New Yorker Its All Good


  • “There are certain idiosyncratic notions that you quickly come to accept when you live for a long time in Britain…If you mention in the pub that you intend to drive from, say, Surrey to Cornwall, a distance that most Americans would happily go to get a taco, your companions will puff their cheeks, look knowingly at each other, and blow out air as if to say, ‘Well, now, that’s a bit of a tall order,’ and then they’ll launch into a lively and protected discussion of whether it’s better to take the A30 to Stockbridge and then the A303 to Ilchester, or the A361 to Glastonbury via Shepton Mallet. Within minutes the conversation will plundge off into a level of detail that leaves you, as a foreigner, swivelling your head in quiet wonderment…Give two or more men in a pub the names of two places in Britain and they can happily fill hours. Wherever it is you want to go, the consensus is generally that it’s just about possible as long as you scrupulously avoid Okehampton, the North Circular in London, and the Severn Bridge westbound between the hours of 3 pm on Friday and 10 am on Monday, except bank holidays when you shouldn’t go anywhere at all. Eventually, when the intricacies of B-roads, contraflow blackspots and good places to get a bacon sandwich have been discussed so thorough that your ears have begun to seep blood, one member of the party will turn to you and idly ask over a sip of beer when you were thinking ofv setting off. When this happens, you must never answer truthfully and say, in that kid of dopy way of yours, ‘Oh, I don’t know, about ten, I suppose,’ because they’ll all be off again.”

– Opening lines to Bill Bryson’s ‘Notes From A Small Island’

The travails of Apple’s IOS5 upgrade need not be all adversity. As the adage says, there is no such thing as bad publicity. One of my favourite illustrations of this saying hails from my years (way back) at Microsoft. Back before Tom Toms and Google Maps, the pioneering digital breakthrough was PC mapping products like Microsoft’s AutoRoute. These programmes were the first efforts at using route optimisation algorithms. Well, one day the BBC consumer protection programme Watchdog pulled our AutoRoute Product Manager, Jonathan Hulse, up in front of their spotlight in response to a letter which went along the lines of…

  • Dear Watchdog, I am writing to complain about Microsoft’s AutoRoute product which I recently purchased. I asked it for the best route to go from Little Snoring to Wormegay and it told me to go via the A1065. Well, any idiot knows that the A148 is much faster. What does Microsoft plan to do about such a faulty product!? Sincerely, Euclid F. Quinby.”

Well, the host grilled Jonathan about these scandalous accusations to which Jonathan replied calmly and considerately…

  • We take all customer feedback very seriously and are constantly looking for customer input into this new technology. We use Ordinance Survey Maps and a number of sophisticated calculations which have been proven in logistics and other systems. We will look at Mr. Quinby’s complaint, like all customers concerns, and use it to make the product better.”

That seemed to be the end of it until the following week when the host announced, “Last week’s segment on Microsoft’s AutoRoute really touched a nerve because we have received an unprecedented flood of emails on the subject. One letter comes from Mr Wimblebottom of Bishops Itchington, ‘I take issue with the letter from Mr. Quinby. Any one who knows the area know that the B1145 is the best route…’.”

The upshot of all the controversy? The ensuring month was the biggest month of AutoRoute sales in its entire history.

A similar controversy took place last year with Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond’s comments on the Mexican car, Mastretta. The Sunday Times commented in its piece “Enough Hombres – Call Off the Chihuahuas” (paywalled article) in a similar automotive vein…

  • “At least Mastretta, the Mexican car company that provoked Hammond’s joke, has no reason to pick a fight with the pint-sized presenter. Last week the firm said that orders for its MXT sports car had soared since the broadcast – despite James May claiming the company was called Tortilla.”

“The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about” – Oscar Wilde