Friday, November 21, 2008

Messed-Up App of the Day

A couple of weeks ago, I returned from the Miracle Oracle Open World 2009 event held in Rødby, Denmark. I go just about every year to this event. This time, I had accepted an invitation from Chris Antognini to speak at his company's TrivadisOPEN event in Zürich. So my travel planning was a little more complicated than it usually is. Instead of finding a simple trip from DFW to Copenhagen and back, this time I had to book a triangle: DFW to Zürich to Copenhagen, and then back to DFW.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to find a good schedule at a good price; it was a lot harder than my normal booking. I ended up finding a suitable enough itinerary at Orbitz. I usually fly American Airlines, but for this trip, the AA flights were much more expensive than I wanted to pay. But I found an itinerary that used British Airways and Air Berlin that I liked. So I booked it.

The trip went just fine. On the morning of the final day of my trip, Dan Norris and I were standing together in Kastrup at the BA ticket counter when the BA agent noticed that I hadn't provided my American Airlines AAdvantage number for the itinerary. (BA and AA are oneworld partners.) So I gave him the number, which he attached to my itinerary, and he informed me that the number would map only to the segments of my flight that I hadn't consumed yet (I had CPH-LHR and then LHR-DFW left to go). I'd need to request credit for my flights prior in the week separately on the web once I got home.


So on Monday after I got home, I went to to register my BA flights for mileage credit. There was a form to fill out. It took a while to type everything into it, because I had to find my ticket numbers, figure out how to isolate the carrier id from the remainder of the ticket number, and then enter date and flight number information for each segment of my trip for which I was requesting credit. It was probably a 10-minute time investment to get the form filled out.

So I reviewed what I had entered, and then I hit the Submit button. Instantly, I got feedback from the page saying that I couldn't request mileage credit right now, that I would have to wait 15 days before requesting mileage credit. So I recoiled a little bit—filling out that form was a bunch of work—and I opened my calendar application to log myself a reminder to go through the process again in 15 days.

There are a couple of problems here:
  1. Why did the form force me to enter a bunch of details before telling me that I shouldn't be using this form?
  2. Why was it necessary in the first place for me to type in the flight date, flight number, and origin and destination information for each segment of the itinerary? The ticket number should have been enough.
The simple way to fix both these problems is to do what does: it asks only who I am and what my ticket number is, and it figures out everything else.


The fifteen days passed, and my calendar reminded me to submit my mileage credit form. So I went to work again, gathering my ticket number information, my flight numbers, my dates of travel, and my origin/destination airport codes. I spent another few minutes typing it all in again. Then I clicked Submit. This time: joy. The form said that the submission was complete, and I'd hear back from via email.

A minute or so later, I got an email in my inbox thanking me for visiting and confirming that I had issued a mileage credit request. Good: request confirmed.

Then, just a second or two later, I got a second email from saying this:
Thanks for using to request mileage credit for your travel on British Airways.

I'm sorry to disappoint you but your transatlantic travel on British Airways (or a BA-ticketed flight) is not eligible for AAdvantage mileage credit. British Airways transatlantic flights to/from the United States are specifically excluded from mileage accrual or redemption in the AAdvantage program.
Grrrr.... I had to work this hard—twice!—just to find out that I wasn't even going to get to do what I wanted to do? Why didn't they tell me this fifteen days ago?!

The first experience was annoying. The second experience took the annoyance to a whole new level.

Here are some application design lessons that this story reinforces:
  1. Don't ask for information you can derive.
  2. Don't separate feedback from its prerequisite input by any more "distance" (measured in either time or user investment) than absolutely necessary. Especially when there's a chance you're going to deny someone his service, don't make him work any harder or wait any longer than absolutely necessary to let him know.
Of these lessons, number one is far and away the most important. If the site had asked just for the ticket number like does, the pain of the other problems wouldn't have been that big of a deal.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My Friend Oliver

Oliver Weers has been my friend for several years now. I met him at one of Mogens Nørgaard's fantastic events in Denmark, and it's at these events that I see Oliver once or twice a year.

Oliver is a DBA who works for CSC. Like a lot of people I've met in Denmark, he's a very sharp guy. Like a lot of people I've met who are DBAs, he has hobbies outside of work. I have a lot of fun talking to him, and I enjoy when I get to cross his path.

Oliver is particularly special, because his outside hobby is that he's a rock star.

...Not the "finger quotes" kind of rock star like Don Knuth or Chris Date. I mean Oliver is an actual rock star, like Joe Elliott or David Coverdale. Well, he'd probably be embarrassed by that characterization, but that's where I hope his ship is headed. A lot of people in Europe already know Oliver because of his performance on the TV show "X Factor," which is a Danish show that's similar to "American Idol."

I'm excited for Oliver lately because he has just released his first album called Get Ready. If you like your Whitesnake, I think you'll like Oliver. (He'll be warming up for Whitesnake on December 19th in front of 7,000 people at K. B. Hallen in Copenhagen.)

Here's a fun sample from the X Factor show. Try to hold it together for the first couple of minutes. Remember, it's like American Idol where half the fun is to see how bad it can get. Oliver kicks in at 2:22 to straighten things out.

So if you're interested in the Rock Music, have a look at him. Hit Oliver's MySpace page for a good idea of what he's got. This Calling Out For You video is good, too (including a nice interview på Dansk, with a little operatic demo thrown in there for good measure). Good song, and it's kind of fun to remember that this guy can rock in sqlplus, too.

So, please join me in wishing Oliver the very best of luck. He's worked hard at this for many years—the whole time holding down a pretty tricky job. I hope he'll become a huge overnight success worldwide sometime real soon.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

C. J. Date at Symposium 2009

I'm excited to announce that we have just arranged for Chris Date to speak at the upcoming Hotsos Symposium (hosted by our friends at Hotsos, 9–12 March 2009 near DFW Airport). Karen Morton just closed the deal with Chris a few minutes ago: he will deliver a keynote and then two one-hour technical sessions.

Here is a chance to meet one of the men who invented the whole field in which so many of us earn our livings today. This as an incredible opportunity.

I'll hope to see you there.