Frugal Fennel

GeekDinner Time.

Ok, so if you’ve never been to a GeekDinner, why not make 2008 the year when you start going. It’s hugely fun and can possibly maybe be a little bit educational… Did I mention that at the last GeekDinner we discussed what to do if the Queen of England happens to start flirting with you on Facebook?

31 January 2008, Sloppy Sams, 51a Somerset Road, Greenpoint. 19:00ish

It’s open to everyone, all ages, all genders and all levels of technical innefficiency.

As usual, sign up on the wiki.


The next geekdinner… Dangerous Drumstick

The next in the series of awesome get-together-and-talk-all-things-geek geekdinners is on Thursday the 27th of September at Summerville in Camps Bay.

Amongst other great talks, my friend Derek will hopefully get to share a bit about his experiences running an online business… A subject that usually wouldn’t be all that interesting except for the fact that Derek is/was a big time old-school marketing director type person for airlines, hotels and large travel consortiums spending multi-million budgets on traditional media marketing… Only to get better results out of his kitchen and some well thought out online advertising.

The wiki is still where it’s always been. Sign up there.



One projector, free alcohol and a spammer

Hi there

It’s me, Jonathan. We haven’t talked in a while. Sorry ’bout that, been a bit busy you know. Yah, me too.

GeekDinner time is drawing near and the registrations are slowing growing.  We still have some space, so please blog about it and invite your friends and your mom.

We’re also in need of a projector and screen, so please if you can organise one please let me know.

ok, the free alcohol story. The other day we went to the bottle store to buy some wine for dinner. As we walked in we were greeted by a promo girl holding two empty Stella beer glasses. Before I could avoid her she said “Hi, we’ve got a promotion on, if you buy this case of beer we give you two free beer glasses!”.

I’m not a big beer fan… I was not taken. Then I noticed there was a promo-boy(18 year-old PFY) standing to my left with a couple of Jack Daniels bottles. I asked “What’s your promotion”. “Oh, I’m just giving away free alcohol” he said with the wryest smile an 18 year old can pull off.

ORLY? Awesome… It struck me then and there (not some other time and place because that would be a delayed reaction and I am sharp as a marble) that this kid represented the entire body of marketing knowledge known to man. People like a good deal. Free Jack is a good deal.

I didn’t partake though since it was probably 10am and really, who drinks *in* a bottle store?. BUT, I did buy a bottle of Jack to replace the unopened one that my friend Jan is meant to come collect for services rendered.

Oh, and the spammer. Steinser Training and some guy called Billy Snyman: If I receive repeated emails from you and am unable to unsubscribe then you are a spammer… Telling me that my email address is not in your database of “addresses out of the yellow pages” is not a valid answer. I await Billy’s feeble excuse and I will keep you posted.

lots of live, peach and shabbiness


GeekDinner on the way…

The 3rd of the new series of GeekDinners is being held at a really great restaurant called Krugmann’s Grill in the waterfront. We still have some space available so sign up on the wiki to book your place.

There have been a number of people who’ve asked me various questions about the geekdinners, so here is my FAQ:

  • No, it doesn’t cost anything… you only pay for the food you eat. (there is often free wine).
  • No, you don’t have to know linux to come.
  • Yes, you can bring your boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • No, It’s not a boys club.
  • No, you don’t *have* to speak.
  • No, it is not boring.

Also, if you want to keep up to date with the GeekDinner happenings, why not sign up to the GeekDinner Announce mailing list


New ideas for the restaurant reviews site…

cappucinoLike I was saying to Joe earlier, every time I speak to people about this restaurant website they seem to want to get involved or they have some excellent idea to add to the concept.

So the basic premise is a web 2.0 (and by web 2.0 I mean user generated content etc) restaurant reviews website where the reviewers are broken up into various bands according to their karma and the number of reviews they’ve written. New reviewers have their first 5 reviews moderated. Once they’ve got past their “New Reviewer” status they become “Reviewers” who can invite additional people to join the site but they only get 1 invite per review they write.

All the reviews are rated in digg’esqe manner and reviewers gain or lose karma (trust) accordingly.

Reviewers who achieve certain levels of Karma and write a minimum number of reviews become “Food Gurus” who have additional functionally available to them.

Food Gurus are the people who

  • Moderate the “New Reviewers” reviews for quality etc
  • Are also responsible for updating the non-review based restaurant data (addresses etc)
  • Respond to reviews that have been tagged as “inappropriate” or “suspicious” and potentially banning dodgy reviewers etc.

The idea is that the trust based invite system will hopefully keep the site as honest as possible. Continue reading “New ideas for the restaurant reviews site…”

The good, the bad and the overpriced.

I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a web 2.0 restaurant review site with a few twists and the obligatory overuse of gradients, big buttons, whitespace and ajax 😉

Twist 1: The actual review has to be less than 160 characters. This is not so that it can be SMSed but a way to keep people to the point.

Twist 2: When you write a negative review for a restaurant you’ll be asked to provide a “rather go to” restaurant.

Twist 3: I’m thinking of keeping it super simple with just a single star rating accompanying your 160 character review.

Twist 4: Reviewers are brought on board by invitation only… Every user’s first 5 reviews are moderated and you can only invite other people to be reviewers once you’ve reviewed 5 restaurants.

(For those of you who actually read my last rant about systems and rules; The rules I am talking about here are rules that define the specialist functionality… There are plenty of review sites that let anyone paste pages of drivel and never get to the point.)

As any good systems person would, I always test my ideas:

Restaurant: Krugmans, V&A Waterfront

Review: What a lovely surprise of a restaurant! It looks like it’ll cost an arm and a leg but the service is top notch and the food is great. I had their huge camembert & sweet chilli burger at R47. Awesome! (160)

Average Main Cost: R50

Star Rating: 5 out of 5

Restaurant: Cape To Cuba, Kalk Bay Review: Great décor but sadly the quality of food seems to have slipped. We were two large groups and only about 30% of us were “happy”. My meal, the fillet strips in chilli and chocolate, was not worth R99. (160)

Average mains cost: R70

Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Rather go to: Polana

Review: Chapmans, near Chapmans Peak, Hout Bay

Review: We only had two deserts and two cappuccinos. The brownies were bad, the tiramisu was bad and the cappuccinos tasted like watered down wimpy coffee and presented similarly. The bill was R90.

Average mains cost: No idea, didn’t look.

Star Rating: 0.5 out of 5

Rather go to: No idea, Where is good in hout bay?

What do you think of the idea? While typing this I thought that one benefit of the 160 character thing would be that you could get the review sms’ed to you… but really, sms is a retarded format that hopefully wont be around in a few more years?

Anyway, let the debate make it stronger or kill it early so I don’t waste my time.



Never let your processes get in the way of what the customer wants

press button hardSo the gf and I decided to grab some food before we hit the ice bar. We sat down at the Little Mermaid, a restaurant in the V&A waterfront, and perused the menu hoping to find something that looked appetising at a reasonable price. We both eventually settled on getting their lunch steak… a decent looking meal for fifty something rand. The only problem was that it was past 6 and their “lunch” cut-off time. Never fear I thought, I’ll just ask nicely. Surely they would be ok with that?

Nope. Even though we said we would leave if they refused to sell us the meal, they still declined. It’s a well known fact that restaurants with two menus usually do so in order to get more money out of their dinner time guests. Before we left I decided to go and speak to the manager to get their side of the story. Their story was this: They had a system in the kitchen and that system dictated that at 6pm they packed away the lunch time steaks and unpacked the R40 more expensive steaks for dinner.

I stood there dumbfounded, 100% in something akin to a moral dilemma… As a systems person I can understand their argument, whether you believe them or not, that systems make sure that the world works and in the absence of systems you end up with chaos. But, on the other hand, I wanted my fscking lunch steak and I wasn’t prepared to pay extra just because I got their a few minutes late.

I walked away temporarily pacified, but the more I thought about it the more I realised how wrong they were. Their system was limiting their ability to serve the customer properly. I wouldn’t have been told it was “impossible” at the Cape Grace, the 5 star hotel nearby, a point I made but was lost on the two managers.

Really what this highlighted was how the systems we interact with (or design) can be fundamentally flawed by our own need to “stick to the rules”. I’m obviously not calling for all out anarchy, but I do believe you need to ask yourself one fundamental question when implementing a rule in the systems you design:

Is this rule limiting the freedom of the user and their interaction with the system to an extent greater than that which is required to keep the system running?

In other words: Could the restaurant have sold me a fscking steak without going bankrupt? The obvious answer here is yes, and it becomes more obviously “yes” when you consider that any user (customer) who feels like the system did something special for them is going to feel a certain affinity for that system (restaurant) and probably return multiple times.

The more you become aware of this the more you start to see it in real life. I had my wallet stolen and upon getting my new cards, signed up for internet banking only to discover that by default my monthly transfer limit was set to R0; something that requires you to go into the bank with your ID to change… This wouldn’t have been such a major issue if I hadn’t JUST LEFT THE BANK where the teller told me that all I needed to sign up to internet banking was my card number and PIN. In addition to that, my beneficiaries were all deleted… Why did my internet banking profile had to even get removed? Couldn’t they just have unlinked it from one card number and added it to the new one? Did they even think of the customer when designing these systems?

Then vodacom… I want an Nokia E61. I’m due for an upgrade in 7 months, BUT I’m willing to PAY THEM MONEY in order to get the upgrade now. Apparently this is impossible?

Can you think of other systems where a rule has been put in place that makes no sense and impacts the user negatively? Perhaps more important, can you think of systems where the designers have had the foresight to make the system flexible enough to accomodate the more unusual requests?

Doing my bit to punt the community

I just thought I should do the obligatory punt of the GeekDinner, 27 Dinner and Clug park.

Firstly, The GeekDinner is not the 27 dinner.

If your idea of fun is listening to someone talk about the joys of hacking asterisk or joking about routing tables, feel free to sign up for the next GeekDinner. I seriously can not wait… At the last 27Dinner I was lucky enough to end up at the most awesome table full of kindred spirits. I think the conversation at that table played a part in concreting why geeks need their own dinner.

If hearing about the latest affiliate marketing scheme gets you hot then sign up for the next 27Dinner.

Finally, If you enjoy reading technology centric blogs then you should probably bookmark Clug Park, a collection of the finest South African Linux and sundry related blogs money can’t buy.

Also, I’ve got some pretty big news I’ll be dropping in the next few days, but I’d just like to say thank you to all those who know and have made it possible/supported me.


Why some people just dont "get" the "Internet"…

(Alternative Title: When not to call someone a racist)

I am increasingly amazed at the interweb. People seem to not realise that the world is rapidly becoming more and more online to the extent that it’s probably likely that no matter who you are, your name, or your bussiness’ name is being Googled on a daily basis. Which brings me to the guy who called me a racist.

A while back a few of us went to a restaurant called Nonna Lina‘s for lunch. The entire event sucked. The food was bad, the service was bad and the owner/manager overcharged us. I was so appauled I wrote a very strongly worded email to the restaurant and BCC’d a bunch of my friends.

Now a little bit about expectations… What did I expect from them? We’ll, to be honest I expected a reply… maybe even a sorry. I would have been very impressed if they had said something like “Hey, sorry you had a crap experience, won’t you come and have lunch on us and see if we can make things right.”

Alas there was nothing… not even a nasty reply. (Actually their first email address bounced so I had to find another which didn’t bounce, so I know they got it)

So obviously they didn’t care… My little email and my 50 friends didn’t count. Then, a few weeks later, I posted the email on my blog.

So now I am the 3rd result in Google for Nonna Lina.

A month goes by and a few days ago I get an email alerting me to a new comment on the story. It’s from the owner. I assume he Googled his restaurant’s name and got a little fright… but not enough of a fright to apologize… instead he writes a badly constructed list of excuses, demeaning my own ability to discern good food from bad food. Insists that their shocking food is true Italian Fare… the fact that 11 people found their food disgusting must mean that I run in very plebby social circles.

Then he strangely tells me that I should talk more… weird… I think what he’s trying to say is that we should have spoken to him then instead of writing about it on the internet… except, he forgets, we tried to talk to him but he wouldn’t listen and instead walked outside and started smoking.

Then, as if all of this wasn’t enough, he calls me a racist because I said that his waiter’s English was bad and we struggled to communicate with him. I must point out that his email had shocking English too. So now I’m a racist who doesn’t like Italian people… I must tell that to my Italian friends. Also, I’m constantly ripping off my girlfriend about her funny colloquialisms. Dammit, I must be a racist.

Actually, it had never occurred to me that his waiter was black until he brought it up.

Do not eat at Nonna Lina

To anyone reading this for the first time: Please note that this post dates back a long time and for some reason is repeatedly proving rather popular. I get a lot of emails and comments about this post, mostly positive and some negative. If you have a valid comment then by all means post it, but if all you’re going to do is tell me that I’m a dick for complaining, then I suggest you don’t waste your time… Also, read my blog, You might find that I’m actually quite a nice guy. The gist of this entire saga is that we had shocking service and Nonna Lina has repeatedly, for almost two years now, refused to simply say sorry, but instead resorted to excuses and insults.

Also, read this semi-update to the story.

(This is a classic Arbitraryuser in the form of an email I sent that dates back to November 17th 2006.)

Today at 1pm a group of us, 11 in total, decided to have lunch at Nonna Lina… This was because they are currently punting their “Special”…

Their offer was one of the meals on their “special menu” and either a soft drink or a beer. The prices, R39 and R45 respectively.

Here is a list of why you should never ever eat at Nonna Lina:

What pizza is meant to look like
Not Nonna Lina Pizza
  • A few of us ordered the “Salami” pizza. It was crusty, oily and they use cheap cheddar cheese. But, the cherry (ha ha) on the top was the absolutely atrocious amount of “salami” on the pizza. We counted; There were 3 slices of the thinnest, smallest, cheapest, nastiest salami, cut into quarters and spread over the pizza. AND THAT WAS ALL. Just nasty cheese and 3 pieces of nasty salami.
  • The service was terrible. EVEN THOUGH WE HAD PRE-ORDERED OUR MEALS the last meal was placed on the table about 20 minutes after the first.
  • One of the meals was wrong, but fearing another wasted half hour someone took one for the team.
  • They sell pasta and pizza… but the dont have Tabasco Sauce… We know they’re trying to be cheap, but come on! Maybe just buy the generic stuff.
  • The waiter struggled to bring the drinks to the table and needed to get reminded constantly. There were only 2 other tables so being “busy” is not an excuse.
  • The beer was warm.
  • Besides being generally bad, the waiter also struggled with english, which will probably explain the next 2 points perfectly.
  • Then came the killer… When the bill arrived it was more than expected… There were two meals we didn’t even have and even though we had only seen their “special menu” apparently one of us ordered a meal off the main menu.
  • Then the real kicker. The Savanah and Castle didn’t count as alcholic beverages… And the Appletizer wasn’t a “Soft Drink” so the unlucky souls (me included) had to fork out R45 for a shitty pizza and an extra R15 for our drinks.
  • No mess up on this scale would be complete without the owner/manager fighting with us about the bill and eventually deciding that it was time to light up a smoke while we were still arguing with him… Eventually we paid up and left, never to return again.

So by my count, Nonna Lina owes me a beer… and you know what, they can shove it… Keep it for a rainy day when all their customers have finally decided that the R8 Boerewors roll outside the Spar on Kloof Street is a better option. More appetising, more tasty and served with a hell of a lot more class than Nonna Lina could dream of — A paper serviette and your choice of 5 sauces in recycled plastic bottles.


ps. Feel free to pass this on to anyone you think might make the mistake of going there.

    Update: Nonna Lina never replied to my emails… I think that speaks volumes.

    Update 2 [29 Jan 2007]: I finally got a response via this site from the guy who owns the place. Amongst a bevy of poorly constructed excuses he called me a racist for bringing up the fact that his waiter didn’t have a very solid grasp of English. Ummm ok. Add that to the list of reasons why not to eat there.