Colleen Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0
Colleen Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

These Centuries-Old Maps Were Meant to Be Read By Touch

Colleen Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0
Colleen Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

It’s easy to think that data is data, and that the way we visualize and share information has more to do with the information itself than it has to do with us. The truth is that data is far more subjective, personal, and cultural than that. When Americans and Europeans think of maps, we tend to picture flat, colorful drawings covered with squiggly lines. But for native Greenlanders living in the 16th to 19th centuries, maps were more of a hands-on experience.

Greenlanders would carve wooden maps, and they were as functional as they are aesthetically appealing. The maps, made of driftwood, are designed to be read not with the eyes, but with the fingers. Their small size made it possible for navigators to slip them into their mittens while kayaking, allowing them to follow along without exposing their hands to the punishing Arctic cold. The wooden maps were waterproof and buoyant, and they were just as easily read in the dark—an important feature in a country that can get less than four hours of sunlight per day in the winter.

The maps made full use of each piece of wood. The coastline wraps around the entire object, with dips and peaks representing islands, fjords, and glaciers. As Swedish cartographic archivist Ib Kejlbo has noted, “[t]he wooden map is the embodiment of the basic principles of presentday cartography, being the reproduction of a locality, seen from above, scaled down, and where distances between landmarks are kept in correct proportion.”

In 2000, the Greenland postal service released a stamp celebrating the wooden maps’ ingenuity and cultural significance.

Wooden maps, albeit of an entirely different form, were also used by another seafaring people: the Polynesians. Their so-called stick charts look incredibly simple, but were so complex—taking into account not only geography but also the movement of the ocean—that they could often only be read by the navigator who created them.

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Lia
Lia Is a Disposable Pregnancy Test You Can Flush Down the Toilet
Lia
Lia

It’s a common Hollywood plot point: A character spots a discarded pregnancy test in a bathroom trash can. Surprise! Someone’s pregnancy is revealed, though they weren’t yet ready to tell anyone (and perhaps never planned on telling them at all). Lia is a new type of disposable pregnancy test designed to be flushed down the toilet to make sure no one ever experiences that kind of privacy violation, according to Glamour.

Lia hasn’t hit the market yet, but when it does, it will be the first major redesign of the home pregnancy test in decades. The first at-home pregnancy test in the U.S. debuted in 1977, and while it took two hours to show a result, it gave women the option to learn their pregnancy status with relative accuracy (it was 97 percent accurate for positive results, but only 80 percent accurate for negative results) for the first time without going to the doctor. In 1988, Unilever came out with the first wand-style pregnancy test—the plastic kind you pee on to reveal the blue stripe indicators. Since then, not much has changed about the basic design of the at-home pregnancy test except the graphics that companies use to convey the test’s results. (The science undergirding the tests has advanced over the years, though.)

Unlike the plastic sticks, Lia is disposable and can be flushed down the toilet or composted. With the shape reminiscent of a sanitary pad, it works similar to the traditional pee-stick test: You urinate on it, then wait for the stripes to appear. While it’s water-resistant enough to withstand the two minutes of pee-soaking required to get a result, the test strip is made of the type of plant fibers that go into toilet paper and will eventually disintegrate in water. It can also be composted: In one experiment, it took 10 weeks to completely degrade in soil.

A diagram of Lia's features
Lia

Like other pregnancy tests available at the drug store, Lia’s results are based on the concentration of human chorionic gonadotropin (a pregnancy hormone) in your pee. It’s FDA approved, and the company reports that it’s more than 99 percent accurate, comparable to other tests on the market.

No matter what the circumstances surrounding a pregnancy are, most people don’t want to share the fact that they could be pregnant with everyone they might share a bathroom with—most people wait several months into their pregnancy to announce the news—and even if they want to tell the world immediately, they probably don’t want to do so via trash can. Lia’s paper design makes it easy to dispose of the test without worrying about who might stumble upon your wastebasket. It’s also more sustainable and won’t clog up landfills like plastic tests. While people don’t use as many pregnancy tests as, say, plastic straws, the over-the-counter plastic pregnancy test market is still a huge one, and a contributor to environmental pollution. As a bonus, the lack of plastic makes Lia cheaper to produce, too.

Lia will eventually be available in stores and online. It’s scheduled to be released sometime in 2018.

[h/t Glamour]

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iStock
How Rich the U.S. Is Compared to the Rest of the World, Visualized
iStock
iStock

The U.S. is often called the richest country in the world. But how rich is it, really? A new infographic from How Much, spotted by Digg, explores the average household income across the 36 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As you can see in the graphic below, the U.S. is, on average, quite rich compared to most other countries.

The infographic explores finances on two different levels. The size of each bubble corresponds to household wealth: in other words, assets minus debts. That means it takes into account savings, stocks, and other financial assets as well as loans. (It doesn't include property holdings due to a lack of data, so it doesn't encompass the big boost of wealth that comes from say, owning a penthouse overlooking Central Park in New York City.) As you can see, the U.S.'s bubble is a pretty big outlier. On average, U.S. families have a net worth of $176,100, compared to just $128,400 in the second-wealthiest country on the map, Switzerland.

Colored bubbles represent household income and wealth across the OCED
How Much

The colors of the bubbles correspond to "household net adjusted disposable income," as the OECD refers to it, which has to do with the money you bring in each year rather than what you own. That takes into account salary, income from things like stock dividends and rental properties, and government benefits (like Social Security, unemployment, food stamps, or housing subsidies). It also takes into account what each household pays in taxes, providing a snapshot of the take-home pay people actually have available to spend, rather than their pre-tax salary.

The U.S. has relatively high salaries, at $44,000 a year (the top of the scale) in disposable income. Only Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Norway have disposable income levels greater than $35,000. Mexico falls at the bottom of the scale, with average adjusted disposable incomes of less than $15,000. Most of Western Europe falls within the $25,100 to $30,000 range, while income in Eastern Europe, Israel, South Korea, and New Zealand is a little lower.

There could be a lot going on behind this data, though. The U.S. has an increasingly stratified economic system, so while the averages seem fairly high, that's probably because the few billionaires among us are skewing the numbers. The U.S. also doesn't have the social safety net offered by governments in much of the rest of the world, meaning that while we have relatively high salaries and pay lower taxes in some cases, we have to pay for things like healthcare and retirement on our own.

Read more about the OECD numbers here.

[h/t Digg]

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