I love maps. I’ve enjoyed pouring over them since I was little, and getting to hold and read the maps on vacations with my dad made the drive to find the hotel feel like an adventure. I fell in love with the works and world of Tolkien because of the maps in the books, particularly the giant fold-out map in the back of my school library’s copy of The Silmarillion. Inspired by that and a map from a D&D book, I made a series of ever-larger maps of a world I created in my head (I still have a version of one I re-created in my early 20s). Last year I started a collaborative map-making project (which moves in slow motion fits and starts, but will eventually turn into something I can share).

Two things came up in my Twitter feed this morning that seemed built for me (who needs your algorithms?), and I thought I’d share.

Maps by cartographers as children

Betsy Mason, writing on National Geographic:

So many of the cartographers I’ve gotten to know while writing about maps seem to genuinely love their jobs. It’s one of those professions with a disproportionate number of people who are really happy to be there. I suspect that one reason for this could be that many of them have loved maps since they were kids, and they’ve managed to turn that love into a career.

I’ve also loved maps since I was a kid, but somehow I got the idea that real cartography was “done”. Maps were tied to exploration, in my head, and that seemed like something in history books We had (low-resolution by modern standards, but still) satellite imagery of most of the world. The map-making problems people were working on seemed to be focused on computer science problems. Google Earth (post-rebrand) came out when I was in my mid-twenties, and while I lost two workdays to zooming around, manually and on the guided tours, it reinforced my idea that the maps were “complete”. Now, following cartographers on Twitter, tracking the work of places like Stamen, and seeing the variety of things people are doing with tools like Mapbox, I know better (and feel a bit silly for holding on to the earlier idea for so long). Mason’s opening paragraph give me a bit of a “what if” twinge.

Auto-generated maps of fantasy worlds

Jason Kottke gives a summary of some really interesting work by Martin O’Leary exploring some unusual methods for automatically generating fictional maps, complete with terrain, artificial features like roads and cities, and internally-consistent names for things. The discussion of the methods he uses is fascinating (and dense; I need to re-read that), and the results are remarkable. In addition, he’s provided some (simplified) interactive tools for exploring how one phase of his process feeds into the next: outlines, erosion, terrain, and so on. Even just the little demos in the writeup on the techniques are fun, and his code is available if you want to get more detailed (I likely will).

I think I’ll draw some more maps this weekend.