Tablet Ordering: The Future of Restaurants?

Anyone who works in the tech industry knows just how quickly a single new piece of technology can change the way we function, and there’s probably no example that better illustrates this than the way the mobile industry has changed how we do just about everything. We’ve gone from only being able to send short messages with our phones to being able to control drones with them, and now, reports are saying that mobile phones have made gadgets like calculators and alarm clocks obsolete.

That’s not all they’re slowly making obsolete, though. The popularity of mobile devices has skyrocketed since the invention of the smartphone, with Gaming Realms, a company that specializes in designed mobile-optimized slots with no-deposit free spins, has reported that there were 1 billion smartphone users in 2012, and this number is expected to double by the end of this year. For years, people have been talking about how e-books might be killing paper, and though all research points towards the opposite, mobile seems to be starting to trump paper in another field: restaurant menus and warehouse checkouts. Businesses in the US and the UK have begun establishing tablet-ordering systems, and results and feedback have been favorable.

The motivations for using tablet ordering systems are quite universal: they were expected to improve the efficiency and accuracy of order picking while saving in labor and paper costs. When Chili’s implemented tablet ordering with the help of Ziosk, they reduced service wait times, and boosted overall satisfaction with their services because the tablets also allowed children to play games like Z-Trivia, keeping them entertained while they wait for their food to be served. Chili’s is a prime example, because they’ve tried to strike a balance between convenient ordering through tablets and interaction with service personnel, as even though appetizers, drinks and desserts can be ordered through the tablets, main course orders are still taken by a server in person.

Casual restaurants are also starting to look into devising a similar system. According to Adam Rapoport, Editor-in-Chief of Bon Appetit, “I think the casual dining places do it for two reasons: One, it sort of expedites the whole process and gets more people in and out the door quicker. And two, it cuts down on labor costs and it’s more efficient.” It also helps that there are now several different companies that offer tablet-ordering services at competitive rates, but there are still some issues to contend with. For one, tablets, unlike paper menus, have a short lifespan of a few hours before they need to be charged, unless they stay plugged into consoles, which would then limit their portability. This system seems to work for Chili’s, however, as they’ve seen a 20% increase in dessert and appetizer sales since implementing tablet ordering.

The mobile industry has changed the way we do most of our business, and the restaurant industry is no different. With technology rapidly evolving and becoming even more accessible, it’s likely that tablet ordering will soon be in many restaurants across the world.

Experimenting with Google Voice

I’ve been working up the gumption to gain some more flexibility in how I use my cell phone. Having had the same number with AT&T for over a decade, I was loathe to try out other carriers because each time I switched I’d need to port the number, increasing the risk of losing the number.

Google Voice has long tempted me as a possible solution. It allows me to have a single phone number, and have that number forwarded anywhere I like. The big win came when Voice allowed porting of existing phone numbers in.

Today I took the plunge.

I’ve ported my main cell phone number to Voice, gone to AT&T and gotten a new line and monthly plan on my old phone, and told Voice to forward calls to the new number. One big benefit to this is incoming calls will also ring me in Hangouts on my laptop. When a call comes in, I get a Hangouts popup saying Xxx is calling, and I can choose to pick it up on the laptop, using the speaker and mic there, or pick it up on my cell phone, which will also be ringing. I find using the laptop as a phone ‘terminal’ remarkably comfortable and clear, so this is a huge win.

Last but not least, now I am free to play around with phone configurations without risking being ‘cut off’ if my main cell phone number gets screwed up. Today I’m still on my old Galaxy S4, but I hope to get a Moto G or Moto X soon, and set that up as my carry-around device. All of this is going on, and from a callers perspective, nothing has changed. I have one phone number.. just how the call gets to me has been adjusted.

So, I made it into the Boston Globe.

Well, their ‘Innovation and Tech’ buzz site at least. But, cool, huh?

Dave Shevett is chairman of the US Drone Racing Association, an unaffiliated group based in New England. One day, he stumbled across an FPV drone-racing video online and was hooked. Not long after, he formed the USDRA. The group is small, but has been working with clubs in the Northeast to help set guidelines.

“When I got started in this hobby/sport/whatever you want to call it, no one had really tried to organize basic classifications and rules for running a race,” he said in an e-mail. “I decided to set up the organization to act as a sort of clearinghouse reference point for clubs.”

The latest tech sport taking the country by storm? Drone Racing.

So you wanna be a wedding photographer…

Petapixel is rapidly becoming my favorite blog for articles about photography, both the business and the tech. A recent post entitled ‘You Sure You Want to be a Wedding Photographer?’ hit pretty close to home, as I’ve been shooting more weddings lately, and yes, I’ll admit it, I’ve done the mental exercise of “Can I do this full time?”

If you want to be a wedding photographer, you need to stop and think about your life.

So you want to be a wedding photographer? Want to go pro, go full-time, ditch that desk and take the industry by storm? Stop and think about your life. Do you LOVE to work? Like, truly LOVE working? Not the recognition, not the money and the fame, and least of all the internal accomplishment feedback that comes from achieving small successes that only you can see. Nope, you pretty much need to love doing the work.

I arrived at “Heck no”, long before before I read the article, but Levi’s point by point breakdown of “You really have to love photography – not be in it for the money, fame, glory, or any of that BS…” is, IMHO, spot on. I love taking pictures, I love doing post-processing, and I love hearing customers tell me they’re happy with my work. Is it frustrating sometimes? Sure… it’s a lot of work, and there are aspects that ain’t great. A good example is in Levi’s article:

And somebody’s gray uncle strapped with two DSLRs worth more than your car will waltz in and bogart all your shots while insinuating that you probably shouldn’t have even come. (You’re a real jerk, Uncle Bob.)

Boy ain’t that the truth. I’ve had this happen twice, though not quite with the snooty commentary from Uncle Bob.

So, no, not a full time career for me. In the meantime, I’ll happily take the work as it comes along, throwing myself into each job with all the professionalism, skill, and excitement I can bring. At the end, I’m happy with the product I give my clients, and I can go to sleep knowing I did my best, made someone happy, and be ready for the next days challenges.

Anti-Intellectualism is Killing America

This article on Psychology Today cuts through the current easily derailed conversation about race, gun control, and the lack of informed, civil discourse today…

America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter who used race as a basis for hate and mass murder, is just the latest horrific example. Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture of ignorance.

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are“lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panelbrought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.

Anti-Intellectualism is Killing America

Rain! Rain! Rain!

Rain!
Weathermap

You know that scene in movies where people go running out into the field and dance in the rain after a long drought?  “Our crops are SAVED!”.  Or the scene at the end of Dune (yeah, if you don’t know this spoiler by now….)

I feel like that today.

The 2 storm fronts that came through Berlin over the last few weeks completely missed us.  We’ve been doing some watering to keep the apple trees and strawberries and garden materials going, but the lawns and fields have been suffering.

Now?  A steady, not deluge-rain, cool temperatures, and ahhhhhhhh.!

Changing Tides – Reworking my FB, Blog, Twitter Sharing.

It’s become sadly apparent that Google Plus, the service we had all hoped would dethrone Facebook and become a more open, useable, and at least mildly privacy aware environment, is rotting on the vine. Features are being spun off into standalone products, and long hoped for features have never materialized.

So I’m falling back to the old standby.  A year or two ago I completed rebooting Planet-geek and have been enjoying using it as my primary platform, so I’m going to take the final jump and make the blog my primary posting platform, while letting the fairly awesome SNAP tool from NextScripts repost / share things out to various social networks.

Right now I’m echoing posts to Facebook, Twitter, and Livejournal, but may add other sites going forward (NextScripts supports dozens of different systems).  Any requests?

While the FriendsPlus.Me tool I was using was ‘Okay’, I wasn’t happy with the several levels of redirects and “you must source your post from G+” setup.  This way, my blog is the authoritative source of my ramblings, just as I want it to be.  But I understand if you don’t want to subscribe to my RSS feed or are more comfortable on other platforms, well that’s fine, you’ll still see my happy chatter.

Sorry Jekyll, I’m done with you.

logo-2xI’ve been working with Jekyll on the US Drone Racing Association site. It seemed like a nice idea. Check all your content into Github, then, when ready to do work with it, check it out, make your edits, run a local test site (that part is really nice), and when finished, check it back in. One update on the master site, and you’re done. Woo.

Yeah, see, that’s where they getcha.

Jekyll is great for very fast setups for static sites. If you never want to really change the site, such as changing themes or regularly adding blog posts quickly and efficiently, you’re probably good.

But I found the blogging process enormously painful.

  • Check the site out of github
  • Go into the _posts directory, pick an old entry, copy it to a new filename. The new filename must be yyyy-mm-dd-uniquename.markdown. This date is important because it’s used as a sort order.
  • Edit the newly created file with whatever editor you like, but the YAML Front Matter must be correct. Using YAML for structured data is already problematic, but this is supposed to be a markdown document. But, no, it’s sort of a hybrid of YAML and Markdown and HTML.
  • If you get the YAML Front Matter right, you get to write your post. Markdown is nice, but it has it’s limitations
  • Save the file, make sure you go back to your root (god knows how many times I’ve failed at this one), and do ‘jekyll serve’. Test your site locally. Swear and curse as it doesn’t work right. Repeat previous steps until right.  (Credit here.  The live preview is really nice, and it updates automatically when a file change is noticed.  I can’t fault that.)
  • git add -r
  • git commit
  • git push origin master
  • Log into your blog host
  • cd to your working directory
  • git pull origin master
  • cd sitename
  • jekyll build –destination=/var/www/yoursitename

Now, this really isn’t that horrific. Irritating, sure, but you can automate pieces of this and add some nice wrappers around it.

I wanted to theme my site. Here’s where things go sideways.  In short, you can theme a Jekyll site.

But you can only do it once.

Why? Because you don’t apply a theme to a site. You apply a site to a theme.

Sound crazy?  Lemme splain.  To theme a site, you download the theme, build it (and in Ruby land, this can be a nightmare experience. Ruby dependencies are horrific. Don’t believe me? Check out the conversation I had with a theme developer. We couldn’t get it running at all.)  But even if you do get it running, after you build a theme, you copy your existing content into the new theme directory, and commit the whole thing up to git. That’s your new site. Want to change themes? HAHHAHAHAH. You have to do this process all over again, extricating your content from your old themed site and copying it into the new theme directory structure.

Screw that.

Sorry jekyll. I’m done with you.

How not to compliment a photographer

Not too long ago an acquaintance of mine asked if I would do them a favor and come  photograph their event.  No problem, I enjoy shooting, and any chance to work is an opportunity to improve my skill.   I went to the event, spent a few hours taking pictures, and had a great interaction with everyone.  Later on I sat down and did all my post processing, tuning, and polishing – a process that can take hours, depending on the size of the shoot and the complexity of the imagery.  

Zach at arisia
Zach at Arisia
This particular event wasn’t that difficult, and I ended up with several dozen shots I was pretty happy with.   I published the pictures and sent the link out.  Over the next day or two, I got good feedback from the event coordinator and several attendees.

One message I got was simply this…

“These pictures are beautiful!  That sure is a great camera!”

Needless to say, this pushed my buttons.

If you’re a photographer, and  understand why this statement could be irritating, feel free to skip the following rant.

In the modern age of high pixel count cell phones, cheap high resolution point and shoot cameras, and “entry level” DSLRs, even the simplest, auto-everything, “shoot and post” pictures can come out looking great.   But whether you get a good picture or not with these tools alone is, frankly, luck.  Sure, you could get a great picture – but that’s mostly the result of chance.  Please don’t assume that’s what I do.

I am a photographer (among other things).  I spend a lot of time thinking about framing, light, setting, angles, subjects, and timing.  When I take pictures, sure, I take zillions (a typical hour or two shoot can result in 500+ exposures).  But to me a photographers’ art consists of an end to end process that may take days.   The camera is one of the tools in that process, but saying things like “that sure is a great camera!” while it may be true, really diminishes the work that goes into creating really good imagery.

So folks, next time you see a picture by someone you know is a photographer, compliment them on the picture, or better yet, on their skill, not on the camera.

Arduino Nano “Programmer Not Responding” on a Mac

Arduino Nano v3
Arduino Nano v3

For the Staff project, I’m going to be replacing the existing Arduino Uno R3 with a smaller, more easily embedded Arduino Nano.  The Nano is a heck of a lot smaller than the Uno (makes sense – it’s meant to be permanently installed, while the Uno is a prototyping platform).  I received my Nano a few weeks ago, but immediately ran into a frustrating problem… code would compile, begin to upload, and I’d get the error “stk500_recv(): programmer not responding”

The intarwebz are full of people reporting this problem, unfortunately most are not finding answers.

I went through the usual debugging problems – changing out the USB cable I was using, checking to make sure USB drivers were correct – I could still upload and use code on my Uno, but the Nano flat out refused to accept the new code (and I did check the very common problem of not selecting the correct board in the IDE).

Finally, came across a general discussion about bootloaders, and there was a comment that sometimes these boards do not reset properly.  After some more research, I found some folks using various ‘reset button’ hacks to sort of nudge the board into accepting code.  With a lot of trial an error, I have a procedure that seems to work pretty consistently.  There’s occasional twitches, but with persistence it always loads.

Continue reading “Arduino Nano “Programmer Not Responding” on a Mac”

The Blog is Resurrected… for now.

Well that was no fun.
For a while, I was in a funk because the Planet-Geek.com site was not posting ANY of my articles. And when I logged into the maintenance pages, I couldn’t see any of my articles for the last year.
Now, the site has something like 1600 articles on it. I was pretty cranky at the possibility of losing all my content. But the database itself seemed okay, and I could see entries in it. Just new content was not showing up.
Tonight I decided to sit down and figure out WTF was wrong with it.. It took about half an hour to determine the root of the problem…
I was logging into the wrong site.
We migrated the blogs off msb to msb2 a year or so ago, but I never a) removed the old bookmark in my shortcuts, and b) never updated the maintenance page to point to the correct toolset.
So I was editing the old site.
Boy do I feel like a dork.

Mac photo editing software?

Mosaic at nightAs I continue my migration to my new Mac, I need to figure out how to fill in the holes for tools I’m used to having under Linux. At the moment, I need a tool to edit pictures.
iPhoto seems to be pretty capable for cataloging and uploading, but I’ll need photo editing. My default tool is Gimp, but I’m wondering what I should be using on the mac. I’m trying to avoid dumping hundreds of bucks into things like Photoshop (particularly when I feel Gimp is as capable as Photoshop). But is there a tool I should be looking at before I install Gimp?
I include the photo above as an example of spiffy pics I’m taking that I need to do minor editing on (this one needs to be rotated about 10 degrees).
Suggestions?

Server Maintenance done – we have a new home

New server rack
This morning we moved Homeport’s 3 servers, plus the blog host, over to their new home in Mosaic’s Common House. This is something of an experiment, as we’ll be seeing how well the Charter business cable handles hosted servers. So far so good.
The move went mostly okay, with a time overrun of about an hour and a half due to a mysterious firewall problem that we finally got resolved. All services are up and running now.
It’s nice to have immediate physical access to the boxes. I know I can go into the server room and make configuration changes, add new machines, whatever. The only real problem that has cropped up so far is noise. The 5 existing servers + network hardware makes a heck of a racket (though I suspect the Rackable server is making the lions share). We may have to do some sound remediation – I mean more than the blanket I nailed up over the door.