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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