Archive for September, 2008
Here are the “trending topics” on Twitter at this moment:
- Wall Street
- Black Monday
“I used to live next door to a Russian émigré. One day he asked me to explain something that puzzled him about his new country. ‘This place seems very rich,’ he said, ‘but I never see anyone making anything. How does the country earn its money?’ The answer, these days, is that we make a living by selling each other houses.”
This week Google Maps began providing mass transit directions for the New York City metro area. Woo hoo!
Other sites have tried to offer transit directions for the city, but not like this. Google stitched together all the various local transit services, including the ones operated by the MTA, the Port Authority and New Jersey Transit.
I decided to put it to the test with a hard problem: Getting from Newark Airport to my neighborhood. You’re dealing with two states that operate multiple rail and bus services, and there’s no obvious way to do it. But it’s an important route because anybody traveling from out of town via the airports will try to use this service.
I know from experience that the best way to get from EWR to 11215 is to ride the Airtrain monorail to the NJ Transit train, then pick up the subway at Penn Station: A to the F.
Google Maps can’t make up its mind. It offers all kinds of directions depending on the time of day, claiming it can save you a minute or two by sending you on a bus to the PATH train at Newark Penn Station. One scenario involves connecting with two New Jersey buses from the airport to Port Authority. The Google computers are programmed with the exact scheduled departure times of the buses and subways, which is a little goofy since things tend to run off schedule. There’s also information missing. Sure, you can take a C train to Jay Street Borough Hall, but if an A comes first, take the A! And if you’ve just arrived at the New Jersey airport, do you need to buy a fare card? Can you pay in cash on the bus? How much? Do you need exact change? In coins?
A computer might be able to beat a human in chess. But it still can’t beat a well-informed transit rider in navigating New York.
I’ve been trying to make sense of the sudden increase in location shoots going on around the city. Gossip Girl has been taping all over Brooklyn in the last month or so; they were shooting on Prospect Avenue in my neighborhood Tuesday night.
Generally, film and TV productions cause minor disruptions. They will take over all the street parking on a block, set up a bunch of trucks with diesel generators, and spread heaps of cables and equipment all over the sidewalk. Sometimes they’ll close a restaurant or a coffee shop for the day. And rarely, for the biggest movies, they’ll block a sidewalk or a road entirely. I think most New Yorkers get such a kick out of seeing our city fictionalized in movies and on TV that we accept these small inconveniences.
The Times has a story today explaining why there are so many shoots going on right now: Tax credits.
Sorry for the lack of activity. This blog and all of daryllang.com site was offline for most of Tuesday and this morning. My service provider blamed the outage on a hardware failure.
This got me thinking about how companies handle problems. A few months ago, United Airlines lost my suitcase. Every airline employee I spoke to, either at the airport or over the phone, seemed to be reading from a script carefully engineered to deliver no actual information. “We’re sorry and we’re looking into it.” The only source of real information was a computerized phone prompt. In the end, my bag was delivered to my hotel in a reasonable amount of time, problem solved. I still felt annoyed.
Compare this to OLM, the hosting company I have been using for this site since 2001. Whenever there’s a problem, I can reach a tech support person by phone right away. And whoever answers ALWAYS knows exactly what’s up and gives me a clear, professional answer to my question. Even when the problem is OLM’s fault, I have never felt annoyed at this company.
The lesson? Like most people, I’m much more willing to forgive the occasional mistake (like a service outage) when I hear an empathetic, expert-level human tell me exactly what caused the problem and how they’re going to fix it. It’s so simple, but it’s amazing how many companies get this wrong.
Gerritt (the soon-to-be-groom) and friends listen to a Virginia Tech game on satellite radio outside a cabin, Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis, West Virginia.