Tuesday, September 12, 2006

No More Alphanumeric Identification Numbers!

In the past I have cursed the stupidity of alphanumeric identification numbers. Usually it happens while entering a serial number during a software installation. Is it a number "0" or a letter "O"? A number "1" or a letter "I"? Sometimes it's more difficult than an expert-level Sudoku puzzle as you maddeningly go through all of the possible variations. Why can't manufacturers use all letters or all numbers!? Is this not ridiculous? Time wasting? Stupid?

Yes! It's all of these and more. You can add life threatening to the list. With all of the recalls going on lately for combustible batteries, and other dangerous defects, consumers need to be able to identify products quickly and easily. Their lives could depend on it!

This came to fruition for me during the latest Dell laptop battery recall. I visited Dell's Battery Recall page and entered my battery's serial number. "No need for replacement" was the message I received. All is good, so I thought. As I was ready to exit the page, my eye happened to catch this message:
Please verify you entered your PPID correctly before submitting

Common errors include distinguishing between alphanumeric characters:
  • letter "O" from the number "0"
  • letter "S" from the number "5"
  • letter "l" from the number "1"
So I starting substituting 0's for O's and 1's for I's and vice-versa. After what seemed like an hour, I discovered that I did indeed have a defective fire hazard sitting on top of my desk waiting to burn up the stack of papers sitting nearby. I was furious and disgusted at the same time!

I did a little research on this and was happy to see that Apple Computer is in the process of transitioning from 11 character alphanumeric to 18 character numeric only serial numbers. Let's hope other companies follow Apple's lead.

So my message is this: Alpha or numeric! Not both! Pick one and end it!


Wrecking Machine said...

So, if you had to substitute numbers/letters to come up with a serial that was on the recall list, how do you really know that you do, indeed, have a recalled item?

Also, if the serial stickers look anything like the digital one on the recall page, reading them should not be difficult at all.

As for alpha vs numeric, I vote for HEX. 0-9, A-F, no 'confusing' alpha-to-numeric mixups, and 16 options per digit. Not to mention that potential slowdown in typing the serial since it has both numbers and letters.

Dolf said...

Machine, I posted a pic of the battery. You can decide for yourself.

Nonetheless, I am waiting for the first lawsuit related to an alphanumeric mix up!

I can already picture a lawyer calling up an expert witness (probably a mathematician) who would state how many hundreds of combinations are possible!