Solutions looking for problems

They abound.

A few dollars having been made the past week in the market, I rewarded myself at a newly opened local family restaurant named Applebees, a nationwide chain whose stock trades publicly. What has all this to do with photography, you ask? Bear with me.

The enthusiastic young order-taker (‘waiter’ would be overstating things in this case) produced a PDA from his pocket and started tapping out my order. I asked to see it and saw that it was a color display device with a touch-screen, activated with a stylus, much like a Palm PDA. (Remember those?).

“How well does it work?” I asked.

“It’s just horrible,” came the quick response, “try to find anything in the sub-menus when people ask you to add this, hold that, and it’s hopeless; still it uses WiFi to communicate to the kitchen!”

And, sure enough, my burger and fries were delivered to the table next to me, though my order was stock – ‘hold nothing’. Maybe Applebees, one of the many US businesses justifiably under attack from private capital, would do well to revert to pen and paper for order taking? Can you imagine the arcane BS that was used by some finance guru to sell this silly idea to the management of this chain? Or worse, the lack of common sense displayed by those same people in accepting this nonsense and blowing shareholders’ money on it?

But look, the California sun was doing its thing, the almonds are in flower everywhere, the birds putting out a few bars now and then and, well, even this minor hiccup in the road of life could not upset one of my mien. Plus, as I mentioned, it had been a good week in the market.

However, this little episode started me thinking about how often engineers and marketers (OK, probably marketers) find solutions to non-existent problems. And when it comes to photography, there are more examples than you can shake a stick at.

Some are easy targets, of course. Digitalia sees to that.

  • LCD screens replacing viewfinders. You cannot see them in bright light, you cannot hold the camera against your forehead for steadiness and you have little idea of what you are photographing. Daguerre had a better idea of what he was pointing his camera at 150 years ago.
  • A seeming average of five billion useless menu items on the average DSLR camera when all you need is RAW or Jpg, ISO and …. well, that’s about it. And both can be moved to mechanical dials human beings can understand.
  • Camera straps, of course. I have yet to encounter a good OEM camera strap, but boy, the ones that the manufacturers of digital wonders emblazon with their names sure look nice, huh? Then again, if you are sufficiently insecure to emblazon the rear window of your car with the name of the university you attended, I guess I can understand that. You need one of those straps.
  • Face recognition technology. You mean you haven’t even the meanest intelligence to learn to pre-focus on the face of the key person in a group? This is reminiscent of that awful 1980s manifestation, the Kodak Photo Spot. You go to the Grand Canyon to commune with nature and what do you find? A placard saying “Stand here and press the button. Brought to you by Kodak.” Only in America.
  • 99% of the menu selections in Photoshop.
  • Cameras so small that regular humans cannot make out what all those buttons are for. They look chic, though.
  • Camera cases. When I was a lad these were laughingly called ERCs – Ever Ready Cases. They were about as ready as our government.
  • Lens hoods in the age of multicoated optics. A fool and his money are easily parted. $50 for a two cent plastic moulding.
  • The DSLR. 95% of its users probably distribute their content on the web, where they would have been almost as well served, definition wise, by a $199 point-and-shoot. Heck, lots of lousy drivers own Porsches, too.

So now I don’t feel so bad about that ordering experience, even if the hamburger confirmed that someone needs to speak to Applebees’ CEO with a baseball bat.

And the burger at McDonald’s, at 50% of the cost, is way better, too, by the way. Then again, I do own the stock ….