You’ve Got Bread and a Toaster of Some Kind?

As I have very low requirements for restaurant service (bring me food; I’ll tip you well), our experience dining at Olive Garden this evening was surprising.  It was not dissatisfying so much as bizarre.

Sure, it was odd that our server offered to let us sample the wine without telling us anything about it, and we did find it disorienting when, after we declined, she snapped our wine glasses off the table and disappeared for several minutes before asking for our drink order, and I admit she could have offered us a bag to carry our three takeout containers at the end of the evening (though we would have declined anyway).  But we really didn’t mind any of that except in retrospect.

The drink order is what really got our attention.

My girlfriend began by ordering a raspberry lemonade.  This is how virtually all drink orders begin whenever I’m in a restaurant.  Whether I’m dining with her or with any of my friends, my companion seems always to order a raspberry lemonade.

I, as I always do, followed with, “Can I have a regular lemonade, please?”

Our server took a step backward and adopted the expression I would have expected if had I just requested, say, a plate of cotton candy, or, perhaps, a stripper.  With an indignant intonation to match, she retorted, “No!”

Silence overtook the table for a moment.  I timidly ordered a Sprite.

This being a blog, you may assume I exaggerate a bit here, but understand that I nearly walked out of the restaurant, which I cannot remember ever having done before finishing the meal.

But she brought our drinks and took our dinner order without worsening the situation much.  We stayed, and indeed enjoyed our meal.  (It’s the cooks who matter most.)

As we finished, the hostess seated a family of six beside us.  When our server asked, curtly, for their drink order, the mother prompted her children, “What do you want to drink? Milk?  Lemonade? Juice?”  A chorus of “lemonade!” encircled the table.  “Uh huh,” our server replied, writing it down, “lemonade… and for you?”

Northwest, Southeast, Westnorth

I recently booked a flight on Northwest Airlines.  They don’t fly a lot of routes that interest me, so I can’t remember ever having flown with them.  Here is their seat selector.  Which seats do you think are available?

Northwest Airlines Seat Selector

Northwest Airlines Seat Selector

Did you guess the blue seats are available?  Incorrect!  Those are premium seats available for a surcharge.

Next you’d probably guess the dark seats are the ones that are available to select, since they have the highest contrast.  You are, of course, again incorrect.

They’ve chosen white to indicate the available seats, thereby making the process as unituitive as they could manage.

Sophie is Cute (Exhibit G)

On our way home from the airport, Sophie found an opportunity to be cute.  Seeing a school bus — one of her favorite things — she launched into a detailed explanation of how she had to go to school, and was going to be late.  Halfway through, we had this exchange:

Sophie: I’m going to school!

Mommy: (playfully) Are you going to go away and never come back?

Sophie: (jubilantly) Yep!  And I’m not gonna miss you guys!

She later conceded she might start missing us tomorrow, but definitely not today.

This Post Brought to You Faster by FedEx

FedEx just earned huge points for their commercial on Hulu.  We see what appears to be a FedEx commercial playing, but it’s clearly on fast forward, complete with the wavy lines and faint squealing reminiscent of VCR tapes.  The narrator says:

Instead of our commercial, go ahead and watch your video now.  We understand.  Your time is valuable.

The line reads:

This content brought to you faster by FedEx.

The ad runs for a short ten seconds.  Whether it’s really shorter than usual ads or just feels shorter, FedEx succeeds entirely.

After an unfortunate experience with a particular FedEx agent around Christmas that drove me to their competitors, I will now absolutely be doing my shipping with them, if only to reward them for the brilliant marketing.

Incidentally, it doesn’t appear possible to deliberately watch a commercial over again on Hulu.  Perhaps they didn’t think anyone would ever want to.

The Boston Water Party?

A blurb on page B4 of this morning’s Boston Globe reads:

Members of Think Outside the Bottle took their message to the waterfront yesterday…. Hayley Ryan and Colleen Arnold dumped bottled water into Boston Harbor … to protest the large-scale consumption of bottled water.

Of all the Boston Tea Party reenactments (and there are many), I imagine this one has the interesting distinction of actually making the harbor marginally cleaner.

SELECT * FROM insanity LIMIT ∞

This was just unearthed in an application someone else (who shall remain nameless) built just about two years ago.  It’s reformatted to fit here, but otherwise unchanged.

$result = mysql_query("SELECT * FROM table_name"
    . " WHERE  id >= '" . mysql_real_escape_string($_POST['id'])
    . "' ORDER BY  `id` ASC LIMIT 0 , 1");

if ( !($row = mysql_fetch_array($result, MYSQL_ASSOC)) ) {
    $result = mysql_query("SELECT * FROM table_name"
        . " WHERE  id >= '1'"
        . " ORDER BY  `id` ASC LIMIT 0 , 1");
    $row = mysql_fetch_array($result, MYSQL_ASSOC);

So… we start by selecting all rows with id >= 27, then limit the results to only the first one… which should be id = 27.

Of course, if I ask for an id that’s not really in the database, I’ll now get some arbitrary other row that happens to be numbered next.  Plus, if we didn’t get any rows from the first query, we try again starting from ‘1’, thus returning whatever row we happen to find.

This is just awesome.

Google’s Finally Invented Something that Works

Google Maps has finally introduced the one feature it’s needed most since the site first came into being: it shows all the places that match your search at once, instead of just ten at a time.

Suppose you search for Dunkin Donuts in Boston, MA.  They’re everywhere, of course.  You still get only ten pin icons, labeled A through J, but now tiny circles dot the entire map to identify every location in the city.  Clicking any dot will produce the same “speech bubble” full of details you’d expect from any other map icon.

Apparently Google put this in over a month ago, but I haven’t noticed it until now.

Home is Where the Sight Is

After my disastrous visit to an ophthalmologist last year who informed me I shouldn’t be able to see any better than I did, I tried a new doctor this year (for the one optical visit my insurance will cover), and this time was told that ordinary glasses can still correct my vision to 20/20.

Armed with my new prescription, I began a tour of optical shops seeking a newer, better, faster pair of glasses.

My search began at LensCrafters, where I immediately found three or four attractive frames I could easily have bought, but having left my prescription at home (oops) I couldn’t buy anything yet.

After I left, a wave of civic pride overtook me for no particular reason.  I live in a major city!  I pass two local optical shops on my way home, and surely downtown I’d find dozens of wonderful local stores that could sell me a wonderful pair of glasses — and perhaps even for less money, if I dare to dream.

I tried the store adjacent to my new ophthalmologist’s office, but found their prices too high, even before I looked at frames.  I tried Cambridge EyeDoctors, though as I mentioned earlier, their marketing leaves much to be desired.  So did their selection of frames.

At every store, I rattled off my basic requirements: high-index Transitions™ lenses, anti-reflective coating, possibly in a “half rim” frame.  At the first place this earned me a price estimate for the lenses.  At the next, the announcement merely hung, unanswered, in the dark, still air of the shop.  I tried on frames halfheartedly toward the end, slowly discovering that the designer frames I’d seen in LensCrafters were elsewhere replaced by the optical equivalent of Shaw’s brand foods.

On the surface, I don’t care what designer crafted my glasses or my clothes.  What matters is that I like how I look.  However, the famous designers got famous specifically because they design things that look good.  Brooks Brothers created the frames I’ve had for three years, and none of the “off brands” I found this year looked even half as good.

Eventually, driven by the life-altering experience of having watched Dan Gilbert’s TEDtalk years ago, I made a decision.  I had not found the perfect pair of glasses, but I knew that continuing the quest further would only make me less happy in the end.  I picked decent frames, and committed to them.

The saleslady took my measurements, dutifully recorded my prescription and my lens preferences, and then as I was about to hand over my credit card, finally revealed the price: fully $150 more than I’d seen anywhere else!  The lenses alone were more expensive than an entire pair of glasses should cost.  And they wouldn’t be ready for more than a week.

I canceled the order.

So I found myself back at LensCrafters — a new location, but the same branding I’ve known for a decade.  There was the lab right at the back of the store where it should be!  There, to my right, was the entire section of “clean and simple” designs that so perfectly suit my tastes.  There was even a pair of Brooks Brothers frames that was obviously a modernized version of what I was already wearing!

My favorite moment came just as I began to browse.  Asked for my lens preferences, I responded with the same list I’d given everywhere else: high-index, Transitions™, anti-reflective coating.  For the first time, someone said, “Really?  You don’t need high-index lenses with your prescription.”

When I insisted that LensCrafters staff had encouraged it last time, they warily keyed my name into the computer.  Two search results appeared: one with my last address, and one with the address before that.  The entire history of my eyewear sat before me in LensCrafters’ computer.  One click revealed exactly what had happened three years ago in another store hundreds of kilometers away.

“Oh, I see.  You have a mid-index lens.  That’s just what we called our regular polycarbonate material back then.  It’s much cheaper, and it’s exactly what you’ll need this time too.”

Ahhh.  LensCrafters.  It’s like coming home again.

There Is No Error

I somehow ended up with a United Airlines ticket that lacked my “Mileage Plus” (frequent flyer) number.  Fortunately, one can ostensibly add their account number through a simple webpage.  This is the result:

There Is No Error



Predictive Credit Card Statements

I want to see a “predicted balance” feature on my online credit card statement.  This would include not only my transactions to date but also any recurring transactions expected later in the month.

Already my credit card balance is an excellent budgeting tool, since I make all my purchases with my card.  Assuming I’ve budgeted $1,000 to spend this month, seeing that I’ve spent $700 so far should mean that I have $300 still available.  Small children can explain this math.

The trouble is that of my hypothetical $1,000 budget, a hypothetical $100 is allocated to recurring purchases like Netflix and Boston Globe subscriptions, or Internet access and web hosting.  Since these bills all get charged at different times, I can’t be sure whether my $700 balance accounts for my subscriptions or not.  I might have $300 available, or I might have as little as $200 if none of my bills have come in yet.  I can’t be sure without looking through the complete list of transactions.

Instead, I should be able to name my monthly purchases in advance.  My “predicted balance” would then start at $100 after I pay my bill.  When I charge a $23 pizza, it would go up to $123, but when Netflix charges $18 it would stay the same.  By the end of the month, the predicted balance should match the actual balance, and I can delight in my excellent planning skills.