Posts Tagged ‘cartography’

The Missing Manual For OpenStreetMap?

The first computer I used at work was powerful for its day (though pitifully underpowered compared to the phone that’s sitting in my pocket at the moment) but was somewhat unfriendly by today’s standards. You sat down at a terminal (not a PC, they hadn’t been invented) and were presented with a command line prompt that said “Username:“, pass that barrier to entry and it said “Password:“. Armed with the right combination of username and password you would be rewarded with a flashing cursor preceded by a dollar sign as a prompt … $. If you wanted help you couldn’t browse the web (it hadn’t been invented) nor ask in a mailing list (the Internet was in its early days and you probably didn’t have access). Instead you consulted the big, heavy, ring bound, bright orange documentation set; these were the heady days of DEC and VAX/VMS.

The computer I’m writing this on still needs a username and password but is easy to use, graphical, intuitive and comes with multiple web sites, discussion and documentation sites and mailing lists to ask questions in. But to get the most of today’s computers you still need a book sometimes, which is why David Pogue’s Mac OS X: The Missing Manual is still one of the most well thumbed books I have, 8 years and multiple editions later. There’s a version for Windows too.

So what does this have to do with OpenStreetMap? Bear with me … there are parallels to be drawn.

OpenStreetMap Book Cover

OpenStreetMap is easy to use, graphical (on the website), comes with multiple discussion and documentation sites and well supported mailing lists; you can always find the answer to your question. But sometimes you don’t know what the question is. Sometimes you just want to read a book.

OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing The Free Map Of The World is that book … consider it the Missing Manual if you will.

Originally written in German by mailing list stalwarts Frederik Ramm and Jochen Topf in 2008 (names which will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any time on the OSM mailing lists), the book was translated into English with Steve Chilton (chair of the UK’s Society of Cartographers) towards the end of 2010. A translation would be impressive enough but the English version also comes with expanded sections and all of the content, examples and illustrations have been revisited, revised and updated.

Whether you’re an OSM expert or you just want to see how one of the largest voluntary, crowd sourced projects on the face of the Internet works this is a worthy and valuable addition to your bookshelf. While no OSM expert I considered myself fairly well versed in how to use OpenStreetMap. Reading the book was a salient lesson on just how much I didn’t know; the section on GPS was an education in itself.

The book also provides a well written and easy to understand explanation of what you can and what you can’t do with OSM’s wealth of geographic data and answers so many of the questions on data licensing that crop up again and again in conversations around OSM and on the mailing lists.

As a written work, the OpenStreetMap book works on multiple levels. You can dip into it, select the parts that interest you, get distracted by reading about stuff you didn’t think you’d want to know or you can read it from cover to cover.

  • If you want to contribute data to OpenStreetMap … this is the book for you
  • If you want to use OpenStreetMap data to create maps … this is the book for you
  • If you want to integrate OpenStreetMap data into a web site … this is the book for you
  • If you consider yourself as a fully paid up geo nerd who lives and breathes open data … this is the book for you. No … really

One final thought; the old adage about the Internet being an information hose pipe holds true where OpenStreetMap is concerned. The volume of information and data is simply staggering. You can find your way through all of this information by yourself. Or you can just read a well written, well thought out book instead. Even in today’s online world there’s still a place for the feeling you get from holding a book in your hands and leafing back and forwards through the pages. My copy of this book is still reasonably pristine, despite being hauled on and off planes and read from cover to cover. I can’t guarantee it’ll stay that way for long.

Written and posted from theRadisson Blu hotel, Berlin (52.519648, 13.40258)

After Neogeography, Here Comes Neocartography

First there was neogeography, a convenient label for the practice of geography outside of the formally accepted geographical disciplines. A convenient label, but one which caused some controversy and mud slinging with the aforementioned formally accepted disciplines being labelled paleogeography and with a strong emphasis on the pejorative.

So it seems almost inevitable that we now have a proposal from the International Cartographic Association to form a commission on neocartography, looking into the practise of making maps outside of the formally accepted cartography profession.

Map and Push Pin

The proposed chair for the ICA Commision on Neocartography is the UK’s Steve Chilton and a worthy chairmanship it is too. In addition to his work contributing to OpenStreetMap, Steve is also one of the forces behind expanding the remit and reach of the UK’s Society of Cartographers, with last year’s Summer School having a strong emphasis on what could now be called neocartography.

You can read the proposal over at the SoC’s web site as well as Ed Parson’s commentary; sign up and add your voice to supporting this exciting and, to my mind, essential broadening of the world of all this cartographical.

Thankfully there’s been no mention of paleocartography yet; it’s to be hoped that with neocartography we look beyond the label to what is trying to be achieved rather than fixating on convenient labels and pigeon-holing concepts.

Photo Credits: nrivera on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Putting The Tube On The Grid; A Geeked Out Cartographical Recipe

Here’s a simple, cut-out-and-keep recipe for making a very geeked out update on a cartographical classic. First, take a classic and iconic map which appeals to both the map geek in you as well as the Tube geek in you. Harry Beck’s 1931 reworking of the map of the London Underground system will do nicely.

Old School Tube

Next, take a classic, 1980’s movie which appeals to both the scifi fan and the computer nerd in you and classifies as a guilty pleasure as an added bonus. Disney’s 1981 Tron fits the bill here.

Tron Poster

Add the ingredients, mix well and serve. The end results might just look like Kevin Flynn’s version of the London Underground network on The Grid.

Tron - Tube Map

To paraphrase Kevin Flynn (the Tron character not the artist) … “Who’s that guy?“, “That’s Tron. He fights for the Tube Users“.

Photo Credits: thehutch on Flickr and Kevin Flynn on Deviant Art.
Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

Just Because You Can Put Something On A Map …

A quick review through last year’s posts shows a fairly consistent theme of mine; that despite the absence of the map in many of today’s location services sometimes the map is the best way of simply presenting information in a readily accessible and understandable form.

But a map is much more than just a visualisation for overlaying data upon, a map says as much about the fears, hopes, dreams and prejudices of its target audience as it does about the relationship of places on the surface of the Earth.

Sadly, as the background to the tragic and disturbing shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 20 other people in Tucson, Arizona on January 8th unfolds, some commentators are linking a map to the shooting, with some going so far as to say that a map either directly or indirectly contributed to the motive behind the shooting.

The map in question is one that appeared on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page over a year ago and shows the 20 Democrat Representatives who had voted in favour of US health reforms. The key feature of the map was not that it showed the United States, nor that it showed the districts and their Representatives, but that each district was indicated not by the usual map push pin but by the cross-hairs of a rifle sight. Whether this was or wasn’t a contributory factor behind the shooting is open to interpretation and debate, a lot of people have interpreted the map as being a direct call to action which influenced the person or persons who perpetrated this act.

Don’t Get Demoralized! Get Organized! Take Back the 20!

Sometimes the map is the best way of showing information, but sometimes just because you can put something on a map doesn’t mean you should.

Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

Remapping The World By Population Size

From the department of cartographical curiosities comes this wonder; a map of the world but with the countries changed so that their population size corresponds to the size of each country. It’s a map of the world; but not as we know it and has cropped up in several places online, including Frank Jacob’s excellent Strange Maps blog.

World Map By Population Size

In this new world order, the United Kingdom now sits, landlocked, in the middle of Africa, where the Republic of Niger is usually found and Germany has migrated in a South Easterly direction and now sits where you’d expect to find Saudi Arabia. The map also notes the interesting coincidences that the United States, Yemen, Brazil and Ireland don’t actually move and correspond precisely to their place in the population ranking.

Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

The Plains Of Awkward Public Family Interactions And The Bay Of Flames

Not content with pointing out the fun you can have with tracking your location, xkcd, the webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language has branched out into making maps. The updated map of online communities shows the volume of daily social activity across all of the online world, and not just the high profile ones that get the press coverage.

Click through for the full size versions and loose yourself in the plains of awkward public family interactions, the Bay Of Flames and other geographical wonders.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

The Union Of Subsidized Farmers, Mummy and Slayers Of Virgins – More Mapping Madness

Yanko Tsvetkov, visual artist, graphic designer and illustrator, has been at it again producing more mapping madness and cartographical curiosities. The man behind the map of Europe according to the Hungarians has produced another crop of somewhat subjective maps of Europe, where the United Kingdom comes under the headings of The Union Of Subsidized Farmers (Where I Live), Mummy (according to the USA), Slayers Of Virgins (according to France) and Enigma Code Hackers (according to Germany). Apparently.

Here’s a couple of examples; Europe According To The USA …

Europe According to the United States of America

… and Europe According To The French.

Europe According to the French

Head over to his mapping stereotypes project page for the rest. It’s mapping, but not as we know it, and as Yanko aptly puts it, “a sense of humour is highly recommended“.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Cartographically Speaking; Data (Lots), Maps (Not So Much), Problems (Many)

In September I’ll be at the 46th. Annual Society of Cartographers Summer School at the University of Manchester where I’m lucky enough to have been asked to give a talk on geographic data. This topic should come as no surprise to anyone who’s come across one of my blog posts.

I’ll be talking about Welcome To The World Of The Geo Data Silo; Where Closed Data Is Open And Open Data Is Closed; the talk abstract is now up on the SoC web site and it’s reproduced below.

We’ve been mapping the world around us for centuries, even before the Mappa Mundi first appeared in Hereford Cathedral. But now, as location becomes ubiquitous (if you have a smartphone and you’re not in an urban canyon), as the major and minor players coalesce into the nebulous thing we call the “geo industry” and as there’s sources of geographic data everywhere, suddenly the map isn’t the important thing anymore. Now, it’s all about the data.

At this year’s Where 2.0 in the heart of Silicon Valley, a veritable geo-fest if ever there was one, the map was strangely absent. Instead we have data, lots of data.

data slide

Some of it commercial and authoritative (Navteq and Teleatlas), some of it niche and authoritative (Urban Mapping), some of it country specific and authoritative (Britain’s Ordnance Survey) and some of it crowd sourced and growing aggressively (OpenStreetMap). But there’s also data from unlikely allies, from geo-tagged photos (Flickr), from location based social networking services (FourSquare and Gowalla) and from forward thinking experimental authorities (Vancouver’s Open Data Catalogue).

Data, data everywhere. Some physical, some spatial, some subjective, some colloquial. But all of it locked in its own private little data silo. There’s much irony here as well, as previously proprietary data becomes unlocked and open (Ordnance Survey) and open, crowd sourced data become locked behind a well meaning but restrictive license.

You could call this Geo-Babel and we’re in the midst of it right now. How can we recognise this and, more importantly, how can we as part of the geo industry dig ourselves out of this hole?

… now I just need to write the talk and the accompanying slide deck in time.

Photo Credits: bionicteaching on Flickr
Written and posted from Berlin Tegel Airport (52.5545447, 13.2899969)

The Uncertainty Principle Of Maps Sites (And Eddie Izzard)

I should start off by saying that I don’t mean mapping web sites. There’s no Ovi, Yahoo!, Google or OpenStreetMap web sites in this post. No, this is a blog post about Eddie Izzard (at least slightly), Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (even more ephmerally), the (death of) RSS, maps and cartography (generally) and (in the main) web sites about maps and cartography.

A strange set of bedfellows you might think (you might also think I’ve been overdosing on LISP as there’s way way too many parentheses in the first two paragraphs alone) … but bear with me.

Eddie Izzard, in his Dress To Kill stage show (“cake or death”), was musing on the way in which people perceive history and this got me to thinking about RSS. But first, this is what he said …

Yes, and I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from. Oh, yeah. You tear your history down, man! “30 years old, let’s smash it to the floor and put a car park here!” I have seen it in stories. I saw something in a program on something in Miami, and they were saying, “We’ve redecorated this building to how it looked over 50 years ago!” And people were going, “No, surely not, no. No one was alive then!”

sketchmap-Apostle Islands, WI

And the RSS connection? Well in 2005 ZDNet were predicting the death of RSS by way of the death of the RSS reader, and then last year TechCrunch composed an epitaph for Really Simple Syndication saying “Rest in peace RSS. It’s time to completely cut RSS off and switch to Twitter. RSS just doesn’t cut it anymore”.

Yet for me at least RSS is very much alive, well and part of my daily routine of news and information gathering and acquisition (which includes Twitter, but it’s by no way the sole source). Sorry, went back to parentheses there; I’ll try to curb this.

And under my RSS group that contains feeds from sites I’ve noticed and want to read again (yes I could have bookmarked them but my RSS reader, still alive and well in the form of NetNewsWire, aggregates them for me in a way that I find works) and it struck me the other day that there’s a hell of a lot of maps and cartography sites alive and well.

So to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle? That can be summed up neatly by saying that the observer affects the observed. So is this part of a renaissance of interest in mapping and cartography in general or are there more mapping and cartography sites out there because we’re looking for them and people are responding to a perceived need? With this in mind, here’s a list of sites you should probably read at least once because they show just how much variety and interest there is on the topic of maps out there on the web.


Strange Maps – If you read one maps blog, read this one. It never ceases to inform, amaze, amuse or any combination of the three.

Mapperz – The Mapping News Blog – Regularly updated roundup of what’s new in the world of maps and GIS.

The Map Room – Jonathan Crowe’s Weblog About Maps – Links and articles on maps, map collections, map related resources and anything much map related on the web.

Fuckyesmaps – A boy and a girl with a love for maps. Need I say more?

Fuck Yeah Cartography – More cartographical profanity but basically anything that explores interesting representations of space.

Cartophile – Whoever the anonymous author of this Tumblr powered blog is, one things for sure and that’s that they love anything maps and cartography related.

Cartastrophe – What happens when maps go bad.

Atlas Obscura – Curious and Wonderful Travel Destinations, A Compendium of the World’s Wonders, Curiosities and Esoterica – Not strictly maps related but an online atlas of the weird and wonderful that’s around the world. Punch in your home city or area and be amazed.

Know of any more that should be in my (not dead yet) RSS feed? The comments would be a good place to let me know, you know.

Photo Credits: pixn8tr and Justin Masterson on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

When Maps and Data Collide They Produce … Art?

Last month I wrote that a map says as much about the fears, hopes, dreams and prejudices of its target audience as it does about the relationship of places on the surface of the Earth. With the benefit of hindsight I think I was only half way right.

Sometimes a map becomes more than just a spatial representation and becomes something else.

Sometimes a data visualisation becomes more than just the underlying data and almost takes on a life of its own.

When these two things meet or collide the results can be spectacularly compelling and produce, unintentionally … art? Look at the image below … filigree lace work? Crochet for the deranged of mind? Silk for the sociopath? Macrame for the mad? Sadly none of the above.

The Geotaggers' World Atlas #2: London

It’s instead an image from the Geotagger’s World Atlas but it’s still unintentionally beautiful.

The maps are ordered by the number of pictures taken in the central cluster of each one. This is a little unfair to aggressively polycentric cities like Tokyo and Los Angeles, which probably get lower placement than they really deserve because there are gaps where no one took any pictures. The central cluster of each map is not necessarily in the center of each image, because the image bounds are chosen to include as many geotagged locations as possible near the central cluster. All the maps are to the same scale, chosen to be just large enough for the central New York cluster to fit. The photo locations come from the public Flickr and Picasa search APIs.

I could look and stare at the all the images in Eric’s Flickr set for hours. Correction, I have stared at the images for hours.

Photo Credits: Eric Fischer on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)