What’s the point of traffic cops who don’t police the traffic?

Some days it seems that every street junction in New York City has one or more traffic police at them. You would think these police would be there to maintain the traffic flow. But it seems that is not there function.

I see cars blocking the box or making illegal turns or jumping the lights, and a whole myriad of other clear wrong maneuvers, and often in the direct eye sight of a lady or gentleman wearing the uniform of a NYPD Traffic division representative. But these illegal acts (it seems) are never questioned.

Instead these bastions of all things automotive are busy doing other critical things, such as standing in the shade or waving limply at cars that are already moving in the correct direction.

How good would it be if the cops on street corners were as vigilant at the cops who give out parking tickets? Now these guys do their jobs really well, and I’m not being sardonic here. I really appreciate that they slap tickets on badly parked or over parked cars. And it’s great to see serious infringers towed (a daily occurrence on my block)

Hey I’ve got a great idea, why not do a job swap between these two divisions. Lets relax the parking fines and start to get aggressive on red light jumpers. All of a sudden driving in the city could get better and fresh direct can lower their prices, as they won’t be fined quite as much.

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When Technology companies lose the plot.

As I’ve mentioned before, I really like great technology. I love the connected world in which we live. I grew up through the emergence of today’s consumer technology.

I was there when we thought analog phone lines were better than digital, because they allowed higher bit rates through more granular trellis coded modulation and tighter phase angles. I used to be able to listen to the connecting tones of my modem and know what rate it was connecting at. Yes I relate to the term nerd.

I used to load my software from audio tapes onto my computer, and was okay that it could take several minutes and several attempts to load an 8K program.

I’ve coded in assembly on a 2Mhz 6502 with 32K of RAM.

So I know what it can be like when technology is great for developers but not good enough for the rest of the human race. I know and I can spot the difference.

So why is it so hard for companies that have thousands of people spending literally billions every year on developing new tech, to not see the obvious flaws in the user experience.

Here’s a simple example that I came across just this last week.

I use a wireless bluetooth speaker with my iphone and ipad to listen to music and the sound on movies when I’m travelling. I have a jambox from jawbone, it’s a great device and is perfect for travelling, but sometimes I wish it was a bit more…. Room filling. And sometimes I use it to listen to movies projected onto a big screen outside, and it’s just not meaty enough.

While downtown a couple of weeks ago I was browsing the Apple store in SoHo, and came across a new speaker from Phillips called the ShoqBox. It’s a pretty cool looking little tube, rubberized with metal grills. It looks a little bit like the love child of a Hummer and a thermos flask. I think it looks rugged and would take a lot of in and out of backpack damage. And best of all it has the ability to link with another ShoqBox to allow one to be the left speaker and one to be the right. This sounded great and would make my next extended trip a lot more immersive (sound wise), and be great outside, as two speakers means we can place them near the listeners and not necessarily annoy anyone else.

The great looking love child of a hummer and a thermos flask

So I picked up a pair with the expectation of some beach bashing sound goodness in my future.

Then the reality overtook the dreams of the original designers description to the marketing department, that had convinced me to invest.

Each speaker has a promixity sensor which is the only way to configure it. Before the proximity sensor can be used the speaker has to be turned on and then the on button has to be pressed twice to engage the proximity sensor. Sounds easy, except if the speaker thinks you turned it on with a long press, it thinks you want to change its language, and starts speaking to you in a series of languages until you press the button again, ANNOYING.

But once both speakers are on and in proximity sensor mode then you need to place them end to end and perform a philharmonic conductors action over the sensors to tell them to pair the speaker as left and right. It takes about 10 tries to get them to pair.

Oh and while they are pairing you must have your Bluetooth devices with their Bluetooth mode off, otherwise the speakers wont pair with each other, but will instead think your skipping tracks.

But once you have them paired and have then turned on your Bluetooth devices it actually works really well…. Until you turn off the speakers or have a 15 minute gap in your listening and the speakers automatically power off. Because when the speakers power off they loose their left and right pairing. So when you play again only one speaker works. STUPID!

It was a cool idea, and was implemented so badly as to be entirely useless.

The product manager, development team and the marketing department at Phillips probably feel really badly about the crappy way their great idea was implemented. And I’m sure that the reasons for this mistake will be a mix of rush to market need along with the pressures of various departments who don’t understand the customer.

The result though is a brilliant idea delivered as a disaster, and in my case returned to the store for a full refund (you have to love Apple stores).

A single ShoqBox is an okay device, a little more complex (due to the proximity sensor) than some others on the market, but okay. But their unique differentiator is currently a fail.

So close to a market leading innovation, maybe next time, they will think about the customer.

I suspect Mr Hummer and Ms Thermos will learn from this and think very carefully about using protection next time.
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The Do Not Call Register is a toothless and almost pointless waste of time.

Every day I get calls from companies trying to sell me discounted electricity, credit services, insurance and a plethora of art establishments who want patronage. And on top of that I get calls from political parties and charities.

And I have signed up for the Do Not Call Registry.

The concept is simple there is a database of phone numbers, that telesales people are not allowed to call. And they are supposed to cleanse their database regularly against this list.

I know this list is not relevant to charities and political parties (don’t you love self serving exceptions to rules)

To get added to the list you simply go to www.donotcall.gov/ in the US (and other places for other countries).

This is a (so called) service enacted in the US government to stop annoying calls, and it is entirely useless.

When you get a call from a crap bastard spam caller, and you report it to the DNCR (do not call register), where all that happens is… absolutely nothing.

They send you an email saying that they have received your complaint, and that’s it.

Most of the crap bastard spam callers are rude as well. When you tell them please don’t call again (nicely) they just drop the line, not even an acknowledgement that you spoke, and then call back later in the week.

I block all callers that withhold their number, and that filters out some of them. And I add the numbers of bastards that give out their number to stop them being able to call back (great service from Verizon). But most spam-bastards are using banks of numbers so that isn’t entirely useful.

Phone spammers are the scum of the earth. The processes in place to not get calls from them are crap, and there is no relief in sight.

Gah, not again

If a politician were to propose ultra-punishments for these violators of dinners around the world, then that would be a big step to getting the votes of the middle class. I’d propose rotten fruit and stocks as a reasonable punishment, and for those who are big fans of guns, I have no issue with using those being punished for target practice (maybe paintballs or rubber bullets).

Home phones are a direct route into our personal spaces, and uninvited sales people are not welcome.

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Who the Hell is Hollister?

I don’t get it. Why would you want to wear the name of a grotty clothes manufacturer across your chest?

I never got Abercrumble and Thrush and now it seems half the world is spending their time queuing up outside of stores that sell what looks like second hand clothing with their companies name on the front?

I can see the draw of some of the high-end manufactures, and I personally love the clothing of Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole and it’s ilk. They are really well made using nice quality materials, and while they do stick a little flag on the front or a back pocket, most of their clothing just looks smart and isn’t a huge billboard. I’ve seen some monstrous pieces in their shops, where the logos are actually larger than the clothing, but these are the exceptions and not the rule, and I have chosen never to buy those.

But Ambernector and Puke along with Hollingster have no clothing outside of the designs that look like they have previously been worn by a wino. Yet people don’t just buy this crap, they wait for hours in all weathers for the privilege of looking like a homeless drug addict.

I know it’s all made by (virtually slave labor) children, deep in the factory towns of Asia, but if you’re going to ruin the lives of the next generation of multiple 3rd world nations, you should at least ensure the output has some style.

Height of fashion with designer dog or homeless terminal drug addict, can you tell the difference?

Upper West Sider or lives in a box under a bridge?
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Hidden charges and less comfort – The new airline business

Lets cut to the chase – instead of slowly reducing the quality of airline travel, why not remove all the seats , and put in cattle pens today. And instead of charging a fare that has absolutely no relation to the final charge of air travel, we should just give the airlines direct access to our bank accounts and our house keys, and just let them take it all. It’s getting to that point anyway, so why don’t we just bend over and drop out trousers today.

As you might suspect, I’ve just come off a flight, and the injustice is still very fresh. It’s reached the point where the airport staff and onboard attendants are actually embarrassed by the charges and low quality of service.

We’re all used to (but still affronted by) the charges for excess baggage. But Continental (who are now United) now charge $25 per bag for the first checked back, each way for flights. If the bag is overweight, or if you want to carry a second bag, I believe the changes are dramatically higher. Twenty five bucks may not seem a lot, but it has two huge knock-on effects.

Yes Please

Firstly it means that every passenger now has to spend about ten minutes checking in, as these credit card transactions are done in airline coding systems, and so require a megabyte of codes to be entered to process. So queues now go much slower, requiring much larger cattle pens to hold the potential passengers.

But the second issue makes the whole process so much worse. To avoid having to check bags people are maxing out that carry-on allowance, with maximum-sized carryon bags, and maximum sized handbags or laptop bags as well. So now the process of boarding is three times as long as there is never enough storage space on the plane for the luggage.

When you eventually make your way up the aisle, found a space for your bags, have squeezed into the incredibly tiny seat (which invariably creaks or has a broken reclining mechanism, which either doesn’t recline or reclines automatically every time you lean back), You then find there is a TV in front of you that requires a credit card, and since the airlines now charge for food, the people to the side of you have brought their own lunch, which smells like it is two weeks old and made of rotting cabbage and garlic.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I love to see the world, I’d tell the airlines to stick it.

But here’s the thing, there are some wonderful airlines out there, and I may have to start to choose where to travel just by the airline. If a good airline doesn’t go from here to there, maybe there isn’t worth seeing.

Listen up mayors and tourist boards of the world, you need to fight crappy airline service, if you want to keep people coming, or you might just find yourself pulling an Iceland level financial crisis.

He had the right idea
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Please stop shouting “get in the Hole”!

When did it become acceptable for the average American golf competition to be littered with the phrase “get in the hole”?

I say average American, because (so far) this virus doesn’t seem to have been transmitted globally, just seems to have infected American golf fans.

Imagine you’re the player, you’re teeing off on a par 5, you go to make your downswing, and some numpty shouts “gert inthehole” just as you make contact. Your first thought is probably full of expletives, but when you calm down you then think to yourself “how stupid can they be, to think that’s a reasonable thing to say”, and secondly, “come on, think of something original to say”.

Obviously every golfer, and golf fan wants the ball to reach the hole, but don’t people realize that shouting it out at every whack of the ball, doesn’t really add anything to the game.

It’s inane, annoying and speaks to a very simple mind.

I suspect this golfing shout is being propagated by the same people that clap when a famous performer first comes on the stage, or when a ballerina doesn’t fall over when doing a pirouette. Or when the cannon goes off in the 1812, or when a plane lands without killing anyone (actually, I’ve not sure if this is there criteria, as I’ve never been on a plane with a fatality on landing).

It’s either the same people or there is a lot of stupidity in the world (both options seem viable)

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The incident of the mountains of unidentified poo

One of the most antisocial things a dog owner can do it not clean up after their dogs. I have a small dog, and when we go for a walk he very clearly lets me know when he’s about to have a crap. He spends a good 30 seconds walking around in circles in the same spot. Giving me time to rip a small plastic bag of the role, and assume the picking up the poop position. It’s not hard, and it ensures a pleasant environment for all.

There has been the odd occasion where I’ve left the house without a bag, and had to get creative at finding a way to extricate the brown stuff from the pavement. But having a little of the Mcguyvers on my DNA I’ve never been thwarted.

So when I see other dog owners letting their canines let go with the brown flow and then walking off without a second look, I get angry. Now I should say this anger has always just been internal, as I’ve only once brought up the situation to the owner.

Just say NO

My confrontation was actually a few years ago, when I used to live in a nice little house in Ascot in England. When I first purchased the house, the previous owner had had an issue with some dog making an absolutely massive dump on the edge of the grass along the side of the house. This particular defecation was of such extreme proportions as to have the neighborhood questioning if we have a cross between a yeti and a horse being walked. And the real mystery was that the artifact in question was so infrequent and no one had ever seen the act take place.

The woman who owned the house before me had gone to absolutely extreme lengths to fix the situation but to no avail. She had installed electronic dog disruptors, used pepper dust and even placed broken crockery on the target area, all to no avail. The local council had gone as far as staking out the road to identify the offender, but still nothing.

When I moved it and spoke to the neighbors, I heard all these stories, but just assumed they were the local version of the Nessie myth.

Then it happened I came home one evening to find a mountain of dog dung on my grass verge. And I then felt the utter frustration of not knowing who or what had caused it. And this was repeated once every couple of months.

Then I caught them in the act! One day I was arriving home and there it was the huge dog with its owner taking a dump on my property. And I recognized the owner; he was a comedian, who I’d seen on TV many times (and really liked). I wont mention his name here, as it seems a little unfair, so lets just call him a code name, hmm how about…. Borat.

It doesn’t matter who you are, if you own a dog and it craps, CLEAN IT UP!
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The horror of helpdesks and the calamity of call centers.

The other day I needed to rent a car in France, and as I needed it for greater than 31 days, none of the websites would let me do it online. I had to call the service center.

So based on the information on the aggregator websites (Priceline, kayak, Travelocity etc.) I found the best deals available and proceeded to call the first company who seemed to offer the right package.

I don’t want name the company, as I suspect this story is equally applicable to all of them. I called the free phone number for Budg$t (see I clearly hid the company name). And here’s how the call went:

Rep: Good afternoon sir, how can I help you (imagine this with a very pleasant Indian accent)?

Me: Hello, I’d like to rent a car in France please.

Rep: Certainly sir, can you please tell me what State that is in.

Me: Err no France is a country in Europe.

Rep: Yes sir, but what state is that in.

After several iterations of this, I asked to speak to one of his colleagues that maybe had a better grasp of world geography. I was put through to their resident geographical guru, and the conversation continued.

Me: hello again, I’d like to rent a car in France please.

Rep2: certainly sir, what state is that in?

Me: okay listen France is a country, its part of the European union, and while I believe France has states in it, it’s not actually in a state. France is a country in it’s own right, had an empire once, and still has a foreign legion.

Rep2: okay sir, I understand, what city in France to you wants to rent a car from.

Me: great, the city is called Nice.

Rep2: very good sir, Nice, okay, and what is the zip code of Nice.

Me: seriously, you know that Nice is a city in France. How about this, I want to rent the car from Nice Airport, does that work for you.

Rep2: oh jolly good sir, I have it now. When do you want to rent the car from and for how long?

Me: I want to from when I arrive for 35 days.

Rep2: oh I’m sorry sir we cannot rent cars for more than 31 days, you will have to return it to the rental office and re-rent it for the remainder.

Me: you cannot be serious, how about I just call you and extend it.

Rep2: oh no sir you have to bring it back to us.

Me: well that will not work, forget it goodbye.

Now I was very proud of myself during this call, I didn’t rip the reps head of and crap all over him verbally (as I felt like doing), but instead went to the next company on the list and called again.

Me: hi there, I’d like to rent a car in France please.

Newrep: okay sir, can you please tell me what state France is in….

This is the issue with service centers, helpdesks and their entire ilk, they are only as good as the scripts the reps are given. And no script can be all-inclusive. The people you speak to on the phone when you speak to call centers are generally very nice, but have absolutely no idea how to solve any issue that hasn’t been already thought through.

And lets face it, in this day and age you will try absolutely anything to avoid having to call a call center and be told “your business is very important to us” and “our options have changed so please listen carefully”.

You would have gone to their website, asked your friends on facebook and even visited product help groups and reviews online. So the chances of you calling for something that they can help you with have been greatly diminished.

So why are they still so crap?

BTW, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, I really lovely film, and it talks to this rant.

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We all hate spam, so why is it everywhere?

Every day I must receive between fifty and a hundred emails from businesses trying to sell me things. And I’m not talking about the Viagra sales pitches, the offers to extend my manhood, the pleading letters from Nigerians who want to give me all their millions or the other clearly understood scams that the spam filters place straight in the junk folder.

I’m talking about legitimate businesses that think that sending us unsolicited email is a good way to get us to purchase their products or service. It seems virtually every company thinks that filling my inbox with crap is a good thing, and I’m here to explain to them (via you) that it is not.

I (like nearly everyone) never intentionally even opens these emails. And I absolutely never consider purchasing anything because of them.

Every now and again by pure accident I will open one of these emails, either because I’ll thumbing through my email box and my finger slips or because I press next when reviewing an email, and the next one happens to be one of these business emails. The key thing is it just mis-fingering, I didn’t mean to open it.

But to the people who are using spam as a marketing tool, they see this finger fuckup as a positive response to their campaign. And I really want them to know that it was not!

A whole industry has emerged of people who sell distribution lists to companies, so that can email out their next campaign. And many shops today tell their sales staff to always ask for your zip code (postcode) when you checkout. This isn’t to validate your credit card, this is much worse than that. They ask for a personal piece of information so that they can add you to their mailing list, it’s a governance rule that their legal department makes them follow. Of course they are supposed to ask you if you want to be on their mailing list, but the marketing departments have worked out that most people would say no. So they just have the sales people collect a piece of personal information and they just add you to their marketing database.

Once you give them your zip code, email address or any other piece of personal information you are added. And you will then receive garbage from them either in the post, via phone (normally from India during dinner) or via email.

Some of these companies then sell these “agree to be marketed to” lists to distribution list aggregators who them sell the lists on to other businesses. It’s a huge industry, and filling your inbox with crap and disturbing your dinner is their end game.

Why do they do it, if it’s so annoying and useless? Well it’s simple they are asked by their sales teams to create leads, and they have targets. So even though you are not likely to want to purchase just because they fill you inbox with colorful crap, they don’t care, just so long as the marketing team can report to the sales team and their managers that they sent 120,000 emails out this week and had an open rate of 1.2% they are happy, they are meeting their goals.

Smart marketing means truly understanding your customers, and that is a lot harder, and frankly isn’t a course that is taught on most marketing degrees. But marketing is supposed to be hard, that’s why it takes professionals.

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I hate the culture of indecision

I’m a big believer in the power of doing stuff. Doing anything is good, if it turns out in doing something you made a mistake, well then you do something else to fix it and move on, with increased knowledge.

When you do something the worst that can happen is that it turns out to be the wrong thing, and so you have to work a bit harder to fix it, and then do the right thing. But you did it, whatever it was and the world kept on turning and (generally) no one died in the process.

Of course I’ve making a generalization here, but I believe people have the best intentions when they do something, pretty much anything, and when guided by your common sense and knowledge of a situation, the chances are you are doing the right thing.

In most situations where there are two (or more) choices the worst thing you can do in nothing. It’s of course entirely possible that doing nothing was the right choice, but in my experience., doing nothing is only the right choice in a very small percentage of times. But it’s the choice taken far too often.

In business and in most personal and decision making situations people who are scared of their own shadows tend to want to analyze a situation continually, as a way of avoiding decisions.

There is an old saying “look before you leap”, but there is equally another saying “he who hesitates is lost”. The ability to make a decision before absolutely every possible choice has eroded over time is the mark of a leader. Being able to take a calculated risk, is what separates those who life a valuable and full rewarding life from those who do not.

All of the greatest world leaders, business leaders, visionaries and successful people have known and act this way. It’s okay to make a mistake; it’s generally not okay to not do anything.

Without risk, despots would never have been defeated, amazing feats of engineering would never have been achieved, and the most creative businesses and geniuses would never have reached their highest levels of success.

Winston Churchill’s life was full of decisions that he made that proved to be wrong, from which he learnt his greatest lessons in humility, leadership and eventual greatness.

Many mistakes were made politically and scientifically before a man made it to the moon and back, and the lessons that were learnt lead to decades of amazing advancement in all the fields of science.
I had the honor of sitting down with each of the two founders of Hewlett Packard many years ago, and Dave Packard told me that the secret of their success lay in the simple idea of trying several really big things at a time, with the full knowledge that some of them would fail. But he was confident that the ones that would work would pay for all the research they have invest in and all the projects that had failed as well.

And he knew that the people who worked on the things that failed would be the experience that would make the successes for their company in the future. For decades HP was a company that thrived on leading the technology of the world into new areas. It was only after Bill and Dave became too old to run the company that this model slowly changed. And their company became very risk averse. They still made amazing technology, but then it was just iterations and improvements on what everyone else is doing.

They have tried many times since then to reignite the flame of innovative risk, and I truly hope they succeed.

Whenever a business chooses to eliminate all risk entirely they are forced to stop innovating and instead focus purely on efficiency.

In the paraphrased words of Peter Drucker (one of the most amazing management consultants the world has ever seen) “the role of a company is to create and keep customers, only once they can do this well, should they look at creating and keeping customers efficiently and effectively”

The bottom line is you need to truly understand why you do what you do before you worry about doing it well. If you limit what you do to just focusing on something well, you will never be able to do anything new.

If you are driving your car on the highway, and the road splits in two, you need to make a decision and make it before you hit the barrier. That’s taking a calculated risk. If you turn left and it turns out that right was the right answer, well you take the next exit come back and do it again. But if you keep going down the middle line and don’t make a decision you will crash. It happens.

In life and in business if you see people who are unable to make any form of decision, and use every technique possible to avoid looking like they are unable to make a decision, then you are looking at someone with very low self-esteem. I call the inability to make a decision “making an indecision”.

Not everyone is able to make decisions, some people work best as followers, and that’s fine, so long as they are not in positions where making indecisions effects others.

Know indecision makers for what they are!

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