Monday, 4 February 2008

Waiting for Rumsey Maps

Tonight's quite interesting find, ironically perhaps, came about from some random searching of the Second Life map. You have to be something of a map nerd to spend as much time as I do poring over maps - including the Second Life grid map. So it was an unexpected pleasure to hit upon the 4-sim island of Rumsey Maps.

The island is the Second Life presence for the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. This is an online collection comprising some 17,400 maps (and one I plan to delve into in more depth when the opportunity arises). To quote the website: "[The] Collection was started nearly 20 years ago, and focuses primarily on cartography of the Americas from the 18th and 19th centuries, but also has maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. The collection includes atlases, globes, school geographies, books, maritime charts, and a variety of separate maps, including pocket, wall, children's and manuscript. Digitization of the project began in 1997."

Not surprisingly, the island is full of maps. Indeed, the main ground plan of the island consists of one large map, with valleys and hills contoured in 3D. Floating above these are a couple of globes - one terrestrial, one celestial - with phantom surfaces. Inside each is a giant orrery, where you can take a seat for a leisurely view of the globes' inner surfaces.

Elsewhere there is a richly textured modernist building where you can find out more information, and pick up some nice freebies - including orreries and a variety of globes. There's also a small, comfortable seating area and a meeting room. Outside there's a large map where you can place your own map pin, with up to 140 characters of text.

The one big downside of the site - indeed, the only downside in my view - is that the size and number of map textures means that lag was a huge problem for me. OK, I was using Windlight, but even with the settings turned down it was taking an age to display anything. In fact, it only started to make much sense when I'd been there fully 15 minutes. As you will see from the pictures, there seems to be a lot of "map eggs" - but these, in fact, serve to provide some infrastructure, as the 3D terrain is overlaid on top of them.

I can't find any reference to the Second Life island on the Rumsey website, so I do not know if it is officially open yet. But if you like maps - or just want to see somewhere a bit different - I can recommend the trip. Oh... and that map of the UK? The map pin is very(!) roughly where I live.

UPDATE 8th Feb'08: I've been having a bit of a think about those "map eggs" and it has dawned on me that they're actually sculpted prims, but seen in their half-rezzed state. Give them long enough and they will finally snap into chunks of contoured map. Just thought I should clarify that one!

1 comment:

Fallon Winnfield said...

Aleister, thanks for finding Rumsey Maps! As you surmised, it's open somewhat in advance of its official launch, where we'll have a talk by David Rumsey regarding Second Life GIS applications, as well as his work in Google Earth and Google Sky. I'll make sure you get an invite--it's tentatively scheduled for March 6. Contact Fallon Winnfield or the crew at Centric ( for more information.