Thursday, 30 December 2021

Atlas of the Invisible- a review


This book has a bold claim on it's front; 'maps and graphics that will change how you see the world', so is it justified? The authors had already already published similar books. One, 'Where the animals go', used data from tracking animals and birds to visualise migration patterns, population densities and so on, This builds on that premise to look at how societies function by mapping connectivity, commuting patterns and population movements. But it goes into more problematical areas too, straying into politics and not shying away from more controversial subjects such as lynchings in American states and the passage of slaves from Africa to the Americas, as well as misogyny and gender inequality.

Through it all they illustrate the essential truth of the dictum that a picture paints a thousand words. We all know about the idea of gerrymandering; re-drawing the boundaries of districts to favour one party against another. But seeing the outlines of districts that are stretched out and twisted to achieve the desired result makes it more real somehow. 

Later chapters of the book deal with global warming, another subject that is brought to life through imagery far more effectively than by tables of statistics. The map of Majuro in the Marshall Islands shows just how much of it is at risk of being underwater, but the map is sufficiently Zoomed in to show not just which residential districts but which Government buildings will be inundated or cut off, bringing home just how real the threat is. 

Some of the most interesting maps show things at the opposite scale; the Global overview of mobile phone connections clearly shows how much further down this route Western Europe, the Eastern United States, Korea and Japan are compared to China and India, whilst the isolation of North Korea shows up starkly in the almost total absence of phone towers in that country. The map of China that shows population movement from the countrside to cities is another great example of an overview that illustrates a truth, with the blue showing areas of population drop and the red showing where they have moved to. 

If you are some-one who thinks that all this data mapping is a two-edged sword will be disturbed by the use of mobile phone data to show how people moved from Puerto Rico to the United States after Hurricane Maria struck the island; where they went to and in what numbers, as well as when they began to return. This, however, is the world we live in now. I am one of those who was instinctively opposed to too much connectivity; but being unable to change it I now seek to understand it.

So, back to that claim on the cover. I think it stands up; the various spreads make you think about subjects as mundane as commuting and as controversial as slavery with fresh eyes, as well as exciting thought about what it all means for our lives. I would recommend this book to anyone who thinks about our world and about human society and endeavour and seeks understanding. You need to be prepared to have your conceptions and ideas challenged, and it should awaken a desire to explore further. 

Graphic showing popularity of names across the globe

Friday, 24 December 2021

Tree in Winter

 The architecture of trees

I've talked before about how winter lets us see the shape of trees, without their concealing camouflage of leaves. This is seen to best advantage against a clear sky, but also, as on the morning after the Winter Solstice, against a winter sunrise. This tree, just a few minutes walk from my house, is separate enough from it's neighbours to be viewed in isolation. We can appreciate the complexity of it's growth, whilst appreciating that this photograph is but a a 2D simplification of a 3D object that occupies a considerable space. 

It was well worth venturing out into the -3 briskness of the morning to take this and other photographs: 

Friday, 26 November 2021

Me and the Sea


Old friend, it's me again, 

Sorry that it's been so long,

It seems I'm fated never to remain, 

Within earshot of your endless song.

So often I've seen each shifting disguise, 

Revelled in your existential rage,

or your calms that take me by surprise,

Revealed like the turning of a page.

They're all you.

The small boy tossing stones in you, 

The young man idly strolling by, 

The proud father pointing out the view,

The mature man lost in staring at the sky.

They're all me

Perhaps after all we're better this way, 

Our occasional acquaintance forever renewed

Me knowing you'll be there come what may

You there to mirror my changing mood.

I'll try to remain me; I know you will remain you. 

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Autumn Rose


My Rose Bush gives a wonderful display in June. By pruning it afterwards, I get a second crop of blooms in early September. This close-up was taken in the evening, no filters, no photoshop, just pre-sunset rays.

Sometimes you see something that demands capturing, this was one of those times. A strictly amateur phone camera shot, but I like it.