Travel, or how I broaden my mind

27 March 2008

There are many reasons why it would be easy for me to hate my journey to and fro work.

(‘Late…again’, from alistair_35’s Flickr photos and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

For starters, as the crow flies I’m less than 30 minutes away from Swinburne, but it takes me almost an hour to get here. Arguably that’s my fault for not having a car or a licence to drive it (whichever order is appropriate), but cars are pollution factories and I have a conscience.

And why would anyone drive when the train stops right in the middle of the campus?

For good reason, as I’ve discovered. Whenever I hear people in other states whinge about their public transport systems, I’m tempted to lose my cool. Since Connex took over the Melbourne train system early this decade, we’ve developed new terms to describe inefficiency. My train was 25 minutes late last night and I missed the first third of the performance I was trying to attend. Of course, Connex apologised for any inconvenience caused, as they did when they cancelled my train again this morning and I stood on the platform for 22 minutes in the cold. Such a sincere, heartfelt recorded message always makes me feel better about being late for appointments.

Last week Connex gave out free sample boxes of cereal, as if to say: ‘sorry for making you late for work again — have breakfast on us’. Which is fine, but I’d rather they spent the money on improving the system (completely aside from the fact that I don’t like Special K). Food and trains don’t mix; I was entirely unreceptive this morning to a woman who thought I should enjoy having her children crawl all over me and rub their potato chip-coated fingers into my work clothes.

To make matters worse, I’m housesitting at the moment in an unfamiliar geographic location with a lovely dog, an affectionate cat and a pool. Melburnian readers of this blog will have noticed that we’ve rediscovered a forgotten concept called ‘rain’ this week. This morning, I woke up to find that the pool water was level with the surrounding tiles and there’s more rain forecast. By the time I get home, I think the dog will be teaching the cat to swim and the house will have floated away.

Such is life. Luckily, there’s one significant benefit to a long and painful train journey — it helps me catch up on my reading.

Advertisements

To map out a course of action requires courage*

1 February 2008

I have a confession to make. I have absolutely no sense of direction. I’ve always known this; my family has always known this. In the past I preferred that no-one else knew, but I think it’s time to ‘fess up.

This is probably the worst example so far of my utter incompetence:

Where we should have gone: Moonee Ponds to Richmond
Where we went: Moonee Ponds to Richmond, via Brunswick

I’ve also been from Kew to Hawthorn before, via Balwyn. It’s even more embarrassing when I’m the only native Melburnian in the car, and it’s actually one of my companions from New Zealand who realises we’re going the wrong way.

(‘Lost’, from Bewdlerian’s Flickr photos and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

There’s not a lot I can do about my problem. Like most faults, apparently it’s genetic and I inherited it from my grandmother. But I always make sure I plan my trips in advance. And, most importantly, I always take a map.

In the past, I used streetdirectory.com.au, which is wonderful because it utilises the Melways maps that most Melburnians find instantly recognisable, as well as showing detailed public transport routes. The alternative, whereis.com, generates a pretty crude map, and even gets the capitalisation of my suburb wrong. However, both whereis.com and streetdirectory.com.au require users to buy their maps to embed in a website. And why should we do that when we have Google to help us get from here to there?

Google Maps is still fine-tuning the detail on its Australian maps, but it promises a great service. Google Maps users can now use custom icons to mark important spots on their maps. Using the MyMap feature, US and Canadian users can add a ‘mapplet’ to overlay customisable weather data on their maps. Google provides prepared code for users to cut and paste to their websites; as a consequence, many commercial, educational and personal websites now incorporate Google Maps. Libraries such as the Moraine Valley Community College Library embed  maps in their websites to guide students and staff to local places of interest.

You’ll have noticed that despite the relative ease of embedding maps, there are none in this post. Unfortunately, WordPress can’t interpret the code used to display Google Maps in (Google) Blogger, and the plugins available to remedy this problem only work with hosted WordPress.org blogs, not WordPress.com blogs. Disappointing, and another strike against WordPress, but the cynical might argue that it’s another way that Google makes sure its products dominate the market.

A fellow 23 Things blogger lavishes praise on Google Maps for mobile, explaining how he could help some lost people by looking up the address they sought on his mobile phone. As for me, I have really lousy eyesight, and I’d rather not attempt to discern anything on a tiny, fingerprint-smudged screen, especially not a detailed map. I know it’s a retrograde notion, but there are some things that are just better in print.

Of course, Google is famous for recycling content (to put it as nicely as possible), and Google Maps certainly follows this mantra. While it’s useful to know that Google Maps can display Google Books, YouTube and Flickr content on maps, I would be caught very much offguard if it were my content being recycled. As an example, following my post on Technorati, I ran a quick Google search on ‘libodyssey’ to see if I’d become an overnight sensation. Of course I hadn’t, but you could have knocked me down with a feather when I found my Flickr photos in the top-ranked results, where they’re being used by a travel site to promote the Apollo Bay region! It’s important to note that there is nothing illegal afoot here; I licensed all my public photos under a Creative Commons Licence and certainly didn’t exclude commercial usage. I should in fact be flattered, but I was nonetheless surprised. Those who claim to be privacy conscious should be aware that nothing is ever simple with Google; Amazon’s Kindle reader may use Google Maps to tell you where you are, but if it can share that data with you, it can share it with other people, too.

(‘Anagram Transport Map’, from woowoowoo’s Flickr photos and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

Beware of this map; it could lead you up the garden path.

* ‘Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to the end, requires some of the same courage which a soldier needs.
Ralph Waldo Emerson.