Monday, March 20, 2017

The End For Mercator?

Boston public schools are ditching the familiar world map we all grew up with based on the Mercator projection, in favor of the Gall-Peters projection. The advantage of the latter projection is that it depicts continents with their proper land areas.

The Mercator has been roundly criticized for distorting land areas, making countries in the Northern Hemisphere appear larger than those in the Southern Hemisphere, thus giving the mistaken impression that they are somehow grander and more important.

But, all the political furor notwithstanding, that was not Mercator's intention. Mercator was creating an aid for navigation, and it worked for that purpose for hundreds of years, in fact, it revolutionized navigation in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. He didn't put Europe in the center of the map as a political statement; he did it because the mariners most likely to use his map at the time were departing from and returning to that region.

In short, Mercator has been getting a bad rap.

I'm not saying that Mercator's map deserves it's position as the default depiction of the world, and I don't think Mercator, a brilliant cartographer, would have approved that application. What I am saying is that schools are taking altogether the wrong approach, and very much sending the wrong message.

Instead of arguing over which map is "fairer," they should recognize that any flat map of a spherical Earth is going to be distorted in some way. It's the nature of projection. Instead of teaching the lesson that one world map is better than another, they should be teaching the truth about maps: that they are created for specific purposes, and some maps are better suited to some purposes than are other maps.

The map that's best suited to teaching the proper size and distance relationships of the world's continents is a globe! But because a globe of usable size can't be carried about in the glove compartment, or pasted on a wall, cartographers have come up with different depictions to suit different purposes.

A lesson is geography should be a lesson about how geography is done. It should emphasize that the only way to get a true picture of the Earth is to look at something that's the same shape as the Earth. Maps are useful, but they are all fictions in one way or another.

To present the idea that Gall-Peters is somehow more "right" than Mercator is to propagate a lie in public schools. I hope that we are trying to get away from that.

And on that note, please stop teaching children that Columbus proved that the world is a sphere. Somebody made that up.

Monday, March 13, 2017


It's been a long time since I've had a decent camera, either still or video. But a new part-time job to supplement my writing and voice work has given me the budget to at least enter the world of the digital SLR. Not at the top of the line, but a something I can get some good control over.

The camera is a Nikon D3300, which I bought with two lenses. I haven't had much chance to play around with it, as it's been too cold outside and my schedule has been a little crazy. But I am learning how to use the features and take control of the camera. I've shot a few dozen pictures, most of them garbage, not because the camera isn't good, but because I'm working on doing as much as possible with manual controls.

The camera has a lot of features I'll probably never use, effects modes that I'd just as soon do using GIMP, if at all, and a guided feature that will take more time for picture taking than I plan to spend. The camera will spend most of its time in auto-exposure mode with the autofocus turned off, and maybe a fair bit of time in aperture- or shutter-preferred mode.

Manual mode is something I plan to avail myself of quite a bit, but I won't be using it much for day-to-day shooting, mostly because making the adjustments is a pain in the butt, especially compared to the way I used to do it with my 35mm SLR way back when.

Exposure, after all, is based on three components: sensitivity, shutter speed, and aperture. In days gone by, aperture was a ring on the lens, sensitivity was one dial on the camera (if it had a meter—some of mine didn't and so I used a separate incident meter, which I still have), and shutter speed was another dial.

Focus was a nice big ring on the front of the lens, with some solid mechanical feedback. The focus rings on these two lenses are un-marked, and they turn too easily. It's hard to get used to, but I'm getting better.

However, when I start using the camera for more serious video work, I may invest in a good used lens from an older film camera (many of them are compatible) to make follow-focus and aperture control easier, wresting them from the menus on the screen on the back of the camera.

Call me old fashioned if you must, but it was a lot faster to adjust those things without the menus.

I'm not complaining, though. It's nice to be able to tell the camera what aperture I want, and what shutter speed, even when it tells me the shot is too dark, because, in contrast to the point-and-shoot cameras I've been shooting with for far too many years now, I can tell it to go jump.

Sometimes, no doubt, I will discover that the camera probably was right. But I don't care; eventually I will know how the camera performs in different situations, and I will seize total control, and be able to create imagery on my own terms once again.

I can hardly wait.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Jeff Sessions: The Missing Questions

So, Jeff Session may have lied to congress. I can't say I'm surprised because it seems that lying, even under oath, just seems to be the way of things in this new administration. And I'm not surprised that Democrats are calling for Session's resignation (which is a position I agree with), or that the Republicans are not, though some are calling for him to recuse himself from investigations into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

And that is what surprises me. Not that they want him to recuse himself, but that no one seems to be asking the most obvious question in this whole affair: why didn't Sessions recuse himself the moment he took office? The Justice Department will be asked to investigate the administration of the man who appointed Sessions to head the Department, and there is always (always!) the possibility that the investigation will lead eventually to Trump himself.

There is no way that he should ever have anything to do with this investigation, regardless of what happened in Congress. Though now, with him being accused of lying to Congress, one has to wonder whether trusting him to stay out of the investigation is even possible.

And that is why I think Sessions should resign as Attorney General. You might argue that a man is innocent until proved guilty, but we are not talking about criminal prosecution (at least not yet). We are talking about a law-enforcement officer, whose integrity should be beyond compromise.

And in Jeff Session, we just don't have that.