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Thursday, 2 February 2012

The World Atlas - here's one I made earlier

I have been thinking about World Atlases recently. Specifically I have considered what is their value, how they are produced and how good they are as a reference book.

Many of the major reference book publishing houses produce a World Atlas, and I've been fortunate in that I have worked on many of them. Some are wonderful reference books to possess and cherish. Others not. So this is my personal journey through the perils of producing a work of art and science. Something which should be expected to be authoritative, attractive and treasured.

In roughly chronological order, here are my impressions of the 10 World Atlases I have contributed to. What they were like to produce, what value they hold and some handy life tips!

Atlas 1
The first World Atlas I made, exclusively working with 'conventional' techniques - type patching, scribing, peel-coats etc. Myself and another freelancer put in 50 hour weeks at a decent hourly rate, and on a Friday afternoon we were paid for that week in cash. Those were the days! I can't recall how accurate I thought the maps were at the time, but it was a nice enough book. The publisher is not renowned for its Atlases, and it did have a coffee-table feel to it. My only copy resides on my mother's book case.
Handy life tip: if paid in cash weekly, it is not necessary to spend all of it in 7 days.

Atlas 2
I didn't do a lot of work on this one, but helped out for a few weeks doing amends. Employing 'conventional' techniques again, the materials had been knocking around for years, being periodically dusted down, cobbled back together and spruced up for new editions. I felt more like a curator of antique manuscripts than a cartographer. The book had a long pedigree so carried some authority, but just felt a bit lightweight to me.
The offices were on an old airfield, above a hangar. This hangar was occupied by a Helicopter Pilot Training School. There were some hairy moments watching the trainees taking off for the first time through the office windows.
Handy life tip: allow for the lag in cyclic and collective pitch applications, to avoid overcontrolling.

Atlas 3
One day, a disciple asked Confucius: “If a king were to entrust you with a territory which you could govern according to your ideas, what would you do first?”
Confucius replied: “My first task would certainly be to rectify the names.”
The puzzled disciple asked: “Rectify the names?…Is this a joke?”
Confucius replied: “If the names are not correct, if they do not match realities, language has no object.  If language is without an object, action becomes impossible - and therefore all human affairs disintegrate and their management becomes pointless and impossible.  Hence, the very first task of a true statesman is to rectify the names.”

Not strictly a World Atlas, but a full colour 32-page Atlas section which formed part of an encyclopaedia. Almost all of maps were compiled on film and captured on the Mac. The project was notable in that I employed my teenage brother to compile some of the bases. His love of a smoothly functioning Rotring Isograph 1.8 endures to this day. In between marathon sessions playing Fish Tales on local Pinball machines, we got the maps finished and ran the films. Only then did the American publishers notice that many names were not spelt correctly, in their eyes. I had followed the conventions of the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (PCGN), but the American's view was somewhat more parochial. So as a compromise we changed many major names so that they were more familiar to the users. So Beijing, Roma and Firenze became Peking, Rome and Florence.
Handy life tip: During Feeding Frenzy, you have 15 seconds to hit each of 4 purple fish. This will give you a total of 35M points

Atlas 4
Ill-conceived from the start, and a logistic, technical and financial nightmare. The brief was to combine 2 existing Atlases (taking 50 pages from one and 200 from another), then to add in 50 pages of newly commissioned maps. Mix ingredients, stir well and simmer in the corner wondering why. One existing atlas was held in Freehand, the other in Illustrator. The two went together as neatly as a Scart lead fits into a USB port. So first we had to reconcile the detail so that it matched. Then devise a specification that would work on both software packages. The 3 component indexes then had to be merged, new index cuts made throughout, then duplicates removed and re-indexing thousands of names. Oh yes, then translate about 10,000 names as the atlas was not English. I was the Project Manager on this one, but it was a task way beyond me at that time - no way was I ready to control a $1M budget. The atlas is a bit of a mess frankly, as the two main contributing works were just too different content-wise. The procedure of combining hypsometric tints with hill shading never really worked, despite endless tweaking. Despite introducing text masking the tiny text is in places almost illegible against the background.
Handy life tip: Know your limits.

Atlas 5
Quite a good product really, with a team at the Publishers who knew what they were doing. What holds this atlas back from being very good is having all text in black, so I think the overall appearance is rather dull. The job was to produce 3 foreign language editions with just a black plate replacement. I had the pleasure of entertaining an editor from Rio, who came to the UK for a few weeks to oversee the translations. I can still remember her name. I wonder where she is now?
Handy life tip: Don't let a Brazillian slip through your fingers.

Atlas 6
Oops! I did it again. This one should never have been taken on. The situation was that work was thin on the ground, so to avoid idle hands a low cost bid was submitted to land the job, contributing to a new edition. So I was on a downer from the start - knowing that there was no profit in it. The instructions were either not water-tight, or were mis-interpreted. I'm not too sure. As a result I missed my deadlines. The print date slipped. The revenue forecasts for the publisher fell due to subsequent income delays, and their share price then dropped.
It's a wonderful product, a benchmark of reference books, and I have a copy by my desk constantly. Backed up by a century or more of diligent work, and now maintained by use of a first class database. But sadly, I can claim no credit for it's success.
Handy life tip: Maintain focus. Even when your heart is not in it.

Atlas 7
Someone recently suggested to me that this atlas was a ground-breaking product, which broke the mould for the genre. I beg to differ. I wouldn't have one in my house.
As a supplier -  providing services to complete a title without being directly associated with the publisher - you get a feel for the currency and accuracy of the data, and so bring your skills to bear to make the most of it. You eventually come to recognise when the data is not fit for purpose or has been shoddily prepared. And that was exactly the case here. By now I was used to assessing and manipulating data to deliver a good product, and the data supplied on this atlas was atrocious. The most basic level of data prep I was accustomed to had not been done. It was a serious mess.
Consider this atlas as you would a new dish prepared by a chef. He does not have all of the correct ingredients to prepare this dish, so he empties his cupboards, throws all of his available ingredients into a pot, and hopes that some essence of the dish will surface once it is cooked. As the Sous-Chef, I had to take this Dog's Dinner of a concoction and make it palatable. I'm not convinced that I achieved that objective. With no eggs in the larder, I had nothing to bind things together.
Once the first proofs had been delivered and edited, I got back the most appalling mark-ups I have ever seen, scrawled in big fat felt-tip pens. Not an inch of the proofs was not occupied by incomprehensible notes. Narrow your eyes and you'd think you were looking at a Pizza, with all of the trimmings. I took the unprecedented step of deciding that the materials were impossible to work with, and they were returned to the client as unusable.
If I have one major reservation about this atlas, it is that is was driven by design, rather than content.
Handy life tip: To maintain quality in mass production, measure and weigh every ingredient, every time. Consistency is the key to maintaining the quality of the food.

Atlas 8
I bounced back with this one. A pleasure to work on, with a fantastic States-side team up on their game. A wonderful re-branded product with 5 foreign language co-editions. I got my head around Quark Passport which worked really well to manipulate the various plates. The specification I was pretty proud of too, matching an existing product to a different clients' corporate style, which is very distinctive and one that any map geek would recognise instantly.
One big bonus was going to Spain to oversee my first Press Pass. I learned a lot there, and really enjoyed myself in a part of Spain I had not visited before.
There were problems with the delivery of the books later on - thankfully nothing to do with me. It is a big book: 50cm high, 400 pages, 150,000 name index. Produced with a slip-case, this is a substantial (and heavy) product. The final deadlines were tight, but eventually we pressed the button, and said "GO" to the printers. Trucks were duly loaded and dispatched to all points North. Despite express instructions to the shippers not to load the pallets more than 2 high, they loaded them 3 high, and the pallets collapsed. The slipcases were crushed, the books damaged and there had to be a reprint.  A beautiful book though - sadly I don't have a copy.
Handy life tip: Don't trust Truckers

Atlas 9
A multi-award winning atlas, and it's sort of OK. The original data didn't stand up to the scales of the pages required in many areas, but subsequent heavy editorial work sorted it out. Pushing 600  pages and 60cm tall, it's a monster. I'd love to have a copy, but it would not be my first point of call for a reference book. It still deserves the accolades though, a fine product.
Handy life tip: Big may not be better

Atlas 10

 They just keep getting bigger. As the product is yet to be published, it's a bit too close to home to pass judgement on. At least in public!
Handy life tip: engage brain before talking!


So it's been quite a journey. And I'm still on the road. Talking of which, coming soon:
Get lost! Street Atlases to love and hate.
Why have a Road Atlas in your car? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Thursday, 6 October 2011


I've been pretty slow to respond to the death of Steve Jobs today. It's taken me a while to come to terms with. After all, this man changed my life. Who else can I say that about? It's worth repeating. This guy changed my life. Here's why.

I came to the scary world of digital cartography very late - 1991. And I could have so easily missed the boat. Thanks to Malcolm Swanston and Swanston Publishing (early pioneers of DTP Cartography in the UK) I retrained. As I recall I first worked on an Apple Macintosh IIci, with a 40 megabyte hard drive. 

It sold for $6000. But it was a great machine. I could preview my work in colour! We were running Adobe Illustrator 3 and Freehand 3 on OS version 6, and later version 7. I did try using CorelDraw on Windows at that time, but the user experience was just not the same. I soon fell in love.

1989-1991 is sometimes called the first golden age for Apple, but it all went downhill from there. Innovative ideas, but performance was poor and under Gil Amelio's tenure things got worse. I bought a Performa for home use in the early 90's, and frankly it wasn't very good. 

 I ended up selling it to a mate. Apple's first PDA, the Newton, came out about the same time. Another financial failure - but it paved the way for the Palm, the iPhone and the iPad. The company were on it's knees by now. But there was still a spark of hope.


In 1997 Steve Jobs rejoined Apple. Let's call this day zero.
Remember him? He's the bloke who built the first Apple in his garage, later attached a mouse to it and re-invented the GUI. My facts may be wrong here - but hey, I'm an Evangelist, and that's what Evangelist's do!


In 1998 Apple launched the iMac. Holy Moly! Not a grey box, but curvy and cuddly. I bought a Bondi Blue RevB version and adored it. Within a year under Job's tenure Apple started to build the iLife suite. iMovie, iPhoto and Garageband soon became must-have consumer software. On the professional side, Final Cut Pro and Logic were added.

Things had been turned around and Apple are back in profit again, but what happens next is just, I dunno, amazing.

March 2001 saw Mac OS X released - a completely new architecture, and the transition was really smooth for me. How did they do that?
May 2001 - the first Apple store opens. Now there are 350.
November 2001 - 1st iPod goes on sale. OMG.
April 2003 - iTunes launched.
January 2006 - shift to Intel Macs.
January 2007 - iPhone launched. Another OMG.
July 2008 - App Store launched.
January 2010 - iPad launched. Yep, another one.

What a 10 years that was! The iPod is not yet 10 years old, and Jobs has changed the music industry forever. With the iPad publishing is going the same way. The mobile phone market has had to up it's game to match the iPhone.

I don't bow down to the altar of all things Apple - I have no iPhone or iPad, and my iPod is a £40 shuffle. But I adore my Mac. It's not my adversary. I treat it well and it returns the favour in being reliable, stable and dependable. It enables me to make a living, in a way that is an enjoyable interaction with technology. If only for that reason, thank you Steve Jobs.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Competition time!

Just post the answer to this question on my Twitter page, @DVDMaps
Name one overseas country where I have lived and worked. Simples!

The prize is the best Cartography available in Charlbury, West Oxfordshire. (Well, the best north of Market Street. Apparently I'm not the only Cartographer in the Village)

Good luck.


Thursday, 29 September 2011

Free Cartography - are you REALLY serious?

Despite a decidedly lukewarm response to my competition, I will honour my commitment, to mark 2 years of DVDMaps.

So here is how it works. As I have clients all over the world I will launch the competition at 22.00 GMT tomorrow. That should ensure you can enter if you are in the UK, USA, SA, India, or in NZ. If you are in Sydney or Melbourne, I'm sorry, you will just have to get up early.

So the prize is a whole days work, free of charge, on a project of your choosing. That's for an existing client. For a new client, the prize is half a days work. There are two prizes. What constitutes a whole day's work is negotiable!

I will post a question on Twitter and on this Blog tomorrow at 22.00 GMT, so simply be the first to answer correctly to win. The answer to the question will be on my Website. No other T&C's - you will just have to trust me!

To enter you will need to follow me on Twitter and post your answer there.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Free Cartography - are you serious?

DVDMaps will be two years old very soon, and I have devised a competition to mark the day. Fabulous prizes! Free Cartography! Onerous T@C's!
To be in in with a chance of winning, you need to like my DVDMaps Facebook group, or follow this Blog or follow @DVDMaps on Twitter.
Competition details will be announced on 31st September.
So what are you waiting for?

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Money well spent

I have just splashed some cash and bought the Times Concise Atlas to use as a reference. I contributed to this some years ago, but I expect very little of my work remains. Probably just as well! 

But what a wonderful product. I can guarantee this will never be further than an arm's length away.

It has already been used to check the location of an obscure National Park in Argentina.

Money well spent. Maybe one day I'll get a new Times Comprehensive. But until then...

Monday, 11 July 2011

Welcome South Sudan

Revolutions, Civil Wars, Internecine fighting, Coups and the Arab Spring.

It's all pretty messy out there, and I can't help but feel it always will be. As a Cartographer I sometimes suggest that these are welcome developments, generating work to revise all of our maps. But it's a double-edged sword, as the cost to human life is often so high.

Add to that the potential for conflict caused by Global Warming, and you start to wonder what the future may hold.

So in these uncertain times lets wish the world's newest country - South Sudan - a stable and fruitful future.

Here's a new World Map for all you lazy Cartographers out there.

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