Monday, June 20, 2005

Doug's drive through law.

This little rant was inspired by this great Taco Bell story found here while doing a little mindless surfing. Enjoy.

I've got a family of six, plus Grandpa. Sadly, this means the drive thru is nearly useless for me because of Doug's Drive Thru Law, namely:

the number of food items ordered multiplies the percent chance for an error in package delivery with an item being defined as a single expression, communicated to the establishment staff that represents a standardized food package; each item brings 5 percent of error; add on expressions that modify an item, or portion of an item, are subject to a 2X multiplier; generic product references add another 1X multiplier as well with out of order expressions adding another 1x to the total. Deduct one base item error percentage for each sane question asked by the order taker to arrive at your total food error percentage.

This means if you have more than one kid, it's simply not practical to get a correct order from the drive-thru without checking your food, ordering in small chunks, getting extra make up items, etc...

Before I go too far, lets explore what is and what isn't an item. As I defined above, an item is a single expression that identifies a food package to be delivered in exchange for money. Now that's a bit more complete than the law above states, but I think you get the idea. Afterall, this is just a quick rant. Remember, lower your expectations and you will be happy more of the time! Ok, lets get started on the item examples!

"#3, medium with Coke" is one item. That's a package that links to the little buttons on the console. None of the kickers apply here, so you will get this right 5 out of 100 times. Not so bad. The expression maps directly to the buttons making parsing as easy as possible. Total: 5 percent chance of error.

"fat burger, no onions, a medium fry, and a cola" happens to be three items. Even though all three items are in the combo package, listing them by themselves requires thought at the register, thus adding significant error. That's 15 percent error right there, but it gets worse because of the generic product reference. You just can't say cola and expect to get Coke, Pepsi or RC cola because there is no button for that. If you are lucky, the person will ask. If not, you will get what you get. Total: 20 percent chance of error.

I have found it's easier to get correct food orders more often at the burger places because the combos group the food together in ways that keep the error rates down. When ordering for more than a coupla people, these combos really start to matter! For my family, I can expect 50 percent on a good day. Not too bad compared to:

Taco Bell

This is where it gets messy. Taco Bell has lots of items and most people want a few of them. Disaster just waiting to happen. Lets see why:

"2 soft tacos with meat and cheeze only, 1 bean burrito, 1 burrito supreme with extra beef and an extra tortilla wrap, an order of mexi nuggets, 3 hard tacos and a medium pepsi."

2 soft tacos is one item (explained below), plus the meat and cheeze only 2x kicker brings us to a 15 percent chance of error without even getting started. The bean burrito is right off the menu, adding it's tame 5 percent bringing it to 20 percent chance total. 1 in 5, not bad though that might just get started feeding one hungry teenager.

That burrito supreme is a monster with 5 percent for being an item, and 10 more percent each for the two modifiers. Now we are at 45 percent or so...

The order of mexi nuggets adds 5 percent as does the three hard tacos. The latter is a tricky one because it seems like three items, but the reality is actually better than that because the words three and hard taco both directly map to the little order taking buttons. Whew, only 5 percent for all that food!

The medium Pepsi is right off the menu, only bringing another 5 percent to the table, leaving us with a total of about 60 percent chance of getting a food error. That's a best case scenario. If you have not properly prepared your order delivery, the numbers go way up. Here is the same order again, only delivered in a less organized manner.

"Medium Pepsi, 1 soft taco, an order of mexi nuggets, 1 bean burrito, another soft taco with both soft tacos being meat and cheeze only (If you don't get questions back at this point, be scared --really scared!), 1 burrito supreme with extra meat and an extra tortilla wrap, and 3 hard tacos".

Now we know the best case scenario was about 60 percent. The out of order items add another 10 percent (never order drinks first, it's just does not work.), breaking the two soft tacos adds another 5 percent because they are two items now instead of one, plus the modifiers go up on each one as well. That's 20 percent for a total of 40 percent additional error.

If you deliver this particular order, at your local Taco Bell, and they don't ask any questions, you are safe to assume your order is going to be wrong!

Now imagine that scaled up for about 5-7 people and you had better be checking your bag before you drive off!

I have found a few tips that can cut your potential losses however. Asking for special items to be placed in their own bag really helps a lot. It's easier to check your food and it makes them think a little about just what they are shoving though the window. For large orders, you just know they put the specials in the bottom in the hopes you won't bother to look until it's too late! The seperate bag cuts way down on that. (I have gotten my specials in their own bag at the bottom of a larger bag though!)

Let your kids order more items, if they are standard ones! The time and hassle savings is more than worth the extra coupla bucks.

Never get drinks at the drive thru! They are expensive and add to your food error potential. Snag those at your local food mart and make the kids go get them. Almost as good as the drive thru and you can snack on the smaller items, like fries, while you wait! It's a win, win scenario as I see it.

Check your food at the window, before driving off. This annoys them to no end, but once they get to know you, your error rates will drop. Of course, you then have no idea just what is in your food. It's a tough call. Cold and wrong food, or correct and hot food with bonus ingredients! You decide.

Have any fast food drive-thru tips to share? Post 'em below.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Read e-books on your iPod

I've been toying with the notes function on my iPod. So far, it's been limited to helpful reference information. Being a Unix guy, I find the ability to keep specific command-line administration tips and other information on my iPod pretty handy.

Of course there is always somebody who gets it just a little more than I do. Reading e-books on the iPod makes perfect sense and is completely obvious once you think about it. I've linked a few resources below to get you started:

(Get the Rich Text download and convert it to plain text)

Have a good online e-book resource? Share it with a comment below.

Content is KING! Radio ramblings

Anyone who has any interest in radio today knows these are troubled times. For some formats, such as AM Talk radio, the consolidation has been a good thing with hosts syndicated nationwide and good numbers for many programs. Things are only getting better for AM talk as the industry discovers progressive / liberal talk programming holds great potential for ratings just as conservative talk has for the last 10 years. Additionally, these popular national programs are helping local talkers find their voice too. KOPJ AM 620, here in Portland Oregon, recently added local programming in the mornings. An already great station, just got a notch better. Ideally, similar things are happening around the country.

Being the liberal sort, I'm all for getting as many voices into the fray as we can. Maybe we will see the smaller parties find their voices too. Where are our libby and green talkers? Listeners are waiting!

The gauntlet has been thrown with the purchase of the Ed Schultz show by industry vets Randy Michaels and Stu Crane. Anyone who doubted lefty talk was viable has a lot less to say now. Political issues aside, this can only mean good things for talk radio in general. Now that we have ratings and a growing base of programming, can we please have more FM talk stations or at least a few more AM Stereo ones?

FM radio continues to struggle however. The recent wave of format changes are blowing up quality stations all across the country. The replacements are less then stellar, highly automated, "iPod Killers" featuring wide music sets, less talk and a bold, "just don't tell us what to play" attitude. Blech!!

Back in 2004, Clear Channel communications launched an advanced technology initiative to "identify, develop and deploy technologies and products that improve the quality of radio for listeners, advertisers and the industry," Here in 2005 we are seeing the fruits of that labour in the form of aggressive HD Radio station rollouts, increased automation aimed at cutting costs and fewer AD spots. What's not to like?


Radio listenership is not down because the overall quality of radio. Radio sounds plenty good to most everyone. Even AM radio, in it's analog form, is perfectly fine for many listeners. It seems the Radio industry has drunk a whole pitcher of the digital koolaid. The race to digitize our radio stations, embodied in HD Radio, has brought a technology focus to the discussion that does not address the core problem with radio listenership today.

Quality is not the issue, program content is. History shows us, time and time again, that people will listen to well produced, quality radio programs, despite any quality issues that come along for the ride. Broadcast it and they will listen. Of course the digital revolution has nothing to do with programming and everything to do with quality. At a time when radio has more alternatives than it ever has, we are seeing the industry devalue itself in an attempt to co-opt the digital alternatives with buzzwords and technology.

Today we have iPods, streaming Internet audio, satellite radio, digital music downloads, podcasts and other technologies that all deliver audio streams to the listener. Despite being digital, most of these new alternatives do not have the quality a plain old analog radio broadcast does nor do they have the years of experience and name recognition radio has. But they are digital and they are new and that's got the industry executives attention.

It seems everybody is focused on quality and technology, but does this align well with the problems before radio today? Do these things significantly improve the value proposition of radio and how do they promise to bring new listeners? Finally, where is the return on investment? How will these things attract new listeners when quality is not the primary factor in their decline?

We all know listenership is down. Clear Channel is currently seeking new listener measurement tools. Maybe they want better numbers, maybe they think they are missing listeners, maybe they just don't know. It's almost as if they are saying the numbers can't be that bad, we just know there are listeners out there but we just can't identify them.

Folks, if the listeners are that hard to identify, there simply are not enough of them. End of story.

Radio is losing listeners because a growing percentage of programming being aired today is not worth their time, not because they don't like the sound of their radio.

Overall quality does not matter, number of spots mostly does not matter, number of stations does not matter and the music does not matter. Lets face it, they all play the same tunes anyway, it's just a matter of which sub-set of the list of payola approved tunes they choose to play.

What does matter? Programming, programming, programming.

Right now, quality oldies radio stations across the nation are being closed down, along with their radio personalities, in favor of bland automated formats like Jack and Charlie. These formats keep talk to a minimum, don't take requests and have fewer commercial spots. They also play a pretty wide set of music. Charlie has even run "iPod" spots by way of comparison.

Radio needs to be braodcasting programming that cannot be easily had elsewhere. That's why AM Talk is doing well. It's relevant, often local and very dynamic. People tune everyday because they cannot get the programming otherwise. Same for well-produced news programming.

Music, on the other hand, is everywhere. The only differentiator radio had was the on-air talent! If that's gone, radio becomes just another digital media delivery technology. Big loss, in my humble opinion and this is why:

Podcast: Not real time, can be local, are largely free, no commerical spots (yet), portable, timeshiftable, quality potential ranges from poor to CD-quality, iPods are growing like weeds but needs computer / internet for content.

Satellite Radio: Can be real-time, not local, somewhat portable, pay per month and per radio, growing commerical spots, generally not timeshiftable, quality ranges from poor to decent mp3, must purchase radio and subscription.

Internet Streaming audio: Can be real-time, can be local but mostly isn't, mostly free, growing portable but really isn't today, timeshiftable, largely free of commercial spots, quality ranges from poor to decent mp3, tied to computer / wireless devices, but computers are everywhere.

Analog Radio: Is real time, local, extremely portable, free, features commericals, somewhat timeshiftable, quality ranges from poor (narrow band AM) to very good (analog FM Stereo), radios everywhere.

HD Digital Radio: real-time, local, not yet portable, free, features commercials, maybe timeshiftable, quality ranges from Internet streaming audio (AM HD) to very good mp3 (FM HD), almost no radios anywhere and those that exist are going to be expensive for a while yet.

You may disagree with some items on the above list and that's ok. The idea here was to compare and contrast radio with it's competetors in a way that reveals it's strengths. Those clear strengths are:

Radio is Free: Anyone can pick up a radio and listen.

Radio is Local: Nationally syndicated programming and station clusters have sharply eroded this, but each station serves a local audience.

Radio sounds good: To the average joe, the differences between digital radio and analog radio will largely go un-noticed. Both sound better than most all other alternatives. My point being that radio is plenty good enough in this area.

Everybody knows what Radio is: Not everyone knows what a podcast is, understands how to get internet audio, etc...

Radio was first: This means radio sets the bar others must follow. Given this leadership position, why is the industry working so hard to lower the bar thus setting easily met expectations for it's competition?

Here is the question again: If quality is so important as to cut live staff and spend tons of money on digital radio, how come the competition is doing well with marginal quality overall? What does the competition have that radio does not? What does HD Radio add to the overall picture? Increased quality and some increased choice for those willing to pay for HD Radios. These are already pretty strong yet listenership is falling. Doesn't that indicate the efforts are not properly aligned with the needs?

Instead of spending tons of money on expensive and hard to maintain automation systems and digital radio technologies that do not address programming problems, we should be seeing increased programming efforts. Those efforts are going to take people to produce which is exactly the thing being removed from radio today. Devaluing the industry to save costs will only work for a while. As the new alternatives continue to mature, radio will enjoy fewer cost, portability and quality advantages, leaving only programming as it's primary differentiator.

We need programming on the radio that is not easily obtained elsewhere, not programming avaliable everywhere delivered at a lower cost! Until we see this happening, radio will be innovating technically while increasing numbers of people quit listening. Perhaps if enough of them tune out, we might see some investment in innovative programming worth tuning in.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

OpenGeek site updates and general Rambling

Update: [07/06/05] New information found below in red.

Update: I have had the hyperlink attributes turned off for a while and somebody finally noticed. Well, it's fixed. Thanks.

It's been a busy coupla weeks for me. Family issues, work, etc... all just a mess frankly. Tonight I'm going to take a break from it all and get some of the great new HD Radio samples I've received posted.
I've finally got local AM HD Radio samples from 1190 KEX here in Portland Oregon! You can find those on the Samples Page using the link embedded here, or on the sidebar. Enjoy!

I'm in the process of completing an e-mail question and answer session with Ibiquity. When that is done, I'll post the results here for your HD radio enlightenment and discussion. Topics range from technical issues to up and coming feature sets. I expect this in the next week or so. Until then, enjoy the samples Ibiquity sent my way.

Ibiquity has been stalling. I'm going to give them a little while longer, then publish the unanswered questions here. (Crosses fingers, hoping it's just a busy time for them.)

While not part of OpenGeek my other radio hobby site, PDXRadioSpots is about to see some new content as well. Into old radio audio clips and spots? Give it a look. There is a lot there, and more coming soon. (Thanks go to Randy for a copy of the old KSKD Salem Dolby FM alignment signal. Way cool.)

Finally, I've received a number of corrections to my HD Radio essay. (Thanks everyone for helping me sort that all out --much appreciated!) Look for a new version of that this weekend as well. Enough has changed that a new PDF version looks like a reality at this point as well. I'm not going to link that here as the changes are still in process. --Just wanting to let folks know I'm getting it done, that's all. You can use the quick link on the sidebar if you really want to. I'm still working on this. --coming soon!

My oldest daughter pulled a run away a couple weeks back. This put the brakes on most everything for a while. I'm actually tempted to just blog it all here to get it out, but something says I should just let it go and concentrate on healing and problem resolution. Normally, I would write a little but this really hurts and I'm not at all sure what to say... I guess this is just a quick thanks for everyone who helped me through the last coupla weeks. With kids, you just never know. Man, who ever knew being a parent was going to be so damn tough? I'm an adoptive foster parent to boot, meaning I asked for it too!

Don't take that the wrong way. I would not trade anything for the last 10 great years. It's just been a tough month. It's looking to be a real tough year ahead too.

I've got things under control for now. I'm finally starting to get over the hurt she has caused. You see, I'm an adoptive foster parent. 10 years of tough parenting really has taken it's toll. To have my own kid judge me, after all I've worked hard to do, really makes one wonder just what they are thinking. The many folks I have spoken to say I am doing the right things and it's just going to take time...