Kathi and I are doing a series of user interviews to gather security requirements for a concrete system we're building. This is best done with a recording device for transcription, so we purchased an Olympus DS-2 Digital Voice Recorder.
There are many wonderful things about the DS-2. It's small, it's elegant, the display is legible. The buttons are a little strange: there's no clear on-off, and it was only intuition that led me to figure that putting it on Hold would eventually turn it off. But these are minor complaints for a device that has been functioning quite nicely.
Today, we found the batteries were running low: the indicator had gone from three bars down to one. Since we're still on our first round of batteries, we weren't sure what this meant in terms of recording time. The unit is rated to run 18 hours, but nobody who works with electronics takes these sorts of ratings as anything other than gentle fun, a brief diversion from the world of hard facts. Anyway, I figured, why bother? We'll start recording, keeping an eye on the device; most probably it would work fine; when it runs out, we'll pause the speaker, switch batteries (takes under a minute), and resume.
One major difference between Kathi and me is that she is the kind of person who reads manuals, while I proceed on pure intuition for electronic devices (worked for that Hold button, right?). In this case Kathi's approach was a savior, because on page 11 of the manual, in small print, under Notes, it says
If you are recording into a file and the batteries run out, you will lose your currently recorded file because the file header will not be able to close. It is crucial to change the batteries once you see only one Hash mark in the battery icon.
Give me a moment to scream...okay, I'm back, but I don't feel much better. Never mind that the explanation probably makes no sense to the vast majority of the audience; never mind that it's probably not even true. Just contemplate this failure mode. (I like, especially, the implicit belief that nobody would ever want to use this device in a situation where a single recording might run the entire duration of battery life: a day in the wilderness, say.) As my student Jacob Baskin put it so succintly, “They created a device that performs only one operation...and they couldn't get that one right?”