A parting shot

My group at work has a tradition of going offsite once a month for lunch; we take turns picking a place, and the host has the awesome responsibility of dividing the check.

Today’s lunch was a little different, though.

Lunch at Zeni

It was sort of a retirement lunch for B; he was originally going to retire at the end of this month when his wife retired, but decided to postpone it until the end of October, and then to work a couple of days a week, mostly from home, as a contractor. But we had lunch today anyway, at Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant. This was my second experience with Ethiopian food, and was much more enjoyable than my first, many years ago; I’m still not a big fan of injera, but it’s really just a carrier anyway, and the rest of the food was quite tasty (I especially liked the chicken and lamb).

Today wasn’t really the day I would have chosen for a food experiment, though; Yom Kippur starts in a couple of hours, and I want to be properly fueled as preparation. So we’re off to one of our usual haunts, Su’s Mongolian Barbecue — and today, I’ll probably have seconds for a change.

Shana Tova!

Up oneCreek without a paddle

My wife does a lot of shopping at Coldwater Creek; enough that they invited her to their preferred shoppers club, oneCreek. The invitation asked her to go to a special page on their website, coldwatercreek.com/onecreek [deliberately not a link!], and enter a secret code. So she did, only to be redirected to the main page of the site with nowhere to enter the secret code.

After much headscratching, she tried www.coldwatercreek.com/onecreek, and found herself at the right page, which is SSL-secured — and, in fact, https://www.coldwatercreek.com/onecreek works fine, too.

Hey, Coldwater Creek! Try the instructions before sending them out!

[Updated to make the links clickable, since it’s not always easy to cut-and-paste formatted text into the browser.]

Free…as in costly

Every year, IBM creates a “Global Innovation Outlook” in collaboration with many deep thinkers around the world. One of this year’s topics is Africa, and although the GIO process is still running, IBM is already encouraging senior technical people to begin mentoring students in Africa, through a program called “Makocha Minds” (Google tells me that “makocha” is Swahili for “coach”).

I volunteered to participate and was matched up with someone from Kenya; we’ve had a few email exchanges, but I find it very helpful to actually speak to the other person, at least occasionally. I noticed that he had a Skype username in his mail signature, and so I suggested meeting on Skype, since calls within the network are free.

But when the appointed time rolled around this morning, I couldn’t find him on Skype. So I called his cellphone, and we chatted briefly, and figured out the problem — I had the wrong username. We hung up, connected on Skype, and found the connection unsatisfactory, for many reasons — lots of latency, lots of background noise on his end, and lots of dropouts. So we dropped the voice connection and went to chat, which worked fine…until he told me that he had to stop because he’d run through his paid-for Internet time! He suggested I phone his mobile late this afternoon (my time, 0200 his time!).

When I phoned him, I discovered that “free” wasn’t at all free for him. I’m used to the US model of broadband access — all you want for a flat monthly fee, available at home, at work, and now with my iPhone, almost anywhere (though EDGE isn’t really broadband). But in Kenya, things are different. His only consistent access to the Internet is through a mobile phone, at about 1 cent/megabyte; he can do dialup at a similar price, or go to an Internet cafe and compete with 30 other people for the broadband line out of the place. That’s what he was trying this morning — which explained the noise, the latency, and the dropouts, as well as the time limit.

Of course, my phone call wasn’t free to IBM — Kenya (and many other countries) treat incoming phone calls as an invisible export, and charge high rates (I don’t know what IBM pays, but my VoIP service at home would have charged me 55 cents/minute). But IBM can afford it.

I wonder how many other things I’ll discover during this relationship?

Still a hotel to avoid

Joel Spolsky recently wrote

I’m sad to say that the Congress Plaza Hotel where we did the event at this morning does not qualify as anyone’s palace. The usual nice words you might use to describe such a hotel would be “threadbare” or “shabby.” Other words (“maccabre,” “Barton Fink,” and “scuzzy”) come to mind. This was entirely my fault; I set a target budget for hotels in each city and didn’t do the research to make sure the hotels would be entirely nice.

I remember the Congress Plaza Hotel as the “host” hotel for The Second International World-Wide Web Conference on Mosaic and the Web back in 1994. It was tired and grubby then, and I assumed it had been chosen to accommodate student budgets. They offered conference attendees the chance to have an RJ-11 jack installed in their rooms at the trivial price of $75 — my boss kicked in for the “upgrade”, and I’ll bet he had to pay for every phone call, too. I was lucky — the hotel was filled by the time I made my reservation and I had to stay at a Hyatt a few blocks away.

I guess there’s a niche for shabby hotels, and it’s good to know that it’s being filled by true experts in the field.

Open Letter to Steve Jobs

As Todd noticed, I (and many other iPhone early adopters) was a bit miffed last night at the speed at which the iPhone’s price dropped. I’ve been around technology long enough to expect price drops and capability increases…just not that soon.

Today’s note offering a $100 credit is a step in the right direction (and I’ve already got a list of things I want to buy from you, Steve, probably sometime in October).

But you know what would be a real way of demonstrating loyalty and gratitude to your early adopters?

An extra discount on the next generation iPhone. I want GPS and 3G, and giving me a break on an iPhone which includes them would be a great way to keep me on the upgrade treadmill…happily.

Looking forward to hearing from you real soon!