Disjointed ecosystems

I did some airplane travel recently and noticed that the seats didn’t quite line up with the windows. One row was set up so that passengers were clearly aligned with one window, another row would have a partial view of two windows, and so on. My guess for how this happened was that the manufacturing process was disjointed: the airplane manufacturer made the windows and someone else (maybe the airline) made the seats, and they didn’t coordinate on the distance between rows.

Some think there’s a “hot dog conspiracy” where bun manufacturers and hot dog manufacturers deliberately coordinate to keep the quantities in their packages mismatched. I don’t think this is intentional. Coordinating across organizations is hard. According to Occam’s razor, the simplest solution is that bun and hot dog manufacturers just don’t coordinate and do things their own way. Various sources have quoted the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, which explains in their FAQ that the difference has to do with the history of manufacturing and selling hot dogs versus buns. However, that FAQ page and other sources, like EatingWell, that reference it, also explicitly recommend buying the lowest common multiple of hot dogs and buns, so I suppose it’s possible the conspiracy is real. Maybe there’s just a counter-incentive to standardizing. What’s the line between convenient inaction and conspiracy?

many hot dogs in buns stacked on top of each other
Tofurkey Hot Dogs, by Mr.TinMD

UX Stack Exchange has a robust thread on the lack of coordination between outlets and power bars and the blocking effect that follows. Although it starts with a premise that seems to have been debunked, answers in the thread point out some approaches to resolving this problem like flexible power bars, power bars that are arranged a certain way, AC adapters that are arranged a certain way. This is the easier way to solve this problem – just focusing within the design of your own product. But some AC adapters try to solve the problem by orienting the brick in one direction, and others orient it the other way. So if you have devices that require both of these arrangements, you’re either stuck with some blocked outlets or forced to get a fancy (and bulky) flexible power bar or a sometimes-cumbersome brick in the middle of a cord.

Standards are hard, but standards across organizations can achieve better outcomes here. I don’t envy the work of the W3C. Creating standards requires a lot of time and input and competing priorities. Adhering to standards is hard – there’s legacy code that’s hard to adapt. Keeping up with standards as they change is also hard. According to Union Pacific, there were 11 years between when someone submitted a proposal for 4 US time zones and when the railroads adopted it, and then there were another 25 years before the US signed the Standard Time Act into law. And even now there are still some states or parts of states that don’t alternate between Daylight and Standard times.

As for the airplane windows and seats, apparently it’s more complicated than that and the plane comes initially manufactured with rows that line up with windows. But this was a fun journey, was it not?