Posts tagged “error”

Can’t Lose What You Never Had

Thrifty really blew it here. Out of the blue, I get this email containing some good news.
Congratulations! You've earned a FREE rental day through Blue Chip Rewards!   You'll receive your Blue Chip Rewards certificate in three to four weeks at the address listed in your profile.   To redeem your free day, book online at or call 1-800-THRIFTY and present your certificate at the counter.   Keep earning free days! You'll earn another free day certificate after 16 more rental days.   Enjoy your free day and thank you for choosing Thrifty!

And then shortly after that comes this bummerific communique.
Dear Valued Customer,  This morning you received an email from us offering you a coupon for a free rental day through Blue Chip Rewards. Unfortunately, this offer is not valid. You will not be able to book this offer online and you will not be receiving a coupon in the mail. Please disregard the email you received. We're very sorry for any confusion our eagerness may have caused.  If you have any questions regarding this email, please contact Customer Service at We sincerely appreciate your understanding in this matter. We value you as a customer and we look forward to saving you money down the road.   Thank you for choosing Thrifty.

The customer-pleasing standard seems to be to stand behind mistakes that benefit the customer because of the disappointment (or worse) than results when you take back something you offered. While I was unlikely to ever claim the windfall from the first email, the crappy feeling the second email left me with is something that will stick around.

Leading with Error Recovery

JetBlue counter, Sea-Tac airport

This sign directs JetBlue customers to a counter based on their specific situation. The first item listed is Kiosk “Oops” Messages. JetBlue is bold enough to acknowledge that things aren’t always going to work perfectly and they’ve made the path to error recovery prominent. This is good customer service, and it’s good design: allow for – and acknowledge that you are allowing for – failures, and reframe them positively.

Loss of context

From What I’ve Learned: Vint Cerf (“creator of the Internet”) in the latest Esquire magazine (italics mine)

There was a first “Oh, no!” moment. That was the first time I saw spam pop up. It could have been as early as ’79. A digital-equipment corporation sent a note around announcing a job opening, and we all blew up, saying, This is not for advertising! This is for serious work!

(Update: link to article here)

It’s not A digital-equipment corporation (and really, who speaks like that?) It’s Digital Equipment Corporation, aka DEC, aka Digital.

One letter changes the details of the story somewhat (I suppose it’s not crucial to know who sent this first spam), enough to make it clear that the copy editor had no context about the era in technology and business that Cerf was talking about.

I’m reminded of the challenges with interviews transcribed using an overseas service:

Male: It keeps searching and then it is–

Female: So what did it come up with?

Male: Well, I did come up with tickets.

Female: Get out, you are kidding me. I should go, where is this at? In Denver?

Male: Denver, yeah. In the Betsey Center.

Female: Okay, well try and find me some tickets in Tampa.

I’m pretty sure the Betsey Center is actually The Pepsi Center.

Badly written survey invite

To: [steve]
Subject: Give Your Feedback to Sundance Channel

Dear Sundance Channel viewer,

We’d like to hear about your opinions and experiences! Sundance Channel is conducting an online survey to collect information about your opinions and attitudes regarding Sundance Channel and its various programs. You must be 21 or older to participate and due to video content within the survey, the link below can only be accessed using Internet Explorer, so we encourage you to use a PC. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause.

IE =/= PC, however. PC users can use other browsers (as in my case), and Mac users can run IE. But the survey doesn’t (as they say) work with Firefox. Ah well.

Risks of smartass system messages

I got a 500 Internal Server Error on YouTube yesterday.

It began with the usual Web 2.0 PoMo post-ironic stuff.

Sorry, something went wrong.

A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation.

And then what seemed to be a more serious request, complete with link

In any case, please report this incident to customer service.
Also, please include the following information in your error report:

Hmm. What do information do they want me to include?


Now, are they being smartass or serious? Yeah, cut and paste is cut and paste whether it’s two lines or two paragraphs, but that mass of computer gibberish is something they want me to use to communicate to a human? Strange and off-putting. Let’s put some of that Google money to work on that, folks…

You’ve Got The Teeth Of The Hydra Upon You

An article on the recent Aryan Brotherhood convictions quotes Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School/former federal prosecutor.”But the truth is, this (gang) is like a hydra – you cut off a limb and it’s going to grow back,” she said. “These guys have been around a long time and they’re going to get new leaders.”

But the Hydra had many heads, not many limbs. It was difficult/impossible to kill because the heads would grow back. That really breaks her metaphor! I’m sure the journalist just went with the quote anyway, as did the editor. Too bad.

Situational Ethics at Home Depot

I love the automatic checkouts at Home Depot. There’s usually no line for them, so I can start my transaction right away. Even if it’s slow and inefficient, I’m actually doing something, rather than waiting behind another customer. I like being in control!

There’s a balance of design goals at work in these monsters – standalone/simplicity (and by that I do not mean ease-of-use), theft prevention, staff reduction. Those goals are not all met very well, and they are sometimes at odds with each other.

After using this for a couple of years, I’ve figured out that to start to check out, you must place all your items on a tray to the left of the screen (this isn’t so obvious). You pick your items, one at a time, pass them over the scanner, and then place them in a bag on the tray to the right of the screen.

The trays on either side contain scales. Your items are being weighed, with the left and right being compared. You can only have one in the air (i.e., not in the bag and not on the to-be-bought tray) at a time. And you must stow it in the bag before picking up the next one. This is not beep-beep-beep rapid scanning. It feels very silly and slow, but that’s what the system wants you to do.

If you try to go too fast, the system warms you. “Please re-place item in bagging area.” It’s far from foolproof (not that the users are fools, but the users can fool it!); it often goes out of sync. The item it wants to be put in the bagging area is already in the bagging area. Often we have to flag down the cashier at the master station who is “supervising” the four self-check devices (usually trying to help poor first-timers, or calling out instructions from her station).

Anyway, I was plodding away with my purchase of 4 $0.69 switchplates the other day, and of course, we got out of sync. Everything was either in a bag or waiting to be scanned and I was being given instructions about what to return to where, even though there was nothing that could be returned. In my attempt to mollify the system, I picked up one of my to-be-rung-up items and put it in the bag. That seemed to satisfy it. That left one remaining. I picked it up, scanned it, and put it in the bag. All four of the items were now in the bag. But I had only scanned three.

Screw this. I clicked “finish and pay” and ran through the payment swipe interaction (this takes place on another interface, about 5 feet from the first interface).

The machine, which represents Home Depot and its interests, didn’t want my $0.69 for my fourth item. It insisted that I put it in the bag without swiping it. Did I alert the supervising cashier so she could come over and rejigger the whatsit and charge me the right amount? I did not.

I was able to somehow justify this because it was the will of the machine; the error was not like an ATM that gives you two $20.00 bills stuck together; it was a richly interactive error – “put this in the bag, Steve” it told me… (but I never…) NO – PUT IT IN THE BAG NOW PLEASE. (okay, sir). The machine is the boss, but I’m responsible for knowing more than it about what is right and what is accurate?

Please don’t read this as some sort of attempt to rationalize something that is obviously wrong. We can get the Ethicist in here if we need to, but we all know what he’d say. I guess I’m more interest in the attributes of the exchange and how it influenced my own decision.

Of course, the fact that was $0.69 also is a factor. Do we want to call this stealing? If so, then the dollar amount shouldn’t matter? Although we’ve got a recent story where Wal-Mart is ignoring some sub-$25 shoplifting, so maybe there’s a sense that the amount does matter.

Presumably, I was doing a calculation of time, cost of goods, aggravation, and wrapping that up in a bit of self-justification and walking out with my extra (free!) switchplate because of that. These decisions are complex, with a lot of factors mixed in, in an organic (rather than linear) fashion.

Error Message

It’s passe, I guess, to make fun of bad error messages. How 1997! But still, this is hilarious and disappointing (seen while browsing a dynamically updating website).

Transaction (Process ID 98) was deadlocked on lock resources with another process and has been chosen as the deadlock victim. Rerun the transaction.

Blogger Help : Known Issues?

Blogger Help has a sidebar entitled “Ask Support”

Can’t find what you’re looking for in Blogger Help?

First check Blogger Status and our known issues page, then write Blogger Support and we’ll see what we can do.

Of course, when one tries to write Blogger Support, ie, submit a report of something not working properly, there are really two choices:

  • Ask for help or instructions
  • Submit a feature request or suggestion

Telling them that something is not working is not an option. They don’t seem to want to know about problems. That’s one way to keep the bug list down, just keep the users at bay!

Thanks, Google!


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