Air New Zealand’s Flight Booking API

So today I was using grabaseat and clicked on a destination and noticed that the URL returned was:

https://flightbookings.airnewzealand.co.nz/isbook_en_NZ/book/searchForFlights.do?tripType=return&origin=Auckland&searchLegs[0].originPoint=AKL&destination=Osaka&searchLegs[0].destinationPoint=KIX&searchLegs[0].tripStartDate=1&searchLegs[0].tripStartMonth=APR&searchLegs[1].tripStartDate=1&searchLegs[1].tripStartMonth=MAY&searchType=fixed&adults=1&children=0&infants=0&bookingClass=economy&promoCode=&rememberFare=&locale=en_NZ&region=nz&utm_source=Air%2520NZ%2520Fare%2520Finder&utm_medium=Fare%2520Finder&utm_campaign=airnewzealand.co.nz

Instead of the usual https://flightbookings.airnewzealand.co.nz/isbook_en_NZ/book/searchForFlights.do

And then realised that Air New Zealand accepts both GET and POST variables in their searchForFlights.do page. Until this I never really thought about the data you pass on to the Air New Zealand search engine.

I fired up Tamper Data, which is a Firefox plugin, and lets you view information submitted via GETs and POSTs, and to the right is a screenshot of the POST variables. Fairly straight forward. Do note that if you try and access this page randomly you’ll probably get a CAPTCHA page you’ll have to solve. But anyways, a cool method to bookmark a search to a particular destination.

Dell Latitude D420 review – a decent netbook?

So I have received my Dell Latitude D420 and will share my thoughts on it as a netbook. First the specs:

  • Intel Core Duo U2500 @ 1.2Ghz;
  • 1GB DDR2 4200 (533Mhz) RAM;
  • 60GB 1.8″ PATA 4200RPM Hard drive;
  • 12″ 1280 x 800 Screen;
  • Intel GMA950 Graphics;
  • External CDRW/DVDROM Drive;
  • 6 Cell 42WH Battery;
  • Dell Next Day Business Support until March 2010.

All this cost me $216USD + $49USD shipping, so around $400NZD to the door. I purchased this from Ebay, and was received about a week after payment. I used PayPal and purchased using Credit Card.

First lets see what $400 would get me at Dick Smith Electronics:

  1. 2/3rds of a  HP Mini-1004TU for $599 on special;
  2. 1/2 of a Acer Aspire One AOA150 for $798.

There’s always TradeMe though:

  1. Toshiba NB100 for $515;
  2. Asus EEE PC 701 for $330;
  3. Acer Aspire One Linux Version for $340.

The specifications of a netbook are roughly:

  • Intel Atom 1.6Ghz processor;
  • 1GB DDR2 RAM;
  • 60-120GB 2.5″ SATA Hard Drive or 8GB SSD Hard Drive;
  • 9″ to 10″ Screen, 1024 x 600 resolution;
  • Intel GMA950 graphics;
  • No CD/DVD drive;
  • 3/4 Cell Battery;
  • 3/4 size keyboard.

As you can see, the specifications are pretty close. But I think there’s more to the Dell than in a straight comparison of the numbers.

The Dell Latitude D420 is designed as a business-class laptop, and the current Dell replacement ships for about $5000NZD on Dell’s website. For this money, you’d expect (and get) a really high quality build. Seriously. The screen hinge is excellent with little flex, the laptop is perfectly weighted, and the magnesium-alloy really helps with the protecting the screen.

On the subject of the screen, having 2 or 3″ more than a netbook doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. Those extra couple of inches means you have a resolution of 1280 x 800, or the same as a normal 15″ laptop. That’s quite an improvement over 1024 x 600, and it means that you see webpages without having to scroll, and applications without having to scroll. This is one of those things that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but gets annoying after a little while. Trust me.

Another issue like that is keyboard size and quality. When looking at netbooks, I gave them all (except the MSI Wind) a go with typing. The small 9″ netbooks were near impossible to touch-type with. I have little hands at the best of times, and I found my fingers to not do so well with the little keyboard. Sure for quick messages or to use as a Skype machine great, but for any serious typing or blogging, it just wasn’t going to work. One netbook brand with a great keyboard is HP. The keys were decent sized and took up all available space.

But having said this, 100% of 10″ is not the same as 95% of 12″, and the keyboard on the Dell Latitude D420 is superb. While the keyboard is a little smaller than a regular keyboard, you really couldn’t tell the difference unless you tried. The keys have excellent travel, are easy to type with, and are a dream to use.

The weight of the Dell Latitude D420 is around 1.4Kgs, and compared to my Dell Inspiron 1520, the difference is like night and day. The D420 can easily be carried around in one hand, and slips easily into my bag. The size is that of an A4 hard cover notebook, and is a little heavier. You’ll find a netbook to be smaller and lighter here in this situation, but also more fragile. This is where the superior build quality and materials of the Dell Latitude D420 really show their stuff. Oh, did I mention the keyboard is spill-resistant?

Performance wise, don’t be fooled here either. While the 4200RPM 1.8″ Hard Drive is pretty slow on the best of days, using Windows Vista or Windows 7 Readyboost mode helps significantly. More importantly, the Intel Core Duo U2500 @ 1.2Ghz is a faster processor than the Intel Atom @ 1.6Ghz. Don’t be seduced by the clock speed, as the amount of work per clock cycle is important as well.

Overall, I’m far happier I purchased the Dell Latitude D420 than any netbook. I think a netbook is great, but has its limitations. The Dell Latitude D420 however, has all the positives of a netbook such as a reduced size and weight, but is still a proper laptop in its own right, and could be used as a sole laptop for someone.

That’s something a netbook could never do (yet).

Share your mobile phone’s internet connection over wifi

I have a Nokia N95, and have recently purchased a Dell Latitude D420. While I could get a Dell 5520 Wireless Card to surf the net, I had a bit of a thought:

  1. The Nokia N95 is an HSDPA device;
  2. The Nokia N95 also has wireless.

Voila! Download JoikuSpot Light, and you’re sorted! There are some limitations to the free version:

  • Internet protocols are limited to HTTP/HTTPS;
  • No encryption.

The paid for version is on special for 15 Euros at the moment, which is about $32NZD.

Don’t forget about the data charges which is sure to hurt, though Vodafone’s 10MB for $1 seems quite reasonable (well compared to the $11.25 a MB it used to be).

Dell Latitude D420 vs MSI Wind vs Acer Aspire One, a netbook review

The Dell Latitude D420, my pick of the netbooks!

The Dell Latitude D420, my pick of the netbooks!

I’m considering purchasing a netbook, so let’s review the options between the Dell Latitude D420 vs MSI Wind vs Acer Aspire One.

I’ve been looking at the MSI Wind, mainly because of Mac OS X compatibility. MSI Winds aren’t sold in New Zealand, and when they are, MSI Winds are offered for $782 inc GST at Ascent. That’s a little on the steep side. You can get a refurbished MSI Wind U100 off Ebay in 10 days for $499. You might want to consider if there is customs duty to pay on this. In terms of specifications, the MSI Wind seems to be the heavy-hitter of netbooks. There are positive reviews for Winds everywhere, they have a good 10″ screen, the touchpad has normal buttons (unlike the Asus eee pc), and the keyboard is nearly full sized. You can even install Mac OS X and run Half Life and Half Life 2 on it. Pretty good value really. Do note those 3 cell batteries really only do a couple of hours, so there’s an upgrade there.

I did look into an Acer Aspire One, retailing for $599 at PB Tech. You are losing an inch of screen here though. You also must note this has poor Mac OS X compatibility.

So then I thought to myself, these netbooks are great because they’re compact, but you’re getting the specification of a computer from a couple of years ago really. So why not look at laptops from a couple of years ago, and see what comes out, and the answer is the Dell Latitude D420. While this isn’t a netbook, it’s pretty close and has some good features:

  1. Retails around the same price as a netbook;
  2. Has a larger screen;
  3. Is designed as a business PC so can stand more abuse;
  4. Has a metal alloy body;
  5. Can handle 2.5GB of RAM;
  6. A 1280 x 800 display;
  7. The U2500 1.2Ghz processor is still better than the Atom 1.6Ghz in terms of processing.

So in other words, a proper little computer. And while it may not be so compatible with Mac OS X as some of these other netbooks, I think you’d get a lot more value out of this computer, than just something to surf the web on.

Unemployment in Spain hits 17%

The BBC states that Unemployment in Spain is around 17%. So what does this figure mean?

Well Wikipedia states that Spain has a population of around 47 million. 17% of this number (which of course isn’t the actual number of unemployed people, since babies and retired people don’t work hopefully) is 7,990,000.

8 million unemployed people. That’s twice the population of New Zealand. All unemployed.

Learning Japanese the easy way with smart.fm!

The iknow interface @ smart.fm

The iknow interface @ smart.fm

I’m planning a trip to Japan, so have been brushing up on my Japanese. It’s been nine years since I’ve been to Japan, so I’ve need to brush up on both hirigana, and katakana. I haven’t even started thinking about kanji.

smart.fm (formally iknow.co.jp) uses the concept of spaced repetition. This is a method of reminding you about about something just before you forget it. While this sounds sort of weird, it’s a proven concept in memory.

While you can learn Japanese at smart.fm, it’s actually a learning platform for any sort of lists you’d like to learn. I’m learning the countries that exist in Asia and the Pacific (such as Azerbaijan and British Indian Ocean Territories), a little bit of Norwegian, and body parts of the human body, in Japanese!

In the spirit of body parts, here are some of my hints:

  • Associate a word with something you know, preferably the more outrageous the better. For instance, the word for body is karada or 体. Karada sounds a lot like “Canada” so perhaps think about a Canada flag tattoo’d across your body. Now when you see body, you see the “Canada” flag, and think Karada.
  • Teach someone. Even someone who doesn’t care. Or is imaginary. Teaching someone is a powerful method of remembering something. Try making a youtube video!

Here’s another screenshot of the iknow interface…

The word for run, with the hirigana and kanji of the word.

The word for run, with the hirigana and kanji of the word.

Round The World airfares with oneworld

I’ve been looking into Round The World airfares. One of the best ones I’ve found is through oneworld, called oneworld Explorer. The neat thing is that there’s a flash based tool that lets you plan and book your trip online. I think that’s pretty neat to have all that complexity of ticketing conditions bundled into a easy to use Flash application.

I planned a flight from:

Auckland New Zealand > Los Angeles USA > Miami USA > Kingston Jamaica > Miami USA > New York USA > London England > Cairo Egypt > Amman Jordan > Bangkok Thailand > Tokyo Japan > Sydney Australia > Auckland New Zealand.

And the total cost was $4,760NZD, which seems pretty reasonable.

85% of IT projects fail. I know why.

We’re all being suckered here, and not just in IT. Why does every house ever built seem to go over budget and over time?

  1. People thinking they can be Project Managers;
  2. People not knowing the true cost of change;
  3. Not having enough money to get the job done.

These problems extend to IT quite easily.

If we think of all the IT projects that fail (or if we want to feel better, think of the 15% that are successful), we must examine what it means to fail:

  1. Over time.
  2. Over budget.
  3. Didn’t deliver what the customer wanted.

The first two can be stamped out with a good Project Manager. But the real problem is number three, not delivering what the customer wanted.

Sometimes this is accidental, and sometimes this is on purpose.

One example is RFQs. Companies make a bid on IT work using an RFQ. There are two methods a company can approach this:

  1. Include as much detail as possible, and create as detailed as possible quotes. This can take a lot of time, make you seem unresponsive to requests, and have quotes that far exceed competitors (more on this in a bit).
  2. Include as little as required to gain the RFC. Externalise costs to things outside the scope of the RFC. This means you can reply quickly in the RFC process, and have quotes that appear better value than competitors.

Now lets examine the outcomes:

  1. By having high quality Project Managers, a robust change control process (that captures the true cost of change), you have a project that can be delivered on time and on budget. Depending on how good the requirements gathering was at the start, and taking into account the shifting target of meeting customer requirements now (and in the future), you might have a successful project.
  2. Or by not exploring the true scope of the project, you can easily get overwhelmed in trying to deliver a solution using nothing by elbow grease and hard work. As costs rack up, these are presented to the customer as unforeseen costs that are not typical of a project, and hence are outside the RFQ and must be paid for separately. In the end morale slips, and you have a project that met some requirements at some point in time, using most of all of the budget and time available (if not more).

So why would anybody pick option two, when it leads to near certain failure?

Greed. When we were examining those RFQs in the beginning, we were seduced by the quotes given to us, without really thinking about the true total cost of ownership. And we couldn’t since we weren’t provided with the true cost of the project by the bidders. And they didn’t do that so they could get more business. And businesses don’t punish vendors as they just see IT projects as being inherently risky.

They’re not. We’re just being taken by a ride by all the people in the system, leading me to believe that this is a systematic flaw, not just a specific component.

To fix:

  1. Businesses need to better understand their requirements. Seriously. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Gather the requirements for now. Gather the requirements for the future. Think of all the possibilities for the process. Is everything covered?
  2. As requirements change throughout the project, scope the change, go through a formal change control process (not just lip service either), cost the change in terms of resources and time, take the value of the benefits to the business and ask, is it worth risking all this (the risk you’ve calculated, and the cost) for the change to meet the requirement?
  3. Push your vendors for accurate quotes. Maybe this needs to be enforced through contracts. Sure, you didn’t foresee that the SCSI drivers were only for Windows not Linux. Sorry, that’s not a valid reason to not include the cost of having an alternative driver solution.

Finally, lets not accept that IT projects should fail. They should never fail. Never fail 85% of the time, never fail 0% of the time. I refuse to accept that projects should fail in this manner, and if they’re always failing, then we’re doing something wrong.