Friday, May 26, 2006

Aborted take-off

My excitement for today consisted of an aborted take-off at Canberra Airport. As we accelerated down the runway the pilot throttled the engines back, announcing that one of the engines on our 737-400 had failed.

Qantas did a good job of re-routing the passengers via Sydney so I got back to Brisbane just a few hours late.

In the many hundreds of flights I've taken this is the first aborted take-off I've experienced although I've had a few aborted landings. I'm certainly glad the engine died when it did and not few seconds later when it would have been too late to abort. That really would have been exciting!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Security vs usability

One of the challenges in designing security into systems is to maintain usability. the only way to make a system completely secure is to make it completely unusable, so you need to think carefully about the trade-offs.

This is true not only of information systems but of real world systems too. For example, we can stop people from being killed on the highways by mechanically limiting all vehicles to a top speed of five miles per hour (although I suspect that some idiot somewhere would find a way to kill someone - the world may one day run out of oil, but it will never run out of stupidity).

I experienced an excellent example of this recently when I was updated my credit card details with an ISP. I entered my name, the expiry date and card number and then got back a message something like this:

Please confirm the details you have entered are correct

Name: Dan Hill
Expiry Date: 11/11
Card Number: *****************1111

You'll probably recognise showing only the last four digits of the credit card as a widely implemented security design, so at one level the designer thought that he or she was doing the right thing. But at another level this is so totally clueless.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Shut up Jason!

Despite the fact that the footy season is now well under way, I haven't blogged the Brisbane Lions in a few weeks. That's mostly because they've been playing like a pack of girls people who aren't men, but also because I don't particularly like the way the game is going in response to this year's rule changes. It's meant to be a game of physical contests, not a game of 'keepings-off'. In fact I've been so disgusted that last week I didn't attend the game against Sydney, the first time in over ten years that's happened when I've been in Brisbane (including the miserable years of 1993, '94 and '98 when they barely ever won).

On Saturday the Lions were a completely different outfit, playing hard, physical, committed and skillful football. Jonathan Brown proved once again what a superstar he is, our other senior players performed to their ability and our young guns showed some real potential and more importantly poise.

The only downside was the absence of Jason Akermanis. Less than a year ago he played what many commentators acknowledged as the perfect game and I was lucky enough to be there to see it (and blog it for you dear reader). "Aka" has been a little down on form this season, but still quite handy, but his big mouth has gotten him into trouble one time to many and so the coach dropped him to the reserves.

How did Jason react? Well he stepped up and played a solid game in the "twos", but of course he couldn't keep his mouth shut for long.

I'm with the coach on this one. No one is bigger than the team. So a few words of advice Aka. Let your football do the talking from now on and shut the hell up!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Meaningless error messages

As an IT professional, one thing I hate is meaningless error messages. Check out this post from Seth Godin on his experience using the NY DOT's web site.

The developer has made a major mistake in allowing an internal database error message to be displayed to the user rather than writing a few lines of code to catch the error and display something more meaningful to the user, which in this case would be: "the phone number you have entered is in the wrong format".

How does this happen? My guess is that somewhere in this organisation is a pointy-haired boss whose idea of getting the project on track is to start writing code as soon as possible. So instead of thinking about things like "what errors could happen and what (meaningful) message should I display to the user when they do," everyone just rushed off to write code.

In this case it's even worse, because with a little thought up front, the error could have been prevented. All it would have taken is a small prompt to tell the user what format to use. As someone who works all over the world I particularly hate this with dates where September 11 2001 can be written 9/11/01, 11/9/01 or 01/09/11 when all it takes is a label next to the date entry box to tell me DDMMYY or YYMMDD or whatever.

As I said in a recent post, crap is still everywhere.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

It's still everywhere

Crap that is. Despite all the wonder's of the modern world.

I was sitting on a plane when this was revealed to me. Trying to fold down the tray table without it catching on the laminated safety card. I realised that it was like this on every plane I'd every been on.

Why on earth don't they make the pockets a quarter of an inch lower, or easier still make the card a little shorter so this doesn't happen? It's obvious and basically costless (Ok not to change it on existing seats, but to make it different on new ones).

Unfortunately, despite all the management guru blather about excellence, nine times out of ten mediocrity actually does cut it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Breakfast in Canberra

If you're in Canberra and looking for somewhere for breakfast, check out Milk and Honey. It's in Bunda St, next door to Gus's Cafe.

For 13 Australian Dollars (about $10 US, and that includes tax and there's no tipping - yeh) I got an excellent cappucino and the biggest and best fruit platter I think I've ever had (but I still miss the sliced mango I used to get every morning when I was working in Manila, Philippines). A major improvement on a very ordinary buffet breakfast at the Crown Plaza hotel for twice the price.