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pne (661)

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Honourary member and involuntarily prolific poster. Self-taught Perl hacker. Language geek.

Journal of pne (661)

Tuesday May 27, 2003
10:12 AM

Computers are made to serve you

[ #12457 ]

I saw a link to some O'Reilly books here on use.Perl and, on those pages, saw a link to "Register your books".

I went through the process of signing up (even though I don't have my books with me right now), just because I was curious. This brought me to a page which invited me to enter the ISBNs of O'Reilly books I owned -- with no dashes or spaces.


Come on. How long would it take to sanitise input with a little Perl script which simply discards dashes and spaces, or simply all non-digits? It could even validate the checksum at the same time. Heck, even in C, which is not known for its native string-processing capabilities, chucking out dashes and spaces sounds like a piece of cake.

I think that doing so would have made the site more customer-friendly. After all, computers are supposed to help us; we're not there to help computers. Especially if the canonicalisation of user input is so trivial as here.

I get similarly annoyed when my bank requires that I enter bank sort codes as eight digits without spaces. Sort codes in Germany are usually displayed as 123 456 78 - eight digits grouped as three, three, two. Requiring eight consecutive digits, and making the field maxlength=8, means that I can't copy and paste a sort code in standard format from an external source, say, an email; my browser will truncate at 8 and give "123 456 ", and even if it didn't, the web form would complain about the spaces.

The customer shouldn't have to care in which format the bank stores its information. Rather, in my opinion, the site should adapt to accept non-standard input and clean it up. (Certainly if it's only a matter of stripping spaces - and perhaps slashes and hyphens from the bank account number, which is a bit less standardised.)

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  • This has long been a thorn in my side. Why does the GUI/UI not do what you'd actually expect, and do something stupid instead. Why when it could take XYZ123 and remove anything that's not a 123, does it instead pop-up an annoying Javscript message to tell you "don't do that".

    Examples of bad UI- and please add more:

    • Eurostar's UK reservations that don't allow for accented letters, or titles other than MR, MISS, MS and MRS
    • Many web forms that want a number in a specific format, but instead of cleaning the input up annoy you with a JavaScript popup - that's can actually get it wrong
    • Web forms that have a strange tab order- the old UK Railtrack timetable did this
    • Forms that don't allow you to paste data in- why?
    • Mystery-meat [] web navigation
    • Forcing a Java or Flash applet to start on the front page, but seeing as you skip onto to content you never actually use it

    Has no one who designs web sites ever checked the W3C XHTML and CSS specifications, and read about usability [] or accessibility []?

    -- "It's not magic, it's work..."