Jun 10

You know you are in a European hotel…

Personal, Travel with tags: , 18 Comments »

Euro Hotel

I have stayed in a fair share of hotels, and you can tell that you are in a European one when:

  • The bed is two twins pushed together. It looks quite big. Unfortunately you can’t used one whole side as you can’t sleep on the seam. The pillows are….. comfy
  • The toilet has two buttons. A small one, and a big one, depending on the need. I don’t understand why they don’t do that in the US. Next innovation: size of flush depends on the “weight” of what needs to be flushed
  • The TV controls your world. Setup wake up calls, keep the time with the clock, order room service
  • The shower is walk in. It consists of two panes of glass that try hard to keep in the water, but don’t. Andre Charland also noted that the shower heads always detach, and when attached they often move with a life of their own.
Mar 10

Will APIs effect mergers and acquisitions?

Comic, Tech, Travel with tags: , , 5 Comments »

Will APIs effect mergers and acquisitions?

I believe that 2008 and beyond will be huge for mashups and APIs. We are going to move beyond the world of “Look, I took some data and put it together with a Google Map and Calendar” and have full featured read/write in browser APIs thanks in part to the slew of cross domain friendly features that are coming from browsers, Gears, and developer hacks.

I have talked about the blog.gears example, that shows how you can use Blogger as a back-end for a blog system. It seems quite obvious to me that if you are building a Web application that isn’t the Next Blog Thing, why would you want to spend any time building a blog system to get that functionality in the product. You have a couple of choices beyond writing it yourself. You could grab an open source blogging engine (there are many great ones), you could use a service and have blog.* CNAME over, or if you want tight integration you could do what blog.gears does, and use a JavaScript API to access blogger as the store and have it hidden from the user.

I got to thinking, how will the fact that it is easier to integrate with sites through richer APIs affect M & A?

An example that got me thinking about this is Dopplr and TripIt. Dopplr is a phenomenal service that seems to nail usability and the art of doing one thing, and doing it really well. It is clean. It has subtle touches that I love (the personal colors in the header icon and favicon even).

Them came along TripIt. The killer feature that it has is the ability to email your itineraries that you got from online sites and airlines to the system, and it groks a bunch of the formats and can thus suck them in automatically. Once you hit Apple-F, you are done, and you see the new information appear in your TripIt iCal.

Compare this to Dopplr. For a long time you would manually input your travel information in some shape or form. At the London Future of Web Apps I met Matt Biddulph, who not only was a fantastic, nice, fun guy, who gave the best talk at the event, but also was able to flip a bit which enabled Dopplr to read one of my Google Calendars. This feature is now in the wild for all. That was a great improvement, as I could setup a “Travel” calendar that Dopplr reads from.

I still had to keep that calendar going through. When TripIt came out, I heard cries of Dopplr fans that they should buy TripIt, or merge, or just copy the functionality. That isn’t the way with 2008. Instead, Matt was able to integrate with TripIt in a very simple way.

TripIt produces an iCal calendar from it’s data, and you can simply tie Dopplr to that calendar… and ta da!

I have been in quite a few meetings recently where the topic of buy has changed to be integrate through APIs. This enables each piece to grow, and to have people work on one small thing and make it the best it can be.

Of course, there is a time and a place for buyouts and mergers, but I wonder if they will be a little less frequent now. Then the game changes to being the platform, and being able to monetise it (a.k.a. make money to feed your family!)

Fixing calendars

As an aside, I still find a lot of pain with calendar systems. The main problem that I have is that I want events to cross various calendars, but collapse them in my view. For example, if I am going on a trip, I want my wife to see it, as well as my work colleagues. I don’t want to have to duplicate the entry in multiple calendars and then see the same darn thing repeatedly.

Mar 07

Crying over “Becoming Jane”, College Gears, and Pizza

Gears, Tech, Travel 3 Comments »

Becoming Jane

I have failed my Wired “traveling too much test”. I buy Wired at the airport, and if I go on a trip and already have read the current copy, I am traveling too much.

The effects of travel are even more wearing when you have an uncomfortable flight. I am on my way back from a mini tour of the mid-west with Brad Neuberg. We hit the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Michigan, to chat with students about Gears.

It probably wasn’t the smartest time of year to have a March trip, and it was bloody freezing most of the time. This also lead to delays on 4 out of 6 of my flights. Ah the fun.

Due to a cancelled flight I got put on another one, and ended up at the back of the plane in a tight corner. There was no way I could use the ole laptop, so I was putting all of my hope in the in-flight movie.

Unfortunately, my hope back fired:

1. The View

No, fortunately they didn’t broadcast The View, but I was in the position where I could barely see a television set in the sky. A full third of the set was obscured by the curve in the plane itself. I looked down the line to the next one to see if a smaller view would give me more content, but the curve kicked in for all sets. The colour on the set closest to me was off too. It reminded me of the monochrome games that I loved on the ZX Spectrum. Oh ye olde rubber keyboard. Q-A-O-P-Space were all very worn!

2. The Content

When the entertainment kicked in, we got to see Ebert & Roeper tell us about the movie we are about to see. You get the added bonus of showing half of the actual movie as they pre-explain. Just what you need. In this case the film they were blathering about was Becoming Jane. When I am on a plane I tend to revert a few years and want some silly shoot ‘em up entertainment. The new Rambo, where Sly literally knocks someones block off would have been a good choice. But a period piece about Jane Austin? Do I really want to find out about the REAL Darcy?

Anne Hathaway plays the part, and although she does a fair job at it… all I can think about is that Princess movie that she was in with Mary Poppins. Somehow it feels like I have seen that movie, even though I never actually have. It has been on TV so often that I have picked 80% of the picture as I flick through channels over time.

3. The Tear

Being stuck in the back of the plane meant that I was hot. When you are hot on the plane your only choice is to turn up the minute air jet from above. I turned it up to the max, which barely helped, but had a bad side effect. It kept making the duct in my right eye release saline. It was streaming.

This meant that the others in my row thought I was crying over the plight of Jane and the loss of her love due to pride and prejudice. Oh the shame!

But, back to the reason why I was putting up with the flights, with their re-reads of Wired. Reading about the cockiness of 37signals never gets old!

We made it to champaign

It was really cool to start off the trip in Champaign. Talking about Gears, at the birthplace of the browser was pretty cool, especially on the day that Marc Andreessen blogged about hanging with Barak. These kids could do that too. Brad and I got to tour the ACM where we saw a bunch of cool hacks and fun robotics. These students were smart.

I felt lucky to get to the event on time. After I finally got into the airport, which is tiny, I waited for over an hour for a cab that never came, so I ended up jumping on a bus and trying to work out what the hell I was doing. I made it to Brad’s hotel in time for us to walk over to the event.

At the Gears event itself we had a varied audience. On one side we had students who had never touched JavaScript. On the other side we had Mozilla contributors, and Yahoo! Ajax Map interns. It made me realise how I could have gotten just a touch more out of my college years ;)

Pizza destroyers

A few delays, and many red carpet club hours later, I was in Ann Arbor. We had an equally good time with the gifted students that showed up. This crew didn’t wolf down the pizza in 30 seconds flat like the fighting Illini the day before. They were equally smart though, and I was really excited to see postings by one of them to the Gears list. He is porting Gears to 64bit Linux. Nice!

The Computer Science and Engineering building also has the most geeky cafe ever:

Geekiest university cafe ever

Thanks to the students from both schools for showing up, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Jan 03

Customer service revolution: Why United doesn’t have to suck

Tech, Travel 6 Comments »

Holiday travel is often a nightmare, and this season was a total mare for my family. Flights were cancelled left right and center, with poor communication. Communication is key. On one flight the estimated departure time kept moving and they didn’t ONCE say anything on the tanoy system.

Customers hate the unknown.

Another huge pain point was dealing with United on the phone. I purchased one ticket with green, and two others with miles. This creates two separate reservations for some reason which is always a royal pain. The result of this was:

  • I can’t login to the website and see the family trip
  • So, I can’t select seats and do other tasks for the family
  • Which meant that I couldn’t get seats next to each other!

On the flight out, we tried to ask the gentleman sitting next to my family if he would go up to the front of the plane where I had my seat. Even though his seat was the last on the plane, so he couldn’t put his seat back, he said no. He had to put up with Sam saying “Daddy? Where are you?”, and I had to be at the front in Economy Plus. Nice guy.

Now, United may think that this is all a good thing as it takes away the incentive to use miles like this. They are morons for not doing what customers want.

The phone system is so bad that I end up fighting over who is going to call with my wife. The problem is not unique to United, but to every one I have had to call:

  • The automated system is crap, so you hit 0 as fast as you can to get a human
  • But then that dood in India who is over worked, and doesn’t have the tools to help you, makes you more frustrated.

This happened several times on this trip. 80% of the time, after putting in my mileage number I got the automated: “I will make sure that the agent gets your information” and then it would hang up. It wouldn’t get me through to anyone. My sister-in-law who had a worse time than me would call and hear “we have a huge volume of requests right now, so instead of helping by calling you back later or something, I will just hang up on you now. We don’t care that your flight was cancelled.”

Abstract any technical issue from the customer.

It is time for a revolution in the customer service space that puts a customer first. Instead of trying to screw the customer, help them out. If I call you and the connection dies, CALL ME BACK. If I am on hold for 20 minutes, CALL ME BACK. Help me solve problems. Be creative. Please. So many people told me that they will not be flying for awhile. Under the same situations, if you had been helpful, they wouldn’t feel that way.

The only good experience of the trip was having the family use the Red Carpet Club. I suddenly realized why the airport lounge was good:

  • You didn’t have to listen to the announcements that go off every five minutes
  • The agents seemed to be a lot more helpful, and able to change things, than at check in.

Oh, and for fun I went to the customer service link on united.com and got this:

United Customer Service

Nov 17

Ben Galbraith and the Hindu Meal

British, Personal, Travel with tags: , , , 5 Comments »

“You see $1800? I see $800!”

That is what I said to Ben as we were looking at flights to London for our trip to @mediaAjax. I am writing this on the flight itself as I look over Greenland. Only 5 hours to go! :/

It showed just how bizarre the pricing of flights can be. I taught a bit at Sabre, which gave me an appreciation of why that may be the case. One of the classes was so poorly managed that we ended up having to take equipment out of a closet, and installed desks and computers (they had double booked the training room and this was the best they could do).

Anyway, a difference of more then 100% for exactly the same flight? This lead to me booking the flight for Ben and put me in the position. Ben was giving me his info as I filled out the forms on united.com, but then a drop down shone like a beacon into my eyes.


Oh man, the prank was here. I took a look at the list which is surprisingly large. I had to get the right balance here. “Gluten free” would result in some paste that would be inedible (not that plane food is ever gourmet. I had the salad). Kosher? nah. Then it came: Hindu. This was a safe bet as it would just be vegetarian, which is probably one of the better options. I selected it and tried so hard not to crack up as we went down the list setting it all up. All I could think of was the site of a flight attendant walking up to Ben and saying:

stewardess from the 60s: “Mr. Galbraith, we have your special meal”
Ben: “Erm, huh?”
sft60s: “Yes sir, your Hindu meal”

I have been so proud of myself, and today the time was here! But, it all went arse backwards as Ben changed his earlier flight to the Bay to “spend more time with the family” (goody two shoes) and cocked up the times. This meant that he had no way to connect and had to get on another flight. I feel gipped. Next time, Mr. Galbraith.

Oct 01

Power outlets in foreign lands…

British, Personal, Travel 1 Comment »

I am enjoying my time back in London. I am staying next to the Google London office in Victoria for now, and move to the Docklands tomorrow to speak at the Future of Web Apps which looks like a great show.

Back to the hotel…. you know it is international when you get this power to plug into:


As per usual I got in early in the morning. Victoria is great if you fly into Gatwick, as you can get the express train right there. Painless.

However, I was knackered after a non-sleep flight and wanted to shower and crash. They didn’t have my room ready though so I was told to hang in the lobby and they would grab me as soon as they got a room. I waited, and waited, and … When I finally went up again: “Oh yeah, we have your room”. Thanks.

After some clean up I hit the local store to top up my uk mobile. It is painful using a 5 year old beast when I have my iPhone in the other pocket (I know, I could have jailbreak-ed and put in another SIM….).

I was really happy to see a Nandos as soon as I walked outside. The peri-peri chicken + sauce is fantastic, and I think it will do great in the states.

I also knew I was back home when:

  • It rained… a lot
  • The trains went down

Anyway, it is fun to hang in the Google office here (very open plan), and I am looking forward to meeting interesting people at Sam Sethi’s bash (Sam does Blognation).

Dec 22

Constant chatter on the plane

Travel 2 Comments »

We are seeing the start of airlines letting you chat on the phone whilst airborne.

I wish they would go the other way. Kinda.

It is almost humorous to see people go nuts to get their phone turned on as soon as the wheels touch the ground. What is SO important that you need to be in touch immediately, versus stepping onto terra firma?

A woman next to me on a resent flight held her phone the entire time, and sat there looking at it again, and again, and again.

Wouldn’t it be nicer to go back to “no phone calls at all” on a plane? Do we really need to hear that woman shouting to her hubby when we land?

How about if we only allow silent communication? mobile browsing / texting is OK as it doesn’t irritate people… but even then. Just freaking wait a minute.

Nov 27

A good travel tale? Thanks Avis.

Travel 6 Comments »

I normally post bad travel tales, so thought I should say something when a good thing happens.

I pulled up to the Avis rental car return with my family. They saw that a baby was on board, so one of the agents jumped in the car, took us to departures (bypassing having to get everything out, waiting for the shuttle bus, etc) and helped us with the luggage.

This alone will make me think of Avis next time around.

The good news didn’t last though, as we landed minus a bad (hopefully it will show up at our home later today).

Jan 27

Convergence: TV/Radio a.k.a. we don’t need no stinkin’ alarm radio

Travel 1 Comment »

When I am in europe, I try to do it the euro way. It allows me to cling on to being british.

A common thing in hotels is to have the magic TV that has a radio, and timer builtin (as well as teletext, which was missed in the US…. it allows you to read about anything via your TV).

Since you have these features baked into the TV, you don’t need a bedside table alarm clock, and instead of doing the right thing (and having me own) I decided to set my alarm for this morning via the TV.

The TV menu is all in Danish (which makes sense since I am in Denmark) but I managed to luckily change it to english via some guess work.

I then set the timer to turn on the TV at 7am until 7:30am. I also make sure that a loud channel is setup before I turn it off for the night.

Then at 9am I get a bang on my door from Ben, as we are speaking together first thing in the morning. Ouch!

What happened?

I got to debug the problem after the talk, and it turned out that the TV *did* turn on, but it switched on at a channel that has no audio (showing what is happening at the hotel and such) and I guess a small amount of light from a TV wasn’t enough to wake someone who had been flying for 24 hours.

I think Pres Bush said: “Fool me once shame on me….”

This isn’t the first time I screwed up. I did a similar thing in Belgium, where I set the TV correctly, but I fell asleep with the TV on. This meant that the act of re-turning the TV on at 6am didn’t really do much to wake me up either. That was a fun wild dash to the airport and just making it.

Ah the glamours of travel.

Oct 17

Boycotting Aerolineas Argentina

Travel 15 Comments »

My travel category gets fuller and fuller, but this time the nightmare travel was via my sister-in-law who is studying in Spain, and came to visit us in London.

Let’s set the stage:

She is a student, taking a semester away from her US college, and studying in Spain for a few months with a programme. She has been able to take trips all over europe. Now, she comes to visit London, has a great time, until she tries to get home…

The airline is the argentine: Aerolineas Argentina, and I will refuse to fly them based on their service.

Before issuing a boarding pass, lots of questions come flowing out. Proof of leaving Spain at some point is required. They won’t listen to the facts that:

  • Spanish student id
  • Stamps in her passport

So, because she doesn’t have her PROOF of flight out of Spain, that is months from now, they are giving her a hard time. She ends up calling me, so I can try to get this proof over to her. Several phone calls to the US later, and we do have all of the info (confirmation number etc etc), but couldn’t fax over the hard copy in time for her flight. She has it on her computer of course, but that is back in Spain.

Armed with the confirmation/reservation number, surely they can look it up right? Well, they can see the flight… but not that Madeline is on it. They only had one phone number for Continental and noone was there. “Sorry, nothing we can do”.

They also had an internet connection, and if they would cooperate and let us USE it, they could have logged in to SEE the confirmation number. “This isn’t our concern”.

Explaining that the stamp in the spanish passport allows for free travel in the EU for three months fell on deaf ears too. “We don’t know anything about that”. Remember, she has been travelling all over bloody europe with no problems like this!

As time is running out, they are forcing us to buy ANOTHER ticket, from Spain back to England. This would be a ticket that would NEVER BE USED.

Then we find out that the flight is delayed, and not just delayed for a few minutes, hours and hours.

This would mean that she would miss her last train from Madrid to her university town, so rather than deal with these people, and get stuck in Madrid at 2am, we got a ticket with a nice airline (British Airways) for the next morning, and came back to our hotel.

We also talked to British Airways about what happened, and they were disgusted.

Why these idiots think that they are on a power trip, and wanna-be-INS-officials, well it makes my blood boil.

I never write complaints in, but I feel like I have to do so here. They were the opposite to “service”, and did nothing to help.

Thanks for nothing Aerolineas Argentina, and their Gatwick employees.

(NOTE: This was the short version. It got even worse!)