Suggestions to SeaWorld

Yesterday my family and I went to SeaWorld as it is now an annual thing for us to visit a theme park (last 2 years was LEGOland). I expected there to be some people (tourists and others that don’t celebrate Christmas), but thought it would be a breeze to get into the park. We left our house around 9:40 for a 10 am opening of the park. We live less than 10 minutes away, so 10 minutes to get in, get parked and get to the gate did not seem unreasonable to me as we’ve done it before.

We get to the parking lot and had to wait in a line. That’s the first problem. The way SeaWorld does parking is they have multiple gate houses (that’s what I call them) with 1 car lane on each side. Each gate house can accommodate 2 people, one person on each side. Well, SeaWorld decided to staff each gate house with 1 person meaning that instead of 2 cars going in at a time, only 1 went in at a time. You would think that this was done to slow down traffic in the parking lot, but there was practically no moving cars in the parking lot. I also noticed that one gate house was empty, so there were no cars at it.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the 1 person has to take your money or pass, go inside, ring it up on the computer and print out a receipt before returning. So with the great invention called mobile terminals, they should be able to collect money/credit cards/passes without having to go inside. Combine this with 1 person per lane and more cars could get in faster. If you were unlucky and pulled your car on the left hand side of the gate house, your passenger (or you if you don’t have a passenger) has to hand everything through the passenger window. Putting a person on each driver’s side window would make it easier.

After we made it through that line, we had to park. At DisneyLand, there are people directing you to empty spots and basically don’t let you park wherever you want. SeaWorld kind of makes it a free for all which causes empty spaces. So people cruise up and down the aisles looking for empty spots (we did that and found one pretty quickly).

We thought we were home free and the long lines were people buying tickets. We were wrong; the long lines were to get in. They had 2 entrances open which meant that 4 people at a time could get in. Then when we got to the front of the line, the same problem they’ve had for ages showed itself again. That was their horrible ticket scanning machines. These machines require you to put your ticket on a platform and line up the X to read the barcode. They are slow and problematic. Then for pass holders (and presumably multi day ticket holders), you have to put your finger on the biometric scanner which seems to be flakey as well. Yesterday, the machines flat out didn’t work, so the people at the entrance had to use handheld devices and scan the barcodes. While barcode scanning is a fairly fast process, lining up the barcode takes time especially if you’re trying to hold the device and the ticket. Using a magnetic stripe on the ticket like they do on many transit systems would speed up the process. The downside is that people that printed tickets at home would have to exchange them for encoded tickets. Since there were a number of unused automated kiosks, this doesn’t seem unreasonable. While this does shift the line, it only shifts the line for those that printed tickets at home.

While this may sound like I’m complaining, a trip to a Disney theme part shows that these problems have been thought out and solved a long time ago. I’m not sure if the current owners of SeaWorld don’t want to invest the time or just don’t care. It could be the latter because people still come to the park and are just grumpy until they get inside and forget about the 40 minutes to actually get there.

Suggestions on busy days

  • Staff each parking gate house with 2 people.
  • Open all parking gate houses.
  • Use mobile terminals for parking payment collection.
  • Put people on driver’s side of each lane and not stay in gate houses.
  • Have people directing cars to fill in every spot.
  • Open more entrances to let people in.
  • Get more reliable ticket reading machines.
  • Use magnetic stripe tickets instead of barcodes.

Simple Energy Conservation

Awhile ago I was talking to my dad and the topic of energy bills came up. We both live in places that are roughly the same size and in the same climate (he’s about 7 miles from me). He was surprised at how much lower my bill was than his; mine includes gas and electric and his only electric. We started to figure out the differences. I have gas hot water, his hot water isn’t included in his bill (he pays it via his HOA dues). I have a gas range, he has an electric range. I have gas heat; he has electric in wall heaters. Neither of us has air conditioning. Since it is the summer, heat could be ruled out and cooking is pretty minor in terms of overall use.

What were the big differences? We started to think and determined that it is probably the computers. My parents each have an iMac that they leave on all the time whereas my wife and I each have a laptop that we put to sleep. In addition, I turn off power strips when not using them and have other powerstrips with timers on them.

So my father decided to turn off his computers and other equipment at night. The first thing he noticed is that there are days that he doesn’t even turn on his computer; he uses his iPhone or iPad to do what he needs to do. When his next bill came, he told me that he saved at least $10. This may not sound like a lot, but that’s over a 10% savings. He’s still not down to my level (could be the TiVo or his stereo amplifier as we don’t have a music system in our house right now), it is encouraging.

We’re lucky that we live in a very temperate climate and that our energy bills are so low; I was talking to some people last month that live in the southeast and my <50 a month bill was peanuts compared to their $400-$500/month bill due to have to heat and cool their houses.

What if other people started doing simple conservation things like this? It would not only be a nice cost savings, but it could lead to being able to turn off a power plant. Who knows.

Making a first impression

When applying for a job, the standard thing to do is to submit a resumé and that becomes the first impression that a potential employer has of a candidate. Many years ago I came up with a basic, clean format for my resumé and periodically have updated it (luckily not lately), just in case I needed it. While I’m not sure a resumé ever helped me get a job (I was referred by a friend to the one job that I landed where I submitted a resumé), I’ve been in the position that I’ve had to read resumés of potential candidates. I look for a number of things on resumés to see if the candidate is worth pursuing. These include the basics like:

  • Does each job tell me what the candidate did?
  • How much experience does the candidate have in a particular field? Lately, it has been iOS and Objective-C.
  • Has the candidate worked on a team? What was the candidate’s role on the team?
  • Has the candidate switched jobs a lot?

And the not so basics:

  • Is the resumé clean and professional looking? I like to see PDF resumés as I don’t use Word and formatting gets messed up with Pages.
  • Are there spelling errors?
  • Is proper grammar used? While no one is perfect, I know that I spend a lot of time on the 1-2 pages of a resumé; I expect others to do the same if if grammar isn’t a strong trait, then the candidate should ask for help in reviewing it.

Some people will say that I’m too nitpicky, but I’m in a field where attention to detail really matters. I recently saw “Got familiar with xxx” as a bullet item on a resumé. That strikes me as someone that didn’t spend enough time wordsmithing or didn’t have a good grasp of the language.

There are also some things you should leave off a resumé. In the current era where everyone has an app or two, I see people list how many apps they have. One went as far as to say he worked on 50 apps. Going back to my list above, I looked for how long this person worked at a company and then did a rough calculation that he put out 1 app every 9 days of employment. While the candidate might have thought that the quantity of apps was important, it turns out to be a negative in my book as 9 days isn’t enough time to write a quality app (granted some apps were probably cookie cutter and different content put in).

I remember in the past my father making sure he put his resumé on the right paper stock just to make a good impression. He put so much effort into his resumé that when it came time for me to do a resumé, I tried my hardest to make it my best work. In modern days, people rarely send in paper resumés, so they have to do different things to make a good first impression. I wish more people would spend time polishing their first impressions.

The (Amazon Affiliate) trickle returns

Now that Amazon and the State of California have come to an agreement whereby Amazon will start collecting sales tax next year, Amazon has reinstated all their California affiliates. So I setup a new account (I had already closed mine) and will start linking to products again and hope that people use the links as well as the search box on the right side. While I don’t expect to earn a ton of money off the affiliate links, it does basically pay for hosting this site. I’m happy that the affiliates are back, but the sales tax thing may end up being worse depending on how much we buy from Amazon.

Proofreading Mass Email

Last week I changed my AT&T account to be a 900 minute plan. As part of the change, AT&T sent email confirming it. The automatic email, however, was not proofread. The bullet points should have been alphabetical (in English), numerical, or simply bullets. AT&T sent the email with the bullets being Hebrew letters.


Also, the link in the email goes to a server that doesn’t exist.

Doing the right business thing

A few weeks ago, my wife started complaining that our cordless phones started dying. So, I decided to get a new battery and see if that fixed the issue or I’d have to get a new set of phones due to bad charging circuits. I bought a battery from Fry’s and it failed to charge, so I suspected that the charging circuit was bad. Since I didn’t need the battery, I went back to Fry’s to return the battery.

When I presented the battery to the returns clerk, he looked at it and was a bit suspicious as he said that Lenmar batteries usually have a label on them with the Lenmar name. At that point, things began to click. When I brought the battery home, it looked identical to the battery I already had with the exception that the code on it was a little different. The package said 850 mA whereas the battery (and the ones in the phones) said 800 mA. The clerk went back and retrieved another battery and it was yellow (the ones I had including the replacement I bought were white) with a Lenmar label on it.

Now it was Fry’s word against mine; I said that I bought the battery I was returning. I couldn’t prove I hadn’t swapped the batteries and they couldn’t prove that the battery I took home was the real Lenmar one. The clerk asked his manager and the manager said to go ahead and accept the return. That was a big relief; I almost had to eat $10 for the battery. So it looks like someone swapped the battery in the store (the packages for the batteries only has a stable at the top and you can easily slip the battery out). Normally this kind of theft just impacts the store (and the consumer indirectly with higher prices), but in this case, I almost got stuck with the bill.

Normally Fry’s is an easy target for me to pick on as their staff isn’t the most helpful, some of their sales tactics are questionable (I’ve seen returned items shrink wrapped and resold as new), and I only shop there as a last resort. However, in this case, I was quite pleased with their customer service. Maybe this is way manufacturers put products in the bubble packaging to prevent people from stealing like this.

Energy conservation through guilt

The other day I received a letter from SDGE, my local power company giving me a run down of my electric and natural gas usage compared to 100 of my neighbors with similar house sizes. We aren’t the most efficient, but we aren’t the least efficient, either. Of course, there were tips in there on how to reduce consumption, but the letter is quite clever in making people a bit competitive to encourage them to conserve more.

I think we do a reasonable amount to conserve; we run our air conditioning a few times a year, we turn off lights, and I turn off a bunch of my computer equipment at the end of the day. However, can more be done? I was at Fry’s last week getting a power strip to combine a bunch of other strips and picked up 2 little energy conservation helpers.

The first is a Belkin Conserve Socket which I bought not because of the energy savings aspect, but because I forget to unplug chargers for my RC car and helicopters. I am always afraid of leaving them when I’m not around as the warnings on the labels are pretty scary. Also, I had 2 chargers for my RC car melt and the batteries start overheating. This gadget should give me a little piece of mind.

The second was an APC 4 outlet surge protector with a timer. You basically set on and off times for it and it switches off power to the outlets. I was trying to figure out where to place it to handle a few chargers I have lying around (outlets are kind of scarce in my office) when today I figured out what to do with it.

Like a lot of geeks, I have a large collection of equipment centered around the TV. I have a Mac Mini for a media center, 2 El Gato EyeTVs, a Time Capsule, an Ooma, a cordless phone, a cable modem, 3 Squeezebox devices, 2 audio distribution units, 1 amplifier, 2 8 port gigabit switches, a Wii, a coax amplifier and a TV. With all that stuff, what could I have automatically turn off and what was consuming the most? While much of the equipment uses wall warts and uses a little power each, the big consumers are probably the audio distribution units, so I plugged those 2 into the timer surge protector as well as 2 other small devices. That takes care of cutting power to 4 devices. Next, I unplugged the amplifier I don’t use.

Lastly, I have an APC UPS that has a master controlled outlet which shuts down power to 3 other outlets when the main device draws very little power. I set my Mac Mini as the master unit and used Energy Saver to set a schedule for it to shut down around 11:30 pm and wake up around 4:30 am in time to start processing TV shows that it recorded. Then I plugged in the EyeTVs and a hard drive into the controlled outlets. So of all the mess I have, I just set 8 devices to stop drawing power for at least 5 hours a day (the audio stuff I set to come on even later). While this isn’t the end of my quest to reduce power consumption, it is a decent start.

I like the idea of the timer controlled power strips, so I may pick up a few more of those.

Too bad SDGE stopped sending the real time power consumption data to Google. I’ll have to search to see if something is available as I have a smart meter and it would be neat to see if my efforts are doing something.

Are there tricks to interviewing to get good candidates?

Last week I had a discussion with some of my colleagues about interviewing. As they have come from a computer science background, their questions consisted of things like showing how a linked list works, how to do bitwise operations, etc. I actually struggle with these questions as I don’t have a computer science background, I haven’t been in college for 16 years, and I pretty much haven’t touched this type of code in years since I’ve been doing Objective-C development. So do these questions help find solid candidates? I have no idea.

When I’ve interviewed people, I’m not clever enough to come up with this types of computer science questions, so I’ve taken different routes and try to get at how a person thinks and what they can learn. One of the most important things I learned in college was how to teach myself anything which has proven to be an asset. A number of years ago, I had an interview at Apple for AppleWorks and I basically didn’t get the job because I didn’t know C++. The next interview I went on, I don’t believe I was asked highly technical questions and was hired. Within 2 weeks, I learned C++ and was off and running.

There is no magic to interviewing and maybe computer science questions are great for candidates right out of college, but do they help adequately screen candidates? If the candidate gets the CS questions wrong, could a good candidate be slipping through the cracks? Possibly. I find that if I probe a person for specifics on what they have on their resume, I can get a pretty good idea of how the candidate will work.

To each his own; there are no right answers or formulas for finding and retaining good employees/contractors.

Effectiveness of stop signs

The question for today is “are stop signs effective?”. I’ve been running along the same route for 5.5 years and either I’ve been noticing people failing to stop at the stop sign more or people just care less. At this particular intersection that is a 4 way stop, a small number of people actually slow down and stop, some slow down and continue, and the remainder simply just blow through the stop sign.

View Larger Map

On my run today, I saw a teenager not bother to slow down and make a left turn at this intersection. He didn’t seem to care that there was a stop sign. This intersection is getting more and more dangerous for me as I have no idea if people will stop. I decided to stop for a minute on my way back and take a video of a car running the stop sign. I didn’t have to wait long for this to happen; maybe 15 seconds.


[quicktime width=”568″ height=”336″][/quicktime]
How can this intersection be made safer? Does this happen to all 4 way stops where no one is around to notice? Maybe steal spikes that puncture tires can be made to come up if people fail to stop.

The end of free money?

When I started ReceiptWallet, I setup an Amazon Affiliates link to see if I could make some money on the scanners I recommended. Turns out, this was a smart move as I was making decent money for no work. After I sold ReceiptWallet, I get my links around on this blog and while I don’t make enough money to quit my day job, I make enough to goto dinner a few times a year. I’d rather have the money in my pocket than someone else’s, so I keep the links up.

Unfortunately, Amazon notified California based affiliates today that they’re cutting us off if the state passes a law regarding online commerce. The law is a bit of duplicate regulation as California residents are already required to pay a use tax for goods purchased out of the tax; it appears that the law is putting the burden of collection on a company that doesn’t even have offices in the state. The law argues that affiliates constitute a California presence for Amazon and thus it has to collect taxes.

So us little people get punished because the state can’t enforce the current law on the books. Lovely.