John Smith’s 1616 Map of New England; An Invitation to Mathematic Physics & Its History; Making Computers Everyone Can Use

Explore the Unknown!

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21 April 2021


Hi WN@TL Fans,

The monthly magazine was great, but the best part of becoming a National Geographic member in junior high was the anticipation of knowing I’d get two or three full-size maps every year.  As Confucius said, one picture is worth a thousand words.  I’ve found that a good map is worth closer to a million.

An ordinary person can read a lot into an extraordinary map.  Sometimes the reading is splendid because of what’s imaged on the chart—landforms, waters, place names, political boundaries, and other things that are.  Sometimes a map is even more delicious for what the mapmaker imagines onto the carte blanche: visions of what could be, of what may be — Cibolas & El Dorados, Timbuktus & Xanadus.

This week we get to delve deeply into a map that combines both:  fairly accurate descriptions of lands and waters, along with wholly imaginary place names transplanted from Olde England, including a few names—such as the River Charles—that stuck.

Maps can also give an undue air of authenticity and reliability, especially if they are drawn with an eye towards enhancing the prestige of the mapmaker.  Likewise, the prestige of provenance can be fabricated for phrases, too—for example, “One picture is worth a thousand words” isn’t an old Confucian proverb, and it isn’t even Chinese:  it’s by Fred Barnard in the 1920’s, and he claimed it was a Chinese proverb to gin up some cachet.

I’m looking forward to hearing how John Smith might have done some ginning of his own in spinning his 1616 map of “New England.”


On April 21 Matthew Edney of the University of Southern Maine and director of the UW-Madison’s History of Cartography Project returns to Wednesday Nite @ The Lab to share a tale with a twist:  “What’s a Portrait Doing on this Map? Reinterpreting Captain John Smith and His Map of New England.”

Description:  After his exploits in Virginia (think: Pocahontas), Captain John Smith sailed briefly to “northern Virginia” in 1614. His voyage led him to think about a new colonial endeavor to what he now called New England. Few early maps are as burdened with myths and misconceptions as the map he then made of the region. Almost every aspect of the map has been misunderstood. This liberally illustrated lecture blends art history with marine exploration with cartography. It starts with the question of why the map bears a portrait of Smith — when no other maps of the period bear likenesses of their makers — to reveal how the map is less a precise record of Smith’s 1614 voyage and more a complex portrait of a man, a region, and a colonial ideal.

Bio:  Matthew Edney is a geographer, map historian, and UW alum (MS 1985, PhD 1990). Since 2005 he has directed the History of Cartography Project at UW, up in the warrens of Science Hall ( The Project prepares the award-winning series, The History of Cartography, a comprehensive history of the science, technology, and sociocultural ramifications of maps and mapmaking, across human cultures and all times. The series comprises six volumes in twelve books. Volume One appeared in 1987, covering prehistoric, ancient, and medieval mapping; four of the five published volumes are online for free access ( and their chapters have been downloaded more than 3.7 million times. Edney edited Volume Four (Cartography in the European Enlightenment) with Mary Pedley; the volume appeared in print just after the start of the pandemic but is available! Only Volume Five (Cartography in the Nineteenth Century) is left! The series has been a major force in reconceptualizing the nature and history of maps and mapping and in popularizing the study of map history across the humanities and social sciences. Edney is also Osher Professor in the History of Cartography at the University of Southern Maine, Portland. He is broadly interested in the technologies, practices, and institutional contexts of surveying and mapping in Europe after 1600. His latest book is Cartography: The Ideal and Its History (Chicago, 2019). Edney also maintains an academic blog at and tweets @mhedney


On April 28 Jont Allen of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will speak on “An Invitation to Mathematical Physics and Its History” based on his new book by that title.

Description:  Professor Allen takes an applications-based approach to teaching mathematics to engineering and applied-sciences students. The book lays emphasis on associating mathematical concepts with their physical counterparts, training students of engineering in mathematics to help them learn how things work. He covers the concepts of number systems, algebra equations and calculus through discussions on mathematics and physics, discussing their intertwined history in a chronological order. The book includes examples, homework problems, and exercises. This book can be used to teach a first course in engineering mathematics or as a refresher on basic mathematical physics. Besides serving as core textbook, this book will also appeal to undergraduate students with cross-disciplinary interests as a supplementary text or reader.

Bio:  Jont Allen is a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois. After completing his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in 1970, he went to AT&T Bell Labs, where he enjoyed a 32-year career.  At AT&T Allen specialized in nonlinear cochlear modeling, auditory and cochlear speech processing, and speech perception.

Since joining University of Illinois in 2003, he has taught and worked with his students on the theory and practice of human speech recognition, for both normal and hearing impaired hearing as well as reading disabilities in young children.

Professor Allen has more than 20 US patents on hearing aids, signal processing and middle ear measurement diagnostics.



On May 5 Gregg Vanderheiden of the University of Maryland will share insights into “How to Make Computers that Everyone Can Use, including Seniors Who Can’t or Won’t.” 

Description:  Our society is rapidly incorporating digital interfaces into all aspects of our lives. Those who cannot access and use digital technologies will not be able to participate in the society that is evolving.  Yet many cannot due to barriers related to disability, literacy, digital affinity or age.

COVID has highlighted the importance and the barriers here.  Solutions for some people exist but are buried in the device’s “Settings,” hard to find and difficult to understand and use. Other strategies exist but are not readily available.

Morphic is a new open-source approach that combines personalization, layering and other strategies to simplify both computers and the presentation and operation of features intended to help simplify their use. The combination seeks to make features more discoverable, lower the cognitive load needed to explore and employ them, and have them show up automatically on any computer the individual encounters. It also seeks to stabilize the interfaces experienced.

It has potential to help the elderly, people with disabilities, and those you just struggle with computers.  The Morphic software and tools will be described, demonstrated and made available to all participants (and anyone they care for).

Bio:   Dr. Vanderheiden is the Director of the Trace R&D Center and Professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. He has been active in the field of technology and disability for 50 years and was a pioneer in the field of Augmentative Communication (a term originating from his writings), assistive technology and computer access. Access features developed by Dr. Vanderheiden and the Trace Center team can be found in every computer and mobile device internationally (Windows, MacOS, iOS and Linux).

Dr Vanderheiden was selected as part of the team designing the first digital talking book machines for the Library of Congress talking book service – and carried out extensive exploration and testing of approaches in senior living facilities.   He is a past President and Fellow of RESNA, a Founding Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) and Fellow in the Human Factors and Ergonomics society. He has been a long-time leader in the area of web accessibility, creating the first set of Web Accessibility guidelines in 1995 and serving as co-editor and co-chairing the WCAG Working Group from its inception through 2013.

At the 6th World Wide Web Conference, he was the third annual recipient of the Yuri Rubinsky Memorial World Wide Web Award, following Vint Cerf and Doug Engelbart. His most recent work has focused on development of a Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII) – and proposing a completely different way to approach accessibility for next-next generation ICT.



Remember, we now meet by Zoom, since we can’t gather all in one room.

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H