I know it’s only an illustration from a children’s book, but this kind of thing really irritates me:


Not to worry, I’ve fixed it. Just 30s work in GIMP and it’s much better. I think.

England, Wales, Scotland

The birthplace of co-operation

Last week I took the kids to Touchstones museum in Rochdale, where amongst the exhibits on crossing the Pennines by foot/horse/canal/train/car, sending children to work in the mines, and famous Rochdalians (Gracie Fields, John Bright, err.. and some others), I saw these maps, taken from a Co-operative Wholesale Society booklet. Rochdale is, after all, the birthplace of the international Co-operative movement (although not according to some).

Apologies for picture quality, by the way. I was hoping I could buy these as postcards in the museum shop, but they weren’t there. Phonecam images will have to do.

Co-op Manchester

The first map shows Manchester, which, as we all know, is the centre of the universe, or it seems to be here at least. That great symbol of Mancunian stubbornness, the Manchester Ship Canal is shown, and I like how the label is written on the warehouses along the south bank of the canal, rather than trying to squeeze it onto the water. You can also see a steam train leaving the city, probably to symbolise the oldest passenger railway in the world.

I wasn’t sure whether the goods and services pictured around the edge of the map are particular to the towns they are connected to, or just a way to add a bit of interest to the design, but it turns out that Crumpsall is famous for its biscuits, people travel from miles around to see the famous Patricroft rope and twine, and Longsight appears to be the centre of CWS’s printing operation. I don’t think textiles and cotton weaving are restricted to Radcliffe though, they were prevalent throughout the whole area – Manchester wasn’t called Cottonopolis for nothing.

Co-op Liverpool

The next map shows the port of Liverpool and The Wirral, though the latter is notable only for a lighthouse and a tunnel leading to the big city (nowadays, it’s all golf courses and Premier League footballers). The sea has been painstakingly filled with a nice wave pattern – distinguishing it from the freshwater rivers and canals. There is not much else of interest shown here, apart from the Liver Building, some warehouses and goods, and the mouth of the ship canal. Perhaps, given the Co-op’s Lancastrian roots, and the long-running antipathy between Manchester and Liverpool, this area was deemed less important.

Co-op London

London: I remember when it was all fields around here. I couldn’t find a date on any of these pictures, but the cars in the Birkenhead tunnel look mid-20th century – late enough, certainly, for London to be more than a small cluster of buildings around St. Paul’s. Enfield, Lea Bridge, and Acton are marked as separate towns, though they are well within the Greater London conurbation nowadays. I consider everything within the M25 as “London” (though my parents, in Epsom, don’t get to vote for the mayor, so this isn’t strictly true), and these three places are all about half way out. Silvertown, a short distance down the Thames, is home to the Tate & Lyle sugar works, the City of London airport, and the Thames barrier. It is also well within the M25, so definitely counts.

Also shown are the CWS Reading print shop, boots from Bedford, chocolate from Luton, and non-Co-op-related tourist destinations Oxford (represented by Christ Church college, the Radcliffe Camera library, and A.N. Other dreaming spire), Windsor (whence came the less German-sounding name of our royal family) and the Chiltern Hills.

Co-op Newcastle

Finally, on to Newcastle, or, to be more precise, Pelaw, as most of the Co-op’s business seems to take place there. Also in the region: coal mining, North Shields fish market, cranemaking, and estates at Hetton & Holburn (not a vineyard as it looks like in the picture, but a farm estate). Local landmarks include the Tyne Bridge, and Hadrian’s Wall, which is shown passing through the city to its starting point at Wallsend.

I couldn’t tell how old these images were – they seem to belong in the heart of the industrial revolution, with all the steam trains, smoking chimneys, and warehouses, although the newfangled automobiles suggest they are more modern. Maybe they are supposed to be somewhat timeless, covering the entire history of an international organisation on the move.

You can bank on the Wales

I love browsing through second-hand book shops, charity shops, and jumble sales, looking for old maps. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and you can often pick up some real gems for just a few pence. Some of the most interesting maps in my collection are just “throwaway” maps, produced by tourist boards, petrol stations, shopping centres, or, in this case, banks.

The Bank of New South Wales produced this lovely pocket map of Sydney and suburbs, with a bit of local history, public amenities, bank branch locations (very important, obviously), and interesting cartography thrown in.

Sydney and suburbs map cover

Turning it over shows a short history of Sydney and part of the index. Perhaps the cartographer was not aware this section was being added to the map, because the Tank Stream isn’t marked  – I couldn’t find it at least. It would have been nice to know whereabouts in the bay the city was founded.

City of Sydney history and index

Inside is a detailed map of the city centre, with area and street names, important buildings with key numbers to labels in the legend, and so on. Grid references are provided, but the lines are left out so the map does not appear too cluttered. I like the fact that you can tell this map is hand-made. The text size and shape is ever so slightly inconsistent, and there are one or two omissions. Perfection is overrated though, in my view – it’s like buying a loaf of bread from your local baker, rather than a plastic-wrapped plastic loaf from the supermarket.

Sydney city centre

There are a number of interesting details, most of which could be easily reproduced in a modern GIS package, but must have taken some time to draw correctly. In the examples below, the road casings are the same colour as the Haymarket label, so they have been split around it (1). Some names have been abbreviated – to show this has taken place, the last letter(s) of the word are in superscript, with a dot placed underneath(2). In the third example, Wattle St has been hyphenated to fit around the Macarthur St label. I haven’t seen this kind of fitting strategy before – presumably it’s not a a very popular solution.

1.Sydney example 1 2.Sydney example 2

3.Sydney example 3

All the street labels on the map are written in the same direction (bottom – top or left – right), so streets such as George St have been labelled upside down (4). I think there is a mistake on Haig Av – the ‘v’ is full size and the dot is to the right, instead of underneath it (5). In example (6), the text is drawn smaller to fit into the street feature.

4.Sydney example 4 5.Sydney example 5 6.Sydney example 6

A different font was used for the water feature names (7) – a chance for the cartographer to try out some different handwriting perhaps? And finally, a clue to when the map was produced. The famous Opera House was under construction between 1957 and 1973. If you look back at the front cover, there is in fact a small ‘7/62’ in the bottom corner, which may have been some kind of reference number, but is more likely to be a date.

7.Sydney example 7 8.Sydney example 8

Finally, a quick look at the suburbs section of the map – there aren’t so many interesting details here, although you do get a sense of the size of the city. It has indexes either side showing bank branches (again!) and suburb names, but it is slightly too big for my scanner, so just the map is shown here.

Sydney suburbs

Lies, damned lies, and font metrics

At work this week, we had a bug report where text was being placed with too large an offset from the feature. It was quite easy to reproduce; here is a river label using the Cambria font:


And here it is using Cambria Math:

Cambria Math

The grey line is the baseline of the label, which we can draw on screen to show where the label engine thinks it is being placed. In this case, we’re actually placing the label with the correct offset, but there is something odd going on with the font itself.

We’re not the only application that has problems with this font, as the Windows font viewer shows:

CambriaCambria Math

It appears that the line spacing is much larger with Cambria Math, although there is no mention of this in the font vendor’s catalogue.

I queried the font metrics [1], and, while most fonts return a height of around 25 [2] (average ascent is around 20, descent 5), Cambria Math is 117 (ascent is 65, descent is 52). Also, the internal leading is 96, compared to an average of 4 [3]. It appears that this font is actually designed to have large spaces around each line of text; as the name suggests, it is intended for Maths and Engineering use. If you are writing equations or drawing matrices, you will need extra line spacing for everything to fit in. If you are trying to label geographic features though, I would suggest using a different font!

This isn’t the first time we’ve had problems with fonts returning bad information. Arial Unicode MS is very useful for internationalisation – it contains thousands of glyphs from a wide range of languages – but it often returns dodgy metrics.

Another problem is when users customise fonts to insert their own symbols. When the label engine requests details of the text height, it would adversely affect performance to return the height of every character in the font, so for a long time, the engine just used the height of the capital M, without any problems. If this character has been removed, however, the height will come back as zero, so all the text in the label will be zero-height, i.e. invisible. Now, the maximum height of A, M, and Z is used, so labels should still be placed, even if the font information is incomplete. In this example, ESRI Cartography has a small symbol in place of M and the ESRI Mil2525C Modifiers font has no letter M at all, but both are still placed with a label of the correct height (label is ‘McKenzie River’, as above).

ESRI Cartography ESRI Mil2525C Modifiers

The bottom line is: be aware that sometimes fonts don’t give the answer you’re expecting.

[1] Using GetTextMetrics and GetGlyphOutline methods of gdi32.dll.
[2] According to Microsoft, this is in “font design units”, not points or pixels.
[3] Average of the 387 fonts installed on my machine.