Jun 29, 2012

Slow Ketchup

There are a few things in life that I thought I would always be able to complain about. How slowly ketchup comes out of a bottle, how linen looks good but wrinkles, and how you after you pass the sweet spot in the temperature of your coffee you have to drink it faster and faster because it cools down faster and faster the more you drink. But now, thanks for some smarty pants at MIT, we don’t have to worry about the ketchup problem. Very cool.

Original article: MIT’s Freaky Non-Stick Coating Keeps Ketchup Flowing



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May 29, 2012

Buttons You Can’t Click

There is nothing like an itch you can’t scratch. Wait, yes there is—there are buttons you can’t click.

You’re ready to proceed but the button you want to click looks disabled and then YOU have to do something. This is bad enough, but ALSO: You don’t know what to do. They leave you there in the middle of the Internet, standing in front of a locked door, and they don’t tell you what the password is. Or even whether you need a password, a key, a smile, or a dandelion. You think that this is just the way life is. You look for a dandelion. And then, out of the blues, you see this ray of sunshine on Amazon.com—it’s a button you CAN click.

Wait, no it’s not—it’s a button that LOOKS like you can click it but then when you go to click it, it appears disabled and they tell you what you need to do in order to proceed.

So why does this make me happy? Well, just because they’ve told me what I need to do in order to proceed. There is no wandering around in the dark. I was on a path the whole time, and Amazon was my tour guide. I’m a happy tourist. So much happier than if I had been greeted like this:



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Apr 25, 2012

Porta-Potties and Four-a-Potties

On Saturday, it was sunny. I went to Dolores Park like everyone else, drank beer like everyone else, and then I had to pee like everyone else. Except that I don’t have to pee like everyone else—I’m a guy and half of the everybody elses are gals. They have to open a door and sit down and I just need a tree. But since all of the trees were taken up by the slackliners, I had to wait in line like everyone else for a Porta-Potty. Even though the lines were set up correctly, I was annoyed. Isn’t there some way that this process can be made faster? I have to pee.

Someone in Holland must have had a similar thought because they invented this, a Porta-Potty that is 4 urinals. Call it a four-a-potty. This means that the guy collective can pee 4 times as fast, and it’s good for the gals as well because half the people in front of them in line will leave that line to get in line for the four-a-potty.

The Australians like a bit more privacy.

And it looks like there are even four-a-potty urinals for women. Those Europeans.

Four-a-potties rock! San Francisco, please bring one of these to Dolores Park on the next sunny beery day.

(Special thanks to Ali Spagnola for the free thumbnail art!)



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Apr 18, 2012

How I Wish I Could Set Up a Tripod

Tripods are fairly easy to set up for your average human being, but half of us are below average. Ahem.

Someone had the same idea and built a tripod that sets up much more quickly. It’s called the Zipshot tripod. No, they did not pay me to say that.

Their website is www.zipshottripod.com. It’s on Amazon here.



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Feb 29, 2012

Should I stop or should I go?

Stop signs tell me to stop. I like that. They’re straightforward. But as I look off to the side, there is something not so straightforward. I wonder: “Do cars coming from the side street have a stop?” I proceed with some caution because I don’t know. It’s not very clear. I look, and see this:

Exactly. Pretty ordinary.

In User-Friendlytopia, I see this:

The back of the stop sign is painted a noticeable red. The post has been painted with red stripes. I don’t wonder: “Do cars coming from the side street have a stop?”

Thank you, Painter of Stop Signs. I like your work.

(Note: This apparently was done in Seattle as Christmas decoration to make the stop signs look like candy canes.)


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Jan 11, 2012

CTRL + ALT + DEL = ?

Sometimes at work, I leave my desk and come back to see that someone has made my life a little more difficult for no apparent reason. I come back, sit down, and see this:

I have to “Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to begin.”

What am I, a pianist?! I hear no music. Who makes these crazy rules? Why doesn’t it just let me hit any key I want and then ask me for my password? What calls for these acrobatics? Or, perhaps more to the point, who?

Microsoft, I want an answer.

They actually give one:

“To log on, hold down the Ctrl and Alt keys, then press the Delete key. This key combination is recognized only by Windows, so pressing it before logging on ensures that you are giving your password only to Windows.”

“This applies only to your Windows or domain password. Passwords associated with Web pages or specific programs will not require you to press Ctrl-Alt-Delete.”



Can’t it just be like this?



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Dec 31, 2011

11AM, 12AM, 12:01AM

I find this parking sign slightly odd. It tells me that I can’t park here starting at 12:01AM because of street cleaning. 12:01, they say, not 12:00. Why be that precise? Why not just say 12AM and save some paint? Why say 12:01 instead of 12:04, or 12:53? On other NO PARKING signs, it says something more unnoticeable, like “Starting at 2AM.” Like this:

If I had to guess why they say “12:01AM” and not “12AM”, I’d guess that it’s because they want to be clear about which day it is that you can’t park here. They want people to know that when they say “Monday 12:01AM”, they mean the very start of Monday rather than, I suppose, the very end of Monday. But I don’t think this helps any. If you don’t know that 12:00AM Monday refers to the point at which very late Sunday night becomes very early Monday morning, then I don’t think you’ll know that 12:01AM is one minute after that. I’m not blaming them for this—it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the convention that we use.

If I were taking an IQ test and was asked, “What’s the next item in this series: 9PM, 10PM, 11PM, ?”, I would say, “12PM”. Why wouldn’t I? But it turns out that I’d be wrong. If we’re talking about time, then “12AM” is next in the series—which is kind of strange. So this is not so much a complaint about this peculiar parking sign as it is a complaint about our peculiar way of labeling the hours of the day. Why make it so difficult for people to know which are the first 12 hours of the day and which are the second?

What good comes from this easy confusion?


Nov 29, 2011

Sun Visor Blues

You know how when you’re driving along and then the sun gets in your eyes? Then you start to hold up your hand to block the sun from your eyes, which causes a noticeable amount of guilt for driving with only one hand on the wheel, and then you realize that some kind soul has previously experienced this very annoyance and danger and has invented a device to solve the sun-in-your-eyes problem: It’s The Sun Visor.

As grateful as I am for this third hand that blocks the sun without any third arm getting tired, I have some complaints about the standard solution. I would like to like my sun visor more but several things about it are not ideal. Here’s what I don’t like:


1. It doesn’t go low enough.

There’s some space below the lowest part of the sun visor where the sun can still get into my eyes. What am I supposed to do then? I still have to drive, and the sun is still in my eyes. This needs to be fixed. We need to be able to see out the window, of course, so the sun visor can’t block too much of the window, but it should be able to block the sun wherever the sun is and right now it can’t because it doesn’t go low enough.


2. The way that it goes lower is a little weird.

When I want to make the sun visor go higher or lower, I push it away from me or I pull it towards me. That is, it goes up and down by going forward and backward. Why doesn’t it go up and down by going up and down? Why can’t I just pull it down when I want it to go down and push it up when I want it to go up? That would be more natural.


3. When I need to move the sun visor the side to block the sun coming in from the side window, I have to move my head out of the way.

True story. I have to move my head. Me. I don’t see why I should have to move my head. I was here first. I don’t have to move out of the way when I turn the radio on. Or the windshield wipers. Or when I roll down the window. Why does The Sun Visor make me move out of its way?


4. When I’m on a slightly windy road and the sun goes back and forth between the front window and the side window, then I have to keep moving the sun visor between the front and side windows.

And I have to keep moving my head out of the way each time I move the visor. If the sun is in front of me and it moves a little to the left or a little to the right, it’s no big deal—one visor position blocks the sun’s small movements. But when the sun is near the corner of the car and it moves a little to the left or a little to the right, then I need to move the sun visor from the front to the side or from the side to the front. Either that or I leave it where it is and move my head forward or backward so that the sun visor is still blocking the sun from my view. Both of those options require more effort than just sitting there, doing nothing, and letting the sun visor do its job. If the sun visor were on a track like a sliding door instead of pivoting at the corner of the car, then I could just slide it over so that the center of the sun visor was at the corner of the car and then when the sun moved a little to the left or a little to the right of the corner of the car, I could just sit there and say, “Gee, isn’t this sun visor nice.”


5. It’s sort of hard to take out of the hinge.

When I need to move the sun visor from the front window to the side window, it’s sort of hard to get the visor out of its hinge. I always have to kind of brace myself first and then yank it out, and then move it to the side. And then when I want to move it back to the front, I usually don’t put it back in its hinge because I might have to take it out again later and since yanking it out of its hinge is a minor ordeal, I want to avoid it. But then in the meantime if I want to make it go higher or lower, I do that by pushing it forward or pulling it backward and neither of those actions is as easy to do when it’s not in its hinge. I might pull it towards me because I want it to go up and it might start rotating to the side because it’s not in its hinge. Yes, I’m really complaining about all this stuff.


6. It’s difficult to block the sun when the sun is on the other side of the car.

I can take care of blocking the sun on my side of the car—in front of me and to the left of me—but half the time the sun comes in from in front of the passenger side or to the right of the passenger side. There’s another sun visor over there that’s easy for a passenger to reach but it’s hard for the driver to reach, and if the driver is driving without passengers, then she will have to try to do this herself. It might be easier just to close your right eye.


6 1/2. The sun visor sometimes hits my rear view mirror and then I have to reposition my rear view mirror.

I guess this is just due to someone not measuring quite right, so I’ll only count this as a half a complaint but when you’ve worked so hard to get the rear view mirror to just the right place, it’s annoying that that work can be undone in one swift inadvertent sun-blocking motion.


So: Someone With More Power Than I, please go fix all this and make A Better Sun Visor. I promise you that someone out here will care.

Thank you.


Nov 9, 2011

Little Things That Bother Me

Asterisks are little things, probably no bigger than most mosquitoes, but they sometimes bother me. Don’t get me wrong, using asterisks to mark the required fields on all of these online forms is great. It means that my Inner Slacker / Inner Efficiency Freak can do the bare minimum that’s required and then get on with my life. So I’m not complaining about the asterisk convention; I like that. What I would like to complain about is that these asterisks are usually found after the field label. It’s common to see “Email Address” followed by an asterisk rather than an asterisk followed by “Email Address”. So why is this a problem? Well, two reasons: (1) It puts the information in the wrong order and (2) It makes it difficult to scan.

Wrong Order: If my Inner Slacker wants to fill out only what’s required, then the asterisks are very important elements on the form. I don’t care about the phrase “Email Address” unless it’s required, and in the current order, I don’t know that it’s required until I see the asterisk, which is after I read the phrase “Email Address”. We read from left to right and so People Who Put Asterisks to the Right of Field Labels are making me read a little more than I have to or care to.

Scanning: if I want to scan the form and quickly find the required fields, this is hard to do when the asterisks come after the field labels because they’re all zigzaggedy.

I see this:

But I’d rather see this:

Here’s how I would like my thought process to be able to go:
Line 1 – Is it required? No. Skip it.
Line 2 – Is it required? Yes. What is it? Email Address. Fill it out.

If asterisks came first, then I could do this. But since they don’t, I have to do this instead:
Line 1 – It’s Name. Is it required? No. Skip it.
Line 2 – It’s Email Address. Is it required? Yes. Fill it out.

You see the extra step in the second version of Line 1. The fact that the first field is “Name” enters my consciousness when I didn’t ask it to, which is a little bit rude. This doesn’t affect Over Achievers who will be filling out the entire form anyway but for people whose Inner Slackers have better things to do, this wastes a little bit of our time. We don’t care about anything that’s not required, so tell us whether it’s required or not first before you tell us what it is. Please. :) Thank you.


Oct 31, 2011

Buying Bread Online

I found this video by Google particularly entertaining and painful to watch as a user experience designer and I’m hoping that I’m relieving some of this pain in the everyday world. Buying bread online should be as easy as buying bread offline.