Thursday, April 29, 2004

Metra. The way to really...wait around for your Ticket-By-Internet

I recently joined the ranks of suburban rail commuters here in Chicago, for better or worse. I actually have an easy time of it, needing only ~25 minutes of rail time to get from home to work (a little bit of walking on either end is fine as long as temperatures are what they are now; ask me again in January.) The train has spaciou seats, smooth rails (by US standards), and acceptable schedules. So far, so good.

However, I definitely don't understand Metra's Ticket-by-Internet policy. It's basically no different than signing up for bank draft withdrawal authorization with a major utility or mortgage lender. Mail you a voided check, wait several days for a PIN, and then you mail me my purchases? Puh-leeze. I live in a slap-the-skinner-box-paddle-for-reward-now world. The whole point of net-enabling fulfillment is to hire the customer wherever possible, not create ancilliary processes for your back office. I can't understand why they don't allow you to purchase and print your own 'boarding pass,' a la United or American. I'm sure their key concern with this approach would be fakery/forgery. Me? I figure you print a validating barcode on the pass and equip conductors with the simplest Symbol handheld scanner available for validation. Some sort of validation algorithm that updates the set of valid barcodes from time to time.

This seems like a win-win:

-increased customer convenience
-reduced railroad consumables expense
-reduced back office and customer service overhead
-little to no conductor retraining required with sustained ROI outpacing the cost of new handheld equipment

...or so I think. Yes, they sell single ride, 10-ride, and monthly passes, but I think there are ways to validate all three types of self-print tickets using barcodes.

Another angle: "print" the boarding pass as a barcode that can be sent as a picture message to your mobile phone. This was a general fulfillment idea colleagues of mine dreamt up at our former employer. Sure could apply here, too.


Wednesday, April 7, 2004

CSS subtlety used to great effect

If you use a browser that supports custom cursor icons (IE6 is the only one I know about for sure), you'll appreciate the simple design trick Chicago-based rock zine publishers Glorious Noise are putting to use. Move your mouse pointer over any hyperlink and note how the typical pointing hand isn't quite so typical:


A simple bit of CSS applied to all anchor tags changes the cursor over a hyperlink to a different, site-specified image:

cursor:url(, auto;

If only they also had a cursor flicking a Bic lighter whenever you hovered over links to archived materials. Um, yea -- in that case, shark jumped. As is, a great in-joke.


Monday, April 5, 2004

That's a lot of pent-up Cubs Anxiety Right There

And I quote from my Inbox:




April 5, 2004

Dear Cubs Fan,

Thank you for registering for a chance to purchase tickets
for the new Dugout Seats. Over 130,000 fans entered their
e-mail address for this opportunity.

Unfortunately, your entry was not selected for our initial
sale tomorrow. However, should Dugout Seats tickets remain
after tomorrow's sale, we would offer a second purchase period
and you would be notified by e-mail on Wednesday morning, April 7,
if you are selected for the second phase.

Thank you again for your participation.

The Chicago Cubs

Let's see:

a) FAT CHANCE they're not going to sell out tomorrow. 130,000 lottery entrants? I think the expression is, "holy crap." At $50, $100, and $150 a pop (depending on how serious the opponent is) for 213 seats, these are a tidy little moneymaker for TribuneCo.

b) The secondary market for these tickets is really gonna be something if the Cubs have a year anything close the one already primed for collapse under the impossible weight of pre-season expectations. That said, the Cubs are 1-0 as of this writing. Let's play two!

c) I'm not a Cubs fan -- merely a fellow member of the Brotherhood of Lost Baseball Causes (Cleveland Chapter, Local 1948).