Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Frustrations - Online Bill Paying UX Failure

Received our first gas bill today from the Supergas company here in Israel. I can setup an automatic bank draft or pay by credit card. I can't do the bank draft yet so I figured I would pay by credit card.

Go to their site, find the pay my bill page, get to the screen where I put in my information and there is one small problem...the area code. Mine, 058 is not listed. Link to their page here


Naturally like any good hack I figured just pick an area code and let it go, like entering jay@jay.com for the email address. Nope, does not compute. It verifies the phone number on the account with their records. 

Supergas, what are you thinking?

1) Verifying a phone number does not sound like a good idea to me. If you have my account number, address, name, ID # and all, you would think that would be enough to validate me. I want to pay you, make it easy for me. Also which phone did we open the account under? Mine or my wife's? Fail again.

2) Why is area code a drop down AND a required field? Did you think I would not include my area code when I input my phone number? Is it a formatting issue? Then state how you want the numbers entered, using ( ) or . or - is fine. 

3) There is also no help on the page or chat with anyone. I am sure customer service would be unable to help me fix the UI and underlying coding, but they should be able to take my payment, for an extra fee of course. 

This is the gas company that everyone in my city gets their gas from and pays their bills. I can not be the only one that has this problem. Then again, if everyone pays by the bank using automatic drafts I can see how this web page was missed during the QA process.

It happens, someone updated code or forget to add in our area code. I know this, I've done it myself. I am not angry, slightly amused and slightly frustrated though, because what should have taken a few minutes to setup turned into a long process and now a blog post.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My BlueMix Day of Coding

I rarely code anymore, but when I found out about this class, not far from me in Israel, I figured why not check it out.


Last time I did something like this was at IBM Impact 2 years ago when I sat in on a Worklight development hands on session.

Which was more useful? Bluemix is this year's iPhone from IBM and Worklight is a bit quieter.

Bluemix is a term loosely translated to me as "Websphere lite". Why do I say this? There are a lot of pieces to make this environment come together. Not sure how much of it is IBM or the architecture that requires so much, but as an Admin, it does not make me happy to see/hear there are so many moving pieces. As a developer, maybe you are used to this aspect. Yes I come from a silo coding world, so sociliaze me. Chris Sparshott of IBM did nice slides on the pieces.

The class was an all day event, 9-4, I had to skip out the last hour to get home for parent night at school, but we were done coding by then. We opened with a slide deck in English and the instructor presented it all in Hebrew. I may have missed some terminology or aspects, and any Bluemix people want to correct me I appreciate it.

I tried to get a picture of one slide which looked like this:

You may prefer this slidedeck, it is not the one I saw, but will enlighten you farther than I could ever explain it.

Once we got the introductions out of the way it was time to get coding. Well time to first find the pieces we would need.

Bluemix ID, Jazz ID, IBM ID, check. Oh the Bluemix ID is only good for 60 days then you need to pay for access. More on this later.

GitHub is the first stop, go get the files for the class. Fork them over, boil till ready then copy to your local drive. No doubt developers do this in their sleep, admins, we just look at this like it is another foreign language. Yes I have had an account at Github for a while, but I don't code so it was to tinker with some ideas. I followed directions and was amused at how much DOS is still in use. Sorry you all call it a command prompt or terminal.

Great so we have some file. Now what? Go get 2-3 other bits of pieces, and load them into Bluemix. Right, how? I asked the woman sitting next to me for help and she also had problems following. First rule of doing live demos, reset your machine or do it in a VM that can easily be cleaned up. Instructor had all the defaults found for him, but these got worked out and we moved on to the next part.

When we got into the BueMix environment we found there is a 2GB memory limit of usage. We were constantly deleting apps on screen, I at least, wondered how much memory we needed, or if I deleted the right one every time.

Coding involves various drag and drop bits and pieces which you can include. Some things like Twitter have already been included for you to play with feeds and searches easily. In general, I found it to be an easy way to code, if one knew what they were doing. I am still a bit confused about all the preliminary work we did, downloaded and setup(we used MYSQL, but I don't have it on my laptop, so not sure how that works). Naturally I wanted to integrate Domino in here but there is nothing there just yet. Perhaps at IBM ConnectED in January we will see/hear more about it. Then again, if one really wanted a fast development platform that could be used across the board, IBM Domino is still out there. Nathan Freeman had a similar question on his blog.

We eventually made it through to the coding part and made a little parking app. Mine is sitting out here, https://care.mybluemix.net, for the next 57 days or so. Cute enough and worked on my S4 and laptop browsers. This doesn't get published yet to the IBM Appstore, IBM Cloud Marketplace. I understand only SoftLayer apps can be published here, but I may be wrong with that information.

I presume one can package the app, somehow, and make it available from the Apple and Google stores as well.

My questions for IBM and the product management team:

Pricing to use BlueMix after 60 days, in my opinion limits development. On the other hand, you can sign up with multiple accounts and use it for another 60 days, just without your code. As an IBM Business Partner I would like to think we can have accounts that do not expire or cost us, much, money. The people I contacted had no idea if there was such a BP option. Anyone know?

Having all these pieces of a puzzle relying on SoftLayer, URLs, and version control seems like a lot of failure points to me. Just wondering about it.

Pricing for using BlueMix did not show up on screen, for my over 60 days account, just asking for a credit card, but no amount. Please let people know what it costs.

Speaking of costs, you can see what your built app might cost from inside BlueMix. To me it looks like a nickel and dime effort when all I want to know is how much to host my app every month. Who knew there were large and small push/pull requests. Right, you developers should, but do you really watch the costs? I think this could be done in an easier fashion so that the business line people could understand their budget hits. After all, I doubt the developers look at the bills.

It was fun overall, and when I had the right code, logins and things turned on, or running at all, it all went well.

I will now leave developer land again until the next time, like next Tuesday, when I go to Google's Cloud day and get a different perspective.