September 2007 Archives

Urge to Punch Rising...

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People often find technology to be incredibly frustrating. For many, it's a matter of the difficulty in using technology, or the ways in which it misbehaves... but for me, the frustration often bubbles up when I come across technology that could and indeed should have been better.

Presently, my primary frustration is with the garage door opener market. There have been many technologies and protocols used by wireless garage door openers over the last decades. One of the consequences of this is vast incompatibility.

This bit me in the ass once when I cluelessly purchased a Genie-brand remote to open a Chamberlain Security+ door. That was actually a while ago, but I've now got a useless Genie remote. I ended up with the proper Chamberlain Security+ remote. It's a bulky unit, which is frustrating when space in my Miata is at a premium.

I moved to a new apartment recently. The garage door opener in this apartment is a LiftMaster, also bearing the Chamberlain name. Pleased that I wouldn't need to buy a new controller, I attempted to link my remote to the door with no success. Apparently, the "billion code" technology in this unit is obsolete.

Frustrated, I tried Home Depot, hoping to find a decent controller that would open both the new garage door and the old one. My purchasing choices were limited between mini-remotes (in a form factor I would much prefer) that wouldn't open the apartment garage door, equally bulky units that would only open the apartment garage door and not the old one, or an absolutely large "Clicker" with two buttons that was allegedly compatible with both.

I had the Clicker in my hand, about to give in and fork over the $20, but I was too disgusted with the size of the unit to make the purchase. I reasoned that I must be able to find a better unit on the Internet.

Unfortunately, it looks like I'm not in luck -- not in the slightest. Just shopping for an opener is a challenge -- the brand names, the color-coded learning buttons, frequencies, and manufacturing years all create a muddled mess. And just in case the shopping experience doesn't make you want to vomit, you'll find that nearly all of the devices will.

At this point, I have to step back and catch my breath. It's a fucking garage door opener -- a very simple RF device! Why are they all so bulky? You could probably cram 2... maybe 4 embedded Linux systems in the Clicker. Actually, with some of the "Linux in an ethernet connector" technology, you might be able to get 8 or 10 in there.

It's also gross that the landscape is littered with incompatible devices. I'm particularly surprised that Chamberlain doesn't sell a reasonably-sized opener that will open both their new and old doors. Perhaps what's holding back the market for a sane universal remote is that companies like Chamberlain would rather file disgustingly frivilous lawsuits against competitors making compatible openers than do any kind of real innovation themselves.

At times like this, I wish the landscape could all be blamed on one incompetent engineer or clueless manager - someone I could walk up to, then proceed to punch squarely in the face. But alas; I'm dealing with companies, industry and government. You can't punch a patent law and you can't punch proprietary "intellectual property." All you can do is hope that some day, the industry will behave more like the software industry is beginning to behave, by implementing open standards that benefit customer and the market alike.