Mercator Schmercator: stick to street view on google maps!

Just realized that Google maps uses the Mercator projection*.
Good LORD.

I only found this out because I was looking for taiwan (my geography sucks), and so not having an atlas handy, I decided to use google maps. And for once, I had to zoom out a lot – to a global/planetary view. While I was there, panning around, and having fun oohing and ah-ing about the proximities of {laos, cambodia, burma, bangladesh, tibet, nepal, india, pakistan} which NEVER. SEEM. TO IMPRINT. on any kind of memory I can muster – photographic or otherwise, so that I never seem to remember just where the hell the borders of these countries are… I panned past the now-infamous pakistan/afghanistan border, curious to remind myself of what lay beyond…

That’s when I panned past kazakhstan. I panned back and took another look. Huh, I thought. That’s a pretty big fat honking country. A country that big should be making more news. Or something. And Russia. Holy smokes. It’s like… it’s like HALF THE WORLD. Has it always been thus? I mean, I know it’s big but… THIS big? No wonder they get miffed about not getting enough respect at summits. If my country was this big, trust me… I’d be positively unbearable.

Curiosity piqued now, so I wiki for a ranking of countries by land area… and true enough, kazakhstan was NOT bigger than india. Yet on google maps it was. Some feeble, ancient knowledge of GIS reared it’s sleepy head: it’s the projection, stupid. I googled to find out (honestly, I would die abruptly without a search engine) and yep… it’s Mercator all the way. I still don’t know why they haven’t honored requests to restrict the projection to street level views (since they need angle preservation so badly)… and then adopt something accurate for zoomed out views…

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* <nutshell>A projection, in this context, means how the spherical (3D) surface of the earth can be projected onto a flat surface (2D) so that you can have a convenient map of the earth on a piece of paper or a screen. Mathematically, there are many ways of doing this, some of them quite interesting. Some preserve angles better, some preserve shape better, some preserve area better, etc. Area preservation (which Mercator sucks at) is one of those properties that needles people. It might be a holdover from colonial times when maps made ‘the important’ countries look bigger than the rest of the world. </nutshell>

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