January 12, 2005

10 Little Balls of Hate

by psu

Well, the Holiday Season is over, so let's get back to reality. Last week I gave you a sickeningly positive look at things that make my life bright. Here is the flip side.

My Car Radio

The car radio in the Chrysler Town and Country Limited is the single worst piece of human/machine interaction design that I have personally been subjected to in the last ten years. This is saying something, because I've used HP/UX in the last ten years. Some examples:

- The volume knob is your standard analog knob that controls a digital volume. But, there is no feedback about how high you are setting the volume, which can be annoying.

- If you are listening to the radio, to get to the CD player you hit a button labeled "Mode". If you are playing CDs, to get back to the radio you hit a button labeled "AM/FM". If you are playing a tape, to get back to the radio, you hit a button called "Eject". So, three modes, three buttons. And, they are all on different parts of the front panel.

- If you are listening to the radio, to change stations you hit the preset numbers. If are listening to CDs, to change the CD, you don't hit the radio preset numbers, you don't hit the CD numbers, you don't hit the seek button, you hit two of the FM station preset buttons that also have an up and down arrow on them. If you hit the buttons with the CD numbers on them, the disk ejects.


It's hard for me to imagine a customer service experience that is worse than that provided by the modern airline. This is very sad to me, since I really do love to travel. But, these days, even flying by myself with minimal baggage is about as enjoyable as a self-inflicted stomach wound. Add a few extra bags, children, and other incidentals, and just the overhead of getting on the plane is enough to make strong men contemplate suicide in the jetway.

Let's consider my most recent experience just getting through security. Here's what happened.

- We arrive at the security line, which is about 5 miles long.

- We wait 15 minutes to get right to the scanners. My wife uses a wheelchair, so the TSA lady says "come here to the wheelchair line" and shuttles us to a different line which is separated from the scanners by a glass wall. For some reason, she thinks that our toddler and I should go along.

- Because I am a dork, I think "that might be quicker!" and we scoot over.

- As we hit the wheelchair line, I am worried. It is not moving quickly, and I realize that the glass wall will keep me from getting bags into the scanner.

- It is taking 15 minutes to hand scan each wheelchair bound customer because once in the room, they have to take off all their coats, shoes, bags and so on, give them to the nice TSA person, who walks out into the crowd at the scanners, fights his way against traffic to the belt, puts the stuff on the belt in front of people who are now pretty irate, watch it go through, grab it again, and fight back to the hand scanning room.

- We finally get to the head of the line, and I have to take off all our bags, unpack the laptop, unpack all the jackets, get everything on the x-ray belt, take off my shoes, and then sit in the room for 10 minutes while everything goes through and they hand scan all of us plus the toddler, who doesn't really like the look of the wand.

- We get out of the room and put everything back together and I'm just about to step on the train, when the nice TSA person hands me my laptop which I had forgotten on the x-ray machine.

Result: Even though we arrived at the airport an hour and a half ahead of our flight time, no coffee, no snacks, no time to do anything but run to the gate as they board. This means that while we are sitting in a tin can at 35,000 feet for six hours we have to pay upwards of $10 for a snack that the food service people at a local high school would be ashamed to serve up.

There is no level of hate strong enough to capture exactly how I feel about airport security lines.

Using an iPod in the Car

The FM transmitters suck. The little tape doo-hickies are noisy and painful to use. It's a bad tradeoff. Also, it's hard to use the little iPod UI while driving. At least if you don't want to crash.

My Neurotic Dork Self

I got a shiny new Powerbook for work. I take it home, and where I used to get 4 bars of airport, now I only get 3. This bugs the hell out of me. I run all around the house trying to figure out how to get 4 bars like I used to get. I try to just turn off the signal strength meter, but this leaves a hole in my menu bar where 4 bars should be. I hate myself.

Broadcast Sports Television

It's not clear to me that there is any other endeavor where so many people work so hard to bring a product over the airwaves and into your home and fail so utterly to create content that is even at a tolerable level of quality. The sports broadcast seems to center around the notion that that broadcaster must constantly distract you from the fact that you are watching a sports event. The camera never stays still, the on-screen graphics are always changing and most importantly, there are sound effects synchronized with the moving camera and the dancing graphics. All of this, plus the announcers for whom English is apparently a second language.

The only thing you can say is that at least the sports content itself manages to transcend the crappy presentation. There is no other way I could have survived what FOX SPORTS does to baseball while I watched the Red Sox finally win one.

Save Points

The fact that save points are completely wrong is well known and well documented.

Here is a new twist: In the highly regarded game, Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando, you get to "continue points" every once in a while. The game allows you to save any time you want, but always brings you back at the most recent continue point if you die while playing. So, you have to play the same level over and over again because the camera didn't let you judge that lava jump quite right. If you quit the game and come back, the game puts you at the start of the level again, no matter how many continue points you have passed.

BUT, if you did make it past a continue point, the games does remember that you cleared that stage, so you don't have to fight the monsters again. In addition, it saves how many coins and other items you have collected. So, it basically saves everything except the 4 bytes of information it would need to remember where in the level you were located when you saved the game. This mechanism also allows you to collect an infinite amount of money, since you can save and restart between continue points and then go in and collect money over and over again.

The mind reels at how something like this made it past alpha testing.

Blister Pack

Since I stupidly acquired too much gaming hardware this Christmas, I've been dealing with packaging. I would like to officially go on record as recommending that the person who invented Blister Pack be retroactively killed by time traveling cyborgs.

Here we truly have a product that serves no one except the manufacturer. How can one justify putting product into a package that requires the user to completely destroy the package to get at the product? The best case is when the product is not only behind the blister pack, but also tied into the backing material with wire ties *and* has a cable of some sort (like in a game controller) which if destroyed renders the product useless. In these cases, you stand a good chance of destroying the thing you just bought just by opening the box it came in. Bravo. Brilliant. Kill them all.

Smooth Jazz

First you take what is arguably the greatest creative achievement in 20th century American Music and put it into a centrifuge to separate the soul of the music from its tasteless white liquid center. Then you package the tasteless center for mass consumption over distribution networks run by faceless conglomerates. What you get is the so called smooth jazz. This is great music to listen to if you have just had half of your frontal lobe removed, or if you want to make yourself suicidal. But it's not so useful for anything else.

Cell Phone Address Books

My current cell phone has this great feature. It wants me to organize all the phone numbers I have for a given person (home, cell, office, etc) in one address book entry. But it only allows me to speed dial one of them. No problem, I think, I'll just make another entry with the other number I want to dial. But this fails, because I can't enter the same number twice in the phone number database.

In other words, the morons who implemented this system built a database that is smart enough to separate address book entries from phone number entries in its main model, but they are not smart enough too allow a reference to a single phone number to exist in more than one address book entry because apparently they missed the lecture on foreign keys or simple pointers when they went to database school.

It's also not so great how the interface is inconsistent about when you have to tell it you are going to change a something by "editing it" and when you get to edit it directly.

It's also not so great how it takes 15 buttons pushes to find or change anything in the address book.

Don't tell me I should be syching this stuff with Outlook or whatever, because I already know that it won't work right and will waste my time.

Those Bar Code Stickers on CD and DVD Boxes

Here is another packaging item that serves no purpose but to piss you off. I mean, it's not like the bar code isn't already on the CD/DVD box somewhere. So, these stickers are completely redundant, but to make up for it, they make getting the CD take at least twice as long. No wonder Apple sold 200,000,000 downloads over the last couple of years.

I think the guy who invented this should be forced to challenge the blister pack guy to a two-up knife fight in a gas chamber.

Posted by psu at January 12, 2005 01:08 PM | Bookmark This

Have you tried this:


It's expensive, but it works well.

Posted by Xian Plus at January 12, 2005 02:07 PM

The top of my list? Lovingly spoksedroid-crafted, corporate-approved, and yet self-defeating reply emails from customer support departments.

The typical example starts off with a paragraph about how you, the Valued Customer, are Very Important and that the Big Company values your business and the questions in your original email and wants to Exceed Your Expectations. This paragraph is so well worded and delicately crafted that you almost, for a split second, think that you have found a Big Company that really does care.

But then reality comes crushing down as the next paragraph begins the parade of damning evidence against the claims of the first paragraph: "We are sorry that you are having problems with Y." What? My question was about X, not Y. Didn't you even read my email? "We take Y very seriously and want you to know that we understand your concerns." X! X, dammit! Not Y! "Our policy on Y is very clear... Blah. Blah. Blah."

And then the close, which attempts to complete the We-Care-About-You circle: "Thank you again for your questions about Y. We hope that we have resolved any concerns you may have had. Remember, our goal is to exceed your expectations with every transaction." Why, Thank you! You *did* exceed my expectations. Not only did I expect you to fail utterly to read and understand my email, but also I thought that your response would destroy my house. Because my house still stands, you have indeed *exceeded* my expectations. Thank you! Now, please, take my wallet.

Posted by Tom Moertel at January 12, 2005 03:04 PM

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