Archive for the 'Rants complaints' Category

Usability atrocities – ParentPay

ParentPay is, according to its Twitter profile “the market leading online payment & dinner money management solution for schools and caterers, used by hundreds of thousands of parents each week.”

It’s quite a good idea – I load up the account by credit card and, as my daughter buys lunch, the account reduces and I get an itemised bill so I can ensure she’s getting her five a day.

The school are supposed to tell her when her account drops below £5, and she’s supposed to inform me. Somewhere in this chain that involves a computer system, harassed dinnerladies and the legendary communication skills of a twelve year old girl, the system breaks down. Therefore, I rarely find out that funds are low until I receive an accusing text at 8.30 am, or on her arrival home when she tasmanian-devils through the family food supplies because she couldn’t afford lunch.

This morning I had just such an SOS text so went to the website. As usual, I’d forgotten my login details (I really want to use my email address instead of choose a username so it’s less to remember). The password reset showed me a splendidly helpful error message:

Server-specific error message in web page

Showing techy error messages saying “server errors in ‘/AUTH’ application” and a handy snippet of XML is unlikely to assist a user. However, showing error messages that can identify a specific server technology is of tremendous use to hackers – they know which server and potentially which version number to target.

After 20 minutes trying different username and password combos, I got into the system and made my payment – puzzlingly, to an organisation called “Alliance in Partnership”, on a website called “ParentPay”. Eh? Alliance in Partnership sounds like some barking rightwing thinktank. But I persevere.

I then verified my transaction via the pseudo-security of Verified by Visa (or its equivalent, Mugged by Mastercard), which is heavily JavaScript-reliant and which reportedly can’t be used on some mobile phones. (This isn’t a criticism of ParentPay, by the way: it’s a cunning ruse by the banks to dodge responsibility.)

I want to like ParentPay. I think it’s a good idea and I hope they succeed. But they need to think more about their customers’ experience. Here’s one tip that would make my life slightly easier.

I know that such a thing is currently beyond human ingenuity and no technology exists that could power such a marvel, but perhaps ParentPay may consider a system that emails me automatically when the account drops below a certain threshold, thereby guaranteeing an uninterrupted supply of bratfuel?

Added 12.30pm

Someone from ParentPay contacted me and said, with admirable politeness, that there actually is such an alert facility but only available at some schools and, once checking that my daughter’s school does offer such a facility, showed me how to set it up.

It’s not easy to find (on the page that tells your balance there is the opportunity to sign up for paid SMS alerts, but no option for emails so I assumed it doesn’t exist), but after verifying my email address I am now signed up.

So I beg ParentPay’s pardon is assuming there isn’t such a system, but suggest that they make it more obvious – I think I’m pretty web savvy and couldn’t find it.

And, in answer to other queries I’ve received, once topped up with money, their system has been flawless over the last 10 months.

Disabled people working for less than minimum wage

One of the New! Improved! caring-sharing-Tories™, Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, has called for the minimum wage to be relaxed so that people with disabilities can work for less than the minimum wage.

Naturally, because he’s caring-and-sharing, he only has those people’s best interests at heart:

My concern about it is it prevents those people from being given the opportunity to get the first rung on the employment ladder.

But he’s not just caring-and-sharing. He’s also a True Blue Tory who lives in The Real World of laisez-faire economics:

The point is that if an employer is considering two candidates, one who has disabilities and one who does not, and if they have to pay them both the same rate, which is the employer more likely to take on? Whether that is right or wrong and whether my hon. Friend would or would not do that, that is to me the real world in which we operate.

(Full speech in Hansard)

Rather stupidly, I had assumed that the role of Members of Parliament was to enact legislation that protected the vulnerable by promoting equality, redistributing wealth from the very rich to the disadvantaged and ensure that people aren’t exploited in the workplace.

I realise now that, because inequality and exploitation exists in the real world, we should accept it and encourage it by exempting groups of people from laws designed to protect them.

So let’s have an army of ultra-low paid people doing menial tasks without legal protection of any sort. In the capitalist real world, there is no need to price those people out of the market with statutory maximum working hours, or the requirement for safety equipment as they go down mines or up chimneys.

The disabed are analagous to former prisoners, says Mr Davis:

The only way the former prisoner would be given a chance by the employer is if the employer was able to say, “I’ll give you a smaller amount for a certain period of time and we’ll see how it goes. If you prove yourself, I’ll move you up.”

From his voting record, I see that Mr Davis voted against equal gay rights, presumably so we can have minimum wage-exempt homosexuals staffing up hairdressing salons or kd lang tribute acts. I’m surprised that he voted for a stricter asylum system, given the opportunity it gives us to import squadrons of highly-trained professionals from war-torn areas of the world who could work as doctors for £3 an hour in the cash-strapped NHS.

Mr Davis believes criticism of his remarks is “leftwing hysteria”.

I’m not hysterical at all. In fact, if Mr Davis would care to attend my kickboxing class next Saturday, I will kick his arse for 60 minutes and not invoice him £5.93 for that hour at all. As someone with a disability (multiple sclerosis), I’ll happily do it for free. To prove myself.

You want HTML5 funky dirty native, don’t you?

Made by someone commenting in Haavard Moen’s post about the announcement of "native HTML5", this video does NOT represent Opera’s official position, but it did make me laugh. Personally, I like "native HTML5". It’s important that it not be tainted with our "modern ways", but preserved for diversity reasons (thx @stommepoes!).

Microsoft announces an important innovation.

Official interview with me about Native HTML5.

Startup Britain!

We live in economically uncertain times. The Keynsian nonsense of the State ensuring crade-to-the-grave social care for its citizens, providing and maintaining an infrastructure so the country can function, and other socialist claptrap is discredited.

The way to economic prosperity is for entrepreneurs – like you! – to start up businesses, make a fortune and trickle down all over everyone else.

Fortunately, for the self-starter – like you! -who can’t be arsed to get up and do some research, there is a new website to help you on your path. Like the cartoon God in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, David Cameron’s disembodied head gazes down at you from his celestial home, squinting inspiration at you. And as if that were not energising enough, there’s a picture of Richard Branson doing his best double-thumbs-up orgasm face.

This fabulous resource is

Designed to celebrate, inspire and accelerate enterprise in the UK, it has the full backing of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and HM Government. This is a response from the private sector to the Government’s call for an ‘enterprise-led’ recovery. We believe that many of the important functions and services necessary to foster and champion new enterprise can be open-sourced, instead of provided by government directly.

Hopefully you are by now inspired and accelerated?

There are, sadly, defeatists who cling to the old politics of envy and deface such rallying cries:

trickle-down economics? Head in the bloody clouds

Kettle them all. They’ll be moaning about the Royal Wedding next.

Snakeoil, local government, accessibility and HTML5

As we’ve seen from the £585 icon fiasco, in which Reading Room charged the Information Commissioner’s Office a large sum for a 32-by-32 pixel favicon, the public sector is a credulous and top-heavy environment in which to develop websites. (Disclosure: I once had to maintain some code by that agency.)

In the public sector, many websites sit in parts of the organisation that are managed by people who don’t really understand the Web. They may be Marcomms folks, used to traditional media, or IT Directors who are comfortable with Service Level Agreements, purchasing Enterprise-level software. But both breeds of manager are fair game to be frightened witless by the requirements to have accessible web sites.

There is a website monitoring and compliance tool that’s very popular with local government and public sector managers, as it does a battery of automated tests, marks websites as passing or failing. (See Gez Lemon’s old-but-gold Testing Invalid Content with Accessibility Validators to see why this might be more of a box-ticking exercise than a useful approach.)

The monitoring tool is less popular with the web people who actually do the work as the compliance reports and league tables that the vendor produces often require coding for the tool rather than for accessibility or best practices.

A correspondent writes that the tool didn’t properly score her HTML5 pages and had the following email exchange with the tool vendor.

Nice lady:

The issue seems to be because we are using the HTML5 doctype on our site. All of the checks being performed seem to be trying to validate us as HTML4 – which is wrong.

Snakeoil salesman:

HTML 5, as a ratified standard, does not yet exist so there is only the initial draft proposal to work to, so as yet we have not started work on testing HTML 5. (See answer below about timings on using HTML 5.)

Nice lady:

The HTML5 syntax is much more relaxed and allows for a combination of HTML4 and XHTML standards. So errors being produced for things such as wrongly using self-closing tags are false.

Snakeoil salesman:

We do not believe this to be correct, even for HTML 5.

Nice lady:

HTML5 is new – but the doctype is fully supported and recognised by all browsers.

Snakeoil salesman:

This is incorrect. HTML 5 does not yet have a “doctype” (as a method of signifying the document type). No browsers at all implement the HTML 5 document parsing method as far as we are aware.

Nice lady:

Developers are being encouraged to use HTML5 as the best way to ensure your pages will last a ‘long, long time’.

Snakeoil salesman:

We are not aware of anyone that is encouraging people to use it, but if it is true that someone is then they are misguided and mistaken.

Here are advisories from the head of the W3C team working the HTML 5 spec from early October 2010.
W3C: Hold off on deploying HTML5 in websites &helip;

And in terms of ensuring pages last a long time HTML 5 parsers are backwards compatible with HTML 4 in any event, so documents written today in HTML 4 will last at least as long as HTML 5 documents, with the added advantage that they are actually supported by existing browsers.

For these reasons we do not currently support HTML 5 and have no plans to do so in the immediate future.

So if you would like to use any of the new HTML5 elements, canvas or multimedia or ARIA to aid accessibility, just make sure that your boss doesn’t pay money for Snakeoil Monthly report.

CSS 2.1 “not ready for use” says journalist

In a further devastating blow to the Web industry, a man on Twitter said that CSS 2.1 is “still not final”, although some irresponsible developers are already using it.

“CSS 2.1 suffers from severe interoperability problems”, said an excitable person. “If you set the height of a box, older browsers will nevertheless allow that box to grow to the height of its contents. This is disastrous to the credibility of these so-called ‘Stylish sheets'”.

“There is absolutely no way that CSS 2.1 can be used in production,” thundered a woman from behind a FrontPage CD. “There’s not even reliable cross-browser support for list-style-type: armenian!” (Test).

“It’s a scandal!” said a journalist who once saw a mildly pornographic image on a computer. “It shows that social networking, when combined with CSS, causes cancer and moral decline.”

Shares in office furniture manufacturing firms rocketed as IT Directors spontaneously and simultaneously evacuated themselves on learning that CSS 2.1 is still in development and not yet a full standard.

“The CSS 2.1 spec may not be finished until next Thursday, or even later” a bewildered-looking man with spectacles said breathlessly, clutching newly-purchased trousers tightly to his chest.

“We’ll have to go back to tables and spacer GIFs until further notice!” he continued while wheeling a chair out of Ikea and putting on a tinfoil hat.

Rant: HTML5 != CSS 3

Trying out my new Ranting Hat, a present from Japan from Nedjma. Please note that rants are just that, and not necessarily eloquent or factual. (And I know that Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman are not the only two social liberals in the USA; I’ve actually met the other three.)

Oh, and do I have to say that this is a joke, is personal and nothing to do with my lovely employers at Opera? Unfortunately, I probably do.

(I’ll transcribe it when I’m not so tired)
Transcription thanks to the splendid Karen Mardahl, follow her at @stcaccess.

Writing cross-browser, future-proof CSS 3

Here’s a quick tutorial (actually, rant) that came out of an aside I mentioned when doing my talk for Future of Web Design two weeks ago.

It came about when I was using the IE9 preview to test some sites. I noticed that a site that boasts rounded corners didn’t appear to have them in IE9, even though IE9 allegedly has border-radius support.

“Silly IE9”, I thought.

Wrong. Silly developer.

The difference between a pro developer and a wannabe is that the pro developer makes sites that are cross-browser and, as far as possible, future-proof. By contrast, the wannabe assumes that everyone is the same as him and therefore if the site works on the browsers he uses, that’s enough.

Our wannabe developer’s code looked like this

-moz-border-radius: 6px;
-webkit-border-radius: 6px;

By using only vendor prefixes, the wannabe developer ensures that this nice part of the design will only work on those browsers.

A pro, however, cares about his client so doesn’t leave them with a site that will need changing later. A pro cares enough about his site’s users to give the design to their browser and let it do with it as it will.


Simply by adding the non-prefixed cross-browser version of the property, he can add border-radius support for IE9 now, Opera now and any new browser that comes along in the future:

-moz-border-radius: 6px;
-webkit-border-radius: 6px;
border-radius: 6px;

In the above example, border-radius is pretty mature, so IE and Opera jumped straight to using the standard prefix-less property, but other fancy CSS 3 properties are implemented only with vendor prefixes at the moment. Note I said “at the moment”; in two years’ time, a new browser may consider that feature stable enough to implement without a vendor prefix and, because you’re a pro rather than a wannabe, you want to ensure your code works in 2 years time as well as today.

For maximum compatibility, I advise adding all vendor prefixes (I do it in alphabetical order to help me remember) plus the non-prefixed version.

So here’s a version that future-proofs and cross-browserifies™ CSS3 transforms:

-moz-transform: scale(1.6);
-ms-transform: scale(1.6);
-o-transform: scale(1.6);
-webkit-transform: scale(1.6);
transform: scale(1.6);

If, for example, IE adds support for the prefixless version, or uses the -webkit- version, you have one line—27 bytes—of redundancy. So what? And now your code works everywhere that has support, today and tomorrow.

And that’s how it should be.

I feel very strongly that using JavaScript to remove all that extra CSS away is a bad idea. Apart from the absurdity of using “20kb minified js to avoid 5kb ‘untidy’ CSS” (as one person commented about eCSStender), it’s ducking responsibility. If you as a developer choose to use experimental, pre-standardised code on a production site, then you need to live with the consequence of that choice. There’s no getting around it: experimental, pre-standardised code is susceptible to change. If the specification changes, you’ll need to change your CSS (which is easier to do if it isn’t being hidden away by some library).

See -o- vendor prefixed CSS supported in Opera 10.50, also Vendor-prefixed CSS Property Overview which compares vendor prefixes across browsers.


(Added Nov 2011)

Response to receiving an election leaflet from the British National Party

On Friday (St. George’s Day) I received an election leaflet from the British National Party. Here’s my video reponse, with transcription below.

Check out the YouTube comments. It’s like spEak You’re bRanes.

Happy St George’s Day. Today I received this leaflet from the BNP through my door. It offended me because my next door neighbour is a good friend; she’s a Birmingham-born muslim lady of Pakistani origin. She brings us round nice curries every time Ramadan ends and sends us Xmas cards and we do the same.

I myself am guilty of the grievous sin of miscegenation (marrying someone of a different “race”) as my wife is Asian. We have two appallingly off-white children, one of whom has just got into one of the best schools in England and will no doubt show how she’ll sponge of the state by doing well in her exams, getting a good job and paying lots of tax – abusing British hospitality thereby.

So I wondered what to do with this letter from the BNP. I thought about wiping my bottom with it but frankly it’s a little bit too glossy so all it would do is spread all the shit around, much like the BNP’s leaflet distributors. So follow me into my toilet where we’ll burn it.

Here we have the BNP’s leaflet on fire, and now I’m going to flush it down the pan where it belongs.

This has been a non-party political broadcast, on behalf of all the civilised and decent people in England, regardless of what country their parents came from, whatever religion they have or whatever their colour is.

Happy St George’s Day. Bye!

If you’re British, it’s not “awesome”

If you’re British, it’s not “awesome”. That’s an American word, like “sidewalk”, “gas” for petrol, “critter”, “varmint”, “tarnation” and “gotten” as the third form of the verb. Americans, you’re welcome to use them; they’re your words, but they are not English.

If you want knee-jerk circle-jerk response to mediocre design, the term is “Brendan Dawesome“.

If you want to express actual approbation for something, the English terms are “spiffing”, “top-hole”, “wizard” or “ticketyboo”.

Thank you. Bye.