Animated GIFs Show How Subway Maps of Berlin, New York, Tokyo & London Compare to the Real Geography of Those Great Cities

You can't make a perfectly accurate map, as Jorge Luis Borges so succinctly told us, without making it the exact same size and shape as the land it portrays. But given the utter uselessness of such an enormous piece of paper (which so frustrated the citizens of the imaginary empire in Borges' story that, "not without some pitilessness," they tossed theirs into the desert), no mapmaker would ever want to. A more compact map is a more useful one; unfortunately, a more compact map is also, by its very nature, a less accurate one.

New York

The same rule applies to maps of all kinds, and especially to transit maps, quite possibly the most useful specialized maps we consult today. They show us how to navigate cities, and yet their clean, bold lines, sometimes turning but never wavering, hardly represent those cities — subject as they are to variations in terrain and density, as well as centuries of unplannably organic growth — with geographical faithfulness. One can't help but wonder just how each urban transit map, some of them beloved works of design, strikes the usefulness-faithfulness balance.

London

Living in Seoul, I've grown used to the city's standard subway map. I thus get a kick out of scrutinizing the more geographically accurate one, which overlays the train lines onto an existing map of the city, posted on some station platforms. It reveals the truth that some lines are shorter than they look on the standard map, some are much longer, and none cut quite as clean a path through the city as they seem to. At Twisted Sifter you'll find a GIF gallery of 15 standard subway maps that morph into more geographically faithful equivalents, a vivid demonstration of just how much transit map designers need to twist, squeeze, and simplify an urban landscape to produce something legible at a glance.

Tokyo

All of those animations, just five of which you see in this post, come from the subreddit Data Is Beautiful, a realm populated by enthusiasts of the visual display of quantitative information — enthusiasts so enthusiastic that many of them create innovative data visualizations like these by themselves. According to their creations, subway maps, like that of New York City's venerable system, do relatively little to distort the city; others, like Tokyo's, look nearly unrecognizable when made to conform to geography.

Austin

Even the maps of new and incomplete transit networks do a number on the real shape and direction of their paths: the map of Austin, Texas' Capital MetroRail, for instance, straightens a somewhat zig-zaggy northeast-southwest track into a single horizontal line. It may take a few generations before Austin's "system" develops into one extensive and complex enough to inspire one of the great transit maps (the ranks, for example, of "The Wonderground Map of London Town"). But I wouldn't count out the possibility: the more fully cities realize their public-transit potential, the more opportunity opens up for the advancement of the subway mapmaker's art.

See all 15 of the subway GIFs at Twisted Sifter.

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Why Making Accurate World Maps Is Mathematically Impossible

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Library of Congress Makes 25 Million Records From Its Catalog Free to Download

Image by Carol Highsmith, via Wikimedia Commons

A quick fyi: According to Fortune, The Library of Congress announced that it "will make 25 million records from its catalog available for the public to download." They add:

Prior to this, the records—which include books and serials, music and manuscripts, and maps and visual materials spanning from 1968 to 2014—have only been accessible through a paid subscription. These files will be available for free download on [the Library of Congress site] and are also available on data.gov.

This move helps free up the library's digital assets, allowing social scientists, data analysts, developers, statisticians and everyone else to work with the data "to enhance learning and the formation of new knowledge." The huge data sets will be available here.

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via Fortune

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A Free Course on Machine Learning & Data Science from Caltech

Right now, Machine Learning and Data Science are two hot topics, the subject of many courses being offered at universities today. Above, you can watch a playlist of 18 lectures from a course called Learning From Data: A Machine Learning Course, taught by Caltech's Feynman Prize-winning professor Yaser Abu-Mostafa. The course is summarized as follows:

This is an introductory course in machine learning (ML) that covers the basic theory, algorithms, and applications. ML is a key technology in Big Data, and in many financial, medical, commercial, and scientific applications. It enables computational systems to adaptively improve their performance with experience accumulated from the observed data. ML has become one of the hottest fields of study today, taken up by undergraduate and graduate students from 15 different majors at Caltech. This course balances theory and practice, and covers the mathematical as well as the heuristic aspects. The lectures follow each other in a story-like fashion.

A real Caltech course (it's not watered down at all), the course assumes a familiarity with basic probability, matrices, and calculus.

The lectures can be found on YouTubeiTunes U and this Caltech website, which hosts slides and other course materials. The professor wrote the course textbook, also called Learning from Data.

Learning From Data will be permanently added to our list of Free Online Computer Science Courses, part of our ever-growing collection, 1,250 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Download 243 Free eBooks on Design, Data, Software, Web Development & Business from O’Reilly Media

Last week we highlighted for you 20 Free eBooks on Design from O’Reilly Media. Little did we know that we were just scratching the surface of the free ebooks O'Reilly Media has to offer.

If you head over to this page, you can access 243 free ebooks covering a range of different topics. Below, we've divided the books into sections (and provided links to them), indicated the number of books in each section, and listed a few attractive/representative titles.

You can download the books in PDF format. An email address--but no credit card--is required. Again the complete list is here.

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W.E.B. Du Bois Creates Revolutionary, Artistic Data Visualizations Showing the Economic Plight of African-Americans (1900)

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Few people have done more to accurately foresee and help shape the century ahead of them as W.E.B. Du Bois. And perhaps few intellectuals from the early twentieth century still have as much critical relevance to our contemporary global crises. Du Bois’ incisive sociology of racism in The Souls of Black Folk, Black Reconstruction in America, and his articles for the NAACP’s journal, The Crisis, remained rooted in a transcontinental awareness that anticipated globalism as it critiqued tribalism. Du Bois, who studied in Berlin and traveled widely in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, also became one of the most influential of Pan-Africanist thinkers, uniting the anti-colonial concerns of African and Caribbean nations with the post-Reconstruction issues of Black Americans.

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In 1900, Du Bois attended the First Pan-African Conference, held in London at Westminster Hall just prior to the Paris Exhibition. Attendees presented papers on “the African origins of human civilization,” writes Ramla Bandele at Northwestern’s Global Mappings, on African self-government, and on the imperial aggression of European countries (including the host country). Du Bois arrived armed with what might have seemed like a dull offering to some: a collection of statistics. But not just any collection of statistics. Though they're now an often banal staple of our everyday working lives, his presentation used then-innovative charts and graphs to condense his data into a powerful set of images.

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Once again anticipating global trends of over a century hence, the activist and sociology professor at Atlanta University created around 60 eye-catching data visualizations, “charts and maps,” writes the blog All My Eyes, “hand drawn and colored at the turn of the 19th century” by Du Bois and his students. For audiences at the time, these must have packed the evidentiary punch that Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” have recently. Du Bois and his students’ charts show us---as the first “slide” at the top of the post notes---“the condition of the descendants of former African slaves now resident in the United States of America."

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The collection of infographics, Danny Lewis argues at The Smithsonian, “is just as revolutionary now as it was when it was first created,” for an exhibit Du Bois organized with a lawyer named Thomas J. Calloway and his occasional rival Booker T. Washington. “This was less than half a century after the end of American slavery,” writes Allison Meier at Hyperallergic, “and at a time when human zoos displaying people from colonized countries in replicas of their homes were still common.” In the U.S., the grotesque stereotypes of blackface minstrels provided the primary depiction of African-American life.

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“Du Bois’ students,” writes data blog Seeing Complexity, “made a radical decision when they visualized the economic plight of a group explicitly excluded from statistical analysis and thus hidden from international attention.” The level of detail—for Du Bois’ time and ours—is overwhelming, reminding us that “the simple act of disseminating information can, in itself, be a radically and potentially transformative act.” In one of Du Bois’ graphic studies, “The Georgia Negro,” he quotes his key line from The Souls of Black Folk, “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color-line.” Far too much current data demonstrates that the statement still holds true in the 21st century, as gross disparities in wealth and in the criminal justice system grimly persist, or worsen, along racial lines.

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Data may not be as transformative as Du Bois had hoped, but it forces us to confront the reality of the situation---and either rationalize the status quo or seek to change it. One of three parts of the exhibit, The Georgia Negro study was Du Bois' “most important contribution to the project,” writes Professor Eugene Provenzo in his book on the subject. The charts are truly impressive for their distillation of “an enormous amount of statistical data,” drawn from “sources such as the United States Census, the Atlanta University Reports, and various governmental reports that had been compiled by Du Bois for groups such as the United States Bureau of Labor.” (Much of the data would have gone uncollected were it not for Du Bois' tireless efforts.)

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The charts are also, Provenzo notes, “remarkable in terms of their design,” as you can see for yourself. Du Bois and his students committed to “examining everything,” Meier writes, quoting Slate’s Rebecca Onion, “from the value of household and kitchen furniture to the ‘rise of the negroes from slavery to freedom in one generation.’” And they did so in a way that still looks “strikingly vibrant and modern, almost anticipating the crossing lines of Piet Mondrian or the intersecting shapes of Wassily Kandinsky.” However much their creators had explicitly modernist intentions, these designs also draw from historical techniques in data visualization—from 17th century scientific texts to Florence Nightingale’s revolutionary 19th century epidemiological maps.

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You can view and download scans of all the hand-drawn Du Bois’ Pan-African Conference charts and graphs at the Library of Congress. There, you’ll also find other features of the Du Bois/Calloway/Washington Exhibit, including photographs of several African-American men who had “received appointment as clerks in civil service departments… through competitive examinations” and a “hand-lettered description of Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute” in Virginia. Du Bois’ description of his project says as much about his sense of Black Nationalism as it does about pride in the progress made a generation after slavery: “an honest straightforward exhibit of a small nation of people, picturing their life and development without apology or gloss, and above all made by themselves.”

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via Hyperallergic/All My Eyes/Seeing Complexity/Slate

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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