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Locksmith gets less tips and more price complaints for being faster (danariely.com)
219 points by lionhearted on Dec 15, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 148 comments

Coinstar is a great example of this.

The machine is able to calculate the total change deposited almost instantly. Yet, during testing the company learned that consumers did not trust the machines. Customers though it was impossible for a machine to count change accurately at such a high rate.

Faced with the issues of trust and preconceived expectations of necessary effort, the company began to rework the user experience.

The solution was fairly simple. The machine still counted at the same pace but displayed the results at a significantly slower rate. In fact, the sound of change working the way through the machine is just a recording that is played through a speaker.

Altering the user experience to match expectations created trust and met the customers expectation of the necessary effort to complete the task.

Interesting. I always found those machines to be annoyingly slow and loud.

My theory with money: the less your customer has, the more important appearances are. Go to your local bank and look at how nicely dressed the tellers that are cashing grandma's $20 check, and then go to their trading floor and look at the traders that are trading millions of dollars a day.

In the case of Coinstar, every penny is important to the customer, even though a penny is worth approximately nothing. (And of course, they take 10% anyway, so their incentive is to over-count, not under-count, but I digress...)

No, the incentive would be for them to undercount as the money still ends up in the machine. $10 in the machine counted as $10 nets $1 in profit. $10 in the machine counted as $9 nets $1.90 in profit.

This would kill their business as TV news programs would show counting the money before it went into the machine and how much the machine claimed was counted. The fees that Coinstar rakes in are enough to ensure a great profit margin without actually stooping to miscounting coins.

Yeah, you're right; my logic is flawed. You insert $100 of coins, it says, "no coins inserted, try again". Instant profit :)

When you get a gift card from Coinstar, you are not charged the 10%. So when I'm feeling lazy with a bunch of change, I just dump it in the Coinstar machine for a Amazon gift card

Interestingly, the Coinstar machine that I use is in a grocery store, and it will give you free gift certificates for that store. I am not sure who would not choose that :)

This is an interesting definition of 'free', since you have to pay for it.

I read once that you could request a gift card and unplug the machine's phone line, causing it to give you the full cash value.


I never knew this. Of course, they are just charging Amazon the 10%, and ultimately this gets passed back to the consumer (though much diluted).

> My theory with money: the less your customer has, the more important appearances are.

Your specific example may have more to do with proximity to the customer.

I don't think it relates to the amount of money, but about gaining trust. People are more willing to trust someone with their money if they look professional, thus the tellers wearing suits and the fancy lobbies in banks. The traders don't need to gain anyone's trust, so there is no incentive. Similarly, the secretaries and PR people at the software company I work for wear suits, while the programmers wear jeans and a t-shirt.

Not necessarily the best examples - traders who are trading millions of dollars a day may be living in a flat with no furniture and be in debt up to their eyeballs. Just because they are trading other people's money a lot doesn't necessarily mean they're in the black.

I didn't say they were. I just said they don't wear suits to work, and then implied that their work is more important to the bank (in terms of raw money-per-transaction) than the nicer-dressing tellers.

Interesting. I always found those machines to be annoyingly slow and loud.

Me too. I always found it bizarre that they're so slow. The OP would certainly explain things.

I attended a "Redesigning Blogger" workshop in 2004, when Jeff Veen at Adaptive Path and Douglas Bowman (of stopdesign.com, now with Twitter) talked about their experiences redesigning Blogger.

One of the things they found in user testing was that when new users clicked "Create my Blog" on the last step of the setup process, they were confused at how quickly their blog was created. "That's it? Is something wrong?" were the types of things people said.

So they added an interstitial "Creating your blog..." type page that did nothing but spin a little animated gif and wait a few seconds before sending new users to the "Yay, your blog is created! page". Users were far more satisfied with the new experience that took longer.

The next logical step would be to charge a little extra for the machine to operate in "Ultra-fast sorting mode", whereby all the built-in delays are removed.

I wonder, as robots accomplish more and more of our daily tasks at super human speeds if we will also have to slow them down to reduce creepiness levels.

This seems very likely. The first example that sprung to mind (I don't know why) was a robot card dealer. I imagined it shuffling and dealing the cards in the blink of an eye, and my immediate emotional response is creepy and untrustworthy. Interesting.

Interesting. Have you got a source for this?

The story comes from a friend who was involved in the project. If you have any specific questions I would be happy to ask them on your behalf.

A quick google search returned a news item posted on the corporate website of Coinstar which claims the machine processes 600 coins per minute. They also have some general information about customer behavior on the page as well. http://www.coinstar.com/us/WebDocs/A3-2-2

I worked at a McDonalds where they had a machine to count the coins in the cash drawers. It was very quick, but not as fast as the larger machine the bank used. This was 25 years ago and I would not imagine they have gotten slower.

It was also quite expensive, but it saved minutes counting down a drawer at the end of a cashier's shift, and probably paid for itself in labor rather quickly (the cashier did not clock out until the drawer was counted).

I know a locksmith and he says exactly the same thing. If he has to open someone's front door he starts out with the lockpick keys and just fiddles around with them in the door for a while. Then he goes out to his van and brings in some other tools or cleaners and plays around for a while some more. Finally, he goes out to his van and gets the jiggler gun thingo and opens the door in 10 seconds.

The customer feels less ripped off, and the door is open. Win win.

Once when I locked myself out and needed a locksmith he went to do the same - started with the picks and I said "just use the gun, I don't mind" and the door was opened within the minute! They all do it I tells ya!

The gun does the exact same thing the picks do, only with less flexibility and more easily. I don't see why a locksmith who had picks handy already would have to run out to get the gun when you told him you didn't need the show. He should be able to scrape it with the proper pick regardless...

Although, I realise I'm probably just nitpicking.

As opposed to lockpicking, but they both involve putting on a show...


If someone is a skilled locksmith, it doesn't take much longer to do it by hand. Most doors and locks don't take much more than 30s to rake, and maybe a minute or two to pick. The pick gun is conceptually/mechanically the same as raking a lock, with the same limitations, but it requires no skill or practice in comparison (it's really a rake gun, not a pick gun, and can't defeat higher quality locks).

So as someone with some knowledge of the profession, I would tip a locksmith far more if they picked it by hand in display of skill and dedication than if they resorted to no-skill tools, especially since it will probably take the same amount of my time.

Most doors and locks don't take much more than 30s to rake, and maybe a minute or two to pick.

This is true of the pin-tumbler and wafer-tumbler locks that are common in the US, and for that matter there are plenty of "locked" US doors that can be opened with a credit card; but in places that have crime, pin-tumbler locks are fairly unusual, at least for the doors of houses and businesses.

I don't know about the US, but here in the UK the locksmithing trade has a huge problem with what they call drill merchants - 'locksmiths' who can't pick locks, but simply drill out the lock barrel and charge for a replacement. The trade absolutely loathes such operators, on the basis that they're destroying and replacing perfectly good locks and that they devalue the skills of locksmithing.

This anecdote has got me wondering that perhaps the drillers have more satisfied customers than real locksmiths. The driller makes a big noisy mess, gets covered in brass chips and fits a shiny new lock for only a bit more money than a professional charges to put a key in the lock and tap it with a little hammer for ten seconds.

The human mind is weird.

This is not a problem for the customers who just want their door open.

> for only a bit more money than a professional charges to put a key in the lock and tap it with a little hammer for ten seconds.

In America, people without locksmith licenses can't legally buy bumpkeys, sadly. If I had a problem that a locksmith could solve with a bumpkey, I'd be quite annoyed that my payment to him is essentially a government subsidy coming out of my pocket.

Seems quite legal to me. A quick google revealed you can buy the here (http://www.bumpkey.us) without any license. I could not find any mention that you had to be a locksmith to get a bump key set.

I think the legality of it is that you do not have it on you in public. I am not a lawyer though.

Posession of lockpicking tools is regulated at a state level, in some states its perfectly legal, in others it is not.

I have heard that postal regulations prohibit mailing lockpicking tools though. I have not specifically asked a postmaster or checked on this.

Not true, this depends upon your jurisdiction. Anyone wondering if it is legal where they live should check their state and local laws.

I've been told by locksmiths that lockpicking tools are illegal in my state, yet no one can point out where state law says this. Thats because its not illegal here. Locksmith isn't even a licensed profession here.

I've known people who have bought bumpkeys.

That said, it is not that hard to design a lock that cannot be opened with a bumpkey, and there are now some locks that are so designed.

Shouldn't we then also consider that payment to cover the value of the things that would have been stolen from you if any random thief could easily/cheaply get a bumpkey? Who knows how those balance out, but if we're going to count the costs we should count the benefits, too.

Burglars and those without concern for legality can already easily and cheaply get bumpkeys. Making them illegal only keeps law-abiding citizens from getting them and using them legally.

This also ignores that it is trivial to make your own bump keys. I don't know why someone would buy one.

I think most burglars already know more efficient methods of entering your house than fiddling about trying to pick a lock...

I have had a funny experience with a locksmith, who wanted to drill a lock "it can't be picked." I called another (as I did not want the door drilled), which resulted in an ensuing argument between the two locksmiths, the second of which (a larger company), noted "this doesn't need to be drilled." I had to ask and physically intervene (just interposing myself) to ask the first man to leave.

This was in San Francisco, which apparently (alluded to below in comments) on the issue of..pseudo licensed / "driller" locksmith's.

I hate the fact that many times in large companies, or many other professions, that doing "well" "drags down" the mediocre employee's.

This is what happens when people don't know the right amount to pay (how often do you call a locksmith?), so what they do is measure what they should pay based on the effort taken by the provider.

When the provider is really fast, people feel like they were overcharged.

This would not happen with services that people have more experience with.

Also being faster doesn't always add value to the customer, but it does help the provider, so people are unwilling to pay for it. They figure if he's fast he can do more business per day.

(Obviously this depends on the situation, but if you wait for an hour for the locksmith to arrive, him taking 1 minute or 15 doesn't really matter much to you.)

"This is what happens when people don't know the right amount to pay (how often do you call a locksmith?), so what they do is measure what they should pay based on the effort taken by the provider."

Except for that putting on a show is the key to success in almost every industry, whether you're an author, entrepreneur, salesperson, financial analyst, doctor, grocery store, etc. In fact the only area I can think of where this isn't the case is in amateur sports, which is telling.

If I go to the grocery store and the cashier takes twice as long to ring me up as normal (all the while sweating and looking like he's trying very hard) I don't count it in favor of the cashier or the store. The reason is that I know how long it's supposed to take to ring me up, and this cashier is just bad at it.

On the other hand, I have very little understanding of how much time/effort is required by doctors and financial analysts, so I could easily be tricked by them.

That's not how grocery stores put on a show. They do it by doing things like spraying the vegetables with mist, even though it doesn't do anything to help them stay fresh. And by making the floors look immaculately clean even though whether or not the floors are scuffed up has zero to do with food safety. And of course Asian food stores do the exact opposite; they make their stores look cluttered and dirty on purpose, which signals to their customers that the staff is hard working and their food is fresh and cheap.

But that articles and ars's comment aren't about the general practice of vendors putting on a show. They are about the specific case of customers estimating value by perceived vendor's effort.

I suspect you would however pay more for the beef sliced by the 'butcher' behind the counter than you might for the same meat from the shelf.

Maybe not quite as universal as claimed by the OP but he definitely has a point.

The cashier doesn't add any value to your transaction -- he is just there is ensure the store gets your money.

I am willing to pay the sticker price for the groceries I pull off the shelf, not the cashier's skill in ringing them up.

I, and I think most people, factor the time it takes to check out into the price I'm willing to pay for goods. This is supported by the fact that grocery store managers will often stop whatever they are doing to open new checkout lines whenever they are getting full.

And yet I know people who refused to shop at WinCo because they didn't want to bag their own groceries despite it being significantly cheaper. So there is some value in the cashier/bagger.

A man asked an artist to paint him a fish. The artist agreed and told him to return in one year.

After the year passed, the man returned and requested his painting. As he watched, the artist produced a canvas and brushes and took five minutes to create the most beautiful painting he had ever seen.

"This is perfect," said the collector, as he looked at the still-drying fish, "but I must admit, I'm quite annoyed that you made me wait an entire year for something that very clearly took you only five minutes to produce!"

Wordlessly, the artist gestured to a nearby cabinet. The man opened it, and out poured thousands of sketches and studies of fish, more than he thought one person could produce in a lifetime, much less 365 days.

He nodded in gratitude, and exited with his painting.

Is this story originally by Rémy Charlip in Arm in Arm?

I think the story is an expansion of a quip by the portrait artist Whistler: http://news.ycombinator.net/item?id=1716265

This reminds me of the old story...

A factory is completely shut down, costing its owner $100,000 per hour. An expert is brought in to get it up and running again. He walks around examining many machines, then pulls a screw driver out of his pocket, and adjusts one screw on one machine. The entire factory instantly starts running again.

"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" the plant manager exclaims, "Give me your bill."

The expert presents him with a bill for $10,000.

The plant manager, surprised by such a large bill for so little effort, asked for an itemized bill.

The itemized bill:

Turning a screw: $1

Knowing which screw to turn: $9,999

1) The factory owner should have been happy with the bill, given that it was what six minutes of downtime cost him.

2) "I have found the problem, the fix will cost $10,000. Should I proceed?"

Number 2 is a sticky wicket, of course, because what if turning the one screw doesn't fix the problem?

It's extremely likely in the computer/PC world that your first inclination doesn't fix the problem. Sometimes rebooting DOES fix the problem, and sometimes it doesn't. What then? Another $10,000 for the next attempt?

Clearly, if he KNEW that turning the one screw would fix the problem, it's a different case altogether, but I'm suggesting that it's rarely that cut and dry.

Then the customer doesn't have to pay. If you don't know what the problem is and aren't sure how much it's going to cost, you bill by the hour.

I've never in all my years had this problem. There never was something I couldn't fix, but there were plenty of things that took more time than I initially thought. I usually tell the client "it seems that I won't be able to complete the task in the time of the original estimation, do you want me to stop now and you don't have to pay, or do you want me to try for an extra 1-2 hours and get it fixed?"

People always seem to pick the latter, and I haven't had any unresolved problems or unsatisfied customers yet....

then pulls a screw driver out of his pocket, and adjusts one screw on one machine

There is also a Russian version of this story, but it is about an expert sysadmin who knew exactly which point on the server box had to be hit with a hammer to fix an issue.

Definitely. That story (or rather, the concept - as there are seemingly many variations on the story) was the first thing that came to mind when I read the article. Google "knowing where to tap" for (some) variations.

It's all about perception. I had a friend who used to run a restaurant in NYC. They used to get complaints every once in a while about the serving size for their wine by the glass.

The solution? Smaller glasses of course. Complaints dropped to zero.

Most wine glasses are supposed to be only half full. The shape of the glass is designed to enhance the scent and flavor of the wine. Filling it all the way to the top ruins the effect.

Adding white mocha and peppermint to your coffee ruins the effect too, but that doesn't mean it isn't profitable.

Sadly, wanting good things leads to a lot of stress, at least in the US. (Go to Target sometime. Is there anything there that you couldn't get a higher-quality version of on Amazon for less money? Nope.)

That seems incredibly counterintuitive though, and can't see the mechanism that explains it. In the locksmith's case, the mechanism is that clients believe the duration of the task is directly related to the effort, and they are willing to reward greater effort.

The mechanism is that human brains are really, really bad at judging volume. A small glass full to the brim looks like it has more than a large glass that's half full. Bars often use a related trick, which is tall thin shot glasses - they look like they have more, even if they have less, compared to wider glasses.

Or big-looking shot glasses that have thick walls and bottoms. the glass looks bigger, and it's full... must be more in it.

To the magical thinker, a small glass filled up has "more" wine in it than a large glass half-full.

This is why we should be eating off small plates at home and buying the small donuts instead of the regular sized one. You get more satisfaction for the same sized meal or equivalent satisfaction for a smaller one.

I admit to using smaller forks and smaller plates when I'm grabbing a quick meal for in front of the PC - makes the food look larger, and it's easier to handle, too.

Beyond just the magical thinker, I'd assume the restaurant didn't use both size glasses at the same time so no easily-available means for comparison existed.

... and can't see the mechanism that explains it

Expectations? If you put a big cup in front of me, I can expect you to fill half of it, fill it completely or anything in-between. If the glass is small, I expect you to fill it to the top, no uncertainty.

My girlfriend is a locksmith, and she talks about this all the time. One of the techs will go out on a call, show up, look at the lock and know they can open it in 5 seconds flat. But if they do that, the person will A) Be embarrassed it was so easy, B) annoyed that they have to pay so much for 5 seconds of work, and C) will not feel safe with that lock ever again. The combination of these three things makes them not want to pay the quoted amount, let alone tip or be happy about it.

So, they'll sit there jabbing at the lock with various pieces of metal, blow into it with compressed air (This does nothing. It's simply for show), or tap it lightly with their knuckles for about 5-10 minutes. Then "POP!" it comes open, and the client is SUPER GRATEFUL.

Normally I think someone misrepresenting their job would be bad, but in this case I can totally understand how a lot of customers would argue about paying $100 for a lockout (10pm at night, the tech has to get out of bed, put clothes on, get in his car, drive an hour, pick the lock, then drive an hour home) when it only took 5 seconds to open.

> C) will not feel safe with that lock ever again.

My pop-psychology spider sense tells me this is the important factor. People don't like to be made aware that their locks are actually useless. This unhappiness gets taken out on the locksmith, because he happens to be around. It's shooting the messenger, which is less than useless, but still very common. Conversely, putting on theatrics to open the lock makes people feel secure. A false sense of security, obviously, but one that results in better tips.

> People don't like to be made aware that their locks are actually useless.

They aren't useless. They raise the bar from "able to open a door" to "able to pick a lock or willing to break the door down". That cuts out like 99.9% of people on the planet (and a vast swath of actual criminals). That's a good deal for twenty bucks, even if the bar being raised is almost comically low.

What people don't like is paying for someone else to do something which appears trivial enough that anyone could do it. That it's a skill which takes time and practice to hone until the process looks that trivial is irrelevant, it looked too easy to need to pay someone else to do it.

The better you are at something, the less effort it looks like it took you, I'm sure every programmer here knows this. Designers have it even worse, the better a job they do, the less work it looks like it took.

Yeah, I'm definitely not arguing that. The point is that, at least when people don't critically think about something (which happens depressingly often), people neglect training and skill in evaluating the difficulty of tasks that appear easy.

I remember reading somewhere that one of the online tax preparation applications (Turbo Tax I think) actually has a superfluous "progress page" so that people will value/trust the results more.

EDIT: Found the source, http://businessofsoftware.org/video_09_dnorman.aspx

at 52:30

Don Norman discussing delays they put in some H&R block tax preparation software for the emotional benefit of the users.

I know how they feel. I have to do this for my software all the time.

Most of my products are "wizards" that generate code for advanced functions that my customers can then add into their websites.

Even though the generation process for most of them actually is very complex it's still nothing that the server can't perform in 10 ms. But people don't like that. So I always put in a spinning progress bar for 5-10 seconds and then they're happy.

This topic transcends Locksmithing, obviously. Being a faster programmer means people expect more in less time for less pay.

Yes, definitely. In systems administration, too, you become less valuable the better you are at your job. People only value "firefighting" and so the people who set up systems that don't need constant maintenance are penalized, while those who constantly make trouble are rewarded for their "heroics" ... even if they caused the problems to begin with.

Upper management neither knows nor cares to be informed, sadly.

You're certainly correct there, but they only value "firefighting" for a brief moment too. Unless you've been firefighting directly for upper management - they'll forget, or not even know of your effort shortly after it happens. You're only likely to get rewarded for efficiency in smaller companies where the management has enough technical knowledge to appreciate your efficiency.

have you seen acts_as_enterprisey http://agilewebdevelopment.com/plugins/acts_as_enterprisey ?

Quote: How does acts_as_enterprisey make webapp development look hard? Well, the only way your client can judge your app is by playing around with it. What better gives the feeling of heavy weights being lifted behind the scenes than slow response times? Exactly. That’s what acts_as_enterprisey does. So while your client clicks, …waits…, and then gets the page, you can blather on heroically about wrestling with clustered indexes, cache expiration strategies, n log n seek times, etc ad nauseam.

This is a big part of weaseling for the benefit of the customer.

Back when I was still working with customer project, I noticed an inverse relation with the required effort to do a feature and the effort customers think it requires. So, they'd ask for something "simple" which actually involved quite a lot of changes to the code. Or alternatively the customers could be almost hesitant to suggest some other change, already fearing it would cost them dozens or hundreds of hours while I could do in half a day.

First I did it honestly: the simple thing was finished in a day and the customer would first be baffled and then very soon asking for more of the same, possibly feeling they had been ripped off somehow. The difficult thing took its time and the customer was waiting and complaining all the time, while I re-established that what they asked was a big change eventhough they couldn't possibly see why without knowing the source code. And they were possibly feeling they had been ripped off somehow, again.

Then later I changed tactics. The customers were much more happy to wait for a week or two for the easy feature which I had already coded, probably the first day. Delivering on the next week still made me ahead of schedule because the customer had their internal expectations of a much greater effort. Conversely, I checked the truly difficult problem by simply explaining that I'll do "that easy thing" last because it's easy and I wanted to focus on the "that difficult effort" first. In reality I spent the time programming the other while I was supposed to be working on the other.

Now, the customer reaction was totally opposite. They were very happy to see that I went through all the effort to produce the "difficult" thing and even if it took a week or two (because I was coding the "easy" thing) to deliver, they were just pleased to even get that far. After all, the "difficult" task was probably nearly impossible so anything I could make to work was on the surplus side. As an added bonus, they appreciated that I could still throw in the "easy" feature (which I had been coding all the time), despite the efforts poured into the "difficult" feature.

Moral of the story: working from the customer's perceptions keeps the customer happy, even if the actuality will sing another song. Maybe it's because customers like to be right or maybe it's because human beings like to remain fixed on ideas and preconceptions.

If I was a locksmith, I'd probably spend around five minutes on opening each door, making it feel long, doing manual work, and possibly talking with the customer about that particular make of lock. Not because I wanted to rip off my customers but to give them something they paid for. I suspect that many would be happier to pay $100 for five minutes of hard, manual labor than $50 for applying an automatic device for one second.

(I don't think I would even end up doing fewer customers per day, either, you can waste five minutes in traffic very easily.)

I was thinking exactly the same thing.

Perhaps after a certain level of speed/competence, you should look to get paid on a per-project basis, and provide a summary of results instead of a summary of hours.

There's something to be said about the service feeling worth it. With a product you can game the feel, like extra weight in a remote. But with a service...

I worked for years as a bike messenger. There's some minor vocational mystery as with the locksmith, but clients generally understood that our job was dangerous and that we did it well. Still...the only time we saw a tip was when we got documents to an office just in the nick of time — too early lacked the drama. There's a perception of extra effort, which anyone appreciates when you're paying a professional to do something that's impossible for you but easy for them.

I had a consulting job a few years ago where I was replacing "the web guy" at a place that wasn't really a tech shop. My agreed upon time was 2 days per week at 8 hours per day at a flat day rate. I came in the first day, met with the department head and was given my first assignment: Upload this week's content to the website.

I got myself orientated with the internal document system and located the content to post. I then poked around a bit and found that their site was running MoveableType. I found the login information left by the previous employee and posted the content.

Start to finish time: about 20 minutes. I then went to find the department head to get the next assignment. I was met with "You're done already? (The person I replaced) would take 2 or 3 days to get everything up. Are you sure you didn't miss anything?"

I ended up taking the moral high road and explained that it was actually very simple work and my consulting time would be better spent training existing employees how to post the data themselves.

I sometimes think that was a foolish decision.

I read once about a custom bike builder from Japan (Panasonic I think it was) that offered millions of combinations and still managed to deliver the bikes the following day. People thought they were being had, so Panasonic started to let people wait 3 days before delivering.

The smart move would be to make people wait 3 days by default, and then charge a premium for "overnight construction".

I believe it was FedEx which does something like this. For 2 day delivery they stick the package in a storage room for a day, then put it into the normal 1 day delivery system. Which costs them more than 1 day delivery, but lets them sell to a broader market.

Price differentiation strikes again! I like the reversal on this one, though (that the cheaper product actually costs more to produce).

I think there is something to this. I used to lock myself out of the house all the time and end up calling a locksmith. A lot of the locksmiths didn't even bother with your typical rake/pry, they just jammed a gun like mechanism, hit a button, and about 1/10th of a second later the door opened. Others, though, dragged it out into a 2-3 minute exercise - and I was always wondering whether they were trying to justify their $150 3:00 AM surcharge.

It is hard to justify a $150 surcharge if you're using a tool that costs less than that (of course, knowing how to use the tool is a skill worth far more, but most people think it is as easy as putting it in the lock and pressing a button). I'm reminded of the apocryphal tale of the mechanic who, after some um-ing and ah-ing, hits the engine just once with a small hammer and fixes it. He presents his bill for $100, and is asked to justify it, so produces:

Hitting engine with hammer - $1 Knowing where to hit - $99

Similar story with Picasso... Some guy told Picasso he’d pay him to draw a picture on a napkin. Picasso whipped out a pen and banged out a sketch, handed it to the guy, and said, “One million dollars, please.” “A million dollars?” the guy exclaimed. “That only took you thirty seconds!” “Yes,” said Picasso. “But it took me fifty years to learn how to draw that in thirty seconds.

And fifty years to build up the social acceptance that his work has much value.

Picasso was one of few artists to have their work be of value during their lifetime, wasn't he?

He was the first (only?) artist to get an exhibition in the Louvre while he was still alive.

It didn't hurt that he lived for quite a while.

Dali was also quite popular in his lifetime, and possibly even less afraid of self-promotion.

How could I forget Dali, him of the famous chequebook!

Living quite a while seems to be as big a factor in gaining fame as an artist than anything else - this is also important to win a Nobel prize!

Skill? Really? I learned in about two hours how to use plain old picks well enough to open my Kwikset front door lock in 15 minutes. From everything I read, the gun is much simpler to use.

It's a skill I've never managed to crack (perhaps in part down to my very unsteady hands). From what I've read, a lot of people buy pick guns expecting them to be a one-button solution, and are disappointed to find they can't open locks with them without training and practice.

I will agree with you. I can only pick the standard Yale locks, but the gun is "insert, pull trigger, turn, done".

More so, owning a lock pick gun is often not legal in many areas, unless you are a licensed lock smith.

Even if it was legal it wouldn't help except for those special occasions where you forgot your key, but remembered to take the lock pick gun. :)

I've been thinking of leaving a minimal set of picks in the flowerpot by the door for that very reason. I can justify using them to a policeman or passer-by, but a less authorized entrant to my abode would have more trouble.

The $150 would essentially be a "3 a.m. delivery fee".

To be fair, those scraping pick guns don't take nearly as much skill as using the actual lockpicks...

Sure, but should the pick gun fail, your locksmith (hopefully!) can do it the old-fashioned way, too. And pick guns take a lot more skill than people think, they still require a skilled operator to be effective.

I agree with the former, but for the latter, scrubbing a lock isn't all that hard (it takes two or three tries with the pick and it's open), and I can't imagine the gun being harder than that. In fact, it's marketed as the easier way to scrub locks.

For those like me that had to Google it, "scrubbing" synonymous with "raking".

That depends on the lock, and your skills. I've never managed to get the hang of it personally, but I've seen others take to it like ducks to water.

I dunno, if you want me to come and help you out at 3am it's going to cost you. If you want to pay less, wait until morning.

There is an 'enterprisey' Ruby on Rails plugin that introduces random delays in your webapp. It turns out not to be a joke, after all. https://github.com/airblade/acts_as_enterprisey

Reminds me of the "speed-up loop" http://thedailywtf.com/Articles/The-Speedup-Loop.aspx

One of my previous employers understood this well (too well perhaps.) A customer needed automatic over-the-network synchronization of directories. It was implemented as a behemoth Windows application with a complicated GUI.

Nowadays I would implement it as a behemoth Linux application with an AJAX-abusing complicated web GUI :)

I'd add a cronjob to run Unison.

Rings true for programming also. My manager would think the task I completed was very simple if I got back to him within a day. But if I made noise on how difficult the task was and took a while to get it done, he would be more appreciative of my effort. This is especially true if the manager has weak technical background.

Yes. My father used to write encryption tools in the 80's. I remember when I was a kid he would tell me how much he got customers complaining that he was overcharging for software. Because it looked like something simple that completed the encryption and decryption really fast. So he added a few useless routines to delay the encryption on a timer just for it to take longer. And magically his costumers stopped complaining about overcharging.

Something to always remember when dealing with consumer products.

Sounds like what I've heard called a "speedup loop". In iteration 1 add sleep calls, and remove then in iteration 2 after the customer complains.

This was why the best job I ever had was working for a non-technical founder who had found himself doing a quite a lot of technical things on a day-to-day basis. He found even quite simple things like URL rewrites in Apache config very taxing - so when he hired me and I made all his problems go away very quickly he genuinely appreciated how hard I was working, even though it looked like I just sat there on Reddit all day.

The last time I called a locksmith they told me it would be 100 dollars over the phone. When he came out he told me it would be 400. It wasn't even a deadbolt just a regular front door.

I'm still mad about that.

was it one of these companies?


Wow good find. It sure sounds like it was.

Did you tell him to fuck off and that you'd call someone else?

I wish I had. It was a rental property and I had driven an hour to meet him there :-(

Oh ouch :( Then I guess your only recourse would be to tell him you'd only pay him the $100 you agreed upon, although I'm sure that wouldn't work if he told you about the increased cost before he unlocked the door.

Reminds me of a trade-show where we exhibited a new product about ten years ago. The product in question was designed from the ground-up for the real-time processing of very high resolution images. This entailed custom FPGA boards with gobs of custom and innovative Verilog code to make it all go. We also took pride in designing a very nice lightweight aluminum enclosure for the product. Price was about US $8,000. All up, about a year and a half of development time and a non-trivial financial investment.

The product was introduced at this trade-show and it was a success. However, of the hundreds of people I spoke to at the booth only one made a lasting impression that I remember ten years later. This Italian buyer comes over to get a demo. After a 20 minute presentation he asks for the price. Then he picks-up the unit and says: "8000 dollars! Why so light!".

He actually thought we were charging too much based on how light the thing was. Never mind that there was a year and a half of heavy-duty development behind it. He had a mental image of what an $8,000 product was supposed to weigh and that was the end of it.

We switched to heavier steel enclosures (cheaper too!). I couldn't count the number of times I heard people make comments about the weight corresponding in some way to the price of the product.

I've noticed the same thing with audio amplifiers. I just moved into a relatively small apartment, and have been shopping around for a compact stereo amplifier that apparently doesn't exist—good-sounding audio seems to exist in this weird market niche where the hugeness of the black metal box that used to house vacuum tubes and now is just ICs and empty space is a feature, not a bug.


I think there is still a need for higher quality audio hardware to be larger. My amplifier isn't that old (certainly not old enough for vacuum tubes) and I can assure you, there is not a lot of empty space. Power necessitates large transformers and capacitors, and produces more heat, all of which would be challenging in reducing size.

That said, while there aren't many high quality amplifiers with a smaller footprint, there are a few on the market much reduced in height that are still good quality.

The same goes for speakers. Generally quality requires size (although a lot of that is due to the increased volume that is expected to come with expense), but there are a few neat tricks to make small ones that buck the trend.

Sounds like this probably works in software too. I can imagine if someone pays for a software product online, that if the file is only 2MB big, he'd think he was ripped off.

Meanwhile, if the file is 100MB big, and takes a while to download, he'd feel satisfied that he got his money's worth.

Tangentially related, the heft of a power supply is a good rough indicator of its worth.

Some cars have a "continuously variable transmission" where, instead of shifting gears, it has a system that continuously varies the equivalent of the gear ratio.

Supposedly, people would complain that these felt "underpowered" because the engine noise would just increase in pitch gradually instead of revving up, pausing, and starting again at a lower pitch like a normal transmission with gears. So they doctored the CVT-based cars to make them sound like that.

Non technical managers are also guilty of this. An IT guy I knew would create the giant "system architecture proposal" binders; even for smaller requests. Heavy detailed beasts that had 500-1000 pages. His requests were always funded before any of the other IT staff who would just create a single page summary.

Funny part was that a significant portion of the binder would be things like all the associated RFCs in their entirety. Even pages of dilbert comics.

I locked myself out of my apartment so I called a locksmith company and got a quote for $100. The locksmith showed up and tried to pick it by doing nothing more than ramming a pick in and out for a couple minutes. Complete amateur. He eventually got it open by hammering a wedge into the door frame, leaving it a little bent. He then billed me $150; "it was harder than expected." "My door is open and I have my keys so I'll pay you what I was quoted." He proceeded to threaten me with police and lawyers until we agreed on $120. I have never had an interaction with a locksmith that didn't leave me sketched out. Presumably it's a regulated profession to protect us from the incompetent and shady yet it's full of them.

edit: I guess my point is that the locksmith profession is so screwed up that it's difficult to take too many lessons from them.

Suppose you'd called the police to report that the locksmith was trying to extort money from you. Do you suppose the situation would have improved?

I suspect that, stood in your own house with keys in hand, faced with an angry man with a wedge who has just broken your door open, the police might be persuaded to take your side...

I read somewhere that this is a useful trick for web apps - if the user gets a null result it can help to give them a tiny timeout - then they think that at least the computer tried to find some results.

I do it - when the site is using ajax I add a deliberate wait, especially for saves. I often do it for reads as well (depending on what it's doing).

I'm interested in the "do it yourself" mentality and its effect on these experiments. For example, I can probably pick a few types of locks with credit cards and I could probably recover files on my computer after a few google searches and some trial & error.

The less time an expert takes to perform an act, the more likely someone is to think that they could have done the job themselves with a minimal learning curve.

As a takeaway, if I owned a computer repair shop, should I tell everyone 5 days to increase their perceived utility even if a fix could potentially take two hours?

If you can can pick a lock with a credit card, that's a pretty shitty lock.

I can open many "Yale" locks (i.e. locks on a catch) with a credit card. My front door has a five lever deadlock, the standard for security. I can't open it without the key. (Bonus: it's also impossible to lock myself out)

Have you ever called a locksmith? Usually it's because you left your keys inside and you closed the door without realizing. When a door closes this way it doesn't matter what lock it sports: could be the best in the world but is still unlocked and easy to open. If it is not a credit card, is something slightly more sophisticated.

The price of a service is always dictated by competition. Obviously, there is not enough competition in the locksmith world.

I've found that almost all doors open with a business card, which bends around the corner. The only ones that don't open are the ones that fit the casing too well to squeeze in and manipulate the card through.

That trick has saved my friends' money on many occasions.

It comes down to expectations again.

I've recovered some seriously screwed up hard drives. I know the tools, I have the resources. I takes quite a bit of my time, plus I'm assuming some risk. I therefore now direct corporate data loss issues to a contracted data loss company who has proven to be reliable and efficient (and can handle situations I can't)

Sure, they charge more for it - but I don't look at it and say "That's BS, I could have done that myself" - because I have a logical reason as to why I'm choosing them.

Similarly, having dabbled in lockpicking, I would be the one tipping the locksmith for showing up in a hurry and not damaging my lock - but only because I understand the alternatives (everything from me breaking my house somewhere to a crappy locksmith making me wait to the point of just about breaking my house, to a crappy locksmith showing up and mangling my lock for good).

If you own a computer repair shop you should give people reasonable estimates as to how long it takes to fix their problem and endeavour to always deliver just short of that time - consistently. Over time your reputation for consistency and reliability is more important than short-term money. A simple job might be a simple 1 hour job - but you have other tasks as well, other customers, and you never know what complications might arise, so you have good reason to tell give a larger estimate. They'll be more than happy when you call htem the next day saying "something opened up, everything went fine, here you go."

Locksmiths are in a weird spot because they don't, I think, get a lot of repeat calls (or if htey do, those repeat callers aren't the ones who don't appreciate them.) Many people probably go through life never having engaged a locksmith, and having a guy show up with a little kit, spending 30 seconds opening your door at 2am and hten charging you $75might feel like a ripoff - but presumably you called him because you had no alternative. He didn't accidentally leave your keys in your house or lose them at the bar.

The headline saddened me, but then I red the article and it takes the locksmith only a moment! You can't really fault people for not comprehending how much training went into that and how much more expensive it could be if he broke the lock.

Dare I suggest he spend some time telling his customers about his time as an apprentice, the broken locks, and how long it took to get good. Then after that pick the lock. Educate your customers.

I'd imagine most people aren't in the mood to hear your life story while stuck out in the cold at 3 AM waiting to get inside.

This reminds me of a locksmith featured on BBC's Rogue Traders who is now sentenced to 4 years in prison after he was found guilty of defrauding customers since 2002.


Agree on a fixed fee before the lock is picked. Add that if the locksmith broke the lock, he would have to replace it out of his own pocket.

However, if the fee is higher than the price of the lock, why not break the lock yourself?

Presumably if you had the tools etc to do that with you, you also have your key.

A screwdriver and a hammer or simply kicking the door in. Replacing the lock can be cheaper than calling in a locksmith.

I've seen doors kicked in where it was the jamb that broke and not the lock. I think I'd rather call a locksmith...

I've never seen the lock break in this case. It's always the jam or the door.

If you've seen a fair few kick-ins, do you have an opinion on the effectiveness of kickstops?

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