Posts tagged “San Francisco”

The Dolores Park graffiti artist story

Here’s a photo I took in San Francisco during the Summer of 2010, my first summer living here. The image now appears on my business cards in our “What’s Your Story?” series.

I don’t know who this man is. Where he is, that’s easier: Dolores Park is a small park, two blocks by one block, in the middle of the city. It serves as a gathering place for a variety of inhabitants hailing from the colorful neighborhoods the park borders and defines: the always festive LGBTIQQ contingent from the Castro, picnicking families from Noe Valley, Old Style-sipping hipsters and slouching Hispanic teens from the Mission, and drumming hippies from the nearby Haight…and various intersections of the aforementioned. On this day, a festival sprung up on the hill involving DJs and street artists.

The angle of the sun was just right to catch this artist in a reflection of his own process.

Here’s a broader shot of the scene.

Street art, which usually happens under cloak of darkness, had a light shining on it that day.

My deli is more authentic than your deli

From a San Francisco Chronicle interview with Noah Alper, founder of Noah’s Bagels

Q: You write about how important it was that the stores be authentically New York, and authentically Jewish. What did you have to do to make that happen?
A: It involved not being afraid to be unapologetically Jewish. It sounds simplistic, but we acted as if we were operating the store in a Jewish neighborhood – we had Hanukkah candles at the appropriate time of year, challahs on Friday, charity boxes in every store.
We also operated a strictly kosher establishment. We were the largest kosher retailer in the Untied States when we sold the business. That was an added level of complexity. But it not only captured a very loyal kosher community, it also added to the authenticity.

Although I first encountered Noah’s before they were sold (which ended many of these practices), I don’t recall noticing this level of authenticity. Perhaps it’s eroded so far that my early memories have been wiped out. But this discussion of authenticity and Jewish deli on the west coast reminds me of my first encounters in the mid-90s with Portland, OR-based Kornblatt’s. The PDXers I met seemed to cherish Kornblatt’s as a local treasure and I’m sure any criticism here will upset them to no end. My apologies, but Kornblatt’s always struck me as a place for people that hadn’t ever been to New York, liked it that way, but wanted some element of what people supposedly ate over thar. The place evoked what you might call checklist-authenticity: bagels (check), celery tonic (check), New York street signs (check), soft-spoken-shrugging-Jackie-Mason-meets-Ben-meets-Jerry-meets-Jerry-Garcia-proprietor (wha????).

While Noah’s decor is the same cartoonish parody of what New York’s Lower East Side, at least Alper had a sense of how to go beyond that. And ultimately, what it took to export New York deli authenticity to the Bay Area is completely different what it took to expoert New York deli authenticity to Portland. Different markets, different culture, different context, different definition of authenticity.

See also:

If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice

Heaven’s Dog is a new restaurant in San Francisco. Their menu features a Freedom From Choice cocktail:
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An interesting comment on modern life: that choice (of a “reward”) is something we might consider outsourcing, even to an expert. Often freedom from choice would be a negative attribute, where options may be limited, or power/control may be removed. Here the choices are nearly infinite, but the responsibility lies elsewhere. You provide a small input, and you have the opportunity to be surprised!

For more on choice and the paradox of choice, see Every trend has a counter-trend

Mapping for change

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The Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market is an amazing experience for San Francisco locals and visitors alike. In front of the Ferry Building they have an information booth that features a large photograph of the building on a metallic surface, with magnets representing the different booths. Obviously, as businesses come and go, or don’t show up on weekend, or are moved, it’s easy to update the map. And the use of the building itself as a backdrop reduces the abstraction typically found in a floor plan.

Good and bad ideas in the daily paper

Adam Richardson recently wrote a strong critique of the San Francisco Chronicle – both their unattractive redesign and their poor content.

Although Monday’s Chron featured anti-elitist sneering about Nate Silver’s semi-failed Oscar predictions, I was impressed with a new feature, where startups get feedback about their ideas from venture capitalists.

They’ve done a good job at tying this coverage to a unique aspect of the San Francisco Bay Area:

Silicon Valley, long known as a hotbed for innovation, has one of the highest concentrations of startups and investors in the world. At any one time, 20,000 entrepreneurs in the valley are thinking about starting companies, and as many as 8,000 are circulating business plans and looking for funding

One example: Mojamix: Breakfast enthusiasts personalize their own cereal or granola online and have it shipped to their door in just a few days.

David Pakman, partner, Venrock: I’m skeptical that consumers at scale actually know enough about what ingredients go together to make a breakfast cereal or granola they will like and will taste good. If I pick dried cranberries over raisins, will I like it less or more? Kinda have to taste it to know.

Mass customization of food products is indeed an interesting trend, but I wonder if it is better to focus on areas where the customer does not have to taste it to know if they will like it.

Margins in food products are low and are thus only interesting at scale, so Mojamix would need to demonstrate that the lifetime value of a customer is large enough to afford the customer acquisition costs that would be required to attract lots of customers.

As I’ve written before, I appreciate the ability of some VCs to look at an idea and consider many facets and contexts.

Sure, this sort of material is available elsewhere, especially online, but seeing this piece in the mainstream media was refreshing.

Local Starbucks exhibits passion for their customers

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Recently I was in the Starbucks in the Lucasfilm Letterman Digital Arts Center and was surprised to see what was written on the chalkboard

Starbucks is the same EVERYWHERE. What makes us different is our customers = YOU. We’ve worked all over the city, all over the state and we can honestly say that you are the BEST customers EVER. PERIOD. We see you everyday. People from LUCAS, PAC UNION, YMCA, B&B, THE PRESIDIO, THE MARINA & so many more…
You make us love our jobs, make us love coming into work – thank you! Thank you for being you.
Lucky us!
Happy Holidays.

I am not a regular at this Starbucks, so I don’t know how genuine this acknowledgment of a special relationship feels. It’s a curious example of transparency, asking customers to care about whether or not the workers like their jobs or not, and it’s a curious example of localized empowerment. Does corporate really want individual stores making statements like “Starbucks is the same everywhere?”

What do you think? Is this believable or giddy holiday spirit from someone who used to work on the yearbook team in high school? Should Starbucks be encouraging or discouraging this sort of expression in their stores?

Street sign information hierarchy

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In San Francisco’s Presidio, all the streets are named after historic military figures. Note how the sign designers added a biography line to provide additional context. The sign serves the traditional navigational purposes but also provides an educational service. The limited readability of the bio line means that it won’t interfere in navigational tasks but pedestrians (or slow moving drivers) can consume the additional information at will. It’s interesting to see how an ordinary object can be redesigned to include a layer of meta-information that doesn’t detract from its familiar, primary purpose.

Dan Writes: Scene and Herd

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Are we having fun yet?

Friday night in San Francisco, I heard the following conversation (reported here verbatim) as I walked by the wondrous doorway pictured above:

Guy: (walking a few steps into entryway)
Look at how cool this place is.

Girl: (standing on sidewalk outside entryway) There’s no one in there. What you need to understand is it doesn’t matter how cool it is if there’s no one there.

A few years back in Osaka, I was talking to some Japanese friends about the phenomenally busy “Yogrian Tabby” frozen yogurt shop that had just opened up in the Umeda underground shopping area. They told me that sometimes in Japan, new shops will hire people to show up en masse, creating lines, which attract customers, who then attract other customers, and so on . . .

Now, where did I park again?

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For long-term parking, SFO recently switched from a big lot to a 7-story parking structure. At one end of each floor is a bank of elevators and on the ground floor is the bus stop to get to the terminals.

Each floor is (somewhat subtly) color-coded and right next to the button for the elevator is this little widget: a card with the floor printed on it, and a space for each of the sections that can be marked or torn to indicate where you left your car. Simple, elegant.

Anti-skateboard devices on the Embarcadero

Last year Nicolas Nova blogged about element of public space that restrict usage – specifically skateboarding, and as one commenter suggested, lying down. Without remembering his post, I took these pictures the other day:

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It’s still ugly, but there’s an emotional component (“cute” – “fun” – “neat”) created by the whimsical shapes that counteracts that reaction quite strongly. Many of the anti-sit installations appear as an afterthought, a post-design, without any integration into the original vision. These were probably added after the original design but there’s some attempt to retrofit, conceptually or visually. I’m sure the original planners and architects are horrified, but it kinda mostly works.

Unconsumption – Pecha Kucha

Last night was San Francisco’s Pecha Kucha night. I showed 20 slides, at 20 seconds per slide, on Unconsumption.

The slides are below.

And this widget will play the audio.

There were some problems with the projection at the beginning so it’s not immediately obvious where we go from slide 1 to slide 2, but hopefully by slide 3 you’ll have figured it and can follow along.

And for better visual quality, I’ve put the slides up on flickr..

Update: the slides are also on the Pecha Kucha site

Cultural norms

A couple of weeks ago there was some concern over the SF Indian Consulate getting rid of old visa applications in a very insecure manner:

Thousands of visa applications and other sensitive documents, including paperwork submitted by top executives and political figures, sat for more than a month in the open yard of a San Francisco recycling center after they were dumped there by the city’s Indian Consulate.

The documents, which security experts say represented a potential treasure trove for identity thieves or terrorists, finally were hauled away Wednesday after The Chronicle inspected the site and questioned officials at the consulate and the recycling facility.

The article goes on to detail what data about what types of people they found in their examination of the site and the expected quotes from security experts about what type of risk this creates.

Having gone through the visa application process ourselves for our trip to India last January, it’s a little disturbing to read that

a sampling of documents obtained by The Chronicle indicate that the boxes contained confidential paperwork for virtually everyone in California and other Western states who applied for visas to travel to India between 2002 and 2005.

But I was sadly amused by the response from the consulate

Consul General Prakash said there may be a cultural dimension to the level of outrage related to the incident among Western visa applicants.

“In India, I would not be alarmed,” he said. “We have grown up giving such information in many, many places. We would not be so worried if someone had our passport number.”

Deputy Consul General Sircar said that in other countries, Indian officials are able to go to the roofs of their offices and burn documents they’re no longer able to store.

“In America, you cannot do that,” he said.

You can just hear the bristling bureaucratic response, colored with that cliched “no-problem”!

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