Friday, December 26, 2008

Speed Camera Woes

I'm strongly against automatic traffic enforcement. Not the least of my complaints is that the guilty until proven innocent procedure that most of them use is unconstitutional. The systems are sold to communities as a fund raising program.

So, it is with great pleasure that I read about high school students in Montgomery County, Maryland gaming the system. They've exposed a huge flaw in camera based systems with no human review: you can cheaply fool the system with fake plates.

Originating from Wootton High School, the parent said, students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that "mimic" those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera, the parent said. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later.

Unfortunately, I can already guess what the county will do about this. They'll increase patrols to catch a few kids with fake license plates. They have to spend money to protect their investment.

Still, we can sit back and laugh as pranks like these increase the cost of automatic enforcement all over the country. Spread the word.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Idea: Your Credit Card is Your Room Key

Hotel chains such as Extended Stay America have limited check-in hours. They save money by eliminating the need for a third shift. This is a great idea because they pass on some of those savings to the customers. Unfortunately, this also means that a late arrival can leave you out in the cold.

I believe that these businesses could benefit from an automated check-in process that allows you to gain entry to the hotel and room using the same credit card you used to make the reservation. This would allow the hotel to continue to operate without a third shift clerk, yet a guest could still check-in.

The biggest problem that I see with this would be that problems often happen during check-in. Automated systems often require babysitters for when problems occur. The management would have to implement a way for customers to receive help for problems at check-in without undue burden on employees who don't work third shift, including management itself. It's a case where the biggest problem is managing customer expectations.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Hungry Truth

I'm going to be contributing to a new blog about cooking called The Hungry Truth. I'm not sure how much I will contribute, but it should be interesting. There are some really talented people working on this project and I'm excited for it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Windows Vista: The Multilingual Must Pay

I have a Colombian friend for whom I occasionally perform some basic computer maintenance. She, and her whole family, are relatively dumbfounded by some of the chores required to keep their systems working in a usable fashion. They rely on me perhaps more than I would like, but they're good people and these are the things friends do.

Last week her mother bought a laptop. As I write this she and her new computer are flying to Ecuador. Since I was unavailable last week, I had to do some last minute work yesterday. They needed anti-virus software, the kind that doesn't require ridiculous yearly fees, and to have the language switched to Spanish. The first issue was a five minute ordeal to download and install Avast!, my current pick for AV. The second issue took two hours and required a hack.

You read that right, you cannot switch an English version of Vista Home edition to another language without using a hack. At first I thought it was annoyingly difficult, but when I found out that it was impossible without paying to upgrade to Ultimate edition I was floored. I'm not the only one, check out the anger and confusion at Microsoft's TechNet Forums over this issue.

The solution, as I mentioned, is a hack. Vistalizator, though it has a ridiculous name, was able to change the language in a few minutes. After that, I could barely work with the context menus. Since much of the software was developed in English it turned the laptop into a Spanglish mess. Something tells me that is a perfect result.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wonderful Apple Customer Service Experience

My iPod Touch was having problems. It would randomly crash, displaying a vomit-like multicolor display of failure that was inescapable until the unit ran out of batteries. I restored the software, bought a couple of upgrades. Nothing fixed my problem.

I had another issue. I won that iPod and didn't have a receipt or service contract or anything. Still, I was fed up with the shenanigans so last week I walked into the local Apple store and asked to see someone at the genius bar.

If I'd made an appointment I may not have had to wait a half hour. So I wandered around the mall. Thirty minutes later, back at the store, I was able to go sit up at the bar. There I listened to some poor fellow that was going to have to wait for his custom MacBook Pro to be shipped to the store, replacing the old one that died.

When it was my turn I handed over the device. The tech plugged it in, looked at it with a magnifier and a light (I think he was checking for water damage), then proclaimed that he'd give me a replacement. ...Wha?

That's right. I walked in with no receipt, no warranty contract, no explanation of what happened, and he simply replaced it. He even gave me a receipt this time. His explanation was that he thought it was a software issue but he saw something going on with the hardware and he'd rather give me a new one than potentially force me to come back in two days when it happens again.

That's good service. Actually, that is pretty much the best customer service experience I've had with small electronics. Not only are my problems solved, but the new device is shiny and free of scratches from before I bought an iPod case.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Free Trade: Why Don't You Get a Job?

A coworker sent my department one of those junk emails with crappy jokes today. This one was about a guy looking for a job. It went down a list and mentioned all of the things he was wearing and using and where they were supposedly "made." The punchline was that everything was foreign and he wondered why he couldn't find work.

Welcome to global economics with free, but not fair, trade.

The problem I have with sentiments like those insinuated in the email is that they blame the wrong thing. They blame everyone else, but especially the foreign workers for having the audacity to import their goods.

There is a distinct failure to blame the politicians for opening up free trade without ever imposing the slightest bit of human rights, workers rights, or environmental regulation. More importantly, there is the failure of our mindless consumerism to ever think of the consequence of blind shopping for the lowest price in a category with little actual understanding of how that price is achieved. In short, the reason we don't have manufacturing is because we exported it willingly and then refused to buy local.

So, if its the jobless man's fault that he can't find a manufacturing job, or his father's or his neighbor's, where's the joke? I'll rewrite it for you: All he needs to do is wait for the economy to collapse to the point where he can't afford any of those things and the capitalists will gladly pay him $0.12 per hour to make them instead.

Post Election Break

Well, that was a nice month. I think I'm boiling over with the need to broadcast a few things, so it's time to resume blogging again.