I tried to cook a Grilled Cheese from Facebook. There was…mixed success.

So, this video crossed my Facebook timeline recently…and it looked fantastic, so of course I had to try it. I learned some things in the process…

 

It can be expensive.

I was out of a few things (red pepper, brown sugar), but I opted out of others (that thinly sliced cheese officially listed as ‘Normantal’)…and still spent $40 on ingredients. stone ground mustard, sage and rosemary (I got the dried stuff because it’s good to have around), brie, and most of the other ingredients all added up pretty quick. Obviously it was all supermarket sized packaging, so I could easily make 3-6 of these, but at $8-$12 per sandwich, it’s nothing I’d call a bargain.

Ciabatta bread is a pain.

Don’t get me wrong, this stuff is delicious, but the video was a bit deceptive in that the loaf shown rose relatively high, and was quite dense. While I’m sure an actual bakery could sell such a thing easily, the supermarket I went to only offered a loaf of ciabatta about 18″ long and about half the height of the one shown.

I made do with diagonal cutting, but even that was quite the challenge. Getting even two slices out of it, with a similar size, thickness, and consistency, took well over half the loaf to accomplish. I definitely needed to change from my garden variety steak knife to a dedicated, serrated bread knife to get anywhere near what I was looking for. Moreover, its porous consistency meant that one of the problems I ended up with was that, on more than one occasion, I got a good slice that ended up with a hole in it. For a brief moment, I considered how nice it would be to have a jigsaw handy.

That ‘just wisk oil and egg yolks to get mayo’ section is bollocks.

Okay, not really. That is, basically, how it’s done. However, Gordon Ramsay did a video on making homemade mayo, and there is a bit of an art to it – the slow drizzle at the beginning for starters, and it’s entirely possible I didn’t add enough oil. Since the Facebook video didn’t list any quantities or proportions, pretty much everything I did involved guessing and listening to my heart, which is clearly a bad idea. If you’re going to do the homemade mayo part, do that separately from other parts of cooking, rather than trying to fit it in while you’re caramelizing the onions. And, while the dude in the rustic video did it with nothing but a wooden spoon, don’t be a hero – if you’ve got a Cuisinart, use it.

I ended up with mostly-raw egg yolks for mayo, and the egg/lemon/mustard combination was still a net positive that was present, but not overpowering.

Save that onion-caramelizing trick…but getting that look is tricky.

No seriously, those onions were incredible and, even if you don’t go all out like I did making the rest of the sandwich, adding red pepper and a little sugar to onions as you’re browning them makes it absolutely fantastic. However, getting them to have that crunchy look on a stove top is not easy. It’s a fine line with onions between ‘caramelized’ and ‘burnt’, something not helped by my use of a cast iron griddle rather than a frying pan – stirring and flipping wasn’t a picnic as I’m pretty sure just about every onion spent time on the stove at one point or another. While none of the onions were undercooked, getting that ‘crunchy’ vibe looks like it takes a bit of practice. Even so, don’t let it stop you – even at the browned stage, it’s a recipe to keep around.

Slow and low…and cover it.

Having made it through every step and the only part left being to actually grill it to the point of browning the bread and melting the cheese, those thick slices of bread require very low heat…and, if you’re like me and utilizing fans and/or air conditioning in order to avoid drowning in your own sweat this summer, you’ll basically-never get that cheese melted before you burn the bread if you don’t cover it. Okay, that might be a bit of hyperbole; this is where the ciabatta bread’s porous consistency does come in handy, as more heat gets to the cheese…BUT, if you use thicker slices like I did, you’ll definitely want to cover it. I just used an upside down pot, and it really helped. I had mine cooking for about 10 minutes and it really did come out ‘just right’.

You didn’t need that third cheese.

Hey, I’m interested in how it tastes. I really am. But it doesn’t look like the sort of thing that’s readily available. Aunt Google keeps bringing up results from France and the term lacks a Wikipedia entry, leading me to believe that its availability is prohibitive. I just made mine with brie and sharp cheddar. It’s certainly worth experimenting with others (I’m curious about using goat cheese with a little lemon juice and mustard instead of the homemade mayo), but just those two did the job just fine.

Even a half-baked attempt is well worth the effort.

What really made it work was the culmination of flavors – the rosemary with the bread, the mustard with the brie, the lemon juice with the cheddar…it all just worked really well together. Even my first attempt was fabulous and the recipe seems like it can withstand shortcomings in its implementation. Now, I wouldn’t call ciabatta interchangeable with Wonder Bread, but I would say that if you’re looking for something to attempt – and the admittedly high fat content doesn’t bother you, don’t let the fact that your result doesn’t look the same as this very-well-produced video give you pause.

 

A Fantastic Grilled Cheese

It’s Hard To Let Go: The Ultimate Mass Effect Fantasy Element Is The ‘Load’ Button

I just finished Mass Effect 2 again. The suicide mission is always unnerving because it reflects reality: it’s possible to do everything right and still lose.

This time, I lost Mordin and Tali. This is especially hard, since both of them have core plot points in the third game. Mordin will never gain pennance and cure the genophage. Someone else will do that…but someone else might get it wrong. Tali’s death ensures that there will not be peace between the Geth and the Quarians – without her, the choice is ‘which race will die‘.

But I don’t have to do that. I can reload my game save and make some changes to who I assign. And if I get it wrong, I can do it again. And again. Until everyone lives.

Beyond the mass relays, quantum entanglement based communications, and all of the other nearly-impossible parts of the game’s story, that ability is the ultimate fantasy: being able to undo your previous choices and avoid having to live with the consequences.

Let’s go save Mordin and Tali.

Millennial Communication Issues: They’re Universal

If you’re looking for a hot take on Coronavirus, go elsewhere.
If you’re looking for a hot take on the death of George Floyd, go elsewhere.
If you’re looking for a hot take on the 2020 election, go elsewhere.

Sorry not sorry, I’m not discussing those topics on this blog. They’ve been discussed and re-discussed everywhere; everything I have to say has been said a hundred times over, and since this is neither Fox nor MSNBC, you’ll probably disagree with at least half of it anyway.

 

With that all being said, let’s discuss this video; crass language warning:

Millennials in Japan Aren't F**king

Jim heads to Japan on a f**king investigation to find out why the millennials there aren't f**king. Is your country the next unf**kable place?

Posted by The Jim Jefferies Show on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

 

I’ll put aside some of the cultural differences; while I admit that I’d be somewhere between confused and creeped out if I were to ever frequent a maid cafe, there are no shortage of cultural differences that go the other way. I don’t think that’s the issue here.

No, I think that what’s at play here is something that is consistent between the US and Japan. We see in the video that both the men and the women seem to be unable to actually communicate with each other. One man indicates that women scare him, while a woman says that men don’t say what’s on their mind. The other man tries to wiggle out of having to attempt to ask a woman on a date, while the other woman seems to dodge the question entirely. 

Now, the video continues by trying to say that the problem is that the absence of car ownership means that young people aren’t heading to some secluded spot to have sex in a car. I mean, that seems simplistic to me. I’m certainly no expert in Japanese culture, but following this line of thinking, I’d expect that ‘bringing a condom to Lover’s Point being a mutual expectation’ would be equally as plausible as there being a conveniently placed vending machine providing them. Even so, Jim Jefferies seems to be looking for a simple answer to a complex question, and does so with merely the appearance of research: there is an entire industry of Love Hotels in Japan, and they’ve been there for a generation. You don’t have an industry with thousands of sites that nobody is using.

Either way, I think the video puts dating, having sex, and having children into a blender, and does so to its own detriment. It seemed that only one person of its panel of four people had been on a date recently. Even if that date led to sex (which it likely didn’t) which in turn led to having a child (which it definitely didn’t), we’ve still got three non-parents on this panel, and four people that seem to perceive the idea of talking to a person of the opposite sex for any length of time to be an idea met with something between ambivalence and fear. 

How did we get here?

Well, I think the issues are pretty similar. Now yes, there’s at least something to be said about having so many things vying for our time and attention, whether it be social media and Netflix to simply working long hours on schedules that make it difficult to find a mutually available time for a date. At the same time, the prevalence of the matchmaking services offered by the gentleman toward the end of the video lends credence to the notion that the desire to be able to meet individuals of the opposite sex hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just more complicated. The fact that the four people in the video have gone on very few dates doesn’t speak to the problem being ‘bad dates’, but that communication in general is something they all found difficult in one way or another.

So, how can we resolve this sort of thing? Well, I’d probably start out by reintroducing both grace and respect into our interactions with others. Whether a matter of platonic relationships, professional relationships, or romantic relationships, there’s some space between “responding only to perfect expressions of ideas” “tolerating disrespect”, in which grace can and should be shown. I think there also needs to be a greater tolerance for awkwardness; overall I would submit that a renaissance in our willingness to engage in situations that are awkward and prone to conflict would help get past the initial hump our Japanese bachelors and bachelorettes reference. Finally, I think that there probably are some socioeconomic things that probably factor in, itself a topic of in-depth study that goes well beyond a clip from a late-night talk show host and a blog post I paradoxically spent way too much time writing and researching as it is…but I’ll at least point out that countries having more access to education for women has a very consistent trend of lower birth rates and higher ages for marriage

There’s plenty of social issues to address, not the least of which is our overall ability to communicate with each other at a depth that actually matters. But follow the data a bit, Jim: you talked to people in their twenties. Go back and find two men and two women in their thirties – they’re millennials, and they’re probably f**king.

An Answer To The Question Every Teenager Eventually Asks

This week, a brilliant, well-meaning person in my Facebook feed was discussing the idea of an iPhone app which would highlight viruses (the ‘flu’ or ‘corona’ kind, not the computer kind) if present on a surface. My ‘this is a load of bovine excrement’ alarm went off pretty quickly, so I responded by trying to appeal to the fact that electron microscopes cost as much as an entry-level BMW, weigh hundreds of pounds, and the batteries to power them would weigh thousands, all of that ignoring the incredible amount of computing power required to identify and highlight viruses on a screen in real-time. Naturally, the answer received in response was something to the effect of “well, technology keeps getting better and smaller!”, which is only partially true – the power adapter for my laptop weighs four pounds because there comes a point at which ‘physics’ starts knocking at the door.

The person private-messaged me and attempted to be a bit more convincing. I ended up deciding to do the math. Now, I might not have gotten it correct because ‘powers-of-ten’ has always managed to have me off by a very-important digit or two, but the math I came up with basically said that my 4×2 folding table could fit nearly 8 billion flu viruses on its surface without stacking. The reality I was trying to point out is that everything we touch is covered in microscopic bugs in one form or another, so making an app that would point them out individually would be pointless, because even after bleach or Lysol (but hopefully not both), surfaces would still be too heavily covered for such an app to be useful.

I wasn’t the best math student, and I never, ever enjoyed it. Once I get past, maybe 9th grade math, my understanding asymptotically plummets (though admittedly, I happen to remember what an asymptote is), and if I were to dust off my high school and/or college transcripts, they’d show someone who wasn’t exactly a star pupil of the discipline. Though writing this blog entry makes me want to try taking a 9th or 10th grade final exam found somewhere on the internet just to see how much I actually remember, the high level concepts of algebra, logic, and statistics have served well as building blocks for a bulls**t detector.

When economists seem to project year-over-year growth forever, the math says that there will be a saturation point at which a company will be unable to expand further. This is how we explain why video game maker Bethesda thought selling a $100/year in-game premium subscription to a game that cost $60 off the shelf was a good idea. When politicians talk about massive spending bills, the sticker shock of ‘billions of dollars’ is commonly a scare tactic – those numbers are commonly tied to a multi-year timespan and a population of hundreds of millions of people. I’m certainly not advocating for infinite spending, but I am saying that math helps us turn that “$500 billion” number into “about $156, per person, per year”, which is about the cost of a large coffee at 7-11 twice a week. When friends try to pitch me on the latest multi-level marketing trend, they always tell me about the fantastic opportunities at the top of the mountain. I always ask three questions: What’s the median individual revenue, what’s the average of the first standard deviation, and what’s the percentage of people who make it to this top tier? …I’ve yet to get an answer, but I promise you it’s the fastest way to making sure you don’t get asked about the next one. ” The ‘if-then’ statements used to demonstrate logic proofs help teach inference and deductive reasoning, allowing broader pictures of human behavior to be ascertained with incomplete information. A good number of statements from an untruthful person paired with logic proofs like the fun Latin-derived ‘modus tollens‘ can help catch a liar in his or her tracks. A simple stand I recently made from plywood required a ruler and some trigonometry so I knew how to cut the legs out of a single piece of wood and ensure they were even. Simple multiplication was drilled into me in third grade, and being able to halve and double very quickly is incredibly useful when I’m DJing and have to get my phrases right so I don’t end up with weird segues that are too short or too long.

The fact is, math is frequently distilled down into drills and repetition, sterile in its presentation in some cases, and comically absurd in others. To be fair, the fact that I learned asymptotes in high school but checkbook balancing in college as a byproduct of an accounting class isn’t a testament to properly prioritized curricula. It’s not like there has been a massive push to implement things like tangential learning into math class. This leaves us to be exposed to math for its own sake, and the fact of the matter is that most middle school and high school students (or college students or adults, really) will respond well to that sort of execution. I really can’t fault most students, former or current, for pushing back against learning something with such an unforgiving right-or-wrong grading system at the same time that “getting a good grade” is the only objective ever presented for doing so.

So, when will you use math, you ask? “When you need to figure out if someone is trying to sell you on a load of bulls**t.” THAT is how that question needs to start being answered.

Hello AWS!

…pursuant to me wanting to dip my toe in the water for work, I’ve moved my blog to Amazon AWS. You should find it a bit faster now. Let’s see how well I learn about doing things on AWS.

My Favorite Mass Effect Quotes

So, most people who know me, know I’m a fan of the video game series Mass Effect…something I’ve discussed on this blog before as well.

Since it requires a good amount of time and dedication to enjoy the game, I thought I’d make a list of my favorite Mass Effect quotes for those who have never played it, and likely never will. Its story driven narrative make it compelling to the point where there are shirts indicating one’s preferred romance interest. Here’s a list of some of my favorite quotes, in no particular order. Also, some spoilers ahead…but it’s been ten years; having not-played it yet is your own fault.

 

Legion: “Human history is a litany of bloodshed over different ideals of rulership and afterlife.”

Legion is a great character, and I could probably make this list solely based on Legion quotes alone. While a gross oversimplification, this single-sentence summary of most of human history is sadly more accurate than not.

 

Tali: “Tali Zorah vas Normandy, reporting for duty.”

Like a number of other quotes here, there’s plenty of backstory required for this. Tali is a Quarian, a nomadic race who live on a flotilla after being exiled from their home planet. Their names reflect which ship of the flotilla on which they live and serve. Part of entering adulthood in their culture is to go on a pilgrimage, where they leave the safety of the flotilla and explore the galaxy on their own, looking for a contribution to bring back to the flotilla, usually a skill or technology or material the flotilla can use to trade with allies. When we first meet Tali, her name is “Tali Z’orah nar Rayya“, the ‘nar’ indicating that she hasn’t yet gone through her pilgrimage.
In the second game, she is accused of treason. You, the player, go on a mission with her and you act as her advocate in her trial. If you defend her successfully, and her reputation is restored, she chooses to leave the flotilla and, in her first decision of adulthood, becomes a member of your crew.

 

Javik: “My people would never let such monsters walk among them.”
Liara: “They didn’t care for the competition?”

There’s plenty of context to this one…but wow, this is probably the most savage line in the game.
Javik is a Prothean. Specifically, the last Prothean. He remained in stasis, and through a lot of luck and implausibility, survived cryogenically frozen for 50,000 years. We meet him in the third game.
Liara is Asari. She had a particular fascination with the protheans, and we first meet her on an archaeological dig where she is looking for prothean artifacts. She meets Javik along with the rest of the crew, and is a bit starstruck. However, that quickly fades, as Javik has her seriously reconsidering her concept of what the protheans were like. While she starts believing that they were technologically advanced and had a solid amount of culture behind them, Javik quickly fills in the blanks and made it clear that the protheans were apex predators who ruled primarily through conquest and subjugation – essentially the polar opposite of the Asari’s culture focused on philosophy and harmony.
The Ardat-Yakshi are a genetic aberration, a small group of deadly sociopaths who are both very powerful, and have zero remorse as well as an instinctive compulsion to violently kill. The Asari, being enlightened as they are, don’t kill them; instead there is a monastery on a remote part of their home planet, where, while they are forced to live there, they are not treated poorly otherwise.
So, put all that together – Liara, having learned that Protheans being a race whose culture is based upon conquest and militant colonialism, not only calls Javik out on his hypocrisy, but implies that, if he were to go toe-to-toe with an Ardak-Yakshi, would lose. Wow Liara, that’s definitely the comeback line of the game.

 

Mordin: “Had to be me. Somebody else might have gotten it wrong.”

Oh, this one is one of the more famous quotes, and it’s a tear jerker. I’m getting misty-eyed just remembering this scene…but again, lots of context.
The Krogan are a race of brute fighters with a thousand year lifespan. In the past, they were limited to their own planet, and going to war with each other. The Salarians watched from afar, and when a war broke out that they couldn’t win, they introduced the Krogan to space travel and pew-pew guns and a bunch of other stuff they weren’t ready for…but, desperate times called for desperate measures, so if the Salarians had a Prime Directive before that war, they threw it away. The Krogan won the war for them, and kept the space ships and advanced weapons…leaving the galaxy with a bit of a problem. Their answer was the genophage, a disease that made 99% of female Krogan sterile, keeping the population in check as a result.
The Salarians are a highly-pragmatic race that opts to resolve conflicts with stealth and science, rather than straightforward conflict. We meet Mordin, our first Salarian crew member in the second game, where he’s running a clinic in a sketchy back-alley medical facility on the Omega space station (think the Cantina in Star Wars or Tortuga from Pirates of the Caribbean, now run a Stat Health there). As the game progresses, we learn that the Krogan were beginning to develop a resistance to the genophage, and Mordin worked with a team of operatives to release ‘genophage 2.0’…and that they were successful.
At first, Mordin defends his work – a galaxy full of Krogan would be bad for everyone, he wasn’t killing them with weapons of war, their culture adapted to it, it wasn’t straight-up genocide…everyone wins. Over the course of the game, he comes to realize that he crossed the line between pragmatism and playing god. His story arc usually (though not always) ends with him looking to right his wrong.
The player has an opportunity to work with Mordin to cure the genophage. In doing so, Mordin chooses to sacrifice his own life to ensure that the cure is released and the Krogan are cured. Depending on one’s perspective, one could take the quote as Mordin acting as God up until the very end…but my takeaway of it was Mordin saying that he was committed to doing the right thing, and doing it correctly, as his penance and intent to undo the damage for which he was responsible.

 

Shepard: “That doesn’t explain why you used my armor to fix yourself.”
Legion: “…There was a hole.”
Shepard: “But why didn’t you fix it sooner? Or with something else?”
Legion: “……No data available.”

Earlier in this discussion with Legion, we learn that Legion is over a thousand different artificial intelligence entities, occupying a single physical ‘platform’. We also learn that Legion processes thoughts at speeds well in excess of organic beings. Finally, this discussion takes place toward the end of the second game, and we are told that Legion has been watching Commander Shepard, from a distance, since the events of the first.
So, Legion ends up with a hole as a result of a blaster shooting right through him. Legion ignores it for a bit, until a piece of Commander Shepard’s armor is available and fits nicely over it. Legion uses that piece of armor for a cosmetic fix, and Shepard calls Legion out on it, but Legion doesn’t have a good answer. This is funny, interesting, and mind blowing at the same time. Given what we’re told, in the 3-4 seconds Legion pauses before responding (the only instance of this happening in the game), 1,183 distinct AIs compared their data and deliberated to try and find an answer to this question. The answer, obvious to organic life, is that Legion admires and adores Shepard. Since this doesn’t make any logical sense to the Geth programs, however, they realize that there is…no data available.

 

Captain Kirrahe: “You all know the mission, and what is at stake. I have come to trust each of you with my life. But I have also heard murmurs of discontent. I share your concerns. We are trained for espionage. We would be legends, but the records are sealed. Glory in battle is not our way. Think of our heroes: the Silent Step, who defeated a nation with a single shot, or the Ever Alert, who kept armies at bay with hidden facts. These giants do not seem to give us solace here, but they are not all that we are. Before the network, there was the Fleet! Before diplomacy, there were SOLDIERS! Our influence stopped the Rachni, but before that, we held the line! Our influence stopped the Krogan, but before that, we held the line! Our influence will stop Saren! In the battle today, we will hold the line!”

This speech, given just before Kirrahe and his troops go on a suicide mission to stop Saren in the first game, is not done justice by the transcript; you have to watch the video. This particular speech is referenced by Mordin in the second game, and if Kirrahe survives, he ends up as an NPC on a mission in the third.

 

Jack: “I never had a family…and these guys…if anyone messes with my students, I will tear them apart!”

When we first meet Jack, she is a pent up ball of rage that is so dangerous, even the guards in the prison she’s kept in are terrified of her, and the end of her recruitment mission ends with the whole prison getting blown up. In her loyalty mission, we learn that Jack was referred to as ‘subject zero’ by Cerberus growing up; they wouldn’t even give her the human dignity of giving her a name. She was poked and prodded throughout her childhood by Cerberus to become the most powerful human biotic ever, and trained to fight using narcotics as motivation. It’s an incredibly sad story. Over the course of her time with Shepard, she rediscovers the concept of self-worth and purpose. Even so, when Jack says “I will tear them apart”, she’s being very, very literal.
The mission in which Jack says this takes place in the third game. A set of students who are learning to be biotics themselves are being taught and trained by her to improve their abilities. We see Jack with a pony tail and…wearing something that resembles a uniform. She has a certain maternal connection to these students and shows that she genuinely cares about them; an incredible contrast to her ME2 character that didn’t even care about herself.

 

Commander Shepard: “Nobody ever fell in love without being a little brave.”

Self explanatory.

Voice IVRs Need To Die: A Rant

I had something else planned to write about. But last night, I had a simple question about paying my American Express bill. Like any normal person who had such a question, I made a phone call.

That call took six minutes. One minute was spent getting my answer from Charlotte, two minutes were spent on hold, and four minutes were spent convincing the automated phone system that I did, in fact, need to speak to a representative.

Here is the problem:

No, not the actual command line in itself. I use that all the time. Not for everything, certainly, but I do use one. In 1988, everybody who used a computer used one of these (except of course those Mac and Amiga folks). By 1995…basically nobody did. The reason command line interfaces are relegated to developers and sysadmins is because they have a major flaw: what do you type? It’s not readily apparent what commands get things working, and the list of those commands isn’t intuitively discoverable, either. 

Voice-based phone systems have the exact same problem as command lines. I called American Express to discuss a question about paying my bill…but when I said “question about paying a bill”, it then told me the status of my last payment, and asked me if I wanted to make another one. I then said, “Ask a question”, to then be condescendingly read four paragraphs that amount to ‘look at the website’. Eventually, I just held down the ‘0’ key until it said, “I’ll get you over to a representative”. Then, it asked another question ‘so that it could get me over to the right representative’, and when I answered, it said, “I’m connecting you to a representative”. I’ll also mention that virtually every prompt up until this point ended up with me getting a “sorry, I didn’t get that” prompt. The representative I ultimately got connected to understood my question and answered it in less than a minute.

It evoked memories of the episode of Frasier titled “Roe to Perdition”, in which Martin tries to return an extra $20 bill to a bank, and ends up shouting “PER-SO-NAL!” to one such system. When he gets nowhere, he heads to the bank to talk to a human, who herself gets on the phone and yells ‘personal’ in the exact same way. That episode was aired in 2003, and automated phone attendants utilizing voice prompts remain just as useless as they were nearly 20 years ago. The fact that this technology remains just as problematic today as it was in the year Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean were released leads me to believe that the issue is more fundamental than it is technical.

I had some hope about two years ago when I saw the demo for Google Duplex. While the demo was met with skepticism by some at the time, it does appear that the tech is being used ‘in the wild’ at this point. I had always hoped that Google would let Duplex integrate with phone systems, where people could ask natural language questions and talk to an AI that’s able to route users to the right place by intelligently making the distinction between “make a payment” and “question about making a payment”. It looks like the technology exists, but unsurprisingly, it hasn’t made inroads into this field.

This leaves the human element far worse off than it could be. Now, I understand the major issue with having human receptionists: people are likely to tell their whole story to the first human they talk to, even when it should really be handled by someone in a specific department – typically billing or support. While my particular question likely could have been answered by just about anyone, it’s obvious that not every question would fit into that. Automated attendants do help to do some base level routing.

What we have now, though, is a command line. It doesn’t look like one, and it might use words instead of commands like “ls -alFh”, but a command line it is. One might argue that it’s more of a menu driven interface with a hidden menu, but either way, when ‘navigating the menu tree’ takes more time than a plurality of the calls it routes, the result is that callers begin from a starting point of frustration, which increases the level of work call center employees must do to help customers who weren’t frustrated when they dialed. Voice prompts make life worse for both sides of a customer service call, even more so when every attempt to guess a command is “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that”. It’s less human and yields no benefit for the owner phone system.

This leads us to the “For X, Press 1”, truly menu-driven phone interface. It’s the least-bad option, but when the late, great Robin Williams can make them part of a stand-up routine, it’s clear that it’s like being able to say, “at least our customer satisfaction levels aren’t as bad as Comcast”…yes, it’s a good thing that it isn’t worse, but that’s not a statement of success. The problem with menus is that, more often than not, they are implemented poorly. The fact that the website GetHuman.com exists is a testament to this. Many phone systems have too many options, commonly landing users on recordings that take too much time to listen to for the next prompt, and have routing loops and unnecessary levels of complexity.

As I’ve considered how phone systems should be laid out, here’s what I’ve come up with: Until Google Duplex and its enterprise components are integrated into a phone system, Phone menus should have no more than five options, and each of those five options should themselves only have one additional menu with five options on it. This can be stretched to three menus of depth if and only if the first menu purely consists of language selection. This leads to a total of 25 possible destinations for a call, and I’m hard pressed to think of businesses where call centers would need more than 25 possible call destinations, not including direct extension dialing. If there are, then there’s probably justification for a second phone number, and the process repeats again.

So, that’s my rant.

Happy New Decade!

Hey everyone,

 

The months since Bermuda have been rather busy for me, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now. I have a few different topics for blog entries coming this month, some tech, some faith, and I’m finally putting a recipe or two online for the first time.

Thanks for reading. 

Day 7: The Day of Completion

On the bright side of having to bang out two blog entries in one sitting, I had about an 18 hour day yesterday, so if you think I was up before 11…you’re mostly correct, unless you count the call from Jen at 9 that involved me basically saying “so, I’m going back to bed now”.

By time I actually felt like leaving my stateroom, it was primarily for the technical presentation about how the ship works and whatnot, featuring the captain and chief engineer. I managed to only get there for the Q&A session, but there were a few interesting questions asked – some about the stabilizers, others about the desalinators (they primarily use reverse osmosis, if anyone is wondering), one person asked about the fuel types, apparently the ship has 105,000 horsepower, apparently we have two days at-sea at the beginning of the trip because the port isn’t available until Wednesday, and most notably, there’s a “jail cell” on the ship. I really wanted to get a picture taken in there.

Also worth noting is that the water has been pretty rough since late last night. It’s not stormy out, but it is windy and there are lots of waves, so the ship is definitely rocking back and forth a lot. Even  I was feeling a bit queasy, so I wasn’t taking chances with anything more substantial than soup…which brought its own challenges as it came from the buffet…but, I got it worked out.

Went back to the SL for a bit, but only a short bit of time, because I wanted to see the crew talent show. While the crew didn’t do the “Only Time” bit that is one of the best memories of my Bahamas cruise in 2007, there’s usually some interesting stuff, and it’s always fun to see the crew do something other than their ship duties; it adds dimension. Two people did traditional dances from their respective cultures (China and Indonesia), which got me thinking a bit. Both had very ornate costumes, but the movements weren’t terribly technical, leading me to believe that each dance had more of a cultural context to it, which was obviously lost on me. I was also a bit curious about the Chinese dance specifically, because the audio track was in 4/4 “common time”, which is far more common within western musical conventions or eastern music reflecting western influence. Another crew member did a magic show; while the acts themselves were relatively common parlor tricks, he definitely had the stage presence on lock. A few others did a K-Pop style dance routine, which was very well received by the audience. Finally, a woman (who apparently was Elsa in a stage performance of Frozen at Disney Shanghai) sang a song from “A Star Is Born”, and was fantastic.

Jen found me about 2/3 of the way through, and we decided to stay for the “Splashtown Extravaganza”, a stage performance of the kids programs. It was circus themed, and the kids demonstrated rope spinning, ‘juggling’ (which involved two handkerchiefs, tops), some clowning, devil sticks, and plate spinning. As one would expect such a performance to go, it was a bit of a cat rodeo, and you could tell that the practice levels were minimal-at-best, there were a couple of the kids who showed promise. One of the older plate spinners actually did a fairly good job. The really little kids basically posed with UV reactant face paint, but as one would equally expect, cuteness was the theme at the time – the UV picture was about the only one I was okay taking since the light obscured the kids’ faces pretty well.

This answered at least some of my questions about what they do with the kids, and the staff working with them clearly loved what they do. It strikes me as one of those jobs that’s probably very demanding (after all, ‘those parents’ take cruises, too), but the right personality would probably have the best days at work, more often than not.

Back to the SL, Wendy was talking to Alyse for a bit; we caught her up on the ship gossip and talked about her work as a freelance court stenographer.  The general manager and another guy dropped by the SL and talked to us for a bit; my desire for a selfie in cruise ship jail didn’t seem like something they were willing to accommodate, but officially became a running gag because they were like, “you have to commit a crime”, and then we spent a minute or two trying to figure out a crime that could land me in cruise ship jail, but not actual-jail. We continued talking until the 5PM meeting started. Our final round of trivia revealed that “AT&Team” got second place, which we were okay with. It would’ve been awkward figuring out who got the T-Shirt.

I’ll never quite understand how Norwegian’s restaurant reservation system works. The mobile app says one thing, the touch screen panels say another, calling them on the phone said another thing…and going to the restaurant never seems to require more than a 15 minute wait anyway, so what’s even the point? Anyway, it was the steakhouse tonight, and it was fantastic. Food was great, lots of fun, our wait staff was wonderful…and both the GM and the cruise director came around; we talked to them for a few minutes and my desire for a cruise jail selfie came up again.

Went to the hipster bar to hear Justin perform; Stephanie and Greg weren’t there, but I did get a quick audio recording of his beatbox. One of the things I came to realize about the raunchy humor is that it’s basically funny once.  After the initial shock value, the replay is about 95% less funny. Justin still did a good job on the performance side of things, but I didn’t laugh nearly as much.

Went back to the room and packed, settled up my tab (i.e. got a refund because I ended up with a negative balance!), blogged, and dropped by the farewell party.

Bed.