Thanks to some curious emails and a couple of dormant Google Alerts, it's come to my attention that the Travel Time Tube Map I made a few years ago has had a sudden resurgence of internet fame. My original blog post informs me that it's over 5 years old. Wow!
I'm not sure who rediscovered it first, but thanks to everyone who's linked to it so far including Fast Co. Design, Creativity Online, Wired UK, PSFK, Roomthily, Inteloquent, OpenStreetMap and numerous Twitter and Facebook users.
The map has been picked up by a few books and exhibitions over the years, including the wonderful Form + Code by Casey Reas and Chandler McWilliams. If you're interested in how this kind of work gets made then the book is essential.
If you're interested in a more thorough theoretical exploration of isochrones I can recommend Nicholas Street's Time Contours paper on the subject. If you find yourself yearning for an even deeper treatment of transit data, look around for people like Mike Frumin who take research far more seriously than I do!
If you want to play around with this code for yourself, it should be relatively easy to fix up for current versions of Processing (probably just the fonts will need updating, please leave a comment if there's anything else) and you can get the data here.
I've had a few requests to update the map with current data, including the East London Line and Heathrow Terminal 5, as well as suggestions to include the overground in south London and elsewhere. Sadly I haven't found a coherent and consistent data source that I could drop-in as a replacement for my hand-edited original. The official Transport for London data sources on data.gov.uk look promising, and I've had a couple of under-the-table offers from people with access to time-table data, but these all require more time and effort than I have for the map at the moment. In future I'd like to move the map to a more 201x format like Canvas or SVG, perhaps porting to Processing JS. Perhaps an app? One day...
O'Reilly Radar has the scoop on the most recent thing I've finished working on at Stamen. Interactive travel time and house price maps for London. Go play, and read what mySociety have to say, including the ones for BBC TV Centre and the Olympic Stadium site. Then come back and read this full post if you want the background info...
I've had a slow debate running with mySociety's Tom Steinberg since Euro FOO '06 about the best way to present travel time mapping, after we compared notes from my travel time tube map for London and the work Chris Lightfoot did on mapping transport travel times in the UK as a whole.
It seemed like the best way to settle this debate would be for mySociety and Stamen to work together updating their maps and see if we could get the best of both worlds. MySociety had comprehensive travel time data that they, uh, acquired from Transport Direct and Transport for London's journey planners. They also had an ace up their sleeves with the purchase of house price data for London from the UK's land registry. So far the volunteer-led map design had come up with strong proofs of concept, but a consistent set of presentation material was needed to make a compelling argument about the usefulness of these maps in the general case.
Our initial attempts to update the map began with a couple of days of Tom Steinberg and I alternately hunched over Photoshop and poring over the Edward Tufte books (passages recommended by the man himself) and looking for an appropriate colour gradient to represent travel contours (I didn't know about this resource at the time). All the while Francis Irving was back in the UK working on the heavy lifting behind the project, getting the data gathering and overlay rendering up to speed. We tried a few different things, but actually I thought that the palette Tom had worked on with mySociety volunteer Richard Pope was pretty good, and that's the one we used for these static contour maps. (Early mySociety results on the left, updated one in the middle, my final one on the right).
These maps got much less satisfying with the addition of the house price zones, however. That was what Tom had originally asked us to help with; a thorny problem that needed a new approach. After poking around with the various two and three colour overlays with my colleague Mike it became clear that the combinations of masks and outlines were immensely confusing to work with. In addition to this problem, Tom and Francis at mySociety wanted to be flexible about the most appropriate configuration of house prices and travel times to tell a convincing story about the data later. My initial plan had been to set up a workflow in Photoshop to quickly produce the image files they needed. As the complexity of that task became clear, it got less and less attractive.
I had been resisting reaching for a programming solution to the design and cartography problem, but it became clear the manual processing was going to be onerous and difficult to keep consistent. So I asked Francis to provide me with a house price overlay that displayed small price increments using a grey-scale gradient, instead of solid colours between large price bands. Then whilst Tom Steinberg was out at a meeting I cooked up a quick slider experiment in flash to see if the approach had merit, and the difference was astounding. From that moment I was hooked on giving everyone access to what we were playing with, even if it meant working on it over Stamen's christmas break (time/budget constraints had already excluded building a slippy Google-Maps-style map, for example).
Here's a picture of what the house price masks looked like at that point, two colour bands on the left (constrained, harsh), and the new small price increment one (cloudy, beautiful) on the right:
The next task focused on getting a consistent set of base maps for the work, rather than using a hotch-potch of Ordnance Survey maps. The OS maps are world-class for accuracy, of course, but the cartography changes radically at each different scale and the maps aren't designed for on-screen viewing, let alone for data presentation. Naturally (given my history with the project) we turned to OpenStreetMap as a data source and asked Nick Black from ZXV to help produce maps that would be a drop-in replacement for the OS maps mySociety had been using so far.
One thing that Nick's involvement got us was separate layers of data (above), which let us get more fancy with the presentation later on, and keep the labels on top of the data. Of course flexibility giveth, and flexibility taketh away: later on, it took me a while to figure out how to get the text rendering in Flash to match the mapnik style Nick was providing us (more on that later).
So, armed with new map layers, gradient overlays and masks for travel time and house prices, I set about creating a Flash piece that Tom and Francis could configure for themselves (and they did). They're tough cookies to please, of course, and getting something ready that we were all happy with (on volunteer time, across an 8 hour time difference) took patience on everyone's part. Looking at the finished pieces I hope you'll agree that it's worth it, and if you happen to be a transport routing expert sitting on a system that could help produce these maps for everyone, working around the issues Francis identified, then I hope you get in touch!
I have to leave this post here for now, but I hope to go into more detail about the Flash code (which is over here, under a BSD license) in a future post.
Visually, my favourite map is definitely the one entitled "Social and Functional Analysis", which has a beautiful cellular structure:
But lest I get too involved with the aesthetics or content of any one particular map, or the print quality of the book, or the sheer Londonness of the thing, there's also the "Fetish Map of London", whose description warns:
[Chris] Kenny draws attention to the way that maps can become fetishised objects, by creating links between Kongo fetish figures—with their nailed in 'pledges' or 'commitments'—and the pins in a wall map. His map of London is covered in such pins, tacks and nails to the point of rendering it almost unitelligible.
Normally that reference would be enough to keep me quiet, except I'm delighted to find that I'm mentioned in the book, on page 137 for my Travel Time Tube Map. Sadly the link is a little muddled (pointing people to del.icio.us instead of here) but I hope that can be corrected in future editions.
That aside, the book is of a very high quality and full of historical and contemporary mapping gems from all kinds of sources, including many that I can't find anywhere online (who says print is dead?). I've taken a few snaps of my favourites so you can get an idea of what's in store if you buy a copy, and I can definitely recommend that you do.
I'd been saving this title for a potential Pecha Kucha presentation, covering 20 different maps of London, but it doesn't look like happening any time soon. Meanwhile, maps of London are on my mind: watch this space for some new ones coming soon!
Barclays have launched a combined credit, Oyster and cash payment card for travellers in London (a textbook Greenfield device if ever I saw one). At the moment there are ads for it all over the tube featuring a variety of mocked-up Minority Report-style futurescapes based on present day London. Thanks to Flickr I found that Ned Richards grabbed a couple of snaps of them; he's definitely right that the golf courses aren't as exciting as roller-coasters.
I love this kind of imagery, but my last year of travel has pretty much convinced me that you don't need to mock them up. I haven't been any of the cities that get the most attention for their present day sci-fi realities (Tokyo, Dubai, Shanghai or Singapore), but there are pockets of unevenly distributed future all over the place. Here's a picture I took last week from London's Docklands Light Railway:
And one of the same part of London from the 23rd floor of One Churchill Place:
(apparently it was one of the first skyscrapers to be completed after 9/11 and therefore one with a tough attitude towards security and structure stability, which is good because just over to the right of this photo is London City Airport's runway)
I started thinking about the future-now of Western cities in May when XTech in Paris placed us in a hotel overlooking a tried-and-failed Modernist complex near the Eiffel tower. References to Alphaville were inevitable, the French origins of Parkour were entirely explained.
I'm not the only one taking these snaps though, my friend Adam took this one in Chicago recently. As if the city-scape there isn't sci-fi enough, his phone camera was kind enough to accidentally filtr it into concept territory, just so:
Welcome to the future.
Some themes/highlights I'm looking forward to from the schedule:
At some point I'm going to stop pretending that I'll write this blog with any regularity. In the meantime, if you're wondering what I'm up to you should know that life in San Francisco is great and that Stamen are treating me very well... If you want to know more you'll just have to grab me face to face, or at least wait for my current project to launch by which point I might find time to breathe. We'll see!
Mikel Maron is writing up the fascinating things he's found out about a friend's new place in Weaver House in London's east end (see also parts 2, 3, 4 and 5). We were there on Thursday and it truly is a bizarre spot for a building. Today someone found my photo of it on Flickr, and it turns out he used to live there.
I love it when old bits of London are revealed temporarily. Like this poster at High Street Kensington a few weeks ago.
It may as well say, "Hot blonde in short skirt wanted, for typing and stuff." Any idea of the date?
Steve is organising another Ask Later talk session for Tuesday December 12th. Obviously, since I'll be in San Francisco I won't be there, but if you're in London you should definitely take a look, maybe even give a talk? The first one was lots of fun.
I've added an entry about it on Upcoming.org too.
A couple of months ago I withdrew from my doctorate programme at UCL and shortly afterwards I handed in my notice at work. That could be interpreted as quite a miserable state of affairs, but it's far from it!
I'm going to San Francisco to work with Stamen Design, who I've admired for some time (especially for their cabspotting and digg labs projects). Thanks to them (and our lawyer) I now have a visa and I leave London next week. I've booked a one-way flight, which feels strange but somehow liberating at the same time.
More thoughts on this after the jump. (more...)