Archive for September, 2007

No active host session

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Tried to log in to my internet bank. This was the result.

No active host session

What does this mean? What should I do next?

The addition of “probable cause” (why did it happen? is it preventable?) and “recommended action” (how can you complete the task?) to error messages provides some opportunity of communicating something - and leaving the user empowered to act.

Responsive antivirus

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

I was very grumpy about my antivirus software failing to catch the ucleaner malware. However, all credit to them on the follow up.

Part of the email response “Ultimate Cleaner is what is classed as rogue anti-spyware. They generally purport to find and remove spyware from computers. However, it is actually a poor performance product that use false positives to goad users to purchase their program. Generally they are installed via a direct install of another program, fake update or patch. A user needs to explicitly install or agree to install the coupled software or infection that allows Ultimate Cleaner to run itself.”

I sent the offending file VideoAccessCodecInstall.exe to the local distributor who passed it on to HQ.

A couple of days later this response came back “I’ve been told that the detection for the sample you sent through has been added. It has been pointed out to me that the executable is repacked and recoded several times a day to avoid detection/scanning.”

I’m impressed - the system works from down here in NZ up to Head Office - and clearly these Ucleaner guys are rogues.

Lesson: complain - responsive organisations take complaints on board and use them to reduce repetitive failure.

NZ e-government barcamp - the meeting

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

BarCamp Wellington - logoThe barcamp, an unconference, an unmeeting - how did it go? I’ll post on content of the day later and just focus on my impressions of the process.

I approached the day with a certain amount of scepticism as the idea of an unordered meeting conjured up for me all that is wrong with most business meetings. However, I was surprised. One of the Action Meetings Ground Rules is “It’s OK to change your mind” and that applied.

In no particular order, what I thought didn’t work: poor (no) timekeeping, kickoff fairly shambolic, I wanted to participate in a different session when my session was on, t-shirt distribution, no actionable items (although that may have been addressed in the final big group session which I attended only part of).

What I thought did work: overall behaviour and courtesy (no/few interjections and conversely speakers were concise), definite sense of community, no dominators, high and broad participation, frank and open discussion, nice mix of geeks, policy wonks and geeky policy wonks (the nexus of “e-” and government), the three-word intros/outros (very compact first and last words well-suited to large groups), the venue, the food, the t-shirts.

It was also acronym/jargon heaven - the following are a few from a single session - RSS, Atom, Latte, YAML, SMIL .

On balance, an excellent day, glad I attended and I can see that the unconference model works for the initial gathering and information exchange type of large group meeting.

NZ e-government barcamp - sponsors

Thank you sponsors.

Protection Rackets on your desktop

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

I lost half a day this week getting rid of a piece of malware that not only disabled my machine but attempted to induce me to pay for the privilege of fixing it. The whole frustrating exercise was a WOMBAT that exposed me to the seedier side of the internet.

My first disappointment was the end of the quaint notion that my paid-for “world’s most effective” antivirus software that monitors all incoming traffic would detect this - but these racketeers happen to have expertise.

Trouble started with the appearance of a bogus Windows Security Alert dialogue box. Bogus Windows Security Alert

Then an increasing number of icons in my task bar started turning orange - and damn popups all over the place and IE starting up and offering me an adware removal site (Note: Don’t download anything from this site! Your antivirus should warn you - but why take the risk?)

adwarebg300.jpgThe popups were soon followed by a takeover of my desktop background with this little beauty. Not only was it not pretty but the whole of the desktop became a hyperlink to the website. Result - an unusable machine.

Next step - find a reputable adware/spyware search and destroy program. Trawled some forums and came across this “review” - yes, I should have known better - but I head straight for XostSpySE Scan - after all, FREE sounds pretty attractive. All is going well - run the scan and it detects all the right things and I click on the Remove (or similar) button and guess what - it wants a chunk of money for the “remove” function. Nice one - they know I’m desperate and now the sucker punch, pay up or else. No way do I pay - that kind of commerce deserves no rewards (I’ve searched their website and see no information anywhere on the real price - only inducements to “free downloads” - in my book that’s misleading and shonky).

Compare this sleight of hand with AdAware who are up front and clear from the outset about cost.

What did I learn?

  • I need an adware/spyware programme as well as my antivirus
  • the internet’s darkside is only a download away
  • there are methods for persuasion that really suck (an extreme form of this?)

Simplified spelling

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Always been a bit of a spelling snob - the sight of poor spelling, American spelling and txt spk n da hse offend my spelling sensibilities. So when I heard Kim Hill interviewing Marsha Bell (16mins) about English spelling problems I firstly found it fascinating and then started thinking about the merits of simplified spelling. Is English spelling a usability issue?

Apparently “spelling bee” competitions only take place in English because spelling is so consistent and easy in other languages that no meaningful competition would be possible. The wonderful film “Spellbound” shows this off to absurdity (incidentally, the official site is a great example of gratuitous use of Flash).

One of Marsha Bell’s concerns is that students get hung up on spelling right and may alter answers and ideas towards ones which they know they can spell correctly. What do we want? Ideally, cogent answers and thought that are spelt correctly - but if that wasn’t possible would we prefer cogent or correct?

Usability guru Donald Norman makes a distinction between experiential and reflective cognition. Crudely, experiential cognition is thought about what you’re doing, managing your experience and reflective cognition is thought about why you’re doing it, what it means, where does it lead to, what’s the bigger goal? Broadly, when interacting with a usable environment, interface, or tool the amount of cognition you have to apply to the experience is low and your brain power is free and available for reflective cognition.

With an unusable spelling regime, how much effort goes into learning, editing and correcting spelling that could be more profitably applied elsewhere?

One of the reasons we don’t want to change to simpler spelling is that it looks ugly. But why does it look ugly? We’ll look at that soon.