Column: Stop wrecking things that work

If there’s one thing that drives me absolutely crazy, it’s when companies have a product that I use that works well, and then for some stupid reason they mess it up.

Take for instance podcasts on current Apple devices. This was one of the killer applications of the original iPod, and has carried on through the age of the iPhone and iPad.

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Podcasts used to be handled by the iTunes app on your computer. When you subscribed to a podcast, iTunes would download them and store them locally on your hard drive. It wasn’t perfect, but it generally worked.

But in recent years Apple saw fit to strip podcasts out and make it its own app on the devices.

What I didn’t realize is the new system doesn’t work well with accessing old files kept on your computer.

And that’s a big problem when the podcast has been discontinued. You don’t get more discontinued than when the beloved author of that podcast passes away.

A Christmas tradition of ours is to listen to podcasts of The Vinyl Café, by the late Stuart McLean, one of the best things the Mother Corp has ever produced.

His “Dave does the turkey” is priceless, and I have multiple podcast versions of it. But try as I might, there is no way I can get them on my new iPhone or my two-year-old iPad.

Instead, I had to resurrect my son’s long retired fourth generation iPod, eight years old, just so I could copy the old podcasts to it. That’s because the old podcasts are no longer available online, but I still have them on my hard drives.

On another front, I have been stewing for months about the recently redesigned Contigo water bottled I picked up at Costco this past fall.

Several years ago, Contigo came up with what I would consider essentially perfect designs for water bottles and coffee travel mugs. They embraced a concept of failsafe design.

Basically being fail-safe means no matter what happens, it shouldn’t fail inadvertently. You have to purposely put that system into a perilous position. Its definition is “causing a piece of machinery or other mechanism to revert to a safe condition in the event of a breakdown or malfunction.”

For Contigo that meant you had to actively push the button which opened the valve to allow the fluid to flow. The second you release the button it closes up and won’t spill. Knock it over, nothing bad happens. Tip it upside down, same thing.

But the most recent design, which Contigo calls “AUTOSPOUT Chug Technology,” would fall under what could be considered “fail-deadly.” In other words, you knock it over, and it will most assuredly spill.

And this design most assuredly does. Three days ago I was prepping for a photo shoot. I had my water bottle on the floor and it got bumped. One fifth of its contents spilled in the three seconds it took me to pick it up. And this has been a common occurrence.

The problem with “Chug Technology” lies in the fact the button no longer opens it up when depressed, then closes it when released. Instead, it flips open a mammoth hole large enough to put your thumb in, and stays open. You have to purposely close the mechanism to return it to a safe, non-spilling configuration.

The result has been I’ve spilled on papers on the table, in my truck multiple times, and everywhere else you can possibly imagine. Contigo took their most important competency, and spilled it all over the floor. I bought nine of these bottles from Costco, thinking they would be fine. The are not, and I will never, ever buy this design again.

Then there’s surround sound. About 15 years ago, it was all the rage, but for the last few years, it’s vanished. Around 13 years ago we got our first “home theatre in a box.” It was cheap, but it worked, for a while, at least. It had a DVD player, built in amplifier, five surround speakers and a subwoofer. About nine years ago we upgraded to a better system, with a built-in Blu-ray player and a 30-pin iPod dock, you know, to listen to podcasts on.

This involved an arduous installation of speaker wires throughout the living room. But the surround sound effect was worth it and quite enjoyable.

After about five years, the Blu-ray player died, but the surround sound still worked. So we picked up another Blu-ray player and used the existing home theatre system for the surround sound. But then, it, too, died.

And try as I might, I could not buy a new home theatre in a box, anywhere. I looked at audio visual stores. I scoured Amazon. Nada. Indeed, I’ve found you can hardly find a simple Blu-ray player in many stores these days. The salespeople told me everyone is going to streaming. Well, that’s great, except when you have an extensive Blu-ray and DVD collection, already paid for. Or you might not have streaming at the cabin or the grandparents’ place. And you might not want to pay, again, for a movie you already own.

Now all the stores are pushing the latest trend – very expensive soundbars. But knowing what little I know about physics, there is no way a soundbar can make up for the spatial positioning of a proper surround sound system. Can’t be done. The very few models of home theatre in a box still on Amazon include an integrated DVD player, but no Blu-ray. I could buy a stand-alone surround sound system, at double or more what I paid for the integrated home theatre system.

Stop messing with what works, or I might end up crying over spilt milk.


Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at


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