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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I hate Christmas!

My Christian friends, lend me your ears. Everybody else can skip down to the next post, you already know what I am going to say.

I hate Christmas. For everybody who does not celebrate this holiday, it is quite an obtrusion. I heard a great analogy recently that I'd like to share. Imagine, my Christian friends, that everywhere you go, people are wishing you a Happy Ramadan. And when you try to go shopping, there are people in your way everywhere, praying on their prayer mats. Then, you are forced to take a day off of work on Ramadan Day (I know it's a month, but this is just an analogy), when you would rather have a day off for Christmas instead. Everything is closed on Ramadan Day, so you end up hanging out with other Christians, kinda forcing you to celebrate the holiday in some sense. Oh yeah, your favorite TV shows are in re-run and all that is on TV are shows about Muhammad the Prophet.

I know that most people celebrate Christmas personally and unobtrusively. I am sure it's a wonderful holiday, deep down. But yet, I hate the way it effects me. I've actually had the following things said to me...

Christian: "Why don't you put up Christmas lights?"
Me: "I'm Jewish"
Christian: "So, Christmas lights are not religious?"

Christian: Why don't you put up a Hanukkah bush?"
Me: "Ugh."

Ba Humbug.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Plastic Bubble Wrap From Hell

What is the deal with that obnoxiously hard plastic packaging that small electronics and everything else comes in? I find it extremely difficult to open these packages. You can not rip them open. You can not use standard scissors. The plastic is too hard, and the package is designed with no straight edges to cut. In fact, it seems that they went to great lengths to make sure that you can NOT open the stupid things. Lately, I've been using a pocket knife. It is still a challenge to make sure I don't cut the product or my fingers. Even after you cut a huge opening, you still can't pry it open the rest of the way, the plastic is too hard to rip. Once the package is open, you are just as likely to slice open your fingers with the sharp plastic edges you just created.

That really bursts my bubble.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Movie Reviews

I am annoyed by movie reviews. They are written on the premise: tell as much about the movie as possible, without saying the one thing that happens in the climactic scene.

So a typical review will say "This is a film about coming of age in a small town. It features lush cinematography, a great performance by Gwenyth Paltrow, and takes the philosophical stance that it is better to leave home for the unknown than to stay and never know what could have happened. Young Lily graduates high school while her mother cares for her dying father. She falls for a friend who is leaving for the big city in the Fall. It all builds to her needing to make a decision one way or the other."

So now I am supposed to pay $9 to see the one scene at the end of the movie that the review didn't tell me?

And I hate reviews that give away the philosophical premise or statement of a film. "This movie is an allegory that takes a stand in favor of assisted suicide". Great, now there's one other thing I don't need to worry about figuring out. In fact, I would have preferred you told me the whole plot and left out the interpretation altogether.

That really pops my corn.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Software License Agreements

I really hate the way software license agreements, website privacy policies, etc. are presented in an intentionally dubious way. One of my biggest pet peeves is when these agreements are presented on websites in a teeny-tiny box. You can only read a few lines at a time and the whole document is hundreds of lines long.

Why not make the box bigger? Why not provide a downloaded text file? Because then, people could ACTUALLY READ the policy and MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION.

My other problem is that they are filled with legalese and nonsense. My eyes glaze over whenever I read one.

That really disagrees with me.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Two Annoying Things about Vonage

After using Vonage for a few months now, I've become aware of two annoying things that they make no mention of when you sign up for the service.

1) Other people will not be able to identify you when you call. Your phone# comes up, but caller ID is for "Unknown Caller"

2) You must keep track of some other phone# in order to check your voicemail from outside your home. You can't call your phone# and then punch a code in to activate your voicemail. You dial this other phone# and then type in your phone#. It's really rather lame.

Vonage should have been more upfront about these items. They try to tell you that they are just like all other phone services, but they are not. And the fact that they don't provide access to information about their differences is underhanded.

That really pushes my buttons!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Rant with a Silver Lining

Today I experience the classic example of why stores should use queues instead of individual lines. I was 3rd in line at the only open register at Bed, Bath & Beyond. A few folks filled in the line behind me. One of the employees noticed that the line was getting large, so she opened up a new register and called out "I can help the next person in line." The woman in front of me moved over to the new register. I should have moved over, but I didn't. It was only after it was too late that I noticed that the person being helped in front of me was purchasing 28 items, some of them were not scanning properly, and the kid running the register must have been no older than 12 (maybe an exageration). So I moved over to the other line, but by that point, I was now behind several people.

Here is the silver lining. The gentleman about to be served at the second register noticed that I had moved over and also realized that I should be next one served. He offered for me to go ahead of him. (FYI, I was only buying 2 items). Most people don't do the right thing, as this man had done.

Some stores are getting it right: Best Buy and Borders are two that pop into mind. However, not only do most stores get it wrong, but I would say that at least 30% of the time I shop at a non-queued store I end up being pissed off when I wait much longer than somebody who got into line after me, but at another register.

That is really out of line!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Voice Mail Systems

I have three phone systems to deal with: cell phone, home phone, and work phone. Each one has a voice mail system that uses completely different commands to operate. It drives me nuts.

To enter into voicemail on my home phone, I must hit * while my message is playing. My message is short, "I'm not home, leave a message," so I have to act quick. Otherwise, I have to hang-up and recall my home phone. If the next time you call me I have a 30 second greeting, I apologize. It's because of my voicemail system.

To enter into voicemail on my work phone, I must hit **. A single * exits the system. WTF? Then, to access my voicemail, I must enter my extension# and then my pin code. I have to enter my extension even if I direct-dialed my office.

And that is just to get into voice mail. Each system has a different command structure to access/replay/delete messages.

There is a solution, a simple one, even at that. There must be a standard. It's the only way. There are examples everywhere of standards being the key to survival... HDTV, next generation CD/DVD... well those are bad examples because there are competing standards fighting to be chosen. But look at USB computer interfaces, web pages (HTML, CSS), etc.

That really pushes my buttons.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Home Owners Associations

I recently moved into my first home and, as such, I am experiencing the joys of dealing with an HOA for the first time. Actually, overall, my HOA seems to be doing a lot of good things for the community. Despite that, the fees seem to be a bit too high.

The thing that irritates me the most about HOA's, condo associations, etc, is that they dictate such silly little details about the appearance of your house. Now, my neighbor routinely leaves empty soda cans and other pieces of litter on his front lawn. So what? The thing that REALLY pisses them off is that my backyard fence is the wrong SHADE of brown. See picture below. The color on the left is the old and "bad" shade of brown. The new "proper" color is on the right.

That really peels my paint.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Blockbuster Rewards

We signed up for this rewards program at Blockbuster. Basically, it costs $20 and you get a free rental each month for a year. This seems like a good deal on paper. Of course, there are several obvious catches to this. For example, most people are not organized enough to remember to rent the free movie each month so they just throw money away.

The biggest outrage with this scam is the coupon. You have to bring in a silly piece of paper to get your free rental. First of all, there is no reason they can not keep track of this on the computer. The only reason for the coupon is (a) if you forget the coupon, you will probably still pay for the video since you went to all the trouble to drive to the store and pick it out (b) there is a good chance you will lose the coupon (c) they can make it very difficult for you to get the coupon in the first place.

Regarding (c), you might think that they give you a stack of 12 coupons when you sign up. No no. You have to go to the store each month to get the coupon for the next month. The worst experience of all was the last time I went to the store. The guy said they don’t have the coupon, I need to go to “the website”. So I go to and nowhere is there any indication as to how I get the coupon. I sent an e-mail to their support, and got a form letter that says I can expect a response in 3-5 business days.

After all that, if they expect me to “be kind and rewind” they have another thing coming.

This whole thing really blocks my buster.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Random Rant

This morning I stopped into the local 7-11 for some coffee on my way into work (~8:30am). There was a woman dressed in a crossing guard uniform buying a six-pack of Natural Light beer. She was paying by check (you can do that in a 7-11?). I am not sure why but...

That really makes me cross.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Car Wash Expiration Dates

Our local Exxon has one of those automatic car washes. There are two things that really tick me off about this car wash.

1. It is very slow, about 8 minutes per car. So if there are 6-7 people in line (not unusual for a nice day), you better have something to read because you will be in that line for the better part of an hour. Note, this does not go over too well with the kids if they happen to be with you. The annoying part is that it is designed in such a way that there is a long pull-through, so by the time you realize what is happening it is already too late. I guess you can try backing all the way out of the impossibly serpentine entry-way (if there's no one behind you). If you prefer a forward egress, good news - they give you a little escape pull-out just before you get to the front of the line. However, this is just to tease you, since you've already waited 45 minutes to get there so there's no way you're pulling out at that point.

2. The bigger problem is that there is about a 7 day expiration date on the receipt. My experience is that the car wash is "out of order" about 20% of the time. (Note, they will still sell you the car wash at the pump even when it is currently out of order). So now you have 7 days to get back to that car wash or you lose your $5-$10. There is no reason for this expiration date, other than to steal your money. If they want to have it expire after 6 months, fine. But 7 days? And usually when it's broken, it takes them a few days to fix it. So you come back 2 or 3 days in a row, then you give up and throw out the receipt - figuring it will expire by the time you come back and it is fixed. Meanwhile, you're driving around with chunks of mud on your windshield; you will not clean them by hand, just on principle. One time I went in and asked for my money back. The guy says "oh don't worry about the expiration date. It should still work". Now I'm really annoyed. First of all, I'm not waiting 45 minutes in line to find out whether or not this guy is clueless. Second, this just proves that the (meaningless) expiration date is a fiendish plot to have you throw out the ticket without getting the wash.

The whole thing really bursts my bubble.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hidden Fees

I recently had a tight cash flow situation, so asked our HR person about taking a loan from my 401(k). She said no problem, there are no fees or anything. I was surprised, and asked again if there are definitely no fees. She said yes.

Then I take out the loan and there is an $85 administrative fee. Not only that, I find out that it's an ANNUAL fee for having a loan. This is an outrage. First of all, none of the papers I filled out said anything at all about an administrative fee. Second, this is a huge fee. That means if someone take a $1000 loan, they are paying 8.5% just for the fee! Tack on the 6% interest, and you are paying 14.5%! You might as well put it on your credit card!

It should be illegal for companies to tack on these hidden fees. But they get away with it because everyone just pays the fee and probably doesn't even notice it. You can only find it (in this case) if you dig deep into the transaction ledger of your account.

So I decided not even to cash the check when I heard about this outrageous fee. Problem is, they decided to deduct the money from my account, even though I didn't cash the check. Three months later, I finally got the money credited back (but not the investment gains I lost) and I'm still down the $85 admin fee for a check I didn't cash. And then I find out it's illegal for my own company to give me back the $85 because that would be discrimination against people who didn't get their fees refunded.

The name of the company is DailyAccess ( Pass along to anyone considering them as a 401(k) provider that they are a disgrace.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mr. Sensitivity

I hate sensitive men! I mean the real sensitive type.

You know, who get moody and pout when something negative is said to them. Who worry that their jeans make them look fat.

They might as well be women.

Don't get me wrong, women are beautiful creatures. Their differences from men make women special. I can handle a whole lot of sensitivity from a woman, it comes with the territory. Well, my ex-girlfriends would probably disagree. And I bet my current girlfriend (Patti) is rapidly hitting the comment button to put her two-cents in. But seriously, women get a free pass to be sensitive, as long as it's not too extreme.

But from men, I have zero tolerance for sensitivity. Go ahead, flame away! I can take it. My feelings won't be hurt.

That really gets my panties in a bunch!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Radio Overplay

I really liked the song "Best of You" by the Foo Fighters. Really. I even sang along the first few times I heard it... "is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you..?" But lately, this freaking song has been on the radio EVERY single time I get in my car. Even on short drives to the 7-11, "...the best, the best of you..." ARGH. The radio has made me HATE this song.

Can't they, maybe, only play a song once every 3-4 hours? Aren't there lots of other nice songs out there?

That really rubs me the wrong way.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sanitation Engineers

I get a bit annoyed whenever it is trash day. When I come home from work, I often find my trashcans strewn across the neighborhood. Often, a trashcan is sitting on my neighbor's lawn. Since they all look alike, I must give it careful inspection to make sure it is mine. I don't want to be accused of stealing my neighbor's trashcan. (I know, I can put my name on the trashcan or something like that). Other times, my trashcan, or recycling bin, is sitting in the middle of the parking lot, requiring me to get out of my car and remove it before I can park.

I know that they toss the trashcans and bins around to shave precious seconds off of their time. But is this a race? Is there a prize? Since they are providing a service, one that I greatly appreciate actually, could they go all the way and finish the service with some style? Why tarnish the performance with such a sloppy finish? When a gymnast stumbles on the dismount, don't they lose points, even if the performance was great until the end?

That really stinks.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Continuous Partial Attention

Does it seem like all your friends have ADD these days? Perhaps their behavior can be attributed to changes in our society. Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft, coined the term Continuous Partial Attention to describe life in the era of e-mail, instant messaging, cell phones, etc. "We keep the top level item in focus and scan the periphery in case something more important emerges." But she goes on to say that we are "over-stimulated, over-wound, unfulfilled." I agree.

Here are some of my observations of continuous partial attention. Someone has annoyed me (and I am sure you too) doing these...
  • Using a blackberry or laptop during the business meeting
  • Switching over to call waiting several times during a phone call
  • Driving poorly while using a cell phone
  • Responding to an email, but only reading a small portion of it (don't answer questions or ask questions about things already answered)
  • Typing things that don't make sense because they are IM'ing with several people at the same time
We need to wake ourselves from this trance and make changes to how we utilize technology.
  • Recognize things that are important to you and give them your full attention.
  • Don't be a slave to technology. Don't always answer the phone. Reduce time spent on email.
  • Use face-to-face time and phone calls more, instead of emails.

That really...what was I saying?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Security Measures

For the love of God, let me keep my damn shoes on!

The "no shoes" policy is the best example of one of the worst ideas in security. It's undignified, unsanitary, and poorly executed. I get especially angry at the fact that they do not provide a sufficient space behind the security gate for you to put your shoes back on. And I get a bit queasy thinking about hordes of barefoot people walking through the same spot I'm about to put my feet. Where's the disinfectant? Let me go on the record saying that I am willing to get on an airplane that has a 0.05% chance of blowing up if I can keep my shoes on in the airport (of course, the odds are much less than that).

In general, the cost/benefit value of a security protocol must be evaluated before a measure is implemented. If a security measure is expensive or causes great inconvenience, it better be proven to be effective. Another example from airport security is the ban on all knives. 80-year-old women are getting in trouble for trying to "smuggle" nail clippers on an airplane. Yet, I can easily think of several personal items that can be used as a weapon but would not be blocked at security. This security measure only provides a false sense of security. It would be better if there were no ban on knives (since the ban is ineffective anyway) and alternative security measures were considered.

Another thing that pisses me off is when you are expected to provide volumes of identification. I recently went to a wedding aboard a cruise ship. The security policy required that you bring two forms of ID, your birth certificate and a drivers license/passport. Your birth certificate? Shouldn't a passport be enough?

That really gets me bent out of shape.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Delivery, Installation, and Service

Why is it so hard to give people a reasonable time estimate for arrival when making a house call? Like many people, my job keeps me AWAY from my house during the day. It is most certainly not convenient for me (the paying customer) to be sitting around my home waiting for service. I can't imagine that it would be so difficult to provide a narrow window of estimated arrival time, so I must assume that those providing the service just don't care.

Earlier this week I bought a sofa and paid to have it delivered to my home. The furniture store said that it would be delivered "some time on Friday" and that they would call on Thursday with a time slot. When they called on Thursday, they informed me the delivery truck would arrive between 10am and 3pm. What kind of time slot is that, 5 hours?!? They do the runs from 10am to 3pm every day. Why did they even bother to call me on Thursday? They could have told me the same thing when I bought the stupid sofa. When I explained that I refuse to sit at home all afternoon (I've got a job), they tell me that the truck crew will call me in the morning with a better estimate, and that I will probably be the first stop.

When I don't hear from the truck crew in the morning, I head into work (20-30 minute drive). Around 10:30am I get a call from the furniture store telling me the truck is outside my house, why am I not there? I explain to them that they forgot to call me. Now that I have heard from them, I can be there in 20-30 minutes. They decided that they will do another run and come back between 11:30-12:30. OK, great. I go home at 11:30 and wait around an hour. When they don't show up by 12:30 I call the store and explain I will be leaving for work soon if they don't show up. The store has no way to contact the truck. Great system they have...their drivers can't afford a cell phone? Where do the huge delivery charges go? Fortunately (for them), they show up 10 minutes later, just before I get into my car to drive away. They then have the nerve to grumble and complain that they had to make two trips to my house. I can't say I feel sorry for them. It seems ironic that they would complain about my wasting their time after they were so willing to waste mine.

That really butters my muffin.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Law & Order

I hate Law & Order. No, I'm not a Muslim extremist - I'm talking about the TV show. You know, the one that is on 47 times a week on TNT, NBC, etc.

First of all, every night it is guaranteed that at some point I will walk into a room somewhere in my house and hear someone on the TV say "now, tell us about the third rape but please go slower and provide more detail".

Second, there's Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Focus on Incest, and god knows how many other variations. One of these is always on somewhere in the house. It is like some form of evil Muzak.

What the hell is wrong with people that they need to watch this crap. There are channels that show you how to prepare food or fix up your house. Why not watch one of them? If an alien watched TV in my house, he would determine that the most prevalent activities in our society are rape, murder, and theft. Also, he would probably keep forgetting which one is Sam Waterston and which is Jerry Orbach.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Porn Sites get their own Domain

Having a domain '.xxx' reserved for porn sites sounds like a good idea, right? Not according to some. ICANN, the agency that oversees domain naming, has delayed approving the domain due to heavy opposition. WHAT? These protesters, who claim they want to "protect the children", are against segregating porn sites? They believe it implies embracement and acceptance of pornography. Come on. We all know there is wide spread approval of porn(due to heavy internet traffic), they just want to keep their blinders on and pretend it will go away. Last I heard these sites are legal anyway (for the most part, I assume). Who are they to have a say in how legal operations name their websites?

Having a reserved domain name for porn will allow folks to more easily avoid the sites (or find them as it may be) if desired. It is true that the naming will be voluntary and that some in the porn industry may still have other domain names, but I expect most will want to use the '.xxx' domain. In the bare minimum (pun intended) it will keep you (er, somebody else) from accidentally typing in a porn site at work. I've personally seen colleagues try to guess a vendor's website name only to have unexpected results. Do I need to spell out what happened when I tried to get to Dick's Sporting Goods website by guessing the name?

While we are at it, how about '.spam'?

That really boils my blood.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Asking for the Number Again

About 20 years ago, customer support phone systems started asking us to punch in our account number. Then when the person came on, the first question they would ask is to say the same account number that we just wasted our time punching in.

What gets me is that, 20 years later, this still happens a lot of the time. There should be a rule that no one is allowed to work on any robots or other fun stuff until they figure out a way for a number I punch in to show up on someone's screen when they take my call.

Also, I am annoyed by the double standard. If my software forced people to provide the same information twice consecutively, the product would not be released and the whole team would probably be fired. But somehow this is ok for customer service. The resaon is that nobody ever checks on customer service when they buy something - only price and features.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Cell Phones: The Infinite Contract

I needed a new cell phone when I moved from Maryland to Virginia. I signed-up for one of these "2 year commitments" in order to avoid the $36 "Set-up fee" and to get a (crappy) free phone. After I thought about it some more, I really regret the decision. Committing to over $1000 of potentially mediocre or bad service just to save about $100 was a bad choice.

A 2-year contract for a cell phone is ridiculous. You don't sign a 2 year lease when you rent an apartment. You don't commit to 2 years on your cable television. (Shh, don't give them that idea.) With technology changing so fast, just think of how different cell phone service (and phones) will be in 2 years, and you will still be stuck with the crappy old stuff.

The biggest power you, the consumer, has over the vendors is the option to shop somewhere else. You give up that option when you agree to such a long term commitment. And trust me, customer "churn" is one of the biggest concerns to cell phone companies. They need your business more than you need them.

That really gets my goat.

Slave to the GPS

I'm getting a little bit annoyed by people who buy these expensive GPS navigation systems for their car, but in many cases it causes more trouble than the old fashioned way.

1. I told my sister we were meeting at a park and gave her directions. She said she needs the address of the park so she can punch it in to her GPS. "I don't go anywhere without using the route in my GPS". So I had to go online to look up the street address of the park! Then she couldn't find us because her car took her to a different area of the park.

2. I was late to a business meeting a few months ago, because the colleague I was meeting at a nearby restaurant was almost 30 minutes late. He said "The GPS in my car said I could turn left, but they changed the light into an overpass". If he had checked a map or asked me for directions he would have been fine.

3. I think maps are going to be like analog clocks and arithmetic - a few years from now, no one will know how to use them anymore.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Aggressive Pedestrians

What is the deal with aggressive pedestrians? I see them more and more. You know the type, they walk slowly in the middle of the parking lot row, while you drive slowly behind them. Sure, they could walk over a bit on the side, to allow you to pass. But they feel the need to assert their power over you. They think that just, because you have a car, you are despicable and need to be taught some kind of lesson.

That really ticks me off.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Microsoft XBOX Accessory Squeeze

Microsoft recently announced that the new XBOX 360 will have a proprietary protocol for its peripheral interfaces. Microsoft is doing this so that they can get royalties from third party manufacturers. Because of this, Microsoft will control what peripherals can be added to the XBOX, and will add a sizeable chunk to the cost of those devices.

The consumer loses out for several reasons...

1) The consumer is suckered in by the cheap price for the hardware. This has been the business model since the original XBOX and the Sony Playstation. The XBOX hardware was actually unprofitable. The consumer is then hit with higher prices for the extras; game controllers, DVD controller, networking equipment, voice headsets, etc., in order to generate revenue. (The software is also full of licensing fees, but I'm not ranting about that here.) We, the consumers, are partially to blame for allowing this. We are easily enticed by cheaper up-front costs without considering the entire costs of owning the product including the accessories. Don't be fooled.

2) The opportunity to purchase cheaper third-party peripherals will be limited. I find it unlikely that many third party vendors will be able to undercut the cost of Microsoft peripherals when they are also going to be paying a royalty to Microsoft in order to sell the product. Also, consider this. Let's say you have some fantastic auto racing game on your computer, so you buy the MS steering wheel control. (I have one, it's fun.) Now, when you get a driving game for the XBOX, you'll have to buy a separate controller, because the PC one will be incompatible with the XBOX. There is no technical reason for this, only a greedy business model.

That really pisses me off.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The List

See sidebar.