Monday, August 24, 2009

A leisurely rant

I was considering live-blogging my attempt to register for some of Winnipeg's Leisure Guide courses Monday morning, but my readers should be thankful I didn't. It would have looked very much like this, only much, much longer:

9:00 Web page tells me too many users are trying to access the system. Can't get in.
9:01 Registration by phone impossible. 311 number busy. Can they not use some queuing software?
9:05 Repeated attempts to access the website and 311 line prove fruitless.
9:11 Now, even the City's "too many users" webpage won't load.
9:15 Back to the regular error message.
9:22 Ditto.
9:29 Still no luck.
9:37 Same thing.
9:50 Ditto.


10:57 Same thing.
11:00 Ditto.
11:01 Wow, just got in. Okay, first step after clicking "English" is to log in. How to do so is not so obvious. Found help page which told me I have to click "my basket" as the first step. Okay, in. Found my course and clicked register and got... oh no, the "too many users" error message. I've been booted out after trying all morning to get in.
11:25 Trying the website continuously for 20 minutes. No luck. 311 still busy.
11:34 Registration by phone still impossible. 311 number busy.
11:39 Ditto.

Finally, sometime shortly after 12, the e-gates opened and I was able to register. It was hardly a hassle-free process, though, as finding and registering for a few courses took me nearly 30 minutes. A few of my experiences:

- Some of the courses listed in the Leisure Guide had incorrect ID numbers, which meant having to manually search for them to find the real numbers.

- Often, clicking on the "details" button for a course provided no information or gave me an error message.

- When clicking to register for a course, the site took me to my shopping basket where the next step was to choose the "client" or course taker, assuming you have more than one person in your account. For one of the courses I added, I had to click the name of the course-taker more than 20 times before the site would accept my selection -- it would otherwise load a blank webpage; browsing back to my basket showed the person selection still not yet made.

- After selecting one course brought me to the "my basket" page, I chose the user and was informed by the site that the course was no longer available (yet checking it showed many spots still open).

Now, I love taking the fabulous courses that are offered in the Leisure Guide each year and find the quality of instruction to be very high, but can we not get a proper registration system? The site and process would have looked and felt archaic ten years ago. And the 311 phone line -- can I not just be put on hold, even if I am kindly told by an electronic voice I will be there for 30 minutes?

Websites have been around for over 15 years. While we can afford to suffer the bugs of brand new technology, there's no excuse for having a website that wonky. The standard these days is that sites are user friendly, bug-free, and linked to databases thoroughly checked for errors. With hundreds of colleges and universities in this country that take course registrations every day, there are sure to be some best practices that can be emulated.

In the meantime, assuming the folks that went through what I did didn't just give up in frustration, you can bet that the courses in anger management, blood pressure control, and meditation are now all full.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lawrence Cannon, no friend of Canadians

As the Tories launch their latest round of plans to secure a majority government, they might find getting off the ground is easier if you first get rid of the anvil sitting in the luggage bay.

The anvil in question is Lawrence Cannon, our federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, and no friend of Canadian citizens travelling abroad. In this weekend's Globe, both
Rex Murphy and Gerald Caplan eloquently describe Cannon's bungling and bizarre comments that make clear his inability to stand up for the citizens his government is supposed to represent. If law-abiding Canadians find themselves in trouble abroad, who can they count on if not their own government?

The latest mistake -- trapping Toronto woman Suaad Hagi Mohamud in Kenya after Canadian officials wrongly denied she was Canadian -- has resulted in a
$2.5 million dollar suit against the government. Abdelrazik, the Canadian citizen trapped in Sudan for over six years until a court forced the government to bring him home, will likely cost the government millions more. Money of course doesn't make up for the grief and trauma experienced by the victims.

While we can't personally blame the Minister for every mistake made, it's his inability to speak up and resolve issues that we should question. In some cases, his department is
completely silent when dialogue with a foreign government is clearly warranted. In the case of Abdelrazik, for reasons still never thoroughly explained, his department deliberately created additional roadblocks to prevent the citizen's return home.

The question now is how much more will this Minister cost Canadians before he finds the exit?