Archive for November, 2003

Service at the risk of seeming racist

Lokes and I were shopping in Jaya Supermarket two days ago and I decided to go to Starbucks for a couple of lattes. In front of me were two middle-aged men who were browsing the chalkboard menus, looking a little lost. After a while, they reluctantly ordered two coffees.

The barrista, as usual, confirmed if they wanted the brews of the day. I could see from his eyes, and from the expressions on the faces of the two men, that the question was lost on them. Although clearly confused, the customers spoke to each other in their native tongues, and subsequently nodded to the barrista, who gave them a pregnant pause before keying in their orders. He may have wanted to make sure that the orders were right, by say, asking if the gentlemen knew that the coffees in Starbucks did not come with milk, as would kopi in a mamak shop. However, this could make them look a little stupid, assuming that the gentlemen were pidgin ignorant about ordering coffees in a place like Starbucks, where coffee meant black coffee and not plain kopi with milk. And the fact that the place was quite crowded made matters worse, as the two men had taken quite a bit of time deciding on their orders, while the queue started to snake towards the entrance.

In the end, the barrista decided not to say anything and to put the orders through. True enough, when the coffees came, the gentlemen expected milk. Indignant that it was the barrista’s fault for not informing them, the two gentlemen voiced their dissatisfaction noisily, saying that coffee was supposed to come with milk, and that it had always been, and will always be, as such, even after they were informed that could add milk or cream at the condiments counter.

“This isn’t the way things are done,” said the noisier party. “This is Malaysia, not America!” he proclaimed.

This reminded me of a standup comedy I once watched involving an African American comedian who was at a fast-food centre. As he was browsing the menu, the waiter, using his PDA, made a passing recommendation that the fried chicken was good that day. The comedian had looked up and asked if he looked like he wanted fried chicken. Obviously, the waiter had, using whatever data the POS system availed to him on the buying patterns of African Americans, plus what may he may have acquired from years of waiting on all kinds of customers, made a play on what he thought was good customer service to this very important celebrity. The comedian asked if he was being racist by assuming that all black Americans only ate fried chicken. Naturally, the waiter fumbled.

The question is this: as we embrace machines and artificial intelligence to tell us what the next customer who walks in would like based on his or her previous buying patterns, or the buying patterns of consumers that fit his/her demographics, would we be doing it at the risk of seeming pompous, or worse, racist? What if, when we look at all that sales data collected, that there are certain stereotypes that may help us do business better (say, stock more clothes of a certain range of colours or design or sizes if most of our customers are from only certain segments of society) but will ultimately offend our customers? When we cater to a niche market, we are in fact discriminating against, say, fat people, old people or people who smoke. If you see a fat gal walk into your store that caps the sizes at 12 (speaking from personal experience here hehe), wouldn’t you say it’s better to put a sign outside that says “sizes 8-12” so as not to waste her time, rather than let her come in (hopeful!), try on the clothes that don’t fit by a mile, and even risk having a few pieces destroyed in the process? But in employing this practical, service-oriented measure, aren’t you, in fact, discriminating?

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Five reasons to play games

When I was growing up, our family had one computer, my father's Apple 2. I was eight and as far as I can remember, that was when my addiction to computer games began.

I remember how 'challenging' it had been to spend time with the computer. My sister and me were given certain time slots to play games, but they were never enough, so I'd devise ways to sneak into the small little study my dad used to have, mostly when he went for badminton or bowling, so that I could have another hour or two, which sometimes I had to share with my sis. And 20 minutes before my dad was expected to return, we'd switch off the machine to let it cool down. At times, when addiction pushed us a little further, even before dad touched the top of the monitor, he'd know from the heat radiating through the small, stuffy study that we had accessed his computer despite the hidden key (yes, computers used to have keys back then!). Predictably, we'd be subjected to threats of painful punitive measures ranging from one-week's house arrest to throwing the computer out so that no one would be able to play at all. Naturally, the latter threat would seem more dire, but I knew then that it was merely parental posturing because dad was more addicted to the machine than we were.

Fast forward 22 years, and here I am, a games reviewer. Five years or so ago, when I began to branch out to this field, when my first review was published, my sis and dad had only one thing to say to me:

"Trust you to find a way to play computer games for the rest of your life!"

'tis true. I love to play games. My favourite genres are RPGs, FPS-es and RTS games. I competed in my first RTS tournament at World Cyber Games this year (Age of Mythology) and managed to land a fourth placing (there were only ten of us!). Today, I am playing four games simultaneously: Max Payne 2, Greyhawk: Temple of Elemental Evil, Call of Duty, Halo and CS online via Steam when it fits my fancy. My next game-related splurge is a Phantom Game System – when it's out.

Naturally, being 30 years old and a mother and all, friends and strangers (both male and female) often impart incredulous looks when I answer their inquiries regarding my work, so much so these days, I just say that I write about technology. After all, why should I defend what I do and make it sound like 'a real job'? Hell, it's purportedly work that pays peanuts where I play games almost all hours of the day, when I'm not running after my daughter or cooking dinner. Even in a well-meaning, nicely structured sentence, it makes me sound like a bum.

To debunk this myth (and to satisfy this part of me that still wants to prove that games reviewing is serious work which benefits society in many ways – just as much as food or movie critics can do for people who can and would be swayed by reviews), I have found five medically/scientifically proven reasons, and others, why computer/video games are NOT a waste of time. Enjoy:):

1) Computer games: Good for the office

2) Computer games help male memory

3) Computer games can treat phobias

4) Computer games may aid medical care

5) Computer games make money

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NEWS ON VIDEO GAMES DELIVERED TO YOUR MAILBOX!

I’m thinking of running an e-newsletter compiling interesting articles on computer games and related news/info I come across on a daily basis, just a simple text email, in the grand tradition of Lockergnome (remember that? The creator is more popularly known today as Chris Pirillo).

If any of you are interested, do email me at jenn@thewritingpool.com and consider yourself subscribed.

This is, and will remain for all time, a free service.

(Commencement of service will depend on how many email addresses I actually get to make this worth my time and efforts!).

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NEXT FROM NINTENDO: A PAIR OF GLASSES?

Following reports of the company’s first ever loss for the first half of 2003, which it attributed to the strengthening of the yen against the dollar and sagging GameCube sales, Nintendo has announced that its next generation console will NOT be unveiled at next May’s E3 expo, and also that the device in question will be neither console nor portable.

Something tells me that this next-gen device will resemble a swanky pair of goggles and some groovy-lookin’ motion-capture sensors. Why? I dunno. Call it fut geeling.

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SPEEDMINTON, ANYONE?

Just when you thought innovation is dead, sports-wise, here comes a wacky idea that’s making addicts of everyone it meets: Speedminton. A combination of tennis, squash and of course, badminton, this game was created by a bored sailor fed up of playing such a slow and wind dependant game such as badminton on his boat. More than seven years later, Berlin national Bill Brandes developed a shuttlecock which was faster and lighter than the usual badminton shuttle, and together with a group of friends, Brandes founded a small firm. In the following years, they designed and developed special racquets and thought up simple rules for those who prefer a proper match.

Read up more about speedminton here and here.

If anyone knows where we can get the gear locally (or regionally), email me!

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Challenging the G5

ARS Technica (and other sources) published a story recently on UK’s Independent Television Commission (ITC) ban of Apple’s G5 ads because of its false claims that the model is “the world’s fastest, most powerful personal computer”.

Read this Mac User’s highly technical research on the matter, which was published June this year, but given an update in October. This controversial article drew plenty of criticisms from Mac users naturally. SPL gave an interview to Macnews.de June this year to comment on his story.

The thing is, this claim has been challenged (and changed, to “The Power Mac G5 is one of the fastest personal computer with a 64-bit processor“) since June. Furthermore, October saw PC World publishing a story comparing the AMD Athlon 64 and Opteron versus Apple’s G5 processor, where the G5 was trounced nicely by the Athlon 64.

What is Apple thinking, trying to slip its false claims through to UK now?

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TO LA AND BACK

It seems that I am guilty of a list of things. On top of this list is laziness. Like pancakes stacked upon pancakes and oozing with maple syrup (it will become clear to you the reason I chose pancakes to symbolise my sloth-like state of mind), my lack of will to write for leisure (as opposed to writing for money – haha) had finally got the better of me – once again. What can I say. I’m lazy. So now that I’m not lazy today, I thought I’d quickly sit down and get a few words down lest my friends (hey Cheryl!) think I’m ignoring them selectively.

So yes, I am back from Los Angeles, California, back from my first trip to the US of A. I am home, home at last, back from the land of the brave and the free, back to my little girl, back to work!

Actually, I had NEVER taken a ‘real’ vacation overseas in my life. I am 30 years old and this recent trip to the US was my first ever sabbatical, replete with mentally vacant days of aimless street-wandering, people-watching and sampling 126 varieties of hotdogs and/or 231 types of pancakes all hours of the day.

So this is what holidays are about.

Amazingly enough, I lost two kgs during my two-week hiatus to California. It must have been all that meat. Because of the bacon and ribs I had been consuming, I had abstained from all manner of carbs and gobbled enough greens to lactate commercially. Apparently, American cuisine agrees with my body. Sadly, I don’t agree with it – not for two weeks. By day five, Lokes and I were hunting for rice and/or noodles. Unfortunately for us, what we found, and subsequently consumed and paid for with much reluctance, can’t pass for horse spit.

I saw much of central and North LA (the burning bush down south negated any plans to venture down). Pasadena is quaint, Santa Monica chic, Malibu awe-inspiring, Long Beach colourful, downtown LA very Manhattanish. Of course, we did the whole Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Rodeo Drive tour, but these venues did not really strike my fancy because they were too rich for my blood.

One of the highlights of my trip was actually doing laundry deep in the immigrant communities of Hispanics and Asians at Oak and Western, watching the tired but happy faces of Latin-American kids helping their moms push trolleys of fresh-smelling laundry around. There’s really some therapeutic about doing laundry, isn’t it, especially when you travel? I liked the fact that I did not have to pack dirty laundry into my suitcases of clean clothes. And I don’t think holidaying anywhere else in this world can provide this type of assurance – to do laundry in the middle of the night for US$3 a load.

Our trip to Las Vegas was painful, in that our wallets were emptied substantially. We stopped by factory outlets at Barstow and Primm and shopped as if our lives depended on it. We bought enough clothes for Raeven to last her til college and I indulged in yet another pair of shoes which I swore would be my last.

In Vegas itself, I tried my luck at gettng my money back, only to lose another US$50 to the fat coffers of Stratosphere and Luxor. Ah well. Miffed, we took advantage of the US6.99 breakfast buffet and the US$10.99 dinner buffet.

Of course, we went on Hilton’s Star Trek Experience. How could we go home without doing that? I even spent US$15 to take a pic sitting on Picard’s chair!

But you know what? Towards the 10th day of our belated honeymoon, we were alreading pining for Raeven. I told Lokes that this was the first, and last time, we’d ever go anywhere without her!

I’ll upload some pics up soon. You’ll notice you can’t get to any of Raeven’s pics now. Will put it up when I find some time!!

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