Thursday, February 26, 2009

Electricity in the Early 20th Century

I love this photo - it was probably taken almost 100 years ago.
(click to enlarge)

In this photo, you can see the wiring from the Christmas tree running into the light socket hanging from the ceiling.

In the late 19th century, electricity was used almost exclusively for powering incandescent light bulbs. But that changed around the turn of the 20th century. The problem was that offices and homes were only wired for light bulbs. So the light bulb socket was used like we now use a wall socket.

Back then, electrical appliances didn't have on/off switches - you'd just screw it into the ceiling socket. Appliances like electric fans, beginning in 1890, and open top washing machines of 1908 could be fairly dangerous. You can't turn them off and you can't yank out the cord. There are some unpleasant stories of people getting their hair and clothing caught in washing machines.

Innovation and good engineering takes time, no matter how obvious it seems.

Source: Jeff Bezos at TED

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sensory Deprivation Tank

Today I floated, for the first time, in a sensory deprivation tank. For years I've been wanting to try one and I finally took the plunge.

The tank's about the size of a twin bed and it's filled with eight to ten inches of water heated to 93-94 degrees (skin temperature). About 800 pounds of epsom salt has been dissolved in the water so there's no problem floating.

The facility I went to was definitely up scale. Each person gets a private room with their own shower, a place to change, and, of course, the tank. Since it's private you get to float in your birthday suit (but you can wear ear plugs to keep the water out of them).

After rinsing off in the shower I entered the tank. Most people float with their head on the far end of the tank since it's slightly warmer there. The door to the tank is very light and you can keep it fully opened or close it - whichever makes you most comfortable. Just outside the tank is a spray bottle of fresh water in case you accidently get salt water in your eye.

Very soft music plays for about ten minutes which fades to silence. At this point I was in total, complete, darkness and quiet. Neither a photon of light nor decibel of sound could be seen or heard. I  knew when my time in the tank was up because the music started playing again and, just like the Academy Awards, that's my cue to exit.

So what happened inside the tank? Sorry to say that it wasn't anything like the 1980 movie Altered States; nor did I have visions like Lisa did on the "Make Room For Lisa" episode of The Simpsons (about 14:30 into the full episode).

But it was relaxing - very relaxing. I guess it's the closest you can get to being back in the womb as you float in solitude. There's nothing to distract you so you can focus (or not focus) on what ever you want. I could definitely get used to relaxing in one of these. The cost is similar to a massage ($40-$90 per hour).

I should sleep well tonight.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lessons in Customer Service

Not So Great Service
Good customer service is a pet peeve of mine. Recently, I wanted to order some pajamas with feet for my wife for Christmas. The company's website was out of stock, in her size, in early December so I wrote to them asking when they'd expect more. Three weeks later (between Christmas and New Year's) they responded and told me to keep checking the website.

Fast forward to February when their inventory levels on their website hadn't changed at all - I'd been checking about every 10 days. I e-mailed their customer service department again asking about their inventory and the response I got was that they were working to increase their inventory levels over the next few weeks.

I replied asking to be put on the back order list and they asked what specific item I wanted and this was their response:
I can actually answer this quite quickly - we don't expect to run another production on the penguin print until late summer to be available for fall.

I think they just lost a customer for life.

Unexpectedly Great Customer Service
Today, I experienced unexpectedly great customer service at a tea shop in San Clemente called the Lavender Lounge Tea Company. The shop is located off the beaten path, above a 31 Flavors. When it opened, about eight years ago, I thought that it would soon go out of business due to its location. I lived on this street from '94-'98 and had seen many businesses come and go.

Today I found out why it's still around.

When my wife and I arrived there were about five patrons that were just leaving so we had the place to ourselves - along with what looked to be about a hundred different kinds of tea. The only employee was a young woman (early 20s) who we asked for some recommendations. She wasn't the owner, but she clearly knew her teas.

I am not a tea person and I'm not a coffee connoisseur either - by the time I've prepped my coffee it has sugar, syrup, and cream. I ended up having the Ruby Cocoa Kiss tea (would a tea aficionado tell me that this wasn't "real" tea?). This tea was good - very good - and I didn't need to add anything to it which is a first. It was so good I bought a tin of Ruby Cocoa Kiss tea as I listen to the employee explain some differences in teas.

As I was being rung up, I saw a coconut meat cubes dessert, from Indonesia, that I had never heard of before called Jubes Nata De Coco. When I asked her about the dessert I was impressed that she knew all about it and how it compared to boba (pearl), but, what impressed me the most was that she told my wife and I that we should visit the Jubes website. She told us how cute the website was because you had to put the cubes into the Jubes mascots' mouth to navigate from webpage to webpage.

Exercise: Ask a Starbucks employee when was the last time they were on the Starbucks' website or visited the website of a third party whose products they stocked. (Of course, I ask this knowing full well that, when I worked at Apple, I was on the website at least daily.)

No, this wasn't a Starbucks barista who only knew how to make coffee according to an operations manual - she obviously was well trained in most every aspect of the business. It turns out that all of the Lavender Lounge Tea Company's employees are "students of tea".

I'm impressed.