Lavapies Burning

Not long after midday on a rather ordinary Thursday (15th March 2018) a young street hawker died on the street next to mine in the neighbourhood of Lavapies, Madrid.  As I write this a few hours later the news getting out is that he died of a heart attack while being pursued by the police.  There have subsequently been riots on the streets with bins and at least one scooter set on fire.

On hearing about the incident I took a walk through the familiar streets and saw things in such a different light that I am still trying to unpack it all.  At the entrance to my block of flats a neighbour gave me her summary of what was happening.  Loosely translated it went something like this “the black people in the neighbourhood have gone crazy – they are thrashing everything”. And then she added “your countrymen, they are destroying everything”….  I’ll say no more on this except that she is Morrocan, I am mixed race and many of the people I saw rioting later appeared to be Senegalese (of course I can’t be a 100% sure of that).

As I walked past the street were the young man died I saw a candle and a few people talking.  The man who had placed the candle there lived on the street and had seen what happened.  He didn’t suggest the police were liable for the man’s death.  He placed some responsibility for the rioting on the young kids who hang about in a squat just a few yards away.

The police had cordoned off quite a few streets so I took a long walk around these streets to Plaza Lavapies, the heart of the neighbourhood.  It turned out this area was out of control of the police.  I foolishly took out my phone to film what was going on.  A rioter quickly approached me and warned me to get the hell out of there.  I put my phone away and walked off.  He had a dog and was pretty angry.

A shop on the corner of the Plaza had been set on fire.  People outside began to shout to the flats above – “get out, get out, there’s a fire”.  Oddly no one had thought to ring the doorbells.  I took it on myself to do this and shout the same message through the intercom.  When someone finally opened the door I rushed in along with several others banging on each door.   In a flat on the 2nd or 3rd floor a lady was quite distressed as she was caring for an old man who could only walk at a snail’s pace.  Along with 4 or 5 others we carried him down the stairs.

Looking back we probably caused him a fair bit of distress.  He was quite heavy and there simply wasn’t any way to move him without some discomfort to him.  He seemed unable to speak so I don’t know his opinion on the matter.  Memories of what I had heard about the Grenfell Tower fire were really what drove me to think the priority should be to get him out ASAP.

Lavapies is a very mixed neighbourhood so many of us who stormed up the stairs banging on doors were not white.  I could see the fear on the faces of many of them and I don’t think it was just fear of the fire.  One person quite understandably recoiled in shock when she opened the door and saw me.  I felt a real responsibility to make up for the bad rep “foreigners” were in the process of gaining.  Looking back, some of the people running up the stairs with me looked rather…  ehrm…. “unsavoury”.  I would be really pissed off if I found out someone had used the opportunity to rob.  Yes, I have prejudices too.

Round the corner I came across another group discussing the situation.  A young Senegalese chap seemed the most knowledgeable.  He said the man who passed away lay on the street for several hours and the police had chased away someone who tried to help.  Someone who identified himself as a journalist said something about the police having tried to help the victim.  Comments were quickly made about how the press was already trying to change the story.

The Senegalese lad became a friend quickly enough.  Which is remarkable because those five minutes of conversation I had with him make up the longest conversation I have had with a Senegalese in 8 plus years I’ve spent in Spain.  It turned out he too had a complex about the PR black people were getting that night.  When he saw an elderly woman walking up he went out of his way to assist her.  It turned out she was rather drunk but lived close by.  For a few surreal moments we helped her to her front door.  Surreal because she insisted on puffing on a cigarette all the way even though she was easy over 70.  I was super glad a white lad accompanied us because we really must have looked quite suspicious when we had to rummage through her handbag to help her find her keys.

It was time to go home.  Enough craziness for one night.  Well, it turns out I was wrong.  A few blocks from home the rioters had taken over Plaza Nelson Mandela.  Yes.  Yes. I was very proud of my neighbourhood when that name was given to the Plaza where so many Africans hang and which some guides to Madrid are weary of. I couldn’t feel more shame when I saw a few guys setting fire to the rental bikes on there.

Shame? Frustration? Indignation?  Something other than raw anger drove me to confront them.  I guess I underestimated their anger.  They quickly turned on me.  A few urged restraint but on guy in particular decided I was the enemy and asked if I fancied dying too.  In my mind a lot of rioters are opportunist who take advantage of a situation to cause damage for the hell of it.  As I heard the shouts and threats I still underestimated their anger.  Anger doesn’t come across very well in broken Spanish spoken with an African accent. Not to me anyway.

Long story short, I stayed too long trying to talk to them and got roughed up a bit.  At one point I was on the floor being kicked but the guys urging calm were actually the bigger and stronger ones.  One of them lifted me back up and sent me off.

My overwhelming feeling as I toured my suddenly not so familiar neighbourhood was one of shame and anger.  Shame and anger at the community which I am not really such a part of.  I mean that community that you are a member of just by not being a member of any other.  I don’t even know what to call it.  Being lumped into it by my Moroccan neighbour has really disorientated me.

One thing is clear.  I need to figure out the sources and levels of anger in my community. These were very unfriendly fires that burnt tonight in Lavapies.

Iberia’s broken website

Buying online is a great experience when it works but when it fails its enough to drive one insane.

So here is a simple task that all airlines should have completely mastered by now – selling flights online.  It turns out one of the biggest airlines in the world has not cracked this.

I tried booking a flight and found just before I paid that there was an option to hold the flight for 72 hours if I needed more time to decide.  Great!!!  Exactly what I needed.  Except……ckx41-cugaet20a

Within a few minutes of selecting that option I received an email saying I had till 1 hour before the email was sent to confirm my booking (really, not kidding).  Something was clearly wrong.  And this is where online quickly becomes nightmare.

Who do I turn to? How do I get this resolved without wasting hours of my life.  I turned to twitter and fortunately Iberia replied to my complaint pretty quickly.  But once again tech becomes the enemy.  I have to send screenshots, explain and re-explain what happened. Eventually I get told to phone to pay for the booking as it has been cancelled.  Person on the phone says the option to hold for 72 hours is not available for the price I selected.

Okay, clear case of website vrs human.  One has to be wrong.  How much time shall I invest in troubleshooting Iberia’s problem for them.  I return to twitter and more requests for screenshots blah blah blah.

While pulling my hair out I realise that writing everything down here might be the easiest way of explaining whats going wrong.  Emails, twitter, phone calls – they have all wasted my time and driven me closer to insanity.

So Iberia people, here it is for posterity – my tale of a simple attempt to book a flight turned to nightmare.  Let’s see how long it takes to fix this.

To be updated…..



A possible explanation for lily white oscars – and it could be good news

Let’s start with a disclaimer – this is me just thinking of the top of my head.  There are probably some flaws in my line of thought but I would love to hear what others think.

Finding out about this year’s “lily white oscars” really surprised me but not because I find it hard to imagine that the Academy might have a preference for white actors over black actors.  The real surprise for me is that they don’t seem to be doing anything to hide it.

That got me thinking.  Could there be something that is making it more difficult for the Academy to throw in a few black nominations just to hide their bias?  Surely it is easier now that there are more successful black actors than it was a decade or so ago when more black actors were being nominated.

And then it hit me.  There is a scenario in which having more good black actors to choose from could make it more difficult for the Academy to hide their bias.  If each person putting forward a list of nominees included very few black people, there would be a higher chance of a black person being nominated when there was a smaller selection of black actors to choose from.   I don’t know how to express that mathematically but I’m pretty sure that observation is accurate.  If someone disagrees and can explain why not in the comments, I will be very interested to hear it.

Assuming my observation is accurate, you can see the “lily white oscars” as a positive indication of greater black participation in the acting industry.  The bad news though is that the effect I have described will be more pronounced if the people making the nominations are simply throwing in a small number of black people not based on acting ability but as a token gesture.  Again I don’t know how to express that mathematically but it is pretty clear in my head.

So, here is a challenge to the clever and articulate mathematicians out there.  Can you back up or refute my observation mathematically?  Any ideas will be very much appreciated.


In Spain you have to be a hacker to pay your taxes.

Sometimes its the small details that say the most about a country.  Now I know some stereotypes about Spain are exaggerated but the everyday incompetence you come across here really does get annoying after a while.

In this video you can see my frustration in trying to file my tax return.  You would think that with the current crisis, getting taxes paid would be a priority for the tax authorities.  It turns out they still require you to practically hack their website to be able to pay your taxes!!

Tindervertising – the next growth hacking opportunity?

Tinder the dating app is doing quite well these days in terms of publicity.  Social media is abuzz with comments about how badly they reacted to an article criticising them.  Truth is, the comments and the original article may be negative but all the publicity is great for them.

All this got me thinking about ways in which Tinder itself could be used to get publicity.  As an experiment, I put a link in my Tinder profile to, a site that I have been working on recently.  The result was nothing particularly crazy – I got between 50 and 80 or so people coming to the site each week from Tinder.  The effort involved though was minimal and it cost me no money at all.  Surely, this is an easy way of getting clicks that could be scaled with a bit of effort.

I’m interested in knowing if anyone has found a way to scale getting free publicity on Tinder.  Please leave a comment below if you have.

Microsoft shows us how not to launch a product – with a right tossup!

Lesson 1 – don’t pick a name which is slang for something dodgy

This must be the most obvious thing to think about and yet somehow a company as large as Microsoft has managed to cock it up.

Just a quick look at the urban dictionary shows

Lesson 2 – make your product available on your own platform

Yes, yes, this is the new Microsoft trying to break out of its shrinking ecosystem.  But still, how upsetting must it be to a Windows phone developer/owner to find out that the very company behind that device doesn’t think its worth launching on.

Lesson 3 – don’t tell the world about it if it is not available to the world

For some reason the app is only available in the US.  Maybe there is a good reason for this but it has been publicized globally and now there are a shed load of comments from people who are pissed off that they cannot try it out.

Lesson 4 – make sure it works

These days reviews on the app store are quite public so if it doesn’t work the whole world will know.  Though I haven’t been able to try it out myself I can see reviews like this which say:

Won’t start Great idea, but the app won’t get past the intro screen. It just blinks black and green continuously. I’ll wait for an update as this app would be useful, in theory at least. Running on stock G4

Lesson 5 – engage with your audience

Here is a tweet from the product owner asking for feedback:

Not a bad idea except he isn’t replying to any of the follow up tweets.

Why all this matters

Microsoft is currently trying to pull of a very difficult trick.  It wants to give people the impression that it still has a startup spirit and can be innovative and agile.  Well, just tossing out loads of apps and hoping some of them stick is exactly what a big corporation with more money than brains does.  In the startup scene there are a lot of small hungry players like me who get affected by what Microsoft does.  When you screw up like this Microsoft people like me will talk about it.

Why is failing to innovate?

It was about 4 years ago that I first heard of  It was such a great idea then.  A friend had to organise an office meetup so he sent a doodle out to everyone and by the next day we had decided on when to have it.

The next step in organising the event was to decide on a place.  I found it strange that doodle did not support this but I figured they would do that in no time.  Now, several years later they still don’t support it and I am baffled as to why not.

In the end I have taken the risky step of launching my own site to allow picking where as well as when is best for a group of people to meet:

The initial feedback I have had from users is that it is slightly more difficult to understand at first glance than doodle.  After a minute or two though, most people get how it works.

Another shortcoming of doodle that klavado fixes is the ability of a user to delete other entries.  With klavado, even though users are not required to create an account, they can only change their own vote.

Its always a trade off between ease of use and functionality.  What doodle did really well was to provide a very easy to use product that didn’t do too much.  At the time it would have been quite difficult to add functionality to decide on places too.  The bet I am making is that it is now possible to have that functionality too without compromising the user experience too much.  I hope you will agree too.

How Putin helped me launch

I remember the first time I tried – a friend was tasked with organising the annual office party and he sent out a doodle asking everyone to vote on the best time.  It was such a great experience!  Within a few hours, most people had voted and we had a date.  Then came the task of figuring out where to go.  I couldn’t understand why a similar tool didn’t exist for finding a place.

Finally, many months later I’ve built that tool:

Which is where Putin comes in.  I spent days racking my brain on how to promote my site till I saw a news article about the speculation around the “missing Putin”.  Great I thought, the perfect chance to get people talking about my site.  I simply created a poll where people could vote on where they thought Putin might be.  This is what it did for my traffic:

ChattyMaps traffic after I created a poll to find Putin

ChattyMaps traffic after I created a poll to find Putin

Please Putin, disappear again!!!   It was so much fun without you 😉