Riedel wine glasses… but without the stems

30 01 2007

While we were at The Good Store on Saturday, we noticed that they also stock the eminently sensible (and useful) Reidel Riedel wine glasses, but wine glasses without the stems! According to the Riedel website they call them “O Tumblers“.

We have Riedel stemware and LOVE drinking wine out of it, but, like most people, we only bring it out for special occasions as it’s a bugger to wash and a bugger to have on the table. My husband does the washing up and he’s always frightened he’ll break a glass in the stainless steel sink when he’s washing it. They are really delicate, and the stems and the glass is so fine. Brilliant for drinking out of; hell to wash up! And guests freak out when leaning over the table to grab the vege platter or whatever when those huge wine glasses are in the way.

So these ‘tumbler’ wine glasses are just the ticket. There’s no stem, and they’re dishwasher safe. Which means you can drink out of Riedel glasses at any time without fear of knocking them over, or breaking the stems when washing them. Perfect for those meals in front of the TV that no-one admits they eat!

Yes, we bought some – $45 for a pair of the Cabernet/Merlot glasses.

Gotta love nostalgia!

30 01 2007

A few months ago I read about a new store opening in Victoria Park (a suburb of Perth, not far from where we currently live). The owner’s philosophy is to only sell well-designed and useful items – all products stocked have to meet both criteria. Price is not a prime consideration, but usability and good design are. “Ah!” I thought. “Here’s a man after my own heart.”

So on Saturday when we were wandering about trying to sort out phone connections etc. we stopped into The Good Store at 363 Albany Hwy, Vic Park (for all you readers who are Perth locals: where Cadd’s used to be almost opposite the Heart of the Park shopping centre). And there we found… wait for it…

Splayds!!! Yay! They are producing Splayds again! Not the old style ones (like those shown here and here), but newer ones with a brushed stainless finish, a well-weighted handle, and nice form for the eating part. (I’ve packed them already, so no pics…)

Of course, if you’re an Aussie under about 30, you probably have no clue what a Splayd is, but for those over 30, you’ll be pleased to know you can buy them again. For those of you in North America, you may know them by various other names such as Sporks (though they’re not really like a Spork in that there’s no cutting edge).

Whatever they’re called, they’re a darned useful eating tool! As the bloke running the store said on Saturday, most people would never admit in public that they eat in front of the TV, but that’s where Splayds come into their own. That and stirfries. I can’t eat stirfries successfully with chopsticks, so a Splayd is ideal as you can eat the whole meal with one hand and still scoop up all the lovely sauces and juices.

And the price for a set of eight at The Good Store? $40. Can’t get better than that!

(BTW, the owner of the store said they are selling like hotcakes!)

Bureaucracy gone mad

25 01 2007

I mentioned the other day that my father-in-law had passed away. Now my husband (one of the executors) is dealing with finalising things such as bank accounts etc.

The bank wants a whole lot of stuff before it will close the account – things like the death certificate (understandable) and his father’s birth certificate. I have no idea *why* they want the birth certificate – they would’ve have required it years ago when he opened the account. Anyhow, the birth certificate cannot be found.

So my husband goes to the government website for Births, Deaths, and Marriages and downloads the application form for getting a certificate. (BTW, this application costs $40 + $30 more if the request is urgent… money for jam, if you ask me!).

Now, get this! The instructions under who can get a birth certificate state that only the person named on the birth certificate or that person’s parents, can apply for a birth certificate! What the???? The father-in-law was 81, and has been cremated. Obviously his parents are long gone. So how the hell does my husband (his eldest son and Executor) get a birth certificate to show the bank so the bank can close the account???

This is bureaucracy gone mad!

Pain, pain go away…

18 01 2007

Root canal work on a lower molar late yesterday afternoon. Had the last of the pumpkin soup and some jelly and yoghurt for dinner last night… After the anaesthetic wore off fully around 10:00pm last night, the pain was horrible. Took a couple of pain killers (not the real knockout ones – I finished them back when the tooth was infected), but they didn’t really help a lot. Must’ve eventually got to sleep as I was woken by the alarm. Tooth and jaw still sore – steak is out of the question as is crusty bread or anything else I have to chomp down on!

One nerve was removed – another one or two to go in a month’s time. I’m looking forward to that – NOT!

Telling it like it is

10 01 2007

Wow! I just finished reading one of the recent Change This manifestos – and boy, did it resonate with me. It’s the one called “You are being lied to” by Larry Winget and is available as a PDF for downloading or reading on screen here: http://www.changethis.com/30.02.YouAreBeingLiedTo

One thing he said that resonated was about these so-called experts who write best-selling books on management etc., and how all they are really good at is writing such books – not about whatever it is they’re writing about. Call me cynical, but that’s something I’ve thought for a long time. A bit like the “pay me $50 and I’ll teach you the secrets of my success with betting on horses” or “here’s how to win millions in the lottery – all for a limited time, special offer price of just $199!!! Call now!” Yeah right. I can tell you that if *I* had the secret to winning on the horses or the lottery I’d be keeping it myself, not flogging it off to all comers for some relative pittance. If you’ve made millions on the lottery, then what the hell are you selling the ‘secret’ for $199 for???

(Be aware that the PDFs of all Change This manifestos take up the whole browser window – pressing ESC will force the PDF back into a browser window with controls.)


9 01 2007

Just got the phone call from the real estate agent… the final hurdle in the house sale has been overcome – the purchasers had their finance formally approved by the bank, so it’s SOLD! Yay!

Usability is a ‘folly’!

6 01 2007

Warning: long!

I mainly work for software companies. And so far none of those companies have employed a usability expert. As the person who is the ‘user advocate’ when writing the documentation, I’ve worn the ‘she’s the usability person’ hat in the absence of anyone else stepping up to champion for readable labels, helpful screen messages, logical workflows in the interface, etc.

Ideally, usability specialists should be brought in at the initial design stage, then as the coding progresses, right through to release and beyond. Amongst other things, usability testing involves identifying areas where users of the software can get confused, then offering suggestions for fixing these BEFORE the software gets released. Fixes could include redesigning a screen, changing the text on a label, fixing a bug, and so on.

Such fixes cost far less when done before release than after the product has gone out the door. After release, the cost of fixing usability problems is much higher because implementing and testing patches, answering support calls related to things that don’t work as they are expected to, etc. all cost money. Then there’s the unquantifiable cost of user frustration – you know, the “I’d like to throw this bloody computer out the window!” situation I’m sure we’ve all experienced.

So, with that preamble, you can see that I’m very much on the side of making things as clear as possible for the users of the software. I’ve attended international conference sessions on usability, on writing useful error messages, etc. and I’ve worked with enough software in the past 20 years to have a clue about what expectations users have, and what can make their life a little easier. This is not ‘dumbing down’ the software application by any means – it’s about making it usable! Usable software usually garners passionate users (see Kathy Sierra’s great “Creating Passionate Users” blog for some terrific writing on this topic); unusable software tends to suck (to quote Kathy).

Last week when I returned to work, I had an email in my Inbox from the person responsible for testing (one of my clients actually has a dedicated tester – this is a good thing!). But I was completely GOBSMACKED by his response to one of my requests for a useful error message instead of the gobbledegook programmer-speak that was displayed. I won’t quote the request, or his complete response – I think you’ll get the gist of it in these couple of lines: “In my opinion trapping exceptions with … plain english dialogs is folly; a waste of developers’ time, a waste of development budget when there are more important things to do.”

I couldn’t believe it! My first response was jaw drop and eye pop and “what the??”; my second was to just throw it all in and walk out of there saying “Why do I bother?”; my third response was to think unkind thoughts about this person’s intelligence (but he’s an intelligent man); my fourth response – after I’d got over the initial shock – was to ask a respected colleague if he thought I was overreacting (he was equally gobsmacked, so I wasn’t overreacting); my next response was to IM a friend and colleague in the US to get her opinion to see if I was overreacting – she saw my full request and the full response and was equally appalled; my final response – after some hours of restraining myself – was to do a bit of research that showed that it’s not just me bleating about incomprehenisble error messages.

Here was the response I wrote (slightly edited):
I stand by my assertion that ALL error messages in our applications should be useful and readable to the user – and that means plain English telling them what happened and, where possible, how to fix it.

Usable error messages have two main purposes:
* reduce user frustration with the application
* reduce support calls to whatever help desk exists (client’s or ours)

This is not “a folly” and a “waste of developers’ time”. It’s not even just my opinion – for example, see:
* http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20010624.html
* http://www.experoinc.com/resources/papers/2005-06-ErrorMsgs.htm
* “…Where possible, error messages [in Windows 2000] give users specific actions to take, rather than just informing them that something went wrong…” (from:
* http://www.eouroundtable.com/files/EOUupdatewp2000.pdf (page 9)
* “… Can the user recover from errors? What do users have to do to recover from errors? Does the product help users recover from errors? For example, does software present comprehensible, informative, non-threatening error messages? …” (from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usability)

While I agree that fixing this error message in <current, almost superseded product> is not a good use of developers’ time at the moment, it is essential that error messages in <product to come> are in plain English and meet the basics of letting the user know what happened, why, and how to fix it (where possible). We’ll get much better and more satisfied users that way.
The tester was away all last week, so I’ll see what sort of response I get back on Monday!

Not a good day

5 01 2007

After my final comment in yesterday’s post about “not having a good day”, all those service annoyances paled into insignificance when my husband called to tell me his father had had a massive coronary in the ambulance on the way to hospital and was unable to be revived. He was 81 and had been in dementia care for some months.

Another chapter on our life in Perth closes… Rest in peace, Allan.

Customer service? Not!

4 01 2007

One of the tedious tasks when moving house (and boy, had I forgotten just how tedious!) is informing respective utilities and providers of your change of address. In the case of utilities, this also entails making sure that final readings are done for water, gas, electricity, etc.

So today I thought I’d start on a couple of easy ones that don’t rely on the ‘unconditionality’ of the “offer to purchase”. Like Optus… to check what happens to the long-distance arrangement we have with them on our Telstra phone; the redirection of water bills to us instead of the property manager for the house down south; and arrangements for the transfer of the electricity into our name at the house too.

I figured Optus would be the easiest. Right in theory – wrong in practice! First you’re taken through this 20 questions thing with a recorded voice and have to reply to it (it’d be quite clever if it worked as I expected it to). Then you get put on hold and finally a ‘customer service’ person comes on the line. But despite you answering the 20 questions to the recorded voice, they have no clue who you are and you have to repeat yourself all over again. I did this FOUR times! Twice I was cut off (once immediately after getting to a real person; the other time I got lost in the ether somewhere), then I was routed to the wrong division and “no, they couldn’t transfer me – I’d have to call another number”. Ummm… Hello! Optus is a TELECOMMUNICATIONS/PHONE company – and they can’t transfer me??? Give me a break… Finally I got a real person who was helpful and dealt with my enquiry in about 1 minute – after I’d repeated myself to the recorded voice answering the 20 questions, and being on hold for a few more minutes, then verifying my date of birth etc. with the real person.

“Service”? Optus don’t know the meaning of the word!

I girded myself for the next ones – Synergy (the power company) and the Water Corporation. Both experiences were great. I got through quickly to a real person who was helpful and answered my questions and got the transfers done in a matter of a few minutes. Thank you Lorraine (Synergy) and Rachel (Water Corp) for ‘serving’ the customer.

The last call was to my ISP (iinet) to ask about transferring the phone, switching my broadband plan from ADSL2 to ADSL1, what were the charges with VOIP, etc. Well, now there’s a shock! I had a helpful sales person (Lester), but the news is not good. Not only will I be on a MUCH slower connection (1500 thingies compared to 24000 thingies), but they’ll charge me MORE! About another $30 a month more for the ‘privilege’ of going slower, and that’s not including VOIP at another $10 a month. Hello??? Lester said it was because it was cheaper for them to provide ADSL2, than ADSL1. Well, that’s all well and good, but in the country YOU DON’T HAVE A CHOICE! ADSL2 is NOT an option; no providers have ADSL2 to regional areas – only ADSL1. So where does iinet get off penalising a 10+ year customer with extra charges for LESS service? I’ll be investigating other ISPs, even though I didn’t want to change initially as, with all the other changes associated with moving, changing ISPs was not something I wanted to do consider now.

Harrumpph! It’s not been a good day…