Map Fight!

I wrote recently about my indecision surrounding the domain of information design; should detail or simplicity win out? (as always, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle - but hey, that’s boring). Google Maps and Multimap provide an interesting example of what I’m talking about.

Google’s maps are simple; straightforward; and link together yellow pages data with mapping data - together with some cool APIs that enable rip-offs (an ancient term for a mashup). However, they also strip out contextual data that any professional navigator would consider important - landmarks, land type, buildings, etc. It seems apparent that Google are trying to hit a particular market - those who find conventional maps too confusing. And to be fair, they’re doing pretty well - empirical data suggests lots of folks use them. Their reasonably robust mobile maps are also quite handy.

Multimap, on the other hand, looks backward by modern standards: a confusing array of mostly-irrelevant fluff crowds the page. They have one strong advantage, however - they provide contextual information, since they simply use OS maps (at least at medium zoom levels). OS maps are excellent for providing detailed navigation data, and Multimap seems to be the only free online provider of them.

I actually use both sites - Google when I’m searching for things (e.g. dry cleaners in Winchester, of which there turn out not to be many), and Multimap when I want a printable map to navigate to somewhere specific. I would hazard a guess that Google’s map interface was designed by someone who works in a city, as they are virtually useless outside one. Google should be able to make the additional mapping data optional as an overlay - after all, there is already a hybrid interface that mixes maps with satellite pictures. This would be a welcome improvement. Multimap should focus on cleaning up their interface if they don’t want to be run out of town.

Assault on Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13 is a low-budget action film from horror director John Carpenter. The premise of the film is very simple: a gang takes revenge for a recent bust by assaulting a police station staffed by a skeleton crew (plus a few hangers-on). Initially it appears we aren’t supposed to sympathise with the police, as they’re shown as brutish and unsympathetic, but a shocking scene a third of the way through the film turns this on its head and suddenly we empathise with the plight of those who then become beseiged and the ‘tight corners’ nature of the film shines through.

The film hasn’t aged particularly well - it has a very 70s look and feel, which is probably why Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, decided to remake it in 2005. However, a truly excellent synthesised score more than compensates for this and good quality action camera work, together with no-nonsense tight editing, make for a robust film, even if not a glossy one.

Assault on Precinct 13 has a moody feel to it, which is unsurprising given Carpenter’s general predisposition towards horror and the fact that he wrote, directed, produced, and scored it. Some scenes reminded me of other similarly dark action films such as The Running Man.

It’s a worthy film, not particularly challenging, but strong in the areas where it needs to be.

Transport is Good

It seems to be a commonly held contemporary belief that transport and travel are a guilty pleasure at best, and reprehensible at worst, mainly due to the unpleasant environmental side-effects, and should be minimised. Environmentalists have already invented carbon offsetting to assuage collective and individual guilt about the trendy problem of carbon emissions (Tim Harford has explained why this makes no sense; and I think it’s nothing short of miraculous how carbon offsetting services can put a price on emissions so easily).

However, the upside is often overlooked. Travel is pleasurable. Some of the best experiences in my life have involved travelling, and I’m far from the only one. Quality of life does have value. Perhaps even more importantly, transport enables you to get stuff more cheaply. Trade is mostly beneficial, and the wider the scope of a market, the more beneficial it is (because of the greater likelihood that you’ll find large extremes of want and produce a large profit). Fast, cheap, reliable transport increases the efficiency of markets and is good for humankind.

Don’t feel bad next time you hop on a jet, and please don’t waste your money on offsetting carbon. Recycling is a whole ‘nother story.

Ink Sticker

Some of the marketing efforts I’m most impressed by are the little, obvious things. I recently ordered some replacement ink cartridges from The Ink Factory (excellent service, by the way - next day delivery and cheap prices, as well as good quality non-OEM cartridges). I’ve ordered from them twice now - this time round I had to dig out their name from my email archives - searching Google for printer ink uk brings up a lot of sites. They’ve now sent me some tiny stickers, with their website and phone number printed on them, one of which has now gone on the inside of my printer hood. Next time, I won’t have to do that hunt. So obvious, so simple, so clever.

Of course, I barely use my printer these days, but that’s another story.

Update 2006-11-30: It appears Epson is trying to pursue some manufacturers and importers of cheap ink cartridges via the US legal system, alleging patent violation. It’s well known that printer manufacturers make a large portion of their profit from cartridges, so this shouldn’t be too surprising. I’m not sure I have a clear opinion on this issue.

Easy Rider

Easy Rider is cool: and as it’s from the decade that invented cool, the 60s, it’s everything you expect - messy, drug-riddled, hairy and hippy. There’s no slickness or shine here: just folks kicking back.

Easy Rider presents the world as suits it best: there’s no suburban American, just little towns and vast expanses of beautiful and wild desert. The visuals are perfectly offset by classic American music - country and rock ‘n’ roll - and even the editor seems to be high at times, with wild cuts and babbled scenes.

There is a back story to Easy Rider, and it has some good themes: freedom being one. For liberals such as myself, it’s a particularly chilling illustration of how conservative America isn’t as free as it thinks it is: Jack Nicholson hits the nail on the head in his central speech of the film:

**Billy ([Denis Hopper](**: What the hell's wrong with freedom, man? That's what it's all about. **George ([Jack Nicholson](**: Oh yeah, that's right, that's what it's all about, all right. But talkin' about it and bein' it - that's two different things. I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. 'Course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom, but they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.

Ultimately, though, watching Easy Rider as social commentary is probably going to result in disappointment: there are more intelligent alternatives. The best way to enjoy this film is just to chill out and let it flow (and I wouldn’t care to suggest you how do that). Peace, man.

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