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Filed under: Fluendo,friction,Life — Thomas @ 12:18 am

2008-10-29
12:18 am

Some principles and observations come back in many aspects of life.

One drive I have in everything I do, whether professional or personal, is to remove friction. Removing friction helps to stay in a flow and focus on the important things. (One of the bad sides is that I’m prone to yak shaving because of this, although I think it pays off). I like removing friction today for my flow of tomorrow.

A recurring observation I have is how, in any company of a reasonable size, certain small things just don’t happen automatically anymore, because a sense of shared ownership gets diluted when there are more people involved. Typical example is ‘the shared fridge tends no lose the entropy battle’.

And another observation is how, in many cases, an overengineered system ends up being extremely unusable.

Today, those three met when I was in a meeting and I wanted to put on the lights, but I turned on the way-too-loud AC instead.

What was the problem ? Pretty simple. The remotes for lights and AC all have 6 buttons. Left ones are On, right ones are Off. But there are no labels. So these programmable remotes can control whatever you want. It’s just that usually all you want is to control lights and control AC.

So, someone had labeled the remote using a Dymo (I love Dymos), but apparently got them switched around. Then someone else put scotch tape on the labels, and put a very small almost invisible double arrow on there to indicate ‘hey, the labels are the other way around’.

But no one takes the time to just put the labels on correctly. No one feels annoyed enough to fix it for the next person. Amazing how people leave this easily fixed piece of friction around. (Guess what I did during that meeting)

The story of our AC and lighting is another one entirely, but it’s overengineered to the max. Here are the things that suck:

  • like I said, remotes are programmable. Sounds like a great idea, but sucks in practice if you really always only control lights and AC. The third row of buttons is never used. I’m sure the engineers went ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we made it programmable so that if we ever think of something else than lights or AC, we can just reuse the same remotes ?’ I can hear them discussing it right now!
  • hence, the remotes are unlabeled. Nuff said.
  • the remotes have no light that indicate whether they work at all. Batteries go flat – the bare minimum is a light that flickers when you push a button.
  • You need to sort of aim the remote at a receiver in the ceiling. But they’re pretty hard to spot, and the range is not very big.
  • Hence, wouldn’t it be nice if you actually got a feedback light on your remote that indicates ‘the receiver noticed the command ?’
  • If the receiver manages to receive the button press, apparently the signal goes to some central location where the whole machinery is housed. I imagine an ENIAC computer filling the whole basement somehow. It takes ages to get from ‘pressed a button’ to ‘lights go on’ or ‘AC goes on’. I mean, easily, 10 seconds.
  • All of these huge usability mistakes combine to make turning on or off lights or AC into a giant button mashfest not seen since the days of playing Summer Olympics joystick waggling and button twiddling at the arcade was in fashion.

All of this, of course, is in addition to all of the usual problems with AC – the controls for temperature are also unlabeled (and in a company with new people arriving constantly, there will be at least one person thinking that left is complete minimum and another person thinking that right is, and they will fight over this passive-agressively), it never provides the amount of cold people want, some people smoke in the building anyway so it gets shared for all of us, and filters never get changed as often as promised. Oh, and a few times a year, water drips from the ceilling (and it’s not that much fun to find your laptop turned on and wet in the morning).

And the kicker is, the whole system can be programmed on a time basis to get turned off at certain intervals. I still don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that, around 22:00, the lights turn off, and that tells you to either go find the remote or to go home because it’s long past time to do so.

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