Monopoly

The Hacker's Amendment by Dan

Screwdrivers

Congress shall pass no law limiting the rights of persons to manipulate, operate, or otherwise utilize as they see fit any of their possessions or effects, nor the sale or trade of tools to be used for such purposes.

From Artraze commenting on this Slashdot story about the levels of DRM in Windows 7.

I think it maybe needs some qualification about not using your things to cause harm to other people, but it's an interesting idea. See also Mister Jalopy's Maker's Bill of Rights from Make magazine a couple of years ago.

How to fit a normal bulb in a BC3 fitting and save £10 per bulb by Dan

BC3 and 2-pin bayonet fitting comparedStandard 2-pin bayonet cap (left) and 3-pin bayonet cap BC3 (right) fittings compared

Summary for mystified international readers: In the UK new houses/flats must, by law, have a number of light fittings which will 'not accept incandescent filament bulbs' (a 'green' idea). This has led to the development of a proprietary, arbitrary format of compact fluorescent bulb, the BC3, which costs a lot more than standard compact fluorescents, is difficult to obtain, and about which the public generally doesn't know much (yet). If you're so minded, it's not hard to modify the fitting and save money.

A lot of visitors have found this blog recently via searching for information on the MEM BC3 3-pin bayonet compact fluorescent bulbs, where to get them, and why they're so expensive. The main posts here discussing them, with background to what it's all about, are A bright idea? and some more thoughts - and it's readers' comments which are the really interesting part of both posts.

There are so many stories of frustration there, of people trying to 'do their bit' for the environment, trying to fit better CFLs in their homes, and finding that instead of instead of the subsidised or even free standard 2-pin bayonet CFLs available all over the place in a variety of improved designs, styles and quality, they're locked in to having to pay 10 or 15 times as much for a BC3 bulb, and order online, simply because the manufacturer has a monopoly, and does not seem to supply the bulbs to normal DIY or hardware stores.

Frankly, the system is appalling, an example of exactly how not to design for sustainable behaviour. It's a great 'format lock-in' case study for my research, but a pretty pathetic attempt to 'design out' the 'risk' of the public retro-fitting incandescent bulbs in new homes. This is the heavy-handed side of the legislation-ecodesign nexus, and it's clearly not the way forward. Trust the UK to have pushed ahead with it without any thought of user experience. One of the most egregious aspects for me is the way that Eaton's MEMLITE BC3 promotional material presents users with, effectively, a false dichotomy between the 'energy saving BC3' and the energy-hungry GLS incandescent filament tungsten bulbs, as if these are the only two options available. There is no mention at all of standard 2-pin bayonet CFLs which have all the advantages of the BC3 with none of the disadvantages. The adoption of CFLs has been, I would argue, in large part because they are widely available as drop-in replacements for standard 2-pin bayonet (or Edison screw) bulbs. If they'd all required special fittings, very few people would have bought them.

Anyway, if you don't fancy swapping your BC3 fittings for standard 2-pin bayonet ones (which is cheap but would(?) presumably make your home non-compliant with part L of the building regulations - any knowledgeable readers able to clarify this?), it isn't actually too difficult to get a 2-pin bulb to fit acceptably. You will need a pair of pliers, ideally thinner/longer-nosed than the ones in my photos. I should warn you to TURN OFF THE ELECTRICITY FIRST. Unless you're absolutely sure that someone else won't walk in and flip the light switch, don't rely on just turning this off. Turn it all off at the main switch for the house.

Standard 2-pin BC Philips Genie and fittingStandard 2-pin BC Philips Genie and fitting

Here (above) is a Philips Genie 11W 2-pin bayonet CFL. It fits properly into a 2-pin bayonet fitting. When you try to fit it into the BC3 fitting (below), one of the pins will go into one of the J-slots OK, but due to the offset of the other slots, the other pin won't go in. Ignore the third slot.

Standard 2-pin BC Philips Genie with BC3 fittingStandard 2-pin BC Philips Genie with BC3 fitting

But if you look carefully at how the non-fitting pin lines up with the slot (below), you can see that the bottom end of the slot, i.e. where the pin would sit if it could be got into the top of the J, is (just) to the left of the pin. (See the line I scratched on the fitting.) That is, if you could get it there, it would still sit in place without immediately falling out.

Standard 2-pin BC Philips Genie with BC3 fitting

So, with the pliers (making sure the electricity really is off), bend the edge of the non-fitting slot (the inside edge of the J) inwards and fold it back on itself, squeezing it as tight as you can (below two photos):

Bending BC3 fitting with pliers Bending BC3 fitting with pliers

Now try the 2-pin bayonet bulb again (below) - it should fit OK, with a bit of wobbling perhaps. One pin should fit under the bit you just bent; the other should butt up against the inside corner of the J on the other side. It's not perfect, but the friction there is enough to hold the bulb in place OK.

Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting

Switch on the electricity again, and there you have it: any standard 2-pin bayonet bulb, working, in a BC3 fitting (below). Given the amount of free CFLs handed out by various organisations, you could probably replace all the BC3 bulbs in your house for zero cost, once they come to the end of their lives.

Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting

Disclaimer: I can't accept any responsibility for injuries, non-compliance with building regs, incidental damage, etc. The above is just a proof of concept, etc. Have fun.

Digital control round-up by Dan Lockton

An 'Apple' dongle Mac as a giant dongle

At Coding Horror, Jeff Atwood makes an interesting point about Apple's lock-in business model:

It's almost first party only-- about as close as you can get to a console platform and still call yourself a computer... when you buy a new Mac, you're buying a giant hardware dongle that allows you to run OS X software. ... There's nothing harder to copy than an entire MacBook. When the dongle -- or, if you prefer, the "Apple Mac" -- is present, OS X and Apple software runs. It's a remarkably pretty, well-designed machine, to be sure. But let's not kid ourselves: it's also one hell of a dongle.

If the above sounds disapproving in tone, perhaps it is. There's something distasteful to me about dongles, no matter how cool they may be.

Of course, as with other dongles, there are plenty of people who've got round the Mac hardware 'dongle' requirement. Is it true to say (à la John Gilmore) that technical people interpret lock-ins (/other constraints) as damage and route around them?

Screenshot of Mukurtu archive website

Social status-based DRM

The BBC has a story about the Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari Archive, a digital photo archive developed by/for the Warumungu community in Australia's Northern Territory. Because of cultural constraints, social status, gender and community background have been used to determine whether or not users can search for and view certain images:

It asks every person who logs in for their name, age, sex and standing within their community. This information then restricts what they can search for in the archive, offering a new take on DRM. ... For example, men cannot view women's rituals, and people from one community cannot view material from another without first seeking permission. Meanwhile images of the deceased cannot be viewed by their families.

It's not completely clear whether it's intended to help users perform self-censorship (i.e. they 'know' they 'shouldn't' look at certain images, and the restrictions are helping them achieve that) or whether it's intended to stop users seeing things they 'shouldn't', even if they want to. I think it's probably the former, since there's nothing to stop someone putting in false details (but that does assume that the idea of putting in false details would be obvious to someone not experienced with computer login procedures; it may not).

While from my western point of view, this kind of social status-based discrimination DRM seems complete anathema - an entirely arbitrary restriction on knowledge dissemination - I can see that it offers something aside from our common understanding of censorship, and if that's 'appropriate' in this context, then I guess it's up to them. It's certainly interesting.

Neverthless, imagining for a moment that there were a Warumungu community living in the EU, would DRM (or any other kind of access restriction) based on a) gender or b) social status not be illegal under European Human Rights legislation?

Disabled buttonsDisabling buttons

From Clientcopia:

Client: We don't want the visitor to leave our site. Please leave the navigation buttons, but remove the links so that they don't go anywhere if you click them.

It's funny because the suggestion is such a crude way of implementing it, but it's not actually that unlikely - a 2005 patent by Brian Shuster details a "program [that] interacts with the browser software to modify or control one or more of the browser functions, such that the user computer is further directed to a predesignated site or page... instead of accessing the site or page typically associated with the selected browser function" - and we've looked before at websites deliberately designed to break in certain browers and disabling right-click menus for arbitrary purposes.

In default, defiance by Dan Lockton

'Choice of default' is a theme which has come up a few times on the blog: in general, many people accept the options/settings presented to them, and do not question or attempt to alter them. The possibilities for controlling or shaping users' behaviour in this way are, clearly, enormous; two interesting examples have recently been brought to my attention (thanks to Chris Weightman and Patrick Kalaher): Send to FedEx Kinko's button in Adobe Reader

Recent versions of Adobe's PDF creation and viewing software, Acrobat Professional and Adobe Reader (screenshot above) have 'featured' a button on the toolbar (and a link in the File menu) entitled "Send to FedEx Kinko's" which upload the document to FedEx Kinko's online printing service. As Gavin Clarke reports in The Register, this choice of default (the result of a tie-in between Adobe and FedEx) has irritated other printing companies and trade bodies sufficiently for Adobe to agree to remove the element from the software:

Adobe Systems has scrapped the "send to FedEx Kinkos" print button in iAdobe Reader and Acrobat Professional, in the face of overwhelming opposition from America's printing companies.

Adobe said today it would release an update to its software in 10 weeks that will remove the ability to send PDFs to FedEx Kinkos for printing at the touch of a button.

...

No doubt the idea of linking to a service that's often the only choice presented to consumers in the track towns of Silicon Valley made eminent sense to Adobe, itself based in San Jose, California. But the company quickly incurred the wrath of printers outside the Valley for including a button to their biggest competitor, in software used widely by the design and print industry.

I wonder how many users of Acrobat/Reader actually used the service? Did its inclusion change any users' printing habits (i.e. they stopped using their current printer and used Kinko's instead)? And was this due to pure convenience/laziness? Presumably Kinko's could identify which of their customers originated from clicking the button - were they charged exactly the same as any other customer, or was this an opportunity for price discrimination?

As some of the comments - both on the Register story and on Adobe's John Loiacono's blog - have noted, the idea of a built-in facility to send documents to an external printing service is not bad in itself, but allowing the user to configure this, or allowing printing companies to offer their own one-click buttons to users, would be much more desirable from a user's point of view.

In a sense, 'choice of default' could be the other side of process friction as a design strategy. By making some options deliberately easier - much easier - than the alternatives (which might actually be more beneficial to the user), the other options appear harder in comparison, which is effectively the same as making some options or methods harder in the first place. The new-PCs-pre-installed-with-Windows example is probably the most obvious modern instance of choice of default having a major effect on consumer behaviour, as an anonymous commenter noted here last year:

Ultimately, though, you can sum up the free-software tug-of-war political control this way: it’s easiest to get a Windows computer and use it as such. Next easiest to get a MacOS one and use it as such. Commercial interests and anti-free software political agenda. Next easiest is a Linux computer, where the large barrier of having to install and configure an operating system yourself must be leapt. Also, it’s likely you don’t actually save any money upfront, because you probably end up buying a Windows box and wiping it to install Linux. Microsoft exacts their tax even if you won’t use the copy of Windows you’re supposedly paying them for.

Starbucks Mug; photo by Veryfotos
Photo by veryfotos.

Sometimes 'choice of default' can mean actually hiding the options which it's undesirable for customers to choose:

Here's a little secret that Starbucks doesn't want you to know: They will serve you a better, stronger cappuccino if you want one, and they will charge you less for it. Ask for it in any Starbucks and the barista will comply without batting an eye. The puzzle is to work out why. The drink in question is the elusive "short cappuccino"—at 8 ounces, a third smaller than the smallest size on the official menu, the "tall," and dwarfed by what Starbucks calls the "customer-preferred" size, the "Venti," which weighs in at 20 ounces and more than 200 calories before you add the sugar.

The short cappuccino has the same amount of espresso as the 12-ounce tall, meaning a bolder coffee taste, and also a better one. The World Barista Championship rules, for example, define a traditional cappuccino as a "five- to six-ounce beverage." This is also the size of cappuccino served by many continental cafés. Within reason, the shorter the cappuccino, the better.

...

This secret cappuccino is cheaper, too—at my local Starbucks, $2.35 instead of $2.65. But why does this cheaper, better drink—along with its sisters, the short latte and the short coffee—languish unadvertised? The official line from Starbucks is that there is no room on the menu board, although this doesn't explain why the short cappuccino is also unmentioned on the comprehensive Starbucks Web site, nor why the baristas will serve you in a whisper rather than the usual practice of singing your order to the heavens.

The rest of this Slate article* from 2006, by Tim Harford, advances the idea that this kind of tactic is designed specifically to allow price discrimination:

This is the Starbucks way of sidestepping a painful dilemma over how high to set prices. Price too low and the margins disappear; too high and the customers do. Any business that is able to charge one price to price-sensitive customers and a higher price to the rest will avoid some of that awkward trade-off... Offer the cheaper product but make sure that it is available only to those customers who face the uncertainty and embarrassment of having to request it specifically.

Initially, one might think it a bit odd that the lower-priced item has survived at all as an option, given that it can only be a very small percentage of customers who are 'in the know' about it. But unlike a shop or company carrying a 'secret product line', which requires storage and so on, the short cappuccino can be made without needing any different ingredients, so it presumably makes sense to contnue offering it.

Thinking about other similarly hidden options (especially 'delete' options when buying equipment) reveals how common this sort of practice has become. I'm forever unticking (extra-cost) options for insurance or faster delivery when ordering products online; even when in-store, the practice of staff presenting extended warranties and insurance as if they're the default choice on new products is extremely widespread.

Perhaps a post would be in order rounding up ways to save money (or get a better product) by requesting hidden options, or requesting the deletion of unnecessary options - please feel free to leave any tips or examples in the comments. Remember, all progress depends on the unreasonable man (or woman).

*There is another tactic raised in the article, pertinent to our recent look at casino carpets, which I will get around to examining further in due course.

Dishonourable discharge? by Dan Lockton

Nokia phone with battery visible Long overdue, I'm currently reading Bruce Schneier's excellent Beyond Fear, and realising that in many ways, security thinking overlaps with architectures of control: the goal of so many systems is to control users' behaviour or to deny the user the ability to perform certain actions. I'll post a fuller comparison and analysis in due course, but one example Bruce mentions in passing seemed worth blogging separately:

Nokia spends about a hundred times more money per phone on battery security than on communications security. The security system senses when a consumer uses a third-party battery and switches the phone into maximum power-consumption mode; the point is to ensure that consumers buy only Nokia batteries.

Nokia is prepared to spend a considerable amount of money solving a security problem that it perceives - it loses revenue if customers buy batteries from someone else - even though that solution is detrimental to consumers.

As a battery authentication method, this is more subtle than the systems we've looked at before, which actually refuse to allow the device to operate if a non-original-manufacturer battery (or perhaps charger) is used.

Nokia's system attempts to persuade the customer that the new (cheaper) battery he or she has bought is "no good" by making the phone discharge the battery more quickly - in an extremely underhanded way. From the point of view of the (uninformed) consumer, though, it makes Nokia look good. "Oh, that cheap battery I bought is rubbish, it doesn't seem to hold its charge. Nokia make them so much better, guess I should stick to them in future."

But if the Nokia batteries were genuinely 'better' than the cheap replacement ones, surely this kind of underhanded tactic wouldn't be necessary?

P.S. I have no idea whether this Nokia 'trick' is real/common/still used, as Beyond Fear has no references, or whether other manufacturers do something similar (as opposed to outright battery authentication-and-denial). I'll ask a friend at Nokia.

P.P.S. Jason Kottke also noted this tactic back in 2003.

Another charging opportunity? by Dan Lockton

A knife blade cutting the cable of a generic charger/adaptor Last month, an Apple patent application was published describing a method of "Protecting electronic devices from extended unauthorized use" - effectively a 'charging rights management' system.

New Scientist and OhGizmo have stories explaining the system; while the stated intention is to make stolen devices less useful/valuable (by preventing a thief charging them with unauthorised chargers), readers' comments on both stories are as cynical as one would expect: depending on how the system is implemented, it could also prevent the owner of a device from buying a non-Apple-authorised replacement (or spare) charger, or from borrowing a friend's charger, and in this sense it could simply be another way of creating a proprietary lock-in, another way to 'charge' the customer, as it were.

It also looks as though it would play havoc with clever homebrew charging systems such as Limor Fried's Minty Boost (incidentally the subject of a recent airline security débâcle) and similar commercial alternatives such as Mayhem's Anycharge, although these are already defeated by a few devices which require special drivers to allow charging.

Reading Apple's patent application, what is claimed is fairly broad with regard to the criteria for deciding whether or not re-charging should be allowed - in addition to charger-identification-based methods (i.e. the device queries the charger for a unique ID, or the charger provides it, perhaps modulated with the charging waveform) there are methods involving authentication based on a code provided to the original purchaser (when you plug in a charger the device has never 'seen' before, it asks you for a security code to prove that you are a legitimate user), remote disabling via connection to a server, or even geographically-based disabling (using GPS: if the device goes outside of a certain area, the charging function will be disabled).

All in all, this seems an odd patent. Apple's (patent attorneys') rather hyperbolic statement (Description, 0018) that:

These devices (e.g., portable electronic devices, mechanical toys) are generally valuable and/or may contain valuable data. Unfortunately, theft of more popular electronic devices such as the Apple iPod music-player has become a serious problem. In a few reported cases, owners of the Apple iPod themselves have been seriously injured or even murdered.

...is no doubt true to some extent, but if the desire is really to make a stolen iPod worthless, then I would have expected Apple to lock each device in total to a single user - not even allowing it to be powered up without authentication. Just applying the authentication to the charging method seems rather arbitrary. (It's also interesting to see the description of "valuable data": surely in the case that Apple is aware that a device has been stolen, it could provide the legitimate owner of the device with all his or her iTunes music again, since the marginal copying cost is zero. And if the stolen device no longer functions, the RIAA need not panic about 'unauthorised' copies existing! But I doubt that's even entered into any of the thinking around this.)

Whether or not the motives of discouraging theft are honourable or worthwhile, there is the potential for this sort of measure to cause signficant inconvenience and frustration for users (and second-hand buyers, for example - if the device doesn't come with the original charger or the authentication code) along with incurring extra costs, for little real 'theft deterrent' benefit. How long before the 'security' system is cracked? A couple of months after the device is released? At that point it will be worth stealing new iPods again.

(Many thanks to Michael O'Donnell of PDD for letting me know about this!)

Previously on the blog: Friend or foe? Battery authentication ICs

UPDATE: Freedom to Tinker has now picked up this story too, with some interesting commentary.

Bad profits by Dan Lockton

Image from Sevenblock (Flickr)
Image from Sevenblock (Flickr)
The Gillette Sensor Excel not only comes with a dummy blade, it also only comes with two out of five possible blade slots filled. Images from Sevenblock on Flickr. The razor-blade model in general is something of an old chestnut as far as architectures of control go, and we've covered it in a number of different contexts on this site over the past couple of years. But it's always interesting to see it in action with razors themselves, especially if the strategy has become even less consumer-friendly. Via the This Is Broken pool on Flickr, in which 'Sevenblock' talks about Gillette's use of a dummy blade and dummy slots on the Sensor Excel packaging, I learned of Fred Reichheld's concept of 'bad profits':

...there is something disappointing with the set-up of buying a new razor. This razor reminded me of Fred Reichheld.

The blade which arrives pre-attached to the razor is fake. Is it dangerous to use a real one? Perhaps.

No, it is a set-up to dupe customers into grabbing a new razor and heading to the mirror only to realize that they are holding a plastic faux blade. Then, turn over the packaging, and two razors are held in a spot for five. Another subtle sigh from the customer.

Why not surprise the customer in the other direction? "Wow, five blades! For less than 20 dollars." Because that's what happens when you go to refill. BJs and Costco have good deals on bulk blades.

Reichheld's idea is, effectively, that a company's strategies can centre on creating 'good profits' or 'bad profits':

Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored, or coerced, then profits from that customer are bad. Bad profits come from unfair or misleading pricing. Bad profits arise when companies save money by delivering a lousy customer experience. Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value.

...

If bad profits are earned at the expense of customers, good profits are earned with customers’ enthusiastic cooperation. A company earns good profits when it so delights its customers that they willingly come back for more—and not only that, they tell their friends and colleagues to do business with the company.

...

What is the question that can tell good profits from bad? Simplicity itself: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?

The full article is well worth a read, as, I expect, Reichheld's book The Ultimate Question is too (though one reviewer on Amazon also offers some succinctly persuasive criticism).

The basic concept, that the 'ultimate question' of whether or not a customer would recommend a company is the key to growth is a good way of articulating, from a business perspective, the message of consumer advocacy that so many from Ralph Nader and Vance Packard to Consumerist and Seth Godin have promulgated over the years, though of course the 'Why?' and 'Why not?' are crucial. But Reichheld's simple identification of 'good profit' and 'bad profit' seems to be a very clever way of looking at the issue: the 'good' and 'bad' labels refer to the effect on the company itself as well as on the customer, since a company reliant on bad profits will, one would assume, ultimately, lose its customer base (unless there are no alternatives - Brand Autopsy has an interesting piece on this in relation to car rental firms).

Most commercially driven architectures of control, then (as opposed to politically driven ones) would seem to be designed to extract value from customers (unwilling or ignorant), and thus might be described as bad profit-seeking, by Reichheld's definition. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow on DRM, it's unlikely that any customers wake up and say, "Damn, I wish there was a way to have my actions deliberately constrained for commercial gain by the products and services I use." Hence, it's unlikely that customers will evangelise or even recommend products and systems which give them a lousy experience. They may accept them grudgingly, as most of us do with many commercial (and political) interactions every day, but once a 'good profit' alternative becomes available and widely known about, they won't hesitate to switch. I hope.

Maybe 'good profits' and 'bad profits' are too simplistic as terminologies, much like Jakob Nielsen's 'Evil design' comments, but even a continuum between 'good' and 'bad' profit intentions is a useful way of thinking about the merits or otherwise of corporate strategies, particularly with customer service, products, pricing, rent-seeking, gouging, lock-in and so on.

Ticket off (reprise) by Dan Lockton

Last year we looked at the way that the pricing structure of no-change-given ticket machines is often - apparently - designed to lead to overpayment, and I posed the question of whether councils/car park operators actually draw up their budget based on a significant proportion of customers overpaying. Parking ticket machine in Totnes, Devon

Parking ticket machine in Totnes, DevonParking ticket machine in Totnes, Devon

I'm still no closer to answering that last question, but I was reminded again of this 'the house always wins' idea last week by this ticket machine (above) in Totnes, Devon. Look at the price intervals: 25p, 90p, £1.70, £2.55, £4.20, £5.75 - those are some rather odd figures. The price jumps - 65p, 80p, 85p, £1.65 and £1.55 - are odd in themselves, but given that the machine does not give change, it's a fairly safe bet that,unless they carry a lot of change, many people parking for 1 hour will pay £1.00 rather than 90p, many 2 hour customers will pay £2 instead of £1.70, and many 3 hour customers will pay some amount larger than the very awkward £2.55. Why not £2.50? What's the logic behind that extra 5p if not to force overpayment by people not carrying a spare fivepence?

One car park visitor was clearly sufficiently irritated to label the machine with exactly what he or she thought of the pricing policy (third photo above)!

Dublin Bus ticket details at Dublin Airport

An interesting case: Dublin Bus

One detail which was thrown up in the comments last time by Undulattice is that at least one no-change-given policy, that of Dublin Bus, is accompanied by the ability to get a refund if you really want, by taking your receipt to Dublin Bus's headquarters (which are at least located in a fairly prominent place in the city centre), as explained on signs such as the above (photographed at Dublin Airport earlier this year):

Dublin Bus have operated an ‘Exact Fare - No Change’ policy for years now. In the case of over-payment, they issue a ticket receipt which can be exchanged at Dublin Bus HQ. Oh, and they don’t accept notes either!

and Damien added this:

I can’t remember which one, but there was a charity in Dublin that started collecting the Bus refund receipts and cashing them as donations. Great idea.

The Jack and Jill Children's Foundation, St Francis Hospice and Barnardos are among the charities actively asking for the receipts - as Barnardos says:

Did it ever occur to you that you are throwing away real money – and lots of it!

As much as €750,000 a year is going into rubbish bins across the county!!

In 2004 there were over 150 million passenger journeys on Dublin Bus routes right across the city. If ONLY 1% of those journeys were over–paid by 5c that’s a total of €750,000 that often ends up in the bins!

This forum discussion from 2004 suggests (how accurately, I don't know) that Dublin Bus has more than €9 million in unreturned change. As with the car parking overpayments, how do accounting standards deal with this kind of overpayment arrangement? Can budgets be drawn up based on projections of massive overpayments along these lines? Are there businesses (bus companies, car parks, etc) that are only profitable because of the scale of overpayment? Some forum posts suggest that drivers may pocket and redeem a lot of the receipts themselves, which may further complicate the picture further.

The charity initiatives are a fascinating way to 'fight the system' and achieve some good - a mechanism for recovering overpayment en masse - and it does make me wonder just how much overpayment Transport for London's bus ticket machines receive each year, and how that money is accounted for.

A different strategy

Back to parking ticket machines, Carrie McLaren of the brilliant Stay Free! commented that:

...in New York, like most major cities in the US, parking meters are priced way below their market value - so “the house always wins” claim wouldn’t apply here. Anyone able to find a metered spot is getting a real bargain, even if they don’t have the right change.

This is an interesting strategy, very different to that used by most car parking operations in the UK. Restricting the number of spaces and not deliberately overcharging for them seems to be clearly targeted at discouraging drivers from even thinking of driving into the city, while not ripping off those who need to do so. This generally does not happen in the UK, where parking charges (and fines) are a major revenue source for councils and private operators, and while high charges (and forcing overpayment) may pay lip-service to 'discouraging traffic', the still-full car parks would tend to show up that this does not work. I'll look further at this, and 'architecture of control' strategies for parking, in a future post.

A bright idea? by Dan Lockton

UPDATE: See this more recent post for information and photos of how to get a 2-pin bulb to fit in a BC3 fitting. This may well be the example which involves the most different 'architecture of control' issues so far - by a long way. It is a complex case with a number of aspects, intentions and effects to consider. My mind isn't made up on the rights and wrongs of this: it's certainly an architecture of control, it's certainly devious and it's certainly a case of introducing a razor-blade model (product lock-in) into a field where there was previously none; it will also end up costing many consumers more money, yet it's founded in an attempt to 'encourage'/force more environmentally friendly behaviour.

A couple of weeks ago, George Preston let me know about Eaton MEM BC3 light bulbs and fittings. These are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs or 'energy-saving' bulbs) which have their own kind of three-pronged bayonet connector (left), as opposed to the standard two-pronged bayonet (right):

BC3 lamp, photo by George Preston
BC3 lamp, photo by George Preston
BC3 fitting - image from MEMLITE brochure
BC3 CFL and standard bayonet CFL compared, and a BC3 fitting. Upper two photos by George Preston; lower photo from BC3 brochure [PDF].

Notice those three prongs are irregularly spaced. A normal bayonet bulb won't fit in a BC3 fitting, and a BC3 bulb won't fit in a normal bayonet fitting.

What's the rationale behind this?

From Approved Document L1 [PDF], an amendment to the UK Building Regulations, which came into force in April 2002 (applying to new-build houses):

1.54 Reasonable provision should be made for dwelling occupiers to obtain the benefits of efficient lighting. A way of showing compliance with the requirement would be to provide at a reasonable number of locations, where lighting can be expected to have most use, fixed lighting (comprising either basic lighting outlets or complete luminaires) that only take lamps having a luminous efficacy greater than 40 lumens per circuit-watt. Circuit-watts means the power consumed in lighting circuits by lamps and their associated control gear and power factor correction equipment. Examples of lamps that achieve this efficacy include fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps (not GLS tungsten lamps with bayonet cap or Edison screw bases).

The idea is, then, that since 'normal' bayonet fittings can take normal tungsten incandescent filament bulbs as well as normal CFLs - something which has of course driven the more widespread adoption of CFLs - there is the likelihood/possibility that householders might replace any pre-installed CFLs with filament bulbs, for whatever reason (the usual reasons are the colour of the light, the aesthetic appearance of the bulbs, and the warm-up time). To prevent this possibility, a new type of light fitting and associated CFL cap design were required which were uniquely compatible, so that anyone with this kind of fitting would have to fit bulbs with the new cap design, which would only be available on CFLs.

(Note that the same objective could have been achieved by fitting these rooms solely with fittings for commonly available standard linear fluorescent tubes, i.e. strip lights.)

So, Eaton's MEM 250 division created the BC3 (bayonet-cap-3?) range, being nominated for an Electrical Product Award for Contribution Towards Energy Saving in the process.

What's interesting is that as well as complete BC3 CFLs and BC3 fittings, the BC3 range includes BC3 base units (with the ballast and control electronics in them) into which a four-pin CFL tube can be plugged:

BC3 lamp unit, from EthicalProductsDirect.com BC3 base unit, from EthicalProductsDirect.com
Left: A tube unit with four pin connector; Right: A BC3 base unit (including ballast) to allow the tube to be attached. Images from Ethical Products Direct.

This allows the tube to be replaced independently of the electronics - thus saving resources - but does not appear to be the focus of the BC3 system. (Just a thought: if more new houses were pre-fitted with these base units, or simply standard 2-pin bayonet base units, within the light fittings, so that a householder would simply go out and replace the tube rather than the whole lot, similarly to the linear fluorescent tube suggestion above, would it not have made for a more environmentally friendly solution?)

Some interesting claims are being made for the BC3 system. Somehow the idea of forcing the householder to buy one particular brand of CFL has been transmuted into a misguided suggestion that the BC3 system actually makes the houses more energy efficient - e.g., from a housing association magazine [PDF] in Wiltshire:

Residents in some of Westlea’s newer homes will know that we now fit special three-way bayonet lamp fittings as one way to make the property more energy efficient. Although the ‘BC3 eco bulbs’ needed for these lamp fittings are more expensive than ordinary lightbulbs, using them in a ‘standard’ house could save the resident around £100 each year because they use less electricity than ordinary lightbulbs. Some residents have told us they have had difficulty buying the three-pin eco bulbs locally, but we’re pleased to report that the following outlets are able to supply them from £6.35 upwards...

From £6.35 each is a lot of money. Standard 'Tesco Value' 2-pin bayonet CFLs started at 88p each (Tesco, Egham, Surrey) the last time I looked - that's especially cheap, and they were only 11W, but 15W units are commonly available from about £2 - £3. Searching Froogle shows that BC3 bulbs start from around £10. Even Ethical Products Direct, to whom Eaton MEM's own website directs visitors wanting to buy BC3 bulbs, charges £9.36 for the cheapest complete BC3 unit.

This is a lot of money for something which provides the householder with exactly the same function as a standard CFL a quarter the price. (It's not as if the BC3 bulbs last much longer, for example, or are more efficient. They just have a non-standard fitting and are only supplied by one manufacturer.) In fact, one might suggest that standard CFLs offer the householder more benefit, since they can be swapped around, fitted all over the place, even fitted to replace incandescent filament bulbs in standard fittings, should someone - shock - actually want to choose a CFL without being forced into doing so.

The housing association quote above demonstrates an important point about the use of BC3s. Many householders' first encounter with them will be when they notice a CFL going dim or actually failing, or want to increase the light levels in a room, and find that they have to spend much more than they were expecting to spend on a CFL anyway. George's story demonstrates this well:

We have recently moved into a new flat which is part of a modern development in London. A few lightbulbs needed replacing when we moved in, so I went out and bought some (they're all energy-efficient ones so I bought the same to replace them with). But oddly, none of them would fit in the fittings. I was under the impression that there were just Bayonet and Screw Cap fittings? These fittings were bayonet, but needed three, irregularly-spaced pins instead of the standard two.

...

I'm no stranger to energy efficiency, and it wouldn't be so annoying were it not for the fact that the bulb I had bought as a replacement was an energy-efficient type anyway, but it seems illogical and a shame that properietary fitting sizes have been introduced into something that has always been so simple - choosing a lightbulb.

(Equally, there is the problem of actually getting hold of BC3 bulbs. I went to the enormous B & Q in Slough on Sunday and couldn't see any on the shelves. While the 8,000 hour lifetime may mean that there's not a massive demand for them yet from the public, ordering online and waiting for delivery is not really a great option when a light bulb fails. It often causes inconvenience, and can be dangerous - until Incluminate's a production reality (!), the best option is to keep spare bulbs in the cupboard. But if you don't realise that you need to keep special BC3 bulbs, and that these aren't available from every corner shop or even every massive DIY store, this is going to be extremely inconvenient. The BC3 brochure does mention a "householder card... which can be left with the homeowner highlighting the 'energy saving' aspects of their new home" but how many people will remember to stock up on BC3 bulbs as a result?)

Anyway, I think the main issues are:

  • Razor-blade model: monopoly on fitting type means higher prices can be charged for same function, consumers locked in
  • Non-standard fitting likely to cause significant inconvenience to householders
  • But:

  • System does force householders to use 'energy saving' bulbs*
  • The BC3 range is also made in the UK, which aside from actually supporting local jobs, means that the units are not transported from China as, say, Tesco Value CFLs are. That saves on transportation energy, at least, and while - looking briefly - I couldn't find a patent for the BC3 system, I presume Eaton have it protected somehow, otherwise there would surely be cheaper BC3-compatible bulbs available.

    (Another thought is what other proprietary systems - if any - have manufacturers evolved to meet the regulations in part L1? Are there lower-profile rival systems with their own fitting and cap designs? What would the implications be if a particular type were no longer available a few years down the line?)

    Conclusion

    Overall, this is a clever commercial attempt to respond to a governmental decision made with environmental protection in mind, and as such probably ought to be filed along with optimum lifetime products as something where the intention is to benefit society as well as benefit the manufacturer, at the expense of additionally inconveniencing the user. I feel focusing on a system of built-in base units, with readily available standard replacement tubes (either CFLs or linear fluorescent format) would have been more user-friendly as well as reducing the amount of electronics needlessly thrown away, but it would not have permitted a razor-blade model to the same extent.

    It will be interesting to see how the BC3 story develops in the years ahead: will they become commonly available, and how high will public awareness be? There will probably be many more similar products and systems in the next few years using technology to enforce government policy, particularly in an environmental context, and the Eaton MEM BC3 will be an important case study.

    *Of course, there's a lot that ought to be said about the real merits of a large-scale shift to 'energy saving' bulbs, particularly in relation to Australia's decision to phase out incandescent filament bulbs entirely, the European Lamp Companies' Federation's focus on the same, Gordon Brown's announcement on this, and campaigns such as Ban The Bulb.

    As a designer and engineer, I would suggest that in cold climates, 100W from an incandescent filament bulb means simply that 100 joules per second of heat is going into my room (probably wasting another 200 joules per second at the power station, but that's another matter). Light bulbs do heat our homes. If we lose 80W from the light bulb, the heating will probably get turned up by 80W instead. Better insulation, so that that heat isn't lost, may well turn out to be just as good, or better, than mass-replacement of thousands of millions of light bulbs with CFLs requiring significantly more resources to manufacture (and dispose of). Those electronics in the base don't come from nowhere, and are likely to outlast the fluorescent tube: hence why the idea of replaceable tubes is much more sensible than throwing away and replacing the base unit each time as well. But the bandwagon's set off and with heavyweight government and heavyweight manufacturers on board, it's got a lot of momentum...

    Some links by Dan Lockton

    Some links. Guess what vehicle this is. First, an apology for anyone who's had problems with the RSS/Atom feeds over the last month or so. I think they're fixed now (certainly Bloglines has started picking them up again) but please let me know if you don't read this. Oops, that won't work... anyway:

  • 'Gadgets as Tyrants' by Xeni Jardin, looks at digital architectures of control in the context of the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas :

    Many of the tens of thousands of products displayed last week on the Vegas expo floor, as attractive and innovative as they are, are designed to restrict our use... Even children are bothered by the increasing restrictions. One electronics show attendee told me his 12-year-old recently asked him, “Why do I have to buy my favorite game five times?” Because the company that made the game wants to profit from each device the user plays it on: Wii, Xbox, PlayStation, Game Boy or phone.

    At this year’s show, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, Gary Shapiro, spoke up for “digital freedom,” arguing that tech companies shouldn’t need Hollywood’s permission when they design a new product.

  • The Consumerist - showing a 1981 Walmart advert for a twin cassette deck - comments that "Copying music wasn't always so taboo".

    I'm not sure it is now, either.

  • George Preston very kindly reminds me of the excellent Trusted Computing FAQ by Ross Anderson, a fantastic exposition of the arguments. For more on Vista's 'trusted' computing issues, Peter Guttmann has some very clear explanations of how shocking far we are from anything sensible. See also Richard Stallman's 'Right to Read'.
  • David Rickerson equally kindly sends me details of a modern Panopticon prison recently built in Colorado - quite impressive in a way:

    Image from Correctional News

    ...Architects hit a snag when they realized too much visibility could create problems.

    “We’ve got lots of windows looking in, but the drawback is that inmates can look from one unit to another through the windows at the central core area of the ward,” Gulliksen says. “That’s a big deal. You don’t want inmates to see other inmates across the hall with gang affiliations and things like that.”

    To minimize unwanted visibility, the design team applied a reflective film to all the windows facing the wards. Deputies can see out, but inmates cannot see in. Much like the 18th-century Panopticon, the El Paso County jail design keeps inmates from seeing who is watching them.

    Image from Correctional News website

  • Should the iPhone be more open?

    As Jason Devitt says, stopping users installing non-Apple (or Apple-approved) software means that the cost of sending messages goes from (potentially) zero, to $5,000 per megabyte:

    Steve typed "Sounds great. See you there." 28 characters, 28 bytes. Call it 30. What does it cost to transmit 30 bytes?

    * iChat on my Macbook: zero. * iChat running on an iPhone using WiFi: zero. * iChat running on an iPhone using Cingular's GPRS/EDGE data network: 6 hundredths of a penny. * Steve's 'cool new text messaging app' on an iPhone: 15c.

    A nickel and a dime.

    15c for 30 bytes = $0.15 X 1,000,000 / 30 = $5,000 per megabyte.

    "Yes, but it isn't really $5,000," you say. It is if you are Cingular, and you handle a few billion messages like this each quarter.

    ... [I] assumed that I would be able to install iChat myself. Or better still Adium, which supports AIM, MSN, ICQ, and Jabber. But I will not be able to do that because ... it will not be possible to install applications on the iPhone without the approval of Cingular and Apple... But as a consumer, I have a choice. And for now the ability to install any application that I want leaves phones powered by Windows Mobile, Symbian, Linux, RIM, and Palm OS with some major advantages over the iPhone.

    Aside from the price discrimination (and business model) issue (see also Control & Networks), one thing that strikes me about a phone with a flat touch screen is simply how much less haptic feedback the user gets.

    I know people who can text competently without looking at the screen, or indeed the phone at all. They rely on the feel of the buttons, the pattern of raised and lowered areas and the sensation as the button is pressed, to know whether or not the character has actually been entered, and which character it was (based on how many times the button is pressed). I would imagine they would be rather slow with the iPhone.

  • Coercive atmospherics reach the bus shelter by Dan Lockton

    Milk & cookies
    Jonathan Zittrain discusses scented advertising in bus shelters: the California Milk Processor Board recently tried a campaign with chocolate-chip cookie-scented "aromatic strips", intended to provoke a thirst for milk, in San Francisco before having to remove them after allergy/chemical sensitivity concerns.

    The use of scent (fresh bread, coffee, 'new car smell' etc) as a persuasion method is nothing new in supermarkets and other retail environments - as part of coercive atmospherics, Douglas Rushkoff and Martin Howard both have interesting treatments of various approaches and results - but the balance does begin to shift when the application is so public. I would suspect a lot of the opposition in San Francisco was really more about the inescapable incursion of the commercial message into a public environment than the allergy concerns; as Jonathan puts it:

    Unlike the use of even large billboards, there’s no easy way to avert your nose the way you can avert your eyes, making the advertising much more invasive.

    Nevertheless, I'm not sure that a less obviously "invasive" olefactory campaign would necessarily meet too much opposition if handled correctly. Imagine an air freshener manufacturer sponsoring a clean-up of a city's dirtiest/stinkiest bus shelters. Provided it were not overpowering, and not too sickening, would a fragranced bus shelter without a coercive angle be seen as invasive?

    Or, to run closer to the milk-and-cookies example, what if, say, Nestlé were to fragrance bus shelters with chocolate milkshake scent in order to promote Nesquik? It doesn't have the same 'sneaky' aspect, though I suspect it would still be pretty irritating.

    Digital control round-up by Dan Lockton

    Digital architectures of control Some developments in - and commentary on - digital architectures of control to end 2006:

  • Peter Gutmann's 'A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection' (via Bruce Schneier) looks very lucidly at the effects that Vista's DRM and measures to 'protect' content will have - on users themselves, and knock-on effects elsewhere. The more one reads, the more astonishing this whole affair is:

    Possibly for the first time ever, computer design is being dictated not by electronic design rules, physical layout requirements, and thermal issues, but by the wishes of the content industry.

    Vista appears to be just about the worst consumer product of all time. However, unlike other discretionary purchases, consumers will have less of a choice: Vista will come with any PC you buy from a major store, and all the hardware manufacturers will have to pass on the extra costs and complexity required to customers, whether or not they intend to use that hardware with Vista. When critical military and healthcare systems start to be run on Vista, we'll all end up paying.

    As Peter puts it:

    The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history

  • In a similar vein, the 'format wars' over high-definition video appear to have descended into a farce:

    Basically, what we have is a series of anti-consumer DRM infections masquerading as nothing in particular. They bring only net negatives to anyone dumb enough to pay money for them, and everything is better than these offerings. They sell in spite of the features they tout, not because of them.

    And, of course, HD-DVD encryption has already been "(partially) cracked" as Uninnovate puts it, with that decryption effort being triggered directly as a result of consumer frustration with incompatibility:

    I just bought a HD-DVD drive to plug on my PC, and a HD movie, cool! But when I realized the 2 software players on Windows don’t allowed me to play the movie at all, because my video card is not HDCP compliant and because I have a HD monitor plugged with DVI interface, I started to get mad… This is not what we can call “fair use”! So I decide to decrypt that movie.

  • "Consumers buy only 23 songs per iPod" - clearly, the vast majority of music on iPods and other portable music players has been acquired through CD-ripping or file-sharing, something which we all know, but which has been an elephant in the room for a long time when the industry is discussed (and remember that the Gowers' Review has only just recommended that ripping CDs be legalised in the UK).

    Of course, Bill Gates also recommends ripping CDs (see also some great commentary from LilBambi on this).

    Andrew Kantor in USA Today has some pragmatic analysis of the situation:

    People want their music without restrictions, and too many legal downloads, like those from iTunes, come with restrictions. You can't copy them to another player, or you're limited to how often you can do it, or you have to jump through the hoops of burning your iTunes tracks to CD and re-ripping them to a more useful format... as cellphones with built-in MP3 players gain popularity, users will find themselves up against an entirely new set of usage restrictions. Some subscription services will delete the music from your player when you cancel your subscription.

    ...

    Buy a CD or use a program like eMule... and you have no restrictions. And that's what people want.

    They don't want to have to match their music store with their music player any more than they want to have to match their brands of gasoline with their brands of car. They want, in short, to be able to use today's music the same ways they used yesterday's: Any way they want.

    In fact, the industry's been down this road before and hit a similar wall. In the first decades of the 20th century, the wax cylinders (and, later, 78rpm disks) on which music was recorded worked only with specific players. Industry attempts to monopolize the technology led only to poor sales.

  • Finally, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer tells us that in 2007 the consumer will be "back in control". It doesn't mean much out of context, nor in the context he used it in fact, but it looks like Doublespeak is alive and well.
  • The secret by Dan Lockton

    "The secret to getting ahead in the 21st century is capitalizing on people doing what they want to do, rather than trying to get them to do what you want to do."

    (Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com, in a Wired article quoted at the Public Journalism network)

    I think this applies very much to issues of control in products, systems and environments, in addition to the blogging context in which it was spoken, just so long as people are aware that there are alternatives available which do let them do what they want. eMusic exists, with a DRM-free format, but more people still use iTunes. Why?

    As Cory Doctorow has so often put it, "No-one wakes up in the morning wanting to do less with his or her stuff." It will be especially interesting to see how businesses built on the model Reynolds expresses fare in the years ahead. Is this really the secret to getting ahead? Will we really have companies and governments succeeeding by striving to help and empower people, or will the lure of increased control prove too attractive?

    Epson messes up my day by Dan Lockton

    Ink Out My Epson Stylus Photo R1800's been running low on ink in a couple of cartridges for a few days now. I've been putting off ordering them until this weekend. Now I find that when the printer believes a cartridge has reached 0%, it won't print anything at all, even if it doesn't need that colour. Users (i.e. me) are forced into buying new cartridges at a time when they don't actually need them in a pathetic exercise of Epson's control. Workflow is interrupted, plans out of the window.

    So now, in order to print something important which needs to be done this afternoon, I am going to have to get on a train and go into a local town, wasting a couple of hours of my life and resulting in entirely unnecessary energy usage and carbon emissions. That's relatively easy for me: I live next to a railway station. But in areas of the world where it isn't convenient or possible, how can such thoughtless design be tolerated? Printers a few years ago allowed you to keep printing until the cartridges were actually empty. You knew when to stop because you could see.

    Hey Epson: if you push your customers around, they'll walk away. Forever. It's as simple as that. People's time is precious. Convenience is important. There's no way I'll ever buy another Epson product or recommend them to anyone else. And I'm a techy guy: occasionally, people do ask my opinion on products. (Of course I'm going to buy cheap refill cartridges; ultimately I may have to get a continuous ink supply system)

    Yeah, it's a rant; it's also a pathetic piece of design embodying absolute contempt for the customer.

    Bad design

    (Sadly the SSC Service Utility mentioned a few months ago doesn't seem to allow the ink levels to this particular printer to be re-set, though it's undoubtedly of great use on other models.)

    Inconvenience: deliberate or accidental? by Dan Lockton

    Badly positioned socket Seth Godin mentions providing a 'convenience' feature for customers and then intentionally making it inconvenient to use:

    "Here at the White Plains airport, I'm noticing all these people doing things to me. Enforcing irrational rules. Intentionally putting the seats far from the electrical outlets so people like me won't steal electricity. Yelling over the PA system. Scolding people for not standing in the right place."

    Whether, in the case he's discussing, the electrical outlets really were positioned far from the seats to stop people plugging in laptops and so on, or whether the positioning of the seats and the outlets were entirely unconnected decisions (badly-positioned sockets aren't exactly uncommon) my intuition tells me that there will be plenty of other examples where a 'convenience' feature is deliberately crippled or implemented in a way that restricts customers' ability to use it. When it's done for strategic reasons (appear better to customers, or just save money on electricity), it's certainly an architecture of control.

    Off the top of my head, free air pumps (tyre inflators) at petrol stations are often positioned in such a way that pays lip-service to the actual practice of using them: it looks good to have 'free air' but in many cases the placing of the pump makes it awkward to pull a car in satisfactorily to use it without significant manoeuvring*. That's maybe a weak example: there must be better ones - any comments welcome!

    *Of course, where the air pump requires payment, it never seems to run quite long enough to top up all four wheels, thus meaning you have to insert another coin. Whether that's a deliberate trick, or simply a poorly planned timer, or my own sloth, I don't know.

    Ticket off by Dan Lockton

    Parking meter in Salem - picture from Henry Henry e-mails:

    "Perhaps this is too obvious: parking meters; and I mean modern digital ones, enforce arbitrary limits on how much you can pay for at a time (4 hours). Is this to share the enjoyment of democratic parking (at a dollar an hour), or some social engineering ploy to force productive members of the workforce to enter the valet service economy, and thus a reminder of the fact that if they work harder, they could afford a driver?"

    Tongue-in-cheek aside, there is something unhelpful, to some extent manipulative, designed into a lot of parking ticket machines (as well as some other vending machines). Take a look at the following machine I photographed this morning in a shoppers' car park in Pinner, Middlesex, UK:

    Ticket machine in Pinner, Middlesex What's the excuse?

    What's the excuse for the 'No change given - Overpayment accepted' policy? It's not as though it's technically too difficult to give change: these aren't mechanical penny gobstopper machines from the 1950s. Sure, it would make each machine a bit more expensive to include the change-giving function, but so what? If every one of the hundreds of people who park each day paid, say, 5 pence extra the cost of the more expensive machine would be recouped within a week or two, surely?

    Of course, the real reason for the 'no change given' policy is that many customers who arrive at the machine without the 50p + 20p (or other combinations needed to make 70p) will put in £1 instead. Thus for a certain percentage of customers, the machine receives 1.43 times the revenue it ought to. I don't know how many people overpay, but the point is, none of them can underpay. The system is asymmetric. The house always wins.

    Does the car park operator (in this case Harrow Council) factor the extra revenue it receives from forcing overpayment into its projected revenues from the machines? Do they record how many people overpay, and use that statistic to plan next year's budget? Or is overpayment treated as an 'unexpected' windfall? Or perhaps, just perhaps, without the overpayment the car park would make a loss?

    Any more examples of awful 'no change given' implementations, or related anecdotes, musings, etc, much appreciated!

    Review: Made to Break by Giles Slade by Dan Lockton

    This TV wasn't made to break Last month I mentioned some fascinating details on planned obsolescence gleaned from a review of Giles Slade's Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. Having now read the book for myself, here's my review, including noteworthy 'architectures of control' examples and pertinent commentary.

    Slade examines the phenomenon of obsolescence in products from the early 20th century to the present day, through chapters looking, roughly chronologically, at different waves of obsolescence and the reasons behind them in a variety of fields - including the razor-blade model in consumer products, the FM radio débâcle in the US, the ever-shortening life-cycles of mobile phones, and even planned malfunction in Cold War-era US technology copied by the USSR. While the book ostensibly looks at these subjects in relation to the US, it all rings true from an international viewpoint.*

    The major factors in technology-driven obsolescence, in particular electronic miniaturisation, are well covered, and there is a very good treatment of psychological obsolescence, both deliberate (as in the 1950s US motor industry, the fashion industry - and in the manipulation techniques brought to widespread attention by Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders) and unplanned but inherent to human desire (neophilia).

    Philosophy of planned obsolescence

    The practice of 'death-dating' - what's often called built-in obsolescence in the UK - i.e., designing products to fail after a certain time (and very much an architecture of control when used to lock the consumer into replacement cycles) is dealt with initially within a Depression-era US context (see below), but continued with an extremely interesting look at a debate on the subject carried on in the editorials and readers' letters of Design News in 1958-9, in which industrial designers and engineers argued over the ethics (and efficiency) of the practice, with the attitudes of major magazine advertisers and sponsors seemingly playing a part in shaping some attitudes. Fuelled by Vance Packard's The Waste Makers, the debate, broadened to include psychological obsolescence as well, was extended to more widely-read organs, including Brooks Stevens (pro-planned obsolescence) and Walter Dorwin Teague (anti- ) going head-to-head in The Rotarian.

    (The fact that this debate occurred so publicly is especially relevant, I feel, to the subject of architectures of control - especially over-restrictive DRM and certain surveillance-linked control systems - in our own era, since so far most of those speaking out against these are not the designers and engineers tasked with implementing them in our products and environments, but science-fiction authors, free software advocates and interested observers - you can find many of them in the blogroll to the right. But where is the ethical debate in the design literature or on the major design websites? Where is the morality discussion in our technology and engineering journals? There is no high-profile Vance Packard for our time. Yet.)

    Slade examines the ideas of Bernard London, a Manhattan real estate broker who published a pamphlet, Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence, in 1932, in which he proposed a government-enforced replacement programme for products, to stimulate the economy and save manufacturers (and their employees) from ruin:

    "London was dismayed that "changing habits of consumption [had] destroyed property values and opportunities for emplyment [leaving] the welfare of society ... to pure chance and accident." From the perspective of an acute and successful buinessman, the Depression was a new kind of enforced thrift.

    ...

    London wanted the government to "assign a lease of life to shoes and homes and machines, to all products of manufacture ... when they are first created." After the allotted time expired:

    "these things would be legally 'dead' and would be controlled by the duly appointed governmental agency and destroyed if there is widepsread unemployment. New products would constantly be pouring forth from the factories and marketplaces, to take the place of the obsolete, and the wheels of industry would be kept going... people would turn in their used and obsolete goods to certain governmental agencies... The individual surrendering... would receive from the Comptroller ... a receipt... partially equivalent to money in the purchase of new goods."

    This kind of ultimate command economy also has a parallel in a Aldous Huxley's Brave New World where consumers are indoctrinated into repetitive consumption for the good of the State, as Slade notes.

    What I find especially interesting is how a planned system of 'obsolete' products being surrendered to governmental agencies resonates with take-back and recycling legislation in our own era. London's consumers would effectively have been 'renting' the functions their products provided, for a certain amount of time pre-determined by "[boards of] competent engineers, economists and mathematicians, specialists in their fields." (It's not clear whether selling good second-hand would be prohibited or strictly regulated under London's system - this sort of thing has been at least partially touched on in Japan though apparently for 'safety' reasons rather than to force consumption.)

    This model of forced product retirement and replacement is not dissimilar to the 'function rental' model used by many manufacturers today - both high-tech (e.g. Rolls-Royce's 'Power by the Hour') and lower-tech (e.g. photocopier rental to institutions), but if coupled to designed-in death-dating (which London was not expressly suggesting), we might end up with manufacturers being better able to manage their take-back responsibilities. For example, a car company required to take its old models back at their end of life would be able to operate more efficiently if it knew exactly when certain models would be returned. BMW doesn't want to be taking back the odd stray 2006 3-series among its 2025 take-back programme, but if the cars could be sold in the first place with, say, a built-in 8-year lifetime (perhaps co-terminant with the warranty? Maybe the ECU switches itself off), this would allow precise management of returned vehicles and the recycling or disposal process. In 'Optimum Lifetime Products' I applied this idea from an environmental point of view - since certain consumer products which become less efficient with prolonged usage, such as refrigerators really do have an optimum lifetime (in energy terms) when a full life-cycle analysis is done, why not design products to cease operation - and alert the manufacturer, or even actively disassemble - automatically when their optimum lifetime (perhaps in hours of use) is reached?

    Shooting CRTs can be a barrel of laughs

    The problem of electronic waste

    Returning to the book, Slade gives some astonishing statistics on electronic waste, with the major culprits being mobile phones, discarded mainly through psychological obsolescence, televisions to be discarded in the US (at least) through a federally mandated standards change, and computer equipment (PCs and monitors) discarded through progressive technological obsolescence:

    "By 2002 over 130 million still-working portable phones were retired in the United States. Cell phones have now achieved the dubious distinction of having the shortest life cycle of any consumer product in the country, and their life span is still declining. In Japan, they are discarded within a year of purchase... [P]eople who already have cell phones are replacing them with newer models, people who do not have cell phones already are getting their first ones (which they too will replace within approximately eighteen months), and, at least in some parts of the world, people who have only one cell phone are getting a second or third... In 2005 about 50,000 tons of these so-called obsolete phones were 'retired' [in the US alone], and only a fraction of them were disassembled for re-use. Altogether, about 250,000 tons of discarded but still usable cell phones sit in stockpiles in America, awaiting dismantling or disposal. We are standing on the precipice of an insurmountable e-waste storage that no landfill program so far imagined will be able to solve.

    ...

    [I]n 2004 about 315 million working PCs were retired in North America... most would go straight to the scrap heap. These still-functioning but obsolete computers represented an enormous increase over the 63 million working PCs dumped into American landfills in 2003.

    ...

    Obsolete cathode ray tubes used in computer monitors will already be in the trash... by the time a US government mandate goes into effect in 2009 committing all of the country to High-Definition TV [thus rendering every single television set obsolete]... the looming problem is not just the oversized analog TV siting in the family room... The fact is that no-one really knows how many smaller analog TVs still lurk in basements [etc.]... For more than a decade, about 20 to 25 million TVs have been sold annually in the United States, while only 20,000 are recycled each year. So, as federal regulations mandating HDTV come into effect in 2009, an unknown but substantially larger number of analog TVs will join the hundreds of millions of computer monitors entering America's overcrowded, pre-toxic waste stream. Just this one-time disposal of 'brown goods' will, alone, more than double the hazardous waste problem in North America."

    Other than building hundreds of millions of Tesla coils or Jacob's ladders, is there anything useful we could do with waste CRTs?

    Planned malfunction for strategic reasons

    The chapter 'Weaponizing Planned Obsolescence' discusses a CIA operation, inspired by economist Gus Weiss, to sabotage certain US-sourced strategic and weapon technology which the USSR was known to be acquiring covertly. This is a fascinating story, involving Texas Instruments designing and producing a chip-tester which would, after a few trust-building months, deliberately pass defective chips, and a Canadian software company supplying pump/valve control software intentionally modified to cause massive failure in a Siberian gas pipeline, which occurred in 1983:

    "A three-kiloton blast, "the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space," puzzled White House staffers and NATO analysts until "Gus Weiss came down the hall to tell his fellow NSC staffers not to worry.""

    While there isn't scope here to go into more detail on these examples, it raises an interesting question: to what extent does deliberate, designed-in sabotage happen for strategic reasons in other countries and industries? When a US company supplies weapons to a foreign power, is the software or material quality a little 'different' to that supplied to US forces? When a company supplies components to its competitors, does it ever deliberately select those with poorer tolerances or less refined operating characteristics?

    I've come across two software examples specifically incorporating this behaviour - first, the Underhanded C Contest, run by Scott Craver:

    "Imagine you are an application developer for an OS vendor. You must write portable C code that will inexplicably taaaaaake a looooooong tiiiiime when compiled and run on a competitor's OS... The code must not look suspicious, and if ever anyone figures out what you did it best look like bad coding rather than intentional malfeasance."

    There's also Microsoft's apparently deliberate attempts to make MSN function poorly when using Opera:

    "Opera7 receives a style sheet which is very different from the Microsoft and Netscape browsers. Looking inside the style sheet sent to Opera7 we find this fragment:

    ul { margin: -2px 0px 0px -30px; }

    The culprit is in the "-30px" value set on the margin property. This value instructs Opera 7 to move list elements 30 pixels to the left of its parent. That is, Opera 7 is explicitly instructed to move content off the side of its container thus creating the impression that there is something wrong with Opera 7."

    Levittown: designed-in privacy

    Slade's discussion of post-war trends in US consumerism includes an interesting architecture of control example, which is not in itself about obsolescence, but demonstrates the embedding of 'politics' into the built environment.The Levittown communities built by Levitt & Sons in early post-war America were planned to offer new residents a degree of privacy unattainable in inner-city developments, and as such, features which encouraged loitering and foot traffic (porches, sidewalks) were deliberately eliminated (this is similar thinking to Robert Moses' apparently deliberate low bridges on certain parkways to prevent buses using them).

    The book itself

    Made to Break is a very engaging look at the threads that tie together 'progress' in technology and society in a number of fields of 20th century history. It's clearly written with a great deal of research, and extensive referencing and endnotes, and the sheer variety of subjects covered, from fashion design to slide rules, makes it easy to read a chapter at a time without too much inter-chapter dependence. In some cases, there is probably too much detail about related issues not directly affecting the central obsolescence discussion (for example, I feel the chapter on the Cold War deviates a bit too much) but these tangential and background areas are also extremely interesting. Some illustrations - even if only graphs showing trends in e-waste creation - would also probably help attract more casual readers and spread the concern about our obsolescence habits to a wider public. (But then, a lack of illustrations never harmed The Hidden Persuaders' influence; perhaps I'm speaking as a designer rather than a typical reader).

    All in all, highly recommended.

    Skip

    (*It would be interesting, however, to compare the consumerism-driven rapid planned obsolescence of post-war fins-'n'-chrome America with the rationing-driven austerity of post-war Britain: did British companies in this era build their products (often for export only) to last, or were they hampered by material shortages? To what extent did the 'make-do-and-mend' culture of everyday 1940s-50s Britain affect the way that products were developed and marketed? And - from a strategic point of view - did the large post-war nationalised industries in, say, France (and Britain) take a similar attitude towards deliberate obsolescence to encourage consumer spending as many companies did in the Depression-era US? Are there cases where built-in obsolescence by one arm of nationalised industry adversely affected another arm?)

    Casino programmable* by Dan Lockton

    Part of the cover of a late-60s Pan edition of Casino Royale Signal vs Noise talks about the casino experience - a world awash with designed-in architectures of control, both physical and psychological (and physiological, perhaps), truly environments designed specifically to manipulate and reinforce certain behaviour, from maze-like layouts (intentional route obfuscation - perhaps even more so than in supermarkets) to the deliberate funnelling of winners past many other places to spend their chips on the way to the cashier's window.

    While the commenters (including 'Hunter' who runs a blog on casino design) attempt to clarify/debunk some of the more legendary 'casino tricks' including restricting daylight and pumping extra oxygen onto the floor, it's clear that an enormous wealth of expertise has developed over the years to maximise the control of players and thus maximise casinos' takings.

    A couple of months ago, Scott Craver mentioned another interesting casino trick:

    "This casino had a cell-phone blocker, and of course our conference room would have no wi-fi. Apparently the goal is to attract people to machines and disconnect them from everything else in the world. From the gambling areas you cannot tell if it is day or night. And the way everything was designed to suck people in had all the subtlety of a mousetrap."

    (Despite spending most of my formative years reading the James Bond books over and over again, and being fascinated by Thomas Bass's The Newtonian Casino, I've only ever actually been in one 'proper' casino, in London, and I spent most of that time watching a friend play blackjack and trying to apply what I could remember from Bringing Down The House, so I'm not really very familiar with the subject. But it's extremely interesting, and worthy of more research - and comparison with other 'public' environments.)

    *Yeah, it's a calculated pun!

    Review: We Know What You Want by Martin Howard by Dan Lockton

    A couple of weeks ago, Martin Howard sent me details of his blog, How They Change Your Mind and book, We Know What You Want: How They Change Your Mind, published last year by Disinformation. You can review the blog for yourselves - it has some fascinating details on product placement, paid news segments, astroturfing and other attempts to manipulate public opinion for political and commercial reasons, including "10 disturbing trends in subliminal persuasion" - but I've been reading the book, and there are some interesting 'architectures of control' examples:

    Supermarket layouts

    We've seen before some of the tricks used by stores to encourage customers to spend longer in certain aisles and direct them to certain products, but Howard's book goes into more detail on this, including a couple of telling quotes:

    "About 80 percent of consumer choices are made in store and 60 percent of those are impulse purchases."
    Herb Meyers, CEO Gerstman + Meyers, NY

    "We want you to get lost."
    Tim Magill, designer, Mall of America

    Planograms, the designed layout and positioning of products within stores for optimum sales, are discussed, with the observation that (more expensive) breakfast cereals, toys and sweets are often placed at children's eye level specifically to make the most of 'pester power'; aromas designed to induce "appropriate moods" are often used, along with muzak with its tempo deliberately set to encourage or discourage customers' prolonged browsing. There's also a mention of stores deliberately rearranging their layouts to force customers to walk around more trying to find their intended purchases, thus being exposed to more product lines:

    "Some stores actually switch the layout every six months to intentionally confuse shoppers."

    The book also refers readers to a detailed examination of supermarket tactics produced by the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group in Ontario, The Supermarket Tour [PDF] which I'll be reading and reporting on in due course. It looks to have an in-depth analysis of psychological and physical design techniques for manipulating customers' behaviour.

    Monopolistic behaviour

    Howard looks at the exploitation of 'customers' caught up in mass-crowds or enclosed systems, such as people visiting concerts or sports where they cannot easily leave the stadium or arena or have time, space or quiet to think for themselves, and are thus especially susceptible to subliminal (or not-so-subliminal) advertising and manipulation of their behaviour, even down to being forced into paying through the nose for food or drink thanks to a monopoly ('stadium pouring rights'):

    "One stadium even hindered fans from drinking [free] water by designing their stadium without water fountains. A citizens' protest pressured the management into having them installed."

    Patents

    The 'remote nervous system manipulation' patents of Hendricus Loos (which I previously mentioned here and here, having first come across them back in 2001) are explained together with a whole range of other patents detailing methods of controlling individuals' behaviour, from the more sinister, e.g. remotely altering brain waves (PDF link, Robert G Malech, 1976) to the merely irritating (methods for hijacking users' browsers and remotely changing the function of commands - Brian Shuster, 2002/5) and even a Samsung patent (1995) which involves using a TV's built-in on-screen display to show adverts for a few seconds when the user tries to switch the TV off.

    A number of these patents are worth further investigation, and I will attempt to do so at some point.

    The book itself

    We Know What You Want is a quick, concise, informative read with major use of magazine/instructional-style graphics to draw issues out of the text. It was apparently written to act as a more visual companion volume to Douglas Rushkoff's Coercion, which I haven't (yet) read, so I can't comment on how well that relationship works. But it's an interesting survey of some of the techniques used to persuade and manipulate in retailing, media, online and in social situations. It's easy to dip into at random, and the wide-ranging diversity of practices and techniques covered (from cults to music marketing, Dale Carnegie to MLM) somehow reminds me of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders, even if the design and format of this book (with its orange-and-black colour scheme and extensive clipart) is completely different.

    I'll end on a stand-out quote from the book, originally applied to PR but appropriate to the whole field of manipulating behaviour:

    "It is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it."
    Edward Bernays

    Another phone business model designed to frustrate the customer by Dan Lockton

    In a similar vein to a recent mention of a Verizon trick which attempts to force the user to use an expensive data service to check e-mail, rather than the free built-in WiFi, Uninnovate discusses the (Sprint) LG Fusic which not only disables on-phone features such as MP3 playback when no coverage is available, but also has no way for users to opt out of (or reverse) firmware updates, even when they cause the phone to become inoperable.