OK. I am now used to being harrassed by my son, Fraser, about how "that man looks like you daddy" when we visit the toilet at the local mall and are "faced" with endless picture of the backs of people's heads.
Fine. I'm used to that now.
Now Heather is accusing me of "male-pattern blindness" as well. On Saturday I spent 10 minutes searching through the back of the fridge for some paté to no avail. I'm sure I looked for it on Sunday as well, but today she pulls it out and waves it at me purporting that it was at the front of the refrigerator all along.
I'm not convinced.
Consider this "funny once" joke. When I try and enter my credit card details these guys have programmed their Pizza interface somewhat better than these losers. Some standard UI metaphors work: for example when I go to Hell, I can at least tab correctly from one field to the next. Still though, when I arrive at a field which is a drop-down box, they clearly have so much control over the "user experience" that stuff like hitting the down arrow to select from a drop-down has to be handled personally, and the programmer appears to have forgotten to implement that sort of behaviour.
There are worse sins than the ones visited on people arriving at Hell. In fact the UI from Hell regularly receives awards - presumably from people who find it "novel". The judges probably don't actually buy Pizza over teh intarwebs so they haven't seen it before. Or perhaps they like black, because it's all cool and designery, or they are poorband users who normally have to access their pizza through the 0800 interface. Hopefully those people will eventually be replaced by people who have used the site and got over it. People who actually want to order Pizza, and just want a page where they can quickly and easily do so, and who are sick of chucking devils in the corner just so they can click on a button.
Using this UI to present a plain 'website' is surely just the worst ever though. I regularly find music artists with this kind of site too, which for me means "nothing to see here: move along". And I do, of course, since it is clearly going to be a learning curve understanding their designer's idea of a "user interface" before I can find the information I'm after. After a long succession of bad experiences along these lines, finding out more about the actual music from the Amazon website than from the artist's one, I've pretty much given up on them. In fact nowadays I just go straight to Wikipedia, which has an increasingly comprehensive collection of information about music and musicians.
I haven't seen a really serious website, that wants people to buy stuff, which has been written using the Pizza UI, in fact. I'd wonder why that is, except that it is basically obvious to anyone who regularly buys stuff on the internet (or anywhere, in fact) that increasing the barriers to your customers is not good business sense. Experienced programmers will also understand that the Pizza UI cannot be used unless the server interaction is sufficiently simple, and the presentation is the driving motive.
The fact that Google now use this technology in that one simple way is really interesting. One wonders if it stems from the fact that through an accident of historical bias against Linux by Microsoft and Apple, Google were left with this as their only choice for a platform-independent way of delivering video to the world, and particularly to the sometimes vocal and influential thought leaders in the FOSS community. Or is it a more insidious plot, to ensure that Google, which is primarily in the advertising business of course, wants us all to be able to watch next years advertising, and this is a way of ensuring that we all have an appropriate advertising presentation layer installed!
I don't think that the people over at Google HQ are quite that machiavellian yet, however, and I expect the explanation really is somewhere between "we saw someone else do it and it was clearly a good idea" and "that was all that would work on the three main operating systems".
Well hopefully that's got all of the vitriol out of me, and now I can be all relaxed and friendly for the coming week at linux.conf.au 2007. I certainly don't want to offend all the other open source geeks flocking to the best linux conference, as Google puts it.
On reading the 2006 QuickStats National Highlights from the Statistics New Zealand website, I am prompted to write...
Dear Statistics New Zealand,
In the "2006 QuickStats, National Highlights" document available from here:
On the final page is a link to the Excel viewer which would supposedly enable me to open Excel files.
Firstly, the link does not seem to work. When I click on it my browser opens at the location:
Which my web browser (correctly) assures me is not a valid domain name. You might want to correct that.
Secondly, the "Excel viewer" is only a solution for those people using Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS X. People using other operating systems such as Linux will not be able to install or run the "Excel viewer" application.
A better solution would be to provide a link to OpenOffice.org which provides a fully functional spreadsheet program that is capable of reading such files, and which is:
- freely available
- freely redistributable, and
- will work on a much wider variety of operating systems
Actually I remember filling in that Census form online, about a week before the census, leaving out the questions that related to the night itself. Then on the night I discovered that I had already done it, and could not go back and add the answers to those questions.... Oops!
And when I try and post this as feedback to the stats website, I find that:
Server Error in '/CmsApp' Application.
Description: An application error occurred on the server. The current custom error settings for this application prevent the details of the application error from being viewed remotely (for security reasons). It could, however, be viewed by browsers running on the local server machine.
Details: To enable the details of this specific error message to be viewable on remote machines, please create a <customErrors> tag within a "web.config" configuration file located in the root directory of the current web application. This <customErrors> tag should then have its "mode" attribute set to "Off".
<!-- Web.Config Configuration File -->
Notes: The current error page you are seeing can be replaced by a custom error page by modifying the "defaultRedirect" attribute of the application's <customErrors> configuration tag to point to a custom error page URL.
<!-- Web.Config Configuration File -->
<customErrors mode="RemoteOnly" defaultRedirect="mycustompage.htm"/>
Man, I sure wish I could change that file and help them out with that little problem. I know: I'll send them some feedback, telling them! Yeah, that'll help...
It must be such a pain to be the target of this sort of thing, and yet it continues. I recently received a sad story about someone supposedly suffering in Auckland, but how am I to know if it is true? If I even enquire about it's truth I may be contributing to the problem!
I'm sure that many people receive more of these than me, perhaps because I have historically come down pretty hard on people near and dear to me who have forwarded me these sorts of things. Over the last ten years my approach has softened somewhat: I have switched to forwarding them, by return e-mail, the following warning (I have no idea where I got it from - I certainly didn't write it):
********************************************************* WARNING, CAUTION, DANGER, AND BEWARE! Gullibility Virus Spreading over the Internet! ********************************************************* WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Institute for the Investigation of Irregular Internet Phenomena announced today that many Internet users are becoming infected by a new virus that causes them to believe without question every groundless story, legend, and dire warning that shows up in their inbox or on their browser. The Gullibility Virus, as it is called, apparently makes people believe and forward copies of silly hoaxes relating to cookie recipes, email viruses, taxes on modems, and get-rich-quick schemes. "These are not just readers of tabloids or people who buy lottery tickets based on fortune cookie numbers," a spokesman said. "Most are otherwise normal people, who would laugh at the same stories if told to them by a stranger on a streetcorner." However, once these same people become infected with the Gullibility Virus, they believe anything they read on the Internet. "My immunity to tall tales and bizarre claims is all gone," reported one weeping victim. "I believe every warning message and sick child story my friends forward to me, even though most of the messages are anonymous." Another victim, now in remission, added, "When I first heard about "the sulfnbk.exe virus" and Good Times, I just accepted it without question. After all, there were dozens of other recipients on the mail header, so I thought the virus must be true." It was a long time, the victim said, before she could stand up at a Hoaxees Anonymous meeting and state, "My name is Jane, and I've been hoaxed." Now, however, she is spreading the word. "Challenge and check whatever you read," she says. Internet users are urged to examine themselves for symptoms of the virus, which include the following: The willingness to believe improbable stories without thinking the urge to forward multiple copies of such stories to others a lack of desire to take three minutes to check to see if a story is true T. C. is an example of someone recently infected. He told one reporter, "I read on the Net that the major ingredient in almost all shampoos makes your hair fall out, so I've stopped using shampoo." When told about the Gullibility Virus, T. C. said he would stop reading email, so that he would not become infected. Anyone with symptoms like these is urged to seek help immediately. Experts recommend that at the first feelings of gullibility, Internet users rush to their favorite search engine and look up the item tempting them to thoughtless credence. Most hoaxes, legends, and tall tales have been widely discussed and exposed by the Internet community. Courses in critical thinking are also widely available, and there is online help from many sources, including: Department of Energy Computer Incident Advisory Capability at
Symantec/Anti Virus Research Center at
McAfee Associates Virus Hoax List
Urban Legends Reference Pages
Wikipedia on Urban Legends
Datafellows Hoax Warnings
Those people who are still symptom free can help inoculate themselves against the Gullibility Virus by reading some good material on sources, such as: Evaluating Internet Research Sources
Evaluation of Information Sources
Lastly, as a public service, Internet users can help stamp out the Gullibility Virus by sending copies of this message to anyone who forwards them a hoax. (line of asterisks here) This message is so important, we're sending it anonymously! Forward it to all your friends right away! Don't think about it! This is not a chain letter! This story is true! Don't check it out! This story is so timely, there is no date on it! This story is so important, we're using lots of exclamation points! For every message you forward to some unsuspecting person, the Home for the Hopelessly Gullible will donate ten cents to itself. (If you wonder how the Home will know you are forwarding these messages all over creation, you're obviously thinking too much.) ********************************************************* ACT NOW! DON'T DELAY! LIMITED TIME! NOT SOLD IN ANY STORE! *********************************************************
A wee bit dated now, perhaps, but as Pete Bulmer said when I pointed that out to him "Are you kidding? That stuff circles the internet for years. People don't get any smarter ... and if it is dated, that just makes it more poignant."
Indeed. So I've dusted it off, cleaned up some of the links, and pasted it up here where more people will be able to refer to it - and in the hope that you can retaliate with it next time someone tries to infect you with the gullibility virus.
Just before I went to the Sydney Moodle Conference I set up a sourceforge project for the Really Simple CalDAV Store. This is good because it disassociates the project from Catalyst to some degree as well as providing me with space for forums, bug tracker and so forth.
It's interesting to look at Sourceforge from this viewpoint though, because I wonder how lively sourceforge really is. According to their home page they have "Registered Projects: 132,439 Registered Users: 1,421,324", but after a few days activity with my RSCDS project I have managed to surpass 132,319 of those projects to be at number 120!
Is it really that easy to be more active than those 132,000 projects? It would seem so. Penny, Martyn and Nigel have also set up a project last week for the Mahara ePortfolio which they are working on, and at this point there is almost nothing there at all. Even so, that project is ranked at number 18,000 or so, suggesting that there are around 110,000 projects on there which are basically dead.
Still, it seems that it might be something to do with their weighting algorithm. I took a look at the statistics for Project #121 (Sahi at the moment) and it seems to have a noticeably greater number of web hits, downloads, and so forth, so I can only conclude that my secret weapon has been my mirroring of my Git repository into the Sourceforge CVS and Subversion repositories.
Well, to be strictly correct, I guess only the mirroring to the Subversion repository counts, since there are no statistics available for the CVS repositories it seems unlikely that they enter the mix in this way. So with that in mind I feel I should level the playing field and publish my mirroring scripts.
So here they are, for mirroring from Git into a CVS repository use cvs-mirror-git-init first and then use cvs-mirror-git whenever you want the mirror to be brought up to date. Hopefully the 'usage' information is sufficient to describe the care and feeding of the CVS mirroring scripts.
For mirroring from Git into a Subversion repository use svn-mirror-git to bring the repository up to date. Before using it you need to do something like:
svn add newproject
svn propset svn:ignore .git .
to create yourself a new empty directory for the project to exist in.
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.