Friday, 7 August 2009

Battling with bad websites is bad for the soul

Having recently managed to install drivers and a scanning utility for the Canon Pixma MP190 multi-function printer on a standard Xandros Eee PC installation, I thought I'd do something far less challenging - book some tickets online. The website in question shall remain nameless for the moment. I hope to speak to the person indirectly responsible for it on Monday and feel I should give him time to react.

From the telephone conversations I've had today what's absolutely clear is that the people directly responsible for the site don't really give a fig about its functioning or the impact it has on the customers who try and use it. Their reaction has been both ineffectual and insulting. They offer discounts to users who book online and then blame banks when the operation cannot be completed. What's more, they refuse to offer the same discounts over the phone, although they would appear to be using the same site to make the purchase on behalf of the hapless customer.

A quick pair of phonecalls to the bank indicated that no request reached them on either occasion that the purchase was attempted, so the messages which informed me that my bank had refused to process the request were both a slur on my bank as well as myself.

A quick Google around the Internet indicates that in July 2008 the same site was causing similar problems for at least one potential customer.

That's a whole twelve months they've had to sort out the site for a company which allegedly has a fifteen percent share of its market.

I await Monday's phonecalls with interest - though will obviously not be holding my breath.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

My Eee PC and I

I'm a total Linux newbie. Find it very difficult to even install a simple program. Windows gets you used to the luxury of double-clicking any file wherever you find it - and installing it wherever you need it.

Even so, to the basic Xandros installation I've managed to install advanced desktop mode, a Hayes modem, and - latterly (yesterday, in fact) - a Canon Pixma MP190 printer. As is always the case in my case, I very rarely remember exactly how I manage to do these things - nevertheless, I tell you today just so you know that all these things are possible. I'm still battling with the Canon, mind - need to install a scanner utility so I can take advantage of this feature. But I'm sure that with the help of dear Mr Google, the multiple online communities that are out there and a bit of my own common sense ... well, all this will be possible.

I stumbled across the following site the other day - One-click install is the promise. Doesn't work as yet - but I'll keep you all posted. (Seems to be the Holy Grail of Linux, does that.)

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

How tools become redundant

Word was designed to produce perfect documents on paper. Latterly, we write more and more for the web. A company which has based its reason-to-be on such a product is vulnerable to such change. More on this subject here and here.

As a taster for the latter link, the below shows just how awful working with Word can be in a world of email and multiple authors:
* People sometimes forget to attach the document to their email.
* The document can be too large—especially long documents with lots of images—and can clog up the email server.
* Nobody knows what edits were made and by whom. Sure, you can turn "Track Changes" on, but as it transforms your document into a horrible illegible mess, most people very quickly turn it off again.
* Nobody has any idea which is the most recent version of the document. This leads to amusing email flame wars where people insist that you adopt version control for your file names, which nobody ever does because they are too busy arguing about what the syntax should be. Even if you do manage to get version control, you are still never sure if you have the most recent version.
* People save the document in some directory on their hard drive and then forget where it is. The usual solution to this is to email the author again and ask them to resend it.
* People miss the email (usually because there are far too many emails in a day) and claim to have never received the document in the first place.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Communicating with the progressive left (or ideas instead of smears)

Andrew continues to develop some fascinating ideas here. As is currently showing us, "ideas instead of smears" is not only a laudable idea but an achievable goal. If we wish to develop politics properly, we need to understand the word "opposition" in a different way. We must learn to engage productively with as well as continue to battle figuratively against our "enemies". Knowing how to speak constructively to those we would prefer not to triumph is a skill we must acquire.

It requires adult behaviours - a childlike rather than childish imagination too; and, more importantly, for us to recover a long-lost sincerity of purpose.

We must learn again to be curious and innocent children of hope.