Inept UI (User Interfaces) surround us. We only have to step out anywhere and inhale deeply, and their heady fragrances pervade our consciousness.

In today’s example, I was speaking at a conference in Brussels last week and encountered this bathroom faucet configuration in the hotel room. See anything odd?
Brussels faucets

Take a closer look:
Brussels Handle

That's it. There's no handle, only a gentle, graduated knurling around the side which you can see here if you look closely, focus, and be the faucet. The faucet is stiff to begin with, so with wet or soapy hands (and remember, it’s a bathroom faucet, right?), the knob is unturnable.

Good user interfaces combine ease of use with pleasing visual, tactile and aural designs. Bad ones sacrifice function to appearance. This one is bad.


For the past couple of years, I have been receiving a growing stream of a new kind of spam. It floats in from many directions, but uses a common set of tactics:

  1. Invoke guilt (“regarding my invite”), as if I received something from you and lost it. I probably did, but hate to feel guilty. I’d much rather feel gleeful, as I always do after a clever, successful and well-executed revenge. If you can start the spam with that, you’ve got my attention.
  2. Imply previous acquaintance (“Hi, Jeff” and often “following up on...”). If you really knew me, you’d call me “Squab” as do my real friends. I think they’re my friends.
  3. Structure the message as a single dense paragraph to preclude easy sifting. If you really knew me (see point #2), they’d know I’m too lazy to make it as far as the sting. Message to spammers: Sting up top! I’ll click, I promise.
  4. Bury useful information deep within the paragraph so I’ve already wasted time getting to it. News like “we stole all your cabbages” really needs to be up there toward the beginning, nearby to the guilt-inducing “Hi, Jeff! I miss you and wish you’d call me like you promised” so I can start replanning the company executive luncheon.
  5. Suggest that there is no iceberg lurking beneath the tip (“a quick call”). A call like this is never quick, we both know that. Once you have me on the line and we’ve gotten through the inconsequentials, breezed past the product and all the plans by which my team can enjoy its bugs and balky UI, and finished your long and mournful tale of a failed career, wasted life and your concluding promise to send me your CV to pass around, we’re probably at the forty-minute mark. Fifty, if I tell you about this plumbing project at home I can’t seem to get right. I think it’s a gasket.

One good example from this morning’s latest catch (the poor punctuation seems to be a prerequisite as well):

Hi Jeff,
I wanted to check-in regarding my invite and set-up a quick call to introduce my company's cloud-based blahblah solution. CloudBlah offers an ever-growing number of options for ho and hum to provide the appropriate level of whatever and screwit and reduce the burden for both end users accessing all their applications and IT staff supporting them. If you’re interested in learning more, please give me a call at 888-USUCKER, or simply email me your availability, and I will get right back to you.
Nawt M. Portant, Sales and Marketing Consultant, 888-USUCKER

I can’t wait for the next one.


Even today in 2013, there are so many gadgets that arrive with their own unnecessary power source. A complete set of these proprietary and often poorly-built chargers and supplies can fill a small suitcase if you're leading a well-technology'd life. That represents a problem if life invokes a need to travel for any reason, because these things impose an unnecessary choice: either make space for them, or leave them and whatever they host behind.

I started thinking about this again when packing a Yaesu VX-7R handheld transceiver for a recent trip. It has a Li-ion battery, charged by the 12VDC from an AC wallwart almost as big and heavy as the 7R itself. There's an added problem here as well: if the 7R is used remotely, or in an emergency (as is likely), there's no AC available.

Let's consider the most common available infrastructures today. There aren't that many:

1. AC Power (if one is available, unless power goes out),
2. 12V Car (if there's a car, charged, with a jack, nearby)

or, hey!
3. USB

Many devices are already charged from USB jacks, so there's a precedent. Building on this, there are numerous USB battery packs on the market, so there are likely to be a lot of available sources of USB power. Plus, if you build out your own USB power source inventory, each one can be used on everything else you or your friends want to charge from USB.

While there are numerous cigarette-lighter-to-USB converters, I was unable to find one that goes the other way: a USB-to-12V converter, which is what will be required for this job. I could design and build one using a switching controller IC and some time, but decided to take the middle road: find a power supply module, then work with that.

I settled on a Mosel SUS60512, purchased from Allied for $27 (which makes it, like, $100/ounce). 4.5 - 9V input, 12V output at 600mA max, and behaves well during overload, startup etc. It's a tiny little guy - here it is, all hooked up:

USB12V Board_Cables

It’s mounted it to a strip of steel (insulated) for durability. Before stabilizing the cables, and adding the final wrapping in sealing tape, here it is next to the 7R's own wallwart:

USB12V_Wallwart equiv

A whole lot smaller, lighter, and ready for the road - it's part of my everyday kit now. Charge a 7R transceiver from my MacBook Air? You betcha!