Firefox on Linux) are ones I've seen on The Library of Congress' American Memory site.

    Go to http://memory.loc.gov/ and then click Collection Search. Click the Maps section the right and do a search. Maps on AM use the server-side MrSID viewer for zooming and panning the really large images. I don't think it even uses javascript.

    If you want to use a downloaded MrSID file from American Memory, you'll need to get some software from Lizardtech (http://www.lizardtech.com/). There's a great program for Linux, Solaris, and Windows called MrSID Decode (click Downloads, then Tools & Utilities). One can use it to convert a MrSID file into a GeoTIFF (didn't work for me), TIFF, JPEG, and several other file types.

    I downloaded the Alaskan steamship tourist map from American Memory, converted it to TIFF, and used Photoshop to crop out a nice portion for framing on my wall.

  6. aprilized says:

    Very nice...I went to Montreal in the early 19th century and found a map with the street I work on ...full of Jesuit digs all around and the Island of Laval was called "Jesus Island" heh....

    • scjody says:

      It's still called "Ile Jesus" in French. Laval is the city that's on the island, just like Dorion is on "Ile Perot".

      • aprilized says:

        True, Ile Jesus is the historical name of the island that is situated within the city of Laval..but seeing as the island is within the city's jurisdiction and not the other way around, most people don't even know that it's named that, because the entire area is called Laval. If you live on the island, your address would be 666 Main Street, Laval, Quebec.

        Now, for Dorion, that town doesn't exist anymore, and it's not on Ile Perrot..Ile Perrot is across the bridge and the river from the town of Vaudreuil-Dorion, totally detached from it.If you live in Vaudreuil-Dorion, your address would read Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec..If you live on Ile Perrot your address would be Ile Perrot, Quebec. Ile Perrot is a historical name as well...but it's not situated within any city...so it's kept its name.

        If you write 666 Main Street, Ile de Jesus, Quebec on a letter without a postal code...chances are...it won't be delivered.

        But now that I know the true name of the island, I'm gonna start calling my friends in Chomedey, Laval,... Jesuits... :)

  7. jwz says:

    Someone who fears LiveJournal sent me this:

    "Including an entire copy of the JRE" is apparently Sun's best-practice du jour. JPL Maestro, for viewing the Mars Rover images, comes packed the same way.

    Apparently Java developers are now supposed to mix their code directly in with the JRE's directory structure, among other things. On the one hand, it's click'n'run convenience; on the other hand, it's 50MB or so of Java, not 5k-1mb of Intent runtime and bytecode, and frees people to write for 'crossplatform' Java without providing 'crossplatform' builds. But the new approach covers the Windows common case, and we all know that's the only platform on the planet.

    This kind of nonsense is the reason that, until yesterday, I have not seen a Java program running on my machine since 1998. Why even bother! It's sad, because it's so close to being a good language. Fuck Sun.

  8. edge_walker says:

    Basically, that is old news to anyone having to frequently wander the platform borders.

    Flash is actually quite cool for what it is. (And SVG is super neat.)

    The problem is that everyone sucks at interface design is hard. I've never seen a single GUI that was good, although a few are quite decent.

    Unfortunately web design using Flash means letting graphics designers make up interfaces.. a certain recipe for desaster.

  9. perm_den says:

    link not work for me :(