Category Archives for Rant
I think I’ve posted before about the increase in the Dunning–Kruger effect and unconscious incompetence across the networked world, and how everyone thinks they’re an expert because they Googled it once. Especially so when it comes to web development, everyone thinks they’re an expert.
And so we have Virgin Mobile who for the last few years have allowed me to pay my phone bill online, until a few months ago when their support for Safari suddenly broke, meaning not only Macs, but iPhone users can no longer pay their bills. And it’s not that the support was intentially removed, otherwise they’d show a message saying Safari isn’t supported. It’s a bug, because you go through all the steps for payment and it barfs with a message about cookies not being turned on when it tries to push the payment through their payment gateway. Nice. And it’s not a cookie problem, because I double checked, and I’m a … umm, expert. The message actually seems to be coming from the payment gateway or phone account authentication gateway though, or some wrapper around it, because it’s styled completely differently to the rest of the site, which in itself is a stupid oversight.
I tried to report the problem, but their online form for contacting them has the same problem, it barfs with the same cookie error when you submit the form. So I called them and they said I must have cookies turned on to login. Well, I can login fine, and 15 minutes of stepping them through the process, and two different machines, a Mac with Safari and a Windows XP machine with Safari, finally satisfied them that they had a problem and they escalated it for me. I even offered them my help at the time, to come in look at their development processes, quality control and staffing, because it’s what I do, but they passed on that.
So guess what, a month later I haven’t heard anything, and I try to pay my bill and it’s still got the same problem. And I call again, and again they don’t believe me, and again I step them through the process and they agree to escalate it as a bug. And guess what happened today a month later? Yep, the same thing.
Virgin Mobile keeping SMSing me to say I haven’t paid my bill, and I keep SMSing them back that I can’t until they fix their site. I no longer recommend Virgin Mobile to people, and I now put them in the same camp as Vodafone when I left them several years ago. Customer service fail, customer satisfaction fail, software development fail, testing and release QA fail. Virgin Mobile, company fail.
Musical hot spot is an improv warm up game, which used to to also be performed on stage an iO in Chicago. The version we use in Australia a botched version of the original, which supposedly gets you in the moment, out of your head and in a good happy mood. The problem is that not only doesn’t it work, but it can also have a negative affect and actually get people into their heads.
The game starts with everyone in a circle. Either a word suggestion is given as an offer, or someone just thinks of a song, but one person then jumps into the middle and starts singing and dancing to a song. Everyone in the circle then sings and dances along. If you don’t know the song, you still commit to singing and dancing by either copying or doing your own thing, but the point is to support the person in the middle. When anyone in the circle is reminded of a different song by one of the words being already sung, then they jump into the middle singing and dancing to the new song. The previous person in the middle rejoins the circle and the circle now sings and dances along with the new person in the middle. And so on ad infinitum, or often ad tedium. There’s also a bunch of other notes given about supporting the person in the middle etc but basically that’s the game.
I remember being in a musical hot spot many years ago which was like an audition for Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Bette Midler impersonators. I didn’t know most of the songs, and I hated the ones I did. In fact I thought we’d invented punk so we didn’t have to listen to crap like that. It was not a fun warm up, in fact I hated it, especially since I had to spend the whole game pretending that I was enjoying myself, and it just served to make me even more pissed off and in my head.
The problem is that the game assumes that everyone likes all styles of music, particularly pop music. Don’t get me wrong, I love music, in fact my passion for music usually exceeds most people I’ve improvised with, and the styles of music I like are definitely more wide and varied than most people. It’s just that the songs chosen in musical hot spot are usually popular crap that reflect the average age group and interests of those playing the game, regardless whether anyone likes or even knows them.
Of course people can always jump in the middle and sing a song they do know and like, and I guess it encourages prople to keep jumping into the middle. But what generally happens then is that the people who picked all the crappy pop songs then rarely support the obscure ones because they’re not use to doing so, and the person with the exception can end up being externalised from the group because they don’t seem to be working with the group’s choices.
The Australian version of Musical hot spot is a bad improv warm up game. It assumes people have a certain popular and mundane musical taste, rewarding those who do, and punishing those who don’t. You can’t fake being in the moment, and there is no place in improv for warm up games which encourage you to do so.
<rant>I’ve now needed to use Microsoft Word at least 30 times in the last few weeks since my last post about their licensing being restricted to certain hardware configurations, and at least 30 times I’ve been unable to use it, which negatively affects my ability to do my work, and simply reinforces my opinion of Microsoft and my passion for finding Microsoft alternatives.</rant>
We own two copies of Mac Office 2011 for our business, both of which have to be licensed (inflexibly) to specific machines. Basically Microsoft licensing works like this: it takes a little snapshot profile of what your machine looks like, what the processor is, how much memory you have, what hard drives etc., and then uses that do identify your machine. Change your machine, the profile changes and the software fails to start.
I added a hard drive over the weekend, an external drive that I just plugged into my Mac with a cable to do a backup. I was going to remove it again but I accidentally started Word and it freaked out, reset my product activation, and now I can’t run any Office applications, which I need for some client work that’s due tommorrow. However the product keys are on the original software disks, and they’re currrently in storage because we’re about to move premises. I have no idea where the box they’re in would be, it was all shipped out by removalists, and it would take several days just to go through everything.
Yet again, Microsoft’s stupid licensing system only hurts real paying customers, when those who pirated it are simply running their no-activation products fine on any machine they wish, completely unhindered by Microsoft’s pathetic attempt to lock them down. Next time I upgrade Office, I’ll be seriously considering cracking it, because it’s obviously pretty easy to do, and I’m certainly not the only one.
Fuck you Microsoft. Fuck you.
What is it with RSS readers these days that they only work with Google Reader? Particularly those for mobile devices such as the iPad. I get how syncing with it would be a good feature, but not at the expense of standalone feeds. It’s not like pulling feeds is technically difficult, there were hundreds probably thousands of RSS readers in the early 2000s, and they all did the heavy lifting themselves, without dependence on a third party service. And I should know, our company at the time developed a fairly popular RSS reader application for windows around 2004. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not like any of the standards have really changed at all.
I think it’s just lazy, lazy developers calling a simple API to get the data from Google Reader and then calling another couple of pretty basic platform APIs to display them in a list.
What if I don’t want to use Google Reader? What if I don’t trust Google? What if I don’t trust Google with the already incredible amount of personal data they have about me that they sell to advertisers? What if I simply don’t trust a company which makes all its money from selling me to advertisers?
I blame Google Reader for the decline in feeds and feed reading, as people not wanting to use Google are pretty much stuck without much of a choice in RSS readers.
It’s very tempting to write my own and be done with it, and one of its features will be “doesn’t support with Google Reader”.
Continuing on with melee with MYOB.
It would be nice to be able to paste dollar values into MYOB fields and have MYOB remove any leading $ symbols. Apart from some users accidentally hitting $ before the value, its a right pain to copy and paste dollar values from say a spreadsheet or PDF invoice. You can copy, because most applications support that, but MYOB just ignores the paste because the $ symbol.
Sure, not a bug, but something annoying none the less. Again, make it simple, make easy to get the job done.
A little over six months ago I wrote a post titled MYOB – WTF is interaction design again?, in response to the frustration I was feeling over my ongoing battle with MYOB for Windows.
While that battle has continued, with neither of us giving way, I was very impressed that the MYOB team took the time, within 3 days, to find my post and respond. OK, it was just “call us”, but still. And I never called anyway, so I only have myself to blame for the ongoing problems right? No, because as I said in that post, these are really obvious problems that any developer or tester worth their pay would discover. Which makes me wonder if MYOB are so under staffed technically that they’ve had to live with a really high level of acknowledged defects, but I don’t buy that, because they’d have to be rolling in cash, seriously.
I don’t want to call MYOB and have them show me workarounds for my problems, or promise that they’re going to fix them. Just fix them!
Which brings me to my latest bunch of MYOB issues.
- The built in forms are crap. I don’t know any other technical way to describe them other than just plain old crap. If one of my developers delivered these to me, I’d be questioning them whether they have any problems at home at the moment, or whether they have a medical condition at all. Here’s a tip for MYOB: hire a contract form designer for two weeks, and have them provide some usable forms.
- The form designer is crap. For form design, its worse than Windows Paint is for graphic design. Here’s just a few of its problems:
- There’s no way to pin an axis when moving an object. One of the key things with form layout, is lining up of objects on an axis, but in MYOB, you click to select and drag the mouse, and you’ve just got to hope it looks alright when you let go. You can then double click the object to see its left axis offset, close it, then double click the other object and type in the same left axis offset, but try doing that with a whole bunch of fields. Tip: add a simple shift key lock to the axis that isn’t moved first by the mouse. This is how all layout programs work.
- When you double click on an object, you can’t select a position or size value and copy it to the clipboard. Likewise, you can’t paste from the clipboard. Considering all the values are of the form xy.abc, its a pain in the arse to have to remember 4 or 5 digits, close a dialog and then double click open another one and then have to type them value in manually from memory. If you want to copy the left axis and the width, then good luck remembering both. Tip: make the clipboard work in EVERY text field in MYOB. And I do mean EVERY field, because it doesn’t work in about half of them.
- If you add a jpeg with the picture object, don’t add any white, because white prints as cream. Which means that any logo with a white background will end up printing a cream coloured box around the image, instead of blending with the page. Also, nowhere in the documentation does it say which graphic objects are supported. From my testing, jpeg is OK, but has the lossy cream background issue, tif is OK for black and white but it completely mangles colours.
- The print preview doesn’t. i.e. what you see in the print previous is completely different line up wise to what’s in the form designer!
- The printing of a form with real data also bears no resemblence to either the form designer’s view or it’s print preview.
- The customise forms window is modal, which means if you want to change a form, probably because you’re tweaking the form and printing with real data is the only way to be sure, then you have to close and leave the form designer in order to get back into MYOB. This makes small tweaks to form painfully slow.
- There’s no way to line up objects other than by entering the position of the top left corner of an object, which means if your text field is right aligned, then you can’t line up your objects without doing a mental calculation of xy.abc + de.fgh, where xy.abc is the left axis offset, and de.fgh is the object width. You then have to calulate the other object as well, and compare them, then subtract the difference from the object you wish to move, and enter that into the dialog. That’s seriously insane! The workaround is to make both fields exactly the same width, and then put them at the same left offset, manually typing each. The problem with both of these methods is that you then can’t line up the position of the first character in a right aligned text field, with the start of a left aligned field, which you definitely want to do if you’re pinning fields to the left margin. Well, when I say left margin, I mean your manually chosen left indent, because the form designer doesn’t show or support print margins, it doesn’t even suggest that you leave margins.
- The process payroll screen shows an initial Select Pay Period panel, and none of the five vertically displayed fields are horizontally aligned, except for the two radio buttons which are on top of each other. The text field next to one of the checkboxes isn’t vertically aligned either. But that’s not the most annoying thing, its more the fact that: the pay leave in advance checkbox has a colon after it, which gives the impression that the pay start and end period is to do with paying leave in advance; and again the pay leave in advance checkbox only being enabled when you select to pay all employees and not just one. I should be able to leave in advance for an individual.
Here’s one more tip: hire a contractor who knows how build user interfaces, and give them a month to just go over the line up and layout of all the various screens, and do mock ups for the refactoring of some of the more braindead wizard dialogs. The next build will just pick up the new layours, and the developers can then recode the wizards at a later date, based on the mock ups.
Having said that, here’s a couple of the changes in the most recent version of MYOB:
- You can now record leave information when you process the payroll. Well, they don’t say that you can only do that if you’re paying by the hour, not a salary.
- New tax table validity tests. In other words, when MYOB supply you with new tax tables, they now validate that data to make sure its valid. Umm… I’d probably want it fixed at the source, but maybe that’s just me.
I’m still seeking an adequate replacement for MYOB, preferably for the Mac, but I’ll survive with a Windows application if the developers are professionals. If you know of such a replacement, then please let me know.
This is just a mini rant about MYOB. I hate MYOB. I hate it with a passion.
I remember seeing a demo of the original version of MYOB back in the late 1980s at the Apple Users’ Group in Sydney. I remember clearly the guy saying that he’d written it himself, although a quick refresher course on Wikipedia seems to suggest otherwise. Being a hard core Apple IIer at the time, my mates and I thought strange name, but its still Mac shit as we rather affectionately called it.
I didn’t realise that 20 years later I’d be using it myself. My first mistake was actually choosing MYOB to do my accounts. I was thinking that its been around a long time, so its probably the Microsoft Word of the accounting world. Wrong. My second mistake was buying the Windows version, assuming that the Windows version would be better than the Mac version, due to how many Windows MYOB users are out there. Wrong again.
MYOB has been around for around 20 years now, yet the user interface (of the Windows version) is almost unusable. I’ve been struggling with it for four years now, and every six months when an update comes out I think to myself “ahh, this will be the update where they refactor the UI”.
For those who don’t use MYOB, here’s a few of the stupid braindead things that it does. The developers should be ashamed of themselves letting a bad quality interface like this out the door.
- You cannot open more than one transaction at a time. I can’t remember invoice details off the top of my head, so I just copy the information from the previous invoice. Things like the item title, the purchase order number, and regular monthly invoice totals that never change. In MYOB you cannot open an old one and edit a new one at the same time. It’s impossible. You have to open the old one, write the details down on paper, then close that and create a new transaction, and hand enter what’s written on the paper. Unbelievable. There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do this.
- Window content in many windows is fixed size with scroll bars. If you make the window larger, the scrolling pane inside the window stays the same size. So you end up with a scrolling list and hundreds of pixel of blank padding between it and the window edge. Why allow me to resize it if its not going to make any difference. There’s absolutely no reaon why the window shouldn’t resize its content. That’s what a window is for!
- If you’re creating a transaction and you click on account number cell, the first cell you edit in a new transaction, then it will not let you leave that cell unless you enter a valid account number. You cannot hit Esc to exit, Delete to clear it and exit or anything else. You have to enter a valid dashed account number to get past it, and this gives you a new line in your transaction which you don’t want. Hitting tab at the end of an item line also starts a new item and puts the cursor in the account number cell, causing the same problem when all you did is accidentally tab off the end of a line. And once the new unwanted entry is created, the only way to delete it is to erase the entire transaction.
- Key presses seem to be randomly assigned across the application. Its as if different people wrote different parts of the interface, and they all had their own master interaction style guide, which was different to anyone elses.
- Finding anything is impossible. There are so many menus which give no indication of whats inside them, and finding a particular function is very difficult when there could arguably be a half dozen different menu items where it might be hiding.
- The BAS tool is just plain buggy. It runs outside of MYOB, which is braindead considering it is the only really mandatory accounting task for every Australian business. Once you’ve entered your data, you can save it, but it only saves some information. It doesn’t save your name, phone number and business name for example, things that don’t change from BAS to BAS. So if you open up the current BAS from the saved version, it won’t print or validate, because your name and phone number, of all things, are missing!
I’ve had it, I really have. I understand its a Windows application, so my expectations are already pretty low, but they don’t even meet that. I understand that Windows developer are on the whole pretty stupid and ignorant, and that Windows developers can get away with not knowing what interaction design is. But if their millions of Windows users aren’t complaining about their shit UI, then surely their test team complain every time they have to jump through hooops just to enter test data for each release?
Using MYOB is like pulling teeth. Every month I sit down and wrestle with something that hasn’t even been designed properly for its primary audience: small businesses who need to do their accounts, quickly and easily, so they can get on any do things they do better, like building their business and satisfying their customers. The most basic requirement of MYOB I would have thought, aside from it actually doing accounts. And after 20 years, these idiots still can’t get it right.
I need to change, but I don’t know what to change to. I’d prefer a Mac app, which is what I should have done from the start, but are there any good ones for Australian accounting standards?
It’s amazing, but this blog has actually ruined Louise’s social network. Lots of Louise’s friends are reading my blog, which is great. (Where were you 7 years ago when I first started?) But many of my Molly news posts are full of more information and personal thoughts than I’ve even shared with Louise at times. So whenever Louise speaks to someone on the phone, not only have they heard all the news, but sometimes they’re telling Louise additional things about her life. Louise still hasn’t read my blog since going into hospital, so it’s all pretty surreal to her.
Molly’s doing really well. At times she seems to smile, and sometimes even acknowledge that we exist. Not really, but almost. And she’s still not crying much, except when she’s doing a number twos. Very similar to her Daddy in fact.
We’re still pretty sleep deprived, as she’s still on 4th hourly feeds, but we’re dealing with it quite well, and are starting to get into a rhythm. The Olympics on in the background helps, but that just reminds me of how much a hate our free to air TV stations. Insert Channel 7 TiVo rant here.
So finally TiVo is about to be officially released in Australia. And the TV ad for it is attempting to pull the heart strings of any Australian watching the Olympics. Average Aussie householders walking down the street extolling the virtues of TiVo, with the tag line:
We’re Australian and we’re taking control. Join the revolution. TiVo. TV your way.
In case the advert isn’t clear enough, TiVo is being brought to Australia as a Channel 7 joint venture with the U.S. based TiVo company. TiVo of course is a U.S. product that’s been around for almost ten years now, and while it’s easy for people watching the ad to think that Channel 7 and TiVo care about us the viewers and just want to bring this great product into our lounge rooms, the truth is fact much much different.
Ten years of TiVo in the U.S., but not here. Could it be TiVo not wishing to enter the Australian market until now? Could it be some technical innovation that’s only now allowed Australian PAL televisions to work with TiVo? Or is that there’s never really been a market here? None of these in fact.
The only reason we’ve not had TiVo in Australia, is because the free to air broadcasters, especially channel 7 and channel 9, have been preventing TiVo from entering the market for almost ten years, because one of TiVo’s main features, is the ability to skip over ads in recorded programs. Ads of course are the televisions stations’ primary income, so the threat of TiVo to our local broadcasters was and still is, huge.
Yet TiVo went to market in the U.S., so how come it was prevented from doing so here? Well, Channels 7 and 9 found a nice arguably dodgey loophole in our copyright laws. Because their program schedules were devised by them, they apparently thought that they held the copyright to them. And as with most people who don’t understand what copyright is actually designed to do (protect an artist’s right to income), Channel 7 and 9 used their copyright over their program guides (or EPG, Electronic Program Guide) to prevent TiVo from using them.
And of course without a program guide, TiVo can’t be programmed to record anything, and would be dead in the water in the Australian market.
Third parties have in the past set up their own EPGs on web sites, by manually typing in program schedules as they’re published in the newspapers, or by screen scraping web sites which display limited program schedules, such as the television station web sites themselves, but 7 and 9 have shut each of them down as they appeared. In fact 9 are still in court with IceTV, who were selling an EPG with a web site which would act like a VCR for you.
TiVo have been in Australia unofficially for years though. A friend of mine has several, and has been using them successfully for about five years now. Local hackers reprogrammed the TiVo software many years ago, and several web sites have published EPGs for it at various times before being shut down. But it’s not like taking a box home and just plugging it in and it works.
Enter Foxtel’s new iQ box, which basically does the same thing as the TiVo, but only if you have Foxtel. Consolidated Media Holdings (CMH), a Packer company, owns 25% of Foxtel, so of course Channel 9′s EPG is available on the iQ, but Channel 7 and Channel 10 refused to provide theirs to Foxtel, or at least didn’t initially, I’m not sure of the situation now.
So in response, after ten years of aggressively preventing companies like TiVo from entering the Australian market, Channel 7 did a deal to bring them in as a Channel 7 branded product. To 7′s credit, they’ve left in the ad skipping, and it’s going to be a one off purchase for the TiVo itself, although there are rumours that you’ll have to subscribe to the EPG for a small fee. From devil to angel in a single business deal.
And so it is amusing in so many ways, the tag line used in the Channel 7 TiVo commercial. Yes we are Australian and are taking control, but only after Channel 7 had run out of ways to prevent us from doing so. You couldn’t really call it a revolution, and you couldn’t really call the last ten years TV our way. But TiVo is finally here, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a shame that Channel 7 is now considered the TiVo champion, when fact they were until very recently, it’s biggest opposition.
After so many years of embracing independent media, if you think that big media’s stranglehold on the world is loosening, then you’d be wrong, and the Olympics are a primary example.
Time zones are always a problem when reporting world wide news events, but most of the world understand this and just deal with it. Something broadcast from Australia, say APEC or some such, gets broadcast on Australian time, and if this means evening in Europe, the middle of the night for the U.S., or daytime for Asia, then so be it. The current conflict in Georgia? During the day in Europe and Asia, but middle of the night for the U.S.
The rest of world recognises that time zones exist, and that sometimes they work for you and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they fall during television’s prime time, and sometimes they don’t. Unless of course you’re U.S. broadcaster NBC, in which case you can simply pay to make sure world events, in this case the Olympics, happen in U.S. television prime time.
Let’s just put this into perspective. A television broadcaster has paid money so that a news event will take place in prime time.
Traditionally, at a swim meet, the heats are run during the day, and the finals are held at night. That’s the way it’s always been, regardless of where they’re held, and regardless of where they’re broadcast. Yet NBC has the power to change the Olympics so that the finals are held during the day, and the heats are held at night, so that they sync up with U.S. time of heats during the day and finals at night. And they’ve done the same with a whole range of events, including the gymnastics and the marathons.
In Australia, we’re only a few hours ahead of Bejing time, so the traditional timing for the swimming would have been perfect, heats during the day, and then finals at night. But with the U.S. pandering in place, we now have the finals being run at lunch time Australian time.
For us, the swimming is where we excel, it’s what we do, and we generally have a passion for swimming more than any other sport. It’s a tradition for us, especially when we usually beat the U.S. swimmers.
But not this time. On one of those rare occasions when a world wide event actually occurs in a good time zone for us, we’re now stuck with most of our population not actually being able to see the swim finals because they’re being held at lunch time.
NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol is one of the key people to blame. In an interview with The Guardian, he said:
In the first conversation that I had with the new head of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, I told him that it would be almost impossible for an American network bidding on the games in the future … not to have some way to have ‘live’ happen. … I emphasised from the beginning that it was important to us, if possible, to have swimming and gymnastics work this way.
But it’s not just NBC who’s to blame. Obviously it was the IOC, traditionally as bent and corrupt as the drug cheats they keep ranting about, that had to agree to the change, because the Chinese certainly don’t need the money. Co-incidentally of course, the change in schedule means that the swim finals will now broadcast in Europe in the late afternoon and early evening, not such a bad compromise for them.
Now the swimmers themselves aren’t particularly impressed with the situation either. All their competitive lives they’ve been used to swimming heats in the day and finals at night, and now that’s been completely flipped on it’s head. So much so that swimmers are saying they rarely reach their peek until the night, and so world records won’t tumble as much as they usually do under the new schedule. Yet obviously NBC don’t care if the performances are watered down, so long as it’s watered down in prime time.
Big media is still in charge, they’ve integrated citizen media into their model, and they still control everyone who counts. Meanwhile the world keeps on spinning, and still the world’s news events just happen to occur more often than not in U.S. prime time. Their demise cannot come too soon.
With the U.S. credibility around the world at it’s lowest point ever, and their financial markets completely crumbling, when will big U.S. media lose its stranglehold on what world events happen outside U.S. borders?