Don’t Call Amazon, They’ll Call You

Amazon Customer Service

FORGOTTEN PASSWORDS can be a pain in the ass. Especially when the security guard to get a new password issued via email includes a zip code field, which you didn’t have to enter to begin with and subsequently the form validation won’t allow the zip code to be empty. Long and short of it, my brother’s password was forgotten for Amazon but they wouldn’t send him a new one using their password reminder feature.

In this situation I’d usually email customer support, wait the few hours and hope that something positive would come out of the correspondence. However, when the delivery is late and you’re a bit anxious about the staus of the shipment from mainland Europe, I’d pick up the phone to try find out what’s going on.

Little did I know that when you go to phone Amazon, they’ll save you the bother and will ring you directly.

Presented with the screen above, you click on “phone”, enter a landline number, choose whether you would like the call now or in five minutes and away you go. It works for UK and Ireland and within seconds of pressing “call me”, the phone on reception here was ringing – a few minutes later and the password issue was resolved, package tracked and all well in the world.

To iPad or Not to iPad

Apple iPadTHE IPAD. Everyone’s talking about it, the preorders are already rolling in and as far as gadgets go, it’s one of the most anticipated releases of 2010. I feel I should be drawn to it straight away, but somehow that’s not the case.

I’m a gadget fan, no doubting that. From carrying multiple smartphones to iPods, iPhones, recording equipment, 3G this, WiFi that, GPS watches and more, I find myself yearning for the latest gadgets and toys. But for some reason, I can’t seem to find a want in me for the iPad.

As it stands, I carry an iPod touch with me on the road, a 3G iPhone in my pocket, a MacBook Pro in my bag and there’s a 24″ iMac sitting on my desk. All taken into consideration, I’ve a feeling that the iPad may well not be targeted at me and if I was pushing it in a shop, I’d be hitting the new home broadband users, the “silver surfers” or even the school kid generation.

It’s not going to do anything for me that I can’t already do. Sure enough, it will carry the apps I use daily, it will allow me to check mail and surf away to my hearts content, but that’s all achievable with the iPhone. I like the flexibility to use 3G access as opposed to WiFi when I’m out and about, something which I would have to fork out a lot more for on release of the European models of the iPad. It won’t make phone calls and won’t pack a video camera for the first generation, so video conferencing is out – though discoveries in the latest iPhone SDK may suggest different.

Yes, it bridges the gap size-wize. In the hands of an very young or elderly user, it’s not so small that you can’t read the names of apps on the screen or have difficulties in viewing the on-screen text when flicking through the New York Times or your latest eBook addition. The interface, as with that of the iPod / iPhone is quite simple to navigate and apps have made web access all the more easier for folk. Want weather? Tap here. Want news? Tap here. View photos? Tap here. Read email? Tap here.

With family connections coming and going from the US over the next few weeks, the question has come up again and again… “can I bring you anything home?”, quickly followed by “what about those ipad yokes?”.

While it would be very easy to say yes, it’s something I genuinely cannot (at least with what we know about the first generation model) justify in buying. It’s not so much the price (I was happy to go and shell out for a pre-paid iPhone 10 months ago rather than take one on contract), just the use, and potential lack of. I can’t carry it in my pocket and at the very most I reckon it could be used for some bedside browsing but then again, the iPhone and laptop take care of that.

I can’t even find a good reason to buy one for the office outside of demoing developments on-site but even that would be scraping the bottom of the reasoning barrel.

To iPad or not to iPad? I think not.

Gearing Up For The Irish Blog Awards

Irish Blog Awards

A GUARANTEED good night out, solid entertainment, old faces and new and more have been found at the Irish Blog Awards for the last couple of years. Last year saw the first night to be held out of Dublin when hundreds of bloggers descended on Cork’s International Airport Hotel (cracking venue) and at the end of the month, the annual pilgrimage will be made to the Radisson Blu in Galway for the 2010 Irish Blog Awards.

The long lists came out, then the slightly-longer-that-last-year-short-lists came out and we’ll soon be reading the finalists lists before the awards proper on Saturday March 27th where we’ll find out who the blogging public have deemed the creme of 2009/10 in Irish blogging circles.

Sabrina has details on the L’Onglex Ladies Tea Party, there’s a Galway photowalk being organised, another exhibition from Eolai and no doubt a hell of a lot more.

My last visit to Galway was September 2008 with myself and Ross hitting the road for a Strike Anywhere gig in Cuba. Thankfully this time I won’t have to turn around and drive back to Kilkenny at midnight. If the awards have taught me anything over the last few years it’s if you can stay in the awards venue – stay in the awards venue. The drinking, chatting, storytelling, meeting and greeting never seems to end and as a bonus you get to do it all over again at breakfast the following morning.

If you’re planning on heading along on the night, you’ll need to register in advance. Tickets have also gone on sale for €15. A pre-show text message on Wednesday told me I’d be shortlisted under Best Technology blog, something I’m delighted to see. The second round of judging, where the shortlists become the finalists, gets underway from today but nominated in the end or not, you’ll find me in Galway on the 27th.

Wouldn’t miss a night like it…

Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! (With Added WiFi)

Can't Pay? Won't Pay!

CAN’T PAY? WON’T PAY! opened last night at Set Theatre in Kilkenny, the latest offering from The Devious Theatre Company. While I can be seen on stage for the 95 minutes or so of performance, I’ve been working as a producer on the show as well for the past few months so there’s a bit of a bonus feeling of excitement there when you see the fruits of your labour (and those around you of course) take to a stage in full technicolour detail.

(By the way, you can win tickets to Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! here)

As a group this year (and over the last four years) we’ve really tried to grow our online presence, exploring all avenues social. Delighted we are in that people who come to the shows then return their feedback via Twitter, or Facebook. Hell, some people will even email in their thoughts post-show. However the feedback arrives, it’s made all the more possible, accessible, and real time thanks to the embracing of said social tools, tools that have not so much changed how we operate as a theatre company but have certainly shaped how we operate.

On the back of WordCamp, the wifi setup that was created for last weekend’s conference (part of which was held in Set Theatre) is still in place, thus you can access WiFi during the show. No, we wouldn’t want you checking your email or getting lost browsing the web, but with Twitter, Facebook and more at your fingertips (or in your pocket), we’d love to hear the feedback on the night, good or bad, public or private. If you’re sitting in the audience tweeting about the show, why not use the hashtag #cpwp? Feel free to take photos of the performers in action on the stage (just switch the flash off if you don’t mind) and tag them accordingly. Adopting a more open approach last year, we wound up with some fantastic audience photos that were shared via email, Picasa, Facebook and more.

John Morton has been talking about the ingredients of Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! over on the DeviousTheatre.com blog, and now it has added WiFi, so if you’re coming along, don’t be shy, let us know what you think.

Order tickets online for Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!

WordCamp Ireland All Weekend

WordCamp Ireland

WORDCAMP IRELAND takes place this weekend, kicking off this morning in my own back garden (Kilkenny) where hopefully I’ll get to pop my head in for a few minutes over the course of the two days.

Langton House Hotel is the venue for the first Irish WordCamp conference and for bloggers, techies, non-techies and WordPress users of all levels there’s plenty to choose from. Things kicked off informally last night with some nibbles, drinks and a photowalk around Kilkenny and registration has just opened this morning for the start of talks proper. Up first are Hanni Ross & Sheri Bigelow, Leo Ibanez & Loughlin O’Nolan and Daryl Koopersmith all split across the three tracks – Intro, Bloggers and Tech.

Check the full WordCamp schedule.

Langtons are looking after the catering and judging by mentions of croissants and scones for the morning, lunches in the afternoon and the (ticketed) dinners in the evening, along with a special WordCamp cocktail menu, nobody will be going home hungry. There’s full childcare available, free wifi for all and plenty for speakers and attendees to link up with.

For those who haven’t picked up tickets yet, there are limited numbers available on the door with tickets today available for €50 and tomorrow (Sunday) available at €25.

It’s possible I’ll make an appearance this afternoon disguised as a clown (or I could be mistaken for a clown in the garb I’ll be wearing for the day) so if you see a grown man running in the door of Set Theatre wearing lime green dungarees, a bright pink shirt and a very white face, do say hello. To all those visiting Kilkenny for the first time, you’ve got the weather for it, you’ve got plenty to see and do so don’t miss out on what the city has to offer as well!

Follow WordCamp Ireland on Twitter.

Airport Parking, Online, Too Easy?

Dublin Airport Parking

GONE ARE the days of getting out of the arrivals area of Dublin airport, crossing the road to the pay stations for the car park before getting on the bus, and passing out at the total displayed on the machine for your few days parking.

Gone too, seemingly, are the days of needing to use your credit card to get in and out of the car park in Dublin airport to validate payments made online.

In fact, so easy was the process that I had to follow up with airport parking online this morning to make sure that I’d been charged for the weekend’s stay in Long Term Red and that they realised the van was in fact now out of the carpark and not lingering in section D12 any more.

Admittedly it’s been a while since I’ve had to drive to the airport, I would usually opt for JJ Kavanagh’s door-to-door service for the airport spin but seeing as I was heading away on Friday and needed more time in Kilkenny than a bus schedule would allow me, it made sense to make the drive to Dublin Airport. Parking was booked and paid for by credit card on Thursday night and on arrival on Friday lunchtime, there was no need for cards or tickets or receipts – simply pull up at the barrier, your registration is scanned, transcribed and displayed on the barrier screen and in you go.

No problem I thought, just don’t lose the credit card in Scotland as you’ll need it on the way out.

But no. On returning last night, albeit close to three hours late and one failed take-off attempt in Aberdeen in horrendous snow and ice, I joined the queue getting out of the car park and no sooner had the barrier come down in front of me then it was up again. So quick was the process that I went off with the receipt of payment for the car in front of me and though the barriers had actually stayed up and maybe there was a fault.

Following things up this morning and all was well in the world, checkout confirmed at the Red exit for 8:54pm, card charged the right amount and payment details available for printing on the the DAA site, fears of parking charges building up allayed. Certainly makes the whole parking thing a hell of a lot easier.

Salesforce Are Quick Off The Mark

Salesforce

THIS WEEK has been a grand week so far in terms of plotting and planning for the business year ahead. I’d told myself I would take until January to explore a few online options for contact management, entry-level CRM apps, anything that could be tied back to the iPhone.

This morning was the turn of signing up for the Salesforce 7-day trial for their contact manager.

I’m looking for a service that will manage my own business contacts, plus that of the theatre and music side of my work life, and those for another project I’m rolling out over the course of the year. It’s got to be web based, have some element of grouping or tagging and an iPhone app or handy desktop app linking back to the web end of things are a serious plus. More to the point, it’s got to low cost on an annual basis.

Salesforce have a contact manager available online that I’m going to explore over the next couple of days, making use of a seven day trial. Ultimately the service costs $60 a year, or monthly at $5 a month and while I’ve not yet had the chance to play around with it, I had a call from one of their pre-sales team within a half hour of registering online to talk through a few things, introduce the service, suss out my needs and offer further calls if needs be.

Can’t say that I’ve had that happen before so it’s certainly left an impression. We’ll see what happens in a week or so.

Of course, recommendations are always welcome…

dbTwang Is (Was) On Your TV

KILKENNY BASED startup dbTwang, which I’ve had the pleasure of working on in the past and am keeping a keen eye on, made the TV earlier today. An interview recorded with co-founder Fintan Blake Kelly (co-founder alongside Keith Bohanna) a few weeks back got it’s airing on Ireland AM today with Fintan filmed in Gerry Crowe’s store (Perfect Pitch) on Exchequer Street in Dublin speaking about the ins and outs of dbTwang.

Dubbed by Fintan as a “facebook for guitarists”, the site opened to full public usage late last year and if the RSS feed is anything to go by, there’s been a great uptake in registrations and submissions of guitars of late. For my own sins I’ve now got five guitars from my own collection listed up there (you might need to be logged in to see that link). While the site is gearing itself around the guitarist community with functionality now and in the pipeline to encourage conversation around the guitars, I’ve shied away from the community element but have used the site in its early stages to encourage me to learn more about my own instruments and document them for future reference / insurance purposes.

In a family full of musicians and growing up surrounded by all kinds of instruments, I’ve found myself wanting to learn more about the guitars themselves, the technologies behind them, the woods, the factories used, the whole nine yards – a learning process I’m using dbTwang and it’s records to navigate through.

There’s great things planned for dbTwang and if you’re a guitarist of any calibre it’s worth your while signing up for free and exploring not only the features of the site itself but the impressive and growing collection of guitars from users on board to date.

Check out the video above or here on YouTube.

Online Grocery Shopping – Part Two

Superquinn Shopping Delivery

FOLLOWING ON from yesterday’s foray into the world of online food shopping it’s safe to say that everything arrived, is packed away in the fridge or press and I’m stocked for the week.

From looking at the food on the table (in the above picture), *almost* everything arrived as ordered. As a follow up, I’ve broken the process down to a few areas.

Delivery

On the website I was quoted €4 for delivery, the window chosen being 10:30am to 12:30pm today. True to their word, at 11:50am the driver turned up with two crates, dropped them for unpacking on the table, got me to sign for the delivery and off he went. Charge on the bottom of the receipt reads €4. The bottom of the receipt also indicates that the goods were scanned and paid for at 11:16am this morning, so that’s a pretty good turn around (i.e. the dairy side of the order wasn’t out of the fridge all that long). Might be worth noting too that I didn’t order any frozen food and I’m trying to refrain from ordering anything frozen at all for the year. So far so good.

Substitution

Superquinn provide product substitution on your shopping list, where something you’ve ordered isn’t available. In my case, it was the beef strips for the stir fry. This is possibly due to ordering the beef strips as part of their online meal deal offering beef strips or diced chicken, plus fresh stir-fry veg as a bundle. Knowing I had some chicken in the freezer anyway, I opted for the beef, which now appears to have been unavailable in Superquinn Kilkenny.

That said, the diced chicken was available and it will certainly do. When ordering online, you do have the option of instructing your personal shopper *not* to substitute a product if it’s out of stock and if I was really picky I could have asked for beef regardless, break the special offer etc.

Pricing

On their website, it is noted that

Today’s price is an estimated total and may differ slightly from the original order value due to variables such as weight estimations for meat and produce, weekly specials, price changes or stock deletion

.

My order, at “today’s price”, yesterday, was estimated at €51.04. The final price, including delivery, came to €53.48 and there were a few differences on the final receipt.

The onions were ordered, I’d looked for 700g, the bag coming in at around 550g thus shaving a few cent from the order. Prices fluctuated here and there but most notably in the offers that weren’t adhered to. The site also has various price reductions running up to January 26th including 90c off packet soups (didn’t appear on the receipt), 89c off rocket salad (again, no go), 79c off fresh soup (no go), 95c off lemongrass noodles (again, no discount)… adding up to €3.53, plus the cost of the green tea jumped from €1.89 to €3.99 giving a total increase in prices to €5.63, yet the final discrepancy just €2.44.

Given there were certain things in the order that won’t need to be ordered again next week, I would expect things to balance out in week two and keep in line with my €50 p/w budget.

Overall

Overall, I’ve been impressed with it. Like I indicated yesterday, the online ordering process is a breeze, there’s full details available on everything going into your shopping basket and on delivery they provide you with a list of everything that was delivered

It would be nice if the printed dockets included notes on what was substituted, or differences in pricing, but other than that, I’m set for the week, didn’t have to leave the house and I’m willing to give it another lash next week.

Online Grocery Shopping – Part One

Superquinn

FOOD SHOPPING online. That’s what I’m resorting to. Or perhaps, changing to. Judging from the time between this tweet and the confirmation email I received from Superquinn, I’m guessing my entire weekly shop was done in around 17 minutes.

No driving across town. No parking. No queuing. No impulse buying (okay, maybe a little with the breakfast cereal) and all within a €1 shout of my weekly budget.

The Background

Budgeting is something I’ve got to do more of this year, both through the business and with personal finances. In that regard, a lot of attention was turned towards my food shopping spend during the week. If 2008 was a year for regular grocery shopping, 2009 was a year of convenience shopping. Forget about bringing lunches to work, just nip across the road to the shop near the office and drop €30-40 a week on bits and bobs from the tea / salad / hot food bar. Forget about planning any kind of dinners for the week, just drop into SuperValu on the drive home and pick up something – anything. Or failing that, spring for a takeaway. Week in, week out, same old story. So between the office eating habits, mixed dinner shoping and takeaways I reckon I burned somewhere in the region of €3,700, with maybe €3,300 or so going on convenience lunch and dinner shopping.

So this year, I’ve given myself a budget of €50 for the week to cover food shopping. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, the whole lot. Estimating for 48 weeks of the year that’s €2,400, almost a €1,000 of a difference. I’m hoping too, I can stick to it through online shopping.

The Shopping

The choice was pretty easy in the end. The small local shops like Centra, Freshco etc. are too small for online ordering. SuperValu and Dunnes (both located in Kilkenny city environs) don’t offer such a service. I’ll shop at Lidl but it would be for something very specific (their fresh veg is quite good). There’s no Tesco in Kilkenny, at least of yet, so the only possibility as I see it was to shop at Superquinn. They’ve long been installed in Kilkenny but again, if you’re going food shopping there you need to allocate plenty of time between getting into the multistorey, shopping, the mad queues etc.

So, I skip on over to Superquinn.ie, sign myself up in two minutes, complete the registration for the Superclub card and away I go.

The process is quite straight forward. Shop by department or browse through categorised special offers. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, go for one of their pre-made shopping lists (e.g. New Mum & Baby, Organic, Superior Quality etc.). So I begin to browse, working my way through fruit & veg, meats, groceries, going for what’s tried and trusted or what usually forms part of the weekly-ish shopping.

Superquinn shopping basket (online)

The layout is as you would expect, and want, to find. Each item displayed gets a box or product shot, the price and choice to add to basket. Once you’ve got the product in the basket you’re able to add notes to yourself or add it to your favourite items, remembered for the next time you shop. Dig a little deeper into the product itself and you’ll get full description, serving suggestions, cooking instructions, ingredients and nutrition information.

You’re also able to add product-specific notes to your personal shopper (assuming this is the person who will be filling your shopping from the store), including whether you would like an item substituted or not.

Skip to the end and within that 17 minute window I’ve completed my weekly shopping, picked my delivery window of 10:30-12:30 tomorrow (Tuesday) – as opposed to a “click and collect” service – and managed to squeeze in eevrything I wanted, and delivery, for an estimated €51.02. Payment options are available for both credit and laser cards. It says estimated, I guess, to allow for substitution or non-substitution, as the case may be, of items on your shopping list. The full shopping list is stored online and emailed direct to your account and I’ll be checking it against the arrival tomorrow.

Why I’ve not opted to food-shop online before I’m not sure but if anything, I managed to stick to the budget (plus or minus a euro) and likely got an hour back in the day for the time spent online. With the list saved for next week’s shopping, barring any small changes, I would imagine there would be more time saved in the day.

I’ll follow up with a part two tomorrow, providing the shopping arrives when it says it should…