Did your upgrade kill usability?

Our office building's elevators recently went through an "upgrade" process.  All the elevator mechanisms were replaced, and then they replaced the management system.

The new management system decides which elevator you'll be using when you push the button.  It has a nice big arrow above the lift door that lights up while you're waiting, and then starts flashing when the elevator arrives, so the moment you push the button you know which elevator to go stand in front of.  Only sometimes the system realises that the particular elevator is in use between other floors, and then switches to another.

At ground floor level they've installed a set of buttons for each floor in the building, and the system then lets you know which elevator will stop on your floor.  The problem here is that most people don't even bother looking, and just storm into the first elevator that arrives.  You just have to wait for the first stop before you can push your floor button again to make the elevator stop there.

I have no idea how the system calculates which elevator to use, but what I do know is that the average wait time has gone from 30 seconds to about 3 minutes. Surely the developers of the management system should have tested and timed the new system in a real building, preferably their own.  Why try to predict which elevator to use if you can just stop the first one that comes past going in the right direction.

The insides of the new elevators look very nice, but they're still just as shaky as what they used to be.  The only improvement I can really see here is that you can now switch off buttons that were pressed by mistake.

 What I'm getting to here, is that, hopefully, when you get a brilliant idea for your system as the developer, you actually do some homework on the usability of the feature before implementing the changes into your production environment.  I've seen many users hampered by a design decision a developer took, because it would be cool to design, instead of thinking what would benefit the users.

Installing Ubuntu on an eMac

Sometime last year I bought a second hand eMac for R500, thinking it was about time that I started learning non-Microsoft products.  The machine was great and for the first few months everything ran great and I learnt quite a bit about Mac OS X 9.x.  The same person then gave me an iMac that was taking up needed space in his garage.  I got the iMac home, tried to switch it on, but it was dead, and clearly not serviceable by mere mortals.  So that got tossed, but I kept the software that came with it seeing the eMac had nothing.

I noticed that the iMac's software package included an upgrade disc for OS X 10.1 (Jaguar I think), and the tinkerer in me woke up immediately.  I had to give this a try, see what changed.  I booted with the disc, went through the process and made my first mistake on step 1.  Where you choose the partition on which to install, you also have the option to clear it out.  Guess what, that was the first thing I did, happily continued with my installation, only to be told, sorry for you, there's no prior version of OS X on this drive, cannot install.

No problem I thought, just boot up with the iMac's install disk for version 9.2, install that and then do the upgrade.  Only the iMac's disk would not boot on the eMac.  No I had a nice big white doorstop on my hands. 

Plan B was to get a copy of Tiger and install that, but the importer & distributors of Apple products in SA had another plan for me.  Since there is supposed to be an upgrade released in October, they thought it would be wise to stop importing and stocking any copies at the end of 2006.  So every shop I went to had the family pack in stock, but no single licenses.  I only have one machine capable of running OS X, so why the hell would I pay double the price for 3 licenses.  Still had a big white doorstop on my hands.

Fast forward a few months, I take delivery of a set of Ubuntu disks, some non-microsoft technology I can learn on a machine that is serviceable by mortals.  But lo and behold, included in the package there's an Ubuntu disk "For your Mac".  Had to try this.  So I fired up my big white doorstop, had to eject the CD drive with a paperclip because the eject button on the keyboard did not work witouh any OS installed, and booted up with the CD.  Now the install I did on a VPC worked fine first time, and looked to be working fine on the Mac.  Until it started loading X to get to the installation icons.   X did not like the eMac and failed with a particularly ugly error message, I can't quite remember the wording.

Time for some serious googling.

I found a few articles on installing Ubuntu on the eMac, but none of the advice worked, until I downloaded the alternative ISO mentioned in this article.

Ripped it to cd, booted the doorstop, and have never seen an easier installation.  After selecting a few basic options like language and machine name, the install did the rest, and I now have a working eMac again, although not with the intended OS.

Soft skills to help you excel in IT

I received this piece by email and thought I have to share it. 

ITprofessionals know that the development of technical skills is fundamental andnon-negotiable in the development of their careers.  The degree to which these technical skills are achieved and applied can beeasily measured through tests.  They can also be noted at a glance by simply finding out what tertiaryeducation the professionals have done and what qualifications were achieved atany one of the country's 21 universities.

At the Cape Peninsula University of Technology alone, there are 25 000 studentsdeveloping their technical skills and preparing for the working world by comingto grips with the technologies, theories and histories of their chosen careers.  But learning about and mastering the subject matter is only one of thenecessary talents every IT professional must cultivate.  There is a strong human component: essentially eight soft skills that must alsobe mastered for industry players to excel in their chosen technology fields.


Whether yourtechnical skills are average or above- average, applying a positive attitudeand energy can improve the working environment and your career prospectssignificantly.

Be energised about how you view problems, be positive in your approach tosolving them, and show conviction.

Attitude and energy applies as much to what you do as it does to how you do it.It also applies to the interpersonal skills you bring to the workplace.

Simply because you are a friendly person does not mean that you automaticallyhave the energy and attitude to be successful in your chosen IT career.


In anyprofession, communication is important. The more communicative you are, themore you will find yourself surrounded by people and projects that help yougrow your career prospects rather than bog you down with problems and hurdles.

Communicating ideas is important; doing so in ways that the people you aretalking to will understand is even more so.

In IT, however, there is an added need for written communication as it isimportant to provide users of systems or products with manuals and informationon how to maximise the solution.


Keepingperspective when faced with major obstacles is a must.  It enables you to see complaints, compliments, issues and non-issues for whatthey really are.

Understanding the context in which things occur is also important. If neitheris done, it becomes difficult to overcome issues, little problems can be blownout of proportion and solutions mismatched.

Without context, you could find yourself scrambling to chase away the smokerather than putting out the fire. Worse, without perspective you could befuelling the fire instead of fighting it.

Business savvy

To ensurea successful, prosperous and long career in IT, it is important to understandthe business as well.  It is necessary to get a grip on what drives the business, to understand whatthe business's objectives are and what your role is in getting it there.  To effectively do your job, it is necessary to know what your managers anddirectors want of you and what the company's clients expect of you.

In coming to terms with the business, you must align yourself with it. If youfind that alignment is not possible, it is best to move on as you serve no oneworking for a company that you do not understand or appreciate.


Control relatesto how you approach leadership. There must be an understanding and respect forthose in positions of leadership in the business.  They must be used as mentors to expand your skills and knowledge on as manyfronts as possible.  Occasionally, management decisions should be challenged, provided the businessstands to benefit.


On theother side of the control coin, those in positions of leadership must applythemselves to sharing their knowledge and they must lead by example.  Your leadership ambition must be fuelled by energy, but it must be checked byperspective and context, assisted through communication and guided by businesssavvy and control.


Responsibilityfor your career is yours and yours alone. Companies cannot be expected to tellyou what career you should be following or how to get there. Rather, theyshould assist in your career growth.  This is most effectively done when you align yourself with the business andtake responsibility for yourself, your knowledge and your actions.


Technology requires very specific skills to be acquired, but toensure a successful career in IT, you must complement these skills with ageneralist approach.  Broadening your knowledge and understanding in your chosen field, and coming toterms with the more general concerns that surround it, gives you power to goplaces. 
It makes you more marketable to employers and more sellable to customers. Whilespecialists can make money, generalists rule the world.