Wednesday, 24 December 2014

BCS President's Bulletin December 2014

I need to start this bulletin with an apology for an error that was pointed out to me by Roger Smith in New Zealand. In the last bulletin I featured a brain map which was credited to Nico Lambert. Nico did tweet the image but he never claimed it was his – the rightful owner/cartographer is a Kiwi, Sam Brown from Wellington. My apologies to Sam for the mistake.

Roger also sent me a link to a short video file about New Zealand’s GeoCart Conference held in Auckland a few months ago. This is a biennial event, which he describes as “always lots of fun and very rewarding.” Sounds just like a BCS Symposium then!

Talking of the Symposium, next year it will be held jointly with the Society of Cartographers in York. We have talked about joint events on several occasions and they have indeed taken place in the past, but this will be the first in over ten years. Although the exact venue in York is still under discussion we will be convening from 7th to 9th September, with the 7th being the Special Interest Group day, followed by two full days of talks, workshops and the Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony. There are only four months left before the Awards close for 2015. So please do enter all the maps you will have produced between 1st May 2014 and 30th April 2015. The BCS President’s Annual Golden Ball Golf competition will take place on Thursday 10th September. So for all the budding BCS golfers out there, start honing your skills in the New Year. You've nine months to perfect your swings and putts, emulate Rory McIlroy and win the prestigious Golden Ball Trophy!

In early December, BCS had a stand at GeoDATA London 2014 and it proved to be yet another excellent event. The stand was busy all day with a steady stream of visitors and we handled lots of enquiries as well as signing up several new members. The one theme that persisted all day was a desire for training in cartography, especially from GIS practitioners, most of whom had never had any formal cartographic instruction. We are planning to re-launch our ‘Better Mapping’ workshops in 2015 to try and address this gap in practitioner knowledge. We are also intending to launch a Local Authority Special Interest Group in the early part of the year to address their particular needs. So if you work for a Local Authority and would like to join it or if you have any specific suggestions and ideas as to what you would like to see covered in it please do contact me directly in the post Christmas lull as we need your input as soon as possible.

The next generation of cartographers (all under 12 years of age) showcased their talents in Ordnance Survey’s recent competition to design a map of where Santa lives. Judging by the pictures on their blog they had tens of entries and some very inventive ways of depicting the theme including paper, computer and Minecraft worlds! Of course, the prize was a visit to see Santa in Lapland so no wonder they had so many entries! India, aged 7, from High Wycombe was the lucky winner. Full details at

There are some exciting developments for 2015 with two major initiatives planned or underway. The first is a major development with relation to the Cartographic Journal, which will be available online in the New Year. This reflects the way that most journals are now circulated but paper copies will still be sent out to members. Whilst on the subject of the Journal I need to say a big thank you to Ken Field who has just stood down as editor after 9 years. The Cartographic Journal has thrived under his editorship and is one of the pre-eminent journals in the field with authors so keen to be published that we have a lot of articles awaiting publication.

The second development is that the Society website is finally undergoing a major overhaul and between now and its completion I would like to ask for members to be patient with the 'work in progress' and to remind them that the Society is staffed by volunteers, without whom it would not exist.

Cartography on the Internet

As the fight against Ebola in West Africa goes on, the part that maps have played in helping to combat the disease is spelt out on the MapAction website, concentrating on their deployment to Sierra Leone since September. The MapAction mission was to use their mapping skills to help decision-makers ensure that adequate treatment facilities were being provided in the right places and to identify the most effective means of stopping the transmission of Ebola. This work was supplemented by mapping the number of cases against building density in Freetown and advising the water and sanitation authorities where to put fresh water tap stands, something which has echoes of John Snow’s cholera map of London in the 1800s. Full details of all of the MapAction maps can be found at

'With modern satellite technology and GIS capabilities the whole world has now been mapped'. Actually, no it hasn’t. There are still large swathes of the planet that have not been mapped, or at least if they have been mapped it is at such a small scale as to be very limited in use. A recent article on the BBC website examined some of the reasons why some areas of the world are not well mapped and whilst some elements of the article are questionable it is an interesting piece. It also mentions the ‘Missing Maps’ project, an initiative to map the most vulnerable places in the developing world, in order that international and local NGOs, and individuals can use the maps and data to better respond to crises affecting the areas. Based on the Open Street Map concept, anyone can join in to add detail to those parts of the world where mapping can make a huge contribution to disaster relief efforts and humanitarian projects. The image shows a group of contributors at a ‘Missing Maps Party’, a wonderful example of collaborative cartography.

Perhaps we should be asking if our planet is even the best mapped in the Solar System as USGS has just announced the creation of  its most detailed map yet of Mars.

Whilst I fully appreciate that the London Underground Map has been much abused and parodied with all sorts of topics being fitted to its network, there is a recent one which I think really works and is actually useful and interesting. LONDONIST have produced a medieval tube map, favouring Domesday Book names primarily to show what would have been at the stations hundreds of years ago. Many names are recognisable even if in a slightly different form and it is interesting to see how big London was at the time and how so many of the outlying villages have since been swallowed up in the urban sprawl. As the site notes, they have omitted the Docklands Light Railway as most names would have simply been a variation on ‘marshland’.

Staying with London, the picture shows plans for a redevelopment of Charing Cross bridge to remove
the railway and add in shops. I don’t think a bridge with shops on has existed in London for centuries, but it was obviously given some consideration even if it never materialised. The site also includes some lovely visualisations of what the scheme could have looked like and a photo of a very detailed 3D model that was made.

ICA Map Carte

A curtailed selection this month, as there are 7 more maps to come in December. Perhaps India's Santa Map should feature on 25th December? My first selection is the 'National Geographic Atlas', which I was going to call a timeless classic, but then it has only been around since the 1960s, so is it still a little early to earn the description? Whether it is or not, it remains a great example of clear and simple cartography and a ‘house style’ that is instantly recognisable.

My second selection is William Smith’s 'Geological Map of England and Wales and parts of Scotland'. It is the subject of Simon Winchester’s book, ‘The Map That Changed the World’ and which I can thoroughly recommend as a good read. Having seen the full-sized map by William Smith at the Geological Society of London’s offices, it is a truly awe-inspiring map in its complexity as well as its simplicity. Can you have something that is both complex and simple? Well, I would argue that you can in this instance. 'Complex' in the nature of the subject that he was studying, yet 'simple' in the layout and depiction, which thus renders the underlying details with remarkable clarity.

My final abbreviated selection is the 'First World War Trench Map of Guedecort', although any one of the extensive series could have been chosen. Setting out to war with old and unsuitable maps at a variety of scales, British troops very soon came to rely on the new 1:10 000 series of maps that eventually covered the whole of the Western Front. Using conventional survey techniques and incorporating detail taken from aerial photography, these maps were updated on a very regular basis to ensure that the latest military situation could be communicated rapidly. Under the conditions at the time it is amazing to think of Field Survey Companies producing and printing maps in the field of such a standard and in such great quantities. Incidentally, a set of 7 commemorative map reproductions, originally produced for the 90th Anniversary of the First Battle of the Somme, are still available at a very reasonable sum indeed. Contact me for details using the addresses at the foot of the Bulletin.

And finally

Jeppesens have been planning ahead and it looks as though Santa has been cleared to land.

I know that I posted this a couple of years ago, but thought that it was time for a reminder that you can keep track of Santa as he delivers gifts around the world. NORAD’s sophisticated tracking system follows him on his journey and if you want to make sure that you are tucked up and asleep before he arrives, check out for his progress.

Very Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Pete Jones MBE FBCart.S CGeog
24th December 2014

Twitter: @geomapnut

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

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