July 11, 2017

Good design is something we all crave in consumer products.  In my experience, manufacturers seldom deliver.  In many cases, the lack of good design is shocking — if anyone actually used the product for any time before putting it in production,  its design would have been changed.  Two examples of this appeared shortly after I bought a new car.  While I generally am pleased with the vehicle, two features, each very obvious to me after a few short drives, make me want to scream.  The first is the ornamental chrome-like trim on the dashboard air vent to the left of the steering wheel.  This metal reflects in a glaring way in the outside rear view mirror and is a constant annoyance.  Interestingly, my father’s car, from a different manufacturer, exhibits the same problem.  A more serious design flaw is presented by the control for the instrument panel lights — a thin, plastic stalk that sticks out of the instrument panel that is twisted to control the brightness of the instrument back lights.  Aside from the fact that the stalk is flimsy and likely to break, it presents a safety hazard when accessed while driving, because accessing it requires the driver to reach through the steering wheel with one hand.

Other design elements that are bad for the consumer are deliberate.  In my limited experience, Apple, whatever the other merits of its products, is a master at this — so much so, that when other companies see what it gets away with, they emulate it. The lack of a memory card slot on its phones and tablets (before any claim at water resistance, which might have justified its omission), as well as the lack of a user-replaceable battery put me off Apple products when I was looking to buy my first smart phone and tablet.  I simply did not want to pay five times the cost of a standard memory card for the same storage that had to be built into the phone, or pay the Apple store a hundred dollars to replace a fifteen dollar battery.  The recent elimination of the headphone jack on some products, to force the user to purchase a dongle or bluetooth ear pieces, is the same type of deliberate anti-consumer planned obsolescence design. Another is the changing of the jack for the charging cable that forces a consumer to buy all new cables each time he or she buys a new model Apple phone. In the biopic about Steve Jobs, a scene that resonated with me was the launch of a new Apple computer.  When the machine wouldn’t work seconds before the public unveiling, the poor guy who tried to fix it found that Jobs had used screws that prevented the opening of the computer with a standard screw driver.



July 26, 2012

Prior posts here mention a recent trip I took to Sweden. I was fortunate to have close relatives put me up and show me around so, in addition to experiencing the “must see” tourist attractions, I also was exposed to day-to-day Swedish life and regular people.

Sweden struck me as an affluent, technologically forward place. It was more diverse than I thought, with many people of color, though not as many as in the US. People’s basic needs appeared to be met (I saw very few homeless people, and those I did see my cousin called professional mendicants). I was told that medical care is readily available to everyone for a modest co-pay, and that people generally are satisfied, though there is a wait for non-essential procedures and dental and vision care services are not covered. The cost per capita, infant mortality and other statistics seem to bear out the success of the program. Two of my cousins are doctors, and they did not complain about the amounts the government paid them for their services, and they appeared to me to enjoy a level of affluence similar to that of doctors here.

Despite the high taxes, I saw a lot of evidence of wealth in the form of yachts, private aircraft, luxury housing, and the like. Apparently, there still is enough left after paying taxes to make it worthwhile to try to make some money.

It is not fair to compare Sweden to the US, a much bigger country, with a much bigger role in the world. However, it seems clear that Sweden’s ability to invest its tax revenues in its people has paid off — they seem healthier (though they looked well-fed, I didn’t see the scooters and oxygen tanks driven by morbidly obese people that are common here), the absence of the wolf at the door allows them to be very interested in healthy eating and promoting environmentally sound practices and policies, and the public infrastructure is in good shape with adequate services, such as police, fire, education and transportation.

Sweden is the most technologically advanced place I have seen. It seems like everyone has an i-phone, and every gadget I’ve seen here, plus more.

Land use appears more reasonable, with rural and urban areas not separated by miles and miles of sprawl. Most suburban development centers around railroad stations, and is more dense than ours. In the cities, my cousins did not use their cars, and we found the transit services in Stockholm and Gothenburg safe and reliable, with very frequent service, even at night.

Except for the small differences noted above, and a few others (more expensive gasoline and higher prices, to name some), life for the upper and middle classes in Sweden is not that different from those of similar classes here. I suspect life is better for the poor, though I did not see any what I would regard as “bad” neighborhoods (my cousin said there weren’t any, and he claimed there was no place he was afraid to walk alone after dark).

Of course, the quality of life is not determined only by economic factors. The environment in Sweden is pristine (though they do have many nuclear and waste-to-energy plants), it’s cosmopolitan, due to its proximity to the rest of Europe, and there’s lots to do, both outdoors and in the cities, which have very high-end museums, theaters and concert halls.

In sum, I was very impressed, and from what I saw, I could easily live in Sweden (which would help me learn the language, which I found very difficult, despite some prior study), provided I could find a way to make a living. In many ways, it’s a better place to live than the US, though I think the US still offers great opportunity (at least for some), and a more richly diverse population.