Posts tagged ‘technology’


Best Buy queueing theory

Single-queue multiple-server is often a pretty optimal way to set up a system; there’s a single potentially large / unending bunch of jobs / customers waiting, and some comparatively small number of servers / staff to take care of them. When a server is free, some job is chosen and the server starts running / serving that job.

When the chosen job / customer is always the one that’s been waiting longest, that’s a FIFO (first-in first-out) queue, known to consumers in the Eastern US as a “line”. It’s easy to implement, sometimes pretty optimal under certain assumptions, and has a sort of “fair” feeling about it.

On the other hand, I have the feeling that when the customer set is highly bimodal, the whole setup might not be entirely optimal in some cases.

For instance, if some of your customers are just buying a 1Gb Ethernet switch (see below) and some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups using a credit card, and it will take 45-60 seconds, and another set of customers are picking up something that’s being held for them somewhere in the back, and they aren’t quite sure what it is, and want the staff person to explain how to use it, and then want to purchase it using Latvian stock market futures that are actually in their brother-in-law’s name, and that will take 20-90 minutes, then some of those first set of customers are going to end up waiting (in some sense) an unnecessarily long time, waiting for education to complete or a brother-in-law’s marriage certificate to be found in an overcoat pocket.

One could assign a particular server to small jobs, or to small jobs if there are any such waiting, or always let a short job go before a long job if there are any waiting, or unless there’s a large job that’s been waiting more than a certain time, or…

All of these can be implemented in software systems, but most of them are too complicated or unfair-feeling for a Best Buy full of strangers. Allocating one server / staff member / desk to “customer service” (anything involving training, or stock market futures, for instance) and the rest to ordinary purchases is about as complex as it’s practical to implement. They weren’t doing even that at my Best Buy this morning, but then there were only three staff people on registers, and taking one-third of them away from the short-transaction customers might have been bad. Or just no one wanted to bother figuring it out.

Speaking of 1Gb Ethernet switches, I mean, WTF? I know I’m old, but I still think of these as costing thousands (tens of thousands?) of USD, requiring careful tuning, and taking up a significant part of a room (okay, a small room, or at least a rack slot). Now granted that was maybe for one with at least 24 ports and a management interface, but I mean! I can buy one for the price of two large pizzas, and it fits in the palm of my hand? Really? Where are the flying cars then??

A picture of a Netgear 1Gb Ethernet Switch.

That is a picture of a 1Gb Ethernet Switch. Possibly the one that I bought, I forget exactly. Might have been Linksys. Or something.


The internet really is changing the world!

So it’s very hard to estimate, objectively, how much the world is actually changing. Except in the oddest of times, after all, the perceiver is changing at least as much as the world. Stairs get steeper, burdens heavier, music louder, children younger and their jargon less comprehensible (ikr?), the people who run the world more obviously incompetent, because of the shift of viewpoint, regardless of any other sort of change.

You can’t go down to the same river twice, that is to say, even if the river is the same.

Having said all that, though, the world sure has changed! :)

I went to The Mall today, to get my both pairs of glasses repaired (the world’s gotten blurrier, too, as it happens). My reading glasses have been held together with a little twist of wire for months, and yesterday I figured out that my driving glasses have been bothering my nose because although the lefthand nose-piece was still there, it was subtly torn enough that the metal bit was sticking through whenever I actually put them on.

There being no convenient way to get them repaired at home (or maybe just by force of habit, really; come to think of it I didn’t even look online for home glasses-repair kits), I went to The Mall. The Sterling Optical was having, or was involved in, some peculiar event involving a local radio station, balloons, a popcorn machine, and other arcana, but someone asked if they could help me, and when I said I needed some repairs they summoned The Guy Who Does The Repairs from the back room, and he came out and took my glasses and said it would be just a couple of minutes.

So I stood there reading news and books on my ‘Pad until he (or actually someone else, which was slightly confusing) returned with my glasses all fixed up, and then I was all done.

I strolled around The Mall a little, got a coffee, wandered through the Video Game Store, didn’t go into the book store (or even, come to think of it, notice if there is still a book store there), went upstairs and got some lunch from Asian Chao, thought I noticed a “Rounders” to open soon where the Burger King used to be, but then decided that it was actually a “Rounders” that had opened and closed again where the Burger King used to be, since the last time I was there.

There were Akoo screens on some of the columns in the Food Court, and cardboard ads for the Akoo app (which in some sense lets you control what Currently Popular Videos appear on the Akoo screens) sitting on the tables. I looked briefly at the Akoo app on my ‘Pad, but it looked kind of dumb so I didn’t get it. After I ate I bought some (really rather awful) chocolate from the all-candy-same-price candy stand, and wandered through F.Y.E. and didn’t buy anything there either.

The Mall is really a pretty impoverished environment in which to buy things. The F.Y.E. has some little devices that you can run the barcode of a CD under and possibly listen to the tracks and read about the artists on a little display; last time I was there a few of them mostly worked. This time I didn’t even bother trying; I was going to be home pretty soon anyway after all. The book store that I didn’t even go into has some random selection of books that someone (I would guess the Home Office of the bookstore chain) has decided to stock, but there’s no metadata, no reader reviews, no easy way to find other books by the same author or “readers who looked at this also looked at” lists.

Part of me says that it’s nice to be able to browse through the physical objects and decide what to buy one-to-one with the thing like that. But how much sense does that actually make? It means that I’m deciding whether to buy based on how compelling the cover design and the blurbs are, and the things I’m deciding between are limited to whatever someone (else) has decided to stock. How are those advantages?

So one thing that The Mall has is Sterling Optical where they will fix your glasses (and for free!). It also has a somewhat wider variety of coffees and ice-creams than home does, and Asian Chao and Desert Moon and fast-food chains like that. But that doesn’t seem like enough to support a whole Mall really, does it?

And then it has the persons. Quite many persons, each one interesting and lovely in a different way, with eyes and limbs and clothing of different colors and designs, and hair in various styles and lengths. Persons with voices and stories, and laughs and quiet whispers and sidelong looks.

I do like persons. :) And you don’t get to admire them when you buy books on Amazon or music on iTunes or furnace filters on Furnace Filters 4 You Now Dot Com.

But you do when, for instance, you go out to hear live music in Peekskill. (And to an interesting extent that we won’t consider further here right now you also do when you go out to hear live music while staying home.)

So the Internet gets us lots of great metadata from other persons while we shop, but keeps us from encountering the actual persons themselves, and their voices and hair and limbs.

Does this deprive us of the company of other persons, or does it just mean that we have more time to encounter other persons in non-consumer contexts? Both, of course. :) But which more, and which when, and which to whom? Them are the questions (some of them)…