Archive for the 'Business' Category

Cinema ads

July 21st, 2005

I came across this article complaining about the duration of ads before movies start in cinemas. And let me tell you, those Americans sure have it good relative to what we have here. The complaint raised there is valid and correct, but it’s so much worse here that it feels the norm.

Of course this became an article not because of the problem, but because the people hitting the problem were big names from within the entertainment industry: (emphasis in quoted text is mine)

As head of production at New Line Cinema, Toby Emmerich is not your typical moviegoer. So when he wanted to see “War of the Worlds” the other night, his choice was between seeing the film in a theater with a tub of popcorn or watching it in a screening room at Jim Carrey’s house, with a private chef handling the culinary options. Despite this seemingly loaded deck, Emmerich opted for a real theater.

“I love seeing a movie with a big crowd,” he says. “But I had no idea how many obnoxious ads I’d have to endure — it really drove me crazy. After sitting through about 15 minutes of ads, I turned to my wife and said, ‘Maybe we should’ve gone to Jim Carrey’s house after all.’ “

When DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press took her young twins to see “Robots” this year, she said, “My own children turned to me and said, ‘Mommy, there are too many commercials!’ Now, when the lights go halfway down, I’m filled with dread. The whole uniqueness of the moviegoing experience is being eroded by all the endless ads.”

That all it takes? 15 minutes of ads? Would that be with, or without, the extra time spent on movie trailers? Around here in Israel, 15 minutes of ads is quite standard, and on the short side of the standard. I recently went to a movie before which we saw about 17 minutes of ads, plus 6 minutes of trailers, and both me and my friend felt that this was relatively very nice and short. Seriously.

There was an “amusing”, and sadly very rare, incident around two weeks ago which reached the headlines (article is in Hebrew, sorry): In this case, after watching about 20 minutes of commercials, two of the viewers went outside to complain. They were told by the cinema management that if they have a problem they can take their money back and leave. They returned to the hall, told the other viewers about that, and most decided to take the cinema up on that offer.

I think that this is not likely to have much of an effect, however, because I’ve been to quite a few movies preceded by that duration of ads, and nobody did anything similar. Still, one can hope.

Sometimes including the ads, the trailers, and the various notifications, it can take 40-50 minutes from the official start hour until the movie starts. So the Americans should know that their 10-20 minutes can easily expand.

The article also had a telling quote from Globus United (One of the major entertainment companys here, which owns a large percentage of cinemas, and is the importer of films from Universal, WB, Paramount, and such). They said that (my own rough translation):

The state, as you know, does not subsidize the movie industry, as it subsidizes the theatres for example, and in the price of the ticket (which includes VAT, of course) alone it is hard to cover a multitude of costs (such as electricity, rent, security, etc.), and this is why the ads are required.

My heart bleeds for them.

Expect similar replies from the US cinemas if this issue actually makes waves there.

They also mentioned that in their own cinemas they show the actual start time of the movie. Even if it’s true (and I do not recall seeing anything like this in a prominent location), that is something you can see only after you already arrived to the cinema, not before. The newspaper listing, and website listings, only show the official start hour.

And then they wonder why less and less people go to see movies in the cinema, and more and more they show movies to a half-empty room…

Via Interesting People, via a post on The Big Picture about the reasons for decline in movie theatre revenue. This post here is a slightly edited version of a reply I sent on the IP list, which (so far?) did not get forwarded to the list.

Expressing personal views using company property

July 14th, 2005

Those who strongly oppose the latest disengagement plan have embraced the orange colour as a sign, and it is quite common to see cars carrying small orange ribbons tied to their antennas or mirrors.

And, while much more rare, some people who strongly support the disengagement, or who are just tired of seeing all those orange ribbons, have started tying blue ribbons to their cars.

In any case, if a person wants to express a political view, that’s fine. If they want to tie small ribbons to their cars, that’s perfectly fine as well.

When the cars aren’t theirs, however, I must take exception. Usually this is not a problem, and people driving company cars (at least in as so far as they are identifiable by having printed/painted company logos on them) avoid putting those ribbons on them. But not all, and not always.

A few days ago I saw one case which was very obvious, when two cars belonging to the same company were driving sompleace, and one of them carried an orange ribbon. Very obviously in this particular case, the orange ribbon was there to represent the opinion of the driver, not the company. But when there is just one visible car, this is less obvious.

The driver really should not have put the ribbon there. A car painted with company colours, and having a company logo, is not only an advertisement of the company, but also to an extent a representation of the company. If the car is involved in an accident, or just drives carelessly, for example, people watching it will associate the behaviour with the company.

A person tying something like that orange ribbon expresses an opinion. By doing it on a company car, this creates an association between the opinion and the company. This is not like in a written text, where a disclaimer can be added stating that the opinions are of the writer and not the company. When people see an orange ribbon on a car with company logo, they could regard the company, not the individual driver, as strongly opposing the disengagement. Or in a general case with other ideas which are expressed by anything attached to the car

That can hurt the company. In this particular case, the entire company is not in support, or both cars would have had the ribbons. So the driver, due to his own personal opinion, risks the company’s reputation, and hinder it with the appearance of political alignments. Very bad form, and extremely rude and inconsiderate. Even if the driver is certain it’s a good cause, he has no right to drag the company into it.

Regardless, one company is obviously greatly enjoying this whole thing. Orange Israel, one of the three large cellular network operators here. The company spent a lot of time and money trying to associate the colour orange with their brand, and their logo is not much more than a simple orange rectangle. While as a company they probably don’t have a political view about the disengagement, they’re probably overjoyed by the tons of free publicity. Their cars are also the only ones on which I suppose there won’t be much of a problem if someone will decide to hang an orange ribbon…

Outdated spam

July 14th, 2005

I got a very amusing spam message a few days ago.

The message was from a clinic dealing in various sorts of cosmetic surgery. It talked about a special offer they were having, in which when you order one of their treatments you get all sorts of extra gifts and benefits. Pretty standard marketing stuff actually.

But the special offer was time limited, only valid until a certain date. A date which was three days before the one on which the message was sent.

They didn’t say anything about their regular services. Just about the special offer. Which was irrelevant by the time the message arrived.

And it’s not as if the message delivery was held in the post office, as may sometime happen to a physical envelope. This was an email, which arrives almost immediately.

The message was sent through one of the larger email advertising spam brokers in the country, and wasn’t something they did by themselves. Meaning they probably paid good money for it. If it wasn’t that it was by definition sent by a spammer, I’d have said they need to check the ethics of the people they work with…

It also doesn’t quite make sense that this was a sleazy way to attract attention while not actually putting up the special offer. After all, it’s very easy to knowingly sent a message about a non existing offer, and pretend that it was sent by mistake. The problem I have with that is that while some stupid and misguided people think spam is a legitimate thing, something like that is too obviously not. And that was sent by a known clinic, and not some shady person selling all original Rolex watches that fell off the back of a truck.

Of course, this may also be some sort of phishing/identity-theft attempt, since the link on the message goes to a page asking you to leave details about the requested treatment and contact information. At which point you’re supposed to trust them to only use these in order to contact you, despite the lack of any privacy policy… A page which isn’t on the main site of the clinic, but on the site of the spam company, directed through a third domain…

Unbreakable

July 7th, 2005

A delivery guy arrived today with two large packages of electronic equipment we ordered for one of our systems. One package contained the actual device, and the other contained mostly power supplies. Needless to say the electronics were somewhat gentle, though the power supplies are probably more robust.

The guy requested help getting the stuff from the truck, so we took a small cart, and went over to the truck, which was parking outside on the street. He opened the trailer, and I saw that besides our two packages it was empty. The packages were not tied down, or fastened to anything. In fact, they were resting in an angle on the corner that gave the distinct impression they slid on the floor during the drive over, and this is where they bumped the trailer’s walls last.

After putting both boxes on the cart, we moved back to the office. The gate out of our office was half open, a position meant to allow people to walk in, but to prevent cars from entering (Our people have remotes to open the gate, and other people really shouldn’t use our limited parking space).

I told the guy that I’ll go and open the gate, and he kept saying that it’s not problem, and everything will pass. When we reached the gate, the opening was too small for the large boxes. He started rotating the cart in various angles, to no avail.

Again I offered to open the gate. The guy repeated that it’s not necessary, and told me that there’s a very simple way to deal with that. And before I realized what he was doing, he nonchalantly pushed the boxes off, and they came tumbling to the ground. He then moved the cart in, and put the boxes on it again.

I looked at him in surprise, and told him that it’s breakable and delicate stuff. And he responded with something I didn’t expect… “Don’t worry. That’s not breakable. You see, if they thought it was breakable, they wouldn’t have sent it with me. Because they know that if it can be broken, I’ll break it. They also didn’t add any extra padding to the packaging, and used my truck, which has no springs and bumps stuff forcefully all the time. So you have nothing to worry about”

I kid you not. And this was not some minor transporter, but one of the major international transport companies.

Luckily the box that was higher on the cart, and so got the much stronger hit after the fall, was the power supplies and not the other electronic devices.

Next time we’ll make doubly sure that everything is marked “breakable” all over…

Statistics show UK hi-tech industry still didn’t discover Air Conditioners

July 4th, 2005

that’s not exactly what they said, but that’s surely the only way to read it. A security vendor in the UK claims that their statistics of legitimate (i.e. not viruses and spam) emails show a direct relation between the rise in the temperatures and a decrease in email traffic.

A decrease which they attribute to the economy becoming less productive due to the heat (emphasis mine):

Email Systems says that from Monday to Fridays during the most sizzling parts of June, emailing was down by up to 20% on normal levels. It believes this is an accurate way of measuring corporate productivity across the country generally.

“The reduction in legitimate emails clearly indicates that UK businesses have suffered due to the extremes of heat, suggesting perhaps that as an economy we are simply not yet able to cope with the types of summer that experts are predicting in the years to come.”

But most email messages are generated in companies which are more technological. For starters, they have more computers, and more employees who use them. And these places, well, they tend to install Air Conditioning. They really do. But if they have a working AC system, then obviously the heat cannot have an effect on the productivity… If heat does have such a strong effect (and 20% is a lot), then it follows that all those companies don’t have working AC.

Also doubtful is their claim that the amount of email passing through them is indicative of corporate productivity across the country. Email is to some extent an indicator of a company productivity, but not necessarily a direct one, and not for all companies. Many companies simply do not have that much to do with email. Email could only be “an accurate way to measure corporate productivity across the country” if those companies behaved just like companies that live through email and the Internet. And that’s simply not true, though easy to see how a company dealing with computer security could lose sight of that. They’re just not exposed to any corporations who don’t need their services… Then again, maybe their AC broke down, and whoever came up with those claims simply didn’t drink enough and suffered an heatstroke. That would explain everything.

When private economic development is considered a public necessity

June 27th, 2005

Local government in the US can legally seize people’s houses and businesses, in order to promote other private economic development of the land.

Yes, that precisely mean that they can take and raze houses in order to allow a mall, or a hotel, to be built, even if the property owners don’t want to sell:

The 5-4 ruling represented a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex.

As a result, cities have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes to generate tax revenue.

I guess all those American action movies, of home-owners refusing to sell, and greedy land developers trying to scare them off the property using force, are now a thing of the past. All it takes is explaining to some city officials that the new development may bring money, and those home-owners won’t have a legal right to say they like to keep their houses… How lovely.

On the other hand, this would teach a lesson to those nasty people who buy real estate just because they think the area may be worth money sometime. Instead of negotiating with them for compensation that matches the land value, developers could get the local authorities to kick them off. Good riddance, eh?

Hmm… I wonder if we have similar laws here. That could be real useful in handling the current ill-conceived and badly planned disengagement plan. Instead of getting the people there away for the stated reasons, the government can say it wants to build many malls, bulldoze the houses over to make room, and then give the work and franchise to Palestinian contractors…

Subscription auto-renewals

June 15th, 2005

With every time-limited service subscription, there comes a time when the subscription expires, and needs to be either cancelled or renewed.

Service providers of course prefer if you renew. You may either want to renew, or want to cancel. Which raises the issue of renewal policy. The basic concept would be that you subscribe for a certain length of time, and if you want to increase the time, you need to go and do something about it. Under this model, if you’re not interested, you just don’t do anything, and the subscription will expire. Since renewal means another payment, then it makes sense not to pay unless you explicitly want to.

The second model is the auto-renewal one. The subscription will be renewed automatically, unless you explicitly cancel it. This is unfortunately becoming more and more common, since the service providers really like it. Obviously, if people wanting to renew will always renew, and people not wanting to renew won’t renew, then the method won’t matter. So the differences are in convenience to the customers, and in what happens to customers who don’t pay attention.

The businesses involved usually claim they’re doing this “for your convenience”. Let’s take a look at the options, from the customer standpoint:

  • Wants to renew, without auto-renewal: In order to renew the customers have to be aware that the subscription is expiring, and have to manually go and renew the service. Being notified is easy, since the business involved has an incentive to make sure the customer will know. There is a little bit of a hassle in renewing, but in general the process should be very simple, since again it is in the best interest of the business to make the renewal easy. Worst case, if the customer forgets, then the service will stop. Since the customer cares about the service, they will likely notice that (if they don’t, they didn’t really need the service), and go renew. The cost of that will be a temporary disruption of the service, and as long as the service isn’t life-critical (air supply for your new lunar colony dome, for example) that should be just a small disruption, especially since many such services can be renewed retroactively from the expiration date.
  • Wants to renew, with auto-renewal: This is the most convenient option for people who want to renew the service. They don’t have to do anything, and everyone is happy.
  • Doesn’t want to renew, without auto-renewal: This is the most convenient option for people who don’t want to renew. They made a subscription to last a certain time, the time passed, and the subscription stopped. The business lost the customer, which is bad for the business, but the customer was not interested in the service anyway, so at least they parted ways amicably.
  • Doesn’t want to renew, with auto-renewal: The customers have to manually cancel the subscription. If they don’t, they will find that they again pay for a service they do not desire. The customers have to remember to cancel before the renewal date, and the business has an incentive to avoid clearly reminding them, because the business want them to renew. In addition, the manual cancellation may be more complicated than a manual renewal, since the business has little incentive to make sure it’s easy to cancel. An undesired service is also one that the customer is likely not using, and so is less aware of, so there is a decent chance the service will get renewed due to simple inattention. This is good for the service on the short term, since they will get the money for a subscription, but bad on the long term, since it may annoy customers. Worst case for the customer is when the customer forgets, in which case they pay money for a service they will not use, and don’t want to use.

So auto-renewal means that customer who want to renew are spared a simple chore of manually renewing, and people who don’t want to renew either go through a similar, or harder, manual chore, or get really annoyed discovering they unwittingly purchased more subscription time. Unless this is a subscription that absolutely everyone will always want to renew (hint: no such thing, unless you’re the monopolistic air supplier for that lunar dome we mentioned), this does not strike me as being for the customer’s convenience.

Personally, if I ever subscribe to anything with auto-renewal, one of the first things I do is cancel the renewal. If I’ll want to renew, I’ll do it when it’s time. But if I forget, I much prefer the small bother of a subscription lapse, to the huge bother of finding out I paid for a service I don’t want.

This post was started after taking a look at the on-line subscription page for The Economist (At this time I don’t have any intention of subscribing, I just took a look out of curiosity, since the subscribe buttons were there near an article I was trying to read, and wasn’t allowed access to). They have two subscription options, annualy or monthly, each with a link explaining their auto-renewal policies.

And yes, both automatically renew. Even the monthly one, which is typically what you’ll choose if you do not want to be a long-term subscriber, but just have temporary access. Not only that, but a yearly subscription costs $89.00, and a monthly one costs $19.95. This means that if you do a monthly subscription without reading the fine-print, expecting to pay for a month, you may well find yourself after a year having paid $239.40 for that annual subscription.

Nice, isn’t it? The auto-renewal for the annual subscription is bad, but all too standard these days. Monthly subscription auto-renewals, that’s just plain rude. Very rude, even. Those prices are high because people usually do this as a temporary one-time thing. Why force them through the hoops of cancellation, or make them pay if they, not surprisingly, not notice their one month subscription is going to increase itself automatically?

The Economist also don’t handle their own subscriptions, not even though this is a subscription to the web content only, on their own site, so it’s not clear why they need someone else to handle it for them. But when you subscribe, you get an account with a different service, and need to go cancel the subscription there. This is not customer friendly.

At least for the annual subscription option they say they will send an email notification one month before renewal, as a reminder. Nice, but not nearly enough, and these days very likely to just get caught by some spam filter. The monthly subscription, if you wonder, does not come with any such reassurance.

Who needs the human element?

June 15th, 2005

Every system can develop errors, and have incorrect data. And if all the decisions are made by the system, sometime there can be silly mistakes that simply cannot be corrected. This is one of the main reasons humans stay involved, even on cases where all they normally do is serve as a front-end to a computerized system.

Like a sales clerk. The job is to see what is it that you want to buy, enter the information into the system, take your money, and hand you the receipt (a bit oversimplified, maybe, but that’s the gist of it). Most of the time you could do just as well by passing the barcode reader on the products yourself, and swiping the credit card yourself when the transaction ends. With the idea of putting RFID tags on products in stores, you won’t even need to use the barcode reader. The shop employee sitting behind the cash register is usually redundant.

Except when there are problems, or when the information in the system (such as stock quantity, prices, product descriptions, and such) is incorrect. In this cases the human element is necessary, because the person can be shown the mistake, and take steps to correct it. If they don’t have the access required to correct the problem, they can at least exercise judgement and get someone higher up. That someone can, again, be talked to, and shown how the data in the system does not match reality. Having someone you can reason with, and who will not blindly follow the system database, can be invaluable.

But apparently on some stores, even the employees can look straight at the large pack of products from the kind you want to buy, and tell you that they are out of stock. The products are on the shelf, you could bring one to the cash register and shove it in their faces, but they’ll read the line on the computer screen, and tell you that they don’t have it on stock.

This is plain idiotic. Even the manager claimed they were out of stock. And store managers are supposed to have the authority to do something. Maybe change the stock information manually. And if not, at least take the customer’s money, make the transaction manually, and log it into the system later after the error is corrected. The important thing, both for the store and for the customer, is to make the sale. Not in this case, though.

I wonder what would have happened if he tried to just take what he was trying to buy, and walk out of the store. Instead of giving up, to just take it. Usually that would be stealing, right? But the store can’t complain someone is stealing from them an item they don’t have. If it’s not in stock, they don’t have it, so it can’t be taken away from them. Makes perfect sense. Imagine the (imaginary, but no more crazy than the actual one in the story) conversation:

Manager: Stop that, you thief!
Customer: What do you mean, thief? I’m not taking anything of yours!
Manager: That’s our product, you didn’t pay for it!
Customer: Are you sure? It’s yours? Fine, I’ll buy it then.
Manager: You can’t buy it.
Customer: Why not?
Manager: Because we don’t have it in stock.
Customer: You don’t have it in stock? Not even a single unit?
Manager: No.
Customer: Then this unit isn’t a part of your stock?
Manager: Right.
Customer: Fine, then it’s not yours, and you won’t mind if I take it, right?

Would have been interesting to see how that would have turned out…

Strange indeed

June 6th, 2005

To each their own definition of strange, I suppose. And those definitions often don’t match at all.

One of the things I would consider strange is if a department, inside a company, would decide to start a blog for the purpose of internal department communication, as a sort of group messageboard. Well, it may not sounds incredibly strange presented like that, since group blogs are indeed a way for several people to communicate at the same place. Right?

But what if it’s not a small company, but a department inside a very large company? And what if the blog isn’t private, but public? What if it’s even run inside an external free blog hosting platform like Blogger, and not by the company? What if this mean that the department using it in fact does everything where everyone can see them, and where they have no control over the infrastructure, despite coming from an organization that can certainly afford to hold their own collaboration severs and infrastructure? Ah, now it becomes a bit strange, does it not?

Even more strange, that working like that for about three weeks, this marketing R&D department of Masterfoods USA, among several posts on their blog about their own activities, and several links to outside reports about their company in the media, has just one outbound link to what is an unrelated post on a personal blog. Linking, in fact, to the third of my posts where I go through interesting referrer lines in my log files, because they think that it’s strange.

Strange, right? Even very strange. Left me quite mystified for a while there. I must admit that originally when seeing the post subject of “Dave, this is strange”, it had a very strong flavour of 2001: A Space Odyssey. If the poster had been named Hal, instead of John, I would have been sure I was being had by someone.

Until it hit me, these people probably think all these blog things are a nifty and cool new idea, or something like that, but don’t really get everything involved. It is for example quite possible that they think their Blogger account is private just because they selected not to publish it to search engines, or something of the sort. They won’t be the first, but then again the other cases I encountered were people who did not have a company IT department to consult with.

And with little understanding of web related issues, they may not know what I meant by speaking about a referrer log. In which case I must agree that that post would seem very strange indeed. And of course the reason they hit mine, instead of the myriad other people who cover their own interested referrers caught in their log files, is that this post of mine mentioned something that got caught in a search they ran.

This group is obviously someplace related to their Mars chocolate department, so they may have got there by searching for Mars, or maybe for Cocoavia. And had an understandably hard time understanding my odd sense of humour in a bunch of seemingly unrelated topics.

Well, John and Dave, if you get to this post as well, here’s a short explanation about referrers. When you click on a link inside a web page, your web browser (That’s the program used to see web pages, Internet Explorer in your case, I’d expect) goes and fetches that new page to show you. So far so good, right? Well, when it does that, the request that goes to the new website, asking for the page on the link, also contains other information besides the link you request. One of these bits of information is the page that you are coming from, where the link exists. This is passed in what is called a referrer header of the request.

And what is that good for, why do people check these? It’s interesting to know where and how people got to your page. So many websites, including lone blog operators (and your own website admin in the company, if they talk to Marketing, and have a clue), tend to go over their server logs, or other statistic providers they use, and see things like what pages people wanted to see, and what was the referrer. That is how I got to your blog, because someone (Dave?) clicked the link there to get here, and so your blog came as referrer.

The main use for that is the search engines. When people run a search in a search engine, the keywords searched are listed in the result page URI, which is then passed as referrer. And it’s interesting to see what did people searched for to get to your page. And this is what these referrer log roundups of mine, and many others, cover. All the highlighted lines there are what people actually went and searched for on places like Google or Yahoo search.

I hope that helped. It’s certainly been a strange experience all around.

Finland’s paper industry strike and working conditions

June 1st, 2005

A several weeks long worker’s strike in Finland’s paper industry continues, and the impressions now are that it will go on for quite some time.

As in most cases, the strike is related to working conditions and worker compensation. In this particular case it’s not that the workers wish to improve on an existing condition, but that the employers are changing their demands and require more work days from some of the workers. And while they offer compensation, the workers are not satisfied with it, and don’t think it covers the higher demands.

So far it seems a pretty simple case, but it becomes very odd when taking a better look at the details. First, what is it that the employers demand? They want to keep the mill open and working during Christmas and Midsummer. This will require that some of the workers will come to work on what was until now a vacation day.

Not having a midsummer vacation here, I decided to check how long is this midsummer vacation. One day, it would seem. And so is Christmas. So we’re talking two days extra work, though of course working on a traditional vacation isn’t fun.

But wait, according to the same calendar:

On Midsummer Eve and Christmas Eve, the schools, offices etc are closed, but shops are open part of the day.

Not to mention that according to the article:

the employers are thought to want to keep paper plants open during Christmas and mid-summer, saying other industries in Finland do not close down for these holidays.

So two days, where most other people work already, it would seem. So let’s see what is the measly compensation that got the workers so riled up about, shall we?

The Finnish Forest Industries Federation, which represents employers, is offering 1,600 euros and an 11-hour cut in annual hours as compensation for workers who might end up working during Christmas and mid-summer

11 hours cut would be, I assume, more than a single work day, though probably less than two work days. So it’s more like shifting the vacation of those days to other days, than just taking away a vacation day. And if those days were not paid vacations (like I know some holidays are, though I’m not sure in this case), it’s even an improvement in terms, since the workers get paid for working these days, and get paid vacation days instead of unpaid vacation days.

There’s of course the discomfort of not being home on these particular days, which the workers may want, which is where the monetary compensation part comes in. 1,600 euros would be something like 1,960 USD or 8,650 ILS. Divide by two, it comes to nearly $1,000 per day. I know Finland is expensive, but that sounds like plenty of money to me.

Not to the workers’ union, though. They want more:

Paivi Turtiainen, a spokeswoman for Paperiliitto, the paper-workers’ union, said: “We want to have more leisure time; money is not the point. The offer of 11 hours is not for every worker, only for those ordered to work Christmas or mid-summer every year. Not for those who do an extra day here or there during those periods.”

Legitimate, this extra pay is not worth to the workers the few hours they lose from the deal. Understandable. So the company should maybe give them a few extra hours, and be done with it, right? Well, one small problem with that:

Employers say they cannot reduce hours any further because Finnish paper workers already have among the lowest working hours in Europe.

Which also makes me think, could it be so low that those 11 hours are full two work days? I’d expect that people who already have lots of leisure will be happy to sacrifice a little of it for plenty of money. But maybe they have so much leisure, that it usually doesn’t feel like they’re working for their salary. In this case extra work will feel more like having to start working, which is a big bother, and not just working a little bit more, which is a smaller bother.

The more amusing part of the union’s rep complaint is that “The offer … is not for every worker, only for those ordered to work…” . Because as a good union person he must believe that workers to which nothing at all happened, and who keep having a vacation exactly like in the previous years, need to be compensated for not having anything done to them. Makes perfect sense. Maybe it’s due to the emotional trauma of seeing some of their co-workers having to work.

All in all, if this news reports is even mildly accurate, I think on this case I’m strongly on the side of the soulless capitalist machine, and encourage them to exploit these poor workers for all they’re worth.

On a final note, the lack of paper of course also have an effect on other industries:

Finland’s berry industry has said it could lose up to 80% of sales this summer because of a lack of packaging to put berries in.

Because everybody knows that it’s totally impossible to put berries in anything except paper. No way that berries could be packaged in plastic, foam, nylon, or anything else of the sort. No, much better to throw away 80% of marketable produce, and blame the lack of paper, than to go and change something, isn’t it?

Disorderly purchase

May 19th, 2005

A few weeks ago my parents purchased a new air conditioning unit for the living room at home. They browsed around a bit, consulted, and finally decided on the model they want to buy.

At the store, when concluding the order, the sales assistant notified them that purchasing this particular model grants them an extra gift of a phone (Cordless phone, according to the company something sold with a retail price of approximately 500ILS). They were a bit surprised, since they didn’t expect it. The sales assistant then showed them their catalogue, and this was indeed announced there. Personally I doubt that the decision of what AC unit to buy should be affected by something like a free phone, but this was the offer. Nice, and honest, of her to inform them even though they didn’t ask for it by themselves, and were in fact unaware.

They arranged for the delivery of the AC unit, and were told that the delivery crew will bring the gift phone as well.

The actual installation of the unit is not done together with the delivery, but by other companies who deal in installing ACs. It’s possible to buy, and install, separately, but in this case they went with the option of using the installers that the store usually works with. So there was one payment to the store, which covered both the purchase and the installation. This unit was reported as some new generation of devices, working on slightly different technology (whatever it may be, I wasn’t involved, and didn’t bother following), so the installation cost a bit more.

A few days later the delivery arrived, with the AC. They forgot to bring the phone, however. My parents called the store, and were told that it was a mistake, and they’ll send it the next day. This turned out to require a few more next days until they claimed that they’re out of stock, and it will only arrive in a couple of weeks, maybe.

In the meantime the installation crew arrived, and installed the unit. It turned out that this device was actually from the older generation, not using the new technology. This required the installation crew to go away, and come back again at a later date, since they were equipped to handle the wrong kind of unit. More delay, and nobody was particularly pleased.

A few days ago my parents received a registered mail notification. I went to the post office to take it for them, and found a check to their account for 200ILS, without any explanation. After a call to the store to find out what is that about, they explained it’s a refund for the installation price.

And a day later they let us know that they have the phone for us.

Everything sorted out alright in the end, but it was a badly organized affair through and through…

Shipping and order cancellation

May 16th, 2005

My boss ordered a new computer screen for a system our company is about to ship. This was done through a website shop that acts as a sort of a reseller for various other stores.

After a little checking, it turned out that the actual supplier store, whose stock the screen is to go out of, is located physically close to us. So my boss decided it would be prudent to cancel the shipping, and come pick up the screen ourselves. He called the store, talked (twice actually) with a person there to confirm that it would be possible to come take the screen directly when they’ll have it ready. He then contacted the support department of the site, and told them to cancel the shipping since we’ll be collecting it directly.

Several days passed, and we didn’t hear anything from them. The actual store had it in stock, but waited for all the order details to be passed from the site shop. So today he called them again.

The order was cancelled. As the women on the phone there told my boss “you told us to cancel it!”. I guess they missed the shipping part, or the part where while cancelling the shipping he verified that it would indeed be possible to pick up the screen ourselves…

After some arguing they reissued the order, and everything should be sorted out by tomorrow.

The seller at the physical store, BTW, was perfectly willing to sell us the screen directly. At a higher price. He already has it in stock, and he knows he has a potential client, but it’s still noticeably cheaper to buy his screen through a middlemen than directly from him. Go figure.

If you thought gender discrimination crazes were just an American problem

March 11th, 2005

It looks like the Norwegians have joined the bandwagon.

Anyone heard of the large furniture selling network, IKEA ? Well, most of the furniture comes in pieces, as "flat pack", with instruction manuals explaining how to assemble them.

So what’s the problem? Some manuals contain drawing of human figures
alongside the pieces of furniture, illustrating positions and movement
needed for the assembly. And the Norwegian prime minister is furious
because all the figures are either of men, or of indiscernible gender.
So it must be sexual discrimination, you see?

Do you? Really?

Especially those indiscernible gender figures. Have they no shame?!

He’s absolutely right. Next time I buy something in IKEA I want the
instruction manual to be jam-packed with drawings of scantily clad
females. And be accurate and elaborate, so there won’t be room for
confusion. We have to know these are real women, and not men in
disguise. Equality is important, dammit! Are you listening IKEA?

On a side-note, the CNN news article
managed to get IKEA’s name wrong in the title. The web page title, in
the HTML, not the headline. The article itself is correct all the way,
but on the title it’s spelled ‘Ikea". An overzealous copy editor?

Hat tip to Common Knowledge.

Make More Free Parking

December 14th, 2004

The rising supply of restaurants, combined with their tendency to congregate, causes a
problem. Parking places get added in a pace that doesn’t match.

More and more people find their way to the same general areas on evenings (OK, the problem
is usually only on weekends), with their cars (There’s hardly any public transportation
after around 22:00, and public transportation isn’t that hot even on peak hours).

The only people that seem to notice are those who charge for parking. This is a good
business. Over time free parking areas are purchased from the municipalities and converted
to payment parking lots. And people pay money to park there.

What nobody seems to notice is that overall it’s bad for business. True, if you want to go
someplace specific, and there’s no free parking available, you’d get into the lot and pay.
But that’s not necessarily the usual case.
This complaint/suggestion is mostly relevant for areas that contain a concentration of restaurants, or
other places that attract people for social meetings.

Normally the procedure is not one where someone decides they want to go eat at place X, and
then try to get company. It’s that someone wants to meet with person Y (or more), and wants
a place to do it at.

Since you meet, you have to meet someplace. If you go out (Doesn’t happen much with some
people, but those are not relevant for this discussion) you need to go someplace, and
usually that would include food/drink/something-of-the-sort.

Obviously the decision on where to meet depends on the possible places. But since most such
places to tend to clump together in specific areas, on many cases the question isn’t a "Let’s go to X" one in which X is the name of an establishment. If many cases it’s the decision of what area to go to, and the specific X is selected only once you’re already there.

Why prefer one area over another?
Notice, I’m not talking about what X can do to make X more attractive to customers, I assume X either does this anyway, or X is a very transient thing and doesn’t matter.

One reason is the selection of establishments in each area. There’s nothing much an owner of X can do about that to get more clients. If X could encourage other attractive places in the area, this would bring more clients overall, but they won’t necessarily go to X. The same apply in the other direction, removing competition makes the overall area less attractive, since only people that originally wanted to go to X will come.

Another reason is specific tastes. If someone desires a certain type of food or entertainment, the preference would go to the areas providing more of these. Nothing much to do here either, for similar reasons.

Another one is variety. Someone that likes familiar things will stick to the same area. Someone that likes to diversify would check their less popular areas occasionally. Nothing (much) to do about the former, but the later are a specific case of the general problem, either how to make them go to X’s area, or how to make them stick to X’s area despite it being familiar.

Another is ease of getting to the area. This includes nearness to the starting point (homes or offices) which X can do nothing about. But this also includes parking. And that’s something that X can do something about.

Does parking matter? Yes, very much. It matters on two separate levels.

The first level is for the one-time visit.
Let’s assume that people who already drove to the area, and are synchronizing the meeting with other people, will not leave but stick to the same area.
If there’s easy and free parking, the people will get someplace, maybe X, do what they want to do, and buy what they want to buy.

If the parking costs money, some people will consider that as a cost to be taken out of the budget for the evening. If the parking was cheap, it’s not a real issue. If not, it can even go as far as create an attitude of "How much more could I spend on one evening for one meeting? This is too expensive". Resulting in them buying less. If they go to X, they may order cheaper courses than they would have ordered otherwise. Or skip dessert, or the extra drink. This is bad for X.

If parking doesn’t cost money, but is hard to find, the effects can be similar. Instead of getting near X and parking, people drive further and waste time driving over and over in the area looking for an empty spot. They will get to X annoyed, and in a sour mood (or at least somewhat less happy than they would have otherwise). It can go either way, since they may order more to cheer up, or order less since they’re pissed off.
The stronger effect would probably be to the order less direction. If there’s a time-limit, they’d get there sooner, so may skip the latest purchases. The time wasted can be considered in similar terms to money paid for parking. And they may arrive in a bad attitude thinking about the effort they’ve already made to arrive to X, so X should better be worth it, meaning that X will suffer due to the increased expectations.

The second level, and the more serious one, is what happens next time (and all the times after it, of course).

Overall prices tend to roughly even out for similar places, so establishments on the same business as X in other areas will charge similar prices. The exact offers, food, drinks, and such would also be roughly similar.
So when deciding on which area to go and look for places to hang out, someplace that would offer the same things with less cost would be better. Between two similar areas, with similar establishments, one where free parking is available, and one where parking needs to be paid for, the choice will become obvious.

It won’t happen overnight. Variety and habits have a strong role. But it will happen.

Except for those rare cases where X is specifically sought after, people will go where they don’t need to pay for more than what they wanted to buy. And where they don’t need to work hard and waste time for it.

It makes a lot of sense, both common and economic.

In addition that, it also seems to match actual facts from the real world. On a busy evening, areas with free parking have more cars than the paid parking lots do.
This not only goes for two lots one next to the other, this works across city boundaries. Amount of cars per parking-spaces where parking is free is higher before the peak times. And there’s more movement, since people don’t feel that they wasted their parking money if they go away someplace else once they’re done. Overall there are more people around in areas where parking is free.

So providing more free parking places will get more people before the rush hours. At the maximum peak this effect is smaller, since people may prefer to pay instead of wasting time searching for a place to park. And since people know that there’s room at the paid parking lots.
Notice, this is because there’s room at the paid parking lots after the free places get crowded. People prefer to park for free. And they therefore spend their money in areas that provides this free parking, since that where they are.

In addition to that, on the really busy times, weekend evenings, some parking places manage to get filled regardless. If there’s no parking at all, people will go elsewhere. If they can’t get into X’s area, then X won’t have them as customers. So more parking places overall is anyway a good idea, free or paid.

Personally, not that I’m representative or anything, but if I observe where is it that I spend most of my meetings-with-friends time, and what causes me to move to other areas, parking is a major issue.

There are a few areas I’m not longer getting to, despite some really nice restaurants there, since I refuse to go around 30 minutes in my car hoping to squeeze into a tight parking space.
There’s another area I don’t get to since it’s impossible to park there for free.

As long as there are alternatives, these places just lose me, my friends, and likely a lot of other people.

If for some crazy reason the trend will continue in the direction of not providing more parking, but taking payment for previously free spaces, we’ll go more to the areas with cheaper parking, or those where search times are lower. Or meet at one of our homes instead.

To conclude, what can X (be X a restaurant, pub, coffee shop, or anything of the sort) do to get more customers?
Help build parking lots, and help make them free.
It’s worth it for businesses in an area to pay for the creation of parking lots. And to pay for those to not charge customers.