A Blog Around The Clock

Rage 2.0

Why Rage? Because Henry inspired me (though Mrs.Gee made him edit out the ‘excessive’ language). Why 2.0? Because I am all gung-ho about everything 2.0. So there!

So, like Henry, I will now proceed to rage about something….

Hotels

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, often staying in some very top-of-the-line hotels around the USA and Europe. Lovely hotels. Very comfortable. Very clean. Great service. Good food. Lots of cool amenities. More and more environmentally friendly. Nothing really to complain about. And I certainly do not want to single out Millennium UN Plaza hotel just because something that irks me very much happened there. Something that reminds me that the hotel industry as a whole has not entered the 21st century yet.

So, let me collect my thoughts and start with my own premises as to what a hotel needs to provide. At a minimum, every hotel room in every hotel in the world should provide these four essentials:

1) Bed. Hopefully a bed that is comfortable, does not squeak, and will not break down under my puny weight.

2) Bathroom. Hopefully a clean one with cold and hot running water and a decent pressure in the shower head.

3) Electricity. It is pretty essential – for lights and for recharging cell-phones, camera batteries, blackberries and laptops.

4) Online Access. Free (well, included in the room price), fast and reliable.

Most hotels are really good at providing the first three:

If your bed breaks, you call the reception and in 5 minutes your bed is either fixed or you are moved into a beautiful large suite for the rest of your stay.

If something in your bathroom leaks, you call the reception, and their plumber will be up in your room in no time, and if it cannot be fixed in 5 minutes you are moved into a beautiful large suite for the rest of your stay.

If your power goes off or a light-bulb burns, you call the reception, and their electrician will be up in your room in no time, and if it cannot be fixed in 5 minutes you are moved into a beautiful large suite for the rest of your stay.

But, if your online access does not work, you call the reception and they have no idea how to help you. They cannot send their internet technician to your room because they do not have one. Last weekend, when I called the reception to inquire about a sudden loss of online access, the receptionist forwarded me to tech support. I was naive – I thought it would be a hotel employee. Nope – the first question:

- Where are you?
- Room 3424
- Which hotel? (Yikes! Not in my hotel?)
- Millennium UN Plaza.
- Which city is that? (OMG, this one is continents away!)

Anyway, it was not my job to talk to the tech. Hotel should have taken that call and figured that out. Part of their hotel service. What they are paid for. I have already figured out that my computer is OK and that the problem is with the hotel network (soon I learned that the entire hotel lost it, not just me). There was nothing that the nice person in India could do remotely and I knew that from the start. When I was forwarded to the tech, I expected a hotel employee who could actually physically come up and check the network.

I checked at the desk a couple of times, politely. As the day progressed, I saw more and more people, more and more agitated, asking the same question “When the hell are you going to fix this!?” To which the poor receptionist could only shrug her shoulders – it is not something she was taught to deal with. The hotel had no way to deal with it. They do not understand yet that Internet is one of the Four Basic Essentials of a hotel room. They do not even use it on their own computers (how do they run a hotel? how do they provide up-to-date travel/weather/shopping/tourist information to guests without the Web?!).

As Henry notes:

Actually, I do know the reason for all these things. It’s because the people at the other end of the phone, or across the desk, are often powerless to address the problem in hand, because they are too dim, or haven’t been trained, or that the systems with which they are meant to be dealing are so distributed and fragmented so that any one person in the company feels no sense of responsibility.

That is exactly right – nobody there could do anything, or cared to try anyway. Even with a potential riot at hand, with dozens of red-faced guests shaking their fists at them. “We are aware of the problem”. Shrug.

Wifi was working in the lobby, as someone soon discovered, which soon was packed by busy travelers furiously typing on their laptops. People doing their work. Work for which constant online access is a must. Kind of work that most busy travelers these days do (most people never travel more than 100 miles from their birthplace/home and then do not stay in hotels, but those who travel tend to travel a lot and are highly connected people – the clientele of this hotel for sure). The hotel industry has to wake up to this reality.

Then I checked their ‘internet cafe’ in the basement. A tiny, ancient PC, with a tiny screen, the only browser being an old version of Internet Explorer, access through dial-up modem and all that for 50 cents per minute! No thanks.

24 hours later, the hotel was still internet-less. I checked my e-mail once I got home the next day.

Over my recent travels, I noticed several different continua in the hotel industry concerning the Internet.

Some only have an “office” just like the one I described above, but more and more do provide either wifi or cable or both in each room.

Some provide crappy access, some are decent, and a rare hotel provides a really good, fast, reliable access.

Some provide access for free as they should (and many savvy travelers now consciously pick such hotels, which should be a hint for the rest of the industry), some charge relatively low prices ($5-10 per day), and some charge exorbitant amounts of money (hundreds of dollars for a few hours, e.g., the hotel in Trieste I stayed in back in April).

The three continua do not necessarily overlap – free wifi can be crappy and an expensive one can be good, and reverse.

But what is common to all of them is that this is all outsourced and if they have a problem they do not have a person on staff who can fix the problem, someone who is intimately familiar with the particular hotel’s network.

I went back to my room and looked around. There were several objects in the room that, if there was a problem, hotel would fix quickly, yet they looked so quaint, so 20th century, so useless in today’s world.

There were alarm clocks. Why? Mrs.Coturnix and I are not gadget-happy folks, yet between us we had at least 4 or 5 “things” that have the alarm clock function on them (two cell phones, a blackberry, two laptops).

There were radios. Who listens to the radio (except locally, when at home – that’s different)? If I want music, I do not want to depend on some local DJ and his taste. I will go online and find exactly the music I want to hear at any given moment (and put it on my iPod if I want to). If I want news, I do not want to depend on the scheduling and choices of the radio news team. I will go online and find exactly the news and information I need at that moment. Even if I overhear some piece of news on the radio, I will have to go online to check if it is true, because Corporate Media is not to be trusted – it is unreliable.

There was a TV. I have not turned on a TV in a hotel in years! What for? For entertainment, TV is crappy – there is so much more and better stuff online. And anyway, I am traveling, my entertainment is likely happening outside of my room – sightseeing, meeting bloggers, participating in a conference…. As for news and information, TV is even less reliable than radio. The Web rules.

There was a telephone. A land line. Why? Because that is the only way to call the reception desk until they adopt a more modern technology. When was the last time you used your room land-line phone to make a call out? To a friend? A decade ago?

I’ll be perfectly happy to get a room without an alarm clock, without a radio, without a TV and without a telephone if I am guaranteed flawless perfect online access included in the price of the room.

Which brings me to my second Rage of the day….

Olympics

I love Olympics. It is one of the most exciting equestrian events in the world. Oh, there are other sports there as well, some really cool to watch as well. Even the exotic, strange sports with unfathomable rules, like baseball.

As a kid, I watched the Olympics every four years. Belgrade TV was very good at it. We had some good sportscasters who knew when to shut up and let the athletic drama unfold itself in silence. We watched all the sports in which Yugoslavia had representatives (especially if they had a chance at a medal), e.g.,. basketball, handball, waterpolo, shooting, kayak/canoe, tennis, table-tennis, long jump, even soccer. And we watched a lot of other events because they were exciting, and had exciting personalities from other countries. And yes, we got to see the equestrian events, at least an hour for each of the three disciplines. In real time. We rooted for the good ones, or for the underdogs, or for whoever was neither Russian nor American. And we had great fun watching together, with good food and drinks.

In 1980., we hated the Americans for boycotting the Moscow games, for undercutting the very idea of the Olympics, the time when politics is supposed to be pushed aside and people around the world enjoy the achievements of the best athletes no matter where they come from and under which flag they compete. Yet the Games were fun to watch. The basketball tournament was legendary – Yugoslavia, USSR and Italy had incredible battles between themselves for the three medals, unforgettable matches. And without Americans, a lot more athletes from smaller countries got into the spotlight and won medals. It was almost more fun because the Americans were not there – more diversity.

In 1984., we hated the Russians for boycotting the Los Angeles games, for the same reasons as four years earlier. We hated them even more because this led into the Games becoming an American self-love-fest like we never saw before. It was boring. American nationalism in our faces hour after hour….

If the Games were given to Belgrade for 1992 (lost them in the last round of voting to Barcelona), there may not have been a war there. We would have something to strive for, something unifying, and something that would potentially bring jobs and money (and yes, national pride for the whole country, not its little parts). We were so excited about the candidacy alone. Darn!

The 1992 games were the first for me here in the USA. It was the pay-per-view year. I was working at the barn at the time. We got some money together and one of the guys bought the pay-per-view for the entire equestrian package and taped it all. We gave him the blank tapes and he made copies for all of us. I watched the entire equestrian program like that. And I watched some of the other events on TV and was sick of the way it was made: mad American nationalism, 100% focus on US athletes and on sports in which those athletes were meant to win a gold (otherwise it was a Satanic unfairness, or the referees were biased America-haters, or whatever excuse could be found except the idea that some athlete from another country could actually be better and on that day luckier than the American one).

Since then, I did not watch the Games.

This year, I am not watching either. And no, I am not boycotting. If I did not boycott the 1980 and 1984 games, why boycott these ones? How are they different? Every government in the world does stuff some of us don’t like. The purpose of the Olympics is to inspire progress in international relations. For people of different nations to see and get to like the people from all other nations, by watching their athletes, seeing they are human, identifying with their agonies and triumphs. Games are supposed to undermine the politics of bad governments. Some are a little better than others. But Reagan’s USA, Brezhnev’s USSR and today’s China – not much different even in degree. I will not let politics intrude into the Games ideals. If governments want to boycott, they have the right to do so, but they are idiots if they do. Individuals – whatever anyone wants to do for whichever reason. I have none.

But the main reason I am not watching this time is because I am incapable of watching them on my own terms. I do not want the NBC coverage. I want to watch events I want to watch. I want to watch them when I want to, how I want to, where I want to.

I see that danah thinks along the same lines:

I want an Olympics where the “best” is broadcast on TV, like now. But I also want an interactive version. Take gymnastics. I want to know on each apparatus who is up live. And I want to be able to switch between different cameras and choose my own view through the stadium so that I can watch whichever competitor I want. I want to be able to watch live, all day, on ALL sports (even judo and the other weird ones where Americans are not so present). I want interactive live and I want to be able to pull down and follow any individual Olympian or team through their events at a later point. I want the Olympics to be treated as a bunch of spliceable objects that I can remix live for my own viewing pleasure. And I want to be able to see it ALL. Is that that hard to ask for? Hell, I’d be willing to pay for such interactive watching options. And I’d certainly be willing to watch ads to see things LIVE. But boy does it annoy me to watch a “live” NBC broadcast that is already well reported on in the NYTimes.

Is there any way the next Olympics can be done like this? With no exclusive media rights given to anyone? I want to read the athletes’ blogs. I want to see the amateur movie clips from the events (and behind the scenes, e.g., in the horse stables at the equestrian venue) on YouTube. I want to listen in on press conferences live. I want it all on my computer live, the way I want to see it. Not the way some 20th century, dinosaur-age TV producer thinks I want to see it.

End of Rage.

Comments

  1. #1 bill
    August 16, 2008

    Don’t get rid of the radio or telephone! By my standards you are a gadget nut: I do not have a cell phone, blackberry/equivalent or a laptop, and I don’t want any of ‘em. I’m not a luddite: those are simply not mature technologies. Cell phones fail more often than they work (in my direct experience, and to judge from the complaints of others), laptops uniformly suck (battery life, form factor, mass, keyboard issues, reliability issues… endless list).

    If you put a decent computer in my room, with the internets on it, I could do without a radio — but I quite like to listen to local radio, and watch local TV, just to get some sense (however skewed) of local culture.

    And leave the telephone: I will never wake up in time for anything without my wakeup call!

  2. #2 Peter Borah
    August 16, 2008

    Watch it on NBCOlympics.com! All of the more obscure sports are available live, including the equestrian events. I’ve been watching a lot of Judo and handball that way.

  3. #3 Peter Borah
    August 16, 2008

    Oh, and no commentary at all, so far, so no annoying nationalism. (Except sometimes there’s text commentary you can choose to read if you want.)

  4. #4 Jonathan
    August 16, 2008

    I’m currently doing some research in South Korea for a few weeks. So far of the Olympic coverage here, some 95% is focused solely on Korean athletes. Rather than showing coverage of a wide range of events, there are simply constant repeats of Korean victories. While I’m sure this is good for the Korean morale, it does little to highlight the global nature of what the Olympics is supposed to stand for.

    It was also clear in China, where I was working for the few weeks running up to the games that ‘One World, One Dream’ was a thoroughly hollow sentiment.

    I can’t see the London Olympics being as spectacular as those in Beijing, but perhaps we can do something to promote the ideas that you have put forward – fingers crossed!

  5. #5 Bob O'H
    August 16, 2008

    It looks like the BBC are providing several feeds on their website, but only to people in the UK. They also have a text commentary, which is what I’m using to follow the games. It has a rather British slant, obviously, but we’re a nation that tends to view Olympic success as a surprise, so the jingoism might not be so bad (I can’t tell, I’m English). Or you could go for the Guardian’s version, which reported the rowing result like this:

    Australia’s Drew Ginn and Duncan Free have taken gold in the men’s coxless pair. There were no Brits in the final, so no more crushing disappointment just yet.

  6. #6 Barn Owl
    August 16, 2008

    I’ve been pretty happy with the equestrian coverage on Oxygen, which is part of the NBC conglomerate. It’s the “girlie” channel, so there are some super-annoying ads for their Tori Spelling and Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency programming, but they’ve had equestrian coverage every evening so far. One of the commentators is especially knowledgeable about the athletes (human and equine) from all of the countries, and is (I think) balanced in her discussion. She discusses the different types of jumps, position of the horse’s legs over the jumps, jump design, etc. I thought the dressage coverage was excellent – they actually broke the sequence down into slow motion parts, to show the viewer the passage, the pirouette, the piaffe, etc., and then to compare between horses. At home, I have the equivalent of “basic cable”, which includes Oxygen, and was bundled into a very affordable wireless internet package.

    I recently stayed at a hotel while reviewing grant proposals, and the wireless internet access was excellent. Also, there was a “business center” with 8-10 computers and a color printer, with free access for hotel guests. Since I was spending 10+ hours each day working on the computer, the last thing I wanted to do in the evenings was to get back on the computer, though. Good thing they also had a Luddite fitness center and swimming pool.

  7. #7 Joe Shelby
    August 16, 2008

    Actually, if it weren’t for Dr. Who in general (I’ve been an addict for 27 years), I’m in the mood to just boycott the BBC entirely because of their increasing (and increasingly annoying) “we only let us Brits see this – you Americans can just wait for when we decide to give it to you…”.

    Hey BBC: It’s the WORLD Wide Web, not the British Broadcasting Web.

  8. #8 PhysioProf
    August 16, 2008

    does not squeak

    Maybe you just need to tone things down a little bit, if you know what I’m sayin’.

  9. #9 Barn Owl
    August 16, 2008

    Individual dressage competition on MSNBC, starting in about one hour. I’m recording it, since I need to go swim laps for about an hour, when the local pool is open.

  10. #10 Henry Gee
    August 16, 2008

    Bora – your point about the internet in hotels is at the same time exactly right, and also one of those things that simply had not occurred to me until you mentioned it. It might simply be a matter of a similar lack of awareness on the part of hotel chains.

    I reckon that if you (and all the other guests so inconvenienced) wrote a nice letter to the hotel chain’s head office, they might get the message. Hotel-keeping is such a cut-throat industry, especially in the current economic downturn, that if enough customers demand decent WiFi access in their rooms on the same terms as a decent bed, shower, etc — it will be supplied.

    What I don’t like is hotel rooms with no facilities to make cups of tea or coffee. So even if your email don’t work, you can at least have a cup of tea.

  11. #11 Coturnix
    August 16, 2008

    Darn! This is what happens when I write a post at 2am. If I wrote this first thing in the morning – of course! – I would have included coffee/tea as one of the Five Basic Essentials that a hotel room should have. Thanks for reminding me. Everyone: coffee/tea maker is the Fifth Basic Essential of a hotel room!

    I looked at the hotel reviews for Millenium UN Plaza and saw several reviews over the past two years complaining about internet going out and not being fixed promptly, so this is a repeat offense for this particular hotel. I bet most of the other hotels in the world suffer from the same problem.

  12. #12 RNB
    August 16, 2008

    Those quaint old things like alarm clocks and radios and TVs may be cheap, but they still cost serious money.

    It won’t be for everyone, but there definitely sounds like a business case for cheaper rooms (or even a whole hotel) with just the core essentials you describe.

  13. #13 Henry Gee
    August 16, 2008

    There you are, Bora! Another way to make your fortune.

  14. #14 Coturnix
    August 16, 2008

    I missed a related post by Esther Hargitai on the same topic (Olymics coverage) about a week ago (I was in NYC losing my internets at the time the post went up).

  15. #15 Xerxes
    August 19, 2008

    Your Olympics rant following your pro-technology rant seems very odd, since your Olympics problems are due to not using modern technology! I’ve been using my DVR to record all the Olympics coverage and then just fast-forward through the nationalistic and personal-backstory nonsense and watch the bits that show actual sporting events. Even then, you might say they’re not showing other countries’ athletes at all. As others have said, there are almost unedited feeds of many sports available online. So embrace technology and use it to re-embrace the Olympics.

  16. #16 Dunc
    August 26, 2008

    Very late to this one, but one the subject of decent internet access in hotel rooms, I think you may be neglecting the importance of pay-per-view porn to many hotels’ revenue. ;)

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