August 31, 2006

Human factors at the grocery store

Filed under: Greater Boston, Software Blog — marcstober @ 1:02 pm

Universal Hub points out some frustration about the credit-card devices at Shaws.

I remember that one day at the Allston store (I’m a software developer so I remember this stuff :)), everything was chaos because they weren’t taking debit cards, and taking credit cards required manual approval by swiping a special “magic” card after swiping your card (and they only had a couple such “magic” cards on the premises so managers were running from register to register to approve each transaction). Next time I shopped there, they had the new machines with the Yes/Enter button issues. I figure either their old vendor for some reason dropped them without notice, and they went with the first replacement they could find; or else this was a planned transition gone badly.

This issue, really, I think is not one of software but hardware (or the hardware/software relationship). Theoretically you can touch “Yes” on the touchscreen–I’ve actually gotten this to work before they started with the tape and notes–but the touchscreens are so flighty that it hardly ever reads your response (or reads it as “No”), so the only reliable way to complete the transaction is to use the Enter button.

Stop & Shop is hardly better; while at least the button labels match the prompts, their units have a row of “soft keys” below the display and the prompt is formatted as if it’s asking you to touch the soft key below “Yes” rather than the “Yes” button on the bottom row of the keypad.

Barney vs. Free Speech

Filed under: Parenting, Politics — marcstober @ 10:09 am

It turns out that Barney, the purple dinosaur, is not all hugs and smiles as he is at the center of a legal battle over the right to parody him.

What is most disturbing to me is that Barney appears primarily on public television. I tend to think of public television as an institution that exists, among other reasons, to provide an alternative source of information that doesn’t depend on a profit motive. So it seems kind of hypocritical for a studio they employ to be starting intellectual property lawsuits for apparently commercial reasons.

Interestingly this isn’t the first time I’ve written about issues with PBS children’s shows not playing nice when confronted with real-world issues, and the common thread seems to HIT Entertainment, a childrens-media company owned by a private equity firm Apax. So, has PBS made a deal with the devil? I remember a time (maybe when I was kid) when it seemed appropriate to let kids watch PBS (but not other networks) because Sesame Street, et al didn’t seem so “bad” for them. These days, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference.

I’ll probably keep sending a little donation to WGBH, but I should send a similar one to the EFF for pointing out this issue.

(The most interesting thing about Barney to me is that my two-and-a-half year old, who loved the show when she was one, has already outgrown Barney [and Teletubbies] for characters with more depth.)

August 28, 2006

Housewarming vs. keeping the house warm

Filed under: House Blog — marcstober @ 2:17 pm

We had our housewarming party yesterday. Perhaps the greatest benefit was that it forced us to clean out the sunroom and dining room. The sunroom that we had written off actually seemed nice for the day. Of course we actually unpacked very little so this was just a shell game of moving boxes around.

We had way too much food. But the Weber grill did well and impressed people. I think a fully-loaded grill of food with lots of smoke and flare-ups actually makes the food come out better.

I don’t think my relatives were properly impressed by condition of the house itself. That is, we got a lot of compliments on the house, but people didn’t realize how much needs be done. This may be because as a picnic pavilion on mild day (which was the situation yesterday) the house performed phenomenally. Living in my own house isn’t supposed to feel like being under a rustic shelter at the park, however. It needs to be a place where I can put Hannah to bed without losing sleep myself, and a place where I can be safe and comfortable whatever extremes of weather or other challenges the outside world throws at us. Admittedly people have lived their whole lives with more primitive shelter (and some still do), but I live in twenty-first century North America, with a sizable mortgage, where single-family homes are expected to meet to certain standards. Eventually I showed Uncle Andrew and Aunt Diane the basement with our steam boiler and some of the electrical work, and I think they started to understand.

Speaking of the boiler, we did get the heat working. A furnace tech was able to get the flueways inside the boiler cleaned out as part of the regular annual cleaning and smoke is no longer going into the basement, the smoke alarm is not going off, and the radiators all seems to be getting hot. (I’ll wait until it’s actually cold out to try and balance them further.)

Nevertheless the house supported (literally) almost 40 people without immediate and catastrophic structural failure. I’ll take some comfort in that.

August 15, 2006

It’s all downhill from here

Filed under: Parenting — marcstober @ 9:58 am

Well I know not really — there’s still the matter of potty training, after all — but this weekend when we went to Tot shabbat and the leader asked all the kids to come sit on the floor in front, she just — went and did it! And this follows a general theme of independence, highlighted at my sister’s wedding a week before where she just wanted to go play with her (actually my) cousins — no adult interaction required. In contrast, my 1-year old cousin, while much adored by the older kids (including Hannah), still needed her dad behind her almost all the time. It’s just nice to be able to go to a function, let Hannah go play with the kids while the adults talk to the adults. It’s nice to have reached that stage, I remember thinking how far away that seemed at a party a few years ago.

August 6, 2006

Flower Girl

Filed under: Parenting — marcstober @ 9:51 pm

Wedding 083

August 5, 2006

Complex Business Strategies vs. the Capital Market

Filed under: Business — marcstober @ 7:54 am

This was interesting: a report from the Olin business school at Washington University (where I took some classes in college) says that complex strategies work best but aren’t valued by the market. So you mean that a simple twist like sell groceries–but online! will get you investments, but won’t neccessarily be a sucessful company? Well I guess we all know the answer to that one but it’s good to see serious research confirm it. The idea that the public-held “conglomerates” I remember from youth (does anyone else remember the “we’re Beatrice” advertising?) have been replaced by private equity firms is an interesting idea.

Text of a Message I Sent to Senators Kerry and Kennedy

Filed under: Israel, Politics — marcstober @ 7:45 am

I think that Hezbollah is not only a threat to Israel; they are a threat to freedom and democracy everywhere. They are a threat to the religious freedoms, civil liberties, and national sovereignty valued by Americans and others throughout the world.

In 6 years I can only think of two policies of George Bush that I have really agreed with. One is his proposal for immigration reform that would make it easier for hard-working people (like my own great-grandparents) to immigrate to this country, and second is his support of Israel during the recent conflict.

Please do whatever you can to support Israel in this conflict.

August 3, 2006

Israel Defense Forces – The Official Website

Filed under: Israel, Politics — marcstober @ 3:36 pm

I posted an anonymous comment on a blog the other day, and then today came across this official statment from the IDF about the incident in Qana, saying that 150 rockets had been fired from that area.

To be more direct than my last post on the war: why do the people in that area–or their local and national government officials–allow Hezbollah to fire rockets from their communities? Why do they let their children be killed while they refuse to make peace?
Do they think that a Shiite Islamist regime is worth putting their families at risk? Ok, I can respect that–but not really. Are they just helpless themselves against Hezbollah? That would be sad, but in this case the IDF is being realistic (in comparison to the US in Iraq) to remove the threat without trying to be welcomed as liberators.