Thursday 3 October 2013

BCS Presidents Report Maptember 2013

“I very much look forward to seeing all the delegates in Leicestershire.” This was how I closed my August bulletin and rather shamefacedly I now have to say that the eagle-eyed amongst you spotted that despite the fact that it had an ‘LE’ postcode, Hothorpe Hall is in Northamptonshire! Not quite as bad as a bus load of cartographers getting lost on the way to Keele and just goes to show that we are human!

Looking back 50 years and on 16th September 1963 Malaysia was formed through the merging of the Federation of Malaya and the British crown colony of Singapore, North Borneo (renamed Sabah) and Sarawak. 

This was an event not without controversy and on 18th September rioters burned down the British Embassy in Jakarta to protest against the formation of Malaysia. Some of the difficulties were related to historical and local factors as the new Federation brought together widely separated territories with very mixed populations at different stages of development. The Indonesian Government was particularly critical with the President describing the formation of Malaysia as a colonialist project with concerns that its formation would weaken the region and lead to the southward march of Communist China.
(>_<)  (@_@)  \(^.^)/ Don’t worry there hasn’t been a glitch in e-mail or on the webpage, these strange symbols do mean something to those able to interpret them. Now broadly familiar to most people it was only just over 30 years ago on 19th September 1982 that Scott Fahlman first proposed using  :-) and :- ( as a means of enhancing messages. 
Fahlman is credited with originating what he thought would help people to distinguish serious posts from jokes on a message board at Carnegie Mellon.

Now widely known as 'emoticons', these are described as “a pictorial representation of a facial expression which in the absence of body language and prosody* serves to draw a receiver's attention to the tenor or temper of a sender's nominal verbal communication, changing and improving its interpretation.” 
Love them or hate them, I think they are here to stay. 
* Speech rhythms – go on, admit it, you would have had to look it up, I did.

Joining in with the general trend, this month’s bulletin has the ‘#Maptember’ tag, reflecting the sheer amount of events that were taking place during this month. If we stretch a point and include the International Cartographic Conference in Dresden in the last week in August there were 6 major map or map-related events in just over 4 weeks.

If you managed all six, I think you need October off for a lie down and a good 
long rest  :-| 

I am going to concentrate on the BCS Symposium, which was very much a celebration of our 50 years. Professor Mike Wood, one of our founder members, cut the birthday cake; the event was attended by a host of past Presidents; we had more delegates than in many recent years and the programme ran very smoothly. The content of presentations offered a mix of old and new, with both retrospectives of the last 50 years and some cutting edge developments. Our keynote session was the only one which gave me more grey hairs, where I very quickly learnt that trying to keep Chief Executives to time is a virtually impossible task. A full report on the Symposium is in the issue of Maplines that is about to arrive with you.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those involved in the organisation and running of the Symposium – you did a fantastic job. :-)

Drivers returning to atlases

Despite there being frequent predictions of the death of the paper map, it would appear that there is life in paper yet and that there will continue to be so for some time to come. Nicolson, has reported a 10 per cent rise in sales of motoring atlases over the past year, especially among older motorists.

The AA has also seen a surge in demand for its atlases in recent months, suggesting at the very least, drivers want the reassurance of an up-to-date map in the car as well as their satnav. I think it is ‘up-to-date’ that is key here as the UK’s road network changes by up to 15% per year and an old road atlas is as likely to cause you problems as a satnav that doesn’t have a regular update feature.

With news stories seeming to delight in pointing out when satnavs get it wrong, does this indicate that there is a backlash against the metallic voice urging a driver to make a sudden u-turn in the middle of a traffic jam? 

Interestingly the comments in the article from motoring organisations are supportive of the use of atlases, probably because they represent a major income stream and perhaps the “belt-and-braces” approach to route-finding that is mentioned is the sensible compromise. For the full article, see:

Think like a web designer not a cartographer

This is an attention grabbing strapline, but are the two mutually exclusive? Can you not think like a web designer and a cartographer?

The author’s contention is that because a web map is competing for the attention of its users in a medium where rapid access is all important and users flit from one page to the next very quickly, your map needs to grab the attention very quickly to avoid the user navigating elsewhere.
For those of us not fully familiar with the world of web design, when a user only visits your page for a second and then navigates away again, usually via the back button, it is called a “bounce”. Reducing the "bounce rate" for your page is apparently the major factor in web design!
The two examples that the author presents are reproduced below:

The author readily admits that neither is going to win any cartographic awards and even though they are both displaying exactly the same data the one on the left is most likely to engage a visitor. The use of bold colours and large fonts lends itself to display on a small screen and captures the user's attention more readily, thus reducing the "bounce rate".
So if you are a cartographer designing for the web, apparently you need to “take your prompts from the world of Web 2.0 where everything is big, brash, colourful and has a massive neon sign above it’s head saying “LOOK AT ME” :-) 

Whilst I agree with some of this, surely there is a very big role for cartographers to play, simply by applying some of the key cartographic principles – which colours work well together to convey a message clearly, where to place type so that it can be readily interpreted, the type style itself making it easy to read quickly, and ensuring that the big brash presentation is not compensating for poor data or information underneath.

Coming Soon 
The celebrations of our 50th birthday remain in full swing and we have three specific events still left in 2013.

  • 25th October – Jack Dangermond, the founder of Esri, will give a talk at 11:00 at the RAF Club in London entitled “GIS and Web Cartography. Note the late morning time slot.
  • 7th November – Following on from the GeoDATA 2013 event in Edinburgh at which BCS will be represented, there will be a talk from Chris Fleet of the National Library of Scotland at the Dynamic Earth Centre.
  • 25th November – after the Annual BCS AGM, Nick Crane, author and TV broadcaster will give a talk entitled “Reflections of a Map Man”.
Places are still available at all three, but book soon via the BCS Website to avoid disappointment.

Lost Worlds 
The splendid gala dinner held to celebrate our 50th Anniversary was made even more splendid by our fine table decorations, namely miniature globes. These were purchased from a variety of locations as to find them in such quantity was difficult… I was amazed to be told that they had all disappeared the next morning. :-(

Pete Jones MBE, CGeog, FRGS 
30th Maptember 2013
Twitter: @geomapnut

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