Posts Tagged ‘unitedkingdom’

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“.

hand-drawn-britain-1

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.

hand-drawn-britain-2

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.

hand-drawn-britain-3

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

The Great British Map; Or Great Britain vs. The United Kingdom vs. The British Isles

Last night I made another map. It tries to answer some of more perplexing and confusing facets of the geography surrounding the world’s 9th largest island. I mean of course Great Britain. No, wait. I mean the United Kingdom. No, wait. I mean Britain. Or do I mean England? See, it’s confusing.

  • So if the ISO 3166-2 code is GBR, how come the country is called the United Kingdom?
  • But if England is a country and the United Kingdom is a country, how come England is part of the United Kingdom?
  • What about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

This isn’t the first time I’ve covered this topic. The first time was for a post on the now defunct Yahoo! Geo Technologies blog entitled UK Addressing, The Non Golden Rules Of Geo Or Help! My Country Doesn’t Exist. The ygeoblog.com domain is now long gone and redirects to the Yahoo! corporate blog but I was able to reproduce this post here and it’s also captured in the Internet Archive’s WayBackMachine. The second time was when I made a variation of The Great British Venn Diagram. But this is the first time (though probably not the last) that I’ve used a map, which is odd as this is something that’s tailor-made for a map.

I’d been looking for a good source of geographic vector data that I could use to easily overlay polygons on a map and came across a rich source of free vector and raster map data from Natural Earth. But instead of overlaying that data on top of a standard slippy map using a JavaScript maps API to tap into a tile server’s bitmap tiles, I soon wondered whether I could actually make a map from the vector data. It turned out I could and decided to revisit the structure of the group of islands I live on one more time and try to visualise the difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom and the British Isles. The end result, punningly entitled the Great British Map, looks something like this …

Great British Map

When the page first loads you’ll see the coastlines of Britain, Ireland and towards the bottom, the Channel Islands. There’s then five ways of looking at this particular map.

There’s the group of geographic islands that’s termed the British Isles; these show up in purplish-grey and if you’re observant, the Channel Islands vanish as they’re not part of this island group.

Great British Map - Great Britain

Then there’s the individual geographic islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle Of Man and The Channel Islands; these show up in green.

Great British Map - United Kingdom

There’s two sovereign states, The United Kingdom of Great Britain And Northern Island and the Republic Of Ireland; these show up in red.

Great British Map - England

Next comes the administrative countries which make up the United Kingdom; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These show up in yellow.

Great British Map - Crown Dependencies

Finally, there’s the Crown Dependencies, the self governing possessions of the British Crown; the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are these and they show up as purple.

What’s missing from the map? The British Overseas Territories, which is a polite way of saying what’s left of the British Empire that didn’t gain independence and which the United Kingdom still asserts sovereignty over. These are Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekalia and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

If you’re interested in how I actually made the map, read on.

The source data from the map are two public domain datasets from Natural Earth; the 1:10m map Admin 0 Subunits dataset and the 1:10m Populated Places dataset. This data includes shapefiles which can be converted into GeoJSON format by the GDAL ogr2ogr command line tool. I extracted the vectors for the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands from the Admin 0 Subunits dataset, keying on their ISO 3166-1 Alpha-3 country codes.

$ ogr2ogr -f GeoJSON -where "adm0_a3 IN ('GBR','IRL','IMN','GGY','JEY','GBA')" subunits.json ne_10m_admin_0_map_subunits/ne_10m_admin_0_map_subunits.shp

I then extracted the place data from the Populated Places dataset, again extracting data for the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands, this time keying on their ISO 3166-1 Alpha-2 country codes. Not entirely sure why one dataset uses Alpha-2 and the other uses Alpha-3 but go figure; the data is free, accurate and open so who am I to complain?

$ ogr2ogr -f GeoJSON -where "iso_a2 IN ('GB','IM','JE','GG') AND SCALERANK < 8" places.json ne_10m_populated_places/ne_10m_populated_places.shp

Finally, I merged subunits.json and places.json into a single TopoJSON file, with the added bonus that TopoJSON is much much smaller than GeoJSON. The source GeoJSON weighed in at 549 KB whereas the combined TopoJSON is a mere 78 KB.

$ topojson --id-property su_a3 -p NAME=name -p name -o great-british-map.json subunits.json places.json

The main reason for use of TopoJSON is not that it’s much more lightweight than GeoJSON, but that Mike Bostock’s excellent D3 JavaScript library can easily slurp in TopoJSON and inject SVG straight into an HTML document. Which is precisely what the map’s underlying code does. There’s a lot more that D3 could do with this map, but it’s early days and for a first step into a new maps library, I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out.

Speaking of code, it should come as no surprise that the map’s code base is available on GitHub. The Great British Map is based on great D3 tutorial that Mike has written on vector mapping using Natural Earth, so the similarity between Mike’s map and my map is entirely intentional.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Is it Great Britain, the United Kingdom, the British Isles or what exactly?

In February 2009 I wrote a post for the Yahoo! Geo Technologies blog about how people outside of the United Kingdom are sometimes confused by the vagaries of how to correctly write street addresses in the UK and if the United Kingdom is a country and if England is a country then how can England be part of the United Kingdom. Some pointed comments to the original post ensued from the likes of Ed Parsons from Google and Andrew Larcombe from the British Computer Society’s Geospatial Specialist Group.

And so almost a year later I went back and started to research exactly how the United Kingdom, Great Britain and the British Isles are actually put together. It was an educational journey because, even with being born and bred in London, it turned out that even I didn’t fully understand this subject. So I tried to codify it with a variation on The Great British Venn Diagram, which looks something like this:

United Kingdom Venn Diagram

Let’s start with the easy bit. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are constituent countries at an administrative level; they’re shown in yellow on the diagram above.

Great Britain, so named as to distinguish itself from Brittany, is a geographic island which comprises the countries of England, Scotland and Wales.

The United Kingdom is a sovereign state, shown in red, which comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ireland, also a geographic island, contains the administrative country of Northern Ireland and the sovereign state of the Republic of Ireland or Eire.

So far so good, but what about the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands? Both of these are not part of the United Kingdom, instead they are both Crown Dependencies, shown in purple, and are part of a federacy with the United Kingdom. And a federacy? That’s a type of government where one or more of the member administrative units have more independence than the majority of the member administrative units.

Finally, there’s everything else; those remnants of the British Empire scattered across the globe which enjoy the slightly nondescript appellation of British Overseas Territories (or British Dependent Territories prior to 2002 or Crown Colonies prior to 1981).

To be more precise, these are parts of the British Empire that did not gain independence and that the United Kingdom asserts sovereignty over. They take in Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekalia and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Of course not everyone agrees with these definitions

Britain Venn Diagram

Image Credits: Nanci.
Written and posted from the Kempinski Hotel Bristol in Berlin (52.5052405, 13.3280218)