Monday, July 31, 2006

Secret New Mapquest Feature

I've been using online mapping sites for a long time.

Started using Mapquest sometime pre-1999.

Then My Yahoo came out and I could save locations under my screen name so I switched.

Next was Google Maps, nice clean crisp AJAX, and satellite photos. Everyone wants to see their house from a satellite - genius.

Then came my recent promotion into AOL. This spurred me to start reviewing all of the AOL solutions for my current online brand preferences.

I re-visited Mapquest especially after I heard about the multi-point routing feature (I could have sworn that they offered this feature in the past) and during my investigation I discovered they offered another feature along with it.

The ability to avoid segments of your directions.

There are plenty of times where I get directions online and they include a road I know has lots of traffic and there's a faster way. Now all you need to do is use the multi-stop route building feature (or click on add a stop) and enter your start and end point. Next look at the detailed results and if you see a road that you know you want to avoid click on Avoid and your trip is re-routed.

I'd include some links to example maps, but for some reason the Link to this page feature doesn't remember the avoided parts of the trip. If anyone else isn't having this problem let me know how you get it to work.

If they get this fixed, maybe we see a proliferation of short cuts and alternate routes. I would use it to send directions to friends that utilize back roads.

4 weeks and counting - No power outlets on the Amtrak Acela

It's 6:12 am and I'm on the Acela headed for Baltimore spending the day at Advertising.com.

I plug in my laptop and look forward to a few hours of uninterrupted email - the laptop power brick's light doesn't come on.

I ask the conductor, "Are the outlets working?"

Conductor, "Nope they've been out for 4 weeks on all Acela."

Me, "Just to clarify, all Acela trains?"

Conductor, "Yes."

I pop open Arrive, the Amtrak magazine, sure enough there on page 10 is David Hughes the CEO of Amtrak writing, "For all of us at Amtrak, our highest honor is a satisfied customer whom we can proudly welcome aboard time after time."

Not sure how proud I would be if I couldn't get electrical outlets to work on every single of my Acela trains which are designed for business travelers.

Blogged from somewhere in Northern NJ

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Update - Jumping to conclusions

Quick update to my previous post:

Google: email reply, still not corrected.

Mapquest: no reply, still not corrected.

I do have a small confession to make regarding my Mapquest inquiry. I mentioned that I worked for AOL, hoping this would signal that I'm putting in a legitimate request. Not sure how to interpret the lack of response.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Jumping to conclusions - Google Update

I just received a reply from Google, nothing yet from Mapquest. The reply is below:

-----Original Message-----
From: local-help@google.com
Sent: Sun, 23 Jul 2006 2:35 PM
Subject: Re: [#66768944] Wrong address for a church listing

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. This is an automated reply
to your report of an incorrect address location. We'll use the information
you provided to help improve the accuracy of our maps. While we can't
guarantee individual corrections in the immediate future, we appreciate
your patience as we work to improve this service.
If this didn't address your concerns, or you're unable to find answers to
your questions in the Google Maps Help Center, please feel free to respond
to this note with additional details. It's important to keep in mind that
we'll only be able to respond to your inquiry if we can provide additional
information that's not currently available on our Help Center.
Regards,
The Google Team
Have a Green Summer.
Use Google Maps to get tips on earth-friendly travel.
maps.google.com/green


-------------------------------------------------------------------

The outcome? Still not fixed and who knows when.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Jumping to conclusions

Since I’ve started working for AOL, I seem to be the default person for anyone to ask about computer questions. Normally the questions center around things that I have no control over or I lack the knowledge to fix. This inquiry I hope was different in that I could actually help.

(Please note that anyone related to me may continue to seek technical help.)

My future sister-in-law mentioned that the address mapping on TheWeddingChannel.com was incorrect and the church was mapping a few blocks away from the real location. I sat down and started my own investigation.

TheWeddingChannel.com uses Mapquest to power their maps and driving directions. After examining the parameters in the string sent to Mapquest, it seemed the site was using the name plus the address but defaulting to the name in the match. I went directly to Mapquest and searched and found that the church was showing 436 as the street number versus 486 as listed on the church’s own website. My guess is some OCR software misread the 8.

What do I do now? TheWeddingChannel.com isn’t flexible enough to force the address match versus the name match. Maybe I could submit an error ticket?

On Mapquest it was two clicks away to get to a page where I could report the error. I gave all the details I could possibly give including a link to the actual church website with the real address.

Next I visited Google Maps to see if they had a similar problem. They do, it seems as if they use the same underlying data source. Three clicks to submit the error and that is being generous because it wasn’t completely clear from the menu title that I was going the right way. I submitted a similar error ticket as I did with Mapquest.

The race is on now. I will be checking both on a regular basis to see how quickly this error is fixed. I’m rooting for Mapquest since they are part of the AOL family, but we’ll have to let the results show the real winner. Expect a weekly update.

Here are the two links if you’d like to check yourself:

Mapquest

Thursday, July 13, 2006

An example of amazing retail follow-up

As I've mentioned before I recently took a new role at AOL and with this new role I will be doing quite a bit of traveling. Last night I headed into Baltimore to work from the Advertising.com offices where I had a few meetings today.

Since I lived in Baltimore for over 5 years Jos A Banks was the place to shop for shirts and suits. Apparently they've been having some earnings pressure so I had been receiving almost daily emails about the amazing sales at the local stores.

Almost too many.

Last night on the way to get some dinner I had the opportunity to stop by their Light Street store. They had a great deal on 2 shirts for ~$60. I picked out two $100 shirts and checked out. They only took my credit card.

What did I find in my inbox?

This -

On behalf of everyone at Jos. A. Bank, we thank you for your recent purchase.

At Jos. A. Bank, we pride ourselves on the outstanding quality of our products and our tremendous customer service. We hope your experience at Jos. A. Bank was a pleasant one and that we met all your expectations.

We look forward to serving all your clothing needs in the future. Again, we thank you for your patronage!

Sincerely,

Clifton $$$$$
Light Street 410-547-####

This was interesting for a few reasons.

  1. Andy Monfried a former colleague and a great person just wrote an excellent piece about the importance of follow-up. Read it here. This doesn't follow all of his rules but then again he's selling some big ticket items.
  2. This is a highly personalized thank you. Name and phone number of Clifton. (not sure if Clifton helped me, but still a nice touch)
  3. Timeliness - I received this at 8pm, which is about 24 hours after I bought my two dress shirts.

My guess is that this was an automated system, but from a retailing perspective I'm impressed. I'm looking forward to see if there is any more customization in future mailings.

Blogged riding the Jitney on my Verizon Wireless PC card near exit 52 on the LIE.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Return of the pop-up

This past Sunday night I flew out to San Francisco on USAirways for a couple days of business meetings. My plane arrived in SFO at 2:15 am EST.

At 1:30 AM EST the entire plane was treated to an in-flight pop-up ad. The air crew got on the PA system and announced that the USAirways Bank of America credit card was a great deal and if you signed up on the plane you’d get another 500 miles in addition to the 25,000 for signing up. Personnel are walking through the isles with applications.

This woke me up along with a few other people. Why this was necessary at that time of night for all of those who were operating on an EST time zone I’ll never know.

Maybe response rates are higher for people who are jarred out of REM sleep.

Maybe in-flight pop-ups work.

Maybe the crew are sadists and want everyone to adhere to their schedule.

Maybe USAirways is taking a cue from the movie theaters with their advertisements.

Maybe USAirways has thresholds of how many sign-ups are needed for a higher payout from BOA and pop-ups are the most effective way to close the gap.

Either way I will never sign-up for that card.

If you are going to make an announcement make sure it has to do with my safety or something else important. Maybe dedicate a channel on the sound system to a pilot and crew talk radio with content of what are we passing now, how higher are we, etc. Don’t make an announcement unless we are about to crash.

I feel this parallels the interactive world; a long time ago there were no frequency caps on pop-ups. Then came consumer backlash and the pop-ups were reduced through smart publisher and advertiser requirements on user experience. . Further reduction was brought about by pop-up blockers.

I guess the Bose sound cancellation headphones are the closest thing to a in-flight pop-up blocker.

Would love to hear anybody else’s experience with in-flight pop-ups.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dining at table zero in Bamboo (East Hampton, NY)

Last night my wife and I decided to celebrate our move with dinner at Bamboo, one of our favorite sushi restaurants in the Hamptons. It's dark and has a funky atmosphere, loud but has great food and service.

Our adventure started earlier in the day when we called for a reservation for 8 pm. No problem.

We arrived on time, even a bit early, and were promptly seated at table zero. Not wanting to be prejudiced about a table with no real number, I went along for the ride. Maybe if they said table 13 we'd be in trouble.

The first comment from my wife was that we had the worst table in the restaurant because we were next to a side door, near the bar, below a flat panel tv, and practically in front of one of the kitchen entries. I responded that it wasn't that bad because we were off from the other tables which meant we weren't dining on top of another table.

We ordered our appetizers, entrees, and drinks (great blood orange margaritas) and proceeded to enjoy our evening out. Our drinks and appetizer arrived quickly and we enjoyed them. We finished our appetizer around 8:30.

Then we waited, and waited.

9 pm our waiter stops by and apologizes for the wait and tells us our sushi will be out soon.

9:20 pm I flag down the waiter and let him know we'll take the check because we are done waiting.

What I left out was during this time the place started to get busy which then meant we had people standing on top of us and people slipping by so we were constantly ducking towards the wall to avoid Fendi bags from taking out an eye or knocking our drinks off the table.

The waiter was apologetic and told us he would give us a a discount for the wait to which we responded that if it was any longer it didn't matter.

9:30 pm the sushi arrives. We then proceeded to eat quickly to escape the herd of people around our table. Sushi was passable - ever since the head chef Pat Fromm left it seems to have gone downhill.

As we walked out, through the convenient side door, we ran into another waiter who was screaming and berating a couple of older women who apparently stiffed him on the tip. That was quite the scene. We both felt bad for him because it clearly had to do with not enough kitchen staff. We tipped our waiter and with the 25% discount it was a wash.

Key take-aways:

1. Never sit at table zero in Bamboo (or maybe any restaurant)

2. Our waiter needs to learn how to set expectations. If we had known that it would take so long we might have ordered a miso soup or something else.

3. Don't take out your pain on the wait staff if it's not their fault.

Choice quotes from the irate waiter in the parking lot:

1. "I don't even think your a doctor, little miss doctor."

2. "It's all going to come back to you sweetheart"

Interesting innovation on the fuel efficiency front

I came across this article on a new discovery of fuel efficiency which seems like it should get some serious consideration by car manufacturers. In a nutshell it's a discovery by MIT that enables engines to run at a much higher compression ratio using normal gasoline (higher compression requires higher octane or you get knocks) and ethanol. A key feature is that you would need to fill two tanks in your car gas and ethanol, but for 250 percent increase in power that's ok.

http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=16727&ch=biztech

Monday, July 03, 2006

The last supper in Baltimore

Saturday night was our last night in Baltimore, we left Baltimore for NY (specifically the Hamptons) late Sunday afternoon. We did visit one of our favorite restaurants, Holly Frijoles in Hampden. We enjoyed a plate of nachos to start and I had my favorite chorizo hard shell tacos and my wife had the chicken fajitas.

I highly recommend HF for anyone looking for Mexican in Baltimore. Hampden is also the home to Angelo's Pizza who serves the largest slices I have ever seen. Their largest pizza is ~42 inches.

We are both going to miss Locust Point and our completely finished house which we are planning on selling. I'll especially miss living a block and a half away from my office in Tide Point.

I'll post pictures of the house later this week.