The more you do to help, the more you do to annoy

That’s my first law of car infotainment panels, and of car electronics generally. I recently rented a Toyota Highlander, and among other helpful features that weren’t, the main info system decided it should update almost every time the car was started, prompting me with a “Install” or “Later” choice I had to deal with before I could access the stereo. Even worse (much worse!) was the “helpful” feature of adjusting the screen and dash brightness for me, apparently based on ambient light. A great idea (in someone’s mind), in practice whenever you drive in changing light conditions, like most commuting, or, to pick a completely random example that may have happened to me just now, a lovely morning trip for coffee on a windy, tree-lined road is interrupted every couple minutes as the screen and dash abruptly amps up the ambient light to 11, which, let me tell you, is neither a pleasant transition nor an easily ignored one.

Highly unfortunate, and completely pointless, as adjusting dash and screen brightness to ambient light is a solved problem. It can, and has, been done based on turning on headlights. I can also be done with a dial that lets you pick any brightness level you want, whenever you want. My second law of car infotainment systems, and car design in general? “Put the driver in control”. Let them make the decisions, including the decision of when to let the car make decisions for them.

As the complexity of our work lives increases, it seems like the marginal return on hours worked grows ever more exponential (and ever more flat at first).

Search Engines and Common Queries

I’ve noticed that search engines, especially Google but also DuckDuckGo, seem to be optimizing for common types of queries, at the expense of less common ones. So if I want to find an Indian restaurant in a specific city, that works great. But if I want to find a restaurant with bench seating, that’s a much harder query to get answered. Google will fight you with your terms, replace with similar words, or ignore search terms, even if you use the plus operator, even if you put quotes around the term you don’t want dropped. Based on so much search data, Google’s algorithm now has a very strong opinion about what it thinks I want, and if the exact combination of words I’m looking for falls outside that scope, my query is internally munged to fit a more common pathway.

The Expert Locksmith’s dilemma

I’m going to call this the Expert Locksmith’s Dilemma, or just Locksmith’s Dilemma for short.

Suppose you decide to become a locksmith because you enjoy picking locks. It’s, challenging, fun, a nice mix of problem solving and manual dexterity, that ends with a nice endorphin rush when you “win”.

As a novice to journeyman locksmith, your job is a lot like how you imagined it to be. Maybe there’s more sitting in traffic than you expected, as you drive from one client to another, but there’s also lots of time spent puzzling out how to get people back into their cars and houses, fiddling with locks, learning new techniques and hardware, and getting to use cool tools like the Slim Jim (that long metal that slides into a car door to pop open the lock).

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