Category Archives: Site design

Overall design (eg structure)

I hate relative time

As I’ve mentioned in passing before, I hate relative time on updates.

Twitter is the obvious one here. “About 8 hours ago”. “About 9 hours ago.” WTF use is that? Why not just tell me the time it happened, so I don’t have to mentally work it out?

It’s particularly useless if I want to compare the time of that Tweet to something outside Twitter.

Likewise the ABC Online News “4 hours 37 minutes ago” … jeez, just give me the publish time.

It’s doubly-annoying when presented on web pages, which may or may not get read immediately, and sometimes sit there for a while without being refreshed or updated. I come back half-an-hour later… “About 3 minutes ago”… oh really? When was that? 3 minutes before I last refreshed the page? Again, useless information.

The annoying thing is some programmer has actually jumped through hoops to display the time like this.

PLEASE, just give me the option of showing the ACTUAL time, not the relative time.

Now, does anybody know of a good Windows Twitter client that will show me actual times?

(OK, some people on Twitter reckoned Tweetdeck is one to try.)

ANZ computerised banking is user-hostile

I have an ANZ Bank account. Using their website to pay bills is an exercise in frustration. I only have one account, but the website insists on me picking it out of a dropdown with two entries – the first one, the default, instructing me to pick an account. Failure to do so results in an error – “Please choose a From Account.” I only have ONE! Assume that’s where I want to pay from! Then one must pick who to pay, with an option to pick previous billers from a drop-down list. If you pick from the dropdown without JavaScript enabled, you get the error “Please select a biller from the drop-down list or enter a biller code.” – with JavaScript it fills in a few fields for you, but why does it even need you to fill those fields in if you’ve picked your biller already? Fill them in when I click the “I’m done” button!

Finally, we come to a bugbear I have with ANZ currency fields. You can’t enter a dollar amount, it has to include a decimal point with two following cents; they can’t infer from a lack of a decimal point you’re talking about a dollar amount. They enforce this rule on their website, and they insist that at an ATM you enter the number of cents you wish to withdraw from the ATM. Given the smallest unit of currency available from an ATM is $20, what is wrong with this picture?

Real Estate Websites Suck: Part 3

So I’m receiving emails, and discover that I’m getting the same thing twice from realestateview; I wonder if they’re duplicates, or there’s overlap, or what. The emails I’m getting don’t tell me what the search criteria that generated them are, but does tell me that

The following recently listed properties match your search criteria.

whatever they are. Helpfully, instructions for changing a search are included:

To change your search, first de-activate your membership using the link above, then go to the Property Search Page to re-enter your new search.

You’re kidding, right? Delete the search, whatever it is because it’s some kind of secret, and then recreate it from the secret search criteria? How the freak is that easy to use? Not only that, when you “deactive my membership”, it’s not clear if just that email-search-thing or all of them will be turned off. Dare I try? Have I anything to lose? I dare, and I try, and it doesn’t tell me what the freak I just did, but it does tell me that it worked.

What moron designed this system?

Real Estate Websites Suck: Part 2

Everytime, every single time I’ve tried to use Real Estate Websites for real-world stuff they come up short.

Searching, the basic function of the Real Estate Website, just doesn’t work.

I want to buy a house in a suburb. Not a unit, not a duplex, not an apartment.

So I search for houses, and blocks of land. And included in the result set is a semi-detached home. How the hell am I meant to bulldoze one of those? Is this ability to call a semi-detached house a free-standing house unique to only one website?

One site, Domain, doesn’t let you specify that you don’t want semis, so, of a fashion they can be excused. Except they’re missing a feature the other sites give you. So, Domain sucks.

The other two sites, RealEstateView and both suck because they include properties I specifically told them to exclude. “Oh,” I hear you say, “it’s not their fault. The agent put in dud data.” This would be an excuse if the listing fees were a few bucks. But for hundreds of dollars, they can afford to have someone on minimum wage spend a few minutes sanity checking each listing, or they can have text matching algorithms running over the listing looking for words like “detached” and flagging that entry for review because “house” listings ought not include the word “detached”. For example. Or, heaven forbid, allow the users of the site to report misleading listings for subsequent correction. That would be nice. No more million dollar homes turning up in my sub-$600K search.

Part 1 of this (rather long) series of rants was sent to all three websites. None responded, other than with auto-responders. They all suck so much!

Real Estate Websites Suck: Part 1

Oh God, Real Estate Websites Suck harder than an Electrolux. One little thing after another, they just suck. Today’s example: Search. Senario: I’ve decided to move closer to Daniel, so I want to live in a particular street in a particular suburb.

I went to, and that worked, of a fashion. I searched for a keyword (the street name) for my desired suburb. No results. Which is fine, it’s a big place and a small street. But how to stay on top of the market – I know, get emailed when a new property turns up. Unfortunately, if there are no results you can’t get emailed in the future. If you get no hits, rather than being offered the chance to be told about this stuff when it comes up, you get told to search again. EBay deals with this problem just fine; you get to save the search and get emails if anything shows up. RealEstateView doesn’t.

I thought I’d outsmarted the website. I signed up for a search that did succeed, with an intention of editing it. I got the email, it said

If you did not request, or do not want, a membership in the
ViewALERT email system, please accept our apologies and
ignore this message. You will be able to de-activate your
membership by clicking the de-activation link on your first
ViewALERT email.

Great, so I can’t edit the search until the search finds something new. Garh!

Defeated, I moved on to:
Which failed horribly. I couldn’t even do a keyword search. Can’t limit my searches to a single street.

I could get it to email me alerts, with the same crude search terms as on their website (price, bedrooms, suburb). The confirmation email included my username and password. Great. Ten years we’ve been doing this shit, we’ve managed to figure out that’s not how confirmation emails ought to be done, you’re meant to email a link – click on it and it’s clear you’re a human. But no, here’s your details in cleartext. What dickheads.


Same problem.

The Project

I started The Project primarily so I could learn PHP. I’ve been using ASP (classic and .Net) for a while now, but wanted to try another web development language, preferably one that would be compatible with my dirt cheap web hosting. The way I envisaged it, it would be straight HTML/CSS, no fancy AJAX, using PHP and database lookups.

For development, I set up a Virtual PC with Win2K on it (quickest, best, easiest basic Windows version I had an unused licence for) and put IIS and PHP and MySQL on it. All reasonably easy. For database admin I put on PhpMyAdmin; it’s what runs on my web ISP, and is reasonably easy to use. For the IDE I looked around at Zend and some of the other paid tools, but decided to try DevPHP, a freeware thing, until I figured out if this project was going to fly.

It was all going well until I wanted to do some mod_rewrite fiddling with .htaccess. There are a few things around the place that purport to make mod_rewrite (or an approximation of it) work in IIS, but nothing seemed to do it well. In a fit of rage I ended up removing IIS and going the whole hog and installing Apache instead. It actually runs very well on Windows, and (after re-installing PHP and doing some config fiddling) matches my web ISP much better than any version of IIS could.

After using it for a bit, I also got a bit fed-up with PhpMyAdmin, which is particularly laborious for entering data. It’ll only do two records at a time, and semi-regularly seemed to ignore the second. Then I found the MySql GUI tools, which by comparison are an absolute Godsend. Why did nobody tell me about this before? (Actually it looks like I found a bit of it some time ago, but hadn’t used it properly until now.)

The coding has been coming along nicely, and the basic functionality is ready. I’ve got a couple more enhancements I’d like to do before it goes public.

So what is The Project? Not telling. But it’s aimed at non-geeks, going to be free for users, with Google Adsense to try and pull in some income (and get it indexed quickly). Maybe it’ll pay for itself, maybe not. But even if not, it’s already been successful as a way for me to learn some PHP.

Update 2007-04-19: The Project is now live.

Friday brief stuff

Google for the Enterprise: Google Apps Premier edition is here. $50 / user account / year, providing Gmail, GTalk, GCalendar, GDocs & Spreadsheets, GPage with guaranteed uptimes, phone support and more storage and options.

Favicons: Good article on making a good favicon.

One commenter left a useful link to the PNG2ICO command-line tool. This online tool also looks handy.

RIP: Robert Adler, the man who invented the TV remote control (despite not watching much TV himself, apparently).

Broken links

A major web site of my acquaintance just got a makeover.

I’m not going to deny it was due for a revamp. Or that (eventually, when it’s all working) the new functionality will be worthwhile.

But apart from the list of data errors (which is as long as your arm), and the functionality they should be providing in this day and age but aren’t, they’ve also changed every single page address, apart from the home page, and so they’re writing to people who link to them to ask them to change hyperlinks.

I’m really trying not to lose my temper and say to them:

“Well WTF did you let your programmers change your URLs in the first place?”


“WTF don’t you get your programmers to set up page forwarding so all the old links work?”

I mean really… it’s like changing all the internal phone numbers and telling everybody to ring the switchboard.

Oh, I should mention that this is a public transport information site, with timetables… they have partially-numeric URLs that bear no resemblance to the route numbers.

Human load balancing

In Australia, footy-tipping (be it for NRL or AFL) is very popular. And every Thursday, the leading footytips web site sends out a reminder notice, which goes something like “We notice you have not entered your tips for this week!”

It’s an attempt in human load balancing. Footy-tipping is, almost by definition, an activity reserved for Fridays. Discussions around the photocopier/water-cooler/kitchenette invariably take place about the fitness of each team in the competition, the players, the injuries, the stats. Close examination of the Friday morning newspapers reveals more information on how people should tip.

All of which means that for sites like, they need a lot of server capacity on Fridays, when everyone enters their tips, on Mondays, when people look at the results, and for the other five days of the week they’re quiet.

In a way I can understand them wanting to encourage tips entry earlier than Fridays… but it goes against the whole culture of it. Nobody wants to enter their tips on Thursdays. And we all want to look at the results on Mondays. No amount of nagging people to do otherwise is going to work.

Maybe they can find some other application which is really busy from Tuesday to Thursday, and on the weekend, and share their infrastructure?

Web site glitch

The Herald-Sun (and most of the News Ltd properties) vastly improved their web site a week or two ago. But they’re obviously having a few issues this morning…

Herald-Sun glitch

Ah, I see they’ve fixed it already.

Advertising in web addresses

Got a well-known brand? Why bother with consistency? Instead, change its name and/or web address for advertising purposes!

It’s not Yahoo Australia … it’s Yahoo!7

Just when you thought you’d got used to, it’s changed back to

It’s not, it’s

It’s not, it’s (just in case you forget what the G stands for)

Within domains it can be a mess too. Microsoft’s site always makes sure the default pages don’t end in / but instead in whatever their latest web server technology is. It used to be /default.asp, then /default.aspx, now it’s /default.mspx. It must be a nightmare of forwarding, to make sure anybody who has bookmarked in the past still gets to where they want. Go to now, and it flickers past about 4 old addresses to get where it’s going.

Once upon a time, was the IE page. That one just produces an error now. Idiots.