Monthly Archives: October 2007

Candy, little girl?

Happy Halloween!

This year was a total frenzy on our block. Someone up the street decided to get fancy with a haunted garage, complete with dead body in the washing machine and live ghost-girl. As a result, we got about three times the normal volume of trick-or-treaters, which meant the candy ran out early. Doh!

comments fixed

comments have been fixed. order has been restored to all that is holy and good.

for you MT geeks out there, i think the problem was a bloated mt_comments table (9500+ junk comments) which could not be deleted from the MT admin interface (kept getting an error). i manually deleted all those rows and then OPTIMIZED the table in phpMyAdmin. whereas the table was previously 135MB, it dropped to 200K after optimization and deletion of rows. nice and spiffy without the spam.

phew. saved me the hassle of upgrading to MT4.0 (which may be easy for all i know, but usually involves a few migration headaches after the fact).

envelope-free ATMs

last friday, i had an interesting experience with a new way of doing something old: a faster, easier way of depositing checks at the ATM.

you know the drill: you’ve got some checks to deposit, so you head to the nearest bank to take care of business. if you’re me (i.e., obsessive compulsive), you prepare in advance for your mission:

  1. endorse your checks (for deposit only!)
  2. tally up the total and write it on a Post-It
  3. put a pen in your pocket (because there’s never one at the ATM)
  4. go to the ATM
  5. pull an envelope out of the machine
  6. put the checks inside the envelope and seal it
  7. write the deposit total on the envelope
  8. insert card, enter PIN
  9. do the deal and stick the envelope in the slot

fully expecting to run through this routine, i went to the Safeway near my office. i ponied up to the ATM in search of an envelope and found none. no slot to hold them, inside or outside the ATM. i walked over to the teller area (this Wells Fargo was inside Safeway, for non-California readers), thinking i’d find envelopes there, but nothing. nada. zipperino. no envelopes.

thinking i must be stupid, i went back to the ATM and looked closely. these were new-fangled looking ATMs with a sticker across the front that said (you guessed it): "Envelope-free ATM." huh? what the *&!% is an envelope-free ATM? ATMs always have envelopes. does that mean i can’t make deposits? if that’s it, why don’t they call it a "No-deposit ATM"? (actually, don’t they have those and call them exactly that?). at this point, i have descended into complete stupidity, because it took me another 30 seconds spent staring at the machine (with a glisten of drool at my open mouth) before the wires got connected in my brain: "Oh! they must mean i can deposit my checks without an envelope.".

sure enough, you enter PIN and choose deposit, then just stick your entire stack of checks into the open, blinking slot (yes, all at once, not one at a time). it accepts them, closes, tells you that it’s reviewing your checks, pulls up little scanned images, then shows you the actual dollar total on the screen and asks you if that’s correct. it was, and that was that: envelope-free deposit. with one fell user-experience swoop, Wells Fargo has slain the deposit-hassle beast: no more totaling your checks. no more calculator and Post-It note with the total. no more pen in your pocket. no more envelope. just easy sailing. (Wells Fargo should be paying me for this…)

as amazing as this whole experience was, i walked away from the ATM a little dazed. it was really confusing. it wasn’t that it was hard. not at all. it’s just that the new experience totally defied my expectation of what i was supposed to be doing. i’ve been depositing checks using envelopes for about 30 years, and i had to cross the chasm of disbelief to realize that i didn’t need to do that this time. they probably could have made the signage better, but short of having someone stand there to tell you what to do, i don’t know what else they could do to make it easier. once i realized what was what, it was pretty easy. it was just that initial what-the-!&%$-is-going-on hurdle that was the hard part.

the whole thing just struck me as really odd, because i couldn’t remember the last time i had something like this happen, where a very established way of doing something in the real world is summarily replaced, without warning or explanation. i’m sure this happened all the time during the industrial revolution, and throughout the last 30 years of technological advancement…i just can’t think of another clear instance of this type of thing in my own life. i’m sure many of you out there have examples to share, so drag them out…let me know the last time you had a completely expectation-defying-yet-wonderful real-world experience like this!! (computers don’t count…they defy expectations as a matter of course.)

comments broken

there appears to be a problem with comments in my MT installation. i can’t approve them when they are up for moderation, which means they don’t show up at the moment. my apologies to the thousands who are desperately trying to give me their feedback, share their hopes, pour out their dreams. or something like that.

anyway, i’ll do my best to fix it, thus restoring balance to the universe. this may involve me upgrading to MT4, which will likely be a weeklong undertaking. maybe it’s time for me to bite the bullet and shift to WordPress.

back from China

huang shan in the fog

elaine and i recently returned from two fantastic weeks in China (Beijing, Huang Shan, and Shanghai). in the coming weeks, i’ll be doing two things: (1) posting a whole lot of pictures to my Flickr account, and (2) writing about our experiences there. there’s a lot to share, but here’s the nutshell of what you can look forward to:

  • Total days: 14
  • Cities: 7
  • Hotels: 6
  • 90-story hotels that look like Gotham City: 1
  • Historical sites (temples, palaces, etc.): 10
  • Ridiculous mountain peaks climbed in Huang Shan: 1 (Tiendu Fang)
  • Estimated number of stairs climbed in Huang Shan: 40,000
  • Fellow tourists in Shanghai during visit: 4.2 million
  • Blisters between me and Elaine: 3
  • Huge Chinese banquets comsumed: 5
  • Weirdest food: Toad saliva soup in Mango shell (yummy!)
  • Great friends who joined us on trip: 1 (Bernie Dechant)
  • In-law tour guides extraordinaire: 2 (thank you, Eric and Debbie)
  • Companion extraordinaire: 1 (i love you, Elaine)
  • General sentiment after trip: wow…can’t wait to see more

please stay tuned as i gear up and start writing about some of the things we experienced!!

red ring of death, part II

in the second part of my xbox 360 saga, microsoft comes through!!! they provided one of the best customer service experiences i’ve had. i’m still sort of in shock (and a little sad that i can’t write a total anti-microsoft rant for this entry ;-)):

  1. the box to return my 360 arrived as promised, and sending it back was a snap (pre-paid postage, packing materials included, good instructions from the CSR)
  2. i went away to china for two weeks expecting to wait another 1-3 weeks to receive my new unit after returning
  3. microsoft sent me a completely new machine and it arrived while i was away (i.e., 1-3 weeks earlier than estimated by the CSR with whom i spoke)
  4. in addition to the new 360, they gave me a coupon for a free month of xbox live (given that i was out of commission for two weeks)

it may be costing them a billion dollars to deal with this hardware mess, but this experience completely reinforces my platform loyalty. oh yeah, that and the fact that the games are great (helloooooo Bioshock! hellloooooo Halo 3).