Friday, 18 February 2011

Maps... in Dubai?

With a friend having reloacted out in Dubai in July last year, trying to send her cards for birthday and Christmas proved difficult as she reported back that although her flat was in a well established area of Dubai, near the Mall, her postman was never able to locate her. It is routine that you have to draw a hand sketched map of where you live and hand it over to Karama Central Post Office so that the postie can use it to find you!
"Stores often include a form for drawing a map to your home to avoid confusion". Source:

I've been told that it's due to so many new roads being built and therefore it is very difficult to find your way around... Well now that RTA (Roads&Transport Authority) has published some bus maps does this mean the residents of Dubai will have a network to rely on?

"The Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has started displaying improved and easy to read bus routes, network maps and timetables at the bus stops and main bus stations across the emirate."

That one on the right looks familiar 'ey? (See TfL's London Corridor Route Diagrams)

Imagine Peace 2011...on a map

You may have seen it's Yoko Ono's 78th birthday today and she's posted a message of hope for world peace and used a map to express how many people have visited the Imagine Peace website
It's an impressive coverage of the world, however I thought it would be more useful if it were overlaid with the urban areas so you can more realistically see where people live to get an understanding on the blank spaces on her map. OK, so the polar regions are pretty obvious, as are some of the deserts, but it would be good to show that Australia, is heavily supporting her as are Canada... They're just not heavily populated in those areas that dominate such a map!
With the addition of the Urban Sprawl Data from Digital Chart of the World in red, you can now see that areas in central Africa, like the Congo are inhabited but are missing the white dot of activity on the website, unsurprisingly, and that areas in the middle east, North Korea and eastern China are also lacking those white dots. A larger image is available to view here:
What other data layers do you think may add to the interpretation of this type of global data?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

UK Police maps: X does not mark the spot

Today saw the UK Police map service launched which brings local policing to the desktop of the population through a range of maps and simple data summaries. In terms of a step towards more open data it is certainly to be applauded but in terms of the mapping it adds yet another woeful example to the plague of poor online web maps.

Users type in a place or a unit postcode and get data on the location showing handy point symbols identifying locations of crimes disaggregated by broad types...or do they? No! The points are some sort of generic locator placed on each road segment that is used as the point to symbolise crimes for that road. So what does Mr and Mrs average do with the site?..of course, they type in their postcode and are delighted to find out that all crime happened some distance away. Unless, that is, their property is located near the geometric centre of the road in which case they are now horrified.

I tried this for my own road and found that a well known crime that occured during the census period (I know because the dawn raid was fairly obvious) was missing. So either the data is incomplete (which doesn't bode well) or it has been positioned elsewhere to 'protect privacy'. Err, surely the location of the new point is now inaccurate and while the original crime is not properly reported it is, worse, attributed to another location altogether.

This sort of utterly inept mapping is precisely what enrages cartographers. Representing data effectively to report geography properly and communicate reality is what we do. It is also what any basic GIS course or cartography course would teach. The annoyance is borne of the frustration of seeing a site that will now be viewed widely be completely misinterpreted because of erroneous mapping techniques. Not everyone is cognisant of cartographic theory but the least anyone should do when preparing a map is keep this fact in mind and design the map/map service so that it will be read and understood as accurately as possible by the uninitiated. The basic tenet of good design is to ensure you take account of the potential user and design accordingly to remove uncertainty and the potential for mis-communication.

The use of totals and a single point is poor to say the least. If the desire is to build in fuzziness to deal with the privacy issue then use rates or proportions; use areas instead of points; or use some form of road-based linear symbol that varies by thickness or colour. Instead, the UK Police have been lazy and taken a nice standard base map service and contrived to make up points where crimes didn;t exist, then sum the crimes locally to give a value to that location. Utterly meaningless in cartographic terms so pointless and dangerous to show it as such.

Unfortunately the new Police maps' use of points, when far better representational techniques are available, is such a fundamental error it beggars belief. It is indeed a crime in its own right. X does not mark the spot as any reader of Treasure Island knows. Now, the national map of crime perpetuates this myth by illustrating a nation of criminal locations that never actually existed.

Satirical Maps - a place for them in 2011?

The last of the Beauty of Maps Series airs tonight on BBC Four (Repeats from 2010).
"This documentary series has been looking at maps in incredible detail to highlight their artistic attributions and reveal the stories that they tell. The series concludes by delving into the world of satirical maps. How did maps take on a new form, not as geographical tools, but as devices for humour, satire or storytelling?"
To me, it raises the question as to whether these kind of maps would ever have been created if political sensitivity was as fragile then as it is today. Would an English newspaper be able to publish such prints to the nation or world today and not suffer consequences like other cartoon impressions around the world have in recent years...? If some are still offended by these maps 140 years later then they're obviously still seen as very powerful images. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a great map worth?

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