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.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

The Force Field Cloak
This Glowing Blanket Is Designed to Ease Kids' Fear of the Dark
The Force Field Cloak
The Force Field Cloak

Many kids have a security blanket they bring to bed with them every night, but sometimes, a regular blankie is no match for the monsters that invade their imaginations once the lights are off. Now there’s a glow-in-the-dark blanket designed to make children feel safer in bed, no night light required.

Dubbed the Force Field Cloak, the fleece blanket comes in several colorful, glowing patterns that remain invisible during the day. At night, you leave the blanket under a bright light for about 10 minutes, then the shining design will reveal itself in the dark. The glow lasts 8 to 10 hours, just long enough to get a child through the night.

Inventor Terry Sachetti was inspired to create the blanket by his own experiences struggling with scary nighttime thoughts as a kid. "I remember when I was young and afraid of the dark. I would lie in my bed at night, and my imagination would start getting the best of me," he writes on the product's Kickstarter page. "I would start thinking that someone or something was going to grab my foot that was hanging over the side of the bed. When that happened, I would put my foot back under my blanket where I knew I was safe. Nothing could get me under my blanket. No boogiemen, no aliens, no monsters under my bed, nothing. Sound familiar?"

The Force Field Cloak, which has already surpassed its funding goals on both Indiegogo and Kickstarter, takes the comfort of a blanket to the next level. The glowing, non-toxic ink decorating the material acts as a gentle night light that kids can wrap around their whole body. The result, the team claims, is a secure feeling that quiets those thoughts about bad guys hiding in the shadows.

To pre-order a Force Field Cloak, you can pledge $36 or more to the product’s Indiegogo campaign. It is expected to start shipping in January 2018.


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