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weblog archives
eXTReMe Tracker
Friday, October 17, 2003
More mapping. As we’ve mentioned before, Harry Beck's classic London underground diagram seems to hold a special place in the heart of webloggers – perhaps it’s the graphic simplicity, the way in which geographical information is re-organised in order to better show connections and links, rather than actual physical locations (perhaps it's how the internet appears in our own mental cartography?). This is the best visual history of the tube map we've yet found. There are tube blogger maps all over the globe, and weblog focusing on transport and transit issues (London, New York, Slate article).

We’re not sure if we’ve linked to Chris Heathcote’s Anti-mega before: we especially admire his attempt to take on TfL’s own mighty mapping department. A year or so ago, the powers that be embarked on a cartographic campaign to address the capital's bus routes. The result, the so-called 'Spider Maps' (e.g. Oval, pdf), take Beck's circuit-diagram aesthetic but - because of their emphasis on single, isolated routes - tend to be more linear and limb-like (hence the arachnoid metaphor). Anti-mega proposes a series of spider maps that integrate every other form of public transport. (Related: design your own).

We missed Sean Dodson’s piece in last week’s Guardian, ‘The internet of things’. Dodson looks at the origins and potential of RFid technology (as used in the Oyster cards discussed yesterday), and the dawn of the proposed Electronic Product Code (EPC) Network, a possible replacement for barcodes. Ultimately, he posits, everything - every object, thing, tchotchke, widget, gadget, device and piece of pocket fluff, could have some kind of online presence. ‘That’s great!’ cry a significant proportion of the populace, ‘if we know where everything was all of the time, then there would be no mislaid house keys, wayward socks, abducted children, pilfered mobile phones, stolen cars, shoplifting, gun violence, etc., etc., etc.’

Everyone else, once they’ve found their glasses (which I’m sure I left on the mantelpiece, or it could have been by the sink, but then they turned out to be in the kitchen), mumbles quietly in dissent, and remembers how satisfying it is when memory engages reality and you can visualise exactly where you left something. Locating technology, they point out, is faddish and a little bit unnecessary. Does anyone remember the brief mid-80s fad for beeping key-chains? Your keys would vanish into the infinite folds of space, time and laundry that is your home and to find them you’d simply whistle: the key-chain would chirrup its location (cue much hilarious abuse of the system by making it beep at inappropriate times). That's technology for you. Have you ever rung up your missing telephone to locate it by its ring? Of course. Things go missing. That’s what they do: it's how you know that they're things. Besides, there's always someone, somewhere, who claims they can find what you want (E-seek, Bookfinder, etc.). Douglas Adams once wrote of a planet populated entirely by lost biros....

But the EPC network isn't designed to save us from a world of odd socks: ultra-precise stock tracking is the ultimate goal, with every item in every store, warehouse and shopping trolley instantly accounted for. British supermarket chain Tesco are amongst those trying out RFid tagging, but has claimed that it will only embed chips into packaging, and not the actual product (making landfill sites a potentially buzzing place for lovers of electronic chit-chat). As anti-RFid campaigners like NoTags point out, such experiments are likely to be only the tip of the iceberg, but it's one of those quandaries where cohesive opposition is harder to vocalise than one might think. For a start, it seems we need a new word for 'total information society' - this internet of things. My German isn't up to it, but something along the lines of an electronic gesamtkunstwerk. Any suggestions?

Elsewhere. 101 websites for writers, via that rabbit girl / the Third Reich in Ruins, a fascinating journey through the remnants of Nazi architecture / technology and design. The new Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, by Renzo Piano (whose new website is a distinct improvement over the old) / Burt Rutan’s incredible Space ShipOne, made by his company Scaled Composites / we saw Spellbound last night - highly recommended.