An awful user experience

I’ve been trying to transfer a domain to a new provider. The old one (servelocity.net), while still holding the domain for me (via opensrs.com) didn’t respond to emails, calls or support requests, so I needed to deal with opensrs.com, which is Tucows or something. Their support was great and they sent me the domain transfer authorisation code after servelocity.net didn’t and I started the transfer.

Today, I received the following email:

Bad Email
What is this I don't even?

I had to read it several times before I understand that I could either ignore it and the transfer would happen, or click on the link and the transfer would happen. 

So, I want it to happen quickly, so I clicked on the link and saw this:

OpenSRS
CAN HAZ RADIOBTTN?

I had two checkboxes to check and, yes, I could check them both. I didn’t, however, I only checked the one I needed.

These guys must do a lot of business, why is their system so clunky and, well, shit?

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R15N: Join the revolution

Telekommunisten has created a new artwork, named R15N it’s a revolution! We’ll be the official miscommunication platform at this years Transmediale festival in Berlin, come and visit us. In the meantime, here’s a slideshow that explains the platform. You can read more about R15N here: http://www.r15n.net and Telekommunisten here: http://telekommunisten.net

Edit: Stupid WordPress Y U NO EMbED GOOGLE DOC?

To see it, please go here: http://bit.ly/zs3ptD

In response to: Refactoring The Scrum Lexicon

This is a comment I posted on Jordan Bortz’s blog in response to Refactoring The Scrum Lexicon (read this first). Apparently, it was too long as a comment. Jordan says:

Your reply is way too long To approve and aside from that, you just trot out the standard stuff….. If you have a shorter comment that is somehow relevant, that is fine, but all you are saying really is that we should just do it the way scrum wants and there is nothing unique or value added there

Still, here it is anyway:

Hi, I’ve subscribed to your blog as there’s some great posts here, but some of this one seems a little … contrary.

I totally agree with your chicken and pig comments, but I think that, if you understand the context, it’s not that insulting. You’ve worked with engineers right? They call each other much, MUCH worse. ;)

The daily scrum is a name I have no opinion for. You could call it the daily ballet and I wouldn’t care, it’s the content that counts. Most teams I’ve coached call it a standup.

I don’t mind scrum master, but team leader or team advocate is the WRONG title. I don’t lead the teams I’ve been SM for. I’m merely a facilitator and a tool to be used for removing impediments/buying donuts.

Continuing your marathon analogy, you could run a marathon with a series of sprints. Then stop, have a bottle of sports juice and see how well you did. Then repeat. If you’re fit enough to run a marathon, you’re fit enough to sprint it in stages and that’s the point. After each sprint, you have evidence on how well you did which will indicate how well you *could* do. I prefer iteration over sprint however, because I don’t have to explain iteration to people.

Sonja hit the nail on the head, the backlog is a prioritised list of user stories with acceptance criteria and estimates. That cannot be said of a todo list or feature list although, it doesn’t preclude those from being the same.

Finally, I totally disagree with your last point. A commitment is not a guarantee that the work will be done, just a commitment that the team will focus on getting that work done during the iteration, if they don’t, they don’t, but they’ve committed to getting it done and that’s what is important. There are real psychological reasons for doing this. Best efforts sounds like an excuse and projection sounds like a feature of a gantt chart. Commitments are one of the foundations of doing scrum correctly, removing that term will make it less clear what is going on.

I’m not entirely sure on your reason for suggesting these changes. Scrum and the framework should be judged on delivered working software. Not on whether the management agrees with or understands the nomenclature. By making it more professional, or more like traditional management will make it that more difficult to adopt. Scrum is often a radical change and requires decisive action to implement, it cannot be a gradual change from one methodology to another, it will ‘surface organisational dysfunction’ and for that, it needs to stand alone in order to be understood as not just a slight modification to what we’re doing, but a completely different way of doing things, regardless of whether that is true, that is what people will see when it starts shining a light in the cracks of dysfunction.

Avoid three.co.uk

Avoid Three.co.uk
Avoid Three.co.uk

My wife has a three phone. I bought it for her a while ago. It’s a NokiaE71. It’s been good to her, even if the UI is a little crazy. It’s been dropped a couple of times and drooled all over by the kids, but it’s kept going, until recently. It’s stopped charging, but will tell you it’s charging, even when it’s not. Unless my wife has suddenly become a wireless charging device.

Anyway, we’re WELL outside the contracted term so I figured it would be time for an upgrade. As we’ve been a good customer, paying on time, for about nearly 2 years and are probably several months out of contract, I thought we might get some kind of loyalty discount or what-have-you.

I thought wrong!

I’ve heard tales of my friends and colleagues bartering on the phone for great deals with an upgrade, so that their mobile operator keeps them as a customer and was expecting a similar thing when I phoned three. I didn’t want the earth, I just wanted a new phone and not to pay any more than I am currently paying. I got through to the upgrade department after some time on hold and explained what I wanted. The guy seemed delighted that I wanted to upgrade and remain with three and asked me what phone I wanted. I’d done a bit of research and wanted the the HTC Desire S. Mainly for the 2.3 software of gingerbread and the larger internal memory. I also said that I didn’t want to pay any more than £25 a month. He took a look at my usage and said I use about 300 – 400 text messages, 300mb of internet and about 200 mins. Then he put me on hold while he ‘worked out my deal’.

So, I sat and waited, then he came back ‘Good news Mr Pearce, we can do you the Desire S, on the One Plan. Which gives you 2000 mins, 5000 texts and unlimited internet!”.

“Isn’t this the One plan on your website for £35?” I asked.
“Yes, that is the one.”, he replied.
“Well, like I said, I don’t want to pay more than £25 a month and I don’t need all those minutes or texts.” I said, figuring he might say ‘oh yes, I forgot you said that’
“OK, well we can do 500 mins, 1000 texts and 1geebee of internet for £30”.
I thought for a moment. “That’s the Text500 plan on your website?”
“Yes Mr Pearce, that’s right. It’s a great phone, 5mp, HD camera, blah blah blah and only came out 5 days ago! You can show it off to all your friends!”
“Right, I’m not interested in showing it off, that’s not a great sales pitch is it now? All  want, is this phone, with 300 minutes for £25.”
“You won’t get a better deal with another network Mr Pearce” He said, pre-empting my next move.
“Actually, I will. Orange do the same deal but 300 minutes and 500mb of internet, which is enough for my usage, for £25.”
… silence ….
“I’m sorry Mr Pearce, this is the best we can do.”
“The ‘best we can do’ is just the deals on your website? Nothing for existing loyal customers? How about a free case?”
“I’m sorry Mr Pearce, we don’t do accessories.”

I was getting pretty pissed by this point, why would anyone bother with a new deal AND a 24 month contract if they can’t get anything worthwhile out of it? Why would anyone remain loyal to three.co.uk is there are no benefits? I even phoned back and spoke to retentions and said I was thinking about going to Orange (even though their signal is non-existent in my house). I was told I could have a two year warranty, which I thought was cool, until I realised that it was snake oil.

In the end, I went for the HTC Desire instead, on the same package, but it was £25 a month. The E71 is buggered and I need my wife to have a phone without going through all the porting of a number malarky. We went through the T’s&C’s rigmarole and, just before we finished he said:
“The One Plan is only £5 a month more at £30, 2000 minutes, 5000 texts and …” I interrupted, “Are you taking the piss?”

#Thimbl

So, I’ve been working on an open source project called Thimbl with some good friends of mine. It’s a Twitter clone that is open source, decentralised and free. The most important of those three is … well – all of them. Some blurb from thimbl.net site:

Thimbl is a Manifesto for the Open Web written in code. The most significant challenge the open web will need to overcome is not technical, it is political. Welcome to thimbl, the free, open source, distributed micro-blogging platform. If you’re tired of being locked in to one micro-blogging platform, or a single social network. Or you’re weary of corporations hi-jacking your updates in the pursuit of money, then thimbl is for you.

http://thimbl.net

One of the original motivating factors that caused us to get off our collective touches and get thimbl written was the Transmediale Open Web Award. This is a joint venture with Mozilla to award the best of a great bunch of Open Web projects funding and a welcome kickstart to build take the project to the next level. For myself and the thimbl team, winning this award and taking thimbl to a more mainstream public is the next step on the road to a more open web and this is nothing but a good thing.

So, after 100’s of applications were submitted to Tramsmediale, these were whittled down by a panel to just three great projects, thimbl being one of those. I really believe we can win this award and show the online world there’s more choice than just twitter or facebook and join the ranks of those trying to do things more openly, like identi.ca and diaspora.

You can help! We’ve got an account on Mozilla’s drumbeat.org and our votes there will be what wins this for the team. We’ll be given supported status and benefit from the great things the Mozilla foundation can do for open projects. Head over to the drumbeat.org site at https://www.drumbeat.org/project/thimbl-decentralized-micro-blogging-platform and start voting for us. If you’re a fan of the open web, or even just a fan of choice, then please help us out and vote!

It’s always greener…

It’s with great emotion that I am to leave Jellyfish, where I currently work, and head over to join the team at Affiliate Window. My time at Jellyfish has been interesting. I leave more tooled up than when I arrived but also weathered and with a firm understanding of how small businesses become big businesses and the mistakes they make on the journey…

Well, I certainly don’t want to burn bridges and, to be honest, I don’t have any dirty laundry to air. The people I have worked with at Jellyfish have been an inspiration to me – I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from my colleagues and they’ve since become friends; good friends whom I shall endeavour to keep in touch with. I’ve picked up a lot of new skills along the way and even worked on one or two interesting projects (the last project being the  most interesting, but also commercial sensitive, so it’ll have to wait for launch until I say anything!).

So. Thanks Jellyfish – may your tendrils be wobbly and your body see-through and your life-span infinite. It’s been a blast. Perhaps we’ll waltz again some day (if you need a dev-manager, or a product owner ;)).

Google: please stop before you do evil…

evil pumpkin by Riv @ flickr
This could be Google (image by Riv @ flickr)

Will Googles new secure search page be evil? You betcha!

If Google make their search and serps pages load on a https (or SSL) URL, then any analytics software (with the exception of their own, natch 😉 ) will be next to useless. Why? Because visitors landing on your non-https site from a https site will NOT have a referrer URL. Which means, you’ll have no idea where they came from, what their raw search term was or ANY of the cool stuff associated with a referrer URL.

PPC will still work and things on the querystring URL will be OK, so you’ll know exactly where the users came from. Google will also know everything about your visitors and so their analytics platform will still work as they’ll be able to track you and your underlying click.

This is a big problem and is causing a little bit of worry amongst those companies that compete against Googles analytics platform.

How can this be mitigated? Well, you could make all sites on the web secure. If you go from one SSL site to another, your referrer will be intact (assuming the certs are OK). Google could also append querystring parameters to any outbound click from an organic serp (?referer=google.co.uk&rawSearch=used+badgers).

Who knows? I’m interested to know what Google will do as this, to me, feels like they’re about to do something inherently evil (unless they’re planning on buying ALL companies that do analytics, or use the referrer for anything meaningful!)

Digital Economy Act: A letter to my MP

Sam Gyimah
Here he is, Sam Gyimah (Click to visit his site)

Dear Sam Gyimah,
Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on your recent appointment to MP. Well done. I’m keen to see how you’re able to take the baton from Peter Ainsworth and run with it – I’m expecting some great things!

The second reason for writing this letter to ask that you support the repeal of sections 11 to 18 of the Digital Economy Bill.

As you’re most definitely aware, the bill came to pass on the 8th April 2010. I feel that this Act was rushed through, without proper debate, without proper scrutiny and without discussion by people who actually know what it is they’re talking about (I would hate to think that my Intellectual Property address was being recorded here).

I’m quite sure that, given you’re appointment to the post of East Surrey MP wasn’t made flippantly, you’re the man to represent my views in parliament.

The act has some serious flaws, I for one don’t want my internet cut-off if I leave my wireless network unsecured and someone, without my permission, logs on and downloads the latest Simon Cowell tripe to listen to on their mobile phone, out loud, on the back of a bus (which is the subject for another email, on another day).

What would happen if I ran a cafe which offered free wireless as a means to generate extra custom and someone, using my free wireless, were to download a video of monkey dancing, which had a soundtrack which wasn’t licensed correctly? That’s right, my internet is cut off for someone else’s crime. In fact, it’s only “minor civil offence” as it’s infringement of copyright, NOT MURDERING A KITTEN!

That act holds the account holder liable, not the infringer, which, frankly, is preposterous. It’s like holding the post office responsible for me sending an illegal CD copy of the Teletubbies soundtrack to my nan. I mean, really?

Eric Joyce (the Labour MP for Falkirk West) has setup an all-party group to discuss the outcome of the Digital Economy Bill. Yes, I know he’s the opposition, but, whatever, this is an all-party group. I ask, no, I demand that my government get together and sort the Digital Economy Act out. I believe it has some INCREDIBLE flaws and, frankly, seems to have been written by record company executives.

That’s not the case, is it? Because that would be awful and probably illegal. Let’s agree to put that thought out of our heads Sam.

I probably don’t need to tell you that this is a big deal for me. I don’t often write to my MP as, on the whole, I’m generally happy with the way things are going, but I make my living from the internet so this is a serious issue for me, regardless of how flippant I may sound.

Sam, thanks for your time in reading this email.

Please contact Eric Joyce at joycee@parliament.uk for more information.

Kind regards,

Mike Pearce

A referendum every day.

Metabograph, right panel - by A.M Kuchling at Flickr
A radio ... with buttons

Sounds exciting doesn’t it? That’s because it is and it could be easy. This post was written because of @phillprice tweeting this:

Here’s an idea – no taxes just an 090 number to call and we all get to vote on a policy a day.
@phillprice

But it’s something I’ve thought for a while and discussed with those both cleverer and far more political than me.

Disclaimer: This post is perhaps a little off-topic, but it has computers in it, so it’s staying…

Imagine if you woke up every day, made yourself a nice little cappucino, sat on your Ikea bench at your Ikea table, opened your laptop and voted in a referendum … every day. This is a possibility.

I would love to take part in something like that, direct democracy, making my vote count every day. The kind of things you could vote for range from the trivial, to the hugely important. You logged into a website with your National Insurance number, or other such unique identifier and were presented with a page of questions and radio buttons. You simply selected “Yes” or “No” as a radio button for each question, or whatever the question warranted as an answer and move to the next, when you’re done, click submit. You could be asked:

  • Should the local council paint the lamp posts in the high street, or install new litter bins? (Read more…) (Closes in 3 days)
    • Paint lamp posts
    • Install litter bins
    • Either
  • Should the council raise council tax by 0.1% or 0.2% (Read more …) (Closes in 1 day)
    • 0.1%
    • 0.2%
    • Either
  • Should the UK enter the EU? (Read more …) (Closes in 2 weeks)
    • Yes
    • No

So, a series of question, with answers and a read more link. The link could take you to an impartially authored page describing the pros and cons of the choices. Being online means you could also get the skinny from other websites, visit Wikipedia (if you dare) and discuss it with your friends (if they’re local). The questions remain open for a period of time, giving you breathing space to research the questions you need (you don’t need to research painting lamp posts vs new litter bins, do you?).

This gives the government and the local councillors more time to spend on the bigger issues they tackle without having to worry about every little detail. We’ll be more involved and the country could, for some things, get more of a say in what goes on. The side affects being that perhaps more people will become interested in policitcs and that is always a good thing.

If you didn’t want to vote, then you don’t have to. You don’t now anyway and the decisions are made, but imagine if you could be part of something like this every day. You’d feel more satisfied knowing that you had somewhere to throw your empty double-caff-vanilla-frappacino-vent-latte cup intead of freshly painted lamp posts and that you had something to do with it.

Localised e-voting

"Votes For Women" Canvas Bag, ca. 1920 by Cornell University Library
Really? Them too?

I was having a discussion with @tompoline about how I wouldn’t have had to stay up so late on election night if only someone would introduce e-voting. Now, being a gnarly sysad, the first thing Tom did was to jump on the security aspect of that particular remark.

I think you’ll find that someone will work out a way to hack it, and that would be the end of e-voting.

So, we started discussing why we need evoting and it boils down to not having to count thousands of crosses on thousands of bits of paper, then re-count them all when some grey twat in a suit decides that he should’t have lost his seat, or someone admits to not knowing whether they’d counted 304 votes or 305 and everyone throws their arms in the air and demands a recount.

Aaaaanyway, we decided that the best way to do it and NOT get hacked would be localised e-voting. Imagine, if you will, walking into your polling station, handing the dour old lady the card you had delivered through the post some weeks ago, she reads out your name, someone else crosses it off and hands you a polling card and you step into a booth. See, this is all very familiar, as it’s pretty much what you do now, except the dour old lady and her accomplice didn’t give you a polling card, they just ushered you toward a booth…

… which has a row of large, coloured buttons, each having a label on stating the name and party of each of the candidates in your ward and you PRESS one of the buttons and step out of the booth. Job done. You walk away, proud to have taken part in democracy.

However, behind the scenes, your press of the button has stored your vote on a local computer, stored somewhere in the polling station connected to the buttons by USB, or perhaps Cat-5 or something. There isn’t any way to remote into the box as it’s not on any network (except perhaps the network you had linking all the buttons together). So, to hack this box, someone would have to be on the premises and that is a risk that isn’t particular to e-voting, this can also happen with existing paper ballots.

Anyway, this seems like the ideal method; just as secure as the current method, but a winner could be derived very shortly after the polling stations closed and myself and David Dimbleby could get an early night.

“But what if there’s a fire?” I hear you cry, “or a powercut? Or the machine corrupts itself half way though? WHAT MAN WOULD WE DO THEN?”

voting instructions by muffel
Read this, then ignore

Well, calm yourself. This is where we had an excellent idea. Every time you push the button and the machine digitally stores your vote it also does something slightly more analogue. Once you push the button, a hole punching machine attached to the computer puts a hole in a ream of paper. Or, the computer is hooked to another machine which spits little plastics tokens into candidate corresponding buckets (with secured lids). That way, if the computer becomes unusable, the polling station can fall back to more traditional methods of capturing votes. Either counting platic chips in a bucket, or counting holes on a ream of paper. Both of which would be easier that counting crosses on paper. I mean, they could do this AS WELL as the e-voting, it would still be quicker.

The conversation then degenerated into how you could use iPod touches instead of buttons and make the whole process a bit more interactive, or fun if you will. Pressing on the blue button marked “Conservative Candidate” would have the iDevice ask you a series of questions to ascertain whether you are sober enough to vote. “Are you sure you want to vote Tory? Are you REALLY sure?”.

You could also have the voter answer a series of questions similar to the “Find out who you should vote for!” online quizzes, which ask you a series of questions based on current policies, and at the end say “Your answers indicate your ideals are closest matched to the Liberal Democrat candidate” then, even if you don’t watch the news or read up on the party manifestos, you’re still making an informed decision on who to vote for and not just voting for someone because you like the cut of their jib.

So, technology can help with the democratic process, clearly. Is it just me, or does anyone else think that making a pencil mark next to a name on a piece of paper, before posting it in a back box is a little, well, archaic?