Weekend Process: Conference Tea and Coffee Service

My blogging has been pretty sparse lately, really just conference blogging, although I have a lot of good posts about products and ideas that are half-finished. I also like to occasionally post about some process that I experience that’s either really good or really bad, and will try to get to those on a weekend when I’m feeling a bit more relaxed about writing.

Today, my weekend process is about the tea and coffee service at conferences, as pictured below:

Conference tea

This happened to be at the TIBCO conference at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas, but this same scene is repeated in most places where I see tea and coffee service. I realize that I’m in the minority as a tea drinker, but check out the flow (from right to left) since it has a detrimental impact on you coffee drinkers, too:

  1. First, grab a cup. That makes total sense as the place to start. If it’s a cardboard cup, also grab a cup sleeve so that you don’t burn your fingers. But wait – the lids are also here. What do you do with a lid at this point, when there is nothing in your cup yet? The options include:
    • Ignore the lids, then backtrack later and cut through the line to get one.
    • Pick one up and put it in your pocket or bag.
    • Pick one up, then put it down again every time you need your hand for something else, such as filling your cup or adding condiments.
  2. Coffee and hot water. If you’re a coffee drinker, that’s great. If you’re a tea drinker that likes to add the tea bag first before the water, you’re out of luck, because the tea bags are down the line with the cream and sugar. Tea options include:
    • Step out of line, find a bag, then return to the line, probably at the beginning again.
    • Resign yourself to an inferior cup of tea, and fill your cup with hot water with the hope of reaching the tea bags before the water cools too much.
    • Pull a tea bag out of your pocket or bag and add it to your cup (this is why you will see me at conferences stuffing tea bags into my pocket), although that can get you labeled as a bit of an eccentric.
  3. Cream, sugar and other condiments. Plus the tea bags. By now, if you’re a coffee drinker and have a cardboard cup, you might be realizing that you don’t have a lid. If you’re a tea drinker, not only do you not have a lid, but you’re trying to push a tea bag down into the prefilled cup of hot water. If you carried your cup with you from step 1, it’s likely been put down and picked up several times already to get to this step, or even lost along the way.

This process contains a number of unnecessary interrupting events that cause loopbacks, and doesn’t do much for helping with crowd flow.

I have seen this done once correctly, although I can’t recall the hotel or conference center that did it. Their coffee/tea service was organized as follows:

  1. Cups, cup sleeves and tea bags.
  2. Coffee and hot water urns.
  3. Cream, sugar and other condiments.
  4. Cup lids.

Steps 3 and 4 could be combined, but better left separate for those who take their drink without cream or sugar, and can therefore bypass the usually time-consuming step 3 altogether.

Taking Time To Remember

296354_10150930653380305_645435304_21318425_2030905227_nToday is Remembrance Day in Canada (Veterans’ Day if you are in the US), which marks the anniversary of the signing of the armistice in World War I on November 11, 1918. Today, this day is used to honor soldiers of all wars.

I started a little project last year, after finding my grandfather’s WWI journals and my father’s WWII journal: I have been blogging the journals on a daily basis, with each day’s entry on the same day, just shifted by 94 years and 67 years, respectively. My grandfather’s journal covers the entire period from the day he shipped out in 1916 until when he arrived home in 1919; we’re at November 1917 right now, so have a year and half to go. My father’s journal, unfortunately, only covers the period from January-September 1944, so is already finished, but considering that he was in the navy, and took troops into the beaches of Normandy during the invasion, there’s some pretty interesting reading.

For the most part, these are just a few sentences each day written by small-town boys who were not recognized war heroes: not usually the kind of stories that we read about the wars. My grandfather’s sense of melancholy and my father’s sense of adventure are interesting contrasts. Feel free to follow along, and help out with the handwriting when I can’t decipher the journal myself.

Friday Diversion: The Kemsley Wartime Journals

For those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may have already seen Frank Kemsley’s Journal: the blog of my grandfather’s WWI daily diary from the time that he spent in the Canadian army. I launched it last week on Remembrance Day, and started the regular blogging on November 16th, corresponding to his first journal entry on November 16th, 1916. I’m publishing the scanned pages of the journal along with the posts, embedded in the first post corresponding to that page, and today was the first full journal page. His journals (there are 3 of them) run until he returns home in 1919, and I will do my best to keep up my transcription of his journals as long as he took to write the journals.

I’ve had some tremendous feedback so far on this, including retweets by the mayor of TorontoTony Baer’s tweet that this is obviously where I get my blogging gene 😉 plus an interesting comment from Martin Cleaver that these paper journals may outlive all of our online journaling.

When I discovered my grandfather’s journals, I also found a WWII journal of my father’s from 1944, which I will be starting to blog on January 1st. It only covers the period from January-September 1944, but he was in the Canadian Navy in the Atlantic, so there’s some interesting stuff right around June of that year.

Zero History

Really enjoying reading William Gibson’s latest, “Zero History”, which includes some lovely gems of writing such as:

He looked down at the screen, the glowing map. Saw it as a window into the city’s underlying fabric, as though he held something from which a rectangular chip of London’s surface had been pried, revealing a substrate of bright code. But really, wasn’t the opposite true, the city the code that underlay the map?

SAPPHIRENOW Photo Caption Challenge

Last night, after a couple of drinks at the SAPPHIRENOW reception, Oliver Marks and I cooked up the idea that it would be fun to make up captions for the huge photos that adorn the Global Communications Center and the rest of the show floor. The photos are really beautifully photographed, but the compositions are a bit weird at times.

Update: a late addition to the caption challenge, which some consider to be the best of all:

Not Dead, Just Resting

Thanks to all who have noticed my lack of online participation this week and wondered if all is okay. I was downed by a nasty headcold/flu/plague, and have spent most of the week either coughing or sleeping. I appear to be on the mend, since I’ve been able to remain vertical for a couple of hours to return urgent emails and voice mails, but don’t expect me back to usual form until next week since I plan to be horizontal again really soon.

Unfortunately, this meant that I missed out on Monday’s Toronto Girl Geek Dinner, Tuesday’s CloupCamp, dinner last night with the good folks from the Business Rules Forum who were in town this week, and the talk about social BPM that I was scheduled to give today on Craig Cmehil’s Friday Morning Report 24-hour marathon. 🙁

CrisisCampTO Planning Meeting

A bit off topic for my usual blogging here, but I spent this afternoon at the initial planning meeting of CrisisCampTO, the Toronto manifestation of Crisis Commons. Although this is happening here and now in response to the earthquake disaster in Haiti 12 days ago, Crisis Commons has a broader mandate:

We are an international volunteer network of professionals drawn together by a call to service. We create technological tools and resources for responders to use in mitigating disasters and crises around the world

We’re here today to work on anything that can be done to help, in collaboration with other Crisis Commons teams all over the world, on the various projects that have been defined by Crisis Commons based on requests from NGOs to fill a need that they have. The bulk of the projects fall under the category of software development, but there are also teams for social media, logistics and more general duties.

Our first goal today is to find a development project for the bulk of the Toronto team to get involved with, and learn how to plug into other Crisis Commons groups around the world. There is quite a bit of infrastructure already in place to connect up, including IRC channels (retro, I will definitely need a refresher course) and voice conference lines, plus a rapidly growing wiki.

I have a pretty broad range of skills to apply here: although I don’t really write code any more – unless I’m really inspired – I can do all the other stuff around development (requirements, testing, documentation). I also do a lot of social media stuff, and have attended more unconferences than you can shake a stick at, so can help with the local social media efforts such as wiki gardening, Facebook and Twitter updates, and more.

The main goal of today is to get ready for next Saturday’s CrisisCampTO (time and venue to be announced shortly), by getting some basic team structure in place and selecting one or more projects to which we will be contributing. That way, when newbies show up next week, they can start contributing immediately.

One of the things that we learned about today is Sahana, an open source disaster management system that was created in response to the Sri Lanka tsunami in 2004. There’s a Sahana instance set up just for Haiti, although it still needs a lot of content added, and possibly some development to add specific requested functionality. We also saw OpenMRS, an open source medical records system, and Ushahidi, an SMS-to-web service that accepts requests for assistance sent by text message to a specific shortcode, and makes them available to aid agencies. If you check the feed from Haiti, you can see requests for food, water and medical assistance that have been received, translated if required, and logged for followup. In summary, there are a ton of free, open source projects that can be applied to the Haiti disaster; some of them as is, others requiring some customization. This is were we all come in.

Giving Technology Back to the Community

I’m a strong believer that technology can be a way up for those in financially disadvantaged circumstances: without some computer skills, kids can’t compete in school, and don’t meet the minimum requirements for many jobs. One way that I can help – and probably many of you reading this – is to donate to programs that provide access to computers and training to people who can’t afford to buy them. There are a number of ways to do this: you can give money, you can give used computer equipment, you can give your time, and you can promote the programs to others who might do the same.

This week, I replaced my mother’s old computer, and was left with a working (although underpowered, by today’s standards) computer with keyboard and mouse. I immediately thought of Little Geeks, a program that refurbishes old computers, provides them for free to kids in need, along with 12 months of internet access and some training on how to use it. They use reBOOT Canada as their drop-off depot; reBOOT is a charitable organization that “provides computer hardware, training and technical service to other charities, non-profit organizations and individuals with limited access to technology”. I headed off to reBOOT yesterday to drop off the computer, and had a chat with Nicholas (I believe this was Nicholas Brinckman, the Executive Director). He mentioned that they’re trying to get funding from the Aviva Community Fund to build 50 learning centres across Canada, in partnership with community centres and schools.

If you support this idea, go to the reBOOT project page on the Aviva Community Fund site and vote for their project (registration required). You can vote once per day until this round of voting ends in 11 days, and I encourage you to drop in there daily to cast your vote if you believe that this is an important initiative. They make it easy to link to the page on Twitter and Facebook, so use your social network for good. You can also help out by dropping off your old computer equipment – and encouraging your employer to do the same when they sunset old computers, printers and other equipment – or volunteering some of your time to help with computer refurbishment.

Just call me “Your Honor”

Apparently, Shel Israel’s fact checkers were too busy to actually check facts the day that they proofed page 208 of his new book Twitterville: I am not, nor have I ever been, the mayor of Toronto.

After a couple of people alerted me (via Twitter, of course), I hiked over to the local bookstore and snapped a pic of the page in question – click to see the full-size image, and check under the heading “Tweeting International” near the bottom left where it refers to “Toronto mayor Sandy Kemsley (@skemsley)”. I didn’t buy the book: if it lists me as the mayor of Toronto, who knows what other nonsense it contains? 🙂

fyi, the mayor of Toronto is David Miller (at least until the next election), a.k.a. @mayormiller. I am, however, one of the 57 people who he follows.

Vacation pause

For those of you who were kind enough to comment on blog posts from the BPM conference in Ulm last week, my apologies for being so late to approve the comments: I’ve been on vacation in Switzerland and Germany since then, and mostly off the internet due to being in small towns with crappy wifi coverage. To give them credit, the towns do have great wines, cycling along the river, boat rides, 15th century castles, all the schnitzel you can eat, and a number of other good points. 🙂

The short version of the trip report: after leaving Ulm (which was a really great place for recreation as well as an excellent conference), I headed to Zurich for the weekend to visit a friend, stayed in the old town on the east side of the river, visited the old cathedral, climbed a small mountain, went for a boat cruise on the lake, and went to a piano bar where I experienced a minor dancing injury (and I wasn’t even dancing). I then returned to Germany to spend a day in Baden-Baden and visit the incomparable Friedrichsbad Roman-style spa, then two days in Cochem on the Mosel River, complete with a 4-hour hike to Burg Eltz, a view of a castle from my hotel room and some lovely local wines, before heading back to Dusseldorf.

I’ll be getting on a flight home in a few minutes and back to work tomorrow, but will be jet-lagged so don’t expect too much witty repartee.