Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Power of Leaving Stuff Out, or Home again, home again, riggety jig

Jan and I made our way home again. The flight back had the best quality of all: it was uneventful. Well, actually, I'm not home yet, though Jan is. I landed in Toronto just in time to teach a programming course here for Learning Tree. So I'm in another (but familiar) hotel.

Coming back, we got to spend a day in Madrid wandering around the Passeo de Prado, eating on the boulevard, visiting museums, and picking up some last minute purchases. We got to the Raina Sofia museum where I got to stand in front of Guernica (there was lots of other neat modern art, too, most from artists we'd never heard of and a huge Calder mobile in a beautiful courtyard).

And, of course, I got into FNAC and bought some more CDs. I'm taking home about 18 CDs of music by Spanish musicians ranging from "early music" from European, Sephardic, and Moorish traditions from Jordi Savall and Eduardo Paniagua; to flamenco/nuevo flamenco artists like Enrique Morente, Paco de Lucia, Ojos de Brujo, Ketama; to pop artists like Fito and El Barrio; and some jazz from Chano Dominguez and Jorge Pardo. I've also discovered that I will probably never enjoy real flamenco singing in any but the smallest quantities. .

We discovered we were too footsore and tired from getting up at 5:00 and the stress of traveling to take as much advantage of Madrid as we could have. When we got to the Prado museum there was some sort of lineup system in place that allowed people to enter and leave in large groups and it all looked too complicated for us. Similarly, we hoped to take in a flamenco show in the evening but, instead, crawled into bed (well, I had a long bath first). I would have loved to have seen more Goyas, Velasquez, Murillos (we saw some in Vallencia). There was a Singer Sargent show that would have been wonderful. We will have to come back.

We got around in Madrid because of the fabulous Metro system. As a technical writer, it was great to see another variation of Harry Beck's map, originally developed for the London tube system. The London tube map is probably the most used technical drawing in the world (and a great book about is Mr. Beck's Underground Map: a history by Ken Garland) and should be an inspiration to technical writers everywhere.

What makes Beck's map interesting is that it works by stripping information out and leaving only what's necessary--and that's presented in a very stylized format that permits only horizontal, vertical, and 45 degree lines. The London map is not only useful, it is loved. When a recent version eliminated the stylized depiction of the Thames, public outcry forced it back in.

It was also good to see that the field keeps evolving. Most variations on Beck's map were failures. What has appeared more recently leaves the map alone and concentrates on helping the traveler with signage in the station. The new work draws on the field of wayfinding which supports how people navigate through space. In many transit systems, as you walk through the stations, you'll find maps that list all (and only) the stops on the route that you are approaching. This information is also presented in a very stylized order: no matter how twisty the route is, it's shown as a straight line; the station next on the route appears at the top and the station last on the route appears at the bottom. Again: less information, more help.

Reading or read

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