Monday, 8 December 2014

BCS President's Bulletin November 2014

The BCS AGM was held at the RAF Club in London on 17th November and we reflected on another successful year for the Society. The Restless Earth schools' programme is proving to be as popular as ever, the Annual Symposium at Marwell ran jointly with IMIA was a great success, the BCS Awards were rejuvenated and proved to be a highlight of the Gala Dinner and our membership continues to grow, topping 700 at the end of the month. We are also in very good health financially and in response to a question at the AGM the Council will be looking at the reserves that we hold and will be determining ways of investing and using our assets to further develop the Society. We are aware that the BCS website needs updating and we will be offering online access to the Cartographic Journal in 2015, but if you have any specific proposals for how BCS funds could be employed then please get in touch.

The AGM was followed by a talk by BBC weather presenter Helen Willetts, who spoke about the ‘Changing Face of the Weather Map’. It was an excellent talk during which Helen covered a far greater timespan that I had anticipated, from ancient times right up to the modern day. It was a really entertaining and informative talk, sparked many questions from the audience and finally solved the mystery for me of the seven legged spider. Helen confessed afterwards that she hadn’t spoken in public for nearly eight years, but you couldn’t tell and she also confided to me that she had thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Cartography in the News

You know you’re in trouble when the reigning monarch says that maps have been overtaken by satnavs, although if you read the article the headline is a bit misleading and that’s not what she actually said. What she actually said to one of the pupils who was finding co-ordinates on a map is that ‘Nowadays you probably have a satnav or something’. Yes, Ma'am, that something is a map. On the same page in the paper was a report on proposed changes to the driving test including 'asking candidates to follow directions on a satnav, as an alternative to following road signs'. I’m sorry but isn’t that just plain daft? I never navigate simply by following road signs, if I did getting from my home in Woking to say Leeds could be a bit of a challenge if I was relying solely on road signs as there aren’t too many in Woking that tell you where Leeds is. Edmund King president of the AA chimed in with 'Some still navigate with signs and maps'; useful concept ‘some’ just imprecise enough not to be able to disagree with it too vehemently.

Cartography on the Web

Just to remind us all that paper maps and satnavs are not necessarily mutually exclusive, a web article from HEMA maps, ‘down under’, shows how the two can be used successfully together. Rob Boegheim, the company’s managing director always starts his planning process with a paper map as he argues that its scope is still the best way to get the big picture when planning a trip. The progression from planning at home to discovering somewhere out in the bush, instantly transforms the basic paper map from planning tool into cheap insurance. Though the likelihood of technological failure is rare in most cases, a paper map is always an essential low cost backup that will pay dividends when called upon on the expedition.

Apparently brains and cauliflowers are similar in size and shape but if you have ever wondered what a map of your brain would look like, then we now have the answer. Nico Lambert’s rendering can be found at the link.

One of the guest speakers from our 50th Anniversary year, Jack Dangermond, has recently been quoted as saying that he wants top executives to think more like cartographers. Growth of GIS beyond its original boundaries is now making people realise the benefits to analysis and decision making if the geospatial element is fully considered. What is broadly termed as ‘location strategy’ is now a large factor in business allowing those who employ it to gain the competitive advantage.

I have been showcasing the ICA Map Carte webpage for the whole year (see below) and a new article by ICA President Georg Gartner, looks at cartography in the 21st century. One of his key points echoes the thoughts of HEMA maps in that there are significant differences in the way we use paper and digital outputs. Using a paper map gives you the broader picture so that you quickly develop a sense of place and can navigate an area comfortably relatively quickly, whereas the convenience of a small screen makes you concentrate on directions without developing that same sense of your surroundings.

The BCS Better Mapping seminars offered the concept that as well as literacy and numeracy, there was a third important skill of ‘graphicacy’, ie. the ability to read and understand graphical images, particularly maps. This point is taken up by Kenneth D. Madsen an assistant professor of geography at The Ohio State University at Newark. Whilst not advocating that we all learn by rote the locations of world countries and their capitals, he does argue that just as use of a calculator does not diminish the need to know basic maths and just as knowing the alphabet is a prerequisite for reading, so it is that knowledge of where to find places is useful for a greater understanding of geographic processes.

We have been bombarded over the years with news that cartography is a dying profession and there aren’t any cartographers any more, yet here we are still going very string. Well, now it would appear that GIS professionals are under threat. I subscribe to GISCafe and a recent article talked about a new breed of Geographer or is it Geospatial practitioner, geospatial developer or location specialist. The author Joseph Berry argues that in getting GIS more widely accepted and used amongst a non-specialist community, “We need individuals, who understand the challenges faced by the wider ‘non-GIS’ community. Who can bridge the divide, and communicate spatial solutions to a new set of problems, targeted at a new diverse group of users.” I think we call them cartographers don’t we?

ICA Map Carte

My first choice this month is really easy, Roy’s map of the Hounslow Heath baseline. Easy because his was the predecessor of the organisation that I now work for. Tracing its history back to 1747, Military Survey (as it was once known) mapped the UK and Ireland to a phenomenal degree given the technology at their disposal. You can still see the ends of the baseline marked by two upturned cannons, one in Ordnance Close and one at Heathrow airport, although the vast majority of people probably don’t know what they signify.

Another place on my bucket list is the Vatican, if only to see The Gallery of Maps, a 120m long gallery beautifully decorated with more than 40 works of art. Dating from the 1580s, their vibrant colours and remarkable detail are from an age when maps where starting to assume an important role in scientific discovery. Celebrating the central importance of Italy before it was a unified country, they were commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII, who wanted the Vatican to be a part of the scientific and cartographic revolution of the day.

My final choice this month is not necessarily the most obvious as it is neither beautiful nor particularly eye-catching. The Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum Visitor Map is very powerful, presenting as the web site describes it 'a poignant and eerily clinical blend…a cold soulless landscape', something which perhaps a photograph could also invoke but something that this map achieves with stunning simplicity.

These and all the other maps that have been chosen throughout the year can be found at

And Finally

Well, following last month’s toilet humour picture, for which I got no printable suggestions about what unconventional toilet paper could be, I am really struggling for something to finish this month’s offering. So what I will say is that December’s offering will come out on or about Christmas Eve and will contain exciting news about next year’s Symposium, so think of the next couple of weeks as a kind of BCS Advent Calendar, but without the chocolate.

Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
8th December 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut

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

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