Mar 31 2011

Random Thoughts March 2011

No explanation required, here are some random thoughts that occurred to me during the past month. These ideas were either to long to force into 140 character limit of Twitter but not fully develop to belong on their own post.

No surprised that Borders bookstore filed for bankruptcy and is closing several of its stores. I went to one of the Borders store locations that is closing, in Silicon Valley, to see if I can find any great deals. Even with the 25-50% off the cover price on books at Borders, Amazon has a better deal on most of the books I was interested in. Amazon typically sells books somewhere between 30-45% plus add the 9% you save in sales tax and free shipping.

Every pitch deck should have a slide that describes the team as: Lean, agile, organic, grass-fed, locally grown, acrobatic, gluten-free, hungry, rockstar, gurus.

Team Description

Team Description for Your Pitch Deck

Law of Software Envelopment states… “Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.” In my experience, this should also including reading an Excel document, generating a PDF report, execute a VBA macro, sync with your Outlook contacts, fix end user printer problems, auto generate blog posts, …

Mar 18 2011

Chipotle Online Order System

I love me a good burrito, and although Chipotle is not my favorite burrito joint, they do have an online order system that makes ordering lunch for a team of hungry, and picky, developers simple. But while scheduling a pick up order for the entire team I felt more like a tester than a customer.

Right on the first page after login in, I encountered infinite navigation loops. At page where I was to order, there is a big red button that read “ORDER NOW.” If you click this button, it reloads the current page you are already on. After trying that trick for a few times I realized I had to select one of the four order methods: online, app, fax, or burritos by the box.

Order Now

Order Now

I then had ‘issues’ adding invitees to my order. Adding invitees is a three step process. You have to add a list of email addresses in the text area, click ‘Add To Invitees’, this then does some AJAX magic and creates a set of check boxes for each invitee and you have to select all before they are actually invited. I can honestly say that I had to this this step a few times to get it right. If done right, each invitee receives an email with a link to order their own meal.

Add Invitees

Add Invitees

One large problem that a few folks had was that they didn’t order what they actually wanted. Unbeknownst to several team members, Chipotle wants users to be explicit about each ingredient in a burrito. A lot of team members just clicked on Chicken and didn’t realize that Chipotle would just give you a piece of tortilla with some chicken. The burrito looked like it had some stunted growth issue, but worst was the faces of the folks that ordered such a mini-burrito. One problem here is that the UI for ordering what goes inside the burrito is cluttered and goes against conventions of ordering a burrito in most taquerias. This mistake happened to three developers, so I can deduce that it is a common error when ordering online from the Chipotle.

Burrito Builder

Burrito Builder

One final issue I encountered was with the pick up of the online order. I didn’t realize or received a message from Chipotle that I had to log into the system after everyone had made their order and check out. When the time came, I just showed up at my local Chipotle to pick up the food but to my surprised they had not received it because I forgot to check out. Of course, I logged onto their website from my phone there was no way for me to see the recent history or pending order. Lucky for me, I was able to reach an hungry developer in the office and asked him to log into their website from my computer and he was able to finalize the order.

In the end, a few folks didn’t get what they expected, the food was late, and I learned a valuable lesson. Next time I’ll just fax the order in.

Oct 25 2010

US Patent: Virtual Currency

Zynga is one of the fastest growing social gaming companies. Zynga is the maker of compulsion loop filled social games such as FarmVille, CafeWorld, and Mafia Wars. These games have proved to be like crack for people bordering on obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now Zynga has patent the novel idea that has been around for decades of virtual currency. Zynga’s file to patent Virtual Playing Chips in a Multiuser Online Game Network. They claim that real money can be exchanged for virtual currency. The virtual currency can be used to purchase virtual goods between any two users. A user can be credited or debited virtual goods based on the outcome of events in games. The virtual currency can’t be exchanged back to legal money.

There are, and have been for a long time, games that thrive because of the virtual economy built into the game. Games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, which have been released since 2003 and 2004 respectively, depend on virtual currency to a large degree if you want to get far in the game quick. Within these games you can virtually work and earn currency or simply buy in-game money to buy virtual property such as a house or armor or whatever you like. The maker of Second Life have gone as far as to name their currency after themselves, the Linden Dollars. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 the Second Life economy grew to to half a billion dollars!

Outside video games, virtual currency has been used in real life scenarios such as at amusement parks and or places like Chuck E. Cheese’s or Dave & Buster’s. Chuck E. Cheese’s has game chips that you purchase with real legal tender while Dave and Buster’s uses smart cards to debit and credit in-store currency. In both franchises, the in-store currency can be used to play games priced using the in-store virtual currency. Two users can exchange and gift the in-store currency and based on the results of such game you win points that can be used to purchased goods.

All of their claims have been around for years and have been implemented in a variety of systems for years. Another real life example is iTunes. At most retailers, people can purchase iTunes gift cards. The virtual value that can be redeemed from a given iTunes gift card is usually given at a rate of $1 iTunes dollar to $1 real dollar. But some retailers, such as Costco has rates of $1 iTunes dollar to less than $1 dollars. The iTunes gift card will be used to credit a user with some amount of value which can later be used to redeem virtual goods such as songs, movies, and apps through iTunes, the online network application.

Outside of games that force you to tend to virtual crops for virtual money, in other words virtual share cropping, virtual currency has been used to control runaway inflation.