A while ago someone suggested to me that the Peppermill in Porirua was a nice cafe so we went there after our tri-weekly library visit today, and I was kind of disappointed. After paying $2 for a 100ml glass of milk, and a fluffy in a tiny espresso cup, or $8 for about 1/2 a glass of wine they forgot to even deliver Heather's Chai Latte.
And then our "meals" arrived, which very much reminded me of the worst days of Nouvelle Cuisine. Back to Kaizen next time, I think.
My Really Simple CalDAV Store moves on apace. I have rewritten several of the libraries to use a more consistent structure, and have now implemented a fair subset of the PROPFIND command - to the extent that Mulberry now works with it as well as Sunbird/Lightning and Evolution.
I've also started developing a regression testing framework, and I believe that the database structures around the calendar resource data are now basically correct. From this point I will provide patch scripts to allow upgrade of resources.
It is interesting to see the different approaches that client software has taken to dealing with CalDAV, and I have to think that this has something to do with the long process of evolving the specification. It will be nice when it is complete, and people can develop against something that isn't moving. I believe that the CalDAV specification is actually quite good and straightforward, but I don't feel nearly as happy about the iCalendar spec.
The iCalendar definitions of timezones, on the other hand, have to be one of the best examples of overachievement out there! It is not surprising that none of the software I have come across actually includes more than the most recent timezone definition information within events. The full definition of the New Zealand timezone comes to around 15k, and it would be ridiculous to include that with every event! In an even more bizarre twist, there is no field within the VTIMEZONE which references the timezone with a standard name! No doubt that is not problematic when most people are arranging things within a timezone, but for global events it really is a significant flaw. Evolution uses an X-LIC-LOCATION property to reference the Olson timezone name, which seems to be an industry standard of sorts, but the standard should define such a thing. Even better, having defined a standard way of referencing the timezone name there would be no need to schlepp the full timezone redundantly along with every event.
Well, enough ranting :-) Improvements in this version of RSCDS include:
- Fix some bugs in caldav-REPORT, which was not working with Lightning.
- Complete work on PROPFIND so that Mulberry now works.
- Add MKCOL, which is based on MKCALENDAR, to support hierarchies of collections better.
- Rewrite REPORT to use the new XML libraries.
- Commence support of relationships and permissions.
- Write new ics.php which allows export of the full repository (for an admin), or a subset of the repository.
- That new ics.php allows webcal presentation of the calendars also, so that even if evolution can't support tasks as CalDAV, it can at least refer to tasks someone else puts there with (e.g.) Sunbird.
- Started development of a regression testing framework.
I think I'm now at a reasonable stage to have a Debian package repository for this project. Anyone interested can browse the Git RSCDS repository or Andrew's Web Libraries repository to see my progress in more detail, it's still better to provide a place where it can all be downloaded from, so you can now add this to your sources.list:
deb http://debian.mcmillan.net.nz/debian unstable awm
For those unenlightened folks running on systems that aren't based around the Debian packaging system I've provided some .tar.gz files for RSCDS and AWL that you can download as well.
I wonder if Windows Genuine Advantage will be used to ill effect by the next round of viruses affecting people who pay their Microsoft tax. That would be bad. I sure do hope that their anti-malware-ware is up to that sort of thing.
Of course viruses have been rewriting registry values and updating bits and pieces of the various Microsoft operating systems for some time now in efforts to disable antivirus software. Surely they will leap at this straightforward opportunity to deny Microsoft customers those updates that might remove the very vulnerabilities the viruses need for their survival.
I must admit, I am proud to have gotten a free ride from a London Cabbie.
My first visit to London, or indeed anywhere in Europe, was in July 2005 when I got to spend a day there on my way to Helsinki. Just time for once round the Eye, a quick glance around Piccadilly and a half-day meeting with the good people from the Open University.
I was in a hurry, of course, and I fully believed that I was arriving in a developed nation where things would be fairly normal. I was even prepared for them to be more advanced than we are here, in some ways. What I was completely unprepared for was the generally low level of acceptance of credit cards.
I first encountered a credit card in 1979, when my parents used their new VISA to buy me a bunch of furniture to get me into my first flat. I think I got my own card a couple of years later, and these days I use it for pretty much everything from buying the weekly groceries to buying those air tickets to Helsinki.
So when I got off the plane at Heathrow, I immediately headed for the cabs. That's what I've done every time I arrived anywhere in Asia-Pacific, and it's worked just fine. Several times I've been to Australia for a week without handling any cash at all.
Then I got in a London Cab, assuming these guys would take credit cards. You can't choose a cab at Heathrow - you have to take the assigned one - and the whole procedure appears to be so much trouble that you don't want to inconvenience them by requesting one that takes credit cards. Not that the though of doing so even entered my mind. Surely they're supposed to be the most with-it cabbies in the world aren't they? If the propaganda is to be believed they practically need a degree to be allowed to drive, so surely they'll be doing it all with the latest technology! Well no. These 'famous' London Cabbies aren't a patch on Corporate Cabs for quality of service, although they no doubt exceed them on price.
Once I got into the cab, we started to negotiate the destination, but the cabbie appeared never to have heard of Teddington and at about that point I also noticed the distinct lack of credit card company logos and tendered the question about credit cards.
Since he appeared never to have heard of these things either, and he wanted not a bean of any of the other currencies that I did have floating about in my wallet, this was clearly not a match made in heaven. He dropped me off near an ATM a few minutes drive away, possibly wondering if all New Zealanders were barmy, wanting to use a plastic card instead of carting fuckwads of mugger bait around with them. How odd.
I have been reminded of this strange cultural difference in the UK recently a couple of times. Firstly because I went to the UK Moodle Moot in Milton Keynes recently and was once more forced to fill my wallet with more cash than I normally see in a year.
More recently though, I've been trying to buy a Nokia 770. Apparently Nokia think that "New Zealand" is somewhere in Europe, because that link definitely redirects to europe.nokia.com. On the other hand they must be pretty sure it isn't, because it's not one of the countries listed when I click on the "Buy Online" button - that only shows a bunch of countries that really are in Europe. And the US of A, of course.
None of those sites will let me ship the darned thing to New Zealand though. Of course I knew this, and I thought I'd try and buy one in Los Angeles when I went through there earlier in the year. I was only there for seven hours though, which is barely enough time to get through customs and check your baggage in for the next flight in these paranoid times.
My next chance was a trip to London. This time I even planned ahead a little! I found a retailer in the UK who was selling the Nokia 770 over the web. I worked out their physical address and plotted myself a little map so I would know how to get there and then I e-mailed them to ask if I could buy one and pick it up while I was there?
Well sure I could. I just had to fax them a copy of my grandmother's birth certificate or something first. They accept credit cards, but it seems that somewhere in their office they make the paper that they turn into credit card slips, each one lovingly hand-inked and beautifully crafted in gold leaf. They couldn't accept credit cards, even if I visited in person and signed the slip in front of them. Those US of A paranoids have got nothing on these guys. They're so distrustful that I find myself starting to distrust them! Clearly they also don't have computers, or dial-up connections to the bank, or they would be able to validate all of the credit card can-the-bastard-pay stuff while I was there, and before I ducked out the door with the merchandise.
OK, I'm stupid. I should have ordered them the day before I left, to arrive at my hotel. Duh. I've never actually got something shipped to a hotel and I must confess to being somewhat disorganised from time to time (if you've read this far you are probably wondering how I ever manage to get out of bed in the mornings). Of course once I thought of this it was too late - I wasn't going to be at the hotel for long enough for that to work.
And anyway: I was going to be in London. Surely there would be some shop in London that would have one on a shelf somewhere that I could just pick up and carry out? Well, no, actually. It seems that these devices are so well marketed by Nokia that nobody has actually heard of them. Nobody (barring wierdos like me) wants to own one, and nobody in their right mind would be seen dead trying to purchase one in the Nokia store in London. Or in one of those electronics places down Tottenham Court Road.
So, I returned to New Zealand Nokia-less again.
We still want one of these things though. In fact we want four of them, so I return to my original website where they will sell them on-line. Albeit, to people from third world countries like New Zealand they will only sell them one at a time on credit card. I no longer trust these guys, because they don't trust me, but I decide to have another attempt to get them to ship the thing to me directly. So far my first order has been screwed up because my shipping address has to match my credit card address, which has to be the credit card billing address, and their website forced me to choose a different credit card at the end, from what it had said was acceptable at the beginning. It took a few days to work that one out.
Who knows, maybe my second order will work? In a couple more days, when they've had a cuppa or two and telephoned the bloke at the bank to find out if my card is real, maybe they'll get back to me and ask me to send them an autographed picture of myself or something.
Meanwhile, I just realised while writing this that we have someone visiting England for a conference at the moment. I realised it because I was chatting with him on IRC, so I can order them through the Nokia website, so long as the credit card address of "New Zealand, England, NewZealand, United Kingdom" is valid enough to scrape by.
So now we have MPhone:1, Nokia:2. I'll be disappointed if the ones ordered through the Nokia website get to me first though because that conference hasn't even started yet. Maybe I should find a non-paranoid USAian and see if I can get one shipped from there as well.
I'll give the London chaps another day to run their atomic force microscope over my credit card details, I think, and if I don't get any action from them I'll get my auntie onto the job from Pennsylvania.
Hopefully they'll take AMEX on the Nokia on-line store in the US of A.
Do we really need another UI?
In order to have Pizza tonight, it seems I have to deal with the Pizza UI. Again. I wouldn't mind so much if it worked, but tonight it doesn't. I could put up with (stupid) little daemons wandering around my screen for a short while in order to be able to buy some food. It's OK that I've seen it many many times before, and it's really not that difficult to deal with the same stale annoyances.
Well, of course, on some occasions I've had to do it using a web browser running on another computer. Then all those bats whizzing (well, f-l-i-c-k-e-r-i-n-g, on those occasions actually) really do start to give me a 'bad user experience'.
The reason I've had to use a web browser on another computer is because the Pizza UI is written using what is effectively a proprietary application, and the program which they force me to use to access the site is not tested for all of it's operating environments - most especially that software combination of my computer and that hellish website which also coincidentally has shockingly bad accessibility.
When marketing is more important than product
When I first started to experience problems with the Pizza UI about six months ago, I sent them an e-mail telling them that Macromedia® Flashtm crashes whenever I browse their website. They quickly ascertained that this only happens for some percentage of those people using Linux. They then proceeded to wonder if it might just be easier for all Linux users to be directed to the PDF menu, so that they could phone their order. I don't know if they were serious or not but if they were then I guess they are more wedded to the annoying features of their website than they are to it's ability to allow customers to purchase Pizza. You kind of have to wonder where a business that thinks that way is going, don't you?
And anyway, is a crashed browser important?
Can't you cope? Well, no. I usually have around 20-50 web pages open at any one time, which can be quite annoying. Heather would typically have around 150-200 pages open, so when she has to restart her web browser after an attempt to visit the Pizza UI I would not be suprised to find they could hear the screams down at the local franchise. Although I am clearly in a minority with this particular problem there is not a single computer of the seven in this house that can successfully work around it.
But wait! There's worse!
Of course that's not the only sucky website that I can use for ordering Pizza. It seems that if I want to order Pizza over the in-tar-web I don't have a choice but to use Macromedia® Flashtm. Normally I prefer not to install this because it is the application of choice to run advertising content, so why would I want to? In the course of a normal day, it seems that the only time I need Macromedia® Flashtm installed is to run advertisements, or to order Pizza.
In fact the crappy Pizza Hut website sucks even more than the annoying Hell Pizza website sucks. At least with the Pizza UI in hell it is only really the designed in annoyances that annoy. The Pizza UI at Pizza Hut has decreed that when pressing the <TAB> key you will be transported to a random field - a particularly exciting trip when you are moving from (e.g.) the credit card number field to the credit card expiry field. Not that I can actually get to the credit card fields on a regular basis. Restaurant Brands New Zealand Limited seem to have some pretty crappy kind of back end for their operation, because the normal response to an attempt to log on to their Pizza UI is the useful and informative message that "There is a problem with the server please try again later". Right, of course I'll do that, won't I?
Use the Damn Phone, Stoopid!
People ask me why I care? Why don't I just download the (damn) PDF and use the (damn) telephone to order a Pizza. In fact my son asked me that tonight because he was getting as frustrated with me as I was with these (damned stupid) braindead websites. I think he might have been hungry as well,and I suppose that my own evening rant might be fuelled by low blood sugar too.
Strange as it may seem, Pizza-ordering in my house involves being repeatedly yelled at with orders until you can acknowledge each one with the fact that their dinner will be here in 40 minutes. This is not a nice experience when you are trying to speak politely to a harrassed and underpaid person in a noisy environment at the other end of the phone. That way lies madness! As a theoretical alternative, a web-based "shopping cart" site such as I use for ordering computers or buying CDs seems like a (potential) breath of fresh air. Those sites work for me because they have chosen standard technology over battiness. Strangely, I actually find them easier to use because they didn't care to invent a computer ordering UI or a CD purchasing UI. There's no need: after a lot of refinement of these models over the last few years we've all agreed on something that actually provides a fairly straightforward path from consumer to purchase, without any stupid fucking bats getting in the way.
Never attribute to stupidity, that which could be blamed on a conspiracy
So, of course, it must be a conspiracy. Some of my favourite conspiracy candidates would be:
- Pizza delivery companies are actually run by phone companies, and will still use the PSTN even when everyone else is VoIP, so you will still need a Real Phonetm to order Pizza.
- The website is designed to discourage Pizza ordering, because they are worried that they couldn't keep up with the demand if everyone logged on at 6:00pm to order a Pizza.
- Pizza companies get marketing websites built to give people the idea that a Pizza would be really nice, and one day you'll be able to order them over the internet, but they're waiting for smell-o-vision and figure it will be implemented in Macromedia® Flashtm first.
- Pizza delivery companies are actually owned by advertising companies, in order to ensure that Macromedia® Flashtm is installed even on the PCs of hardened Linux geeks like myself.
I think I like the last one the most. Conspiracies always seem best, somehow, when they actively persecute minority groups that include yourself.
Right. Now that I've got that six months of annoyance off my chest it's time to complain that my Pizza, which I eventually ordered over the phone after crashing my wife's web browser and three different web browsers on my own computer, arrived 10 minutes late.
Well, for starters, they have a free wireless LAN in their international terminal...
Coming through Melbourne from Adelaide last night I opened my laptop up and replied to an e-mail and then I thought "hang on, I just sent that, and didn't get anything to say I couldn't...". So I checked the logs, and it had all connected and sent just fine.
I looked further, and for once my scripts had worked perfectly. I was connected to a public, open WLAN called "MH LOUNGE", and my VPN to the office was up and running. At this point Heather must have seen my eyes light up because she suddenly remembered she needed to do some on-line banking. And check her latest strip was up. And check her webmail...
Well, eventually I got my laptop back anyway :-)
But for the future, I am probably going to book more flights through Melbourne. Wireless in Sydney costs a fortune, and in Wellington / Auckland it appears almost non-existent (although I can at least use my 3G card there). It would be nice if my 3G card worked in those places where my phone worked too. Is that too much to ask?
Why can't telecommunications companies facilitate telecommunications, rather than getting in it's way. Trying to provide 'services' and 'features' when all I want is 'please move these bytes from here to there'.
As it is, the consumer loses.
What the telecommunications company doesn't seem to realise is that in the long term they also lose, through slower uptake of broadband applications and (consequently) of broadband itself. Of course in the short term they appear to do better because they are being more successful measured against their unable-to-be competitors.
Anyway, it's nice to be back in Wellington for a couple of days.
And so, of course, my next flights are through Sydney, but maybe Bangkok or Hong Kong have free wireless too - I guess I'll be finding out this week :-)
Tonight, in the process of setting up this blog, I've had some very different software experiences...
Firstly, I used an internally developed application, written in PHP against a PostgreSQL database. It looked OK, and it worked sort of OK (I filed a couple of bugs) but one particular feature of it's operation really pissed me off: it went all bouncy and redirect-ish on me whenever I submitted a page.
I think that the point of the redirect was to be able to display something to the user before returning them to the page they originally came from. While that may be a noble objective there are a couple of flaws with doing it that way:
- It's too slow
- It's too fast
It's too fast because you can't go back and see what it said if you slipped into that momentary zone that I often do when I click submit, and I think I know what's going to happen. Or any of the million or so distractions around me do happen.
It's too slow because when you are awake and watching you know what it's going to say and you want the next page so you can click on. Now. Dammit!
It is bad usability design and I also think it would be very bad from an accessibility viewpoint.
How would a screen reader cope with that? I don't know. I suspect it would sometimes catch them out, but to be honest this sort of crap is all over "teh intarwebs" and they've probably written them to cope.
So tonight I was installing some software so I could write a blog because someone at work decided that work blogs would be a good idea. I wasn't originally going to blog about why redirects suck, but that application miscue got me riled.
I then had to install Drupal. People have been mentioning Drupal to me a lot recently, so I downloaded it and installed it. Disappointingly the Debian package is version 4.5.8, but the only apparently stable versions of Drupal are 4.6.2 and 4.7.2, and 4.5.8 wanted me to uninstall PHP5. Oh well, I can rip open .tar.gz files with my bare hands, fly faster than an RFC1149 packet and so forth, so I downloaded 4.7.2 and installed it.
This is a beautiful install experience. The bits that aren't working are very quietly and clearly presented as not working. When something needs to be tested to see if it works, the option is greyed out until I test it and prove it does work. Slick. Very slick.
And when I change a setting and submit the page, I get a nice box near the top of my page that is bordered in green when it all worked, and in red when it failed.
Super slick. And way better than a redirect.