BlathrWayne Lorentz

Showing blathrs with the tag “Tech.”

Friday, November 25th, 2022 Alive 18,840 days

It's called a “tech stack” because of how easily it falls over.

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Whatʼs a DVD?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2022 Alive 18,830 days

An error message on the Netflix web site

Netflix is one of the largest media companies on the planet. If it canʼt keep its web site from eating itself, what chance do I have?

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Fluff and fold

Sunday, November 6th, 2022 Alive 18,821 days

The header from the Potter Country Storeʼs web site

While I appreciate the Potter Country Store being creative with its web site, I donʼt think a laundry basket is quite the right icon for a virtual shopping cart.

Unless they use laundry baskets to do their shopping in Schulenburg, Texas. You never know. People in Pennsylvania call shopping carts “buggies.”

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Itʼs the only way to be sure

Thursday, November 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,818 days

A screenshot of macOS offering an upgrade to macOS 13/Ventura

Upgrading macOS on a headless Mac is an iffy proposition. The last time I did this, I ended up nuking the whole machine and restoring from a backup.

If it works, Iʼll go across the street and buy a lottery ticket.

30 minutes later…

The macOS installer locked up before even starting.
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She just wants to help

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,817 days

Annie ignores the computerʼs “Rub out” button, and does it herself

Itʼs O.K., Annie. I have a button to do that.

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Yes, I mean no

Saturday, October 29th, 2022 Alive 18,813 days

The new checkmark control in Appleʼs Stocks program

Hereʼs an odd design choice. In macOS 13/Ventura, the Stocks program allows you to add a stock youʼre viewing to your watch list. To do that, you press the + button. To remove a stock from your watch list you press the checkmark button.

In my lifetime, a checkmark has always meant something along the lines of “yes” or “confirm” or something else affirmative. Using a check to remove something — an inherently negative action — is counterintuitive to me.

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Hold my place

Friday, October 28th, 2022 Alive 18,812 days

iPadOS 16 canʼt find an icon

iPadOS 16 may not be quite ready for prime time. At least not the part of it that only shows an icon placeholder graphic when you try to do math with it.

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Try a Clié

Thursday, October 27th, 2022 Alive 18,811 days

The University of Houston/Downtown web site

I know that Iʼm not perfect. I know that while I think my web sites work on every device, thereʼs probably a configuration out there on which they fall over. But the University of Houston/Downtown really has no excuse for this.

How is it possible for an organization to put out a public web site in 2022 that doesnʼt work on mobile phones? Itʼs bad enough that this page from UH/D is cut off on the right side, but there is no way to even scroll to the right to see whatʼs missing! And this is on a recent iPhone, not some obscure open source homebrew kit.

I preview every single web page I build for desktop, tablet, and two mobile phones. Every one. Sometimes dozens each week.

The University of Houston/Downtown brags that itʼs the second-largest university in Americaʼs fourth-largest city. Surely, someone on campus must have a smart phone to test with.

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How about “An unknown error occurred?”

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022 Alive 18,810 days

iOS gives an inscrutable error message

Thanks, iOS 16. Can you be a little more vague?

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Apple Maps FTW

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022 Alive 18,810 days

Store hours at CVS

The sign outside this CVS says the pharmacy opens at 7:00am. I showed up at 8:00am, because thatʼs when Apple Maps says the pharmacy opens. Guess which one is right?

Holy shit, itʼs Apple Maps!

I walked into the store at 7:57am, sat in a chair by the pharmacy, and the metal security shutters rolled up at exactly 8:00am. Score one for the massive tech company.

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Just call

Tuesday, October 25th, 2022 Alive 18,809 days

Conflicting information from Apple Maps

The Marberger Farm Antique Show is permanently closed, according to Apple Maps. Itʼs also open for business, according to Apple Maps.

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The ants got it

Tuesday, October 25th, 2022 Alive 18,809 days

macOS Software Update showing the emergency backup operating system icon

When something goes wrong and macOS canʼt find the correct icon for an operating system update, it uses a paper plate with “mac OS” written on it.

Now you know.

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Koop your money

Monday, October 17th, 2022 Alive 18,801 days

Amazon Music playing the wrong song

Another day, another technology that fails to live up to its billing. This is a familiar one: Amazon.com, and its Amazon Music service.

Today I tried to play the album Koop Islands by the band Koop. Except that I canʼt.

Whenever I press the play button on one of the album's songs, Amazon Music plays something other than the song I requested.

I clicked on Koopʼs song Come to Me and it played the song In the Morning by Natural Self.

I clicked on Koopʼs song Koop Island Blues and Amazon Music played the song Ode to Billie Joe by Nicola Conte.

If Amazon canʼt handle something as simple as playing music, maybe I shouldnʼt let it store my credit card information.

Amazon Music playing the wrong song again.
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Is it Svørjfunbsn already?

Monday, October 17th, 2022 Alive 18,801 days

A confused iPhone lock screen

Today is Monday, October 17. My iPhone wants to tell me that in several languages, all at once.

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Not Sony; the other M2

Saturday, October 15th, 2022 Alive 18,799 days

Progress bar from Handbrake

If youʼre able to rip a DVD at over 800 frames per second on a laptop, you may have an M2 MacBook Pro.

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“I shouldnʼtʼa done that”

Friday, October 14th, 2022 Alive 18,798 days

A tribute to actor Robbie Coltrane in the CARROT³ app

One of the problems with getting my news from newspapers is that occasionally, I get the news from the weather app.

“No good sitting worrying about it. Whatʼs coming will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.” — Hagrid
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Duckduckfail

Thursday, October 13th, 2022 Alive 18,797 days

Duckduckgo showing results for India, even though I searched for America

I guess that by “America,” Duckduckgo thinks I mean “India.”

Some day I hope to live in a world where search engines search for what I ask, and not for what they feel like showing me.

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Not yours. Canʼt has.

Tuesday, October 11th, 2022 Alive 18,795 days

Amazon Music stating that music that it can no longer play some music that it used to play

Streaming media is one of the many areas of technology that has failed to live up to its hype.

Streaming services use vague marketing words promising “unlimited” this and “endless” that. But the seldom-acknowledged fact is that if you rely on streaming music services, the music you love could just disappear tomorrow with no notice, or recourse. Thanks for the money, donʼt let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Just like how newspapers publish lists of whatʼs going to disappear from Netflix at the end of the month, streaming music also gains and loses music and artists regularly.

The screenshot above is Amazon Music telling me that it no longer has any songs by Comsat Angels. It knows Comsat Angels. It used to have Comsat Angels music. But not today. If you love Comsat Angels and give money to Amazon Music, youʼre out of luck.

Streaming music is the same thing as renting music. You donʼt own it. It can be taken away from you at any time.

Itʼs similar to when Microsoft abandoned its e-book store and millions of people lost the millions of books they thought they owned. A digital librarian sneaked into their homes in the middle of the night, emptied their shelves, and left behind a note reading, “Didnʼt you read page 640 of the EULA? You only rented these books. Sucker.”

This is all fine if all you care about is whatever is trendy over the last 48 hours. But people connect to books, movies, and especially music emotionally. Thatʼs why people create music. And to have those emotions yanked away from you is going to be hard on people once they realize that the things they once loved have disappeared and they didnʼt know it was going to happen.

As for the Comsat Angels, Iʼll hit the local record stores to find what Iʼm looking for. Then Iʼll own it. For real and forever.

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Mass hysteria

Monday, October 10th, 2022 Alive 18,794 days

A series of e-mails from Walgreens that I ignored until someone was at my front door

I spend too much time pointing out the shortcomings of modern technology. Thereʼs a reason that Tech and Fail are among my most populated blathr tags.

Today, however, Iʼd like to point out what, on the surface, looks like a tech success story. But at a deeper level is the success of a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer to adapt to changes in society in order to — literally — deliver better than a tech company did.

It started a couple of days ago, when I ordered something medical from Amazon.com. In general, I donʼt buy anything that goes on or in a living being from Amazon. Between counterfeits, people selling used items as new, and a constantly-growing list of other reasons, relying on Amazon just isnʼt safe anymore. When your company canʼt even prevent selling bogus copies of books, you have a problem.

In this case, however, I ordered from Amazon because the medical thing I needed was not available from any of the CVS or Walgreens stores that I can reach, and purchasing from Walmart meant waiting two to three weeks for delivery. Walmart used to be safer than Amazon, but has recently decided to trod the same road to unreliability by embracing unknown, unverified, and dubious independent sellers.

What Amazon delivered was clearly not suitable. Instead of being in branded packaging, the item was in a Zip-Loc bag. Legitimate medical items arenʼt packaged in consumer baggies. Legitimate medical items are also not labeled by hand in ball-point pen. And they also donʼt spill their contents during shipping, unless they are seriously mishandled. The box that the item arrived in was in fine shape, and the medical item sufficiently padded.

Exasperated, I went to the CVS web site to see if perhaps the item was back in stock my local store. The CVS web site would not function. So I tried Walgreens. Except, this time instead of specifying a store that I can get to easily by train, I let the Walgreens web site pick one. And it did a splendid job.

The item I needed was in stock at a Walgreens in an area I would never think to travel to. So I put two in my cart, selected “Same day delivery” and went back to reading my New York Times.

Before I could finish the International section, there was a guy dropping a paper bag on my doorstep.

I checked my e-mail and found that the time from when I placed my order online until Walgreens notified me that my order was ready to be delivered was four minutes. Four minutes. It was picked up minutes after that, and delivered to me straight away.

The total time from when I placed the order to when I received my Walgreens order was 22 minutes. For an item that I couldn't get at a drug store near me, and that Amazon sent a counterfeit of.

Yes, I had to pay $3.99 for the delivery. But the item was a dollar cheaper at Walgreens than at Amazon, and I ordered two of them. So the cost difference was $1.99. More importantly — I got what I paid for.

Walgreens is better than Amazon. Man bites dog. The sky is green. Everything the tech bubble has been preaching about the death of brick-and-mortar is wrong.

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376006

Monday, October 10th, 2022 Alive 18,794 days

A screenshot of the Microsoft Azure price calculator

The header graphic for Microsoft's Azure pricing calculator reads “HELLO.”

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Curiouser and curiouser

Monday, October 10th, 2022 Alive 18,794 days

An error message triggered by asking Microsoft to stop selling my personal information

Funny how Microsoft has no problem at all automatically opting me in to sharing my personal information with its “partners” within four seconds of me creating an account. But if I try to opt-out, it suddenly canʼt cope.

If a simple toggle of a button can bring Microsoft to its knees, why would I trust it with anything at all? Is this the power, resiliency, and scaleability of the masterful Azure “cloud” its always talking about?

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Your call is very important to us…

Monday, October 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,787 days

“This call is being recorded for quality assurance.”

Really? Me, too. Same reason.

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Recact-o-matic

Saturday, October 1st, 2022 Alive 18,785 days

H.E.B. notifying me that my groceries will arrive in 17 minutes

When H.E.B. says the grocery delivery person is 17 minutes away, thatʼs how I know he's standing outside my door unloading his cart. It's always exactly 17 minutes. I get the text message, look for the cat acting up, and can see the shadow of the delivery person outside my door.

Consistency is a good thing. And “consistently wrong” is a type of consistency, right?

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Marching on

Friday, September 30th, 2022 Alive 18,784 days

An x-ray backlight cabinet in a doctorʼs office

Since x-rays are all digital now, it looks like the old x-ray backlight cabinets are being repurposed as message boards.

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Break a leg!

Friday, September 30th, 2022 Alive 18,784 days

An error message from Houston Methodist Hospital's Epic system

Houston Methodist Hospital has eighty-brazillion dollars and ninty-brazillion employees. If it canʼt keep its webview from breaking a leg, what am I supposed to do?

Also, someone should fix that grammar. It's probably Epicʼs default, but that doesnʼt make it right.

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Thanks for nothing

Thursday, September 29th, 2022 Alive 18,783 days

Apple Maps showing me that the local American Express office is permanently closed

Dear Apple Maps,

Please stop showing me places that are “permanently closed.” I know the pandemic ruined everything. Youʼre not helping me find whatʼs left.

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Warm fuzzy logic

Wednesday, September 28th, 2022 Alive 18,782 days

A high temperature warning from my iPhone

It's nice that iOS 16 lets people know the phone is too hot when it does things. It used to do things, but not tell you.

When I lived in the desert, just having an iPhone in your pocket or on a table could sometimes cause the phone to turn itself off. If you were lucky, you'd see something very quickly appear on the screen about “Entering thermal shutdown” or some such. A minute later, you were out in the desert without a working phone.

Apple, and most tech companies, build their products for the environment where Apple, and most tech companies, are located — San Francisco. When I talk to tech people who work at these companies, sometimes they simply cannot wrap their brains around weather conditions that are commonplace elsewhere.

Another example is iPhone wired headphones. Theyʼre made with plastic that gets brittle in the cold. Of course, when youʼre bundled up against the cold is when you need your headphones the most. That was how I learned about Bluetooth headphones, and got a set of Sony headphones for use with my SonyEricsson M600c when commuting on the CTA in the middle of the night during Chicago winters. Apple wouldnʼt make its own wireless headphones until over a decade later.

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Still better than “John Rambo”

Tuesday, September 27th, 2022 Alive 18,781 days

Max Ice mode engaged on a KitchenAid refrigerator

“Max Ice” is my 80ʼs action hero stage name.

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Nerd alert!

Sunday, September 25th, 2022 Alive 18,779 days

My newly relabeled Harmony cartridge, hard at fun in my Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade

Today I decided to make a Sears-accurate label for my Harmony cart.

If you're not a retro video game nerd, some of those words may not make sense. To elucidate:

  • A Harmony Cartridge is a device that can be plugged into an 1970's-era Atari 2600 video game machine. Data files can then be loaded onto an SD card, and the SD card inserted into the Harmony cartridge so that you can play many different video games without having to swap cartridges all the time.
  • In the 1970's, Sears licensed the Atari 2600 and put out its own version, calling it the Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade. This is the machine that I own.
  • Sears also licensed Atari's video games for the machine, and sold them under its own Sears Tele-Games brand
  • Sears was notorious for changing the names of Atari games. Sometimes because the name that Atari chose for its 2600 game was the same as one that Sears used for an earlier video game machine. Sometimes just because. Sears was this massive company that built America's tallest building and had its own ZIP Code, so renaming a bunch of video games was no big deal.

The Harmony cart comes with a label that doesn't look like an Atari label, or a Sears label, so it kind of ruins the look of the machine. In fact, there's no label on the end at all. That's because that's where you jam the microSD card into the cart so you can play your games.

I found some fonts on the intarwebs and decided to teach myself a bit of Affinity Photo. The result is pretty good. It's far from perfect, mostly because I couldn't find a font that really matches the Sears font. Which makes sense, since Sears was a big enough company to have its own font artists.

On the left is a Sears Speedway II cartridge that my wife bought for me at the Charleston Antiques Market. In the middle is my invented label printed on plain paper. On the right is the new glossy label in situ.

Bauhaus appears to be the closest font, and there are hundreds of Bauhaus-inspired fonts available for free download on the internet. Sadly, most of them are corrupt, incomplete, or worse. It seems that the people who run free font web sites just copy files from one another, and don't bother to verify that the font actually works.

For the green text, I found a generic seven-segment-display-inspired font that's almost correct, except for the middle pointy bit of the capital M.

I printed out the label on glossy photo paper, which looks nice, but isn't truly accurate. To be accurate, it would be on matte label stock, sun faded, smeared with peanut butter, and have the corner peeled up a bit.

On the left is a Sears Speedway II cartridge. On the right is the new glossy end label on my Harmony cart.

Since Sears was in the habit of renaming so many games, I decided to change the name of my Harmony cart to "Super Multi-Cart." The name just popped into my head.

Because the microSD card sticks out of the end of the Harmony cart a bit, the label doesn't lay flat. I haven't decided how to address this. My options are:

  1. Use an X-Acto knife to cut a tiny square from the label for the SD card to poke through.
  2. Shave the plastic off of the end of the microSD card so it doesn't stick out so far. I'll have to look into if this can be done without ruining the electronics inside.

If you're into this sort of thing, here are the Affinity Photo label files I made, so you can print your own, or improve upon what I've done:

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Kern this

Saturday, September 24th, 2022 Alive 18,778 days

Ordinary human being: “What's the longest day of the year?”

Webdev: “In which font?”

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I have plenty of credentials

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022 Alive 18,776 days

A FortiClient error message with bad grammar

“Insufficient” means “not enough,” it doesnʼt mean wrong. “Incorrect” is closer to what FortiClient is trying to say. This is why tech companies should hire a proofreader for anything that leaves the building, even if only on a contract basis. It makes you look amateur, and in the case of this security app — insecure.

Also, if you use “credential(s),” rather than just counting the number of credentials and using the correct word, thatʼs just lazy.

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Ask what you mean

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022 Alive 18,776 days

Microsoft Teams asking how the call quality was

The call quality was awful. The organizer wasn't prepared, peopleʼs dogs kept barking, and I ran out of coffee. One star.

Oh, you mean how was the connection quality? Why didnʼt you ask that, Microsoft Teams?

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Still better than “Remington Steele”

Tuesday, September 20th, 2022 Alive 18,774 days

“Cache Update” is my 80ʼs action hero stage name.

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Still better than %NaN%

Saturday, September 17th, 2022 Alive 18,771 days

Bad data during iOS 16 setup

I guess someone on the iOS 16 team at Apple didnʼt check for NULL before shoving the date data into the string formatter. The lesson is, of course, that while you never trust external data, sometimes you can't trust internal data, either.

Still, Apple is the single largest company on the planet right now. If it canʼt do software, what chance do I have?

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Program it again, SAM

Thursday, September 15th, 2022 Alive 18,769 days

Creative Computing, May-June, 1978, page 28

SAM76 was one of many computer languages that came out in the 1970ʼs that promised to be the “next big thing,” but failed to gain traction.

It looks a bit like AP/L, with its tight syntax, but was meant for text manipulation like Lisp.

I haven't found a SAM76 interpreter to play with in 2022, so here's an example of what a SAM76 program would look like, from the May-June, 1978 issue of Creative Computing that would take a number from the terminal input, and uses recursion to print out the factorial of that number.

%dt,F,
!%ii,*,1,1,!%mu,*,%F,%su,*,1//////////=
%pt,F,*/=
%F,5,/=120

I'm no SAM76 expert, but I think there's a typo in this listing. I think the !%ii… is actually supposed to be !%is… to retrieve an “input string” from the terminal. But I'm happy to be proven wrong.

As you may have guessed from the ten slashes, this language is all about nesting commands. Amusingly, it doesn't matter how many slashes you close your expressions with, as long as it's enough. So just keep banging that slash key!

SAM76 is a great example of smart people dealing with the scarcity of their time. This is a language that has been optimized for teletypes, punch cards, and paper tape. The % isn't a command prompt, it's a command. (More specifically, a “warning character.”) The “mu” and “pt” and such are shortened, almost tokenized, keywords.

Sadly, there is no SAM76 entry on Wikipedia, and almost no information on the internet about it, so it will soon be erased from the public memory by search engines (*cough*Google*cough*) that choose to only show things currently trending in popular culture. Shakespeare, youʼre next.

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Agree, and be ignored

Thursday, September 15th, 2022 Alive 18,769 days

Screenshot of the ITV News app

The ITV News app does not allow you to reject cookies. Not even optional ones. The only choice you have is to agree to its folksy question “You ok [sic] with our use of cookies?”

Another screenshot from the FAILed ITV News app

But, wait — it gets worse. Even if you accept the cookies, all that happens is the over-friendly “Agreed!” button gets greyed out. You never actually get to proceed to the ITV News app.

As the Brits say, it's “not fit for purpose.”

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You did this to yourself

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022 Alive 18,768 days

Screenshot of Microsoft Word

…Now select “Hyperlink” … No, the other “Hyperlink” … No, the one with the control decoration indicating … No, the other one … No, just mouse over “Hyperlink” … No, the other one …

This is why Iʼm reluctant to help people through their Microsoft woes.

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Word to your motherboard

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022 Alive 18,767 days

Microsoft Outlook is telling me that there is a problem with Microsoft Word. I guess itʼs well-intentioned, but snitches get stitches.

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Delivery headache

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022 Alive 18,767 days

I tried to track my PillPack delivery. I got this error message.

I guess this is what happens when I rely on the same company that sells me plastic adhesive googlie eyes 👀 👀 👀 to deliver my prescriptions.

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Do what?

Monday, September 12th, 2022 Alive 18,766 days

This menu is beyond inscrutable.

There's a big push in large healthcare companies to make things easier for patients. It sounds dumb to have to state that, but there has not always been the institutional will to care for patients on their level. But a lot of studies and computer models have shown that something as simple as repeating instructions to a patient can improve the outcomes of treatment in a percentage of people. With so many people in the world now, even a small change can mean enormous savings in money for hospitals, insurance companies, and the patients, themselves.

Unfortunately, we're still at the beginning of the process of bringing the healthcare institutions down to the level of the people they are supposed to serve. The use of regular language and easy methods is spreading, but remains uneven.

To wit: The image above, which is the first question asked when trying to book an imaging appointment with Houston Methodist Hospital.

This is an online form for patients, not doctors. When a regular person phones Methodist to make an imaging appointment, it suggests you use this form to make the appointment online.

I am not a doctor. How am I supposed to know if I need an “MRI 1.5T Wide Bore with Contrast,” or an “MRI 3T without Contrast,”, or a “Fluoroscopy,” or something else? It turns out the type of appointment I need isn't even listed in the options.

As someone who builds healthcare web sites for a living, I understand the technical reasons why this is the way it is. But I also understand that it doesn't have to be this way.

There are people in healthcare who care quite a lot about making things easier, and therefore better, for patients. That caring and understanding rarely pervades and entire organization. But it has to.

What we see here is, in my semi-expert opinion, a breakdown in the chain of caring. Something got outsourced to an external company that doesn't have to care. Someone didn't get trained in the importance of making things easier for the patients, and let this awful thing see the light of day. Some web developer somewhere doesn't have the authority, confidence, or will to question what's been handed to him to produce. He's just there to push buttons and cash a check.

Every person at every level of a healthcare organization not only had to be told to care, but trained to care. Even, and especially, the directors and C-levels. The upper levels are told about how much money can be saved by making healthcare more accessible to ordinary people. But they aren't trained in what that actually looks like, so they are not able to spot mistakes as they're happening, so they can have the people under them correct the problems before they persist and spread. Allowing people to say “That's the way we've always done it” is evidence of a sclerotic organization.

Similarly, and as alluded to above, with the continual outsourcing of functions, you also end up outsourcing caring. Someone pasting together AJAX snippets from StackOverflow in an SalesForce application on the other side of the planet doesn't care that the web site is useless to 90% of users. They've done their job, and that's all their staffing company cares about. It's important to understand that lack of detail and care makes your healthcare company look bad, and it hurts your bottom line by making your treatments less effective, and making your doctors work more.

Everyone in a healthcare organization has to not only care about the patients, but be trained in this. Not just the hands-on people like doctors and nurses and patient liaisons. Everyone. The people who process forms. The people in accounting. And, yes, the I.T. people. Every single person in a healthcare organization affects patients in some way.

To its credit, of the dozens healthcare organizations I've interacted with in dozens of states, Methodist is among the better and more advanced with regard to how it treats its patients. But the process is incomplete.

Healthcare companies talk a lot about caring. But unless there is an ethos of responsibility to the patient that includes every single person in that organization, it's all just marketing.

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I understand that you understand

Friday, September 9th, 2022 Alive 18,763 days

Amazon.com chatbot in action

I'm not sure where the Amazon.com chatbot picked up the phrase “Thank you for understanding here.” But, inspired by its gratefulness, I think Iʼll understand “over there” next.

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Seattle, we have a problem

Friday, September 9th, 2022 Alive 18,763 days

An Amazon.com error message

With half a trillion dollars to work with, this still happens to Amazon.com. So, what chance do I have?

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Peesp!

Sunday, September 4th, 2022 Alive 18,758 days

Picture of a PlayStation Portable booting up.

I was digging the Halloween decorations out of the basement today, when I came across my old PSP gear. Joy!

Sonyʼs PlayStation Portable wasn't the first portable video game system I ever owned. I had the original Atari Lynx back in the 80ʼs. But the PSP brings back warm memories of a time in my life when I was more full of hope, and the world seemed to be filled with endless possibilities

I was in Japan in February of 2005, a couple of months after the PSPʼs launch, but two months before it became available in the rest of the world. My wife and I were riding on a subway in Tokyo when an OL (“office lady” — the female version of “salaryman”) sat down next to where I was standing. She pulled out a PSP and started playing ルミネス (“Lumines” in English). I was absolutely enthralled. I immediately said to Darcie, “Thatʼs what I'm bringing home from Japan.”

A game of ルミネス starting.

We were staying at the Keio Plaza Hotel, so as soon as it opened the next morning, I ran down the street to Yodobashi Camera searching for a PSP.

Yodobashi Camera is like the old Crazy Eddie electronics department store, except taking up a dozen floors of a skyscraper. If it runs on electricity, it's probably at Yodobashi. Anything from a Hello Kitty waffle maker to a household earthquake detector. From a refrigerator to a radiation monitor that you hang around your neck. From a transistor radio to the latest computer gear. If there was a PSP in Tokyo, I was sure I'd find it here.

Except that I didnʼt. Yodobashi was too much for me. Too many levels. Too much stuff. Precisely zero signs printed in English. I was over my head. Finally, I had to ask for help. A young man in an ill-fitting suit and an eager grin decided to take a chance with me.

A picture I took of Yodobashi Camera in 2016.

My Japanese is bad. Real bad. When weʼre in Japan, my wife is in her element. She handles the shopgirls, and drags me around like a wide-eyed toddler. But I was on my own this time.

I tried to communicate very clearly and plainly, “Video games?” Blank stare. I broke out my best non-regional radio voice and enunciated as clearly as I could: “Play-stay-shun Port-a-bull.” Nervous smile.

Finally, I resorted to pantomime. I held my hands out in front of me in loose vertical fists, and pumped my thumbs up and down like I was pressing buttons.

“Aaaaah! Peesp-o!”

With an expression of exuberant relief and a flourish of forearms and pointing palms, he guided me to a half-height white cabinet, bent over, slid back the glass door and popped up with a glossy white box.

“Peesp-o!”

With a hasty bow, he took off like jackrabbit down the warren of Panasonic boom boxes, Sony Cliés, and Sanyo voice recorders. His job was done, and he was happy to be done with me, and out of there.

That's why to this day, my wife and I call our video game machines “Peesps.”

Part of the opening video from the video game 首都高バトル.
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A meaningless milestone

Friday, September 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,756 days

Netflix says today marks one year since I've had Netflix. Which is not true. I've had Netflix for 24 years. But Netflix doesn't have a way to put an account on hold when you go on vacation, or move. Instead, you have to cancel your account, then sign up again when you come back home or arrive in your new place.

Amazingly, and much to its credit, when you sign up again, your Netflix queue is restored, and you're right where you left off. So I guess it's only ½ a fail.

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What did I just tell you?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2022 Alive 18,754 days

Every time I use Microsoft Windows, I manage to find another way it simply doesn't make sense to me.

In this example, I have instructed Microsoft Outlook to “Save All Attachments” from a particular e-mail message. Instead of saving all of the attachments, it pops up a modal window asking which attachments Iʼd like to save. Well, Iʼd like to save them all. Which is why I clicked on “Save All Attachments” and not “Save some, but I'm not sure which ones I might want, so why don't you stop me in the middle of my work instead of doing what I've instructed you to do.”

There would be no shame in Microsoft adding a “Save Some Attachments…” item to its already ample menu structure.

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Atlantic City can't get a break

Friday, August 19th, 2022 Alive 18,742 days

Looking for a fine collection of photos depicting Mozambique, Italy, Japan, and the Middle East? Just search Adobe Stock for “Atlantic City, New Jersey.”

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Touched by an angle

Friday, August 19th, 2022 Alive 18,742 days

Best use of these screens I've seen yet.

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Does not inspire confidence

Thursday, August 18th, 2022 Alive 18,741 days

Fidelity has 4½ trillion dollars ($4,500,000,000,000.00). If it canʼt make a web site work, what chance do I have?

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Coffee underachiever

Sunday, August 14th, 2022 Alive 18,737 days

A repair guy working on the super-duper high-tech coffee robot machine. Which is almost always broken.

The Costa Coffee machine at Whole Foods is broken. Again. I've been to this particular Whole Foods in Midtown Houston nine times. The coffee machine has only been online and functional once.

It's either bad timing for me, or a bad machine from Costa. Either way, it's bad news for Whole Foods.

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Failsourcing

Sunday, August 14th, 2022 Alive 18,737 days

Picture of a Chinese city in the Apple Maps entry for Midland, Texas

Crowdsourcing used to be all the rage in the tech industry. It was a way to get content for your project for free. Use your automation system to ask enough people for content, and some small percentage will happy oblige. The problem with crowdsourcing is quality control.

If you let anyone contribute anything, anyone will contribute anything. I once built a crowdsourced system for people to share photographs of landmarks. A significant percentage of the photos contributed were people standing in front of a camera holding up their resumes, presumably hoping that someone searching for a photo of the Berlin Wall might magically hire them to write code in India.

In the example above, we see the result of two levels of folly. Getty Images allows anyone to upload photographs to its system in order to sell those pictures to other people. That's the crowdsourcing. Then Apple outsourced photography for Apple Maps to a bunch of entities, including Wikipedia, TripAdvisor, and also Getty Images.

The result is a photo of a city in China among the photographs that are supposed to depict the West Texas city of Midland.

Never trust content you don't control.

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Whoops right back at'cha

Friday, August 12th, 2022 Alive 18,735 days

An error message starting with the header “Whoops!”

When your three-billion-dollar companyʼs error messages start with “Whoops!,” it does not inspire confidence in your three-billion-dollar company.

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Cleanup in aisle 500

Thursday, August 11th, 2022 Alive 18,734 days

An H.E.B. error message

H.E.B. has over 100,000 employees. Someone should get out and push.

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Iʼve fallen, and I canʼt get up

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

H.E.B. JSON payload

I sure hope Iʼve never broken a web site so badly that it starts squirting JSON all over the intarwebs.

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Performing stability

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

A list of meaningless status updates from eero

Vagueness is not a virtue. I can only imaging that the git commit history for Amazonʼs eero team looks like “Update,” “Update,” “Update,” “Update,” “Update.”

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Youʼre next

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

A floor-cleaning robot at Houston Hobby Airport

The tech nerd part of me that should think, ”Oh, cool! Hobby Airport has industrial-grade floor cleaning robots!” is outweighed by the human being in me who thinks, “Well, there's one more job that some person with low skills got kicked out of.”

Not everyone in the world has the mental or physical capability to do a mid-level or high-level job. But they still need a job, and deserve the dignity that comes with employment. In the 80ʼs the justification for turning jobs over to robots was that the newly unemployed could be re-trained to fix or run the robots. But in my experience, that's only rarely true.

The more I interact with people of all social strata, the more I realize that mopping floors in an airport is a really good job for some people. One they can be good at, and proud of. That will allow them to provide for themselves, and maybe even another person or two. Iʼm not currently convinced that we should automate the humanity out of society.

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No wonder boarding is so slow

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

A signboard at Midway Airport

Southwest Airlines encourages people to download its app for a “contactless day of travel.” You know what else is contactless? The way it was done up to now.

There's nothing about using an app that is more contactless than using a home-printed ticket, or even the old-style paper tickets. Both are read by a contactless scanner. It's not like the gate agent is going to lick your face because youʼre not using an app.

There are more disadvantages to using an app for your boarding pass than using a piece of paper:

  • Ask any janitor — people drop their phones in toilets all the time.
  • Restrooms, bars, restaurants, payment kiosks — there are a thousand ways to lose your phone in an airport.
  • Phones run out of battery.
  • Phone apps crash.
  • Phone apps malfunction.
  • Internet connectivity is required, but not guaranteed.
  • Internet connectivity in airports is notoriously slow and unreliable.
  • People run out of data on their mobile plans while waiting for their planes.
  • Screens time out and turn off just when someone gets to the gate agent. It happens constantly.

My observation waiting in line behind people using app-based boarding passes is that the paper passes scan more quickly, and more reliably than the phone-based equivalents.

The only reason to use an app-based boarding pass is if you enjoy forking over even more of your personal information to an airline so that it can sell that information to other people.

I am a paying passenger. I am not your recurring revenue stream.

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Still more productive than an agile standup

Sunday, August 7th, 2022 Alive 18,730 days

Ycombinator error

Hacker News is broken. Silicon Valley productivity up 63%.

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Laissez les bons temps spamer

Friday, August 5th, 2022 Alive 18,728 days

E-mail unsubscribe confirmation. Maybe.

This e-mail from the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority reads “You unsubscribed.” It also says “You will receive an email update when new information becomes available.”

So, am I unsubscribed, or am I going to receive e-mail updates?

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The <blink> tag lives!

Friday, August 5th, 2022 Alive 18,728 days

Me: “Man, remember how V.C.R.'s used to blink 12:00 all the time after the power went out? That was awful.”

My KitchenAid microwave oven: “Hold my beer...”

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Watching a storm >$brew.sh

Sunday, July 31st, 2022 Alive 18,723 days

An error message from the National Weather Serviceʼs web site

The National Weather Service has a budget of $1.2 billion. If it canʼt keep a web site from drowning, what chance do I have?

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Lazybones

Sunday, July 31st, 2022 Alive 18,723 days

The Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs Flag Capture, which was known as simply Capture

People forget how primitive video games were in the early years. For a very long time, the only way to start a game was to press the Restart button on the console. It would be years before anyone dreamed up the idea of starting or restarting a game by pressing a button on the controller thatʼs right there in the playerʼs hand. Itʼs so elementary that people today take for granted that itʼs always been that way.

In the early years of video games, there was no such thing as sitting back and relaxing while playing a game, unless it was something with no end, like the free draw mode in Surround. You had to reach out and touch the console every few minutes when the game ended.

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Smells like a white linnen sheet flapping in the breeze atop a grassy hill

Saturday, July 30th, 2022 Alive 18,722 days

My debit card, after a million tumbles in the dryer

I lost my debit card a month ago. I found it today, wedged under one of the fins in the dryer. That means it not only went through the washing machine, it went through about 30 dryer cycles.

The card still works. The chip is fine, and the mag stripe works OK on newer machines.

Do that with your fancy device with Apple Pay, or whatever Google is calling its wallet this week, and you know what happens? You walk home.

I see people on the internet all the time claiming that plastic cards and cash are things of the past, and no longer needed. Thatʼs only true if you never go anywhere interesting, never eat anywhere unusual, and never do laundry.

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Connection over sneakernet

Saturday, July 30th, 2022 Alive 18,722 days

The Chase United Guide to benefits

Iʼm supposed to have super-duper awesome benefits with United Airlines because I have a Chase credit card. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to see what those benefits are. Naturally, the link on the Chase web site was broken. It just looped though a login screen over and over.

Since Iʼm a paying customer, I moaned about it to Chaseʼs customer service.

I ended up booking my ticket on another airline, and forgot all about it until I got this in the the mail today. I guess someone at Chase figured it would be faster to mail me a book about the benefits than to fix the link.

I guess this ends up being a story about good customer service, because not only do I have the book, but I just checked, and the link is fixed, too.

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Can't get there from here

Friday, July 29th, 2022 Alive 18,721 days

Me: “Hey, Siri, stop the music.”

Siri: “Sorry, Wayne. I'm unable to stop.”

Really? It's only R.E.M. It's not like you can dance to it.

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Tools of the trade

Friday, July 29th, 2022 Alive 18,721 days

Scrappy tech startup in 1972:

Two guys in the basement of a college science building, working all night with tubes, relays, and transistors.

Scrappy tech startup in 1982:

Two guys in a garage, working all night wire-wrapping circuits.

Scrappy tech startup in 1992:

Two guys in a college dorm, working all night optimizing cross-platform compiler routines.

Scrappy tech startup in 2002:

Two guys in an anonymous strip mall, trying to cram their big idea through a 56 kilobit ASDL connection.

Scrappy tech startup in 2012:

Two guys in loft over a Thai restaurant in a hip arts district, cobbling together other people's JavaScript modules on local government grant money.

Scrappy tech startup in 2022:

Two guys on the 43rd floor of a bank building, bluffing their way through a PowerPoint in front of a bunch of V.C.'s.

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The stack, she has overflowed

Friday, July 29th, 2022 Alive 18,721 days

Screenshot of Stackoverflow error message 'The service is unavailable.'

Stackoverflow is broken. Silicon Valley grinds to a halt.

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Speak directly into the horn

Saturday, July 23rd, 2022 Alive 18,715 days

Me (to the HomePod three feet in front of me): “Hey, Siri, is it going to rain today?”

A different HomePod (three rooms away): “-mumble- -mumble- -mumble- -something- -mumble-

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They should call it ToiletTime

Sunday, July 17th, 2022 Alive 18,709 days

Screen time screenshot

Today, Siri informed me that I use my phone an average of 19 hours and 22 minutes per day. Either Siri is wrong, or I really need to eat more fiber.

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Tubes for noobs

Saturday, July 16th, 2022 Alive 18,708 days

Photograph of my TV

I finally got around to fixing up the over-the-air antenna hooked up to my TV. I re-scanned and found 121 channels.

Not all of the channels are great. But that's no different than the DirecTV service I have in my apartment, for which I am obligated to pay $80 a month. Except that the majority of the dross over the air is shopping channels and infomercials, while DirecTV seems to be 90% pornography, sports, and also shopping.

The important thing is that with the over-the-air antenna, I get The! Movies! Network!, and MeTV+. I've also discovered a channel that is mostly British and Australian DIY and lifestyle shows, like Escape to the Country, of which Darcie and have long been fans. Going to have to rev that $20 ATSC DVR into high gear for a while.

Here's a table of what I found, mostly for my own reference, and subject to change with a shift in the wind.

If you're viewing this on a mobile phone, you won't be able to see the table until you hold your phone horizontally. That's because tables look like absolute pants on phones.

Display channel Station ID Network Primary language Content
2-1KPRC-TV/HoustonKPRC-HDNBCEnglishVariety
2-2KPRC-TV/HoustonStartTVStartTVEnglishVariety
2-3KPRC-TV/HoustonH&IHeroes and IconsEnglishVariety
2-4KPRC-TV/HoustonDABLDablEnglishLifestyle
2-5KPRC-TV/HoustonGetTVGetTVEnglishVariety
3-1KBTX-TV/BryanKBTX-DTCBSEnglishVariety
3-2KBTX-TV/BryanKBTX-CWThe CWEnglishVariety
3-3KBTX-TV/BryanKBTX-™TelemundoSpanishVariety
3-4KBTX-TV/BryanGrioTheGrioEnglishVariety
11-4KHOU/HoustonTwistTwistEnglishLifestyle
11-11KHOU/HoustonKHOU-HDCBSEnglishVariety
13-1KTRK-TV/HoustonKTRK-HDABCEnglishVariety
13-2KTRK-TV/HoustonLOCALishLocalishEnglishLifestyle
13-3KTRK-TV/HoustonKTRK-D3This TVEnglishVariety
13-4KTRK-TV/HoustonQVCQVCEnglishShopping
14-1KETH-TV/HoustonTBN HDTrinity Broadcasting NetworkEnglishReligion
14-2KETH-TV/HoustoninspireTBN InspireEnglishReligion
14-3KETH-TV/HoustonSMILESmileEnglishReligion
14-4KETH-TV/HoustonEnlaceEnlaceSpanishReligion
20-1KTXH/HoustonKTXH DTMyNetworkTVEnglishVariety
20-2KTXH/HoustonMovies!Movies!EnglishMovies
20-3KTXH/HoustonTheGrioTheGrioEnglishVariety
20-4KTXH/HoustonBUZZRBuzzrEnglishGame shows
21-1KVQT-LD/HoustonNewsmx2Newsmax TVEnglishSpecialty
21-2KVQT-LD/HoustonRetroRetro TVEnglishVariety
21-3KVQT-LD/HoustonElohimElohimSpanishReligion
21-4KVQT-LD/HoustonClassicClassic Reruns TVEnglishVariety
21-5KVQT-LD/HoustonCristoCristo TVSpanishReligion
21-6KVQT-LD/HoustonH-landHeartlandEnglishLifestyle
21-7KVQT-LD/HoustonLife-VVidaVision NetworkSpanishReligion
21-8KVQT-LD/HoustonINTVEnglish
21-9KVQT-LD/HoustonBiz-TVBiz TelevisionEnglishTalk shows
21-10KVQT-LD/HoustonNowMTVNowMedia TVEnglish and SpanishVariety
21-11KVQT-LD/HoustonACEAmerican Classic EntertainmentEnglishVariety
21-12KVQT-LD/HoustonABTVABTVVietnameseVariety
21-13KVQT-LD/HoustonMBCMillennium Broadcasting ChannelEnglishAfrican
21-14KVQT-LD/HoustonLaTeleLaTeleSpanishMovies
21-15KVQT-LD/HoustonKVQT-15nonenonenone
22-1KLTJ/GalvestonKLTJ-DTDaystarEnglishReligion
22-2KLTJ/GalvestonKLTJ-ESDaystar EspañolSpanishReligion
26-1KRIV/HoustonKRIV DTFoxEnglishVariety
26-2KRIV/HoustonDecadesDecadesEnglishVariety
26-3KRIV/HoustonFOX WXFox WeatherEnglishWeather
27-1KQHO-LD/HoustonVietSkyVietSkyVietnameseShopping
27-2KQHO-LD/HoustonS.E.TSaigon Broadcasting Television NetworkVietnameseVariety
27-3KQHO-LD/HoustonFodd&FUFood and Fun TVVietnameseVariety
27-4KQHO-LD/HoustonVNBCVNBCVietnameseShopping
27-5KQHO-LD/HoustonVietmedVietmediaVietnameseVariety
27-6KQHO-LD/HoustonIVTVVTVVietnameseVariety
27-7KQHO-LD/HoustonAvailabVietnameseVariety
27-8KQHO-LD/HoustontheVGlobal Mall TVVietnameseShopping
27-9KQHO-LD/HoustonAWMAWM TVVietnameseVariety
27-10KQHO-LD/HoustonPeace and Happiness TelevisionVietnameseLifestyle
28-1KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDNovelisimaSpanishVariety
28-2KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDnoneEnglishInfomercials
28-3KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDShop LCEnglishShopping
28-4KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDMagnificent Movies NetworkEnglishMovies
28-5KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDnoneEnglishInfomercials
28-6KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDnoneEnglishInfomercials
28-7KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDClassic Reruns TVEnglishVariety
32-1KEHO-LD/HoustonKEHO-LDEnglishVariety
32-2KEHO-LD/HoustonKEHO-LDnonenonenone
32-3KEHO-LD/HoustonKEHO-LDnoneEnglishInfomercials
32-4KEHO-LD/HoustonKEHO-LDMagnificent Movies NetworkEnglishMovies
32-5KEHO-LD/HoustonKEHO-LDStadiumEnglishSports
32-6KEHO-LD/HoustonKEHO-LDShop LCEnglishShopping
32-7KEHO-LD/HoustonKEHO-LDEnglishVariety
34-1KUVM-CD/HoustonKUVM-CDLATVSpanish and EnglishVariety
34-2KUVM-CD/HoustonKUVM-CDEnglishVariety
34-3KUVM-CD/HoustonKUVM-CDMagnificent Movies NetworkEnglishMovies
34-4KUVM-CD/HoustonKUVM-CDnoneEnglishInfomercials
34-5KUVM-CD/HoustonKUVM-CDMagnificent Movies NetworkEnglishMovies
34-6KUVM-CD/HoustonKUVM-CDEnglishVariety
39-1KIAH/HoustonKIAH-DTThe CWEnglishVariety
39-5KIAH/HoustonCourtTVCourt TVEnglishLifestyle
45-1KXLN-DT/RosenbergKXLN-DTUnivisionSpanishVariety
45-2KXLN-DT/RosenbergUnimasUniMásSpanishVariety
45-3KXLN-DT/RosenbergMysteryIon MysteryEnglishLifestyle
45-4KXLN-DT/RosenbergNTDNew Tang Dynasty TelevisionChineseVariety
45-5KXLN-DT/RosenbergDIGI-TVDigi-TVEnglishVariety
46-1KBPX-LD/HoustonNuestraNuestra VisiónSpanishMovies
46-3KBPX-LD/HoustonNuduNu DuMont TelevisionEnglishVariety
46-4KBPX-LD/HoustonHeartlaHeartlandEnglishLifestyle
46-5KBPX-LD/HoustonGEBGEB NetworkEnglishReligion
47-1KTMD/GalvestonKTMD-HDTelemundoSpanishVariety
47-2KTMD/GalvestonEXITOSTeleXitosSpanishVariety
47-3KTMD/GalvestonNBCLXLXEnglishVariety
47-4KTMD/GalvestonCOZICozi TVEnglishVariety
47-5KTMD/GalvestonOXYGENOxygenEnglishLifestyle
49-1KPXB-TV/ConroeIONIon TelevisionEnglishVariety
49-2KPXB-TV/ConroeBounceBounceEnglishVariety
49-3KPXB-TV/ConroeCourtTVCourt TVEnglishLifestyle
49-4KPXB-TV/ConroeDefy TVDefy TVEnglishVariety
49-5KPXB-TV/ConroeLaffLaffEnglishComedy
49-6KPXB-TV/ConroeTruRealTrueRealEnglishVariety
49-7KPXB-TV/ConroeNEWSYNewsyEnglishNews
49-8KPXB-TV/ConroeHSNHome Shopping NetworkEnglishShopping
51-1KYAZ/KatyMeTVMeTVEnglishVariety
51-2KYAZ/KatyMeTV+MeTV+EnglishVariety
51-3KYAZ/KatyAztecaAzteca AméricaSpanishVariety
51-4KYAZ/KatyStoryStory TelevisionEnglishHistory
55-1KTBU/ConroeQuestQuestEnglishVariety
55-3KTBU/ConroeNacionNación TVSpanishReligion
57-1KUBE-TV/BaytownKUBE-TVShopHQEnglishShopping
57-2KUBE-TV/BaytownnonenoneEnglishplaceholder
57-3KUBE-TV/BaytownSBNSonLife Broadcasting NetworkEnglishReligion
57-4KUBE-TV/BaytownChargeCharge!EnglishVariety
57-5KUBE-TV/BaytownnoneEnglishInfomercials
57-6KUBE-TV/BaytownMi Raza TVMi Raza TVSpanishInfomercials
57-7KUBE-TV/BaytownCRTVnoneEnglishInfomercials
57-8KUBE-TV/BaytownJTVJewelry TelevisionEnglishShopping
57-9KUBE-TV/BaytownUChurchSpanishReligion
57-10KUBE-TV/BaytownAChurchThree Angels Broadcast NetworkSpanishReligion
57-11KUBE-TV/BaytownVieTVVieTVVietnameseVariety
61-1KZJL/HoustonEstrella TVSpanishVariety
61-2KZJL/HoustonKZJL-2Estrella NewsSpanishNews
61-3KZJL/HoustonEstrella DeportesSpanishSports
61-4KZJL/HoustonShopLCShop LCEnglishShopping
61-5KZJL/HoustonPOSI-TVPositivEnglishMovies
61-6KZJL/HoustonQVCQVCEnglishShopping
67-1KFTH-DT/AlvinKFTH-DTUniMásSpanishVariety
67-2KZJL/HoustonGetTVgetTVEnglishVariety
67-3KZJL/HoustonGRITGritEnglishWesterns
67-4KZJL/HoustonHSNHome Shopping NetworkEnglishShopping
67-5KZJL/HoustonKXLN-HDUnivisionSpanishVariety
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Support hosed

Saturday, July 16th, 2022 Alive 18,708 days

Citibank telling me to get stuffed

Today I learned from tech support at Citibank that Safari is not supported for “security reasons.” She recommended that I use the vastly less-secure Google Chrome browser, instead.

Good job, Citibank.

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United in failure

Saturday, July 16th, 2022 Alive 18,708 days

United Airlines not working

I sure wish I could book a flight on United Airlines. But for three days in two different browsers on two different computers, all I get when I search is this screen, which never changes.

Maybe American Airlines wants my money.

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Food for thought

Friday, July 15th, 2022 Alive 18,707 days

An H.E.B. error message

HEB made $31,000,000,000 last year. If it can't make a web site work, what chance do I have?

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High flyers

Sunday, July 10th, 2022 Alive 18,702 days

A flock of birds captured in an aerial photo on Apple Maps

Sometimes if I canʼt sleep, I like to scroll through Apple Maps and see what can be seen. On this particular night, I found a flock of birds near NASA. They look like egrets or something similar to me.

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Timeless

Friday, July 1st, 2022 Alive 18,693 days

macOS Montgomery installing very slowly

My headless M1 Mac Mini crashed hard, so I had to hook up a monitor and re-install macOS Monterrey, which after 30 minutes helpfully tells me, “About a minute remaining.”

And by “About a minute” it meant a little under three hours.

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A side of mystery

Friday, June 10th, 2022 Alive 18,672 days

Bad formatting on the Dominoʼs web site

Dominoʼs Pizza made four billion dollars in 2020. It should have enough people working on its web site to make sure the CAPTCHA doesn't overflow its container.

It also shouldnʼt use Google's reCAPTCHA service, but thatʼs a different bucket of plastic monkeys.

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Sick site

Friday, June 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,665 days

An error message from Houston Methodist Hospital

This is what happens when you try to let Houston Methodist know about an error on its web site.

Thatʼs one way to reduce customer service costs by 100%.

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Still better than “John McClane”

Wednesday, June 1st, 2022 Alive 18,663 days

Max Cool mode engaged on a KitchenAid refrigerator

“Max Cool” is my 80ʼs action hero stage name.

And I guess “Door Alarm” is my trusty sidekick.

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Well, add something!

Friday, May 27th, 2022 Alive 18,658 days

Bad string handling in the Amazon.com app

It seems that my choices are to:

  • Add a credit or debit card
  • Add a credit or debit card
  • Add a personal checking account
  • or add a personal checking account

Maybe Iʼll enter my personal financial information later, when Amazon.comʼs system is a little more stable.

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One ringy dingy…

Tuesday, May 24th, 2022 Alive 18,655 days

A woebegone payphone

I found a pay phone!

Using a pay phone requires three things that are increasingly scarce:

  1. A public payphone
  2. Coins
  3. Knowing the number of someone to call

There are still lots of payphones in the world, but theyʼre generally not on the streets where they can be easily noticed. Coins are so scarce that even banks have a hard time getting them. And while it used to be the case that most people knew a dozen or two phone numbers by heart, today they use a gadget to remember for them.

I understand why these things happen, but it seems like there should still be some kind of “infrastructure of last resort” for emergencies, misfortune, and those on the margins of society. New technology is great, but it still breaks too easily for us to rely on it enough in many situations.

❖ ❖ ❖

Time to get a different rain jacket

Monday, May 23rd, 2022 Alive 18,654 days

A picture of the outside of the 8th District police station in New Orleans, because you canʼt go inside a police station and expect to be able to take pictures anymore

The Eighth District police station in New Orleans has an unusual feature. Iʼve seen lots of police stations with gift shops and museums before. But inside the gift shop in this police station is a vending machine that spits out swag.

I slid my credit card through the reader, punched a button, and out popped a New Orleans Police Department ball cap. Very cool.

I think that many people donʼt know that the New Orleans P.D. sells hats, shirts, tote bags, and other branded items. At least it seems like the people who live in the Eighth District donʼt.

Early the next morning, I went to a bodega near Esplanade to get a newspaper. It was raining, so I wore my rain jacket, which is kinda-sorta safety yellow, and my new N.O.P.D. hat. There were some locals sitting around drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. The store was out of newspapers, so I asked if anyone knew where I could get one because none of the stores near my hotel had any.

“Near my hotel” let them know I was a tourist. But until then, they said they thought I was a cop. When I told them I got the hat out of a vending machine at the police station, they were not happy.

I can understand why they were upset. If I can unintentionally make people think Iʼm a police officer, imagine what someone could accomplish if they were actually trying.

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🎵Slow down🎵

Monday, May 16th, 2022 Alive 18,647 days

An Amazon Music error message

Part of the Amazon Music screen says “purchased.” Another part says I canʼt download the music I paid for.

Trying again in 15 minutes didnʼt change anything. Nor did trying again in 30 minutes, or 45. An hour after my purchase I got on the blower with Amazon customer service, and was told to wait 24 hours to download the music I paid for.

Thatʼs OK for me, because I'm patient. I was able to download the music when I tried a couple of days later. But isnʼt the whole point of Amazon Music that people are supposed to have immediate, unlimited access to their music?

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Citibonk

Saturday, May 7th, 2022 Alive 18,638 days

A citi.com error message

Citibank is the third-largest bank in the United States. It has almost two trillion dollars. Itʼs been around for 210 years.

And yet, it still canʼt make a web site that works. So what chance do I have?

Also, with two trillion dollars, youʼd think it could hire people who can write complete sentences.

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Citiborked

Saturday, May 7th, 2022 Alive 18,638 days

A citi.com error message

I think that the word “unexpected” is pretty high on the list of words you donʼt want to hear from your bank. It ranks right up there with “insolvent.”

Fortunately, Citibank is only the third-largest bank in America. Itʼs not like its web site is used for anything important.

If Citibank canʼt keep its web site from going all pear-shaped, what chance do I have?

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Donʼt worry, theyʼll get their money

Friday, April 15th, 2022 Alive 18,616 days

An error message on the Nevada Department of Taxation web site

Itʼs one thing for Facebook to have a hiccup every now and again. Nothing important ever happened on Facebook.

But when the Nevada Department of Taxationʼs web site upchucks on tax day, itʼs cause for concern.

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Keep your hands out of your pockets

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022 Alive 18,614 days

My iPhone telling me it helpfully called 911 on my behalf

Reason number 4,096 not to absent-mindedly push buttons on your iPhone while itʼs in your pocket.

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Button pusher

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022 Alive 18,613 days

A glitched iPhone screen

You know youʼre far away from home, when the seven Home buttons that control your lights and things go away on your iPhone.

It would be less disturbing for there to be a message like “Canʼt connect to your home right now,” rather than just making them disappear.

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Package deal

Saturday, April 9th, 2022 Alive 18,610 days

Abandoned packages from Amazon.com

Three packages for three different people dumped in a corner is actually not the worst Amazon.com delivery experience Iʼve seen lately.

At least these were inside a building, and not just dumped on a sidewalk outside a skyscraper in the middle of Americaʼs fourth-largest city.

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I thought they were working from home

Friday, March 4th, 2022 Alive 18,574 days

Amazon.com telling me itʼs too busy to take my money

Thereʼs a big backup at the floating bridge toll booth, so there are no Amazon.com employees available to take my order right now.

If Amazon.com canʼt keep its web site running, what chance do I have?

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Nice unlabeled action button

Saturday, February 12th, 2022 Alive 18,554 days

An error on the self-service point-of-sale machine at Shake Shack

The self-service ordering gizmo at Shake Shack canʼt cope with my hot dog order. Which I find a bit ironic, considering that Shake Shack started out as a hot dog stand.

This is what I get for using a computer to replace a personʼs job. Thereʼs a perfectly good human being ten feet away who can take my order if I wait 90 seconds, and my bag will never be out of sync.

Remember when technology was going to make our lives better?

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All the news that ℔Ωℹ︎ℌℑ℁℀… NO CARRIER

Wednesday, February 9th, 2022 Alive 18,551 days

An error message on one of the Houston Chronicle's web sites

One of my newspapers didnʼt come today. So I tried to let the Houston Chronicle know it has a problem. Naturally, since the conglomerate that ate Houstonʼs paper of record doesnʼt have customer service people on the weekend, I have to fill out a report online. And, naturally, the web site doesnʼt work.

Even if I had to wait on hold for a while to speak to someone about it, a human being could solve the problem immediately. Instead, I have to remember to call the newspaperʼs customer service people during the week to get credit for the missed delivery.

Remember when computers were going to make our lives better?

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Took you long enough

Friday, December 17th, 2021 Alive 18,497 days

My actual thought process this afternoon: “I should stop by the drug store on the way home. Oh, wait, my phone isnʼt charged. I wish I had some cash with me.”

I now understand that I am a slave to technology.

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A coupon by any other name…

Wednesday, December 8th, 2021 Alive 18,488 days

Itʼs funny how 20 years ago, giving someone a coupon for Christmas was considered really low-rent, and the sort of thing that grandmas on Welfare did.

Today we call it a “gift card” and itʼs all so magical!

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Wannabes

Monday, November 1st, 2021 Alive 18,451 days

The tech world in 2021:

  • Meta wants to be the new Google
  • Google wants to be the new Microsoft
  • Microsoft wants to be the new Oracle
  • Oracle wants to be the new IBM

Meanwhile,

  • Apple wants to be the new Sony
  • Amazon.com wants to be the new Sears

Nothing is new.

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Do Not Localize

Monday, November 1st, 2021 Alive 18,451 days

Botched localization in macOS

If Apple can't get localization right, what chance to the rest of us have?

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So, can I ride for free?

Saturday, October 30th, 2021 Alive 18,449 days

A broken Metro ticket machine

When it comes to transit hardware malfunctions, I guess itʼs better that the ticket machine fails than the train.

Although, I think I havenʼt seen a parity error in 30 years.

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Youʼre not my mom

Friday, October 29th, 2021 Alive 18,448 days

An iPhone telling me that Iʼm unsteady

I think this is Siriʼs passive-aggressive way of telling me Iʼm drunk.

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What did you do to your keys?

Thursday, October 28th, 2021 Alive 18,447 days

My new computer on the left, and my old computer on thr right

I got a new computer today. Itʼs hard to believe that Iʼve been using my old computer for (math… math… math…) eleven years.

That wee machine has been with me through a dozen homes and another dozen countries, from Turkey to Japan to exotic Canada. Iʼd miss it, if the new one wasnʼt so much better.

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Needs to perk up

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 Alive 18,439 days

The Costa Coffee machine at Whole Foods being repaired again

If you ever want to know what the inside of an automatic barista machine looks like, just head to Whole Foods in Midtown Houston. Thereʼs a good chance itʼs inner mechanism is open and available for you to examine.

Iʼm not sure how many times Iʼve been to this Whole Foods store — maybe a dozen times — and the coffee machine has never been working.

Every time I go, thereʼs a repairman busy tinkering with it. Which seems like quite a coincidence. Either Costa Coffee has an employee whose job is to repair this one machine full-time, or thereʼs something about me going to Whole Foods that causes the machine to kill itself.

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Sour Apple

Monday, October 18th, 2021 Alive 18,437 days

An error message from Apple

If the single largest technology company on the planet canʼt keep its web site from upchucking, what chance do I have?

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Dead tree edition

Monday, September 20th, 2021 Alive 18,409 days

An error message from The New York Times

If the largest newspaper in America canʼt keep its web site running, what chance do I have?

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Upper railing

Sunday, September 19th, 2021 Alive 18,408 days

An error message from The New York Times

The New York Times has “lost” this web page. I guess thatʼs not surprising, since it also lost my newspaper today.

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Just… wow

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021 Alive 18,391 days

A screenshot of the NJ Family Care web site

I think I have found the worst government web site on the planet: New Jersey Family Care.

Its many technical faults aside, it looks like something a kid whipped up in Geocities in the 1990ʼs, not something dealing with healthcare. And certainly not something that taxpayer dollars paid for.

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Stock poorly

Friday, August 13th, 2021 Alive 18,371 days

An error message from Stockwell

My apartment building has a Stockwell vending machine in the basement.

Unlike the vending machines of yore, this one is just an open cabinet with a camera that watches what you take off the shelves and uses magic A.I. fairies to send you a bill. That is, if it works. Which it doesnʼt.

I canʼt even get the Stockwell app to acknowledge that the Stockwell machine in my building exists.

I guess Iʼll spend my snack money at the convenience store across the street, instead. Where I can pay by cash, or credit card, or Apple Pay, or even food stamps if I had them. And if something goes wrong, there are intermittently friendly people to help me out, and not some Silicon Valley robot barking, “object has no attribute.”

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Ignorance is bliss

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021 Alive 18,369 days

An ominous message from iOS

This is what happens when you move from a state with a COVID notification app to a state that lacks a COVID notification app.

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Gettinʼ nothinʼ but static from Channel Z

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021 Alive 18,368 days

An error message from Netflix

Iʼm not happy that Netflix is borked. But at least the error message is creative.

But if Netflix canʼt keep its system running, what chance do I have?

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Signs of the times

Sunday, August 8th, 2021 Alive 18,366 days

Every electronic road sign in Nevada: “Keep Vegas open, get your shots now!”

Every electronic road sign in Arizona: “6.8 million doses administered so far. Get yours!”

Every electronic road sign in New Mexico: “Protect your family. Get your free COVID vaccine.”

Every electronic road sign in Texas: “Buckle up for safety!”

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Does it rock?

Saturday, August 7th, 2021 Alive 18,365 days

Sabbath mode on a KitchenAid oven

It turns out my new oven has a Sabbath mode. It also turns out to do the opposite of what I assumed it would.

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0xDEADBEEF

Thursday, August 5th, 2021 Alive 18,363 days

A malfunctioning gas pump

I have no idea how much I paid for gas. I think the credit price for Plus is “Burp.”

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On, Dasher

Thursday, August 5th, 2021 Alive 18,363 days

An error message from DoorDash

Not only did DoorDash eat itself, it canʼt even show a legible error message.

Itʼs like the DoubleFail Twins of delivery apps.

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No longer trying

Saturday, July 31st, 2021 Alive 18,358 days

A screenshot of a failed discussion with an Apple Card chatbot

When the Apple Card launched, it had the most amazing customer service.

Two years later, itʼs a smoldering pile of garbage.

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Friday, July 30th, 2021 Alive 18,357 days

An error message from Capital One

If I canʼt trust Capital One to run a web site, how can I trust it with my money?

Capital One failing at web development
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Errors all the way down

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021 Alive 18,347 days

An error message about Microsoft Error Reporting

Microsoft Office is so poorly programmed that even Microsoftʼs error reporting daemon crashes.

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This never happens at The Dime

Saturday, July 17th, 2021 Alive 18,344 days

An error message from Citibank

Citibank is broken today. But thatʼs OK. Itʼs not like 50 million people rely on Citibank for anything important.

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Cheaper than Google Cloud, more relianle than Microsoft Azure

Thursday, July 15th, 2021 Alive 18,342 days

Every ten years it seems like the tech world bring in a new batch of people who never bothered to study how things worked in previous decades, and thus end up not only reinventing the wheel, but hyping it up like itʼs the first time anyone ever thought of whatever it is theyʼre all excited about.

Timesharing → Thin clients → Web apps

Hypercard → Web sites

Brittanica → Encarta → Wikipedia

Q-Link → IRC → Second Life → Virtual reality

Rabbitjackʼs Casino → BetMGM

An ad for MicroNET in the February, 1980 issue of Byte magazine

Also not new: Cloud computing. Check out the highlights from this 1979 advertisement for MicroNET:

  • MicroNET allows the personal computer user access to… large computers, software and disc storage
  • You can use our powerful processors
  • Operating time [is] billed in minutes to your VISA or MasterCharge card
  • You can even sell software via MicroNET.

MicroNET was a way for CompuServe to allow people to use spare capacity on its big iron computers. People could upload their personal projects, conduct business, and even develop software using the might of dozens of machines thousands of times more powerful than what they could afford in their own homes. Maintenance, backups, power supply, networking, and other infrastructure details were abstracted away from the end user so the user could concentrate on the task at hand.

Sound familiar, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and a thousand other virtual machine companies?

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i18n_comment_snarky

Monday, June 28th, 2021 Alive 18,325 days

A failed attempt at communication from Microsoft

If Microsoft canʼt handle internationalization, what chance do the rest of us have?

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Loaded question

Sunday, June 27th, 2021 Alive 18,324 days

The New York Times app, with its pants around its ankles

The New York Times app sure knows how to load ads.

Too bad it doesnʼt know how to load the news that I pay for.

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♫ Weʼre the Bank of America… Whoa-oh! ♫

Monday, June 7th, 2021 Alive 18,304 days

An error message from Bank of America

With 200,000 employees, if Bank of America canʼt keep its web site from failing, what chance do I have?

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So swipe the other way

Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

A malfunctioning iPhone screen

I swiped up to unlock, and instead the screen sort-of half swiped left. The lock icon, the unlock instructions, the wallpaper, and a dark overlay moved left, revealing another copy of the wallpaper underneath. Meanwhile, the time, the music panel, and the quick keys stayed put.

Fortunately, all was solved ten seconds later when the phone shit itself and rebooted.

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A BASIC IDE

Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

An Atari BASIC Programming cartridge

I got a new Atari cart yesterday. Itʼs BASIC Programming.

While the word “BASIC” in the title is properly capitalized because it is an initialism for Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, the title would also work in sentence case as “Basic Programming,” because this is truly basic programming.

Lots of modern-day reviewers on the internet who are more interested in outrage clicks than thoughtful conversation deride this program as a farce or even a toy. I have the unpopular view that BASIC Programming is really quite good, both as a technical achievement and as a cultural change agent. It achieves a number of important goals:

  • Provided ordinary people with an introduction to programming
  • Provides a subset of the BASIC programming language
  • Has the ability to play musical notes
  • Has the ability to display rudimentary graphics

This is all elementary school stuff today. But when this cartridge came out in 1979, it was absolutely revolutionary. For $50, an Atari owner could get a taste of what it was like to actually program a computer. And while computers were starting to occasionally appear in well-to-do homes, they were still staggeringly uncommon, and cost about the same as a new car.

Joysticks and buttons in arcades gave wider society its first opportunity to command an electronic machine to do things. BASIC Programming gave Atari owners the ability to give an electronic machine sequences of commands, and to act on them. Moving a dot around a screen with a joystick had been done long ago through various electromechanical methods. But this was the first chance for ordinary people to actually command a machine to do more than just react to stimulus.

BASIC Programming in all its elementary beauty

BASIC Programming has a limited feature set, but itʼs still an integrated development environment, not fundamentally different from what computer programmers use today. One significant difference is that BASIC Programming managed to present a fully functional I.D.E. in a minuscule 2K of memory. Thatʼs about one sixth of the words in this article.

By comparison, the current version of Microsoftʼs I.D.E. starts at 274,000 times the size of BASIC Programming, and increases rapidly from there, depending on what language you write in.

Atariʼs BASIC Programming crosses the same ocean as Microsoftʼs VS Code, but does it with a styrofoam pool noodle instead of the Queen Mary.

In addition, BASIC Programming is user-friendly in one specific way that few computers are today. Like me, it had Sister Maria for third grade Arithmetic class, where she preached, “Anything divided by zero is zero.” Try to divide something by zero in Atariʼs basic BASIC, and it politely gives you zero. Unlike modern computer systems that fall on the floor, curl up in a ball, and start quietly sobbing to themselves when asked the same question.

The one popular modern-day gripe I agree with is that the input method is cumbersome. Itʼs a pair of keypads, one plugged into each joystick port, and then locked together. I understand why it was done this way, but that doesnʼt make it easy to use.

Still, the single keypad pair is pulling more than its weight, even for the era. It is used for:

  • The entire common English-language alphabet:
    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
  • The numbers:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
  • A space character
  • Punctuation ., ,, ʼ, and
  • A set of basic BASIC keywords
    • Clear
    • Else
    • Goto
    • Hit
    • Hor1
    • Hor2
    • If
    • Key
    • Mod
    • Note
    • Print
    • Then
    • Ver1
    • Ver2
  • Mathematical and assignment operators +, -, ×, ÷, , <, (, >, ), and =
  • Cursor controls Backward and Forward
  • A Newline character
  • IDE controls for:
    • Erase
    • Graphics
    • Halt
    • Output
    • Program
    • Run
    • Stack
    • Status
    • Step
    • Variables

Just looking at the command set, thereʼs a lot of interesting points.

  • It has an else command. There are modern-day computer languages that donʼt even have this feature.
  • It has a goto command. Only recently has goto come in from the cold, and is slowly being embraced by a new generation of programmers decades after being banished to the Gulag of Oldthink.
  • Its keyboard has Control, Meta, Super, and Hyper modifiers, just like keyboards of today. On a modern-day keyboard you may know these as Control, Command, Option, and Hyper. On the Atari keypad, theyʼre color coded White, Red, Blue, and Green.
  • It has a function to slow down the execution of programs so that the programmer can understand whatʼs happening.

    Imagine being someone in 1979, who has lived his entire life with paper and pencils — someone who has never seen a computer in person before — coming to the realization that the simple little program he punched in on his Atari is running so fast that he canʼt keep up with it. This was an epiphanal moment. An awakening. A sense that the cyber-commander art work on the box wasnʼt just fantasy, but an expression of the type of power being brought to ordinary people in their dens.

In addition, when you run a program, the systemʼs cursor moves through the program during execution, allowing you to follow along with whatʼs happening. This kind of functionality is an add-on in modern systems.

On a personal note, I love the idea that it has a Halt command. It brings a lot of nostalgic feelings to my tummy. Back when computers were commanded to run and then halt because of their military origins. A time when you couldnʼt start a computer without a key. When computers had mechanical odometers behind a panel so that the IBM service guy from New Paltz could write down for how many hours you used the machine, to let Big Blueʼs billing department know.

BASIC Programming in all its constrained ugliness

Yesterday was a quiet Saturday, so I sat down with BASIC Programming and approached it with my programmerʼs analytical mind, and without the biases of modern-day development. My conclusion is that this is really quite fun.

I started by typing in all six of the programs I could find on the internet. Unlike the days of typing in program from the backs of magazines, these all worked the first time, with moving dots and pinging sounds. Then I started to experiment on my own.

The dialect of BASIC that this cartridge uses is very much of its era. Variable assignment is done with , instead of =, just like in 1960ʼs and 1970ʼs computing languages like AP/L. Goto is your friend, not your enemy. And the notion of whitespace for readability goes right out the window. This will be a show-stopper for anyone used to cruising Appleʼs internal codebase.

Iʼm not musical in any way, so naturally I enjoyed stringing along rudimentary bloops and bleeps into nonsensical songs. For an afternoon, I was the e e cummings of synthpop, but I was also doing something: I was creating. This was an a-ha moment, and I felt a rainbow connection to dads of the 1970ʼs, sitting cross-legged in wood-paneled living rooms, scales drifting lazily from their eyes as the future was revealed.

If you appreciate programming elegance, the value of simplicity, or simply dig code golf, this is your course. You are forced to think about what youʼre doing. To make choices, evaluate tradeoffs, and make do with what you have. Itʼs a lot of the brain stimulus that gets some people into programming as a profession in the first place

There are a number of people who enjoy making tiny programs. Some so small that they fit into a PC-DOS boot sector. I think a few of those people might thrive within the constraints of this environment.

The biggest limitation of BASIC Programming is memory. You can only cram a few dozen symbols into the machine. Thatʼs to be expected, since the entire console only has 128 bytes of memory. Thatʼs the reality of 1979. But today, people are able to program Atari cartridges that work with comparatively massive amounts of information. One guy even sells Atari carts that are full-motion videos of popular movies. I suspect one of those clever people could find a way to make a version of this that works around the memory limitation.

The second-biggest problem is the Frankensteinian keyboard. As an input device, it was never intended for long-form content. But the cognitive overhead of shifting modes, double-checking the screen, and the constant hunt-and-peck involved make it hard to concentrate on the program, and not on the controller. Perhaps thatʼs another throwback to 1970ʼs computing, though.

Iʼm old enough to be one of those programmers who wrote their programs out on paper first (graph paper, if you were lucky), then typed it into a shared computer, and hoped that it did what was intended. Maybe if I spent more time thinking about the code beforehand, rather than writing it on-the-fly as is common today, coding in BASIC Programming wouldnʼt be so arduous.

BASIC Programming in all its abject simplicity

Still, I think that with a bit of time, it would be possible to come up with a harness that links a standard Human Interface Design keyboard with the pair of Atari joystick ports to emulate the keypad. In my mind, it would take some kind of Arduino or Raspberry Pi device with a dozen I/O pins. Voltage might be an issue, but nothing insurmountable to todayʼs hobbiest.

In fact, using this method, one could actually load BASIC Programming programs stored in a host system through the Arduino-powered keypad interface. You could write a program in Microsoft VS Code, or Panicʼs Nova, and when you push to git, or the version management system of your choice, it could also be sent wirelessly to the Arduino, which then relays the keypresses into the Atari 2600.

Now I know what Iʼm going to do when I retire.

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Any second now

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021 Alive 18,291 days

A progress notice from iPadOS

And by “0 seconds,” iPadOS means “Several minutes.”

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Too bad CentOS is dead

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021 Alive 18,291 days

An advertisement inside Ubuntu

Just when I thought that Linux was the last operating system without built-in advertising, along comes Ubuntu.

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Records still work fine

Wednesday, May 19th, 2021 Alive 18,285 days

An error message from Apple Music

If the single largest company on the planet canʼt keep its services from fudging their Huggies, what chance do I have?

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Left, right, left, right

Sunday, May 16th, 2021 Alive 18,282 days

I went for a walk today. And like a basset hound with a thyroid condition, I can use all the walkies I can get.

On the way home, my watch pinged me with “It looks like you went outside for a walk. Congratulations!” I pushed the wrong buttons trying to take a screenshot, and the message went away. If a smart watch is a jerk to you in a crosswalk and nobody sees it, can you still rant about it?

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Dent Arthur Dent

Friday, May 14th, 2021 Alive 18,280 days

A delivery notification for Zaphod Beeblebrox

Today I learned that delivery apps donʼt care what name you put in them. I think Iʼll be Ford Prefect tomorrow.

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Good for me, not for thee

Friday, May 14th, 2021 Alive 18,280 days

Apple spamming my iPhone

iOS Apps are not allowed to use push messaging for advertising. Unless itʼs an Apple app. Then itʼs perfectly fine.

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Heʼs right

Thursday, May 13th, 2021 Alive 18,279 days

An error message from CARROT³

Today I got hazed by my weather app.

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Saturday, May 8th, 2021 Alive 18,274 days

What if Apple didnʼt release a new iPhone this year? What harm would be done? Why not skip a year of inconsequential changes, and bring us a bigger change in 2023?

Does the world really need another iPhone? Maybe the iPhone designers deserve a rest.

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More like “10/5”

Sunday, May 2nd, 2021 Alive 18,268 days

Contradictory information from DirectNIC

DirectNIC is using a definition of “24/7” with which I was previously unfamiliar.

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Halmark is a spammer

Friday, April 30th, 2021 Alive 18,266 days

A screenshot of my opting out of Hallmarkʼs spam campaign, which it chose to ignore

Hallmark took my e-mail address “for [my] receipt.” I even took a screenshot just in case it lied. Which it did.

I now get spam from Hallmark at the unique e-mail address I set up for this Hallmark order.

Hallmark cannot be trusted.

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No one left to trust

Thursday, April 29th, 2021 Alive 18,265 days

Digital Ocean being a creeper

Today I learned that Digital Ocean watches your help searches and uses them for unsolicited marketing.

This is both very creepy, and a serious privacy issue.

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Priorities

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021 Alive 18,264 days

Siri still shits herself if you ask to change the volume and you have more than one HomePod.

But thank God the latest iOS update has 30 new bearded lady emojis. Carnival sideshows everywhere are weeping with joy.

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Nerd rage

Sunday, April 25th, 2021 Alive 18,261 days

Hacker News: “This device is so poorly secured, anyone can hack it. This is an outrage!”

Also Hacker news: “This device so secure, I canʼt hack it. This is an outrage!”

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He is from Delaware

Saturday, April 24th, 2021 Alive 18,260 days

Me: “Hey, #Siri, put Hamburger Helper on my groceries list.”

Siri: “Who is speaking?”

Me: “Joe Biden.”

Siri: “OK, Iʼve added it to your groceries list.”

I sure hope the president likes Hamburger Helper.

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Still possible today

Friday, April 23rd, 2021 Alive 18,259 days

A clipping from the September, 1986 issue of Byte magazine.

Tech news from Japan in September, 1986:

But one nearby noodle shop, confronted with competition from its neighbor, may have had the last word when it decided to give itself a “new media” edge. It decided to take advantage of rapidly dropping prices by buying a FAX (facsimile) machine; now I can send in my order for traditional Japanese soba or udon noodles directly from my home FAX machine!

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Negative experience

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021 Alive 18,258 days

Iʼm getting tired of all the lazy developers talking about how great Electron is.

I guess they donʼt have to use Microsoftʼs Azure Storage Explorer, which crashes on a weekly basis, taking down the entire machine and all of their work because itʼs built in Electron, and is not a real program.

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Sunday, April 18th, 2021 Alive 18,254 days

The 2GB/Sydney logo

More proof that Apple is trapped in the Silicon Valley bubble:

Me: “Hey, Siri, play 2GB [two-gee-bee] radio.”

Siri: “Now playing two gigabytes eight hundred seventy three...”

Itʼs only the biggest radio station in the largest city on the continent of Australia.

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What did you do now?

Monday, April 5th, 2021 Alive 18,241 days

An unpleasant message from Harrods

Harrods thinks Iʼm suspicious. I guess Iʼll spend my money over at Liberty, instead.

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Theyʼre right here at 127.0.0.1

Monday, March 22nd, 2021 Alive 18,227 days

A mysterious object

Not only does Appleʼs Find My app not know where my AirPods are, it doesnʼt even know what to call them.

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72 minutes into the future

Monday, March 15th, 2021 Alive 18,220 days

Microsoft Outlook being stupid

According to Microsoft Outlook, I replied to this message 72 minutes before I received it.

Itʼs not a Daylight Savings Time issue, or it would be just 60 minutes different.

Also, it would be nice if Microsoft Office would pick one date format and stick with it.

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An electrical Ouroboros

Sunday, March 14th, 2021 Alive 18,219 days

A power bank plugged into itself

What happens when you try to charge a USB power bank from itself? Letʼs find out.

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So stop shopping at Walmart

Friday, March 12th, 2021 Alive 18,217 days

An error message from WalMart

In spite of all their fancy JavaScript, and invasive telemetry, I donʼt think online stores really have any idea how much money they lose every day by making their shopping process so complicated that the web site breaks.

Simplifying the stack would save development costs, management costs, and increase sales.

But nobody in tech gets promoted for making things less complicated.

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Pixels arenʼt free

Thursday, March 11th, 2021 Alive 18,216 days

An error message from WalMart

Vague error messages cost less, and Walmart passes that savings on to you!

Assuming you can eventually get to the check-out portion of the web site.

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Greed kills

Sunday, February 28th, 2021 Alive 18,205 days

We interrupt your iPad for this commercial message from Apple

In 2006 and 2007, Steve Jobs famously fought the big cell phone companies because he knew in-device ads would ruin the iPhone experience.

With Tim Cook, the most important thing is whatever makes money.

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Sunday, February 21st, 2021 Alive 18,198 days

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by tech companies fucking with you.

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Why is this acceptable?

Sunday, February 14th, 2021 Alive 18,191 days

An error message from an Apple HomePod

A piece of expensive high-tech equipment didnʼt work right in 2021? Shocking!

The error message makes no sense? Thatʼs impossible!

Oh well, Iʼll just look up error number -6753 in the imaginary manual that didnʼt come with the HomePod, and also doesnʼt exist online, or anywhere else.

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127 characters ought be enough for anyone

Friday, February 12th, 2021 Alive 18,189 days

A borked Walmart product listing

Somewhere, a Walmart web developer and his database manager are learning about UTF-8 and utfmb8.

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Saturday, February 6th, 2021 Alive 18,183 days

Me: “Hey, Siri, turn on the foyer lamp.”

Siri: “Playing all songs.”

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A ton of Newtons

Friday, January 29th, 2021 Alive 18,175 days

The New York Times web site incorrectly locating Newton, New Jersey in Kansas

This is what happens when your mapping database doesnʼt have coordinates for a town. It puts the town in Kansas.

In this case, the New York Times map jammed Newton, New Jersey in the middle of Kansas. It probably thinks other towns are there, too.

Never trust any data. Always check for NULL and improbable values.

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Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 Alive 18,173 days

Today I learned that Appleʼs HomePod canʼt play the music you own, stored on your own Mac, in your own home, even with so-called “Home Sharing” enabled.

After 10 years of “Rip, Mix, Burn” can you imagine someone telling Steve Jobs, “We have this new music gadget, but you canʼt play any of the music you own on it.” Only rental music.

Someone would be fired before he even finished that sentence.

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Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 Alive 18,173 days

Me: “Hey, Siri, turn it down.”

HomePod: “Sorry. There as a problem adjusting volume.”

This is what we used to call “Not ready for Prime Time.”

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Gnarley

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 Alive 18,173 days

Analytics from my HomePod

Today I learned that not only does my HomePod run Apple TVOS, its firmware has a “Bogus Field Not Actually Ever Used,” and a “Bogus Measure Not Actually Ever Used.”

The use of “bogus” confirms the “Designed in California” label.

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E A S C

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021 Alive 18,172 days

Rubbed keys on a MacBook Air

Using a MacBook Air as your main machine for almost 10 years really gives you a sense of which letters you type most often.

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Busted bars

Thursday, January 21st, 2021 Alive 18,167 days

DoorDashʼs web site asking the impossible

Sure wish I could order Dairy Queen through DoorDash, like the web site says I can.

But DoorDashʼs web site insists that I pick a size for a box of Buster Bars, which only come in one size.

I wonder how many other sales Dairy Queen has lost because of DoorDash.

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Broken apple

Saturday, January 16th, 2021 Alive 18,162 days

An error message from Appleʼs web site

It looks like I broke Apple again.

Can someone turn Apple off, then turn it on again?

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Shout out to Sony

Saturday, January 9th, 2021 Alive 18,155 days

The Art of Noise album Paranoimia

In 1986, the idea of a television that fit in your hand was so futuristic and dystopian that The Art of Noise used it in the art for an album cover.

Today, we have supercomputers in our pockets and on our wrists that can access video in real-time from any country on the planet.

What happened that itʼs not considered scary anymore?

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Massive fail

Sunday, December 20th, 2020 Alive 18,135 days

I tried to watch mass from Saint Patrickʼs Cathedral in New York today. Itʼs on YouTube.

Google put 6½ minutes of ads at the front, plus sixteen commercial breaks inside the 50-minute mass. Thereʼs an illustration of how greedy Google and the rest of Silicon Valley is.

Next time Iʼll listen to it on the radio.

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Saturday, December 19th, 2020 Alive 18,134 days

Amazon Fresh failing at search

“Search is hard,” the tech bubble constantly says.

Itʼs not this hard.

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Saturday, December 5th, 2020 Alive 18,120 days

A screenshot of Appleʼs Home app

How does Appleʼs Home app not have a Christmas tree icon?

That seems like a pretty basic thing for a remote-controlled light switch.

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It is The Onion

Monday, November 30th, 2020 Alive 18,115 days

A screenshot from The Onion's web site

Well, hereʼs a new DGPR fail. Not only can I not decline to be tracked by The Onion, I canʼt even accept to be tracked because the Accept button doesnʼt work.

Maybe this is some kind of subtle humor.

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Well, it was made by monkeys

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020 Alive 18,110 days

A screenshot of MailChimpʼs broken survey

Kinda hard to fill out MailChimpʼs usability survey when the survey is unusable on mobile.

Thereʼs no way to submit the answers.

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Sunday, November 15th, 2020 Alive 18,100 days

An error message from Facebook

Facebook claims to have the “smartest people in the room” working for it.

If Facebook canʼt keep its web site working, what chance do I have?

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Monday, November 9th, 2020 Alive 18,094 days

Diptyqueʼs 404 page

After enduring four pop-ups, I click on “Gifts” and get a 404 error. Good job, Diptyque. It looks like the marketing department runs the web site, not IT.

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Sunday, November 8th, 2020 Alive 18,093 days

A screenshot of a bunch of pop-ups obscuring a web site

I wonder what kind off things Made In New Mexico sells. I guess Iʼll never know since the products are hidden behind six pop-ups.

So I bought elsewhere.

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Youʼre not?

Sunday, November 8th, 2020 Alive 18,093 days

A ScreenTime screenshot

The election makes me look like a screen junkie.

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Thursday, November 5th, 2020 Alive 18,090 days

A Whole Foods error message

If Amazon.com canʼt keep Whole Foods running, what chance do I have?

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Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020 Alive 18,088 days

An error message from eBay

If fleaBay canʼt keep its web site up, what chance do I have?

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Monday, November 2nd, 2020 Alive 18,087 days

An error message from eBay

There is simply no way to opt-out of #spam from fleaBay.

If it canʼt handle something as simple as e-mail subscriptions, why would I trust it with money?

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I know you are, but what am I?

Friday, October 2nd, 2020 Alive 18,056 days

Me: “Hey, Siri put ‘Cut lawn’ on my ‘Outside’ list.”

Siri: “You donʼt have an ‘Outside’ list. Do you want me to create one?”

Me: “Yes.”

Siri: “You donʼt have an ‘Outside’ list. Do you want me to create one?”

Me: “Yes.”

Siri: “You donʼt have an ‘Outside’ list. Do you want me to create one?”

Me: “Yes.”

Iʼm tired of tech bullshit that never works. Iʼm going back to lists on paper. It Just Works™

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Teeth-grating

Friday, October 2nd, 2020 Alive 18,056 days

Me: “Hey, Siri, put ‘toothpaste’ on my ‘Shopping’ list.”

Siri: “Youʼll have to unlock your iPhone first.”

If I was near my iPhone, Iʼd just put toothpaste on the list myself.

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But Tim Cooks needs a third boat

Sunday, September 13th, 2020 Alive 18,037 days

iPhone spam from Apple

It is against Appleʼs App Store rules to use notifications for advertising.

Apparently, Apple has exempted itself from those rules.

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When everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 Alive 18,025 days

An EAS alert from Clark County, Nevada

How to get people to turn off the emergency alert feature on their phones in two easy steps:

  1. Use the EAS system to tell people to get COVID tests.
  2. There is no step two.
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OK, Pal

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020 Alive 18,005 days

An error message from PayPal

If PayPal canʼt handle running a web site, how can I trust it with my money?

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Sunday, July 12th, 2020 Alive 17,974 days

Imagine a world in which using the internet more actually improved a personʼs grammar.

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A small request

Sunday, June 28th, 2020 Alive 17,960 days

An impossibly small font in Apple Maps

Why do so many Apple programs use five-pixel-tall fonts? Who thinks these are a good idea? Even back in Commodore 64 days, we knew that nobody could read a five pixel font.

You donʼt have to be visually impaired, elderly, or even drunk for these to be completely unreadable on a computer screen.

For all the puffery that comes out of Apple about accessibility and inclusiveness, this has to stop.

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Information overload

Thursday, June 18th, 2020 Alive 17,950 days

Overlapping information in Appleʼs Mail program

Two mistakes on the same iOS Mail screen.

If only Apple had a trillion or so dollars to put into quality control.

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Wording be hard

Saturday, June 6th, 2020 Alive 17,938 days

Bad grammar from macOS Safari

Itʼs “downloads from,” not “downloads on.”

Youʼre a trillion-dollar company, not a startup, Apple. You donʼt get a pass on basic grammar.

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Your slip is showing

Thursday, May 14th, 2020 Alive 17,915 days

A Grace Digital web page leaking JavaScript all over the place

Looks like someone at Grace Digital applied strip_tags() in a location where marketing wanted to track some people with JavaScript.

ProTip: You donʼt need JavaScript to keep track of your customers.

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Monday, April 20th, 2020 Alive 17,891 days

Error messages from both Chase and Citibank

If both Chase and Citibankʼs web sites can be borked at the same time, what chance do I have?

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Sending a message

Monday, February 24th, 2020 Alive 17,835 days

A malformed progress box in iTunes

If Apple canʼt make its programs work, what chance do I… oh, wait. Itʼs iTunes. This is probably an improvement.

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You belong in a museum

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020 Alive 17,833 days

An electronics museum exhibit at the Clark County Public Library

My local library sometimes has little museum exhibits in it. Today I noticed some new artifacts on display, including an Atari 2600 of the sort I played just last week.

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Thursday, February 20th, 2020 Alive 17,831 days

The iOS spell checked flagging the spelling of “Van Buren”

The iOS spell checker doesnʼt know the name of the eighth president of the United States.

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Lowered genius bar

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020 Alive 17,794 days

I happened to be in an Apple Store when an iPhone training session was going on.

The “Genius” told his audience that 1080p means “A thousand pixels per square inch,” and that 4K means “four times as many!”

Ummm… no.

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Should have listened to the Fiat GPS

Monday, October 21st, 2019 Alive 17,709 days

A dirt road across the Nevada desert

Dear Apple Maps,

This is not State Highway 87.

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The Times needs a dictionary

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019 Alive 17,680 days

Notification spam from the New York Times

Nice notification spam, New York Times.

I only have “Breaking News” selected in my notification settings, which the app says is supposed to be “Urgent and important stories.” By definition, the Opinion page is not breaking news.

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Saturday, September 14th, 2019 Alive 17,672 days

An error message on the Chewy web site

I hate to buy cat food from Amazon.com, but I donʼt have much of a choice since Chewyʼs web site has been borked for half an hour now.

If Chewy canʼt keep a web site running, what chance do I have?

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Sunday, September 1st, 2019 Alive 17,659 days

It turns out that Tide Dry Cleaners canʼt handle the Apple Card via Apple Pay.

The card terminal says “Approved,” but the POS system rejects it immediately after.

The physical card works OK. And other cards work fine via Apple Pay. Itʼs just the Apple Card that is giving it fits.

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It can taste titanium?

Sunday, August 25th, 2019 Alive 17,652 days

Today I learned that Albertsons supermarkets wonʼt accept the Apple Card via Apple Pay.

Using other cards via Apple Pay works fine, but Albertsonsʼ POS system throws an error with the Apple Card. “This type of card is not accepted.”

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Is cash legible?

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 Alive 17,651 days

An error message from the parking machine at McCarren International Airport

It turns out that the parking payment machines at the Las Vegas airport canʼt handle Apple Cards at all.

Thereʼs no NFC option, and the physical card is rejected with an “Illegible card” error.

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Wednesday, August 21st, 2019 Alive 17,648 days

An error message from the New York Times app

The New York Timesʼ 500 page is 404.

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I was fooled

Sunday, July 21st, 2019 Alive 17,617 days

A perfectly ordinary pine tree

Nope, thatʼs not a cell tower. Itʼs totally a tree. In the middle of the desert. 200 miles from the next nearest tree. Totally believable.

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There are alternatives

Monday, June 17th, 2019 Alive 17,583 days

Notification spam from Adobe

Live now: Adobe sends me spam from a product that I pay for!

❖ ❖ ❖

Friday, June 14th, 2019 Alive 17,580 days

A botched login screen from iRobot

iRobot is so laser-focused on customer acquisition that its web site gives me two ways to create an account, and zero ways to log in to the account I already have.

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Monday, February 18th, 2019 Alive 17,464 days

The Wikipedia entry for “Teletype”

How much knowledge has been lost thanks to the “information age?”

The entry for “Teletype” in Wikipedia is just 2 paragraphs.

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For just a dollar a day…

Friday, February 15th, 2019 Alive 17,461 days

An error message from the Citibank web site

We only gave Citibank $326,000,000,000.00 in taxpayer money for its bailout. Maybe if we all chip in a little more, Citi can fix its web site.

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A stand-up gal

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019 Alive 17,459 days

A bad Amazon.com search

I searched Amazon.com for “easel.”

One of these things is not like the others.

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Nerd hard

Saturday, February 9th, 2019 Alive 17,455 days

Hard drives winking

Itʼs backup day, which means a stack of USB drives USB driving.

It reminds me of when I ran a node of ARB BBS with a bunch of Commodore 1541ʼs winking and grunting through the night.

Drove my father nuts.

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Friday, February 8th, 2019 Alive 17,454 days

I just found a USB memory stick in the dryer.

This is why old computers were better. Nobody ever accidentally left a floppy disk in their pants pocket.

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Sunday, February 3rd, 2019 Alive 17,449 days

Google marking Superb Owl Sunday

I donʼt often have nice things to say about Google, but Iʼd like to thank Big G for playing along today.

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Robotic leverage

Sunday, January 6th, 2019 Alive 17,421 days

A self-driving car on The Strip

Protip: Always get behind the self-driving cars. Computers know which lane is the fastest.

Protip: Self-driving cars in Nevada have special license plates that start with “AU.”

A sample autonomous license plate from the Nevada DMV web site. For some reason it shows “AD,” when it should read “AU.”
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Friday, December 21st, 2018 Alive 17,405 days

A malfunctioning SiriusXM radio

Iʼm not sure whatʼs happening here. But I am sure itʼs not supposed to happen.

❖ ❖ ❖

Saturday, November 24th, 2018 Alive 17,378 days

Remember when we could balance our finances without a computer?

You know — before technology made everything "easier?"

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Friday, November 23rd, 2018 Alive 17,377 days

An administative login screen on the Smashing Pumpkins web site

This is what happens when you try to view the privacy policy and terms of service on the Smashing Pumpkins web store.

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Saturday, November 10th, 2018 Alive 17,364 days

AT&T telling me to wait

“Give us a moment” has been spinning in my browser for three hours.

I guess AT&Tʼs web site is connected through the ever-reliable AT&T network.

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Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018 Alive 17,326 days

An error message from Uber

Every time I try to give Uber a chance, I end up taking a Lyft.

❖ ❖ ❖

Monday, September 24th, 2018 Alive 17,317 days

A six-pixel-tall font in Apple News

I love Apple News on the iPhone, but on macOS, it uses a six-pixel-tall font. And most headlines are just ten pixels tall, with no way to scale them.

Itʼs unusable by anyone past puberty.

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Friday, August 24th, 2018 Alive 17,286 days

A request for help from the vacuum cleaner

While I appreciate the vacuum cleaner putting in extra effort while I’m at work, the nearest cliff is like a half a mile away.

Itʼs going to have to find its own ride home.

❖ ❖ ❖

Thursday, August 9th, 2018 Alive 17,271 days

I was reading a magazine and looked at the top of the page to see what time it is.

Iʼm a slave to technology.

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Tuesday, July 10th, 2018 Alive 17,241 days

I wonder how many times someoneʼs said aloud, “Hey, Siri, *buuuuuuuuuuuurp!*

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Definitely number two

Thursday, April 14th, 2016 Alive 16,424 days

ウイーナ♡

The nice lady at the maid café wrote “ウイーナ♡” on the cheki we took of ourselves.

According to Google Translate, that's Japanese for “Weena.” I guess that means one of the following:

  1. She thinks Iʼm a winner.
  2. She thinks Iʼm a wiener.
  3. Google Translate is bad at translation.
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