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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

JumpstartTV Featured Content

Posted by sqlwiseguy on May 8, 2009

My video, Creating a Performance Counter Log, is the featured video on JumpstartTV today.  This is a short one covering how to create a counter log using Perfmon.  This is a pre-requisite for another video I have done, Integrating Performance Monitors with SQL Server Profiler

A side note, I really enjoyed making the videos and I think the short (less then 5 minute) how-to videos are a great way to get some practical knowledge.

Posted in JumpstartTV, Lessons, Online Presence, Published Articles, SQL Server, Technology, Training, Windows | Leave a Comment »

Software Developers, Remember that People Need to Use Your Software

Posted by sqlwiseguy on May 7, 2009

As a hybrid DBA\Developer I had the message of the title reinforced through a negative experience with a web site this past week.  Please bear with me as I tell a fairly long story/rant to illustrate my point.

The web site I had an issue with is www.sunpass.com.  SunPass is Florida’s prepaid toll system and they provide a web site to manage your account.  There are 2 devices you can purchase, a portable transponder and a SunPass Mini Sticker transponder which applies to your windshield and is only good for 1 vehicle.  My wife and I purchased a SunPass Mini and I went to the web site and activated it and I set up my account so that it would auto-replenish using one of my credit cards when the balance dipped below a certain threshold. 

Well, last week we traded in the vehicle that had the Mini in it, so we bought a new Mini for our new vehicle.  This is when the trouble started.  I went to the SunPass web site to activate the new Mini.  I logged into my account and nowhere on my account home page was there a link to activate a new transponder or remove the old transponder.  I thought, “Well, the package says I can activate it online and I activated the first one online so I know it has to be here somewhere.”  So I double–checked and nope, not there.  I went back to the SunPass home page and, lo and behold, the “Existing Customers activate a New Transponder” link was on that page instead of my account home page.  Alright that’s not the most intuitive interface, but I only spent about 10 minutes trying to find it, but at least I found it.  So I clicked on the link and here is what happened:

SunPassError Wait a minute, I don’t have a commercial account, what’s going on?  So I lookup the customer agreement and here is the definition of a commercial account:

5.2 Commercial Accounts: Primarily for companies or businesses with corporate owned, leased or rented vehicles and/or trailers. A current Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) must be provided to open an account of this type. FEIN information must be kept current and may be requested by a SunPass® representative at any time. The minimum opening balance for a Commercial Account is dependent on the User’s estimated monthly usage, but must be a minimum of $50.00. User shall be notified of any changes to the required replenishment amount on their monthly Account Summary Statement. For Commercial accounts to qualify for tax exempt status, User must provide a valid tax exemption certificate at the time of account activation.

Nope, I didn’t provide any of this information when I setup my account so, why am I getting this message?  I found the contact us link and sent them a message asking why I was getting the message.  As expected I got a non-response response:

Please call customer service

The next day I got a letter from SunPass telling me that I had a negative balance and I needed to call them to pay up.  Now I’m not only confused, but I’m a getting a bit ticked off, I mean, I did setup my account to auto-replenish, why isn’t it happening?  Back to the web site to make sure auto-replenish is setup, yup, it is.  So I call customer service to deal with the issues.   Here are the answers I got:

  1. Can’t add transponder because I have a commercial account.
      The reality is that when they added the new Mini’s they could not treat them like regular transponders, why I don’t know, so if you open your account with a Mini your account is treated like a commercial account.  So you have to call to activate any new Mini’s on your account.  I asked “How was I supposed to know that?” and the answer is you have to call.  So I suggested that they fix the message to tell me the REAL reason the web site doesn’t do what asked.
  2. Can’t delete the old transponder.
      Again, because it is a Mini it is treated differently and they assume you will disable it by taking it off the windshield so you don’t need to ever disable the transponder.  I asked, “How was I supposed to know that?” and the answer is you have to call.
  3. Auto-replenish isn’t working.
      Apparently the system had a “glitch”, so while the web site is showing that auto-replenish is setup it really never was.  I asked, “How was I supposed to know that?” and the answer is you have to call.

So now to the point of the post. What could the developers/designers done differently to provide a better user experience.

  1. Put account related activities on the account home page.  So an add transponder link on my account home page in addition to the main home page would have made life much simpler and intuitive.
  2. Provide a message that conveys the real reason functionality is not available.  Tell me that you cannot add a Mini to an existing account, not that I have a Commercial account.  In my opinion, the real answer is to not provide the functionality at all.  If account type = Commercial do not show the Add transponder link.
  3. Catch errors and tell the user that their efforts were unsuccessful.  If something goes wrong in setting up auto-replenishment tell me!  If it happens in a batch at the end of the day, send me an email telling me it failed.  Don’t wait to send me a letter when I’m already in the hole.

Please keep the end user in mind when designing and developing your applications.  Don’t frustrate your customers, whether internal or external, with poor design.

Posted in Expectations, Lessons, Problems, Programming, Rants, Standards, Suggestions, Technology | 1 Comment »

Bug in Scope_Identity() Function

Posted by sqlwiseguy on March 20, 2009

Aaron Bertrand (@AaronBetrand) tweeted this tonight.  Apparently there is a bug in SQL Server 2005/2008 with Scope_Identity() related to parallelism.  You can see the bug on Connect, here.  If a fix is important to you go and vote it up. 

This is a shock to me as I use Scope_Identity() regularly and now I have to re-evaluate it’s use.  I typically use stored procedures to do single row updates and use the Scope_Identity() function to return the id to the calling application using an output parameter.  Now it looks like I’ll have to use the Output clause which requires a table variable to hold it’s results.  Within the last 2 weeks I just told someone on SSC that is had been bullet-proof for me, it has, and was bug free.  I’ll have to go back and link to this.

Posted in Bugs, SQL Server, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Help CNN (and others) stream using your PC

Posted by sqlwiseguy on February 11, 2009

A friend forwarded this article to me, Watch a live video, share your PC with CNN and after I had read it I immediately voiced concerns over security and the ethics of the implementation.

Basically CNN uses a peer to peer (P2P) networking application called Octoshape Grid Delivery that uses your PC to feed other viewers using the software. The issue in a nutshell is that (directly from the article):

Web surfers who visit CNN.com and select a live video stream for the first time see in their browsers a dialog box, shown in Figure 1, saying, “This site requires the Octoshape Grid Delivery enhancement for Adobe Flash Player.” The dialog box doesn’t appear when playing an ordinary video file, only when starting a live feed. (Feeds labeled LIVE typically appear in the upper-right corner of CNN.com’s home page during business hours.)

Yet, you can still watch the video without the P2P software. Therein lies the rub, shouldn’t they tell you that your experience will be enhanced by installing this software and that your PC and will be used to stream the video to others? In my opinion, software companies need to make sure that they openly disclose what the software does and the resources it uses.

I think most software vendors are guilty of non-disclosure. Apple with iTunes, at least in my opinion, did not make the Bonjour service clear, and Microsoft did not make it clear that Windows Media sharing was being enabled.

It really comes down to ethics. What are you doing with my resources and do you make it easy for me to understand and disable if I don’t like it?

Posted in Ethics, Technology | Leave a Comment »