The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What if Politico covered the Civil War?

This was one of the funniest things I've read in a while:

PLAY-BOOK FACTS OF LIFE: If the president can convince the public that he emancipated slaves simply to preserve the union, the story will blow over. If it emerges that he actually issued the proclamation because he believes involuntary bondage is an immoral affront to human dignity, we could be looking at months of hearings.

NEW BATTLEGROUND POLL: Lincoln’s negatives are “through the roof” in Va., N.C., S.C., Ga., Miss., Ala., Louisiana, Ark., Tenn. PLAY-BOOK TRUTH BOMB: Lincoln is not going to improve these numbers if he refuses to press the flesh. A playbooker telegraphs: “I don’t know what happened to the gregarious guy we saw in 1860. Jeff Davis hasn’t been invited to the White House for cocktails once since Abe became president!”

It perfectly hits the, ah, policy-light priorities of Politico. I wonder if Schaffer will do more of these?

Glow-in-the-dark bike path from the UK

This rocks:

The so-called "Starpath" is a type of solar-enhanced liquid and aggregate made by Pro-Teq Surfacing, a company headquartered southwest of London near the awesomely titled town of Staines-upon-Thames. It's in the prototype phase, with a test path running 460 feet in a Cambridge park called Christ's Pieces. (The British and their delightful names!) The material works by absorbing UV rays during the day and later releasing them as topaz light. In a weird feature, it can somehow adjust its brightness levels similar to the screen of an iPhone; the path gets dimmer on pitch-black nights "almost like it has a mind of its own," says Pro-Teq's owner, Hamish Scott.

Pro-Teq is hoping that governments will embrace its self-aware, supernatural-looking pathway for its energy-saving elements and the ease in which it goes down. The installation is fairly quick (the Cambridge job took about 4 hours), and because it's a resurfacing technique doesn't involve the burdensome disassembly and disposal of existing pathways. "The main bulk of the U.K. path network is tarmac, where perhaps it's coming toward the end of its useful life," says Pro-Teq pitchman Neil Blackmore in the below video. "We can rejuvenate it with our system, creating not only a practical but a decorative finish that's certainly with the Starpath also very, very unique."

From the company's press release:

This product has recently been sprayed onto the existing pathway that runs through Christ’s Pieces open space, Cambridge between the city centre and the Grafton Centre, and is used by pedestrians and cyclists during the day and night.

The Cambridge pathway measures 150 square metres, took only 30 minutes to spray the material on, and the surface was ready for use less than four hours after the job commenced. This short installation time allowed minimal disruption to the public.

Bike hike to Cambridge, anyone?

Customer service that can't think for itself

I just received an alert on a credit card I used to share with an ex. The account, which is in her name since we split, has a small balance for the first time in 6 years.

There are two possibilities here, which should be obvious:

1. My ex does not know I still receive alerts on her credit card.

2. My ex does not know the card is active again.

Regardless of which is true (and they both may be), she needs to know about it. Given that (2) could expose her to liability for fraud, so does the card issuer.

So I called Bank of America to point out these twin possibilities, and after arguing with their phone system for five minutes, finally got to speak with an agent. I cannot say the conversation went well. After I explained the situation, I said, "so you should let her know about this."

"Is Miss ---- there with you?"

"What? No, we haven't seen each other in years, which is why this is so odd."

"OK, but without her authorization I can't give out account information."

"I don't want any account information. You need to tell her that I am getting account information by email, and that an account I thought we closed in 2007 is active again."

"OK, she is getting the alerts too, so I will make a note on the account for when she calls in next time."

"She may not be getting the alerts, if she has a new email address. Look, I'm talking about potential fraud here, you need to call her today."

"OK, we will call her and let her know."

Look, I understand that some aspects of technology security are too esoteric for most people, and I'm sorry there wasn't a Customer Service script for this. But some flaw in B of A's systems allowed personal financial data to leak to someone who shouldn't have it (me), in such a way that the account owner (my ex) doesn't know about the leak. I'm trying to help you here.

Also, I'm posting these details here on the off-chance they don't let her know and that she ever reads this blog. So, if this post applies to you, I did what I could. And you may want to switch to a less-moronic card provider.

The usability of

Jakob Nielsen's company has written a detailed analysis of how the Federal Health Exchange screwed up usability:

The team has suffered what most web professionals fear most: launching a broken web application. This is particularly harrowing given the visibility of the website in question. The serious technical and data issues have been covered extensively in the media, so we won’t rehash those. Instead, in this article we focus on how to improve the account setup process. This is a user experience issue, but fixing it will also alleviate the site's capacity problems.

Account Set-up Usability is Mission Critical

Account setup is users’ first taste of a service. A suboptimal account setup can spawn 3 problems:

  • Increased service cost: When people can’t self-service online and you have no competitors, they call you. Call-center interaction is more expensive than web self-service. In 2008, Forrester estimated call-center calls to cost $5.50 per call versus 10 cents for a user who self-services online.
  • Increased cognitive strain: The instructions for creating usernames and password in this flow (which we address further along in this article) require a great deal of concentration, and if users don’t understand the instructions, they will need to keep creating usernames and passwords until they are accepted.
  • Halo Effect: Account setup is the first in a series of web-based interactions that users will need to conduct on A poor experience with this first step will impact how people feel not only about subsequent interactions with the site, but how they feel about the service in general and the Affordable Care Act as a whole.

The discussion around our office hinges on two things other than usability: first, give us $2 million (of the $400 million they actually spent) and we'll build a much better site. Second, the biggest problems come from the insurance companies on the back end. Users don't care about that; they just want to get health insurance. As Krugman says, though, there really wasn't a way to get the insurance companies out of the equation, and that, more than anything, is the foundation of all these other problems.

Dark mornings

The week between when we used to switch back to Standard Time and when we do so now (since 2007) makes me want to stay in bed.

This morning sunrise happened at 7:18 and will slouch out to 7:25 on Saturday morning. It's the latest sunrise we'll have for three years, and it's 45 minutes after I usually get up in the morning.

I know a lot of people prefer more light in the afternoon. I don't care, really. Sunday the sun sets at 16:42; but it rises at 6:26, and gives me another month before the sun rises after 7 again. Then, of course, there's the slog from December 2nd to February 4th...but what can you do?

Just having a moan. You can ignore this post.

jQuery: Party like it's 1989

Programming languages have come a long way since I banged out my first BASIC "Hello, World" in 1977. We have great compilers, wonderful editors, and strong typing.

In the past few years, jQuery and JSON, both based on JavaScript, have become ubiquitous. I use them all the time now.

jQuery and JSON are weakly-typed and late-bound. The practical effect of these characteristics is that you can introduce subtle, maddening bugs merely by changing the letter case of a single variable (e.g., from "ID" to "Id").

I've just spent three hours of a perfectly decent Sunday trying to find exactly that problem in some client code. And I want to punch someone.

Two things from this:

1. Use conventions consistently. I'm going to go through all the code we have and make sure that ID is always ID, not Id or id.

2. When debugging JSON, search backwards. I'll have more to say about that later, but my day would have involved much more walking Parker had I gone from the error symptom backwards to the code rather than trying to step through the code into the error.

OK, walkies now.

Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom

I'm going to see one of them next month.

I just got this email:

On Saturday Nov 30th, the Panmunjom tour is confirmed for 1 adults as English tour, and your reservation number is #XYZ.

Please check Panmunjom (JSA) dress code.
1. No the color has faded or the hole jeans. (Regular jeans are OK).
2. No training wear, Military style.
3. No short pants, mini skirt
4. No open toed shoes, flip-flops.
5. No sleeveless, round neck t-shirt and leather pants.

So, no champion boxer, H-Bomb, or Soviet spies in my future, but I will be going to the DMZ next month. The whole package is ₩78,000 (about $72), and includes transportation to and from Panmunjom plus an English translator. I hope the weather works out. And that I don't get kidnapped by the DPRK army.

Lunchtime link list

Once again, here's a list of things I'm sending straight to Kindle (on my Android tablet) to read after work:

Back to work. All of you.

Don't like Maybe funding it would have helped

Ezra Klein eviscerates the GOP:

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan became the latest Republicans to call for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to step down because of the Affordable Care Act's troubled launch. "I do believe people should be held accountable," he said. Okay then.

How about House Republicans who refused to appropriate the money the Department of Health and Human Services said it needed to properly implement Obamacare?

The GOP's strategy hasn't just tried to win elections and repeal Obamacare. They've actively sought to sabotage the implementation of the law. They intimidated the people who were implementing the law. They made clear that problems would be exploited rather than fixed. A few weeks ago, they literally shut down the government because they refused to pass a funding bill that contiained money for Obamacare.

I actually do think Sibelius should resign. If this were the UK, she would have done. She can spend a year in the weeds getting speaking engagements or consulting somewhere, then return to politics in a year. At least she would have taken some responsibility.

But the rest of the GOP's shrieking about Obamacare is just ridiculous. Klein is right: these guys have chutzpah.

Chicago documentary from 1961

WBEZ explains:

The 22-minute film was a bid to show the benefits of living in cities, using Chicago as an example. There are shots of Chicago's early midcentury skyline, a parade down State Street (Streets and San's space-age float at the 5:53 mark is worthy of pausing and replaying) and good footage of old buildings being demolished.

But the documentary's framers are also pushing for a more humane and inclusive city.

"The promise of the city is not always fulfilled," narrator George Ralph intones. "Often one becomes a statistic in an unemployment office."

The cameras venture out into white, black and Latino neighborhoods--and the level of poverty and dilapidation is alarming by today's standards. Race and class are noted in the documentary.