Saturday, June 11, 2005

As opposed to?

It's always in the 90s in Singapore so nobody cooks. Restaurants, coffeeshops, and hawker stalls do a brisk business. Every stall is rated A, B, C, or D on its hygiene, with A being the best. I think you need running water to get an A. I am happy that my neighborhood hawker center is being renovated so that each stall will have running water. As opposed to what? you may ask. A good question, one that comes up a few times while reading this story from Channelnewsasia.

In Loke Sum Meng's kitchen, everything has its own place.

Using boxes to store ingredients has helped boost the hawker stall's hygiene grade from a B to an A.

Mr Loke said, "The meat we keep in the freezer, the vegetables we keep in the chiller, we put separately. All the way, we control the temperature of the food."

As opposed to?

Well one coffeeshop has come up with cheap, simple but effective solution.

As opposed to an ineffective solution? Anyway the problem they are trying to solve is cleaning off tables:

All it takes is two cloths and a transparent bucket.

The green cloth removes debris, while the white cloth wipes away remaining stains.

Both are rinsed in a transparent bucket so the cleaner can easily see when the water needs to be changed.

As opposed to?

Channelnewsasia assures us that "Such attention to hygiene has improved standards at eateries across Singapore." Because it is not their nature to be skeptical of government claims, the proof of this is a drop in violations. Of course an increase in violations would equally well prove their point that hygiene standards are improving! I feel so much better now!

Friday, June 10, 2005

No wonder Aaron Marcus has no friends

I think I finally understand the problem normal people have with user interface people.

Even though it has been done many times before (by Jakob Nielsen and Don Norman), this time Aaron Marcus slums as the hoi polloi to understand their TV watching habits. Because the world doesn't have enough articles about how remote controls are difficult to use and how blockheaded consumer electronics companies are.

The article is a lengthy description of the time he has to spend researching the equipment, and all the people he has to talk to. He doesn't say so explicitly, but apparently, he feels quite strongly that businesses should make it a high priority to reduce the amount of time it will take to install a TV set. So people can get to the wasting time watching TV part faster, I guess.

Early in the article he points out that he himself is too busy to watch much TV. It seems not to occur to him that maybe people who have the money to spend and time to make a home theater system worthwhile probably have a lot of free time. They may be more gregarious than he is, and not find it so objectionable to receive personal service from an in-home technician. Doctors don't make housecalls anymore, so this is probably an unusual experience for a lot of consumers that makes them feel special.

And why do I think he doesn't have any friends? Well, it seems he knows nothing of home theaters until he starts to research them, as if he knows nobody who owns one already. Is that possible in 2005? He relies completely on a magazine and the salespeople to tell him what to get. He seems not to enjoy this human interaction, as if the role of usability people is to establish human-machine interaction as the only interaction humans are allowed. And finally, he seems to miss the whole point: this is not supposed to be an efficient experience. If he had any friends who are home theater geeks, he would understand that playing with the equipment and bragging to your friends about it is at least as entertaining as watching MTV.

He seems to also miss the business point...the stores are charging you for their technicians. Retailers have learned from software companies that make a good chunk of revenue on services to install and fix the thing you wanted in the first place. While this might seem somewhat dishonest or immoral to purists like us, he should have enough sense to realize that this is not bad business by any means.

I wonder if he's invited anybody over to watch it yet...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Easy educational success: Cheat and avoid 4's

American students can catch up with their counterparts in Shanghai in furthering their education. The BBC reports how a Shanghai taxi company is keeping taxis with 4's in the license plate off the street so students don't encounter any unnecessary bad luck during this week of exams. You mean avoiding 4's is all Americans have to do? If only I knew this when I was younger!

The BBC also points out that "With more than eight million students sitting [for] the exam, competition is fierce and cheating is extremely common." I wonder what extremely common means. They mention a teacher getting in trouble for selling the answer key last year. Is there also copying from other students? Hacking into the scoring computers? Bribery of proctors?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Craiglist 500 times more efficient than eBay

An interesting article from the New York Times about eBay and Craigslist. This was especially interesting:

Data collected by Nielsen/NetRatings show that eBay's page views in April 2005 grew by less than half a percentage point, compared with the previous April. At Craigslist, page views grew 130 percent in the same period. According to the company's data, its traffic is now about a fifth of eBay's. And the operational efficiencies are astounding: Craigslist has 18 employees; eBay has 8,800.

Back in January, I compared eBay and Craigslist as if they were equal from my perspective, a way to get rid of stuff before I moved. In light of the last post about how inefficient modern software is, it does make you wonder why eBay needs 500 times the employees for five times the traffic. I guess they are all showing PowerPoint presentations to each other, and otherwise coordinating. If you have 8,800 people doing work it sould only take 100 people to do, I guess you have a lot of coordinating to do.

Update: Craigslist has stuff like this sentimental letter to Microsoft Word, whereas eBay is mainly about Hello Kitty.

Software: Slow, hard to use, bug-ridden and fatal

These "Futurist Programming Notes" remind us how little we expect from software, suggesting the slogan, "Sure today's software is a little slow, but the thing you gotta remember it's hard to use and completely bug ridden."

The authors, Paul Haeberli and Bruce Karsh, ask the pertinent question, "In the last 20 years machines have increased in performance by a factor of 200. Why hasn't software performance improved by a factor of 2?"

This is timely due to today's news of a climber and software engineer dying on Mt. Everest while, in his words, "Giving the IM-PAC software the ultimate field test..." In tribute to the late Robert Milne, few software engineers I know would be willing to put so much trust in software.