Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Announcement to Customers 29th July 2008

Starbucks has been a part of the Australian market since 2000. There are currently 84 Starbucks locations throughout the country, including Brisbane, Canberra, Gold Coast, Melbourne, South Australia, Sydney, and Tasmania. 23 stores will remain open in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and surrounding areas to serve customers in those communities. The list of stores that are scheduled for closure will appear on this site by 5pm July 31st after all affected stores partners (employees) have been personally notified.

Losing nearly three quarters of their stores isn't the worst of it. It sounds like Starbucks is abandoning whole cities. If the company has to flee the Gold Coast - one of Australia's most famous tourist destinations - they're in worse shape than I thought.

I've had my doubts about Starbucks succeeding in Australia. There were, and are too many alternatives - from the small cosy places and fancy cafés to existing chains like Coffee Club and Gloria Jeans. The coffee is better elsewhere, there's more room to sit (or cuddle or seduce), and meals are available as well. The competition also have better aesthetics, while Starbucks expect their customers to order their coffees like they order their Big Macs and their KFC. As for the produt: my first and last impression of their brew (sipped in 2001 in Salt Lake City) was that it was coffee-flavoured froth. I haven't tasted it since then.

It's the staff who get my sympathy. From The Age:

Several former Melbourne employees, mainly aged in their teens to early 20s, said after a meeting at Little Bourke Street's Mantra Hotel, that they were shocked by the sudden nature of the announcement.

One former employee of the Lygon Street store in Carlton said he was upset former employees had been given less than a week's notice despite Starbucks making the decision to close the store two weeks ago.

"All the stores were just cannibalising each other, all the bigger stores were just taking money from the smaller ones," Ilias, 22, said.

Perhaps I'm not reading the press release correctly. Let me put on my amateur MBA hat. The sensible thing now would be to reduce the number of stores - I know Starbucks is cash-strapped in the States, and they're cutting back there. But I would try to keep at least one restaurant in each of the CBDs, and spread the rest around. It seems a little extreme that they can't make a profit from one single franchise in Adelaide or Perth (both +1 million cities).

The sensible thing would be to spread themselves widely, concentrate on one or two stores in the city centres, and if possible spread (or re-spread) to the suburbs. Instead they've been engaging in Darwinian selection with their franchises - crowding hem together, and letting them fight each other. That seems to be the Starbucks business model - I've heard it happen in the States, and in the U.K. Alas, the result is not the survival of the fittest, but the malnourishment of the population. No wonder the company is failing, and leading to massive retrechments. The soon-to-be-unemployed have my sympathy, but the management can go Starbuck themselves.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Macro Madness - Copying without Formatting in Word

Microsoft are an institution of this age. How could it survive otherwise with such buggy products? People use Office because most other people use Office, and it is harder to "collaborate" from some other suite of products. Office is not too large to fail - nothing is - but without some Bear Stearns loss of liquidity, it is not going to disappear overnight. Instead, there is the slow decline in market share to competitors such as Google and OpenOffice, and the loss of revenue to piracy. It can't come soon enough for me - as long as the upstarts have learnt from MS's mistakes.

The biggest problem of all is featuritis - packing new features into the product so that customers upgrade to new version. Because Microsoft did (and still does not, for all that I know) ask what the customers want, the customers get a lot of unwanted additions. Remember the dancing Paperclip? Of course you do. Then there's the automatic formatting, and the one hundred and one permutations of AutoCorrect.

Because of Microsoft's top-down approach to its base, they also miss the obvious. For example, paste without formatting. It's obvious - people want to cut some text from somewhere but without the formatting crud. The source may use bullets or numbers or odd fonts or different colours. The destination uses the standard Word styles. All the fancy styling is undesired. But by using the standard Paste function, that's what the destination gets.

Microsoft does let the customer do this, but they don't make it easy. Rather than provide a nice one-click menu item or a shortcut key, the user has to choose Edit → Paste Special from the menu, and then choose the "Unformatted Unicode Text" option. It's ok if you do it once or twice. Unfortunately, my job involves updating old software requirements documents, and that includes updating the content to a new style. Doing these actions 100+ times a day was becoming a strain.

So I wrote these macros, and then gave them shortcut keys for quicker use. (I chose Alt+U and Alt+C, but others can make their own.) Add them to your Normal.Dot or whereever else you want.

The PasteUnicode is the simplest - it just pastes without formatting. The CopyUnicode is a stranger beast. One of the snafus of Word is how it copies bullets and numbering - it "thinks" the user wants the number in the numbering or the bullet in the bulleting. When copying from sources, I found it was better to make the text "plain", copy, and then undo the operation. That's what the macro does. It's a kludge, and I'm not happy with it, but at least the macro alerts you if there are problems. Use with care - preferably when the source is read-only.

Sub PasteUnicode()
' PasteUnicode Macro
' Macro written 8/03/2008 by DaOOSG
' Free for distribution.
Selection.PasteAndFormat (wdFormatPlainText)
End Sub

Sub CopyUnicode()
' CopyUnicode Macro
' Macro written 18/07/2008 by DaOOSG
' Free for distribution.
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Normal")
If ActiveDocument.Undo = False Then
MsgBox ("Undo was unsuccessful")
End If
End Sub

Any feedback is appreciated. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I hate Yahoo! Chat

I hate it. I despise it. I loathe it. To me, it is a pest. But it lets my wife keep in touch with friends and family in Việt Nam. She can type with them. She can even speak with them, and without paying Telstra or VNPT a single cent. So it stays on the family computer, as there's only the one. But I don't like it running when I use it. Most software runs in the background when minimized, and never disturbs the user except in emergencies. Yahoo! Chat is designed to distract and grab attention, even if the user has other ideas. I think it is not an accidental bug, but a deliberate feature - the same feature possessed by a lot of malware.

Last night illustrates my scorn. Yahoo! Chat was running, as my wife wanted to get a reference from one of her friends. She was speaking on the headset, so the keyboard was free for me to write. It was a nice moment of domestic bliss - husband and wife using the computer in tandem without getting in the way of each other. I'd made a few notes, but hadn't got to the point of turning them into sentences.

Then 5 of her friends tried to chat with her at once. I was in the middle of a word, and BLAM! there was Yahoo on top of my writing showing someone's message! I clicked minimise, returned to my application, got out two more characters and WHAM! another message from someone else! I tried to return to the same word (the fundamental unit of language - not the application), and before I had even typed out a character ZAAM! Yahoo was back again! Think of 5 ADHD-inflicted children crying for your attention. Letting users embed sound effects in messages makes things worse. One of them displayed this insistent woman whining "Alôôôôô". My train of concentration was derailed, and writer's block was in da house. I was angry.

The biggest problem with Yahoo! Chat is that it grabs the focus off other applications running on the same computer. As the article says:

In computing, the focus indicates the component of the graphical user interface which is currently selected to receive input.

Selected - one hopes - by the user. Not some rogue program. Which leads to a further issue - anger. I get really furious when Yahoo! steals the focus. The people trying to chat with my wife are interrupting what I am doing, even if they aren't aware of this. It makes me want to type "fuck off" back at them. I don't. It's rude, and they're the friends of my wife, and most are nice. They don't deserve to be abused by me, and my wife certainly doesn't need me using her nick to do so.

I have to live with the program - close it down when I can, and (if my wife needs it on), avoid work when it's open. Perhaps TweakUI can stop Yahoo! stealing focus. Perhaps not. And did I mention I hate Yahoo! Chat?