Unpopular UI Changes

Interesting article on the recent (and continuing) changes to the Google UI.

In the case of the items highlighted in that article, specifically useful searchtools behind buried beneath “More…”, what I do wonder is why Google doesn’t remember (e.g. via a cookie – hell knows they drop enough of them, what’s one more between friends?) whether you had the “More” contexts in the sidebar menu expanded between windows/sessions?

When you have one Google window open with the “More…” expanded, try opening a second window. The “More…”s are all collapsed again.

I’m just waiting for the phonecall from my technophobe parents, trying to find where the things they used to use have gone, and tearing what’s left of my hair out while they try and explain.

The UI changes in Firefox and Thunderbird have already upset them, driving my poor mum to tears, when all she wanted to do was send a 10 line email.

Changing your UI is something you should do with a lot of caution, and only when you have a hell of a good reason. In some ways, the UI for a popular piece of software is part of your brand. Play with it at your peril.

Er… did someone pwn my WP dashboard?

So, I logged into WP to write a blog post and found this floating at the top of the dashboard…

D00d ur browser is old and skanky. Upgrade now.I’m like, “Que?” Has WP been owned? What is “Browse happy?” Hmm.

<BASILFAWLTY>

Yes, yes. I know I’ve not put the latest and greatest Firefox on just yet. It’s in the list of things to do, awaiting sufficient round tuits. I don’t want to have to break off what I’m doing right now to lose all my browser windows during an upgrade. I’m trying to do stuff, can’t you see?

</BASILFAWLTY>

Oh damn. You’ve made me break off and write this thing anyway…

It looks like some pop-up that a naive user would click on, and subsequently get their machine owned. Well, okay, it’s not got terrible grammar or spelling, but despite it being a legitimate campaign, it looks not unlike something that miscreants would use to spread malware.

It’s a laudable effort to keep folks browsers up to date, but should someone as responsible as widely used as WP be encouraging users to click on “Install this now” links, and using the “You’re X is out of date!” statements, so commonly used by malware droppers?

I don’t think it’s necessary.

This also links very nicely with an article that I’m writing (or at least, trying to!) about poorly considered impacts of UI changes.

How to reset a broken culture?

I’d recently read “Rework“, the book that 37signals’ founders wrote about what they learned along the way while growing their business, and why they think the mould about setting up a small business (or growing into a larger business) shouldn’t just be broken, but thrown away too.

It made me think about the things I’ve done right – being myself, being open and honest, feeling my customers’ pain, and the things I’ve done wrong – being overkeen to delegate, defer, insist, be grouchy, and allow myself be pushed into creating policy to deal with a corner case instead of dealing with it properly, falling into the various terrible management traps that lie in wait, trying to catch you out when you least expect it.

One recurring theme throughout the book, though in many different shapes and sizes, is the simple and old-fashioned adage of “treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself”, and that’s something I really identified with. It’s something we should live our life by more often.

Continue reading “How to reset a broken culture?”

Detrain or not detrain? That is the question…

Those of you who live in London and the South East likely saw the chaos that was caused by a bungled cable theft to South West Trains commuter services yesterday.

After over three hours stuck going nowhere, and with little or no information about how longer they would be involuntarily detained on the train, a number of passengers on a train within walking distance of a station decided to self evacuate, seeing as the railway appeared, at least from their point of view, to be making no attempt to help them.

Evacuating a train to track level is not a decision which is taken lightly. It’s no easy task, regardless of whether passengers are able to sit at step level and drop down, or come down an evacuation ladder. It’s still a long way down for most folk, a slow process, and once you’re on the floor, there’s lots to trip over and fall on. Oh, and in this case, add in a high voltage electric rail, just to build the excitement.

Like the initial attempted cable robbery, the response from the railway operator seemed to be bungled too. From detaining people for excessively long periods, to the local Plods threatening to arrest and prosecute those who self-evacuated for trespass, adding to their distress, the whole thing seemed to be a mess of confusion and frustration.

(SWT have since decided that although the original cause for the problem was vandalism, they do want to compensate delayed passengers.)

The basic fact is that there doesn’t seem to be a best practice for rail staff which says, “Okay, you’ve been trying for too long, you should give up trying to move this train (or trains), and now make it safe to detrain these people to track level and walk them in.”

Right now, local staff (the driver, the station staff) can’t make that decision, unless it’s more dangerous to be on the train (i.e. it’s well alight). They need the decision to come from on high.

The decision is fractured – between the train operator, Network Rail, and the BTP. In itself it’s a problem, you’ve got to stop all other trains in the area of the train you’re evacuating (though this seemed to have largely been done for them on this occasion!). It’s also a last resort. It’s admitting defeat.

People faced with a failure situation will always want to “try one last thing”, usually several times, before saying “Okay, there’s no more we can do” and stopping. It’s human nature. Who we are and what we do. The best thing to do is give these folk some guidelines, to help them make the decision to throw the towel in, and to show them that it’s not wrong when they finally do.

There needs to be some best practice for dealing with stranded passenger trains. There needs to be some timelimit recommended, which is longer than an hour, and less than three, upon which the white flag is raised and passengers are evacuated.

Then the folk in charge can actually make a decision, with the confidence they aren’t getting fired tomorrow.

A week for new 40G toys…

It’s been a week for new 40G launches in the Ethernet switch world…

First out of the gate this week has been Arista, with their 7050S-64, 1U switch, with 48 dual-speed 1G/10G SFP ports and four 40G QSFP ports, 1.28Tbps of switching, 960Mpps, 9MB of packet buffer, front-to-back airflow for friendly top-of-rack deployment, etc, etc.

Next to arrive at the party is Cisco, with their Nexus 3064, 1u switch, with 48 dual-speed 1G/10G SFP ports and four 40G QSFP ports, 1.28Tbps of switching, 950Mpps, 9MB of packet buffer, front-to-back airflow for friendly top-of-rack deployment, etc, etc.

Whoa! Anyone else getting deja vu!

Continue reading “A week for new 40G toys…”

Down at Peckham Market… “Get your addresses here. Laaavley v4 addresses!”

One of the first big deals in the IPv4 address secondary market appears to be happening – Microsoft paying $7.5m for pre-RIR (aka “early registration”) IPv4 address space currently held by Nortel.

There have been deals happening on the secondary market already. But this one is significant for two reasons:

  • The size of the deal – over 600k IPv4 addresses
  • That Nortel’s administrators recognise these unused IPv4 addresses, that Nortel paid either nothing, or only a nominal fee, to recieve, are a real asset which they can realise capital against.

Interesting times… Now, where’s my dodgy yellow van?

Paging Air New Zealand, please report to the naughty corner.

A lot of folks who know me will know that I’ve held Air New Zealand in high regard for several years, that I really rated their inflight product and service, and would choose to fly Air NZ from Heathrow over to LA over other airlines such as BA or Virgin, as well as use them for flying to NZ itself.

I was particularly a big fan of their Pacific Premium Economy product – loads of leg room, and an inflight service which was deserving of the title “Premium” – offering Business class meals and fine NZ wines. I thought it represented very good value for money, and made the Virgin Premium Economy product, and especially the BA World Traveller Plus product look positively economy by comparison.

On a recent trip down to New Zealand (my third in as many years) in January, for the NZNOG meeting in Wellington, I was able to experience Air New Zealand’s new long-haul Premium Economy product on their much hyped new Boeing 777-300 aircraft on one of it’s first long haul flights.

Sadly, while the product was innovative, I was not impressed. I felt underwhelmed and disappointed with the experience, compared to that I would have received on the older plane. What’s worse is that it wasn’t all teething troubles. Sure, there were some teething troubles. But many were what I see as basic issues with the new product.

I found the new “SpaceSeat” anything but spacious – it felt confining, with the TV screen mere inches from your face, and at a weird angle compared to the seatback (and therefore your body), so you have to turn your neck or sit sort of twisted into a side-saddle position to try and be comfortable and watch a film at the same time.

The “seat pocket” as provided was a joke – it was made of a solid material (rather than an elasticated netting), and wasn’t even big enough to fit a book in.

The area of the aircraft I was sat in felt incredibly hot, stuffy and uncomfortable. Despite the crew setting a cooler temperature, where I was sat, it never seemed to cool down or get any sort of noticeable airflow.

I’m not normally a claustrophobic person, but I can only describe what I felt as being “freaked out” by the environment created by the cabin – from the stuffy air to the TV in your face, to the lack of space – and this was in a window seat!

I thought the personal space on the new product rather inferior to that you get on Air NZ’s 747-400 planes.

The fact is, Air NZ have, for some reason, crammed the rows of seats very tightly. I would probably be inclined to pay a little more if a row or so of seats was pulled out and spread between the other seats. Just to get that TV a bit further away from my face.

The inflight service was of a reduced quality compared to the old service, at least as far as I was concerned. It was very slow, due to the fiddly nature of the service, and because of the seat being angled away from the aisle, so tight up to the back of the seat in front, it wasn’t really possible to have any sort of interaction with the crew member serving you from the aisle, as this would involve being able to turn your head through much greater than 90 degrees.

This meant that it was much more difficult to experience the “soft side” of the service of the great Air NZ crews, as you couldn’t easily make eye-contact with them. They just became this sort of disembodied arm and hand pushing food and drinks in front of you. It also took over two (and more like three) hours to serve the main meal.

This seems to fly in the face of what Air NZ were aiming for, which was a more personal service!

It’s fair to say that on the older aircraft, Air NZ didn’t have the best PE seat in the sky, but I think they had the best Premium Economy soft product, in terms of the food and level of service. Air NZ seem to have gutted that great soft product, in order to provide what they percieve as a “better seat”.

There are other comedy errors, such as the location of the Premium Economy galley (over the wing) meant that it couldn’t have a hot water tap. If passengers ordered coffee or tea, it had to be brought from the other galleys – meaning staff walking through the cabin with jugs/flasks of hot water from the other galleys – not made easy because the aisles have been made narrower!

The changes don’t just affect the Premium Economy product, either. The quid-pro-quo of the “Economy Skycouch” product is that the Economy cabin is seated 10-across, which doesn’t sound bad, until you realise this is on a Boeing 777, which most other airlines, including Air NZ themselves on their 777-200s, only seat 9-across.

The aisles are noticeably narrower – more folk in the aisles will notice they get bumped – as are the seats themselves. A friend travelled in the back on the 777-300 and found it unbearably uncomfortable, having to sit with their shoulders “tucked in”. I can understand this on a 20-minute commute to Central London, but not on a 13 hour flight from LA to NZ.

The seat pitch (the space between the seats) in Economy has also been cranked down from 34″ on the 747-400 to 31-32″ on the 777-300. Air NZ have gone from one of the best Economy products in the sky to one of the most unbearably cramped in one fell swoop. Feels like a step backwards, and it’s not just me. There’s plenty of discussion about it on that perennial thorn-in-the-side of airlines, Flyertalk.

When the product was launched, it was accompanied by a lot of fanfare about the months of painstaking research that has gone on behind the scenes. If there has been all this research, how can the product be full of what I (as a 100K mile per year traveller) regard as such schoolboy errors.

Also interesting to observe is that there has been what I percieve to be an astroturfing campaign about how great the new products are via their social media outlets such as their Twitter account, yet nothing about the nightmares that I know for a fact they have been having with the new service. Oh, and what is it with that dreadful muppet character, Rico? How is that related to (what should be) high quality air travel?

So, not really enjoying this flight much, I contacted Air NZ to offer my feedback on the flight.

Sadly, after waiting about 6 to 8 weeks, all I got was a dreadful, bland, canned reply which basically indicated a “head in the sand” approach, that there couldn’t really be anything seriously wrong with their wonderful new product, could there, and these were all flukes which would be fixed next time I flew. Like I believed that.

They may as well have just said “You are free to take your business elsewhere”. Well, sadly, that’s what I’ve done on my next trip to California.

On 1st April, the last 747-400 operated NZ1 will leave Heathrow, and the next day London gets the “downgrade” to 777-300 service. The regulars won’t know what’s hit them.

Update – Thursday 31st March 2011

So, a few folks thought I was just having a rant here. Perhaps because it sounded a bit ranty, or I wasn’t explicit about something I wanted to get across:

What’s really disappointed me here is that an organisation which seemed to be switched on yet still be able treat it’s customers with good old-fashioned respect, and in the past seemed to have a great grasp of what people wanted, could have gone off the rails quite so spectacularly with a string of apparently shallow and unpopular moves.