Archive for November, 2007

Off the Wall Thoughts on Airport Security

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

If you go through security at an airport and need to be searched they have men search men and women search women. Well I’m straight so the idea of a man patting me down is yucky to me. Why can’t I request a woman do the search?

I think that the theory behind having men search men and women search women is that they don’t want to searcher to get all excited about searching the person. There are two problems with this. One is that there are these people called homosexuals so potentially there could be a male TSA who gets off searching men. And women who get off searching women. The other thing is that maybe what we want are people who enjoy doing a through search. I mean if we think the search is a good idea don’t we want someone who will do a good job rather than be thinking "how lightly and quickly can I touch and still find things?" Maybe we want someone who will find out if that is a gun in the pocket or are they just enjoying being frisked?

OK so some people are uncomfortable with people of the opposite sex touch them. Fine. Let people request what they want. If I will feel more comfortable having a woman who I can at least imagine is both attractive and enjoying touching me maybe I’ll be more cooperative. Clearly I’ll stand still longer. If you want someone of the same gender frisking you fine – equal opportunity for all.

And then these is thing thing about no electronics being on during takeoff and landing. Are airplane electronics systems really that delicate? If they are aren’t terrorists likely to put electronics in luggage and have it automatically turn on when the acceleration of takeoff starts? Has anyone searched through the wreckage of a plane crash and said "Look at this. A Bose headset turned on. I think we found the cause of this crash?"

And what are the number of crashes caused by portable electronic devices (I’m guessing none) compared to the number of crashes caused by Moslem extremists? And yet we still let Moslems on board planes. Of course banning all Moslems would be extreme and ridiculous. But is banning all electronics during take off and landing much different? During take off and landing is when I want my Quiet Comfort II headphones on the most. How about if I wrap them in aluminum foil?

One last thing. I have a peanut allergy and a lot of airlines still give out peanuts on flights. One of these days that is going to cause me serious problems. Not just from the reaction to the peanuts though that is a concern. What I am also worried about is what happens when I pull out my Epie Pen and jab a needle into my leg. Is some passenger going to freak out on me and get me into serious trouble?

I’m flying to Texas next week. I’ll behave and let the yucky male TSA frisk me if need be and I’ll leave my headset off until the all clear but none of that is going to make me feel any safer at all. If they want me to feel really safe they’ll let me bring a loaded gun and ban the peanuts from the plane. But that will never happen.

Disclaimer: This post is for entertainment value only. Not to be taken seriously. Except for the plea to ban peanuts on planes. And even that you can take with a grain of salt.

We Need Robot Restaurants

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

As I found yet another take-out order gone wrong this week I started thinking about the problem of fast food restaurants and take-out windows. Part of the problem is the people who work these windows. You need someone smart enough to get the order right but not so smart that they get bored and quit right away. It seems like a lot of places skimp on the "smart enough to get the order right" part when they hire people.

So I was thinking that this is an area ripe for robots and computer controlled ordering. Voice recognition systems are getting better and seem like they might be as good as some people who work at these drive-through windows. The last time I was in a fast food restaurant where the people seemed really smart and spoke really good English I was in Norway. Lately in US places people seem to be having almost as much trouble understanding me as I do them.

Anyway. I could see a robot operation that took orders using either voice recognition or some sort of interactive display. The food could be cooked and assembled and presented to a person to hand through the window. I’m not sure we’re ready for a robot to hand out the food and collect the money yet. It might work with credit cards though.

I see two major problems. One is that we may need smarter customers to manage computer ordering. There is no way to make it completely idiot proof. There are some amazing idiots out there. The second is that there are already a shortage of jobs for the types of people who tend to take these jobs. High school students, mothers and seniors looking to fill time and pick up a few extra bucks, and people without more marketable skills. So that is a social issue.

We’d still need people to feed the equipment and handle screw ups. Hopefully there would be fewer screw ups in the preparation of the order but remember that a lot of people would be likely to mess up in what they order. But if you could get my with one or two people at times that now require three to five there would be some savings in payroll.

There is one other potential problem. Sometimes companies modify the product to fit production at the cost of quality of the product. I can’t see that being an issue at some fast food restaurants where quality is not so impressive as it is.  Plus I think that a lot of semi-automation adjustment has already taken place. How much worse could it get?

Don’t drink the water

Monday, November 26th, 2007

So the family went to Vermont for Thanksgiving. Mostly it went ok but there were a couple of issues with the hotel. On the counter was a sign saying the hotel was under boil water order. In short the water was ok for washing but not for drinking. Not a happy thought. They did supply bottled water for drinking and brushing of teeth.

Also the restaurant was only open for breakfast most days. It was open for Thanksgiving dinner and it was good but we had planned on eating at the hotel more than that. And did I mention that there hotel is being renovated? People moving heavy equipment and pounding on the roof (it is being re-roofed)  in the early hours of the day. Not fun when you are planning on sleeping in late.

On the plus side wi-fi was free and strong. And it was close to Killington – we made it out to snowboard two days.

Well Mrs. T was a little displeased with the hotel. The staff was nice and we’d probably stay there again once the renovation is done and the water is cleaned up. but still. So as soon as we got home she called Expedia and complained. The first person she talked to was less than helpful and then she was disconnected while waiting for a supervisor – amazing how often that happens. Not one to give up she called again and this time got someone who really wanted us to be happy customers. They were able to get us 25% off what we paid and a credit for future use of Expedia.

Frankly that was good customer service and because of that we are likely to use Expedia again. I wish more companies were that willing to make things right.

Tomorrow’s Book Today

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Amazon has a new electronic book called Kindle. It looks pretty good and has good battery life and can store a lot of books. The wireless Internet (limited to buying and downloading reading material) with no extra costs is a huge benefit I think. I like that they backup your data for you as well.

The one question I have that I don’t see is if you can give a book to someone else when you are done reading it. I could live with it not being on my reader afterwards as that only seems fair.

It is expensive though and I wonder if the $400 price will be a show stopper. Time will tell I guess.

Oil Prices

Monday, November 19th, 2007

I admit that I feel the price of gas for the car at the gas pump. I’ve gone to using a credit card over paying cash which I am not really happy about. But it was taking too much cash and I’d be making trips to the ATM all the time otherwise. But that isn’t where I feel it the most.

I just ordered a delivery of heating oil. I last ordered oil back in the spring sometimes. That last spring fill up lasts me for months. But the cold weather is here and I’ll be ordering oil about once every 4-6 weeks (depending on the weather) for a while now. As painful as filling up the car is that is nothing compared to getting 250-275 gallons at a time. It wasn’t that long ago when I was paying about 90 cents a gallon. The oil coming tomorrow is $2.899 a gallon. Do the math – I did once and don’t want to do it again.

I’ll be writing out a big check tomorrow (I save money by paying cash) and that will continue through the winter. How do people who lousy jobs do it? Scary really.

During the gas crunch of the 70s when the price went up over a dollar (which was big money back then) for a while we did some things to make the house more energy efficient. This past spring we finely replaced the last of the old windows and they all have double panes. I’m not sure there is much more we can do to keep the heat in. I think it is time I started looking at alternative energy for heating. Wind? I’m not sure we have enough wind even with a really big tower. Wood stoves are our because of allergies and breathing problems they would make worse – we know this from experience. Solar panels? Perhaps as we have a south facing roof. Maybe I need to look into that one. Things are getting easier to justify on costs.

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Forbes 400

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

I have been reading through the latest Forbes 400 list. The 400 richest people in America. Impressive wealth. I can’t imagine being that rich – it takes $1.3 billion of net worth to make the list this year. Some of the people on the list inherited their money but a lot of them made it themselves. Some of them actually started out pretty poor. The ones who are self-made seem to combine being very smart with hard work and a little bit of luck. These are people who see potential and are willing to take chances to make something of an opportunity.

What I find interesting and actually a bit surprising is how many of them made their money in software. I expect people to make money in hardware (Dell and Jobs are on the list) because that is tangible. Likewise retail (the Walton family for example), real estate, energy (oil, gas, coal), manufacturing and other conventional businesses all seem reasonable. But I’m not sure I ever expected people to become billionaires from software. Somehow it makes me think I must have missed an opportunity or three myself.

I wonder what these people are like in real life though. I’ve meet a couple of them but mostly those have been business situations. That means a somewhat more formal setting, conversation that is work related and applicable to what is going on at the moment. You can get more of an idea about people in a small meeting than watching them make a formal presentation but still it’s all artificial. I’ve had what I would consider to be a real conversation – the sort of informal one you’d have with ordinary people – with one of them – John Abele. Some of you will know that name because he has been involved with FIRST for a while and has been Chairman of FIRST for the last four years or so. I have to say I liked him. He seemed as much a regular guy as anyone. Really smart to be sure but someone I could comfortably talk to.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, the rich "are different from you and me."  A character created by Ernest Hemingway replied, "Yes, they have more money." I wonder though how many of them are really different and how many just have more money? Two of the Forbes 400 I meet seemed pretty different. I’m not sure if they are different because they have money or if they have money because they are different. But clearly I don’t have enough of a sample to make a determination. I wish I could meet more of them to find out what they are really like.

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Office Offline

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

I just came across a new web comic site/blog called Office Offline. Very simple and very funny. It’s geek humor of course. And mostly around Microsoft Office products which is not so surprising since the cartoonist works in Microsoft’s Office Online group as a writer.

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Good news Bad news

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

I read with some interest that the CIO of Microsoft was let go. This was apparently because he violated company policies. Now on first glance this sounds bad. After all it is not good when someone who is a corporate VP gets fired. On the other hand I find it refreshing that the rules apply to him.

I am sick of hearing about cases where people get to a certain level and start feeling that the rules just apply to other people. At some places people get away with that sort of thing. We’ll avoid the obvious examples from government and some not so obvious examples from companies where I have worked in the past.

Now I don’t know what policies he violated. And I’d rather not speculate. But if CVPs can lose their job over violations of the company’s rules it is a clear sign that people can be held responsible even if they are high up. Somehow that makes me feel safer.

Testing with WLW

Monday, November 5th, 2007

So I thought I would see if this works now that the blog software and Windows Live Writer have both been upgraded recently.

Indoor Skiing

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

So I have long been facinated with Ski Dubai which is an indoor ski/snowboarding hill in the middle east. I actually wonder why we don’t have places like that in the US. Of course in some parts of the country we have actual outdoor skiing and that would seem to be less expensive. But I checked the prices and a full day pass at Ski Dubai is less than $75 and incudes skiis/boards, boots, jacket, snow pants, hat and even socks. That’s more then you would get for the same money in the US.

Now granted the ride is likely to be better on a real hill and perhaps their power costs are less in Dubai. But still you think it would be an affordable novelty in places like the deep south and the deserts in the west. And there is always the off season. What do you think Matt? Can you make it work?