Wall Map

I like maps. Me buying my first mini A-Z map at university just as google maps was getting popular seemed a bit ridiculous but the idea of having a quick glance of where things were without waiting for a page to load and the physicality of it still made it enticing.

Later on, I purchased a giant world map. All of us in the flat including guests put down where we visited using nail varnish, the go-to student marker of choice, and this lead to a rich story of journeys and ideas.

Last year I saw a post by Dominik on his world wall map (side note: I really need to work out how to layout blog posts like that). I was impressed by the quality and the detail looked great. While Dominik paid a lot of money for this, I’m sure I could do the same for cheaper and smaller.

Finally I wanted a purpose for the map. Dominik is using it to place markers for places he travelled to and for me a smaller map of just Manchester would be ideal but marking all the places I visited wouldn’t be enough. I decided on placing markers for food places (takeaway and eat-in) and then working on a way to label and review each one with someway of making that review available to people looking at the map.


Wall map design

I started by working what map I wanted and what ratio it was to be in. I figured living in the city centre which is surrounded by a ring road would make good bounding area. I went for 16:9 ration as per the standard widescreen ration. The idea was to make it tablet-like on the wall, this should make it more friendly and accessible to anyone seeing it. This meant combining that ratio with the bounding area of the city ring road would lead to some wasted space around the sides, that was acceptable.

The first thing I needed to do was get the image of the map. Dominik used google maps applauding its correct amount of detail and I had to agree with him. Google maps was the best way to get this done without much input. I screenshot-ed each segment with some overlap between each area and then looked for a way to stitch it together.

I remember using an amazing bit of software called PhotoSynth when I was taking panoramic shots but without a camera that could stitch them together. You basically took the photos separately and PhotoSynth would stick it all together for you. I figured this would work well here, essentially swapping a photo for a map but the concept is the same. This software did it well. Oh I forgot to mention, it’s full name is Microsoft PhotoSynth….. Yes they released a product and it just worked. That’s probably the more amazing story here.


Unfortunately the whole of the ring road didn’t quite make it in the final cut but that’s ok. It was part of Manchester most people avoided anyway :-P

Now I had a high res photo of Manchester, the next step :

Getting it ready for print

First up the materials. Now Dominick used KAPA(also known as Foamex) which is basically a foam board . He then had the printed design of his world map plastered on it, even using the local decorator to stick it on like wallpaper. I was not going to do that. I opted for the we-will-print-on-the-kapa-for-you service.

I found a few services online in the UK that can do this, I went with Pixart Printing. As this was the first time I was doing this I didn’t want to spend too much money, so I went with the thinnest Foamex board they have. This also meant I didn’t have to worry about how to mount, as I would just go for Command Wall Hooks which would hopefully hold all the weight I need.

Essentially to make sure your design translates to their requirement you can download a PDF which has the guidelines for your preferred size then make sure your image fits within those guidelines as well as allowing some bleed around the edges for when they cut.


Getting the resolution right was important was well. I deliberately tried to look for the highest resolution printing amiable as maps tend to be viewed close up at some point. Pixart supported up to 300dpi for small and 100dpi on larger media which is not really photo quality but it should be enough to be legible for the size I want. I uploaded a 300dpi file and hoped they would treat it accordingly.

Spec for the rest of the board:

Material Foamex
Height 100cm
Width 133cm
Depth 0.3cm
Weight 2.128kg

This gives me a ratio of 4:3 which is what I needed for my tablet-like board. The weight means that a bunch of Command hooks can hold it quite easily.

I had this sent off and printed, for it to arrive with me then realising I had to carry the damn thing back to my apartment. It was awkward.

Once home, I simply put 4 Command hooks on each corner forgoing the metal hooks they come bundled with as that would require screw mounting.


It took very little effort to complete the mounting.

Overall I was very satisfied with the print, even if it was directly printed on the board as opposed to paper. The names were legible, roads and bus stops could be seen and most crucially there was enough scale to be able to pinpoint restaurant locations.

The next problem I had was how do I identify the restaurants and label them accordingly? There were a few iterations of ideas, ranging from small RFIDs and QR codes to simple marker and a book attached to the wall. I settled on coloured dots for easy contrasting of each food venue with a simple numbering system.

And for the complicated part…. A web app to search the number and return the review for the place you are looking for. This development will be covered in another post.

The final part was to personalise it with the coloured dots and slowly get my reviews written.


Plans for 2016

Plans for 2016

I just want to pen down some aims for 2016 and see where I get to.

Most people go crazy with resolutions. One guy over New Years’ made 17! I think that’s a bit crazy, so I am keeping to a simple, short list.

  1. Read more books. Mark Zuckerberg claimed to have read 2 a month. That seems like a good target.
  2. Learn to ski (properly). I have started this already but I want to get good and I’ve barely had any lessons.
  3. Learn Spanish. I am planning a Cuba trip soon. I have also signed up for Spanish lessons starting this month. Duolingo shoud also augment this.
  4. Measure my achievements. I heard about this over New Years: the act of just trying to measure goals will actually improve how you reach them. Hopefully end up making a list like this guy
  5. Upgrade all the things. I have more disposable income, so time to buy the same things but smaller and better.
  6. Improve health. More specifically train myself to stop getting any more back pain, which has been up and down last year.

This is also about doing less of things:

  1. Less martial arts. Yep, this was low on my list but I still keep going sporadically. I think it is time to dump the martial art side of my training and stick to fitness and core exercises.
  2. Less TV shows. Again this was slipping already but still managed a few seasons of House Of Cards and started on Red Dwarf. Now moving to just a few mini-series, like Sherlock or Luther.
  3. Reduce my ownership footprint. Last time I checked I owned about two cars worth of stuff, time to get that down to one car.

Racism in the City

I decided to something a bit different today. I went to a pub around 8pm to read a book. It would be good, I thought, to explore some of Manchester’s other places around the Northern Quarter.

Now this was a local pub and it seemed to have a reputation. This was an unspoken reputation, I’ve been past it a few times and others like it in central Manchester. It had the vibe of a traditional working mens social bar with only people of a certain character and race in attendance. I had been to a social club in Birmingham before and apart from being a bit bare on the furniture and fittings (as well as atmosphere) it was a well stocked bar, warm and inviting.

This particular bar had a few more animated customers. I walked past it previously and earmarked as a place to visit later on. This evening was the time.

The moment I walked the atmosphere was going to be quickly assessed and evaluated. I didn’t have time to do that. An elderly man was stumbling towards the door with another trying to prop him up, clearly drunk but his words or in particular one word was unmistakable, “Oh the Paki has come to visit.”

I slowed down as I approached the bar. I had not heard that word being used in that context for many years, those years being the aftermath of the world trade centre attacks.

I shrugged it off, he was an old drunk man who had probably spent too much isolated from the rest of Manchester. I noticed something else as I ordered my drink, while the bartender was a bit abrupt, which I figure is the norm for these working men type pubs, out of the corner of my eye two men were standing at the end of the bar. One was shaking his head, was it because of what the old man had said? It was discernible enough that the whole bar had heard it.

My question was answered by two things. I turned to look at him, maybe for some sympathy for what the old man blurted out in his drunken state but then I came to realise he was shaking his head at me. It felt as if it was because I was here in his pub. Now I have to say I am good reader of body language and the micro gestures that humans display. I’m am sure of what his intention was. The second act hit the point home. While I was waiting for my pint to be poured, of which there was only 2 barrels on tap (I thought was strange), the shaking head man turned to his friend.

“Shall we leave?”

His friend tried to console him. I couldn’t hear the response but the actions of his friend seemed to be calm him down and convinced him to stay.

I paid for my pint and sat down. I was determined to finish it at a leisurely pace and enjoy my book.

Various events happened during those 40 minutes afterwards. I’m not sure if they warranted anymore scrutiny but I will list them for brevity.

One was some of my rowdy neighbours ended up having a conversation about religion, specifically Christianity. This led to loud music being played by either the bar staff or other patrons, not sure which. There goes my quiet reading. At one point that stood out was when the bartender came around and collected the glasses and made a comment saying that “all religions are bad and cause wars”, “they should just be get rid off”.

Next was the two men at the end of the bar were eventually joined by two women, which I assume where their spouses. Which then leads me back to enforcing a previous point. The head shaking man actually wanted to leave because I came in? As it now seemed they were going to meet these women here anyway.

I called this post Racism in the city I’m not sure if that is too strong a word for what I experienced that evening. In this case one word was said and some discriminating looks were cast. Is that enough to address what could still be an underlying race issue in Manchester?

I know I am surprised but only because it happened in a place that was a public house and it was right in the heart of the city where I expected everyone to be fully accepting and progressive.