Posts Tagged ‘mapgasm’

Cartography, The Musical

I like maps. Even if you’ve never read posts on this site, the name “Mostly Maps” should probably be a giveaway. What you may not know is that I don’t really like musicals. Now granted I’ve seen Rent and Spamalot, but that’s because Alison and I were in New York and the former was recommended by one of my best friends and for the latter I’m a massive Python fan. Maps and musicals aren’t something that go together. But that may be about to change.

Cast your mind back to the dawn of history, before mobile phones were smart and when GPS was just an Australian rugby club, which is sometime in the very early 2000′s. If you lived in London, your essential navigation guide wasn’t a maps app, but a copy of the A-Z as the Geographer’s A-Z Street Atlas was better known. This was the map you carried around London rather than a mapping app on your phone. I still have several editions on the bookshelf at home, each one being bought when its predecessor got so dog eared as to be unusable or just started falling apart.


The probably apocryphal backstory is that the A-Z’s founder, Phyllis Pearsall got lost in 1935 following a 1919 Ordnance Survey map on the way to a party and decided to make her own map. To do this she got up at 5.00 AM and spent 18 hours a day walking the 3,000 odd miles of London’s 23,00 or so streets. This tale is disputed, with Peter Barber, the British Library’s Head Of Maps, being quoted as saying “The Phyllis Pearsall story is complete rubbish, there is no evidence she did it and if she did do it, she didn’t need to“. Given that Pearsall’s father was a map maker who produced and sold maps of London, he’s got a point.

But regardless of the accuracy of the legend around Phyllis Pearsal, it’s a great story, especially for those of us who used the A-Z each and every day around London. But is it a musical story? Neil Marcus, Diane Samuels and Gwyneth Herbert seem to think so and they’re the team behind The A-Z Of Mrs. P, a musical about London’s iconic street atlas and its founder that’s currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse. Reviews have been mixed, but anything that throws some attention on the A-Z is welcome in my book, even if it is a musical.


You may have noticed that at the foot of each post I always try to provide source and attribution for photos or images that I use. I think I’m going to have to expand this to include the inspiration for each post. In this particular case, credit is due to Alison. If it’s not a sign of true love when your wife texts you to tell you about something map related she’s seen, then I don’t know what is. I guess you don’t spend nearly 15 years being married to a self professed map nerd without knowing a good map related story when you see one.

The A-Z Of Mrs. P poster by Su Blackwell.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

The London Underground Strike Map

If you’re trying to get out and about in London today you’ve probably noticed that the Tube is on strike. Again. You could read the list of closed stations that are on Transport for London’s website and try and work out quite how, if at all, you’re going to get to where you want to be. Or you could look at a map.

This map. Now why didn’t TfL think of doing this?


Strike map by Ian Visits on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

All Of Today’s Maps Are Wrong; We Live On A Giant Chicken

Up until the 6th. Century BC, it was commonly held that the world we live on was flat. Then Pythagorus came along and started to prove that the world is in fact a sphere. We now know that he was almost right and our planet is really an oblate spheroid, looking not dissimilar to a slightly squashed beach ball.

Today’s Internet brings us many wonderful things. Some of those are maps. Today’s map shows that with a little bit of cartographical cut-and-paste and a flagrant disregard for the theory of plate tectonics, the world we live on is actually a chicken. A giant chicken.


If this doesn’t make you grateful for the Internet then I don’t know what does.

Written and posted from Lokku, Clerkenwell Road, London (51.522553, -0.102549)

The Quest For The London Flood Map

My morning’s reading today has been dominated by a map image that the UK’s Environment Agency released on December 6th that, to quote the Tweet, shows “the extent of potential flooding of London if the Thames Barrier wasn’t in place“. If you know London at all, it’s certainly an arresting image but like so many times when I encounter a map, I want to interact with it, move it, see whether where I live in London would have been impacted. So I started investigating.

Some background context is probably in order. On December 5th. the UK’s Met Office issued severe weather warnings for the East Coast of England. A combination of a storm in the Atlantic to the north of Scotland, low atmospheric pressure and high tides were all combining to push a massive swell of water through the narrows of English Channel, in effect squeezing the water through the Dover Strait. As the North Sea and English Channel are relatively shallow, the sea would back up and had the potential to flood large areas of the East Coast of England as well as the areas surrounding the tidal stretch of the River Thames and that means London and possibly even where I live in Teddington, which marks the upper limit of the tidal Thames. Thankfully for those of us who live West of Woolwich, the Thames Barrier exists to protect London from such flooding, though I’m sure this is less of a comfort to those people who live to the East of the barrier.


But back to that map. It’s a nice overlay of flood levels on the Docklands area of London based on satellite imagery. The cartography is simple and pleasing; light blue for the River Thames and Bow Creek, darker blue for the banks of the rivers and a washed out aquamarine for areas that would be flooded. But it’s a static image. I can’t pan and scroll it. The Tweet from the Environment Agency and the image itself contained no context as to where it came from or how it was made. So I browsed over to the Environment Agency’s website in search of enlightenment.

The Environment Agency is a governmental body and that’s very much apparent from the website. It simply screams corporate website produced by a large contractor. But no matter, I’m not here to critique website design; I’m here looking for a map. So I looked. I searched. If that map is on that website it’s not wanting to be found. It’s the map equivalent of the planning application for the demolition of Earth in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and is on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard. But what I did find was this map … the Risk Of Flooding From Rivers And Seas map. With this map I could finally find out what risk there was of flooding to my local area. Eventually.

Now it’s only fair to state upfront that the original version of this post, from this point onwards, was less a critique of a map and much more of a scathing flaying alive of a map. But thankfully before I posted this, I’d also taken the time to read Gretchen Peterson’s Getting Along: The Objective And The Subjective In Mapping. After rereading my original post, it was only too evident that calling it a critique was unfair as it was far far too subjective. So I rewrote it, trying to adhere to being objective wherever I could be.


So let’s start … this map has some significant flaws. The questions are why and what could be done to rectify those flaws?


The map starts zoomed out to encompass the entirety of England, with no apparent flood information at all. There’s a prompt to “enter a postcode or place name”, but I know where I live so I try to zoom in by double clicking. The map’s click event is trapped as I’m told to “zoom in query the map” which I work out to mean I have to use the map’s zoom slider control. But if you take the time to write some code to trap the act of clicking on a map, why not go one step further and use the double click paradigm for map navigation which is by now almost universal? But this is also a flood map, so why not use my web browser’s built in geolocation facility to automatically zoom the map to where I am right now, or at least present the map in a form where there’s some flood information available. Why make the user do all of this additional work? With a few simple lines of Javascript code, the map could be made so much more immediate and easily usable.


So I started to zoom in, using the pan control. The next zoom level was less than visually pleasing. Jagged, blocky and pixellated place labels are scattered across the map. It’s almost as if the map’s tiles were hand rolled, but more about that in a minute.

When zooming, the map’s centre had changed and after my initial double click zooming attempts were rebuffed, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to pan the map without recourse to the pan controls. Indeed my first attempt at panning looked more as if I was trying to drag the map image out of the browser window. But then a few seconds later the map redrew itself. This was less a slippy map and much more a slow-py map.


After zooming in a further 3 times, the pixellation on the place labels had cleared up but the map itself was washed out and faded, almost as if there was a semi transparent overlay on top of the underlying base map, which itself looked like the Ordnance Survey map style. It also looked, to be frank, a bit of a mess. Given that I was trying to find out flooding information there was far too much information being displayed in front of me and apart from the map’s legend, helpfully marked legend, none of it was flood related. Yet.


One further zoom level in and I finally found what I was looking for. A visualisation of what looked like an overflowing River Thames. At first sight this explained the washed out nature of the map I’d seen earlier. Surely this was due to an overlay containing the flooded areas but rather than overlay just the flooded area, the entirety of the map was overlaid, with the non-flooded areas being made translucent to allow the underlying map to bleed through.

The great thing about Javascript web maps is that, if you know how, you can actually break apart the layers of the map and see how it’s constructed. Doing just this led me to discover that the flood data I was seeing wasn’t an overlay. With the exception of the map’s pan and zoom controls, the map is a single layer. Whoever was behind that map has made their own tile set with the flood data an intrinsic part of the map. All of which is extremely laudable but at higher zoom levels the tile set just doesn’t work and the choice of underlying base map leaves quite a bit to be desired.


Finally, after several more pan and zoom operations I could see my local area. But it had taken 7 attempts at zooming in and almost as many panning operations to keep the map centred on where I wanted to see. Now it’s true that entering my postal code would have taken me there immediately but one of the habits we’ve developed when viewing digital maps is to be able to dive in and get where we want to go by interacting with the map itself and not neccessarily with the map’s controls.

Even when I’d found the information I want, the flood data seems placed on top of the base map almost as an afterthought, despite the two data sets being baked together into a single map layer. I can appreciate the cartographical choice of using shades of blue for the two flood zones, but the pink chosen to show existing flood defences is a questionable, albeit subjective, choice. The flood data just doesn’t sit well on top of the underlying Ordnance Survey map, whose map style just clashes with the flood data’s style. Finally and probably worst of all, the map is slow, almost to the point of being unusable. All of which makes me wonder how many people have come across this map and just simply given up trying to find the information they’re looking for. If only the map looked as good as the original graphic that started me on this map quest (pun intended). Surely someone could do better?

Maybe someone will. The flood zones are available via WMS from the UK’s site, though that very same site warns you that registration is required and they’re not under an open license. Even taking a simpler base map approach and overlaying the tiles from the WMS would make the map far more accessible and easier to comprehend. Some of the data itself looks like it could be available from Environment Agency’s DataShare site, though it’s only fair to say that this site and does suffer from the same lack of discoverability and ease of use that the flood map suffers from.

For geospatial information such as flood data, there’s no better way to make it easily comprehensible and visible than on a map. The mere fact that there is such a map is to be applauded. It just could be so much better and this would take a trivial amount of technical acumen from anyone who’s used to making even simplistic digital maps. This map could be amazing and shine so brightly but as it currently stands, it can only receive the same score as I saw too many times on my school report cards. “B-. Could try harder.

Image Credits: Environment Agency.
Written and posted from Augie’s Coffeehouse, 113 N 5th Street, Redlands CA (34.05693, -117.18151)

Doctor Who And The Underground Map; Enough Is Enough

Oh look. It’s another reworking of Harry Beck’s London Underground map. Ken Field probably won’t like it. This one is Doctor Who related. All the usual suspects are present. Each line representing one of the Doctors? Yes. Stations representing monsters and adversaries? Yes. Vague notions of interchanges between the lines? Oh yes.

Now I’ll freely admit I’ve been more than guilty of writing about re-workings of this particular map, at least 12 times. Doctor Who has been on, then off, then back on our TV screens for 50 years; longer than I’ve been around, but only by 2 years.


But I’ll also freely admit that Ken has a valid point. The tube map rework has been done to death. This is not to denigrate the amount of work that’s been put into such a map. Far from it. This is an obvious labour of love and many hours have been put in to make the map not only what it shows but how it shows it.

But it’s time to move on. Time to choose another way of representing interesting data. Time to move away from yet another map based around either the Underground map or some other, mass transit, map.

Though I often break them, my New Year’s Resolution for 2014 will be no more posts on variations of the London Underground map.

Doctor Who Tube Map by Crispian Jago
Written and posted from Workshop Coffee, Clerkenwell, London (51.52244, -0.10245)

Making Maps The Hard Way – From Memory

In his book A Zebra Is The Piano Of The Animal Kingdom, Jarod Kintz wrote “when you’re a cartographer, having to make maps sort of comes with the territory”. He’s right. When your business is making maps you should be able to do just that. But what if you’re not a cartographer? What if you had to draw a map of the country you live in? From memory? What would that map look like?

Maybe something like this perhaps? The shape of the United Kingdom and Ireland is vaguely right, though Cornwall and all of the Scottish islands bar the Shetlands seem to be lacking. Then again, the Isle Of Wight is on holiday off the North Coast of Wales. The Channel Islands have evicted the Isle Of Man, which is off sulking in the North Sea, probably annoying cross Channel ferries into the bargain. Also “Woo! Geography“.


Or maybe your lovingly hand drawn map would look like this one, which is my personal favourite for no other reason than the helpful arrow in the North East corner pointing to Iceland (Not The Shop). Readers of this blog who don’t live in the UK should know that in addition to being a Nordic island country that straddles the boundary between the North Atlantic and Artic Oceans, Iceland is also a chain of British stores that specialise in frozen food.


I’d like to think that I’d be able to do better than this final example from someone who has applied a significant amount of cartographical license and really, really needs someone to buy them an atlas. I’d like to think that. I might even try to do this myself, but in the interests of preserving what little reputation I have, I’d only post my attempt if it was any good.


Maps courtesy of BuzzFeed.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

King George III Was A Fellow Map Addict

The Wikipedia entry for George William Frederick of Hanover, better known as King George III of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, is full of details but misses out one key aspect of his life. In addition to concurrently being King, Duke and prince-elect of Brunswick-Lüneburg he was also a map addict and avid map collector.

During the course of his reign between 1760 and 1801, George amassed a collection of around 60,000 maps and views, all of which were housed in a room in Buckingham House (which eventually became Buckingham Palace in 1837) which was right next to his bedroom.

Upon his death, the map collection was bequeathed to the nation and now resides in the British Library and last night a lucky group of people, Alison and myself included, were given a rare chance to get to grips with some of the collection that focused on London. I use the phrase get to grips in the most literal sense. This was no viewing of maps in frames or behind glass. The maps were spread over the table of the library’s boardroom and we were encouraged to get really close and do what we so often want to do with an old map but aren’t usually allowed to. We got to touch them. We were even allowed to take photos too.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

But how did George manage to amass such a prolific collection in 40 odd years? The collection started as the everyday working map library of previous British monarchs, dating back to 1660 and including maps from the times of Charles II, James II and Anne. With this smaller collection as a starting point, George continued his childhood fascination with maps and grew the collection by almost any means possible. When you’re a King almost anything and any means are possible.

Some maps were formally commissioned by George, or were presented to him as gifts as a sort of cartographic backhander. Some came into the collection during times of war or conflict, particularly some of the military maps in the collection. Some were stolen outright from foreign sources, whilst some came from much closer to home, from his own subjects.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

There are stories that George would make random and unannounced visits to people who just so happened to have fine maps on their walls. If George expressed a liking for a map, this was supposed to be a signal that the map’s owner, might, just possibly, want to consider giving the map to the King, as a gift you understand. Most people who were the beneficiaries of one of the King’s unannounced visits took the hint and the collection grew steadily. But people also got wise to having their houses gatecrashed by their monarch and learned to keep their good maps hidden away. Just in case the next knock on the door turned out to be the King.

At the British Library, George’s map collection is formally known as King George III’s Topographical Collection, often shorted to the informal KTop. Of the 60,000 maps in KTop over 1,000 are of London. Work has been started on cataloging and ultimately digitising at high resolution all of the London maps. We will all get to benefit from this as the images will be made available for all to come and see on the British Library’s website. This is no trivial endeavour. To catalogue and digitise just the 1,000 London maps in the collection will cost £100,000, of which £10,000 is hoped to be raised through public donations. Yet this is just the start. The final goal is to do the same with the remaining 59,000 maps in the collection.

Gary's UK Lumia 820_20131120_008

But until then, the collection remains safely stored somewhere in the depths of the library’s buildings on London’s Euston Road. I count myself very very lucky indeed to not only have seen some of the KTop with my own eyes but to have been able to reach out and touch a part of cartographic history.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Maps For When The Ice Caps Melt and When The Magnetic Poles Reverse

About 2 years ago I wrote about something I called mapping the might have been; things that were planned and made it onto a map but which never came about. Now it’s time for the opposite; maps of things that haven’t yet come to be but which probably will. It’s less mapping the might have been and more mapping the will be.

The planet we live on is one giant magnet, with poles that roughly align with the geographic poles which marks the axis on which the Earth spins. We’re used to the notion that North is up at the top of the planet and South is on the other side. But what if these poles reverse? About every half a million years or so this happens and when it does, everything changes and magnetic compasses will no longer work the way we expect them to. When this does happen, maybe the map of the world that we’re so familiar with will look something like this.


From examining the magnetic patterns in rock, scientists have calculated that the process of geomagnetic reversal has happened more times than you’d think, almost 20 times in the course of our planet’s history and they estimate this will happen again. But probably not for another 2000 or so years so you won’t need this map just yet.

On a shorter timescale, you might need these next maps a bit sooner. You don’t need to be a scientist to know that our planet is slowly but surely warming and the polar ice caps aren’t as big as they were. But what would the map of the world look like if all the polar ice melted? In Europe a lot of familiar cities would go the way of Atlantis; London, Venice, Amsterdam and Copenhagen would all vanish slowly under the rising seas.


While on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, most of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, including Boston, New York, Washington, D.C, Miami and New Orleans would also be no more.


Whatever your views on the topic of climate change, these National Geographic maps are a sobering and grimly fascinating view of what might and probably will be.

Written and posted from Casa Rondelli, Doglio, Umbria, Italy (42.807114, 12.305049)

Introducing The Next Generation Of Portable Navigation Systems

Today’s digital maps, both on the web, on our mobile phones and in our cars are almost ubiquitous. But they’re not without their problems. They need recharging, updating and most need some form of network connectivity and that’s even before you look at the potential privacy aspects of who’s watching your position. But now there’s the next generation of portable navigation system.

This unprecedented technological revolution works without cables, without electronics, without a network connection and is both compact and portable. Integrated into a flexible cellulose based pad, it expands from the size of your pocket to as much as 48″ via the patented FUF technology (folding and unfolding).

Panning, zooming and rotation can be performed without image degradation; it’s fast, working smoothly within picoseconds. It also respects a user’s privacy, it’s impossible to hack and there’s no need for any antivirus or firewall.

It’s unbreakable, private and portable and goes by the name of MAP. Trust me, you’ll all be using one sooner or later.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

The Curious Cartographical Case Of The Island Of California

We’ve become firmly accustomed to the instant gratification of Internet Time, which can be roughly summarised as “I want it now, dammit“. Nowhere is this more evident than in maps. If something is wrong on a map, we expect it to be fixed. Now. Ten or so years ago, it would be common to wait somewhere between 12 and 18 months for a map’s updates to be collected, validated and published. These days, thanks to our modern digital maps, we get our updates in more or less Internet Time and that means fast. It hasn’t always been that way.

Although waiting over a year for a map update seems almost unthinkable now, consider for a moment having to wait almost half a century for a map to be updated. Yet this is what happened in the curious cartographical case of the Island of California.

I should state up front that I’ve been to California, quite a few times. The weather is fine (apart from San Francisco’s fog), it’s home to the technical hub of Silicon Valley and the local food and wine are rather good. It is most definitely not an island and what’s more, there’s a distinct lack of tribes of beautiful Amazonian warriors wielding gold tools and weaponry. Yet in 1510, Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo published a novel entitled Las Sergas de Esplandián, or The Adventures Of Esplandián, which mentions the Island of California, populated by the aforementioned female warriors. The name and concept of an island stuck and early Spanish explorers of what we now call Baja California were convinced the new territory they had found was part of the Island of California.

In retrospect, early maps of the New World actually got the geography of California right. Both Mercator, he of web map projection controversy, in 1538 and Ortelius, in 1570, made maps that correctly showed California as a peninsula.


But that all changed in 1602.

A merchant, Sebastián Vizcaíno, was appointed by the Viceroy of New Spain to examine the coastal regions and make new maps. On board one of Vizcaíno’s expeditions was one Antonia de la Ascensión who wrote …

that the whole Kingdom of California discovered on this voyage, is the largest island known…and that it is separated from the provinces of New Mexico by the Mediterranean Sea of California.

This geographic blunder was further reinforced by Antonia Vázquez de Espinosa, who wrote in 1615 that …

California is an island, and not continental, as it is represented on the maps made by the cosmographers.

The notion of California as an island was thus firmly cemented in the minds of the day’s cartographers, featuring in the first general atlas of the world that was published in England between 1626 and 1627. Even European cartographers finally gave up in their portrayal of California as a peninsula and by 1650 all maps of note showed the Island.


And so it remained until 1705 when a Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Kino, made a report of his journeys, with an accompanying map, that showed that California really was attached to the rest of the North American continent. Even then, it took until 1746 when another Jesuit, Fernando Consag, tried and failed to sail around the non-existant island, to put an end to the Island of California.

Despite this, it took a further 50 or so years before maps showed California as we now know it to be, part of North America and not, as de Montalvo wrote, being close to the Asian mainland and also “very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise“.


Next time you get annoyed and frustrated by a modern map not being entirely up to date, you can rest assured that it’ll probably take a month or two at the most to be updated and not a half century. In the meantime, the Island of California remains an enduring oddity in the history books of exploration and cartography and one which is showcased on Stanford University’s web site as part of the Glen McLaughlin collection.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)