Monday, 5 August 2013

BCS President’s Report July 2013

I know that media outlets refer to this as ‘the silly season’, when news stories dry up and items that wouldn’t normally merit reporting suddenly come to the fore and July 1963 is no exception as there appear to have been very few big news events. 
The one major UK news item is rather an unpleasant one, but still very resonant. On 12th July 1963, Pauline Reade aged 16 was reported missing on her way to a dance in Gorton, Manchester. One of the victims of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, her body was not found until 24 years later in 1987. Those who are familiar with Saddleworth Moor, will know what a bleak and desolate place it can be and yet it is so close to so many large towns that it seems strange to find such desolation so close to such urban sprawl. It is perfectly understandable why the body of Keith Bennett has tragically never been found. 

If I asked you what happened 44 years ago at 8°30′N 31°24′E, you would probably struggle to come up with something memorable happening in Southern Sudan, but then the image should give you a fairly hefty clue! We’re not talking about terrestrial co-ordinates, but lunar ones. The 44th anniversary may not be particularly noteworthy in itself, but to think that BCS has been around since before man first landed on the moon does make you reflect on the huge changes that have taken place in the last 50 years. Technology has arguably advanced more in the last 50 years than at any other time in history and things that were only seen in science fiction are now commonplace items. So with all the advances in technology are maps now past their sell by date? I do get a little annoyed when I see articles with headlines such as “GPS can't kill the good old-fashioned road map”. Whilst the tenor of the article from the Canadian Broadcasting Service is positive about maps in general, to use the term ‘old-fashioned’ in the title just seems to denigrate unnecessarily. The full article can be accessed via the CBS website.

The Internet has been full of map related articles recently and it has almost become a case of which ones to choose and which ones to leave out, which reflects very well on the cartographic world and the continuing relevance of the topic. I have often given presentations on the continuing importance of cartography and the fact that maps are such a large part of our daily experience that they almost fade into the background and we simply don’t notice how many there are around. 
For one presentation my journey involved a walk from where I work in Feltham to the station, a train to Waterloo and then another walk across Hungerford Bridge to The Strand. It must have been less than 2 miles walking in total and yet I passed 54 separate maps. Admittedly a lot of these were the Legible London ‘monoliths’ to help you get your bearings, but it’s still an impressively large number. The monoliths are an example of something that has become so recognisable that it surprised me to find out that they have only been about since 2009.

And now 4 years later, New York is catching up with us. The New York Times recently reported the initiative to address the problem of New Yorkers (as opposed to just visitors and tourists) getting lost. To quote the report: "A department study, based on a survey of 500 pedestrians, found that one-third of New Yorkers could not say which direction north was. Fourteen percent of residents and 27 percent of visitors could not name the neighborhood or borough in which they were being surveyed. And nearly 10 percent of locals admitted they had gotten lost in the previous week"

OpenStreet Map has now been in existence for 9 years and there was recently an interesting and thought provoking article on The Atlantic’ website entitled, ‘What Happens When Everyone Makes Maps?’ Whilst there are inaccuracies in the article – it’s a wonder the author hasn’t been sued by Ordnance Survey – it is also an interesting summary of the way in which cartography has been opened up so that anyone can make a map, but irritatingly it doesn’t really answer the question that it poses in its title.

Black Country Experience
What a fantastic two days for the Black Country Experience, marvellous weather, great company and a fascinating tour of some of the traditional industrial activities associated with the area. The Experience started with dinner at the hotel, to the background of a local sixth form prom night, where some of the dresses would have put ‘My big fat gypsy wedding’ to shame! The first full day of the Experience, was a very full day indeed including a narrow boat trip through the Dudley limestone caverns, a visit to the Black Country Living Museum, an excursion to Dudley Archives to see some of their generally map-related artefacts and finally traditional Black Country Fare of ‘faggots ’n paes’ at Ma Pardoe’s. There was no let up on Saturday as we went on a guided canal walk through the Stourbridge Glass Industry, ending at the Red House Glass Cone where we had a go at glass engraving. Some were brilliant, but it convinced me that I certainly don’t have a second career as a glass engraver. The afternoon concluded with a presentation on the 2012 Portland Vase Project, with the highlight of the entire Experience being an opportunity to see the 2012 vase itself. 
A huge thank you to Mary Spence for organising the event and to her ‘other half’ Graham Fisher for acting as host, expert, raconteur and giving us all a really great Experience.

The next BCS Experience opportunity will come in the October, with the Historical Military Mapping Special Interest Group arranging a visit to Lincolnshire around the theme of the 70th Anniversary of the Dams Raid. More details at Bomber Command Experience.

BCS Symposium
The 50th Anniversary Symposium is now only a few weeks away and it looks like we may well have record numbers, for recent years, attending. We have already overflowed from the venue and we are having to accommodate delegates offsite, such is its popularity. It has also featured in the Leicester Mercury, so it can only be a matter of time until we hit the national press. There is still time to book, so if you haven’t made up your mind to attend, hurry up and do so as delegate places are limited. The programme is particularly strong this year, with a very wide range of speakers from across the cartographic community and our keynote session involving the Heads of the 5 major UK mapping organisations is a unique opportunity to hear them reflect on the last 50 years and what the immediate future has to hold for the cartographic industry.

Restless Earth End of Term
Our penultimate Restless Earth workshop took place at Richard Huish College in Taunton in early July. As it was also the penultimate day of their term, the teachers had devised a cunning plan to maximize student attendance by running a themed cake competition alongside the workshop. There was a geographic theme for all the entries, with one student choosing to highlight the problems with satnavs, on the left. The cake on the right was the most innovative, but unfortunately got a bit damaged on the way in to the College. It was a sponge cake, sat on top of a jelly, so that when you tapped the side of the tin, the cake wobbled to simulate suffering a mini earthquake, a brilliant idea that didn’t quite work.

It was a really good day, heavily supported by staff from the Hydrographic Office and judging by the smiling faces in the picture left, it was enjoyable for the students as well as instructive.
The Restless Earth programme is already well advanced for the next academic year with 14 workshops arranged around the country, so if you’d like to come along and help please get in touch, although we can’t promise cake at every one!

By the time the next monthly newsletter comes out it will be almost ‘#maptember’, a month renamed to reflect the amount of map-related events taking place. To do them all will be a marathon, so good luck to those attending more than one. I will be between the ICC in Dresden and the BCS Symposium in Leicestershire, so the newsletter may well get composed on the flight home.

Pete Jones MBE, CGeog, FRGS
Twitter: @geomapnut

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