Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coming to America. With thanks to the US Embassy.

(Pic from National Geographic, link embedded)

This blog has been ambling along with no particular theme - an aide memoire of things that make me go aha or err. But I have noticed within me in the last few weeks an urge to reach for the keyboard when confronted with especially good service. And for regular readers, my Heathrow inspired frenzies suggest that I love documenting bad service too (if only to save on medical bills). So, this blog is developing a service-related theme, and that suits me fine. More about that in future.

Well today's experience of submitting my US visa application was a case in point. I have been transferred to the USA with my employer Nokia and need to get a US work visa, with a view to heading over to US in the next few weeks. So goodbye London, hello New York City. Should be a relatively easy transition with Big Co supporting me, but I had mentally prepared myself for turmoil and trauma - from the lawyers processing the case in the bowels of our corporate bureaucracy to the steely faced unflinching staffers behind perspex in the Embassy who would rip your painstakingly created application to shreds for not documenting every single country you'd visited in the past 10 years, or for not including the middle name of your former boss's labrador.

Well, I was wrong. First our lawyers delivered reams of paper work in short order, with no obvious typos. And second, and most surprisingly, the officials at the US Embassy were courteous, efficient and welcoming. I did try dot Is and cross Ts ahead of time, but still I was expecting some resistance. A probing examination of my motives; a frustrating queue to be told I needed to be in another queue. Not a bit of it. I went to Belfast since the London Embassy had a month wait, and apart from the initial 2hr queue, the processing and interview process took approximately 2 minutes. A nice American lady asked me one question about Nokia, cut me off as I was getting long and boring about Nokia's impending strategic shift to Internet services and my role within it, and said Welcome to America, your visa will there in a few days (now my faith rests on the slightly less broad shoulders of Royal Mail. Hmmm).

God Bless Uncle Sam. Here I come, America. Land of the Free. And now, me.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Simon Johnson - Heathrow's finest shoe shine

simon johnson - heathrow's finest shoe shine
Originally uploaded by sdbj

The shoe-shiner is a dying breed. Despite no pressure from the menace of outsourcing (quite tricky to shine shoes by phone), this anachronistic service has been kicked into touch by our scruffy and frenetic lifestyles - bespoke Oxfords gave way to tatty trainers made of chemicals, not cows. These cheap canvas concoctions are always running to the next thing, with little time to stop and smell the polish. Simon's customers are usually running to a plane, as he plies his wares in Terminal 1 domestic departures, and has recently been seeing depressingly few patters of feet in his direction.

I got chatting to him today as I had my shoes shined. Despite his booming presence and a magnetically sunny personality (his other jobs include childrens' entertainer, actor and musician - I have his card) his quaint and comfy seats only attracted four bums the whole of this afternoon. With that kind of result it won't be long before he packs his brushes for good. So if your leather brogues are a tad scruffy and you're flying via Terminal 1, take a few mins to sit and chat with Simon and let him put a shine back in your stride.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What happens to us, when our cars get increasingly smart?

I have a 5yr old VW golf, and one of the reasons I like it is that it lets you kill yourself if you want to. Well, more specifically, it lets you drive without your seatbelt on and does not disturb the peace with a wretched warning bing bing, that seems to be the preserve of most cars nowadays. If the car really thinks you'll injure someone else because you don't have a seatbelt on, why not kill the engine. If it thinks you'll injure yourself, same question, but also another one - why not give me an option saying, "I'm happy to take the risk, bud". The problem is with stuff like this, that you can't ever do things outside the proscribed intentions of faceless mandarins thinking up use cases. Maneuvering around a parking garage or jumping in and out of the car to post letters aren't in defined use cases, and fall through the cracks.

Same with GPS. Whole villages are being cut off by lorries that take short cuts and get stuck - oblivious to reality, the drivers outsource reason to a $200 plastic console on the dash.

And according to today's USA Today, 5 US states have introduced legislation requiring people with drink driving convictions to blow through a breathalyser contraption in order to start their car, and you have to do that at random times to keep the motor running. Wonderful idea, I guess, but what if they have a sober passenger? How soon before it's a requirement on all cars?

Seems like quite a dangerous alignment of increasingly capable technology and increasingly pliant populace which is seeing us outsourcing decision making and responsibility to faceless others and none too smart black boxes. I, Robot, here we come.