Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mythbuster Jamie Talks Tech Issues

Jamie from Mythbusters vented out in Popular Mechanics regarding some major issues most people grew accustomed to (and they shouldn't).

And I agree with him completely.
(And I take this oportunity to remind you yesterday's episode tested the myth: Can an airplane lift off from a conveyer belt running in the opposite direction?
I already knew the answer, but if you don't - or think you do but aren't sure - don't miss that out! ;)

Usability vs Complexity
It's true that sometimes complexity is unavoidable, or even desirable: A cellphone that can give you directions and the weather can be quite useful, but new features should never come at the expense of core functionality—the cellphone should still be able to make a call easily. That's why, as machines become more complicated, good interface design becomes more essential—you can't just keep adding buttons and menus.

Cordless tools and equipment—all with different kinds of battery packs and chargers.
In the MythBusters' workshop I have about 20 chargers and too many battery packs to count that still work but are totally useless. Why not design cordless tools with power packs in 6-volt modules? If designers need to increase the voltage, it's just a matter of adding another module. Logical, right?

I also want to be able to put one brand of battery in another brand of tool. After all, you don't buy a Chevy battery to start a Chevrolet.

Flashlights and other small electrical devices that run on exotic batteries.
I have a lovely little LED flashlight called the Fenix that puts out 1 watt, uses a single AA battery and lasts for months of use. If you look around, most similar flashlights on the market use lithium or other expensive batteries. The catch? Unless you need a high-intensity beam, they don't work any better or last any longer than mine does. I'd be happier if compact LED flashlights that require $13 batteries had never become so mainstream.

Cellphones that all come with different chargers and power-supply units.
How many times have you been totally shut down while away from your home or office because you can never find one of these puppies at a local shop? Miraculously, the industry appears to be working on a solution to this problem. The Open Mobile Terminal Platform ( is supported by a number of manufacturers that would like to see the micro USB become the stand­ard connector. It's too early to know if they will succeed; let's hope they do.

AV equipment that has different types of hookups and remote-control protocols.
These things drain too much brainpower and time. For instance, HDMI is considered the standard cable hookup for hi-def equipment, but it isn't fully compatible with other AV protocols, such as DVI, component or, for that matter, coaxial cable.

As for remote controls, there are standard “remote codes” but the system is horrible and unneces­sarily confusing. Changing it might lead to a system that doesn't accommodate older remotes. See what I mean? It can make your head spin.

Computer operating systems loaded with stuff I don't want and will never use.
In the tech world this phenomenon is known as “software bloat” or “feature bloat.” It's a well-documented problem and a frequent complaint about Windows OSs—Vista in particular. In addition to being buggy, the extra features tend to bog down your system by demanding more processing power and memory. Computer-makers: Don't load up operating systems with features and then make us sweat to figure out how to get rid of the fat.

Most features can be set up as options. Why not start with a computer loaded with basic stuff that works 100 percent of the time? Then, give us the option of adding the bells and whistles. There's another solution available to consumers: Switch to a Linux-based OS such as Ubuntu. Since most Linux OSs are free, there's no business reason to bloat up the system with feature frills.

And high-tech companies—stop messing with us on your treadmill of upgrades while making the old stuff obsolete. It may be that any software company that didn't routinely upgrade its product would go out of business. But what if the rest of the world worked this way? Oh, I lost a sock. I need to get a whole new wardrobe because the replacement sock is version 2.0.1, and the stores now only sell version 2.0.3.

Automobiles with obnoxious electronics.
There are all sorts of things that are being built into cars that are really bugging a lot of us. We all like new cars with technology that improves handling, speed, mileage, safety and comfort. Designers are working hard to deliver that kind of tech. But I don't like all the beeping and buzzing electronics that are being put into cars—and I know I'm not alone. When a car's electronic junk harasses me with beeps until I buckle up a seatbelt around a box I'm carrying on the passenger seat, then there's a problem. And why on earth can a car lock me in automati­cally? If I want to get out of my car quickly, darn it, I should be able to. We should have control over these things. If I want to be nagged by my car, I'll turn on a nag button.

Cars designed to make it tough to do maintenance.
One late-model sedan I worked on required the removal of a front wheel, plus a bunch of other stuff, just to replace the battery. These days, opening the hood of most cars is enough to give me a headache.

Batteries, filters, fuses and other parts that wear out or need to be serviced should be easily accessible. If the carmakers can install all those oh-so-convenient comfort controls, do they really need to make me do gymnastics to change the oil?

I could go on, but you get the point. We all know companies are in a race to find smarter, faster, slicker technology, but do they ­really want to pursue that goal at the expense of consumers? Can't we all just be friends and play nice?

To my mind, engineering is a high art, and it brings tears to my eyes to see it so disrespected at times by the marketing and legal departments of corporations. Ideally, form is supposed to follow function, and designing and manufacturing consumer products should be a collaborative process. Com­panies, it's time to wake up and pay attention to your engineers—and to your customers.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Amazon Store