How to make your ordering process worse with technology

We went to Itamae Sushi on King Street over the long weekend for a family dinner. We love All You Can Eat (AYCE) Sushi because of the variety of food it offer. It’s also one of the few places that my kids enjoy eating — they love edamame. We order roughly 5 good sized bowls of edamame when we go as a family; 3-4 of which the kids eat as their meal. When they get tired, they try out the other tid bits we’ve been ordering.

I liked Itamae particularly because of their vegetable teppanyaki. Its got hordes of veggies and just slightly peppery. Most places just give me a whole lot of rice with two dices of carrots…but this is a whole new ball game! Each plate is probably a whole small zucchini.

So I thought it would be a good choice for a nice family dinner.

We arrived around 7 PM and were promptly seated and were given this iPad to order. Except the iPad wasn’t on. The hostess just puts it on the table and then we have to wait for our server to come around to turn it on.

There is nothing to do while we are waiting. There is no menus to look at — the iPad is the menu. Everyone starts getting annoyed. We’re flagging down servers to come turn this thing on so we can begin ordering. “Someone will be here in a few minutes.” We waited 5 minutes, but what probably felt like 10-15 minutes.

Before, you’d be seated with your menus and would use the pen and paper on the table to begin ordering. There was zero wait.

Only one person can look at the menu at a time. We were given one iPad as a table of 5. I picked up the iPad first. My mother and husband started getting frustrated — they can’t even look at the menu when I am ordering. They are waiting even longer. And there I am, with my toddlers in tow, trying to order for them and myself. I am rushing to order because my family needs to look at the menu to order. I am not browsing the menu, I am just clicking on random things hoping that I order enough so that I can pass the menu on.

Before, everyone would have their own menu. There was ample supply of paper, so you’d use provided pens or your own to write your own little things and one guy would go around ordering a bunch of random stuff for the table.

Order isn’t submitted until everyone is done ordering. Kind of. You would think that with “technology” you would be able to submit your order as you go. I am done ordering, so let me submit it so other people can start ordering. Makes sense at an AYCE where everything is shared anyway. Let one person pick out a few things for the table, submit, and then pass around the iPad so people can order things that they are interested in. Nope. Once you submit the order, the entire screen is hidden behind a dialog saying “Your server is coming to take your order!” Which is “WTH?!!?!” I can’t look at the menu when this screen is up; we can’t order anything; we can’t do anything except pray that someone comes to our table, enters some code so we can proceed with ordering more.

Before, we’d submit a few orders for the table — as soon as the sheet filled up, send it off and others could still keep ordering.

All You Can Eat Sushi is an experience, and the way they employed this technology, they ruined it. It was always fun sitting in a group deciding what to order — taking away everyone’s menus and reducing it to one is awful. Not being able to place consecutive orders without a server coming to “accept” your first order doesn’t work. While the food was still good, the variety was great, I will hesitate to go back because the experience is part of eating out. And this experience was negative.

Could they have made this better? Certainly. With small changes, this experience could’ve been a positive one, if they made a few small changes:

  1. Give everyone access to their own menu. This is crucial. My husband probably waited 15 minutes just to get a menu. Either invest in more iPads to hand out to customers or continue to provide a hard copy.
  2. If there is only one terminal to order, let people submit orders consecutively.  Not so important in a regular restaurant, but absolutely crucial in AYCE. I shouldn’t be forced to order everything I could want to eat before submitting. Let me submit and go.
  3. Use technology to enhance otherwise frustrating experiences. I would’ve thought that they would’ve focused on using the technology to provide experiences such as filtering by vegetarian food, peanut-free, or other dietary needs. Providing suggestions for complementary drinks (increase revenue) would make sense. But it wasn’t even contextual, let alone suggestive. Because of only one terminal and one menu, I didn’t even look at drinks or specials because people were waiting for me to finish ordering.

I sincerely hope that this was just a beta test and they are hoping to improve the experience.  I can’t see going back there until they put the paper and pencil back or improve the experience drastically.

 

 

 

 

Bootstrap

Bootstrap is completely new to me. I hadn’t even heard of it until my mentor, Chris Howlett mentioned it to me. I was more familiar with the skeleton framework which is based on Eric Meyer’s reset framework. While I like the idea of bootstrap, I find it clunky. It removes semantics and has me defining things as “col-8” instead of something more descriptive such as “main-content.” The way bootstrap is used is akin to seeing this in code:

vs.

MinutesInOneDay don’t really describe how you intend to use that parameter, or what it represents. But the latter are the reasons constants exist — for you to easily change the lockout duration. If you needed to change the lockout duration to 2 days, you’d now need to not only change the value of the constant, but also the name. Bootstrap is similar with the way it describes its classes…it’s easy to use, but it feels like it’d be a maintenance nightmare. Unfortunately, its community is large, themes are freely available, so I’ll be sticking with it until we find a Visual Designer — then he/she can decide.

 

 

Razor Editor Templates

Being the solo developer, I inevitably had to write front-end code. Razor is beautiful — especially in how it generates forms. Forms are incredibly tedious to develop; there is a reason there are entire companies built around doing forms. But with Razor, once you’ve got a View Model defined, forms are as easy as:

And that’s it for the “HTML.” That’ll spit out the appropriate input field for each property in the view model (AFancyModel). The problem, of course, arises when you want to customize small things — such as showing an asterisk next to a required field, or adding your own CSS markup, especially if you’re using bootstrap. Microsoft uses its own markup for validation, etc., which well, isn’t the same as bootstrap. There are many libraries designed to bring together .NET MVC and Bootstrap together, but I felt it was overkill. All I want are editor files that change Microsoft’s markup to bootstrap’s markup. Why? Then when I decide to stop using bootstrap, I am not going around changing my code in a dozen or so places.

So what’s wrong then? Documentation on editor templates and how to use them is so sparse. I found only one, which is great, but I would have loved to see more examples.

Enter your date of birth

I sponsored my father for permanent residence in Canada in….2009. Or 2008. It was far back enough that I can’t recall the exact year anymore. I’ve married since then, had kids, changed jobs, bought a house…either way. As most applicants waiting, I check the status of the application obsessively. Recently, CIC changed their website by making it more “modern.” It means that it takes me more clicks to get to the page I need to and I have to resort to bookmarks, but hey, their page looks better now.

Except they forgot to update some things around the website.

CICDOB
Year first or month first?

I always wondered who is responsible for testing this kind of stuff. Frankly, I don’t know how a developer missed it. My guesses are:

  • They are using some kind of a templating system which generates date fields, and they just changed the view in a central place (or a big search and replace?)
  • Since they have to be bilingual, they probably have their label values in a separate file — so when the date field was updated in code, the label value wasn’t visible in code, and hence, missed.
  • There is only so much a QA team can test.

I am not sure if this is something you can or even should write test cases for. Not sure if it’s even worthy of a bug report. It’s just unprofessional due to lack of attention to detail.

 

 

 

Solo developers at Startups

This is my first gig at a startup — a company that has less money than an average developer’s yearly salary and less employees than my nuclear family.

I’ve worked at companies with varying amount of employees, from 50 to 20,000. Naturally they were all different experiences, but still similar. You come to work, do some work, mingle some, learn some, and then go home. Sometimes you stay late, sometimes you leave early. You have things like benefits, vacations, and if it’s a decent company, profit sharing or RRSP matching.

But a startup where you are the solo developer. That’s different.

I find myself thrown into an environment working with non-technical people. They don’t care whether we should use Rackspace or Heroku or Azure for our “hosting” plans. They don’t care if it’s .NET or Rails or Python or a language I make up. They don’t even care whether I work on a laptop or desktop, whether it is Windows or Linux. Nothing. The decisions are for me to make and me to care about.

Sounds great?

Perhaps. Until you realize that all the decisions you make are limited to the knowledge you have. There is no more insights to be gained from a team with diverse knowledge. You can google some, read the thousands of blog posts with reviews to make the “right” decision for your particular case, until well, you realize you don’t have time.

There is no one to turn to when you are working on a design and just want a second set of eyes. There is no pair programming. There is no code reviews. There is NO CODE REVIEWS! There is no “oh wow, why didn’t I think of doing it that way?” when going over someone else’s stuff. Learning from coworkers has been replaced by stackoverflow and pluralsight.

It’s mostly scary. All in all, the experience is best defined as Brenda from Tacit Innovations described: “I shit my pants everyday.”

A Pink Lady’s Pink Cake

Despite my efforts to keep my daughter’s wardrobe and toys in varying colours so she isn’t heavily biased towards pink, her favorite color is….pink.

“Pink is my favourite color. I don’t like brown. Yellow is good.” – My 3 year old daughter

I asked her what kind of cake she would like for her birthday, and to no surprise, she said “pink.” Not a chocolate, Dora, or Curious George cake — she wanted a pink cake. We’re still on the no-artificial-food-colouring bandwagon and I had been curious about the pink lady cake recipe, so I decided to go with it.

Upon reading the reviews of the pink lady cake, I learned that it wasn’t as pink after it was baked. Flour and sugar kind of ruin that one. Determined to make a really pink cake, I changed the recipe around a bit to use raspberries and strawberries. Raspberries leak way more colour; I would have considered a cherry cake had they been available at the store, but alas…

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Pink Lady Cake

For the cake
4 1/2 cups cake flour
cups sugar
5 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup pureed frozen raspberries
1 cup pureed frozen strawberries
8 egg whites
2/3 cup milk

For the cream cheese frosting
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the artistically challenged
8 pink macaroons
Dark chocolate shavings

The recipe directions are the same, except the following:

  • I did two layers instead of three (did cupcakes with the extra batter).I didn’t put any frosting on the cupcakes — the cake is going to need it all. Raspberries made the cake a little tart, so the extra sweetness will be appreciated.
  • Be very generous with the frosting between the layers (I wasn’t) or the cake will feel too dense.
  • I’d recommend doing 4 layers (slicing each layer horizontally) to keep the cake moist.

 

Baby Gifts for the second child

It is relatively easy to give presents to new parents: clothes, diapers, toys, pacifiers, bottles, formula, crib, receiving blankets, burp cloths – the list goes on and on. But what about the 2nd or the 3rd child? There is no baby shower to attend – so no gift registry – but if you are close enough to the family, you want to give something. The trouble is that parents usually have everything they need from the first child. Sure, you can pick out blue clothes instead of pink clothes if the parents are expecting a boy instead of a girl, but what if they are expecting their 3rd girl? You don’t want to give them their 15th cute-pink-dress-with-flowers.

There are always gift certificates and cash to give, but I find those items a bit impersonal. Unless you fit in the grandparent or a great-grandparent category, there should be no reason to give something as unmemorable as cash or impersonal as a gift card.  So here, a list of items to consider for folks who’ve become parents for the 5th time:

  • Diapers. Kids poop and pee a lot. If  the parents are using cloth diapers, give them detergent for cloth diapers. I recommend Rockin’ Green Laundry Detergent
  • Snack cups and water cups. They won’t be used by a newborn, but within 6-8 months, the tot will be using them! If the parents have multiple children, these are immensely handy. These items are also usually easily misplaced, so it’s nice to have extras. I really like the Munchkin Snack Catchers
  • Baby plates, spoons, forks. Again, items that get enough usage that they break easily or are lost easily. These items get plenty of use, so they make a good gift.
  • Formula and food. If the parents used formula with their previous kids, it’s likely that they will use it again. There is also a host of baby food – oat cereal, rice cereal, pureed foods, etc. to consider.
  • Crib Sheets. I find having multiple sheets handy – and the previous tots generally use their beds for so long, that they get pretty worn.

Other gifts to consider are items that parents might buy if they have more than one child – for example, a children’s table and chair set. It’s not exactly something parents with one child might buy, but when they’ve got a couple – it’s handy. Especially if the kids are close together in age.  Also remember that items that keep the older siblings busy while the younger one is being tend to also make great gifts. Consider items like outdoor playhouses, sleds (if parents are in an area with a lot of snow), wagons, etc.

Items that organize toys are also useful – houses with lots of kids and toys are usually a big mess, so it’s nice to have something that parents can organize toys with. You can also get items that are personalized for the baby. This can include a hand-knit personalized hat (get a toddler-sized hat that can be worn for multiple years), or a personalized toys. Younger siblings are used to hand-me-downs, so it’s nice to give them something that is theirs and theirs only.

 

Are you a second or third-time parent? What items have you found yourself in the store for to purchase for your younger babies?

My $60 Tax Refund

It was April 30, 2004. I had turned 18 just a few weeks ago. I had been in Canada for a whooping 8 months on a Student Visa. Exams were over and I was trying to figure out this whole tax business. I had an income of $0 but I did have a few scholarships to declare. I had no idea if I was suppose to do taxes (was I a resident?), let alone how to do them. Thankfully, a guy behind a desk in the student court accepted my payment of $30 to do my taxes.

He asked me a few questions. Told me that I’d “only” be getting $60 back – do I really want to do them? I thought that was an absurd question – of course I want to do my taxes! I don’t want the government putting me in jail for failure to do my taxes. I handed him $30 in fees to do my taxes. He gave me a whole lot of printed documents to mail, as well as a folder with copies for me. I was ALL done – in time – and I was going to be getting $60! Woohoo!

It wasn’t until I did my 2008 taxes that I paid someone to do my taxes. I also usually had my taxes done by March 2nd. After all, the sooner I get the money, the better 🙂

Now, for some lessons….

If you had no income, you do not* have to file taxes. But it is in your interest to do so – you could be eligible for benefits resulting in money for you. You don’t get them unless you file your taxes. (*Find out what situations you must file taxes under.)

You can do your taxes for free. Yes, you can always do them yourself if you have the time, but there are also many companies that let students, or low-income folks to use their product for free. Use them. Don’t just go to some guy behind a desk charging you $30. The government also has Volunteer tax clinics (volunteers who do your taxes) which are open to newcomers and students.

There is a lot of money out there in benefits; I highly recommend filing your taxes to see what you’re eligible for. I’ve personally used Ufile for the last 7 years and have only recently considered migrating to accommodate my growing family and complex financial situations.

Cloth diapers? Anyone besides hippies use them?!

People are normally surprised when they learn that I have been using cloth diapers with both my kids (20 months & 5 months old).  No one really thought that we’d still be using them.

Why cloth diapers?

Why not? I am not a particularly “green person” (we have incandescent light bulbs everywhere) and the money wasn’t a major concern for us.  As a woman, I do not enjoy my monthly cycles and wearing pads all day long, so I didn’t think that my kid would be enjoying it either (24/7 for a couple of years?!). There are plenty of questionable and dangerous materials used in making a disposable diaper that I don’t understand why cloth diapering isn’t mainstream (there is actually a study done in 1999 where mice showed respiratory/asthma issues from diapers)! Using cloth diapers just seems like the civilized thing to do, and it really isn’t difficult.

Pros:

  • Cloth diapers these days are as easy to use as disposables.
  • Cloth diapers have simple ingredients (umm, cotton?)
  • Cloth diapers minimize rashes, chemical burns / worrying about recalls.

Cons:

  • Cloth diapers have to be changed more frequently (1-2 pees, and they get pretty soaked).
  • Washing cloth diapers at home requires cloth-diaper-safe detergents (something with no residue, fragrances, etc)
  • Washing cloth diapers at home requires the top-loader machines that use lots of water or HE machines that let you increase water levels. (You’re washing poop and pee. You need water.)

People argue over what is cheaper: cloth or disposable. I, quite frankly, do not care. We only use cloth diapers because we believe it is best  for our kids. We complement our cloth diapers with cloth wipes (just throw them in the wash with the diapers), so as far as I am concerned, the only crap that touches their privates is from their very own intestines.

What options are there?

There are MANY options out there for cloth diapers. I found the information overwhelming. They make cloth diapers look like disposable diapers these days (to make it seem easy) which gives you even more options. I find prefolds to be the easiest (how to put on a prefold diaper) – my husband I mastered using the “bikini” method (you don’t have to use a diaper cover then) within 5-10 diaper changes (so less than a day with a 6 week old baby). These are the items we have on our change table:

  • 18 prefolds (newborns laundry: every day, with my 5 month old & 20 month old, I do it every 3 days)
  • 3 Snappi Fasteners (we lose these easily, so you might want to get more)
  • 3 Aristocrats wool covers (I stand by this brand, others just hold up as well or are not as “pure” in their product)
  • 30+ cloth wipes (my husband uses 4-5 wipes for poo changes, whereas I use 1-2; he can easily go through 30 wipes in a day. I don’t. So it may vary for you.)
  • Bum-bum Balm (rarely used – mostly used if someone let them sleep in a poopy diaper overnight – they end up with a rash then)

Also, once your kid goes past the 15 lbs, you’re going to want the prefolds that go upto 40 lbs. Unless your child is of exceptional weight you should only ever need two sizes of prefolds – the 8-15 lb and 15-40 lb. Our 20 month old is still only at 25 lbs, and I expect her to be potty trained within the year.

Why the wool covers?

Initially, we got the Bummies Diaper Kit which had most of this stuff (except for the wipes and covers), but I would recommend against it if you are planning to get the wool covers.  Now, why the wool covers? Well, the kit came with polyester covers that is more or less waterproof. The problem with these covers is that the binding that goes around the baby’s legs would often leave marks on the baby. It’s elasticy and sort of tight; it also seemed uncomfortable to be wrapped around plastic all day long. Now, the aristocrat wool covers are awesome. They are not scratchy. They wear like pants. They hold a LOT of moisture – I’ve never had one that made  clothes wet (watery newborn poop might leak – but that’ll happen to any diaper). They are long lasting (I might be wrong, but they are still good for me for 20 months of continuous use – two babies, back to back!).

Any regrets?

I deeply regret purchasing our Bosch HE washing machines. They are horrendous at washing these diapers (and our towels). No matter what the load is like – wet towels, heavy load, light load – no matter what – it always uses the same amount of water. Cloth diapers require water to wash properly – or you’ll get ammonia like smells from the urine. You’ll be pulling your hair if you end up with a washing machine that does not let you adjust water levels or if you can’t “trick” your machine to use more water by throwing in a soaking wet towel. Bosch doesn’t let you. It’s frustrating. Now I end up having to give a good rinse to the diaper before putting it in the pail and then throwing soaking wet diapers in the laundry.

(Lest you think the problem is restricted to diapers – I end up having to do the same for towels which, although don’t have urine, tend to stink unless they’re washed in a lot of water.)

Potty training the infant – Elimination Communication in North America

When my mother first told me that my sister and I were potty-trained by the age of 6 months, I stared at her in disbelief, wondering what part she was exaggerating. She wasn’t. Turns out that elimination communication (EC) is a real thing – and is done in many third-world nations. In North America, it is difficult to practice elimination-communication full time due to the mother often returning to work within months of the baby being born. Typically, you want to start EC before 6 months of age. As a Canadian who enjoys 1-year long maternity leaves, I decided to give EC a try with my kids.

Elimination communication revolves around the idea that babies are born with the desire to pee outside – not in their diapers. In this diaper-run nation, we first train them to pee in diapers, and then re-train them to stop using diapers. This can explain why newborns tend to pee during a diaper change. Evidently, nobody, not even an infant, want to sit in their poo or pee. Based on that premise, you put them on the potty based on cues they give you. It’s pretty close to “attachment parenting.”

With our eldest child, we started at around 6 months of age – late, yes, but I  wasn’t comfortable even holding my child, let alone hold her over the sink or the potty before then. We were successful catching most of her pees – she would even wake up with dry diapers and go in the morning, in the sink (we held her over the sink to go pee). We had no successes with her poo – possibly because she wasn’t aware of how to control that muscle by then. We had a good run for 3 months or so, until I decided to go back to work early and we stopped taking her to pee entirely. Now, at 19 months of age, she has absolutely no muscle control and is a typical toddler that resists toilet training.

I decided to try again with our second daughter, Emma – starting at roughly 3 months of age. A month later, it’s fantastic. I miss maybe 1 pee a day. She poos and pees outside. Instead of the sink, we got a portable potty and that’s what I put her on. It’s incredibly convenient – no one has to hold the baby over the sink (can be tiring). She wakes up with a dry diaper and goes right when I put her on the potty. She normally squirms or makes a distinctive noise/cry when she wants to use the potty. We’ve been going for a whole month so far, and it’s been a rewarding experience. We were hoping that our toddler would possibly start using the potty too, but she normally doesn’t make it to the potty until she is done her business….

Training Emma was a fair bit of work in the beginning – I (or my husband/mother/sister – whoever was in the house and able to help) would put her on the potty whenever I think she might go. I’d try before a feeding; if she didn’t go, try immediately after a feeding. If she still didn’t go, try in a few minutes. She’d normally go by then, but if she didn’t, then I’d be trying every 15 minutes until she did. It took me a little while to be tuned into her schedule – i.e. figuring out when she pees (before she wakes up or after?), when she poos (i.e. 10 or so minutes after her waking up), etc. At the same time, she was also getting used to my schedule. She learned that I put her on the potty first thing in the morning, so she’d try to poo after her pee (before she’d wait 10 minutes or so). I have no idea how, but she knows what a potty is – I can put her over a normal toilet, and she’ll go. She doesn’t go anywhere else (i.e. just stares at me if I hold her over the sink). So there is a lot going on in that little brain!

I intend to continue doing this with Emma until hopefully, she can walk to her potty and sit her bum on it. I have my fingers crossed that both my daughters would be potty-trained at the same time!

Some suggestions for those who are wanting to try EC…

  • Use cloth diapers. Cloth diapers don’t hold a whole lot pee in them – the child pees twice, and you must change. Where with disposables, people normally wait till it’s “pretty full” or has poo in it. This combined with the fact that disposable diapers normally have a “stay dry” feature, the child “forgets” that there is anything going on (cannot recognize cause & effect). Let your child feel wet when he has peed, and let yourself know right away when the child has peed. This will help you understand their schedule better. I recommend Bummies Prefolds (you’ll need about 2 dozen) with Snappi Cloth Fasteners (1 pack will suffice) and Aristocrats Wool Diapers (you’ll need 3-4). I highly recommend the wool diaper covers over the plastic/vinyl stuff that comes in the Bummies Starter Kit.
  • Get a used portable potty. We got ours from a thrift store for about $5. Sitting with a child on the potty for 5-10 minutes, and doing so repeatedly can be frustrating. If you have the potty near the living room or a common area, anyone can be convinced to help you out. It’s far less boring and doesn’t seem like a whole lot of work.
  • Be consistent. I make it a point to get up right when my daughter wakes up, because I know she is holding her pee in and waiting for me to take her to the potty. None of the “5 more minutes!” By the time she is up in the morning, she has been waiting for a while, so I get up right away. I make it a point to take her regularly on the potty – just as I take myself – to make sure that she doesn’t have to go in her diaper. I also take her to the potty when we are visiting someone’s house or other people are over – there is a toilet everywhere, so there should be no excuse.
  • Be persistent. It is really hard the first few weeks. It’s a pain to keep taking her clothes on and off to put her on the potty, but it is well worth the rewards. Trust me, you don’t want to keep washing your toddler’s poop for the next 2-3 years of your life.
  • Involve others. Get everyone involved – this is not something that you (as a mother) should have to do. Have Dad take her to the potty in the evenings. Have family over? Ask them to just hold your daughter over the potty. Most people are surprised that the kid goes, but once they see that the kid did go, they believe in the success and will be less reluctant to help in the future.
  • Every pee matters! Every pee you catch is a sign that she is learning muscle control – so congratulate yourself each time you catch her pee! And don’t worry, if you missed one, there will always be another 🙂 Try your best!

I recommend Diaper Free Baby for reading on this subject matter. There is also a wealth of information at their website.