Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

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.

Free stamps! Oh wait…

November 23rd, 2010

Free stamps! Oh wait...

I got this in the mail from Sierra Club today. The envelope was covered in uncanceled stamps. OMG free stamps! Oh wait…

FAKE stamps! Jerks.

Anti-radiation hysteria is endangering lives

September 22nd, 2010

Here in San Francisco, a group of anti-radiation activists is making headlines and creating a pointless debate about the “dangers” of radiation. Believing themselves to be white knights, they want to get rid of radio and cell phone towers to “protect” people from radiation.

The result? It’s more difficult to get a cell phone tower built in San Francisco than just about anywhere else. And now mobile phone service in San Francisco is horrible. There are dozens of spots in the city where coverage simply doesn’t exist. And all because of one group’s anti-science hysteria.

But here’s the kicker: the lack of coverage — not the radiation — is a threat to the public.

Why?

What if there was a car accident? Or a shooting? Without cell coverage, you either won’t be able to call 911 at all, or your call will drop.

In emergency situations, seconds count. Not being able to make a phone call can mean the difference between life and death.

Would you want to end up on a feeding tube, permanently paralyzed because some nutjob thinks cell phones are giving them cancer? Don’t let a fringe group’s anti-science fantasies cause real-world harm. Tell your politicians to say NO to these lunatics.

The truth about 9/11

April 2nd, 2010

After all the lies, the cover-ups, and the conspiracies, are you ready to look past the wool the government has pulled over your eyes and see for yourself?

Are you ready for the TRUTH about 9/11?

The

TRUTH

~

about

~

9/11

.

.

.

Here it is:

9/11 = 0.81818181 (etc)

Yup, that’s it. If you don’t believe me, try a calculator.

On Dane Cook’s “comedy” career

October 7th, 2009

The funny thing about Dane Cook is that he’s not funny.  This would be unremarkable were it not for his comedy albums, films, and TV specials.

How can a comedian who isn’t funny be so popular?

This was bothering me a while ago, but I’ve finally realized that every Cook fan I’d ever met was a frat guy. I think that explains it.

Here’s my screenplay of how Cook became famous. Imagine this happening in every dorm across the country.

INT. ROWDY FRAT HOUSE - NIGHT

   A party is taking place.  FRAT GUY is looking for action
   and SORORITY GIRL is bored and watching TV.  Dane Cook is on.
   SORORITY GIRL is staring at the screen.

           FRAT GUY approaches SORORITY GIRL.

                       FRAT GUY
           Hey, what's up?

                     SORORITY GIRL
                       (drinking)
           Watching Dane Cook.  He's funny!

                       FRAT GUY
                      (oblivious)
           Oh, yeah... um.  Dane Cook!  He's
           great.  Like that one thing he
           does, um...

                     SORORITY GIRL
           Could you hand me that beer?

                       FRAT GUY
                 (Hands her a beer and
                  sits next to her)
           Sure, here.

           She chugs the beer quickly.

                     SORORITY GIRL
           Ahh. Oh man.  Oh.  Hey.... you're
           so hot, I wanna **** *** **** ***
           ***!

   Sorority Girl smiles drunkenly and goes down out of the
   frame.  Frat Guy stretches and smiles in contentment.

INT. RECORD STORE - DAY

   In the comedy isle, FRAT GUY picks up every Dane Cook CD
   they have and puts it into his basket.

EXT. COLLEGE CAMPUS - DAY

   Outside a building, FRAT GUY is standing around waiting.
   SORORITY GIRL exits the door and he meets up with her.

                     FRAT GUY
           Hey, what's up?

                  SORORITY GIRL
                    (startled)
           Oh... uh.  Hi.  Not much.

                     FRAT GUY
           Hey, remember how you said you like
           Dane Cook?  Well I was just listening
           to his CDs and...

                  SORORITY GIRL
                   (confused)
           Dane who?  What are you talking about?

                   FRAT GUY
           I um... so you wanna...

                  SORORITY GIRL
                    (annoyed)
           Uh, I gotta go.

 

Makes sense? I hope so, because if that doesn’t explain Dane Cook, then I don’t know what does.

Newspaper industry: Part 2

September 16th, 2009

In a previous post, I had some very negative remarks about the news media.  In this rant, I went over some serious problems in today’s news reporting that I don’t feel are being addressed.

Despite some semi-constructive criticism at the end, I think it comes off as both weak and harsh at the same time.  The tone is a lot meaner than it should have been, and yet in many ways my complaints don’t go far enough.

Fortunately, via BoingBoing I was alerted to a similar posting by Dan Gillmore which says a lot of what I tried to say, only better.  Read his post here.

(No really.  Go read it.  Come back when you’re done!)

The key message of Gillmore’s post is that the news media has an important role in its community and a responsibility to maintain reporting quality standards.  Some of his points are more important than others.  I would argue that the online-only components (4 and 8 ) are actually the least critical; assuming the remaining suggetsions are actually put into play, links and online services are merely nice to have.  Whereas interpretations instead of copying quotes, aiding the community as a top priority, etc. are absolutely mandatory.

There is a simple conclusion to all of this: as a news organization, the responsibility to report the whole truth and nothing but the truth is key.  Telling us what someone said is good, but without fact checking, it’s irrelevant.  Our leaders bend the truth all the time, and if our news organizations don’t show us where reality ends and the distortion begins, then who will show us?

For now, it seems, nobody will.  What a shame.

Anger 2009

September 9th, 2009

Everywhere you look recently, people seem more angry than usual.  It’s not that we’re angry about something new — we’re all just letting the little things get blown out of proportion. We’re placing our anger where it doesn’t seem to fit.

We see it every day. On the road and on the street, people are getting into verbal confrontations over small mistakes. On the news, we see citizens yelling misguided and untrue talking points at their government representatives. The spitfire threads on the internet seems to be outpacing everything else (even porn) for the first time.

What is all this? Why is this happening?

My first hypothesis was that the echo chambers are getting louder. The obvious example is cable news networks, which sink to lower lows with every passing day. People watch these “news” networks to have their own opinions validated. It’s like fans of WWE wrestling yelling at one another to suppor their favorite wrestler. The key difference being that WWE matches are fake and don’t really matter, whereas decisions made by governments can have far-reaching implications on our dalies lives. But in both examples, people get mad when their “side” isn’t victorious.

Another example of the “echo chamber effect” is online. Again, we have political shouting games, with DailyKos, Drudge Report, etc. taking the little things out of proportion. But we also see this anger effect on personal blogs, celebrity gossip sites, and bastillions of stupidity like Encylopedia Dramatica or 4chan. It’s no different than the echo chambers on TV.

But the echo chamber effect hypothesis leaves a lot unexplained. These echo chambers have existed for a decade or more. Why are things getting so out of hand only now?

This line of thought lead to an interesting conversation the other day with an acquaintance of mine recently. I think we came up with a better answer:

Let’s assume I’m correct about the premise that people are more angry recently; this is difficult to prove (I’m not a psychologist or a statistician) but the observation seems correct. If that’s true, then what else could be causing the anger problem?

Answer: the recession.

And if you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Even if your job or school is doing fine, you know someone who has been affected. Probably more than one person. Things we took for granted are going away, like workplace benefits, low taxes, cheap public transportation, etc. Here in California, state parks are being shut down, college is becoming more expensive, and even the poison control hotline is in jeopardy.

A recession is something outside of our control, we can’t do anything about it. Most of us don’t even understand the cause. But we all feel the same helplessness.

Q: What do we do when we’re helpless?
A: We get angry.

In short: it’s the economy, stupid. We’re mad for a reason, and that reason is that our safeguards have failed us. Our government failed us. We all should have seen this coming and we all should have saved more, worked harder, and fought it off.

But getting angry at each other doesn’t help. Anger makes everyone’s life unpleasant.

I have a temporary solution — humor is the best medicine. To cure all this negativity, I propose laughing at our own perils and not taking ourselves too seriously. The recession is a tragedy; permanent or temporary, us humans have been laughing off our own personal tragedies for centuries.

Let’s take it gently, and remember that no matter how mad we are at the moment, we’re all humans in the end. You… me… everyone.  We can never forget that.

Newspaper industry

August 14th, 2009

There’s a lot of talk about how the newspaper industry is dying. And there’s some truth to this — NY Times is in debt, Seattle PI went out of business, etc. etc.

And yet we have more sources for our news than ever before: 24 hour news networks, blogs, Twitter…

Has our attention has shifted from newspapers to other forms of media?

It seems like the answer to this is a resounding YES. But unfortunately, we’ve made a terrible trade off.

Before we discuss this, let’s think of a few reasons about why having several local newspapers is a good idea:

  1. We need to see different informed views on a subject. One voice means there’s only two views: for or against. This is a bad place to be, because any sufficiently complex issue needs to be looked at from a variety of angles before a reasonable assessment should be made.
  2. We need to have good local news. Without a good local paper, who’s going to call out the mayor on stealing money from the city? Who’s going to tell us that our schools are failing too many kids? Without a local paper, our communities are lost in the dark. The local TV and radio news will never have the same depth as a solid local paper.
  3. We need real news. In a world of hype, angry yelling, and ignorant opinions, newspapers have managed to maintain a calm and informed voice, for the most part. Occasionally, newspapers even engage in reporting real news and conducting investigations. Imagine that!

So what’s wrong with the “new” news media? Why is it different than a newspaper?

  • 24 Hour News Networks. All you have to do is watch a few minutes of so-called “reporters” blathering on and on about nothing for hours on end on CNN. Then try watching Glen Beck and friends yelling on Fox. It’s easy to see that 24 hour news networks aren’t reporting anything new at all. It’s mostly reactions to news that was originally reported in a newspaper. Even local news shows do a better job at investigative reporting than the 24 hour networks (and that’s not saying much.)
  • Blogs. Likewise, blogs do very little reporting and mostly tend to be humor or angry yelling (think Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.) Those that do actual reporting have a narrow focus and only a handful of reporters. This is fine, but the idea doesn’t seem to scale. Blogs just don’t make enough money to be effective at covering an entire locale.
  • Twitter. And how about Twitter? Come on. Twitter is a way for ADHD celebrities to communicate with their ADHD fans. If something can be said in only 140 characters, it’s not new and therefore not worth saying to an audience.

Don’t get me wrong, the consumers of news are not entirely to blame. Sure, they should be demanding better news. We could (and should) all call up Glen Beck and Keith Olberman’s advertisers and tell them we won’t buy their products anymore. That would be a good start.

But the news media needs to make changes as well. The newspaper industry is to blame here as well. Newspapers are looking quite thin these days, and the content remaining is not up to par. To sell papers, they need to make some big changes, particularly in the face of their boisterous competition.

So what can the newspaper industry do?

  1. Do some actual reporting. This facet of running a newspaper seems to be lost on many. An opinion page is fine, but anything more than that and you run the risk of overshadowing your editorials with journalism. That said, the opinion page shouldn’t be a bunch of insane rants. If there are factual errors or obviousl problems with the reasoning, they simply should not be printed.
  2. Stop lying. Recently, Fox News was sued for reporting false information as news. Unfortunately, the ruling was in favor of Fox, because there’s no law against reporting false information. While we’ve all come to expect ridiculous lies from Fox, the newspaper business needs to hold itself to a much higher standard if they want to continue to command respect from their readers. But even at the NY Times, a reporter was fired for making up stories, and he wasn’t the only one. Who would trust a source who constantly lies to them? People stop subscribing when they’re lied to, and rightfully so.
  3. Investigate. When a newspaper reports on opinion polls and what someone said, it’s hardly newsworthy. Our world is filled with scandals, injustices, and other actual hard news. This is real journalism. Reporting on a car crash or whether babies should really be wearing diapers are not journalism. It’s that simple.
  4. Stop whining. Not a month goes by without a newspaper story about how nobody reads newspapers anymore. Maybe if the news reporters would do their job instead of whining constantly, they would get more readers. Crazy idea, huh? Must not be — the NY Times mentioned this idea in a story about (what else?) how nobody reads newspapers anymore. It’s time for the editors to tell their reporters to stop their whining.
  5. Get serious about the internet. Almost every newspaper has a website. But why? Most of them don’t make money or even have plans to make money on their website. The news organizations are stuck in the 1980′s, treating the internet like some exotic new thing instead of a real distribution format. If they have to charge for it, so be it. But the subscription model isn’t likely to work in a world of links and copy/paste. I’m not saying there’s a right answer to this. This is something the newspapers need to take a lot more seriously.

Conclusion: even though newspapers are becoming worse and worse, they’re still the best news source we have, by far. And they probably won’t get any better until the industry takes a good look in the mirror.

What a mess.