Posts tagged “failure”

Safeway Update

A quick update on the lame hand-wipe station at Safeway (blogged earlier here) – an unattractive display that cleans hands (not cart handles), and doesn’t really address the perceived problem.


It’s been shoved further against the wall, the container for the wipes is sitting open, and is empty.

Add neglect to the problem, I guess.

Say What? An example of “untended” design failure

Missing Letters, Holland, MI

I’m intrigued by stuff in the urban ecosystem that is deployed but untended. Consider this sign at the edge of a shopping plaza on a busy busy street. How long has it been like that? Has anyone who is accountable for the sign noticed? Is someone paying for advertising that they aren’t getting?

Compare with computer displays in airports showing a Windows error, or the piece of gum left on a realtor’s “about this property” display after the owners have moved out. Entropy, man.

(and probably some analogies with semi-smart automated systems that don’t get context 100% of the time)


After my recent challenges booking with Marriott, I encountered a similar level of weirdness with Starwood. I was trying to book a room (for a conference, using their conference-rate link) and couldn’t seem to log into my account. I haven’t used it for a while and naturally don’t have a clue as to my username and password (more specifically – I can’t remember what format they require my username and password to be in; if I knew that I could probably reconstruct them both). I went through the various helpful links (Forgot your password? Forgot your username?) to try and resolve it. When asked for my membership number I pulled out my Starwood Preferred Guest card and entered the number, only to be told that something to the effect that I needed to enter a number in the proper format. I’m looking at the screeen, I’m looking at my card – the numbers are exact. But no, not valid. Okay, I try something else – I give ’em my email address and they email me a new password and remind me of my username. I go back and try to log in using the newly issued/reset password. Nope, it doesn’t know who I am.

What the hell?

I finally contact them for help, after screwing around for way too long with this.

The website was not accepting your above Starwood Preferred Guest account number because your account had reached an expired status as of March 31, 2004, resulting in any remaining Starpoints being forfeited.

Starpoints do not expire for active accounts. Accounts are considered active as long as you have earned Starpoints as a result of activities at participating Starwood Properties or as a result of use of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express during the previous twelve months.

I am pleased to tell you that your account has been reactivated to enable you to view your above Starwood Preferred Guest number online.

Whoah. First of all, their technology is absolutely complete broken. If the account is suspended, then the error message should say something like that, not simply reject the account number as not being valid. Or the failure-to-logon info should provide some information that suggests they know who I am but won’t let me on for some reason. And they shouldn’t reset my password and then refuse to let me log on with it.

But really, WTF? Why would they de-activate my online login for inactivity?

And beyond that, it gets really punitive! I have forfeited my Starpoints? The language is just so wrong, so haughty. This is not service, and this is not going to encourage loyalty. Did I have any Starpoints? I have no clue, I don’t care. I’ve held onto their damn card for years, but that isn’t enough of a committment to Starwood, I’m not active, so I’ve been forfeited and also deactivated.

The net effect here is not to motivate me to toe the line and be a good Starwood customer, but rather to vote with my feet. They’ve got my money this time (and it’s actually the conference money but whatever) but next time, I will look for someone else.

Oh, and even though my profile indicated I don’t want to receive marketing email from them, by making a reservation with them they reset that and bury a line about opting-out in the confirmation email.

This is a bad company.

Error Message

It’s passe, I guess, to make fun of bad error messages. How 1997! But still, this is hilarious and disappointing (seen while browsing a dynamically updating website).

Transaction (Process ID 98) was deadlocked on lock resources with another process and has been chosen as the deadlock victim. Rerun the transaction.

Marriott needs some UI and customer-centric help

Just went through an annoying hotel booking process.

I was hoping to get a corporate rate, for which I would have to call and ask for it. I finally gave up sitting on hold, figuring that the cost of me on hold (wasted time) was probably close to the discount I might eventually receive.

Went online, and see the the Marriott hotel we’ve been recommended have two different room styles for almost the same price (one has the word “spa” in the name) but there is nowhere easily found on the site with information about what these rooms actually contain, or hey, what they look like.

I pull the trigger on the fancier rooms. I fill out all the online forms to book the reservation. The UI has a little spot to send in comments. It’s nice and wide and is about three lines long. There is text that says “45 characters maximum, including spaces” but I see the box not the warning, and I put in a whole message about our arrival. Nope, they send me back several times until I get it down to 45 characters, which is less than 1/3 of the available space.

My confirmation arrives and buried in all the visual jargon is a little notification:
Promotional email unsubscribe
Periodically, Marriott Rewards sends email about your account balance and membership status, member exclusive specials, and other program information that may be of interest to you. If you prefer not to receive these promotional emails, you may unsubscribe here.

I click on that, and it takes two steps (including specifying which of all the possible newsletters they generate do I want to unsub from), and then they tell me Please allow 10 business days for processing.


Out in the boonies

We’ve lived in this area called The Coastside for two years now, and I’m amazed and appalled at the lack of infrastructure. I’m not talking about roads and plumbing (though I’m sure those are issues; I just don’t know enough to complain about them). We don’t have sidewalks and we don’t have home delivery of mail. That may be seen as charming; but it’s getting a bit old for me.

We have no cell coverage. I can’t imagine that will change at any point.

Our Comcast cable television is terrible: image quality is consistently bad (with over-the-air artifacts like ghosting common on some very low channels) and audio is low volume and filled with hiss on higher channels. Recently, channel 3 went out completely. Comcast told many residents who called that they wouldn’t regard it as a real issue until they had reached a minimum number of service complaints that resulted in a scheduled technician visit. In other words, if you called in and told them about the problem, they would treat it as a local-to-you problem that didn’t require any action on their part until someone came and looked at YOUR house and eliminated that as the specific cause. It takes several days to get someone to come out and so it took a few days for Comcast to even acknowledge that they had a problem and to take any action to fix it. We pay the same as everyone else (if not more) for cable, and we get lousy service (both the product itself and the customer service).

Our power goes out many times each winter. For an hour, or for 7 hours. You never know, of course. It’s dangerous, inconvenient, stressful. We aren’t supposed to use the water when the power is out. There’s obviously some non-redundant connection that is very vulnerable to wind, wet soil, trees, or whatever. But PG&E is not investing in any infrastructure to develop a robust solution, so we’re stuck with frequent outages that leave a big section of Montara without power. Our power bills in Montara are ridiculously higher than other places we’ve lived.

Our telephone service is sub-par. Caller-ID information is often not received. A year or so ago I found that I would get a busy signal when calling the voice mail number – and that my own callers would often not be able to leave voice mail; instead having it ring and ring. It took a great deal of effort to get someone at SBC to acknowledge and fix the problem (they were out of circuits or something arcane). Last week we encountered terrible static when calling to Montara from outside of Montara. Calls to either of our home numbers from a cell phone or land line located elsewhere would be at best scratchy and at worst, unlistenable. I have reported this to SBC as have many other local residents. As with the cable, it’s being treated like a problem local to our own service, despite the fact that it’s not, but of course, we can only report our own problem. I was informed by SBC that they’ve checked and everything is fine. It’s not fine; my phone service is only semi-usable (I have to shout at my callers that I’ll return their call), and SBC has decided not to act. Of course, we pay the same fees to SBC that everyone else does.

Can you tell I’m fed up?

call to ban failure

Doubleplusgood news!

The word ‘fail’ should be banned from use in British classrooms and replaced with the phrase ‘deferred success’ to avoid demoralizing pupils, a group of teachers has proposed.

But the Dang Thing Won’t Open

Kind of a duh article about how difficult packaging is to open, but perhaps a small element of zeitgeist.

Mona Doyle recently filmed people attempting to open bags of pre-cut lettuce. The tape plays like a bit from the television show “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Everybody uses force and torque that would otherwise be reserved for the gym. Either the bag opens suddenly and sprays lettuce all over the floor, or defeat is conceded and scissors or knives are employed.

When Doyle, whose Philadelphia company does research about food and beverage packaging, showed the tape to an audience of produce packers, they chuckled. But Doyle says that belligerent packaging is making consumers spitting mad. They use words “hate” and “difficult” to describe products that seem to be welded shut.

Doyle has no solid statistics on injuries caused by our hassles with packaging, but they do exist in England. One study there shows that ‘wrap rage,’ as it is called by the Brits, has been the cause of more than 60,000 injuries. These often occur when consumers resort to knives and scissors to deal with stubborn packages, according to a 2003 report in the Daily Telegraph.

(That said, here’s a paradox: Hard-to-open bags don’t seem to be stopping us from buying pre-cut lettuce, considered the biggest marketing phenomenon in the history of produce. Sales of the convenience item are soaring. The Produce Marketing Association reports that sales hit $2.6 billion in 1994, then $8.8 billion in 2003. The numbers are expected to zip up to $10.5 billion in 2005. Obviously, cutting our own lettuce into bite-size pieces irritates us even more than cutting open a bag.)

Doyle says American consumers’ demands for ease and convenience have evolved over decades and, once given an easier way, we demand even easier ways. In plain language, we are spoiled.


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