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.

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