February 26, 2008

My first San Francisco visitor

Filed under: personal, photography — Rakesh Agrawal @ 12:31 pm

Got my first San Francisco visitor last week when Wanita stopped by before we headed off to Kauai. (OK, technically Jason and Jeff were out here earlier, but Wanita was my first house guest.)

We managed to pack a lot into 3 days, including breakfast at the excellent Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, a fun tour of the Boudin bakery, finding great places for truffles, dim sum in Chinatown and a stroll through Golden Gate Park. And lots and lots of walking.

Pictures below and on flickr. A flickr map of the pictures is also available. Some of these pictures (the better ones) are Wanita’s.

(If you’re reading this in an RSS reader, click through to the blog.)

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February 5, 2008

Au revoir, DC

Filed under: personal, photography — Rakesh Agrawal @ 12:15 am

It’s been a long, fun ride. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of great people and make some friendships that will last a long time.

The last month has been hectic with moving and frequent coast-to-coast trips, but I’ve managed to squeeze in time for museums, hiking, football, Rock Band and just hanging out with friends.

(If you’re viewing this post in an RSS reader, click through to see the slideshow. Or see the set on flickr.)

February 3, 2008

How not to design an ATM

Filed under: fun, ui, usability — Rakesh Agrawal @ 9:23 am

I’ve written before about problems with the UI on ATMs, such as repeatedly asking what language you want and having you enter cents for withdrawals when no ATM I know of dispenses pennies.

I ran across another problem the other day: an ATM that doesn’t know when to count. I asked for $200. The machine connected to the network, subtracted $201.85 from my account and then started spitting out money. Whirr. Click. Uh oh.

Seeing as I wasn’t in Vegas and there is no such thing as a $200 bill, I began to worry. There was an ominous message that said simply “Cash dispensing error”. The machine only had $20 in it.

The machine should keep track of how much it has in it so that as soon as you enter $200, it checks and says, “Sorry, I’ve only got $20. Do you want that?” This should happen before taking the money out of your bank account.

Here’s a case where bad UI made the ATM company money: I ended up paying $1.85 to withdraw $20, a whopping 9.25%. If I’d known that there was only $20 in the thing, I would have used a different ATM. Now if only I’d reprogrammed that ATM to think I took out $5.

Badly designed ATM

February 2, 2008

Occassional reader – Camera clues, misplaced revenge, drunk dialing, ExtraGeek – Feb. 2, 2008

Filed under: fun, random, weekly reader — Rakesh Agrawal @ 12:01 am

Yes, yes, I know. I’m behind. The new job, a coast-to-coast commute, moving and trying to maximize time with my DC friends have taken their toll on my reading and blog writing time.

  • Photo Clues Lead to Camera’s Owner (AP) – A New York City woman finds a camera in a cab and returns it. Shocking, I know. She, her fiance and family did a bit of detective work, analyzing the pictures on the camera to find its rightful owner in Australia. I keep meaning to put a locked image on my cameras with my contact information, just in case it falls into the hands of someone like that New Yorker. I could stand losing a $300 camera, but the images from a trip are a much bigger loss.
    Another use for digital cameras: using it to find people you’ve lost. I lost my friend Pam in an Italian museum. I didn’t know the language and the docent didn’t speak English. Flipped my camera to a picture of Pam, handed it to the docent and she pointed the way.
  • Police: Woman Thinks She’s Being Fired, Sabotages Boss ( – She gets the wrong idea after reading a classified ad that had her boss’ phone number in it and destroys seven years worth of architectural drawings. Wow. People still look at classifieds? Lesson for employers: back up data. Lesson for disgruntled employees: use multi-pass deletion. via Wanita Niehaus
  • Dip Once or Dip Twice? (New York Times) – Just in time for the Super Bowl, a report concludes that double dipping is bad. I do have to question the methodology: “The team of nine students instructed volunteers to take a bite of a wheat cracker and dip the cracker for three seconds into about a tablespoon of a test dip.” Three seconds is an awfully loooooong time. But then this is the same group that debunked the five-second rule. (It depends on what you dropped and the surface it was dropped onto.) via Sree Sreenivasan
  • Drunk driver dials 911 (CNN, video) – Drunk dialing and drunk texting are bad. Drunk dialing 911 while you’re driving is really bad. The cops don’t want to escort you home. Meanwhile, a Minnesota legislator is trying to ban ladies’ nights with free drinks for women.
  • ExtraGeek Luis von Ahn: Human Computation (Wired Science) – This week, I’m introducing a new feature that will highlight stories that are extra geeky. Carnegie Mellon computer scientist von Ahn discusses CAPTCHAs — those annoying things you have to decipher and type to sign up for accounts, buy tickets at Ticketmaster and other assorted tasks. von Ahn is trying to harness distributed human intelligence to help computers learn. The reCAPTCHA project tries to use CAPTCHAs to digitize books. Google licensed von Ahn’s ideas for its Image Labeler.

February 1, 2008

Microsoft yodels for Yahoo!

Filed under: aol, google, iphone, microsoft, mobile, mobile search, social networking, wireless, wireless data, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 5:12 pm

Microsoft and Yahoo logosThe announced Microsoft bid for Yahoo! means a lot of different things for lots of people. An emboldened competitor for Google. A stronger ad network for advertisers. Heightened acquisition hopes for AOL. Better benefits for Yahoo! employees. (Microsoft has the best benefits I’ve seen in the industry.)

But what does it mean for every day consumers? The biggest impact is likely to be in the mobile space. Microsoft’s ownership of the Windows Mobile OS and Yahoo’s large audience and mobile applications could revolutionize the industry.

As revolutionary as the iPhone is, it’s not a true network device. Apple did a terrific job integrating four devices – phone, Internet tablet, media player and camera – into one.

Even as our lives get more and more digitally connected, the cell phone remains a remote island of information. Someone needs to build a device that integrates the Internet seamlessly.

Some of the things I’d like to see:

  • A network address book. You no longer have to use the 10-key keypad or a sync cable to keep your address book up-to-date. In fact, you don’t have to update it all – as your contacts move, those changes are automatically reflected. The address book would incorporate network presence so that you don’t call people when they’re in the middle of something.
  • A network calendar.
  • Integrated photo applications. I’ve been looking for a way to view pictures from my friends on flickr through my mobile phone or iPod Touch. The best efforts have been clunky. When I take pictures, they’re seamlessly integrated with my flickr account, without the hacks that are currently required. (Sprint has done a nice implementation of this kind of integration with Picture Mail, but their Web application is awful and little used.) The pictures could also be used for picture Caller ID.
  • Richer data push to the phone. It amazes me that we’re still stuck sending 160 character text messages to each other. A network-integrated phone would allow for a better experience. Want to invite someone to dinner? Send them a message which appears complete with photo, address, review and link to driving directions.
  • Web access to text messages and integration with IM. When you’re at your desk, text messages come in on your IM client. Leave and they get routed to your cell phone. All of your texts are available in your mail app. The carriers are an obstacle to making this happen (text messaging is highly lucrative), but a combined Microsoft-Yahoo might be able to pull it off.
  • Network control of your phone. Phone stolen? No problem, send a bullet to erase all of the data. Forgot where you left your phone? See a map of where it is.
  • Local search integration. Found a business that you like? Add it your network address book for quick and easy access. Click to rate right from your cell phone.
  • Location-aware presence. The option to publish location to other networks, including IM networks. More on that later.

Some variations of a few of these features, like the network address book and calendar, exist in enterprise-focused devices. Yahoo! Go is an excellent consumer application that includes features such as a flickr viewer, but without integration into the OS isn’t as great as it should be.

Microsoft’s ownership of the phone OS, deep integration of Yahoo! Go and their combined consumer audiences could be combined to create a phone that out Apples Apple.

See also:

ObDisclaimer: These are my personal views and do not reflect the views of my employer.

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