This amazing map of Lake Michigan was made entirely by typewriter

As this typewritten map shows, constraints can be freeing.

  • An old Royal Safari II typewriter was used to make this effective and attractive map.
  • Although they're relatively easy to make, typewriter maps are rare.
  • The mapmaker has received numerous commissions; will typewritten maps be the cartographic hype of 2019?

To anyone familiar with North America's geography, the shape on this map is instantly recognisable. This lookalike of Sweden (1), similarly drooping, is Lake Michigan. What sets this map apart, though, is not its subject, but its presentation.

This lo-fi map somewhat recalls the stock cartography used by newspapers a couple of decades ago, perhaps not just because it shares their minimalist aesthetic; maybe also because it was produced using a technology that became obsolete around the mid-1980s – the typewriter.

Lo-fi method, cool map

Daniel P. Huffman made this on his dad's Royal Safari II. "I can't remember why my mind turned toward the thought of the typewriter in my basement," he writes, "but I always wanted a good reason to use it, so I fell back to my default excuse: maps."

So, how do you make a typewritten map? Mr Huffman's instructions are quite simple:

  1. draw out a grid and plan what characters go in what spaces; and
  2. spend a bunch of time messing around on a typewriter.

In this case, lines of dots (…) represent water, while asterisks (***) form state borders. The @ sign has been sprung from its prison inside the email address (2) and now marks the location of cities, typed out in the Safari's elegant Prestige Elite font (3).

City and river names are in lower case, state and lake names are in upper case. The rivers, made up of straight and slanted lines, and their names are in red (yes, kids: typewriters could do two colours). Where it doesn't slant, the water's edge is rendered by exclamation marks – adding emphasis to the name of Beaver! Island! in the northern part of the lake.

What makes this map so appealing is that its cartographic effectiveness is achieved, and perhaps even enhanced, by the limited means offered by the typewriter – never intended for something as graphic as mapmaking. As Mr. Huffman points out on his blog, which showcases some of his other self-made maps, "constraints can be freeing."

That statement is a bit reminiscent, if you will allow the conceit, of Dogme 95, the filmmaking movement started by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg: a radical rejection of special effects and high technology in order to focus on old-fashioned storytelling.

This resolutely spare map took a couple of hours to plan and trace in Illustrator, and then about five hours from testing and false starts to finished product. Since Mr. Huffman, a cartographer and Director of Operations at the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS), tweeted the map, he's received numerous requests to type up similar maps.

Given the visual appeal of this typewritten map of Lake Michigan and its fairly easy (if somewhat time-consuming) method of contrivance, it's strange that there isn't a bunch of such maps out there already.

There are a just few hints of typewritten cartography findable online. This entry on Making Maps gives some examples of using typewriter characters for legend-making. An earlier entry on this blog discussed the Chaffinch Map of Scotland, a typewritten poem (#329).

But perhaps the Dogme movement of mapmaking was just waiting for its prototype to take off. If you find (or make) any nice ones, I'll show them here.


Find the Lake Michigan map here on Mr Huffman's blog, Something About Maps . Many thanks to Martin Foldager for pointing it out

Strange Maps #950

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

(1) Lake Michigan and Sweden are but two of many 'map twins' around the world. (#675)
(2) "What's an email address?" the typewriter wants to know.(3) A slab serif monospaced typeface designed in 1953 for IBM by Howard Kettler.
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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