Category Archives: AU

MySchool: so wrong

Background: The Australian federal government has finally pushed out a web site publishing performance metrics for all schools throughout Australia. There has been much brouhaha regarding this. For some reason, the go-live wasn’t a quiet one, but a very loud, flick-on-the-switch big-bang go live.

Naturally, the website asploded.

Any website that’s going to be hit by 1% of the Australian population the moment it goes live is going to blow up unless there are some cluey, experienced people behind it. Clever, inexperienced people, or experienced idiots with a large budget might stand a chance if things got progressively worse over time, but turn it on and hammer it on day one? does not have cluey, experienced people behind it. There are various signs.

For a start, what is it with the TLD? seems fine, but what’s wrong with a redirect from given they were the folks running around promoting it? It’s not like myschool is an education institution.

Then you get there. Guess what? It won’t work without JavaScript. At all. Because typing in a string and hitting enter demands the availability of JavaScript. Using <form> is so 2000s. Get with the new decade! It’s so vital to the site that users must not be allowed in if they don’t have JavaScript. Screw the blind! They’ve only got one school to go to anyway.

And the site is slow, amazing slow. But I guess if you’ve got to download all that JavaScript to enter that string, of course it’s going to be slow. Switching to a different set of data? Couldn’t download that and just do a hide/show, no you’ve got to do some kinda AJAX-y postback crap for a massive round-trip delay; if you were dealing with rapidly changing data, that might almost make sense; every year this website will get data updates, so no: this makes no sense. I clicked on it, and a long time later, something happened to the web page. In the meantime, I went off to get a drink. Alternatively, you could just show a table for each year, and skip the damn JavaScript altogether. Why there’s even a backend is beyond me, this whole thing could be served perfectly well – and mind-numbingly quickly – from static pages.

And for the purpose it’s intended for: parents picking a school for their kids. Can you compare schools? No. Open them up in different browser tabs, if you have a tabbed browser (remember: the blind can go take a flying leap). Good thing the site is chocked full of JavaScript. And the JavaScript is used for handy things like map-based locating of schools, and – oh, hang on, no it’s not. There’s no Google-maps mash-up. Good thing the site is chocked full of JavaScript.

Clearly, the entire site has been an exercise in some programmer somewhere bolstering their resume rather than giving the client something appropriate. Either that, or a manager was in charge of the feature spec, and demanded all the latest buzzwords that they had heard but didn’t understand. I’m betting it took more than a year to build. Feel free to speculate.

I’m also willing to bet the price on this site was more than the $50,000 it should have cost (one person, three months). I’m imagining about two or three orders of magnitude more. I’m figuring the servers required for this aren’t running in some guy’s bedroom, even though that would be about all that’s required for such a simple dataset that’s presented in such a straightforward way.

Must try harder.

Car buying websites think they’re classified ads

I’m in the process of buying another car, and it seems that the major car buying websites are stuck in the classified ads mentality; you drill down by make, model, year, limit for a range of odometer readings (you get to set a minimum! Great! Who would ever set a minimum?) and a price range (you get to set a minimum! Great! Who would ever set a minimum?), then look at what you get. Now that we’re in the 20th century, you can even sort the results by ascending price! Wow, what did we ever do without computers?

But I while don’t know what model I want to buy, I do know I want curtain airbags. Can I search for that? No. Do they have the data on that, for each and every vehicle listed? Yes. They have pre-populated the check-boxes for each feature for every model of car ever sold. That would be a handy database to search, especially in nifty combinations like curtain airbags in five door vehicles getting better than 8l/100km, order by turning circle then price.

Clearly, the presumption here is that you have the slightest idea what you want, and that you care terribly about brands, but not at all about features. For me, in my situation, this is arse backwards. However, in my researching, I discovered that the Peugeot 307 was rated 158th of 159 cars for reliability. Could I exclude that please? No? Oh.

You can do a “keyword search”, which is just a text search of the description attached to the ad – whatever the advertiser types in. Typing in curtain gets a bunch of ads with curtain airbags, which thoughtful advertisers have included in their descriptive text – repeating all the text of the various feature check-boxes – but you also get to see a bunch of Kombi vans (they have actual curtains).

And the useful values, like ANCAP ratings, RACV (or whatever) crash worthiness ratings, RACV reliably ratings, choice vehicle reliability scores, are they in the databases? Can you search them?

Must try harder.

On another note, Toyota Australia’s website is a laugh riot. When you pull up their vehicle comparison tool, they include a bunch of very amusing “features”, such as “Steering wheel” and “door handles”. I wonder if they carry any cars without door handles?

ABC iView unmetered

It’s old news, but Aussies who have wondered why most ISPs continue to have ABC’s iView counted as part of your monthly downloads might like to read this explanation from Internode. In brief:

…the ABC moved to using Akamai for bulk content distribution, which includes the new iView service, and the use of Akamai happens to make unmetering in the conventional manner basically impossible. This wasn’t intentional on anyones’ part – its just that the ABC moved to using Akamai without appreciating the side effect that would have.

Apparently only iiNet has the equipment required to accurately unmeter iView traffic, which is why they’re the only ones offering it.

Update: Thanks to commenter MGM who pointed out this info is out of date. In fact the ABC has a list of ISPs now offering iView unmetered.

Summer 2009/2010 starts

I have a algorithm for detecting summer. Seven consecutive days in a row with a temperature of or above 20 degrees Celsius. I give you Summer, from the Bureau’s seven day forecast for Melbourne:
Forecast for Monday Max 20
Forecast for Tuesday Min 8 Max 24
Forecast for Wednesday Min 10 Max 25
Forecast for Thursday Min 12 Max 28
Forecast for Friday Min 16 Max 29
Forecast for Saturday Min 18 Max 28
Forecast for Sunday Min 16 Max 26
I should also point out that I consider there to be two seasons in Melbourne: Nice-but-hot (summer-ish) and a-bit-iffy (winter-ish).

Bye bye Teletext

In Australia the 7 Network’s Austext teletext service is to shut down at the end of September, with only Supertext subtitles/Closed captioning continuing to be transmitted. (I wonder if they’ll move them from the current page 801 to the default 100, to make them easier to use?)

Over in the UK, ITV’s Teletext service is to shut down in January 2010.

The BBC’s Ceefax will last until analogue TV is switched off in 2012.

Hardly surprising really. I’m sure demand for text-based news and other information has plummetted since the widespread adoption of the Web. In fact I’m surprised teletext has lasted this long — I struggle to think of anybody I know who uses it.

IT upgrades

Ho boy.

The Bushfires Royal Commission has been told staff answering calls at the Bushfire Information Line on Black Saturday were unable to see crucial information about the fires because of an IT upgrade.

More than 12,000 Victorians called the Victorian Bushfire Information Line or on Black Saturday.

Calls that were not answered went to Centrelink.

But the commission was told staff there were unable to see the Department of Sustainability fire database because an IT upgrade had accidentally blocked that access.

ABC News Online

So on the hottest forecast day ever, and which everyone from the Premier down had warned would be the worst fire danger day ever, Centrelink staff, who are the designated backup responders for the bushfire information line, were blocked from getting the information they needed from the DSE web site?

Apart from the timing issues of IT upgrades to systems that are important to the fire-fighting effort, it appears to underscore the severe dangers of restricting network access unnecessarily.

e-Security week

Apparently it’s e-Security week in Australia. Who knew?

This post from Graham Cluley of Sophos (who does a very entertaining and informative blog on computer security) includes this short video on how to choose a good password which is easy to remember, but hard for hackers to guess.

Simple tips for better web password security from Sophos Labs on Vimeo.

Not sure I agree with his conclusion, but it’s certainly worth some thought.

Google blurs Colonel Sanders? Maybe.

Oh lordy. I wonder if this is some kind of joke, or if it’s true?

The Telegraph reports that Google has blurred the image of Colonel Sanders on KFC signs in the UK, on the basis that he’s a real person.

The company says it took the decision because he is ‘a real person’ – despite him passing away in December 1980 aged 90.

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If it’s true, then can I just say: IDIOTS!

1. It’s a cartoon image, not a photographic likeness.

2. He’s been dead for 29 years.

3. What, you think we won’t know who it is? “Hey, who’s that on the KFC sign?” “Dunno, could be any southern American military guy who knows about chicken.”

4. Are they doing the same for cartoons and photos of real people on billboards and the like?

5. How is the late Colonel’s privacy being spoilt if people could see the cartoon image of his face? Hasn’t the horse already bolted on that, given the image of him is up on thousands of KFC outlets all over the planet?

Of course, it could be that the whole story is a crock.

Or maybe they just haven’t implemented their policy (whatever it is) very well.

The reason I offer these two possibilities is that I found this unobscured KFC sign, and this one too, both in London.

Certainly it appears the Colonel in Australia is freely visible:

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If they did institute such a policy in Australia, I wonder what they’d do about other cartoon face logos, especially of people who are still alive. Dick Smith is one who springs to mind, though now I think about it, I think they’re phasing out use of his face on their signs and literature.