The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'cartography'
A few London transport map links: here there is a detailed, zoomable map of the London Underground and surface railways, showing the locations of stations (both operational and closed) and tracks.
Meanwhile, the Green Party's candidate for Mayor of London has an interactive map showing how far London's bicycle hire system would reach if it were the size of Paris's; which is to say, quite a bit further, particularly to the north and south. Perhaps it'd even be possible to live near a Boris Bike station without being made of money.
Britain's most senior cartographer has railed against electronic maps, arguing that they obliterate the rich geography of Britain, reducing an ancient landscape filled with history to a set of roads:
Churches, cathedrals, stately homes, battlefields, ancient woodlands, rivers, eccentric landmarks and many more features which make up the tapestry of the British landscape are not being represented in online maps, which focus on merely providing driving directions, said Mary Spence, President of the British Cartographical Society.
"Corporate cartographers are demolishing thousands of years of history, not to mention Britain's geography, at a stroke, by not including them on maps," she said. "We're in danger of losing what makes maps unique; giving us a feel for a place."While Spence's complaint seems superficially plausible, it misses the forest for the trees (no pun intended), focussing on the specifics of the implementations of a yet novel technology and ignoring the momentum that is driving progress forward. It's true that, when you look at a map in Google Maps or on a satnav unit, it, by default, shows you a minimalistic, functional map, consisting of sparse lines rendered in brightly coloured pixels. However, it is also true that there is more than that beneath the surface. Google Earth, Google Maps' big brother, renders the globe with a panoply of user-selectable layers, from the standard geographical landmarks (roads, railways, cities) to links to geotagged Wikipedia pages and photographs (albeit on some weird service nobody uses because everyone's on rival Yahoo!'s Flickr). Google Earth itself allows users to draw their own layers and send links to them. And OpenStreetMap takes it one step further, doing for mapping what Wikipedia did for textual reference works; if you find that your map of Gloucestershire is missing Tewkesbury Abbey or your map of Cental Asia got the Aral Sea wrong, you can correct it. And if you live somewhere where there is no Google Maps (and, indeed, no Ordnance Survey), you can map it yourself (or get some friends together to map it; or petition the local government/chamber of commerce to buy a few GPS units and pay some people to drive around with them, assembling a map). This has resulted in excellent maps of places Google hasn't reached yet, like, say, Reykjavík, Buenos Aires and much of Africa.
Making maps is only half of the equation; it's when one considers what can be done with all the mapping data that things become really exciting. Now that mobile data terminals (which people often still refer to as "phones"), with wireless internet connections and GPS receivers, are becoming commonplace, these soulless, history-levelling map databases are transformed into a living dialogue with and about one's surroundings. Already mobile phones which can help you find various amenities and businesses near where you are are being advertised. It is trivial to imagine this extended from merely telling you where the nearest public toilet is or how to get home from where you are into less mundane matters. Press one button, it points out historical facts about your location, with links to Wikipedia pages; press another one, and it scours online listings and tells you what's happening nearby. Follow any link to flesh out the picture as deeply as you have time for.
Spence's argument reminds me of a lot of the beliefs about computers from the 1950s, when computers were expensive, hulking beasts which were programmed laboriously using punched cards and rudimentary languages like FORTRAN and COBOL. It was too easy to extrapolate the status quo, the baby steps of a new technology, in a straight line and see a future of centralised hegemony and soul-crushing tedium, where the world is reorganised around the needs of these primitive, inflexible machines. Of course, that world never came about, as the machines evolved rapidly; instead of being marshalled into centrally computerised routines, we got iPods, blogs and Nintendo Wiis. To suggest that computerised maps will reduce our shared psychogeography to a collection of colour-coded roads is similarly absurd.
For years, map historians have been puzzled by the so-called "London Underground Map", and have speculated on what it could possibly represent. Now a new theory claims that, when rotated and adjusted appropriately, the map corresponds with the map of Australia:
Captain Columbus set sail from Whitby in the "Beagle" soon after he had routed the Armada at Trafalgar, in 1215, and reached Australia a few months later. It is thought that he had the map drawn for him, by one Harry Beck, to remind him where he had buried the treasure. Not wanting the map to lead other explorers to find the loot, should the map have fallen into the wrong hands, he instructed Beck to insert all kinds of fictitious roads and placenames -- even airports!
In Beck's hands, Port Philip is renamed Watford -- presumably in an attempt to deter would-be looters -- Botany Bay is renamed Uxbridge, Perth: Upminster and Albany: Epping. Mystery still remains about the purpose of the zonal markings, but Professor Bovlomov speculates that they might indicate the friendliness -- or hostility -- of the natives. The Professor believes that Beck may have included a coded message within the map to identify the location of the treasure. "Bank" is dismissed as "too obvious", and is probably intended to lead the unauthorised holder of the map to a certain death. West Finchley, though, may prove to be the site of the hidden treasure because, as the professor says: "It is obviously a made up name, and was probably invented by Beck as a kind of joke. No one would ever think of going to such a place, let alone living there!" When asked to comment, other experts said it was Barking.
One of the things that Britain does better than anyone else is postcodes; while most countries' postcodes give you an area the size of a suburb or town, the six or seven letters of a Royal Mail postcode give you a segment of a street, with enough information to find the place the code refers to. This allows sites like the Transport for London Journey Planner to tell you exactly how to get from one postcode to another.
There is a problem with this, though; the postcode data is not free, but is owned by Royal Mail, who monetise the hell out of it. If you wish to use the database for your own purposes, doing so will cost you a few thousand pounds a year. (The fact that your taxes may have paid for the system to be drawn up doesn't enter into the argument.)
Anyway, this has gotten up the nose of a number of open-geodata activists, who are doing something about it: they're collecting their own data mapping points to postcodes, and using this to draw up freely usable and distributable maps of postcode areas. Free The Postcode! is aiming to do this at a high level of accuracy, soliciting input from people with GPS receivers; meanwhile, New Popular Edition Maps is using a 1940s-vintage map of England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland may come later) to allow people to click on where their homes are and enter the postcodes. Since this is inherently less accurate (the map is of fairly low resolution, and the process depends on matching shapes of streets), they're only concerned with the prefixes at this stage. The data produced will be released into the public domain.
(via Boing Boing)