Archive for Thoughts

Why computers don’t save us time…

It’s been long debated how much time computers actually save in our lives. Multiple productivity studies have shown that after spending quite a bit of cash to bring an office into the modern age the increase in productivity is actually very low (if I recall, most studies said around 8%). But I’d argue they’re still worth the cost outlay but not because they provide an increase in productivity.

Pencil, Paper and Typewriters

Our tools were simple before computers. If you needed to do a bit of math, you simply did it. Those were the days! The problem came when you needed to do a whole lot of math. Repeatedly. Over and over. Sure it could still be done but it was mind-numbingling boring. Calculators improved things by removing the tediousness of the math calculations and allowed significant improvements in the data crunching per hour metric. Calculators actually provided significant increases in productivity, for the few that actually needed them for their job. Certainly McDonalds couldn’t possibly serve so many customers if the cashiers actually had to calculate the correct change for every transaction.

Enter the Modern Era

And then came computers (big ones at first that only did small things followed by small ones that do big things). Computers, like calculators, save time for certain tasks (but be careful what tasks you pick, which is likely going to be a future topic in its own right). Now when you’re plugging away on your budget and trying to figure out how to assign more money to the important mini-golf green-fees row you can twiddle all the other rows as needed until everything balances out ok (who needs healthy organic food when there is balls to hit into a castle). And remember when you wrote that paper in college (about the average hair density on a baby bunny vs a adult bunny or something like that)? That backspace key sure saved you compared to the time it would have taken you to use a typewriter. (for those that never had to use a typewriter, you’ll have to trust me on this one; for those that couldn’t use computers to write college papers, you’ll have to trust me too.)

But did you really save time?

Or did you simply redirect your time?

Virtual Housecleaning

Congratulations, you now inhabit two residences. You’re physical residence is probably getting slowly covered in dust and dirty dishes. It requires regular cleaning and maintenance to stay on top of it all. Well, I hate to tell ya but you probably spend a measurable amount of time cleaning up you desktop, organizing your bookmarks, deleting old files, installing and upgrading software, training yourself how to create power-point slides full of animated circles and arrows. (If you’re not doing these things, your disk is probably a mess. But hey, maybe your house is a mess too.)

When was the last time you moved? Some of you are hopefully quickly wondering “did he mean move physically or virtually?” Well, both. They both take a lot of effort. When you get a spiffy new machine, you have to move your old data (boxes of unused junk) from your old residence to your new one. You need to replace older software (cat-scratched furniture) with better versions with fancy-dancy graphics (untorn fabric with polka-dots).

But who cares?

Ok, now that I’ve convinced you that you haven’t saved any time by owning a computer (I have convinced you, right) you should disregard your sudden depression about this and exchange it for relief that you’re no longer bored. Everyone at some point has a chore so monotonous that you’ve nearly fallen asleep doing it. (Or maybe actually fell asleep!) Computers relieve much of the boredom and monotony and replace it with mind-expanding tasks like learning where your menu item moved to when you upgraded. Your boredom may have changed to anger when that animated paperclip poped up yet again. So the next time you’re dragging text around as you reorganize a well composed email just think back to the days when you retyped an entire paper because you forgot the transitioning sentence between the 3rd and 4th paragraphs. Put on a smile the next time you defragment your hard disk to speed up your aging equipment since it may someday save you from the monotonous chore of manually recalculating your household budget. And most importantly: where there is less monotony in life there is more learning and more brain activity. This will keep your brain healthier into your old age (assuming you at those organic veggies). Now go check you email and clean out your inbox. It’s been a while. Poking someone on facebook can wait while you do your virtual chores.

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Zen and the Art of Traveling

Travel Happens

Unfortunately, we’re rarely in control when we travel long
distances. Be it by plane, train bus, metro, etc. This is in stark
contrast to the rest of our lives when we are in firm control of at
least our time and location. Sure, sometimes we need to wait in long
lines or twiddle our thumbs during long hold-times on the phone. But
in that case, we’re still in control. We continue wait or hold
instead of walking away or hanging up but we’ve measured the cost
against the goal and have made the decision to continue waiting. We
consciously continue to sit there because the goal is worth it.

But travel is different. You can’t just get out of the plane, or
off the train, or off the bus or out of traffic. You’re stuck. The
“out” is never better (unless you happen to have a parachute) and that
feeling of out-of-options is not a comfortable one.

My Experiences

I’ve travelled a fair amount by various modes of transport for both
work and pleasure. I’ve been through a number of, um, interesting
events:

  • I put my kids to sleep for the night under benches at an
    airport because they finally announced at around midnight that our
    flight had been cancelled until early the next morning.
  • In a flight from Florida to Utah I watched 3 full length
    movies. 2 of them were sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off.
    Without air-conditioning. I, of course, missed my connection and
    got stuck overnight in Salt Lake.
  • After missing a connection in Florida we ended up renting a
    car to drive to our final destination (arriving at 3AM) because
    the airline refused to even put us up for the night.
  • I had packages left on a train because men with (big) guns
    were telling us that dogs weren’t allowed on the train, even
    though we specifically had a dog-ticket for said dog.
  • I was trapped in an airport’s terminal-to-terminal train
    system that failed about 50 feet from my destination
    platform (causing me to miss my flight).
  • I’ve travelled across the country for a meeting that ended up
    being cancelled.
  • I got stuck in Seattle because of grid-lock on the highways
    preventing me from reaching the airport in time. But it was a
    day-trip, which means I only had a backpack and no
    luggage/clothes/etc.

Now, I’ve had a lot of uneventful trips too of course. But somehow
the story that “I flew from Sacramento to Denver and arrived 30
minutes early” just doesn’t have the same interesting story behind it.
And I’ve had a lot of other delays, missed flights and other negative
events that also aren’t worth mentioning.

What I’ve Learned

Out of all those mishaps, the ones that I look back at with the
least negative feelings were the ones that I refused to let myself be
stressed by the events of the day (or night). Fighting it, in the
end, never had any significant effect because, as I’ve mentioned
previously
, you’re the visiting team in a game where the home
team has a huge advantage. In the end I was always still stuck
somewhere other than home. I was just angrier. If you must fight the
fight, fight it at home. Pick another carrier for your
next trip.

One eastern philosophy worth studying teaches that we should be
more like water than a rock. When obstacles get in the way of water,
water just flows around it and is, in the end, unaffected. It’s the
rock that is continually broken down by oncoming obstacles until it’s
own health is seriously jeopardized.

The next time you’re stuck in the river of travel, try being the
water instead of the rock. The trick, of course, is letting go of
your desire to be somewhere else immediately. Instead, buy a book and
relax. You’ll get there eventually so you might as well be as rested
as possible and in a good mood when you arrive.

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Where is our playing field?

Today we buy products and services. Then the products and services break. Invariably. If we’re lucky, we bought something that won’t break for a long time. If we’re less than lucky, it’ll break right after the warranty expires, as we all know.

That’s when the problems really begin. Not because the product broke, but rather because you have to get it serviced. And to get anything serviced now you need to talk to multiple people (or more likely recordings of multiple people), then wait multiple hours and frequently end up paying a significant amount. It’s the hours that add up more and are more painful than anything else.

  • How long do you wait on the phone?
  • How much time did you take waiting for the service technician to arrive?

Time, as my co-worker says, is our most valuable asset. We just wasted tons of it.

The problem is that we’re at their mercy. They have the knowledge and the tools. They have the power. To make you wait. We have only need (and hopefully enough money and time to pay for the need). If we choose to fight them when they give us a sliding 8 hour service window and then miss it, we again have to spend our time on the phone talking to multiple recordings only to loose the battle in the end. And wait.

We need to stop raging the battle against the companies on their playing field. But where is ours? The only option we have is to vote with our wallet. Change companies. Once one has left you speechless for the time they cost you, switch. Except that these days there are surprisingly few companies in important markets and they’re all equally as bad (go call all the cell phone companies for an example). Where do you go then?

Local services and business still offer the best service almost always. But for some reason, we’re not willing to pay the higher cost up front for the better long term care. Immediate gratification knowing we received the lowest price wins out more often than not.

Many rating sites exist for rating products.

Why is it that so very few exist for rating quality of service of a company?

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