Tag Archive for 'Communication'

Broken remnants of past skylines


I happened to look up and noticed this against the evening sky:

Broken TV Antennas

These skewed towers with the broken antennas on top used to densely decorate every city rooftop when we were kids; every apartment needed an antenna, and the taller its tower, the better the reception – less “snow” and other interference in receiving the paltry 2-3 stations we could pull in then.

Broken TV AntennaThen came cable TV, and 300 crisply digital channels, and antennas became a thing of the past… but nobody bothered to pull down the existing ones. New houses have clean roofs, but this older apartment building still carries these skeletal corpses of earlier technology. Not that anyone notices…

Note how the delicate once-regular structures of these precisely designed directional beam antennas slowly erode and shrivel, losing a rod here, half a rod there, until in the end only the tower will remain – and finally it too will disintegrate. That’s entropy for you…

More signage silliness

I was in a shopping center and I saw these two signs on different floors, pointing out the emergency stairs’ entrance.

Now, the sign on the left is well drawn and clear – the guy is purposefully descending the stairs. But the sign on the right has something very wrong…

Stairwel signs

It’s a bit hard to say exactly what it is with this poor chap on the sign… does he have a broken arm? A bad knee? Is he climbing the stairs or descending them? Perhaps the best description is that he’s drunk and wobbling about on the stairs.

Oh well…

The rebellious envelope

Every child knows that postage stamps are affixed to the top right corner of the envelope. You lick the stamp, and you press it to the envelope at that corner. And it stays there. Or does it?…

Golden Envelope can't hold a stamp

I was sending greeting cards recently, putting them in the envelopes they came with. Some of them sported envelopes made of some shiny gold-colored paper. I licked the stamp, put it on the paper… and in a few minutes, as soon as it had dried, the stamp would pop up, curl, and drop off. The envelope was golden, but it could not hold a stamp. You’d think the card manufacturer would pay attention to such a detail?!

Out of the Box billboard technique

Our supermarket provides a large billboard for public use, where people post the usual mix of personal ads of all kinds. So many of them, in fact, that any one ad is likely to get drowned or covered by other ads before the day is out.


Ad on access rampSo here’s one person that solved this problem in an original way, providing their ad with a unique chance to register on people’s eyeballs.

I was walking up the ramp at the left in the photo above, which leads to the supermarket’s main doors, and I saw at my feet the ad in the photo, taped right to the metal ramp. It advertises a flat for rent – and no shopper coming that way can fail to notice it. Wayda go!

Let’s add Interrupt capability to customer support systems

I’m sure this happened to you: you call the support number of your bank/phone company/whatever, go patiently through all the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menus, get shunted to an “all agents are currently busy” music, waste long minutes listening, and finally get a human to talk to. You explain your request, and the agent politely says “Let me put you on hold while I find out the information”. Before you can protest, you’re back on the music!

Which goes on and on, and you have no idea whether the agent is really digging up the information, or he had a heart attack, or he simply forgot about you… the music just drones on. Doubt starts gnawing: should you hang up and start over? Maybe he’s just seconds from picking the line again? Anguish, anger, and unhappiness fill you. And if you’re in the middle of some bank transaction you don’t want to abort, and you have a meeting starting in 3 minutes, you really need to ask the agent what’s going on – but he’s just out of your reach. This is definitely not a good customer experience.

So, what can we do about this? What is needed is a protocol we used to have when I was an amateur radio operator. Back then, people would speak in turn on the radio waves: …AB1CC, this is XY7ZZ, over! Roger XY7ZZ, this is AB1CC… But we had a mechanism for getting a word in sideways if something urgent came up, say another ham with an emergency communication: you could wait for a pause between words and say “Break-break!” and the talking party would shut up and listen. We had an Interrupt capability.

This capability is what we need in those service desks: a mechanism – say, some key sequence on the phone – that would cause the line to go back from hold to the agent that parked it there. Even the knowledge that you could, if you wanted to, get the agent back and ask how much longer is he going to take – would make you feel a lot better, much less helpless and frustrated.

Take note, my dear bank – give us back some control!

A loop of helpful helplessness

I called someone in the US and he wasn’t at his desk; the system helpfully informed me that the guy was not available but that I could

…please leave a message – or, during business hours, press zero for assistance.

It was during business hours.

I pressed zero.

The system cheerfully told me:

Please hold! Someone will be with you shortly!

It was, technically, right. Quite shortly afterward, a nice woman picked up and I told her who I needed to talk to. She said:

All I can do is transfer you to his line, sir.

Which is exactly where I came from.

Whoever designed this flow spared no effort to  integrate humans and machines into a single loop of helpless helpfulness. Or is it helpful helplessness?…

History in the making: Google Wave unveiled

Google Wave logoAs someone who spent a large chunk of  lifetime working on improving knowledge worker effectiveness, especially around computer mediated communication and  collaboration, I can barely contain my excitement.  I’ve just sat through the lengthy video of yesterday’s unveiling of Google Wave in the I/O developer conference. Not only have the good folks at Google integrated the most central processes of Computer Supported Collaborative Work – Email, IM, Shared document editing, Discussion boards, and more – into a single tool; but they’ve upgraded their underlying paradigms – which had changed very little in decades – into a dynamic, vibrant usage model that takes advantage of the latest Web 2.0 concepts (and then some).


The video is quite long, as was the demo, but well worth your time to watch. I won’t repeat the details; if you don’t have patience for the video, there are screenshots here and some info here. They include concepts we’ve been waiting to improve on for years (like properly dealing with, and visualizing,  discussion threads) and others I haven’t seen yet (like an intelligent, meaning-sensitive spell checker).

What will be very interesting to behold when this product comes out later this year is how different segments of the user base adapt to the new paradigm. The Social Networking set should be ecstatic, but what will large enterprises do? The new features of Wave could revolutionize their collaboration  effectiveness, so they stand to gain the most, but many large organizations are not known for their agility where new technology (or changes in ingrained cultural paradigms) are involved. Those who do adopt and unleash this power will have a serious competitive advantage, IMHO.

Kudos to the Google team that developed this down under!

More waste of time

Last year I reported on the inefficient design of a teleconference system, as far as respect for the user’s time is concerned.

Today I sat through a really lovely case of this design issue. This system, speaking with a booming, ebullient voice, took me through the following:

System: Welcome to the conference center!

System: Please enter your passcode followed by the pound sign!

[I did]

System: Please hold while your passcode is being verified!

System (1 second later): Your passcode has been accepted!

System: You can press Star-Zero At any time during the conference to receive additional assistance!

System: At the tone please say your name then press the pound key!

[I did]

System: At the tone, you will be placed into the conference as the third participant!

Obviously, it would’ve been enough if after the second line – once I input the correct passcode – the system had connected me. All the rest of this monologue is useless (OK, in some situations, asking me to say my name may be useful too; but none of the rest).

And in fact, when I was placed into the conference, another participant who had just run this gauntlet of useless chatter said “I wanted to yell at the system “Just SHUT UP!”

Not that the system would have listened…  🙁

Use consistent terminology, WebEx!

Used to be, at the beginning of every (face to face) meeting ten minutes would be wasted on getting the slide projector going. Today many meetings are virtual, but the same time is still wasted while people try to log into the shared meeting workspace…

A case in point: I’ve just participated in a meeting using WebEx to share documents across the world. Nice. But the meeting started ten minutes late, because it took me that time to wade through the invitation email and figure out what I had to do. Now, I’m not perfect, but I’m an experienced IT engineer… so what was this delay about?

The meeting invite email (which was quite lengthy, and included no less than seven links, of which I only needed two) told me to dial into a tollfree phone number to join the audio part. When I did that I was cheerfully welcomed by a machine that told me to dial my “access code or meeting number followed by the pound sign”. I started to scan the email frantically looking for a meeting number or an access code; none were to be seen. The message contained various long numbers, mostly inside the link URLs, so I tried those in random order. The one that finally worked was the last one I tried (naturally) and it was the number the message referred to as my “Session number“.

So yes, maybe I’m naive, but if they want me to dial a session number, couldn’t the recording say “Please dial your session number“? Or, better yet, “Please dial the session number found near the top of your invitation email”?

FameLab again!

Last year I posted about FameLab, the science communication competition organized by the British Council in the Jerusalem Science Museum. Well, here it comes again, and today I’m a judge again. Like before, we get treated to a group of fine young students presenting diverse scientific subjects in only 3 (yes, three!) minutes each. Fascinating!

I also learned an interesting thing: the British Council is working hard to empower the winners to propagate science knowledge. Not only do they receive presentation skills training, they also get to attend international get together where winners from diverse countries meet face to face to exchange views, learn from each other, and figure ways to promote Science education. This is really a wonderful program!