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Sunday, 17 January 2010 11:29

The unbearable lightness of being Myki

Browsing the press, blogosphere and twitterverse, it becomes clear that Minister Kosky’s decision to launch Myki (for trains only) was a big mistake.

As expected, On December 29th last year Victorian State Government Transport Minister Lynn Kosky announced the immediate availability of the Myki fares system for Melbourne public transport.  Well, for the trains, anyway! 

Seems our trams and busses are a sensitive lot and haven’t taken kindly to the new fare management system.  Originally, we were told that there would be a delay of a couple of weeks while issues such as scan time and data communication were ironed out.  Well, we’re fast approaching three weeks and nothing yet.

Despite the blindingly positive comments from those paid to make them, the users are making it very clear that in its current form, Myki is not of the quality necessary for a public ticketing system.  Even Minister Kosky (without realising it) admitted a problem when she said that "myki was working on trams, but not reliably enough. On trains, myki was operating above the minimum 95 per cent accuracy rate."

95%?  Is the minister telling us that it is acceptable for an error to be made on one transaction in 20?  Consider that the average commuter makes at least two journeys per day and many people use more than one service in each direction between work and home, this would suggest that the minister is telling us that at least one person in every eight (approximately) should expect a problem on each and every day the system is in full operation.

Minister, that is totally unacceptable.  This is people's money you're talking about.

Read on for the 'lightness’ of the Myki.

I wrote the title of this piece to echo the thoughts of Milan Kundera’s 1984 novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being."

In this novel, the author’s 'lightness’ is "Challenging Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence (the universe and its events have already occurred and will recur ad infinitum), the story’s thematic meditations posit the alternative that each person has only one life to live, and that which occurs in that life, occurs only once shall never occur again — thus the "lightness" of being; whereas eternal recurrence imposes a "heaviness" on our lives and on the decisions we make (it gives them weight, to borrower from Nietzsche's metaphor), a heaviness that Nietzsche thought could be either a tremendous burden or great benefit depending on one's perspective."

In other words, 'lightness’ is being used to suggest an ephemeral nature of things.  And right now, Myki too is entirely ephemeral - it has not the 'heaviness’ to cast even a proper shadow.

Since its launch, there has been an endless parade of problems with the Myki system, many of them related to the performance of the website.

* Inability to register names containing hyphens, apostrophes and other unknown "problems with my name"

* Inability to verify addresses.  For instance, adding a period after the St to signify street.  Incorrect location verification (Balwyn North vs. North Balwyn for instance).

* Inability to view credit balances long after monies have been deducted from the bank account

* Inability to properly operate the site with anything other than the 'approved’ browsers Explorer 6 & & and Firefox 2 & 3.  Hint, most Mac users and many Linux users have neither.

One user logged an error message on the Myki Users Group discussion forum exposing that the web site development environment was CommunityManager.NET 2008 from Elcom, a Sydney-based software development house.

The product name immediately gives away the likely reason for the limited list of browsers supported by the web site.  It will be based on a DotNET platform and thus will have limited support for browsers other than Microsoft’s.

Amusingly, despite the chorus of complaints about the performance of the Myki web site, the company’s brochure proudly states that a benefit of the software is scalability "From single server to web farm and clusters."  Obviously Myki took the first option.

Elcom has been contacted for comment.  Their response will be incorporated when received.

Moving away from the website to other issues.

Users are reporting that readers are failing to read the Myki cards at many ticket barriers throughout the downtown Melbourne stations.

Many would argue that this is due to the add-on fitting of Myki release mechanisms to the existing Metcard barriers; and that they don’t play nicely together.  So what?  That’s simply an excuse to say that the transition from one system to the next was simply not planned properly.

An example of the weak testing done on the system was exposed during this exchange between contributors on the Myki Users Group forum where a knowledgeable person (seemingly with inside information) offered the excuse that barrier problems were infrequently seen during testing.  They asserted that it was only when a large number of users attempted to use the gates that opening failures occurred in any significant numbers.

Right now, the public’s confidence in the whole project is sinking very rapidly.  To my knowledge there hasn’t been a single positive article appear in any press outlet since the go-live on December 29th.

The Minister must be sorely regretting pushing to launch before year’s end.  Her own being is becoming 'lighter’ and 'lighter’ by the day.

Oh, and one other thing.  Users unaware that they weren’t supposed to use Myki on trams are reporting near-universal success with touch-on and touch-off activities.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.



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