Saturday, March 27, 2010

Surveying the Surveys

Occasionally I enjoy taking online surveys. I don't consider them terribly significant--by their very nature, they are not scientific, although I'm not sure that's all that important when it comes to product or lifestyle questions--but some of them can be interesting enough, and most of them feature some kind of point-earning scheme or enter you into a drawing that you'll never win, which makes it fun. Sort of. Beats playing solitaire, mostly.

But having written more than a few surveys in my time, I'm often amazed at the poor writing, illogical questions, and just plain sloppiness that often makes it through to the respondent. I can only conclude that the proofreading department at some of these research companies has been downsized out of existence. And that they don't have a handful of volunteers take the survey before they unleash it on the public.

I've written of this before (Survey says huhn??,), when a survey dated 10/8/08 asked me if I felt "the new president's administration is doing enough to fight unemployment?" Note that 10/8/10 was nearly a full month before the 2008 election (11/4/08) and more than three months before the inauguration. There was no "new president" in October 2008!

I pointed that out to Harris Interactive, and never received a reply.

Which is why I won't bother to share these survey oddities with the various companies that perpetrated them. But I will share them with you!

This snippet is from a longish "lifestyle" survey that I took a few weeks back:

The problem is one of consistency. The only "abstinence" answer option given is "I do not smoke," but three of the five products it asks about are "smokeless" products. Since the question is about "tobacco products" and not smoking, a more properly worded option would have been "I do not use tobacco products."

This snippet is from a customer-satisfaction survey following my recent stay at a Day's Inn:

The problem here is dumbness. Sorry, but I have grown weary of supposedly professionally produced publications, signs, and, yes, surveys whose creators can't be bothered to educate themselves about the difference between it's (a contraction, usually for it is and occasionally for it has) and its (a possessive pronoun indicating belonging, as in Every dog must have its day). I used to be more patient about such things, but this is so widespread, and so wrong, and so easy to figure out, that I can no longer do but immediately relegate the perpetrator of such dumbness to the Chowderhead file and move on.

And finally this, from the same customer-satisfaction survey:

As you see, I did not complete this portion correctly. I foolishly assumed that since I indicated that I had paid my tab with American dollars it was unnecessary to indicate also that I did not pay it with Canadian dollars! What was I thinking?

Seriously, does it make any sense at all for me to have to tell them that my room cost me $90.00 US and $0.00 Canadian? Which, after all, turned out to be the "correct" way to complete that section. Is there any instance in which my stay would have cost me, say, $45.00 American and $46.33 Canadian? Had I completed the section in such a fashion, would anybody on the other end even have noticed?

Given the survey crafters' issues with its and it's, I would assume not.

Good advice in putting together instruments such as surveys (indeed, good advice for any piece of instructional writing): Give it to someone else, someone out of the loop but whose opinion (and, more important, intelligence) you value. If they turn up puzzled, go back to the drawing board. Repeat as necessary.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two Oddities

A couple of strange things in my electronic world...not unsettling, not even annoying, just strange:

First: A couple of weeks ago ShareThis made an update to its nifty service. Since I use ShareThis as my primary sharing mechanism (to Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and Diigo primarily, and often as a quick way to e-mail links to my far-flung correspondents as well), I was excited at the prospect of the update. Which, for the most part was worthwhile. Early on I had an issue with Twitter: Basically, nothing would happen. But if I chose "More Sharing Services" from the menu, I could share to Twitter in a sideways fashion. I reported it to the Proper Authorities, and was told that a bug fix in the next day or so should address the problem, which it did. Great.

But ever since then, something peculiar happens if I share something to Facebook and am not logged in to Facebook: My browser window rolls up to about two inches in height, and won't "unroll" back to full size until I either log in or cancel. After which a simple click on the green button (Mac OS X) and I'm back to normal. Well, my browser window is, at least. If I'm logged into Facebook already and share something via ShareThis, the collapsing window doesn't occur. Weird, no? Hasn't seemed worth reporting to ShareThis, but I am curious if others have encountered anything like this. I'm using Firefox 3.6.2.

Second: I noticed toward the end of last week that I wasn't getting e-mail from The Washington Post--not my daily news update, not my Opinions e-mail, no breaking news, nothing. Went to my account and everything there is as it should be. I even clicked the "update" button, just for kicks. But nothing. (No, it's not suddenly routing to my spam folder. Why do people always ask that? Am I the only one who checks the contents of his spam folder before hitting the "empty" button?) When I'll get around to it I'll swap a different e-mail address for the one they've been sending stuff to for all these years and see if that breaks the logjam. Strange, though, when something that's always worked suddenly...doesn't.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Lot of Candles

Today is the 103rd birthday of my grandfather Paul Bryan Reynolds, who died in 1987. I'm not sure why the date sticks with me--I would, for instance, have to look up the birthdates of my other grandparents--but it does, to the point that I realized signing a bunch of car-purchase papers three years ago that it was the old boy's 100th birthday. The memory is an odd thing.

Here's a couple of photos. The first, undated, is my grandfather as a young man. Looks like it might have been a work-related photo.

And here's one that I imagine was taken perhaps 25 years later, including, from left, Grandma Reynolds, Mom, Great-Grandma Reynolds, Grandpa, yours truly, and Dad. My guess is that it was taken in 1957.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to go round up 103 birthday candles. And a lighter. One of those long-handled jobs, I think.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Did You Know?"

A friend e-mailed me the link to this video; the person who originally sent it (it was one of those fwd: fwd: fwd messages displaying about two dozen previous recipients' addresses) made this comment: "Sony Corporation played this video at their executive conference this year.. Caution: It may leave you a little breathless ----."

I don't know about "breathless," but it is very interesting and extremely well done.