Map wheel cropped

My mapwheel story

Today I backed a Kickstarter project called Mapwheel, I think it’s a really cool idea. Check out their video, but basically they let you design a custom “toposcope” or map wheel showing the direction and distance of places of interest from the location where you live (or any other location you choose). You can choose various materials (wood or metal) and customize the design in various ways.

I’ve been working on my design today, and it’s been a surprisingly fun and interesting thing to do. Here’s my current design, which could still change before I order:

Map wheel

One part of the process that I found interesting was being surprised in quite a number of cases about which direction it actually was to certain places from here! Especially for places on other continents, the usual map projections that you see can be quite misleading in terms of what is the shortest path direction to somewhere across the globe. There could be a fun party game for map geeks based on this idea, I think! And then a second interesting thing is just filtering down the options to decide which places you want to include, which makes you think about places that are important to you. You are constrained in that you can’t have two places whose direction is too close together, or their names would overlap.

This forces you into some tough choices, especially if like me you live a long way from your original home, as once you choose a place, other places within hundreds of miles will probably be too close to include. I thought it would be interesting to share the thought process of how I arrived at my choices so far. I encourage you to sign up for a map wheel and share your choices too!

I could only choose one place from the UK, which is where I’m originally from. That really had to be Cropston, which is not where I was born, but we moved there when I was three years old and my Mum still lives there now, so that has been “home” all my life. It’s a small village in Leicestershire, in the middle of  England. If I could add more places in England, the next ones up would probably be Oxford, where I went to University, and Cambridge, which has been the headquarters of multiple companies that I’ve worked for so I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years.

I tried various other places that I really like in Europe including Paris, Venice and Ravello, but they were all too close in direction to Cropston, so I couldn’t fit them in. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Horsens in Denmark, where my Mum was born, was just far enough away in terms of direction that it would fit in.

Paula is originally from Santos in Brazil, so that was another must have. Just as with Cropston though, this blocked several other favorite places that would have been contenders in Brazil like Rio de JaneiroFoz do Iguaçu, and Trancoso.

Moving back closer to home, I thought I should have a few visible landmarks on the map wheel – I plan to put it on our rooftop deck. The Ice House and Coors Field are two prominent buildings nearby – you can see them both in the lightning picture that I published recently. Union Station is across the street from us, though not directly visible from the deck, but I thought that needed to be included as a major local landmark. I put in a few of our favorite places that we like to take visitors in Colorado – Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Evans, and Red Rocks. Also Denver Airport went in as we go there so often!

We go the opera in Santa Fe every summer and love it there, so had to fit that in, and we also love Telluride in southwestern Colorado, where we have a fractional  ownership in a property and spend 4-6 weeks a year. Another of our favorite vacation places is Tulum in Mexico, so that went in. I put in Key West – I have visited a few times and think it’s a really cool place, and Paula lived there for a year. I was really upset that I couldn’t get New Orleans in – it’s one of my favorite cities – but it was too close to the direction of Santos (and Key West) so sadly I had to leave it out. I threw in New York as that’s another place we love to visit, for the opera and its many other attractions. And also to have some larger places on the list!

At this point I started working on filling in areas where I had gaps. I found that I could fit in Opera Colorado in Denver, where we have season tickets (and found it was due south of us, which I didn’t know!). And that made me think of adding Central City in Colorado, which is another place where we like to go to the opera – it’s an old mining town with a beautiful little historic opera house. In case you haven’t worked it out by now, we like opera!

I thought about a few more distant places of geographical interest. I wondered about Cape Horn, but decided to go for Tierra Del Fuego, which is a place we would like to visit, and it just sounds cool :). And then added the Cape of Good Hope too, which we have both visited in the past. Just randomly I tried Mount Everest, and was surprised that it showed up in an empty space very close to due north, so that went in too. I still had some gaps in the northwest quadrant, so added Rock Springs in Wyoming where Paula’s sister lives, and I tried a few places in Asia that didn’t fit, before going for Bangkok, which I visited back in 2000, and I found it to be a really cool and interesting place that I would like to revisit sometime. Plus our daughter in law is from Thailand. We also added in Monte Vista, Colorado, where our daughter has just moved to.

I still had a little space just east of due north, so decided to add in Mount Rushmore, which was the main thing I could think of in that direction which was somewhat interesting. And then I had a gap to the east so threw in Kansas City, which is the first reasonable size city you hit driving east from Denver, so is good to show how far apart things are out here!

Oh, and lastly we sneaked in Santiago, to fill in the space just east of due south – in honor of a good family friend from Chile.

A few places that I tried to fit in but couldn’t:

  • New Orleans, as mentioned above – blocked by Santos and Key West
  • Paris, another of my favorite cities – blocked by Cropston
  • Barcelona, another favorite European City – blocked by Coors Field
  • My company Ubisense’s Denver office – blocked by Santos
  • Casablanca, site of one of my favorite movies – blocked by Coors Field
  • Sydney – blocked by Mount Evans
  • San Diego – blocked by Red Rocks
  • Hawaii – blocked by Union Station
  • Grand Canyon – blocked by Red Rocks

So anyway, that is probably way more detail than you were interested in, but like I said I found it a fun and interesting exercise to work through the process of choosing our places! Let me know if you think I should change anything! And if you get a map wheel of your own, I’d be interested to see which places you choose!

4 thoughts on “My mapwheel story”

  1. Pete. If you are backing this’s my commentary is that you should not be forced into choices to avoid overlap but rather the app should provide a means to either alternately view or toggle between the closely related directional destinations. Just saying……

  2. Hey Todd, the end product is not something online, but a metal or wood printed disk. You could arguably do something a little smarter to accommodate a couple of close places, say by having two lines very close together with the labels on the outside, but it would complicate the software and you’d lose some of the consistency and simplicity in the design of the end product.

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