Commuting's better by bike ...

Bit of a disparate entry this one, cycling, Olympic dreams and more ‘one’ nonsense.

Another observation from
our cycling correspondent:

“I was very amused by a recorded announcement at Waterloo this am. ‘Passengers are reminded that cycles are not allowed on this train. Any passenger with a cycle should pre-book before travelling.’ Verbatim. Which made me wonder if the x % of menstruating women in waterloo were stressing about whether or not they should be boarding the train.”

I observed whether such cycle-restrictions included the water cycle or anyone involved in re-incarnation (the life cycle)?

However, his observation does raise the possibility that such officious train announcements are being made as a consequence of an increase commuters unfamiliar with the train-cycle procedure? This would fit in with observations of an increased use of bikes in London as a consequence of the terrorist atrocities. This can’t be a bad thing. I’ve always maintained that if I lived within an hour’s cycle of my workplace in London then that’s how I’d travel.

But then I’ve maintained a lot of fitness nonsense in the past (q.v. SkinnyMan) and recently I’ve become preoccupied with the plausibility that, in seven years, I could train myself from my current condition to be an Olympic triathlete competing at London 2012.

In the meantime I’m stuck with more woes on the London-Norwich line, this week has been appalling. Downed cables yesterday morning, a train failure and cable problems at Trowse last night and this morning a signalling problem at Bethnal Green. Not to mention carriages with no air conditioning. There’s the possibility of one having their own blog rant section. Regular readers will recall my recent
fire on one railway posting and one railway’s response.


Taco Bell and Abercrombie & Fitch to launch in the UK

:: NEW! This article is referenced with some updates on the Abercrombie London store on a later posting

Meandering through the streets of Norwich this morning I happened across a discarded drinks cup from a fast food outlet. Nothing ordinary in that you might think but it caught my eye because it was imprinted with Taco Bell. I’ve been to the US on several occasions and, in the past, have tried Taco Bell, I have to say the food (whilst not even close to true Mexican cooking) represents some of the best of the American ‘junk’ food sector. It’s with that in mind that I’d longed for the day when one would open in the UK. But then I remembered the disappointment I felt on trying Subway, a poor imitation of the US version – sloppy service and inflated prices.

Taco Bell is part of the Pizza Hut and KFC group (Yum!) and so I’d originally thought that this cup must have come from the nearby KFC but it turns out it was probably more likely to originate from one of only two outlets in the UK – unsurprisingly behind the security fences at Lakenheath and Mildenhall. Presumably the recent London travel ban has meant that personnel are confined to the base and its environs prompting the need for indulgent Taco Bell excursions whereupon the detritus is discarded amongst our streets as a teaser, like chocolate wrappers discarded by GIs in 1940s London…

That said, there is noise on this blog that franchises are being explored. In the meantime I seem to remember Mountain Dew being launched in the UK a few years ago – presumably that was pulled too? I understand that there are American supply shops available to UK residents but surely the biggest omission in the UK market has been Abercrombie & Fitch. This has long been the preserve of those who have had trips to the US – the logo t-shirts being worn like badges on the High Streets of England alongside the ‘Little Brown Bag’ (or indeed anything branded Macys or Bloomingdales). Of course, you could always shop online for A&F stuff but you’ll pay heavily in customs & excise duties unless you track down one of the poorly stocked ‘distributors’ in the UK. I heard a rumour that A&F are exploring the possibility of launching in the UK (Simmons & Simmons have been advising them). With any luck they’ll displace the ageing (sooo 90s) ‘FCUK’ as the designer for the middle class. Their presence at a London graduate recruitment fair suggests moves are afoot…


Other news, good deal on Evo subscriptions for anyone interested:

Get 3 issues of Evo for £1 (instead of £3.95 each) and get a DVD of the Italian Job and a model of a Mini Cooper Dunlop edition.

After the 3rd copy it is then £18.20 for 6 issues (23% discount) and best of all you can cancel after the 3rd copy so it is win win win.

Cambridge Usability Group Event: 25th July

From London-ia mailing list:

Cambridge Usability Group are pleased to announce their next event on Monday 25th July.

William Newman will give a talk on "How can Human-Computer Interaction Research help the User Experience Professional?" at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.

Date: Monday 25th July
Time: 6.30 for 6.45
Venue: Microsoft Research, Cambridge
Cost: The event is FREE and you do not need to be a UK UPA member to attend (note future events may not be free for non-members).

More information on the UK UPA site


Alpine Wolves Disrupt Le Tour

From our cycling correspondent (with ref. to BBC Sport)

"This is precisely why the French didn't get the games: Wolf attacks Frenchman's sheep. Frenchman attacks the one single sporting event in the world that he actually claims he has ever had the slightest bit of interest in.

Presumably French farmers feel the tour organisers are in some way responsible.
'The route of the 10th stage features two Category One climbs. The start of the stage has been modified to ward off farmers who planned to block the riders to protest against wolf attacks on sheep and cows.

The stage was meant to start in Grenoble, but will now begin 11.5 km away in Brignoud at 1100 BST. Farmers had planned to block the race along the route to the ski station of Courchevel to protest against attacks on their herds by wolves in the Alps, organizers said.

Armstrong is hoping Monday's rest day will help to rally his Discovery team, who have shown rare signs of fallibility in the opening stages of the 2005 tour.'
I see fat Jan [Ullrich] stacked it again. Maybe he'll crash into a wolf today. Or maybe T-mobile need to arrange for a wolf to chase him up the mountain. Maybe they could sew I nice steak into the lining of his shorts." ... Quite.

Alertbox Reviews June & July

Finally got round to commenting on Jakob’s ‘Usability: Empiricism or Ideology’ alertbox. I do generally feel a sense of disappointment when opening Jakob’s emails. A bit like watching Top Gear on a Sunday. I look forward to it quite a bit and it takes the wind out of my sails when I discover he’s not covering a topic I’m interested in or, in the case of TG, Clarkson & Co. are looking at a Hyundai instead of a DB9. On June 27th though, Jakob’s mail was a good one.

I remember going to a UK UPA event a year or so ago where Marty Carroll, a charismatic advocate of results-led usability and Director at The Usability Company, talked passionately about having to prove measurable benefit to a business of employing user-centric development. To me this blended my academic perspective with my emerging awareness of the world of business. Until that point I’d assumed that academic usability study, in a sense the pursuit of purely empirical assessments, was not really relevant to the world of commercial web and interaction design. What Jakob describes in his alertbox is that usability is only non-scientific in the sense that it produces guidelines as opposed to exact formulae. In essence usability is still the result of empirical observation upon which conclusions are drawn. Makes for interesting reading.

His alertbox this week ('Scrolling and Scrollbars') is another common-sense statement (makes me assume he writes these pages simply to increase his hit count from Google … ) on usability, covering ground he’s covered before. The article is – amazingly for Jakob – illustrated with examples of scrollbars that work and those that didn’t. I don’t know how much he fussed over which examples to use, but the ones he’s chosen perfectly illustrate his point. There are exceptions to his guidelines (there invariably are) but as a quick reference for the interaction designer this is a good stab.


Nothing to fear but fear itself?

It’s taken five days of reflection before I really felt able to comment on the London transport bombings. Since then I have read acres of coverage in a range of papers. From the profound people-stories in commuters’ paper ‘Metro’, to the analysis and gravitas of the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Observer. Never before can I recall a time when our capital has, in ten hours, gone from such exultant revelry to profound despair. I’ve saved the sequence of papers from those three days last week: The prelude to an Olympic decision and G8 on Wednesday, the triumphant headlines of Thursday morning and the first reflections on Friday.
The clamour for news on Thursday morning appeared to be painfully slow. Our web connection at work crumbled, we were asked to restrict use to ‘business critical’ (woefully unrealistic). In light of this I switched, as I had done the day before, to Five Live and found myself frustrated by the lack of information. On reflection it’s clear that this was a well managed drip-feed of information to suppress panic and to ensure that the necessary movement of resources and strategy could be achieved. Whilst the first reports were of eye witness accounts and mobile phone pictures/footage the following days brought the most moving tales of individuals euphemistically and optimistically referred to as ‘missing’. This pictoral roll-call, profoundly reflective of London’s socioeconomic DNA, was juxtaposed with grainy pictures captured from phones all purporting to show the ‘moments after’ without much sense of a moral obligation to allow families to begin to grieve [It is in fact interesting to note the need for journalistic control on this unsolicited material]
What these days also brought with them was a raft of survivor stories and David Aaronovitch in the Times deftly commented on our perverse and guilt-laden need to link ourselves in some small part to the tragedy. These ‘could have been’ vignettes seemed to punctuate conversations about the events … “a mate of mine was evacuated”, “I normally catch that train”, “my sister works round the corner”. In some way these are our attempts to form a solidarity and bond with the victims, to announce: “An attack on you is an attack on all of us”.
Though the war in Iraq has undoubtedly exacerbated the worsening perception of Britain in the Muslim fundamentalist world it cannot be the only justification for this event. If Iraq was the reason here, what was the reason for Bali before the march on Baghdad? Afghanistan perhaps? Well, September 11th pre-dated the fall of Kabul, what justified that attack in the West? There are no simple answers and the worsening crisis against a faceless, nameless enemy with a non-specific agenda leaves London and cities like it even more prone to these indiscriminate attacks. Many politicians, public figures and, sadly, celebrities have rushed to echo the legions of bloggers and letter-writers in proclaiming London’s indefatigable spirit. All at once failing to identify that London today represents little of London in the Blitz. The stoicism and humour at facing the Luftwaffe was borne of a less ethnically diverse population who knew the enemy they faced and could, in part prepare for their raids. Furthermore, the London that faced Irish terrorism was one that knew the Republican agenda, that pre-supposed there would be an accented warning and that, predominantly, the payload’s target was stone, steel and glass. No one doubts that people are resilient to these events, but it’s not some dormant wartime spirit conjured up from dusty east-end Anderson shelters.
It’s all well and good for people to defiantly recommend we rejoin the tube and hop on board the friendly red bus, but for many of these taxi-using figures, the feeling of descending into the tube, sitting in a carriage or next to a rucksack-wearing passenger, is one they’ll avoid experiencing. As I travel through the regions, employed outside the capital, I cannot begin to imagine a time when I will travel to London without considering those terrible moments but I can read the papers and hope that so many of those who work in London can and will begin to find some normality again.