Apple Marketplaces, Tiger Stores, Walthamstow Stadium

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Apple Marketplaces

Last week Jean-Louis Gassée wrote a blog post on The Guardian asking Apple to provide a comprehensive editorialised guide for its App Store. His point was the current store is a small shop window with little context that does a poor job of selling the thousands of useful apps out there:

…ask developers and, most important, users. For all its demonstrable success, the App Store feels broken. It’s too big and confusing, the app reviews are dry and the ratings are unreliable, search is primitive..

Using the Michelin Guides as a template he suggested Apple invest in reviewers who highlight what is best over a wide selection of users and uses. As a regular visitor to the App Store I’d love more than an icon and name to sell me apps.

The launch of iTunesU as an app really highlights the need for Apple to improve its marketplace. If you don’t know, iTunesU collects learning video and audio from a range of colleges and universities (like the Open University and Stanford). There’s good stuff in there, but it is buried under the Apple’s category-driven marketplace. Advance courses are mixed in with introductory ones, with only the title to distinguish them.

An editorialised shopfront based where the user can navigate by level and interest to find helpful reviews would open up iTunesU (and the App Store and iBooks).

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Tiger Stores

Tiger Stores in StratfordIf you are the sort of person who likes wandering around Ikea’s Marketplace, picking up competitively priced utensils and designer knick-knaks you didn’t know you wanted, then Tiger Stores is the shop for you.

It’s a (currently) small franchise chain which started in Copenhagen, has 100+ stores in Europe and 13 in England. My closest one is in Stratford’s Shopping Centre (the old knackered one, not Westfield). Last week’s visit included the purchase of envelopes, bearnaise sauce mix, small containers for travel toiletries and some wooden tongs (for getting bread out of the toaster).

In a shop the size a large corner shop it piles high well-designed goods. Trade is always brisk. If I was more of a businessman/shopkeeper with money to invest I’d open my own franchise.

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Walthamstow Stadium

Walthamstow Stadium by dgI drove past the disused dog track in Walthamstow at the weekend. It was a depressing sight. It is still there looking resplendent in white and red. For those who don’t know, it closed  in August 2008 after the owner sold it to a property developer who planned to turn it into flats, offices and shops. There’s an ongoing fight to stop it happening.

The previous owner said the track was losing money. I have no evidence or reason to doubt this. But I do think they could have done more with it. Race nights were packed. However the site was empty outside of races (and the occasional video shoot). It could have hosted a car boot sale on Sunday mornings, opened a cafe with view of the site, ran fitness classes during the day, held festivals (beer and music) and more.

Yes, we have a housing shortage. But I’ve seen several new developments opening with nothing more than a Tesco Express for community. People need more than houses. Dog racing at Walthamstow was great (even though I always lost).

Hotel reviews, The Story of Film and Commonwealth Institute

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Hotel reviews

The view from the Redcar HotelI stayed in an awful hotel at the weekend.  It was The Redcar in Bath which my brother booked through booking.com.  The hallway carpets where threadbare and walls had large holes in.  The rooms were knackered and shabby.  Although ours worked another room had to flush their toilet with a bucket of water.

Reviewers on Tripadvisor don’t hold back with their disgust.  However booking.com‘s reviews are a bit different.  Its average is 5.7 and, while people point out failings, there’s not the hatred of Tripadvisor and most people still find something nice to say.

Booking.com sells its reviews as only being written by people who have booked through them and stayed at the hotels – a response the problems Tripadvisor has with made-up reviews.  However there’s problems here.  Booking.com put the positive thoughts first which forces people to think of some.  And secondly I think there’s some Britishness going on of not wanting to complain on the site people booked through.

Booking.com is still my trusted hotel site but hotels are going to have to get the highest scores for me to book in future.

  • Strangly the Redcar‘s official site has just gone offline

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The Story of Film: An Odyssey

FilmIf I ever did a night class it would be in film studies.  The way films play homage to each other through special scenes has always interested me.  More 4’s The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a long journey of how movies have developed and how they learn from each other.

I almost didn’t plan watch it.  15x90min is a challenge for my almost full Sky+ box but I’m glad I did.  I find I have to watch the episodes closely to pick up all the references and connections with it.  It feels different to most modern documentaries which have a strong story arch and powerful voice over/script.  On the face of it the story meanders but it is taking its time and fully enjoying itself.  It is written and directed by Mark Cousins who’s Northern Irish voiceover feels a million miles away from Hollywood, yet it works.

Mark has explained how the movie makers learnt to make cuts, built extravagant sets and how they made movie stars.  It already feels like 15 parts may not be enough.

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Commonwealth Institute/Design Museum

Commonwealth Institute

My trip to Bath cut into London Open House weekend so I only had time to see a few places.  I was really pleased one of them was the Commonwealth Institute as it is a prime example of the mid-20th century architecture I love.

The building has been empty for over ten years since its mission to teach school children about the Commonwealth fell out of fashion.  I presume its listed roof has saved it from being demolished and replaced by shops and flats.  The Design Museum are moving there in 2014 and this was a one-off chance to see it before they remodel it.

It was designed to be a non-hierarchical open space with floors and staircases flowing into each other around a central circle platform.  The Design Museum are going to change this to accommodate offices, meeting rooms, a restaurant, shop and temporary exhibition space.  I really hope they can keep its open feeling though.

Inspired Projects, Architecture for people, American sitcoms

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Inspired: How to create products customers love

Inspired bookThis 2008 book by product manager Marty Cagan describes the dream way to create and run products. Everything he says feels like common sense but you know why they never happen in real life. I’d love to be able to work on a product in the way he describes.

You can only get this book on Kindle in the UK. A lot of it can be read in blog form on svpg.com.

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The Secret Life of Buildings

Royal Festival Hall stairway by Julie Kertesz (from Flickr)

This was a three part Channel 4 series presented by the architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff. One of Tom’s main arguments is today’s architects are working to style or business needs and not designing for the people who use the building.

It turns out the ‘Gherkin’ which visually dominates the London skyline has boring offices inside because tenants wanted a cheaply adaptable space which they have filled with strips of desks. Wembley Stadium has been built around corporate entertaining rather than maximising the enjoyment of fans. Modern galleries are all about the statement building rather than bringing visitors together. (This is called ‘The Bilbao Effect’ where the Guggenheim Museum brings in the tourists for its design and not the exhibits within.)

Tom praises the Royal Festival Hall and its spaces for everyone (and anyone) to come together and use all day for free. It was built for the people without commercial pressure.

This reminds me of the old cinemas which were boring brick buildings on the outside and palaces of enjoyment on the inside. Compared with the multiplexes of today, which draw you in with bright lights but lack soul inside.

Please can we start thinking about the people who will be using the buildings again?

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The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother

The Big Bang Theory

Since the end of Friends there’s not been an American sitcom which has taken off in a big way in the UK. We still enthuse about one hour American shows be them comedy or drama but the traditional sitcom has been sidelined. It’s not an American problem, there’s not much going on in the UK space. With the exception of The IT Crowd there isn’t really a ‘filmed in front a studio audience’ show making any waves.

But the American’s still love them – just look at the fuss over ‘Two and Half Men’. The only ones drawing a big (and by that I mean around 1m viewers) audience are E4’s ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘How I Met Your Mother’. And I rather enjoy them.

‘How I Met…’ is the closest to the Friends formula with a group of everyday friends going through their 20s and 30s, working and dating. ‘Big Bang…’ is brilliantly observed geek comedy of a group of eccentric friends in their 20s and 30s, working and dating. What makes them work is the writing (and there’s been much said elsewhere about the American style of writing) and their strong ensemble cast. You’ll recognise at least half of each cast from many other shows.

I’d love to see more great comedy performed by great people in front of that studio audience. Surely it must be time for a revival of the genre in the UK.

Future of travel guides, London Amphitheatre, Craft Beer Bars

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Spotted By Locals and In Your Pocket

Tallinn in your pocket

The travel guide book industry is outdated. I know someone who was working an update of a major set of travel guides which will not be published until six months after subbing. A lot can change in six months. Last year we found Lonely Planet’s Miami guide hopelessly out of date (it was two years old and the recession had closed many Miami places). The book might have been forgivable but the iPhone app version had the same incorrect content.

Various websites have entered the market through crowd-sourcing recommendations and reviews from locals and fellow tourists. Problem is few have got the critical mass of users needed to useful. And I don’t need to tell you the issues with Trip Advisor.

On a trip to Antwerp I used a guide by Spotted by Locals. As the name suggests it is run by locals who update a blog with cool and interesting places they like. You can buy the blog as a PDF guide or an app. Ahead of my next trip, to Tallinn, I’m looking at In Your Pocket who do the same sort of thing.

These sites still have a way to go in terms of usability but the key thing is the information is constantly updated. And the PDFs are updated every few months.

So what you get is the local insight and expertise you’d expect from a traditional travel guide. But a faster turnaround.

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London’s Roman Amphitheatre

London Amphitheatre

On a wet Tuesday time needed to be killed in the City of London. That is how I discovered the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre. They are in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery and were unearthed in the 90s when preparing to build the gallery. It’s London’s only amphitheatre and looks like it was the site of many a good gladiator fight and public execution.

There are only a few ruined walls on display, along with wooden drains. But it is free to visit and the feeling of being in a modern building surrounded by bricks of old is unique.

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Craft beer bars

Craft beers

Real Ale has always been considered a bit of an old man thing. Now the young men (and women) have their own take – the craft beer bars. These have lots of beers on tap and in bottles, taps are mainly draught with a few hand-pumped barrels, come from small UK brewers, a few European and a lot of American ones.

The Rake in Borough has been around a good while. The Draft House is attempting a little chain. Then the masterly Euston Tap, in a tiny gatehouse in front of Euston Station, came along, kick starting an explosion. There’s now Mason & Taylor in Shoreditch and Cask in Pimlico. More recently the lovely Smithfields boozer The Old Red Cow converted but they are cheating by keeping most pumps the same and including the likes of Becks Vier in the line-up.

Truth be told I prefer a nice American craft beer or little UK brewery’s IPA to most of the traditional ‘farty’ real ales. But all this is coming at a price. It maybe the poor $-£ exchange or taxes but the Euston Tap is starting to charge for a half what should get you a pint. Please don’t make my beer enjoyment a premium experience.