Products That Need Standards Rant

Tonight’s rant is a simple rant with simple goals (to improve the world, of course.


WARM-UP TO THE RANT

Stop for a moment and think about the various Standards that surround you.

I’m not just talking about the obvious Standards (like USB, IEEE1394=Firewire, 802.11abcdefgthruz), but also about the subterranean foundational standards (ANSI screw sizes, ASCII, double-click-to-open-files). Standards are literally everywhere, and more often than not, I bet we are totally unaware of their existence. In fact, good standards fit into our lives seamlessly and fail to get in the way (unlike the current alphabet soup in a blender that is USB/IEEE1394/802.11/RS232/blahblahblah).

How about some other standards that we all take for granted:

  • The size of a milk carton or jug
  • The size of a 12oz cola beverage
  • The location of pedals in automobiles (whether it be a sports car, stick shift, automatic or Big Rig).
  • The standard lightbulb socket.
  • The cigarette lighter in your car that is now really just a power port.
  • Common Batteries (at least the good ones…see below about the bad ones).
  • Toilets (at least those in the “Western World”…Japan had some interesting hole-in-the-floor contraptions that scared me).
  • …and thousands of others…

No, this is not a rant opposed to standards.

In fact, I think well applied standards, or even well-evolved standards are wonderful things. The more static a standard (think nuts and bolts or the span of a railway track) the more comfortable we feel with it.

I’m not even going to rant heavily about standards that can’t make up their own friggin’ mind. For this we have 802.11*, USB123, BlueTooth and all the other jokey never-got-it-right-in-the-first-place standards. Give me RS232 and ethernet baby. Standards of a different era that have STOOD THE TEST OF TIME.

Heck, and I’m not even going to devote this rant to DVDs and HDCDs, even if they deserve it.

But real quick: Why the F#*# are there so many gosh-darn DVD, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD!R, DVD#R, DVD@R, DVD%R, burning standards? It’s almost like they decided to fit every single SHIFT-# between the letters “DVD” and “R” and make a standard for it. Worse yet, why the F*#* are there 2 groups working on the next generation DVD standard!? Why do we need HDCDs and $3000 audio cables?

THE RANT BEGINS

What I am here to rant about tonight is the LACK of standards on certain products that have been around for quite some time and DEFINITELY NEED STANDARDS. As a user, I suffer because of these Reinvent-The-Wheel-Jockies. For instance:

Microwaves

We’ll start the list with a ubiquitous item that isn’t really seen as a “tech” item anymore. Microwaves have been around for decades, yet every single microwave I have ever used has it’s own bloody interface. Could we please standardize on the method of nuking food? Is it so hard to unify COOK–1-0-0-START for a minute’s worth of radiation? If that’s too much for the little 8-bit microcontrollers, then we can cut it down to 1-0-0-START. I have a microwave that makes it that easy and I love it. On some, I have seen the TIME-1-0-0-START, which scares me into thinking I am actually setting the microwave CLOCK TIME instead of nuking the bacon (setting the clock time on this particular model is its own joy). For gosh sakes….CALCULATORS DO FAR MORE THAN MICROWAVES AND ARE FAR EASIER TO USE (except, of course, for bloody reverse pole calculators…those things have terrible interfaces). And I haven’t even begun to berate Microwave “defrost” settings, power settings and autocook settings (never use ’em). Time to start knocking heads at GE, Sunbeam, Daewoo and all of the other jokers who claim to “design” microwaves.

Voicemail

Another ubiquitous yet reinvented interface is voicemail. At this time in my life I have 3 different voicemail boxes AND A DIFFERENT INTERFACE ON EACH ONE. On SBC, it’s “1” to repeat, “2” to save and “3” to delete, yet I have no idea what fast-forward and rewind are. On my AT&T wireless it’s “3” to fast forward, “7” to delete and “9” to save…I think. At work (I’m not making this one up) it’s “D” to delete, “K” to keep, “P” to play again. What’s funny is that some idiot decided that “D”, “K” and “P” were easier to find on a phone than the big bold numbers printed on the center of each button.

So, can we please just standardize on one bloody voicemail interface? It’s not like there are that many commands one needs for a voice message (save, delete, play, pause, fast forward, repeat). Email is far more techno-seeming, yet has kept the same set of headers for decades.

Cell Phone & Laptop Batteries

Nothing irks me more than the downright lameness that is the tech industry when it comes to rechargeable batteries. I like my AA and AA and 9V batteries. You notice how C & D cells are almost nonexistent nowadays? Well, when it comes to the world of laptop and cell phone batteries, they make you shell out between $40 and $120 for a custom packaged battery. Sure, some cell phones share, but there must be at least 2 dozen different cell phone battery sizes out there. Same thing for laptops! There is no need for that array of sizes (I doubt there are that many different voltages or communication standards for all those batteries).

Could you imagine if every car you bought had it’s own special fuel requirements? This is what cellphone and laptop manufacturers require of their users. You would have to buy a tanker full of “Special Fuel” that would last (if you’re lucky) for the life of your car. Even if you had 2 cars of the same make, forget trying to swap fuel around…wouldn’t work. Worse yet, if you had a vintage car, they would stop making your special fuel. The car analogy is a good one for the tech industry to be embarrassed by. Face it, we spend nearly as much on computers as we do on automobiles (at least I do) yet we accept >10x the product abuse from our computers (ever had to reinstall the OS in your car or virus scan your engine?). Seriously…..time to slow down the product differentiation and standardize on a few package sizes and colors!

Inkjet Ink Cartridges

Speaking of flagrant user abuse, the printer industry should be summarily executed. For the last couple of years, there have note been enough giant leaps in inkjet cartridge technology to merit the hundreds of various cartridge sizes out there. Truth be told, the manufactures make money on the ink and they will even admit to that fact. However, it is the users (and landfills) that suffer for all of the poorly manufactured, one-time-use, non-cross-functional cartridge designs. Like laptop batteries, Inkjet Cartridges should have fewer standards than I can count on my 10 stubby fingers. Go to a reputable art store and you won’t find the same variety of paint brushes that you find in inkjet cartridges at a Fry’s. It just doesn’t make any sense.

DVR’s

One word: TiVo. If you’ve ever tried or spoken to users of any of the other DVRs you’ll find that they *think* they have TiVo when in fact they have nothing more than a VCR+ enabled hard drive. TiVo rocks and has a user interface that simply kicks ass and runs circles around all of the other knock-offs and re-invents. Comcast finally woke up and signed a deal with TiVo. DirecTV is threatening to break with TiVo (and will lose my business as soon as they do). Simply put, the world doesn’t need a bunch of DOS-like knockoffs winning the market over on cheap price and monopoly deals (think Windoze vs. MacOS…..which interface stays out of your way and lets you get the job done….it certainly ain’t the clunky-ass ExPee).

So, I would love to see us all standardize on the TiVo interface and QUICKLY. Sure, TiVo may come and it may go, but things like the 7 second back button and the wish lists and the preferential season pass manager and the To Do List and the Program Searching and the Suggestions and the Messages box and the cute little guy that stands in your corner waiting for you to select your Now Playing choice in less time than it took to write this run-on sentence. I vote for TiVo!

THE RANT ENDS

So that’s all my Products That Need Standards rants for now. Maybe in the future I will add more listings, but right now I got some Modern Marvels episodes saved up on my TiVo.

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