The Design Of Everyday Things

I send an email which Mitch posted on February 4th in a column called
Surprised, Not Surprised. I complained about the Post Office’s on-line
system to request they hold my mail while I went on vacation, which
ended up being postponed.

I was informed in the comments by a person who claimed to be an expert
on the subject, that Informed Delivery was a great success and “your
disappointed experience with Informed Delivery is either an aberration
or a result of unrealistic expectations, and is not persuasive to a
larger argument about the post office.”

Maybe so but the story doesn’t end there. I finally got signed up. I
rescheduled my trip to Texas leaving February 12 and returning the
22nd. I used the on-line system to place a Hold My Mail request and
then . . . blizzard, trip postponed again. So, I went back on-line and
cancelled the Hold My Mail request.

Just checked the box . . . no mail. I can think of two possibilities:
either every junk mailer in the nation suddenly dropped me from their
lists, or the Post Office is holding my mail even though I cancelled the

No, I’m not going to call. First, I hate navigating automated phone
trees. Second, even if I got a live representative, the best they could
do would be to put in a Cancel request and by the time it filtered down
to the Rice Street Station, the hold period would be over so my mail
would be delivered anyway.

Another aberration? More unrealistic expectations? Maybe so, but they
keep happening. It’s sad, because the Post Office is one of the few
activities the federal government is constitutionally authorized to do.
It’s a shame they do it so poorly.

Joe Doakes

When I was in a computer science class in college, the prof – who’d been a software engineer just long enough to pick up some terrible habits and beliefs – declaimed often that “90% of problems with system involve stupid users”.

It’s a view that governs a lot of how “systems” people – from technocrats and systems analysts at a high level all the way down to programmers – view the world; “if only our customer was as smart as we. Or me”.

The field I work in is the group brought in when the customer – the business paying for those systems, and who realize that actual users just aren’t adopting, using or appreciating their technocrats’ genius – realizes that kind of arrogance isn’t a strategy.

Notably, government is simultaneously very good at adopting my particular discipline (check out the human factors of an F35 cockpit) and really, really bad (the MNSure, MNLARS and “Please give me a vaccine” websites).

File this accordingly.

12 thoughts on “The Design Of Everyday Things

  1. My California nephew works in IT on a help desk. When he’s not ranting on Facebook about forcing everyone to mask up, why Trumphitler needs to be in jail, and other prog fantasies he likes to hold his customers up for ridicule. I keep hoping his employers get a look at his feed and fire his sorry gluteus maximus.

  2. One of the constants of dealing with Software Development Teams is having to cope with massive(yet fragile) egos coupled with mediocre talent. They all think they are the smartest person in the room yet only rarely is that true. As a general rule only 4 out of 10 are competent but 7 out of 10 are arrogant twits.Every once in a while you find a manager who successfully separates the wheat from the chaff and you get the pleasure of working with a dream team, but only every once in a while.

  3. Oh…. you got to love this one.

    I’ve been trying to get my covid shot at the corner Walgreens near where I am wintering in Arizona.

    Their site says “Vaccine appointments available” but after answering a long list of intrusive questions, you get a “Service Unavailable.” error message

    Every time.

    At first I thought the system was being overloaded, a logical assumption. But no…the problem persisted, regardless of time of day or day of week.

    So I entered “Walgreens “Service unavailable” error” into my browser and Voila, the problem revealed itself.

    I needed to update “Gender” in my Walgreens profile (not part of the covid site).

    Check if out. Getting ‘Service unavailable’ error on the Walgreens website when signing up for the COVID19 vaccine? Update your profile.

    Kudos to the guy who thought to look at the message’s attributes using Inspect element in Chrome,

  4. Words have gender. People have biological sex.
    The two words are not interchangeable. The word “him” is gendered. It is a pronoun used to refer to a biological male, even in utero.
    “him” is not a biologically male word. It is a gendered word.

  5. I’m a software engineer with ~20 years experience. In my experience, developers are as Pig described them. But worse than the mediocre talent with fragile egos? The really bright ones who don’t seem to comprehend that it doesn’t matter how “cool” their code is, if it isn’t marketable (as a worthwhile ROI to management, or usable and friendly interface for the customer), its value is academic.

  6. What happened, MO? Did you miss the last sensitivity class?

    Assigning fixed definitions to words implies the ancient patriarchal stereotypes are more important to the speaker’s feelings, a particularly vile form of racist, sexist, homophobic oppression.

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master-that’s all.”

  7. Geez, you are snake bitten JD. I had been able to navigate ID for years and been able to hold and release and move mail around. BTW, we do not get mail every day even though we use home address not just for personal but for biz mail as well, so it could have been a coincidence for you. Also, do not now if you found it yet, but ID has a nifty daily notification feature that sends you an email with images of your (not all) incoming mail and list of packages. Interesting that immediately preceding the election, the photo feature was “not available”. I guess it would have been a very easy way to see who’d been getting mail-in vote mail and we surely could not have that.

  8. “Assigning fixed definitions to words implies the ancient patriarchal stereotypes are more important to the speaker’s feelings, a particularly vile form of racist, sexist, homophobic oppression.”

    Thanks for that Joe….I’ll be giggling all afternoon!

  9. Assigning fixed definitions to words implies the ancient patriarchal stereotypes are more important to the speaker’s feelings, a particularly vile form of racist, sexist, homophobic oppression.

    Hmmm. Looks like JD has not skipped as many sensitivity trainings as he’d like us to believe.

    I couldn’t have stitched that word salad together after a 12 pack of Guinness Stout.

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