Boundaries, Location & Navigation

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I think the theme for today is Boundaries, Location and Navigation.

I'm working for a mapping company, wonder if I need a vacation? A little distance from work could provide perspective.  Perhaps my reptilian-brain and monkey-brain are overtaking the Homo-brain, it happens when they are working out a deep problem.

I noticed that Navteq was at CES - here's an excerpted twitter stream:

Location is so much more than Navigation. Stop by and see us at booth #36062 and find out why.


@ Location is so much more than Navigation. Stop by and see us at booth #36062 and find out why. // Where's booth? need direct'n


@ We're in the upper level South Hall next to Garmin_ Look forward to seeing you!


@ Location is so much more than Navigation. I was funnin ya ya gave a location but I need navigational aids - maybe its versa vise


Now I happen to believe that there is more to location than coordinates.  But is Location so much more than Navigation?  I think I use navigation to get to locations.  One is the means, the other the end.  But in context is one more important than the other?

I used their location info (booth #36062) but it was not enough.  When I responded with a request for more info - I got directional information (upper level & south hall).  Both relative directional pieces of data that I needed to turn into navigational information.  They also gave me a landmark (next to Garmin).  Had I actually been at CES, perhaps I could use some form of navigation to dead-reckon my way to Garmin.  Where I could use another form of navigation - sighting, to look for Navteq and then navigate to them.

So how do borders fit into all this navigation and location stuff?  Well turns out I work in the Boeing Building in Chicago.  Boeing builds many of the planes we sit on for long periods of time (sometimes on a tarmac) while someone else worries about the navigation, to take us to our destination (location).  Now this building is chock-a-block full of cubicles.  Of which I'm one of several consultants encouraging Navteq to remove the cubicles (bulldoze them all to hell) and create a new humanistic Agile environment.  Cubicles are all about boundaries - right!  And the Boeing building uses a numbering scheme to give a location to each.  It's a smart numbering system.  I live in cubie  10 A 112.  I say it's a smart system in jest - because there is nothing quite so smart as being 1/2 as smart as a smart system.  The 10 stands for the 10th floor.  That works very well.  The A - who knows but there are A, B, C, Ds in the floor I'm on.  The 112 - just some sequence number.

Now just about two weeks after being their I noticed a pattern (quick ain't I).  All the As were in one area of the 10th floor, and the Bs were segregated to a different area, almost like this denoted quadrants (in a rectilinear building).  So if one assumed that the letter was a designation for the quadrant of the building then things got easier to navigate.  If one was at my desk 10 A 112 and needed to go to the conference room 11 B 102 one could map out a navigation strategy.

Working on this assumption I found finding conference rooms was now much easier, I only needed about 10 minutes to wonder in one quadrant of a building to find the sequence index of a room in a rather large area that had no natural boundaries to denote sequential start or end.

I mentioned that to a colleague and it hit him that this system would help him - if it were true.  We had reduced the problem domain from the whole building with a location number into a subset that was now just the size of a portion of one floor of the building.

This is only a part of the solution, however.  One wonders why if the A, B, C, D were indicators of a quadrant system - didn't the building architects use the common terms for quadrants - North, South, East, West?  Was the fact that the build is on a north-south street such an impediment to a smarter smart system?  One could easily imagine renaming my 10 A 112 to the smarter 10 SE 112 because I'm in the south-eastern corner of the building.

Why didn't the architects catch this bug in their big up front design of the building?  Do they have any idea of the cost of this bug?  Would iterating on designs help them, would feedback from tenants of their builds be helpful?

Wait- I've got an idea why this A, B, C, D system was used.  This is an airline building!  Airlines are designed to have an arbitrary seat designation system to slow down their boarding process.  How many times have you been sitting in seat C 23 and had some guy walk up and say - "I have the aisle ticket," you say so do I.  He pulls out ticket A 23 and you point to the window.  He points to the label on the overhead bin and says "A is the aisle seat."  Wow - how often do you travel?  Yes, I know the signs don't help, they are ambiguous unless you read the manual for the sign.  They can be interrupted in two ways.  And A does sound like it should stand for aisle.  But even the airlines don't count "C, B, A, D, E, F."

This is the Boeing building after all.  So I can understand why they used their A, B, C, D designation system.  It's arbitrary and slows down communication and navigation.

Then Navteq piled onto this wonderfully arbitrary system by overloading the conference room names.  In this meta-system Navteq has designated each floor as a "continent," and named each conference room by a country's name in the floor's continent.  So it is very common to ask where the meeting will be held, and the response will be "in Argentina."  Now if you have been living in this system for a long time you can overload your understanding of world geography with Navteq floor geography and map-reduce the meaning that the conference room Argentina is in South-America and South-America is (brain table lookup) the 10th floor.  So now you just have to wonder the 10th floor until you stumble upon the conference room with a label on it that reads  "10 B 115 / Argentina."

Yes, Location is much more than Navigation.  Take it from the people who understand how to do all of these things: navigation, location and boundaries.  Boundaries have been formed - fences made and maintained - but for what purpose? 
There where it is we do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
-- Robert Frost, Mending Wall
I'm beginning to think that location done so poorly as to not allow effective navigation is not location in it's meta meaning at all.  It is more of a boundary - a barrier.  Interesting how poor location information mutated into a boundary that must be crossed for navigation to continue and arrive at destination - the purpose of both.

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