Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm Not Your Pal, Buddy

I woke up in a hotel room a week or so ago to find out that three transactions totaling $1000 had been made from my PayPal account to random individuals. I have no idea how it happened, it's not like I've been opening dodgy websites or responding to emails from Nigerian princes, but happen it did. As near as I can tell the transactions were all to buy MMO related equipment/accounts/whatever, which is a particularly petty thing to have money stolen for. I raised the transactions as disputes with PayPal and then spent a long morning logging into every account I could remember and changing the passwords to be unique and stronger. I expect this to come back and bite me next time I visit said sites, but at the time it seemed a reasonable response.

I could still log into my account, which was nice, and PayPal were very quick to limit my account and reverse the transactions. Afterwards they asked for my feedback on their response, which I duly gave. Then they sent me a survey asking, among other things, whether I'd recommend PayPal to a friend. No. No I would not. I couldn't have asked for a better response, but at the same time I did have $1000 stolen.

This morning I received an email from one of the recipients of these fraudulent transactions who was mildly displeased, to say the least, that I had reversed the transaction. As far as he was concerned I had reneged on a deal and behaved reprehensibly. He then proceeded to threaten to lodge a dispute with PayPal, etc, etc. Most interesting was that he said he had email and chat logs of the transaction (hopefully that's not an indication that my email account has been compromised because that would be an incredible inconvenience). Getting involved in an email conversation with someone who thought I was a con artist/thief didn't seem like a good idea, so I told him I thought lodging the dispute was a good idea so we could deal through PayPal, and expressed my regret that he was unfortunate enough to get involved in a situation where he was not to blame.

Getting my money stolen was a little disturbing and quite annoying, and it certainly makes me consider what I'm going to do with my PayPal account in the future, but the most frustrating thing about the whole situation is that somebody out there thinks I'm a thief.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Looooong Weekend

It was a simple plan. Go to Perth to visit my brother over the long weekend, catch a game of football while there, go home. Hell, it's barely even a plan. I plan catching up with friends for lunch with more precision. But like any plan, it did not survive first contact with the enemy, the enemy in this case played by prevailing atmospheric conditions.

We sat through the football, every last excruciating, disappointing, I-flew-four-thousand-kilometres-for-this-crap second of it, went and ate some Turkish food, and went back to the hotel.
His shirt was more fun than the game
There plans were made, of which I was not fully informed, to drive the next day some two hours through orange country to a Benedictine monastery. An orange grove is quite a pretty thing, rows of dark glossy foliage and bright orange fruit on a backdrop of red sienna dirt and flawless blue skies. Five hundred orange groves is the same but really, really boring. The monastery was closed to visitors when we got there, but they let us look at the outside. It was brick.
See? Brick
No sooner had this road trip to end all underwhelming road trips been mapped out than Puyehue Volcano happened. Long dormant, it erupted and filled the sky with ash. I know when a similar thing happened in Iceland with the Great Unpronounceable Volcano, European travel was brought to a grinding halt, but that's Europe. It's tiny and Iceland is in its back yard. An over-zealous barbecuer could most likely create a big enough smoke screen to black out Europe. I was in Perth when Puyehue started, little bits of burning Chilean spite sent halfway around the world to inconvenience me just because I made a joke in poor taste about the miners. I don't remember making one, but it's just the kind of asshole thing I would do. Our flight to Melbourne was in question, but by Tuesday things were looking all right to leave Perth, but Tasmania was shut down. So off to Melbourne to lounge about in a hotel at the airline's expense for a day or two. Or seven, in fact. But then it was five. Oh, how they toyed with us, forcing us to choose flights but always teasing that if we rang back later something earlier might open up.
Weekend in Melbourne. What to do, what to do?
In the end there was time to see another football game, so we did. Every last excruciating, disappointing, I-flew-four-thousand-kilometres-then-turned-around-and-flew-another-three-thousand-five-hundred-kilometres-to-see-this-crap second of it. Then up before dawn, or at least before weekend dawn which is well established to be 10am, to fly back to Hobart. But of course there was the dog, left in the capable care of my sister. Who lives 200km from Hobart. So of we drove through the midlands fog that never lifts into the rain of the north and fetched the dog. Finally, after a trip to get a small dog that took longer than the flight to Perth, we were home.

I actually had a pretty good time.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Code And Prejudice

Let's take some work from Ms Austen.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
It's a classic opening sentence to a classic novel, and one with a clear meaning. Imagine that for some reason you wanted to take this rule and apply it to, for example, everybody in a neighbourhood. You hire a crack team of programmers to write the software so that you can plug in the personal details of your neighbours. Quite why you would do this I don't know, but work with me here. Let's see what misunderstandings could crop up.

In possession of a good fortune. Ambiguities are the seeds of defects and arguments about scope or intent. Obviously this needs to be clarified: what constitutes a good fortune? Is there a different threshold if discussing net worth compared to salary? Would different neighbourhoods have different ideas of what  constitutes a "good fortune"? Is a fortune just a monetary value? Questions easily answered, but questions which must be answered nonetheless.

It is  a truth universally acknowledged. One of the problems that occurs quite often is that the specifications contain outright mistakes, mistakes which are outside the developer's ability to recognise as such and which the client believe to be true. What if this rule is taken to a culture where a man can have many wives, or spouses are matched as children before a good fortune can be amassed, or the wife's family have to pay a dowry? Absolutes are great in specifications, but only if they're true.

A single man in possession of a good fortune. More subtle than ambiguities of definition are ambiguities of language. Although you might think it's pretty clear that the phrase means 'an unmarried man', other interpretations could be made. Maybe it's differentiating a good fortune possessed by one man from a good fortune possessed in common with several other men (say a business partnership). If the developer thinks that the alternative definition is pretty clear, then the first you'll know about it is when married men are being classified as in want of a wife.

Must be in want of a wife. Implied meaning can cause all sorts of problems when a requirement is broken down into its components. If the developer working on this part knows that earlier specifications refer to a single man, he is likely to correctly assume that a single man wants a single woman who will become his wife. Of course, marriage is entirely implied, as is the fact the woman in question is not a wife but rather is supposed to become one. In this more literal interpretation the man is looking for an already married woman.

So, in the worst possible case of interpreting this classic sentence you could end up with somebody who thinks that Jane Austen believes the following:
In every place in the world it is agreed by all people that a man (of any relationship status) who has a predetermined level of wealth which he doesn't hold in common with anybody else must be in want of a married woman for undefined reasons.
Now imagine what happens when you apply this to to a three hundred page design document written by people who have never even worked in the same building as a developer before.