Saturday, October 8, 2011

Not Quite Integrated

Google is trying to link together their various services (Picasa, BlogSpot/Blogger, Plus, etc.). It's sort of a Good Idea™, but it's "not quite there," yet.

I'm one of those people who uses online services like Picasa as a cloud-based backup of my home storage. I use BackBlaze for my general data (really sweet service: I recommend it to anyone that has a good up-stream connection and gives a crap about protecting important electronic documents, images, etc. against hard drive failures or home disasters) and I (currently) use Picasa for my photo memories (Flickr has better storage pricing, but, when I was making the decision, Picasa had the better management software).

When I first opened my Picasa account, it was very much a stand-alone service. This was reflective of it being one of Google's many acquired services. Eventually, I noticed that images I'd posted via my BlogSpot account were automagically showing up in my Picasa account.

When I cashed in my Plus beta invite, one of the things I had to do was link my Picasa account to my Plus profile (no choice was given: if I wanted to try out Plus, I either clicked on the "accept" button or I couldn't do Plus - in retrospect, the latter might have been the better option). It didn't seem like too big of a deal at the time, so, I clicked "yes". I didn't post my first photo to Plus for several days after joining up (might have even been a couple weeks). It was several days, after that, that I noticed Plus-posted photos were showing up in my Picasa account.

Honestly, I think what alerted me to that fact was that Donna and I were out and wanted me to show some pix of our dogs to friends. So, I fired up my Android phone's "Gallery" application and noticed there were photos showing up that were from Plus. When I got home, I logged into Picasa and, sure enough, there was an album (tree) of my Plus-originated photos.

Sidenote to Google: data aggregation is great, in theory, but the way you're doing it for me - and not giving me any good method to manage or override - makes my data utterly chaotic: not good. At least give me options to determine what things appear in multiple applications. The first time I end up embarrased by your "helpful" stream-crossing, you can expect a subpoena. 

It was mostly a shrug-worthy moment. I mean, at least I knew how to get at photos after I'd posted them via Plus. It did raise the concern of, "do Plus photos count against the Picasa quota I bought"? I'm hoping that what I discovered today indicates that the Plus folder-tree doesn't count against that quota: 1) it's the only album that seems to allow sub-albums; 2) unlike all of my Picasa-originated albums' photos, the Plus originated photos don't seem to be online-editable the way my Picasa-originated ones are. Dunno. It might be buried in a Google FAQ (or similar document) somewhere, but there's no quick indication of it.

I'll give Google kudos for making data available. Unfortunately, what Google really doesn't seem to get is that masses of data suck if you don't have good tools for logically-ordering them. And, no, I don't consider having a search engine to plow through the data-heap to be a good organizational method or solution for masses of data.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Damage to Program Reputation

Yesterday, Twitter was flying the Fail-Whale  (at intervals) due, in part, to Steve Jobs's death. Many of my friends were posting their condolences messages to FaceBook and/or Plus. I suppose it's all a nice tribute to someone whose singular vision helped shape an industry. But, at the same time, there's that part of me that was pissed by it all.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not denigrating the man's professional accomplishments. I'd be a fool to try to claim that he didn't have profound influences in a number of technical areas. My main beef is that, much like many people who had power derived from their mone and success, the man used that power to cheat. Worse, where he cheated helped to further damage an already problematic system - the organ donor program.

I've long had a problem with the whole organ donor program. The people who give their organs typically see nothing in return. The organ donor programs try to spin the whole thing as an enobling endeavor where a senseless death can be made meaningful.

Bullshit. While the families of the deceased are being fed this bullshit message, everyone else involved in the process are moving around piles of money. It's not like the doctors, nurses, hospitals (etc.) are working for free. It's not like donor recipients are getting the organs for free. And, worse, people with money and power are able to shove piles of money (or maybe just influence) and get themselves jumped ahead in line. 

The first memorable instance of this for me was when former PA governor Casey did it in 1993. Within a day of the need for a multi-organ transplant being determined, he "somehow" ended up at the head of the line for the procedure.

Jobs's instance wasn't quite so glaring. He actually set up temporary residence in state with favorable waitlist times. Thus, instead of waiting the best part of a year for a transplant, he only had to wait two months. By itself, this could just be chalked up to exercising one's money to move where the wait lists are shortest (Tennessee is a short-wait state for livers, for some reason). And, I could deal with that. However, Jobs's health history made him a sub-ideal candidate. With the organ transplant triage systems, people with a history of cancer - particularly a recent and/or active history - are generally given low to no priority on transplant waitlists.

Given the scarcity of available organs, it only makes sense: not only do you want an organ to go to someone with the best tissue-match, you want it to go to someone with the best, overall, prosspects for long-term survival. Cancer patients - particularly ones with recent and/or active history of the diease - generally aren't considered a good, long-term risk for an organ transplant. Judging by the time displacement between Jobs' transplant and his eventual death, he bore out this poor-risk rationale.

I can't help but think that, had Jobs not used his money to put himself someplace where he could jump the line, someone else might have gotten that liver. Further, "someone else" would likely have not been given special consideration in spite of a sub-ideal health history. The liver that died with Jobs might still be acting as a life-saver for someone else.

Yeah, that's a lot of mights. It's a lot of speculation. But, it just reinforces my whole distaste for the organ transplant system in the US. It contributes to my desire to not donate my organs were I eligible to do so. I mean, we have a system that essentially supports organ-selling where everyone but the organs' prior owners profits, but the donors' survivors see nothing of it but "nobility". Screw that. The "nobility" just strikes me as a very cynical method to get people to part with things for free that have a high, real-dollar value. And, at the end of the day, the people most likely to give out of charity are also the least likely to ever benefit from such charity (i.e., they aren't the class of people that will get preferential treatment due to social positioning).

For now, if anyone wants my organs, feel free to bid for them. If I pre-decease my "family", they're gonna be in a sub-ideal economic state. The least I can do for them is try to get them the last dollars my corpse can yield. And, if I can't do that, then there's no way I'm risking some monied line-jumper benefitting from my death. My organs die with me unless I'm able to put stipulations in place for who they may be "given" to (i.e., someone in the same or lower economic class and who have financial dependents that would face genuine hardship were they to die). Without those kinds of assurances on who can have them, no one can have them.

Yeah, that's selfish - I'm just making sure I'm not participating in a sham.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Restaurant Reviews

Recently, Donna and I took a mini-vacation to Williamsburg, VA. While there, we stayed at an "inn" at the Williamsburg Winery. It was a nice experience. We toured the winery and had a really nice dinner at Café Provençal, the inn's on-sit, gourmet restaurant.

We'd scheduled our trip a bit oddly: Sunday arrival with Tuesday departure. We'd done this mostly to try to avoid weekend crowds. Unfortunately, it also meant that a lot of things that would be open during a summer stay were closed.

While we would have gladly eaten a second time at Café Provençal, that wasn't an option. They were closed on Mondays. So, Monday night, we drove into Williamsburg to "forage".

We came to a restaurant named Opus 9. It was a higher-end chop house, probably designed to compete with places like Ruth's Chris. They had decent food and decent wine selection. And, they were priced in a similar bracket to Ruth's Chris (two people with meal, desert, cocktails and wine came to a little over $200 before tip).

In general, I don't so much care how much a given dining experience costs. That said, I do judge a place on value for the money spent. To whit, I've been to places where a $600 meal for two was a bargain and places where a $20 bill for two was an absolute rip-off.

Opus 9 was competent, but not a superlative value - particularly not when compared to what I get at home or what I'd had, the night prior, at Café Provençal. 

A few days after we got back, I got an email from US Air's "Rewards Dining" program. Turns out the Opus 9 was a program participant, thus I'd earned miles from having eaten there. So, "bonus." To get the extra points for the dine, I submitted a review. Overall, I gave Opus 9 a positive review. However, I'd noted in the comments section of the review:

The food wasn't awful, it was simply unremarkable. I don't have a problem with expensive restaurants, but I do expect to receive a good value for money spent (whether my tab comes to $20 or $200). The experience and food while "ok" simply weren't worth the extreme premium (especially for the overall area's cost of living) prices."

In retrospect, that comment probably seemed more negative than intended. It wasn't meant as a "don't go here" type of review, and I wasn't trying to trash the place. I was just expressing that, while what I got was good, I felt it was overpriced for what was delivered.

Today, I got an email back from the restaurant regarding my review. It was a nice, polite response, basically asking what could be done to improve the experience so as to raise the value proposition. So, I replied back:

The review may have been received as more negative than it was intended. I'm not saying that the meal or the experience were bad. Indeed, the menu had a good selection, the ordered food was competently prepared, the restaurant's facilities were rather nice, and the service was good - particularly given our server's experience level. That said, given the food quality/preparation, I would have expected a bill that was 65% of our total.

Overall, you probably suffered from two things: 1) my wife and I are probably overly particular about our food - when eating at home, we eat (almost exclusively) locally-sourced, seasonal foods and my wife is an a rather good cook; and, 2) we'd eaten at another, similarly-priced restaurant, the night before that had both better quality food and more-personalized preparation. So, we may have not been coming from a "fair" starting point. That said, once a two-person meal gets into the $200+ range, that kind of comparison is inevitable.

My overall suggestion for improvement of the food might be to make your menu selections more seasonal and, even if you can't alter your menu to be fully-local, create some selections that emphasize local food. Williamsburg is local to some really great food sources (there's really local produce and meat sources within a 100mi radius). It would be awesome if those local products could be played up and showcased.

In reading it, it felt kinda snotty. Unfortunately, I didn't really know how to give a critique of my experience without coming off that way.

It's episodes like this that really makes me question what I've become. I mean, it's not like I'm the offspring of monied parents. I wasn't one of the preppie kids, growing up. Hell, at one point in my life, I sorta lumped myself in the category that my punkier friends were in. Yet, somehow, as an adult, I've become a yuppy - and the whole exchange made me feel like a yuppy-tool.

At the same time, looking back, most of those tendencies have always been there. In general, I've preferred to do without rather than do with less than I wanted. I've always been a bit of an elitist - which, I might even be able to justify to myself, if I had some basis from which to be elitist. But, in reality, I don't. I owe a great deal of where I am to a fortunate set of circumstances and a willingness to exploit the opportunities that presented themselves. So, "what am I," and "how did I get this way" (and, yeah, you can set that to the tune of Once in a Lifetime).