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back to article Boundaries Commission slammed over mega map dump

The Boundary Commission for England (BCE) has defended its decision to release more than 500 PDF maps of proposed Parliamentary constituencies, stating that they believe they provided "an appropriate level of detail". On 13 September the BCE launched a 12-week consultation on the layout of new constituency boundaries and …

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Mushroom

Data journalists

Wouldn't know journalism if it stuck a pencil up their nose

It is not up to everyone else to present them with information nicely packaged up so that they can pretend that "mashup" is journalism.

I don't want my tax money spent on subsidising some Grauniad hack's right to have his arse wiped for him.

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I don't want my tax money spent on generating useless PDFs

And seeing as they have already spent my tax money on generating the data in the first place, they can do me the courtesy of providing it to me in a form in which I can make use of it.

The fact you dislike the guardian has no bearing on this at all.

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FAIL

"I'm not interested in it...

....therefore nobody else should have it." Bravo. *slow handclap*.

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Nothing to do with the Graun

Although they do seem to employ a large number of "I can reorder a spreadsheet so i'm a tech journo" types.

Just to do with people of any ilk demanding that another govt bureacracy should expand itself for their convenience while conveniently forgetting that it costs extra dosh to do extra things. There isn't a magic government purse fairy that provides that additional output. If you pay taxes you should never ask the government to "just do (xxxxxx)...." cos when you get the bill you won't like it.

If you read the original article the journo even shows himself up to be a complete failure by pointing out that someone else actually got of their arse and put the available data in the form they wanted.

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What's the problem?

PDF is near enough an open format, it is published and there are OS libraries to read it. SVG is probably more common in OS circles, but map data is never going to be easy to use whatever format it is in.

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Unhappy

Picture this

PDF is a representation, a picture, of the data. It is not the data.

Try using a photocopy of your driver's license next time an official wants the real thing.

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The reason they want to see the original is so they can examine the anti-counterfeiting features of the card. That has nothing to do with the data on the card which is the same on both the original and the pdf.

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The map is not the territory

Of course PDF is a representation of the data, not the data. So is any file in any format. The real data is all of the chalk lines the BCE drew on the ground when they were working the boundaries out.

What I am saying is that the PDF isn't actually that bad a representation.

The data in question is the location of the boundaries. As a vector image format, PDF does contain the boundaries, possibly to their original accuracy (potentially requiring a bit of messing about to extract - believe me, I know). It also has the advantage that anyone can open it and take a look without needing special software. And presumably the software BCE use could already create it (or wasn't too difficult to adapt).

I really don't see what the could have done that would be a whole lot better - why the downvotes?

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WTF?

The need to be open is paramount

The maps should have been published in Digital Line Graphs format so that extensive details, including contours accurate to mm if required would be available.

Then, all people would need to do is buy some software such as Canvas GIS Advanced at $1000 a pop to see the boundaries and get accurate information on whether you could vote for John Polly when standing on this blade of grass or another blade of grass and the Guardian would be as happy as they could ever be.

What, you think people might complain? Really? No pleasing some people is there.

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FOSS GIS software is perfectly fine for this sort of stuff.

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FAIL

...because the only POSSIBLE format for presenting that data is one used by the US Geological Service, and there's no such thing as open-source GIS software. Aside from the fuckton or so listed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_geographic_information_systems_software .

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"...do me the courtesy of providing it to me in a form in which I can make use of it."

Such as?

Also, one file showing the entire country with enough detail to be useful is likely to be unreasonably large and not play nice on something like an iPad.

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Well done Boundary Commssion: 9/10

The maps are here (found on the first page of sear engine results):

http://consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk/

I found the right pdf on my second attempt (I live very close to a boundary).

pdfimages (from poppler-utils) extracted the underlying map without any problems.

pdftotext pulled out most of the text, near enough, but there is not that much text.

The boundaries are a little more tricky. For a single pdf, I would put the full rendered image and the underlying map in separate layers of the gimp and trace boundaries into paths by hand. If I had to deal with all 500, podofo looks promising.

Most government reseased datasets are a pain to find and decode. It looks like the Boundary Commission made no effort to hide, obfuscate or encrypt this data at all. I am sure heads will roll, but if the people responsible somehow survive the inevitable pogrom: SVG format boundaries would be nice.

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Devil

Off down the pub...

...is where journalists prefer to be. Imagine forcing them to do some real work to get their stories!

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Trollface

"The BCE's decision to use PDFs was criticised by Chris Taggart, the developer of citizen projects OpenlyLocal and OpenCorporates, who told GGC that publishing in PDF was of no use to people who wanted to manipulate data."

Maybe done deliberately to avoid journalists "manipulating" the data?

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A PDF isn't a bad format for a map, which will tell many people what they want to know. Which constituency am I in?

I am not at all sure if a map-base for a rural area will be suitable for a boundary in an urban area.

But if you want to study what the changes will do, you have to work with historical voting data, however that's organised. That's when you want the spreadsheet listing the wards in the new constituency, and which old constituency they came from. Or maybe the areas assigned to each polling station.

We're lucky. The people whom organise the elections in this country are remarkably honest. But I'm not sure if there are any journalists with the statistical skills to analyse the numbers. Some of them struggle with maps.

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Anonymous Coward

"But if you want to study what the changes will do, you have to work with historical voting data, however that's organised. That's when you want the spreadsheet listing the wards in the new constituency, and which old constituency they came from. Or maybe the areas assigned to each polling station."

Which can all be found on the boundary commission site eg

Read the London Initial proposals summary.

Read the London Initial proposals report.

View the London Initial proposals regional map (note 15 MB).

View the London Initial proposals Annex in spreadsheet format.

http://consultation.boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk/whats-proposed/london/

All of which download and open just fine with Linux. These are documents for Public consultation not for others to mash up.

So just what is there to complain about.

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Anonymous Coward

Boundaries as drawn up by...

... Gerry Mandarins

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Anonymous Coward

Copyright woes

I have had some experience with GIS and the dreaded Ordnance Survey's draconian rules on copyright.

They have now simplyfied these for the public sector under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), but they are still apply to the area of "derived data".

You use their data to plot a line = derived = copyright, however this can be shared amongst the PSMA members, as well as with any other organisation as part of their ‘core activity’.

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Ordnance Survey Web Map builder

Well if the Ordnance Survey produced the maps why couldn't they stick them on their free web mapping application?

https://openspace.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/osmapapi/mapbuilder

Granted the level of detail isn't enough for the detailed maps but good for a public overview and no doubt the boundaries would have been digitised against the detailed Mastermap layers in Mapinfo or ArcGIS and the quality of the background map is irrelevant if the underlying data is accurate, it just depends on the required presentation.

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Crown Copyright

Aren't Ordinance Survey maps in Britain protected by Crown Copyright?

It would be different if this were actually depriving people of the ability to do something with these maps they were legally entitled to do.

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The problem isn't that they're PDFs - the BC and LGBC have released maps as layered PDFs for ages. The problem is that they've done the maps as 500 single constituency maps, so you can't scan an area to see how they relate to each other and find where you are.

I had to rush to glue together the appropriate bits to make mdfs.net/per13/InitialSheffield2011s.gif so there was something sane to read and discuss. Previously the BC have produced county-level or region-level summary maps. It's so frustrating, they do so many cock-ups that I know how to fix properly, but my employment history bars me from working for them.

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Ey up. I've just checked the BC website, and there's regional maps that weren't there last Tuesday. Useful, but I can't copy'n'paste the boundary lines out of the PDFs so I can't manipulate the map myself - all I get is the underlying geographic map. Looks like more time wasted drawing the lines on myself, recreating everything they've already done. Grrrr.

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