Friday, August 29, 2014

Why would anyone want this hands-free interface?

I have a Samsung Galaxy S4 Android phone with Verizon as my carrier.  I'm reasonably pleased with it.  However the hands-free operation has me frustrated and angry.

First there's the bug:  Sitting in the cradle on my car dash, connected to my radio via bluetooth, I hit "Voice Dial" on the radio.  If the phone is asleep, voice dial simply crashes.  So before I do anything hands free, I need to finger the phone and wake it from sleep.

It used to be better: I used to be able to call my mom at home by saying, "Call Barbara Cattey at home."  If the Google voice recognizer could make out my words it would reply "Calling Barbara Cattey at Ho..." and it would dial the phone.

Somebody broke it:  Now when I hit voice dial, I have to pull over to handle the distraction:

phone: "Please say call and then a name or number."

me: "Call Barbara Cattey."

phone: "Please say, 'Select 1' for Home, 'Select 2' for Mobile, 'Select 3' for Work."

me: "Select 1."

phone: "Do you wish to call Barbara Cattey at home?  Say 'OK' or 'Cancel'.

me: "OK".

phone: "Calling Barbara Cattey at Home."

The interface changed from one that was simple and easy to this messy back and forth.  I don't know if it is some update that broke the interface, or some deep configuration option that I inadvertently hit.

Now I hate it!
I want the good interface back!

Who created this dialog interface?  I want to hurt them until they understand how bad it is, and they get rid of it and replace it with the simple one pass interface.

Addendum 31 August:

When I announced this blog posting on Facebook, several people replied (in part because submitting comments here is mysteriously broken, even though we've checked the settings multiple times, but I digress...)

Michael Maggard pointed out the problem was that I was running the Samsung S-Voice interface.

The reality is much more complex and silly.

After about 5 hours beating on this I have learned the following:

1. I WAS using the S-Voice interface, but I had configured it to use the Google Voice Search.
2. The setup broke after I took the Verizon Android 4.3 update for the Samsung Galaxy S4.
3. There are a couple threads out in the ether about what broke, but Verizon hasn't clued in.  I believe this thread has a definitive answer about ASDP vs. AS2P protocol.  Or perhaps it's the mono vs. the stereo bluetooth headset connection.  Anyway, for Verizon Samsung Galaxy S4 phones after the May 2014 update, S-Voice quit working on SOME bluetooth interfaces.
4. The default google search is the icky dialog I mentioned above.
5. For some reason you can't get to "Google Voice Search" (which I think is a different name for their smarter "Google Now" search) as an action on bluetooth.  Your choices are S-Voice or Dumb Google Search.
6. There is an app called "Bluetooth Launch" that will let you make ANYTHING launch on the Bluetooth wakeup.
7. If you can cope with an unspeakably tiny font (I literally got out an eye loupe to read the screen.) you can set "" as the ting for "Bluetooth Launch" to do instead of "Google Search" or "S-Voice."

My hands-free behavior is now set back to what I wanted.

Questions going forward:

1. Why does the obvious Google Voice Dial app behave so badly?
2. Why is it so hard to set the good Google Voice Search?
3. Will Verizon ever clue in about what they broke?
4. Why wasn't it obvious to everyone that, "Call Barbara Cattey at home." was the best way to do this and the rest of the ways should have been pushed aside, and this way made easy?

Ok, it's 4:00 AM and time for me to simmer down and go to sleep.

Good night everybody.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stop & Shop Woburn MA -- An Opportunity Lost

The national news recently has covered the fight for control of local supermarket chain, Market Basket.

Market Basket is basically my favorite grocery store because:
  • Although its stock is somewhat limited, it manages to carry pretty much everything I want.
  • The prices are quite reasonable.
  • The store brand food tastes as good as the name brands.
  • The people are friendly and hardworking.
  • The shopping experience is pleasant.
The past few weeks I've not shopped at Market Basket.  This is not only because the shelves emptied, but also out of solidarity with the movement to keep Arthur T. Demoulas as CEO, and to continue running Market Basket the way he and his team built it.

Instead I did most of my shopping at my local Stop & Shop.  Soon Marked Basket will be restocked and I will have a choice.  The experience of Stop & Shop Woburn MA strongly reinforced my opinion to Stop Shopping at Stop & Shop.  

An opportunity to create a welcoming environment for new customers was completely wasted.  Here was my experience.

After parking my car, I go to the front entrance door nearest the middle of the parking lot and am greeted by the sign, "This entrance closes at 10:00 PM."  I remember this sign.  I remember making a previous late night trip to Stop & Shop, parking my car in the middle of the lot, and then discovering I had to walk over to the far entrance.  Why?  Apparently the staff likes to clean that part of the store early so they can get home earlier.

Entering the store I go to where the shopping carts are housed in-store.  Alas, there are no carts there. Unlike Market Basket, there apparently are no junior staffers constantly bringing the carts from the parking lot back to the store.

I go back out to the parking lot and try to find a cart that is in decent repair: with all the plastic still present on the main handle, and that has no sticky wheels.  On my third try, I get one that's mostly acceptable. Pretty much every Market Basket shopping cart I've ever touched was in perfect shape.

Re-Entering the store, I being shopping. First stop: the Deli counter.  Here is where Stop & Shop really could shine.  The activity that takes the most of my time at Market Basket is waiting to work with an employee to fulfill my deli order.  Stop & Shop has a kiosk that lets me key in an order and continue shopping.  Better yet, it has the ability to remember an order associated with my Stop & Shop card. Unfortunately, there are problems:
  • The laser card scanner, for weeks, has been unable to recognize the Stop & Shop card on my key ring. The self-checkout works ok, so I presume it's a broken scanner.
  • The first time I used the deli kiosk, the employee got my order wrong.
  • In the most recent two weeks, the deli-slicer has either been mis-aligned or subtly broken. I prefer my cold cuts to be of uniform thickness, not fat on one side, and pointy on the other.
While my deli kiosk order proceeds I do the rest of my shopping.  The next disappointment happens in the produce section. I see that the usual "higher than Market Basket prices" for all produce changed while Market Basket was closed. So I can get my Granny Smith apples pretty much for the same price I paid at Market Basket. Too bad they didn't taste as good. Differing suppliers, I guess, seem to result in issues with many items on my weekly grocery list:
  • Romaine Lettuce: How come Stop & Shop Romaine lettuce is so much more beat up, and seems to have veins of brown, and splotches of rot that I never find in Market Basket Lettuce?
  • Pre-packaged Spring Mix:  They found a supplier of "organic" spring mix that tastes about the same as what I got from Market basket, at about the same price. So this is ok, at least until the special dollar off pricing ends.
  • Red Onions: Why do they all look smaller and more beat up than what I get at Market Basket?
  • Cherry or Grape tomatoes:  Do they really have to be that expensive?
Pre-packaged foods, spices, meats, and dairy seems pretty much a wash as  long as you stay away from the flavorless Stop & Shop brand, and as long as you don't mind paying fifty cents to a dollar more per item, or per pound of meat.

I did find it rather annoying that the bakery was half a store away from the pre-packaged bread aisle.

Buying ice cream was a challenge.  My refrigerator at home, and the refrigerated display cases at Market Basket seem to be pretty much frost free.  Unfortunately, at Stop & Shop, I had to scrape the frost off the ice cream containers to verify what I was getting.  I think it may have had something to do with the refrigerator case door that's been broken and held together with duct tape for the past several weeks.  Broken shopping carts, broken deli kiosk scanner, broken frozen food case.  This is a trend.

Going back to the other side of the store, I pick up my deli kiosk order and then travel back across the whole width of the store to check out.  I skip the few stations staffed by human beings.  The lines are too long.  Instead I'm first up or second up at the machine.  It is at this point that the unpleasantness of the Stop & Shop experience becomes complete:

  • Why must I count to five while the machine acts on the deli item number I've keyed in?
  • Who organized the list of deli items to pick when I don't have the number?
  • Why do I have to select "Credit" both at the register and on the credit card scanner?
  • Why does the system need a staff member to come over to get it to accept my coupons?
  • How can I possibly bag all the groceries piled up at the end of the conveyor before the next customer's purchases start landing there?
Having taken about the same time as the first in line at self checkout as I would have taken as third or fourth in line with a person, I now exit the store.

My overall impression:  The primary management focus for the Woburn MA Stop & Shop is the minimization of costs that keeps personnel to a minimum and results in poor repair of basics like shopping carts and freezer cases, with no resultant decrease in prices to be passed on to the customer.

Making sure everything was in good repair, and creating a basic human contact could have made me say, "I can go to Stop & Shop as readily as Market Basket."  But no, it was business as usual:  I pay more for food that doesn't taste as good, and I have an unpleasant time doing it.

I look forward to never going back to Stop & Shop.