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Note: This post is not meant to take a position on either side of the Affordable Care Act debate, and is strictly about the website and its many problems.

I've been developing websites for 17 years and have learned over the years that when there are major problems with a site it usually comes down to 2 types of problems:

  • those caused by a designer/developer (individual or company) who was being relied upon for professional advice and service and either couldn't or didn't deliver, and
  • those caused by the client by demanding that the designer/developer do something that goes against their advice.

healthcare.gov website problems are the perfect stormHealthcare.gov is the perfect storm of both of these types of problems.

I'm not referring to everyday problems common in site development, things like cross-browser compatibility, but fundamental problems in architecture and usability.

The day healthcare.gov launched I visited the site to see if a family member could save money on their policy. Within 5 seconds of being on the site I learned that all of my relative's personal data had to be submitted before I could get any idea of the price range. My reaction? Leave the site.

Rule of thumb for websites: never ask a site visitor for something until you've given them something.

Pricing should have been handled like this: I should have been able to give general information like age, gender, smoker/non-smoker and receive a range of possible prices to determine whether I even wanted to learn more. If insurance companies can do it, surely the federal government can do it.

When this fundamental rule of "user experience" (ux) design is broken, developers like me just know there have to be bigger problems behind the scenes. I was stunned that a major company would develop a site with such blatant disregard for consumer behavior.

innocent or guiltyLet the blame game begin.

Now today the contractors have "blamed a decision by CMS [the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services] within two weeks of the launch to require users to fully register in order to browse for health insurance products, instead of being able to get information anonymously, as originally planned." (source: CNN)

I can definitely see that happening, but professionals are paid to give clients advice they don't want to hear. Make the client understand why it's in their best interest to handle things in the way they should be rather than the way they want. And if they don't listen, go above them to try to save them from themselves. Raise a stink. If all else fails, demand in writing that they reject your recommendation; that may get their attention.

And remember to deflect.

When CGI Vice President Cheryl Campbell was "questioned whether there were concerns the site was not ready to go live, she also said: 'It was not our position to tell our client whether they should go live or not go live.'" (source foxnews.com)

What a load of malarky.

It's the developer's responsibility to advise the client in many ways, and readiness for launch is definitely one of them. There's a difference in being politically ready to go live and technically ready to go live, and CGI owed it to all of us to tell HHS things it didn't want to hear.

Fail, and fail again.

And now we know that CGI, the company being paid millions of dollars to develop the site, has a history rife with failure, including being fired by Canadian officials.

According to the Washington Examiner, "CGI Federal's parent company, Montreal-based CGI Group, was officially terminated in September 2012 by an Ontario government health agency after the firm missed three years of deadlines and failed to deliver the province's flagship online medical registry."

Looks like CGI and its parent have found the gravy train and nobody's going to kick them off.

In the meantime..

If you're looking for an honest developer who will tell you things you don't want to hear so you'll be saved from yourself, drop us an email. We'd love to talk. Even if you're the federal government.

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In a very broad sense, trademarks and copyrights serve similar functions. They both act as pieces in the big puzzle that protect the rights of people and companies that make things. When you think of a brand, you usually think of the products and work produced by that brand: Warner Brothers Movies, Dyson Vacuums, Apple Computers. When we are talking about a trademark, the “thing” is a good or product; it is, very literally, a thing. In the case of a copyright, the “thing” we are talking about is a work of original authorship, such as a book or a movie.

 

What is a Trademark?

 

A trademark, as its name implies, is a mark: something tangible. It can be a name, or words, or a symbol or any combination of name, word and symbol, and sometimes the thing itself. You can often spot a trademark by the letters TM next to the trademark (for unregistered trademarks) or by the registered trademark symbol ® which is used to indicate a registered trademark. I am not going to tell you how to register a trademark here.

 

A trademark is used to identify the origin of a good or product. This can be a product, such as a pair of sneakers, a toaster, tires on a car, or toothpaste in a tube, basically any “good” in the physical sense of the word. A trademark indicates the company or person that is the source of the good.

 

Want to know where that stapler on your desk comes from? Look at it, and if you can find a TM or ® next to a name or picture then you have just found the company that provided your stapler. The same is true of the can of soda you might be drinking, the socks on your feet and the product in your hair. Look for the trademark symbol on the package or the thing itself and the name or logo next to the trademark symbol will tell you where that thing comes from. If you are a business and you are making staplers, like the one you just looked at, putting a trademark on it lets the customer know that you made that stapler. But it gets bigger: the thing itself can become your trademark and symbol. I'm sure you know what a Coca-Cola bottle looks like and I don't think you have ever seen any other drink (legally) sold in that bottle. The actual shape of the Coca-Cola bottle is trademarked!

 

What is a Copyright?

 

A copyright can be thought of as a shorthand way of describing the set of rights that are held by a copyright owner. The rights afforded by a copyright can include (but are not limited to) the right to reproduce, to distribute, or, if applicable, to perform the work that the copyright relates to. The “work” that a copyright relates to is a work of original authorship, such as an original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, as well as “certain other intellectual works.”

 

A copyright is why you are not allowed to borrow Harry Potter and the deathly hallows from your library and start photocopying it and selling it on the internet. You need permission from the book's copyright holder to do something like that. This is why the song sharing program Napster caused such a stir.

 

The Copyright Notice

 

What you may be more familiar with, at least in the non-abstract sense, is the copyright notice. A copyright notice is placed on a work to inform the world of copyright ownership. A copyright notice generally contains the word copyright or the symbol ©, the name of the copyright owner and the first year of publication. To see a copyright notice in action, crack open any book and within a few pages of the front cover you will usually find one.

 

A copyright notice lets the person reading a book know who holds the copyright for that book. But, this is not always a straightforward path to the person who wrote the book: in cases where an employee produces a work as part of their employment, the employer may sometimes be considered to be the author. Either way, a copyright notice helps you trace back to the work's origins.

 

Trademarks and Copyrights: Further Reading

 

Identifying the source of a product or work of authorship plays an important part in laying the foundation for protecting the rights of the Trademark or Copyright holder and it also helps build a brand identity. By identifying the source of the product or work, you announce to the world what you do and how you do it. Everyone knows that Steven King writes horror, just like everyone knows what the MacDonald's Golden Arches look like and that you can go there to get a Big Mac.

 

If you are having trouble sleeping and you would like to learn more about Trademarks and Copyrights, I recommend going to the United States Patent and Trademark Office Website where you can learn about Trademarks as well as Service Marks and Patents (for those of you who are inventors). For learning about Copyrights, you can go to the United States Copyright Office.

 

If you want to see the actual trademark for the Coca-Cola Bottle from back in 1960, go to the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System and then go to the basic word mark search. Use the search term 72069873 and set the field to Serial or Registration Number.

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You may have heard the old developers' adage "there are two types of sites: those that have been hacked and those that will be hacked."

rat thief hackerUnfortunately, it's true but until it's happened to you it's hard to take it seriously. Unlike the good old days when hackers just wanted to deface sites, marking the homepage with their "you've been hacked!" taunt, modern-day hackers are more nefarious.

These dirty rats don't want you to know you've been hacked because they want to install malware that will then be used for such things as hosting malicious phishing content (content designed to trick users into parting with personal and credit card information), or using your mail server to send out tons of spam. Many times sites have been hacked months before the site owner realizes it.

Outdated software, incorrect directory permissions, and insecure passwords are just a few of the holes that hackers use to gain access to your site. If you have a current site backup at least you can get back up & running relatively quickly if (when?) you are hacked.

We know how hard it is to stay on top of keeping eveything secure, though, especially when you're juggling that with a thousand other responsibilities. That's why we're adding our new security services.

This suite of services includes features such as:

  • automatic remote site and database backup on our cloud storage
  • an extra level of password protection to access your administrator login page
  • installation of a web application firewall that will help deflect attacks
  • ability to blacklist malicious ip addresses
  • audits of all files in your hosting space
  • detection of recently changed files
  • and creation of system restore points

None of these measures can guarantee that you'll never be hacked (if that were possible the NSA & FBI wouldn't have been hacked), but at least they'll help to minimize the possibility and will help you get back up and running faster if you ever are hacked.

We'll be providing more information about these services to our current clients, and others can contact us at info@glerin.com to find out more.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_lopefest-framed-poster.jpgOk, folks - this is your chance to win a beautifully framed copy of our poster design for the 2013 Virginia Cantaloupe Festival. Visit Lopefest's Facebook page for details on how to enter to win.

Framing is compliments of our friends at The Packhouse, located at 121 S.Main St. in the Town Halifax.

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