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Weekly Recommendations Jan. 6 2012

This is the first in a new, hopefully weekly, series of posts about things I have seen, read, or heard in over the previous week that I think are worth checking out. I will try to talk about at least three things per week, though there may sometimes be more and, quite probably, occasionally less.
Internet Article: The Greatest Paper Map of the United States You’ll Ever See

This is a shortish piece about the map of the United States that won “Best of Show” award at the Cartography and Geographic Information Society’s annual competition this year. The map was made by Imus Graphics, which is basically one person working by himself in Oregon. Usually, this award is won by the people you might expect: institutions like the National Geographic society or the CIA, who have lost of sophisticated resources of all kinds at their disposal, so the fact that Imus won is in itself unusual.
However, the article is mostly about how unusual the map itself is. Generally, in modern cartography, decisions about where to place labels, the size of the various categories, how to use colors, and what to include are made mostly by computer algorithms, which of course work within parameters set by human beings but effectively automate a lot of the process. In the Imus map (which was also made on a computer), these decisions are made by Imus himself, and include some unconventional choices about how to mark state borders, identify rivers, etc., as well as some choices about, e.g., which towns to include that are quite different from those in maps published by Rand McNally, for instance. 
The piece essentially frames the map as a work of human craftsmanship in an age of machine production (despite the fact that, again, it was in fact made on a computer). In so doing, it basically ignores what to me has long been a really interesting thing about maps in general: that no map includes everything, all make choices about what is more important or useful depending, in part, on the purpose for which the map is created and in part on the perspective of the person or people making it. Some of these choices are purely pragmatic, but others have what might be called “political” consequences.
Which, when thought of in reference to this article, brings up all kinds of interesting ideas about a map as an object, as a piece of art or design, with certain kinds of physical or aesthetic characteristics which might be more or less pleasing to any given user, vs. the map as a source of information, as– literally– a picture of the world, which is usually understood to be governed not by aesthetic concerns but by the (again, literal) “facts on the ground,” the world that it is supposed to represent as faithfully as possible.
Song: Active Child: “High Priestess (CFCF Remix)”
One of the best songs from one of my favorite albums of 2011, given just a little bit more of a rhythm section. I wouldn’t say it’s a straightforward improvement, necessarily, just different. But still a great song.
or 
List: Most Anticipated: The Great 2012 Book Preview from The Millions
One of my resolutions for the New Year is to read at least 10 books published in 2012. My reading is selection is generally dictated more or less by whim or chance; efforts to alter that fact usually meet with failure (to which the quantity of books on the “to read” shelf at home testifies). One result of this is that I very rarely read new books when they are still new, and so can rarely appreciate the conversation that is sometimes going on around them at that time. This list gave me a number of interesting titles for the coming year. In particular, I’m looking forward to: Dogma by Lars Iyer (the squeal to Spurious, which I read last year); Varamo, by Cesar Aira; and The Lifespan of a Fact, by John D’Agata.
Photographer: Saeed al Alawi
I discovered this guy’s work on 500px:
There is something about the atmosphere of his photos that I really like; there is a sense of stillness a clarity. He does amazing portraits, in particular; case in point: 

He also has a tumblr and a regular website:
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That’s it for the first set of recommendations. Looking forward to hearing what people think.

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