Posts Tagged ‘fail’

Making Maps The Hard Way – From Memory

In his book A Zebra Is The Piano Of The Animal Kingdom, Jarod Kintz wrote “when you’re a cartographer, having to make maps sort of comes with the territory”. He’s right. When your business is making maps you should be able to do just that. But what if you’re not a cartographer? What if you had to draw a map of the country you live in? From memory? What would that map look like?

Maybe something like this perhaps? The shape of the United Kingdom and Ireland is vaguely right, though Cornwall and all of the Scottish islands bar the Shetlands seem to be lacking. Then again, the Isle Of Wight is on holiday off the North Coast of Wales. The Channel Islands have evicted the Isle Of Man, which is off sulking in the North Sea, probably annoying cross Channel ferries into the bargain. Also “Woo! Geography“.


Or maybe your lovingly hand drawn map would look like this one, which is my personal favourite for no other reason than the helpful arrow in the North East corner pointing to Iceland (Not The Shop). Readers of this blog who don’t live in the UK should know that in addition to being a Nordic island country that straddles the boundary between the North Atlantic and Artic Oceans, Iceland is also a chain of British stores that specialise in frozen food.


I’d like to think that I’d be able to do better than this final example from someone who has applied a significant amount of cartographical license and really, really needs someone to buy them an atlas. I’d like to think that. I might even try to do this myself, but in the interests of preserving what little reputation I have, I’d only post my attempt if it was any good.


Maps courtesy of BuzzFeed.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Bad Cartography – Stansted, Essex (Airport) vs. Stansted, Kent (Not An Airport)

If there’s one thing that stands out more than a map that says “you are here”, it’s a map that says “you are here” and seems to get the map wrong.

It has to be said, short haul European flights are a bit on the boring side. Once you’ve read the day’s newspaper, had a drink and a snack and read a few chapters of a book there’s not much else to do. Most airlines that hop between European destinations don’t have inflight wifi yet and there’s no inflight entertainment to be had, except to watch your progress towards your destination on the map that appears on the screen over your head.

So it was with this map, which was snapped on a flight a few days ago from Rome’s Fiumicino airport to London’s Heathrow was coming to a close. But there’s something wrong with this map.


London has three major airports, of which Heathrow is the only one that’s anywhere near Central London. The other two, Gatwick and Stansted, are out in the so called Home Counties, in Sussex and in Essex respectively. But that’s not what the inflight map seems to show. Or does it? The map seems to show that we were flying directly over Stansted but that somehow London’s third airport had mysteriously been moved from the north east of London to south of the River Thames, somewhere south of Gravesend.

My gut reaction was that the inflight map was just wrong. But the clue to this in all in the name Stansted (and not Stanstead as it’s commonly misspelt). There is indeed a Stansted (a small village notable for a lack of airport) in Kent as well as a Stansted (and an airport) in Essex.

All of which makes me wonder just what the map’s cartographers were thinking when they thought to put the village of Stansted, with a population of around 200, on an inflight map and with seemingly equal billing with some of the UK’s major cities and manage to confuse it with a major UK airport. This isn’t a recent map slip up either, as Wikipedia reports that this has been in place since 2007.

In early 2007, British Airways mistakenly used inflight ‘skymaps’ that relocated Stanstead Airport, Essex to Stansted in Kent. Skymaps show passengers their location, but the mistake was luckily not replicated on the pilots’ navigation system. BA blamed outside contractors hired to make the map. “It was the mistake of the independent company that produced the software,” said a spokeswoman. “The cartographer appears to have confused the vast Essex airport, which handles 25 million passengers a year, with this tiny Kent village, also called Stansted, which has a population of around 200″.

Time for a refresh of British Airway’s inflight maps I think.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Just Because You Can Put Things On A Map Doesn’t Always Mean You Should Allow Anyone To Put Things On A Map

Crowd sourcing data is a laudable approach. Crowd sourcing data and putting it one a map seems like a good idea. Crowd sourcing data and putting it on a map without any verification or checks? You might not end up with what you originally intended.

This is a lesson that Benadryl, the hay fever medication, has sadly learned the hard way. At first sight it seems innocuous enough; a hay fever relief brand teams up with the UK’s Met Office to crowd source areas where there’s a high pollen count.


You take that crowd sourced information and put it on a map so fellow hay fever sufferers know what to expect in their neighbourhood and with the presumed side effect that if you are a hay fever sufferer then maybe you might want to pop out and buy some Benadryl to help cope with the symptoms.

But people are … creative and whilst you might get an accurate map of high pollen count areas you might also find that people want to be … well let’s just call it artistic.

First of all a series of map markers across Westminster, on the bank of London’s River Thames seemed to spell out a word that rhymes with duck. Note that for those of you with a sensitive disposition or who are reading this at work, the screen shots below have been pixellated out for your comfort and convenience; you can click through for the NSFW versions if you so choose.


This was followed in quick succession by another word, this time rhyming with bit, appearing across London’s Docklands area.


Who knows how far the creative hay fever sufferers of the United Kingdom would have taken this but it wasn’t to last. Benadryl noticed this new form of map art and quickly took the social pollen count site down and it has since reappeared, though this time there seems to be some checks in place so that users can report high pollen count areas and only high pollen count areas. But whilst their developers were frantically trying to put some safeguards in place, it has to be said that Benadryl put up a temporary replacement that shows a certain sense of style and a whole lot of class.


Screen shot credits: Us vs. Them.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Unsolicited But Targeted Email That Fails In So Many Ways

Like most people, my email Inbox gets hit with a lot of spam on a daily basis. Most of this is caught by my email client’s junk mail filtering, but some gets through. Most of it is, at face value, auto generated; phishing attempts for bank accounts I don’t have or solicitations for advance fee fraud.


But there’s also been a recent spike in people wanting me to embed infographics or links into one of my sites that the sender thinks my readers might like. Most of these are so off target as to be ignored, but sometimes there’s a mail that seems to have come from a human and might even be relevant to what I write about, but that just fails on so many levels. This is one such email, redacted to save the originating sender and company from any embarrassment.

Subject: Question about


I was wondering if it would be possible to suggest a link for your website at;

Our site [name redacted] ([URL redacted]) is a road travel reporting website, that provides our users with the most up-to-date road traffic information. Our data is updated every 5 minutes using sensors placed on motorways and common A / B roads.

I feel it might be a useful resource for your readers.

Many thanks for your consideration.

Kind Regards,
[name redacted]

[name redacted]
[email address redacted]
[URL redacted]

The email looks like it’s been written by a human and it’s even grammatically correct and without the usual spelling howlers that characterise spam emails. But deconstruct the email and you can start to see how it just won’t achieve its purpose.


Hello to you too. I do have a name. It’s Gary. It’s the name in the email address you’ve just sent this to and it’s also the name in the domain name and in the text of the site you’re recommending I put your service’s link on. So why not use my name? No matter, let’s move on.

I was wondering if it would be possible to suggest a link for your website at;

This is definitely one of my sites; so suggest away.

Our site [name redacted] ([URL redacted]) is a road travel reporting website, that provides our users with the most up-to-date road traffic information. Our data is updated every 5 minutes using sensors placed on motorways and common A / B roads.

Now the fun starts. The site at is a personal vanity page; it contains information about me and links to other stuff about me, such as this blog, my Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn profiles. There’s not a single link on the site that isn’t either directly about me and maintained by me or that I haven’t had a personal involvement in. Why would I put a link to a product or service on this site? If anything, this blog might be a better target.

But even then, I might write about things I find interesting, which are usually geographical or map related, but I’ve never once, as far as I know, written about road traffic data or services.

So I go and look at the site I’m being recommended to link to. It’s got a map on it and it looks like it does what it says … provides live road traffic information in the UK. It links to the UK Highways Agency, which gives it a sheen of authenticity.

There’s a Twitter account too. It only has 4 Tweets and two of those are saying the service is down.

But the rest of the website is covered with links to online betting sites, euphemistically referred to as gaming sites as well as car insurance reselling sites. This is looking less and less like something I’d want to be associated with.

I feel it might be a useful resource for your readers.

Why? I’ve never written about road traffic data. If my readers want to gamble online, surely they can find sites which offer this? Why not a single reason as to why this might be a useful resource?

The simple answer is that this isn’t a useful resource. The spam email looks authentic but even if there is a real human behind this, then they haven’t even bothered to see whether what is being promoted is a good fit with what I write about or whether it’s relevant or not.

Many thanks for your consideration.

Congratulations are in order. You’ve piqued my attention for about 2 minutes, but then, as is the fate of spam messages, I moved the mouse pointer to the button Mark Selected Message As Junk and just … clicked.

Photo Credits: AJ Cann on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Gary’s Law Of Conference Failure

I wasn’t at WhereCamp EU in Amsterdam recently. At least, I wasn’t there in person, but according to Mark Iliffe and Giuseppe Sollazzo I was certainly there in spirit. You see, at WhereCamp EU in Berlin last year I was doing what I usually do at conferences; watching a talk, laptop on lap, live Tweeting furiously. This particular talk contained a live demo and a backing track of Arthur Conley’s Sweet Soul Music. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, a live demo can go wrong and did go wrong, which prompted me to say

Never work with children, animals, sweet soul music or live code demos. You have been warned

Although I’m sure someone might have said something similar before. That was last year’s WhereCamp EU. This year’s WhereCamp EU, thanks to Messrs Iliffe and Sollazzo, seemed to have elevated that random Tweet to a law. A law which happened again at WhereCamp EU in Berlin. More than once. And then again at Mark’s PhD presentation.

So it’s official. Gary’s law of conference failures is now codified as never work with children, animals, sweet soul music or live demos. And before you ask, I’ve learnt the hard way, never, ever, to do a live demo, because what can go wrong, will go wrong.

Photo Credits: Uncle Zirky on FailBlog.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Smart Phone. Clumsy User

I have learnt four things over the past year or so.

One. The iPhone 3’s glass was scratch resistant but not dropping-onto-a-stone-floor resistant.

Two. I am clumsy.

I Think I Need A New iPhone. Bugger

Three. The iPhone 4’s glass was scratch resistant but not dropping-onto-a-pavement resistant.

Four. I am still clumsy.

FFS. Not Again!

Written and posted from the Nokia gate5 office in Schönhauser Allee, Berlin (52.5308072, 13.4108176)

GPS Lock Fail Rage

Isn’t GPS a wonderful invention? In the space of a few seconds, your GPS enabled handset can give you your precise location on the face of the Earth, allowing mobile maps to work, routing and navigation to get you to where you want to be or earning you another Mayor badge on a well known location based social networking site.

Except when it doesn’t … you’re in an urban canyon, you’re deep in a building or underground where you just can’t get a GPS lock and you stand there watching the “waiting for GPS” message to disappear. GPS lock fail rage.

Horrible Truth: All Technological Progress ...

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal seems to sum up the rage and frustration rather neatly. We’ve all been there …

Written and posted from the Hotel Mercure An Der Charite in Berlin (52.530429, 13.381361)

Sometimes the Hardware is Willing but the Software is Weak

I’ve had an HP DeskJet F-something-or-other for a couple of years now. It’s a small grey thing, around the size of a shoe box that prints, scans and photocopies. At least that’s what it said in the brochure and on HP’s web site. It used to sit plugged into the USB port on my AirPort Express for easy wireless printing. Not that it actually printed mind you. 

I viewed this piece of hardware’s role in life as rendering documents from one of the Macs we have in the house, in full colour or black and while, onto sheets of A4 paper.

The DeskJet had other ideas.

It viewed its role in life as a source of revenue for HP to get me to keep buying ever more expensive replacement inkjet refills, by the cunning ruse of reporting the cartridge was empty when it was brand new, by refusing to print colour or black and white consistently and in the end, by just refusing to print, unless it was using invisible ink that it secreted somewhere in that grey shoe box.

The scanner was OK though but the photocopier functionality was somewhat hampered by the lack of being actually able to print what had just been scanned. The printer continued to not endear itself by refusing to be installed on my faithful and ageing PowerPC based iBook G4 running Leopard. Intel MacBook Pros running Leopard and Snow Leopard seemed to be fine but the iBook insisted the printer was actually another model entirely and just sulked.

So based on the premise that we wanted to print far more often than we wanted to scan, the HP DeskJet F-whatever-the-model-number-is has been retired and replaced with a gleaming, black, colour laser printer from Samsung. It’s a CLP-315W for those of you who like model numbers.

The hardware is very capable. It works and prints in black and white and in colour which is more than the HP DeskJet ever seemed to do. You can connect it via a USB cable, set it up as its own ad-hoc wifi network or add it to your own network where, for Macs at least, it broadcasts itself as a Bonjour printer and is perfectly happy to accept print jobs from my iBook and from my MacBook Pros. It’s now sitting on a shelf in the cupboard under the stairs minding it’s own business and in a state of slumber until one of my Macs sends it the right network incantation, it wakes up, prints and then goes back to sleep again. It just works.

Now granted, the supplied user guide said it supports Mac OS X 10.3 through 10.5, but a quick check on Samsung’s UK support site (before purchasing I might add), yielded a native set of 10.6 Snow Leopard drivers. And they work. But as I’ve mentioned before, applications which think they have a right to take over one of my machines and do things the way they want to do them without asking permission are one of the things that … irk me.

No drag and drop installation here. Not even a native Mac format mpkg installer. No, after some waiting and authentication I see the words “Installation powered by VISE X”; I’ve found in the past that VISE X installers, or rather the authors of VISE X installers, tend to see my machine as their property, to install and configure stuff with impunity. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt here.

Wait. What? You want me to shut down every single app just to install a printer driver? Oh, no, actually you want me to shut down every single app to install the printer driver, which then starts up Safari, gets me to configure the printer via a Java application which needs my firewall turned off in order to work and then you refuse to install the Smart Panel app because Safari, the one the installer started up in the first, is running.

So eventually we get there. The printer is installed, it’s printing over the network and all is well with the world. I can see the Smart Panel app is running in the menu bar and it’s only a glorified status monitor, which I can get through the printer driver anyway so I close it down. Meanwhile, Software Update is telling me there’s a security update waiting for me, so I install it, reboot and login again. 

Smart Panel is back with me.

Sure enough, a quick glance through my Login Items shows me that the installer has, without my permission, made a decision on my behalf that I’ll always want to run this app and has inserted itself into my list of Login Items. This is not a well behaved app. Well behaved apps, ask permission before doing stuff like this.

At least it’s not as bad as iPass Connect though, which reinserts itself into the Login Items every single time you run it regardless.

So, the Samsung CLP-315W; a great printer with weak software that just can’t be bothered to be good and takes the easy way out. Very poor as Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer used to say. But at least it prints.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

The Theory of Stuff

Once again, this is not the post I set out to write. The one I set out to write was called “In Search of Location’s Sweet Spot” and it’s sitting in draft and not yet posted. That’s because before I can submit that post I need to write this one as a warm up act.

Just like Anne Elk (Miss)I have a theory. I call it my Theory of Stuff. I’m sure that other people, far more learned and erudite than I, have articulated such a theory but I’ve yet to come across any evidence for this and for now at least, it remains mine and it contains three buckets, looking something like this:

On the far left hand side we have the stuff bucket. Whilst stuff may sound vague, it’s entirely intentional. Stuff is defined as a collection or set of items, things or matter. Though I was focussing primarily on location data and location based mobile services, this applies equally well to other businesses and markets. It could be stock, inventory, left handed widgets or a plethora of other things.
On the far right hand side we have people bucket. The exact number of people doesn’t matter, for small businesses the number will probably be small and for large businesses the number will be, err, larger. These people are your customers, your audience. Hopefully they have money as well.
And then in the middle we have the secret sauce bucket. Again, it doesn’t matter what this is but it’s very important to look at what the secret sauce actually does.
  • The secret sauce is a bidirectional pipe that connects stuff to people.
  • It allows you to expose your business’s stuff to the people who are your customers, hopefully adding value along the way.
  • It also allows you to extract money from the people in exchange for access to your business’s stuff. In the Internet industry we call this monetizing your audience.
In order for your business to succeed, you need to have all three of these buckets in place. Have people and secret sauce but no stuff? Fail. Have stuff and secret sauce but no people? Fail. You get the idea.
Take a look at every business that is succeeding, especially those that are online and where the stuff bucket contains data, and you’ll see that they have all three buckets in place. Take a look at those businesses which have failed or are failing, especially those that are online, and you either see one bucket missing or there’s just not enough of it.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

iPass Connect on the Mac; great service, appallingly designed app

I find myself travelling a lot for work these days and that means a roaming service for wifi hotspots and hotel internet connections really makes life simpler. I could maintain subscriptions to The Cloud, T-Mobile Hotspots, BT OpenZone and so on and so on, but fortunately Yahoo! provides me with an iPass subscription.

iPass is great; it allows me to connect to pretty much every hotspot and hotel internet service there is. I’ve been using it for over 4 years now and can only think of a single time when I haven’t been able to get a connection. I’m using it right now, sitting in the departures lounge at Berlin’s Tegel airport waiting for my flight back to London.
So far, so great, but the current, Snow Leopard supporting, version of the iPassConnect app, v3.1, seems to have been designed by someone with scant regard for anything approaching consistency and usability. Let me count the ways in which this app frustrates.
1. Quit iPassConnect? I see no Quit menu option.
From the Mac OS X GUI you can’t stop iPass running. The app lives in your menu bar and scans and rescans for wireless networks (which I’m sure reduces battery life) even when it’s connected to a wireless network. If I’m connected to a wireless network why would I want to look for another network, all the time, constantly? There’s a red and white animation going on in the menu bar which I’m sure someone thought was cute but which is incredibly distracting. But let’s overlook that for a moment. To quit an app, you simply select the menu bar and select Quit or press Cmd-Q.
Not that I’ve ever been able to find the mythical Quit command for iPassConnect. The only way to kill the damn thing is from within Activity Monitor or by the killall command from the shell within Terminal.
Simple resolution: Let the user choose when they want to run your app and when they don’t. Add a Quit command.
2. Install as a Login Item? Every single time?
It’s a simple, plain fact that the more apps you have in your account’s Login Items, the slower your login time will be. Like most people, I keep the number of Login Items down to a bare minimum and then start apps up as I need them. If I don’t use something all day, every day, it’s very unlikely that I want to make it a Login Item. Most apps are well behaved and ask your permission before inserting themselves as a Login Item but not iPassConnect. Run the app and hey presto you get a Login Item. Mildly annoying but at least you can remove it from your list of Login Items. Run the app again though and hey presto you get a Login Item. Each and every single time. It’s frustrating the first time it happens and induces psychosis after the hundredth such occurrence.
This is uncontrollable, un-configurable, totally unacceptable and verging on downright insulting. It’s an app designer’s way of saying to the user “I don’t care what your preferences are, I know better than you”.
Simple resolution: Act in a well behaved manner, ask the user for their preference, act on it and remember it.
3. Update? What update?
Most apps these days have a way of calling home and checking for an update. For those apps that run within a window there’s usually an Updates option in the application’s menu. For those apps that don’t run in a window there’s usually an option in their preferences pane. Note the word usually and let’s have a look at the iPassConnect preference pane.
There’s an Updates tab which is a good start. There’s an Enable automatic updates option which is also a good thing. But it only controls the hotspot dictionary that the app maintains. Want to update the app or know whether there’s an update available? Not with this app (and the iPass website is remarkably update free as well).
Simple resolution: Add an update option and ask the user if they want to check for updates.
4. Snow Leopard support. In 32-bits.
Snow Leopard continues Apple’s march towards a pure 64-bit operating system. A cursory glance at Activity Monitor shows that most apps running are Intel (64-bit) and this includes the System Preferences app. So let’s try to set some preferences for iPassConnect.
Ah yes, the iPassConnect preferences pane is 32-bit which means that you have to restart System Preferences in 32-bit mode and there it stays, running in 32-bit mode, until you manually restart System Preferences in the default 64-bit mode.
Simple resolution: If you say your app has Snow Leopard support then fully support Snow Leopard. That means 64-bitness across the board.
iPass is a great service, it deserves a great app; version 3.1 is not that app.
Written and posted from Berlin Tegel Airport (52.5545447, 13.2899969)

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous