Making a habit

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Some time ago, I stumbled upon this article¬†regarding productivity tools¬†by ProductHunt. It’s a long list, but I noticed the first section “Habit and Goal Trackers”. The term habit tracker was new to me. Continue reading Making a habit


Sharing a green car

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There are some companies here in the Netherlands that rent electric cars. You can pay a subscription (there are various payment models actually) and you can pick up any car that is near you (you can see the available cars on the web). It's an interesting solution and I happened to share a ride last week.

What I found impressive was the high tech overall experience. You use a card to unlock the car (size of a credit card). When you arrive to your destination it uploads information (probably updates the car's location). It has radio, GPS and all that stuff in a touch screen. But what really gave the feeling of a carefully designed idea was an icon on the touch screen of the car that said “SOS”. Tapping that icon turns off the radio, calls directly the car company support line and you can talk to them directly. No messing around with phones and all that. When the call is over, it even turns the radio back on again. I saw this in action, when we had to call the support line to complain because we had received a parking ticket, while the company said that its cars are allowed to park anywhere for free. I'm thinking of trying it myself one day…

The social experiment of public transport

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Last night I was going home with the bus. A small child, probably around 2-3 years old was crying really loud, laying on the ground at the feet of his mother. That woman was also young, less than 30 years old, and didn't react to the child's non stop crying, probably because she didn't want to spoil him (or maybe she didn't care, who knows). Well the child was crying his heart out louder and louder so after 2-3 minutes of that, some guy who was standing close by screamed really loud at the baby! Everybody in the bus turned around to see what's going on.

Well, the baby stopped crying. In fact, it didn't cry at all until when they left the bus and I would say the bus became totally quiet altogether. The bus driver said something in Dutch in his microphone for everybody to listen but I don't know what he said.

I think in the end people buy cars just to put an end to this social experiment also known as public transport. Babies crying, people shouting, music too loud, pants too low, people smoking at your face, nobody ever complains, until they break and go buy either a car or a teaser gun.

In Greece people have this stereotype regarding western Europeans that “they follow all the rules”. Well, that's definitely not the case with the Dutch people. When I take the ferry to work, there's a nice sign for the motorbikes asking them to turn them off before they come on board. Guess what. Unless there's a security person there, which rarely is, nobody turns the bikes off. It's the tiny rules. It takes a while to notice it, especially if you come from a place where people park their cars on the sidewalk all the time. This was brought to my attention for the first time by a colleague from South Africa. When I had told her “but the Dutch people follow the rules in general” in a similar conversation she totally disagreed and told me to observe them and I would see she's right.

From what I've heard, I would say the problem begins here in schools. I've heard that in Dutch schools kids are allowed to be as free as they want, to behave bad, even be informal, or even impolite, towards their teachers. I've heard about this twice in my Dutch course. If it's true then I would assume it's a bit difficult after that to realize that there are other people around you and you're supposed to think about your actions. What kind of a discipline does a person have that lights up a cigarette right by a sign that says “no smoking” and for a ferry ride that lasts 5 minutes top? And why doesn't anyone ever complain to this type of behavior?

Customer Care 2.0

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So I wake up this morning and check my e-mail as usual. In my e-mail I see an invoice from my internet provider, Telfort, that charges me 49 euros for moving costs. I get pissed off and I twit about it.

Back up a bit.

I moved to a new apartment last month. According to Telfort's webpage, I had to pay moving costs in order to transfer my internet. I had found that cost to be too much, so I had called them to complain. Over the telephone, they had offered me to skip the moving costs if I would extend my contract with them for one year. Sounded like a good deal and I agreed to it.

So this morning I see the e-mail and I'm thinking “damn, they charged me for the moving costs after all”. I twit about it. What happened next was amazing. Telfort replied to me on twitter and asked me to send them a DM with my info so that they could check what's going on! I did that and they replied with more DMs, saying that actually in last month's invoice they had gave me a 49 euro discount. Oops… my mistake! That's what happens when you check your e-mail too early in the morning I guess.

But I think that this incident shows how a company can use twitter and social media to improve their image and manage some of their customer's problems. I merely posted a complaint with the word Telfort in it (I didn't even type @telfort to reference them) and a Telfort employee was there to see and investigate it! They even reacted before I had a chance to call them on the telephone and complain. I would then have had to guess the correct option on the telephone menu, spell my name, explain the problem, hold on line, be transferred to the correct department, etc. But now everything was resolved fast and magically, simply by complaining live on twitter!

Isn't this a fantastic way that a company can use social media?

Greeks in space!

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I just got a video from an event in Paris that shows the Greek vice president of the government [*] been kicked out by several Greek protesters. A few days ago, in Berlin, the Greek prime minister had also troubles with Greek demonstrators that interrupted his speech. I think the one place Greeks haven't demonstrated yet is… space!

I'm trying to put myself in the place of some German guy that went to listen to the Greek prime minister giving out his nice speech and suddenly all hell breaks loose. People shouting in Greek, raising banners and throwing pamphlets out of nowhere. It's got to be a big surprise for the poor foreign person.

On the other hand, protesting in Greece is often equally surprising to most of the people. Usually people get informed only by the TV media that hide away (or censor if you like) the reasons why people protest or even the protests altogether. In Paris for example, the reason was the hunger strike of 300 immigrants in Greece that's been going on for more than 30 days now. In a certain small city close to Athens, ordinary people of all age have been clashing with riot police for about two months now in complete and deafening silence from the Greek media. So my point is that when it comes to Greece, protesting abroad is the same as protesting in Greece: most of the time nobody has a clue on what the protest is about. And most of the time, nobody cares.

At least protesting abroad has an extra advantage: it takes place far away from the reach of the Greek police and its usual practices (framing people, attacking people, etc). No foreign cop will start tear-gasing people who are just shouting. So it's safer! Hm… maybe protesting in space isn't such a bad idea after all. It achieves the same results it would achieve if it would be done back home, plus you don't risk getting sent to the hospital or jail.

At the risk of extending this post to any analysis of Greek politics, here's a video from the Muppet Show Pigs in Space that gave the inspiration for the title of this post.

And since we're headed for space anyway, we can adapt the legendary Star Trek line:

“these are the protests of the Greeks. Their mission, to boldly protest where no man has protested before!”

[*] so it's like his only superior is the prime minister.

Living offline

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I spent a little more than 20 days without internet at home, waiting for my provider to reconnect it to my new house. I think I learned the following things out of this experience:

  • Facebook is truly the big brother were you look through the keyhole of other people's photos etc. I read in a nice comic: if a party's photos don't get uploaded to Facebook, did the party really happen?
  • Twitter has too much noise.
  • In general I spend too much time consuming endless streams of information. I end up scrolling through articles fast, not really reading into them. The bigger an article is, the less is the chance that I'll read it.

Also, I read the news too often. I noticed that for the first time I would leave the office on Friday afternoon and Monday morning I would check the news and I would actually read something new. Bad news about Africa usually, but still it was new news to me. This hadn't happened in a long time because I check the news many times during the day. But why? What difference does it make? Is it a bad addiction? And how do you get over it?

The real need I had for internet these days was to check something in my bank, to register to the Amsterdam gemeente (municipality) and to google search for something I was coding last weekend. That's it. That's half an hour max.

Finally, a fun incident happened trying to figure out why my internet wasn't working. The internet provider had informed me that I would have internet access on the 22nd of February. The internet and dsl leds on my router had been lit a few days earlier. However, I couldn't ping or traceroute from the router interface or from a connected computer. So I thought that the actual connection will be active on the 22nd. Coming back from work that day I still had no internet. So I called them on the telephone to complain. To indicate that I'm a technical savvy person, I explained that I'm pinging and tracerouting and I mentioned the output I was getting. They suggested I try to browse something on a browser. I humoured them and went about to browse something… and magic! Browsing to some page (probably some news site) actually landed me to an activation page of my new internet… so all I had to do was actually open up a browser, go to any web site and then I would be served my provider's activation page to verify that my address information was correct. And the reason ping and traceroute wasn't working is that they would stop at the activation IP (and also all hostnames were resolved as the special activation IP). I hang up the phone apologizing and thanking the person who helped me. At least I had learned something new!