Planes to Venezuela: Come again?

From today’s International Herald Tribune:

The United States has refused to give Spain permission to sell military aircraft containing U.S. technology to Venezuela. Articulating U.S. opposition to the deal, embassy officials in Madrid said that the sale amounted to support for an oppressive regime that threatened to spread instability across parts of Latin America.

“Despite being democratically elected, the government of President Hugo Chávez has systematically undermined democratic institutions, pressured and harassed independent media and the political opposition and grown progressively more autocratic,” the embassy said in a statement.

Wow, if you hadn’t told me, changed C-h-a-v-e-z to B-u-s-h, I would have thought we were describing the current state of American democracy.

“Insufferable British snobs”

From this morning’s Guardian:

A senior British officer (Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster) has criticised the US army for its conduct in Iraq, accusing it of institutional racism, moral righteousness, misplaced optimism, and of being ill-suited to engage in counter-insurgency operations.

This was printed in a US Army mag called the Military Review, which I’ve never heard of, but is probably a must-read if you’re a certain type of person. Responding to these claims, one of those person-types, Colonel Kevin Benson, director of the US army’s school of advanced military studies, called the Brigadier, “an insufferable British snob”.

This got me to thinking about what goes through a US Army jock’s head, metal plate and all, when he calls some Brit critical of his boys an “Insufferable British Snob”. There is some insight in his subsequent comment, that he had made the comment “in the heat of the moment”. Probably has Rumsfeld writing his lines.

Here we have the same guys who got off on locker room towel fights (ahh, ‘boys being boys’) when I was in high school, learning conflict resolution mechanisms that later transformed into a New American Century way of doing things, turning the world into a safe place for flat-footed, ham-handed, pig-headed and mostly boring Americans who think, with great conviction, they are doing the right thing.

In fact, that was all the Brig was really saying.

Real Estate websites

Made a rare contribution to the UTEST list, to recent thread on usability of real estate websites:

Precisely one year ago we launched our own real estate website as a joint venture, at the request of a friend who is a… real estate agent. As I follow this thread so far, I realize that our criteria for making our site ‘purposeful’, ‘usable’ and ‘useful’ were somewhat different than what is being evoked so far.

Our site sells Fine Properties, Chateaux and Vineyards (oh my!) in the southwest of France, which is really really a niche market. Maybe this fact disqualifies my comments, or qualifies them as an extreme subset, and if so, I apologize in advance.

  • The site is in a language (english) that is different than the language usually spoken in this part of the world.
  • The clientele is everything-but-French (mostly British, Dutch, Canadian, American, et al) and live far, far away.
  • The selling proposition elicited by the properties on the site is not so much proximity to schools or malls or even price, but rather, as an American friend nicely described it, the mythos of the Meusli commercial (imagine londonian paysans under blazing mediterranean sun, scythes in hand, filling up Range Rovers with Nature’s bounty.)
  • The total number of properties offered on the site at any given moment was rather small. Giving visitors the ability to search for “vineyards > 60% merlot in St. Emilion with chateau having at least 6 bedrooms, zoned for Bed & Breakfast” was not necessary.
  • These types of transactions are complex sales, and it became apparent that the site’s main purpose had to be to establish contact between prospective buyer and seller’s agent so the the process of facilitation could begin. This seemingly shifts the focus away from the deep user experience that others have mentioned and is probably at the opposite end of the spectrum of for-sale-by-owner sites.

There is a long tradition of prospective buyers from northern countries coming down here with photo printouts of properties seen on a website, criss-crossing the countryside looking to identify a property with the idea of contacting the owner directly, bypassing the agent and consequently, the agent’s commission. Since this latter can equal the cost of a new Range Rover w/options, it is understandable. In any event, it makes for a great ‘theme’ vacation. At our partner’s request, some ‘cloaking’ was necessary; we refrained from nifty map mashups or anything in that tone.

With this as our brief, we compared dozens of websites, and quickly decided to get rid of much of the common functionality seen on classicly sophisticated (and I thought –still think– extremely painful-to-use) websites. What survived included:

- search on region
- easy drill down and up
- ample information and photos for each property, nicely presented.
- very easy contact
- some SEO wallpaper

That was pretty much it. The site has had a successful first year.

I can’t imagine that UTEST guidelines allow for giving the URL, so I’m spared the terrorizing thought of hoards of UTESTers visiting it and tearing it to bits. If anyone is interested, though, please send me an email.

Bonne année,

Denny Adelman
Albi, France

I Saw the Future and I Ran

Thank you Dila, for this Flash scenario from adcritic.com about ordering pizza over the phone. This seems so real it’s scary (or maybe I mean la contraire).

All the more true after reading this lurid tale (seen on Technorati) revealing how you can buy anyone’s mobile phone call list on the web.

All these Made-in-USA reminders about Big Bro, how he sneaks up on you, slowly, over much time (measured in decades now), how each observable incursion seems just short of the real deal…

Well, let’s just say it makes me happy to live in Europe where all these radical extremists who rale against the monetisation of personal information have achieved the unthinkable: it is v-e-r-y illegal for third parties to sell personal info to anyone here.

America grabs the headlines, but Europe kicks ass.