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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Not Selling your Soul to GPS

Today's world everyone wants, gets and use in-car navigation device (a.k.a. GPS). Well, the origin of technology back to 60s through military needs in US and Soviet Union. It just happens the American GPS (where the name comes from) is the most stable, functioning and long-lasting from 1970s onwards. The Soviet/ Russian GLONASS completed its full set of satellites in mid 90s but due to financial crises, the number of satellites functioning fell make GLONASS unreliable. Now, it is back to action. But the damage was done, the American GPS became the noun for all in-car navigation device. Either way, from what I have deduced, the in-car navigation device is marriage of the two geospatial technologies- GIS (Geographic Information System) and the Satellite Positioning Technology (a.k.a. the GPS).

  We often hear that people got stranded using the in-car navigation devices. The stories ranges from people ending up at national parks (Apple Maps fiasco) to people ending up in another country .On this matter, I believe the issue stems from the GIS where the road database and turn-to-turn direction is stored. The amount of information stored in the navigation devices are immensely huge and expensive in dataset purchases. So, when the database has erroneous information, no matter how good the Satellite Positioning Technology works, you will end being lost. Capitalizing the failures of GPS, Universal Publishers (Australia no.1 street directory publisher) created a rectangular ad entitled 'Is your GPS driving you to the wall?' In today's brief article, I will examine why street directories are important and what Malaysia could learn from Australian street directories.

  Before the era of GPS, the street directories, or hard-copy map pamphlets were your navigation devices. The street directories, the good ones ,were very thick and bulky. However, it contained all the information for your metropolitan areas. If your street directory company in your country is good, the company would produce street directories for remote or rural towns. Basically, the street directories have two advantages against the 'GPS'.

1) It would not breakdown due to heat, loss of battery power

If you are travelling remote areas of country (i.e. Australia), the journey will take for hours. It is expected that your nearest power source or internet provider will be too far. With the age of smart phones, the phone GPS taps the internet service to show the maps from the database and move them as you go. Having said that, if you go to Outback Australia or hidden forest roads in Malaysia, your phone will not be able to connect to internet. Then, your online maps would be showing the last maps you turned it on. The rest would be blurred or not available. Then, you argue that you have non-online GPS on the Phone like Garmin or Magellan. Well, it would work as it depends on the satellite positioning and visibility. The only problem do not turn it on for too long or the battery would die. When battery dies, the 'GPS' is dud machine. Some instances, the environment would not suit for a GPS due to temperature extremities, humidity or other factors. In short, street directories are capable to function on this situations. I heard in Australia, there may be a law that makes taxis to have mandatory street directories as your plan 'B'

2) You can see the bigger picture of the world we live in

Street directories being like book allows you to see the bigger world around the place you want to visit. Since your GPS currently is small device, you only see lines and other data in confined world. Not knowing how things are related to other parts of the world. Plus, street directories are controlled art forms where users can keep on looking, staring and appreciating the cartography behind it. You look at the GPS for a while, but not much to appreciate the design of maps.

Lessons from Australian street directories

Australian street directories have been successful in their publications since 1930s (or maybe before). In Australia, there are two monopolies of street directories (Ausway and UBD-Gregory's). Gregory was started by Journalist in 1930s to map out Sydney and soon amalgated with UBD (now the Gregory brand is dead after 75 years I think). Ausway (started as Melways) is one of the most successful directories in the country. The term Melways became a noun for Melbournians as most Melbournians one way or another have a Melway (despite in the world of GPS). Started off in 1966, Ausway eventually produced directories for Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. Handling 4 cities would be heck of work where thousands of square kilometres with thousands of roads are being mapped. UBD (Universal Publishers) is the street directory company that rules street directory and atlases across Australia. They produce street directories for every capital city in Australia, state atlas and their regional spin-offs (e.g. regional SE Queensland).

Assessing their products, I have deduced the number one factor of their popularity of this directories: Content. In order to meet the needs of a driver, you need to ensure the maps are up-to-date and loaded with so much data without compromising the beauty. Below here are the key content features of Australian street directories:

1) Address points- UBD/Ausway street directories puts an address range in every possible street in their directories. The potential of doing that is immense- they make sure the directories are useful for the public to use in the age of GPS

2) Public Transportation network- The directories strive to show the tram stop locations, train stops, route numbers, transportation network topology for every city and regional cities covered.

3) Location of traffic information- They show the traffic light, road restrictions (i.e. tonnage limit, private access), speed humps and emergency telephones

4) Points of interests- Strive to show every information centers, parking areas, toilets, telephones, building, landmarks, bridge names

5) Maps of universities and other key landmarks sites- Australian street directories devote a section of maps of university compounds areas (the location of faculties, building names), airport terminal information and maps of sporting areas or other major events area

6) Maps of regional cities- For example, Melways do not cover only Melbourne, they show maps of Geelong, Mornington Peninsula and Phillip Island. Likewise, other street directories do not focus only metropolitan areas, goes beyond that to show the layout of rural towns. UBD has wide range of products which shows many rural towns in Australia accompanied with key information. 

Well, the list can go on for long (e.g. comprehensive index and telephone numbers). However, I am stressing the major highlights of a street directories. If you look an Australian metropolitan street directory, it is whopping 500 pages for every metropolitan area.
(Article under construction)

Friday, 18 January 2013

Analyzing A Malaysian Atlas

Atlas Moden Malaysia Dan Dunia (New Edition)



On the process of pushing the implementation of Online Atlas of Malaysia, we need to examine some paper atlases exist in Malaysia. Unlike Australia, Malaysian geography students are not required to buy an atlas as a supplementary. From the image above, this atlas is produced by Oxford Fajar (a branch of Oxford University Press). This atlas was first created in 1992, subsequently second edition in 1996 and in 2007, a new cover was added to the atlas (to mark the 50 years of Oxford Fajar in Malaysia). Having said that, the mapping works was done by Cartographic Department of Oxford University, UK. Secondly, with the new cover of atlas, it doesn't mean any updates to atlas content. The fact is students who purchase the atlas would be seeing statistics of late 80s and early 90s.

Content Analysis

The beauty of the atlas for students and map lovers is the atlas is paper spatial portal of Malaysia. As far as I am concern, there hardly any Atlas of Malaysia for general public purpose. This atlas (image above) is no longer being produced and replaced by Atlas Geografi (Tingkatan 1 to 5)- for secondary students. The new atlas should not be even called an atlas because it has so much text as opposed to text. The main reason I could guess for the atlas replacement is to reflect the new Geography syllabus in Malaysia since 2003. The Atlas Moden Malaysia & Dunia reflects the curriculum of 90s and early 2003.

 The way atlas structure is like this:
1) Concept of maps
2) Graphics of environment
3) Maps of Malaysia and its associated thematic content
4) South East Asia studies
5) Asia studies
6) Continent-to-Continent Studies
7) Global Issues and Time Zones

Put in simple, the atlas is meant for the old Geography syllabus which was more interesting than 2003 version of Geography syllabus. However, in the context of the article, I will be focusing on Malaysiana section. As far for the content, it is much of reflection of situation in 90s Malaysia. Surprisingly, these maps were never updated since mid 90s I presume to cater rapid-changing situation on ground

The topics covered:
1) Physical Environment
2) Climate
3) Agriculture , Fishing & Vegetation
4) Geology & Mining
5) Transportation network
6) State by State economic development maps
7) Topographic maps of Malaysia

For me, there are no issues in regards with layout of the content and the geographical message crossed over. As matter of fact, we could draw lessons from the atlas in topics to be covered for national atlas. At conclusion of my final year project presentation, I have stated that a national atlas is the geographical/spatial window to a nation. The topics above fit the purpose of a national atlas. Only thing will differ a national atlas and a student atlas in content terms is a national atlas would have larger depth on geographic content of the nation.

Cartographic Design

Having said the greatness in the content, I have reservation in terms of cartographic preparation. Cartography is the science and art of making maps and it is truly the gateway of science to arts and vice versa. An Atlas prior to the era of Internet mapping could be consider as a pinnacle of cartographic products. Firstly before the Internet, an atlas is a pair of binoculars for the readers to understand the world. In 1950s, Times Reference Atlas Mid-Century Edition came in 5 to 6 volumes and specifically shown maps that are less-Euro centric. Hidden areas of former Soviet Union came to light in the post-War period (reflecting the completion of the Soviet grand mapping of Soviet Union).
In short, if an atlas wants to serve the purpose of window to the world, expectation of cartographic design is much higher.

Below here are examples of problematic Cartographic Design in this Atlas

Example 1

Economic Map of Pahang
In maps, there must be clear hierarchical ranking in the geographical data displayed. Maps in atlases are controlled painting, not simply playing with figure-ground relationship or ignoring the ranking. The above map ( press for larger) focuses on the economic situation in Pahang, the largest state in Peninsular Malaysia. Line symbols for state borders are neatly done. However, when it comes to the district borders of the state, there seems to be a confusion whether Pahang is splintered into many states. To make the situation worse, the name of districts in Pahang has the same font size to other State names.
In terms of colour, the colour distinction around the Kuantan side is not sufficiently distinctive. Light purplish-brown area shows the urban areas while dark purple lines transversing the region are the gas pipelines. For pipeline, a different symbol like a line with circles dotting along it would be a preffered option.
In this case, the map has issues with hierarchy and symbology scheme

Example 2

Agricultural and Fishing Map of Malaysia
The map above illustrates geographical data overload. It is fine to show in a single map to show agricultural product and fishing distribution. After all, they are all considered as a primary industry.  Firstly, there is too many town names displayed in the map especially on the coast. Secondly, the colour scheme for the rubber estates (in purple) is too strong (as in dark) which makes reading of text bit difficult. Another example would be the blue dots which shows one of the way fishermen capture fish in the deep sea. Since it is dark blue, it hides the colour of the text of city names. It makes reading not pleasant.

In this case, data overload combined with poor colour scheme demonstrate the map is poorly designed.


In short, the atlas serves it purpose but the map design needs a lot of work to be done. Positives of the atlas would be:
1) Content matches with geography syllabus
2) Reflects the situation in 1990s very well
3) Good accompanying topographical maps (which I did not discuss much in the atlas)

Downsides with the atlas would be:
1) Outdated maps and geographical data, being used unofficially by students till 2007+. Having a new cover in 2007 did not translate in changes in the content
2) Poor cartographic design in the thematic maps (on Malaysian section)

We came to an end of the article, we can learn that good content with good design are the foundations of good atlas making. It is rather unfortunate of atlases like above are no longer in circulation in Malaysia. One of the street directories companies in Malaysia did produce Atlas Geografi but it does not match the standard of Atlas Moden Malaysia & Dunia. My desire is that Malaysia should aspire to have good national atlases online or in hardcopy or both.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Opening Welcome

After some time of pondering, I have concluded I should a blog on maps related to Malaysia. It is part of grander scheme to eventually install Atlas of Malaysia by me or someone else. This blog will focus primarily on maps I have produced relating to any topics in Malaysia. I have previously contributed a lot to Open Street Map, free web mapping application especially in the Penang area.

 I have graduated in Bachelor of Geomatics- Mapping & Surveying in Australia. The blog is intend to built my profile up as a budding, passionate cartography. It is cartography, not food, that created deep sentimental attachment with Malaysia as my home.

 Please do not confuse this blog as gateway to online Atlas of Malaysia. The blog is to create an interest among Malaysians and outsiders to push for the implementation of the atlas.

 Will keep the readers posted whenever I am free.