So what exactly is the Mirsad 1 UAV?
Staying over with the woman who broke Isaac Asimov's heart.

My Surprise Hit: the Hezbollah bombing range graphic

Night before last, I was asked by a good friend to do a quick Google Earth favor. Yesterday morning, I finished a draft of the graphic. I was asked if the graphic could be given to "Bill" to post (i.e. Bill Roggio of the Counterterrorism Blog). Sure, I said. And a little while later, I tossed it up on Flickr as an afterthought. Then I decided to blog the pic myself: Being a goddess of Google Earth, I have a different constituency than Bill does.

This evening, Flickr reports that the graphic has been viewed 20,363 times. I'm a bit bewildered by this, since it was created to help with a discussion among a very small group of people. Sure it was topical and was picked up by BoingBoing, but I've done topical stuff in Google Earth before and had it picked up by BoingBoing and other major blogs. And this one is running at about 20 times the popularity of the next runner up in my Flickr account. And the Hezbollah bombing range graphic is now about 5 times as popular as my previous Greatest Hit, a scan of some fake Yu-Gi-Oh! cards from my son's card collection.

The way the graphic is supposed to be used is at full rez in coordination with the list of missiles and their ranges that appears in the upper right. There are also distance markers for the concentric circles that you can't read except at full rez. I suspect that the majority of my viewers are not looking at it full rez, and most probably pay no attention to the list of missiles.

When the graphic was thrown out there to the public, I was expecting its general assumptions to be questioned. Those circles are deliberately fuzzy to keep people from getting the idea that they represent a greater degree of precision than they do. Instead, what has been mostly questioned are my politics and my decision to orient the map from Lebanon looking south.

A number of people have remarked that I (or someone) should do a graphic of what Israel can do to Lebanon. Here's the reason I'm not going to: that Israel maybe's got the bomb and could maybe transform Beirut into a green glass plain is not new information. Hezbollah's new-found bombing range into Israel is new information, and very important new information. Now, I don't think this would be a politic moment to explicate my opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of Israel as a nation state. But in the past, blogger Gary Farber has been quite articulate on the subject of my failure to appreciate Israel. So this graphic isn't about whether I value Israeli lives over Lebanese. One of the general tenets of my personal politics is that if it shouldn't happen here, it shouldn't happen there, and this certainly holds true for members of the general public having bombs dropped on their heads.

Now, about the orientation of the map: I am tempted to speculate that there may be a class of persons out there who keep their heads permanently oriented due north. However, that would be unfair: somewhere around here, we have a t-shirt bearing the slogan, "Australia: No longer down under," showing the standard Mercator projection of the world upside down. So I do understand. But stilll . . . .

First of all, this graphic was created to facilitate a small group discussion. And there was some conversation about how to orient it. I tried a number of things, but what seemed most appropriate was to orient it from roughly the geographic point of view of those launching missiles, so that those things easiest to hit were biggest and closest, and so that the most speculative targets were smaller and further away. Also, I opted for an angled view, taking advantage of Google Earth's simulation of 3-D reality rather than a flat-on top-down view, to give a sense of verisimilitude. Apparently, I succeeded.

But it bears mentioning that even maps generally perceived to be "properly oriented" may involve distortion. Check out the rather good New York Times map. Can you tell me what the distortion is? I know because I used a piece of it as a Google Earth overlay.

All this having been said, I'm glad so many people have found my map worth looking at. Flickr now reports it's been viewed 20,512 times. At bottom my project, and the project of this blog, is to explore and improve methodology. And I hope in all those visitors, someone got new ideas of how to better use GIS-based visualization. Because exploring the possibilities of visualization is what I think I'm on about. And guess I must be doing something right.