Archive for December, 2012


Parallel banking

December 28, 2012

More user frustration, this time with the website of one of Australia’s big banks.

I needed to clean up my saved list of payees, deleting those I no longer pay.

Easy enough — I just clicked the link to edit my payee list. There was the list, with radio buttons. So I clicked the first one I wanted to delete. Under the list was this:


And you know? I just couldn’t see the delete option! Why? Because after seeing ‘Add’ and ‘Edit’ I expected to see ‘Delete’. I didn’t expect to see ‘Immediately’ — and in fact, I overlooked all the words in the third bullet as I expected parallel structure and when I didn’t find it, I assumed I had to delete my selected Payee another way.

I looked all over that web page for a delete button or some other way to delete, before seeing that the last option *was* a delete option! But why didn’t they say so? Why did they obscure the message with ‘Immediately’ in front of ‘delete’? What was wrong with switching it around so it was parallel with the others and using ‘Delete Payee’ as the text? Gee, they could even have made it ‘Delete Payee immediately’ if they wanted to (though I think ‘immediately’ was redundant in this case).

More user frustration with something that should be SO simple.

See also:

[Links last checked December 2012]


Australia Post: Please test your web forms

December 27, 2012

Australia Post invited me to participate in an online survey — the invitation was on the printed receipt I received from a recent transaction. Off I went to the URL, and got stymied by the first field:


I clicked the ‘here’ link and got this:


I clicked OK, then clicked ‘here’ again and this time I got the correct information.

So what went wrong?

I figured it out eventually after a couple of attempts using different scenarios. When I went to the URL either my cursor was automatically placed in the first field, or I put it there ready to fill in the form. At that point I realized I didn’t know what the Outlet ID was, so I clicked ‘here’. However, the form still thought my cursor was in the first field (not moved and clicked on ‘here’), so it spat out the error message above.

It’s only after I clicked OK, that the cursor moved out of the first field and so clicking ‘here’ again opened the correct pop-up window with the information I needed.

Some simple user testing would have shown that issue almost immediately. So I can only assume that no user testing was done, perhaps not even any in-house testing. <sigh>

It wouldn’t have taken much testing — this form only had about eight simple fields to complete. And someone went to the bother of writing an error message in case the user did something wrong. This user didn’t do anything wrong — she clicked on the link, but as the web page didn’t recognize that her cursor was no longer in the first field, it spat out the error.

An even better option would have been for the developer to have put the user assistance right on the interface — there was plenty of room to have an image that highlighted the required information (which was in the pop-up window instead). By putting the user assistance right in the interface, the user wouldn’t have to have hunted out the ‘here’ link, got the same result I did, and if they persevered, they would have eventually got the pop-up window with the image — that’s some six or more clicks… for ONE field on this form. A simple image showing the two areas of the printed receipt that contained the information you had to add would have saved a lot of time and frustration.


The frustration of trying to buy something legally

December 21, 2012

I have spent many hours in the past 24 hours trying to figure out a way to buy some stuff from the Amazon MP3 store. But I can’t. And I’m angry and frustrated and I now have a much better understanding of why people download music etc. illegally — there are just SO many barriers to doing it legally.

So why can’t I purchase MP3s from the 20 million songs in the Amazon MP3 store? Because I don’t live in the US, because my IP address is not from the US, because I don’t have a US debit or credit card, because Amazon doesn’t take PayPal, because even if I go through a (legal) US VPN Amazon still knows that I’m Australian when I log in (even though one of my registered addresses with Amazon is in the US), and because PayPal doesn’t offer their own branded credit or debit cards to non-US residents. Oh yes, I’ve been through it all trying to figure out how I can buy music (and please don’t tell me to use iTunes…).


I’ve searched online forums who tell me to get a PayPal debit/credit MasterCard and then I can buy from Amazon with that as it’s registered in the US. But non-US/Canadian residents CAN’T get one of these cards.

I’ve looked at those sites that offer to buy on your behalf with their US credit card and address and ship to Australia — but they don’t deal with digital goods, only ‘real’ products like shoes and electronics.

I searched for how to get a US credit or debit card and address, and there are ways to do it by paying a big fee and setting up as a business entity (‘cos obviously I don’t have a Social Security number), or by going to the US with huge amounts of documentation and hoping and praying that some bank will give me a credit card — no guarantees on that. I have relatives and friends in the US so getting a US address shouldn’t be a problem. And I’m heading back to the US for a very short and very packed trip in March, but I want to buy this thing NOW, not in six months time when I *might* have a US debit/credit card, assuming I even try to get one when I’m there.

But the reality is that all I want to do is buy a specific thing from the Amazon MP3 store. It’s a digital download, so shipping isn’t an issue. But where I live and where I bank is an issue.

And with Amazon not accepting PayPal payments, I’m stymied, even if I set up a new account with Amazon that only has a US address attached and if I access it via the US VPN I have access to. I still can’t pay without a US-based debit/credit card, and if I try to access the MP3 store from that account on my own computer, I get a message that it’s only available to US customers.

I’m very frustrated. And angry that I’m trying to buy something legally, but I can’t — all based on where I live. I don’t think that this is all Amazon’s or PayPal’s fault — it is likely they are just the frontline of the faceless people behind the US banking laws and the massive media conglomerates who want to control who buys what and from where. It’s a global world, people — get over it, otherwise honest schmucks like me will be forced to get what we want illegally (no, I don’t want it that much… what I wanted to do was see how hard it was to get, and it’s BLOODY hard. Impossible, in fact.)

BTW, Amazon let me set up a Cloud Player storage place for the MP3s it won’t let me buy! Thanks guys — really appreciate it…


Update: iinet (my ISP) has walked out of piracy talks, stating:

“The rights holders are still insisting ISP’s should perform work on their behalf instead of addressing what we have always said is the root cause of the infringements – the limited accessibility to desirable content and the discriminatory and high cost of content in Australia. Infringements are a symptom – access is the problem.”

I couldn’t agree more! Limited access, discrimination based on geography, and high cost result in ordinary people downloading illegally who would likely pay for content if it was available to all and at a fair price.

Update 16 January 2013: I don’t know who ‘Scott’ is but he sent me a $5 Amazon gift card in the hope that it would solve my problem. In his note to me he said:

I heard you had some problems with Amazon mp3s. … next time this comes up, you’ll have a few bucks in your account. Consider it a newsletter donation. BTW- If this works, it may be a solution to your problem. You can contact your U.S. friends, send them some PayPal money, and then they can send you an Amazon gift card.

Thank you, Scott! However, the gift card approach didn’t work either. When I tried to apply it to an MP3 purchase, I got as far as the ‘Review’ page, clicked ‘Continue’ then got this message:

We could not process your order. The sale of MP3 Downloads is currently only available to US customers. Please refer to the terms of use of the MP3 store to determine the geographical restrictions.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

I tried again via the US VPN access I have, but got the same message. There is just no legal way I can purchase something from the Amazon MP3 store if I live outside the US.

Thanks again, Scott. At least I’ll have $5 to apply to my next book purchase from Amazon.

Next, I went back to Amazon to check out their MP3 terms and conditions and geographic restrictions, as stated in their message. Well, finding the terms and conditions was hard enough, but finding anything about geographic restrictions was even harder — it was tucked away at the end of section 2.2. From Amazon’s MP3 Store Terms of Use (

Section 2.2: …. As required by our Music Content providers, Music Content is available only to customers located in the United States.

So, as I suspected, this restriction is imposed by Amazon on behalf of the traditional music recording industry who are so desperately trying to protect themselves from going under.They’d have a better chance of stopping piracy if they didn’t impose such ridiculous geographic restrictions on people who legitimately want to buy music!

Interestingly, the Terms don’t specify what they mean by ‘located in the United States’. As I mentioned earlier, I have a physical US address of a family member attached to my Amazon account as well as my Australian one. That US address is listed as my primary address with Amazon. However, the two credit cards linked to my Amazon account are both Australian, with my Australian address attached to them. Amazon isn’t going on IP address either to determine my location as I have the same issue when I go through the US VPN. So even though I was trying to purchase with a gift card that originated from someone in the US, and even though my primary address on Amazon is a US address, and even though I was going through a US VPN, Amazon still didn’t consider me as ‘located in the US’. Therefore, it must be using my credit card information to determine that I’m in Australia.


Who needs reindeer when you have kangaroos?

December 20, 2012

Qantas have added decorations to their flying kangaroo in the lead-up to Christmas.

Here’s Rudolph the red-nosed kangaroo:


And in an email from Qantas, we have antlers too! ;-)



On a more sober note, I wish all my readers a very happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2013.

As in previous years, I won’t be sending out Christmas cards to clients etc. Instead, I’ve made a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

[Link last checked December 2012]


No wonder I couldn’t get connection

December 10, 2012

When we moved into our current house nearly three years ago, we had a whole heap of electrical and data cabling work done. And we had Foxtel (cable TV, even though ours is via satellite) installed a few days later.

One of my electrical requests was for a data port near the TV so that I could ‘future-proof’ the area in case we could do internet things on the TV. The data cabling was to run through the conduit inside the wall, across the ceiling, and to a data port in the office where I connected the cable to the network hub. Well, I’ve never used this data port. Until last weekend.

Foxtel now has an option to connect their IQ box to the internet to get new release movies and to watch things we might have missed. As we’re coming into the drought time for TV series in Australia, I thought we should try this ‘On Demand’ service — it costs nothing to get it activated by Foxtel, though you do pay for new release movies on a ‘pay per view’ basis.

So I connected a data cable between the Foxtel IQ box and my handy dandy data port near the TV. Then I called Foxtel to get it activated. That was all easy enough, but even after activating, I couldn’t get the On Demand service to work via my IQ box. Next step was to check the cable, so I removed it from the IQ box and connected it from the data port on the wall to my laptop. Nothing. I tried two other network cables. Still nothing. I went back to the office and followed the data cable from the wall back to the network hub — it was all connected correctly; I even tried a different port on the hub and a different cable. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

After all this testing, I figured there was something wrong with either the wall data ports at one or both ends or with the cable inside the walls and roof space. Or perhaps the electrician had never actually put cabling between the two data ports and all we had we useless wall outlets!

I called another electrical/data cabling company to come and check the cable, as well as do some other small electrical things around the house. They put a tester unit on the data port near the TV — and got nothing. The electrician said that even if the cable was ‘live’ but not connected properly, he’d still get something. He got nothing. So he pulled the wall plate off and this is what he found:


He asked if we had Foxtel installed after the data port was in — I told him we had, and that I recalled the Foxtel installers being cowboys who wanted to cut our coax cable to the antenna for our free-to-air services. We wouldn’t let them do that, but it seems that they cut our data cable without our knowledge!

The electrician thinks that what they did was cut the data cable, attach the three Foxtel coax cables to the end and pull it up into the ceiling so they could do their connections back to the satellite dish on the roof. What they didn’t do was pull the cable back down again! And they didn’t tell us they’d cut the data cable. Cowboys. And yes, the electrician found a whole lot of data cable up there in the roof space.

The upshot is that the data port doesn’t work, and it’s now impossible to get the data cable back down the conduit. It’s a single brick wall, so chasing a new conduit into the wall is NOT an option (brick saw, dust, plastering, painting…). We could perhaps go in from the wardrobe in the bedroom behind the wall, but again, lots of mess and we’d end up with a conduit inside a wardrobe, then coming out into the room before heading back into the wall. Also not an option.

The electrician suggested that some cheaper options would be some sort of wireless dongle from the Foxtel box back to my wireless modem/router (no idea of cost), or the ‘data over the power line’ option (about $80-$100 from Foxtel).

Or we could do nothing. That’s always an option.

Meantime, I’m angry again about those cowboy Foxtel installers — I was angry when they did the initial installation as they took little care and almost no notice of the customer, and all that anger has bubbled back to the surface now. Of course, as nearly three years have passed, I have no proof that they did this, but as they were the last tradesmen working with cables in that area, there’s a pretty fair chance that my electrician’s assumptions are correct.


Working my way through 200+ pages of this…

December 7, 2012

A very small sample of some documentation I’m editing at the moment. Actually, I’m doing much more than editing it — I’m rewriting it. When you see the example below, you’ll probably understand why…

This is what the developers in another country wrote in the original admin guide:

DELETE LOOKUP VALUE: This button when clicked will update the selected string value, here we need to first select the value as the particular value will appear in the “New Lookup Value” text field and then required changes are made into the text field followed by a click on the “UPDATE LOOKUP VALUE” button and then hit on “Submit” button to permanently save the changes.

And this is how it now reads after I deciphered it (yes, they got it wrong too — they’d copied in what they wrote about the Update button into the information on the Delete button), tested it in the application, and rewrote it:

  1. Select the lookup value you want to delete—it gets loaded into the New Lookup Value field.
  2. Click Delete Lookup Value.
  3. Click Submit.

I’ve only got another 100 pages of this to go….

Oh, and in addition to making it more readable, the text has gone from 65 words (372 characters) to 23 words (129 characters), an almost two-thirds reduction.

If this manual was to be translated, the savings in translation costs over those 200+ pages would be worth far more than what it cost my client to pay me to edit it.

Paying someone to edit your work pays off handsomely if you’re considering translation into another language, and these cost savings increase massively the more languages you have to translate to. A side benefit of editing is that you end up with readable and comprehensible text–you won’t annoy and anger your customers with turgid prose that they have to read several times over to figure out what it’s saying. If you re-read that original piece of writing, you can well understand why some people refuse to read manuals.

See also (from Sharon Burton):

[Links last checked December 2012]