Blog : Posts tagged with 'cartography'

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Cartography

In which we wish for better maps


Maps are wonderful, lovely artefacts. I love to spread one out and read it like a book, analysing every square. Nowadays, though, I only do it for pleasure. Because, for practical reasons, if I want to plan a route or look somewhere up, it’s usually much much easier to go online for it.

There are downsides to this. Google Maps are nowhere near as good as a paper map. Their cartography just isn’t up to the same standard. They include roads, railways, rivers, and that’s about all. No buildings, no landmarks, no landscape. In Britain, Google Maps have the slightly odd habit of only including railway lines with passenger services,* and there seems to be no contours and few footpaths.

Google, though, are nowhere near as low-quality as Yahoo Maps. Since I bought a full Flickr account, I’ve used Yahoo Maps a lot, to record where I take my photos; and there are just so many places where Yahoo’s map doesn’t match reality. Take, for example, somewhere I visited recently with my camera: Battersby, on the edge of the North York Moors national park. This is Google:

Battersby, from Google Maps

For comparison, this is the Yahoo version at the same scale:

Battersby, from Yahoo Maps

Never mind the lack of street names, and the general lack of contrast which makes it difficult to see where the roads run, especially within the National Park. Where exactly does that railway run? Where is the park boundary? The park boundary does indeed follow the line of the railway; but what shape is it? There’s a big difference there, just because Yahoo’s maps don’t include enough detail, apart from for roads, to be at all accurate when zoomed in. Rivers are just as bad, and apparently have zero width too.

If you really wanted to know the answer to the park boundary question, incidentally: it’s Google that’s right, as you can see by looking at Streetmap, who license the Ordnance Survey’s maps. Now that’s what a map is supposed to look like.

* It probably derives from the Ordnance Survey’s long-standing division between “railways” and “freight lines, sidings or tramways”, which dates right back to the start of the One-Inch series. It was bad enough when Landrangers, at I think the Second Edition, dropped the distinction between single-track and multiple-track railways. I have some First and Second Edition Landrangers somewhere, so I’ll have to check when the single-track railway symbol disappeared. First Edition were the last One-Inch maps photographically enlarged, which leads to some odd discrepancies on them;** the Second Edition were redrawn.

** for example, on the First Edition Sheffield and Huddersfield Landranger map (sheet 110), a chunk towards the south of the map is lettered in a different, older, font, which suggests that part of the map was derived from a rather earlier original than the rest of the series. I’ll scan a section some time to show you.

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The Diagram

In which we study some design history


I’ve recently been reading a book about design history, about the design of an icon. Mr Beck’s Underground Map, by Ken Garland. It is, as you might imagine, about the London Underground Map, concentrating on the period from the 1930s to the 1950s when it was designed by Harry Beck. In many ways it’s a sad story – Beck, throughout his life, felt that he had paternalistic rights over his map;* London Transport disagreed, treating the map as its own property. Which, of course, it was. In the 1960s, when London Transport turned to alternative designers, he became obsessed with producing his own versions, in the hope that London Transport would take his design up again.

Nowadays, Beck is always remembered as the map’s creator; his map was the first in Britain to abstract the network and present it topologically. The modern map, though, isn’t really based on his. It’s based on one of its 1960s successors, by Paul Garbutt; it was Garbutt’s first design that settled on black-and-white interchange symbols, and the modern proportions of the lines.

Design archaeology is hard, sometimes. There aren’t any old underground maps on display at stations, because they’re all outdated. Sometimes, though, you can spot things still lurking from days past. Some of the Phase One Victoria Line stations still have signs unchanged since they opened, in the days of the first Garbutt map. The northbound platform at Green Park, for example, has what looks like an original line diagram on the wall: it has a dotted-circle for National Rail interchanges, a characteristic of that time;** and Highbury and Islington is shown as a Northern Line interchange. It’s interesting to see. There aren’t any Beck-era signs anywhere on the underground, as far as I know, which is something of a shame; but it’s good that there are still examples of old designs surviving. It’s good to have history around us.

* or “The Diagram” as the book calls it throughout.

** The modern double-arrow “main line railway” symbol was introduced in 1964, off the top of my head, but didn’t become widespread for a few years

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Tree of life

In which we feel lost


Some days I wonder if I could somewhere find a map that shows me where to go next. One with a big “you are HERE!” sign would be nice, for a start, but then with additional lines and symbols to show me how to get to where I need to go.* Something like an Underground map for my life.

* which, of course, is not the same place as where I want to go

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Names and geography

In which we see where the P family used to live


Like a lot of people, I’ve spent a while today playing with the Surname Profiler website,* looking at how distant relatives are spread around the country, now, and 125 years ago. As I was expecting, in the 19th century my mother’s family was very heavily concentrated in one area:

Surname, 1881

…because we know from her genealogy research that her father’s ancestors have lived in this village and the neighbouring one for as far back as anyone can trace.

I was also expecting to find that today, we would be spread all over the country, what with modern transport making migration much easier.** However, our own family just demonstrates what the research project proved: in the words of the project leader, “migration is traumatic.” We don’t seem to have moved about much at all:

Surname, now

Of course, that’s for a name that isn’t common anywhere – that site suggests that the majority of people with our name live within our local phonebook area, and that phonebook lists about 30 numbers under it. If you have a more common name, individual family movements won’t show up. Another branch of my mother’s family – still with a fairly obscure name – is from Cornwall. In 1881, almost all of them lived west of Bristol:

surname B, 1881

Our branch of that family, at the time, lived in Brixton. Not the one in Devon, though, the one at the end of the Victoria line, in a completely blank part of their family map.

* link via Up Your Ego. The surname profiling website is very overloaded at the moment, so be patient with it.

** “Nor should we forget the benefit in rural human genetics brought by the railway: with less intermarrying the ‘village idiot’ has disappeared” – David St. John Thomas, The Country Railway, 1976.

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