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

Saturday, 10 May 2014

BCS President's Monthly Bulletin April 2014

That very rare event of a nice British Bank Holiday weekend meant that this monthly bulleting comes out a few days later than planned as it was just too nice to be sitting indoors at the computer and the garden really did need a lot of work on it. So if you have been regularly checking the website for my latest musing, I apologise to both of you.

BCS Events

Historical Military Mapping Group Bomber Command Study Tour

The HMMG Bomber Command Study Tour that took place in early April proved to be a huge success despite some initial problems with getting it off the ground. As it turned out the timing coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Raid, Bomber Command’s costliest operation of the war in terms of aircraft and crew lost. This was brought home on the first stop on our tour, The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, an aviation museum in East Kirkby. The day prior to our arrival a cross had been laid out representing the 95 aircraft and over 700 crew who didn’t return. Over the three day tour we visited a number of sites associated with Bomber Command, the highlight of which was RAF Coningsby, the home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The aircraft had spent the winter being serviced and made ready for the upcoming display season and we were very fortunate to be treated to an impromptu flying display by the Dakota and a Spitfire, with the Lancaster also outside its hangar with all four engines running – a sight and sound not to be missed. A full report of the Study Tour will appear in the Summer issue of Maplines.

The old and the new, Lancaster in the foreground, Typhoon in the background

Map Curators Workshop

The next SIG event apart from Symposium activities will be the Map Curators Group workshop in Birmingham in early September. The theme of the MCG 2014 Workshop is: "Hands across the map; co-operation and partnership in map collections". It is being held in the University of Birmingham in their Conference Centre. The Workshop will be held on Wednesday 10 September.  On the Tuesday 9 September a training day for those who find they have to deal with maps or need to refresh their knowledge entitled, "Feral maps and how to tame them" has been organised. On Thursday 11 September a visit to a map collection will take place. Full details will shortly be available via the BCS website, so keep checking for details.

BCS Annual Symposium

And having mentioned the Symposium this year’s looks like it might outdo even last year’s anniversary event in popularity. By the close of the early bird deadline on 30th April, we had already had 105 delegates signed up and since then the number has risen to over 120, an impressive number still six weeks ahead of the event. The full details of a very impressive programme of talks and workshops is available on the website, so if you haven’t already booked check out all that is happening and get your registration in soon.

Geographical Association Conference

For the first time the BCS had a stand and ran a workshop at the Geographical Association Conference at the University of Surrey in mid-April. To quote from their website, “The Geographical Association (GA) is a UK-based subject association with the charitable objective of furthering geographical knowledge and understanding through education. We support teachers, students, tutors and academics at all levels of education through journals, publications, training events, projects, websites and by lobbying government about the importance of geography.”

The main reason for BCS attendance was to increase awareness of the BCS amongst the education sector and to publicise our Restless Earth workshop. We were very successful in both cases. We signed up a few new members and certainly increased awareness through talking to a lot of the delegates about what we had to offer as a Society. Of particular interest was the fact that we got a lot of enquiries from primary school staff about what we could do for the younger age groups, something for us to ponder on. As there was no pre-booking system for the workshop we were totally unsure of how many delegates would turn up to the abridged version of the Restless Earth Workshop, condensed to 45 minutes to fit our allocated slot. As it turned out we were full and I think the stewards actually had to turn delegates away; it generated a huge amount of interest and we have already had several enquiries about running workshops in 2014/15 as a direct result.

Cartography in the news

As part of the government’s reform of qualification and the curriculum to "better prepare pupils for life after school", the Department for Education has recently published its GCSE Subject Content for a number of subjects including Geography and it is heartening to see that maps and cartography feature quite strongly. This publication sets out the learning outcomes and content coverage required for GCSE specifications in geography.

The main body of the document includes two specific references to maps and GIS and states that the GCSE specification should enable students to:

“develop and extend their competence in a range of skills including those used in fieldwork, in using maps and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and in researching secondary evidence, including digital sources; and develop their competence in applying sound enquiry and investigative approaches to questions and hypotheses (study like a geographer”

It should enable students to demonstrate skills including:
“The use of a range of maps, atlases, Ordnance Survey maps, satellite imagery and other graphic and digital material including the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), to obtain, illustrate, analyse and evaluate geographical information. To include making maps and sketches to present and interpret geographical information”

There is also an annex detailing specific skills to be developed which includes:

“Cartographic skills
  • use and understand gradient, contour and spot height on OS maps and other isoline maps (eg weather charts, ocean bathymetric charts)
  • interpret cross sections and transects
  • use and understand coordinates, scale and distance
  • describe and interpret geo-spatial data presented in a GIS framework”

I say old chap these new-fangled developments in mapping are jolly interesting don’t you know. All you need is a tellurometer, ‘a girl to help’, not forgetting that we are producing maps at ‘three bus lengths to an inch’, and then you can’t go wrong! If you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about check out the video clip at, made by Pathé in 1961.

Goodbye to paper maps and pdf’s, hello to cloud enabled GIS

The latest death knell for paper maps was sounded on 20th April by Matt Sheehan. To quote his article, the full details of which can be found at the link, “You cannot beat a beautiful paper map. Cartographers are talented people. But in today’s fast paced, mobile world, paper maps used for day to day work are no longer practical.” The article is at,

Sorry I just can’t agree with this as a statement, and even the author concedes rather arguing against himself, “Is this the end for paper maps? Absolutely not, they will always be with us. Just used less widely ….” If the quantity and quality of entries for this year’s BCS Awards is anything to go by then the paper map is alive and well and in particularly rude health. Admittedly, they do not all lend themselves to “day to day” work, but many do and remain the best way of navigating and understanding the area around you. We cannot afford to be complacent and the growth of digital and web cartography is causing us to have a rethink about award categories to better reflect the modern cartographic industry but there are more than enough instances of paper maps being critically important to everyday activities. One interesting statistic that backs this up is that in the last 5 years, search and rescue in Scotland has seen a five-fold increase in calls due to people taking to the mountains with just their smartphone and then losing signal or battery strength and getting into difficulties.

The fact that Newly designed US Topo maps covering West Virginia, New Jersey and Georgia are now available online for free download, also shows that the days of the paper map are no quite yet numbered. The new editions have a crisper, cleaner design - enhancing readability of maps for online and printed use. The complete article at explains how the design is looking to combine the best of both printed and online to enhance the usability of the product.

MapCarte for April

The selection of maps for the month of April covers a wide range of styles and types from the antique to the ultra-modern and there should be something, as usual, to suit everybody’s taste. My top three are quite eclectic and cover the entire range. Wainwright is a name synonymous with memorable cartography, with the emphasis very much on ‘art’. His hand drawn maps of the Lake District, an integral part of his pictorial guides, are truly stunning, their clarity and ease of use enhanced by being ‘simple’ pen and ink compositions. A combination of planimetric and perspective views enhances their usability and they remain as useful today as they were when first produced in the 1950s.

John Ogilby enjoyed the title of His Majesty’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer at a time long before the term ‘cartographer’ had been coined. The first time I saw an illustration of Ogilby’s strip maps, I remember thinking how modern they looked, their presentation of information clear and linear and not subject to much of the fanciful artistry of the time. Very simple in conception but ‘breaking the mould’ in many ways, not least in not maintaining a constant North, they are easy to read and understand and poring over them today large elements of the routes are still clearly recognisable.

My final ‘choice’ is Google Maps. I can’t imagine that many regular users of the internet are unfamiliar with Google maps and I certainly use it on an almost daily basis. Whilst stories of mistakes still appear in the press, most recently the removal of Basingstoke, this really does a disservice to an API that has popularised mapping and enabled anyone to customise their information and present it in cartographic formats. Whilst the results of this opening up are not always pleasing on the eye, it has greatly increased awareness of mapping and its uses. To quote the Map Carte description, “Quite simply the map is, and continues to be revolutionary. The 2005 map would get nowhere near MapCarte. The 2014 version is state-of-the-art and in less than 10 years Google are leading big league cartography and fully deserve inclusion.”

And Finally….

I know I shouldn’t like this, but as an example of map silliness it works. Featured in the Onion “America’s Finest News Source”, it purports to show the distribution of Kevins on a global basis, something in which the US is a world leader and as the website says, “There are certainly areas of Australia, the U.K., and Canada where the concentration of Kevins is high, but they all fall well short of the United States’ Kevin population across all demographics. And when we look at the benchmark Kevin-to-John ratio, no country comes even remotely close to the staggering .205 figure the U.S. posted in 2013.” What more can I say? Full details at,35856/

Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
10th May 2014


Twitter: @geomapnut

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