Amazon Needs To Change

Amazon is one of the great marvels of modern life. It’s got almost every product in the physical world available for purchase through either itself or its partners. It also sells a sizeable chunk of digital content for people to delve into. Any product you want can be had within 2 days across the whole of the United States. On and did I mention they benefit from economies of scale to such an extent that you will almost never find the product cheaper elsewhere.

Sounds great when you put it like that. But I have a problem with Amazon. I have a problem with the fact it’s too big, too ugly and treading its toes in areas where that ghastly logo should never of trodden.

Ill start with the web store. So nearly everything I have purchased since living in the US has come from Amazon. The five star rating system is awful. I’ve never liked it. Never will. 10,000 people can say 5* but if one person gives it a 1* and gives a good review and reason it changes the whole purchase. Not only that but you might buy a product that’s rated 7/10 but you would think twice about a 3.5/5. The fact that everyone and their mums seems to write a review on Amazon is great but some reviews are too bad and should be removed. People have written reviews like “this TV is awful because I have a cat”. It’s nonsense and useless.

Another problem with the store is its vastness is its own enemy. I once thought up an idea for a website that sold only 5 laptops. Each of the 5 would have been carefully selected as best in its price range because every day of every week someone will ask me to recommend the, a computer, I then have to go thoroughly searching the web for something in their price range. Not if I ever get round to building that site. Amazon could do something similar. There’s about 500, mid range laptops with 100+ reviews and cost between $300 – $500. That’s far too much how is anyone meant to make that decision quickly. You’ll of read reviews from countless websites, countless pro-viewers and magazines before you know. That then defeats the object of how online shopping is meant to be fast.

Books. Amazon is so famous for its books. Do you know how hard it is to find a good read on the Kindle store? Amazon needs to work out a way to recommend books better and that does not mean using the same algorithm they have used for the recommended products section. The iBooks store is ten times better than kindle and had it now have the iDevice restriction, I would of jumped ship a long time ago.

Ugliness. Amazon is disgusting to look at. This could be equally to do with the sheer amount of products they have, it’s pretty hard to make a lot of anything look glorious but they’ve got some pretty smart heads down at Amazon. Maybe someone from the creative department needs to be fired. The logo is disgusting. Dated and horrible which bring me right on to my next point.

Technology. The Kindle is a fantastic device. It’s been designed and manufactured very well but it’s ruined by the Amazon logo. What Amazon needs to do is create a sub-brand for its technology arm. Call it A or something. Short, simple and with a gorgeous logo. I don’t want to buy an Amazon TV box that I turn on and see the ugly logo rearing its head again. It’s the equivalent of using TESCO mobile. Tesco mobile is cheap and functional but it’s so ugly and frowned upon people avoid it even though it does good things. That’s exactly why I would always pick up an Apple device over an Amazon device. Apple make beautiful things and they are first and foremost a tech company and secondly a retail company. I’d be much more likely to buy a Amazon laptop if it was called something simple like the A book and had a fantastically good logo. Branding is everything. It’s why Apple has done so bloody well.

I’m not suggesting Amazon is going to go out of business any time soon. They want to penetrate every market they are in further and further but realistically there is potential for a good looking rival to come and pick away at their market share on in the case of technology, prevent them making ground. It’s not just me that’s a picky person now either. People are more conscious of things look than they ever have been before. It’s just a shame Amazons nicest logo (A9) is used for cloud services and has that ghastly arrow on it.

Coachella 2013

Coachella. My first music festival in the United States of America and apparently one of it’s largest. I have been planning on venturing down to the south of California to the vast and excruciatingly hot desert since I was in London over a year ago. It was one of those ideas that was sort of thrown about as if it might happen but we’ll pretend it will happen without a doubt.

Then come 2 months ago I actually purchased a ticket for a nice sum of $400 and continued to not really think about it. The lineup was released and I mulled over it quickly and thought, this looks alright. Nothing special. Now I don’t know if the lineup changed dramatically between the time I mulled over it to the time I was in the car, en route to Indio but I went from mildly excited to absolutely frantic. There were electronic music producers and DJ’s I’ve followed for a long time in the Sahara tent, there were names that I knew and liked but never really got into and then there were the headliners that were pretty universal. I mean, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers can impress almost anyone right?

After a 7 hour drive, countless stops, zero sleep and a very early start I was ready to have a few beverages, set up camp and take it easy before the festival started on the Friday morning. I actually ended up getting relatively tired by 10pm and went to meet some friends of friends and then crashed pretty early even though I later heard there was a party in the dome that evening just for the campers. The camp site was so unbelievably chilled out I can’t even explain. Our neighbors on either side were absolute heroes and it felt like I’d left the capitalist world of America to indulge in the culture of a communist farming community. Everyone shared everything, from solar panel phone chargers to tequila and from hammocks to tarpaulin. I’ve never really shared a campsite with people that automatically get on so well. It’s almost definitely because everyone is there for the music, there for a good time and all understand exactly why they are this festival.

So camp was set up, the first day enrolled. I headed in around opening just to meander round the site and familiarize myself with the festival before I inevitably got lost in the evening. The Sahara tent was home to the dance and electronic music and where I assumed I’d be spending most of my time that weekend and the set up was pretty awesome and ready to cater for some of the biggest names and best light shows on the circuit. Then the other tents and stages were pretty synonymous with what one would find at any festival.

The art work (something I really struggle to appreciate usually) was actually really cool. From the massive raindbow snail that was just slowly shifting itself around the Do Lab and the Recyclasaurus Rex that instantly found a place in my heart. I mean dinosaurs and planet saving, what could possibly make art more cool?

Now for the music. The entire weekend was absolutely amazing. I’ve always had a clear head on what my musical taste is, what makes a live performance good and what I want to hear and see. The majority of people I saw were absolutely incredible. There was the odd mismatch with artists who had got too off their face before coming on stage (Hey Modest Mouse!) and there were some absolutely god awful DJ’s (Dillon Francis, sup?) but for the most part it was amazing. The Chilli’s were great, Two Door Cinema Club were well worth going to see and The XX played my favorite songs straight away so I could bot off and go see Two Door Cinema Club. My shocker performance came from Blur, I literally had no idea how many of their songs I knew and how good they would be live. They absolutely nailed it. The Stone Roses were also awesome and I absolutely loved the rendition of “I wanna be adored”, one of my favorite songs by them (Don’t judge me).

By the second day I started to feel dirty. I am a cleanly person by nature and not having my own bathroom with my strictly aligned wash kit was not nice. I had to brush my teeth by the car and had no sink, using only bottled water. I did actually get to use the showers which were not too bad at all but still a bit rank knowing that hundreds of men would have used that same shower that day. I was looking forward to a full and intense wash when I got back to San Francisco. The only other thing I found a bit weird was the drugs. I’m not one to tell people what to do but I have drugs to be even more widely accepted out here in the US than they are at home. People are popping Aderall left right and center. Artists were shouting to people asking whether they had taken Acid and condoning it. Everywhere you went stank of spliff and MDMA is treated like a commodity to people these days. I’m not sure how festivals have been at home in the past few years but I left feeling like I was the only person on planet earth that doesn’t take recreational drugs. Each to their own I guess.

All in all though, an absolutely amazing time. One of the best weekends I’ve had in America. I’ve been exposed to new music, I got to bask in the sun of Indio for a few days and I got to party with some absolutely incredible people and I got a great experience and memories that will stay with me for a long time!

Los Angeles, Hollywood and Malibu.

So this week, we decided to rent a car and head down to LA on a 6 hour drive from San Francisco. Two cars, one for the lads and one for the lasses. It was going to be my first experience of staying in a hostel and my first experience of a place where dreams supposedly come true and the chance to become famous is greater than anywhere else. Obviously, I was expecting something completely different.

Ever since living in San Francisco, I’ve head people from up here in the North of California bad mouthing the South. I think it’s slightly akin to how the English and the Welsh banter with each other (especially around rugby season) as apposed to an actual hate for their Southern counterparts. My experience of SoCal has so far been limited to Santa Barbara and knowing that LA is only an hour or so away made me aware of how long the bloody drive would be. In fact, something I’ve learned whilst living here is a six hour drive really isn’t that bad. If I was in Wales and spontaneously decided to head up to Scotland people would think I’d lost my marbles but in reality, people do things like that everyday in California. Maybe it’s because the fuel is dramatically cheaper and you can rack miles up on someone else’s car for as little as $50 a day.

We arrived on Friday evening and set up in the hostel. Apparently one of the girls who we were with had stayed in tens of hostels before said it was one of the nicest ones she’d stayed in but I wasn’t overly fussed. Something about staying in a bunk bed where someone you don’t know could be sharing a room with you and some dodgey little lockers to keep any valuables. Nah, I’ll take a hotel for the extra cash any day of the week. Especially if it’s only for a few days. The check-in was even strenuous as they demanded passports that as a clumsy waste of space, I never actually carry unless I’m actually trying to leave a country. The room we had was alright I guess, we were packed in with two Brits, of course. Some geezer who was old enough to have really dropped the old travelling and staying and hostels thing but I saw he had a Guitar and a Ukelele on him so he’s probably trying to make it in Hollywood kind of thing. The other was a lady who was on a break from a overly strenuous hairdressing course(?).

That night we headed down Hollywood Blvd. Tackiness ensued. I can’t stand club touts, I’ve spent enough time in the party destinations of Spain to know that they will do anything to get you into a club and if they need to tout, it’s probably not worth going in. Some guy even said to us that we could go listen to some House music in his club and one of us could go in and check if the music is alright before the rest of us payed. Me and a friend are so ridiculously particular about music if they guy made one mistake we’d be off and saying how bad the DJ was and therefore emptying the queue. Half tempting to do that because I could guarantee that DJ sucked. We stopped for a few pints in a little dive bar half way down the strip and decided what would happen that evening. Anyway we head further down the strip and ended up getting turned down from one of the clubs because one of the bouncers felt impartial to one of the guys ID’s. We actually ended up having to split and I was in a club with the girls and the boys headed to a bar further down the strip. Strange it were. I think I was feeling the beer a bit too much by now and some strange fella’ with a table kept handing me these rather large shots of Belvedere. I indulged as one would given the student lifestyle and chance for a super-premium vodka at the cost of nothing, except maybe a little dignity. The girls also gave me their shots because I’m guessing either they don’t like straight vodka or they didn’t trust this rather skinny gentleman. That night ended as a bit of a blur to me but we headed back to the Hostel and had a photo with Tom Jones’ star on the way. Gotta love the Welsh stars on Hollywood Blvd.

The second day we decided to head down to Malibu beach which was about a 35 minute drive away. It was, sure enough, a beach. I’ve seen heaps of beaches now. I’m not even sure I’m that fussed on them. People are like go check out Santa Cruz and Monterey. A beach is a beach guys. The weather is what changes it for me and maybe how tacky the backdrop is. I mean I’m partial to Barry Island like any ol’ chap from South Wales but anything that tacky outside of Barry is just annoying. Malibu was actually one of the less tacky beaches I’ve been to. It was nice to chill out in the sun for a bit but like anyone with an attention span like mine, I was bored after 20 minutes. I couldn’t surf, I didn’t have swim gear and I didn’t have a ball. Can we go get lunch now? So we did. At the Malibu Hotel, one of those places that the girls had read about somewhere and therefore assumed it was awesome. It wasn’t great. Service was reasonable, food pretty pricey but I had a nice couple glasses of Prossecco and continued with my day. That night we were all absolutely shattered so pretty much spent out time in the pub we’d visited the previous night. A strange gent decided it was appropriate to join us in our adventure to stay awake by deciding to challenge us at chess. Curious because chess has recently become a bit of a fad between our group. The man was rather sketchy looking, a bit like someone who had a few to many Stella’s and maybe a taste of the opium poppy. So with that we made our way to a curry house to get some munch before bed back at the hostel. That was one of the nicest curries I’ve actually had in California. Strange seeing as it was served in something slightly akin to a plane food tray.

The next day, we checked out somewhere for breakfast near Bel Air and had some french toast and what not. Fairly priced in quite a nice place. Saw some absolute monstrosities of people going past though. Good lord there were some characters. I’m getting to the point now where I can tell who’s trying so hard to look like they’re it and not that it’s just hilarious. People can really get stuck in a bubble and it’s funny to watch. That continued when we headed down to Venice beach later that day. In fact we decided to take a walk around Beverly Hills straight after breakfast and it really is the nicest part of LA we saw. I mean, Hollywood Blvd, whilst a necessary tourist stop, is an absolute dive. It literally looks like the sort of place that has never seen a road sweep. A place that is scattered with failure and rappers who where the same outfit every night to try and get you to buy a mixtape off them for a $1 whilst they wait to recognized by Timbaland and Swizz Beats. Beverly Hills really did have some class about it and the district where the shops and restaurants were actually seemed really nice.

Following Beverly Hills we actually had lunch in a Starbucks as one does in SoCal and then made way to Venice Beach. Muscle Beach. Tackiest Beach on planet earth beach. How are people making a living off selling one pair of sunglasses per hour whilst based right next to a shop that sells one pair of sunglasses per hour? What about these people who are selling medicinal marijuana cards for $40? Where’s the legality in that? What about a t-shirt with a horrendous pun that’s been worked to death on it? $20 please. Ugh, I can’t deal with it. I can’t deal with how happy people were in this situation to. Why are people smiling at this tat and loving life whilst surrounded by other people who don’t understand how to be right. Venice beach as a beach is actually alright, the sand was ok and there was an ocean right next to it. That works. There was no nice places to sit and have a drink and it was difficult to find food that wasn’t served on a stick. There was actually a pretty cool skate park there and some of the boarders nailed it but I feel if I turned up on my Valo aggressive skates I’d get death stares until I left.

All in all LA was great fun but I really, really wouldn’t want to live there. It’s not the glorious place people think it is, it’s not all glamorous and beautiful, that’s actually only a small part of it. There’s huge gang crime, there’s too many failed rappers who think their owed something and it’s genuinely not as nice a place as San Francisco. Not to mention it’s absolutely huge so it takes ages to get anywhere. Especially with the traffic when everyone has 5 cars and most people don’t car pool. A great weekend, well worth doing but eye opening at the same time.