Code, sans Frontières

A couple of programming-related incidents happened today, but it also boils down to the mentality of ‘just enough is enough, I’m not doing any extra for you’. It’s disturbing because it’s a mentality I still notice in Singapore, and we have a lot to learn from counterparts in the US.

This morning when I logged into a local brokerage’s trading facilities, I was shocked to see that one of my purchase’s market value was listed as $0.00, meaning I had made a four-figure loss. And the system colours losses in red, so it looked a little dramatic.
On second glance, however, it wasn’t that my shares had suddenly plummetted to naught, but that nothing was traded at the time. But why should the system log it as $0.00? It should have kept to the last recorded market value.
So I decided to be a Good Samaritan and write in to the brokerage about this programming bug. It was reassuring that, within a couple of hours, a lady called me from the brokerage to tell me the problem was resolved because the shares had just been traded and the figures were restored.
She said this problem occurred when a share hadn’t yet been traded that day. Which meant (at least to me), that next time a share isn’t traded yet, the system would again set it to zero value. And, as a former web technologist (as I was called), the problem wasn’t fixed because it could happen again. The lady actually told me it wasn’t a bug, but that’s not how I saw it. It’s a bug when anything is misrepresented, especially where e-commerce is concerned. And inherently, the share value does not go to zero just because it was traded late in the day and figures weren’t available yet.
So just before she could squeeze in a ‘Thank you and goodbye’, I told her that instead of putting zero it should say ‘NA’ or some other notice, so users wouldn’t have the shock of seeing a huge red loss on their screen that wasn’t accurate. She didn’t sound too enthusiastic but politely accepted my suggestion. Maybe she wasn’t empowered or interested enough.
In any case, we’ll see if this happens again.
Later in the day, I was using a different web application which had a Javascript nav bar that didn’t work in Firefox. So I dropped a note to the programmers. However the reply was that they were only required to make their application work in Internet Explorer. All staff were expected to use only Internet Explorer. I was to contact them for issues related only to Internet Explorer. Oops, and ouch.
It would be amusing if Google, for instance, had refused to consider supporting any browser apart from IE. Or Flickr.
Which leads to a whole series of ‘whys’. Why do organisations continue to rely on expensive, proprietary code, shunning open source? Why do they have to pay huge web hosting fees? Why does it take so much longer to get work done on a proprietary system? Why does it cost a bomb to create xml feeds on a proprietary system, when people using Blogspot can do it for free? Why does it take to download my emails? Why can’t outsiders send zipped files containing updated web pages, without getting blocked? Because of proprietary code, security settings, firewalls and closed systems.
I’m no programmer. I admit I’m more of a designer with some interest in programming, but nothing too complicated beyond the realms of usability and accessibility. I’m definitely not a network administrator. So maybe there’s something out there that I don’t understand. All I can say is, if I ran my own business, I’d be doing things a lot faster, and cheaper.
For one, I managed to set up dotProject and it is very good for project management (if you can’t afford Microsoft Project). Of course, now I’m thinking of what in my personal life could constitute a project. Charting the progress of my jazz band? Upgrading this website? Should I create projects with my family, and let my parents log in? [View a demo of Dotproject. Username: admin, Password: admin. ]
Thanks to Google, and other big market players’ reactions to Google’s generous file sizes, webmail is really much better than it used to be. Free, and with lots more space than any office mail server would allow. And searching is such a breeze, I’d rather use Gmail anytime instead of watching Lotus Notes hang.
Web hosting in the US is still much cheaper than in Singapore, and you get better features and (usually) more intelligent service (unless you’re unlucky as I’ve been, on some occasions). That’s because there’s more competition and innovation. I’d set up my business on a US server purely based on that. I’d run on PHP using mySQL and I’d allocate a section of server space for staff to upload experimental software which they could tweak and modify. I’d let collaborators upload their contributions to my server. I’d start a photo gallery online (Flickr?) where we could store our common resources.
In fact, I’d probably set up a whole business suite using applications listed on Sourceforge. I could try Open Office. You never know. I’m sure some people out there are running a business at minimal cost, maximum efficiency.
But for now, at this stage in my life, it’s all in the name of security.


  1. TedFox

    I’ve always wondered whether hosting in singapore was more expensive because internet connection in singapore is naturally more expensive.
    Then again.. I host on a singapore server… as i hate not having access to my blog whenever something happens to the internet connection between singapore and the world.

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