Category Archives: Technology

A playdate video app for dogs? Well, why the hell not?

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Well, desperate times call for desperate measures.  The oppression of everyone being confined at home all day, every day is testing the limits of patience.  And this extends to Fido.

Dog with laptop

The good folks who brought you Match.com have decided that enough is enough – – there is now a video doggy hookup, er, playdate app that is intended to keep your four-legged friends distracted and occupied for hours at a time while you’re trying to work.

On the surface, it seems silly, but when you consider that your dog is missing out on daily dog-to-dog interaction, this sort of stimulation might come in handy over what is certain to be several more months of isolation.

Just look at that little buddy, bored and looking up at you.  Here’s a way to let technology assuage your guilt!  (it’s actually pretty cool)

bored pup

Full text of the press release is below:

 

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DoggoVision offers a videoconferencing alternative to Doggy Daycare

Dallas, TX – April 1, 2020

Dallas-based Match Group, Inc. today announced DoggoVision, a videoconferencing play date solution for dogs, in partnership with Zoom Video Communications and virtual reality developer Spaces.

Doggy 2

DoggoVision uses AI to match dogs

This innovative networked service is a response to sweeping stay-at-home rules, requiring entire families to work and/or study under the same roof, which for many families had never been experienced before.  Compounding the situation is the closure of pet sitting facilities and services, which in many cases had provided an outlet for pets and a break for their owners.

Doggy 3

While working from home has generally increased the number of walks dogs are getting, human social distancing during these walks has severely curtailed dog-to-dog interaction.

DoggoVision provides dogs (and their owners) access to a video community in which dogs can interact in real time, in both audio and video, with other dogs selected for particular affinities.  Selection criteria include dog size, breed, temperament, etc.  Enabled by the virtual reality of the Spaces app, dogs can see, bark, investigate, engage in play behavior, and even virtually ‘sniff’ other dogs.

Doggy 4

A variety of video background images can be artificially projected behind the dogs’ video images, so that the dogs can think they’re at the beach, in a forest, in the AKC show, on the couch, etc.  According to the company, in beta testing most dogs quickly accepted the scenarios, were transfixed for up to several hours at a time, and there were very few fights.

Doggy 1

Sign-up is free through http://www.doggovision.com, and requires the owner to enter their dog’s description, disposition, favorite activities, typical daily schedules, and any triggers that drive bad behavior (e.g. mailman, vacuum cleaner, etc).  Fees are based on session length, time of day, and size of group.

dogs dating

The DoggoVision software, in addition to using Zoom technology, uses Match.com AI algorithms to optimize dog matches globally.  An owner has the capability to swipe a ‘paw’ icon if a proposed dog or dog group is objectionable.  Software automatically verifies that dog preview photos are current.

Doggy reclining

According to a spokesperson from Match Group, owner of Match.com, OkCupid, Tinder and other services: “Match Group’s mission is bringing people together.  DoggoVision extends this concept to our best friends, and in providing diversion for dogs, creates a little peace in the home. 

Our existing software platforms were essential in developing this product in record time. This is not a simple watch-only video product – it’s fully interactive, inspired by the natural outgoing and playful spirit of dogs. There will be no equivalent version for cats.  Importantly, while DoggoVision fulfills a specific need, it is not intended as a substitute for the obligations of responsible dog ownership.

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Mom’s making lemonade – what’s your excuse?

Mom’s making lemonade – what’s your excuse?

Over the last week, shelter-in-place restrictions due to Covid-19 have turned the work landscape upside down.

This is one story of how one person, given lemons, has made lemonade.

Mom turned 89 last week.  She has been a lifetime pianist, still does performances at senior homes several times each month, and has been teaching now for about 65 years, currently with about 5-10 weekly students.

Mom then and now

The new workplace rules prevent in-person lessons, and as anyone who ever took piano lessons knows, skills deteriorate quickly.  This is not good when you’re a piano teacher.  You need your students to continue to move forward with their skills.

So, with guidance from a former piano student (now at MIT), Mom decided she would try to teach remotely.

And that is exactly what she’s done.

chrome zoom

As she described it excitedly yesterday:

It’s really very easy.  I’m using Chrome, and the Zoom app.  My students (aged 7-17) are quite capable of setting up a camera to show their hands on the keyboard.  I send them an invitation, give them the code, and off we go.  I see their hands, and they see me.  It actually works better for the younger students because they are forced to figure things out for themselves”.

Mom online

Mom has successfully completed her first 5 online teaching sessions, with more to come.

She did not have this skill last week.

What barriers are you facing?  What’s your excuse? 

Love you, Mom.  And yes, I’m washing my hands.

PROOF! The internet is not all real!

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The late football coach Dennis Green famously sputtered after his Arizona Cardinals lost a big lead to the Chicago Bears in 2006: “They are who we thought they were!!!”.

they-are-who-we-thought-they-were

DOES NOT APPLY TO THE INTERNET

No longer just the province of faceless hackers and fake identities, the internet now is the land of fake faces, too.  Very often people are not who you thought they were.

James support agent

I first became suspicious when my LiveChat support agent ‘James’ was a little awkward (every conversation started with “hey”), and he seemed to operate from a very different time zone.  He just didn’t seem like the chill dude in his photo.

Suspecting that his image was stolen from a real person, I did what anyone with borderline clinical stalking tendencies would do – I did a reverse Google search on his photo.

Tom Brown Facilis

Eureka! ‘James’ was actually a real person named Tom Brown, a Director at a company called Facilis in the Bay area.  Hey – I’ll let Tom know someone stole his photo.  Upon looking for his contact info, I found out that this was fake, too.  There’s a Facilis, but this isn’t it.  The site URL http://www.pgyx.com/team-member.html# looks like a developmental website for a business that may or may not exist, now or in the future.  You can check for yourself.

Collage 1

Back to the image search.  It turns out this person, whoever he is, has been replicated and is now overrunning the internet.  Sort of like the magic brooms in Fantasia.  ‘James/Tom’ is also Michael Flynn, lead developer at a tech company; Bob Roger, CEO of a restaurant supply company; Mike Hussy, data guy at Delhi Public Schools, and many more.

Sorcerers magic brooms

This dude is everywhere!  It is likely that many or all of these people are placeholders on developmental sites created by a web developer somewhere.  At this point I stopped the investigation…almost.

collage 2

Because the fake sites usually had more than one photo, I did the same search on a female face in one of these sites, and found that there’s lots of her, too!  And lots of other people as well.  It’s like there’s a parallel iStockphoto universe of smiling people.

Screen Shot 2019-06-30 at 3.25.03 PM

https://www.wsj.com/articles/health-startup-ubiome-used-stock-photos-for-website-testimonials-11558016423?mod=searchresults&page=2&pos=4

Well, according to a May 16, 2019 article in the Wall Street Journal, there is.  A company called uBiome recently had to take down a photo accompanying a testimonial, because they used one of these stock models as well.

In a final act of avoiding doing something useful, I did a reverse image search on the uBiome guy as well.  HE’S ONE OF THEM!

uBiome

It was at this point I needed to remind myself that these faces actually belong to real people – they’re not just virtual props for developers.  But good luck finding the real one.

There has been an increase in the use of images of real people, to humanize online transactions.  Just be warned that the person you think you’re interacting with may not be the person you see.

Cowboy philosopher Will Rogers once said:  “Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see”.

I think it’s time to take that down to a quarter of what you see.

clooney

Hey – it’s me!

Can Technology Be More Human Than an Actual Human Interaction?

I recently had to actually drive to my bank to deposit a check.  Aside from 2 receptionists there wasn’t a single customer service person to be found (you may be familiar with the archaic term, ‘teller’ – – or the archaic term ‘check’).   At any rate, no tellers in this bank.

Video tellers

There was, however, a Las Vegas-style array of video tellers, and my instant reaction was ‘great, this is the bank version of phone customer service hell’.

My actual experience was terrific.

in this case, technology enabled a customer service interaction that was polite, competent, quick and personable.  What everyone wants, but without an actual face-to-face encounter.  Sounds almost blasphemous.

Video teller 2

Of course, this approach started as a way to cut costs, by pooling resources centrally and deploying dynamically based on demand, rather than having to staff a large number of branches.

Bank teller 3

How can what is essentially cost-saving technology surpass the traditional gold standard of a smiling face in front of you?

  • Instant gratification. Because there are a lot of them in one location, a customer service rep was immediately available. No wait = good.
  • Great video quality – – clear enough so that facial expressions were easily visible, in either direction. So a good percentage of the personal interaction was preserved.
  • It happened to be my birthday (yes, and visiting a bank made it even more special) – – and to my surprise my CSR wished me a Happy Birthday.  My account info apparently flagged this on her end, and gave her the opportunity to delight the customer – – which she did, in a very cheerful way.  Sometimes it’s the little things that count, and this one gave my CSR the opportunity to make a personal connection – – which she did.

Compare this with the traditional experience of potentially waiting for a clerk, who then might mechanically take care of your business because he or she does this a thousand times a day.

Bored Teller

Maybe, just maybe, as technology and data use continue to mature, there may actually be hope that we won’t totally have to discard our humanity just to get a little service.

Now let’s see if we can do something about humanizing customer service experience just about everywhere else.

Inside Candidate URL Guerrilla Warfare!

Recently Donald Trump’s campaign acquired the domain for jebbush.com* and directed it to donaldjtrump.com.

This raises the question, what sort of campaign is Jeb! running when his staff hasn’t even registered his own name?

Classic domain warfare dictates scooping up all likely (as well as expected negative) URLs so you can control the message.

As it turns out, Jeb! is not the only one who has missed this rather basic tactic.  (the screen shots below can be clicked through to the actual sites).  In fact, depending on whether the middle initial ‘J’ is involved, The Donald missed a few himself.

—> http://www.tedcruz.com was taken over by a group promoting immigration reform, forcing Ted’s people to base operations on tedcruz.org (wouldn’t have been his first choice).

—> http://www.carlyfiorina.org was hijacked by someone with an axe to grind.  (spoiler alert: the last screen tells us it was 30,000 people – – all of whom had families)

…and Donald himself was caught flat-footed when he allowed http://www.trumpsucks.com to be directed to none other than Fox News’s Megyn Kelly!  Megyn punks Donald!

By the measure of controlling the URL landscape, overall, aside from the Megyn Kelly thing, Trump does pretty well.  He grabbed Jeb’s site (probably paid a squatter for it), and got ahead of a few ‘Ihate***.com’ sites, including some of his competitors. (see chart below)

Ted Cruz and Jeb! fare worst.  They don’t have their name.com URL and both need a less obvious URL for their base of operations.  Jeb particularly has been rumored as a presidential candidate for at least 30 years.  You would think he would have been savvy enough to get ahead of the game and grab his own name domain.

John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, and Hillary Clinton have decided to invest in only one URL.  The others are somewhere in between.

Is URL control a huge deal?  Probably not – – someone who gets redirected is likely not going to be automatically swayed just by landing on an unexpected site.

But still, there’s something to be said for controlling access to your message.  Maybe it’s time for each of us to look at www.(your name)sucks.com and see what comes up!

URLMatrix

*in WordPress, jebbush auto-corrects to nebbish.  hmmm.

Man vs Machine – Parts 2 and 3

Recently I observed a hair salon employee rejecting a customer’s minor request for his son to get his haircut first, solely because he had made his appointment online, and she was unable to override ‘Corporate Policy’ (as dictated by the technology).

My point was that while technology is often designed to enhance the user experience (and this chain’s reservation system is actually very good), we cannot ignore the value of personal interaction and judgment.

Since then I’ve experienced 2 more man vs. tech situations – one of which was negative, the other positive.

Schlotzkys

Case 1:  Schlotzsky’s Deli, Denver Airport.  Schlotzsky’s makes a fine sandwich, and has apparently long used kiosks, presumably to speed the ordering process.  (According to Schlotzsky’s, these were first introduced in tech-savvy Austin TX in 2002 to improve the customer experience!  Of course.)

I suspect the real reason is that since sandwiches are pretty modular, it lends itself to a automated selection approach, credit card payment, limited human interaction and most importantly, reduction in personnel cost.

The kiosks are fine, but an airport is a unique situation – – customers are by definition not locals, so the kiosk requires some instant learning.  And the lack of interaction with a human (their only role is to hand you the food) somehow depersonalizes an eating experience, which somehow makes it seem more like a vending machine and less like a temporary respite from the typically solitary travel experience.

The biggest issue is that despite all of the technology, my food preparation speed was glacial (I had to yell to the kitchen to start my sandwich), and for me there was absolutely no benefit to the kiosk.  The only employees visible had an expression of detached ennui.  Not a great experience.

Airport_Parking

Case 2:  O’Hare Parking.  I’ve used O’Hare for years and they have just recently un-manned the parking booths – no more attendants taking your money. In their stead is an automatic card reader (takes both your parking ticket as well as your credit card).

Now THIS is technology working for us!  In the past, the attendants were extremely slow, even though (maybe because) they were processing tons of mind-numbingly similar transactions that required zero judgment.

Now, you zip the ticket in, zip your card in, and you’re on your way.  The computer never gets bored or sullen.

Technology is helping facilitate a multitude of transactions that we make every day.  We just need to remember that when it comes to optimizing the human experience, technology can be amazing, but for some things there’s no substitute for the human touch.

Hopefully there’s an opportunity for the former parking attendants at a nearby Schlotzsky’s.

Not all Innovation is High-Tech. Not all High-Tech is Innovation.

To borrow an old punchline, sometimes companies innovate around technology ‘because they can’.*

A recent visit to the Hertz facility at the Denver airport illustrates the point – – innovation can only work when it is designed around the user experience.  Innovation that requires the user to adapt to technology, at the expense of experience, is not usually a blueprint for success.

My key car rental criteria are price, convenience and how fast I can get my car. At the counter, I preemptively say I don’t need an upgrade, don’t need insurance, and will fill it up myself. I also tell them they’re on the clock and my personal record is out the door in 3 minutes (although I had a wonderful 1:30 experience just this past week). It works, and it’s not nearly as jerky as it sounds. (really)

photo-1

So I was eager to experience the Denver Airport Hertz facility, which is huge (2500 s.f.) and bristling with open format desks, high-tech kiosks, and bumblebee-colored employees. The car rental facility of the future, right?  I’d be out of there in no time.

It was a disaster.  First, 25 minutes in a standard Disney-style winding line; then left the line and went to the separate line for a kiosk on the recommendation of a Hertz employee.  10 minutes to get to one of the kiosks, which needed assistance to operate.  The disembodied head on the kiosk video screen informed me that while I had a reservation, my car would not be available for at least another 30 minutes.  Except, of course, if I wanted to upgrade (at extra cost).  (we’ve seen this before)

I got mad and tracked down a manager, who finally gave me an upgraded vehicle without the upcharge (duh).  That was 45 minutes of hell in a facility that was presumably built on research and smart engineering.

The expensive technology and fancy building did nothing to help this experience.  The difficulties I had (kiosk operation, being held hostage for an upgrade) were resolved with the human touch.  The same human touch that gets me in-and-out of low-tech counters in under 5 minutes (often with a high-five to the counter person).Hertz charging

(Perhaps I should have thought more when I passed the cute ‘recharge’ station – under what conditions would you be using one of these at a car rental place?!).

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On the other hand, a recent Delta flight showed how smart innovation made the experience much better.  This was on a newly refurbished plane.

The overhead compartments had signs asking passengers to load their rolling bags vertically rather than horizontally, which gets more bags on the plane, and therefore keeps me from gate-checking.  Smart!  I win!

photo 1-1photo 5

Facing me on the bottom of the seat in front was an electrical outlet. I’ve seen these before but they’ve been awkwardly placed in a hard to reach place around my ankles, presenting the constant danger of feeling up my seat mate’s leg.

In both situations there was an outlet on each seat.  Delta figured out it’s better when you can see it.  Smart! I win again!

Technology has transformed our world and has fueled amazing innovation.  But this innovation has only worked when it has improved the user’s experience.  

Technology with no benefit is usually not lasting.

*it’s a guy joke.  If you don’t know it already, you probably wouldn’t appreciate it.