Anytime there's a new 'thing' combining geography and geeky - you know someone at Lizard Point is going to be on it. UK's Geographical site just published a piece describing how the British Geological Service (BGS) has recently completed a rendering of Great Britain done entirely in MicroSoft's wildly popular Minecraft world.
Minecraft is one of the most popular videogames in the world, especially among children. It's in a class of games called massively multiplayer online games (MMO). These games place the player in immersive environments where they can interact with other players and explore their environment. Minecraft is particularly interesting as it gives the players the ability to actually create and shape the worlds that they are exploring.
It would be incredibly interesting to simply explore existing surface geography in the Minecraft world, but the BGS has taken it another step further, or deeper. Steven Richardson, the geospatial applications developer at the BGS, says ‘we added the geological data too so that when players are looking at this map, they’re not just seeing where the M1 goes upcountry, they can dig down into the blocks and see what the geology is. It adds a third dimension to this data’.
It isn't hard to imagine the educational possibilities that this presents geographers. Instead of lecturing alone, or poring over maps - Minecraft would actually provide students a way to immersively experience the world and (in this case) see the geological layers under their feet.
We just got a nice email from a trivia fan telling us how much he and his kids enjoyed the quizzes. It reminded me that I'd been meaning to do a blog post on the making of the quizzes.
We started publishing them last summer, and we now have about 66 available. Our overall average score comes in at around 60% (remember, though, that we only record completed quizzes - and I have a feeling that some of the really tough ones don't get completed). You can see from the chart below that our all-time high average score was 80%. That was on April 19th, 2015. Pretty well every question on that quiz was answered smartly. The toughest ones score an average of about 45%.
The question that you all found the easiest (97%) was identifying the pictured G20 leader on Jan 25th, 2015 (but then, he is a fairly well known politician). And the toughest (23%) was this: Which of the following cities is most populous (metro population)? Seoul, Mumbai, Calcutta, Mexico City. That question was asked on November 16th, 2014.
By the way, we always state the average score on the quiz after you complete it, so you can compare your score to other Lizard Point quiz-takers. The quizzes are published at midnight EST on Sunday mornings. Real early birds won't see the average score since we collect a few hundred before publishing the average.
We try to make the questions engaging - and we do take any feedback we get to heart. So you'll see we've reduced some of the unpopular questions (like distances between cities). We try to focus on geography - but you will also see a sprinkling of questions on astronomy, geology, history, climate etc... We'd love to hear more from you about types of questions you'd like to see (comment, comment).
This year the National Geographic Society marks the 100th anniversary of their cartographic department. And Geography Awareness week seemed a good time to celebrate this milestone. The magazine's current issue features stories on some of the more interesting maps produced over the last century.
In reviewing it, you just can't help but be impressed with the breadth of maps and the unbelievable detail needed to render accurate, timely documents. One illustration shows some of the work necessary after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This event necessitated changes to 90% of the place names in the Ukraine alone. I was certaintly struck by how manual this whole process looked. (At Lizard Point we are well aware of the detailed work involved in adjusting maps - but at least we do it all with programs and databases). In the case of the Ukraine, the illustration below shows printing and pointers overlaid on an analog map plate.
With a century of history to draw on, the National Geographic also has many rich memories. They feature the map that General Dwight D. Eisenhower carred across Germany during the Allied offensive in 1945. They also mention the story of Admiral Chester Nimitz landing lost in a rainstorm, utilizing the Society's map of the Pacific war theatre.
One featured map from 1968 really caught our attention. It charts the map of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean based on work of early geophysicists. Besides the beauty of the art work, what really stands out is the degree of detailed elevation in a part of the world that we are used to seeing as a uniform, flat, pale blue. This map brings home the reality of plate tectonics in a way that thousands of words could never convey.
The article closes with some words on the future of cartography with some tantalizing comments on the role of 'crowdsourced' cartography and the use of wearable technologies to increase the capture of geo-data. We can't wait.
We think our American friends take a lot of teasing in the press every now and then when a survey comes out revealing gaps in geography knowledge. So we thought it only fair to report on a story out of Northampton in the UK.
The recent Travelodge survey reveals some shocking facts:
about 1 in 10 (11%) believe the UK is made up of more than 6 countries,
Almost the same (9%) believe that England alone makes up the UK,
Over half (54%) think that the UK has a bigger island than Great Britain,
In fact, over one third didn't know the difference between the UK and Great Britain, and
None of the respondents knew how many islands surround the mainland.
Well, to be honest, the answer to that last one (over 6,000) surprised us. However, look for that question to be in an upcoming Trivia quiz. But we do expect all our viewers to get perfect on this quiz.
Now, if you really want to to understand the British Isles a little better, we heartedly recommend the following video (watch until about 2:15 = although the rest is interesting too).
It is a bit of an axiom to state that geography dictates history. Leaders through time immemorial have played the cards that were dealt them in terms of their land's terrain, mountains, rivers and climate. In today's world, with technology essentially shrinking distance, we may be a little inclined to discount the true influence of geography on world matters. The recent Atlantic piece by Tim Marshall entitled, Russia and the Curse of Geography, does an excellent job of underlining its critical importance - notwithstanding technology.
The European Plain, directly to Russia's west, has throughout history been a challenge for Russia. With no significant geographical barriers, this has been the path of many invaders into the motherland. The Poles came across the European Plain in 1605, followed by the Swedes in 1707, the French under Napoleon in 1812, and the Germans twice, in both world wars, in 1914 and 1941. The plains would also explain why Russia has repeatedly invaded Poland - occupying Poland allows for a defence of the plains at their narrowest point (300 miles).
The other key challenge to Russia is access to warm water ports. Without those, Russia is limited to the world's busiest sea-lanes only during warmer weather. Their northern ports are in the Arctic and their major port on the Pacific Ocean, Vladivostok, is enclosed by the Sea of Japan, and under largely Japanese control.
These two key strategic factors, Russia's vulnerability on land and its lack of access to warm-water ports, came together in Ukraine in 2014. When protests in Ukraine brought down the pro-Russia government and a new, more pro-Western government came to power, Putin did what Russian leaders have done for centuries. He chose his own kind of attack as defense, annexing Crimea to ensure Russia’s access to its only proper warm-water port, and moving to prevent NATO from creeping even closer to Russia’s border.
The article goes on to discuss similar rationale regarding Syria. Click the link for a fascinating read and reminder of the power of geography.