GPS Tracking Reveals the Secret Lives of Outdoor Cats

We track sharksrhino, and bears, so why not Boo Boo KittyPeanut, and Pumpkin?

The Long Island feline residents volunteered—or more accurately, were volunteered—by their human companions to participate in a domestic cat movement study as part of the international Cat Tracker project.

Each beast was outfitted with a GPS tracker-enhanced harness, which they wore for a week.

(Many cat owners will find that alone something of an achievement.)




In total, almost a thousand households in four countries took part—the United StatesNew ZealandAustralia, and the UK.

Scientists were particularly interested to learn the degree of mayhem these cherished pets were visiting on surrounding wildlife in their off hours.

Anyone who’s been left a present of a freshly murdered baby bunny, mole, or wingless bat can probably guess.

It’s a considerable amount, though by and large the domesticated participants stuck close to home, rarely traveling more than two football fields away from the comforts of their own yards. The impulse to keep the food bowl within easy range confines their hunting activities to a fairly tight area. Woe to the field mice who set up shop there.

Their movements also revealed the peril they put themselves in, crossing highways, roads, and parking lots. Researcher Heidy Kikillus, who tracked cats in New Zealand, reported that a number of her group’s subjects wound up in a fatal encounter with a vehicle.

Generally speaking, gender, age, and geography play a part in how far a cat roams, with males, younger animals, and country dwellers covering more ground. Unsurprisingly, those who have not been neutered or spayed tend to have a freer range too.

“Without the motivations of food and sex, most cats seem content to be homebodies,” zoologist Roland Kays, one of the US Project leaders, noted.

American citizen scientists who’d like to enroll their cat can find information and the necessary forms on the Cat Tracker website.

The cat-less and those with indoor cats can enjoy photos of select participants and explore their tracks here.

And what better fall craft than a DIY cat tracking GPS harness?

via National Geographic

Related Content: 

In 1183, a Chinese Poet Describes Being Domesticated by His Own Cats

An Animated History of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Predator to Sofa Sidekick

How Humans Domesticated Cats (Twice)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hand-Colored Maps of Wealth & Poverty in Victorian London: Explore a New Interactive Edition of Charles Booth’s Historic Work of Social Cartography (1889)

Mapping has always been contentious, no matter where you look in time. Maps preserve ideological assumptions on paper, rationalizing physical space as they render it in two dimensions. No matter how didactic, they can become political weapons. In the case of Charles Booth’s visually impressive Maps Descriptive of London Poverty, we have a series of maps whose own assumptions can sometimes seem at odds with their ostensible purpose: to improve the living conditions of London’s poor.

Booth’s “colourful poverty maps were created between 1886 and 1903,” Zoe Craig writes at Londonist, as part of a “ground-breaking study into the lives of ordinary Londoners.” A philanthropist born into wealth in the shipping trade, Booth took it upon himself to study poverty in London in order to initiate social reforms.




He succeeded. The study, conducted by Booth and a team of researchers, led to the creation of Old Age pensions, which Booth called “limited socialism,” as well as school meals for hungry children. He was clear about that fact that he saw such reforms as a bulwark against socialist revolution.

The study’s seventeen volumes are filled with picturesque accounts. “Picking through the tidbits of information from these people’s lives will make you feel a bit like a Victorian costume drama police detective,” Craig remarks. This reference to policing feels pointed, given the role of the police in maintaining class hierarchies in Victorian London. As an American, it can be hard to look at Booth’s map and not also see the 20th redlining practices in U.S. cities. Consider, for example, the categories Booth applied to London’s classes:

Called ‘Inquiry Into the Life and Labour of the People in London’, the epic work studied families and residents living across London, and coloured the streets according to their financial situation: between black for ‘lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal’ through pink for mixed ‘some comfortable, some poor’ to orange for ‘wealthy’.

As in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s paternalistic 1965 report on the Black underclass in the U.S., the language reinforces Social Darwinist ideas that deem the “lowest class” unfit for full participation in civil society—“vicious, semi-criminal…”

Of course, the social and historical context differs markedly, but we might also consider Feargus O’Sullivan’s observations at Bloomberg CityLab. A new published edition of the map, he writes, “accompanied by compelling if bleak period photos, reveals a city that possesses echoes of London today. It depicts, after all, a densely-packed metropolis with a cosmopolitan population where immensely wealthy people lived just around the corner from neighbors who were struggling to make ends meet.”

Maps may not create the social conditions they describe, but they can help perpetuate them, rendering people visible in ways that allow for even more control over their lives. Criticisms of Booth’s study claimed that not only did the proposed reforms not go far enough but that the report described London’s class structure while offering little to no analysis of the causes of poverty. In language that sounded less objectionable to Victorian ears, the poor are mostly blamed for their own condition.

None of the study’s particular limitations take away from the graphic achievements of its maps and explanatory charts. They are, the London School of Economics writes, a striking “early example of social cartography.” The LSE hosts an incredibly detailed, searchable, high-resolution interactive version of the maps, assembled together and overlaid on a modern GPS map of London. They also detail the various editions of the maps as they appeared between 1898 and 1903.

Hand-colored and based on the 1869 Ordnance Survey, the maps seemed “sufficiently important” to Booth to warrant “comprehensive revision.” Here, the police appear in person to guide the process. “Social investigators accompanied policemen on their beats across London,” the LSE writes, “and recorded their own impressions of each street and the comments of the policemen.” You can read the police notebooks from these surveys at the LSE and learn more about the 12 district maps and the demographic data they represent at Mapping London. The LSE printed a hardcover print edition of Booth’s work in 2019, complete with 500 illustrations. You can purchase a copy here. Or visit the interactive edition here.

via Messy Nessy

Related Content:

The 1855 Map That Revolutionized Disease Prevention & Data Visualization: Discover John Snow’s Broad Street Pump Map

Animations Visualize the Evolution of London and New York: From Their Creation to the Present Day

Synchronized, Timelapse Video Shows Train Traveling from London to Brighton in 1953, 1983 & 2013

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

A New Interactive Map Shows All Four Million Buildings That Existed in New York City from 1939 to 1941

New Yorkers have borne witness to a noticeable uptick in the number of shiny, new buildings going up in the city over the last few years, crowding the waterfront, rising from the ashes of community gardens and older, infinitely more modest structures.

Their developers have taken care to top load them with luxury amenities—rooftop cabanas, 24-hour fitness clubs, marble countertops, screening rooms.




But one thing they can’t provide is the sense of lived history that imbues every old building with a true sense of character, mystique, and oft-grubby charm.

I fear that the occupants of these newer buildings won’t have nearly as much fun as the rest of us searching for our current addresses on the NYC Municipal Archives’ interactive map, above.

Every dot represents a Works Progress Administration photograph of a New York City building, snapped between 1939 and 1941 as a means of standardizing the way in which property values were assessed and recorded.

There are 4,282,000 dots, spread out between five boroughs.

Does that sound densely packed?

You should see it today… there’s been a lot of vertical build.

This unassuming fuel oil plant near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal has given way to a 430-unit building boasting a yoga room, spin studios, and valet services for those in need of dry-cleaning, laundry, apartment cleaning, or dog walking…though sadly, no on-premises motor oil. We find that omission somewhat surprising for such a full-service residential development on the banks of a Superfund site, whose clean up is estimated to tip the scales at $500 million.

We also wonder what the occupants of the above buildings would have made of the glassy 25-story complex that opened on their coordinates earlier this year. Is it just us, or does it seem a bit disingenuous of its developers to trumpet that its location is “the epitome of New York City’s authenticity, with over a century of rich history, where the world’s sartorial and culinary trends are born”?

(You can find us a few blocks away muttering into our chopped liver at Russ and Daughters, a venerable food shop that looks much the same today as it did in 1940, though you’ll have to confirm with a bit of research on your own if you don’t want to take our word for it, the WPA “dot” revealing little more than a man with a stick and several moving vehicles.)

Our final stop is one of many architectural ghosts to haunt the Hudson Yards colossus, the self-described “epicenter of Manhattan’s New West Side… a beacon for creative professionals, a hub for fashion, design, communications and art.” In addition to a much reviled $200 million shawarma-shaped “3-dimensional public space” and state of the art wine fridges, amenities now include diagnostic and antibody testing “performed by top medical professionals.”

It’s telling that in the summer of 2020, prospective tenants were offered incentives including two months’ free rent and a $2,000 gift card.

Proof, perhaps, that New York will continue as it always has—a city in constant flux. The prevalence of modern high rise buildings in dystopian fiction gives us pause….

Explore the Street View of 1940s New York here.

Related Content: 

Behold the New York City Street Tree Map: An Interactive Map That Catalogues the 700,000 Trees Shading the Streets of New York City

New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Download and Use

The New York Public Library Lets You Download 180,000 Images in High Resolution: Historic Photographs, Maps, Letters & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

3D Interactive Globes Now Online: Spin Through an Archive of Globes from the 17th and 18th Century

Willem Janszoon Blaeu Celestial Globe 1602

No matter how accustomed we’ve grown over the centuries to flat maps of the world, they can never be perfectly accurate. Strictly speaking, no map can perfectly capture the territory it describes (an impossibility memorably fictionalized by Jorge Luis Borges in “On Exactitude in Science”), but there’s a reason we also call the Earth “the globe”: only a globe can represent not just the planet’s true shape, but the true shape of the land masses on which we live. This is not to say that globes have always been accurate. Like the history of mapmaking, the history of globe-making is one of educated (or uneducated) guesses, free mixture of fact and legend, and labels like “terra incognita” or “here be dragons.” You can see that for yourself in the British Library’s new online historic globe archive — and not just through flat photographs and scans.

“The archive presents 3D models of 11 globes — a subset of the library’s historic maps collection — that can be rotated and zoomed into for greater detail at every angle,” writes Hyperallergic’s Sarah Rose Sharp. She points to one in particular, “stunning 1602 celestial globe by Dutch cartographer Willem Janszoon Blaeu, first produced in 1602. In addition to representing the constellations as their fantastic and mythological namesakes, it identifies a nova in the constellation of Cygnus which Blaeu had personally observed in 1600.”




The British Library’s digital collection boasts several such “celestial globes,” which chart the sky rather than the Earth. However few of us have ever turned a celestial globe by hand, we can now do it virtually. If 1602 seems a bit too vintage, give a digital spin to the others from 1700, 1728, and 1783.

Back on land, these globes feature not just “fantastic creatures,” Sharp writes, but “charming archaic conceptions of the oceans — the ‘Atalantick Ocean’ in the 1730 Richard Cushee terrestrial globe, or the ‘Ethipoic Ocean’ in the 1783 terrestrial globe by G. Wright and W. Bardin.” In Chushee, Wright and Bardin’s times, few globe-users, or indeed globe-makers, would have had the chance to see much of those vast bodies of water for themselves. Of course, with the current state of pandemic lockdown in so many countries, few of us are taking transoceanic journeys even today. If you’re dreaming about the rest of the world, spend some time with the British Library’s 3D-modeled globes on Sketchfab — where you’ll also find the Rosetta Stone and Bust of Nefertiti among other artifacts previously featured here on Open Culture — and get your hands on an idea of how humanity imagined it in centuries past.

via Hyperallergic

Related Content:

Enchanting Video Shows How Globes Were Made by Hand in 1955: The End of a 500-Year Tradition

Watch the Making of the Dymaxion Globe: A 3-D Rendering of Buckminster Fuller’s Revolutionary Map

Why Making Accurate World Maps Is Mathematically Impossible

The Strikingly Beautiful Maps & Charts That Fired the Imagination of Students in the 1880s

Download 91,000 Historic Maps from the Massive David Rumsey Map Collection

The History of Cartography, “the Most Ambitious Overview of Map Making Ever Undertaken,” Is Free Online

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The History of the Plague: Every Major Epidemic in an Animated Map

All of us have tried to come to grips with the coronavirus in different ways. Here on Open Culture we’ve featured online courses to get you conversant in the science around the pandemic, but readers of this site will also have sought out the most pertinent works of history and literature. That goes especially for those in need of reading material while in states of quarantine or lockdown (self-imposed or otherwise), and any list of recommended books must include Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and Albert Camus’ The Plague. (I recently wrote about the experience of reading that last in Korea, where I live, for the Los Angeles Review of Books.) Both fictionalize local outbreaks of the bubonic plague, but how far and wide did that horrific and much-mythologized disease actually spread?

You can see exactly how far and wide in the animated historical map above, created by a Youtuber called EmperorTigerstar. It mainly covers the period of 431 BC to 1353 AD, during most of which the plague looks to have occurred in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa with some regularity. Up until the 1330s, the outbreaks stay small enough that you may have to view the map in fullscreen mode to ensure that you even see them.




But even the most casual students of history know what happened next: the best-known occurrence of the Black Death, whose peak lasted from 1347 to 1351 and which claimed somewhere between 75 to 200 million lives (including roughly half of Europe’s entire population). Rendered, suitably, in black, the plague’s spread comes eventually to look on the map like a sea of ink splashed violently across multiple continents.

The plague hardly died with the 1350s, a fact this map acknowledges. It would, writes EmperorTigerstar, “take years to go away, and even then there would be local outbreaks in individual cities for centuries.” These Black Death aftershocks, “big in their own right,” include the Great Plague of Milan in the 1630s, the Great Plague of Seville in the 1640s, and the Great Plague of London in the 1660s — the subject of Defoe’s novel. When Camus wrote The Plague in 1947, the Algerian city of Oran in which he set its story had experienced its last outbreak of the disease just three years before (at least the fifth such experience in its history). Though harrowing stories are even now coming out of places like modern-day Milan, the coronavirus has yet to match the gruesome deadliness of the plagues featured in either of these books. But unless we understand how epidemics afflicted humanity in the past, we can hardly handle them properly in the present.

Related Content:

Free Courses on the Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About the Emerging Pandemic

Bill Gates Describes His Biggest Fear: “I Rate the Chance of a Widespread Epidemic Far Worse Than Ebola at Well Over 50 Percent” (2015)

The 1855 Map That Revolutionized Disease Prevention & Data Visualization: Discover John Snow’s Broad Street Pump Map

The Strange Dancing Plague of 1518: When Hundreds of People in France Could Not Stop Dancing for Months

200,000 Years of Staggering Human Population Growth Shown in an Animated Map

Animated Map Shows How the Five Major Religions Spread Across the World (3000 BC – 2000 AD)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Artist Tricks Google Maps Into Creating a Virtual Traffic Jam, Using a Little Red Wagon & 99 Smartphones

Sometimes the miraculous time-saving conveniences we’ve come to depend on can have the opposite effect, as artist Simon Wickert recently demonstrated, ambling about the streets of Berlin at a Huck Finn-ish pace, towing a squeaky-wheeled red wagon loaded with 99 secondhand smartphones.

Each phone had a SIM card, and all were running the Google Maps app.

The result?




A near-instantaneous “virtual traffic jam” on Google Maps, even though bicyclists seem to vastly outnumber motorists along Wickert’s route.

As a Google spokesperson told 9to5 Google’s Ben Schoon shortly after news of Wickert’s stunt began to spread:

Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymized data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community.

In other words, had you checked your phone before heading out to the Baumhaus an der Mauer (Treehouse on the Wall), the Urban Art Clash GalleryOMA’s Café, or some other spot close to Wickert’s little red wagon’s trail of terror—like Google’s Berlin office—you might have thought twice about your intended path, or even going at all, seeing bridges and streets change from a free and easy green to an ostensibly gridlocked red.

As long as Wickert kept moving, he was able to continue fooling the algorithm into thinking 99 humans were all using their phone’s Maps app for navigational purposes in a small, congested area.

Obviously, a couple of buses could easily be responsible for carrying 99 smartphones in active use, but it’s unlikely those phones owners would be consulting the map app in the passenger seats, when they could be scrolling through Instagram or playing Candy Crush.

Wickert also discovered that his virtual traffic jam disappeared whenever a car passed his wagonload.

The spokesperson who engaged with Schoon put a good-natured face on Google’s response to Wickert’s hack, saying, “We’ve launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven’t quite cracked traveling by wagon. We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time.”

Meanwhile, the artist’s puckish stunt, which he describes as a “performance and installation,” seems anchored by sincere philosophical questions, as evidenced by the inclusion on his website of the below excerpt from “The Power of Virtual Maps,” urban researcher Moritz Ahlert’s recent essay in the Hamburger Journal für Kulturanthropologie, :

The advent of Google’s Geo Tools began in 2005 with Maps and Earth, followed by Street View in 2007. They have since become enormously more technologically advanced. Google’s virtual maps have little in common with classical analog maps. The most significant difference is that Google’s maps are interactive  – scrollable, searchable and zoomable. Google’s map service has fundamentally changed our understanding of what a map is, how we interact with maps, their technological limitations, and how they look aesthetically.

In this fashion, Google Maps makes virtual changes to the real city. Applications such as Airbnb and Carsharing have an immense impact on cities: on their housing market and mobility culture, for instance. There is also a major impact on how we find a romantic partner, thanks to dating platforms such as Tinder, and on our self-quantifying behavior, thanks to the nike jogging app. Or map-based food delivery apps like deliveroo or foodora. All of these apps function via interfaces with Google Maps and create new forms of digital capitalism and commodification. Without these maps, car sharing systems, new taxi apps, bike rental systems and online transport agency services such as Uber would be unthinkable. An additional mapping market is provided by self-driving cars; again, Google has already established a position for itself.

With its Geo Tools, Google has created a platform that allows users and businesses to interact with maps in a novel way. This means that questions relating to power in the discourse of cartography have to be reformulated. But what is the relationship between the art of enabling and techniques of supervision, control and regulation in Google’s maps? Do these maps function as dispositive nets that determine the behavior, opinions and images of living beings, exercising power and controlling knowledge? Maps, which themselves are the product of a combination of states of knowledge and states of power, have an inscribed power dispositive. Google’s simulation-based map and world models determine the actuality and perception of physical spaces and the development of action models.

Related Content: 

A Planetary Perspective: Trillions of Pictures of the Earth Available Through Google Earth Engine

View and Download Nearly 60,000 Maps from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

Ancient Rome in 3D on Google Earth

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this March for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Humans Migrated Across The Globe Over 200,000 Years: An Animated Look

Coverage of the refugee crisis peaked in 2015. By the end of the year, note researchers at the University of Bergen, “this was one of the hottest topics, not only for politicians, but for participants in the public debate,” including far-right xenophobes given megaphones. Whatever their intent, Daniel Trilling argues at The Guardian, the explosion of refugee stories had the effect of framing “these newly arrived people as others, people from ‘over there,’ who had little to do with Europe itself and were strangers.”

Such a characterization ignores the crucial context of Europe’s presence in nearly every part of the world over the past several centuries. And it frames mass migration as extraordinary, not the norm. The crisis aspect is real, the result of dangerously accelerated movement of capital and climate change. But mass movements of people seeking better conditions, safety, opportunity, etc. may be the oldest and most common feature of human history, as the Science Insider video shows above.




The yellow arrows that fly across the globe in the dramatic animation make it seem like early humans moved by bullet train. But when consequential shifts in climate occurred at a glacial pace—and economies were built on what people carried on their backs—mass migrations happened over the span of thousands of years. Yet they happened continuously throughout last 200,000 to 70,000 years of human history, give or take. We may never know what drove so many of our distant ancestors to spread around the world.

But how can we know what routes they took to get there? “Thanks to the amazing work of anthropologists and paleontologists like those working on National Geographic’s Genographic Project,” Science Insider explains, “we can begin to piece together the story of our ancestors.” The Genographic Project was launched by National Geographic in 2005, “in collaboration with scientists and universities around the world.” Since then, it has collected the genetic data of over 1 million people, “with a goal of revealing patterns of human migration.”

The project assures us it is “anonymous, nonmedical, and nonprofit.” Participants submitted their own DNA with National Geographic’s “Geno” ancestry kits (and may still do so until next month). They can receive a “deep ancestry” report and customized migration map; and they can learn how closely they are related to “historical geniuses,” a category that, for some reason, includes Jesse James.

Do projects like these veer close to recreating the “race science” of previous centuries? Are they valid ways of reconstructing the “human story” of ancestry, as National Geographic puts it? Critics like science journalist Angela Saini are skeptical. “DNA testing cannot tell you that,” she says in an interview on NPR, but it can “make us believe that identity is biological, when identity is cultural.” National Geographic seems to disavow associations between genetics and race, writing, “science defines you by your DNA, society defines you by the color of your skin.” But it does so at the end of a video about a group of people bonding over their similar features.

Despite the significance modern humans have ascribed to variations in phenotype, race is a culturally defined category and not a scientific one. argues Joseph L. Graves, professor of biological sciences at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.. “Everything we know about our genetics has proven that we are far more alike than we are different. If more people understood that, it would be easier to debunk the myth that people of a certain race are ‘naturally’ one way or another,” or that refugees and asylum seekers are dangerous others instead of just like every other human who has moved around the world over the last 200,000 years.

Related Content:

Colorful Animation Visualizes 200 Years of Immigration to the U.S. (1820-Present)

Where Did Human Beings Come From? 7 Million Years of Human Evolution Visualized in Six Minutes

Ian McKellen Reads a Passionate Speech by William Shakespeare, Written in Defense of Immigrants

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

More in this category... »
Quantcast