Google Transit includes Perth

Google have launched Google Transit support for Perth's public transport system.

Hopefully, and it would seem likely given they're based in Sydney, they'll start work on the appalling Sydney transport system timetables. The "Plan Your Trip" functionality isn't bad, but the timetable display across the various agencies is insane. I fail to see that when you go from the 131500 site and select a train station (say, Stanmore) and want to see the timetable, you inntead get a list of all the train lines. For the record, Stanmore station is services by two train lines: Inner West and South. WTF? Oh but they, handily, provide exactly the same dropdown again in the top-right, which this time tells you which line services your station. Joined up government.

Then when you drill down into the timetables, instead of anything resembling sanity -- say, defaulting to "when is the next train", you get... an HTML rendering of the printed timetables. And do you think it might be customised to only show the trains that stop at your station? Oh no, you get to know exactly when there'll be an express train whizzing through your station.

Who the hell are the people that wrote this crap? Do they even use public transport? Have they ever tried to use their own site? Unbelievable!

Screen scraper writers, start your engines.

Online ordering systems

Quick as a flash after my last post about online ordering systems, Hadley Rich suggested shopify, which while a hosted system, seems to be written by people with a clue. Railsy kinda clues, which means the designs are lovely, and they've focussed on doing one thing well.

Moments later, Lindsay suggested almost the same thing: Active Merchant which is the system shopify built for the merchant stuff. Synchronicity?

Anyway, the nice thing about the shopify service is it's got a templating system you can both hack and understand nice and easily. So even though all these systems are set up for multiple products, I should be able to steer it into being a single-product system. What's more, the really cool stuff I actually want to play with, Google Website Optimizer, will be very easy to integrate.

Now to decide if the tax bollocks is worth the effort. The ATO material seems to suggest you don't have to charge GST if your turnover is, or is expected to be, under $75,000 per year. That would simplify things greatly, but they don't actually come out and say that. Guess for such things you need expert advice.

Online ordering should be easy

Mary, I'm totally with you about online ordering. So many companies just don't get it. Worse yet, utility companies in Australia are just appalling. Origin Energy, I'm looking at you, dickheads! Their online "order" form seemingly goes absolutely nowhere. How useful!

So on that note, I've been thinking of setting up an online ordering site myself. More as an experiment in marketing and conversion rate improvement than anything else. If I decide the tax crap isn't going to make it onerous, I'll be doing it shortly.

What software should I use? This will be a single-product site, but I'd like to have proper order management and notification, along with rudimentary stock control ideally. Online payment is essential. And I want to run it all (except perhaps the payment) on my own server. Not written in PHP would be good.


Roland Juno 106 Lego Mindstorms: on eBay

I've just put a bunch of stuff on eBay, and I'm sure some of you might be interested.

Roland Juno 106

A Roland Juno 106, one of the first ever MIDI analogue synthesizers. This sucker has a wonderful sound, but since I've finally admitted to myself that I have zero musical talent, it's time to clear it out of the house.


Lego Mindstorms was another of those purchases I wish I'd played with more. Loads of fun and all, this robotic lego stuff. But I never really had the time to get right into it. I bought this as soon as it was released in the US, and ended up getting raped on import duty when it went through Australian customs. You can program it in a number of languages developed outside of Lego.

Elegant retro bathroom basin

Rather less geeky, we pulled this out of our bathroom during our renovations. It's gorgeous, but doesn't match our new decor. Would really suit someone doing up an old school bathroom in the period style. Absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Not a charity

I've just had a very bizarre exchange with Rodney Gedda from IDG, a big magazine and book publisher. I used to write for some IDG publications and was, briefly, editor of a micro-magazine they had, Online World which became Webmaster.

Anyway, Rodney opens with: I'm interested in running more technical content on IDG's online network. Please contact me if you are interested in contributing. I presume he'd found my writing on one of the Planets, probably after reading my comments about Joel Spolsky's latest piece.

A little flattered, and always wanting to keep my hand in IT journalism stuff, I followed it up with some questions and proposals. In my dealings with IDG in the past, I've been pretty shocked by what they insist you sign over before paying you, perpetual, universal rights basically. So I brought this up and he suggested IDG own the copy and I get "perpetual publicity and bragging rights". Hmmm.

I came straight out and asked if this was a paying gig. Unfrotunately I don't have a budget for that yet, but you'll get free publicity. Meh.

When I write for a corporation, I want a lot more than publicity. Some help paying the mortgage would be nice. You'd be using my knowledge, experience and work to enrich a giant corporation. Err, no. I don't think Patrick McGovern needs my charity.

Those of you out there also receiving offers like this, be aware that your work is worth something. At the minimum, you might use something like this to get your foot in the door and have some publications you can point to, but you certainly wouldn't be signing away perpetual and universal rights to your work!

For the record, my writing is available, for a fee.

Web developers are from Mars

I imagine most of you reading this blog already read Joel on Software, but today's post is destined to be a classic. Joel worked at Microsoft on the Excel team from 1991 to 1995, where he clearly learnt a lot about programming in the real world, with real world pragmatism and real world ugly hacks. His writings are always a good antidote to assuming that Microsoft is the evil empire, intent on owning the world. In reality, it's a bumbling megacorp making sensible, rational decisions that end up hurting someone, somewhere no matter which way the decision goes.

Today's post is about the war between the web standards sticklers and the poor saps who have to implement browsers. It's a really hilarious description of why standards aren't the panacea, and why writing useful stuff for the web is hard.

I have a sneaking suspicion that his prediction that IE8 will revert to buggy IE7 mode by default before release is spot on. But at least in the meantime enough web developers will notice that their pages are broken and fix them.

Me? I'm pushing the change to our site tonight that will force IE7 rendering mode, because I don't have time to fix the buggy behaviour just now. Pragmatic, but I hate it. However, you try telling your boss you need to spend a week hunting down tiny little bugs caused by a software upgrade that's a few months away from being out in the real world.

Google Calendar sync with Outlook

I, like many others amongst you, have to run the bloated abomination that is Microsoft Outlook at work. It's been quite annoying, as I've really got used to my personal Google Calendar being synced to my phone via Goosync, which has been a real productivity improvement for me. However my work calendar has been left on the desktop, or I could get it logging into the Outlook web access thing from home, but hardly as portable as my phone.

Enter Google Calendar Sync, just released it seems. This periodically syncs your Outlook calendar with Google Calendar. So now my work calendar is on my phone. Brilliant!

One niggle for me is that there's no option to configure which Google Calendar it syncs with, just using your primary calendar. This is annoying as I'd like to separate my work calendar out, so I don't end up with personal items cluttering my work calendar at work, and I can show/hide the work calendar when I'm not interested in work.

Still, as usual I'm sure Google will be responsive to feature requests and that feature will come sooner or later.

IE8 will break the web, and about bloody time

So the latest Internet Explorer is out and, like any good web developer, I've downloaded it and thrown the sites I manage at it. The results aren't good, and I'm very pleased by that.

IE8 was originally planned to emulate the broken IE7 rendering engine by default, with standards-compliant sites required to use a dodgy, non-standard hack to actually render using the new, standards-based engine. This met with howls of protest from the community of developers trying to get standards to actually work. Fortunately, the IE team listened to the feedback and reversed the decision. So now, out of the box, IE8 will render in standards mode, and sites with broken markup will have to use the dodgy hack to force IE7 rendering. Brilliant!

This decision will break the web, which is excellent. All those shonky hacks used to make IE work will stop working, and the enormous market power as the vast majority of browsers are upgraded to IE8 will force web developers to actually do something, and acknowledge that they haven't been doing things right. If you're lucky and using some kind of templating, the fix will be very easy. If you're not using templating, it could be quite painful. But it means the next redesign will do things right!

For sites I've built from scratch, the results are exactly as expected. My home page renders perfectly, as it did in IE7, Firefox, Safari, Opera, lynx, links and probably any other browser.

For sites I've inherited, the results aren't so good. The site I support for my main job breaks very badly. The shonky sIFR Flash+JavaScript font rendering breaks completely, the top navigation looks funny and doesn't work, some of the style cascading is strange. It'll be easy to fix, just tweaking the base template to have the IE7 mode forced.

We're planning a redesign, as is pretty usual with these types of projects, and I plan to consolidate the ridiculous proliferation of styles. The new design will follow the standards and use the bare minimum of hacks to get it mostly working in IE7. It should work just fine in IE8. Yay!

Hopefully Microsoft will automatically upgrade most users once IE8 is released, as has happened with IE6. That enormous market power will finally be put to some good use. There will be pain, but it will be pain that makes the world a better place. How novel to be praising Microsoft!

St George bringing in two factor authentication

I've banked with St George for many many years, and they've long been pretty ahead of the pack with technology in Australia. I got a letter the other day indicating that they were bringing in some new "Secure Code" system, which sounded like two factor authentication to me.

Looking at their site, it seems they are indeed bringing in such a system. For risky transactions (and I'm sure they can raise and lower the bar at will) they'll send a code to your mobile or landline phone, which you need to type into the application to complete the transaction.

It's interesting to see financial companies finally getting onto the two factor authentication bandwagon. The point is that you need to present something you know and something you have without massively inconveniencing your customers. The mobile or landline seems to me like a pretty good balance between security and convenience.

I notice that Paypal now uses some kind of security token that looks a lot like the RSA tokens people carry around for VPN access in a lot of companies. I wonder how long it'll be before we're all carrying around a clutch of these things?

Now I'm thinking about implementing an sms-based two factor system on my own server. Wonder if there's any software for doing that?

Firefox tip: delete an autocomplete entry

This is one of those things that's obvious once you know it, but solves a real problem beforehand. You're using firefox with autocomplete switched on. You make a mistake filling out a form once, and find that forever onwards the mistake exists in your autocomplete list. Let's say it's a phone number, and you mistyped it. You could very easily select the wrong autocomplete entry.

Now this is cool. Select the autocomplete entry with the up/down arrows on your keyboard. Press the "Delete" key. The erroneous autocomplete entry is gone forever.

So simple, but so handy. Not something you would necessarily find without being prompted. My thanks to the tester with the mostest, Brad, for showing me that one.