January 2008

BlinkM – RGB LED Projects made easy

by Andy Polaine on January 27, 2008

If you read Russell’s great post, Reskilling For An Age of Things and sympathised with his woeful soldering skills, these BlinkM programmable RGB LEDs might be just the thing to kick start a project.

They are RGB LEDs with a tiny programmable microcontroller to change the colours easily. You can plug them into an Arduino and program them or you can use their natty little sequencer (see below) to create colour sequences. Think of it as a drum machine for colour.

blinkm_sequencer.jpg

They only cost $12.95 from Sparkfun. Maybe I’ll actually get around to making something (I might even make something talk).

(Via Tinker.it. More images in todbot’s Flickr set.)

[tags]arduino, blinkm, LED, physical_computing[/tags]

Got ripped off in a MacHeist? It’s a UI failure.

by Andy Polaine on January 26, 2008

in General

No, not a hold-up in McDonalds, but the MacHeist Mac software bundle sale/game.

Like many, I got charged ten times and received nothing and also heard nothing back from MacHeist’s support, which is pretty lame. The culprit for all the multiple charging was a terrible bit of user-interface design, which goes to show how crucial UI design is.

When clicking on submit to place the order, the server responded with the form page again and the error “* This transaction cannot be processed.”.

The problem is that it’s a programmer’s kind of error message. To the user it either means nothing or, worse, it suggests the transaction didn’t go through, so they (like me) feel they should try again. As a result, many people got charged every time until they gave up.

What should have happened is that the transaction was immediately cancelled and error said “This transaction cannot be processed, your credit card has not been charged.” This gives the user comfort and errs on the side of being secure. A follow-up e-mail confirming the failed transaction would be pretty good too.

Alternatively, if for some reason the system couldn’t deal with that, the error message should have at least explicitly stated “please do not submit your order again, contact customer support on, etc.”.

They also should have responded immediately to all the e-mails they inevitably got sent, but they didn’t. Not at all. (I still haven’t heard back from my five e-mails throughout the week).

Instead they are relying on a MacHeist forum thread to communicate, which surely is being missed by plenty of people.

It adds up to a lot of disgruntled customers, damage to the MacHeist brand, random serial numbers floating around out there, the Mac software developers losing out and a big headache for someone to sort it all out. All of it could have been saved by a decent bit of interface design that accounted for the worst case scenario.

Next time I’ll buy direct from the developers.

It’s not been a good week for customer service.

UPDATE: Amazing how someone can make things go from bad to worse in a very short time. John Casasanta, one of the founders of MacHeist responded to the double charing thread without bothering to apologize and with not a little surliness. Of course, it added fuel to the fire ending with this wonderful piece of customer relations:

Ok, now your posts are starting to get inflammatory. I’m sick of your BS and the next time you do it, I’ll be imposing a 30 day ban on you.

A ban? On the customers you over-charged and didn’t deliver to? On a forum that’s useless anyway?

I’ve stated SEVERAL TIMES that we’re doing what we can to fix EVERY problem but you’re acting like a spoiled child. And I have no patience for it. Instead of getting issues resolved, I’m now trying to placate a whiner in the forums and this is what we’ve been trying to avoid all along.

With 44,000+ sales, there will be some support issues. And we’re working hard to fix then, not blow you off. So you seriously need to take a deep breath and chill the hell out.

Some companies will go to the ends of the world even when a customer decides to sh*t all over them and you’re definitely dealing with the wrong person here if you expect that kind of service from me. We’re doing whatever we can humanly do to resolve any and all issues but you’re insane if you think I’m going to take the childish insults you’re throwing at me.

It’s not the most confidence inspiring response. A simple blanket e-mail to everyone in the MacHeist database would have cleared the air and would have taken five minutes to do.

UPDATE 29.1.2008: If anyone is still reading this (!), MacHeist have done the right thing and sent out bundles to most of the people affected.

John Casasanta remained mostly irate on the forum thread, proving that some people can do marketing well, but not customer service.

I came up with some speculative numbers of MacHeist’s profits in response to some comments that customer support costs money. It turns out my numbers were pretty off, though based on Gus Mueller’s post about the MacHeist deal last year. Some developers took umbrage and let me know they were quite happy with the percentage they got (so, not a flat-fee as in Gus’s post). The point was never to complain about them making money, but even if they only took a 2% cut, it would be enough to pay for someone to man support for a few weeks. In any case, a blanket e-mail to all customers would have cost them nothing.

It turns out that most of the problems weren’t MacHeist’s doing but, surprise, surprise, PayPal’s hellish service, which is making it very hard to track erroneous transactions.

[tags]MacHeist, John_Casasanta, service, ripoff, user-interface, error, paypal[/tags]

Troika is on Cloud, er, Five

January 25, 2008

If you haven’t already explored the background behind Troika’s cloud for BA’s Terminal 5 – “a five meter long digital sculpture whose surface is covered with 4638 flip-dots that can be individually addressed by a computer to animate the entire skin of the sculpture” – Pixelsumo has got the goods and also images of the […]

Read the full article →

PayPal, A Customer Service Nightmare

January 25, 2008

Companies like PayPal are basically all service and no product, so it makes sense that they should spend a lot of their time on it as do First Direct. Sadly, they don’t. Like ISPs and telecoms companies, everything is fine until it goes wrong – only then do you really find out what they’re made […]

Read the full article →

Is your cellphone company evil?

January 23, 2008

Mine certainly is. No Evil is a great viral microsite for Net 10 that plays on the idea that cellphone companies are a bunch of money-grabbing evil madmen. Virgin have tried this tack before but now they’re part of the problem it seems. The videos are very well-made and entertainingly written (the evil villains are […]

Read the full article →

re/act 4th International Student Festival for Media Art

January 23, 2008

Monika tells me this is a great festival for student media-arts work. It looks good to me and I think I saw some work from it last year. It’s a good opportunity because media-art work can be expensive to build and often students are overshadowed by artists with grants who can afford some kind of […]

Read the full article →

Track Yourself and Friends with SportsDo

January 21, 2008

Ever wanted to track your training route and activity or just remember where you skied? My brother, Matthew, was given a SportsDo account and kit for Christmas by his wife, Naisha, which does just that. (Although a friend of hers said “So, basically, you bought him a husband tracker?”). It’s a pretty smart pulling together […]

Read the full article →

BeatBearings and the Wisdom of the Tube

January 17, 2008

This BeatBearing project on YouTube by Peter Bennett is one of those physical interaction ideas that sounded great on paper, but is a bit useless in the flesh. It’s a “tangible sequencer” but because it has so few slots, the actual rhythms you can produce are pretty clunky early 80s action (which is now old […]

Read the full article →

Jiggling Icons on the iPhone

January 16, 2008

There are plenty of big announcements and coverage of Steve Jobs’s Macworld keynote. I’m happy to see the new AppleTV, movie downloads and rentals, and of course the MacBook Air. But it was the the jiggling icons in the new iPhone home screen selection. When you are moving icons around and sorting them the icons […]

Read the full article →

From the Archives: Jonathan Harris – Man of the Hour

January 10, 2008

I have been promising that I would like to upload all of the articles I have written over the years so that they might be of use for people rather than them languishing on my hard drive, but I’ve been a bit slack at actually doing so because converting them to decent HTML and fixing […]

Read the full article →