02 Feb. 2009
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Mail Storm Update

Reducing Mail Deliveries

You may have read that the postal service wants to save some money.  The perennial suggestion to deliver mail fewer than six days per week is again in the gondola below the trial balloon.  Will the balloon run out of hot air before the Congress?  Will they try to use precious helium to keep it floating?

Rather than debate this endlessly, I've decided what should be done, based on these unsurprising observations:

  • Postal mail is a lot less important than it used to be.  Most routine business correspondence is sent by email and routine transactions are often handled on-line.

  • Postal mail is a lot less time-sensitive than it used to be, again because of on-line activities.

  • Postal mail volume has been decreasing, because, well, you know.

On the other hand, postal mail remains valuable and, if you're not in a big hurry, a great bargain.  Especially for individuals, it is essential for their sporadic communications with businesses and each other.  And how would we hams exchange QSL cards?

The Solution

The Postal Service suggested eliminating mail deliveries on Saturday or, perhaps, Tuesday, when the volume is lightest.  OK, that's approved.  Which?  Both!  And throw in Thursday as well.  Note that I have approved not delivering the mail on those days.  But I don't think it makes much sense to close the post offices since they can run with reduced staff.  And I'm pretty sure you don't want the trucks that transport the mail interrupted mid-route.

But delivery?  Can you honestly say that getting a Christmas card one-half day later (on average) will change your opinion of the sender?  Or getting your junk mail on Friday instead of Saturday (since it will be posted earlier) will affect you or the merchant all that much?  If by some mysterious chance you can say that, go to the post office and pick it up!  Somehow I think the parking lots won't start to overflow.

This reduced delivery schedule can be phased in gradually as letter carriers and sorters retire.  Cancel one day every couple of years or however often as is necessary to keep up with personnel issues and migration to on-line communication.  The only issue with which I'm uncomfortable is that of holidays.  There are a number of federal holidays on which many businesses do not close, and their workflow is disrupted enough by lack of mail on Monday, a very "heavy" day.  Postponing the first weekly delivery to Wednesday would be problematic.  Therefore I am reassigning this one issue to the Postmaster General (or whatever the title is nowadays) to resolve.  Other than that, please come up with a schedule for implementing my solution.  You may announce it in the press; no need to discuss it further with me.

Living With the Storm

A month ago I got the new BlackBerry Storm and wrote a fairly comprehensive RIKLReview.  I noted that the Storm had a number of software issues that I hoped would be resolved by an update.  What I can report now that I didn't know then was which of these bugs would be of concern after carrying it around for a period of time.  I have a little list...

Trivial but nonetheless vexing problem

The background picture has a mind of its own.  I have a particular picture I like to use as a background.  When I set it to be such, it only appears in portrait mode even though the picture itself shows up fine in either portrait or landscape.  Why doesn't the Storm store two versions, one horizontal and one vertical?  Only RIM knows for sure, and I know for sure they have bigger problems on their minds.  One of them would be:  Why does the picture sometimes disappear and revert to the Verizon logo?  There is no apparent action on my part that causes this.  I found that when this happens, I can sometimes restore my background picture by "resetting" the background and then reselecting it.  What a nuisance!

Significant bugs

Often when I try to access pictures or music, they are unavailable and the legend "scanning"  appears on the screen, remaining there indefinitely with no resolution.  Out comes the battery.  In goes the battery.  Sometimes that fixes it.

There is an oddity with Bluetooth updates via the BlackBerry Desktop Manager.  They work, as do updates and charging via the computer cable.  There is even a good option available in the Manager program that tells it to use Bluetooth when possible, but to override that selection when the unit is plugged in.  This makes good sense, since it will synchronize automatically when in range and also charge the Storm when connected, which might be less frequently.  It would be nice if this actually worked, but instead, selecting it seems to confuse both units so that occasionally the Storm isn't recognized by either connection method.

Something is going on in the background.  Sometimes the screen is very responsive, sometimes I can barely get its attention.  Likewise the portrait/landscape mode can be unresponsive:  Sometimes it switches right away, sometimes it takes many seconds to forever.  Call me selfish, but it's my toy and I want it to pay attention to ME.  ME ME ME, not some internal process.

Fatal flaws

Once the Storm totally locked up, and I had to remove the battery to reset it.  It took several minutes before it was ready to operate again.

The ringer sometimes just stops working or the sound "profile" undergoes uncommanded changes.  The result of this is that you can receive a call and not know it unless you just happen to be looking at the Storm when the call comes in.  There doesn't seem to be any way to turn the ringer back on.  Cycling power often fixes this problem.  Even worse, because it isn't as obvious:  Sometimes the ring tone for a particular individual becomes disabled!  This is truly bizarre.  I use custom Morse Code ring tones, and in my naiveté I would expect that if there were a problem it would affect them all.  Not so!  They're all stored in the same system folder (not on the memory card) and it seems that the Storm simply picks an individual that I'm not going to hear from until...

That's right:  I cycle power and/or remove the battery.

Desperate need

It is far, far too easy to press buttons and/or the screen.  There is almost no way to remove the Storm from your pocket without activating something; with controls on almost every surface it's hard even to pick it up without committing some undesired activity.  The LOCK button is too easy to UN-press.  If a specific sequence of screen touches were necessary to unlock it, that would solve the problem.  Even just touching a red square and a green square in order would prevent random activation.

This is NOT the Update I Promised

Rather, it's an interim reminder of just how bad—embarrassing, really—the Storm software is right now.  I fully expect these problems to be fixed with the next upgrade, at which point I can accumulate a list of the subtle, irritating-but-livable problems that afflict our software-driven products so.  Meanwhile, I shall continue to beta-test the Storm. 

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© 2009
Richard Factor

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