Wednesday, 3 September 2014

BCS President's Bulletin September 2014

 As part of this year’s RGS-IBG Annual Conference, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion entitled “Geography, geographers and the new cartography”. Along with Chris Perkins from Manchester University and Janet Speake and David Chester from Liverpool Hope University we discussed with an audience of about 25 participants what this meant. Panel members were each given 10 minutes and I reused some elements of my Presidential Address to restate that cartography was not dead, nor was there necessarily a ‘new’ cartography, but that its importance was greater than ever. The discussion was free flowing and we did not all agree on everything, but there was a general consensus that whilst Cartography as a distinct academic discipline may well be dead in the UK, there was still a huge need for it to underpin the huge amount of maps appearing everywhere, not just on the web. Quite a few people in the audience made maps but had never had any cartographic training and recognised that this was a hindrance to producing good quality consistent output.
Cartography on the web 

Remember what I said about the 'silly season' last month? Well it duly arrived. You will almost certainly have seen this map before and you have to wonder whether the designer of the canal map of Berkhamsted had received any cartographic training. I wondered at first if perhaps they hadn’t been paid or there had been a dispute and they decided to get their own back, but the design of this particular map went viral and has generated a huge amount of publicity, so I guess that in the end it has proved to be very successful.

There are lots of examples of both good and bad cartography and whilst it’s great to showcase the good, we also sometimes need to pick out the bad and explain why it went so wrong and what could be done to make it better. Ken Field’s Cartonerd blogspot, pointed out an example of where a little professional advice was needed and it is indeed heartening to see that the producer of the original didn’t take exception but took the comments on board and came up with a better looking product, although as Ken quite rightly pointed out a simple graph might have done a better job of getting the message across. Whilst maps (not infographics) will often do a great job of highlighting trends or patterns that aren’t apparent in the simple data, sometimes just because data has a geo dimension doesn’t mean that you have to map it.

You know when you write something down as a note to yourself and you mean to go back to it later? Well I did that with one of my bookmarks for this month’s bulletin and then forgot which particular item I was highlighting, There are quite a few nice maps on this particular site and a few ‘infographics’ as well, which you will know is not one of my favourite neologisms. Thinking about it, I think it was the Social Atlas of Europe that I meant to pick out as worthy of mention. Using cartograms, which can make things look as though they are about to explode, this Atlas explores a number of different social factors and is described as “a must-read for those seeking to understand Europe, to look at European countries in all their complexity and diversity, and to make sense of what unites and divides Europeans”.

Okay, so the original article was published back in March, but I only became aware of it in August, “Why Geography Is The Best Subject To Study At University… Ever”. Well, we all knew that didn’t we?! Sure, Geographers are often given stick by other graduates and it has been disparagingly described as a ‘colouring in degree’, but Geography graduates remain amongst the most employable and the article itself goes on to give you ten (good?) reasons as to why Geography is the best subject, finishing with “Because everyone loves colouring in”.

I also came across this really clear and well-balanced article this month. It very clearly points out the huge technological advances that we have made in map making and the way in which we use maps to orientate ourselves and find our way It also points out clearly, however, that despite the advent of ubiquitous digital cartography on a whole range of very portable devices, there is still a huge demand and need for the traditional paper map. The two examples cited that particularly struck home with me were that of the military aviation user,  "Whilst reliance on digital mapping and projected HUD information is significant, all military pilots will ensure that they are proficient at reversionary navigation methods, i.e., using a map and stopwatch in the event that the GPS or digital map solution is lost."; and the rally driver,  According to M-Sport, "Technology has a place in motorsport -- but for the core skills of navigating it will be a long time before it is possible to trust GPS technology to replace an Ordnance Survey map and a road book."

ICA Map Carte

There was a really broad selection on offer in August and my first ‘pick’ is the map of the Apollo 11 landing superimposed onto a football pitch (or should that be 'soccer' pitch?). Apollo 11 touched down on a landscape literally alien to us, we had no idea of how big things were, distances we were told were very deceptive due to the lack of atmospheric refraction. So how did we know how far the astronauts strayed from the Eagle, well the answer is pretty clear when you add in a standard frame of reference: not very far. Having said that it I had been in the same situation I wouldn’t have strayed far from the only thing that was going to keep me alive and get me home safely!

A second sporting example is the many dimensions of a baseball field, which perhaps highlights one of the minor pitfalls of the previous map. There are maximum and minimum limits for a football pitch and they are all the same basic shape, but Neil Armstrong might have walked a bit further if he was at the Etihad (the largest Premier League pitch) than at Upton Park (the smallest). Baseball pitches, however, are all the same in the infield, but the outfields vary quite considerably both in size and shape with the home team often having a distinct advantage in the field because they know how their stadium plays and what sort of ricochets you’re going to get.

Having been to Bangkok and used a ‘Nancy Chandler’ in anger I can testify to how useful it is as a guide to getting round a chaotic city. Having enjoyed the experience of being picked up by a taxi driver only to be told twenty yards later, and I paraphrase, “you get out now, I not know where it is”, I will never be rude about London cabbies again. The map is both eye-catching and informative and is still one of the best for navigating your way around a frenetic Asian city. It’s simple, accurate and very easy to follow, perhaps I should have given the taxi driver a copy.

One thing that is very difficult to represent well is fuzzy boundaries. Cartographers love the certainty of a river to divide two countries or the watershed of different drainage basins, but some divisions are not so easily mapped as they are far more transient and movable. Mapping Africa without its borders is a really clever and illuminating concept and as the website notes, “The hand-drawn approach is endearing and lends itself well to this uncertainty.”

You can see these and more at

And finally

This has absolutely nothing to do with maps, but it was one of those real laugh out loud moments and uncannily accurate in capturing the British. Probably of great help to our overseas members, this should finally give you some important clues as to what we Brits really mean. My personal favourite:
No 21 “Each to their own” – Translation: You’re wrong but never mind.

Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
3rd September 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut

Friday, 8 August 2014

BCS President's Bulletin July 2014

The summer months tend to be when the news stories dry up and the media outlets are obliged to drag out the funny, the odd, the non-news and frankly the fairly weird news stories. But luckily 'silly season’ hasn’t extended as far as this bulletin which retains its sense of decorum – but let’s face it by the August bulletin I might be running out of ideas. Have you been away on holiday yet? How far did you travel and how long did it take you to get there? My guess is that for most people it will have been less than 12 hours, so just be thankful that you weren’t travelling in 1881 which is the date of this Isochronic World Map. To quote its explanatory text, “Isochronic travel chart for passengers showing the shortest number of days journey from London by the quickest through routes and using further such conveyances as are available without unreasonable cost. It is supposed that local preparations have been made and that other circumstances are favourable”. Europe could still be reached ‘within 10 days’ so as long as you went for a fortnight you’d probably be alright; the east coast of America was between 10 and 20 days and for the long haul to Australia you would need to allow more than 40 days. Which set me thinking and prompted me to issue a challenge. The technology now at our disposal must make it fairly simple to calculate a similar map for today which will show just how much the World has shrunk. We know where the Proclaimers could have travelled from (something that the Commonwealth Games recently hammered home time and time again), so calculating an updated ‘Isochronic Travel Chart’ should be relatively straightforward. Sounds to me like an excellent project for a BCS Award entry.


In  what the headline calls ‘soft’ power, the Vietnamese have hit on a new way to push their case for ownership of disputed islands in the South China Sea, map dresses. This latest move by Vietnam has allegedly generated more Chinese media coverage than Vietnam’s naval clashes with Chinese maritime forces in the South China Sea. China and Vietnam have been involved in several rounds of violent maritime clashes in recent months, especially since early May when China surreptitiously installed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands which were taken by China from Vietnam in 1974 after a short but fierce naval battle. The traditional dresses are printed with maps of Vietnamese islands in the South China Sea claimed or occupied by China.

Cartography on the Web

An interesting site that propose a list of “Map vocabulary all kids should know”. It’s by no means an exhaustive list and I think I would probably not agree with all kids having to know ‘Goode’s Interrupted Homolosine’, but everyone to their own. Full details at


Children are obviously very much to the fore as there is also an extensive syllabus produced called the 21st Century Skills Map for Geography. Whilst it is American it does contain a lot of good material and although Cartography per se doesn’t get much dedicated coverage there is a lot of map work and GIS involved and it’s heartening to see forward looking concepts such as ‘media literacy’ being covered and the cartographic elements are mostly found in the ‘Creativity and Innovation’ section. Altogether a little bit more inspiring than the GCSE curriculum presentation.


Those of you who attended the Symposium in 2012 may remember that Georg Gartner, President of the International Cartographic Association, was one of our guests and proposed the toast to the Society at the end of the Gala Dinner. He has recently published an article entitled Why Maps Matter"The Relevance of Cartography," A Cartographer's Perspective” It makes very interesting reading and underlines what we have been saying at the BCS for sometime, that despite the changes in technology and access Cartography is as important now as it always has been .


A recent article in Maplines covered the topic of maps of fictional lands, a common cartographic pastime. This website takes it a step further by collecting together some truly stunning examples of fictional cartography, where the creator’s art is allowed to run free resulting in some beautiful images.

Society of Cartographers

As part of the celebrations of their 50th Anniversary the Society of Cartographers arranged a talk at University College London by Ed Parsons, the Geospatial Technologist of Google. Entitled ‘Celebrating Cartography’ the talk was a fascinating review of the use of maps and geographic information today and the way that it has grown over the last ten years into a multi-billion pound industry. Now that it is so familiar, it is sobering to note that Google Earth recently celebrated just its 10th birthday. We have adopted what was ground breaking technology remarkably quickly and it is easy to forget that with the rapid technology advances things that we take for granted haven’t actually been around all that long. Google Maps has undergone a similar ‘mass adoption’ and there are now one billion users, with one third of all internet users accessing Google maps every month. The improvements that have been made to Google Maps have moved it from being a functional if rather ugly product to something which now embodies much that is good in modern online cartography and it was duly recognised as such in the ICA Map Carte selection a couple of months ago. I think the key point that Ed made, however, was the way in which everybody is now using maps on the web. We are not just looking at maps on the web, we are using them much more to support our day-to-day activities, be it journey planning, finding the nearest Indian restaurant or checking out areas to buy a house, which are just a few examples of how they are being used. As Ed mentioned in his closing remarks, Maps are now being used more widely than at any point in history.


ICA MapCarte


My selection from the Map Carte nominations this month starts with a classic from the 1840s, a birds eye view of China, which appears to be years ahead of its time. We are now very used to perspective views as a means of portraying geographic information, but this was produced at a time when the producer’s imagination and vision played a large part in the composition.



Topographic maps of Switzerland are an art form and have long been recognised as probably the best topographic maps in the world for design, consistency and presentation. I don’t think I can improve on the description as on the MapCarte website, so here it is:

“The new range of 1:25,000 scale maps by Swisstopo, of which the Hauenstein sheet is one, shows that they have not lost their eye. Building upon the legacy of elegant maps that have gone before, this updated design shows clear lineage with contemporary flair. The lines are cleaner, the marks almost more deliberate. The text is so well placed it looks as if it sits perfectly at home amongst the other map features. The density of information is almost unbelievable and to achieve such a well balanced product without recourse to more omission and simplification is astonishing. The classic Imhof-inspired hillshade lends a clarity and brightness to the topography and gives it the unmistakable look of a Swiss topographic map

I am currently reading 'One Summer: America 1927' by Bill Bryson. In one chapter he describes the huge changes that the building of so many high rise buildings had on New York. It’s ‘population’ swelled immensely although most of it was daytime working population, where a single skyscraper could hold 50,000 people. Joey Chedarchuk has taken a similar theme and show New York, or more specifically Manhattan, as a ‘breathing’ city reflecting its population throughout the day.







BCS Awards


The Awards are now open for 2015, so I hope you are all planning on which categories you are going to enter. One additional ‘bonus’ this year is that the winner of the Stanfords Award, which also took the overall BCS Award, currently has pride of place in Stanfords Shop window in Covent Garden. So if you really want to get your map in the public eye, what better way than to enter it for the Awards next year?


Restless Earth


I mentioned earlier the level of attention that cartography for children and students is getting on the web and the interest in our Restless Earth workshops certainly backs this up. We circulated all schools who have expressed interest in Restless Earth and we now have 28 workshops arranged for the academic year 2014/15. We have almost become the victims of our own success as resourcing these is becoming a challenge and we discussed at Council the possibility of appointing an Education Officer. We are currently seeking sources of funding for this to see if is feasible as we can’t really continue to rely on volunteers for what has become such a large programme. If you know of any charitable trusts who may like to support this please let me know as we would like to target our appeal. Similarly if you feel you could offer to support a workshop by coming along on the day to help that would be great, the current programme is available on the Restless Earth page of the BCS website.


And finally


Well, as it is the ‘silly season’ I thought I’d include a silly map. This one apparently shows what each nation leads the world in. The website is no more specific than “They collected the information from various sources and sprinkled in some quirkier rankings” The fact that Myanmar (Burma) leads the world in speaking Burmese is perhaps not surprising, but that the UK leads the world in ‘Fascist Organisation’ is at best surprising and at worst downright libelous. The full zoomable version is at




Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
8th August 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut


Sunday, 6 July 2014

BCS President's Bulletin June 2014

This time last month I was highlighting the upcoming start of the World Cup and wondering aloud if England could win it – well, we all know the answer to that question now! It was a very disappointing campaign, given the promise that all of the younger players seemed to suggest. Unfortunately we didn’t play to potential and the ‘blistering pace’ that was supposed to be our secret weapon against ageing opposition just wasn’t apparent. The same can’t be said of maps of the World Cup, they have been all over the place. Given away in umpteen magazines and newspapers, they now adorn offices and bedrooms around the country or have they all been torn down in frustration?!

BCS Symposium 2014

I am writing this just over a week after the Symposium closed and I have had time to reflect a little on this year’s event. We thought that with our 50th Birthday last year, the numbers attending would be at their peak, but they were exceeded by those attending this year. Some of that was due to the fact that we held a joint event with the International Map Industry Association (IMIA) who swelled our numbers and gave us more of an international dimension. But even allowing for this the number of delegates was up, with over 100 people attending the Wednesday sessions.

The Mapathon on Tuesday went extremely well. Six teams were presented with data from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and given about 6 hours to come up with a map based on that data. I was invited along to help judge the teams’ entries and was impressed by what they had been able to achieve in such a short time. They all took a different approach to representing the dataset and the final outputs all looked at different strands of the information. We hope to make them available via the BCS website soon, so keep monitoring it on a regular basis.

The programme had been constructed to try and reflect the broad nature of our membership, drawing on speakers from a good range of organisations. Although we had one or two late withdrawals it didn’t adversely affect the programme thanks to those who were able to step in at short notice to plug the gaps. One gap we couldn’t plug was the loss of our guest speaker on Tuesday evening. World events got in the way and our speaker from the Army Co-operation Squadron was deployed just days before the event at too short notice to be replaced.

This is not the place to go through a synopsis of the talks and there will be a full article in the next edition of Maplines that will do that. Suffice to say that the range of presentations was excellent, the workshops were thought provoking and instructive, with everything running very smoothly throughout the Symposium. The Gala Dinner was very well attended, with 89 diners and it was particularly pleasing that all but one of those recognised in the BCS Awards process was present to collect their certificate or trophy. Congratulations this year to all who received recognition from BCS for their cartographic excellence and especially to Lovell Johns Ltd who won the overall BCS Award. The Awards Display showcased the work that is going on around the world with entries from as far afield as USA, New Zealand, Mexico, Hungary and Ireland as well as from the UK. The BCS Awards for 2015 are open, so please do think about entering your products for these as we celebrate excellence in Cartography.

The Symposium programme alternates between accommodating the Helen Wallis Memorial Lecture and the BCS President’s Address. This year it was the latter. I took the opportunity to highlight the fact that despite several articles to the contrary, Cartography is not dead – drawing an analogy from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and more specifically the BBC Series Sherlock. At the end of Series 2 we were all lead to believe that Sherlock was dead, but Series 3 showed him to be very much alive. The same can be said of Cartography; commentators have tried to kill it off, but it is in as healthy a position now as it ever has been.

The problem we face is that the proliferation of tools and apps for creating maps, specifically in the web medium, means that anyone can now make a map. Whilst this is hugely positive in raising the profile and making people far more aware of maps and their power, it also has the downside of there being a high proportion of bad maps being created. As a cartographic community we can inwardly cringe when we see some particularly bad cartography, but what can we do about it? I firmly believe that we should not set ourselves up as the ‘Carto Police’ and simply be critical of the bad. In the vast majority of cases it may not do any actual harm as it is merely poor portrayal, clearly failing to get the message across. But occasionally it will mislead, misinform or deliberately contort data and it is this sort of bad cartography that I think we should be reacting to. Whether it is as a result of laziness or lack of knowledge we should fulfil a role of highlighting maps that do their job well and offering advice to those that totally miss the point. There is simply too much for us to notice everything and whilst labels such as ‘pedantic cartographer’ and ‘cartographic purist’ don’t do us any favours it does show that we still have a voice and one that should be listened to.

ICA Map Carte

Four examples that I particularly liked in June, starting with Charles Booth’s famous map of London poverty. Although not the first to portray information thematically, these maps were truly groundbreaking in the way in which highly detailed information was portrayed with such clarity and accuracy. Arguably way ahead of their time, these maps were produced about 20 years after the death of Charles Dickens who wrote so graphically about London and its lower classes. Take the two together and you can create a truly gritty portrait of London in the late Victorian era.

I suspect that not everyone would call this a ‘map’. As a means of portraying information spatially, however, it works really well and the clarity of the message is as good as it was in the previous example. Clear use of colours, linked to the small world inset map, with proportional symbols for the size of countries really works well. The only thing to watch is the logarithmic scale for the horizontal axis which can foreshorten the income differential based on the initial visual perception.

The typographic map of Boston used to illustrate this example shows how a completely novel use of type can be manipulated to represent the features of a large city. It wouldn’t work as well in a rural area, but in the urban setting with solid blocks, punctuated by a rectilinear road pattern the city layout is clear to see, although the designer should have included Fenway Park to make it a true picture of Boston.

 As the text accompanying the image on the Map Carte website says, “Cartograms seem to be one of those map types that garner polarised opinion. There are as many who find them compelling and highly useful as there are those who find any reason to debunk their utility.” When done well, I think they are very useful and can be a really clear way of communicating complex data. Yes, the distortions can look very odd to those used to a ‘standard’ projection, but in conveying proportion by area they can do a really good job of highlighting differences that may otherwise not be obvious.

Cartography on the web

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to stumble upon this website, 'Map of the Week' but it is a real treasure trove of on online maps, some good some bad. Perhaps I was subconsciously ‘channeling’ the author in my Presidential Address as he points out at the head of his blog, “but mostly you'll find bad cartography, bad data, and bad assumptions made from the bad data. You'll also find a healthy serving of lazy stereotypes.” Browse his website and you will find all sorts of maps on a huge variety of themes. Accompanied by some entertaining and well constructed commentary. The BCS salutes you Dug for doing a fine job of keeping mapping on the front line.

Mapping and geopolitics definitely go hand in hand. With an article entitled ‘The Cartography of Geopolitical Chaos’ we are reminded that the lines drawn on maps, sometimes a long time ago are still produced to support the claims of one side against another in a border dispute. There are quite a lot going on around the world, the most famous, or infamous, of which is the long running dispute over the South China Sea.

And finally

It’s that time of year when we issue forms inviting people to submit their names for BCS Council. We like to think that everyone derives benefit from their membership of the Society, but have you ever considered what you may be able to do for the Society? We are all volunteers and it would be really good to spread the expertise wider. Even if you don’t feel that Council is for you, is there something else that you could bring? Maplines are always looking to strengthen their editorial team, the various committees and special interest groups would welcome new members and if you have any expertise in marketing or publicity then we would love to hear from you.

Please do take a few minutes to think what you could contribute.

Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
6th July 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut

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