There is an app for that!

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What apps do you need to download if live in London and have an iPhone?

Going around
Citymapper will be your best buddy when you need to get around London (yes, it is really better than Google Maps), but you’ll need Google Maps for everywhere else. (Move Apple Maps straight to the folder  “Apps my iPhone doesn’t let me delete”). What city mapper is still missing if a swift way to tell you when exactly the bus is coming. Don’t despair – Bus Times is accurate to the second! Bus is too complicated and you want to find a cab? With Hailo you can hail a black cab without even approaching the curb. Black cabs are too expensive? Wheely gets you a reputable (and cheap) minicab.
Going out
I wrote about YPlan already. It is amazing: it identifies the small overlap between ‘cool events’ and ‘events that are not sold out’ for tonight/tomorrow and lets you reserve your tickets directly in the app. Pure genius! Use the code spietrella for a £7 voucher, whoop whoop. After a quirky bar? BarChick has got you covered with their insider tips!
Keeping fit
Nike+running has made me the most competitive runner of all times – to the point – check this out – that I’ve run a half marathon. It gives me all the stats of my runs and…they say you can only improve what you can measure. More kudos to Nike for the Nike training club. With this app I ditched the gym: its workouts really get me motivated and, ew, sweating!  All-in Yoga is simply the ultimate yoga app. The app that tracks your sleep and wakes you up when you are more awake, Sleepcycleworks.
Music and Video
You can buy a CD on iTunes for £10. Or sync on your phone 300 CDs from Spotify for £10/month… Have your pick! In the morning, the Italian radio stations keep me company, and I need to thank Tune-In radio for letting me stream them easily on my iPhone. Oh, and that song playing now..what is it? Just Shazam it. TED talks have never been more accessible than now through its app, while if you like watching the BBC, the BBC iPlayer is great.
Games
You have missed out on Candycrush, Angry Birds and Temple Run for too long already!
More
When I am online and pump into an article or video I want to see later, I add it to Pocket through the Chrome or Safari extension, don’t lose it on the tube from my iPhone later (or from my desktop). It’s brilliant. When I am bored and wonder where the planes flying on top of my head are coming from, I check on FlightRadar24. If you love making lists, Wunderlist will sync them across all your devices and will also let you share them with whoever you want – I’ve personally got a list for things to remember to pack when I go away for the weekend, one for restaurants I want to try in London, and movies I want to watch! Finally, don’t be shy and get yourself Tinder  😉

Have I missed anything?

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Photography 101

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Last Saturday I attended a beginners photography course. I’ve had my SLR for over a year now. When I bought it, I was hoping to be able to tap into the immense knowledge of the internet to learn how to use it properly, but the amount of information online is so vast that having someone guiding you though the basics makes a difference. Shaun spent the day with us, shepherding us through the delicate balance of ISO, shutter speeds and aperture, teaching us the importance of composition, exposure and resolution.

Photography is an art. Good pictures are the outcome of a creative process. They need the person behind the camera ready to put himself into play, to scout for a subject, a perspective, an impression that will capture an aura of story which will captivate the viewer’s curiosity.  They also require a solid scientific base. To successfully move away from the green rectangular shape of the ‘auto’ mode, one must feel comfortable with the way the camera absorbs the light that penetrates its shutter to leave the mark that will become the picture, with the way the camera lenses convey this light, and with many more concepts.  At the end of the day, I left with the thought that good photographers are very special people who found a balance between the science behind taking a photo and its creative aspect.

We also briefly touched upon the concept of processing the pictures with a software after the shots were taken. I had mixed feelings about this practice: where does the realm of photography end and where does graphic design and retouching come into play? I didn’t like the idea of getting closer to a line that looked uncomfortably blurred to me. Shaun clarified the difference: it all boils down to information. One thing is to use to existing information in the picture to get the most intense effect out of it, another is to modify the picture by adding new information. When pictures are taken on film, the developer has a number of tools to leverage to intensify the stories they tell. Digital photography has similar tools in software like Photoshop and Lightroom.

A couple of takeaways from the class:

– Composition is key to grasp the viewer attention: the rule of thirds, strong diagonals, triangular shapes, natural frames, and leading lines generally help telling a more interesting story.

– When buying a new camera or lens, it is worth checking dpreview.com for opinions and review on the gear

Arctic Monkeys in Earls Court

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ImageArctic Monkeys played in Earls Court last weekend. They are from Sheffield and have been playing together since 2002. Here they are now, five amazing albums later. The Strypes were supporting them.

Earls Court is a very “rough” venue: everywhere you look is concrete. The stalls are hanging high and the standing area is just a massive endless beach. Huge names as Queen, Oasis, Muse, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and Madonna have performed here before. Its walls are saturated with history (the building has been around since 1937). It is due to be demolished soon. It breaks my heart that another iconic music venue in London is soon to be only part of history, but on the other hand… The stage is so low I couldn’t even see the band playing.

Everyone went mad when Arctic Monkeys started playing. The crowd was mainly  people in their early 20’s who went completely mental at the beats of Do I Wanna Know? There was so much energy in the air (and beer flying around!) it felt like being at a hard rock concert rather than at an british indie band’s. The moshing got a bit overwhelming by the third song – and we were not even close to the stage!

Musically, the band was incredible. Absolutely flawless. It would have just been great to be able to see what was actually going on on stage. Boohoo.

Another  boohoo of the night was the version of Mardi Bum they played. Alex and the band decided to go for a slow and mellow version of a song I was hoping to jump and scream at. Maybe they are getting a bit tired of it after performing it always the same..

For the fans of Alex Turner – go check the works he has done solo. He’s composed most of the soundtrack of Submarine (one of my favourite movies of all times). Hiding tonight is just beautiful. I listen to it over and over again on the sad days.

Liola at the National Theatre

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Liola is currently featuring at the National Theatre. It is one of the lesser-known pieces by Luigi Pirandello who wrote it in 1916. The story is set in a small village in Sicily and unites the destinies of Liola, a young and charming peasant, and of Simone Palumbo, a rich and old bourgeois with no heirs for his fortune. It is the women of the village who intertwine their paths in an absurd tragic comedy.

What is tragic about it the blind greed of some of its characters who would be ready to sacrifice their integrity to either perpetuate their fame and glory or to just to step up the social ladder. Their negativity is exaggerated by the contract with the purity and honesty of those who instead accept their own social status and strive to enjoy the life that’s been given to them.

I could not avoid comparing what I saw on stage to my mental picture of Southern Italy. I noticed many gestures and traditions that in my mind belonged to the Greek heritage. This made me realise how similar our cultures might look to those who don’t share Mediterranean blood.

Rory Keenan’s Liola is incredibly charming. He brings to the stage a very harmonious well-rounded character: fun and lighthearted, yet firm and loyal to his principles. Less convincing is the interpretation of James Hayer, Simone Palumbo, and Aisling O’Sullivan, Croce. Their characters felt little in tune with the historical setting: both Croce and Simone are in positions of power, though they both lacked the authority and presence such position entails. They felt like parodies of their own characters: bullied, insecure and frail.

The aim of this play is not to depict the Sicily of the time or to concentrate on its social imbalances – and it doesn’t. It entertains. It leaves the audience with the light heart of a finale that rewards the just and honest while punishing those who don’t play fair.

City Showcase: How to write a hit song

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Lately Apple has found a clever way to invite a diverse and interested crowd to cross their London flagship store’s glass doors: a couple of nights a week they’ll invite people with ideas or stories to tell for the benefit of those who have a spare hour to stop, sit down, and listen.

City Showcase was featuring last Tuesday. Mike Kintish, songwriter, composer and arranger, and David Stark, founder, editor and publisher of SongLink, were discussing around the theme “how to write a hit song”. Notepads out!

Firstly – Songlink is an amazing project (even though its website could use a bit of a refurb): it strives at linking songs to singers. It makes sense, no? Not necessarily a person with the words and the creativity is blessed with the voice too.

During the intro of the evening I came to realise that this concept – not every songwriter can be a singer – could be stretched much further than I had imagined. Not all the bands we listen to write their own songs. I end up imagining wandering poets looking for a voice for their verses. Turns out, that is how it actually works in the real world, maybe just a tad less romantically. And even more, it turns out that some of the songs we listen to on the radio are written by groups of people who have not even once sat in the same room together but have only been in touch digitally. I slowly came to realise that every track we listen to on the radio or as a background to an ad is the product of the input of many more people than I initially pictured. Like it or not, it is a masterpiece of human organisation. A real work of art.

After an initial chat, we listened to 5 artists performing their own songs. Mike and David’s comments would follow. What I came down to brutally realize is that the definition of “hit song” is far away from the one of “great song”. The concept is banal. Hit songs need to distribute universal feelings and emotions – they ask the artist to make his message understandable by the masses. This can sometimes mean to sacrifice a picture or even the real essence of what makes that song truly special.

It was absolutely beautiful to sit down and listen to five brief acts. For once the attention was purely in listening to the lyrics, absorbing the feelings the songwriter was trying to transmit, focusing on the musicality of the words.  I can’t say I always agreed with Mike and David’s comments on the artists, but we were coming from different points of view: I was looking to listen to something special, that would talk to me, they were advising the artists on how to get the attention of the “many”’. So a song whose key of interpretation hid in a foreword by the artist (creating the strongest bond between the artist and the audience) was brutally  murdered by the small jury on the grounds that listening to it without the foreword would make one think that the song is about something else. Cliché’s songs on rough break-ups were praised for their hooks and memorability.

So naïve of me to think that the real key to the music industry is expressing the art within.

LBS Tech and Media Summit

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Last Friday, I boycotted the seat at my desk for a spot at the LBS Media and Tech Summit. The real attraction to go there was to have some proper IRL interaction on the latest digital trends in the communication industry.  Here are my takeaways:

Andrew Grill, CEO of Kred, is a very impressive guy with an agenda. Tweet! Blog! Have an online presence! He shouts. Of course, he’s  monetizes online presences though his company. But there is some merit to what he’s saying: our digital presence is having an increasing impact on our offline one. If used appropriately, the social media can bring along fantastic benefits. I would add a fineprint to his credo: tweet*! (*responsibly) because backlashes from an improper use of social media are as just as concrete as its benefits.

Here is his presentation http://lc.tl/lbst

Another star speaker was Caspar De Bono, FT’s  B2B MD. It was extremely fascinating to hear about the FT’s digital evolution. The FT has over 360 thousand digital subscribers, which is more than  its print edition ever had.  Aside from this being alone a very interesting fact (print is dying, but quality information is thriving), he shared with us a slide of the FT’s current strategy, that involves using the data it captures to further its insight (ie who’s reading what?).

Other ideas / facts I took note of:

– BMW’s text campaign in Bayern: they sent a text to all their customers who bought a car in the previous 18 months on the first day it snowed, marketing a 10% discount on snow tires. Conversion rate was 60% (!!!)

– I took twitter 3 years to reach its first billion tweets. Now it collects a billion tweets every 3 days.

– TV becoming social? BS. TV has always been social. Think discussing what you saw on TV in the evening, the following day at work (or school as it was my case).  Now you’re just doing it real time.

– Eric Schmidt:”This age we collect more data in 2 days than we did from the dawn of time until 2003″.

Great summit. Great people and great fun. Fun especially winning a Nokia Lumia by tweeting using the conference’s hashtag! #lbstms2013

YPlan

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yplan-logoWe met Vik from YPlan a couple of nights ago. Vik is one of the co-founders, with Rytis. Together they have launched this app called YPlan a couple of months ago. I organised an evening with him as a part of Bocconi Alumni’s Entrepreneurship Series.

I am a big fan of the App. I think this is the sort of app that should be on the home screen of every Londoner’s iPhone. It markets to you events / things happening in London within the next 48 hours.  I like the app because it has a very sleek design and because it gives you access to a short list of events that (1) have availability and (2) that you feel have been somewhat “due diligenced” by someone at YPlan. You don’t find a 2-for-1 happy hour deal at the pub around the corner from work, but a chocolate walking tours of London or gigs at White Noise in Hoxton.

Going back to the evening, Claudia, another startup founder, offered to interview Vik for us. By the end of the evening, she probably managed to go through less than a third of the questions she had prepared. The people who were attending the event were very active in interrupting the discussion with their questions. The hour we had budgeted for the discussion flew by in no time.

What turned out to be the most interesting aspect of the evening to me was a brief discussion I had with Claudia before the event officially begun. What Claudia found the most fascinating of Vik and Rytis’ experience was the lack of a large pivot in their idea. The transition of Vik and Rytis into entrepreneurs seemed smooth: they left their jobs, went on holidays, read a lot of books on how to become entrepreneurs, did a lot of networking, short listed their favourite idea from a long list and… stuck to it. And so far they have been very successful.

The discussion with Vik in the evening turned out to be different: the people who came to listed to him were in the end more interested in the operational side of his startup rather than the path that lead him there. What I took home with me is the impact that a thorough and thoughtful preparation can have on making a leap. Read books, listen to people’s opinions and them weight them against your own.

I loved reading Vik and Rytis’s blog before the evening. Here is the link to it  – http://2founders.com