Friday 20 December 2013

BCS President’s Monthly Bulletin December 2013

So we come to the final bulletin of our 50th Anniversary Year and December was obviously a quiet month in 1963! There are very few really ‘mappable’ events from 50 years ago, but one that does lend itself is Kenya’s independence.

As the BBC reported it at the time:

Jomo Kenyatta is certain to become prime minister after his party, Kenya African Nation Union, won the country's first general election.
Thousands of Kenyans ran through the rain-drenched streets of Nairobi tonight cheering at news of the results.”

At a time when the celebrations for the life of Nelson Mandela have just taken place, there are some poignant echoes from Kenyatta’s speech in which he said that although his government aimed to free itself from British colonialism, it would not try to avenge past injustices.

"We are not to look to the past - racial bitterness, the denial of fundamental rights, the suppression of our culture... Let there be forgiveness," 

Kenya is now the biggest and most advanced economy in east and central Africa but it is still a poor developing country. The important agricultural sector is one of the least developed, employing 75 percent of the workforce. 

Despite western donors' early disillusionment with the government, the economy has seen much expansion, evidenced by strong performance in tourism, higher education and telecommunications.

For an eighteen day period, from 19 Dec 1963 – 5 Jan 1964, the Berlin Wall was opened for the first time, allowing West Berliners to visit family living in East Berlin during the Christmas season. One-day permits were required. In what was a foretaste of things to come, this could be considered a brave move on the part of the authorities at the height of the Cold War.

Under an agreement reached between East and West Berlin, over 170,000 passes were eventually issued to West Berlin citizens. Loudspeakers in East Berlin greeted visitors with the news that they were now in "the capital of the German Democratic Republic," a political division that most West Germans refused to accept. Each visitor was also given a brochure that explained that the wall was built to "protect our borders against the hostile attacks of the imperialists." On the West Berlin side, many newspapers berated the visitors, charging that they were pawns of East German propaganda.

Cartography in the news
Just one article this month. The healthy debate on Sat Navs v Atlases will be going on for some time yet and I came across a well-balanced, short article that manages to come to a nice compromise:

Posted by Louisa Keyworth at BCS Corporate Member, Lovell Johns, it does contain the rather worrying quote, “With geography in schools containing less teaching on map reading, two thirds of under 25s would literally be lost if you asked them to read a map, research has claimed.”
Obviously we need to refocus Restless Earth on UK Road Atlas skills!

Mary Baker Eddy Library Mapparium

I came across this stunning piece of cartographic art via a twitter post and have been amazed by the sheer scale of the Mapparium. This glass globe is located in the Mary BakerEddy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. It is constructed of 608 glass panels based on the 1934 Rand McNally world map. The Rambusch Glass Company artists traced these maps onto 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick glass panels and painted them with a coloured powdered glass mixture. Each panel was then fired in a kiln to fuse the colour to the panel. Construction on the Mapparium began in April 1934 and by January 1935 the glass panels were being produced at a rate of about 50 per week, with production accelerated to complete the entire project for June 1st 1935. Once the panels were completed, they were fitted into the spherical bronze frame forming a 10° by 10° graticule that holds the entire structure together. Finally, 300 light bulbs were installed to illuminate the globe from the outside. The total cost for the project was about $35,000 (about $600K in current terms).

Designed by Boston architect Chester Lindsay Churchill, he called his installation the “Mapparium”. It was an immediate and overwhelming success. Within the first four months, more than 50,000 people had come to experience "being at the centre of the earth".

Despite being on a concave surface, which is the complete opposite of how we normally view a globe, it just looks right. Distances, areas and relative locations are all perfectly maintained and as the eye is always the same distance from the object, it doesn’t encounter the distortions that looking at a normal globe introduce.

The Mapparium was renovated in 1998 when a new light and sound system was installed and the panels were cleaned and repaired. On three occasions in 1939, 1958, and again in 1966, different committees discussed updating the map to reflect the geopolitical changes that had taken place since 1934. In 1966, the estimated cost was $175,000 to create and install new glass panels. It was decided that the Mapparium held much more value as an art object, and the idea of updating it was finally dropped.

It remains the only one of its kind, a truly unique cartographic item. I did muse in my twitter feed that it would be nice to have one on this side of the Atlantic as well. We learnt a lot about the UK glass industry during the Black Country Experience weekend, so if anyone knows of a donor with about £400,000 that they are looking to invest and a building with a space large enough to house it please do let me know!
(images provided by kind permission of the Mary Baker Eddy Library)

Better Mapping
We will be looking at a new format for the Better Mapping Seminars in 2014, based on what we have done before but revamped and refocused on web cartography and designing for multiple media. There will still be an opportunity to look at examples of what works and what doesn’t work and I came across a good example recently of a map that at first glance looks good, but then you start to see problems. I am not going to ‘name and shame', you will have to come along to the seminars to find out. Suffice to say that it was produced by a design company, not a cartographic firm and from their website you do get the impression of a certain lack of understanding.


Maps are a perfect example of the importance of good information design. They are functional items and not like conventional packaging or written instructions. Packaging has to be attractive, in the true sense of the word, and information design must be attractive too, in order to capture the readers’ attention in the first place. However, the primary function of any map is to help the user to plan or find his way.

Producing one that achieves this is no mean feat and it is routinely under-estimated how complex a task it actually is – when done well. Maps can fail in two basic ways: they can of course simply be inaccurate and the outcome becomes obvious, but often only when used; they can also fail when the factual content is sound, but presented poorly. Everything on a map is symbolic and all facts are conveyed by implication alone. Maps are not like written instructions and a high cognitive load is being put on the user.

Different situations require different mapping solutions. A geographical map may be ideal in one context and a straight line diagram better in another. Scale is usually very important and simply making a map bigger or smaller is not what scale is about. Scale is about proportion and content.”

Restless Earth
I am very pleased to confirm that the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation (GBSF) have approved a grant of £2,500 to support the BCS RestlessEarth programme. This is the second consecutive year that the GBSF have supported us with a financial grant and it enables us to continue to offer the workshops to schools totally free of charge. We are very grateful for their continued support. To find out more about GBSF, please visit their website at

And Finally…
As we come to the end of our 50th Anniversary Year, I hope that you will agree that it has been an incredibly successful celebration of The Society. We crammed an incredible amount into the last 12 months, have had some very high-profile speakers, run an excellent Symposium, published our 50th Anniversary Book and participated in a wide range of cartographic and geographic events. We have recruited over 100 new members this year and our total membership is now around 700. I would like to thank everyone who has helped to make this year such a resounding success.

Do you read this far? I recently asked on Twitter if anyone new of a good explanation of what differentiates a chart from a map. It was sparked by a book that I am currently reading, from which the following is an extract:

“The stock-in-trade of this old gentleman comprised chronometers, barometers, telescopes, compasses, charts, maps, sextants, quadrants, and specimens of every kind of instrument used in the working of a ship's course, or the keeping of a ship's reckoning, or the prosecuting of a ship's discoveries.”

So my Christmas quiz question is, “What is the name of the ‘old gentleman’ referred to in the extract? First correct answer e-mailed to the address below wins a £10 voucher of their choice (Book, ITunes, M&S, etc).

Best Wishes for a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – let’s hope that 2014 proves to be as exciting and inspiring as this year has been.

Pete Jones MBE, CGeog, FRGS
20th December 2013

Twitter: @geomapnut

Thursday 5 December 2013

BCS President’s Monthly Bulletin November 2013

Society AGM and talk

The Society held it’s AGM on 25th November preceded by an EGM to consider a new category of membership. The Restless Earth schools programme is proving to be continually popular and the EGM passed the motion to create a new membership category of ‘Educational’. Five schools have already signed up as members and we hope to get more during the year. I will continue my monthly bulletins as I was elected to a second term of office as President and I would like to welcome Dr Alex Kent from Canterbury University as our new Vice President. There was competition for places on Council this year and I would like to congratulate David Forrest, Richard Carpenter and Steve Lambe for being re-elected and welcome our newest Council member, Jane Sprague. Over 100 ballot papers were returned this year, so thanks to all those who cast their votes.
I am also delighted to report that the AGM confirmed two new Honorary Fellows of BCS, Ann Sutherland, the convener of the Map Curators Special Interest Group for longer than I can remember, and Seppe Cassettari, former President of the Society. Congratulations to both Ann and Seppe on their well-deserved recognition. I was pleased to be able to present Ann with her certificate and citation at the AGM (it was the first time that I have ever known Ann speechless) and Seppe with his a few days later at the London Mapping Showcase.
Our guest speaker after the AGM was Nicholas Crane, the TV presenter and author. Nick gave us a fascinating insight into how maps have influenced his career and life. He also proved himself to be the master of understatement recalling how he made “a little bike ride across the Gobi Desert’” and commenting that “there are some quite big hills” in the Himalayas. All in all it provided a very fitting end to the Society’s 50th Anniversary year.


Well, there is certainly no shortage of other 50th anniversaries for November, the most well publicised of which was probably Dr Who. Featured heavily on BBC for the last couple of months the 50th anniversary episode starred the last two Doctors, Matt Smith and David Tennant as well as the ‘War Doctor’, John Hurt. With plot twists that even the most ardent fan probably hadn’t seen coming the episode lived up to all the hype, well at least for this avid Doctor Who fan it did. I can remember the original Doctor played by William Hartnell and although I can’t say definitely that I saw the first episode (I was only 5) I do remember hiding behind an armchair when the Daleks appeared later in the series.
I know Ken Field has said that enough is enough, with all the ‘rip offs’ of the London Underground map and I must agree with him that many of them just use the format for the sake of it, but the one illustrated in part above is the exception to the rule. The complex interconnections of the 11 incarnations of the Time Lord are probably to be expected given that all laws of time and physics are bent out of shape, but the designer has done a great job of summarising a bewilderingly complex set of relationships. The full map can be purchased as a poster, for full details check out the website.
Fifty years ago there was a fairly dramatic requirement for maps and charts to be redrawn, when the island of Surtsey was created by volcanic action off the south coast of Iceland. It was formed by a volcanic eruption just over 400 feet below sea level and reached the surface in mid-November. Activity continued for 4 years and Surtsey reached a maximum size of just under 3 sq kms. Since the volcanic activity has stopped the island has shrunk due to erosion and is losing about 1 hectare of its area each year.
Plant life has colonised the island and although these are mostly mosses and lichens, 69 species have now been recorded with an annual increase of 2 or 3 per year. Migratory birds are using the island and there are both gull and puffin colonies. Seals are also common. It’s particularly pleasing to note that human impact is minimal with only a small prefabricated hut used on a part-time basis by researchers.
Iceland is the only spot where a mid-ocean ridge can be seen above water. Mid-ocean ridges are the seams that bisect the oceanic plates where magma comes up from the mantle below to form new crust. They are continuous lines of major volcanic activity, creating new ocean floor at rates up to 15 cm per year. 
In order for people to remember and report on your death it’s obviously best for it not to coincide with one of the most iconic incidents of the 20th Century. It is said that everyone can remember where they were when the news of President Kennedy’s assassination was announced. Over the years many maps have been produced to show the relationship of the book depository to the Presidential motorcade and whether or not shots fired from the ‘grassy knoll’ were feasible or simply a matter of conjecture and conspiracy theory.  Even now, 50 years after the event, those conspiracy theories still abound and as well as Doctor Who taking over our TVs, there were also a fair few programmes about that fateful day in downtown Dallas. 
On the same day, two very significant authors also died, C.S. Lewis, the author most famous for the Narnia books, and Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World. Their fate went relatively unreported however as the assassination of an American President was the only thing being covered by the news channels at the time.
The illustration is of the map of Narnia composed by the original illustrator Pauline Baynes.
Cartography in the News

The UXblog from IDV solutions came to my attention this month with its list of 20 unrequested map tips. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, there is a lot of common sense and for anyone looking for some simple and effective ways to improve their maps, this is not a bad place to start.

What makes a map bad? This is potentially a contentious question as what will appeal to some may horrify others and as with many forms of art, there is a great deal of subjectivity. I think we can agree, however, that poor design is likely to lead to a poor map. A recent article at is worth a read for some of the topics it explores and as the author says, “A poorly designed map can not only look visually unappealing, but can convey the wrong message, which could lead to bad decisions being made.”
In order to be completely objective there are those who would defend ‘bad maps’, even if they can’t spell ‘Defence’. 
The blog at makes some valid points and reminds us that we shouldn’t be too judgmental or act as the ‘carto police’.

Enough said? Although I am still puzzling over the description of “a less than traditional road”, I’m not sure I have ever seen that classification used on a map. A Road, B Road, Unclassified, Less than traditional – you never know, it might catch on.

Jane Tomlinson’s Map of Oxford

I must admit to being a sucker for a hand-drawn map and as an Oxfordshire lad as well, I was particularly taken with the map of Oxford produced by Jane Tomlinson. I contacted Jane and she kindly sent me an extract and gave permission for it to be used in this issue of the bulletin. Jane is an artist rather than a cartographer, but has put down her paint and brushes and taken up a pen and ink to draw by hand a map of Oxford, the city she adopted as home nearly 30 years ago. 
There will always be a degree of subjectivity about what is and isn’t included, especially when you have a city like Oxford with such a rich history. I’m impressed that it only took Jane 9 weeks to complete the research and work out what to include and what of necessity to leave out. Her website includes the statement, “The map of Oxford is (she says) the ’final’ map she will draw. (But she’s said that before…)”. I do hope not as there are a lot more places that lend themselves to this sort of depiction.
Copies at A2 size are available to purchase at
GeoDATA 2013

Having attended four of the GeoDATA events run by the GeoInformation Group this year I can say how great they have been for promoting the message that BCS has to get across and for offering the opportunity for some fascinating networking across the whole cartographic and GI community.
The series of GeoDATA events culminated with the Mapping Showcase in London attended by over 100 exhibitors and with over 650 registered delegates. The BCS stand proved to be very popular and although we had four members manning the stand we were all kept very busy. There was a steady stream of enquiries all day long and we talked to a lot of people. We signed up 12 new members, which took us over 100 new members for the year.
An interesting trend emerged from those we talked to as many were from the Local Government sector. A couple of years ago we considered the idea of setting up a Local Government Special Interest Group, but it didn’t really gain traction as we struggled to identify what the key themes would be. Given the obvious interest in cartography and the need to provide training and resources, I have asked the Membership Committee to see what we can do to engage with this community. It may result in the establishment of a new SIG or it might be something less formal such as a discussion group. To enable us to best identify what is required we would love to hear from you if you work in the Local Government sector. Please contact me at the e-mail below, so that we can target our initial consultation

Pete Jones MBE, CGeog, FRGS
30th November 2013
Twitter: @geomapnut
Not for real, but it made me smile.

Blog List