flwyd: (dogcow moof!)
Colorado's online tax filing site used to be a super-ugly but oh-so-simple web 0.9 series of text fields with a submit button and some JavaScript to automatically calculate some stuff.

This year, they've rejiggered things to require Microsoft Silverlight, which is kinda like Flash except a lot fewer people have it installed. It's also completely unnecessary for providing a couple dozen numbers that you can still fill out via pen and paper. This change was also apparently expensive, because the page also says "Filing a return online is free, but if you want to pay any tax due online, a minimum portal administration fee will be added to your payment."

At best, only two thirds of Internet users have Silverlight installed. The ADA requires the state government to take all kinds of measures to accommodate disabilities that affect significantly less than 33% of the population, but apparently they're free to block access to their website for over a million Coloradans.

Beyond being a Flash wannabe with a focus on DRM video, what really annoys me about Silverlight is the EULA which states in section 2 "you may not… work around any technical limitations in the software." I refuse to give up the freedom to find an innovative solution for a program that doesn't work properly.

Yes, they've managed to make using their website so undesirable that I'm going to file my tax return on paper.
Look at me.  I want to use your website.  Now look at your website.  It says "You must install Microsoft Silverlight."  Now back to me.  I'm on a different website.

How Times Change

Monday, November 9th, 2009 11:34 am
flwyd: (dogcow moof!)
From a 1986 interview with Bill Gates for the book Programmers At Work:
Features are kind of crummy in a way, because the more features you have, the bigger the manual is. And features are only beneficial if people take the time to use them, whereas speed–if you can print the pages faster, or show it on the screen faster, or recalc it faster–that’s worth an incredible amount. If you can give the users a few simple commands and make the program efficient enough to do what they want with those few commands, then you’re much better off.

A decade later, Microsoft seemed to have abandoned this philosophy wholesale. They became synonymous with feature bloat (from my perspective, MS Office usability peaked in about 1997) and software that ran slower with every release. Gates has had one of the sharpest minds for the business of computing and presumably realized that features outsell performance, particularly in enterprise which is where the real money is.
flwyd: (farts sign - Norway)
The following is legal syntax in SQL Server 2005:
select * from my_table t where t.foo = 1

The following is not legal syntax in SQL Server 2005:
delete from my_table t where t.foo = 1

In this example, the table alias doesn't add anything, but it does in the following:
delete from my_table t1 where foo = 1 and not exists (select null from my_table t2 where t2.foo = 2 and t1.id = t2.id)

Table aliases are necessary to do same-table subselects and joins, and SQL Server will happily let you use them to find out what data you plan to delete, but not to actually delete that same data. I instead switched to
delete from my_table t1 where foo = 1 and id not in (select id from my_table t2 where t2.foo = 2)
which takes a really long time because it does the subselect for every row matching foo = 1.

If Microsoft's implementation of SQL were compared to Microsoft's implementations of JavaScript/DOM/CSS, I suspect the latter would have way more annoying quirks, but the former has way more annoying basic problems. The fact that my CD started skipping while sorting this out (and probably need to be returned to the store) adds to the general grumpiness of the moment.
flwyd: (mail.app)
Background: My company's email server runs MS Exchange. They won't turn on IMAP support, so the ways to access one's email are MS Outlook, Webmail, and programs written to read the (undocumented?) webmail format. As far as I can tell, Evolution is the only mail user agent which runs on Linux and can access (through a plugin) MS Exchange. Evolution's theme animal is the primate: its old logo had a monkey, it was originally called Ximian Evolution, some of its background processes are named bonobo, and so forth. Though not my favorite mail user interface, Evolution works reasonably well. The evolution-exchange plugin, on the other hand, has gone through several revisions of bugginess. A year or two ago it had a tendency to crash Evolution at random, but these days the main bug is the moderately annoying habit of re-downloading mail I've already seen when I launch Evolution. I've got to give the developers credit for creating something that's at least usable given the unsupported environment in which they're working, but all things being equal I'd rather not have this setup for my mail.

This morning, I came in a little after 8:30 and stepped through my new mail. One item in my inbox was spam, so I hit the Junk button in Evolution and moved on. A few hours later, I got an instant message that a coworker had sent me an email with a stack trace. I heard my "new mail" beep, but the message didn't show up in my inbox. I asked him to resend and the same thing happened. I looked at my inbox via webmail and saw the messages, but Evolution still had no clue, even after a restart.

After a morning of not getting email, I dug around in the files Evolution stores. I could see my new mail in the file on disk, but I couldn't see it in the application. I deleted the index, the metadata file, the summary. No help. Since Evolution was clearly copying data from Exchange to files on disk, I started investigating other clients I could use to read and send mail, planning to leave Evolution as a mail delivery agent. While Sylpheed and its offspring Claws looked promising, they seem to require the internal use the MH storage format and I didn't want to add an MBox to MH step to an already somewhat fragile mail setup. I installed Thunderbird and started setup for a mailspool account. But then the Thunderbird GUI seemed to hang while loading my spool (which only contains 147 cron messages), so I figured I'd give Evolution one more try.

I looked back in my Inbox mbox file and noticed that the junk mail I'd received this morning was still there. "Hmm... maybe Evolution just flags spam, but doesn't move it." I took a gander in my Junk folder and sure enough, there was all the email I received today. Select, mark as "not junk," and my mail was magically back to its correct place. I have no idea why everything got auto-filed as junk. Maybe there's a sticky flag bug. Maybe its small sample size made it think something like "From" was a spam word and everything with "From" in it should be marked junk. Regardless, I turned off junk mail scanning and sighed about a wasted afternoon.

The lesson for today: An infinite number of monkeys will eventually misplace your email.

P.S. I think I saw that the Exchange protocol will soon be (more?) open. I hope that will quickly lead to quality plugins for a great many email programs so that Evolution can fight for natural selection with more than the null set.

[ The Cube ]

Monday, March 19th, 2007 08:27 am
flwyd: (bug eyed earl)
Forum2000 may be long gone, but the wisdom of The Cube is available in handy image form. I have the image URL http://www.enweirdenment.org/cgi-bin/cube-notrans.gif on my start page so that I get a different quote each time I start a web browser. This morning's quote was:
I want a second career in prostitution. I'll call myself Microsoft and promise everything, but in the end I'll only go down, suck, and make you wonder if you got a virus.


Monday, January 8th, 2007 11:57 pm
flwyd: (Vigelandsparken goat stone)
The big excitement at work today was that Cedar's desk was very clean and organized, replete with desk organization devices. Eating dinner, some of us speculated on the reasons. Did he come in on the weekend to clean his desk? Did his wife make him do it? One person said "I think she might take issue with that." I responded "That wouldn't hurt very much; she wears Crocs." It was at least fifteen seconds before I realized the phrase was "take issue," not "take a shoe." But I think I like my version. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to spread the phrase

"I take a shoe with that." Complete with a menacing grab for your foot and a shake with your fist. Extra points if you wear mithril-spiked high heels.

It must be interesting to work on a project like writing MS Office for Windows XP. Not only would you find bugs in your project, you'll also find bugs in the operating system/core libraries. Unlike an end user who might blue screen once in a while, you'd encounter bugs that never get to market and have to be able to distinguish them from the bugs in Office that never get to market. And in an organization like Microsoft, you can't stick your head over the cubicle wall and find someone to fix your bug.

I wonder what percentage of the code in MS Office are workarounds for problems in other Microsoft products. I wonder what percentage are workarounds for problems which have since been fixed.

Update, day next: I meant Windows Vista, not XP, but Microsoft stopped naming their releases in sequential order so I can't keep track late at night.

Positive Logic

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006 05:14 pm
flwyd: (rush counterparts album cover)
Internet Explorer 7 recently showed up on a few servers at work which I access through Remote Desktop. Microsoft has had several years of feedback and development time since IE6 and their among their main foci were user experience and anti-phishing technology.

One of our internal web servers requires authentication (using windows domain security) and so runs under https so that passwords aren't sent in the clear. The certificate is assigned to the fully qualified host name, but the shortened host name resolves on our network and is easier to type. Visiting the internal name in Firefox pops up a dialog complaining that the certificate hostname and the URL don't match; if you hit OK (the default button) you view the page without further intervention. As I recall, this is also the behavior of Internet Explorer 6.

Internet Explorer 7's solution to the problem is to produce an HTML page stating "There is a problem with this website's security certificate. Security certicicate problems may indicate an attempt to fool you or intercept any data you send to the server. We recommend that you close this webpage and do not continue to this website." (Emphasis in original.)

It then has three icons with links. A green checkbox accompanies "Click here to close this webpage." A red X marks "Continue to this website (not recommended)." A down arrow in a circle says "More information," which will slide out some details but does not show any information specific to the security certificate.

This interface is really annoying. Never mind that they can't seem to settle on "webpage" vs. "website" terminology in the same option list. I'm begrudgingly okay with the fact that I can't see what's wrong with the certificate -- most users wouldn't know how to read the information. The problem is much more insidious:

Yes means stop.

Think about confirmation dialogs you encounter when you use a computer. "Are you sure you want to quit the application?" "The trash contains 42 items and 69 MB of disk space. Delete from system?" In just about any situation you can think of, "Yes" means "Yes, do exactly what I asked you."

Look at any GUI with a set of buttons. If there's a red circle with an X it probably means "Stop" or "Error." If it's an X not in a red circle, it probably means "Close." If there's a check mark icon, it probably means "This item is OK." Occasionally it will mean "Continue." Until IE7, I don't think I've ever seen an X icon that continues to the next step, and I know I've never seen a checkmark icon that closes a window.

Look at any country with traffic lights. A red light means stop. A green light means continue in the direction of your choice.

But in Internet Explorer land, a green check means "Don't do what I asked you to do. Close the window instead." And a red X means "I don't care about your security warning system, take me where I asked you to go." The justification for this nonstandard interface seems to be that "Yes" means "Yes, Microsoft daddy, this site is insecure and I'll stop using it" and "No" means "No, I'm smarter than you and I'll do what I feel like." But is this a good metaphor for user interaction?

Update 12/6/2006: From IE7 I hit a diagnostic JSP page on localhost, which spun for several minutes. It turns out all threads were busy, so I restarted the server. Since the connection was dropped, IE wanted to show me an error page. But first it had to alert me that a page was blocked because it was not in the Trusted Zone. The page? about:internet When I went to add it to the Trusted Zone (along with windowsupdate.com) it complained because it didn't start with https:// about: pages are implemented entirely in the browser; if there's a security problem with an about: page it's a browser bug, not something malicious in this internet I'm trying to find out about.

One of the axioms of security systems is that when operating securely is too annoying for legitimate users, they'll choose or find ways to operate inssecurely.
flwyd: (java logo)
If they wrapped Cleopatra in a rope matrix before the snakebite it would have been death by ASP.NET.

Someone should create an anti-MS framework called Dot Nyet.
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