The Red Lines Page

December 13, 2015

Yahoo! BooHoo!

Filed under: Grumbling,usability — Peter A @ 4:25 pm

Aabandon hopeThe successor to Yahoo! has failed to fix my problem or respond in a timely manner, and I have therefore decided to aabandon Aabaco completely. What a shame they seem so uninterested.

They are not to be confused with Aabaco Environmental, who are apparently “well known for being a leader in providing bio-remediation products for hydro carbon spills.” I am led to believe they are also very popular with carpet care professionals. Who knew?

Anyway, you should find that anghelides.org and contact e-mails now work again, because my new domain services company was able to (a) handle the transfer promptly and without fuss and (b) respond to two phone call inquiries immediately.

So I commend GoDaddy to you instead.GoDaddy

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November 28, 2015

Disappointing! Customer! Service!

Filed under: Grumbling,Uncategorized — Peter A @ 7:04 pm

YahooTurnoverThe transfer of the Yahoo! small business… er… business to Luminate, no, hang on, I mean Aabaco has been a bit of a fiasco.

People who have been with Yahoo! for over a decade have found the transfer has been fumbled. They can’t transfer open problem tickets to the new company; you have to close it and open a new one with Luminate. Or is it Aabaco? I don’t know, because I’m losing the will to live.

This tweet seems typical of the reaction from existing customers:

If Yahoo! can’t handle this transition effectively, why would you trust them with any of your current business? Search me. (DYSWIDT?)

I’ve already set up anghelides.com as an alternative for my domain and e-mail. I’m giving whatever-they’re-called-now one last chance to sort out a current problem, or I’m just going to bail on them.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll find that anghelides.org and anghelides.com will both route you here. Please let me know, via the usual channels, if that’s not working for you.

June 14, 2014

Rainy Days in Cardiff

Filed under: Another Life,Grumbling,Novels,Torchwood — Peter A @ 11:03 am

Torchwood - Esős napok CardiffbanMy Torchwood novel Another Life was translated into Hungarian, and apparently published in 2010. I was pondering why I hadn’t seen a copy. I asked my publisher,  and they’re now puzzling about it, too.

I decided the best way to get a copy (and prove it exists) was to order it. From Hungary, obviously. The price looks a bit steep, until you see that it’s in Hungarian forints, and work out that 2,490 ft converts to about £6.50.

The Hungarian title is Torchwood – Esős napok Cardiffban. That translates back into English as Torchwood – Rainy Days in Cardiff. I hope that will prove to have been such an appealing title that the book has simply flown off the shelves in Csongrád and Bács-Kiskun. And I will not discover that my recent order has merely doubled sales in Eastern Europe.

audioTWnewIn related news: John Barrowman, who read the audio version of my novel, has become an MBE. This is splendid news. I’m not suggesting that my audio had any particular effect on his eligibility. Nor that it will unduly influence sales of the novel in Hungary – though anyone analysing the stats this week in Budapest may notice an unexpected uptick in overseas sales to the UK.

 

March 8, 2014

A handle on good design

Filed under: Articles,Grumbling,IBM — Peter A @ 7:51 pm

I recently reposted a photo on Twitter that I thought neatly encapsulated poor design.

Within a few days, this was retweeted hundreds of times. With the various modified and quoted versions of it, Terry Odell’s original photo has now been retweeted over a thousand times. It seems to have caught the imagination of many, and not just technical authors.

From http://uk.reuters.com/article/2009/09/11/uk-fortis-tesco-idUKTRE58A19Y20090911

Credit: Reuters

Subsequently, Alexis Hale politely pointed out that the sign was “literally a joke from the Wayside School series.” Nevertheless, I still claim it as an example (deliberate or otherwise) of when documentation makes things worse — and when better design could avoid the need for documentation in the first place. Because obviously technical writers are like those staff in Tesco wearing a badge saying…

“Here to help”

I was walking through the airport, and noticed a man carrying two heavy suitcases through the arrivals terminal after passport control. I could tell they were heavy from the way he was struggling, and they’d got those orange warning labels on them (an example of simple, effective design).

Ref: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45339499@N00/

Credit: Philipp Bock (youMayCallMeSheep)

As I watched him grip the handles to drag his baggage towards the taxi rank, I saw he had this fabulous-looking watch on his wrist. “Oh yeah,” he said, “it’s very clever. It tells the time in all the countries that I do business. It gives me access to my e-mail, shows me my calendar, warns me about forthcoming meetings. It’s got a built-in stills camera and a phone with a little video screen. It’s got functions for recharging via kinetic energy and solar power. It checks my pulse and skin temperature and warns me when I might be ill. It plays music from all the albums I’ve stored on my home server. So it’s OK, I suppose.”

“OK?” I told him. “It sounds fantastic! But if you don’t mind me saying, you don’t seem very happy with it.”

“Well,” he said, hefting the two heavy suitcases, “look at all this documentation you need to carry round for it.”

When I first told that gag, the iPhone and Galaxy Gear were still Star Trek technology of the future. But those of us who remember early digital watches can still recall thinking, “There are only a couple of buttons, so how difficult can it be?” And then struggling to set the alarm. And subsequently struggling to deactivate the alarm when it went off.

Minimal interface isn’t a guarantee of simplicity. But designing a product to be easy to use, rather than creating a lot of documentation, is what will succeed in the marketplace. Good design makes use obvious, and behaves the way you expect, and so you avoid providing documentation that’s not absolutely necessary.

The smarter you are about avoiding the need for documentation, the smarter the documentation is that you end up producing.

And yet, when my mum got a new watch from a famous, very reputable brand not so long ago, the instructions for setting the date told her this:

Do not set day/date between 8:30pm and 5:00 am as day/date change cycle is in progress.

It’s an admission of design failure if one of the functions of your product can’t be used properly for 8½ hours of the day.

Walk up and confuse

All too often, an interface you expect to be “walk up and use” ends up just confusing. When I talk to technical authors, it may seem heretical to assert that no-one really wants to read product documentation. Not even technical authors.  Who honestly wakes up and says, “You know what, today I really fancy reading an instruction manual. I’d like nothing better than to study how to install and configure some database software.” 

You pick up an instruction manual because you’ve got stuck attempting to do something, or don’t know where to start when trying to achieve some task. You want to find that out as quickly as possible, and go back to what you were doing. It’s all about the task and not the product, and it definitely isn’t about the manual. I don’t think “I’d like to use the iPhone interface this afternoon,” I think “I want to listen to that track by The Doors, and maybe buy it.” (Yes, I am that old.)

iPhone

My first iPhone

The iPhone is an aspiration for all consumer products: it’s almost literally walk-up-and-use. Like Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver – a multitude of uses, but the Doctor never has to fumble around for the instruction manual. On my iPhone, I can rapidly work out how scroll, open, close, cut, copy, paste etc. all work. And it’s only got a few buttons, and they do pretty basic things that can be simply explained.

Even more interesting, my experience is that most of the documentation for the “difficult” stuff is searchable online and not written by Apple.

 

Doors to manual

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b4/Panel_door.jpg

Doors don’t do documentation (credit: wikimedia)

The simplest things can be overcomplicated by documentation. You wouldn’t expect to get all this specification information about how to use a door. As Don Norman pointed out in his excellent book The Design of Everyday Things, a  well-designed door is literally walk-up-and-use:

  • It will have appropriate affordances – plates that invite you to push, and handles that look like they need you to pull, which tell you all you need to know.
  • Just one word of documentation is too much, especially when those two words are look as similar as PUSH and PULL.
  • If you disagree with that, then ask yourself how much you want to read and work out if you’re trying to operate a fire door in an emergency.

And yet we still encounter poorly designed doors. What hope do we have for easy-to-use software if we can’t do doors?

Hursley doors

IBM has a renewed focus on Design Thinking that is transforming the way software and solutions are created. And although office doors aren’t something IBM designs and builds, I like to use the example of doors at IBM Hursley (installed in the 1980s) as how not to design simple things things simply.

These doors are one of the first things our visiting clients encounter when they arrive, and one of the last things they use before they leave. In comparison with them, the self-flushing cisterns and soap dispensers in our on-site toilets are a miracle of modern technology.

All IBM buildings are badge-controlled for security. There are two ways to enter IBM Hursley from our Main Reception. The first question is: which set of doors to choose?

ReceptionArrows

There is a pair of doors to either side of the welcome desk. The receptionist or your IBM host can tell you which pair to choose, I suppose – though some visitors are from other IBM sites, and they do not need to “sign in” or speak to the receptionists. (You should do, even if just to say hello – they’re lovely. Not everyone does, but people are strange.)

Perhaps you decide to try and to work it out for yourself.

Reception doors

   More doors

When you approach your chosen set of doors, you’ll find there is some documentation:

  • Policy rules about having to wear a badge, and having to use your ID card in the door’s badge reader.
  • An image on the badge reader showing you how to orient your magstripe.
  • A red PUSH printed into the upper part of a long metal handle that looks like it’s designed to pull.
  • But there are also two metal plates (which stop the door swinging beyond the frame) that look like push plates.
  • And finally, because the latch tends to stick and you therefore need to “rattle” the door a bit to disengage it, there’s a further sign in a different font that tells you to “PULL and then PUSH door” with a sad little coda that says “thank you.”

DoorCloseUpArrows

Now you’ve decided which order to read these signs in, and chosen which of the two doors to use. You may have a confusing moment if someone comes through one of the doors, because they’re designed as unique “in” and “out” doors, like those for a restaurant kitchen. And depending whether you choose the left pair or the right pair, the “in” door is different. 

Once you get through the door, you’ll find yourself in a through corridor – and realise that it didn’t matter which pair of doors you chose, because both sets lead in here.

Corridor

On your way out, you will probably remember that it doesn’t matter which doors you choose for leaving the building. Unless you forget, or you came into the building via a different route. There’s no clear indication that these doors lead to Reception and the exit. Perhaps you’ll recognise the distinctive furniture through the non-opaque parts of the door.

But even if you do remember, the way you get out through the same pair of doors is different from the way you get in. That’s because you don’t need badge access to get into Reception, and so the sequence is:

  • Press a button, and wait for the light to go green
  • Choose the correct door, rattle the handle, and then push.

The way out

It will reassure you to know that this design was not the handiwork of the IBM documentation teams responsible for products, nor were the doors designed by IBM. Now that they are installed, it’s admittedly a bit harder to redesign and replace the doors. And perhaps those of us who have worked at IBM Hursley for a while have simply got used to them.

But then perhaps we’d assume that people would get used to knowing how to use stairs. Which is where this blog post started. And that’s even before we take into account that not everyone finds it easy to use stairs. 

Ref: http://blog.globalstreetart.com/post/56326649910/for-some-people-stairs-are-mountains-a-very

Source: Global Street Art Blog

June 24, 2011

Put in my place

Filed under: Grumbling — Peter A @ 6:45 pm

I know my place. These are the top search results used by people coming to this blog.  I’m not sure whether I should be so amused that more people come here looking for pixie-faced Russian minstrel Alexander Rybak than for, well, me. But I suppose I’ve never won the Eurovision Song Contest for Norway, so why am I grumbling?

And at least I’m ahead of Richard Hurndall. Who, in turn, is ahead of all the other Doctors. Even the Morbius Doctors beat them. They’re really the Doctor, you know. Oh yes they are — go and read my post about it.

PS: I realise that this post is not exactly going to improve my stats, is it?

June 16, 2010

Fry’s jerkish delight

Filed under: drwho,Grumbling — Peter A @ 8:18 pm

I was going to post something about Stephen Fry’s odd assertion about Doctor Who being a drama for children not adults. It seemed like an odd knee-jerk reaction unsupported by viewing demographics and scheduling.

And then I was delighted to see someone had already blogged a much better response: http://scyfilove.com/2528/stephen-fry-is-wrong-doctor-who-is-for-everyone/

June 18 update: Stephen Fry tweeted:
“Phew! Me delivering The Annual #TVLecture @bafta http://bit.ly/TVLecture – proof I never called Dr Who infantile or childish 😉 ”

January 15, 2010

Patently obvious

Filed under: Articles,Grumbling,IBM,press — Peter A @ 9:25 pm

Last year, IBM published one of my inventions and another where I was a co-inventor. I was quite pleased, even though they were published, not patented. Then I saw a churlish article in The Register about IBM’s patents — prompting this grumbly personal blog response.

In 2009, the US Patent and Trademarks Office granted IBM more patents than any other company in the world. This was the 17th straight year  that’s happened, though it didn’t stop The Register‘s Gavin Clarke reporting this as “each year for nearly a decade”. (The IBM press release makes this obvious to most of… er… the press.)

Mind you, some of The Register’s other calculations were inaccurate too. And I think they missed a more interesting analysis of  the figures that they were handed on a plate by the various source documents.

For example, The Register claims that a company called Hon Hai Precision grew fastest on USPTO patent awards, but then refers to a table of data that shows Hon Hai was up 39% year-to-year whereas Microsoft was up 43%.

When Gavin’s article was first published earlier this week, it also asserted: “the number of patents granted to Microsoft  almost doubled, growing 43 per cent over 2008 to hit 2,903.” Wouldn’t “almost doubled” be “almost 100%”? And even doubling their impressive 2008 haul would still have kept Microsoft in second place to IBM in 2009. [Subsequently, this calculation gaffe has been quietly removed from the article.]

On trends, the article says: “if IBM and Microsoft continue at the same pace, Microsoft should slide into the number-two spot behind IBM. Then it’s just a matter of time and filings before Microsoft deposes IBM at the top.”  It fails to make a connection with another observation in the article that “the size of portfolio is the currency that you use to trade to another company”.

So how many years on current trends will it be before Microsoft amasses the same amount of total patent “currency” as IBM, Samsung, Canon, Sony or others? Especially as some new patents derive from that existing  intellectual property, and those other companies have been amassing thousands every year for many years… in IBM’s case, for decades. Maybe that’s why in 2003 Microsoft hired Marshall Phelps, the former IBMer who Newsweek said turned IBM’s patent portfolio into a $2 billion business.

In addition, Gavin snorts: “There you have it fanbois: Those who think IBM walks on water because of the patents and IP its generously given to Linux and open-source, the mask as finally slipped. Patents to IBM are a currency it uses to get what it wants.”

But why can’t companies — IBM or otherwise — do different things for different kinds of patents? And if the article’s questioning IBM’s accumulation of intellectual “currency”, perhaps it could have admitted something else made plain in the press release: IBM also had nearly 4,000 additional technical inventions in 2009, but published them directly instead of seeking patent protection, thereby making the inventions freely available to others in a public database of prior art. Including mine. Fly, my pretties, fly!

Companies like IBM, Samsung, Canon, Sony and (increasingly) Microsoft have a big portfolio of existing patents on which they can develop new intellectual property; and IBM also freely publishes thousands of new technical inventions that others can build on.  There you have it, fanbois.

I suppose  journalists prefer to write a story about “the Beast of Redmond breathing down everyone’s necks” or “Big Blue’s mask finally slips after nearly a decade”. (Or is it 17 years? Let me check that press release again.)   And that’s easier to do if you get the basic maths wrong, selectively quote the data, and if you don’t bother with much real analysis of the underlying trends. That much is patently obvious.

January 9, 2010

EDF WTF?

Filed under: Grumbling,usability — Peter A @ 7:47 pm

If you add together the number of different UK tariffs for gas, electric, and mobile phones, you get a number greater than the atoms in the known universe. It took a while for me just to decode one of them, based on a letter from EDF describing changes to my “dual fuel deal”. Their explanatory leaflet is called “Everything you need to know about the changes to our discount structure”. What it gains from clear English it loses with incomplete detail.

Looks to me that the changes benefit EDF’s larger consumers at the expense of their smaller consumers.

The explanatory leaflet provides a couple of optimistic examples, and describes the changes in general terms based on “a typical customer”. But what does it really mean for their consumers? Well, let’s use the figures that EDF define as “a typical customer”. (There is some maths involved, but don’t panic, I won’t be setting a test this semester.)

At first glance, it looks like EDF hoiked their prices by an eye-watering 32%. Before VAT, the gas charge increases from 14.18p per kWh to 18.67p. Electricity increases from 5.3p per kWh to 7.0p.

Then you notice they have one rate for the first lot of gas/electric you use each quarter, and a different rate (about half) for anything after that. So they’ve raised the former by nearly a third, but left the latter unchanged. And to add to the confusion, they have also changed two other discounts:

  • Instead of a flat monthly discount for direct debit payments, they give a 6% discount on your quarterly bill
  • They have slashed the “duel fuel” discount by two thirds

The figures that EDF define as a typical customer are “3,300kWh of electricity and 20,500kWh of gas a year”. And the tariff rates before VAT are:

ELECTRICITY:

  • First 225kWhs per quarter = 18.67p (was 14.18p in 2009)
  • All other kWhs = 10.50p (unchanged)

GAS:

  • First 670kWhs per quarter = 7.000p (was 5.300p in 2009)
  • All other kWhs = 3.056p (unchanged)

DIRECT DEBIT

  • Discount 6% of the total bill (was a flat saving of £24 per year in 2009)

DUAL FUEL

  • Discount £8 a year (was £24 per year in 2009)

Here’s how it works out for a standard user. I’ve made the reasonable assumption that in every quarter the average consumer uses at least 225kWhs electricity (3,300/4) and at least 670kWhs gas (20.500/4), even in summer; and that total usage remains the same year-to-year, for the purpose of comparison.

The effect on the average consumer of the changes to EDF’s discount structure is an increase of 5.58% (well above UK inflation).

But someone using half the average sees their bill increase by a whopping 16.18%:


Whereas someone using half as much again as the average sees their bill increase by only 1.84%:

In fact, if you used twice the average, your annual bill would be slightly lower in 2010 than it was in 2009!

Obviously, if customers reduce their use of gas and electricity year-to-year, they will reduce the actual amount they have to pay during 2010. But the rewards for doing that are not equal across their customer base. And with such a cold winter, I think most people will be using more fuel this year anyway.

In short:

  • EDF’s changes appear to penalise their smaller (or more prudent) customers more than their larger (or more profligate) customers, whether customers try to reduce consumption or not
  • Most customers are unlikely to work this out from the information provided by EDF.
  • If it’s as complex and confusing as this for changes to just one tariff for just one supplier, how effective is market competition really?
ELECTRICITY
10.64%

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