Isle of Man Cycle Hire wins key Tourism Award

It’s nice to see people do well. That’s why I was pleased when the owner of a
small business who I helped with their web site told me they’d recently won an
award by the Department of Tourism and Leisure on the island. Whereas I usually
end up writing about how poor Manx customer service is, this time it’s about
good customer service.

Isle of Man Cycle Hire, a small company
created by a former colleague, has been recognised for its customer service with
an award for Best Customer Service 2008. It’s the personal
touch that makes a good customer experience and I am in no doubt that this is
what contributed to this award. I have always been able to ask advice on my own
bike and I have also had very kind offers to help maintain it. (If it wasn’t for
my own laziness, this would have been taken up!)

Looking forward to the summer of 2009, we’re hoping that we can build on this
customer relationship by adding a Facebook Page that allows customers to post
photos, anecdotes about their experiences and become “Fans” of the company. This
is great for small companies because it not only creates the impression of an
open and accessible company, but it also helps introduce interactivity to a web
site at little or no cost. No major site redesign, redevelopment was required to
encourage users to share their experiences, instead we just joined one of the
world’s most successful social networks.

“BETA” is now a Marketing Gimmick

I wonder why it is that software and services have now started badging
themselves as “BETA” after a significant change or rewrite. “BETA” was
previously a term applied to software and services which was in a controlled
state of testing by a controlled audience or test-base. Major software like
Microsoft Windows often had a significant and highly sought after BETA test
program, which helped Microsoft control access to the software and thereby
control support requests, feedback and bug reports.

Now, however, it seems it forms part of a Marketing campaign. Web sites, in
particular, are guilty of adding “BETA” to new features/rewritten sites after
the initial development is complete. What signal is this giving to end users? It
sure is sexy and cool (if you’re a bit geeky) to get your hands on new tech
before everyone else, but when the Beta stage comes de rigeur, it significantly
weakens the whole idea of the Beta phase of software Quality Assurance.

In my mind, Beta doesn’t mean “sexy and cool”, it means “unstable, buggy and
requires a professional touch”. It is fundamentally not ready for users. So
launching sites like

Number 10’s new web site as Beta is not in the spirit of Beta software. It is forcing users to use software that would previously not have been released. It amounts to lazy testing. All the money the Labour government throws at IT projects and they couldn’t establish a sufficient testing programme before releasing software to users. What “Beta” means now is “Well, it’s sexy and cool, and if it goes wrong we don’t really care”. If they cared, the “Beta” programme would have been optional. Microsoft’s Download and Support sites are going through a similar Beta programme, but their release has been much more controlled – asking users if they wanted to participate.

I’m not a fan of regular users getting their hands on WIndows 7, either.
Windows 7 is a massive software installation with a huge potential to go wrong.
“Regular” users really should not be part of this Beta programme, certainly not
at this early stage. Just because the download servers crashed for users
downloading WIndows 7 Beta, doesn’t mean Ballmer was right to release the
software to the general public (though I guess he is keen for users to see
post-Vista improvements). As the current build (7000 at time of writing) is
going to expire in August anyway, it will leave a lot of people with a
potentially unusable machine. It’s fine allowing wider access to Beta programmes
closer to launch, at least then these users could just jump on to the upgrade
path. I suspect a lot of “techie friends” are going to be asked to reinstall a
previous Windows install in August! As a member of the MSDN community (an
excellent subscription service that provides access to much of Microsoft’s
portfolio for your own development and testing programmes), I can obtain a copy
of Windows 7 and I am able to test and submit meaningful test cases and
scenarios to Microsoft. How is a regular user able to do this?

So the Marketeers have stolen a term for established test programmes
previously used to control potentially unstable software distribution. Where
does this leave the whole software Quality Assurance process? If “Beta” is now
just “cool and free” copies of software such as Windows (at least for a for
short time) how can I as a software developer control access to my own software
in such testing programmes and instill the idea that the “Beta” label does
actually mean it isn’t yet suitable for release. (Microsoft and others use “RTM”
(Released to Manufacturing) for that, a much better opportunity for the general
public to jump on and try it out). I have two projects on the go at the moment.
At work I am working on an Outlook Toolbar which is currently in a Beta phase, but within our own organisation. We’re very happy with its performance, so we’re going to go with a new stage “Elective Sunrise Edition”, which will be released to specific users with platforms that would highlight any further issues and does what it says on the tin. Our users must “opt in” to the programme and it will be clear that it is pre-release software. “Elective Sunrise Edition” is also
suitably pretentious to satisfy the Marketeer in everyone! After a couple of
weeks, we’ll go “Gold” with a correctly versioned product. At home, my WPF
Twitter Client will go out for Beta Testing (by nature of my own hardware, I can
only test it on a limited number of platforms) but I will be putting code in
there to prevent onward distribution of the software in an uncontrolled manner.
Those users I choose will surely be special, because I will have targetted them
for specific testing reasons such as platform, frequency of use, etc.

For me, “Beta” is not sexy and nor is it a result of impatience on the part
of the Marketing Department to release software before it is ready, or of
developers who are a little too lazy with their Quality Assurance processes, it
means “potentially unstable software, use at own risk“!

Heathrow 3rd runway

In the last few years there has been an increasing row about whether Heathrow
Airport should get a 3rd runway. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK and
certainly one of the busiest, if not the busiest in Europe. It is, understandably, essential to London being seen as a hub of commerce and finance. However, its size and owner are quickly being seen as being unreliable, inefficient, anti-competitive and environmentally incompatible. Heathrow Terminal 5 was a disaster, resulting in massive baggage confusion and delays. So, it was with a sense of inevitable frustration when the 3rd runway was given the formal go ahead by the Government.

I’ve joined the Greenpeace Airplot scheme to help try and stop it, and I have
written the following to the government which I have sent to Number 10 via
Greenpeace’s site. If you want to submit your own and join the Airplot for
yourself, visit the Greenpeace

Dear Mr. Brown,

I would like to make my profound disappointment and frustration at your authorisation of the 3rd runway at Heathrow clear. It seems to me, and it seems much of the UK if various polls are to be believed (The Guardian and The Evening Standard, that this decision is
not only unpopular, but undemocratic and highly confusing.

I understand the business benefits that expansion of an airport can consolidate or increase London’s position in the world economy, we are after all, an island. However, that is difficult to reconcile with the current environmental requirements. It seems that the government are complicit with an aviation industry which is able to arrange itself in a highly influential manner to affect government policy in a way no other industry body
is able to do.

Airports are massive greenhouse gas generators and their expansion must be controlled at all costs. Your environmental policy and requirements you have signed up to are incompatible with any runway expansion, which makes schemes like this hypocritical. You are not leaving a super-airport and stable economy for our future generations, you are leaving a world of smog and pollution. No runway is environmentally clean. Your representations that only “clean” planes will use the facility is not convincing in the slightest. It seems you have “bought off” your fellow ministers such as Ed Milliband by adding this clause. The only “clean plane” is no plane.

Indeed, the way that your government has proceeded regarding decisions such as this, it is highly likely and almost inevitable that any rules, guidelines or quotas you will set in place for environmental, noise and economic impact will just be quietly weakened hoping the voting public don’t realise. It is ridiculous to think that any government would actively close a runway if quotas are not met, and I find it insulting to think that you believe we would believe that this would occur.

I notice form the promotion of the scheme that the carbon footprint that will be generated by this scheme hardly takes account of car use. This country is full with cars, and yet we continue to add more. A massive airport will generate a massive amount of cars. Your answer of opening hard shoulders on motorwars running into Heathrow is hardly a solution.

What Britain needs desperately to meet its environmental commitments, control its road use, reduce domestic air travel (thereby freeing up capacity in existing airports) and reduce the social and economic gap between the North and South of the UK is commitment and investment to rail. The benefits of Rail are as clear as clean air.

Rail is the most efficient and clean method of mass transit available, and is clean at the point of delivery. It is the safest method of mass transit available. But, your running of the rail industry is incompatible with reality. While other countries actively believe that the state has a key part to play in the rail industry as both a backer and as a subject of policy, the Labour Government appears to be micro-managing the rail franchises while reducing public subsidy for the railway. High Speed 1, the high speed rail link between St. Pancras and The Channel Tunnel proves that we can create High
Speed rail to European specifications and this must be expanded. High Speed 2, a
high speed line between London and Manchester/Leeds and possibly beyond is
essential. This will reduce motorway use, increase the number of paths for
freight to be carried by rail, reduce domestic flights and bring our cities
closer together. The Conservative government has committed to developing such a
rail link. You idea of a “Heathrow Hub”, while a welcome addition to any
transport infrastructure, is just sugar. Such a hub could be argued as being too
late anyway, otherwise there wouldn’t be the traffic issues seen on the roads in
to Heathrow.

I am pleased to add that I have also joined Greenpeace’s Airplot scheme, and will be delighted to add to the difficulties that you will doubtless experience over this unpopular and undemocratic decision.

Your execution of this scheme has been highly questionable. You have been complicit with a highly organised aviation industry, have not honoured democratic principles by having Parliamentary debates around the issue, have clearly somehow convinced your own ministers to change their opposition to the scheme and are riding rough shod over voters’ homes, businesses and future generations. I applaud John McDonnell’s demonstration of what democracy has become by removing the Ceremonial Mace from its position, He is right to believe that tricky decisions are increasingly made in private
cabinet meetings, a practice introduced by another Prime Minister responsible for unpopular, and later proved to be incorrect decisions, Tony Blair. While I am living in the Isle of Man, I will still be eligible to vote in the UK elections which are already overdue. I will be voting for policy, and that policy will be whoever comes up with a commitment to the environment and rail.

Best regards,
Nathan J Pledger