Cell phone voice mail hell

You need to pay your cell phone bill so you can keep on talking. The crappy service almost goes without saying, giving that you are on an unlimited plan from Boomerang, which is the cheap side of Alltel®.

First, you call the phone number on the bill. They're closed, but all you want to do is give them a credit card number. They urge you to go to the alltel web site.

Being a bit of a web geek, you do. But, it turns out they only load new customers in once a month. This bizarre delay is not explained.

On the same web site you see a DIFFERENT 800 number, this one an actual "800" 800 number, not a 866 number. It says, "Just call 1-800-xxx-xxxx and follow the prompts to pay your bill automatically." Wouldn't you assume that means you can punch your credit card number in and pay your bill?

You call, but it sounds like the other number, complete with those annoying chimes. Sure enough, they are closed too.

Next day. You call during normal business hours. The automatic system takes your payment via credit card, complete with confirmation number. You never talk to an actual person.

What's up with that? An automatic system they turn off at night?

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Monday, March 31, 2003 (Link)

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A couple of Orwellian links

First up, an African American reporter who looks Middle Eastern get hassled (via BlogDex) until they realize he's a reporter for the Washington Post.

Even more disturbing, a teacher in Detroit notices one of her Iraqi students has vanished (via BlogDex).
What is wrong when the best case scenario is flight to Canada? On top of that, the staff have been ordered not to talk against the war to their students.

Update (03/31/03): the link has been removed, since the poster has apparently made it where only livejournal registered users can see it.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Wednesday, March 26, 2003 (Link)

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Anti-Spam Spam anyone?

In the war on spam, it pays to read the small print (via Tomalak's Realm). Dan Gillmor says the Mailblocks service reserves "the right to send you commercial e-mail".

This seems like a good time to mention how much Tomalak's Realms rocks: he quotes from sources, and then indents and puts a bullet on articles commenting on the original. In this case, the first article is a New York Times article, the second is Dan Gillmor pointing out Mailblock's hypocrisy.

Speaking of the war on spam, I have an old Yahoo account that's starting to get nailed by spam. What happened to their spam filters?

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Wednesday, March 26, 2003 (Link)

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Gulf War II or Second Gulf War?

First up, a handy Gulf War II scorecard (via Oskar van Rijswijk's weblog).

Second, the requisite Blogdexxed Orwellian link du jour.

Thirdly, here is a fascinating piece on the President's real goal in Iraq [Link updated 03/25/2004] I researched the articles the author referred to, and I agree that that this group of conservatives, who are now running the country, want to be the world's policemen. (via WebWord). They seem to be sincere in their idealism (although it doesn't conflict with business interests since that's a large part of what their idealism is about) and that scares me more than anything.

And, as an apropos of nothing kicker, you can go to the Making Computers Talk page at IBM and make it say naughty things for a cheap laugh.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Thursday, March 20, 2003 (Link)

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Paco Underhill and usability

I just finished The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill, a retail anthropologist who studies how people shop.

I liked the chapter on online usability. Especially interesting: his idea of paying for something online but picking it up at the store, thus avoiding checkout hell. I often buy something locally after researching it on the Internet because I want it now. I also loved his idea that stores should have a men's health section, in which all the shaving supplies and the like would get their own section, instead of the odd situation now where they are mixed in with women's stuff.

Underhill talks about women as the dominant shoppers. In the computer world, women tend to not care about raw Megaherz figures. They want style and an 800 number and ease of use.

The same is true of the usability of digital cameras, which manufacturers are taking more seriously now. Speaking of color cameras, read all about color and usability as they relate to blenders and credit card machines. I've noticed the bad usability of those credit card swipe machines and so read with delight the story of a machine with a tiny blue "Yes" button.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Thursday, March 20, 2003 (Link)

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Usability Linkage and a Blast from the Past

Speaking as Mr. Usability Applied to Life, here's the amusing A Heuristic Evaluation of the Usability of Infants (via IDBlog, by Beth Mazur, whose blog I've just started reading and am liking).

Scott Berkun has an article archive worth a look, in particular his recent How to get the most out of conferences, which includes how to convince your company that conferences are worth it in these fiscally restrained days. He also advises sticking with daily exercise while at conferences, which apparently keeps his mood from getting cranky. That's true to nearly the same extent about me.

And, speaking of cranky moods, here's a blast from the past. I wrote an article kvetching about the search offered by Dealtime.com way back in October of '02. I complained about the fact that when you blanked out the minimum and maximum price fields, they were re-filled with the old values. [03/25/2004 - Link to Dealtime removed - it's being forward to shopping.com]

The refine form is not very refinedWell today, March 14th 2003, I received a comment from someone presumably at Dealtime explaining that they showed the lowest and highest prices for that category. In the category in question, the highest was "33140", which I'd assumed was a maximum default, not a real price. It was not clear whether that was a real price or not.

But pre-filling the values is not the annoying part: re-filling the maximum after I had deleted the text is. They took user input and threw it away.

A better approach is the way Photoshop does it. I want a lot of files on my most recently used list. So everytime I (re)install or reset my Photoshop preferences, I punch in 100, and Photoshop substitutes the max. And it tells me what's it doing, getting the closest it can to what I asked for.

In the Dealtime case, I would find it less annoying to have a 0 substituted than the original big maximum number. Or, if you're doing something as disruptive as changing user input, you may as well show an alert box explaining, look, this number is the max, even though it doesn't look like it.

In usability as in life, you have to look like you're doing the right thing, as well as actually doing the right thing.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Friday, March 14, 2003 (Link)

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Usability Links

Now here's a usability story worth taking seriously:
Child car seat instructions too difficult. [Link first changed 04/18/2003, orginal link via IDblog. Link changed again 03/25/2004. ]

Daniel Kapusta rants that dishonest links must die. All about a link that seems to be pointing to a movie but then went to a signup page. Oddly enough, it was a javascript link the first time I went, but now it matches the way he saw it.

Apropos of nothing geek-oriented thought for the day:
You know you're a geek when you drive down Signal Street looking for Noise.

Speaking of links, I have an annotated links page. I don't know why more sites don't bother to explain why you'd want to go to a site on said link pages.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Sunday, March 9, 2003 (Link)

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Movable Type Upgrading

I always wait a while to upgrade Movable Type (the software I use to publish this site). The wisdom of this approach was borne out when a security fix had to be re-issued because the first fix didn't.

So I am now moved up to Movable Type 2.63. Now that I've heard things about security, I am allowing HTML in comments: only the basic formatting ones and links.

One annoyance that due to my tired state this evening I may not be thinking about right: I installed the SimpleComments plugin. So for instance, when Joshua Kaufman referenced [Or not: his archives have all gone the the way of the 410 error - link removed 03/25/2004] my entry about Ready.gov on his post, that is now included in the Comments section, not in the separate TrackBack section.

However, it is not on my most recent comments section on my home page. I'd like it to be, but it's not cooperating.

Also, I fixed a usability annoyance: the Comment Previewing page now remembers your name and such.

And now, apropos of nothing, I'll end on this Onion story: Bush Offers Taxpayers Another $300 If We Go To War

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Tuesday, March 4, 2003 (Link)

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