Priced out of the market

I’m glad that the BBC can find a few quid to spend on bringing us a map based story, after spending £5 million of our license fees on the Jimmy Savile enquiry.

Yesterday they served up a nice little web-based application to depress us all by showing us where we can afford to live, and more’s the point, where we can’t.

Despite getting BBC TV coverage, the main story has now slipped off the front page but you can access it buried in the depths of the BBC News site.

The calculator is based on pricing and rental data from 1 January 2013 to the end of May 2013 and on data supplied by residential property analysts Hometrack.


The interface allows you to decide whether you wish to rent or buy (in which case you need to state your available deposit), the number of bedrooms, the sector of the market you are interested in, and how much you can afford in monthly payments.

As soon as you hit enter on the monthly payments then the map will colour up and show you the areas of the country where you can afford to live based on those criteria.

It’s a nice simple application, works quickly, and gives you the results in an easily understood format.

If you fancy moving to London though, it could be pretty depressing as London appears to be almost totally off limits unless you are either a millionaire or prepared to live in a shoebox in down-on-its-luck area of town.

It brings to mind the following sketch.

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Protecting our English Heritage

Hidden amongst the column inches about the Wimbledon success of Andy Murray, and the pregnancy of the Queens granddaughter, was the announcement that Oxford University are looking for volunteers to help in the mapping of hill forts over Great Britain and Ireland.

Any news story which has the word ‘mapping’ in the title will always grab my interest, but when you throw in archaeology then I can’t click my mouse quickly enough.

The ultimate aim of the announced project is to create a free online resource which catalogues every hill fort known across the country in as much detail as possible. Full details can be found at the Hillfort Atlas web site but it did raise the question in my mind as to why such a resource didn’t already exist.

Perhaps it does.

English Heritage is a government department which was born in 1983 through the amalgamation of the Ancient Monuments Board for England and the Historic Buildings Council for England. In 1999 the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) was also absorbed into English Heritage.

Their website is a rich resource for anyone who has any kind of interest in history and culture, and a particularly useful port of call for those with a mapping interest. Hidden away on a very comprehensive website is an application called Pastscapes which allows the user to search on a location and find all locations of historical interest in the vicinity.

A search for our office postcode, M6 6AP, finds 25 records within a mile, some feat knowing how industrial the area is.


For each record you can view a wide variety of resources including; photographs, old maps, new maps, aerial photographs, descriptions, details and categorisations.

The English Heritage website is much more comprehensive than just a search of monuments.  English Heritage Archives has access to over one million photos to view and order with some quite sophisticated advance searching options. Heritage Gateway allows you to search many resources based on keywords and locations. And there is a Map Search facility which allows the user to navigate and view all types of heritage against a modern map base.


A very valuable and useful resource for protecting our heritage.


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Rail Network Mapping

Railway and steam buffs will know that today marks the 75th anniversary of the world speed steam record in 1938, when the streamlined A4 Pacific steam locomotive “Mallard” attained a speed of 125.88mph on the East Coast Main Line just outside Grantham. This prompted me to look on-line for a railway network map of the time and in doing so I stumbled across Project Mapping – a project about the design of UK rail maps, which now includes a vast resource of over 1,100 rail maps and diagrams.

The website is being developed as a resource portal for rail maps for education, to stimulate debate, present new ideas, criticise and congratulate. It is felt that too much current map design is based on the London Underground map principles and not enough creative thinking goes into the interpretation of complex modern travel systems. The aim should be to make what is unclear on the ground easier to understand, yet often what is straightforward on the ground is made to look less practical.

The site includes some clear, uncomplicated network maps such as the most recent Manchester Metrolink network.


But the site also aims to show new innovations. For example, the new UK rail maps feature 22.5º angles to enable all main lines to radiate from London and to reflect the backbone, or shape, of the country. The Merseyrail map uses 30º and 60º angles which help to shrink the size of the map to a square and more accurately reflect how the network looks. But some representations are just plain confusing as per this chromatic map of the London Underground.

Chromatic map

Perhaps someone would care to explain?

Other interesting snippets if you trawl around the site include a Metrolink Network map “Correct as of July 2031”! No, not a misprint but one person’s “fantasy” map of the future network.

Voldermort 11uw2zs


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Tableau, meaning; ‘a group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history’ doesn’t really do Tableau Public justice. It is a down-loadable tool which allows you to create dashboards from your data, and allow them to be uploaded to the web for sharing within your blog or website.

I was looking around for a nice map to show the nationality of all Wimbledon winners, a topical blog for the start of Wimbledon fortnight, and in doing so I found this on The Guardian.

The map itself is adequate, but the technology behind it is much more interesting.

Tableau Public is free to download (with license restrictions) and you can upload your tables of data, grab open source data off the Internet, and have them looking gorgeous within minutes.

You can then share your data on your blog or website and really get the World talking.

I know how I’ll be spending the rest of my afternoon.


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Dark Side of the Moon

moonI make no apologies for this rather tenuous link to mapping to bring you an amazing selection of photographs that I stumbled upon yesterday – photographs that help us to map the universe.

I have an interest in astro-photography but my attempts so far have been limited to standing in the back garden away from the glare of street lights on very cold and clear winter nights with a camera and tripod trying to get pictures of the moon or Jupiter and her moons.

A new exhibition – Visions of the Universe – currently at the National Maritime Museum shows what can be achieved if you have some rather more expensive and sophisticated equipment.

milky way

Copyright ESO/S Guisard

The image above is a view looking into the centre of our own Milky Way and contains over 80 million stars in this area of the sky alone.

The slideshow, courtesy of the BBC website and narrated by Marek Kukula from the Royal Observatory, describes a small selection of the photographs that are on display. Many of the pictures are taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and other satellite-mounted cameras but some are the work of amateurs as young as 15 years old.

I’ll keep trying!


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Many ‘Waze’ to your destination

Google have been flexing their financial muscle and have purchased an innovative company delivering crowd sourced traffic information in the hope of improving their own real time mapping and traffic offerings.

waze What the purchase has also done is provide some publicity for an excellent idea which I’d never previously heard of, which in turn will undoubtedly increase the user base and vastly improve the product. The more users a ‘crowd sourcing’ application has, the better it is.

Waze has been around for four years and was founded in Israel where the majority of its ninety employees work. It has its global headquarters in California and currently boasts around 47 million users worldwide.

Google are reported to have paid in the region of $1.3billion (£850million) for the company and beat off competition from Apple and Facebook who had both shown an interest.

waze1The Waze app combines online maps with updates from other users about traffic jams, road works and accidents.

A statement on Google’s official blog said the Waze team and current users had “created a great source of timely road corrections and updates”.

The app essentially turns a smart-phone into a web community-based GPS device, bringing elements of a social network into an online mapping service, to produce more precise directions and better information about traffic conditions.”

It’s definitely worth a look. The graphics are nice, you get an icon as a member which shows how long you’ve been reporting (and therefore I guess how trustworthy your reports are). It also gives access to petrol prices, police traffic control camera locations and where any ‘friends’ who are also members are at the present time.

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Google the Future

Today sees the UK release of the sci-fi film After Earth in which a father and son crash land on earth one thousand years after the planet has been abandoned by humanity. The film, directed by M. Night Shyamalan and co-written by Gary Whitta, was based on an original idea by Will Smith. To coincide with the launch of the film a promotional website based on Google Maps and Street View allows us to look at the earth one thousand years after it has been deserted.


After Earth Decay is a Google Map that uses a time-line slider tool to let you view satellite images of the Earth over the next thousand years and observe continental drift in action as South America crashes into Africa. In Street View you can see the destruction of important buildings and sites as erosion and encroaching vegetation take a hold.



Have a fun Friday exploring…..


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Urban Smellscapes

The majority of the maps that we use are concerned with mapping what we can see and help us to navigate around our towns and cities. But for graphic designer Kate McLean what we see is only part of the picture. Kate has been working on projects to set out how cities smell.

glasgow smell map

Smells can bring on a flood of memories. The olfactory bulb, the area of the brain that allows us to smell, is so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the “emotional brain”. Smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren’t for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory — associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood. Chlorine might call up a specific pool-related memory or simply make you feel content. Lilies might agitate you without your knowing why. Because we encounter most new odours in our youth, smells often call up childhood memories.

Kate McLean has been combining her love of maps with her desire to explore our sense of smell, leading to ‘sensory maps’ of cities around the world. Her aim is to sensitise tourists and visitors to a new place, and use this largely-ignored sense in their perception of that place. Smell is considered to be the supreme retainer of memory over our other senses. It is believed that we have 100 per cent smell recall after one year but only 30 per cent sight memory after three months. The first time we smell a new scent we automatically associate it with whether we like it or not and we associate it with the location where we smell it. The idea is that smell could be used in tourism marketing to foster lasting memories of a place.

The creation of each map involves meeting the people who live and work in the various cities, and then capturing and re-creating the smells she encounters to create the maps. Edinburgh has one pervasive smell – identified as malt extract from the breweries – which sweeps the city’s streets as  is evident in the map below.


Victoria Henshaw a Lecturer in Urban Design and Planning at the University of Sheffield, is taking this work further by looking into the role of sensory perception in the design and management of cities. In her book to be published later this year, Urban Smellscapes – Understanding and Designing City Smell Environments, Victoria considers what scents shape the city? How does scent contribute to place-making? How do we design smell environments in the city?

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

An article on the BBC, today claims that Australia is the happiest nation in the World based on the strength of its’ economy according to the Better Life Index compiled by
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Out of thirty countries surveyed the Aussies were closely followed by the Swedish and the Canadians whereas the United Kingdom came in tenth, just behind Iceland.

But any measure of ‘happiness’ is going to be pretty arbitrary, subjective and difficult to defend, especially when the sample was just thirty nations.

I went searching for a better, more comprehensive and defensible indicator and quickly stumbled upon the ‘Happy Planet Index’ (HPi) from the nef (New Economics Foundation) which looks to have a much more robust criteria. And which, by the way, shows the output as a series of nice maps.

The HPi is created using data for 151 countries across the globe and is based on measures of life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint. Essentially it shows a measure of how good life is in terms of life expectancy and well-being based on the amount of natural resources that are used.


So a country with long life expectancy and people who feel happy is negated if it is messing up the environment to achieve these goals.  Those that devised the measure believe that as a world, we should be trying to increase life expectancy and well-being, by using natural resources responsibly.

Interestingly the HPi index puts the USA well down at the bottom of the scale based on their uncontrolled pillaging of natural resources, and ranks them alongside many African countries which are let down by poor life expectancy and well-being.

The HPi site has maps to explore and data to download and definitely provides the viewer with plenty to think about.



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Where on Earth are You?

WARNING, WARNING: Unless you’ve got an hour to spare right now, delay reading this blog until later when you can sit down with a nice cup of tea and a packet of hobnobs, and give it your full attention.

A guy called Anton Wallén has created a site which piggy-backs on everything brilliant that Google has to offer in the mapping department and will keep you engrossed for hours as you explore th globe in a challenge of your spatial detective powers.

The brilliantly simple GeoGuessr drops you in a random spot, somewhere on the globe, and challenges you to guess where on earth you are.

The interface consists of two panes, one of StreetView and the other of Google Maps. The idea is that you navigate StreetView in the normal way to try and work out where you are from road markings, the scenery, street names, business names, etc and then manipulate the Google Maps interface to zoom into a map and guess where you are.


The system then tells you how far away your guess is and shows you where you were really looking at.

Five puzzles later and you get a final score and a pop-up window which summarises your guessing. Your Mission…should you choose to accept it…is to beat my score of 29,434. I was blessed with all USA and Canada locations.


Good Luck!

It is brilliantly simple, slick and enjoyable….at least for mapping geeks like us!

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