Monday, 10 November 2014

BCS President's Bulletin October 2014

My apologies to those who have been avidly checking the website for the past few days waiting for my monthly blog, but that thing called the ‘day job’ has rather got in the way. BCS members will have received the details of the AGM by now, including the voting forms for the BCS Council. As with any election, the higher the turnout the better the result reflects the wish of the electorate so I do hope you have used your chance to have your say. The AGM is being held at the RAF Club in London and will be followed by a talk by BBC Weather Presenter Helen Willetts on ‘The Changing Face of the Weather Map’.

Cartography in the News

The Times of 8th October featured an interesting article about David Taylor who used his route-tracking app to plot out his 187 mile journey between Poole and Southampton, definitely going the long way round!


Cartography on the web

I’m not sure that Greenwich will be very thrilled with the claim but according to a recent article on the BBC website, a Scottish astronomer and scientist is thought to have laid the first meridian line, arguably making St Andrews "the place where time began".

James Gregory laid the line across his lab in 1673, nearly 200 years before the Greenwich meridian was established. As it runs several degrees west of Greenwich that could mean that we are all about 12 minutes out.

Not so much Cartography, or even Geography, but Geology for my next one. The Geological Society of London has named its top 100 geological sites in the UK and Ireland, including 10 "people's favourites". The web page includes some stunning pictures, perhaps it should also have include some maps to show the challenges of how such features are depicted in 2D so as to be representative of their true form.

The German Company GfK has released its Europe Map Edition 2014/2015, and for those of us who though that the map of Europe was pretty unchanging compared to some parts of the world it reflects thousands of changes that have occurred in Europe since last year. The company produces digital maps of administrative and postal regions which form the basis for place-based or “geomarketing” analyses for companies across all industries.

Approximately one thousand digital maps in the GfK Europe Map Edition have been updated to reflect the latest status and offer comprehensive coverage down to Europe's most detailed postal and administrative levels.

GfK have set themselves the challenge to “…update our maps for Europe every year so we can offer an accurate and error-free cartographic basis for geographic analyses."

There have been changes to every European country's postal and administrative levels. In total, this amounts to more than 4,000 changes.

Are you planning to visit Eltham Palace next year? If not why not? They have recently discovered something far more interesting under several layers of wallpaper than I have ever found. Dating back to the 1930s they have found maps that were used by the Courtaulds, the owners at the time, to plan their many overseas travels. English Heritage is now appealing for the £25,000 required for expert conservators to uncover, fully restore and protect these tantalising portals into a bygone age of luxury travel. English Heritage webpage Thanks to ‘regular’ contributor Sue Brett for forwarding this one to me.

There are a few glaring errors in this BBC piece about why we love Ordnance Survey maps, but the interesting thing is that John O'Keefe who has jointly won the 2014 Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering the brain's navigation system. In some of his early key research in 1971, ‘The Hippocampus As A Cognitive Map’, he references an OS map as a way of explaining spatial behaviour and the brain's internal positioning system.

Going down under, Queensland is preserving its past through recently discovered historical paper maps dating back to the 1800s. The Royal Geographical Society of Queensland (RGSQ) are currently going through an archiving and assessment process with plans to digitally capture the maps to make them fully available for the public.

ICA Map Carte

My favourites this month start with one that was submitted for a BCS Award last year, The Milford Track in New Zealand by Roger Smith. Despite the almost incessant claims that print cartography is dead nothing could be farther from the truth. While we are seemingly inextricably linked to our digital mobile devices there’s something eternally useful about a

paper map. The batteries never run out in the middle of nowhere. They suffer to a lesser degree in rain or bright sun. They can be crammed into your backpack…you can even damage them and not break the bank! That doesn’t mean that print cartography cannot develop and the fact that this map is printed on crushed rock means you can do pretty much anything to it and it’ll survive.

Another example of indestructible cartography comes from the much publicised Splashmaps. Started by David Overton in 2012, there are now over 30 different areas of Great Britain available and there is also a personalised service. They are waterproof, tear-proof and can withstand being handled roughly. They can also be written on and are washable so after getting the map in a mess it can be thrown in the washing machine and be brought back to its pristine best.

 My last choice this month is a chart, not a map. Ask, ‘What is the difference between a chart and a map?’ and you will probably get a whole host of different answers. The focus for a nautical chart is on the detail at sea, but his example also gives a clear and uncluttered representation of the land. Hydrographic charts typically use very few colours, usually in the pastel hues and this particular example does a really good job in creating a pleasing visual hierarchy and maintaining a clear delineation of the key details.

And Finally

With my taste for the quirky, I couldn’t help pondering on what this particular piece of marketing is telling us. If this is a package for 'conventional' toilet roll, just what is ‘unconventional', toilet roll? E-mail me your suggestions and the most imaginative answer will get published in next month’s bulletin.
Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
10th November 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut

Sunday, 5 October 2014

BCS President's Bulletin September 2014

Well, in the end I suppose it was all a bit of a damp squib with the Scottish independence vote being decisively won by the ‘Better Together’ campaign despite some polls predicting a much closer result right up to the day of polling. So we won’t have to re-draw the map of the United Kingdom although lots of versions were being produced right up to the last minutes to show how things might have looked had the vote gone the other way.

And this wasn’t the only geopolitical issue in the news last month, there was also a little bit of a spat between Russia and Canada over the Crimea, and I quote “when diplomats from Canada and Russia engaged in passive-aggressive cartography on social media.” Apparently Canada’s mission to NATO tweeted a map that was aimed at helping Russian soldiers who kept getting lost and not knowing on which side of the border they were and it also clearly labelled the Crimean Peninsula “not Russian”. Not to be outdone, Russian diplomats tweeted their own map that showed Crimea fully under Russian control. The Canadian Tweet was shared 25000 in one day, the Russian Tweet? Just 400.

The BBC also reported last month on the latest development in the South China Sea. You

may remember in my July Bulletin that I included a picture of Vietnamese models wearing map dresses in what was called ‘soft power’ showing their interpretation of the maritime boundaries. Well it would appear that China has taken an altogether more practical approach and is actually constructing new islands in order to bolster its territorial claims. The appearance of these islands has happened suddenly and is a dramatic new move in a longstanding territorial struggle in the South China Sea. At the beginning of this year, the Chinese presence in the Spratly Islands consisted of a handful of outposts, a collection of concrete blockhouses perched atop coral atolls. Now it is building substantial new islands on five different reefs. Full details can be found at

Cartography on the Internet

It’s nice to know that my blog is widely read and thank you to those who have commented
positively on it. This month I have had for the first time, people suggesting stories that I might like to include, so thanks to Mary Spence for pointing out this article, Do you play Minecraft? No, me neither, but perhaps I will start as it has now been augmented by Ordnance Survey completing a Minecraft map of the UK. Made from 83 billion blocks, each representing 25m on the ground, It has been designed in such stunning detail, that you should be able to locate your own house on it.

Sue Brett pointed me to another BBC article that reported on recent work done at
Stonehenge to map the underground picture around the monument, a process that has revealed a much large network of sites and related activity that had previously been known. Ground penetrating radar and 3D scanning were used to reveal previously unknown detail that indicates that Stonehenge was not as isolated as previously thought being part of a much large set of Neolithic activity.

Here’s one for your Christmas list, a game called Cartography. Its Facebook page at doesn’t really give much detail and I’m struggling to find more details about it. It would appear that it hasn’t actually been produced yet and is looking for ‘kickstarter’ funding. But is does say on the website “Please share Cartography with your nerd friends!”

And talking of Christmas lists, you might also like to add ‘Maps; their untold stories’, a new book published by The National Archives and authored by Rose Mitchell and Andrew Janes. Chapters highlight how early mapmakers viewed their world; there are military maps and
sea charts, maps showing exploration and settlement overseas; maps for treaties and diplomacy; and even maps which capture the imaginative element of cartography. Available at £25 from TNA.

As someone who has always marvelled at how accurately some ancient charts appear to depict coastlines and continents, I was really interested to read an article on Portolan Charts. These have been described as one of the most remarkable and mysterious technical advances in the history of navigation. The example first presented in the article is a chart of the Mediterranean so accurate that ships today could navigate with it. Most earlier maps that included the region were not intended for navigation and were so imprecise that they are virtually unrecognizable to the modern eye. The person who made this document — the first so-called portolan chart, from the Italian word portolano, meaning “a collection of sailing directions” — spawned a new era of mapmaking and oceanic exploration. That first portolan mapmaker also created an enormous puzzle for historians to come, because he left behind few hints of his method: no rough drafts, no sketches, no descriptions of his work.

Equally as mysterious is this next map. Whilst we are used to seeing maps of the Moon and
Mars, this is another extra-terrestrial object that has been mapped, the catchily named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko Comet. Mapped by the European Space Agency’s satellite, Rosetta, the plan is to identify a suitable site for Rosetta’s probe to land on the surface of the comet. Rosetta is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the sun, and will deploy a lander to its surface.

By now we are all familiar with ‘Google Street View’, with details captured for a vehicle mounted camera; some may be aware of ‘Google Trekker’, a man-portable system for monitoring anything from hikes to trails and now comes the ‘Google Cartographer’ to capture details inside buildings. As the website reports,

The Cartographer uses a process called “simultaneous localization and mapping” (SLAM), a
technique that’s typically used for mapping new locations and that Google is now putting to use to map anything from hotels to museums.

As the backpacker walks through a building, the floor plan is automatically generated in real time, Google says. The wearer also uses a tablet to add points of interest while walking around the building (say room numbers in a hotel or the exhibits in a museum).

I know that I have been concerned to ensure people that cartography is not dead, but I am not sure that I had this in mind when I was thinking of the modern day cartographer.

Restless Earth

It would appear that we are going to have to update some of the information that we provide to the students who attend the BCS Restless Earth workshops. Research carried out by scientists at the British Geological Survey, in association with the University of Rhode Island and the University of Tokyo, has revealed that a submarine landslide contributed to the enormity of the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Research showed that the very high waves recorded along the northern part of the affected coast could not be explained by the earthquake, because the epicentre was located farther south. The high waves, however, could be explained by a submarine landslide located offshore of the Honshu coast. Using sophisticated modelling of the Japan event a location for the possible landslide was found and seabed imagery showed that there was one present. Modelling of the tsunami from the earthquake and landslide together reproduced the waves that had devastated the north Honshu coast.

ICA Map Carte

Image maps are very familiar to us, but in the 1960s they were still a fairly new concept. Certainly photography was used to compile mapping but in its raw form was thought to be

too detailed and difficult to interpret. This composite map of the moon shows how effective it can be when done well. True, there are no features overlaying the topographic base, but it is a stunning image of something we perhaps take for granted and seldom look at in any detail.

I wonder why the compiler of Map Carte chose Nottingham to illustrate John Speed’s work?!
Beautiful historical cartography that as a print would grace any wall, but is probably beyond the means of most. The bold, vivid colours of Speed’s atlas perhaps look a little garish for modern tastes but reflect the opulence that was often part of the process. Often created as prestigious ways of recognising a royal patron, the brighter the better, and they in no way detract from the maps themselves.

And finally

A reminder that the BCS AGM will be held on Monday 17th November at the RAF Club in London. It will be preceded by an Historical Military Mapping Group event at the British Library and followed by a talk by BBC Weather Presenter Helen Willetts on ‘The Changing Face of the Weather Map’. Check out the BCS website for full details of the day.

Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
5th October 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

BCS President's Bulletin August 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

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