The Other End of Sunset

Sunday, December 13, 2009

We can be like they are

And lovers war with arrows over
Secrets they could tell
--Duran Duran

It's been another several flights for me since my last posting. I often fly out of the Burbank airport (also known as Bob Hope Airport). It's small -- I think it has only about 20 gates -- and is easy to get in and out of. However, the roads that are inside the airport (for pickup, drop off, and parking) are tiny and crowded.

The folks who run the airport have thought through many of the things that slow you down, including the tiny-road-generated traffic. My favorite trick they do is to provide "valet parking". Basically, instead of pulling into the parking structure and driving around looking for a parking space -- thereby creating traffic and losing loads of time -- you pull around into a valet line. The valet line looks for all the world like a rental car return area: There are several lanes that you pull forward into, and some employee walks over to take your keys, gives you a tag for your car, and sends you on your way.

It usually takes about 5 minutes. And it's the same price as the parking structure. It clears traffic and saves you loads of time. Great idea for all parties involved.

When you land, you call a toll free phone number, key in the number from the tag, and they bring your car out. It usually takes about 10 minutes to get your car out. If you are checking baggage, you pick up your bags on the way to the parking area and the car beats you out there handily. If you are carrying on, you have time to stop for a restroom break before walking out, and your car is waiting for you. There are payment machines all around the exit, so you can prepay your parking fee without waiting in line for a payment window. If you prepay, you show your receipt to the valet, who gives you your keys and you scoot off.

It usually takes me about 20 minutes from when the wheels touch down on the runway to being out of the airport, on the road home. I love getting in and out that quickly. It's a great example of rethinking -- and removing -- the way institutions usually constrain us. Traffic and frustration getting your car into the airport doesn't have to happen, but it usually does.

A tip of the hat to the Burbank airport management.

Towels on oven doors
do not freeze.
--Nanci Griffith

SL is doing some consulting now, for a few different clients. Accordingly, we decided to get her a better email domain (in Google Apps) and a Google Voice number for her business.

She's a smart lady, and is comfortable with her technology. But she was pretty freaked out about these changes. And, if you walk through how to create and configure the tools, it sort of makes sense why.

I'm a huge Google Apps fan -- I mean, I just finished a book lauding them in the context of getting yourself more organized (and less stressed as a result). But they aren't perfect, and today's chat is about the lack of perfection.

I still would not trade them, in case you are wondering!

Let's do a Google Apps creation first. You find the Apps home page (which I always find through search, but I think it might be something creative like On that page, it's easy to find the premium edition, which provides a lot of functionality for $50 per seat -- very cheap compared to other solutions for business use.

However, we just needed the free version -- she only needs a couple of email addresses, and doesn't need the support you get with the premium version. I mean, whatever else you can say about me, I'm still reasonably good tech support.

It's not obvious where to find the free version. This is atypical for Google products -- usually the interfaces are simple and well thought-out. In this case, that doesn't seem to be true. I had to scan the page a couple of times to find the correct link (which is on the right hand side of the page). Again, this is as good as the competition's creation process… but Google should be better, not as good.

Note to the Apps UI design team -- simplified would be better, for me at least.

Once I found the link, I went in to select a domain name. This part is easy, and SL's name is unique enough that the domain was available. After selecting the domain, you have to pay for it, which isn't surprising. And, as they should, Google uses Checkout to make this payment. All simple so far.

Then you go to the control panel for your domain -- which is off of some random looking URL, but can be found by going to your domain name with no arguments -- to set up your services.

You're faced with a screen full of products, with semi-random text under each one. If you know what you are doing, this isn't terribly surprising. The most surprising thing to me was how long it took to apply my Checkout payment to SL's domain so that I could configure it. This is my third Apps domain to set up, so I feel comfortable doing this. However, the flow to do it is not clear at all -- there are a variety of places to set options, and it's not clear to me why each option is off of that particular menu, and the like.

This wasn't trivial, and this isn't the first time I've done it.

In this case, I eventually had a domain with mail and calendar and docs for SL, and was ready to get her set up. I created an account for her, in the format she likes, and told her to log on and change her password. She did so, but then asked if she had to close her personal GMail account to have her work email open? (You can't have two personal GMail accounts open at the same time). If she did, she wanted to use filters to merge both emails into one screen. This is not a bad idea, but she gets loads of personal email, so I thought her work email would be buried, even with a filter to flag them. However, you don't have to close your personal GMail if you have your Apps domain open -- they don't conflict, even though they both are flagged on the Firefox tabs as "GMail". OK, once she got over that concern, and I told her how to reach her email (, she was ready to start using that address for her work.

Her first step was to set up filters pushing her work mail out of her personal GMail, so people who were sending work-related emails to her personal account would start seeing the work domain, and gradually update their mail cache to get the right address. And, voila, she has a new mail domain and address for her work.

It probably took me 45 minutes to get this all done. I couldn't set up an Exchange domain in that time, but I'd rather it took me less time.

And like some angel's haloed brow
You reek of purity.
I see your armor plated breast
Has long since lost it's sheen.
--Procol Harum

But now things got complicated. Google Voice is hard to configure. It's a really good product, but is complex. SL will use her Google Voice number for her business cards -- her clients will know one phone number, and the GVoice system will stalk her across whatever actual number makes sense. This is particularly cool since we have almost no cell reception at our house, so having her number ring both her cell and her home office increases the chances that the caller will find her. Very cool product.

But very complicated.

It's still in limited beta, so I had sent her an invitation from my Voice account. She found the invitation in her mail, and clicked on it. You get two options -- pick a word to get the numbers or pick some numbers to find an open number. We tried a variety of things, and finally found an open number -- lots of the numbers appear to be taken. Then we added her phone numbers and activated them, which involved lots of clicks, calls, codes entered into phones, etc. By the time this process was finished, SL was frantic -- "How am I ever going to remember this?"

And then, of course, things got harder. She had to specify which numbers to ring when her GVoice number got called. Should it ring to her home office number? Her cell phone? Both? I use both, and she ultimately decided to do so as well. We both use iPhones, which are usually great, but are a really bad user experience with GVoice.

When I get a call to my GVoice number, both my home office number and my cell phone ring. If I pick it up from my home office number, I am left with a 2 second voicemail on my cell, because it doesn't realize that the call wasn't "real". So, I get dozens of fake voicemails each day. Manageable, but VERY annoying.

There's a cool feature in GVoice that has your caller identify themselves so you can decide whether to take the call or let it go to voice mail. You answer the phone, the system tells you who is calling, and you can decided whether to take the call (by pressing "1") or send it to voicemail (by pressing "2"). Nice. But I use a Bluetooth speakerphone when I'm driving. If I get a GVoice call, I have to dig my phone out, show the keypad, and type a "1" to accept the call. This is both dangerous and a bit silly -- an option to SAY "one" would be a huge improvement. I got a ticket a couple of weeks ago keying in the "1" -- can I take it off my taxes as a business expense?

If someone leaves me a voicemail on my GVoice voicemail, I get an email and text notification that there's a voicemail. GVoice also tries to turn the speech into text which I can read on my phone or at a web browser. This is a really nice feature, and the speech-to-text conversion is really good.

Texting from GVoice is really cool, by the way, since I can send the text from my computer and all the responses, etc., are stored there in a GMail-like thread. Really great feature. However, if someone responds to my text, it comes from a seemingly random -- but unique -- phone number. To get a notification of who sent the text, you need to add it to two different contact lists. First, the number needs to get added to your Google contact manager. This isn't hard, but doesn't add a lot of value to me, either. Then, I have to add the random number to the appropriate contact on my iPhone, so it shows up from the right person in my text or voicemail screens. This means that I have loads of numbers for various people -- I think I have 5 stored for CO, for example. Again, annoying but not awful. And there are various failure conditions -- such as when SL created her GVoice number, I now sometimes see two different SL text streams, even though there's only one, really.

You can't set options for GVoice on a number by number basis. You can set some options for a group of numbers -- such as which outbound message to play, or which numbers to call -- but you can't set a do not disturb option for a subset of your numbers, nor can you set a specific number to skip caller identification. So, for example, I get loads of calls from SL and CO. I'd rather have neither of them need to announce themselves, but I can't figure out how to set that as an option.

SL is a smart lady -- very, very smart -- but explaining all this was really hard, and, at the end, she was almost in tears, wishing I had never pushed her this way. Partly, this is presumably due to the bad iPhone and GVoice interactions making the whole system harder to understand, I guess. .

GVoice is hard to setup. Again, it would be cool if the Google UI gods could attack GVoice, and make it into the off-the-charts spectacular tool it can be.

There's a joke and I know it very well.
It's one of those I told you long ago.
--Elton John

The last three times I've gone through security at the Burbank airport, I've been called aside for additional pat-down screening because I was wearing a sweatshirt or (today) a long sleeve T-shirt. Basically, I pass through the metal detector and then am patted down by hand, usually by the TSA person standing behind the X-ray machine. Leaving aside the fact that this blocks the X-ray machine, thereby slowing everyone down behind me, there's the fact that this is silly.

Apparently the TSA thinks that there is a possible danger from something I could have hidden under my shirt that would not set off the X-ray alarm. I can't figure out what that possible threat could be -- and believe me, I'm good at thinking of the worst possible case for just about everything. I have some half-baked ideas -- maybe plastic explosives wrapped around my chest, with someone else bringing the detonator and the electrical wires, perhaps? Then the two people could assemble a bomb while in the air on a plane, I guess.

However, in that case, the partner has to get a detonator and wires (with a bunch of logic circuits) through the screening so that the parts are available in the air.

Maybe it's just me, but I really want to believe that the Xray machine and screeners are going to notice a pretty large battery, wires, and the associated stuff to make plastic explosive dangerous. Also, I'd like to think passengers would notice someone passing wires around and sticking det-cord into some block of plastic.

Or maybe the threat is more prosaic -- dynamite or black powder-based explosives. I guess they would pass the Xray screen, right? However, according to the tests that Mythbusters did, it would take a lot of explosive to actually damage a plane materially. Not sure that much could fit under my T-shirt, but I'm not an expert.

It's clear, though, that the shoe bomb potential damage and the hypothetical liquid bomb are largely FUD.

I wonder if there's a way to make airport security useful without the silly parts? I believe that El Al uses mostly highly trained investigators to look at passengers, noticing the physical signs of fear, excitement, and the like -- this would, I should think, identify most terrorists and criminals.

But we, instead, use Xray machines and screeners, despite loads of evidence that they aren't terribly effective.

By the way, I forgot to pull my toothpaste out of my laptop bag… and it went through the screen just fine. So maybe I'm wrong about the screening effectiveness.

'Cause there are no reasons
--Bob Geldof & The Boomtown Rats

It's been more than 3 years since JR died. Minnie's passing brought it all back, in a flood of painful memories, stepping out into a nest of red ants without shoes, knowing that there's no way to go around it.

It doesn't matter how much you prepare, the ants still win.

I wish so many things had been different between JR and I. The flood of memories fills me with shame, sadness, and dread. Shame for what I did, or failed to do, or what weird priorities I set while she was ill. Sadness for the decisions I made that cost me time with JR, simply to protect the feelings of others, who definitely should not have been even remotely as important to me as she was. Dread because I will spend the rest of my life beating myself for my choices and I can't fix them; I can't seem to find a way to heal.

I wish I had given Minnie more treats, let her eat my books or shoes as she wished, and not yelled at her for climbing up on the table next to the grill and eating the food I was going to grill for a pool party we had this summer. I'm glad I spent the last few days lying in bed with Minnie, giving her the food she wanted, the treats she would eat, and being very careful carrying her and moving her. I'm glad SL tucked Minnie in just as she has done every night since first coming into our lives, for the last time, right before we put Minnie to sleep. I'm glad Minnie's last breath was taken as she lay in my lap, and she wasn't scared.

And I wish Brown didn't have to be terrified every time we leave the house, because he's not sure if we are coming back. After all, his sister never came back.

The morning sun
when it's in your face
really shows your age.
But that don't worry me none
in my eyes you're everything.
--Rod Stewart

I have a photo of JR on my wall in my office. Thankfully, SL is completely understanding of this, and of my grief. I wish I had more photos of JR, more videos of her playing with the dogs, more images of her infectious smile, more memories of playing miniature golf, or her laugh when we were driving in the car too fast, or her frustration while learning to ski, or … well, just about anything. I put all the notes and letters she sent me in a plastic box in my safe. I only needed one piece of Tupperware to hold everything I can touch of her. That's pathetic. There was so little time, and I wasted it. What would I give for one less business trip, and one more letter.

There's a reason I do overnight business trips, even to places like the UK. I want to be home with SL. I wish I had known that years ago.

And I wish I had shoes, so the ants wouldn't hurt as badly. But I think I shall be shoeless forever.

Well I've searched and I've searched
To find the perfect life-
But wherever I have gone
I was sure to find myself there.
You can run all your life
But not go anywhere
--Social Distortion