Archive for the ‘User experience’ Category


Contrast is essential

April 12, 2023

For many many reasons, including readability, accessibility etc., good contrast is essential for anything you need to read… none of us is getting any younger. Black on white (or vice versa), even dark grey on off-white, is good. But light grey on medium grey is not (I’m looking at you, all the 20-something designers who seem to think that 50 shades of grey is cool for apps, software, and websites. It’s not.).

Similarly for colours—not only do you need to use contrasting colours, but you also need to make sure, where possible, that you are using colours that can be readily distinguished by those with limited vision or some form of colourblindness, and colours that don’t ‘flare’ or clash when you try to read them (e.g. don’t use red text on a green background or vice versa).

In the environmental reports I edit, typically there are several maps. One of my editing tasks is to check the spelling of the place names and any other text on the map, and also to check the legend to make sure that all the colours or symbols used in the legend accurately reflect what’s on the map. Because many of the companies I work for have large GIS departments, the maps are mostly very professional and accurate and it only takes me a minute or two to check them. But sometimes something is wrong and I have to query it.

In a report I worked on recently, they had included many maps. All were made by the same GIS team, and nearly all had reasonable or good contrast in the colours used on the map (as reflected in the legend). For example:

But then there was this:

Even someone with PERFECT vision would have a hard time distinguishing the different areas of this map, as indicated by this legend. And it would likely be impossible for someone who had blue/yellow colourblindness.

I made a note to the author to talk to the GIS people and get them to change this map so it had better colour contrast—there are 16+ million colours they could have chosen from, yet they chose a set of blue/greys and a set of murky yellows that have little to no contrast between them.

(Note: In the document, this legend is MUCH smaller than is shown in this screenshot, making it even harder to differentiate the colours.)



Thwarted by technology requirements

January 16, 2022

Bottom line 1: Check an app’s operating system requirements against your device’s operating system version BEFORE you try to install apps. You may need to buy a new phone if your current one’s operating system can’t be upgraded.

Bottom line 2: The government and other organisations are locking out and marginalising many people by requiring them to use technology they may not be familiar with, may not own (or be able to afford to own), and may not already use or don’t want to use.



Brief summary: The Western Australian (WA) government will require proof of vaccination status for many establishments after 31 January 2022, including restaurants and cafes. They’ve spend a bucketload of $$$ on developing the ServiceWA app that will store such information and ultimately replace the SafeWA contact tracing check-in app and the G2G pass for travellers into the state once the borders open on 5 February 2022.

Because the ServiceWA app is a state thing and it has to link to some federal information (e.g. vaccination certificates are held by Medicare [federal]), the app was designed to link to your MyGovID and Medicare apps, both of which you need to install on your device before installing and connecting the SafeWA app. The steps are many and convoluted and I’m sure will put many people off using the ServiceWA app as a result.


On my Facebook page, I raised several issues with these apps in general. Even though I was able to successfully link everything together for myself, this will NOT be the case for many. Here’s a quick summary of the issues:

  • If you have an Android device (that’s all we have so I can’t speak for any ‘i’), you first need to have a Google account to access the apps in the Google Play Store.
  • If you don’t already have MyGovID and Medicare set up, you have 20+ steps to do. They warn you this will take at least 30 minutes. Many will bail before completing the sign up process. Way too confusing!!!! (see the Further Information section for links to the steps)
  • If you haven’t set up MyGovID before, you will need at least two pieces of ID (e.g. passport, drivers licence) that you can either enter manually in the apps or scan and upload.
  • Oh, and you also need a smartphone with a recent operating system!!! And a data plan (at least WiFi). Some people won’t have a smartphone, others will have a phone but it’s too old, some don’t have/use the internet in any way for whatever reason (age, impaired ability etc.), others may have a phone for just a phone and not have a data plan or want one. The MyGovID app requires Android 7.0 or higher and phones just a few years old do not have that (ask me how I know…). Which means buying a new phone!
  • Setting up the apps requires the user to have their OWN email address and OWN device (yes, I confirmed this with ServiceWA). So pensioners, for example, who have a shared phone and shared email address will either have to use paper documentation to enter a café or buy another phone and get another email address and then get someone to help them set all this up. I feel for the hospitality staff who will be inundated with very confused and angry patrons. So many questions… so few answers.
  • You will still be able to check-in using a paper copy of your vaccination certificate. However, getting a copy isn’t simple if you don’t have a computer or a MyGov account. Paper documentation will still be accepted, but again, the boffins in these government IT departments seem to think everyone has easy access to a computer and printer and knows how to use one, AND has a MyGov account so they can access their Medicare records to get the PDF of their vaccination certificate. If you don’t then your vaccination provider, such as a GP or pharmacist (NOT a vax clinic), can print your immunisation history statement for you. Or you can call the Australian Immunisation Register (1800 653 809) and ask for your statement or certificate to be posted to you—this can take up to 14 days to arrive in the post.
  • There’s a massive assumption that people have the technology and ability and willingness to use apps. The exclusion of those who are elderly or incapacitated in some way (and there are MANY ways you can be incapacitated) or who cannot afford a mobile phone and the assumption that everyone has an individual phone AND that phone has a data plan (and therefore apps) AND has an individual email address AND can use all this stuff is a false one. So, my 90+ year old parents will be carrying their printed vax certificates with them to their local coffee shop come 5 Feb.

Further information

[Links last checked January 2022]



LG CI OLED TV: Changing how the subtitles display

November 12, 2021

This information is for me in case I ever need to do this again.


This week we replaced out 12-year-old not-very-smart-TV (55″ Samsung) with a you-beaut 77″ LG CI OLED. It has a LOT of settings, but one that’s pretty hidden and hardly touched on in the online help is subtitles—all I could find was how to turn them on or off (under the Accessibility settings). I went down a rabbit hole of modifying SRT (subtitle) files for those programs that had them, but with no joy. The subtitles displayed in a large white font in the lower half of the screen. A bit of Googling suggested that changing the SRT format to ASS might help as there was more you could do with the ASS subtitle file, like changing its position on the screen, putting an opaque box behind the subtitles etc. It was easy enough to change the file format using the free Subtitle Edit program, and easy enough to interpret and modify the code (especially with the help of this website: However, almost all the forums etc. suggested that while this might work for subtitles displayed on your computer (e.g. playing through VLC player), most TVs had their own settings and these overrode anything you might set in the subtitle files. Great. I hadn’t found any settings that might change the subtitle display, only the one for turning them on an off.

So I did some testing…

  • I played a program without its accompanying SRT file to see if the subtitles were embedded in the program—they weren’t. With no subtitle file, there were no subtitles.
  • With the SRT file, the subtitles displayed, but none of the changes I’d made to the font colour were shown.
  • I removed the SRT file and replaced it with an ASS file that I’d modified in Subtitle Edit to change the colour of the text, add an opaque block behind the text, and shift the subtitles to the top of the screen. The subtitles displayed fine, but not with ANY of the settings I’d changed—they were still in largish white text and partway up from the bottom of the screen.

Finally, I decided to see if there was anything at all in the on-screen playback controls for the program. With this TV, you have to press any button or shake the remote to get the basic playback controls (rewind, pause, fast forward, plus a timeline). Underneath were instructions to scroll down to find more controls. I hadn’t done that, so gave it a try. And there on the far left of the extra controls was an icon for subtitles!

And when I clicked it, I got all sorts of things I could set! I could change the text colour to one of about 6 different colours (I chose yellow—white is hopeless on a white background), I could set the font size to something smaller (I think I went with the smallest—it’s still easy enough to read on this large screen), and I could set the position of the subtitles, to a degree. The default position is 0, and the options range from -3 to 3. I tried 3 and the subtitles moved up quite a way on the screen (but still in the lower half—you can’t get them to display at the top at all), and then I tried -3 and the subtitles moved down almost to the bottom of the screen. Not perfect, but MUCH better than the defaults.

I think TV companies are doing their customers a disservice in having such limited options for subtitles. It’s all very fine having wonderful picture and sound, but many people rely on subtitles—at least part of the time—when they watch TV (hard of hearing, wanting to watch in silence when the rest of the house is asleep, strong regional dialects and accents, mumbled speech, etc.). Subtitling technology seems to have hardly changed, and I think it’s ripe for attention, as this ex-Samsung designer states:

(One thing I haven’t figured out is why the subtitles sometimes jigger and shake—my husband thinks there’s a correlation between laughter and this jiggling, and he might be right. More observations are required… there’s certainly nothing in the SRT files I checked that would do this.)


The perils of global IT support

December 5, 2018

I had an issue with connecting to some of my main client’s network locations today. The second-level support person (in the Philippines?) solved it, but not after checking some stuff in DOS where he saw that the last time I rebooted the laptop was April this year. Um, no. I shut down every night, and had also restarted about an hour earlier before contacting support to see if that would fix it.

He insisted it was April when I last rebooted and highlighted the date on the DOS screen. Yeah, 4/12/2018 is April 12 in US date format, but is legitimately 4 December in Australian date format, which my laptop is set to! He apologised, and hopefully learnt that different countries display their dates in different ways.

I don’t know why the backend of computers don’t store and display the date in ISO date format (e.g. 2018-12-04 — YYYY-MM-DD) — it would solve a lot of issues.

See also:

[Links last checked December 2018]


US SIM cards

February 25, 2018

I used to get my US SIM card on leaving Australia, but the company has closed down its kiosks at Sydney and Melbourne international airports and you can only buy from them online now ( Although buying online isn’t an issue, the only mobile plan they sell that suits me is from T-Mobile. However, my experiences with T-Mobile on the past few trips have been less than stellar, to the point SimCorner have refunded part of my money as compensation for glacial speeds (meant to be 4G), and lack of connection, even in major cities like Boston.

Time to look for another Australian provider of US SIM cards. In my search, I found a website ( where you can put in your phone model and get an assessment of which US carriers your phone is likely to ‘play nice’ with. In that check, I found that AT&T and my phone are the best match (and unsurprisingly, T-Mobile didn’t rate very highly for my phone model).

I investigated a few providers — some were based in Europe, some required you to do the activation yourself on arrival (not good after a 16+ hour flight while waiting for a connecting flight), and some didn’t tell you much at all, like whether or not the plan you were looking at allowed you to use your phone as a mobile hotspot (aka tethering). Some also had NO way of contacting them if anything went pear-shaped, except via their online form or an email address — not very good if you’ve just landed at a US airport from Australia and you now have NO internet access. I had to email one seller to find out if any of their plans allowed tethering — only one did, but this was NOT mentioned on their website, so I could’ve spent about $100 on an ‘unlimited everything’ plan only to find out on arrival I couldn’t use my phone as a hotspot. (For those wondering why I need hotspot facility — many hotels have free wifi, but it can be glacially slow and it certainly isn’t secure. Similarly, I tend not to use public wifi.) All the sites I checked had Facebook pages, but many hadn’t updated them in more than a year*, so that’s another red flag, as well as the ‘Community’ posts on their Facebook pages where customers were complaining about not receiving their SIM or being unable to activate their card and needing urgent help.

Eventually, I went with the provider who wasn’t the cheapest (actually they were the most expensive), but whose website was comprehensive and gave me this information:

  • Full details of what each AT&T SIM plan had, along with any limitations and restrictions
  • Automatic activation based on the date of arrival you put in
  • No need for the phone’s IMEI to be provided
  • Various contact/support methods — Australian phone #, 24/7 US phone #, email address, specific email address of the owner of the company
  • Detailed instructions
  • Detailed breakdown of what you’re paying for — SIM card plan, cost of actual SIM card, registered post (plus expected time of delivery)
  • Testimonials (more than the three one website had)
  • Comprehensive FAQ.

Ultimately, my decision was based on how confident I felt that the company would respond to any problems, based on the information provided on their website.

Only time will tell — my next trip is mid-April, so I’ll report back after that.

Bottom line: When prospective customers are looking to buy from you, give them as much information as they need to make that purchase, set out clearly and written concisely. And if the product is one that may require support, make sure you offer more than just a contact form available only via the internet.

Update (March 2018): Since I wrote this, I’ve checked Telstra’s offerings (Telstra is the biggest Australian telco, and who I have my phone plan with). Previously, international roaming with Telstra required you to remortgage your house! They changed that a few years ago, but even a year or so ago, it was still expensive. The $10/day wasn’t so bad, but the data allowance was miniscule and they whacked you very hard if you exceeded it, with the result that you could still come home to bill in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Happy holidays, NOT! However, Telstra has changed (probably to compete with the offerings of the other carriers) and the rates are now more reasonable — it’s still $10/day for global roaming, with a 200 MB/day data allowance (expires each day, so not cumulative). If you exceed your 200 MB in any day, you can purchase another 500 MB for $10, and that 500 MB lasts for 31 days. In addition to the 200 MB of data each day, you get to keep your Australian phone number, and get unlimited standard international calls and texts. For a 20-day trip, you’d be up for about $200 (you’re only charged for the days you use, but be aware the ‘day’ is based on Australian Eastern Standard Time), with a possible extra $10 or $20 for extra data, if needed. Not as cheap as a US SIM, but you don’t have to change SIMs, possibly change APN details in your phone and let the new provider know your IMEI number, tell others your US phone number, update airline and other websites with your temporary US number etc. It’s an option I might consider for the next trip after the upcoming one, though I’d need to find out what data speeds (2G, 3G, 4G?) the international roaming plan defaults to — if it’s glacial, there’s not much point.

Update (April 2018): I arrived in the US last night, and turned on my phone after installing the new SIM while in the air. It connected immediately to the AT&T network for phone calls and text messages, but not for data. However, the provider had given full instructions for updating the APN settings on an Android phone if it didn’t connect for data (not necessary for iPhones — it seem they connect automatically), and after I entered those settings and waited 5-15 mins, I had data connection. However, I didn’t have email connection on my phone as I link to Exchange Server for my email — I didn’t worry about changing those settings as I get email fine when I’m on wifi, AND I’d set my ISP email settings to send a copy of all my email sent to my Gmail account, which I can access without any issue on my phone.

The data connection isn’t particularly good close to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), despite all coverage maps for all companies showing ‘excellent’ coverage in and around big cities and airports. I used to check, and got 1.22 Mbps download and 1.86 Mbps upload, with a 27 ms ping rate. This was with 1 bar of 4G coverage. A few minutes later it was still 1 bar, but I got 3.18 down and 0.89 up. I’ll monitor it over the next few days, but will use free wifi for general browsing and checking email where it’s available and has better speed. (Note: Checking via Speedtest chews up quite a bit of data [about 7 mb each test?] so I won’t do it often otherwise I’ll use up all my data just checking the speed!)

Oh, the Australian company I got my SIM card through? I bought the MAX plan as it allows me to use my phone as a wifi hotspot in areas of very bad or no wifi coverage. The other plans with more data don’t allow this.

Further to this… I contacted the Australian supplier about the speed near SFO and after getting me to check a couple of things which didn’t work (they were VERY prompt in their replies to me!) they put me in touch with the AT&T help desk, where the lady I spoke to was also very helpful. The issue with speed resolved itself as soon as I moved out of the SFO environment, so I’m guessing something weird was happening at that location.

A week later… I took the train from San Francisco to Chicago. There was no wifi on the train, so I HAD to use my cell phone as a wireless hotspot if I wanted connection. My previous T-Mobile SIMs would almost die if I took them away from a major city, but this AT&T SIM was like the Energiser Bunny — it just kept on and on, even out in the wilds of the Sierra mountains and Colorado where I didn’t expect any coverage. Yes, in some places coverage was patchy, but we were in the middle of nowhere and no-one had signal in those cases. So, based on my experience on the train, I’d go with AT&T again.


* Yeah, I’m also guilty of not updating my CyberText Facebook page — to be honest, I only grabbed the page way back when to prevent someone else from grabbing the name; I never intended it to be a method for anyone wanting my services to contact me.

[Links last checked February 2018]




How long before this danger causes a problem?

May 31, 2017

In the ‘what were they thinking’ category comes this — replacing those moisture-absorbing gel packets in products with something that has a similar size, shape, and feel to the product!

I purchased a container of glucosamine tablets recently, and when I opened it, I found a blue plastic cap-like thing instead of the gel packet. Tell me it doesn’t look like one of those bullet-like tablets! How could a person with limited dexterity, compromised touch, or vision problems distinguish this blue thing from a tablet? Seniors tend to be those who take glucosamine, and they are more likely to have dexterity, touch, and vision issues as they age, so I’m just waiting for the news headline that says someone was hurt or injured or even died from ingesting one of these blue plastic cap things.

What were they thinking??? Did no-one see that you need to clearly distinguish the product from something that isn’t the product and shouldn’t be ingested? At least the gel packets were a different shape, different feel, and made from quite different materials, enabling them to be ‘not like the others’.


The problem with ‘simple’ instructions

December 18, 2016

Bottom line: Simple instructions are good, but don’t make them TOO simple. Include key prerequisites. Users familiar with the product may choose to ignore the instructions, but new users will thank you for them.

The problem with ‘simple’ instructions is they often leave out critical information, assuming that the user already knows it. But what if this is the first time you’ve used a product? Or if you just don’t know (or forget) how it connects to other stuff?

What prompted this post? I have an under-sink water filtration system — the previous one required a plumber to fit the replacement cartridges, but this new system (Puretec’s Puremix X6 System) allows the user to change the cartridge ‘like changing a light globe’. The system has been in place for 12 months now, so it was time for me to replace the cartridge.

The only instructions on the new cartridge’s box were ‘Quick-change cartridge, easy to replace — just like changing a light globe.’ That’s it. I thought there might be instructions on a leaflet inside the box, but no. Nothing. There was an instruction on the new cartridge itself — ‘Twist old cartridge from head [what’s the ‘head’??] and twist new cartridge into head until firmly sealed. After installing cartridge flush unit for 5-10 minutes.’ But that was it.

How hard can it be?, I thought.

Well, at least for the first time, much harder than the instructions lead you to believe!

I pulled the new cartridge out of the box and found it had a blue cap covering the top — do you remove this or not? For those big water bottles you get delivered, you DON’T remove the blue cap, but that was the only reference point I had. And remember, there were no clear instructions to tell me what to do.

So into the cupboard under the kitchen sink I went, removing all the paraphernalia in front of the existing cartridge. I untwisted the existing cartridge to remove it — and water gushed EVERYWHERE!!! Why? Because they didn’t tell me a key step before changing the cartridge and that’s to turn off the mains water to that unit!!! Yes, I should have realised this, but I’ve been sick the past few days, so my head’s not in a good place. But if I was a young 18-year-old in a rental apartment and had to change the cartridge, would I know to turn off the tap first, or even how to find/identify that tap?

After a few seconds of water gushing everywhere, I turned off the mains tap. Then I spent the next 10 minutes mopping up — fortunately, we had an old bath mat under the water cartridge in case of any minor leaks, and it absorbed most (but definitely not all) of the water.

OK, now everything’s mopped up and the water’s off, so I untwist the existing cartridge and remove it. That was pretty easy. I saw that the old one didn’t have a blue cap on it, so I figured I needed to remove the blue cap on the new one. This required powers of extrapolation, which my brain wasn’t dealing well with at all. Off came the cap.

Next, to seat the new cartridge in place of the old. Not so easy. Why? Because there are notches in the top of the cartridge and you have to line them up precisely with the static part of the system (that’d be the ‘head’, I figured). Fortunately, we didn’t have quite enough room under our sink for the plumber who originally installed the system to screw the ‘head’ to the back of the cupboard (as per their images on Puretec’s website), which meant I was able to turn it at an angle where I could see the notches that had to line up. After a few attempts, I got this right and was able to seat the new cartridge and twist it to tighten and seal it. I then turned the mains water tap for the filtration unit back on, then the tap for the water filter spout (which gave me fright by spitting air at me for a few seconds before the water came through), and then ran the tap for about 7 minutes, checking inside the cupboard to make sure there were no leaks.

It shouldn’t be this hard! The box the cartridge comes in, and the cartridge itself, are large and there’s plenty of ‘white space’ on them. To add a few steps would have prevented the issues I (and no doubt others) encountered.

Here are my steps for replacing a Puremix X6-R water cartridge:

  1. Turn off the mains water tap to the water filtration system; this is likely inside the cupboard below the system.
  2. Take the new cartridge out of the box and pull off the blue cap. Note the single and double notches on the ‘shoulder’ of the cartridge.
  3. Twist the old cartridge in an anti-clockwise direction (left) to remove it from the head unit.
  4. Position the new cartridge so that the notches line up with the corresponding parts of the head unit.
  5. When aligned, push the cartridge up into the head unit.
  6. Twist clockwise (right) to tighten fully.
  7. Turn on the mains tap.
  8. Turn on the tap of the water filter spout — wait a few seconds for the air to clear the line and water to start running, then leave the water running for 5 to 10 minutes to flush the new cartridge.

As a final step (not listed above), I’d also add some information on how to dispose of the cartridge appropriately — including whether the water inside it has to be drained or is sealed in there.



Noises in manuals

September 7, 2016

I purchased a new freezer this week. One of the first things I do when I get a new appliance is read the instruction manual. Yes, I know that only about 10% of the population reads an instruction manual, but I consider it a way to learn about the product AND a professional courtesy I extend to all those fellow technical writers who write them.

What made this manual different? It has a ‘noises’ table! After reading it, I think ALL appliance manuals should have one of these, if the appliance makes various noises during its operation. I know that products like UPSs have info on the various beeps and alarms, but this table listed the normal operating noises the freezer makes. So simple, and just brilliant.



The usability of gravestones and memorial markers

October 5, 2015

Not something perhaps you’d think about… But none of us is getting out of here alive!

A bit of back story… In some of my spare time, I transcribe information for various genealogical projects and digitized newspapers. I do this from my computer, so it’s easy to volunteer a few minutes here and there, and thus help add to the wealth of information available to the world.

Recently, I found a website — BillionGraves — that has the lofty aim of photographing, mapping, and transcribing the headstones and memorials from graves throughout the world. Although some cemeteries have their records online and are searchable, many don’t, particularly those cemeteries that are no longer used and are rotting away. BillionGraves uses the power of crowdsourcing to gather and process this information. In addition to their website where you can transcribe information on headstones, BillionGraves also has an app you can download to your phone or tablet so that when you’re out and about you can visit an uncatalogued cemetery, take photos of the headstones, and upload them to the site (the geographic coordinates upload with the photos). Then you can either transcribe them yourself via the app or website, or leave them for others to do.

What a cool idea for going for a weekend drive and picnic, and having a purpose for that drive! (yes, I’m weird like that…) BillionGraves has the locations of long-lost cemeteries on its website, so you can plan to visit one that hasn’t been catalogued and that you may not even know exists because it hasn’t been used in decades. For example, in Western Australia where I live, we have many bush areas that are peppered with graves from the early settlers. The houses and settlements have long gone, but some of the graves remain.

So what has all this got to do with usability?

Remember I said that none of us is getting out of here alive? Well, most of us (at least, most of us in the ‘developed world’), will be either buried or cremated and will have either a headstone or memorial plaque made in our honor and placed in a cemetery somewhere. A little bit of forethought as to how that memorial is designed and what goes on it could make it VERY usable for future generations researching your family tree.

What’s become evident to me while transcribing other people’s information is that so much of that information is not complete, is insular (making assumptions that readers of the memorial will be reading it in the same country and century it was made, for example), and/or is unreadable.


Here are some things I recommend (in no particular order) based on what I’ve discovered while transcribing headstones etc. and based on what genealogical researchers need to know. If you have any say in what goes on a loved one’s memorial (or your own), then consider these recommendations — future generations hunting you down will love you for it!

  • Good contrast is essential. Pink granite is an awful carrier for carvings and most colors used for text — much text is unreadable, and the color and mottled nature of the granite makes it hard to photograph. Gray granite with just carved letters and no color is nearly as bad, as are gold letters on mottled gray granite (see the unreadable images below).
  • List a date of birth AND death — you don’t need ‘died aged xx years’. A date of death is usually given on a memorial, and sometimes an age at death, but rarely is a date of birth given. Genealogists put a lot of store in dates of birth AND death, and an age is just not good enough. If you state that the person died on 15 June 1985 aged 76 years, were they born in 1909 or 1908? Depending on the birth month it could be either. A date of birth is likely fewer characters to pay for than a ‘died aged xx years’ statement, AND confirms to future generations that they have the right person AND provides a date of birth if it is missing from other records.
  • List the maiden (or birth) name of a married female. Maiden names (awful term…) of females are rarely given, yet they are crucial to genealogical research. So many women in family trees get ‘lost’ when they marry as their married surname is not known. And if they marry more than once, they are even harder to find. Including the maiden name helps identify if that person is part of your family tree.
  • Use four-digit years. Two-digit years are useless. Does 15 June 85 mean 1885 or 1985? Or some other year? Memorials can last for several centuries, so make sure there is no confusion as to which one. Don’t assume that a future reader will be from the same century.
  • Write months in letters, even if abbreviated. Numeric dates only are problematic for researchers and transcribers from other countries. Does 4-5-1962 mean 4 May 1962 or April 5 1962? Depending on where you went to school, it could be either! Better to use 4 May 1962 or 5 Apr 1962 to remove any possible confusion. Using a three-letter abbreviated month is fine.
  • Use the full name of the deceased, including any middle names. Middle names are important in helping distinguish many individuals in a family tree with the same name.




Mottled gray granite with gold carved text — impossible to read from a photograph.


Pink stone of some sort (likely a sandstone not granite, but I’ve seen plenty of pink granite ones as bad), with carving but no colour used in the carved text (or it has worn off). Impossible to read from a photograph.


Good contrast, full name of deceased, has first name of wife (a bonus), dates of birth AND death, but uses numerals for the months (not too much of an issue in this case as they can be figured out by someone with a North American background and can’t be confused), and only two-digit years.


Great contrast, has dates of birth and death (with abbreviated months in letters and full years), has names of parents and siblings, has middle name.


Great contrast, has dates of birth and death (but only numerals for months so potentially confusing for a transcriber from a different country), full years, full names of both people (but no maiden name for the female), and then there’s some information that has no meaning or connection to anyone outside the family (i.e. who is ‘Pat’? a son, daughter, relation, friend??)


Even though I can’t read the language of this one (Russian?) and couldn’t transcribe it, it has great contrast, lists dates of birth and death (but months are in numerals), and uses full 4-digit years.


Epic fail, Samsung

May 29, 2015

An epic failure of design and of support, and a waste of 2 hours of my time. And I still don’t have a solution.




I was trying to change the battery in the Samsung mini remote control for my TV. I couldn’t remove the battery cover. So after checking the manual, getting my husband to try, and then checking online for solutions, I start an online ‘live chat’ with Samsung Support. After some mild pleasantries and discussion of what I’ve already done, we get to this (my asides in italics):

Support: Can you see a small space which can enter your nails to remove it?

Me: NO. Only the thin line between the compartment and unit. There’s nowhere to put a fingernail or screwdriver. No lip, No latch. Nothing. It should be easier than this!

Support: I do apologise for the inconvenience.

Me: Is there a YouTube video that shows how to remove it?

Support: I do apologise as we are unable to access third party website. Have you tried searching it?

Me: yes, for about an hour before I started the chat. What use is a remote control that doesn’t have an easy way to change the battery?

Support: I understand. If that would be the case, we recommend to have it checked by our technician.

Me: That’s ridiculous! Can I get a replacement mini remote?

Support: I sincerely apologise for the inconvenience this has caused you.

Me: Not your fault, but a SERIOUS design issue if the battery can’t be changed!

Support: If you wish to purchase a mini remote control, you need to get in touch with our major service centre for spare parts.

Me: So, there’s no way you can tell me how to change the battery? Why is it so tough to turn? Is it glued in? Can we prise the unit apart?

Support: Have you tried press the battery? Let see if it will bounce back.

Me: No, that didn’t work. (It’s the compartment I’m trying to open to get to the battery, so obviously it’s impossible to press the battery if I can’t open the compartment!)

Support: Have you also tried using your nails to turn counterclockwise?

Me: It’s already turned counterclockwise. Trying to use fingernails would wreck your nails. There’s a slot for a coin. I used a coin. As I told you at the beginning. It WON’T turn freely and once turned it WON’T pop out.

Support: What about clockwise? (BTW, the manual says counterclockwise!!)

Me: No. It wouldn’t go clockwise when I first tried, and now that it’s counterclockwise and with all the attempts I’ve made with a coin, it won’t turn clockwise now either as the slot is burred by forcing the coin. I give up.

Support: As we have exhausted the needed steps, it will best to have it checked by our technician. I understand just how frustrating this issue has become for you, and I apologise for the inconvenience.

(UNBELIEVABLE!!! Exhausted all the steps??? What steps? I’d already DONE the steps before I contacted them!! He offered nothing more and had no clue. His only solution was to send it to their techie. For an issue related to opening a battery compartment!!! What good would that do? We still wouldn’t know how to open it successfully.)

Me: what does that involve? Will you pay postage both ways?

Support: You need to bring the remote control on the service centre and our technician will check it. I’m unable to quote any amount. The cost of the repair will be provided after the assessment.

Me: Forget it. It’s not a repair! It’s a design fault!!! And I live outside of a country town. Do you have a service centre in XXXX, Western Australia?

Support: I understand. I am very sorry for the trouble.

(He then gives me an address in Canning Vale, Perth [Unit 3, 7 Mordaunt Circuit, Canning Vale, 6155; ph 08 6258 0000]… a 4-hour round trip for me. For a battery compartment that won’t open… I’ll take it into Harvey Norman’s next time I’m in XXXX to see if they can figure it out… This has taken nearly 2 hours so far and I still can’t open the battery compartment! Sheesh!)

Update 31 May 2015: So, the guy at Harvey Norman’s wasn’t able to open the battery compartment either!! However, he did give me some vital info and that was to match up the two tiny dots (one on the compartment cover and the other on the unit). That info was NOT in the manual. With a large screwdriver he was able to turn the compartment cover a bit more, but not enough to line up the dots. Again, the only other option was to force it open, thus running the risk of breaking it. He spent 20 minutes on it… With the cost of my time, his time, the Samsung Support person’s time, this has cost a LOT for no result. In hindsight it would’ve been cheaper ($35) to buy an after-market remote in the hope that it worked… My husband suggests sending the remote to the Samsung tech people in Perth, with a note explaining everything done so far – he reckons they might replace it. I may just do that.

Update 3 June 2015: I called Samsung Support in Australia. The guy couldn’t help me (and also said it shouldn’t be this hard) and referred me to the Canning Vale service centre. The lady there couldn’t help either and said they couldn’t repair it and I’d have to consider purchasing a new one from the spare parts division. She put me through to them. I could get a replacement remote for $30 direct from Samsung (I’d seen them online for $35 so thought that was a good deal), but when I enquired about postage I was told it had to come from Sydney, would take 7+ days (that would be 10+ days to get to me), and postage was $20!!!! For a tiny $30 item. Yeah, right. So I went online and ordered it for $34.95 plus overnight flat rate postage of $9.90 to anywhere in Australia. One of the first things I’ll do when I get the new unit is attempt to open the battery compartment to make sure I can do so without issue.