The Tripadvisor desaster

If your business model builds on user generated content – hell, don’t fuck with the users! Yes, I’m looking at you, TripAdvisor!

While researching hotels I not only rely on the HRS ratings but also look the hotel up on TripAdvisor for even more reviews. As this works pretty well I decided to give something back to the community by rating the hotels we stayed.

Signup is easy as you can use your Facebook login. Reviewing is also quite easy, however, your review goes to a pending queue, more commonly known as a black whole and this is where the fun begins. It stays there for some time. The FAQ says 24 to 48 hours, however mine are in the queue for more than 72 hours each. This is quite anoying, as they pile up while you write new reviews and don’t even know if they are helpful for the community, as nobody can read them. On the first review I thought this might be because I’m new to the platform but also with more reviews written nothing speeds up.

But here is what really sucks: Some of my reviews got deleted while pending. No word about why TripAdvisor trashed them, not even an email and there have been reviews for hotels that have only one review to date. And none of them was rude or anything like this, just honest reviews.

I wrote TripAdvisor about this five days ago but haven’t heard back yet. The contact form is also pretty hard to find and the issue ‘My review got deleted’ is not even an option to select.
So all of you who rely on user generated content: If I spend my time to improve your site, let me know what’s going on! Learn from the TripAdvisor desaster!

VX ConnectBot – ConnectBot on steroids

Most of the time ranting about something brings up better solutions. I was quite disappointed with ConnectBot as an alternative to Prompt and mentioned this in my first android review. @DarthMowl replied on Twitter and suggested VX ConnectBot.

Well, we are back in Canada and it’s raining again so I got some time to write about VX ConnectBot. It addresses most of the issues I criticized.

  • You can import keys. Just store the key on the device and import it with VX ConnectBot.
  • Bookmarks can be renamed, that however also works with ConnectBot, I just didn’t try a tap-and-hold on the bookmark before.
  • Terminal size can be changed by pinch gestures.

The problem with the arrow keys remains. However, there’s an app for that (sic!), Full Keyboard. Or any other keyboard extension on Android. However, I found none I’m comfortable with so I will stick with the default keyboard for the time being.

There are some more features that set VX ConnectBot apart from ConnectBot, what I love most is the ability to assign keystrokes to hardware buttons. So ‘Volume up’ now works as tab key and ‘Volume down’ as control key. With no more hardware buttons on the Nexus 4 that’s it for this device, but you can assign more buttons on other devices.

The HRS touch interface and why it sucks

I like to be ahead of the game. Not only as a softball umpire but also on my vacation trips. The two guys I’m with on vacation picked hotels on a try-and-error basis in the first days. But just stopping at the first hotel that comes in sight neither gives you the best prices nor the best hotels, so I jumped in and took over the hotel management.

I book everything through HRS. This is not because they have the greatest platform on earth but they have a lot of hotels around the world. But speaking of the platform, hell it sucks. Especially the touch interface. It starts with this modal overlay that tell’s you that they are gathering the search results. Have you ever seen something similar on Google? No? That’s because it’s completely unnecessary and bloats the interface. And I built a hotel reservation system on my own a few years ago, I know what I’m talking about!

Location awareness? Not with HRS. We stayed one night in London. London, Ontario to be exact. While Google offered me the canadian London as a first choice in the Maps app HRS always offered London, England first. It’s so easy to get this right based on IP or location! And yes, HRS is allowed to use my location.

Browsing through the results is slow as hell. Because every time you select a hotel you get this fancy overlay. And every time you go back to the result list, you get it again.

Currency conversion: I have no idea what they are smoking. In the result list it is converted correctly, 103 Canadian Dollar equals more or less 75 Euro. In the detail view on the offer tab however, this becomes 149 Euro, but still 103 Canadian Dollar.

Error handling: What a mess! Filling forms on a mobile device is a pain in the ass by default. But it get’s worse with the error handling HRS implemented. Got a typo on your 16 digit credit card number? No problem, a model overlay will let you know and you can correct it. For your convenience HRS deletes both the whole number and the name on the card. Once fixed you get an error 5000, ‘Person invalid’. This time, you can’t correct it. You are thrown back to a blanked out search form. HRS yells in your face: „Don’t make any typos, stupid! So start over completely again till you learned your lesson”.
Because you are already annoyed you skip the second person on a double room as the fields are marked optional anyway. Well, obviously this is no longer true but the backend guy forgot to tell the frontend guy. You might already know what happens: Model overlay that says to fill in a first name for the second person. After fixing this (and typing your credit card number once again as HRS blanked the field for your convenience) you get: Error 5000. Welcome back home, baby! I was that close to calling the hotel and book by phone, but it worked on the third try. Once again when you are dominant in your market you get lazy, as HRS does.
The good thing is: I can tell my credit card number from memory now and impress front desk clerks all over the world with this useless trick.

Going Android

My day-to-day phone still is an iPhone 4S, netlocked thanks to Deutsche Telekom. So I was in need for another phone for my recent trip to the US and Canada. From my collection auf test devices I picked the Nexus 4 with the latest Android OS. We are now on the road for more than a week and, while cruising around Lake Superior on the Trans-Canada Highway, it’s time to write a short review.


Before leaving I ordered an AT&T SIM and a voucher from travelSIMple which I activated while still in Germany. I went off the plane in Chicago and had data instant on. That’s really great. What’s not so great is the size of the phone. It’s both taller and wider than my iPhone and that sucks. There are tasks on Android where you have to reach the upper left corner on the phone and I always have to change the position of the phone in my hand or I use my other hand.

It happens all the time to me that I hit the wrong button when I want to unlock the phone. When you draw the phone from your pocket you can’t tell where is up and down as there is no real home button. And putting the unlock button on the side doesn’t make that in any way easier.

What I miss most is to scroll up all the way by a simple press on the title bar. But I guess, there’s an app for that, as I also had to install an app to prevent the display from rotating. You’re kiddin’ me, right?

What also works on a good-luck-basis is locking the phone, especially when you use the standard slide unlock. I happend more than once that my phone was unlocked and doing weired things while sitting in my pocket. I switched to a pin code and it never happend again. Still ridiculous.

What’s really great is the spell correction. It happens to me quite often on the iPhone that I select a correction on error. You have to delete everything then. On Android when this happens and you hit backspace it reverts to the word it corrected from. I love this as I love the abbility to pick from three different suggestions. However, sometimes hitting space does exactly nothing and you come up with concatenated words that shouldn’t. I think this is related to the spell correction but I wasn’t able to figure this out yet


I have a very limited set of apps on the phone, only those I really need while on vacation.


This includes K9 Mail for my regular email. This is a great app, supports multiple accounts, colors for the accounts and is a full-fledged IMAP client. Missing a swipe-to-delete gesture in list view, however.

I use the GMail client that ships with the phone and this one is so much worse than the current iPhone client. Makes me wonder what Googles primary platform really is. You can’t batch delete mail by tapping a checkbox in list view, you can only archive on swipe but not delete and assigning labels drives my crazy every time as it is an unnecessary multi-step process.


The built in Maps app is, compared to the GMail app, so much better. I use it for navigaton, it has a real small data usage footprint and good directions. I’m somewhat confused with the multiple search input fields that return different result views and I haven’t figured out yet how to start a navigation from my current location once I delete the current location entry.
Quite funny is the voice on navigation. The phone is set to German as it’s primary language and the navigation tries to pronounce all street names in German. There’s room for improvement…


I love the Foursquare widget on the home screen. I check in quite more often than I do on my iPhone. Otherwise this app is not much different from the iPhone app.


I’m a hardcore user of Panic’s Prompt on the iPhone. I did a lot of research and finally installed ConnectBot. Well, it’s not yet competitve but as far as I can tell it’s the best you can get.

  • There is now way to import keys, you have to generate a key on the device and then introduce the public key to your server. This means some work when you have more than two servers (as I do). And even then connection with keys isn’t the default, so connection takes some time as password based has to fail first.
  • You can’t rename bookmarks. I have quite a few connections to the same server with numeric usernames. You just can’t tell them apart when you can’t give the bookmark a name. I had to set up subdomains to do so.
  • You can’t read anything on the prompt by default. You have to reset the terminal to a given size. And you have to do this every time. Pinch gestures don’t work.
  • No arrow keys. If you want to do execute the same command again you have to type !! every time.



As mentioned above I got an AT&T SIM from travelSIMple before leaving. The internet coverage is quite amazing, even in not so densly populated areas, buying extra data is easy, tethering works out of the box and like a charme. In brief, im quite happy with AT&T.


On the other hand, Rogers sucks. Big time. I go with the claim ‘Where I am is internet’ so I couldn’t risk to be without while in Canada, even if it’s only for four days (things somewhat change when you are self employed). I got a Rogers SIM, also from travelSIMple, but you can’t activate it from abroad.
This is because you need either a canadian credit card (which I don’t have) or a voucher. Unfortunately you can’t buy vouchers before, because they are only valid for 30 days and expire afterwards without any refund. This is ridiculous and I’m happy to live in Germany where those things won’t happen. Next problem: These vouchers are pretty hard to get. I tried right after the border where you can get fishing and hunting permits, but no Rogers vouchers. I tried on a truck stop to no avail. Finally, I got lucky at a Walmart.
Nontheless, network coverage by Rogers is pretty good. I had no activated SIM around the north shore of Lake Superior, so AT&T dropped to Rogers roaming. I had coverage almost on the whole Trans-Canada Highway 17, however, as I was on roaming and not interested in getting bankrupt, I can’t tell if and who good data coverage would have been.

Query Doctrine/Translatable for translated strings

I’m currently working on a new backend for all our onlineshops that will help us to streamline our workflow so we can get our lovely nutcrackers and cuckoo clocks to the customers even faster than ever before (it’s all about speed, no matter if in the browser or in the warehouse).

As I’m not doing that much backend development these days I gave both Zend Framework and Symfony a try. I went with Symfony (and Rock Hammer, but that’s a story for another day). So far this works out quite well. Symfonys documentation is great, everything (well, almost everything) works as expected and you save a lot of time because you can concentrate on your business logic and don’t have to think about the underlying things as database connections etc.

However, there is one thing with Doctrine and Translatable that took me almost two hours today to figure out.

I have a database table with countrienames in German, english names are stored with the help of Translatable in the default table ext_translations. What I tried to achieve was to get the ID of a country. The only information I got was the name in english:

$oCountry = $oEM->getRepository('W3LShopBundle:Country')->findOneByName($aOrder['countries_name']);

returns no hits. I searched the whole web for a solution as the documentation is not very helpful here. I came with up some solutions that set hints on the query, all of them returning exactly zero rows. I tried to write native SQL, however Doctrine messus up with the backslashes needed for object class. In the end, you get zero results with Doctrine while the same statement works fine in phpMyAdmin (you could work with a like statement on the object class field, but that’s a real performance hog).

Finally, I figured out that you need to set multiple hints.

$oQB = $this->getContainer()->get('doctrine')->getManager()->createQueryBuilder();
$oQuery = $oQB->select('c')->from('W3LShopBundle:Country', 'c')->where(' = :name')->getQuery()->setParameter('name', $sCountry);
$oQuery->setHint(\Doctrine\ORM\Query::HINT_CUSTOM_OUTPUT_WALKER, 'Gedmo\\Translatable\\Query\\TreeWalker\\TranslationWalker');
$oQuery->setHint(\Gedmo\Translatable\TranslatableListener::HINT_TRANSLATABLE_LOCALE, 'en_US');
$aCustomerCountry = $oQuery->getResult();

This finally returns results. Maybe this is helpful for anybody else.

You can’t fix what’s not broken, 1&1

You can surprise people when you tell them you own more than 100 domains. Currently I have 118 domains in my portfolio. Some have website or mail services, some are for later use and some just redirect to another domain. This is the case for the domain in question.

I received an email from 1&1 last thursday telling me the website at is infected. Indeed, the website shows a warning page when accessed with Google Chrome, however, it redirects to This is the infected website. So I told 1&1 that this is a false positive because this is just a redirect and the domain the redirect points to is not under my control. I also asked them to check their systems so they don’t bother me with these false positives in the future.

The reaction was exactly what you expect from 1&1: They told me (which was not infected) is under my control and I should fix this ASAP. Well, you can’t fix what’s not broken and so I send them a screenshot with the following:

matthias:/htdocs/ # ls -al
total 8
drwxr-x---  2 examplecom   psaserv   22 2011-03-01 10:22 .
drwxr-xr-x 13 root         root    4096 2011-04-10 21:48 ..
-rw-r--r--  1 root         root      66 2011-03-01 10:22 .htaccess
matthias:/htdocs/ # cat .htaccess
RewriteEngine On

RewriteRule .* [L,R=301]
matthias:/htdocs/ #

So I have done exactly nothing but 1&1 congrats me for solving this issue. They don’t get the point. And because of that I will have to life with these false positives in the future.