What the world really looks like Part 2: Every map tells lies

Recently I blogged about VSauce’s guide to “what the world really looks like.” Something I didn’t touch on yet is that every map of the world necessarily twists things because they try to make a round world flat. The most common map projection distorts the world so badly that relatively tiny Greenland looks like it’s the same size as the whole continent of Africa.


Here, a silhouette of Mexico is moved north and distorted as much as Greenland is, while Greenland is moved as far south as Mexico. Moving Australia just a little to the south makes it almost unrecognizable. You can play around with the way the Mercator projection distorts things here.

If a human head was distorted the way the Mercator map is distorted, it would look pretty weird.

A graphic artist named Eric Testroete made himself an awesome Halloween costume a few years ago: A 3-D image of own head, made unnaturally huge.


Eric Testroete is an amazing artist.

Eric made a polygon map of his own head, the same way Robert Buckminster Fuller made his “Dymaxion Map” out of polygons. The Dymaxion Map is famous for minimizing distortion of the shapes and sizes of the continents:


The landmasses are distorted as little as possible. But doing the same thing with a human head shows how weirdly changed they really are:



Every map of the world you’ve ever seen is at least as bizarrely distorted as this. Weird as that is, the sizes are less distorted than the Mercator projection.



From now on, my reaction to every world map is: Man, that is so gross.

National Geographic now uses the “Winkel tripel projection” because it’s the best compromise of distortions. Even the best projection is still all out of wack:

National Geographic has a one-minute guide to the weirdness of maps.


4 jaw-dropping things that happened when no one was watching

Cameras are everywhere these days. So things that would have been missed in the past are today more likely to be caught on camera.

Things like:

1. Deer sometimes like to stand up when no one’s looking and have bouts of fisticuffs.

2. A couple weeks ago in Connecticut, a police officer’s private vehicle was vandalized… By a miniature tornado that blew into a crowded parking lot, ripped off one mirror from one car, kicked it around the lot, then laid it back down right beside the vehicle. Some people think it’s a ghost.

3. …Bears secretly dream of becoming pole-dancing strippers? (Skip to about 25 seconds in, and it gets better and better from there).

4. Lastly, as I posted before, in the past few months the world learned that asteroid impacts are more common than we ever thought before. This is bizarre, but it has always been this way: Huge rocks can at any moment fall out of the sky and blow up with the power of a nuclear bomb while still in the air… or cause devastation if they actually hit the ground. A team of scientists examined records from monitoring devices that listen for actual nuclear blasts, and they found about 60 blasts since 1990 that could only have been major asteroids exploding in the atmosphere. Despite the Earth’s 7 billion people, most of the planet’s surface is still uninhabited and we just don’t see most of what’s going on.

What if you could see radio waves?

I mentioned before that there are colors we cannot see. The spectrum of light extends beyond the rainbow we know and into frequencies that only certain animals can see. But as it goes past that in both directions and further along that spectrum, it takes on a different character. Radio waves are a type of invisible very low-frequency light.

There are radio waves passing through your skull right now like light through water.

An artist named Nickolay Lamms visualized what wifi radio waves would look like, with different colors representing different wifi channels. If you could see wifi, it might look something like this:


Different wifi channels represented by different colors. Image by Nickolay Lamm

Permanence is an illusion.


Carlos Nicanor

Art blogger Krisi Metzen recently shared her discovery of an impressive artist named Carlos Nicanor. His art explores the interplay of the temporal and the permanent. He makes solid things appear liquid. It got me thinking.

I work in an auto shop. I was changing oil recently and as I watched the glistening amber liquid pouring into the reservoir, I thought about the way the oil took that certain spout shape for the brief time it was pouring. We consider a river to be a specific thing, but like that oil spout, a river is only a shape that a substance assumes for a time.

In fact, everything is.

Once I was reading outside and I paused to think, looking up. I realized that if I was patient, I could tell that those high, wispy cirrus clouds that usually don’t seem to be moving were drifting and changing shape before my eyes. You know that all clouds are always moving, but it’s something different to actually see the motion of something that you normally perceive as stationary.

One morning I watched a sunrise. There were some telephone lines hanging high above and in front of me, and I moved to just the right spot and sat very still. I watched the planet Venus get closer and closer to one thin wire, briefly pass behind it, and emerge from the other side. It’s awesome to realize you can perceive the spinning of the globe you’re sitting on.

Everything we normally think of as permanent, like the shape of the continents or appearance of species, is only a snapshot of an ongoing process of change.

The way we normally perceive time isn’t the only way to perceive it. Like I said before: Your pet, and most other animals, perceive time very differently than you do.

The illusion you feel instead of see


Creative commons Image by Saurabh R. Patil

We’re familiar with optical illusions, but they’re not the only kind. Every one of your senses is subject to illusions.

The “knobby sphere illusion” is an example of an illusion of the sense of touch.

You can do it yourself. You only need two things: An ordinary pencil (the six-sided kind) and a marble or other small, hard sphere. Close your eyes. Squeeze the sides really hard for about one minute until the pencil makes dents in your skin, then roll the marble in your fingers. The marble is smooth as ever, but it will feel weirdly bumpy.

The bumps are in your own skin, of course. If the skin surface that’s sensing a shape is distorted, the way it senses will also be distorted.

We’re living in slow-motion


Dogs don’t watch much TV.

The first televisions sold refreshed the image on the screen about 60 times per second. The way humans perceive time, that looks like a continuously moving image. To a dog and most other animals, that looks like a flickering series of still images. Predator and prey animals process information faster than we do;  that’s why they have such good reflexes. (Newer TVs have much faster refresh rates, so they can look realistic to animals).

From The Economist:

It is called the critical flicker-fusion frequency, or CFF, and it is the lowest frequency at which a flickering light appears to be a constant source of illumination. It measures, in other words, how fast an animal’s eyes can refresh an image and thus process information.

For people, the average CFF is 60 hertz (ie, 60 times a second). This is why the refresh-rate on a television screen is usually set at that value. Dogs have a CFF of 80Hz, which is probably why they do not seem to like watching television. To a dog a TV programme looks like a series of rapidly changing stills.

You may think you’re smarter than your dog, and maybe you are, but your dog processes information much faster.

It’s relativity of a different sort. Consciousness is a weird thing, and it’s even weirder when you consider what consciousness is like for other living things. You are to a deer as a turtle is to you.

Every time you blow out a candle, you create a rainbow.

The Link: In fact, you create a whole series of rainbows.

The Story:

Dazzling photographer Grover Schrayer captured something I never knew: A candle always goes out in a small blaze of glory.  For a fraction of a second, the vaporized wax particles are carried along the puff of smoke and refract light to create a rainbow pattern.

Like with most of the rest of the universe, I don’t really understand it.


Image by Grover Schrayer

It passes by so fast, you don’t even notice it.  Life is always like that.

I’m reminded of something Krisi Metzen shared, the work of another photographer who captures the beauty of the fleeting moment.  There is beauty in such things because they reveal underlying patterns–the mathematical structures of nature.  These beautiful patterns are everywhere.