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Archive for the 'Business' Category

Classic Shaving

September 4th, 2009 6

A few months ago, I picked up a 1960s-era [Gillette Slim](http://wiki.badgerandblade.com/index.php/Gillette_Slim) “safety” razor off eBay. It was only about $30, and I thought it would be fun to give it a shot.


Up until using the Slim, my only previous experience had been with cartridge-based razors (and an electric, briefly), but I’d been reading about the alternatives, and had been curious to try them out. Read on…

Worth Paying For

July 14th, 2006 1

I lost my credit card a few days ago, and had to call to have it cancelled. When they asked me when I’d last used it, I had to say, “Well, I used the physical card a week and a half ago at a Harvey’s, but I made an online software purchase last week, and my monthly donation to Wikipedia went through a few days ago.”

In the two years that I’ve had my MasterCard—and thus, PayPal—I’ve tried to make an effort to support those folks who are willing to give away the fruits of their labour. This post isn’t about trumpeting my generosity; most of these donations were only $5 or $10. The post is about highlighting quality, and thanking those that let me try their creations for free, and pay for them in my own time.

Read on…

Low Fat from Tim’s

February 1st, 2006 9

I don’t normally use this space to express negative opinions, but I’m making an exception for the Low Fat Yogurt commercial from Tim Hortons.

The advertisement in question is not simply annoying, it is *offensive*.

A trim, red-haired woman is featured, enjoying a fruit and yogurt cup on a couch. A small crowd gathers outside the window, presumably to observe her consuming the treat.

On seeing these people, she assumes the look of a trapped animal. “It’s low fat,” she pleads, eyes wide, “It’s *low fat*!” Read on…

Greyhound Does It Right

May 24th, 2005 Comments Off

[Greyhound](http://greyhound.ca/en/) treats their customers properly. In the tech sector, [one company](http://google.com) stands out as the one that serves their users first and stockholders second. It’s been a rude awakening to some of the others.

But if these ‘others’ need a second example, perhaps they could turn to one of the companies that’s been serving people and earning trust since 1914, long before the modern ‘tech sector’ was ever dreamt of.

###Coach Bus: The Customer’s Side

I buy a ticket. The ticket is not for a particular seat, a particular bus, or even a particular day. It’s just a starting point and destination, valid in the couple months following its purchase.

I can take whatever bus I want, but the onus is on me to be early enough that I get a seat. If I _don’t_ get a seat, I may have to wait for the _next_ bus.

###Greyhound’s Side

They have to plan a bus and a driver for every time and route on the schedule. If only two people show up with tickets, the bus runs anyways, and the schedule will be revised.

And if a greater number of people than expected appear, a second bus must run. This is a last-minute decision, and thus it means that there are buses and drivers standing-by, waiting to take the overflowing routes.

But what about if there’s just a _few_ too many people?

###Customers First

Yesterday evening I was coming back to Waterloo from Toronto. I was aiming for the 9:30pm bus, the one that _everyone_ aims for.

There were well over a hundred people on the platform, waiting on a bus that seats fifty-five.

The company ran three buses. But they didn’t even all do the same route. One went to the Kitchener Terminal, and the other two came straight to the University. The third bus was barely half full.


Is this really that great? Yes, it is.

I’d _already bought my ticket_. [Their statement](http://www.greyhound.com/travel_information/bus.shtml) is:

Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Advance purchase tickets do not guarantee a seat.

This absolves them of any resposibility to me in light of my purchase, except that I get to my destination… eventually. Yet they voluntarily ran a half-empty third bus, a cost expended where the only value back was in customer appreciation.


Collaborative Hackers

April 28th, 2005 Comments Off

Douglas Bowman has posted a piece about the role of the designer in [collaborating with their clients](http://stopdesign.com/log/2005/04/17/multiple-design-directions.html). This same philosophy is as applicable in software design as it is web development and branding.

I’ve recently moved from being a hobby programmer to a hobby programmer who sometimes gets money. Which sort of makes me a ‘professional software developer.’


To me, the term _software development_ reflects a distinctly corporate attitude toward the creation of software:

  • The developers’ natural tendency is to Mess Up.
  • We must meticulously document every facet of every feature in order to Prevent This.
  • We will Design It. They will Implement It.
  • We are not interested in a work-in-progress, we will see it when it’s Done.

It’s not hard to see how this pattern of thought may have developed: Hackers speak in programming concepts. How intimidating it must be to hear expressions like ‘referencial integrity’ thrown around the design table!

It _should be_ our job to carefully explain these things as necessary, rather than jumping to conclusions and leaving the client in the dark. After all, when decisions need to be made, how useful is a customer who’s full of buzz-talk but has no basis for understanding the underpinnings of their new software?

The other part of this is that they need to show _us_ the flow of their business. Not what they percieve the flow of the application should be, that can come later, but the actual product process. The more time is spent showing your programmers the big-picture view of what’s going in the company, the better their understanding will be. The more they see where their new application fits into the existing framework, the more ‘little things’ they’ll be able to add to make it that much better.

With all this teaching going on, there’s an upfront time commitment to be made. But it’s a worthwhile one. And it’s time that would have been spent writing a spec, anyways, so instead of just saying what needs to be done, why not _persuade_ each other of what needs doing?

###The Risk

What’s the problem here? The problem is that you can end up with a pig-headed hacker who thinks he knows what you need and won’t bother to learn _even if you try to persuade_.

Fire him.

And when you’re hiring to replace him, look for someone who’s 50% teachable and 50% able-to-teach.

Pick a project from their portfolio and ask them to talk about it. You’re looking for an explanation of the lowest-level and the highest-level. What makes this thing tick under the hood? And what role did it play in the greater scope of the organization? After data left your program, where did it go?

The amount they’ll share about _that_ project is indicative of what they’ll bother to learn about yours… and what they’ll teach you about it.


Goodbye, Bell

January 15th, 2005 3

Followup to [yesterday's piece](http://uwmike.com/archive/dsl-in-waterloo/).

So I got home from work and, whoops, my DSL still isn’t hooked up. On the phone, the unphased techs assure me that my hookup date is the following Tuesday. Hmm… I could sworn it was supposed to be _yesterday_. Whoops.

I politely ask the tech what the charge will be to me if I cancel with Bell and order Rogers at this point — not because I really intend to, but because saying such things makes me feel delightfully spiteful. He doesn’t know, and transfers me to Sales, where they say that I’ll be fully refunded.

On a whim, I call Rogers, and bam! they’ve got a service opening this evening, because there was a cancellation. So I go for that, and even get persuaded to buy a Roger’s cell so I don’t have to pay for my useless land line (so much for VoIP, oops). There was some kind of promotion and I’m getting the spiffy new [Motorola V220](http://commerce.motorola.com/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/ProductDisplay?prrfnbr=256550&prmenbr=126&phone_cgrfnbr=1&zipcode=). I don’t really need or want a camera phone, but hey, technology interests me, so what the heck. He was able to waive the $150 cable installation fee, so I was feeling magnanimous.

Anyhow, I call back the Bell Sales department and let them know that I’d like to cancel everything as soon as possible. No, I’m not interested in just ’suspending’ my account, yes, I’m aware that Roger’s is charging me slightly more. No, that’s quite alright.

I had to get my bike chain fixed this morning, so I was out in town, and I stopped at a tiny little cafe for breakfast. The kind of place that doesn’t add a ‘gratuity’ to your bill, because they know that there prices are modest enough and the service and food is good enough that you’ll tip them anyways. Delightful.

Good service is priceless.


ps– I’m going with the guys from work this afternoon to see the Cannes Advertising Festival at [Princess](http://www.princesscinemas.com/). Looks like it’ll be a blast.

DSL in Waterloo

January 14th, 2005 Comments Off

I won’t frequently use this space for tirades against products and corporations that have mistreated me, but my recent frustrations with Bell warrant it in this instance.

I had mentioned below that it shocked me how difficult and expensive it was to acquire even a basic highspeed internet connection in this town: Bell forces you to buy a phone line also (which can be had online with VoIP for pennies, by comparison), and Rogers charges a crippling installation cost, since their records showed that this house never had Cable installed to it.

It seems amazing to me that ’student housing’ doesn’t automatically imply ‘internet available’, but it’s even more so that these companies aren’t tripping over themselves to win impressionable students as lifetime customers. Special 4-month student packages should be offered that give you the best of everything for a quarter of the cost. I’m not saying this just because I want it — it’s a sound long-term business strategy. But then, so is all-around good, prompt service.

Bell could have offered me something like that, and taken a chance that I’d convert. As it is, after this term, I will be permanently a cable customer. Rogers, at my previous house, was always fast and reliable, and when I called a serviceman to the house for something that turned out to be my fault (lousy router), he arrived in 48 hours and diagnosed the problem for me.

Given a second chance, I’d have swallowed the installation fee and gone with Rogers.

So Sympatico should have been installed today. They shipped the package yesterday, so I’ve now been plugged-in and ready to go for over 24 hours. I’ve called support several times, getting the various opinions of the different drones there, and the consensus seemed to be that, “since it was to be hooked up today, I should call back after midnight if it’s still not working.”

Ludicrous. In what world does ‘installed Thursday’ mean ‘installed in the wee hours of Friday morning, if that’?

I mean, delays are understandable, but shouldn’t the technical support representatives report a delay as a delay rather than end their calls with the moronic suggestion to call back once their shift is ended? To be fair, the support people were very nice and attentive, but when enabling the service is, I imagine, the flick of a switch at their end, being instructed to call back at 12:01 is not reassuring.

Continuum: I’ve been typing this mostly while on-hold with various reps, and I finally made it to a Tier 2 Tech (‘Nathan’) who said that there’s some kind of major snafu at the main interchange and the boys may take 72 hours to get me online. He also mentioned that he’d dealt with a lot of 519 area-code numbers this evening… hmm…

He was very honest and polite. But I’m still not impressed.


Update: The mayhem continues [here](http://uwmike.com/articles/2005/01/15/goodbye-bell/).

Playing Jobmine

December 6th, 2004 3

What is Jobmine? [Jobmine](http://www.cecs.uwaterloo.ca/JobMine/index.html) is the online matching system that the University provides for Co-op students. It turns out that Googling the word Jobmine and jumping a few pages in is an oddly easy way of locating UW student blogs than the more obvious search terms, since it seems that many of them have weighed in with an opinion.

Under the cover of anonymity, some are just plain [cruel](http://www.livejournal.com/~mycel/47378.html). Others are more [tactful](http://rayne.woot.net/archives/00000346.shtml), although still expressing their displeasure. Still more use an [image](http://sbdep.dyndns.info/journal/jobmine.html) to make their statement.

However people feel about it, one of the biggest challenges of Jobmine for most is that you must submit a resume… in HTML format. For those having never used HTML before, this is a daunting task, but some of us are like fish in water. I just thought I’d share a few tips for creating [a really great CSS/XHTML resume](http://uwmike.com/downloads/resumetemplate.html). The example above is my own with the content and some of the extraneous flair stripped out. I’ve tested it, and it displays in IE3, IE4.01, IE5, IE5.5, IE6, and Firefox. Features to draw your attention to:

* Print Media Rules. For clients that support print-media stylesheets, the typeface is switched from a sans-serif to Times New Roman. To see this and the effect below, select File->Print Preview.
* Link Expansion. When printed, the ‘link’ in the document has a second part, the actual URL, which is revealed. Onscreen, this is hidden, but in print, it appears.
* Horizontal Lists. The three columns of traits is an attractive presentation, and one easily acheived with a table. However, doing it with a horizontal list is advantageous because you can’t always predict what will happen to your resume if it’s sent as an attachment in HTML-email, and then forwarded as text-email. A table would break all over the place, but the nested lists downgrade graciously.

So there you have it. Obviously, there’s a lot more tricks to be done with CSS to create interesting and visually appealing text-only layouts, but I just created this as a basic example of what can be done.


Good Service

November 27th, 2004 Comments Off

Dealing with technical support representatives over the years has taught me to be cynical, suspicious, and untrusting of their knowledge and skill.

However, I had an experience in the past month that was like something from a prior generation.

It started with one of my 18th birthday presents — a Westinghouse Digital Convection Toaster Oven. Now, just because it has ‘digital’ in the name doesn’t automatically spirit it from the realm of ‘kitchen appliance’ into ‘awesome birthday present’, but I was mildly intrigued. I have since discovered what an indispensible piece of food-preparation equipment it is — far more so than the microwave — but back in June, I was not so enlightened or excited.

It sat in its box in my closet until September, when I moved to Waterloo and began actually cooking. I realised then that there was something seriously wrong with my Westinghouse Digital Convection Toaster Oven. Sometimes it would cease to respond to the buttons. At others, the display would ‘crash’ halfway through a bake, causing the heat to remain on until I pulled the plug. Obviously, this behaviour was unacceptable.

After poking around online, it became apparent that the model number of my product did not infact exist — anywhere. It seems that Westinghouse was in some way affiliated with a larger company called [Salton](http://www.saltoninc.com/index.html), in spite of being not listed on Salton’s own [brand registry](http://www.saltoninc.com/brands/foreman.html).

So I called Salton with my defective oven, and they said that it was under warranty and would be completely covered, I just had to ship it to them.

Uh oh, shipping a huge, bulky toaster oven to the US was not going to be pretty. But wait, as part of the warranty agreement, they pay shipping _both ways_. So I had to mail them my receipt for the $22 it cost me to send it to them, and they mailed a brand new one back.

It works perfectly, and I’m thrilled with it.

But here’s the funny bit: They sent me a cheque for $22 in _US funds_. Now _that’s_ service.


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