Is Shetland a cartographic compromise too far?

MSP Tavish Scott intends to introduce an amendment to the Islands Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament, which would compel public bodies to “accurately and proportionately” depict Shetland in relation to the rest of the country.  He point out the the cartographic tendency to place the archipelago in a box somewhere off Scotland’s east coast is annoys island residents, as they feel like their home is an afterthought on maps. Great for inclusion, exactly what the Islands Bill intends to do one would think.

But what are the implications?  The Shetlands Times describes the placing of Shetland-in-a-box as a geographical error.  It is plainly not, it is a cartographic compromise. And there are always implications to a compromise.  To include the Northern Isles in their actual geographical location, separated from the mainland by almost 100 miles of water, would reduce the scale at which the country can be displayed by around 40%.

 

 


Paradoxically, not only does this mean that Shetland is displayed in much less detail, but also Scotland’s smaller Council Areas (eg Dundee) effectively disappear, reduced from any kind of area to an insignificant point, or major features such as the Firths of Tay and Forth lost under text-labels for Dundee and Edinburgh. We are left having to put the Central Belt in a zoom-box because of the loss of detail in areas where most people live, or having to use two sheets of paper rather than one for maps of Scotland.  Just as well we don’t live in Chile, that narrow but 2653-mile / 4270-km long country is almost impossible to viably display on a single sheet of paper.

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The circumstance of Shetland-in-a-box (and indeed Orkney-in-a-box-too) is a feature of maps intended to display our entire country with a reasonable level of detail.  It is neither a feature of Ordnance Survey mapping, which divides Scotland into numerous sheets, nor of modern online maps such as produced by Google or Bing, where detail can be displayed dynamically depending on levels of zoom. Even the BBC weather map is zoomed and panned to display details, so can include all parts of the country.  But traditional maps are, and have always been, replete with cartographic compromises, whether it be omitting details unneccessary to what the map is trying to portray; projections which show Greenland as twice the size of Australia or diminish the importance of equatorial regions; or scale which displays the world’s mega-cities as insignificant dots rather than immense polygons or displaying streets as two or three times their actual width so they can be seen at all.  We may be uncomfortable with some of these choices, but the professionalism of the cartographer should ensure appropriate use.  Maps are by their nature gross simplifications of the real world.  Each individual map has a purpose and it is crucial that cartographers are not hampered by political correctness.  It is important that Tavish Scott raises this issue, and reminds us of the value of inclusivity in terms of some of our most topographically-stunning and economically important islands, but it is equally important that cartographers are not muzzled in the maps they produce.

(Map images from Google)

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Google vs Apple Maps

Happy New Year!  A interesting analysis of the recent development of Google Maps was passed to to me by one of our former students, which adds to the recent seminar given by Ed Parsons as part of our AGI-EEO seminar series.  The work was done by Justin O’Beirne of San Francisco and appears here

What’s in the Budget?

Budgets used to represent rather mundane and depressing announcements about indebtedness, tax rates and the price of beer.  It is a reflection of the importance of the GI industry, and its central role within the UK economy, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, today announced a Geospatial Data Commission:

And a new Geospatial Data Commission to develop a strategy for using the Government’s location data to support economic growth.

This would seem to be a followup (implementation?) of the Tory 2017 Manifesto commitment:

Digital land
And we will use digital technology to release massive value from our land that currently is simply not realised, introducing greater specialisation in the property development industry and far greater transparency for buyers. To make this happen, we will combine the relevant parts of HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the Hydrographic Office and Geological Survey to create a comprehensive geospatial data body within government, the largest repository of open land data in the world. This new body will set the standards to digitise the planning process and help create the most comprehensive digital map of Britain to date. In doing so, it will support a vibrant and innovative digital economy, ranging from innovative tools to help people and developers build to virtual mapping of Britain for use in video games and virtual reality.”

The big question everyone is asking is what does this mean in reality?  Big changes, or minor tweaking?  Is Ordnance Survey under threat?  Will more data be widely available?  Will it be free?  Or is government just intent on reducing its own costs?   “Developing strategy” inevitably means we are a long way off anything actually changing.

GIS Pot Luck

pot luck pie.jpgWednesday (8th Nov) saw our GIS students get together for a pot-luck dinner in Drummond Street.  Revealing hidden talents in the kitchen, the students brought along a range of dishes from around the world, including Pebre (a tomato, avocado and coriander salsa) from Chile and a chicken and cider pie from the Somerset, together with culinary creations from China and Korea!  To ensure there was no mistaking the purpose of the event, the pie had ‘GIS’ carved into its crust.
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Forgotten pioneer’s Forth crossing dream realised after 200 years

Perspective_600It was to prove a bridge too far for engineers 200 years ago … but now a little-known Scot’s vision of a Forth crossing is set to become reality.

Plans drawn by engineer and surveyor James Anderson in 1818 – which look remarkably similar to the Queensferry Crossing that opens tomorrow (Wednesday) – have come to light in a University of Edinburgh archive.

Anderson’s proposal for a “Bridge of Chains proposed to be thrown over the Frith [sic] of Forth” was discovered by University geographer Bruce Gittings while researching his Gazetteer for Scotland – a project to record every settlement and landmark in Scotland.

The remarkable plans for a roadway linking North and South Queensferry were proposed 72 years before completion of the iconic Forth Bridge.

Perspective_pieceBoth Anderson’s design and the new Queensferry Crossing are suspension road bridges, with their supports extending as straight lines from the towers, in both cases resembling the sails of an immense yacht.

Edinburgh-born Anderson’s scheme has the roadway supported by chain cables, forged from iron bars, very similar to Thomas Telford’s bridge across the Menai Strait in North Wales.

Anderson, who was friendly with Telford, suggested that the success of Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge, begun in 1819, was a good reason that his own design should be built.

Anderson proudly suggested his bridge would “facilitate the communication between the southern and northern divisions of Scotland”. At the time, the cost was between £175,000 and £200,000, which would equate to around £840 million today.

James Anderson was born in the Old Town of Edinburgh, the son of a textile worker. He died at his home in the city in 1861 and is buried in Old Calton Burial Ground.

The Gazetteer for Scotland, www.scottish-places.info, was the first description of Scotland to be published online in 1995 and remains the largest, with more than 25,000 entries. According to Gittings, maintaining this remarkable geographical, historical and educational resource is, as used to be said of painting the 1890 Forth Bridge, a never ending process.

Bruce Gittings, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “It is great to be able to add the Queensferry Crossing to the Gazetteer, and important to remember Anderson’s pioneering work.

“His design was beyond the engineering capabilities of the time, as evidenced by the collapse of the Tay Bridge in a storm in 1879 and of the Chain Pier at Trinity in Edinburgh – on which Anderson also worked – in 1898.”

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A little bit of GIS History

An interesting bit of GIS history came to light from a photograph one of the former students brought along to the MSC87 reunion at the end of July, which has taken a little detective work to decode!

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Tom Waugh (blue t-shirt), Richard Healey (red pullover), David Rhind (blue jacket) and Vanessa Lawrence (blue and purple dress), with students Lorraine Chu and Chris Nailer (lhs) and Melissa Phillips (rhs)

It shows the end-of-year student party in the old MSc Room (now completely changed as part of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation), and includes Richard Healey and the late Tom Waugh, who were the principal ‘movers’ behind the programme at that time, together with Professor David Rhind then of Birkbeck College, who was the External Examiner for the Edinburgh course, and a young Vanessa Lawrence, then Geography Publisher for Longman. All four were working together with Professor Terry Coppock (also of Edinburgh) planning the ‘Big Book’ of GIS, the first edition of which was published four years later in 1991.  First Rhind and later  Lawrence both went on to become Director General of the Ordnance Survey in the UK.

GIS 30-Year Reunion

The weekend of the 29th July saw a reunion of the GIS class of 1987. who stood for a photography on the steps at Drummond Street, adopting the same poses of a similar photography taken thirty years previously.

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Chris Nailer (front), Jane D’Souza, Melissa Craig, Lorraine Chu, Karen Westwood, Alex Bell (middle) and Paul Dowie, Mike Adam, Stuart Gillies and Bruce Gittings.

Bruce Gittings hosted a visit to the Institute of Geography (still known by many as “the department”) and toured the group round familiar and less familiar aspects of the building.  Three of the group had been geography undergraduates prior to taking the GIS MSc, so had spent five years in the building. The Old Library, which is now our principal seminar room, was very much an active library at that time and our newly-refurbished coffee room was the site of the librarian’s office, along with rows of shelves holding journals.

We poured through photographs of the time Bruce was able to pull out the actual dissertations submitted in August 1987 and examples of coursework, together with the student ‘mugshots’ of the time, much to everyone’s embarrassment.

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Melissa Craig and Jane D’Souza contemplate some dissertations

Over dinner, where the group was joined by former Programme Director and Founder Richard Healey, now Professor at the University of Portsmouth, it was fascinating to hear of the careers which had been followed in the intervening years, in consultancy, software development, government, where our students had made a real difference to the development of GIS.

Karen Westwood travelled back from Canada and Mike Adam returned from Germany, while Lorraine Chu flew in from Hong Kong.  Others attending were Alex Bell, Melissa Craig, Paul Dowie, Jane D’Souza, Stuart Gillies and Chris Nailer.

 

Missing Maps comes to Edinburgh University

The School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh was pleased to host a Missing Image1.jpgMaps event on Thursday 22nd June.  The Missing Maps project helps Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF; Doctors Without Borders) and and other NGOs by creating maps of the most vulnerable communities, providing a vital resource for their on-the-ground staff as well as local people. 35 people came along to help, including students and GI professionals, with various local companies such as ThinkWhere and ESRI-UK particularly well represented.  Pizza was eaten and the event proved to be a great social occasion.

Each year, disasters around the world kill nearly 100,000 and affect or displace 200 million people. Many of the places where these disasters occur are literally ‘missing’ from any map and first responders lack the information to make valuable decisions regarding relief efforts. Missing Maps is an open, collaborative project in which individual volunteers can help to map areas where humanitarian organisations are trying to meet the needs of vulnerable people.

Attendees created data which forms part of the global OpenStreetMap mapping project, guided by volunteer experts. Since 2014 Missing Maps users have contributed almost 32 million edits, involving the creation of 10,858,095 buildings outlines and 1,241,944 km of roads.  Future events are planned and will be posted here.

 

Edinburgh University announces new Professional Development Initiative

EDINA and the School of GeoSciences in the University of Edinburgh is launching a new geospatial continuous professional development programme, which builds on existing strengths in GIS training and education.  With a pedigree established through its internationally renowned GIS Masters programme (begun in 1985) and many years of offering CPD opportunities to government and industry, this new initiative kicks off with a one-day course on the popular OpenSource GIS software QGIS on 30th June 2017.  Many organisations are looking to complement their commercial GIS with QGIS to help drive down costs and unlock the extra functionality and time savings it can provide.   This initial course is designed for those who already have a good grounding in GIS but want to take the skills they have in a commercial GIS package and use them in the OpenSource software. Bruce Gittings, GIS Programmes Director in the School of GeoSciences, said “We are very pleased to be working with EDINA on this new initiative, which extends the university’s town-meets-gown mission”.  Tom Armitage of EDINA said “We are looking forward to this new collaboration, bringing together the geospatial strengths in different parts of Edinburgh University “. The School of GeoSciences already runs the successful EEO/AGI seminar programme, with a professional development mission, while EDINA is known for its online digital mapping services and associated training. Further details are here.

Edinburgh GIS Student takes prize in Story Maps competition

Image1Charlie Moriarty, currently undertaking the GIS MSc at the University of Edinburgh, has taken second prize in an international competition run by software vendors ESRI to showcase their storymaps feature.  Charlie’s storymap involves a virtual trip across the longest highway in his native Australia. The map highlights how long it would take to drive around the Australian coast compared to travelling through Europe and Asia, and Charlie’s project is illustrated with dynamic maps and photographs.

The storymap was prepared as an assessment within the Geovisualisation course and course leader William Mackaness commented “This is great news. I am delighted for Charlie”

Charlie’s storymap can be found here