The design of bus time tables: Amsterdam vs Malta

You can tell how much attention a city or a country pays to its public transport from the design of its bus time tables. A recent trip to Malta and a brush with public transport there made me appreciate ones in Amsterdam even more.

Let’s take a closer look.

A bus time table in AmsterdamA bus time table in Amsterdam

The header clearly shows you the name of the stop, the mode (since some stops service bus and trams), the route and the end destination. A mini line map shows all the stops current stop onwards and their accessibility by wheelchair. There is even a QR code that you can scan to get live timings for buses departing from that stop.

The main body is divided into three sections - one for regular working days, one for Saturdays and one for Sundays and public holidays. The sections share a common header with 24 columns - one for each hour. The minutes are listed under the respective hours. Not only is this easy to scan, it also acts like a histogram that shows which hours have the most frequent service at a glance.

The minutes double up as a histogramThe minutes double up as a histogram

We use 24h time (aka military time’) in the Netherlands so it does keep the design compact by not having to designate each hour as AM or PM.

The footer has miscellaneous information including costs.

Contrast this with the time tables in Malta.

A bus time table in MaltaA bus time table in Malta

While the header clearly tells you the bus route, the destination and the current stop, it doesn’t show you other stops along the route.

The body is about as easy to scan as a busy spreadsheet. Sure, you have three columns for weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays/public holidays but the use of alternating grey and white color for each column is about the only concession they make for readability. Each of these columns are further divided into two columns listing the arrival times of the bus from earliest to latest. You have to scan this list carefully to locate the hour you are interested in. You don’t get a sense of which hours have the most frequent service and which ones have none. You can however look at time tables for two separate routes side by side and easily tell which is serviced more frequently by looking at the length of the tables.

Bus stops in Amsterdam increasingly have a display that shows live timings of buses running on that route. That and the ubiquity of internet-connected smartphones makes me wonder if these printed timetables would soon become relics that you’d only find in a museum.

February 4, 2023

2022: My year in Music

The 2022 I ended yesterday felt like a very different year from the one that I had started. The wife and I had received our booster shot on 31st Dec 2021. It was arranged at the last-minute and we knew from the last two vaccines that we’d probably be spending the first two or so days of the new year in bed recovering. That’s exactly how it went down. And it’s easy to forget now that the Netherlands was also under a partial lockdown for most of January1.

So to go from there and be able to travel internationally for work and leisure, have family and friends over in Amsterdam, change jobs - and a month or so into the new one, get COVID - 2022 was quite packed. And the discovery of new music (new only in the sense that I heard it for the first time this year) kept pace with it. This is the 7th iteration of my annual playlist making exercise. And like annual playlists before, this one too has music in many languages (Basque, Bengali, Catalan, English, French, Spanish, Italian to count a few) spanning multiple genres. And oh, I also started learning Spanish seriously. To be able to understand fragments of lyrics of some of the Spanish songs in this playlist gave an extra dimension to them.

I found these tracks in all manner of places. Stole (borrowed?) a couple from the playlist of a colleague I was seeing in person in San Francisco for the first time in over two years. Shazamed one at an ice-cream parlour in Athens. Found one when Apple Maps egged me on to explore the favourite haunts of a famous LA-based artist (whom I hadn’t heard of) but instead, I chose to explore the artist’s latest album. And of course, the algorithmic recommendations from Spotify were a big source too.

Without further ado, I present to you, the 2022 musical retrospective:

The 2022 playlist on Spotify

  1. Exhibit A: This government press release announcing opening of shops, barbers etc. till 5:00 PM in the evening↩︎

January 1, 2023

My Avatar 2: The Way of Water review

The wife and I watched Avatar 2 (aka Avatar: The Way of Water) in 3D HFR yesterday and hated it.

Let’s start with the most celebrated thing about the movie - the visuals. To my eyes they seemed overdone. They were like a cross between a video game cutscene and one of those demo reels they run on giant TVs for sale in electronic stores.

Even the story had the depth and pathos of a demo reel meant to sell OLED TVs.

Avatar has always felt like a thinly veiled history of colonisation and settlement of North America. The sequel wasn’t any different. If anything, Avatar 2 solidified this notion (spoiler)1. The rest of the plot felt like a hodgepodge of pop culture tropes and set pieces from Moby Dick to Jaws to Free Willy.

I would’ve left the hall mid-way through the movie but did not out of respect for other people in our row. The hall was quite full for Christmas night and everyone stoically persisted through the movie’s 3h+ duration.

We are told there are 3 more sequels planned (Avatar 5 is scheduled to come in 2027!). I think I will pass. It feels like Star Wars all over again where the franchise is milked aggressively to the point that even the staunchest fans greet the newest release with indifference.

p.s. Me and some friends were distraught at the font choices they had made in the original - big, yellow Papyrus for subtitling dialog in Na’vi. This hasn’t changed in Avatar 2. However it did feel like they had cut down on the amount of dialog in Na’vi by quite a lot so one didn’t see it much. Since all English movies in Amsterdam carry Dutch subtitles, I was worried that some scenes would suffer from subtitle overload (Na’vi -> Papyrus in English -> Dutch). This didn’t come to pass because Na’vi here was directly translated into Dutch (Papyrus). Also the sub-titles (the regular Dutch ones they show here throughout the movie) didn’t distract, interfere with 3D, cause headaches/nausea etc.

  1. Due to worsening conditions on Earth, the star people” are coming to settle Pandora and not just for extracting unobtanium.↩︎

December 26, 2022

Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters

The Potato Eaters is the first painting that appears in the online collection of the Van Gogh Museum’s official web-site. At first I thought that the paintings must’ve been listed alphabetically by title. The painting’s Dutch title is De Aardappeleters”1. De” (like other articles) is typically ignored when ranking titles of works and the Aa” of Aardappeleters is pretty hard to beat when ranking alphabetically. But then you look at works listed at positions 2 and 3 - Tuin met geliefden” (Garden with courting couples) and Zelfportret als schilder” (Self-portrait as a painter) respectively, it’s obvious that unless Van Gogh’s entire oeuvre comprises of 3 paintings, the ranking is not alphabetical. The order is not chronological either. There must be some sort of curation at play here.

Van Gogh Museum - the online collection pageVan Gogh Museum - the online collection page

The Potato Eaters is an odd choice. The palette is dark2, which Van Gogh himself described as something like the colour of a really dusty potato, unpeeled of course”. And while the subject is just an ordinary dinner scene of 19th century peasant life, meaning there isn’t anything particularly sad about it, looking at it at the museum always puts me in a pensive mood.

The Potato EatersThe Potato Eaters

My past jobs required me to work from offices that are in Amsterdam’s city centre - a mere 3 to 4 km from our home. I did not always take the most efficient route or mode of transport for getting to work. My morning commute would often mean walking at a comfortable pace through Amsterdam’s inner canal ring. Right behind Westerkerk, there is a stall that sells tourists’ favourite delicacy - potato fries. One day while walking past it, I realised that it had a replica of the Potato Eaters painted on its shutter! Except, everyone in this version of the painting is eating potato fries. The old woman in the right is still pouring coffee - albeit into paper cups. The aspect ratio of the shop’s shutter is different from the original so whomever painted it had to space the subjects out a bit. The choice of colour palette tries to be faithful to the original, at least in luminosity and saturation if not in hue. Time and weather seemed to have endowed it with the pathos of the original.

The Potato Eaters - french fries editionThe Potato Eaters - french fries edition

The appropriation of Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters by this stall made me chuckle.

A few weeks later as I was walking past this stall again, I noticed that the painting on its shutter had been re-touched”. Sadly, it looked more like something a primary school student learning to use Microsoft Paint would create than parody of a famous work by Van Gogh. A few other details had changed too. The woman in the right is no longer pouring coffee but is rather dipping a fry into mustard sauce.

The Potato Eaters - french fries edition (post restoration)The Potato Eaters - french fries edition (post restoration)

It reminded me of the incident in 2012 when an octogenarian amateur artist tried to restore a fresco of Jesus (Ecce Homo) in a Church in Spain and botched it up completely3.

Ecce homoEcce homo

I am really not sure if this version of The Potato Eaters should make me happy or sad. I can now barely connect it to the original!

  1. In line with the Dutch language’s propensity to concatenate words to make new ones.↩︎

  2. and perhaps rendered even duller than Van Gogh originally intended as tends to happen to pigments from those times.↩︎

  3. from the wikipedia page: While press accounts agree that the original painting was artistically unremarkable, its current fame derives from a good faith attempt to restore the fresco by Cecilia Giménez, an untrained amateur artist, in 2012. The intervention transformed the painting and made it look similar to a monkey, and for this reason it is sometimes referred to as Ecce Mono (roughly Behold the Monkey; mono translates to monkey in Spanish).↩︎

December 18, 2022

London - red-brick buildings

London’s red-brick buildings look beautiful around sunset. Taken on an unusually warm and sunny October day:

Roofs of red-brick buildings at Exhibition RoadRoofs of red-brick buildings at Exhibition Road

I’ve rarely ever seen TV antennas on roofs in Amsterdam. I was a little surprised to see how common they still are in some parts of London.

November 12, 2022

London - Strand/Fleet Street/St Paul’s Cathedral

Eurostar now runs direct trains from Amsterdam to London. There is a small terminal on platform 15B of Amsterdam Centraal Station where you show up an hour before the train’s departure for immigration formalities. After a cursory security check, the Dutch immigration officers register your departure. Barely two meters behind them, the officers at the UK immigration booth register your arrival. You then try to find a seat in the cramped lounge and wait for the train to depart. The train stops at Rotterdam, Brussels, Lille and finally at the St. Pancras1 Station in London. The journey takes approximately 4 hours.

The last week of October has been unseasonably warm this year in Western Europe. London was no different. With maximum temperatures of 19-22ºC on most days of our trip, we spent a lot of time walking. Our jackets, light as they were, spent most of their time tucked inside our backpacks.

Some pictures from a nostalgic walk from Strand to Fleet Street to St Paul’s Cathedral on the first day of our trip:

Temple Bar Memorial DragonTemple Bar Memorial Dragon

Apex Temple Court HotelApex Temple Court Hotel

Former Press Association and Reuters buildingFormer Press Association and Reuters building

Spire of St. Bride’s ChurchSpire of St. Bride’s Church

Entrance to a building next to the St. Martin within Ludgate Hill churchEntrance to a building next to the St. Martin within Ludgate Hill church

Dome of St. Paul’s CathedralDome of St. Paul’s Cathedral

A window of St. Paul’s CathedralA window of St. Paul’s Cathedral

  1. Which I always read as St. Pancreas, the patron saint of diabetes.↩︎

November 5, 2022