Maps from behind the curtain

Maps are great, I could spend hours looking at them.  It makes no difference if it is a map of somewhere I know well, or a place I don’t know at all.  Cartographic styles vary around the World and it is interesting to be able to explore maps that are in foreign languages or even different alphabets.

Russian Map of Newcastle area

There is a great site that displays Russian maps.  You can view and download the maps and are primarily old Russian Army Maps.  They are fantastically detailed given that they are not created by the national mapping agency of the country they represent.  In fact, the old maps (1950-60′s) of the UK will show military facilities that were deliberately omitted from the map by the Ordnance Survey.  Makes you wonder how they collected the base data doesn’t it.  OK, they would have aerial images, but there would need to be some ground-truthing data.  One thing that I would like to see added to the metadata that accompanies each sheet, is the date the sheet was published.

Anyway, take a look at the site and download maps that interest you.  Not a bad way to spend a cold, dark evening in my opinion.  But then, i am a bit of a map geek.

 Links to historic map viewers

Maps of the World – old maps, mainly military

NLS Maps – archive of old maps brought to you by the National Library of Scotland (GB focus)

Old Maps Online – an expanding archive of historic maps from around the World.


Cartography and the Tour de France

For those of you that know the person behind the GoGeo blog and @go_geo, then you will know that they enjoy a spot of cycling. That may be a bit of an understatement.  So, imagine their delight when they stumbled across the following short video while frantically trying to find the highlights for stage 4 of the Vuelta a Espana.

The Tour de France is a complicated event to put on. 21 days of racing with a temporary village to build for each start and finish. Maps have to be made for the cyclists that show the route, the distances and the gradients on the road.  Additional information such as tight bends and “road furniture” such as roundabouts and traffic islands are added to the maps to help riders navigate safely through the stage.  The maps also help the events team to set up the stage finish, identifying structures that have to be moved or modified to ensure safe racing or for the support infrastructure.

Click to play – Tour de Cartography

Excellent stuff, the only thing I need to find out now is how to get the job for myself.

Web-based Cartography for the IGIBS WMS Factory tool

One of the main challenges in creating a WMS factory tool is to provide an intuitive way for end users to specify the rendering rules for the data they upload. Significant progress has already been made within IGIBS in calculating on-the-fly the minimum/maximum scale which is adequate for raster data. However, The cartographic rules mandatory for rendering vector data still needs to be manually specified by the user.

It is important to clarify that this is irrelevant to the SLD functionality for rendering custom vector data provided by OpenLayers. Loading all the vector data on the browser and letting the user change their style on-the-fly is not currently possible for the big datasets we are targeting. What we need is a javascript library that can query the features of a WMS and let the user specify styling rules for each feature based on certain criteria. This is unfortunately vendor dependent as a WMS GetFeatureInfo response is not standardised.

Possible approaches to specifying cartographic rules are to:

  1. Allow the user to upload an SLD file along with his/her datasets.
  2. Search for existing libraries that provide an SLD Editor functionality for a WMS.
  3. Implement a web-based WMS styling editor for a basic subset of the cartographic requirements that can be realistically implemented within a few weeks.

The first option assumes that a geographer using the service will have to write the SLD manually or use existing desktop GIS software that can export SLD files. This defeats the whole purpose of providing users with a tool to easily distribute their data as part of a fully functional WMS service and should only be used as a last resort.

The second option is an attractive one since web-based cartography is both important and missing. An independent project would mitigate the development to a central place, where different developers from different projects could contribute. Unfortunately there is no obvious existing tool that is feature-rich enough to provide the cartographic functionality of existing desktop software.

As a side note, there has been a promising initiative from OpenGeo to create a SLD editor that works with geoserver. A demo is available here. Unfortunately, after two years of development it does not appear mature enough and had no stable source code releases. Furthermore, it depends on openlayers and has therefore other shortcomings like the lack of support of multiple symbolizers per feature which is slated for the 2.12 release of OpenLayers.

The third option is the most reliable one for the short-term (i.e. next couple of weeks) and that’s the approach we are following. One can start with the basic rendering functionality using the most common styling rules: colour, width and transparency. Afterwards, a more extensive styling application can be developed to provide a long term solution to the problem of web-based cartography.

Please feel free to submit comments or suggestions bellow.


Inspiring maps – Jerry’s Map

Anyone who loves maps remembers clearly when their obsession started.  For me, it was spending hours poring over a tattered Reader’s Digest Atlas tracing the mountains, glens, islands and lochs of Scotland and exploring far flung places that were a million miles away for me.  Today, watching this video of Jerry’s Map, has reminded me of that original feeling of inspiration from exploring my atlas and the joy of discovering the world of maps.  Jerry spends his days working on a map built from his imagination.  It’s incredible and a wonderful example of the beauty of maps.

Click here to view the embedded video.