Halloween Costume 2014: Jim

This year, I made a game day decision to be Jim from the “Employee Transfer” episode of Season 5 of The Office (US version). I didn’t get the tie right, or the shirt, but I did go for the Jim smirk.

Wysz wearing a name tag that says Dave

While I knew it was an obscure costume, for some reason I thought that the authenticity of the name tag was really important. Gotta get that “D” just right:

Lots of name tags that say Dave on them

My dream was to have a conversation like this:

Who are you supposed to be?
Dave.
Oh, I get it. so your name isn’t really Dave.
No, I’m Michael.
And for Halloween, you’re Dave.
No, for Halloween I’m Jim.

I did not win the costume contest, but someone did ask me if I was from Office Space.

Ink

Matt’s 30 day challenge for November is writing every day. I understand how this can be a challenge. I have a whole folder of drafts of blog posts that are about 80% complete. I worry too much about getting something super-polished, so what I usually end up with is some sense of an outline along with a bunch of random notes. Then I start to piece it together, but then I think of more stuff, I start to forget what the notes mean, and I abandon it. You know how Family Guy is full of cutaways to whatever random reference the creators can come up with? My brain is kind of like that. Everything reminds me of something else. It makes writing a focused post very challenging.

I’m not taking on the same challenge as Matt, but I’m trying to write more quickly and in a less-polished manner wherever I can, including in blog posts and emails, where I have an unfortunate habit of mulling things over indefinitely. Beah noted that Inbox lends itself to the faster types of emails that she’s also trying to send now. But that’s another tangent. In the spirit of writing quickly, here’s something that just happened to me.

I was in line at Office Depot buying something for my Halloween costume. The customer in front of me was surprised at the cost of printer ink. The black cartridge was $30 and the color was $60. She had a discussion with the cashier in which they were trying to figure out if the color cartridge was just one unit as the customer thought it was too big for her printer, which she noted was very inexpensive, like $20 inexpensive. I wanted to jump in and offer some unsolicited advice that she should consider buying a laser printer, and explain that yes, inkjet ink really is that expensive. A laser printer costs a little bit (but really not even a lot) more upfront, and the toner replacement isn’t any cheaper than ink, but it lasts a lot longer, doesn’t get clogged or evaporate, etc. I didn’t say anything. It felt weird that I had overheard their conversation, and I’m never sure how well unsolicited advice will be received. Instead of a challenge to write more, I should have one to speak up more. In many situations I do eventually speak up (though it often feels awkwardly late), and since I can’t immediately recall a bad experience, I suppose that it’s not all that risky. One recent conversation that I entered was at the Charlotte airport. Some passengers were wondering where Tri-Cities was, as they saw it on a sign above one of the gates. Of course my reaction was to simply Google it and get the answer, but that instinct doesn’t come so naturally to everyone. There are still people who leave questions unanswered, and, as I was reminded recently, ask for and give driving directions. I kept my knowledge of a regional airport in Tennessee to myself for about 10 excruciating minutes while the other passengers’ conversation kept revisiting where that airport might be. When I finally found a natural point for me to (pretend to) suddenly overhear them for the first time, I told them where it was. It turned out that we both had connections to the same town in Pennsylvania, and passed some time with pleasant conversation.

Fooled

Today was a pretty good April Fools’ Day.

This morning, I received an email from my film professor who I had played a joke on nine years ago when I told him that I was quitting the film program to focus on pre-law. I haven’t spoken to him since graduation, and I don’t think we’ve even emailed, but today his one-line note was simply “I never forget.” That made me feel pretty good. I still have the voicemail that he left in 2005, and I don’t believe I’ve tried to play an April Fools’ Day joke on anyone since.

Tonight, my team got me. Someone from our team in Dublin is visiting, so we had decided that we were going to go out for dinner. As the workday ended, I asked where we were going. Knowing that I’m very particular (and some would say peculiar) about food, Eric told me that we’d be eating at a new Caribbean place that he had just discovered. I instantly got nervous. Trying new food is a scary thing for me. Of course the first thing that I wanted to know was if I would be able to find something to eat. I asked to see a menu. Eric informed me that the new location didn’t have a menu online yet, but the Palo Alto location did, and sent me a link. I started looking, trying to figure out what I would eat. I also asked why anyone would ever go to a restaurant that didn’t have its menu online. Why would one take that risk? I was told to check out Di Big Tings. Research indicated that there were few menu options that didn’t involve coconut, beans, or meat on bones—things that would cause me to avoid a dish. I looked at a bunch of photos of dishes and settled on Chicken Shrimp Pelau as a candidate for my dinner. When it was time to leave, I admitted to everyone, “I’m so nervous right now.” Eric offered to beam me the location of the restaurant, where we would all meet. I looked at the map, and started criticizing him for not linking directly to a place marker, and asked if the restaurant was even on Google Maps. He told me that they weren’t on Maps yet. This happens with new places, and I often add new restaurants to Google Maps via Map Maker. Before we left, I decided that we needed to add the restaurant to Google Maps. I fired up Map Maker, and asked where the restaurant was located. When Eric showed me on the map, I was very familiar with the location. It was right next to Sushi Tomi, one of my favorite places to get sushi. I thought it was strange that I hadn’t noticed the new restaurant there, as I had walked down that street just last night after eating at Sushi Tomi, but I could have easily ignored that building. Eric started to hesitate, and I got the sense that he might not know exactly where the restaurant was located. Not wanting to provide imprecise location data, I announced that I would add the restaurant to Maps after we ate. As we started to leave, and I forget exactly how this came up (maybe in the context of directions for our visitor), I mentioned that I had eaten at Sushi Tomi last night. Eric looked shocked and disappointed. I panicked, thinking that he had somehow expected to have been invited the night before, even though it was an impromptu dinner with the visitor after he asked for a recommendation of a sushi place after work. But then Eric told me that the joke was on me: the plan was to get me to the building next to Sushi Tomi, where there was no Caribbean restaurant that I needed to be worried about trying new food at, and then surprise me with a sushi dinner. I had no idea and was super-impressed. They really got me good, even down to how to pick a cuisine that was right in that zone where it was different enough to make me scared, but not scared so badly that I’d veto the option. Well-played. In the end, we decided that there’s nothing wrong with getting sushi two nights in a row, and headed to Sushi Tomi.

There were a lot of other good jokes on the Internet today that I’m about to catch up on, but here’s one that I did get to see: Google Translate on mobile Chrome translates English to Emoji.

screenshot of this blog with some words replaced by pictures

Update at 12:40 AM on April 2: And my favorite surprise of the day… there’s an update on HomestarRunner.com, complete with a Webvan reference. I still make H*R references at work, and fewer and fewer people are able to understand me. Now, maybe things will change for the better. Props to the HR Wiki folks for keeping that going too.

Silvercar

Last weekend, I went to Austin for the first time. Of course, I was unable to resist trying out yet another travel-related startup in the process. I’ve already got a good thing going on my drive to and from SFO with DriveNow, I breeze through security with TSA Precheck (While I participate in the program, I don’t totally agree with it. For one thing, I’ve been classified as not so dangerous that I need a full body scan or pat-down, but still shady enough that I should still be checked for metal.), and I comfortably fly Virgin America (or at least get upgraded on a legacy carrier) when possible. I thought that I had my rental car experience figured out as well by signing up for Avis Preferred (as well as the rewards programs for a few others), which in most locations allows you to have a more efficient rental experience. It turns out, there’s an even better way: Silvercar.

Silvercar is a car rental company. There are a few things that make it a little different than the average car rental company, and most of their advantages center around simplicity.

Car
The only car that you can get with Silvercar is an Audi A4. You don’t even pick the color—they’re all silver. I like this, because I never know what I’m going to get with the other car rental companies. I usually get “upgraded” to a random SUV. The A4 is a comfortable, good-looking car. I had fun driving it.

Reservation
You can reserve a car on their website or via their app. I used the website. It’s quick and easy, and there aren’t 20 screens of upselling.

Pickup
When we landed in Austin, I opened up the app, and tapped a button which loaded up a text message containing my reservation number to send to Silvercar. A few minutes after texting them, they called me and told me where to wait outside. They showed up a few minutes later in a silver A4, checked my license and credit card (only done for first-time drivers) and drove us to the off-airport rental facility. There, while one employee transferred our luggage into the rental car, the other showed us how everything worked. Scanning a QR code with the app unlocked the doors. From there, he showed us an overview of the computer system, such as how to navigate, use the radio, and pair my phone. It is nice to have Bluetooth, but for whatever reason, Silvercar seems to be really excited about it. At some locations, you don’t even have to go through all of that; you can just walk right up to your car, scan, and go. In any case, I was just happy that I didn’t have to wait in line at a counter or wait for a bus.

Return
When we picked the car up, they asked us to give them a call when we were on our way back to the airport since we were returning on Sunday, which is a busy day. On Sunday, we called and let them know that we were on our way. I’m not sure how necessary that was. When we arrived, one of the employees hopped in the driver’s seat and drove us to the curbside drop-off area. We got out, he handed us our bags, and that was it. I received a receipt via email a few minutes later.

Pricing
When I first looked into Silvercar, I thought that they had standard pricing, with a set weekday rate and weekend rate, as the rates were published prominently on their homepage. However, it looks like the prices do fluctuate like any other company. They could really win me over if they had a more stable rate (I was pretty annoyed to be hit with a ridiculous demand-based rate at our hotel, for example), but it’s not like you don’t get a quote before you make the reservation. Update on October 1, 2013: Silvercar sent me a note to clarify that they do have stable rates of $89 per day on weekdays (Monday – Thursday) and $59 per day on weekends (Friday – Sunday). If your reservation includes both weekdays and weekend days, they’ll display the average daily rate of your reservation.

They do still have a win with the fuel pricing, though. Rather than a bunch of confusing fuel options, you can either return the car full or not. If the tank isn’t full, they’ll top it off, charge you the local market rate for gas, plus a $5 fee. On my rental I used 3.6 gallons of gas, so I paid $13.93 ($3.59*3.6 + $5) and didn’t have to hunt around for a gas station on the way to the airport.

There are plenty of things that Silvercar doesn’t charge for at all, that tend to be add-ons with other rental companies. They don’t charge extra fees for electronic tolls; they’ll simply charge whatever the actual toll amount was. Even though everyone just navigates with their phones anyway, the car comes with an included navigation system. The car has free WiFi, but we didn’t use it. Though I didn’t try this, there’s no cost to add a driver to the reservation, and it’s super-easy. I had the opposite experience a year ago with Avis. When we went up to the counter to add the driver, the guy first informed us: “Well, you can, but it’s $13 extra per day.” Ok… we thought that was annoying, but had to do it since I wouldn’t be returning the car, and asked to add a driver. The agent warned: “You’ll have to fill out a form.” He then paused to see if, after we already agreed on the price, we would be okay with doing some paperwork. We then found out why he warned us. It took probably 10-15 long minutes to make that one change: filling out a paper form, having the agent do who-knows-what on an ancient computer, and finally receiving a new copy of the agreement printed with a dot-matrix printer. At least it wasn’t like the time that they refused to add someone as a driver on another reservation over the phone (which Silvercar is happy to do), affecting my family’s travel plans. This industry deserves to be disrupted.

The rough edges
Overall, using Silvercar was a great experience, and I only have a few pieces of feedback to improve it.

When I first tried to alert Silvercar that we had arrived, I tried to send the text message via Google Voice. Unfortunately, the app didn’t pass along the message content to Google Voice, so I had to do it via a standard text. It’d be nice if the app worked with Google Voice or didn’t rely on SMS at all.

When we were ready to return the car, I tapped the button on the app to navigate back to the rental car location using Google Maps. We were taken to an office park near the airport. The app needs to be updated with the correct address. We ended up using the built-in Audi navigation system to get to the right place. The Audi system definitely needs some work. The ordering of upcoming turns read from bottom to top (the next turn was at the bottom of the list), which made it confusing when preparing for the next turn. The distance units were incorrect, as it’d warn of turns coming up in 200 yards, that were actually only 200 feet away, adding to the confusion.

There has been an app update since I used it, and Silvercar’s support staff did say my feedback would go to the right department, so it’s possible that those bugs have already been fixed.

Finally, when we got out of the car at the curb and the employee helped us with our bags, there was that strange feeling that maybe I was supposed to tip (I didn’t), and I hate the ambiguity of that. If we weren’t supposed to tip, it’d be nice if Silvercar were upfront about it. And if a tip was expected, they should change that, either by including it in the standard rate or offering it as an option, like “If you give me a dollar, I’ll carry your bag for you.” You know, like any other transaction. Based on the fact that it’s a newer company and I’ve never had to tip in any other rental car situation, I’m assuming that it was just me being paranoid and that there was no expectation of a gratuity.

Would I use it again?
Yes, absolutely. Silvercar is way better than a standard rental car company. They’re only in a few cities right now, but if you’re lucky enough to be renting a car in Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, check out Silvercar.

Trying out startups when I travel continues to be fun. I even stumbled across another car-sharing service (that according to Wikipedia has actually been operating since 2008) while walking around Austin. Next up: BlackJet? I wish. On the non-travel front, I was hoping to write about how Prim has changed my life. I did try it out, and I got really used to not having to do laundry. Unfortunately, after a month and a half of using the service, one of the co-founders emailed me and let me know that the service was no longer available in my area “due to low user density.” Now, after experiencing life with Prim, it feels like doing laundry takes forever. Whenever I get a glimpse of how much better things can be, I wish the future would just hurry up and get here. Fortunately, now is pretty good too.