YouTube Autoplay: Bad or Good or … ?

YouTube’s habit of queuing up a bunch of videos so that it will continue to play ad nauseam can be bad or good. We suspect that—like all websites—it wants to hold onto viewers so it can continue to ply them with advertisements. And if the content of the videos in the queue were always helpful or at least entertaining it might be OK. But we—and a bunch of other folks—have historically found that they are often more annoying than useful. And often it is baffling why YouTube chooses the ones it does. However, more recently we are finding that it can be useful to put the video on hold and read the titles of the ones in the queue to stimulate other ideas, possibly THEN viewing one or more, but not all, of the queued-up list.

Honorable Contributor: Annoyed Bill

WowWee ChiP Robot Toy Dog: Great Technology but Silly Omissions

Forget the grandchildren; grandma herself loved her Christmas present of a WowWee ChiP robot dog from HongKong-based WowWee. It’s a great gadget for under $200, packed with features like voice recognition and gesture control.  Even the owner’s manual is complete and well-written. But why did the company force grandpa to install four wheel guards, using microscopic-sized Philips-head screws? Very likely they had manufactured and assembled thousands of units before they finished their testing, and discovered a malfunction, and didn’t want to remanufacture them. (It is not clear WHY these wheel guards are needed, but the instructions suggest that they are to prevent the wheels (which are made to look like paws) from becoming choked with dust, hair, or other detritus.)  Well, we should praise the company for discovering this and fixing it (of course, it is a lot cheaper than having to deal with a bunch of customer complaints, returns, and reputation diminution), but we will rebuke them for the defective way they did it. The screws were so small that (a) many consumers would not own screwdrivers small enough, and (b) it would be very easy to lose one or more of them (8 were provided, but it would have cost almost nothing and prevented customer problems if they had provided 10 or 12. And the instructions could easily have caused all but the most savvy grandpa (well, maybe they figured that grandpas ARE savvy), because they warn in a footnote that the four wheels are not identical and must be dealt with one at a time AFTER they have said to loosen the wheels. This is typical of consumer products, but we thought that as clever a company as WowWee should know better. And WowWee should have already had a group of nitpickers and/or some savvy UX (Uxer eXperience) engineers doing usability testing, so grandma and grandpa didn’t have to deal with screws they can hardly see.

Fixit Bill

Boy Scout Compasses More Useful Than Handheld GPS Devices?

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GPS (Global Positioning Systems) CAN magically tell you where you are, IF you have access to both the GPS signal AND geographical data that translates latitude and longitude into streets or other recognizable landmarks. I have a long  and unsuccessful history with handheld GPS devices. Some years ago I was delighted to find a Garmin PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, remember those?) with a built-in GPS. And it included the geographical data. I wanted to use it to find my way in Japan and other unfamiliar countries or regions.  The problem was that even my seasoned IT consultant was unable to load it with the geographical data (probably because it was too voluminous for the device). Useless! Very recently I bought a Bushnell BackTrack GPS for my direction-challenged wife, partly as a gag gift. Equally useless! My old Boy Scout compass was more helpful. I admit that the Bushnell sounded promising, and it might be useful in some situations. What is wrong with it? Let me count the ways. First, it has a user interface that only a mother could love; its buttons were modal (i.e., they did different things depending on which mode you were in, a no-no so bad that a Silicon Valley denizen had/has a “NOMODES” license plate) making this simple device unnecessarily complicated to actually use. Second, if you try to use it in a city with a lot of even medium-tall buildings, it may not be able to see the GPS satellites so would not work at all. Third, and worst, if you succeed in figuring out how to use it, and mark your starting point, then try to return there, it does not at all remember your route, instead just showing an arrow pointing toward the starting point. That MIGHT be useful if you were in a flat, open area with no obstacles, but in reality you would have to deal with dead-end streets, bridges, etc. in an urban environment or mountains, cliffs, rivers, etc. in a countryside. Despite these shortcomings, this gadget has garnered high ratings on Amazon. We wonder how many of the five-star ratings were from people who really used it.

Pathfinder Bill

Swivel Personal Cameraman Disenfranchised Me

As a very early customer, I expected better treatment. But, within 6 months they obsoleted their first model, without either notifying me or offering me an upgrade or discount on the new model. I own an iPhone 4S, which worked with the first model OK for a while (after a repair of the defective original Swivl unit). But there is new firmware and a new App. The new App does not work properly, and Swivl’s customer service did not respond to my requests for help on a timely basis.

Honorable Contributor: Wild Bill

New and Dopey Password Setting Rules

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The formats of passwords have recently become a lot more demanding and the organizations forcing us to have passwords have made us run a truly nasty gantlet (look it up!). The nastiness seems to be a recent phenomenon, perhaps a result of all the major hacking attacks in the last few months. One of the latest dirty tricks is to provide two boxes, one for entering the password (which blanks out your entry) and another for confirming it (which also blanks out your entry), as well as a third alternative of letting the organization create the password for you. As you make the first entry, you get nasty comments that your password is not strong enough, forcing you to make changes until you have satisfied the demand. Even if you have carefully noted the approved password, by now it is a challenge to enter it exactly in the confirmatory box. And people are now finding that, in fact, these organizations do not want you to select your own password, and you MUST let the organization chose one for you. It is not the end of the world, but (a) if you have your own system for creating passwords you will NEVER succeed in getting one, and (b) why bother to offer to let you create your own?

Honorable Contributor: Wild Bill

Google’s Phony “Privacy Checkup” and Dopey Ad Relevancy Checkup

To paraphrase the song Orange Colored Sky (popularized in 1950 by Nat King Cole and revived by Lady Gaga in 2010), “I was surfing along, minding my business, when out of a Google-colored sky, Flash! Bam! Alakazam! “Privacy Checkup” came by”. Actually, it was not love (Cupid) that came and hit me in the eye, but more accurately that old devil Advertising. After a brief display of what Google knows about me (not very much and not very accurate, which baffles me because I have done so many transactions starting with Google searches and have been a member of Google+ for nearly two years), the tone of their mission shifted very quickly from something that might have benefitted me to something that essentially only benefits them: “Make ads more relevant to you”! But that old devil’s aim was faulty, and his English was even worse, as he couched it in gibberish doubletalk: “Please note that you will still see ads after opting out – they’ll just be less relevant.” What !!?? Opting out should mean I would NOT see ads, no? And why would either Google or I want to see less relevant ads? Does Google need a healthy dash of adult supervision?

Honorable Contributor: Wild Bill

Costly Website Crashes in 2014 to Learn From

In a single week in September 2014, eBay, PayPal, FaceBook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Apple all either had significant performance issues or saw their sites go down completely. posted an interesting article covering this, which also accuses many of these tech giants as being repeat—in some cases even serial—offenders for application failures throughout the year.

Honorable Contributor: George Wilbur


Technology Bloopers in the Classroom

The biggest computer and technology blooper is when school districts buy computer software that the children think is boring, or worse, if it is too hard to use. How do we get educators to teach children software without making the children feel overwhelmed? How can we get there when a lot of our software does not even run well? See what President Obama would like us to do.

Honorable Contributor: Henry J.

Reddit Misbehavior

Ever try to post something meaningful on Reddit? Even if you haven’t posted anything for several days, and try to post a useful link, they make you run a gantlet of TRYING to verify your tried-and-true email address. I am still waiting for them to send me their “real soon now” verification email that I initiated two weeks ago.

Reddit cluelessness

Honorable Contributor: Wild Bill