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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:30PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the everyone-loves-ice-cream! dept.

Bot orders $18,752 of McSundaes every 30 min. to find if machines are working:

Burgers, fries, and McNuggets are the staples of McDonald's fare. But the chain also offers soft-serve ice cream in most of its 38,000+ locations. Or at least, theoretically it does. In reality, the ice cream machines are infamously prone to breaking down, routinely disappointing anyone trying to satisfy their midnight McFlurry craving.

One enterprising software engineer, Rashiq Zahid, decided it's better to know if the ice cream machine is broken before you go. The solution? A bot to check ahead. Thus was born McBroken, which maps out all the McDonald's near you with a simple color-coded dot system: green if the ice cream machine is working and red if it's broken.

The bot basically works through McDonald's mobile app, which you can use to place an order at any McDonald's location. If you can add an ice cream order to your cart, the theory goes, the machine at that location is working. If you can't, it's not. So Zahid took that idea and scaled up.

[...] "I reverse-engineered McDonald's internal ordering API," he explained when he launched the tool, "and I'm currently placing an order worth $18,752 every minute at every McDonald's in the US to figure out which locations have a broken ice cream machine."

[...] The Verge interviewed Zahid about his project once his tweet announcing it took off.

NB: The bot does not actually place the order. It attempts to set up an order, and if it is allowed to add the item, it is assumed to be available. Taking note of that, it then exits out of the attempt. At no time is money exchanged. Also, he discovered that he had to back off to once every 30 minutes or it got blocked.


Original Submission

Related Stories

McDonald's to Introduce Meatless "McPlant" Burger 57 comments

McDonald's unveils McPlant line, which includes meatless patty co-created by Beyond Meat

McDonald's will test a meat-free burger in several markets next year as it adds plant-based menu offerings, which it has coined "McPlant."

International President Ian Borden said that McPlant was created "by McDonald's and for McDonald's." Borden said that the McPlant line could also include chicken substitutes.

McDonald's has not yet disclosed the supplier for the line. A company spokesperson declined to identify their supplier but said that McDonald's will not be manufacturing the products.

But a spokesperson for Beyond Meat said in a statement to CNBC that the company co-created the plant-based patty that will be available as part of the McPlant line. Shares of Beyond rose as much as 4% in afternoon trading after falling as much as 6% earlier on Monday. The stock, which was briefly halted for volatility in both morning and afternoon trading, is currently down less than 1%.

See also: Beyond Meat shares rise on news that it collaborated with McDonald's on the McPlant options
Beyond Meat earnings miss big on declining food service and consumer demand

Beyond Meat's partnership with McDonald's to develop the McPlant burger wasn't enough to keep shares from collapsing after the company posted third-quarter earnings that fell far below analysts' expectations.

The big miss sent shares tumbling nearly 29% in after markets closed Monday after reporting it generated $94.4 million in revenues and a loss of 28 cents per share versus the $132.8 million in revenue and 5 cents per share loss that analysts had expected.

Previously: Meatless "Beyond Burgers" Come to Fast Food Restaurants
Following IPO of Beyond Meat, Tyson Foods Plans Launch of its Own Meatless Products
Plant-Based "Impossible Burger" Coming to Every Burger King Location
Meat Industry PR Campaign Bashes Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
Bot Orders $18,752 of McSundaes Every 30 Minutes to Find If Machines are Working


Original Submission

The FTC is Investigating Why McDonald’s McFlurry Machines are "Always Broken" 60 comments

From WSJ [original, paywalled], Vice [quoted below], and others:

McFlurry machines are complicated pieces of equipment designed so that only certified technicians employed by the Taylor, the manufacturer, can service them. When one breaks, even if it's a simple fix, the McDonald's franchise has to call in a special repair person to fix it. A company called Kytch invented a device that lets franchise owners do basic repairs and diagnostics without calling in the expensive repair person. According to Motherboard's reporting, some techs and McDonald's franchises know how to bypass safety features to get the machine operational.

Kytch busted Taylor's monopoly on repairing the ice cream machines and, according to Kytch, Taylor retaliated by stealing its devices and reverse engineering them. Kytch won a legal victory in early August when a judge awarded it a temporary restraining order against Taylor and ordered the ice cream machine manufacturer to return ill-gotten Kytch devices.

The McDonald's ice cream machine problem is a right to repair issue. Franchises pay for a McFlurry machine and then have to keep paying Taylor to keep it running. It's an issue that mirrors Apple charging exorbitant amounts [for] basic iPhone repairs or John Deere forcing farmers to use their authorized dealers to get a repair.

In July, Joe Biden signed an executive order that detailed his administration's plans to make it easier for everyone to repair their own stuff. Later that month, the FTC formally adopted a right-to-repair platform and promised to investigate companies for possible violations of antitrust and anti-competition laws. According to the FTC letter viewed by The Wall Street [Journal], it appears that looking into what's going on with the ice cream machines is part of that push.

Related:
This app tells you if your local McDonald's ice cream machine is down
Is Your Local McDonald's Ice Cream Machine Broken? Check the McBroken App
McBroken

Previously:
Bot Orders $18,752 of McSundaes Every 30 Minutes to Find If Machines are Working


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:36PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:36PM (#1069312)

    How about green disc and grey/black X instead? Colorblind people and all that...

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:47PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:47PM (#1069319) Journal
      Maybe it's a default of the API which appears to be for Mapbox [mapbox.com].
    • (Score: 2) by SomeGuy on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:48PM

      by SomeGuy (5632) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:48PM (#1069322)

      We are talking about web designer-tards here. Be glad they didn't make you stare in to rotating, bobbing, popover, seizure inducing, dick shaped burn-out-your-retina blue LEDs.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:42PM (9 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:42PM (#1069316)

    A web scraping script is news for nerds, stuff that matters?

    • (Score: 2) by Unixnut on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:57PM (5 children)

      by Unixnut (5779) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @03:57PM (#1069329)

      > A web scraping script is news for nerds, stuff that matters?

      Wrong site :-P

      I do get your point though. Things that once upon a time were considered relatively basic tech-y stuff (like writing web scrapers), that most people would not even bother mentioning they did it, seems to have been elevated to some uber-leet work now, with articles and minor celebrity status.

      Either the pool of skilled people is diminishing, making these relatively simple things seem some amazing magic now, or the degree of self-aggregation and attention whoring has markedly increased.

      • (Score: 1) by shrewdsheep on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:12PM (1 child)

        by shrewdsheep (5215) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:12PM (#1069341)

        Actually, neither. The burger-tards find someone being able to predict availability of ice-cream to be even ueber-ueber-leet, for even living two lifetimes wouldn't be enough for them to figure it out themselves.

        • (Score: -1, Troll) by Ethanol-fueled on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:54PM

          by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:54PM (#1069366) Homepage

          Its because software firms hire Chinks and Pajeets. Though it makes sense that this particular example was an Arab, the used-car salesmen of the tech world. This is something that Quark would be depicted doing in the future to turn a few more cents of profit.

      • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:36PM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:36PM (#1069356)

        Either the pool of skilled people is diminishing, making these relatively simple things seem some amazing magic now, or the degree of self-aggregation and attention whoring has markedly increased.

        I would say it is neither of these things. It is simply a consequence of the widespread adoption of computers in people's daily lives. Almost everyone nowadays is using computers, practically all the time, resulting in a massive increase in the proportion of computer users who have no interest or knowledge in how computers work (for better or for worse).

        When I was in grade school many families did not even own a computer and "being good with computers" was not a particularly impressive skill to someone who doesn't have any idea what a computer can even be used for. You would only be able to show off what you make to your friends who are also into computers and have a similar skill set.

        Nowadays if you do something cool on a computer you can show it to basically anyone and impress a lot of people.

        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Zinnia Zirconium on Tuesday October 27 2020, @10:43PM (1 child)

          by Zinnia Zirconium (11163) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @10:43PM (#1069533) Homepage Journal

          No, you're wrong and I'll tell you why. This has nothing to do with computers. Being "good" with computers is not impressive. Doing something cool on a computer will not impress anyone. It never has. Nerds are not cool. Nerds have never been cool. I know this because I've been writing bots to do scraping tricks for ten years and nobody gives a shht about anything I do. Nobody gives a shht because I don't care to scrape billion dollar corporations. The companies behind the sites I scrape are small and relatively unknown.

          No you're looking at this story all wrong. This is not a story about some guy who wrote a bot. This is about some guy who wrote a bot to target a billion dollar corporation. The guy doesn't matter. The bot doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that the guy used a computer. The billion dollar corporation matters. The money matters.

          It's all about the fukken money, boys.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 28 2020, @12:17AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 28 2020, @12:17AM (#1069610)

            +1 Sardonic

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:57PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:57PM (#1069369)

      Yes. This is "cool."

      It's a clever hack to determine machine status, it's interesting to see how much McFlurry machines are "broken" (read: too dirty and require cleaning, or whatever - 10%? For a company at the scale of McDonalds? Really?!), and the fact that it is "pulling one over" on a company like McDonalds makes it more fun.

      Put another way, if in advance, somebody in an interview asked you to "Write a program to determine what percentage of McDonalds McFlurry machines are currently working," you'd struggle to do it. Now that you heard about this it is obvious, but in advance? I know I'd probably fail that question.

      I think the fact you assume that *nobody* would find this interesting is kind of sad.

      And, as noted by others, this site is not "news for nerds, stuff that matters." We it "... is people" here.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:07PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:07PM (#1069376)

      You gotta do something once your job gets outsourced to keep your skilps fresh. I started committing to a 20 year old open source game written in PHP.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 28 2020, @04:31AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 28 2020, @04:31AM (#1069731)

        Kingdom of Loathing?

  • (Score: 1) by Billy the Mountain on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:00PM

    by Billy the Mountain (9724) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:00PM (#1069333)

    ...to Check if Submitters Are Working

  • (Score: 2) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:10PM (2 children)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:10PM (#1069340)

    How much do you bet McD will sue?

    • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:32PM (1 child)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:32PM (#1069397) Journal

      Maybe McD would find it a better use of investor's capital to connect all their stores' ice cream systems to a corporate network.

      Keep track of outages.

      Train an AI to lean the patterns of outages, and then modify the online order system to simulate ice cream outages, even when the machines are working.

      Why is this frozen gelatineous industrial goo even called "ice cream"? Just because it's at a low temperature? Is that all that is necessary these days?

      --
      Difference between inlaws and outlaws: outlaws are wanted.
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by Immerman on Tuesday October 27 2020, @06:32PM

        by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @06:32PM (#1069441)

        It's icy, it's creamy, what more do you want? Heck, I've heard rumors that it even involves some dairy products!

        Actually though, soft-serve uses the same ingredients as normal ice cream, but incorporates a lot more air, and the machine doesn't allow it to harden as much.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:33PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:33PM (#1069355)

    I'm glad to hear that Bot has found something productive to do after leaving SN. This seems like something he can do safely during the pandemic, even if he's locked down over in Italy.

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:49PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:49PM (#1069363)

      I'm glad to hear that Bot has found something productive to do after leaving SN. This seems like something he can do safely during the pandemic, even if he's locked down over in Italy.

      Actually, he's locked up in the basement at Western State Hospital (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_State_Hospital_(Washington_State)).

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by progo on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:47PM (5 children)

    by progo (6356) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:47PM (#1069361) Homepage

    My local Burger King has been taking orders online for ice cream they can't fulfill. They even completed an order for some fried Chicken item when the fryer was down. I myself have never ordered from Burger King online, but I saw these problems play out where people tried to pick up their orders at the counter, or came back later to complain again about being out a few dollars with nothing to show for it.

    How many McDonald's locations make sure the status of items offered for online orders really matches reality, as soon as a status changes? 50%? 30%?

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by DannyB on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:48PM (2 children)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:48PM (#1069406) Journal

      I'll say something to McDonalds' credit.

      Back in the 1990s, at a specific single store, before or just at the start of the dot com bubble, a McDonalds location began having higher and higher error rates with drive thru orders. It got to be intolerable. We made angry phone calls. Got "credit" and "gift cards". But doesn't really make up for missing or wrong items in your order. An alternative is to hold up the line while you do a detailed check of your order right in the car.

      McDonalds got a website.

      It even had a feedback form.

      I wrote a polite, unusually non sarcastic letter using that form. I pointed out how long the problems had gone on. How employees come and go at this location, but the problem never gets better. It got so bad that obviously management made them start using brown bags pre printed with "Double Checked For Accuracy!!!!" warnings. And yet the errors continued. That was insult to injury. I pointed out that they spend tens of thousands of dollars on POS equipment to make sure they exactly collect the amount due right down to the exact penny! No errors there! You can bet they don't make mistakes in taking your money! Unless it is in their favor. Yet why can't they use that same technology to make sure you get your exact items at the drive thru window?

      I got a short polite reply.

      It wasn't overnight. But I noticed sometime later that everyone in that entire store was now different people. I probably wasn't the only one complaining or calling corporate HQ. They started getting POS equipment that printed out, on "receipt curly paper" at the window a Pick List of what exact items should be in each order. Whether this was coincidence or due to something I said, it was a genuine change. Orders are wrong far less often.

      Now if only their food were any better. Some of the breakfast items are among the more edible. Sausage Egg Biscuit with gelatineous cheese-like substance! The taste of their food is most definitely highly engineered. It's addictively delicious. Even if it is junk. No other fast food place has such a taste. Often that amazing taste only lasts as long as the food is warm.

      --
      Difference between inlaws and outlaws: outlaws are wanted.
      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday October 27 2020, @06:50PM

        by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @06:50PM (#1069449)

        >It's addictively delicious.
        I remember hearing once that their secret is using lots of sugar in their frying grease. Take that for what you will.

        "Hey Garfield, wouldn't it be great if there was a unit to measure how good food tastes?"
        "Oh there is John, there is. It's called the calorie."

        There's probably also some distinctive seasoning blends - one of the big reasons fast food tastes so good (in addition to lots of calories and salt) is they actually use a lot more spices than people typically use in home cooking. And I will say that doubling, even tripling the seasonings used in most recipes enhances them greatly (and that's before you even get in to introducing new ones). I suspect that traditional European cuisine especially suffered greatly from most spices being expensive imports, and has remained relatively bland mostly by tradition.

      • (Score: 2) by krishnoid on Tuesday October 27 2020, @08:37PM

        by krishnoid (1156) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @08:37PM (#1069488)

        They started getting POS equipment that printed out, on "receipt curly paper" at the window a Pick List of what exact items should be in each order. Whether this was coincidence or due to something I said, it was a genuine change. Orders are wrong far less often.

        That's kind of all it should take to bring the error rate down drastically:

        • management that will rehire people until they find the ones willing to follow a process (catches, say, 95% of the errors), and
        • two independent observations against lists generated from the same source, by the person assembling the order and by the person providing the order to the customer; again, say, 99% of the remaining errors.

        Eliminating *errors* like this requires providing and then following an articulable step-by-step [newyorker.com] process [theatlantic.com], but that shouldn't be a problem for fast food workers. It won't make the food any better, though.

    • (Score: 2) by epitaxial on Tuesday October 27 2020, @07:50PM (1 child)

      by epitaxial (3165) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @07:50PM (#1069470)

      That shit fast food restaurants sell isn't even close what you can call ice cream.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by PartTimeZombie on Wednesday October 28 2020, @01:06AM

        by PartTimeZombie (4827) on Wednesday October 28 2020, @01:06AM (#1069635)

        Fun fact: McDonalds are not allowed to call the stuff they sell "ice cream" where I live, because it doesn't meet the requirements.

        It doesn't stop them selling lots of whatever it is though.

  • (Score: 2) by istartedi on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:55PM (7 children)

    by istartedi (123) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @04:55PM (#1069367) Journal

    McDonald's can gain a lot of good will in the hacker community by allowing this continue, or they can be a bunch of dicks by sending cease-and-desist or using technical means to block it.

    They can gain even more good will in the community at large by coming up with a machine that doesn't require so much maintenance. It doesn't seem like rocket science... but maybe Elon Musk would like a crack at designing and building the ultimate 99.99999% uptime soft-serve machine.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:15PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:15PM (#1069381)

      It's the fact their menu has as many offerings as a diner. A simple softserve machine probably has to be able to fullfill 25 different types of orders in order to get room in their kitchen.

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:23PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:23PM (#1069386)

      "maybe Elon Musk would like a crack at designing and building the ultimate 99.99999% uptime soft-serve machine."

      It would be cheaper than other such luxury machines for the first two years. After this it will start to break down and the propriety replacement parts will cost a fortune.

      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:51PM (1 child)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 27 2020, @05:51PM (#1069409) Journal

        Ah, but McDonalds would only be allowed to use such machines in states that allow space launches to be sold without a dealer middle man.

        --
        Difference between inlaws and outlaws: outlaws are wanted.
        • (Score: 2, Touché) by istartedi on Tuesday October 27 2020, @06:45PM

          by istartedi (123) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @06:45PM (#1069446) Journal

          I suppose it could also have 3 nozzles, but only use 2 unless you pay $5000/month to enable the 3rd nozzle.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @07:16PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @07:16PM (#1069458)

        Meant to say proprietary *

    • (Score: 2) by epitaxial on Tuesday October 27 2020, @07:54PM (1 child)

      by epitaxial (3165) on Tuesday October 27 2020, @07:54PM (#1069473)

      The real reason is employees hate cleaning the machine so they say its down.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @08:35PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27 2020, @08:35PM (#1069487)

        And it needs cleaning more often. 200°C grills and oil are self-sterilizing, the "ice-cream" machines, especially the room-temp nozzles, are not.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 28 2020, @02:36PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 28 2020, @02:36PM (#1069896)

    You Americans ordering $18,572 of McSundaes explains why so many of you waddle around and use mobility scoots.

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