The Other End of Sunset

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Musings on technology, product, and customer service

Dressed up like a million-dollar trouper
Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper

There's an article on Slashdot today talking about equity trades "in picoseconds". Fascinating stuff. Trading systems are complex -- there may, or may not, be a central arbitrator of trades. Usually there are only two parties to a trade, although there can be more. (I don't think there can be less, under most assumptions of mental health.) There must be a way to settle trades between parties.

For a trade to matter, two parties have to agree on a security, a price, and a clearing method. Clearing methods are usually automatically selected, so that shouldn't take any extra time.

But you still have to find a security and a counterparty.

Trading at picosecond speeds? it takes about 3 picoseconds for light to travel a millimeter. The average ethernet cord -- the thing that goes from your computer to the wall plug -- is 5 feet long, which is about 1,500 millimeters. So, it will take about 5,000 picoseconds for a single pulse of light to get from your computer to your wall. Add on a substantial amount of time -- in milliseconds, anyway -- to get through your router and to your ISP.

And let's not forget about the time it will take your packet to traverse them-there-Interwebs to the arbiter (or to the counterparty). I'm sitting on a good network, and I'm about 90 milliseconds from They have pretty good connectivity. Like, really good. And they are 90 milliseconds away.

90 milliseconds is about 90,000,000,000 picoseconds. (Just to put that number in perspective, there are about 197 million square miles on the surface of the earth. Which is about 500 times fewer than 90-milliseconds-as-picoseconds.).

We may be talking about trading in picoseconds, but, if we are, we aren't making any sense. In other words, where's the Tardis?

Your faith was strong
but you needed proof
--Leonard Cohen

I'm crazy into bags -- laptop bags, messenger bags, suitcases, whatever, I like them. And I own an unreasonable number of them.

But, still, I'm always in search of the perfect .

Lately, I've been wanting a way to hold my phone onto my shoulder bag strap, so that it's easier for me to talk on my headset when in an airport. I use a binaural wired headset, like the one that comes with the iPhone (but not that one, I use one with more comfortable earplugs and a longer cord).

Even though my headset has a longer cord, it still isn't really long enough for my phone to be in my pocket while using it.

Hence, my search for some way to hold the phone on/in my bag. The obvious solution is a sock-like-thing that attaches to the strap of the bag.

Obvious, yes. Easy to acquire, no. I've tried several. Each has some failing -- too big, so the phone falls out; bit that holds it into the strap too weak, so it falls off. I've almost given up on the whole idea.

Until I found Waterfield bags ( They sell a few things that I really want, including a phone holder. (They also sell a cool gear bag, which I also use, but that's not the point of this post-let).

I ordered the phone holder last week, in black. Because black is slimming, you know.


I find it hard to tell you,
I find it hard to take
--Gary Jules

A day or so after my order, I got an email from Waterfield's customer service, letting me know it wasn't available in black, and apologizing. However, they could ship it out to me immediately in a different color.

I didn't care about the color that much, so I picked one that was available.

And about 5 minutes later, I had another nice email from customer service, thanking me and apologizing again.

I got the sock-thing the next day.

I am blown away by how friendly and competent the support folks were. The response was fast, accurate, and left me feeling good about them not having the color I wanted.

Well done, gang; few places deliver so well.

I really (really) want to support places that get customer service right -- so please open a new tab in your browser, head over to sfbags, and buy something.

And, yes, the phone stays in the holder, and the holder stays on my bag strap. Thanks for asking.

I'll flag
I'll fall,
I'll falter

I hate technology that is used in search of a problem. For example, I don't understand the towel holders in airport bathrooms that use the infrared sensor to know that your hands are in front of it so it can spit out some towels.

First, it never gives enough towels, so you sit there waving your hands in front of the sensor like concert goers at some hair metal band show holding a lighter.

Second, the sensor never works, so you spend a while trying to figure out whether to wave your hands, or leave your hands, or dance a jig in order to get your towels.

How about a simple design where you pull the towel down from the bottom and it rolls out from the holder. It can be perforated to ensure you don't get enough towels if that's an important design goal, but at least one knows what to do with it.

The technology doesn't help, why put it in place at all?

And don't get me started on full-body scanners in airports.

Technology is great for some things, but not for everything. We should focus the tech-bits where they can help, make our lives easier, not where we can just think of putting something.

I wonder how many picoseconds it takes to spit out a towel.

Science fiction,
double feature
Dr X will build a creature
--Rocky Horror Picture Show