William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Dumbest & Most Frustrating Modern Invention Contest Winner Announced!

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It’s about time, too. Sorry for the delay. Been toodling around my land of birth and staying as far from the computer as possible.

On 11 August I initiated the Dumbest & Most Frustrating Modern Invention contest, the winner to receive The Coffee Cup of the Stars! Today, the monumentally anticipated, sensational denouement!

Master of Ceremonies, may I have the honourable mentions, please? Those entries that hewed closest to the spirit of the contest. There was no Car Alarm entry, surprisingly, but there were some close competitors. Here they are in the order they were received.

(The links below take you to the original, in-full comment.)

X PC/MS — DOS and MS-Windows by Paul Murphy.

Windows, when it came out, copied Apple copying Xerox — but what is less well known is that people at UCB had Unix windowing systems running at about the same time and that products like SunView first, and NEWS later, provided solid multi-tasking windowing in the early 1980s — as functional, but more reliable, than Windows 2000/XP 20 years later.

Which is why sensible people prefer the penguin—Linux, that is.

X NO-FEE TV, i.e., Commercial Television by Michael Dowd.

How does one pay for NO FEE TV? By the willingness to subject oneself to the number, intrusiveness, and the often revolting content of the commercials.

The number of commercials on any given program continues to be raised to the maximum pain level and their content often reminds us of various bodily functions we would rather not think about.

That’s why God invented books, Michael.

X Industrial Wind Turbines by John B().

Even though five hundred foot abstract sculptures would look good anywhere, anytime, their use on grid is not improved nor made appropriate by the increase in “economies of scale”. Ten or a hundred or a thousand times worthless is that much more worthless (if scales of worthlessness is possible).

Electricity generated by torrents of hot air was naturally appealing to Congress.

X Cat Toys by Gary.

According to the 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, owners spend an average of $28/year on cat toys. With almost 43 million households having cats, that comes to over a billion dollars. You don’t have to be a cat-lover to realize these dumb inventions are really meant to attract the owner rather than the cat.

Meow.

X Mission Statements by Joseph Moore.

Does a tiger have a mission statement? Turn tasty prey animals into baby tigers and tiger poop, while terrorizing everything in my territory? No, it does not! Because – follow this closely – it knows what it is doing! A mission statement is conclusive proof that the statemented unit does NOT know what it is doing.

My mission is to convert the world to the Third Way.

X Email by Jay Bhattacharya.

Lowering the real price of placing tasks, information, and solicitations of dubious value on the agenda of busy people was a good idea why exactly? Combine that with the crazy social norm that emails must be answered right away, and it is clear that emails are a step backward from the snail mail they displaced.

It’s tempting to award Jay the prize (recall the rules).

X Automated touch-tone response systems by K Buerck.

No other invention has wasted more time for businesses or consumers. Why do I have to “press 1 for English”, wait for response, listen to a list of 8 possible reasons I have called, then press 9 to hear the list again? It might have been spawned by the lack of qualified receptionists, but maybe we could start a 4 year degree program to train a few.

I suspect all paths lead to the same person.

X JavaScript by Milton Hathaway.

The Internet could have been a magical hyper-linked wonderland that ushered one into a brave new world of interesting unfamiliar content with each new mouse click, with the ‘surfer’ firmly ensconced in the driver’s seat. Then along came JavaScript and shat lumps of sadistic user hostility droppings everywhere, making everything ten times harder and generally stinking up the place beyond all toleration.

Milton reminds us to use a browser which can shut down Javascript, block Ads, and block Flash.

X Self Checkout Systems by Dan W.

Good idea, bad implementation. The cause of failure is the system logic that weighs the customer’s purchase to detect theft. Invariably this check fails, the system balks and the Self Checkout System loses the “Self” adjective as a supervisor must intervene.

One of the many benefits of the minimum wage.

The Runners Up

And now for the court, the three entries, in order, that made the contest into a nail biter…

4 The Reality Show by Sander van der Wal.

The most pointless TV program in existence. Replace the Telly with a mirror and you can look at a complete idiot for free.

And have just the same frisson of delight, too.

3 Peer Review Process by Terry Colon.

Euphemism for the system of suppressing dissent in science. Science is now safely in the hands of the experts who became experts by not dissenting from previous experts. A perfect circle to produce perfectly circular science.

We’ll see what your fellow entrants have to say about that, Terry.

2 Air Blowing Hand Driers by James.

If you’ve pondered, perhaps like Dyson, “Does a 120 dB scream from a little metal box really dry my hands faster?” and managed to sell this product before any testing, congratulations! In addition, thanks to the energy ‘savings’ of needing 3 or 4 dozen passes, soon these devices will be highly regulated by the EPA. Remember, if you don’t leave the bathroom with a couple wet handprints on your clothes, then you aren’t saving the world.

And now we know why mother always told us to hold it until we got home.

And now the moment the entire Internet has been waiting for

May I have a drum roll, please…

Ladies and gentleman—and you, too, Sylvain—here is the…

WINNING ENTRY Human Resources by Wood.

So-called “Human Resources” is a non-human non-resource destructive spider that seeks our ultimate annihilation. It is the soul snatching nanny-state next door. Annihilation by protection: quite possibly the defining characteristic of all things modern. Flexing its smug muscle, human resources “protects” us from all forms of harassment and discrimination by institutionalizing modernist approved harassment and discrimination. Its highest goal is to ensure, for our happiness and well-being of course, that our daily work of filing papers and answering the phone is in reality just the set props of the most important point of our work: reifying Sesame Street. And as we reify, human resources extracts (by direct draft for convenience) a portion of the fleetingly tangible fruits of our labor to fund things that we “need” but are too dumb to find if left to our own devices. This taxation without representation it smilingly refers to as BENEFITS.

Wood won in a romp, which shouldn’t be too surprising since one of the impetuses of the contest was, as I said in its announcement, the execrable Comprehensive, Employee-Written Performance Review. I have suffered these in the past, and know people who now must go through them. Think: the system was designed and intended to hurl vast stretches of time into an empty black chasm. Reviews also encourage the bastardization of English by enforcing a pseudo-language prose style designed to say nothing using a maximum of words.

Congratulations, Wood! Here is what your prize will look like.

13 Comments

  1. Self Checkout Systems by DAV.

    Ummm …. pretty sure that wasn’t me. I submitted the electric fork and the submission did not meet submission requirements. Besides, I have nothing against self-checkout systems. I just checked myself out and am not displeased with the results.

    You are clearly a closet selfie hater. The selfies you post are obviously protective cover.

  2. Briggs

    August 27, 2015 at 9:35 am

    DAV,

    And now my enemies are attacking you, too. It’s been fixed.

  3. I’m really pleased with how I did, especially since the first place is well-deserved.

    I got many laughs out of all the entries, too. Fun stuff.

  4. Everything the “Human Resources” department does in a corporation would still have to be done even if you called it something else. It used to be called Personnel.

    “Flexing its smug muscle, human resources “protects” us from all forms of harassment and discrimination”

    No, it is protecting the business from lawsuits and / or government regulatory action over harassment and discrimination. You can thank the government for this and again, even if you eliminated the Human Resources department, the corporation would need to have someone doing this.

    “human resources extracts (by direct draft for convenience) a portion of the fleetingly tangible fruits of our labor to fund things that we “need” but are too dumb to find if left to our own devices. This taxation without representation it smilingly refers to as BENEFITS. ”

    Again, you can thank the government for this, and it all goes back to a time before the term “Human Resources” was invented. During WWII, a period of tight labor markets domestically (thanks to the war effort consuming a large percentage of the available labor pool), the government in its infinite wisdom (NOT) imposed wage caps (Yes, a maximum wage).

    This left companies scrambling for ways to compete for scarce labor. Enter indirect and deferred compensation, employer paid healthcare and pensions.

    And of course, once the war was over and the wage caps were lifted, the government in its infinite wisdom (NOT) gave these new forms of indirect and deferred compensation favored tax treatment to insure their continued existence.

  5. MattS:

    All of what you say is true … but corporations still don’t have to put lipstick on the pig …

    I’d supported Paul’s rant on Bill Gates … a pig with very bad makeup

  6. John B():

    “but corporations still don’t have to put lipstick on the pig”

    What you have to understand is that the lipstick isn’t for the sake of the general workers, its for the sake of the people stuck with doing these tasks.

  7. The fact that we refer to a person as a resource has been getting worse. Here in consulting the sales guys love to talk about assigning a resource to that, and the project managers ask for “3 QA resources”.

  8. “Personnel” is one thing; “HR” is another. One wants a “seat at the table” and the ability to be “impactful”; one is content to be what they are.

  9. What’s even sillier than Michael Dowd’s “no-fee tv” lots of commercials?

    How about big-fee tv with LOTS of commercials? (TVLand, NFL Network, MLB Network, Big10 network, all the ESPNs, TBS, TNT).

  10. @John M ,

    Actually, except for the premium move channels, none of the cable networks are getting a significant chunk of what you pay your local cable company.

  11. Wood:

    Yep, I generally detest HR too. Way to go!

  12. MattS,

    Define “significant”.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/numbers/how-much-cable-subscribers-pay-per-channel-1626/

    While I have no doubt that cable companies make a good margin, especially considering the outrageous monthly charges for equipment, etc., that doesn’t take away from the fact that if you have even basic cable, you are paying huge amounts to watch commercials, regardless of who gets the money.

    I finally stripped down my cable service, but unfortunately, I live in an area where I can’t get over-the-air network stations, so I can’t completely go pure internet/phone.

    What particularly galled me was stations like TVLand, which went to adding 10 minutes of commercials to what was nominally half hour programming. I refuse to pay even a nickel a month for that kind of garbage.

  13. I know it’s too late to enter, but I wonder if “the Corporation” itself might indeed be a better entry than just the HR department. HR is just a symptom of the fact that a nation of mostly agricultural entrepreneurs has, over the course of a century or so, become a nation of “employees” who need HR departments (for example) to manage most of the economic decisions in our lives.

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