October 26, 2010

The Maxwell Hotel (Seattle, WA) is perfect

Full disclosure: The owner is a friend of mine. But that’s why I can really say it’s perfect: I got to tell Michelle what I wanted in a hotel before she built it. You made it this way just for me, right, Michelle?

The Maxwell Hotel is exactly what I want in a hotel.

First, it’s new: spotlessly clean (solid surface floors — no grimy carpet!), everything works, modern fixtures, appliances, flat-screen TV, DVD player, iPod-dock alarm clock, etc. (I hate old hotels.)

Second, no nickel-and-diming: parking and Internet are included; there aren’t lots of extra fees. You can’t beat the value.

Third, it’s got a Keurig coffee machine, a microwave, and a fridge. And the fridge isn’t full of expensive mini-bar junk, it’s just got cold half-and-half for coffee. (There are snacks and beverages at the front desk, and a 24 hour full grocery store just two blocks up the street.)

I’m a frequent traveler, and I generally stay in chains. They’re boring, but safe and predictable. The Maxwell Hotel is a boutique hotel, and the interior decorating is more whimsical than you’ll find in a chain. But feature-wise it’s almost exactly like the best, newest Hilton Garden Inn. Only much cooler.

(Okay, this isn’t the perfect Seattle hotel. To be perfect, it should be in the center of downtown with spectacular water views from the 30th floor. But then it would be $600/night. The Maxwell is on the north side of Seattle Center. But the price and the easy free parking makes up for that, and you’re about 2-3 minutes from anywhere downtown by car/taxi. Or better yet, walk into Seattle Center and take the monorail right downtown for $2. This is probably the only hotel in the city for which the monorail is a useful bit of public transportation instead of just an amusement ride!)

October 15, 2010

Where the semantic web breaks down

We’re using semantic web technologies for a lot of cool stuff in Logos Bible Software, and I’m coming to appreciate the tools and structures, especially when you control  both the data creation and consumption. It’s also cool to see more semantic data showing up in web pages, microformats, etc.

Hearing Clay Shirky speak this week sent me back to his site to re-read articles, including The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview in which he points out “In the real world, we are usually operating with partial, inconclusive or context-sensitive information.”

That point was made especially clear for me when I noticed in my teen daughter’s Facebook stream that she recently acquired a sister: a girl I’d previously known as her second-cousin. Also, according to Facebook, my young daughter is married, to her best friend.

OpenGraph and the semantic web are opening up a whole new world of semantic data. But without context – knowing my daughter, for example – it can be just as messy and inaccurate as the raw data that preceded it.

July 16, 2010

Show your staff you trust them. Or not.

I saw this in an airport lounge in India:

India 2008 272

June 7, 2010

You’re not eating enough Georgian food

I was introduced to Georgian food on a trip to Moscow, and ever since I’ve been marveling that there isn’t a Georgian restaurant in every city in America. (Maybe it’s the confusion between the Republic of Georgia and the land of peach cobbler?)

“Georgian cuisine uses … walnut, aromatic herbs, garlic, vinegar, red pepper, pomegranate grains, barberries and other spices combined with the traditional secrets of the chef’s art … which make Georgian cuisine very popular and unique.”

Or, as Eli puts it, ”What are we going to do with all these walnuts?”

So we’ve got to make do at home. Start with khachapuri (cheese bread, recipe below); the lamb in pomegranate marinade is tasty and not too exotic, and I like the equally accessible potatoes with walnuts.

You’ll find most of the ingredients familiar and readily available; it’s the proportions and combinations that are unusual. Lots of herbs, lots of flavor, lots of happiness.

I studied this khachapuri video carefullly, and translated it to my American kitchen with great success.

Dough:

2 cups yogurt (matsoni = Bulgarian yogurt = I used plain “regular” yogurt)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 eggs
4 oz butter
3 cups of flour

Filling:

2 lbs cheese (I found the traditional sulguni/suluguni, but have seen half-feta, half-mozzarella suggested as a substitute)
2 eggs
4 oz butter

I let the dough rise for two hours in a warming drawer. Split it in two and and shaped and filled as shown; brushed with egg and milk wash and sprinkled with salt, baked at 400 F on a buttered tray until golden brown. (I had only purchased 1 lb of cheese, so I made half the filling and it was still wonderful.)

I meant to include a photo, but we ate it all. It looked like this, and can look like these.

February 25, 2010

O’Reilly TOC publishing conference

I’m back from the Tools of Change for Publishing conference. This was the best year yet! I met a lot of people, saw many old friends, and got caught up in the excitement of the next phase of publishing.

I am thrilled about the direction we’re going at Logos, and to see so many publishers getting ready to make the changes necessary to succeed on digital platforms.

It was all exciting the first time, too, in the late 1990’s. I enjoyed talking this week with fellow attendees of the ACM Conference on Digital Libraries ‘98 and the early NIST e-Book conferences. E-books: an overnight success decades in the making! And it’s funny how many of the products in the exhibit area look exactly like ones we saw back then; only this time the prototypes are shipping. Now it all feels “real.”

The slides for my session Network Effects Support Premium Pricing are online at the session page. (These slides have the outline I spoke from. I didn’t show it during the session because I hate reading bullet points off slides, and didn’t have the time to do all the art.)

It looks like the Ignite presentation (20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds – stressful!) isn’t online yet, but you can read about how Sean Boisen stumbled upon it on his blog.

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January 28, 2010

On failing our customers

I try to stay accessible, publishing my email address, answering my own phone, participating in our forums, etc. In normal days this means I get occasional complaints from customers, and I’m able to make that customer happy and hear about weak spots in our product or systems.

But now I’m hearing from upset customers every day. And I don’t blame them: wait times to talk to customer service or technical support can be over half-an-hour. (It hurts me to type that!)

We released Logos 4 on November 2nd. Knowing that upgrades always create extra customer service, we planned appropriately. We scheduled overtime, extended our hours, opened on Saturday, and even catered lunch for the team the first few days.

It’s not been enough. Within a couple weeks our reps were burning out, and we had to cut back the extended hours. We started hiring, but too slowly. We kept thinking “the rush is almost over.” But it’s still not; Logos 4 upgrade sales were more than double my expectations, and in the first eight weeks of our release we had as many users move to our new platform as move to our platform in an entire “normal” year.

And now we’re facing limits we didn’t even consider. We need to recruit, interview and train more service agents. We need to shuffle departments to make more space for desks and chairs. We’re out of phone lines; we’ve hit capacity on our telephone trunk line. (The one I thought would last us forever!) And our six-year-old phone system that was supposed to grow with us? It was discontinued the year after we bought it, and we’re having problems expanding it to support a second receptionist.

Our goal for customer service is every email answered in 24 business hours, every phone call answered — by a person – in a few rings, and no more than two minutes, if any, on hold.

These are ambitious goals, and we’re not meeting them today. I’m sorry. But we’re working hard to get back there as fast as possible.

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