Category Archives: Uncategorized

redesign | travel: Travel gear 2007 vs. 2015

I’ve been traveling all of my professional life. As the years have passed, so have the tools I use when I travel.

Here are my 2007 travel gadgets:

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And now:

IMG_20150111_101218Many of the things in the top picture have been consolidated into my iPhone 6:

  • Garmin navigation GPS/Palm.
  • Garmin hiking GPS.
  • iPod.
  • Phone.
  • USB sticks (I just mail or cloud the contents).

Others have been obviated by technology. I no longer carry Ethernet cables or the router to provide WiFi for me.

My current line up includes:

  • GoPro and accessories. (This is a ski trip; not taken for pure business trips.)
  • A bunch of cables and accessories stored in a GridIt.
  • A Lumix DMC-FZ70. 60x optical zoom FTW. (Don’t usually bring my DSLR.)
  • A power strip. Great for sharing power with others at airports.
  • A SOL Republic Punk speaker. (It’s smaller than a Jambox.)
  • A nano SIM cutter. I use this only on international trips, but it’s small enough to leave in my travel bag.
  • Car power adapter. Always be charging!
  • A 5-port USB charger. Always be charging! This one has a separate cable to deal with tricky hotel room situations.
  • Massive Mophie. Always be charging!
  • LiveScribe 3. It’s the real deal for note taking and syncs great with Evernote.
  • An Asus Chromebook. Unlike my MacBook Air, I won’t be heartbroken if I lose it at security.
  • iPad mini 3.
  • iPhone 6.

I’d probably ditch the Chromebook, but Google gives you 12 free gogo passes with each Chromebook. That alone is worth more than the cost of the Chromebook. Having it lets me stay productive in the air.

redesignAnswer: Paper statements are more convenient

From Skitch (6)

I’m not a Luddite (clearly). I’m an environmentalist.

But the process for getting online statements is convoluted. Every bank has their own log in system. Everyone has their own archiving rules. Sometimes the format online doesn’t include the same information that the paper statement does.

It’s not hard to miss a statement alert in your email along with the hundreds or thousands of emails you get a month. This could easily lead to a pile of late fees and interest charges. Some issuers do a good job of identifying auto pay in their e-statements; some do a terrible job.

It’s next to impossible to search across the statements from issuers. Ironically, I scan all the paper that is sent to me and then shred them. (I scan them into Evernote to make them easily searchable.)

The paper also serves as a reminder that I need to pay the bill.

What would get me to move to digital statements?

  • If I could get them in secure email, just as easily as I get them in the physical mailbox. 
  • Better design of online statements.
  • An easier way to access them.

redesignAnswer: Paper statements are more convenient

From Skitch (6)

I’m not a Luddite (clearly). I’m an environmentalist.

But the process for getting online statements is convoluted. Every bank has their own log in system. Everyone has their own archiving rules. Sometimes the format online doesn’t include the same information that the paper statement does.

It’s not hard to miss a statement alert in your email along with the hundreds or thousands of emails you get a month. This could easily lead to a pile of late fees and interest charges. Some issuers do a good job of identifying auto pay in their e-statements; some do a terrible job.

It’s next to impossible to search across the statements from issuers. Ironically, I scan all the paper that is sent to me and then shred them. (I scan them into Evernote to make them easily searchable.)

The paper also serves as a reminder that I need to pay the bill.

What would get me to move to digital statements?

  • If I could get them in secure email, just as easily as I get them in the physical mailbox. 
  • Better design of online statements.
  • An easier way to access them.

redesignAnswer: If this chart started with 0 on the Y axis, the line would be flat

 

screenshot2

 

At first glance, this graph implies that U.S. cash transaction volume is plummeting. But look at the right side. The axis starts at $1,300 billion. If this graph had 0 on the Y axis, the line would essentially be flat. As posted, the graph is highly misleading.

Not using zero as the basis of the Y axis can be useful in certain cases, like analyzing short-term price movements in a stock. But this is a terrible use of it. Or maybe it’s a great use — because the writer wants to make a point unsupported by the data. But it’s still wrong.

Bonus error pointed out by a reader: The “We Are Here” line shows us between 2013 and 2014. We’re between 2014 and 2015.

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redesignAnswer: Crate and Barrel should stagger delivery of catalogs

I received the catalogs from Crate and Barrel and CB2 on the same day. 

It’s better to spread that delivery out over multiple days because it increases the likelihood that I’d look at one of them. On the same day, it’s possible that I’m on vacation and come back to a pile of mail, my (hypothetical) spouse picks up the mail and tosses it out, etc. Spreading the delivery out doubles the chance that I’ll look at it.

To address some other comments from readers:

  • Crate and Barrel and CB2 can’t hide that they’re the same brand. Well, they don’t try to hide it anyway. All of the multibrand retailers don’t try to hide it. Crate and Barrel/CB2/LandofNod, Williams-Sonoma/Pottery Barn/West Elm, Banana Republic/Gap/Old Navy/Piperlime/Athleta. There is often cross promotion. And some customers shop multiple brands. e.g. I shop Crate and Barrel and CB2, Banana Republic and Gap, Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn.
  • It’s a waste of paper. Sure, many people would consider it a waste of paper. But these catalogs are expensive to produce and distribute. If they didn’t work, they wouldn’t be used. I browse these catalogs while on the toilet. It’s a lot easier to skim through a catalog with rich visuals than the equivalent online experience.
  • My recent customer-service issues with Crate and Barrel. Some recalled that I had a bad in-store experience at Crate and Barrel where the clerk insisted on a physical address for a store pickup. After some back-and-forth, I gave my address as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. Although the White House might receive my catalog as a result, I got these catalogs because I have a Crate & Barrel credit card. (Possible future quiz: why do I have a Crate & Barrel credit card?)

 

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redesignAnswer: Uber could improve passenger and pedestrian safety by using tech to monitor drivers

I was waiting for an Uber and the driver zoomed past me at 35 miles an hour in downtown SF. (Why you wouldn’t drive slower when you’re approaching a passenger is beyond me.) When I flagged him down on the one way street, he backed up in heavy traffic to get to me.

That is the kind of driver that shouldn’t be on Uber’s platform. When I reported what happened, Uber took note and said they were going to reach out to the driver.

But the current process requires active input from passengers. Unless a drive is egregiously bad, most people wouldn’t bother.

Technology provides an easy answer to the problem: passively tracking driver behavior. If someone has a lot of quick stops, swerves a lot, brakes hard or speeds down city streets, that person shouldn’t be on the Uber system.

There’s also another huge advantage: you can track driver behavior when they don’t have a passenger but are logged on the system. The current Uber model provides a strong incentive for drivers to be reckless when they don’t have a passenger. 

For the level of detail that Uber needs to bump bad drivers off the system, the sensors on modern phones are great. 

There are technologies that provide even better data. A start up called Automatic sells a device that consumers can plug into the OBD-II port on 1996 or later cars. The app warns you when you are speeding and braking hard. it also provides logs of your driving and average miles per gallon.

My auto insurance is from Metromile, which uses data from the OBD-II port to charge me by the mile instead of typical pricing models. (I estimate that I’ll save 30% off my former GEICO rates.) Incidentally, Metromile won’t provide coverage while you’re providing taxi services with Uber.

One survey respondent suggested deactivating the Uber app while the vehicle is in motion, much like some embedded navigation systems. Unfortunately, the app is so dependent on people interacting while driving that that won’t happen.

Many taxi drivers are reckless, too. But we can’t do much about that. 

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redesignAnswer – Why I was able to buy a $140 ticket for $91 on Expedia

The key to solving this puzzle was checking the dates and the times.

Airfares, as many people know, have advance purchase requirements. Although these vary based on market, these are generally 21, 14, 7, 3 and 1. The closer you get to the travel date, the higher the fares are. A 21-day advance purchase is usually the cheapest. It gets more expensive at 14 days, more at 7 and so on. (These are general guidelines; airfare pricing is mind-numbingly complicated.)

There are various systems that price tickets. (Known in the industry as GDSs.) These systems are based in different places. Virgin America uses Sabre. Sabre’s systems are in the central time zone. (Even though Virgin America itself is based in San Francisco and the flight was originating in Los Angeles.)

To me, the most logical way to test if you met the advance purchase requirement would be based on airport of departure. But it’s tested based on where the computers processing the ticket are.

My flight date was two weeks from yesterday.

So as soon as the clock struck 12:01 a.m. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I didn’t meet the 14-day advance purchase requirements and Virgin America upped my fare to $140. But because Expedia’s tickets are processed on the West Coast, I still met the 14-day mark. So I got the 14-day advance purchase fare of $91, instead of the 7-day advance purchase fare of $140.