Archive for October, 2012

We’re going to Hogwarts!

Our family just returned from a trip to Florida.

My wife and I had been planning to take a family vacation in October during our kids’ “track out”, the three-week break between the first and second quarters of school. Since the kids (and their dad) have been reading the Harry Potter books, we thought it would be fun to visit the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios. But we did not want to tell the kids about it until we had made firm plans.

We picked our week to go, and I arranged for time off at work. And then, a week before our vacation, we got news that we would need to attend a funeral in Georgia. Rather than make that long drive twice, once for the funeral and then again the next week for our vacation, we hastily moved our vacation up a week. Since the kids still did not know about our vacation plans yet, we decided to keep it a secret. We told them to pack for the funeral, and we quietly packed an extra suitcase for them.

They were so good… stuck at a boring funeral with a bunch of boring old grownups, and yet they behaved so well.

After the funeral, a bunch of extended family went out to a restaurant. While we were there, we presented them with a mysterious letter.

It read:

Dear Misses Audrey and Sydney Porter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Orlando campus.

This special Autumn Session will take place during the week of October the 8th through the 12th. There is no need to send an Owl as we already know that you are planning to attend. All necessary materials will be provided for you.

Yours Sincerely
Minerva McGonnagall
Deputy Headmistress

So we left the restaurant and headed south for Orlando!

Although the theme of the trip was Harry Potter and Hogwarts, it was really only a small portion of our week. We spent two days at Universal Studios (one day at the Islands of Adventure and one day at the studio park), one day at Sea World, and two days at Disney World (one day at the Magic Kingdom and one day at EPCOT).

We’re going to Hogwarts!

We had a blast at all of the parks. But since the motivation behind going was to see the Harry Potter park, I want to go into a little detail about that one section of Universal Studios “Islands of Adventure” park.

I was surprised at how little of the Harry Potter theme’s potential was actually developed by Universal. For example, they have a Hogwarts Express train engine, but only as a photo backdrop. I had somehow imagined more exploration of the castle, but I suppose the parks (other than EPCOT) are not really into exploration as much as they are into moving people in a controlled manner through queues and rides. That being said, we still thoroughly enjoyed the Wizarding World experience.

The “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” ride was excellent, an “experience ride” where your family-sized cart shakes and wobbles from screen to screen in a 4½ minute ride around Hogwarts. We also enjoyed the smaller roller coaster, the “Flight of the Hippogriff“, which was perfect for the average HP-reading kid (the ride was a mere 60 seconds, beginning-to-end). We chose to pass on the “Dragon Challenge“, a pretty serious-looking double roller coaster. We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks pub and bought Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice from a street vendor.

We also shopped at the three shops:

  • Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods
  • Honeydukes / Zonko’s
  • Ollivanders / Owl Post / Dervish and Banges

I was a little disappointed in the souvenir selections. I was kind of hoping to find a Hogwarts coffee mug… you know… all of the other dads at work have NC State and UNC mugs. But the selection was pretty lousy, so I passed. The shirts were all pretty much very expensive and tacky-looking T-shirts, nothing that I would ever wear — how about a nice golf shirt with a Hogwarts crest on it, for muggle dads? I did buy an over-priced deck of cards, but when I got home, I was disappointed to find that it contained only 14 characters from the movies, not 54. That is, the same Dumbledore picture is on all four aces, same Harry on all four kings, and so on (Fred and George are the jokers).

There were lots of Gryffindor and Slytherin items, but very few Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff items, just some crest patches, pins and lanyards. You see, lots of fans choose a favorite house to root for. It was important for us to find some Hufflepuff stuff, since at my daughter’s school, the four core teachers each lead a house, and they actually hold a sorting ceremony to assign the students to houses. But there was not much for us to choose from. (As I write this, I see that there are more items on Universal’s online store than we saw in the on-site shops, and there is more balance among the four houses).

So, we were not so tempted to part with our galleons and sickles at the shops.

The other 4½ days

The rest of Universal’s Islands of Adventure was pretty nice. The kids liked the Spider Man experience ride and the Dr Seuss area. At Universal Studios, we focused on the experience rides like The Simpsons, Men in Black and Despicable Me, and skipped the live shows (we should’ve skipped ET, considering the long wait). Sea World had some great shows, with lots of trained animals of every kind. The Disney Magic Kingdom was like visiting an old friend (October is a strange month to visit though, because at night the park transitions to a lively Halloween party, and day guests have to leave). EPCOT, as always, struck a nice balance between “rides” and “exploring”.

We had a great week in Florida, and we thoroughly enjoyed each of the parks. But both girls agree that the Universal Islands of Adventure was their favorite… because of Harry Potter, of course. Their mother preferred Sea World, and I am split between the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.

Kingston: too scared to engage

microSD card and adaptors

A while back, I ordered a couple of microSD cards from Kingston.  They came with these nifty little USB card readers.

Here is a picture.

The microSD card is in the front, and there are two of the USB card readers right behind it (one is upside-down).  In the back, for comparison of scale, I show a Sandisk Cruzer Micro USB stick.

These tiny little USB card readers are very nice, attractive, and very well built.  You can see that the USB plug only has the inner part with the four contacts.  They left off the rectangular metal shell that most USB plugs have.

The reader can be fastened to your key ring using the little nylon string that is tied into a small hole in the end.  They have gone so far as to make the hole a little bit recessed, so you can still plug in the microSD card while the string is attached.

Overall, it is a beautiful design.

However, I am not a fan of the little nylon strings.  I was hoping that I could use a metal fastener to attach this reader to my key chain.  A metal fastener would not jiggle around or get tangled like the string would.  And it would also keep the microSD card from dropping out and getting lost.

So I wrote a short note to the folks at Kingston.

Hi guys,

I am currently in the process of moving from SD cards to micro SD cards, and I just bought a few from Kingston. These came with some nice micro SD card readers (see the photo attached).

microSD card readers

I have an idea that might make these readers better for some of your customers (and for those who do not need the change, it would be no worse than what you have now).

Your current design is just long enough so that an inserted micro SD card is flush with the back edge. You can tell that someone took some great care to design the slot where the little string goes, because it still fits when a card is inserted, and it provides a little bit of pressure against the card, to keep it from falling out.

However, if the micro SD card reader were about 1.5 mm longer, the string hole would stick out past the end of an inserted micro SD card. That is, a card could be plugged in, and you could still see through the hole. This would make it possible to use other connectors besides the little strings. Personally, I like to use small split ring keyrings. Or like I have pictured here, you could use a crab claw clasp.

The little strings are a hassle on a keyring, especially since they are holding something so light in weight. The strings sometimes get tangled up in my keys. And the string does not really ensure that the card won’t slip out… it helps by adding some friction, but it does not BLOCK the card from coming out.

It’s something to consider. I hope you will. Your little reader looks to be the tiniest and most “robust” looking of the micro card readers out there. I think this little improvement would put it way over the top as the best reader to have.

Thanks, and all the best.

Alan Porter

I was very surprised when I received a reply from Kingston.

Dear Alan,

Thank you for your interest in Kingston Technology. Also, thank you for your input and suggestion for Kingston’s product line.

Kingston greatly values our customers’ opinions and insight. Unfortunately due to today’s litigious society, Kingston is forced to discard suggestions pertaining to new and future products. Therefore, we will be unable to move forward with your input and/or suggestion. We hope you understand our position.

If you have any other questions or require further assistance, feel free to contact us directly at 800 xxx-xxxx. We are available M-F, 6am-5pm, PT. I hope this information is helpful. Thank you for selecting Kingston as your upgrade partner.

Please include your email history with your reply

Best Regards,
xxxxxx xxxxxx
Customer Service/Sales Support
Kingston Technology Company

What a nice gesture… a personal thank-you note.

But what’s this part all about??

Unfortunately due to today’s litigious society, Kingston is forced to discard suggestions pertaining to new and future products.

I was shocked. They thanked me for writing, but they simply won’t allow themselves to listen to their biggest fans, because they’re scared that someone might sue them for listening.

What a horrible statement about our society!  This is the exact polar opposite of the principles of sharing and feedback and continuous improvement that I am used to dealing with in the open source community.

Kingston lives in a feedback-free vacuum, fingers in their ears, and they blame us all for their uncooperative attitude. What does this say about us? Has the greatest nation in the world slowly grown old and senile, becoming scared of its own shadow? Will my children grow up to be scared to talk to strangers, scared to have a genuine dialog with another human, scared to actually accept criticism and suggestions, scared that someone would sue them, scared that they might tarnish their sacred brand? Is this the world that I want to leave to my children? Hell, no. So I made sure to write back to Kingston and register my disapproval of their spineless policy.

I hope some Chinese company will run with the elongation improvement. They don’t seem to be crippled by the imaginary legal threats from their own customers like Kingston seems to be.

I should note:

  • I still like Kingston and their products. But this extreme risk aversion is the wrong way to go.
  • My “improvement” has now been published (here on this blog), and so it is now officially “prior art” and can not be patented. That means that companies — Kingston included — are free to use this idea without fear of being hit up on charges of patent infringement.
  • The newer business tactic is to actively engage customers, creating a dialog with them, and letting them feel like they are contributing; not to blow them off and blame it on society.

Personally, I hope we will begin to see less of this corporate (and personal) scaredy cat culture in America.

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