Monday, January 28, 2013

Jiří Daněk: "To be alone in deep forest? I love it!"

Behind an event - its quality, the level of competition or the athletes' performances - we will find the inescapable, odd figure of the cartographer. The first step may not be his, but he is the one who can claim to be the most important piece of this huge and exciting puzzle. The Portuguese Orienteering Blog travels today to the Czech Republic to meet Jiří Danek, acknowledging a multifaceted cartographer and with a lot to tell.

In the last interview I did, I «stole» your message on Facebook and put
the question to Thierry Gueorgiou: Who would be the entity (individual, club) worthy of "The Achievement of the Year 2012" if we extended the
contest to the entire universe of Orienteering and not only to the
athletes? And the answer was: "To all cartographers worldwide." Does the
answer surprise you?

Jiří Daněk (J. D.) - I am pleased to hear this. It was a smart answer from a well oriented person :-) Not everyone really realises the amount of effort that mappers put into their projects. Nobody is expecting that will be awarded on the podium - just that orienteering is not only about elite athletes.

Why did you embrace the profession of cartographer?

J. D. - In 1991 I saw OCAD running on a PC 286 for the very first time. In that time I was a young enthusiastic orienteer. Maps were my interest for a long time and I simply decided that this was the job I wanted to do. For the first few years I worked as an employee of the cartographic publisher "SHOCart" which specialised in O-maps at that time. Working beside experienced map makers I was able to learn a lot. However, the firm started to focus on tourist maps more and more so I established my own business in 1996.

Being a cartographer is a particularly lonely work. Is that good or bad?

J. D. - To be alone in deep forest? I love it! It is nice to be a part of nature and enjoy every detail of this never ending beauty. I try to be in the forest as early as possible in the morning when you can see a lot. I like all the noises of forest. Of course that when you do not feel particularly well, are not completely fit or after few weeks of intensive work it can be very hard, especially if you are hundreds of kilometres from home and someone from your family is sick, for example, it can be very tough indeed.

Have you had any unpleasant experience in the forest that would put your life in risk?

J. D. - Once in Switzerland I made a bad mistake. I was sitting during a short break on a small pile of timber eating my tasty sandwich or something... When I stood up the pile moved and the timber trapped my leg. I could not move and mobile phones were not so common at that time. You can be sure that it was not a situation which I enjoyed. Very briefly: I was lucky. Two young bikers found me and together we freed my leg. Later when I returned to my base I was suffering from shock. I am still very grateful to these two guys and to my guardian angel…

May I ask you, of all the works you did, the one that you keep with
greater appreciation and that you would rather forget but you can't?

J. D. - You know, I don‘t think that way. I always survey with the same attention and care – it doesn't matter if it is a map for local event or a WRE. But if I really have to choose one project it would probably be the "Västanåberget Västra" map. I have spent three amazing months in challenging Swedish terrain. On the opposite side: I have nothing that I would like to forget or erase from my life.

Can you identify the most relevant events of the last twenty years, that completely revolutionized the cartography?

J. D. - From my point of view it is the software for map making, however it is more than twenty years that you mentioned. For someone else it could be mapping with GPS. Certainly it should be ISOM 2000, ISSOM 2007, being able to use data from Airborne Laser Scanning (LiDAR in America) for the preparation of base maps, mobile mapping in terrain (using PDA, tablets, DGPS, laser distance measuring connected via bluetooth to hardware).

How do you see the present moment of the cartography worldwide? Does the ISOM remain updated or are there some necessary changes to do?

J. D. - First of all: I have a great respect for the work of Mr. Thomas Gloor who is the author of ISOM 2000 and is responsible for the new ISOM revision. It is definitely a tough task. My subjective opinion is this: ISOM and ISSOM should come closer together, some point symbol dimensions should be smaller (pit, cave, small depression, small tower, boundary stone, cross, etc.), form lines should be thinner, … the symbol for undergrowth could be improved and there are discussions about another symbol for a distinct vegetation boundary too. New mapping rules could be also more creative with the colour palette. It is definitely a topic for longer discussion.

Do you consider that the cartographers have the acknowledgement they

J. D. - Personally I have no reason to complain. I have positive feedback from my customers and quite often I am asked to come back and work for them again but, of course, it is individual. Certainly I have also experiences from contacts with potential customers who have no idea how time consuming the work is and that there are some necessary steps to take before a map maker can begin his fieldwork. Planning is a crucial stage not just for professional mappers. Generally we all should be happy for any new orienteering map which helps to support our great sport.

One of your next works will be the mapping areas where the opening round of the World Cup 2014 will be run, in Turkey. Do you mind sharing with us your initial impressions?

J. D. - I have never been to Antalya before but I have been twice to Cappadocia during 2010 and 2011. I was simply impressed! Incredible terrain, great hospitality and friendly people - that is my impression.

Of all the maps you saw, which one did you wish that had been made by you?

J. D. - Wow, this is very difficult question. I have no idea. But I will tell you about another wish that I have. As you mentioned above, mapping is quite lonely work but I really enjoy cooperating with colleagues from other countries. Successful international cooperation is what I really like it; it has a very positive feeling indeed. So everyone who is interesting about cooperation is welcome!

Until when are we going to see you making maps?

J. D. - This is much easier to answer for me: whilst O-clubs, regions or O-federations still have an interest in my cartographic service, whilst I am still healthy enough to survive in a forest and whilst there is still a consensus in my family accepting that I am away from our sweet home from time to time...

Enjoy your sport!

[Photo by Jiří Daněk. To know more about Jiří Daněk, please see and]

Joaquim Margarido

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