The Ergosphere
Saturday, May 30, 2009
 

Yahoo! Mail Classic "upgrades" making it unusable

How do I hate Yahoo's "improvements"?  Let me count the ways:

  1. Yahoo upends the way Mail operates with no rhyme or reason.  For instance, my mail folders used to open to the most recent messages, in time-stamp ascending order.  For a while, folders opened to the oldest messages instead, with no option to change this without also changing the order of presentation.  Now it's changed back.
  2. Yahoo completely changed the way the UI works, breaking several normal browser features in the process, and removing any option to switch it back.  Several methods I use to manage my mail efficiently are partially or completely defeated by these changes, and it takes me far longer to do what I need to do.  For instance, the new AJAX code causes control-click to open the selected link in the current tab as well as a new tab.  This makes it very slow to open a series of folders or related messages in tabs, because one has to right-click the link, wait for the menu to display, then click "Open link in new tab".
  3. Yahoo appears not to listen to problem reports from customers.  Yahoo DOES NOT CARE that this is a problem.
  4. Long-standing problems remain.  For instance, if a user turns off site-selected colors and backgrounds (to make pages more readable), lots of icons fail to display in e.g. message composition.  Re-enabling colors is not acceptable.
  5. Customer support is universally incompetent and dismisses problems for spurious reasons.  Faced with a report of a problem which is clearly due to changes at Yahoo, they blow off a user for "using an unsupported operating system".  Never mind that the problem is exactly the same under Windows - they don't ask.
  6. Yahoo does not offer any workarounds, either in the help pages or from Customer Care.  For instance, I can restore the functionality of the control-click feature by disabling Javascript in the folder view.  However, Yahoo does not offer any suggestions about this.  Anyone with different needs or usage patterns is simply blown off.

There are also problems with certain of mail's servers; many pages fail to load without several retries.  This is bad enough, but the new AJAX code hides these failures so they do nothing; there are no error presentations to tell the user to try again.  This is very irritating.

Yahoo, PLEASE stop "fixing" things that aren't broken.  I despise the policies of your major competitors in this market, but if you can't stop crippling me every time I turn around I'm going to be forced to switch to one of them.

 
Thursday, May 14, 2009
 

Stick a fork in Freedom Car... it's done

Roughly 100 days into the Obama administration, Steven Chu has announced that the hydrogen fuel cell will not be a practical power source for cars in the next 10-20 years and does not merit the emphasis placed on it.  Funds for vehicle development have accordingly been cut off.

That didn't take long.  (Pity Europe was 3 years ahead of us, but better late than never.)

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles always had a long list of barriers to widespread use:

  1. Hydrogen itself is easiest to make from fossil fuels; renewable hydrogen is a much tougher problem.
  2. There is nothing like a national network to distribute hydrogen, unlike electricity and natural gas.  This would have to be built from scratch, or hydrogen made from something else near the point of use.  If hydrogen is made from something else, there is no "hydrogen economy".
  3. Hydrogen is very difficult to store; the target for hydrogen storage systems is just 7% by weight.
  4. Low-temperature fuel cells, such as Proton-Exchange Membrane (PEM) cells, are expensive to manufacture, touchy about operating conditions and rather short-lived regardless.

It might be reasonable to expect one of these problems to fall to an intensive R&D program in a reasonable period.  But four of them?  When two of them are completely intractable matters of physics or infrastructure?  Freedom Car was a boondoggle from day one, never intended to get anywhere.

Unfortunately, Detroit appears to have gone into the crapper with it.  We have lost 8 years, during which peak oil has come and gone.  Had we stayed the course, we would have had PNGV vehicles on sale 2-3 years ago.  A robust American program to produce cars that achieved 70+ MPG would have enjoyed huge popularity as fuel headed for $5/gallon, and the parts business (especially batteries) would have perhaps kept the Chinese company BYD out of auto manufacturing.

What to do now?  I still think independent investigations and trials on charges up to and including high treason are appropriate on this matter (and others).  But scrapping our gas-guzzlers and converting the plants which made them to HEV, PHEV and EV production and other manufacturing (such as wind turbines) should top the list of initiatives to start immediately.

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