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

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

BCS President's Bulletin May 2014

It’s that time again when a large part of the world will be glued to their TV sets for almost a month watching the World Cup and a slightly smaller part will be groaning inwardly when you announce you’re going to watch Honduras v. Ecuador. Maps and wallcharts will start appearing all over the place in offices and homes, children will fill out the results in World Cup sticker books until the novelty wears off, but at least it encourages a healthy interest in the locations of other countries and which of them England are going to beat. According to my wallchart predictions, England will beat Germany in the final having scraped out of the group and then seen off Ivory Coast, Brazil and Portugal. Can England really win the 2014 World Cup? Yes. Will England win the 2014 World Cup? Your guess is as good as mine. By the time I write next month’s bulletin, we will be at the quarter final stage – will England still be a contender?!

BCS Symposium

The BCS’ 50th Annual Symposium is now just 3 weeks away and bookings are at an all-time high. Well, at least at a high in recent years. No, I haven’t made a mistake. Although the Society celebrated its 50th Anniversary last year, this year sees us holding our 50th Annual Symposium. I don’t know who holds the record for having attended the most Symposia. I’ve attended them all since 1999, but I am sure there are others who can surpass that. It looks like being another excellent event this year with a very good range of speakers from across the cartographic community, some really hands on workshops and our first ever Mapathon. Full details of the Mapathon can be found on the website,, but essentially you turn up at Marwell on the Tuesday morning with your laptop loaded with software of your choice, we give you a dataset to work with and by the end of the day you have turned that dataset into a map. We are working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to produce a map or maps that will help in their commemoration of the Centenary of the First World War. It is free to attend, so if you haven’t already signed up, check out the website, sign up and come along. Help will be at hand for those of you who don’t feel that confident and everyone is welcome whatever your level of expertise.
The BCS Awards that will be presented at the Black Tie Gala Dinner on the Wednesday evening have now closed for 2014. We will be announcing details for the 2015 Awards at the Symposium and we will be looking for more fantastic and innovative cartography for next year’s entries. The UKHO Junior Mapmaker Award and the National Geographic Society New Mapmaker Award are still open and don’t close until the end of July. There is still time to submit entries and again full details may be found on the website.

If you have ever wondered why the event is called a Symposium, I did offer an explanation in my 50th Anniversary speech last year, but an alternative reason has been offered, if you work your way through this decision tree.

Maps on the Internet

I have recently become increasingly aware of the neologism ‘infographic’, more of which at the Symposium. The huge explosion of mapping on the Internet is both a good and a bad thing. It has popularised maps even more than ever before and has increased awareness of issues by portraying them within a spatial context that can often add depth and meaning – when done well. But the flip side is that an awful lot of it is not done well, in fact it’s done appallingly badly. A recent article by Business Insider sums it up perfectly, with some pretty hideous examples -

‘Could you make a better map than this?’ Did you rise to the challenge issued by Knowhere Consulting? They highlighted a dreadful example on their site One thing we need to be wary of is becoming the internet police and just knocking bad maps. As the article says, “By now you may be thinking ‘why doesn’t he stop knocking the LGA’s map and make a better one himself?’. Well I am a pretty clumsy user of QGIS and I am certainly not a cartographer so my effort would be be pretty poor. So here’s a challenge, download the data, use some OpenData and make a better map”. The entries will be judged and a prize awarded at the July Geomob event, but BCS would love to see the entries too. Talking of which, the line up for the next Geomob event on 17th July has been announced. Full details may be found at

Okay, so they can’t spell colour, but GIS lounge has an interesting article on maps for the colour blind that complements the article in the latest edition of Maplines,

Not wishing to prolong this any more than is strictly necessary, the good old chestnut of right information, wrong projection reared its ugly head again in May. Few of us would probably have linked The Proclaimers to cartography, but linked they have been. Check out the Cartonerd’s blog, which says it all and we will then quietly draw a line under it.

Sit back from whichever device you are using to read this before opening the next link or you are in serious danger of drooling over your keyboard. After highlighting some of the worst examples on the net, here are some of the most beautiful map images. If there isn’t at least one example on the site that you will absolutely love I will be amazed.

ICA Mapcarte

So, what have I selected as my favourites from this months’ selection? It’s a pretty eclectic mix, starting with a classic, The Times Atlas. First published in 1895 and still going strong today, this has been the stalwart of the Atlas market, viewed as the authoritative version. I do have one rather worrying anecdote, however. Whilst visiting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the late 1990s, I was offered a tour of some of the more prestigious rooms, including the Foreign Secretary’s Office. The incumbent was Robin Cook at the time and I was heartened to see a Times Atlas on a side table and assumed that this was the reference work that the Foreign Secretary consulted when formulating Britain’s Foreign Policy. I was slightly disheartened, on opening the front cover to discover that it was the 1963 edition!
‘Where on earth have you been?’ Well if the Guardian’s map is to be believed, and what looks like a very heavily pregnant USA is accurate, most of us seem to have crossed the pond. Australia is pretty rotund as well and as for our European neighbours it would seem that France and a particularly pendulous Sweden are amongst our favourite destinations. As the post says, ‘Simple, Fun and Eye Catching’.

My last choice is a bit like the ‘Kevin’ map last month, I know I shouldn’t like it, but I do. ‘The Londoner’s view of the North’, is a combination of stereotype and humour. Whilst it can’t be cited as an example of great cartography, anything that makes you smile can’t be all bad. Come September 18th, I wonder if the author will have to issue a revised version?!
To view all the maps on the MapCarte site go to
Honorary Fellowship

Last year we recognised the significant contribution to the Society of two of our members, Ann Sutherland and Dr Seppe Cassettari, with the award of Honorary Fellowships. We are now inviting nominations for this year. Each year the Society can grant up to 3 Honorary Fellowships, so if you know of someone who you think the Society should recognise, please contact our Administrator, Roger Hore.

Technician of the Year

Congratulations to BCS member, Mark Szegner from Loughborough University, who has just been awarded the Higher Education Authority’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Technician of the Year Award for Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences. These awards celebrate the technician’s contribution to teaching and learning activities and to the wider HE student experience. Mark is one of the few University Cartographers around and it is great to be able to celebrate the recognition of cartography in a field where my source for the original information tells me “This is a really big deal as usually technicians in white coats tend to win”. A brief resumé of his career can be found at:

Congratulations from all your colleagues in the BCS.

And finally

We have just confirmed our guest speaker to follow the BCS AGM on 17th November. BBC Weather presenter Helen Willetts will be speaking to us. As yet I don’t have a title for her talk but it will have a cartographic element. I heard Helen speak at the RGS some years ago on climate change and she is very engaging speaker. Full details will appear on the website soon.

Image courtesy of BBC website

Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
3rd June 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut

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