A retrospective view of 2013

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Here’s a quick look back at some of the highlights of what we did in 2013. In Facebook terms you might call this the PCGraphics Timeline for 2013.

 

January 2013

WALES

Maps of Torquay, Brixham and Paignton in Devon, UK, produced for a marketing company. Created from scratch and based on Ordnance Survey data.

London

Wasted our time producing this A4 map of London for another marketing company (serving the luxury hotel industry) who requested this map then changed their minds after we’d produced it. Which is why we now nearly always ask for money upfront with new clients – saves dealing with time wasters.

February

henley

A simple but nice little map of Henley on Thames produced for a publisher of historical books – one of many maps we’ve produced over the years for this client. Again, based on Ordnance Survey material.

March

Template

In March we produced a series of 7 maps showing the location of artistic venues for Isle of Wight Arts.

April

Print

A map of Cowes and East Cowes created for the ferry company Red Funnel and displayed at the ferry terminal.

May

POW

Perhaps not the most visually exciting map that we’ve produced but then, considering the subject, maybe it’s right not to be. This map plots the route taken by 1500 Prisoners of War in 1945 from Poland to Berlin, with approximately half the journey made on foot. The book is called The Long Road, by Oliver Clutton-Brock.

June

ATG 09 design template

One of probably hundreds of maps produced over the years for one of our most valued clients for use in their travel brochures and website. This particular example being an overview map of China.

July

seamus

Seamus takes a leap into the pool during a well earned holiday in the sun in Menorca.

August

helpful

We update around 17 maps for Helpful Holidays on an annual basis around August time.

September

Basic CMYK

In September we started a series of walk maps which are produced at A1 size, encapsulated in clear acrylic sheets and wall mounted at Health Centres around the UK. We have been busy creating these from September through till December.

October

CPM2 Template landscape.ai

Map of Rhodes produced for another long term client. We’re fortunate to have worked with a number of clients over a long period of time. We still have clients today who we first worked with soon after we started PCGraphics back in 1998.

November

A4 Assura Template

Still working on the series of walk maps for UK Heath Centres.

December

montage

Work starts on a new title for Ocean Explorer Maps – another valued client we’ve worked with for many years. Work in progress at the moment, more details to come soon.

And that, folks, was 2013. Let’s all hope that 2014 is equally as good.

 

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Coals to Newcastle?

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….. or, the day we bought a map off  ebay

 

First, let’s clear up one thing. At PCGraphics we draw maps, hundreds of them, but what we don’t do is print or publish our own maps. We’re a service company to publishers, tour operators, Local Authorities and anyone else who wants a map drawn. But we don’t print maps.

So, when we wanted a World wall map we, like most other people, went online to buy one. Fairly easy, there’s plenty of suppliers out there.

But then you start looking at the cost. A World wall map can be anything from £12 up to £25 or more. Surely they must all be the same? Why do some cost twice as much as others do?

Anyway, being cost conscious, we opted for one off  ebay for £12. Plus postage, of course.

The map arrived on time, nicely rolled up in a tube. No complaints there. We didn’t actually open up the tube and look at the map until several days later. And then the fun began.

Ok, I’ll admit it, being cartographers we’re a bit fussy about maps. But I don’t think you’d have to be all that fussy to be astounded by the map we received.

We’ve scanned and uploaded here just one small corner of the map (it’s a big map, about A1 size and we could only fit the corner in the scanner!) but we could equally have chosen any part of the map as an example.

world_map(Scan of the bottom left corner of the World map we bought)

At first glance you look at it and think, ok, yes, it’s a World map, that’s what we ordered. Then you look closer.

vatican
(Zoomed in section of map)

Now, most of us know where the Vatican City is, don’t we, even if we’re not Catholics? Even if we don’t know it’s exact location, I think pretty much all of us would know that the Vatican City is not in Corsica (France). Yet there it is, proudly sitting on the west coast of Corsica. Or according to the map we bought anyway.

Next…….

world_text_4
(Republic of Ireland extract)

There’s probably a Gaelic spelling of every town and city name in Eire, but we’re fairly sure that ‘Limerickv’ isn’t one of them. Maybe it was just a typo error which slipped through the net? But then……

world_text_5
(France/Spain extract)

This is certainly an unusual spelling of Bordeaux. Perhaps because it’s pronounced ‘o’ at the end of Bordeaux someone stuck an ‘o’ there as well, just to make sure!

world_text_2
(Sweden extract)

Quite what’s happened to the name Gavle in Sweden is beyond us. How do you get the final ‘e’ to drop down like that? And, did no-one notice?

world_text_3
(Spain/France extract, again)

Geography, and capital cities in particular, aren’t everyone’s strongest subject but, if you’re producing a map, one of the fundamentals is to get the capital cities correct. Most of us know the city of Pamplona, famous of course for the bulls running through the streets, and I think most of us would know that Pamplona is not the capital of Andorra.

world_text
(UK extract)

Not much wrong with the UK part of the map. You’d hope not anyway as the map was produced in the UK (by a company in Sheffield) and it should be fairly easy to get all the UK names right. And, yes, they probably are but………just looking at it makes me feel dizzy and a bit queasy. How many different angles can you spot that the names have been placed at? Just look at Penzance and Plymouth. And then Newcastle and Manchester. And the end of ‘United Kingdom’ seems to have gone awry too. And Dublin and Birmingham. Need I go on? I can’t really as it’s making me feel slightly nauseous looking at it (a bit like sea sickness).

And this was all from just the small corner of the map that we scanned.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Would it be that you get what you pay for with maps, the same as with most things?

Possibly. Except that we sent the map back (we’re £6 something out of pocket now because of the postage but we really didn’t want to keep the map, it was embarrassing, and people might have though we’d produced it) and went down the High Street and bought a new World map from WH Smiths. The new map, published by Ordnance Survey, cost us £9.99 (other publisher’s maps were available at the same price) whereas we’d paid £12 plus postage to a company on ebay for the poor excuse of a map.

So, our moral is, not everything is cheaper on the internet. Lesson learnt. Until next time we find a ‘bargain’ anyway.

 

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World Travel Market and other exhibitions

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The World Travel Market exhibition was on at ExCel (yes, that’s the way they spell it) in London’s Docklands from 4 – 7 November 2013. In their own words, the WTM is ‘the leading global event for the travel industry to meet, network, negotiate and conduct business’.

wtm

Over the years at PCGraphics we’ve attended and exhibited at many tourism and publishing Fairs – both the London and the much bigger Frankfurt Bookfairs, the now defunct British Travel Trade Fair (which evolved into the Best of Britain and Ireland) in Birmingham and the ITB (Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin) along with the World Travel Market (WTM).

Of all these shows, WTM was always the most fun. Undoubtably hard work – a pair of comfortable shoes was always the first thing packed – it was the only exhibition which had an element of gaiety about it. At times it was almost a carnival atmosphere.

Contrast that with our annual trips to Germany for the Frankfurter Buchmesse or Frankfurt Bookfair to you and me.

We have nothing against Frankfurt per se but simply the mention of the city which prides itself on being the financial centre of Europe still causes some of us to shudder uncontrollably and to bring others out in a nervous rash.

No rational explanation can be given for these rather extreme reactions. Perhaps it was all the preplanning necessary. Packing cartons and boxes and airfreighting them to Germany weeks before the show. Printing promotional items. Booking ludicrously overpriced hotels (and having to book them almost 12 months in advance to ensure accommodation was available). Turning up at the hotel only to find you’d booked everyone in to a seedy guesthouse in the red light district. Actually finding your way around the exhibition halls – halls so vast and spread so far apart that travelling between them is done on travelators. Maybe it was all those things, maybe none. All we know is that we dreaded even the mention of the name Frankfurt.

frankfurt
(The Frankfurt Bookfair tower)

World Travel Market was slightly different. It’s probably easier to make an exhibition fun and a bit more exciting when it’s all about holidays and travel. Not so easy perhaps when the subject is books.

We did quite a number of these exhibitions over the years and one thing we learnt is that the more planning you do the more you get from the show.

At our first ever exhibition we didn’t bother making any advance appointments. We set up our exhibition stand with very little thought as to how to get people to stop and take a look. And we got very little from it.

You learn from this and, at subsequent Fairs, we would bring along our own lighting for the stand, have monitors showing presentations, have give-aways on the stand and have prize draws etc. All geared to get people to stop and have a look and for us to get their business card so we could contact them later.

The other thing we learnt was to, literally, tie everything down. Bolt it down if possible. It’s not during the exhibition that things would go missing but, usually, at the set up stage or after the Fair closed each evening. Everything from monitor cables to ladders would disappear if they weren’t attached to something heavy and immovable. Things got so bad that, at one time, we considered CCTV but in the end opted for simply leaving warning signs stating that cameras were in operation. That actually seemed to do the trick.

So, World Travel Market is coming round again the first week of November. We don’t actually exhibit anymore, unfortunately. In the great scheme of things PCGraphics is a small company compared with most of the other exhibitors (most cartographic companies are small these days) and the cost of participating at these exhibitions in London, Birmingham, Frankfurt etc became prohibitive and uneconomic some years ago.

exhibition

(One of our stands at a show. Once you’ve done a few exhibitions you realise that having a corner stand is much more desirable. The organisers know this too and charge a premium)

If you’re not in the trade (publishing or tourism) and therefore unlikely to be given tickets, World Travel Market and the Book Fairs all have public days (usually the last day or days of the exhibition) and we can recommend going along. If you’re looking for a holiday, WTM is the place to go, with just about every destination in the World represented under one roof. If you’re interested in books, the London Book Fair would be ideal. You can even buy books from some of the stands.

In 2014, WTM is on at ExCel between November 3 – 6
Frankfurt Book Fair – October 8 – 12 2014
London Book Fair  at Earls Court between 8 – 10 April 2014

If you do go along to any of these, enjoy yourself but spare a thought for those on the stands. It’s not as easy as it looks.

 

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Why we moved to the Isle of Wight

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Six more views of the Isle of Wight. Can you see why we decided to move here?

culver
(The cliffs at Culver with the Yarborough Monument visible on top)

bembridge_harbour
(Bembridge Harbour at dawn)

brading_marsh
(View over Brading Marsh)

st_catherines
(St Catherine’s Oratory. Known as the Pepperpot, it was built in 1328 as a lighthouse)

sandown
(Looking across Sandown Bay)

freshwater_bay
(
Sunset at Freshwater Bay)

 

6_sites_maps

 

Photos courtesy of  Visit Isle of Wight.  More photos on their Facebook page.

 

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A few words about Ordnance Survey

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A few words about Ordnance Survey – and Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown probably wouldn’t be top of many people’s lists of favourite Prime Ministers (in fact, according to many of the lists I’ve seen, he’s fairly close to the bottom) but he did do one thing during his short reign at the helm which has helped us at PCGraphics along with, indirectly, many of our UK clients.

Ok, it’s not earth shattering in the great scheme of World affairs, and it did nothing to further his career as the man who, almost single handedly, ‘saved the world.’ But in March 2010 he announced plans to free up much of the data held by Ordnance Survey (and paid for over the years by UK tax payers).

GordonBrown
(The man who saved the World – Public Domain photograph)

This meant that, from 1 April 2010, large tracts of O.S. data would be free to use by commercial companies such as ourselves. The idea was to give a push to growth in the digital economy.

Now, you would have thought that this was something which would have received universal acclaim throughout the cartographic world. Detailed data of the UK which we’d had to licence from O.S. on behalf of our clients which, quite often, doubled the price of a job. What’s not to like about getting that for free? Unfortunately not everyone thought so. There were a few cartographic companies in the UK who voiced their disapproval of Ordnance Survey data becoming free to use, mainly it seemed because these were companies which had built a business model based around charging clients on behalf of the O.S. to use the data.

But, enough of the doomsayers. As of April 2010 we could use O.S. data without a licence or royalties. All we needed to do was add a simple credit line at the bottom of the map, like the one at the bottom of this page.

Ok, some of the file formats that Ordnance Survey make their data available in are not suitable for home users (ESRI SHAPE files anyone? Or how about MapInfo Tab data? Or even DXF?) but for cartographic companies such as PCGraphics it opened up a whole new, much more cost effective, market.

rydeOS
(Four levels of Ordnance Survey data, now free to use commercially)

Prior to April 2010, to get around the payment of licence fees and royalties, we would produce royalty (copyright) free mapping. This entailed acquiring aerial photography and sending cartographers out to the towns or areas to be mapped to gather all the street names etc. Remember, Google Street View of the UK was only went ‘live’ in 2009 so before then, to be copyright free, we had to physically visit every location.

So, thanks to our friend Gordon Brown (did I actually write that?), we now had a way of producing Ordnance Survey based mapping of the UK without much of the cost and red tape that we had to endure previously.

Perhaps surprisingly though, now we have Google Street View to check it against, we’ve found Ordnance Survey are perhaps not quite as accurate with their mapping as they would have us believe. Over the last few years we’ve noticed many incorrect street names and other inaccuracies with what O.S. have produced.

It’s funny because, as a cartographer, I remember being told that Ordnance Survey always used to add ‘fingerprints’ (or deliberate mistakes to you and me) to their maps to help catch those who were copying them. Now, maybe they added so many of these ‘fingerprints’ to their maps over the years that they’ve lost track of where they all are or, possibly more likely, there were quite a few unintentional errors in what they were producing? Whichever is right, it’s certainly true that Ordnance Survey maps are perhaps not quite as accurate as we were led to believe.

But hey, maybe we shouldn’t complain about Ordnance Survey maps because things could be a lot worse. A lot, lot worse actually. Imagine if Apple were in charge of UK mapping? Imagine whole towns and cities being left off the map of the UK? No, perhaps we’ll stick with the occasional error in the Ordnance Survey’s work, especially since our great friend Gordon Brown signed the papers which made large chunks of it free to use.

Three cheers for the man who ‘saved the World.’ Hip hip…….ok, let’s not go too mad.

 

(Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database rights 2013)

 

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Arctic Adventure

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Author – Sally Cooney, Production Director, PCGraphics (UK) Limited

Arctic Adventure

In the summer of 1994, I spent four weeks on a glacial research expedition to Spitsbergen, the largest island in the archipelago of Svalbard, situated in the Arctic Ocean some 400 miles from the North Pole. It was part of my Geography degree and became the topic of my dissertation.

svalbard

There were only six of us to go – two lecturers, two postgraduates and two little undergraduates (of which I was one). It was a character building and life changing experience for me. We had to fundraise to pay for our travel and I recall doing a carwash in Safeway’s carpark and roping in all my University friends to help. I had to raise £1000 to fund the trip.

We flew to Oslo, on to Tromso and then on to Longyearbyen in Spitsbergen. I was 20 years old and it was the first time I’d been on an aeroplane. To get to the research site, we had to travel on a very small boat for 12 hours. Some of this journey was on the Arctic Ocean where the waves were as big as the boat. I get seasick at the best of times and I was not at all well on this voyage!

We camped just near Van Kuelenfjorden, hundreds of miles from any civilization. The weather was about zero degrees but that’s not so bad when you’re wearing four or more layers of clothing. Being so close to the North Pole, I was expecting more ice and snow, but it was the summer, so much of the terrain was gravel. However, this also meant we had daylight for twenty four hours a day. You can get used to this though if you’re tired enough.

expedition_4

Our biggest worry was the threat of polar bears in the area. We did take rifles as a contingency measure and made a “bear alarm” trip wire round our camp to wake us at night if one of these enormous beasts should fancy a midnight snack on a sleeping researcher.

I don’t think I realised at the time the danger of what we were doing. I’m not even sure the rifles we were given were working properly. When I heard about this poor chap in August 2011 it brought it home to me just how at risk we were.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2109238/Horatio-Chapple-Death-Eton-schoolboy-savaged-polar-bear-COULD-prevented.html

expedition_3

 

The following is taken from an article in the Holme Valley Express and Chronicle dated January 13, 1995.

sally_news

An Ice Way to Spend Summer

The “geography field trip” conjures up pictures of rooting around on the moors, dabbling about in a riverbed or gawping at soil sections.

But for a student from Burnlee it meant a near 2000 mile journey to a godforsaken spot in the Arctic Circle, just 400 miles from the North Pole.

Sally Hill, a third year geography student at Southampton University, spent a few weeks last Summer in the freezing wastes of Spitsbergen, a group of Norwegian islands which in the summer months bask in 24 hours of daylight.

Well maybe “bask” is not quite the right word.

Cloud and rain were rarely far away and the midsummer temperatures struggled to get very much above zero while Sally and the rest of the small party studied the island’s glaciers and glacial sediments. Wind chill often brought the temperatures down to -10 degrees.

All this, in Sally’s case, for the sake of gathering the information for her 10,000 word dissertation.

The first leg of their journey took them from Heathrow Airport to the Norwegian Capital Oslo. From there they flew on via Tromso in the far north of the country to the island group itself, deep in the Arctic.

What lay before them from there, said Sally, was a gruelling 12 hours in a small boat which took the by now desperately seasick group to the barren shoreline that would be their home for the next several weeks.

They lived in small tents, their only lifeline to the outside world via a Cambridge University group living in fur trapper’s huts elsewhere on the archipelago who were in radio contact with the nearest settlement.

The islands are so inhospitable that year-round habitation is impossible. Spitsbergen’s population of seal hunters, whalers and, of all things, coal miners leaving as winter closes in, in what for us would be early autumn.

Life for the students and the expedition experienced lecturers was pretty basic in their temporary tent village.

Day-to-day tasks like cooking, washing up, fuel gathering and the dreaded water collecting were rotated between the members of the group. Heat came from driftwood fires.

And daytime studies were a far cry from the warm university library where most of the students polish off their dissertations in centrally heated comfort.

A normal day would see the group out on the surface of the glacier or scrambling about in the shifting sediments on its leading edge.

There were icy rivers to be crossed, where one slip could end in disaster, and ice bridges to be crossed whose strength was unpredictable.

Food was rationed…and perhaps that was just as well.

Sally, who received cash from the Holme Valley Parish Council and who recently gave a slide presentation on the trip to a full council meeting, highlighted one particular element which had stomachs churning.

A type of Norwegian cheese was one of the staples – “a bit like fudge that has gone off a bit,” Sally told the councillors who helped her out at the start of this year with a £100 grant towards the trip.

But the cheese, gruesome as it might have been, was the least of their worries. There were other far more serious perils lurking along the shoreline…in the shape of polar bears.

Bears had been see roaming in the area just a few weeks before the students’ arrival – and the risk of attack had been spelt out. The group had been issued with old Spanish rifles and dum dum bullets to be used as a last resort.

A shot could only be fired if life was threatened – shooting a polar bear going about its normal business can carry a fine of up to £1000 under Norwegian law. But, said Sally, members had been told they should start worrying if a bear began to “advance towards them at a rapid trot.”

In the event, an easy stroll was quite beyond the capabilities of the only bear seen on the entire journey, never mind a brisk trot.

The bear in question was stuffed and put on display in a large glass case in one of the Norwegian airports they passed through on the way home!

expedition_2 expedition_1

Thanks to the hard work put in on the trip to Spitsbergen, I came away from Southampton University with a 2:1 Second class honours Degree in geography, which led me into cartography and, eventually, running our own company.

 

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Bembridge Lifeboat station by moonlight

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Bembridge Lifeboat station by moonlight. Bembridge is situated on the most easterly point of the Isle of Wight and lays claim to be the largest village in England (population about 4,000).

The lifeboat station was completed in Autumn 2010.

bembridge

Photo courtesy of  Visit Isle of Wight.  More photos on their Facebook page.

bembridge_map

 

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Company Director profile – Paul Cooney

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Just so you know a little bit more about who you’re dealing with at PCGraphics, this is the first of two quick blog entries to give you the low-down on the Directors who run the company. In other words, it’s all about Paul Cooney.
 
We’ll skip discretely over the early history, except to say that Paul was educated (using the term very loosely) at Gunnersbury Grammar in London W4. From this educational highpoint he joined the Mapping and Charting Establishment (MCE) in Feltham, Middlesex, to train as a cartographer. This was way back in 1972. At that time, it seemed, jobs were plenty and MCE took on around 50 trainees every year, with training taking a full year. This was an apprenticeship in manual cartography with computerised mapping  still some way off on the horizon.Looking back at the photo, below, of the trainees and instructors from that year, a couple of points stand out. Firstly, that the photo was in black and white.
Obviously there was colour photography (it’s not that long ago, honest) but perhaps the photographer thought it was a serious subject so black and white was more appropriate? Or, maybe, as it was part of the Civil Service, the cost of colour film was deemed too high?
 
The second observation, on looking at the photo now, is how much hair there was – and I’m talking about the men here. On a personal level, this was a reaction against the years at school where hair wasn’t allowed to reach your collar.
 
MCE(MCE 1972 Training Section)Life at MCE muddled on for several years, as it does in the Civil Service, until it was time to get out and join a commercial company in the real world.First stop was Engineering Surveys Reproduction. Not the catchiest of business names so they were generally just called ESR.ESR was part of a larger group who mainly performed ground surveys (theodolites and all that stuff). This was the first of two stints with ESR, this initial one lasting somewhat less than a year as it turned out to be extremely cliquey and not very pleasant at that time.paul(somewhat more hair in those days compared with today)

Next stop was Clyde Surveys in Maidenhead. Another company who mainly undertook surveying but tacked a drawing office onto the side.

From there we move to Henley on Thames and GEO Projects. This used to be owned and run by David Fryer until they were taken over by a Lebanese businessman and changed into GEO Projects. The majority of the work was based around creating school books and atlases for the Arab market. Nearly all the work therefore was in Arabic, which did give the opportunity of learning the basics (and I do mean the basics) of the language. Alif, ba, ta, tha etc still stay with me today, locked forever in my memory.

Moving on to 1986 and a switch back to ESR in Byfleet again, this time with the more senior job title of Drawing Office Supervisor. Five years in that role until a promotion to Drawing Office manager came along, followed in three years time by a further promotion to Production Manager.

One of the biggest changes during this period was the switch to computer mapping which left many of those who couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt looking for new employment. This was a turbulent time for ESR, with, at one stage, the owners forcing an almost midnight flit to new offices across the road and the survey division biting the dust. You take what you can get out of these situations and it taught some of us how not to run a company.

It was time to leave before everything fell apart and, judging from the condition of the offices we were moved to, this could be taken very literally.

On to Lovell Johns, a competitor of ESR and the role, again, of Production Manager. This seemed like the ideal move. At the same time that ESR was imploding, Lovell Johns was expanding with offices in Oxfordshire and North Wales. As is often the way, when you’re looking forward to something so much, it very often doesn’t live up to expectations. Unfortunately this was the way at Lovell Johns. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right, you don’t get the right vibes, and it’s better not to let it drag on.

After several months of Business Plans, forecasts, meetings with Bank Managers etc, PCGraphics was set up at the beginning of October 1998. Initially there were three directors – Paul Cooney, Sally Cooney (née Hill) and Darryll Slater. Darryll was employed as Sales Director and quite soon fell by the wayside, leaving the two directors we have today.

Sally deals with the production side of things and still gets her hands dirty, figuratively speaking, drawing maps whilst Paul does the sales and marketing, accounts etc.

24d000e

 (latter day version – more barbershop friendly)

You can talk to either of us about maps, though Sally tends to deal with the existing clients and knows more about the nitty gritty of map production.

PCGraphics have been based in the Isle of Wight since 2010 and we now use a small team of freelancers as this gives us flexibility and keeps costs down, both of which are important to us and our clients.

 

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How do we make maps?

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It’s a common enough question – ‘How do we make maps?’

Having been trained as cartographers, it’s second nature to us but to others it can seem a daunting task. Yes, anyone can sketch out a rough map on a scrap of paper but, if you want something a little better and a little more accurate, it gets slightly more complicated.

Take a few minutes out of your day while we show you how we produce maps at PCGraphics.

First, a glimpse into the not so distant past when all maps we created ‘manually’. This meant working over a light box (like a glass topped table with lights underneath) where every line was drawn or ‘scribed’ using pen-like instruments with chiseled sapphire points (yes, it sounds like something that would be used in the stone-age but this was only a couple of decades ago). Text, or ‘type’, was placed onto a map manually using a photographic method of typing the words (street names etc) onto very thin film which was then coated on the reverse with a layer of wax and applied to the map sheet. All the elements of the maps were combined together, in negative form, in a reprographics studio. Eventually, four ‘final films’ of the map were created and these were used to make a proof or to print from.

Obviously, this was extremely laborious and costly and, if you made a mistake, it could mean hours or even days wasted. So, when computers, and especially the Apple Mac, arrived it didn’t take long for cartographers to switch to computer created maps.

End of, albeit a rather brief, history lesson.

So, today, cartography tends to be split between GIS (Geographic Information System) maps and maps which are simply graphics. GIS maps have a lot more intelligent data behind them in the form of databases whereas graphical maps are simply that, graphics.

At PCGraphics we specialise in graphical maps (our name gives a clue to that!) and our maps are usually created in a vector drawing programme called Illustrator. Vector simply means that the drawing is made up of points, any of which can be adjusted, moved, deleted etc. Vector artwork is scalable and can be enlarged without becoming pixillated.

The map portion below shows the blue keylines and points which are used to create a vector map. These are what the map is made up of and don’t print in the final version.

illustrator

Ok, we want to draw a map and we’ve spent over £500 on a licence for the Illustrator programme sitting on our shiny new Mac or PC. What now?

The first decision is what to base the map on. There are several choices for this. Taking the example above, a map of Oxford in the UK, we would need to use one or more of the following

  • aerial photography
  • out of copyright mapping or other copyright free information
  • Ordnance Survey data

Prior to April 2010, we would probably have used aerial photography as the basis for creating the map. We would have imported the photography into Illustrator and traced all the roads and other linework from the photographs. Obviously aerial photos don’t come with the names of towns or roads attached, so the next stage would be to send some hapless cartographer out into the wilds of the City of Oxford armed with a pen, paper and clipboard to note down the name of every road or other feature appearing on the map. Nice on a warm, sunny day but pretty miserable when it rained or snowed. At the end of this we would have had what is termed a ‘royalty free’ map. This meant that everything on the map was generated by ourselves and nothing was taken from a copyright source.

This all changed in April 2010 however when large chunks of Ordnance Survey data were opened up for commercial use. Whereas, previously, the O.S. would have charged an arm and a leg, and sometimes more, in royalty payments for using the data we in the UK had already paid for in our taxes, it was now all available free.

So, today, a map of Oxford would probably be based on Ordnance Survey data with no royalties or licence fees to pay. The production costs are likely to be less too than the royalty free method outlined earlier. Oh, and there’s less chance of cartographers getting sunburnt or caught in a rainstorm too! A win/win situation.

This still leaves the drawing in Illustrator to do. Illustrator is one of those programmes which have a steep learning curve. Quite honestly, if there was a viable alternative we’d be using it. There used to be an alternative called Freehand, which was much more intuitive to use, but Adobe, who make Illustrator, bought Freehand and swiftly dumped it.

Don’t get me wrong, you can make great maps in Illustrator, it’s just that Freehand was so much easier to use. But hey, who needs an easy life anyway?

Illustrator, as do most vector software, lets you work in layers. A map of Oxford for instance can have 100+ layers, any of which can be turned on or off and the data on that layer manipulated.

layers

(Above – Just a few of the layers on a typical map created in Illustrator)

A paper proof can either be printed straight from the Illustrator file or, more commonly these days, the file is exported to a JPEG or PDF and sent by email for the client to approve. Once this is done, and any changes made, we’re ready to send the final file to the client or printer.

So, that’s it in a nutshell. Ok, so there’s a few more twists and turns along the way, as there is with most things, but that’s the basics of it.

Cartography, it has to be said, is far easier these days than it used to be even in the early 1990s. It’s much more efficient and a lot, lot cheaper than the old manual methods. It’s still an enjoyable career and one we only (very) occasionally regret entering.

 

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Google Maps

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When Google Maps first made an appearance back around 2005 – 2006, one of the questions people nearly always asked us at PCGraphics was ‘has it affected your business?’

The general thought was that having a major player like Google enter the mapping market would badly affect the number of clients wanting maps from us.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s had the complete opposite effect. Whereas previously maps were seen as staid and, perhaps, even slightly boring, the prominence that Google brought to the mapping market changed that perception almost overnight. Now it was cool to have maps on your website and everyone wanted them.

Obviously people found it really easy to drop a Google Map into the code for their website but, and this is where the market really took off for us, many then found that the map, while functional, didn’t blend in too well with the website design. The other thing was that, well, everyone’s maps looked the same.

At PCGraphics we’d always created custom designed maps and, now that it was almost obligatory to have a map on your website or brochure, we were feeling the effects of having a major company like Google create a huge surge of interest.

When we talk to strangers about what we do and we tell them we’re map makers (we tend not to say cartographers as it has a habit of confusing people!) their usual reply these days is ‘Oh, like Google Maps?’. Now, even though we’ve been around a lot longer than Google Maps, we don’t take offence. We use Google maps just like everyone else. It’s horses for courses. If you want to look up a location quickly on your iPad, iPhone or whatever then head for Google. If you want something a bit more customised and, dare I say it, aesthetically pleasing, then you know where to find us!

So, thank you Google, and keep up the good work.

 

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Events on the Isle of Wight – October 2013

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There’s always plenty to do and see on the Isle of Wight. We’ve compiled a short list below to give a flavour of what’s on during October. All the links are to the Visit Isle of Wight website.

 

stars Stargazing weekend at Island Planetarium

steam Autumn Steam Gala – IW Steam Railway

food Natural Wight Wild Food Walk – St Helens

books Isle of Wight Literary Festival

woods Electric Woods “Lost Before Time”

fright The Curse of Captain Black – ghost walk

walking Isle of Wight Autumn Walking Festival

hops Hops Festival at Ventnor Botanic Garden

fossil walk  Autumn fossil and geological landscape walks

cowes food Cowes Food Show

steam Wizard Week at IW Steam Railway

park of the dead Park of the Dead

 

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When maps go bad

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We all make mistakes and cartographers are no different to anyone else. And yes, even here at PCGraphics we’ve made the occasional mistake on a map or two over the years. But Apple’s map app has been truly a disaster from the word go.

After Apple’s well publicised dropping of Google Maps in 2012, we all thought that Apple’s new map app would be the best thing since, well, since Google Maps.

It wasn’t. It was a disaster.

And that wasn’t just the opinion of cartographers, it was what ordinary users were saying. Which was all very surprising really, because Apple is well known for putting a lot of thought into the design of it’s computers and software. Apple products normally ‘just work’.

Sadly, the content of the maps was fundamentally flawed. Town names were wrongly positioned, sometimes many miles from their correct location. Sometimes a large town name was completely missing, yet a small village just down the road would be named. It was all quite bizarre and random.

In the screenshot below you can see the small village of Fishbourne named, quite correctly. This is one of the ferry terminals on the Isle of Wight. Along the coast from Fishbourne is Ryde, which is actually the largest town on the Island. Is Ryde named? No, and neither are many of the other towns.

ryde

So, move on a year to 2013 and with iOS7 coming out and being all shiny and new (if a little washed out looking) you’d have thought they would have sorted out the problem of their maps. Apparently not.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24246646

It would appear that, in Alaska, the route finder in the app will take you along airport taxiways and across a runway. Probably not a good driving experience for the more nervous drivers amongst us.

It does beg a couple of questions though (leaving aside why Apple still hasn’t got the Map app right). Firstly, what on earth is a road doing going across a runway anyway? And, secondly, you do have to wonder about the mentality of drivers who follow their satnavs so slavishly that they will drive onto an airfield despite all the warning signs.

Maybe this is a one-off mistake but somehow I don’t think it will be.

And, no, before anyone asks, PCGraphics weren’t involved in supplying maps to Apple! And we couldn’t possibly say who was either…

 

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Something nice to start off with

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This is Steephill Cove on the Isle of Wight, photographed by moonlight.

Steephill Cove is situated near Ventnor on the south of the Island and is only accessible on foot, which probably adds to its charm. It’s on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path and can get quite busy in the height of summer, especially when the tide’s fully in. Very picturesque though and well worth a visit.

At the top of the cliffs, above the beach, is Ventnor Botanic Gardens. The microclimate in this area allows a surprising range of Mediterranean plants to flourish. Until 2012, the Botanic Gardens were owned by the Isle of Wight Council and were free to enter. Now, unfortunately, there’s an admission charge which tends to discourage many locals from visiting. But don’t get us started on that topic…..!

steephillcove

The photo is courtesy of Visit Isle of Wight. You may like to look at their Facebook page which has loads more lovely photos.

Visit Isle of Wight

 

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Welcome to the pcgblog…

Welcome to the pcgblog, brought to you by PCGraphics, one of the UK’s leading customised mapping service companies. But don’t worry, the pcgblog isn’t going to be just about maps.

This is where we’ll comment on anything and everything – from our own maps and those produced by others, to the Isle of Wight (where we live and work), to the World in general. In fact, anything which takes our fancy.

It sounds like a good plan. Let’s see how it goes….