What time does it land?

Gone are the days of checking teletxt. FlightStats provides live details of flights, including expected times and historical performance of the flight – based on past records what is the chance of the flight being delayed, and by how long. And a nice little touch- it uses Ajax for searching flights, airports, carriers, etc. For a domain that is acronymn driven, a nice touch.

Oh for a declarative experience

Want to go on holiday to France. Want to take the car on a ferry. Want to sail to Cherborg, or St. Malo, or Le Harve, or Caen. Flexible about time. Looking for best price. Want to book on-line. These are my goals. Not unreasonable goals, although as soon as I add “I want to have a ticket booked within five minutes” I enter the real of dreams. Currently, it is not possible to realise my goals.

What I want to be able to do is enter my broad travel criteria into a aggregation website and then filter my search. Imagine an excel spreadsheet where I enter my criteria:

Excel sheet, cells empty

The results appear immediately:

Excel sheet, cells filled
And as I change the quantity in my search fields, the results fields immediately update:

Excel sheet, cells changed

That is the declarative paradigm that is conspicuous by its absence on so much of the web. Rather than flexibility, the ferry booking sites send me down an imperative, step driven journey. I cannot adjust my criteria without starting the process again- and that means re-entering all the data I have already provided.

The story doesn’t end there. After fighting with a number of different websites I finally find a ferry crossing that matches my requirements. Condor Ferries. The price is alright – £160.00. I Don’t want to book it there and then, I need to confirm it with my wife. She says “OK” so I return to the site to find that the booking form has timed out. There had been no option to save the quote. I have to start again. I go through the process again to find the price has suddenly jumped from £160.00 to £280.00. Unhappy, I ring the company to be told their system has a real-time flexible pricing engine that changes according to demand. The price lower price is no longer available to me. (At least they didn’t have the cheek to put a premium for the booking over the phone rather than the internet). Indecisiveness gets the better of me so I put off booking till the following day. Once again I go through the pain of step-driven booking wizards. And lo-behold, the price has dropped again to £160.00.

I started with some “wants” and I’ll reiterate them. I want a declarative web experience that meets my expectations and helps me painlessly realise my goals. I want travel booking forms to enable me to push and pull different levers to refine my choices, just like I can change fields on a spreadsheet. Finally, I want to be able to save quotes to return to them later. I don’t want the web to be like a high pressure salesperson who tells me this price is only available if I make a decision now.

Polly’s on ebay

I’ve come to the realisation that I’ll never find the time to restore my old VW campervan, so sadly it is time to let her go. Polly was well travelled, took me all round Europe in my student days. But time moves on, and here’s the ad. And here are some pictures. Go on, you know you want to…

Ghana in the World Cup

Good to see Ghana playing last night (when I finally got home three hours after leaving the office – the rail network was in meltdown following a fire on the line). It reminded me of the time I was in Ghana and told the guys that I worked with that I wouldn’t mind playing a bit of football. A kick about in the park was what I had in mind. I must’ve been misunderstood. The next thing I knew, courtesy of a cousin of a friend of a brother of one of my colleagues, it was arranged for me to have a kickabout with one of the local teams – join them on one of their training sessions. This sounded great. Until they let me know the local team was Asante Kotoko – the Manchester Utd. of Ghana. They hadn’t seen my silky skills. Or lack of them. So I politely declined the offer.

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