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Companies, why don't you want my feedback?

I'm one of those people who think everything can always be a little bit better. Apparently companies aren't interested in hearing about customer experience, since it's basically always completely impossible to find a working, decent customer feedback point on any commercial website.

How sad is it that the only way to properly get into contact with a company is via Twitter (which is, of course, limited to 140 chars making it basically impossible to tell them about your issues/problems)? How sad is it that some companies actually artificially limit the number of characters you can enter in a feedback form on their website? Hello! Interwebtube bytes are free! No reason to limited the number of characters to one-thousand characters guys. What's that? Your time is too valuable to read through entire essays from frustrated consumers? Oh, that's just fine! I'll take my business somewhere else, thank you!

If any Quality Assurance Managers are reading this, I'll make it real easy for you:

  • An easy to find, CHEAP/FREE phone number on your site. One I can call for questions, feedback, etc. DO NOT try to sell me shit when I call you with a question or complaint. Just.. don't. I will take my business somewhere else.
  • An easy to find question/feedback email address on your website.
  • If you absolute must have a form, make sure it doesn't ask for my phonenumber, it doesn't limit the type of question I can ask (try including an "other reason" option?) and I don't have to jump through hoops to validate my information. I don't want you to have my address, phone number, email address, or anything else. You don't ask that information from customers who call you with a question, do you? Then allow – don't force – me to fill it out on your forms. I just want to let you know that there's a problem with your website! Today I had to fill out an online form and I had to provide my land-line phone number! "Hello?! 1999 called using their land-line! They want their ancient technology back!" Who still has a land-line, seriously?!

Companies, seriously… why do you make it so exceptionally hard for me to provide you with feedback? I'm trying to help! I want to let you know about broken restitution forms on your website, I want to let you know about why I went to the competitors so you can improve your products. I really do! So stop with the bullshit online questionnaires that pop up on your website when I least expect nor want to see a "Please participate in our questionnaires!" when that's not why I'm on your site!

Stop wasting money on crappy Quality Assurance Managers. If your website doesn't have email contact information, someone in your company needs to be fired.

END-OF-RANT

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A programmer once built a vast database containing all the literature, facts, figures, and data in the world. Then he built an advanced querying system that linked that knowledge together, allowing him to wander through the database at will. Satisfied and pleased, he sat down before his computer to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

After three minutes, the programmer had a headache. After three hours, the programmer felt ill. After three days, the programmer destroyed his database. When asked why, he replied: “That system put the world at my fingertips. I could go anywhere, see anything. Because I was no longer limited by external conditions, I had no excuse for not knowing everything there is to know. I could neither sleep nor eat. All I could do was wander through the database. Now I can rest.”

— Geoffrey James, Computer Parables: Enlightenment in the Information Age

I was a major content consumer on the Internet. My Google Reader had over 120 feeds in it. It produced more than a 1000 new items every couple of hours. I religiously read Hacker News, Reddit and a variety of other high-volume sources of content. I have directories full of theoretical science papers, articles on a wide range of topics and many, many tech books. I scoured the web for interesting articles to save to my tablet for later reading. I was interested in everything. Programming, Computer Science, Biology, Theoretical Particle Physics, Psychology, rage-comics, and everything else. I could get lost for hours on Wikipedia, jumping from article to article, somehow, without noticing it, ending up at articles titled "Gross–Pitaevskii equation" or "Grand Duchy of Moscow", when all I needed to know was what the abbreviation "SCPD" stood for. (Which, by the way, Wikipedia doesn't have an article for, and means "Service Control Point Definition")

I want to make it clear I wasn't suffering from Information Overload by any definition. I was learning things. I knew things about technology which I hadn't even ever used myself. I can tell you some of the ins and outs of iPhone development. I don't even own an iPhone. I can talk about Distributed Computing, Transactional Memory and why it is and isn't a good idea, without having written more than a simple producer/consumer routine. I'm even vehemently against writing to shared memory in any situation! I can tell you shit about node.js and certain NoSQL databases without even ever having installed – much less dived into – them. Hell, I don't even like Javascript!

The things is: even though I was learning about stuff, it was superficial knowledge without context and the kind of basic information that allows you to draw these conclusions you're reading about for yourself, without the help of some article. I didn't pause to think about conclusions drawn in an article, or to let the information sink in. I read article after article. I wasn't putting the acquired knowledge into practice. The Learning Pyramid may have been discredited, but I'm convinced that we learn more from doing than we do from reading about something.

So what makes reading so attractive that we'd rather read about things than actually doing them? And I know for a fact that I'm not alone in having this problem. I think – and this might be entirely personal – it's because of a couple of reasons.

One is that it's much easier to read about something than to actually figure things out yourself. I want to experiment with sharding in NoSQL databases? I have to set up virtual machines, set up the software, write scripts to generate testing data, think about how to perform some experiments, and actually run them. Naturally I'd want to collect some data from those experiments; maybe reach a couple of conclusions even. That's a lot of work. It's much easier to just read about it. It's infinitely easier to stumble upon and read an article on "How to Really Get Things Done Using GettingThingsDone2.0 and Reverse Todo Lists" than it is to actually get something done.

The second reason, at least for me, is that it gives me the feeling that I'm learning more about things. In the time it takes me to set up all the stuff above, I could have read who-knows-how-many articles. And it's true in a sense. The information isn't useless per se. I'm learning more shallow knowledge about a lot of different things, versus in-depth knowledge about a few things. It gives me all kinds of cool ideas, things to do, stuff to try out. But I never get around to those things, because I'm always busy reading about something else!

So I have taken drastic measures.

I have removed close to 95% of my feeds from Google Reader. I've blocked access to Reddit and HackerNews so I'm not tempted to read the comments there. I check hackurls.com (an aggregator for Hacker News, Reddit's /r/programming and some other stuff) at most once a day. Anything interesting I see, I send to my tablet (at most two articles a day), which I only read on the train (where I don't have anything better to do anyway). I avoid Wikipedia like the plague.

I distinctly remember being without an Internet connection for about a month almost four years ago. It was the most productive time of my life since the Internet came around. I want to return to the times when the Internet was a resource for solving problems and doing research, not an interactive TV shoveling useless information into my head.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have an algorithm to write and a website to finish.

I'm on vacation till June 29

I'll be on vacation from now till June 29. Depending on WiFi-availability in the area I'm visiting, I may or may not respond to anything until that time.

Software Bashing

We started a new site where we can vent our rage on all things sucky about software:

Software Bashing: We hate software. With a passion:

Fact: All software sucks. We're here to show you exactly why, and just how much it truly sucks. We don't discriminate against vendor or development model; all software sucks. We are relentless. We show no mercy. If the software exists, we will find its suckage, no matter how much it leverages synergetic business potential. Be prepared.

Hopefully we can reach some software authors and make them see the light. If not, at least I was able significantly reduce my blood pressure through the site.

The most annoying thing about email…

The most annoying thing about email…

When someone sends you an email, and not five minutes later proceeds to call you up or visit you to ask if you've already read their e-mail and what your response is gonna be. Then makes you explain your entire response and says "send me an email about that, will you".

Gift certificates

I don't understand gift certificates. I mean, the idea is quite good: A piece of paper that represents a certain value, and which you can then trade for goods of some kind. Much better than dragging all that gold around all the time. So in that regard, gift certificates are an awesome idea. Except that we already have this thingy which is made of paper (most of the time) and that represents a certain value. It's called "money".

The best thing about money is that you can spend it on everything, everywhere. Whereas most gift certificates are only valid in certain stores. The only reason gift certificates make sense is if the giver wants you to spend it in a certain store. I guess that's the reason gift certificates exist: vendor lock-in. Another brilliant way of controlling how and where we spend our money. Capitalism, yay.

I prefer money.

Vacation

I'll be on vacation from now till the 26th of July.

Party!

Since me and my housemate have been living in our house for nearly one and a half years now, we thought it was high time for a house warming party! But who to invite? "Well", we thought, "why not invite everybody"?

When?

Friday, 25th of Januari 2008
Party at our place!

The party starts at basically whatever time you'd like to show up. A general guideline would be around 8 o'clock in the evening, but you're more than welcome earlier. We haven't set an end time for the party, so we can keep going all night long if need be.

Who's invited?

Everybody's invited! You can bring your friends, coworkers, your significant others, your mom, whoever you want. We really don't mind. The more, the merrier, we always say.

Where

The party will be held at our house. The address is:

Lloyd Webberhof 56
3543 EH
Utrecht
The Netherlands

Directions

Here's the place on Google Maps.

If you're coming in by train, there's a train station (Utrecht Terwijde) quite near our house. Once you disembark from the train, go down the stairs and straight ahead over the old tracks and over the little bridge. Go left, past the bicycle stands, then right (yes, you can walk on that street, no worries). You'll pass a park on your left. Take the first street on the right and immediately go left, in between the houses and the tall ugly building. Take the first street on the right. This is the Lloyd Webberhof. Number 56 is all the way at the end, on the right – just follow the music ;-).

If you're coming in by car: From Amersfoort get on the A28 towards Utrecht. From the A28, get on the A27 towards Den Haag/Breda. Take the exit to the A2 towards Utrecht/Amsterdam. On the A2, take exit 7 'Oog in al'. Take the second street on the right, BEFORE crossing the bridge. You'll go all around and over the highway and will end up at a roundabout. Take a left at the roundabout, then take the first street on the right (passing through a tunnel underneath the railway). Out the tunnel, take a left. Take the fifth street on the right. Take the first left, and keep going until you're almost at the end of the road (which ends in a T-section). Before that T-section, you'll see parking spaces on your right, where you can park your car. On the other side of the house bordering the car park is the Lloyd Webberhof.

Tha booze and tha food

Since we have absolutely no idea how many people are going to show up, it would be a good idea to bring your own booze and food. Naturally we'll have some, but we honestly can't say if it'll be enough. So, rather safe than sorry, right?

Sleep

If you want to, you can sleep over at our place. There's plenty of room for people to sleep, but you'd be wise to bring your own sleeping gear (airbed, sleeping bag, pillow), since we don't have many spare beds. Also, you'll probably have to share a room with some other people. If this bothers you, bring a tent or something.

Contact

Wanna know more? Can't find the house on friday? You can send me email and find out my MSN/ICQ address by going to this page: Contact information. In case you need to call me (cause you can't find the house or whatever), my phone number is: +316********. (Update: Removed after the party for obvious reasons :-P)

Present?

No presents please! Unless it's booze for yourself.

Angry Whopper!! Pff.

The ANGRY Whopper, with ANGRY onions and ANGRY jalapenos!

Hey, BurgerKing?! Your ANGRY advertisement just caused you to loose an ANGRY customer. Angry onions? Spare me. There's no way this ad wasn't made up by an American advertisement company. Well, guess what? I don't like companies making me feel stupid when buying their products, so I'll never buy one of your products again.

Back from Dublin

Hi, I'm back from Dublin.

Here's a picture of what we did:

dublin.jpg