Improving Untappd’s rating system

I really like Untappd. It’s a great app, has lots of uses, and, for me, adds to my beer-consumption experience. The team behind it has done a great job, and I hope it keeps growing.

But there’s one part of the app that I dislike – which is odd, because it’s a core feature. & that’s the rating (& recommendation) system. I find it nearly useless. Currently, if you’re not familiar, it has a 5-bottlecap (Star) rating system. Which is common. But, looking at how I rate things, things fall into 4 zones for me (so out of 10 possible data-points (0, 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 5), I only really have 4 – which indicates a problem to me):

  • 0-1.5: I didn’t like it at all
  • 2-3: ok, not worth trying if you haven’t had it yourself.
  • 3-4: decent, forgettable
  • 4-5: excellent, will try to have it again.

Conversations with others have revealed that they have a similar grouping. Dave might have something more detailed, but he’s an outlier I suspect. And, watching over the past while, it feels like virtually every beer falls into a 3.5-4.5 category over time. Which thus makes ratings kind of useless.

Related to this: I have no idea how/why Untappd recommends the other beers it does (edit: in the “recommendations by style” that appears after a checkin). The rating I give a beer doesn’t seem to affect this at all – I assume there is a secret sauce beyond “beer is of a similar type”, but I don’t know. What I *do* know is that I don’t find the recommendations currently useful to me. When I’ve tried related beers based on either extremely high or extremely low ratings, there’s no consistency in the response. Aside on this: I wish I could “regionalize” the recommended beers, because it’s really hard to get most of the recommended beers I see here in BC.

So here’s my modest proposal for improving a rating system here. It has 2 parts. The big change is that beer ratings should be relative to each other.  So when I untap my beer, it’ll ask me “Is Brassneck Brewing’s Passive Aggressive IPA better or worse than Driftwood Brewing’s Fat Tug IPA?” & I’ll say yea or nay. This, combined with 100s of others answering similar questions will start to build an overall score for a beer. Likely a percentile score. But it will also build a large web of relative ratings of one beer to another.

This sort of natural-language question is great for humans. I can remember how much I enjoyed beerA, and can think about that relative to my current beerB. But I have a hard time giving an absolute rating to a beer. In part because my tastes change over time, where as a relative rating will more accurately reflect my changing tastes. Imagine if you drink the same beer 3-6 months later. Untappd could ask how I enjoyed it relative to the last time, which provides useful information.

With 1000s of users providing relative ratings, a particular scoring set will emerge, with much more granular ratings, resulting in fun stats like :95% of drinkers liked this beer. In the recommendation section, it can then use other relative ratings to suggest other beers to try. If I like my beer LESS than the comparison beer, show me other beers that are liked more than the comparison beer. Or vice versa. Because a negative rating should indicate I want something different than what I’m drinking, whereas a positive one should indicate that I want more of the same? or similarly rated?

I realize I’m way overthinking what’s a fun, app & pastime. But ratings of things are a hard nut to crack, and universally applicable anywhere anyone rates anything. And in a system where the subjects are inherently comparable (apples to apples), relative ratings and enjoyment-percentiles seems to be a good, human-and-machine-usable dataset.

The Good Ol’ Hockey Game

Overtime Faceoff
Overtime at hockey

This season, I got 1/2 a season-ticket pack, thanks to Jen & Neil‘s absconding off to the UK. Which has been really great. I love the privilege of getting to see these guys live on a regular basis. Even Leah likes going, which is a total bonus. Excuses for extra nights out with here are good.

But as a result of watching more live hockey, I’ve had a couple of thoughts, triggered from ongoing thoughts about fights, injuries and concussions in sports (Maybe not all sports: but two that I love: hockey & football. But even Baseball seems to have similar issues).

I don’t like hockey fights, but I admit to being caught up in the moment at a game sometimes when a fight breaks out after a dirty hit on a star player. At a certain level, I completely understand the need to protect your star players in such a brutish way. But that enthusiasm fades in moments. And then I keep thinking about there’s lots of talk about how to “clean up” hockey (which, amazingly for modern sports, isn’t referring to drugs: it’s referring to dangerous plays & fights). So here’s my idea, harsh as they may be:

  1. Fights: as every telecast reminds viewers, the NHL owns the rights to that telecast. They could simply dictate the telecasts cannot show fights & that fights are not allowed to be used in sports-highlight packages. Would this end fights? Not immediately. But by removing them from mainstream view, it would lessen the “glory” of a fight. I suspect that there would be less fights. If getting into a fight guarantees that your not going to be on TV, every rookie tough guy would think twice: for many, it’s their only opportunity. Make hockey highlights about the play, not the extraneous stuff.
  2. Injuries: This one’s harsh. On any play where a major penalty is assessed AND there’s an injury on the play, the offending players is automatically suspended a minimum of 2 games. Regardless of time of year. In addition, if the victim is injured, and cannot play, the offending player cannot play again until the injured player returns to the ice. The suspension, however long it is starts at that point. There should likely be an upper-limit in the case of career ending injuries. Perhaps a full season, including playoffs. &, perhaps to prevent “gaming” this, by having a role-player be “injured” to keep an opposing team’s “star” off the ice, the evaluation of ready-to-play status needs to come from the NHL/NHLPA, not just the team.

The Boss in Vancouver

Bruce Springsteen in Vancouver

Stop. Before you read any more of what I have to say, go read Lauren’s beautiful take on the concert. She’ll describe it much more beautifully than I. She also experienced a very different concert than I. Perhaps the one I wanted to have.

Much like Lauren, seeing Bruce Springsteen live was on my musical bucket list (& perhaps my actual list). I knew going into the show that this would be a tidy, soul-based, big-band experience. But it didn’t connect for me. Maybe it was my vantage point. I was high up, slightly behind the stage as you can see from the instagram above.

It irked me that the band started the show in “mid-concert” form – there was no warming up the crowd, we were just suppose to already be fully swayed by the awesome that is the band, and call-and-answer, sing-along and glory by the end of the first bar. I wasn’t. I don’t care you are, you earn my devotion through the course of a show, not before I show up.

Watching from above, the show seemed so choreographed,  so pre-planned that nothing felt spontaneous. I got the distinct impression that the hand gestures, the rock-god posing – it would have happened whether there was an adoring audience or not – not that there’s ever any fear of there not being an adoring audience at a stadium rock show.

What I love most about live music is seeing musicians on stage who appear to truly love being there, who are present in that moment, with whom I can share a sense of a special moment. At one point Bruce said that he loves his job. Which is great, I’m glad. But I guess I want him to pretend, for me, that playing live shows isn’t a job – it’s a passion, something he simply couldn’t exist without. Because no matter how much you love your job, you can walk away, leave it behind and get back to your life.

I can’t fault the band’s stellar muscianship, his showmanship or the effort put into the show. I cannot believe that at his age Bruce Springsteen can still work a stage the way he does. Hell, I couldn’t keep up with him, and I’m only slightly over half his age (he’s, I believe, 64; I’m 35). But the whole event felt clinical, precise to me. Cynical, even.

I’m going to the XOXO Festival

I just backed the XOXO Festival on Kickstarter. It seems amazing, its local(-ish), and when I first read about it, it seemed like something I’d regret not going to, if I didn’t. I don’t actually know if I can go at this point – Leah’s work schedule will dictate that. But I’m going to try. & it’s in Portland, where I’ve never been, but keep meaning to get to. So. 3 things checked off my bucket list: 1) first time backing a project on kickstarter 2) first time going to Portland 3) attending a non-directly-work-related conference because the topic is cool.

Eastside Mural Tour project: a critique

I want to preface this by saying I love the idea of the Eastside Mural Tour project, for so many reasons: I love Vancouver’s art, particularly the hidden, surprising art. I love graffiti art. I’m a fan of community projects, and projects that celebrate them. I’m also particularly interested in the idea of digitally curated physical objects, and finding new ways to help travel, explore, learn about communities online. That being said, I’m really disappointed with this project – they’ve missed some really simple points that I feel are critical. If you’re a developer on this project, please don’t think I’m shitting all over you for no reason: if you’ll let me, I would gladly pitch in to help.

All that out of the way, here’s the misses:

  1. The site doesn’t really work on Mobile. Load the front-page: the interactive map is done in flash. The site itself isn’t optimized in any way for a mobile experience: but this is a site destined to be used by someone on a device; most likely as their doing their tours.
  2. The most prominent links are to PDFs of the tours; the big, colourful buttons on the right side. However, hidden at top at HTML versions of the descriptions, which actually contain descriptions of the art!
  3. On these HTML pages, there’s no Map of the location. Nor is there any “next stop/previous stop” links to guide my usage of this. Nor do these HTML pages contain the dial-in directions that the PDFs do
  4. The PDFs are not styled in any way, nor do they contain any of the useful descriptions of the stops on the tour – instead, they simply contain titles of the art, in a format that appear to be links, but if they are, did not work for me in any way.
  5. This one strikes me as particularly egregious: The PDFs contain an image of a Google map that contains all the stops on the tour. So someone clearly spent some time building the geo-coded tour – why not embed that map?
  6. No social: Why not at least propose a couple of hashtags for the project, per tour, maybe per site. Pull in comments/photos from Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare to let the community participate in this beautiful project, in this art. Pinwheel is brand new, but given Caterina‘s local origins, they might be very interested in participating.
  7. Data: I couldn’t find these mural’s in Vancouver’s Data set (though maybe I just failed in my search), but why not, given you clearly have all the geo-data for these murals, release that data for others to remix?

There other, smaller quibbles, but those top 5 strike me as major faults that we should fix. The last simply betrays my personal bias towards open data, and in particular, location data.

There’s also some other ways this same sort of tour could be made. There’s a site, MapTales, that exists solely to create these sorts of self-guided tours. I don’t think it should replace the current site, but providing links to another interface would be a nice way to share these tours out in a well-designed, contemporary way. Bringing up Pinwheel again, all of these stops could exist in there. I don’t think they have the idea of “tours” currently, but by creating a hashtag, locating these places, this could open up the ability to extend & comment on by the pinwheel community. I’d also recommend creating “places” in Foursquare for each of the stops on the tours, let people check in there – or at least easily geolocate photos taken there in such a way that the project itself can re-use them.

This project is sub-titled “murals and the spirit of collaboration”, and yet feels so far from being a project that the digital community can collaborate in right now. Let’s fix it.

Editorial Aside

This brings up all sorts of thoughts around the ongoing failure to provide super-easy tools, widgets, add-ons, etc that projects like this could easily make use of. Even most plugins, themes & mapping tools still require programming knowledge to configure and drop into sites. This world of digitally-curated, real-world spaces is really just beginning. We need to find/build better tools for the average person to expose their localities, their stories in a way that works for all.


I buy comics. A fair amount of comics. I’ve drastically cut back my spending these past couple of years, but the fact remains is that nearly every week of the year, I’m buying 3 or 4 issues. And they make me happy. Every few weeks, for the past 15 years, ever since I moved to Vancouver, I head down to Golden Age Collectibles on Granville st. There, they’ve put aside the comics I collect in a “saver”. When new series come out, I add those to my list. This is an incredible way to shop. Comic shop sales-people have a bad rep (see: The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory), but in my experience, they’re some of the nicest retailers I know: they get  customer service. If an author or artist I like has a new book coming out, I’ll often find the first issue of that series in my saver even though I didn’t ask for it, because they think I might like it. When I lived in Toronto, I went to the Silver Snail, using the same saver system.

I used to buy physical music. But I started ordering CDs online as soon as Amazon delivered to Canada, and never looked back. I never had a single local supplier of music. & when digital music became a viable option for me, I mostly stopped ordering CDs at all, and never looked back.

I used to buy physical books. A lot of books. When I first moved in with Leah, I believe the boxes of books were more in both weight & volume than the rest of my possessions combined. & I tried to support local, indie booksellers. But in the end, I started ordering online because it was easier. But I didn’t have a single source for books ever since Bollum‘s at Granville and Georgia closed, and so I never looked back. & now I only buy digital books – mostly Kindle, but the occasional iBook thrown in for good measure.

And while I’m bummed about the loss of bookstores & music stores, I never had a connection to any of them. I started reading some digital comics when I got the first iPad. The app sucked, the interface wasn’t great. But you could tell this was where things were going. But now with the new iPad (3), the retina display means that comics could potentially look as good, or better, on screen than they do in print. And there’s no storage issue. I have boxes & boxes of comics, stored in the basement that I don’t know what to do with. Sometimes I go and re-read old series. I hope someday Liam or Kellan might like to. But I don’t want to keep adding to the pile, particularly as I move to a new place where storage is at something of a premium.

And so, I’m likely going to start subscribing to a lot of the series I like digitally. Sure, I’m locking in to some DRM scheme, but I’m ok with that. The convenience of digital subscriptions current outweighs my dislike. But I’ll  be sad about not going to buy comics from my local. I’ll miss their recommendations. And I’ll be sad if/when they close. I don’t know how much the memorabilia/collectable trading card portion of the store brings to their bottom line. But I think the time is coming, in the very near future, where I won’t be buying physical comics anymore.

And I’m sad about that. & I suspect that I’ll miss an ephemeral, but important part of my cultural landscape in a way that I didn’t with books or music.

Sometimes the light’s all shining on me

I’ve been trying hard to take more photos – if not daily, as close to as possible. Sometimes nothing catches my eye. Then there are days like today where I come across an embarrassment of riches:

Crossed wired

I caught this on the way into the office from coffee this morning. In real life, the sunlight was glinting off the wires, making them appear to glow. That wasn’t captured in the shot, so I processed this to give them the glow. I dig how the point of the building behind fits snugly into the intersection of the bus wires.

I had wires on the brain then. On our way to lunch, we crossed this alley:
Old wires, new towers
Vancouver’s apparently going to be pulling down this old infrastructure and will bury the wires. But I love the character these old poles give our alleys, and now, with all the new buildings, the play between the clean, modern, angular towers and the somewhat rickety, right-angle-free power lines is enchanting. I edited to get this scratchy/old look to emphasize those differences.

Continuing our theme of electricity, we had lunch at Sunset Burger a newish place on Nelson, with a definite California 80’s theme:


I didn’t do anything but apply an instagram frame/filter to this, but I don’t think it needed much.

After lunch I had to run an errand and just happened to walk under this:
Conical #lookup

I’ve worked in this neighbourhood for 15 years, and I’ve never been under this, nor into the Centre. I’m not thrilled with this photo, but it was a neat view to discover today.

My errand took me to the Central Post office:
Design of future past
I love the interplay of the at-angle, interlocking tile decoration above the flat utilitarian spread of post boxes. Gorgeous texture, and, in the glinting sunlight pouring in from outside, brilliant in the otherwise shadowed entry hall.  I wanted to soften this one, and I selectively darkened the right-side (the hall) in snap-seed to further enhance the shiny of the boxes & tiles.

Finally, on the way back to the office I caught this:
I love kaitlin #signage ad? Art?
And how could I not snap it? It’s intriguing? I’ve no idea if its a real message, or part of an ongoing ad campaign, or an art project? Again, just a quick snap. The poster itself is much more red than this filter would indicate.
In toronto, growing up, the bus-shelter ad-firm ran a series of ads that were a long these lines – a divorce + reconciliation or something that had the whole city talking because it was weeks before it was revealed what was behind the campaign – the point of which was exactly what it achieved – transit advertising gets both eyeballs and discussion (if anyone can find a link to some photos of those, it would be awesome. My Google-fu has failed me on finding it).

Thoughts on today’s iBooks announcement

Today’s announcement by Apple of the new iBooks 2 & the iBooks Author app were interesting in that it seemed a very high-level, long-term look by Apple at how they can disrupt the educational & textbook industries. I don’t believe that the textbook industry, as large as it may be, was truly the target here. Getting iPads into schools, replacing the 1000s of cheap, aging Compaqs and Dells that still litter public schools, getting kids to be using iPads for all sorts of educational-related activities is the goal. That they may well completely overhaul textbooks as we know it is just an added bonus.

But! and of course there’s a but or why else would I be writing this? Apple’s major competitor in this endeavour as I see it is not the traditional text book industry (and the crazy regulatory machine that exists around it), but Amazon. Amazon is likewise targeting publishing in all forms. And I’m not convinced that Apple can, as it currently works, “beat” Amazon.

When Apple first introduced the iPod, it was Mac-only. Sales of that device really didn’t take off until it a)introduced a Windows version of iTunes to sync with and b) added USB support. Like many people, I came back to being an Apple user after years of being a Windows user in part because I got an iPod, which led me to using iTunes, which made me pay attention to Apple, until I finally switched back.

The iPad is expensive. the iPod/iPhone is not terribly expensive (but they’re not really the targets for iBooks, despite support, I believe). While other tablets may not be as good, the Kindle Fire costs less than half as much. More importantly, the Kindle app is device-agnostic. I currently have it installed on my Mac, my iPhone, my iPad, my Nexus S AND my Kindle. I can buy a book in 1 place and use it in many different places, easily. when I buy an iBook, I have to use one of my iPhone or my  iPad. And as I learned in the Caribbean this spring, while I can use my Kindle just fine on the beach, I can’t use either of my iPad or iPhone. I’m not saying that education takes place on beaches, but I sure spent a tonne of time as a teenager and in university doing my reading outside, in the sun.

So here’s why it feels like a mistake to not release an iBooks for Android, Windows Phone, Mac, Windows, whatever: Sure, there’s 10s of millions of iDevice users out there. But theres 100s of millions more who aren’t. Many of those will simply use what’s given to them, not choose (because they receive gifts, or school policy, or whatever). Why the iPod was so successful, was that it was a glimpse into the world of Apple without being a major investment in infrastructure. Want to help schools shift to be using iPads instead of books? Let them all load iBooks onto their computers, whatever they may be so that kids start to use the books on whatever they already have. Apple should be confident enough that the experience will be good enough to drive many of those kids to get an iPad for an even better experience. And if not? Hey, at least they’re hooked on iBooks. If they want to create their own, then they need a mac to do so with the iBooks Author app. Which is fine.

When iBooks was first announced, it felt a lot like a “pet project” for Apple, not a major push. But this announcement changes that. In the same way that I think the decision to make the iPod windows compatible is a major reason Apple is the $400B company it is today, I think iBooks could, and should be the same sort of push for ebooks & digital education materials.

Fourth Annual Think City Tours are here!

Think City is hosting Vancouver’s fourth annual Think City Tours on the weekend of May 7th and 8th. Over 500 people have already signed up for 27 tours.

“We have seen lots of interest and enthusiasm from participants over the last three years and that is reflected in this year’s sign-ups” said James Fletcher, a Think City Board member. “We are also pleased to bring Think City Tours to more communities in Metro Vancouver, as there are great stories to be told all across this region.”

This year Think City Tours will be hosted in Surrey, Richmond, New Westminster, Maple Ridge, UBC, and neighbourhoods throughout Vancouver.

“Think City Tours is about providing fun opportunities for residents to engage with the many rich stories in their communities. This is a great way to learn about the incredible diversity of people, nature, history, and culture that surrounds us every day,” said Fletcher.

Some notable tours to be held this year include:

  • Historian Michael Barnholden‘s ghost written tour through Downtown Vancouver.
  • Artist Alex Grunenfelder‘s air tasting tour of Gastown, the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.
  • Bernadette Keenan‘s bicycle ride along little-known parts of the Fraser River waterfront in New Westminster and Surrey.
  • Writer and historian Ian McLeod‘s look at the past, present and future of Port Haney in Maple Ridge.
  • Steve Chitty‘s walk back in time along the Crescent Beach waterfront promenade.

The goal of Think City Tours is to raise urban literacy and build strong, connected communities by offering a pedestrian-focused event that combines insights into civic history, environment, planning, design and citizen engagement with the simple act of walking and observing.

To view a complete list of tours and register online by Friday, May 6th at 5:00 pm, visit:


NB: I sit on the board of Think City & I’m reposting Think City’s press release. If you haven’t done one of these tours before, I highly recommend them. They’re a fantastic way of learning about our city.


Tokyo Police Club & Friends at the Commodore

Thanks to tickets I won from Miss 604, I got to go see Tokyo Police Club, along with Dinosaur Bones & Said the Whale on Saturday night. As part of some promotion, these tickets included what was originally to be a soundcheck party with Tokyo Police Club, but instead became a pre-set backstage visit. I’ve been backstage a couple of times – about a decade ago when I saw Moby, at the Commodore, and also seeing Toad the Wet Sprocket at, I think, the Opera House in Toronto (the old concert venue on East King – not the current fancy opera house) (did I just age myself with that last band?). Both previous times, backstage was a party. Fun, relaxed, energetic. But both Moby & Toad were acts at their height at the time, whereas TPC are still figuring stuff out. So there was an awkward meet-and-greet lineup. I suppose I could have got my picture taken with them, or had them sign my pass, but I’m not really that sort of guy. Were I covering the show for someone, sure – but then I’d have interview questions. Instead we made awkward small-talk, and I think everyone involved was glad when it was over.

Coming back outside, I caught the end of Dinosaur Bones’ set. They were fun. I’d need to give them a dedicated listen to decide if I liked them, if they had anything original in their sound, but they were fun. After a short break, Said the Whale came on, and played the house like they were the headliners. Given that they were local, it might actually have made sense for them to headline this show. The crowd was right into them and the feeling seemed to be mutual. I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of theirs. As Day said, they’re a cross between Spirit of the West & Maroon 5: they don’t know if they’re a hell-raising party band or smooth radio-friendly pop. Currently, they fall awkwardly between. Their  two most well known songs, or at least the two I recognized from the radio, seemed to epitomize either end of that spectrum. For all that, however, I greatly enjoyed their set. I think a couple of years on the road and they will be an utterly amazing live act, regardless of the quality of their studio material.

As I said earlier, perhaps Said the Whale should have headlined. Tokyo Police Club, despite their great hooks and catchy lyrics that have made them a deserved success, are not well-seasoned on stage yet. Sure, they perform well – they ran through their set cleanly from what I could tell, but there was a certain something missing – a spark, a connection, a something that Said the Whale had instantly from the first chord. But I don’t want to sound like I didn’t like the set – I did. I’m a big fan of the material, which goes a long way to overcome a less-than-stellar stage presence. & they played a good mix of stuff from their last & current album, and I bopped along happily.

So overall verdict? Enjoyable but not standout.

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