Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

Why it’s time to shut up about “wearable tech”

January 14th, 2014

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin Sports the New Google Glasses at Dinner in the Dark, a Benefit for the Foundation Fighting Blindness -- San Francisco, CA
(Photo by Thomas Hawk. License.)

 

Lately we’ve heard a lot about wearable tech. It’s said to be an exciting new product category that involves smartwatches, Google Glass, and perhaps fitness trackers.

But how many of the people talking about this future of wearable gadgets are wearing wristwatches, glasses, or contact lenses? And how many of them are wearing clothes and shoes made from fabrics that didn’t exist a century ago?

Wearable tech isn’t the future, it’s the present. Just because we don’t always think of elastic underwear or an old-timey wind up watch as “tech” doesn’t mean they aren’t.

So what are we really talking about when we discuss this seemingly inevitable rise of gadgets we strap to ourselves?

Essentially, we’re lumping together products designed to put on our bodies that are futuristic in the sense that they’re not very good yet. They all suffer from one or more of the following flaws:

  1. Uncomfortable
    Is Google Glass really something you’d be able to wear all day? And aren’t your fingers too fat for a smartwatch touch screen?
  2. Doesn’t work well
    Early digital watches required users to press a button to see the time. Existing analog watches didn’t have this problem. Most new products take years to get right.
  3. Not useful enough
    Microsoft launched a smartwatch called SPOT nearly ten years ago. It wasn’t on the market for long. Why? Most people at that time were buying cell phones that offered more features. It’s one thing to have an extra gadget (or ten) around the house that you don’t use, but the bar for usefulness is much higher if you have to put it on when you get up in the morning.
  4. Looks silly
    Would you wear a fake beard made out of colorful beads? While most people would have no problem wearing one on Halloween, on most days wearing something visible and unusual in public has a social stigma.

Point is, we need to stop talking about HUDs and newfangled computer watches as though they belong together. These are very different gadgets with discrete feature sets — and different problems to overcome.

Even as buzzwords go, wearable tech isn’t meaningful: it’s unnecessary, not descriptive, and even if it were it still wouldn’t be a product category in and of itself. It’s time to shut up about wearable tech and let this buzzword die.

16 reasons laws should include animated GIFs

September 15th, 2013

Image via Buzzfeed


 
Consider this for a moment: What do people enjoy reading these days?

If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that everyone wants listicles with animated GIFs. This is why Buzzfeed has an Alexa ranking of 221 whereas, let’s say The Atlantic, is ranked far lower at 1,868.

So why does our government keep producing longreads? Just look at the Obamacare bill; according to Wikipedia it’s 906 pages. And that’s nothing compared to all 73,954 pages of federal income tax laws. Who has time for that? We all have to pay taxes and take care of our health, but you’d need superpowers to plow through all those documents on your own.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, a few of our first national laws were in listicle format. But somewhere along the way we got off track.

Next time you see your government representative tell them you’ve had enough of their lengthy manifestos. From now on you want simple laws you can read, preferably with lists and animated GIFs of cats falling off chairs.

Because that’s what everyone wants these days; after all it was enough to bait you into reading this post.

How to be a decent airplane passenger

November 9th, 2012

airplane

Look. I’ve been doing far too much airplane travel recently. Like most of us, I’m not traveling on private jets; I’m flying “economy” on commercial airlines. Airplanes, airports — it always sucks. At best, the experience isn’t complete bullshit. At worst, the stench of airline food will make you beg for death.

Here’s my advice on how to be a decent person throughout your air travels. If we all follow these simple rules, the entire airline experience will suck a lot less for everyone.

Follow along and take notes.

Security

  • The rules are usually posted all over the place, so don’t hold up the line because you forgot to take your shoes off or throw away your water bottle.
  • Yes the security can be demeaning in the United States. If you want to opt out of the scan, just say so. But you don’t need to be a dick about it to the employees. Harassing the security staff will make the other passengers think you’re an asshole — and they’ll be correct.

Boarding

  • Check in your luggage. Don’t be one of those carry-on abusers who brings a giant suitcase on board that takes up half an overhead bin.
  • You can board at any time after they call you row. So why rush to be the first one on? Unless you’re one of those aforementioned carry-on abusers, spending an extra 30 minutes on a stinky airplane isn’t an advantage. Don’t wait in line, just walk in when everyone else already sat down.

Sitting in coach

  • Squirming wildly the entire flight is not fair to the person behind you. Letting your child repeatedly kick the seat is not fair to the person in front of you. Don’t be a dick.
  • Here’s the rule for armrests: if you take one, you can use that space and no more. Armrests are not an excuse to elbow someone in the gut.
  • As for who gets which armrest, it’s simple: the person squeezed on the inside gets it. If there’s four people side by side, only the armrest in the center is in play.
  • If the person in front of you wants to lean back, that’s their call. Need the extra space? Tough luck, cheapass. You should have shelled out for extra space.
  • Does your baby scream and cry repeatedly for dozens of hours on end? If so, have the decency to cancel your flight. I’m sure your “family emergency” or whatever is important, but that doesn’t give you the right to make the next 10 hours of a bunch of stranger’s lives completely miserable.
  • Nothing wrong with talking to your neighbors, but being extremely chatty is obnoxious. I don’t need a 10 hour lecture on collecting flowers. Know when to STFU.

Video-on-demand

  • If you’re sitting next to a young child, you probably should think twice before watching Ultraviolent Sex Horror III.
  • If you sit there with the map open the entire flight, it’s like shouting “ARE WE THERE YET” the whole time.
  • For fuck’s sake, bring your own headphones. You won’t be able to hear anything with the piece of shit ones they hand out anyway.

Food and drink service

  • Bring your own. And you’d better eat before they start microwaving the airline food, because the entire plane is going to smell like rotten farts for the rest of the flight, and the bathroom will smell like death.
  • If you’re going to order a bunch of coffee or booze every time they offer it, take the extra five seconds to request an aisle seat. It’s the least you can do.

Bathroom

  • You went before getting on, right? Don’t be one of those dumbasses who does the “I have to pee” dance behind the food cart.
  • Just because the seat belt sign turned off doesn’t mean you have to go mob the bathrooms with everyone else. Have some restraint.

Landing

  • You know that whole “captain has turned off the seatbelt sign” thing? Follow it, or risk getting knocked on your ass. It’s there for a reason.
  • Just like boarding the plane, there’s no reason to be the first one off. If there’s no room to stand up, then don’t. Wait your turn.
  • Airplane seat pockets are not garbage cans. Leave a magazine here if you want, but not gum or burritos.

 
 
Photo by Wildhaber

It’s a trap! Why American bathrooms don’t smell awful

October 24th, 2012

Why European bathrooms stink

Above: a sink with no trap

 

Do you ever get up in the morning, head to the bathroom, take a nice deep breath and proclaim, “Gee, I’m sure glad my bathroom doesn’t smell like shit!”

Of course not. Because as an American, you live in a country where bathrooms only smell terrible after someone has recently defecated.

What you may not realize is that most of the world isn’t so lucky. In fact, even modern European countries have bathrooms that smell absolutely terrible at all times. The smell often noticeably makes its way to the rest of the building, and I say this as someone who’s hard of smelling.

So why is America different? IT’S A TRAP!

Ever since British plumbing guru Thomas Crapper invented the U-shaped “trap,” pretty much every sink drain in the US has used his design. Go look under a sink and see for yourself.

The purpose of this invention is to contain a small amount of water in the U section that air cannot escape through. This prevents foul gas from the sewers from rising into your house and making your bathroom stink.

For some reason in much of Europe, Mexico, etc. the trap never gained much traction. Instead, people prefer to save a couple bucks on plumbing (see above photo) and pretend that the disgusting sewer smell is normal.

There’s plenty of things I’ll never understand about the rest of the world. This is #1 on that list.

12.5 ounce Coke

October 18th, 2012

12.5 oz?

Ever had a 12 oz can of Coca-Cola and thought, “Gee, that was refreshing, but I could have used an extra 1/2 oz”?

If you said yes, they’ve got the product for you: a 12.5 oz bottle of Coke.

The same gas station with this sign also advertised a 16 oz bottle of Pepsi. Presumably that’s for people who need an extra four ounces, but don’t want to spring a standard 20 oz bottle.

The (not so) many covers of Woman’s World magazine

March 7th, 2012

Women's World Woman's World Woman's World Woman's World Women's World Woman's World

Ever heard of Women’s World magazine? If you’ve shopped at Safeway, the answer is yes.

But have you ever stopped and read the covers, week after week? The magazine’s frequently contradictory headlines seem too overt not to be intentional. Seeing the need to document this, I went to great lengths to occasionally photograph the magazine cover while in line at Safeway when I had my phone with me and bothered to think about it.

And now: the results of my painstaking research. All covers of Woman’s World magazine that I found contain the following top headlines:

  • Fad diets. Keep in mind this is a weekly magazine. The target audience can’t even stick to one fad for more than seven days. Weekly diet tips are frequently compared to a gastric bypass, as though a gastric bypass was already under consideration.
  • Sugary deserts. Promises of a desert recipe are on every cover. The deserts are described as “feel good” or “instant bliss.” Often the deserts are described as though they were intended for family members, but not always.

In conclusion, this magazine is aimed at women who don’t have an internal conflict between making sweet deserts and becoming dangerously obese.

One could argue that all impulse buys based on denial. But does it need to be spelled out in bold headlines?

Oh and Safeway: why suggest a gastric bypass to your customers while they’re checking out? Isn’t that a bit mean? Or at the very least, shooting yourself in the foot?


An open letter.


This is an open letter to whoever photoshopped this:

Woman's World: creepy lady

You’re fired. That’s right — fired.

Now I know I’m not your boss. That’s just how bad this is. Think of it like a citizen’s arrest but for public displays of incompetence. I don’t care if the original photo depicted the rotten corpse of a woman who’s face had been torn apart by wolves, because the result of your failure at photo editing is far worse.

So I hope you can understand why you’re fired. Now gather your things and get the hell out.

Why you SHOULD put your knives in the dishwasher

January 18th, 2012

If you listen to the so-called knife “experts,” they always give you the same two pieces of advice:

  1. Buy fancy, expensive knives
  2. Never put them in the dishwasher

The first point is of course, insane. That $250 knife at Williams-Sonoma can only do one thing: cut. And guess what? The $15 knife I bought at Safeway has the same feature. Look, if you’re an eye surgeon or something go ahead and spend the extra cash on knives for your operating room. But for your kitchen? Right, like you’ll be able to tell the difference. Give me a break.

The second point is very strange. No dishwasher? I didn’t spend $350 on a dishwasher to hand wash stuff. “But wait!” they say. “The dishwasher will RUIN YOUR KNIVES!!!!!”

To which I answer: so what? A dryer slowly will ruin your clothes but we all still use them. At best, the dishwasher might make your knives dull slightly faster. But that’s why knife sharpeners were invented. And even if my knives do get “ruined” by the dishwasher in the long run, I’m only out $15 per knife. No huge loss.

So there you have it: ignore the “experts” and throw all your knives in the dishwasher. You’ll save time and have the satisfaction of sticking it to the know-it-alls.

Why does the SF.gov iPhone app suck?

November 11th, 2011

SF.gov iOS app

UPDATE: As @hryx pointed out on Twitter, the app is called SF.gov but the website is actually sfgov.org. SF.gov isn’t a website. Even the name of the app is an exercise in failure!
 
 

Why does the SF.gov iPhone app suck? We live in a city filled with iOS software developers. Any of them could do a better job than this.

Look, I’m not that picky when it comes to software. But I’m not going to put up with your app if it’s slower than anything I’ve ever seen, buggy as hell, and haphazardly organized.

Let me explain.

Let’s start with those tab buttons at the bottom of the screen. Check the screenshot above.

When you press one of those, you probably think it will switch to the corresponding screen. That’s because you’re not the alcoholic middle school drop out who wrote this app.

No, instead one of the following happens when you press a tab button:

  • It will switch to the screen you pressed.
  • It will switch to the screen you pressed, but there will be a “loading” screen that has a few extra buttons at the top of the screen for a fraction of a second (I couldn’t read fast enough to see what they said.)
  • It won’t switch and will stay at the same screen.
  • Several screens will flash by rapidly, and eventually the screen will turn white and lock up. You’ll have to force quit the app.

You have to hand it to this application, it’s original — no other app has those bugs.

SF.gov iOS app: Services

The most useless tab is “services.” There’s only two options: calling 311, or a search box. The first option is self-explanatory. Strangely they don’t let you fill out a 311 report in the app; that requires a separate app that has completely different bugs.

The little search box gives no indication as to what it does. As you start typing into the box, titles appear below in a list. But you can only see two of them when the keyboard is open. You have to click the Done button to make the keyboard go away. If you skip that step and try to scroll the page, it will take you to the first page in the list. It’s not like you’re kind of busy when you’re using your phone to look up information. No, you have all the time in the world to tinker with UI glitches.

Whatever you click, it takes you to a mobile version of the SF.gov website. The browser is Safari, but for some reason it’s agonizingly slow. Fortunately there’s an unlabelled button which — as I discovered through trial and error — sends the page to Safari.

SF.gov iOS app: Connect

On the connect tab you can find Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube links for SF.gov and other city services. Each of these opens in the agonizingly slow version of Safari included in this app. None of this will help you get your car back after it got towed for too many street sweeping tickets, so don’t bother with this section. It’s largely links to irrelevant city press releases.

What’s more interesting is the photo at the top of this section. It seems to depict the last thing someone saw as their eyes closed and they died while waiting in line at City Hall. (Click the image above to see for yourself.)

In case you were wondering, the Updates, Media, and More sections are also just lists of links to websites. Why most/all of these links didn’t belong in “Services” or “Connect” is anyone’s guess. Like all the lists of things in this app, they don’t scroll smoothly but instead jerk around slowly.

Everything in this app suffers from the same basic problem: you shouldn’t get pregnant with your pet ape, give birth to the ape-man-baby out of your ass, buy it a Mac and then teach it programming so it can make an SF.gov app. That’s just not humane.

Has Safeway gone too far?

May 29th, 2011

IMG_2309 IMG_2310 IMG_2312

While trapped at the Market St. Safeway during the rainstorm today, I made a shocking discovery: Safeway carries not one, but THREE brands of frozen chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs.

Does this alarm anyone else?

Why do we need to make food shaped like extinct animals? Are there children out there somewhere who refuse to eat nuggets not shaped like dinosaurs? “No mom, I can’t eat this, it’s not shaped like a dinosaur.” Clearly, such a child needs to be loaded with ADHD medication and spanked repeatedly, not indulged in his absurd food preferences.

Sure, Safeway has four isle-long freezers, but there has to be a better way to fill them than this.

What do you think, has Safeway gone too far this time?

The Two Commandments

May 23rd, 2011

With all this “rapture” nonsense over the weekend, I thought it was a good time to re-visit a classic George Carlin bit in which he narrows the 10 commandments down to a much more reasonable number, simply by cutting out the crap.