GPS: Global Position, but no local time

April 11th, 2009

My GPS — a TomTom Go920 — is one of the most advanced GPS devices I have seen, tried, and had. It’s very good at showing me how to get places, the interface is — mostly — pretty straightforward, and it can do a lot more (like play MP3 music, even broadcast it over FM to the radio; store and show pictures; much more).

But. The most ridiculous thing about it:  how come a GPS, who always knows where it is, cannot tell that the local time has changed to (or from) daylight saving? My old Palm does it automatically. Most other modern — and not so modern — devices do too. Not the GPS.

Why can’t they get it right?

April 6th, 2009

My dishwasher — a modern Bosch model — is a wonderful piece of machinery. Almost. The one thing that has been driving me nuts since we got it is the beeping when a cycle is finished. Because the display is inside the door, you can’t see when it completes a cycle, so the manufacturer included a ‘feature’: the washer beeps. OK. But it doesn’t seem to stop beeping until you attend it, like a crying baby. Finally, a friend told me there is a way to shut it up. It’s in the manual. Except that the manual says “Press and hold the right Cancel/Drain button”. Sounds simple, but there is NO ‘Cancel/Drain’ button; there is ‘Cancel/Reset’ button. You’d say “so what’s the big deal?” My answer is, the big deal is whenever the instructions on the page and the facts ‘in the field’ don’t match, a typical user — and in particular one who is not too comfortable with technology — gets flustered: “is the ‘mapping’ from, say, Cancel/Drain to Cancel/Reset the right choice?”; “will I cause any damage by doing this (which appears to be different from what the instructions say)?”. There is no end to the possible confusion and frustration from such an apparently insignificant mismatch. Yet I keep running into these ‘slight’ (or not so slight) mismatches all the time. Why?

A friend once told me of a situation in which the company he was working for had to present some preliminary information about a project to some Japanese clients. At some point during the presentation, the Japanese got up and left the room without saying a thing. It was difficult to get them back in, and when finally they yielded they explained what made them so upset. They discovered a typo in one of the slides. “If you guys can’t make sure that such simple stuff is done right, how can we trust you to get the complex stuff — the project — right?” Touche.

How fast can you be filing a form?

March 28th, 2009

Quoted from the Town of Andover, Massachusetts’ Real Estate Abatement form: “If [you are a mortgagee], your application must be filed between September 30 and October 1.” Let’s see, it’s 11:58 on September 30, 11:59, 12:00, 12:01 … oops, sorry, you missed the filing window.

Do as I say, or as I do?

September 29th, 2008

I bought a patio umbrella, a 6′ x 9′ rectangular one. Inside the box I found a piece of paper, like a ‘user manual’. There, you are strongly advised to use an umbrella base to make sure the thing stays stable. Further, the specifications state that for safety,  the base should have a minimum weight of 50 lbs. Next to the manual, I also found a little card advertising the other members of their patio furniture collection, including an umbrella base. So I went online to look up that base. I found it. Looked at the specifications: it weighs only 27 lbs.

Commonwealth common logic

March 6th, 2008

If you have a Massachusetts corporation you are required to file an Annual Report. This is mostly a formality, and an opportunity for the state to collect a fee. The annual fee for an S-corporation is $125; for a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) it is $500. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts provides a Web site (accessible from the Secretary of the Commonwealth page) where you can file your annual report electronically. It makes a lot of sense for all parties involved: it’s much easier to log in, fill out the two or three Web-based forms, enter a credit card number, get a confirmation and be done with it. I am sure it is much easier for The Commonwealth too, much easier than getting a form and a check, which need to be entered and dealt with by a person. Even the Commonwealth recognizes this — sort of. It positively encourages you to file your S-Corp Annual Report online, by offering an online filing fee discount, $109 instead of $125. Somehow, though, it hasn’t recognized the same benefits for LLCs; if you choose to file your LLC Annual Report online, you do not get a discount on the $500 fee, you actually get a negative discount in the form of an extra $20 online filing service fee. Why? Aren’t the benefits of online filing the same for S-Corps and LLCs? Or maybe it is still being debated by the various branches of the Commonwealth’s bureaucracy.

Apple design

March 6th, 2008

Almost everybody will credit Apple for great design. Their products look great and are mostly advanced. And, while I refuse to follow them — or anyone — religiously, I mostly prefer the Mac to Windows.

But, that doesn’t mean they are flawless. There are four Apple laptops in our family. Someone at Apple determined at some point that the plug of the power adapter — the one that goes into the computer — needs to have a protective cap. It makes sense, especially in the older models, in which there is a protruding, skinny wire, which could be damaged if hit. (It is another question why Apple needs to have a completely different connector than most other products, but that’s for another time to discuss.) The problem is, the cap is small, clear, and unattached. In other words, an invitation to be lost. Now, if it isn’t important to have a cap, then why have it? But since it seems like it is important, why not attach it so it can’t “walk away”? Apple wouldn’t even have to invent such contraption; their desktops come with exactly that for several wires and connectors. Go figure.


February 29th, 2008

What is this with the ALL CAP DISEASE? Numerous studies have shown that all cap text takes longer to read and much (up to twice) longer to comprehend as compared to mixed capitalized text, not to mention the headaches one gets from reading it in large quantities. Yet, in virtually all cases in which you need to be able to gobble the information very quickly, you get it in ALL CAP. Examples:

  1. Closed Captions for the hearing impaired: they go fast, but you have to struggle with the ALL CAP;
  2. stock tickers;
  3. CNN news feed: it keeps moving, you are fighting to keep up;
  4. Many road signs, in particular the ones that want to alert you to something important, except you need to do it fast because you are driving, you cannot afford taking your eyes off the road for too long, plus you need to get the message quickly, before you passed it. No matter.

How to enter an area code in a touch tone phone?

February 29th, 2008

I decided to get a couple of corded phones to have around for more secure conversations, in case the batteries on the cordless phone die, and for quick testing purposes. I picked up a couple of GE ones with caller ID — for about $14.00 each; not too bad. Years ago, I remember, you needed to set up a caller ID phone so it can tell local vs. long distance incoming calls. I also remember that the process was counter intuitive — and that’s an understatement. But that was then, and this is now, or is it? Today,  the concept, meaning and importance of area codes is all but gone, pretty much all dialing is 10 digits, and there is far less concern about local vs. long distance calling. I expected, thus, the new phones to not bother with the area code setting. Not so. I also expected that the set up process — if required — would be a bit more intuitive than in the past. Wrong again. So what’s the problem? To enter an area code you need to enter three digits. What’s the most intuitive way to enter three digits in a touch tone phone? Right, punch them on the keypad. Too simple. To set up the caller ID in this genius design you press a button once, upon which a cursor starts blinking. You press another button as many times as the digits is (e.g., for 9 you punch that button nine times), when you have it right you press the previous button again and get the cursor to blink for the second digit. Press the next button seven times to get a 7, then go back and repeat for the third digit. In all, in for my area code I had to press buttons 27 times to enter three digits on a phone that has a numeric keypad. Where is the genius that came up with this design? I’d like a few minutes with him in a closed room.

Signs that don’t provide useful / usable information

February 29th, 2008

This happened a couple of weeks ago.  I was driving on I-95 North from Washington D.C. back home in Massachusetts. There are two tunnels that cross the Baltimore Harbor, the Harbor Tunnel (I-895) and the Fort McHenry Tunnel (I-695). Usually I prefer to take the Harbor Tunnel, it seems to be faster. But if I have reason to believe (or concrete information) that it will be congested, I’ll skip it and take the other one. In the past, it has saved me time and aggravation. This time, approaching the first tunnel, there are “information” signs informing us: “I-95 tunnel congestion, expect delays.” Great, now I know not to take the tunnel. But wait a second, which tunnel is the “I-95” tunnel? Both are along the I-95, the road to each tunnel has its own unique designation (I-895 and I-695, respectively), but that is NOT in the announcement. So I have to guess which one it is. The previous time I saw this sign I guessed right, this time I guessed wrong, and got stuck. And all because someone decided to skip one digit (or, probably, someone just didn’t think of the consequences of the bad information they were providing, which happens a lot).

The coins conundrum

February 29th, 2008

Why is it that in every country I can think of and recall its coins

  1. it is almost impossible to read the monetary value of a coin; and
  2. coins’ sizes do not reflect their relative monetary value?

For example, a nickel is larger and heavier than a dime. Go figure!