WQTS 11

Would you believe there’s a WQTS (Who QAed This Shit) story with a happy ending?

I’ll get there. But first, a tale that’s not so much WQTS as WTTWAGI (Who Thought This Was a Good Idea).

I’m calling out the Holiday Inn Express in Sedalia for gross violations of common sense in their handling of technology. And, just to be perfectly clear, I’m not talking about HIE hotels in general. As far as I know, these problems are unique to that particular location.

Let’s start with the hotel Wi-Fi. Finding good Wi-Fi in a hotel is a rare event, one that should be celebrated with parades and (hopefully brief) speeches by elected dignitaries. The Sedalia Holiday Inn Express’ Wi-Fi is not that sort. To be fair, once you get connected, it’s no worse than many other hotels’. It’s just that getting to that point is by far the worst experience I’ve had with, not just hotel wireless, but any public wireless.

Like most such, the SHIE uses a “captive portal” setup: once you connect, a web page launches, allowing you to enter whatever login credentials are needed. Many hotels either ask for your name and room number or a global password which changes periodically. The page is generally simple so it can display cleanly on anything from an old phone to a modern laptop.

SHIE has a huge page filled with text. That’s necessary because it offers three different ways to log in. Three.

There’s the traditional “last name and room number”.

There’s a numeric code. The web page calls it a PIN, but the envelope your room key comes in calls it an “Internet Access Code”. Calling the same thing by different names is just asking for trouble.

And there’s the third method, which requires half-again as much screen space as the other two combined. That’s because it’s only available to Holiday Inn Express Club members, and the portal login page has to explain all of the benefits of club membership, only one of which the ability connect to the Wi-Fi in any HIE hotel with your email address*.

* No password, at least not on the login page–I’m not a HIE Club Member, so I didn’t try to go any further–but the text strongly implied that all you need is your email address. Which means that if you know an HIE Club member’s email address, you can get all the free Wi-Fi you want in Sedalia. Assuming you want hotel-quality Wi-Fi. I wouldn’t want to download illegal images on something that slow, but if I wanted to launch a virus, how better than to do it through a hotel using someone else’s email address?

The login methods, all crammed onto the one login page. Any half-way competent user interface developer or QA engineer will tell you that having multiple methods of doing the same thing risks confusing your users. And indeed, while I was checking in, there was a couple at the front desk asking for help connecting their laptop to the wireless*.

* They were looking for where to enter that Internet Access Code. Remember, the page calls it a PIN. At least on a laptop they could see the whole page. Imagine how much zooming and scrolling they would have had to do on a phone before they even arrived at that level of confusion.

For the record, the desk clerk couldn’t help them. She had to call the “technical expert”. I left before I got to overhear that conversation. Must have been a doozy.

And don’t forget, by the way, that the portal was set up so you had to re-enter your login information every time you reconnected to the Wi-Fi. Go to dinner? Re-enter. Lose signal? Re-enter.

But enough about the wireless. Let’s move on to the computers in the so-called “Business Center” in the lobby. The hotel is very proud to have Microsoft Office on the computers. So proud, they put up a sign advertising it. And, to be fair, it’s a big step up from last year, when the only software on those machines was Windows itself. But let’s face it: Office is the least you can expect to find on the computers in anything that calls itself a Business Center.

I was impressed to see that the computers were running Windows 10. I was rather less impressed to see that they needed a password to use. Why bother? It’s not like the hotel was exercising any control over who uses the machines. I asked for the password at the desk–and note, by the way, that there were no signs telling would-be users how to get the password. Amazingly, the clerk knew it. It’s all lower-case, with no digits or punctuation, and it’s one of the first three words anyone of even moderate intelligence would try–and it’s not “password” or “guest”. I don’t know if they’re supposed to confirm that users are staying in the hotel, but if so, she didn’t.

So if you’re not limiting usage, why put passwords on them? If you want to exercise enough control to keep kids from tying the up all day playing games, just have the clerks glance in that direction occasionally. The computers sit in the lobby, no more than ten feet away from the front desk.

And it’s not like the password prevents people from mistreating the machines. I couldn’t use the first one I tried because some prankster had changed the password and locked everyone out of the machine. On the other machine, someone had created his own account, presumably so he wouldn’t have to remember the hotel’s password.

On many public computers, the USB ports are disabled to keep people from installing malware. Well-designed Business Centers have heavy-duty virus protection, but allow you to use the USB ports to transfer your work from your laptop to the computer. SHIE found a different security method: they put the computers under the desk, forcing users to crawl around on the floor to plug in a thumb drive. OK, so it’s not totally effective security, but it’s better than nothing.

The final blow? There’s no printer in the Business Center. Instead, there’s a networked printer hidden somewhere behind the front desk. Can you imagine what your corporate information security team is going to say about you using that printer to run off last-second changes to your presentation about buying the Holiday Inn chain?

sigh

OK, ready for that happy ending? This one really is a WQTS story.

This time last year, I wrote about Project Fi and how pleased I was with it.

I’m still happy with Project Fi, and when I heard about the Project Fi Travel Trolley shortly before my Sedalia trip I was totally charmed.

The Trolley, in case you haven’t already heard about it, is a glorified vending machine set up in several major airports around the US. It’s stocked with small items that might be of use to travelers: USB cables, luggage tags, sleep kits, playing cards, and–the real prize–fuzzy travel socks. Project Fi customers can get a free goody just by tapping their phone against the kiosk. The kiosk and your phone use NFC to validate your Fi account and generate a QR code. The kiosk then scans the code and dispenses the prize you wanted.

That’s the theory. In practice, somebody missed a bug.

Either there’s a hidden problem in the kiosk’s NFC reader, or nobody thought to test the scenario where a customer has more than one account on their phone.

Maggie and I both have two accounts on our phones. When we tried to use the Trolley, instead of getting QR codes, we got an endless series of browser windows opening, each of which informed us that we were logged into the wrong account. Logging into Google with the correct account did no good. Neither did any of several other methods we tried to convince the system we were Project Fi customers.

No fuzzy travel socks for us.

Our trip wasn’t ruined. Somehow we soldiered onward, cold toes notwithstanding. (For the record, temperatures in Sedalia were in the high eighties. Frostbite was not a significant concern.)

The happy ending?

I reported the problem to Project Fi support, who referred me to Swyft, the company that manufacturers and supports the Travel Trolley kiosks. Within minutes, I received an apology for the “bad experience,” an assurance that the issue will be investigated, and a promise to send us socks.

Now, it might just have been a bedbug letter. We’ll find out next time I fly through an airport with a Travel Trolley–I fully intend to see if they’ve come up with a fix. One can never have too many sleep masks and earplugs, after all.

But I’ll take a Happy Ending For Now–as long as I really do get my socks.

I’m Back

I’m back. Rather than asking and risking an answer I’d rather not hear, I’ll just assume you missed me.

I managed to disconnect from the net, and didn’t look at any newspaper*, so it’s going to take me a couple of days to catch up on whatever happened while I was gone–and what’s happening now. That means I can’t bring you my usual timely (i.e. no more than 48 hours-delayed) posts quite yet.

* OK, so I looked at “USA TODAY” a couple of times. I stand by my original statement.

So today you have to suffer through my vacation photos. It’s traditional, right?

As usual, I’ll be making wild generalizations based on insufficient data (residents of Missouri–pardon me, “Missoura”–feel free to jump in and correct me).

07-1Sedalia, MO, where I spent most of the past week, is surrounded by fields of blurry corn. I’m willing to entertain the theory that the corn would be less blurry if it weren’t moving at a relative velocity of 70 MPH–no, don’t call the police: I assure you that’s the speed limit along that stretch of freeway*–but I don’t have any experimental data that would bear on the question. For those even less agriculturally-inclined than I am, the corn is the green stuff behind and to the right of the tree. The green and yellow plants in the foreground are something called “weeds”. Yes, with an “s” at the end.

* Disconcerting to those of us used to states where the maximum speed is 65, or even lower.

07-2There’s a downtown historic district, where many of the business occupy buildings that date back to the 1800s. For that matter, many of the homes are equally as old. Here in California, forty-year-old buildings are routinely considered “historic” and protected from change. That made seeing buildings a century older being remodeled and rebuilt, and in daily use with nary a historic marker in sight seem a little peculiar.

Which is not to say that Sedalia is locked in the eighteenth century. Outside of the historic part of town, you can find all the modern conveniences you want: chain stores, wi-fi, and murder.

Whoops, pardon me. That’s for a later post. And besides, the murder in question, and the ensuing events, happen in the older section. So, let me try that again: “…all the modern conveniences you want: chain stores, wi-fi, and BBQ joints.” Yes, much better. And, with apologies to my vegetarian readers, it’s damn good ‘que, too.

* One thing Sedalia doesn’t seem to have is the concept of recycling–indeed, Missoura as a whole seems extremely deficient in its attention to matters environmental. The only recycling bins I saw in the (admittedly small) part of the state I visited were in the Kansas City airport. And the signs advertising unlimited auto washings for twenty bucks a month made this drought-attuned California resident bang his head against the nearest wall.

07-3Anyway, aside from the murder-I’m-not-talking-about-yet, my main reason for going to Sedalia was the annual Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

I’m not going to give a background briefing on ragtime or Scott Joplin. Not today, anyway. There’s some information on the festival site if you’re curious, but frankly, approaching the music by starting with the history is a backward approach. Start with the music!

For starters, several people have already posted videos from this year’s festival. These all seem to have been taken at one of the outdoor venues, and are a decent place to start your investigation. I expect the list to grow as more attendees get home, catch up on their e-mail, and start posting their vacation movies.

* Kudos to the festival organizers for including a full lineup of free concerts in addition to the scholarly presentations and non-free indoor concerts. There were quite a few times when I really wished I had the ability to be in two places at once.

Be aware that silliness does occasionally break out.07-4

I know how boring other peoples’ vacation photos are, so I’ll knock off with one final note.

I enjoyed the festival immensely, and I wasn’t the only one. This was my first time attending, so I don’t have a basis for comparison, but I heard several people say that it was the best one yet. Give some serious consideration to hitting the festival next June.