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 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


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