Last 5 posts by David Byron


  1. Virgil says

    Does this person not know that in any drop down list, you just start typing what you're looking for and it will find it for you? Why does inability to use a computer equate to Obamacare fail?

    Oh, but I just noticed they're using a Mac. 'nuff said.

  2. C. S. P. Schofield says


    People who are good at using computers are overwhelmingly relatively young, middle class or better, and urban or suburban. That leaves out one hell of a lot of folks. A government program that is supposed to be for everybody better be damn simple, which is why so many such programs are notorious annoyances. Governments are not good at simple.

  3. Sinij says

    Accommodating technological troglodytes is cost-prohibitively expensive. Sure, UIs can always be improved if you are willing to throw time and money at it, but in most cases you hit diminishing returns. Practical solution would be to design UI most people can use and have someone else do it for the few living fossils still unable to navigate it.

  4. Jonathan says


    You are forgetting that the health plan name on your card is unlikely to be reproduced exactly. This is a very simple case of somebody not bothering to alphabetize the list before putting it in the dropdown menu. I'm all pro-ACA and was generally alright with NY's site until I ran into this. It's a horrible implementation that involves nothing more than popping the list into excel and sorting to fix.

  5. says

    So far no one in New York has signed up….


    "In New York, one of only 16 states that has its own exchange, not one person had succeeded in using the site to enroll in a plan as of Friday.

    Donna Frescatore, director of the New York State of Health marketplace, said Friday that 134,000 people had registered and shopped on the state’s online health care site since its Oct. 1 launch, and thousands signed up to enroll in a plan."

  6. says

    Does this person not know that in any drop down list, you just start typing what you're looking for and it will find it for you? Why does inability to use a computer…

    Never seek a job in UX.

  7. bralex says

    Without delving deep into the politics of the specific issues, one of the main arguments against voter ID laws has been the bias against poor minorities who disproportionately lack access to state facilities, birth certificates, internet access, etc. Any voter ID law would have to address these issues to pass muster. I would think that any rollout of a state or national program would have to be navigable to a pretty low tech level for similar reasons.

    I agree with @Johnathan above, all it takes is a quick sort (and maybe a filter) to make things minimally right.

  8. says

    I agree wholeheartedly with the notion of an alphabetic sort. My company, AA AA AA AA Assurance Insurance of America, confidently expects that this feature will be implemented momentarily.

  9. Ken in NH says


    Because he thinks he is eligible to have you and me pay for his insurance. Just because he has insurance through his union doesn't mean he gets it for free or that the union pays part of his premium. It may also be that his union is dropping coverage because the cost or that his premium is going through the roof because he is being forced to a new plan that complies with the ridiculous requirements of the PP&ACA.

    The news wires are rife with stories of people losing coverage through their employment or being dropped if they have private insurance.

  10. En Passant says

    Sinij wrote Oct 22, 2013 @6:55 am:

    Accommodating technological troglodytes is cost-prohibitively expensive. Sure, UIs can always be improved if you are willing to throw time and money at it, but in most cases you hit diminishing returns. Practical solution would be to design UI most people can use and have someone else do it for the few living fossils still unable to navigate it.

    Why do liberals always want to design something new when the tried and true is already available? JCL would be perfectly fine, even accounting for a few dustups between the DOS-heads and the OS-heads.

    I'm partial to Burroughs MCP myself, but I'd make a small sacrifice for The People ™, and use JCL if it would make the brave new world of mandatory crony insurance work.

  11. WhangoTango says

    We're probably lucky they didn't require that it be done in COBOL. (Or ADA, for that matter, since this *is* a federal government thing.)


    As for the website, here's the link I haul out every time someone says "oh you should just be able to use computers". http://www.metafilter.com/112698/California-Dreamin#4183210

    There are people who whine and complain about how giving school students iPads and whatnot is wasted money. To me, that's sort of the modern version of Driver's Ed. Our society is rapidly becoming one where it's just assumed that you know how to use computers and find things on the Internet, the way it has long been one where it's just assumed that you know how to drive and to find your way around town in a car.

  12. mud man says

    There should be a link to the NSA database, and all that stuff should be filled in automagically.

  13. James says

    As for the website, here's the link I haul out every time someone says "oh you should just be able to use computers". http://www.metafilter.com/112698/California-Dreamin#4183210

    Speaking of a UI nightmare – while it was a great screed, reading it hurt my eyes.

    developers and coders aren't necessarily UI experts, or even competent. In fact, unless they're part of the requirements, actual user experience isn't really considered.

  14. David C says

    Does this person not know that in any drop down list, you just start typing what you're looking for and it will find it for you?

    In this type of dropdown, that usually only works for the first letter. If you have ABC insurance, if you type "A" it will take you to one that starts with A, but if you type "ABC" it will not take you to something starting with ABC. As you typed, it would take you to one that starts with A, then one that starts with B, then one that starts with C. (At least, that's the standard behavior; you could program it to do whatever you like if you really wanted to. And even if I'm wrong on the behavior and it DOES do what you think it does – after all, I can't say for sure without actually going to the website – that doesn't help much when there are 30 Blue Cross policies dispersed randomly throughout the list. Better hope that yours is the first one or that you can type the entire policy name exactly with no mistakes without being able to see what you are typing. By the way, would my policy be listed under Blue Cross Blue Shield, BlueCross BlueShield, or BCBS? Or maybe Anthem followed by one of the above? Or would it be something else I haven't thought of?)

    I suppose you could repeatedly hit that first letter until it took you to the right one. That may be useful for anyone with Xenon Insurance.

    In any case, that dropdown is too large even if it WAS alphabetized. And not only that, there aren't any scrollbars on the side. So to get to the bottom, you have to go through the entire list.

    It might make sense to filter it first based on something. Or allow keyword searching so if you know you have Blue Cross you could narrow it down to the policies that have that in their name.

  15. a_random_guy says

    The exact behavior of drop-down lists depends entirely on the implementation. Sure, there are dropdowns that will intelligently filter names based on what you enter. That is *not* standard; it is actually a pretty difficult bit of code to get right.

    If auto-complete is implemented, which is not necessarily the case, it usually assumes that the underlying list is sorted. It will then take you to the first entry beginning with what you typed. In a non-alphabetic listing, this will not be useful.

    What this is, is alpha-code. That is to say, a quick'n'dirty implementation that is a long way from being finished. Any competent programmer would sort that list, unless they were working so frantically just to get the basic site up that they never had time to actually think about what they were doing.

    From everything I've read, this was a typical government procurement project: Micromanagement by clueless government bureaucrats, constantly changing requirements, impossible deadlines, massive bureaucratic reporting requirements. The contractors involved are the typical government-oriented contractors who are really good at producing piles of paper and huge bills, but not so great at doing the work. Almost no really good company wants to work with the government, because it's just an unbelievable PITA.

    The companies that work in this field have succumbed to Pournelle's Iron Law, just like the government agencies they work with. Their real purpose is to serve as the other half of the revolving door for individuals shuffling back and forth between private and civil service. Soak up money, help your buddy build his empire, then he'll do the same for you when you switch sides. If any work gets done, it's almost by accident, at least as far as management is concerned.

  16. Dan Weber says

    "Type to go to an entry" isn't really well defined at all. You need to have a 100% exact match on the start of your string. Being close won't even help for this botch.

  17. A Walrus says

    No, I don't think anyone is defending this – it's a bloody stupid implementation. They're just saying that there are better ways to deal with the problem then 'scroll through and read every item'.
    As for the problem itself: Alphabetization would help, but for a list that long, it's not good enough. If I were building this, it would be an search field with real-time autocomplete. Start typing, see all results that match. Such things are not that hard to write, and even if they were, there are dozens of free open-source libraries/plugins/etc that will do it for you.

  18. EH says

    Wait, people are actually defending this?!

    Not really. One person took a shit in the sink at the very beginning and left. Everybody who arrived afterwards felt compelled to remind the absent sink-shitter what a toilet is.

  19. StephenH says

    @Dan: Levenstein Distance is a good metric for finding "close matches" when you have a known "dictionary" of possible selections, as we clearly do here. As the user types, you calculate the Levenstein Distance to each possible result and then sort that with a priority queue. It's O(n*log(n)), which is quite reasonable for lists with only a few hundred elements. Any computer built since the turn of the millennium ought to do this "instantly" from the user's perspective.

    I think a_random_guy has the right of it: This is basically alpha code. It could be that the government contractor has a bunch of inept coders; this is entirely too easy to do because incompetent web devs slide into these positions, lubricated by a forest of buzzword certificates. It could also be because the requirements given to the development team changed so frequently that there was no time for proper UX research or polish. Most likely, it's some of column A, some of column B.

  20. Irk says

    It'd be nice if there were bug reporting and the possibility to submit patches like with the White House website's GitHub. An open source approach could help a lot, since they're already in the agile mindset of releasing something that sort of halfway works first, then keep fixing.

    I think the real problem is how tech contracting works in the govt side of the industry. It's not the ACA that makes these things clunky, it's the requirements and the controls on who's allowed to bid on these things. Like that article that was posted on Habitat for Humanity contractors awhile back.*

    If the legislature wants to cut some pork they could start with reviewing their IT contract requirements and updating them for the modern era. These problems may be painful, but the ACA's website woes throw light on those problems. That's a good thing. Keep the light on, focus on the real source of the problems, and fix government IT contracting.

    [1] I thought Popehat had an article on Habitat for Humanity's use of donated contracting for its houses and how one of those contractors commented on their previous developments being shoddily built, and how this was due to the actual requirements for large Habitat for Humanity projects being too high to meet except by the contractors that were already so large and bloated, company-wise, that they could just play the system for more money and not meet actual construction standards. But my memory is sketchy and searching produced nothing – maybe I read this on a different website.

  21. a_random_guy says

    @Irk: The problem is, the government first needs to fix itself. In a previous life, I was involved in government software contracting. The degree of reporting and micromanagement is insane.

    The government had a huge team of people whose job is was to micromanage the contractors. The contractors had immense teams of people whose job it was to keep the government people happy. Even so, the programmers probably spent more time filling out forms and sitting in meetings than they did programming.

    I later estimated that the average productivity was around 10 lines per person per day (total over the entire contractor team, not just programmers). Good programmers are passionate. This kind of environment is soul-killing; you just cannot be passionate without throwing yourself off of a tall building.

    The result is that very few decent programmers will put up with this kind of work environment. You wind up with plodders, who may be technically competent but mostly just want their paycheck, and with the incompetents, who have all the right certs but couldn't program FizzBuzz if their lives depended on it.

    In short, the first step to fixing government IT contracting would be to fire 95% of the government bureaucrats. Since that isn't going to happen…

  22. says


    So the user should know the nuances of a drop down list, but the professional developer who built it shouldn't know the ORDER BY Predicate? Loading more values in a list than anyone can see in a view is both good UI design and efficient right, not to mention user friendly? Additionally (I think someone else pointed it out) the default behavior isn't universal, many drop downs will go to A if you type a, but when you type the second letter it doesn't OR them together, it finds the second letter instead. Coupled with an unsorted list and yes, it's pathetic. Is it an indictment of the whole law? I don't think so, but it's a pathetic mistake for a production site that should have been tested and vetted. It may have no broader impact than this, but if something this obvious and this early in the workflow was missed, it's very likely a lot more has been – and even if not, it gives off an impression of shoddy quality or apathy to the users. In a situation that's already bad, it makes it worse.

  23. Max says

    Are you putting this up as an example of why 'Obamacare' is bad?

    I'm an IT person involved in the train wreck of our NHS digitalness. But, I am a disabled person insanely grateful my family was not bankrupted by my childhood onset disability.

    Seeing their child in immense pain was bad enough? Imagine if they had have had to sell the house and give up their recently started business to pay for his care and get continuing coverage? Wait, if a new chap joins a scheme in the US with an already diagnosed disabled child, do they get coverage for themselves and him?

    I am doing OK. Thank socialised medicine for the NHS. I got the best of care to no cost for my middle-class parents.

    Anyone with socialised medicine would fight wild bears to give it up. Is that what you are afraid of? That you might like it? it would upset your ideological purity?

    'Obamacare' is rubbish. A slight shift towards what we in Europe have already have and love. This little change is something you are prepared to destroy your entire economy to prevent being a good example. To yourselves. A lot us are already here.

    If the USA's economy goes down, the entire world hurts. Stop your childishness.

  24. says

    agile mindset of releasing something that sort of halfway works first, then keep fixing.

    @Irk (not Irq? Alas. . ) that is not the "agile mindset". In fact, it's about building something that entirely works, and doing so in an iterative fashion. That might lead to a "barebones" release (which is subsequently improved), but the software should do the things it does well, no matter how many things it does.

    @Max Do you want to sit down and rest for a bit?

  25. Max says

    @Grandy. Cos passion and slight drunkeness is a problem now? If I was going to be reasonable I'd I'd write the tenders my partners think I am.

  26. Max says

    These big government IT projects never work.

    Just get someone on the ground to make a bit of it work. Insist on excellent APIs or you will destroy their company with compensation claims. Better yet, insist on Open Source. But that is practically communist.

    Little bits link together into a big thing. Like the Internet and its open protocols. That worked.

  27. Max says

    @grandy. I actually use the bits of agile that work to make thing better, faster and cheaper. That sounded like marketing bullshit to me. Fess up, you just know how to BS about this. You have never used it in practice?

  28. Max says

    Just taken the bother of watching the video I was supposedly commenting on. That really is terrible UX. It never should have seen a user,

  29. says

    These big government IT projects never work.

    Like the Internet and its open protocols. That worked.

    Who wants to break it to him?

  30. says

    I'm guessing that the list is unsorted because it's being repopulated every time the control is activated, pulling the data from some antiquated backend (or multiple backends) that dribble/s the results back unpredictably (un-sorted, intermittently, etc), leaving the front end no choice but to populate the list as it receives it (or to leave the control inactive for anywhere from 5 seconds to five minutes every time the page is loaded.)

  31. Some Poor Techie says

    Last night they said they'd get the best of the best to fix this.

    Today, they called me.

    God help us, this thing is made of fail.

  32. Not Sure says

    That's the government for you. It's not like you can go somewhere else where they provide better service if you don't like the way they do things.

  33. says

    Burnside • Oct 22, 2013 @10:23 am

    Wait, people are actually defending this?!

    David • Oct 22, 2013 @10:31 am

    Astonishing, isn't it?

    New here?

  34. Virgil says

    Sink-shitting troll that I am, I still have a hard time believing that someone who has a real problem with the site, then has yet more time to go back, reproduce the problem, video it, post it on you tube. That time would have been better spent figuring out how to use drop down lists (hint – the first time you type a letter it takes you to the first occurence, but keep hitting the same letter and it will take you to the next one. So for State, say you're in NY, for the drop down menu just hit "N" 6 times and you're done). This isn't rocket science (unless you're a Mac user).

  35. OngChotwI says

    Of the small number of people I knew on World of Warcraft, there was at least 1 that transferred servers and clicked the wrong server name and their toon ended up on the wrong server for a month. (At which time they were allowed to transfer to the correct server, amid our making no end of fun at their error.) .. And if you can make an error with 25-50 names, finding the correct name on a list this long sounds like a nightmare. (i.e. how many people are going to accidently hit the entry one up or one down from their intended target, and not notice until too late?)

  36. Dan Weber says

    It is more work to show off a problem than just deal with it.

    It is more work to fight a bogus lawsuit than to just settle and be done with it.

    It is more work to investigate the word of government instead of just reprinting whatever they said in the news paper.

    Darn those people who useless do more work. Darn them to heck!

  37. Frank says

    I don't know why anyone is surprised. It's pretty hard to find ANY gov't program that works very well.

  38. says

    I once worked at a place where a previous developer left me a UI fuck up like this. It was a private company and when I fixed it the users practically hugged me. When the code was first written, it probably seemed like a good idea, but the number of items in it just kept growing.

    Meanwhile, people are signing up in NY state. Now I know that some of you might not believe a left-leaning, COMSYMP site like Fox News…


  39. Rob says

    This sort of issue, an un-ordered list of thousands of names, is a symptom of sloppy specifications and testing. Also, if providing the name of your current insurance company is critical, why not just have the current companies provide a list of customer by ss#?
    In order for the IRs to process your taxes, a lot of financial data is reported to the IRS by SS#, why would'nt insurance coverage be reported as well?
    Overall signs of bad design and implementation.

  40. AlphaCentauri says

    That web site might need a "mercy rule" because there are going to be a lot of people piling on.

    Obviously, a site that's trying to do anything complex needs javascript enabled. But it's also a good idea to include some basic content for people who don't have it enabled, so they know why they can't see anything and so they know they haven't arrived at a phishing site. (People do realize there are going to be a shitload of phishing sites copying ACA enrollment sites, right? It's a potential goldmine for identity thieves.)

    Yet they did take the time to include an entire page to celebrate the private firms that created the website (Computer Science Corporation (CSC) and Forum One Communications). Priorities?

  41. freedomfan says


    (People do realize there are going to be a shitload of phishing sites copying ACA enrollment sites, right? It's a potential goldmine for identity thieves.)

    Agreed. And, the sad thing will be that the phishing sites will seem more functional than the actual PPACA sites. Honestly, seeing the web page above, wouldn't you think twice about entering your name and/or SSN? If I went to my bank's site and it was that bad, I would close the browser and open Malwarebytes.

    Of course, when millions have seen not-ready-for-prime-time government sites and gotten used to accepting them as "official", the phishers will really be in great shape…