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Archive for the ‘Bad Product’ Category

I am a man who flies well over 100,000 miles a year in commercial airliners. I have taken many flights in 737 Max 8 planes. I am also a software engineer who spent a significant time of his early career working on servo motor controls and control systems. So I know a think or two about software controlling machinery, overrides, safety stops, redundant sensor input and the like.

I saw an article in the current Time Magazine titled Second-Hand Safety and chose to show you this excerpt:

Enter the 737 Max. Featuring new engines and aerodynamic changes, the grownup Baby Boeing promised carriers up to 20% better fuel efficiency and lower operating costs. There were challenges in the new design. The model’s new LEAP-1B engines, for instance, are 20 in. larger than the original engines. So Boeing redesigned the 737’s pylons, which hold the engines to the wing, and moved them farther forward. But the more powerful engines in a different location could pitch the jet’s nose upward, creating conditions for a midair stall.

To prevent the stall, Boeing created an automated-flight-control feature called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). When MCAS sensors detected the nose of the plane pitching up, the software controlling the tail’s horizontal stabilizer would automatically push the nose back down. It was a novel fix to a nagging design problem.

But Boeing took a number of steps that blunted the scrutiny the feature could draw from safety regulators at the FAA. In an early report to the FAA that certified the plane as safe to fly, Boeing understated how much the system could move the horizontal tail, according to the Seattle Times. “When the planes later entered service, MCAS was capable of moving the tail more than four times farther than was stated in the initial safety analysis document,” the Times reported. Also, Boeing failed to account for how “the system could reset itself each time a pilot responded, thereby missing the potential impact of the system repeatedly pushing the airplane’s nose downward.” And Boeing said MCAS should not be activated if it received data gathered from just one of two sensors – “and that’s how it was designed” the Times reported.

Just as it understated the extent to which MCAS might take automated control of the plane, Boeing, with the support of regulators, decided against extensive training for pilots on the 737 Max, including in how to disable the software.

— Time Magazine, April 1, 2019, page 44 – Second-Hand Safety

This is scary. When you work on machines that can kill people when they malfunction, it brings the tension and stress to a whole other level. I have a lot of respect for the engineers who are writing the software for the SpaceX Dragon system for manned space flight. I have respect for Elon Musk who will have to watch that first launch with two astronauts on board, whose lives will be at risk. Any one software mistake can result in catastrophic failure.

I do not know the details of the Boeing 737 Max 8 problems, other than what I have read in the popular literature, like all of us. It sounds like the engineers did their jobs. Software will forever control the lives of humans, and the MCAS system is just one of those systems. But not allowing pilots to be trained properly to accelerate sales was negligent. A pilot needs to know that the horizontal stabilizers can act against the flight controls and push the nose down, and pilots need to know how they can disable this if needed. Something went wrong with the software and the pilots apparently weren’t trained to see the failure and certainly they didn’t know how to override the system before catastrophe hit.

This is not good for Boeing.

In this time when “regulations” are being rolled back everywhere, we need to remember that these regulations are there to protect us, from long-term effects of pollution, from longer-term effects of climate change, to very short-term effects of a robot failing and sending an airliner into a nosedive. It is the government’s responsibility to protect us from corporations that have a profit motive above all.

We’re now dealing with the fallout of this lack of enforcement.

I’ll be flying again soon.

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Cars and Ashtrays

I am not a smoker. I have never smoked in my life.

But I miss the ashtrays that we used to have in cars.

I always used the ashtrays to keep coins for parking meters and for the occasional pan handler by the side of the road.

Now I have no place to store my coins.

Not being a smoker, I never had any use for the cigarette lighters, either. I routinely removed those from my cars and literally threw them in the garbage. I never needed them. I used the lighter sockets for my device chargers, of course, and I still do.

But the lack of the ashtrays brings up a larger point, particularly now that we have so many wildfires in California. Even though smoking rates are way down from what they used to be, there are still smokers in the world and they drive.

Where do they put their cigarette butts with no ashtrays in cars? They have to throw them out the window. While that may not be a big deal in Ohio, it can quickly be catastrophic in California. Not to mention all the littering. Just look out your car doors at busy intersections. Cigarette butts abound. And I even understand that. Where is a smoker going to put the butts?

What were car manufacturers thinking when they started removing ashtrays from cars?

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Some cars are more user-friendly than others. I rent cars at least 30 times every year, and I have learned that when you sit down in some cars, everything is where it should be. Toyotas are like that. I don’t remember ever being in a Toyota and not being able to figure out how it works.

Not so with the VW Golf. It was dark at 11:00pm in the rental car garage. I stood behind the car and tried to open the hatch. I clicked the unlock button on the key fob, held it down, double clicked, to no avail. I tried to pull, push, nothing worked. I bent over and looked under the latch, no buttons. I was about to give up and throw my suitcase into the back seat when I accidentally touched the logo. It turned, and the hatch popped open.

Here is a picture I took the next day in the sunlight. Would you have guessed that you need to push in the logo to unlock the hatch?

Here is how it’s done:

The hairy blob is my left hand, holding the logo open – bad photograph.

Then I entered the car and got ready to start it. Here is what the key looks like. Doesn’t this look like you have to insert it somewhere?

I tried to find the key hole. It was dark in the car, but there was a plate on the steering column into which I tried to insert the key. But I couldn’t get it in. Eventually I turned on the flashlight on my phone to check. I found a non-functioning plate.

Notice all the scratch marks. This shows that I was not the first one to try to figure out how to start the car in the dark on a plastic cover plate.

Eventually, I found the starter button, nicely hidden and small next to the shift stick. Another thing impossible to find in the dark. Only with a flashlight was I able to find this. Whatever happened to lighting up critical controls?

This means that even though there is a key, the car actually does not need it. It must be just there to unlock the car from the outside.

And that brings me to the locks.

Later, at the hotel, at night, I tried to figure out how to lock the car. On the door there is a lock button. But when I pushed it, even though something clicked, the door didn’t lock. The only way I got it to lock was to dig the key fob out of my pocket and click the lock button. That did it. I am not sure what the button on the door does. Lock it did not.

And then there was the roadside assistance call that kept starting. It was dialing roadside assistance all the time, until I figured out how to turn off the screen – not a happy task while driving down the road. I still don’t know what made it think I wanted roadside assistance. I wonder how the operators like it when they get all these ghost calls from VW Golf rental cars with completely befuddled drivers. I almost had to pull over to stop my roadside assistance alarm call.

Perhaps, if I owned this car, I would get used to it. Maybe I would even like it. But I can assure you, the VW Golf it totally unsuitable for a rental car, where the user does not have the time to read the manual and get used to it. In a rental car, you have to be able to sit down and drive – and not have to fiddle with instructions and flashlights.

In the VW Golf, nothing works the way you expect it to work.

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In the last couple of months I have been asked by several sites to provide contract signatures on my computer screen.

The screen shot above shows such a screen. I was supposed to use my mouse and provide my signature.

This is so utterly foolish, I can’t believe it’s happening, and I called the company and refused. I am not able to sign my name with a mouse and make it look like anything even close to my normal signature. I can’t even properly spell my name in block letters with a mouse. The best I can do is write an X.

Go try it. Open up Microsoft Paint or any other drawing program and try to “sign” your name with your mouse. It’s impossible.

I understand using a stylus and sign on a screen. We do it all the time for delivery services like UPS. I can sign my name on a smart phone app with my fingernail – sort of.

But signing with my mouse – that is completely and utterly impossible. Anyone could do it, and I could not prove is disprove it was me.

What are these companies thinking when they ask us to sign our name using a mouse?

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Per a Reddit post, GE tries to “punish” customers that post negative reviews. So, courtesy of Reddit, here is my contribution. I have nothing to do with this washer, GE will not be happy, but customer bullying needs to be counter-acted, in my opinion.

I learned that all GE appliances since 2016 are built by the Chinese company Haier. Their reputation for quality is especially poor, even by Chinese standards.

Buy GE. Make America Great Again!

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I had to order checks that I can fill out by hand from the bank. It got to be embarrassing that I could not pay the gardener with a check. So now, we have a lifetime supply of checks. But then, I didn’t have a checkbook cover. You can’t just have a pad of checks floating around. They’ll get all dog-eared in no time. So I went on Amazon and purchased a checkbook cover. There was a surprising amount of variety available, in all price ranges. I got one of the cheapest. Vinyl.

Today it arrived. And, more prominently than anything else, inside the little Ziplock bag that the cover came in, was this label:

WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

So what do you think I’ll do now? Not hold my checkbook close to my reproductive organs? It’s a piece of plastic! Our whole house is full of plastic. My car is practically made out of plastic. And then there is my iPhone, plastic and radiation poison of all kinds, and it’s always, always within a couple of feet of my body. Oh, the damage!

Really, seriously, is there a single person in the world who will receive this package of a checkbook cover, read this label, and change his mind and send the product back to the evil manufacturer? What else could the point of this label be?

Go to any restaurant in California, and somewhere near the entrance there will be a similar sign. “This facility is using products and chemicals known to the State of California…”

Do you want to know about really shocking labels? Go to Germany.

Recently I had visitors from Germany who – no surprise there – smoked. Comically, they found it somewhat difficult to engage in their passion, since in the hotels where they stayed they had to invariably stand at the edge of the parking lot to smoke. Many properties do not allow any smoking on the hotel grounds, even outside.

But I digress. There is a picture of a German cigarette box:

The label on the side states “Rauchen ist tödlich” or “smoking is deadly.”

Look at the top of the box where it states “Kinder von Rauchern werden oft selbst zu Rauchern.” This means “children of smokers often become smokers themselves.”

Sometimes they show pictures of horrible deformations in faces or extremities caused by smoking, right outside on the packaging. The boxes look like poison products with the name of the brand, in this case “Parisienne,” a cigarette targeted at female customers, almost seemingly an afterthought.

I can’t say I haven’t been warned. So if I ever die of cancer, I will think about that checkbook cover I bought just so I can pay the gardener in 2017.

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If you have traveled in Europe and stayed in hotels, you are probably familiar with the power interlock for hotel keys. It works this way: Inside your hotel room, near your door, there is a slot, which fits the door key card. The hotel only gives each guest one key. As you enter the room, you insert your key card into the slot, and all power in the room is enabled. Without the card in that slot, there are no lights in the room.

Then, when you leave the room, you need to bring your key, and it turns off all lights automatically. While this seems odd and inconvenient, it works quite well and I am sure it reduces unneeded power consumption in hotel rooms.

Some American hotels are now trying this concept, and it is failing ludicrously.

I am currently staying at a Hilton Garden Inn in Olympia, Washington. This hotel has such a system. You can see the slot, with a hotel business card inserted at the red arrow in the photograph above.

Since Americans are likely to never have seen such a system, the desk clerk is spending extra time with every guest explaining in advance how the system works. I am sure too many guests call down and complain that there is no power in the room. Here is the solution applied in this Hilton Garden Inn:

  1. The hotel desk clerk spends an extra minute or two with each guest explaining this feature. Guests are baffled, as I observed as I stood in line. Guests could not figure out what this was all about.
  2. The desk clerk gives every guest a hotel business card to insert into the slot so he doesn’t have to use the key.
  3. I noticed that the housekeeping service plays right along with this. When I came back to my room at night, the room had been cleaned, the business card was in the slot, and all the lights were on.

Clearly, there is a serious disconnect between this hotel’s management and its power-saving initiative, and the hotel staff that sabotages the effort.

Here in America we like our lights on – bright.

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I am staying at the Embassy Suites in Syracuse.

Check out the paint job on the bathroom door! All the doors in this room looked like this.

This is how much this hotel pays attention to detail!

It made me wonder how clean my sheets are.

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Today, as many times before, I got a notice that one of my flights was delayed, and I realized that I’d need to rebook my connection. I carry my American Airlines Platinum Card with me, which contains the phone number to call for service.

It’s on the back of a light gray card in light gray TINY font. The photograph above is actually a magnification to double the size of the card, and I can actually read the number.

In the “real world” with the card in my hand, that is impossible. My 60-year-old eyes, with bifocals, cannot possibly read anything on the back of this card. The font is too small, and then it’s gray on gray, with very little contrast.

What is American Airlines thinking?

There is so much white space on this card. They could easily double the font size. They could make it bold, dark black on white, so you can read it with ease in a poorly lit airline gate area, the card on your knee while you’re fiddling with your phone.

This is not limited to American Airlines. I just checked a few other cards, like my Hilton Hotels card, and it’s got the same problem.

American Airlines – not all your customers are young eagles or owls with night vision eyesight.

We can’t read your cards!

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[click for picture credit: Reddit]

I have recommended that people stop flying United. It’s not good for the morale. There are plenty of other airlines that beat their prices, not their customers.

But if you bought your tickets months or even weeks ago, and you can’t get a refund, I recommend that you bring a boxing helmet on board with you. Here is what it looks like on United flights these days.

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The CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, now blames the customer. He said he was belligerent and raised his voice.

No shit!

If the airline had not bumped a paying customer off a flight, I can guarantee you the customer would not have been belligerent.

So, folks, be aware, you can book a flight with United Airlines, and if for any reason they don’t want you on the plane, you’re on your own. If you insist, they have you beaten bloody by airport security. Then it’s your fault. They make you the “bad guy.”

Go ahead, book your travels on United!

Makes for exciting travels!

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a-time-before-time

This is absolutely the worst book I have ever read.

I am not sure how I even came to spend $2.99 for this book. It was listed as a science fiction and time travel novel in my Amazon feed. Once I was a couple of chapters into it, and since it was so short, I kept reading it not because it had my attention, but because it was so bad, I kept reading it just to entertain myself.

I am not sure if the author is writing in English as a second language, but he’d better be. Misspellings and grammar mistakes abound. Sometimes extra words are inserted, and other times words are missing. Nobody seems to have proofread this book, let alone edited it.

I read the entire book, and I honestly don’t know what is going on. An astronaut, who likes aviator glasses (we know this because about 5% of the book talk about his glasses) leaves on a journey. It is not clear where to and why. But he has to say good bye to his wife, who goes into cryogenic sleep while he is gone. Somehow the science goes wrong and he ends up in the 1960s somewhere in the American West, and there are some characters they interact with. The astronaut is also a gambler, and he wins some money in Las Vegas. I am telling you, it is really, really bad.

Just to give you a sense, here is the entire chapter 4, where the three astronauts wake up and discover that one of the three of them is dead. You’d think that would tragic? Check for yourself:

Chapter 4

When Liam came to, the ‘balloon’ had split, slowing the ship. He was the only one of the three that were conscious. He sent some messages back to earth. Orbits of other planets were periodically slowing the ship down. His messages were sporadic. He knew that earth would not receive them for years, now, but he sent them, anyway.

He looked up. They were headed towards a planet at full speed. It was their intended destination. The ship had been knocked off course. Liam attempted to wake up his captain. Captain Stewart woke with a start.

Keats had been thrust back in his chair too forcefully. His belt had broken. His neck had broken. He was dead.

‘Stay calm.’ The captain said. Liam was unsure of who he was talking to. ‘We’re still alive. We can make it back.’ He muttered under his breath, before calmly telling Liam some orders. He immediately obliged. The ship yawed and tilted. It was in the pull of the atmosphere, but it was enough. They orbited it and began heading back in the direction of earth.

‘Let’s sleep.’ The captain said, leaving his chair and painfully making his way back to the quarters. Liam sent one more message before following on. ‘We’re going to make it.’ The captain said before closing his pod and freezing himself.

Liam followed on. For a few years there was nothingness. It was the best he’d ever slept.

My rating scheme does not support negative numbers. If I could, I’d give this book a negative 4. But as it is, zero must suffice.

There are sequels to this book. No thank you.

Rating - Zero Stars

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I didn’t think this would ever happen, but in a year where I have said this many times, I actually have a bit of praise for Trump. Here it is:

I have been an outspoken critic of the F-35 programs and its massive cost overruns over the years. The F-35 is the Pentagon’s largest single program, and is likely to cost the government around $400 billion over the next 22 years.

It has always bothered me that a single F-35 fighter plane costs between $100 and $200 million, and we’re buying 2,443 of them. How can that be? How can nobody in the government stand up to this and deal with it? Obviously, the military industrial lobby is extremely strong, so even Obama in his eight years didn’t stand up to it.

The fact that nobody can even tell us exactly how much each plane costs is alarming. Try to google it! The difference between $100 and $200 million is $100 million. Do you realize how much good $100 million can do for our country? Do you realize how much good $100 million times 2,443 could do? Yet, we have no problem blowing that kind of money on a marginal and highly criticized program that may never even work.

Here is a list of posts I have published over the years to give you some background on the F-35:

February 14, 2016 – The F-35 is an exceptionally bad plane

November 13, 2015 – Trump on the F-35 Boondoggle

May 21, 2015 – Buying the F-35

April 5, 2016 – Government Contracting at its Worst

November 14, 2016 – The Insanity of the Republican Candidates

November 7, 2015 – Giving Foreign Aid to Israel

Trump, with his loose Twitter finger, has been poking and prodding Boeing about the cost of the new Air Force One 747 planes and Lockheed Martin about the F-35 and its incredible cost overruns. The stock of both companies declined immediately after he did that, and sure enough, the CEOs of both companies responded.

Here is a tweet from the CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson:

lockheed-f-35-tweet

Here is Trump commenting on it later:

It’s a little bit of a dance. But we’re going to get the cost down,” he said, calling the F-35 program “very, very—uhhh—expensive.

— Donald Trump

Here is an article that provides a bit more background about the exchange between Trump and Hewson. This concession by Lockheed Martin would never have happened without the brash and bold behavior of Donald Trump. I was hoping over the years that Obama would show backbone and stand up to this boondoggle. He didn’t. Bush before him didn’t. No modern politician did. I would venture to say that the word “F-35” never once got mentioned in any presidential debate by any candidate of either party. Lockheed Martin had (and still has) a steady stream of cash coming to it – a redistribution of wealth from the American taxpayer to the shareholders and executives of Lockheed Martin.

We have been blaming Obama for being a redistributor, and we have pointed to the measly food stamps program that helps destitute Americans to get nourishment for their children. But right in front of our eyes, glaringly in the open, we have tolerated a redistribution program on a much grander scale – and nobody has spoken up.

Enter Donald Trump.

I have nothing but disdain for the man Donald Trump. But this is good.

This little tweet of his might have been worth quite a few billions of dollars of American taxpayer wealth that can now go to more noble causes.

trump-tweat-f-35

Trump is the first politician in my memory that is standing up to the military industrial complex.

And there you have it. I have posted in praise about Trump.

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Gun Rights and Kids

I lifted this from Facebook a few days ago.

gun-rights-and-kids

Seriously?

I don’t agree. This child can’t be more than eight years old. Gun rights have nothing to do with this. I cannot come up with a single reason why a child should be “properly trained” to shoot a lethal weapon.

It’s not time yet. The child is not old enough yet to make responsible decisions. I would not teach an eight year old child to shoot a gun, for the same reason why I would not teach an eight year old child how to use a condom.

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I subscribe to a lot of magazines, and then I lose interest and let the subscriptions lapse. Forbes is one of those that I get tired of quite often. But I must have responded to one of their mail campaigns: Check here if you want to continue your subscription, for only $61 per year, etc.

I truly do not remember doing this, but I am pretty sure that is what happened,  likely many months ago.

I am not getting Forbes magazine now, but I am getting occasional invoices that I owe them $61. Why am I not paying?

As I usually handle such pestering invoices, I ignore them, and they stop. Obviously, I am not getting the magazine, why would I be getting invoices?

Then, a few weeks ago, I got the letter posted below.

Page 1 (click to enlarge)

Forbes 3-1

Page 2:

Forbes 3-2

Unbelievably, these guys are threatening with collection!

For $61.

For a subscription for Forbes!!!

Really?

I didn’t want this to escalate, because if they are serious and are harassing their potential subscribers this way, they are going to continue, and the $61 will quickly start getting larger, and my credit will be affected, and there’ll be paperwork. So I whipped out my credit card and paid.

I haven’t received any confirmation from anyone.

I haven’t received any letters.

I haven’t received any magazines.

Have I fallen for a scam?

No matter what, Forbes, our relationship is done. If that’s what you need to resort to in order to hang on to your subscribers, it’s pretty sad.

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