Andrew Pollack's Blog

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Lunch On-Demand at IBM

By Andrew Pollack on 10/06/2004 at 04:39 PM GDT

I failed twice, but after considerable effort I was able to purchase Lunch "ON-Demand" at IBM's "Embassy" near Heathrow airport in England. I say "Embassy" because "Customer Center" or such doesn't describe it well at all. IBM's economy is larger than most countries, and they are a country of people with remarkably provincial thinking.

This entire site is devoted to interacting with customers and potential customers. They have shuttle busses to Heathrow, a large and varied selection of food and drink in a cafeteria attached to the conference area, a publically accessible wireless and wired network, and small staff of "concierge" types near the door. All this sounds good, right? Now, let me tell you how it works if you're NOT an IBM employee....

First - the wireless network does exist, and you can see its SSID, but nobody can tell you the WEP key or give you a token. There were a pair of children (ok, junior IBM'ers straight from higher education) at a table offering to configure your machine to hit the wifi -- but only if it were an IBM laptop, and presumably only an IBM configured one at that. They would "run some software" on your machine to set it up. They could not tell you anything about how it worked. Needless to say even if I were using a one of these machines, the likelihood of me allowing one of these apparent ten year olds access to my machine prior to doing live demos would be exceedly small. Result: We plugged our own wifi base router into a wired outlet and ignored the rest.

Now, on to lunch. In order to purchase anything at the cafeteria, you have to use an IBM smart card. This chipped card is similar to an IBM employee's badge -- if the employee is on the system and not from out of town. To get one, you have to insert two British Pounds as deposit into a machine (#1 below). There is no cashier taking currency, and thus if you do not have two pounds (about 4 dollars) in coin, you're out of luck. Once that machine gives you the card, you take it to another machine (#2) to insert ten or twenty pound notes (20 or 40 dollars in cash) and it is applied to the card. Now, you're ready to go get your food, and stand in line to insert the card into the machine next to the cashier where your balance is listed for all to see as you buy lunch.


I gave up the first time, as I didn't have a half an hour to spend in the process. I found a glass (which I found a few minutes later was spotted and a bit sticky from being poorly washed) and behind a panel found a small sink. A slow trickle of warm water later, at least I could present. Later, I reimbursed another Penumbra member and used their card.

On day two, I succeeded in getting a card, and putting ten pounds ($20) on it, and could get what I wanted during the day. At the end of the day, I needed turn the card in and get the remaining cash and deposit back. To do that, you go to machine #3 and insert your card. I did. And nothing happened other than the machine saying "please insert card". After a few minutes, giving it plenty of time to phone home if that is what it was trying to do, I found one last cashier still in the building, and explained that since the machine had only one button, I didn't think I'd screwed it up myself. The guy rolled his eyes, took out keys, opened the machine and REBOOTED the pc inside. A few minutes later my card was returned and I was able to walk away with a pocket full of coin.

When will IBM start requiring its own passport stamp? Maybe soon, its clear they're starting to issue their own currency.

There are  - loading -  comments....

"Satisfaction Targets Team Transformation"By ajp on 10/06/2004 at 02:00 PM EDT
At least you remembered to cash in your 'Visitors' card. I forgot so a coffee
an orange juice has cost me £10. Funny thing is the card has "Satisfaction
Targets Team Transformation" on the front of it. What!!???

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