On mild Internet addiction

sparkling flashes! huge excitement! rushing cables! neon lights! dazzling screens! blue glow! futuristic highway! SUPERFAST BROADBAND

Since I’ve hooked the superfast broadband directly to my house I no longer needed to wait for YouTube videos to buffer, and so have since squandered my leisure time on frivolity and nonsense (and reading all that civilised political discourse out there).

When I lived in South Africa the agony of waiting for online multimedia content to load over the crippled Internet infrastructure of the time was so unbearable that I actually spent my time writing and posting things on this blog. I mean, I was still using a dial-up modem in 2006! The screechy tweeting staccato of a 56k modem. Urgh. Continue reading “On mild Internet addiction”

Open Letter to Standard Bank: Moving Forward or Treading Water in Shark-Infested Seas?

[Update: 17 February 2011] After some aggressive petitioning Standard Bank’s twitter persons with cross-references to this post and other disgruntled customers, I got a phone call on the 10th to discuss my problem. A possible solution seems to exist. I’ve posted the documentation they asked for (a written request to reverse the stop on my card, which suggests it was lucky that my wallet turned up in the bus service’s lost property office) via registered mail. Whether I get access to internet banking without returning to South Africa remains to be seen.

Dear Standard Bank,

Perhaps the title of my letter is a little unfair. Perhaps you really are moving forward, but you’ve left your customers behind in the bloody water with the chum to fend for themselves. My experience with you has been a case study in client service failure. This case will be to Customer Relations 101 that Deep Horizon will be to Risk Management 101. That’s right Standard Bank—the disaster, that is your level of customer service, is on par with the “largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry” in my opinion.

Unfortunate failings in service provision

For customer service: Insert human sacrifice here

Back in October 2010 I decided to take my son on an excursion to a Petting Farm in Edinburgh. On the way there the bus became very crowded, I become flustered with juggling a 2-year-old and all his associated paraphernalia, and I dropped my wallet.

Relief of getting off the bus soon turned to panic at the realisation that my wallet was no longer in my possession. I headed home and reported the card lost. The friendly call centre person (and to your credit, the overwhelming majority of your staff are friendly—that is not my gripe) duely cancelled it. I imagined that there would be some pain in getting access to my bank account again, but didn’t expect insurmountable problems.

Following a number of telephone conversations it become apparent that I wouldn’t be able to carry out any further transactions on my account, and that the call-centre people weren’t sure how to help me. I put my request for help in writing, certain that the email would get routed through the correct channels of your bureaucratic labyrinth. Eventual it would arrive on the desk of a wise being who knew what to do and had the power to do it.

Whahahahaha! What an idiot I was.

This was the email I sent:

I’m currently living in Scotland and lost my debit card.

I cancelled the card, but as a result can no longer carry out internet banking. For obvious reasons, I cannot just stroll into a local branch and pick up a new card.

My expensive international phone calls first led me to believe that I could send someone else into the branch with my power of attorney, but further enquiries reveal that since the person will be issued with my pin number, that probably won’t be allowed.

Right — so solve my problem. I want to be able to do internet banking from Scotland, without first returning to South Africa to collect a new debit card.

What must I do, written in clear, easy to follow steps? And I really hope that Sacrifice a virgin to Baal isn’t one of the steps.

I haven’t carried out any human sacrifices. Should I have? I suppose you can’t explicitly tell me to do that. The human-sacrifice aspect of your business is something you don’t talk openly about. Makes the investors nervous, hmm? Can’t see how throwing your customers to the sharks will make them any happier though. Or do you only feed the sharks with the customers who refuse to partake in cult behaviour? It’s all very confusing. Perhaps a FAQ on your website dealing with this might help.

Your email response was unsurprisingly bland, repeated everything I’d already told you (but blandly), failed to make any mention of Baal, and welcomed me to contact you again “should [I] require any further assistance.”

Looking back now, I think your reference to Baal was right there staring me in the face. “Should [I] require further assistance” was clearly a suggestion to ask for guidance on carrying out the required sacrificial rites. The rites needed to get Internet Banking reactivated without going to a branch.

What went wrong and what needs to be fixed

In simple terms, this is how you’ve failed me and what you need to do to redeem yourself.

  1. My problem is: I want to do internet banking, but I had to cancel my bank card, and Internet Banking is linked to an active bank card
  2. Your Solution 1: Collect a new card and pin at your nearest branch, link Internet Banking to this new card.
  3. My problem is: I cannot collect card at nearest branch as nearest branch is over 9000km away from my current location.
  4. Your Solution 2: While customer has no card, repeat Solution 1.

That’s it. I’m stuck in this infinite bureaucratic loop and I cannot find anyone with higher enough privileges to break it. It’s not even a complicated algorithm where this problem is deeply nested within the possibilities of customer difficulties, and could not have been foreseen.

What you need to do:

BREAK THE LOOP! Change point 4. to something like

  1. Your Solution 2: Escalate client request until it reaches person with authority to override standard procedure and MAKE AN EXCEPTION

I can accept that through some oversight in planning a simple potential issue like this might be overlooked, and as a result no procedure was drawn up to deal with it. This left the poor disempowered call-centre and email customer support employees unable to fix the problem.

What I can’t accept is that given this situation, where the support decision is locked in an infinite loop, is there is no procedure for breaking the loop by escalating the problem to a higher support level. If such a procedure exists, then every person who has dealt with my enquiries is either completely ignorant of the procedure, or completely incapable of abstract thought. The lack of abstract thought possibility does lend some weight to my Standard Bank is a Murderous Cult theory.

Resolving my problem may not be trivial within the constraints of your internal systems but, assuming you are not in fact a violently murderous cult populated with mindless drones, how can there be no manual overrides for any of your procedures?

Please, before I am forced to carry out some arcane ritual in a fit of desperation, sort this out.

Regards,

Neil Robinson

Footnotes:

  1. This is not the full extent of the pain and grief Standard Bank have put me through. More on Standard Bank’s ineptitude.
  2. ProTip™ for other Standard Bank customers in my predicament.
  3. A careful look at the first step in the infinite loop I’m condemned to shows that the problem should never have arisen in the first place. The “Internet banking is linked to an active bank card” clause is completely unnecessary. Other banks don’t do this. Why does Standard Bank have to?

Ebooks and Project Gutenberg

ebook readerJohannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, which is generally considered a Good Thing—unless you are one of those heathens who proudly proclaim that, “I never even read my Matric set work!” followed by a sort of guttural grunting sound.

Another Good Thing is the public domain. People who know me know that I’m not even slightly impressed with this Intellectual Imaginery Property concept. One cannot own ideas. One cannot steal ideas. If concepts were not allowed to flow freely from one individual to another, we’d still be living in caves and still not too sure about how to cook food, let alone hunt it or cultivate it. Corporate copyright and patent jackasses—get over yourselves! The media wants to be free,  ideas want to free, and you guys have got a little tube of silicon gel trying to plug a massive crack in the wall of the world’s largest dam. Good luck with that.

Project Gutenberg is yet another of those Good Things. That’s three now, and if you’ve been paying attention you might realise that I haven’t just been sprouting off random facts and opinions. I actually have a point.

Project Gutenberg ensures that books and other written works that have entered the public domain remain there, and are easily accessible. Getting a copy of some obscure, 100-year-old, out of print book was a challenge before Project Gutenberg. Now you just search and download the ebook, available in a bunch of formats, suitable for your PC, dedicated ebook reader, or cell phone. There are also audio versions of some books, if you’d prefer (but I haven’t checked any of those out).

So I’ve started reading books on my phone. There are a lot of public domain books out there, and I’ve got some catching up to do on the Classics. Never been that interested in them before, but now that I’ve managed to intertwine them into new technology, they seem suddenly fresh and inspiring to me.

I started with Flatland: a romance of many dimensions and War of the Worlds. I’ve also sought out ebooks that aren’t encumbered by that silly DRM nonsense, but aren’t necessarily free. Places to look for that sort of thing are Smashwords and Book View Cafe.

I admit I haven’t paid anyone for an ebook yet—but I probably will in the not too distant future. Even though I haven’t forked out any legal tender for ebooks, I felt bad about being a total freeloader on the system. Project Gutenberg is a project, right? I correctly guess that that meant one could volunteer to do something towards the project.

I’ve started proof-reading a couple of pages a day over at Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proof-readers site. Essentially, I check scanned pages for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) errors, and make corrections to the text that the computer guessed the scanned pages contained. I like to think of it as noble work, but honestly it’s rather dull. Perhaps I should join a club?

Image credit: Edans “Sony eBook Reader – II”

Microsoft — Now writing satire

It certainly seems that Microsoft are moving into the scathing humour industry when one looks at this press release entitled “Microsoft Brings Holiday Cheer on a Budget to Hispanic Families With Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007 Language Pack in Spanish.”

Honestly, that really is the headline. Holiday Cheer on a Budget! With Microsoft Products! Now in Spanish!

It’s either satire, or Microsoft are using their system administrators to write press releases.

An excerpt if you can’t be bothered to click through and read the article yourself:

“With the current economic situation in the U.S., families are looking for ways to save money and still celebrate the holidays,” said Fred Studer, general manager of U.S. Information Worker Business Group at Microsoft. “This alliance with the Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center will give us the opportunity to interact with Hispanic families and show them how to prepare inexpensive and creative holiday solutions for their homes, using easy technology tools from Microsoft Office 2007.”

What the hell is a “holiday solution”? Microsoft, you are trying to market Office 2007 Home and Student editions to Hispanic families in the US. I understand Hispanics to be typically working class people. I’m not sure they want a “holiday solution.” I’m not sure anyone does. A term like that completely pollutes the concept of a holiday. I don’t want to be laying on a beach on a tropical island somewhere, thinking myself clever to have solved my holiday problem (or is that work problem) with such a cunning holiday solution.

Certainly, I’m taking liberty with the disconnect between what America thinks a holiday is, and what the rest of the English-speaking world thinks it is. Microsoft’s Fred Studer isn’t suggesting anyone develop a creative vacation solution. But let’s look at some of the things Office 2007 offers to simplify the holiday season:

The Microsoft Office 2007 system and the Office 2007 Language Pack — Spanish offer a great deal of tools to help simplify the holiday season, with special templates and features that allow families to create fun projects such as these:

  • Personally made holiday cards, family calendars, gift tags and decorations using Office Word 2007
  • Holiday budget management using Microsoft Office Excel 2007 templates
  • Dazzling presentations for a posada gathering using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007
  • Holiday recipe organization using Office Word 2007 templates

Aside from everything that the Microsoft Office 2007 system and the Office 2007 Language Pack — Spanish offer this holiday season, the software also is the perfect gift for every student and parent.

Are those bullet points what Fred means by “holiday solutions”? Aren’t hand-made cards more beautiful? Isn’t Excel 2007 a little overpowered for a holiday budget? PowerPoint is a problem — not a solution to anything. I wasn’t aware holiday recipes needed to be organised. I’m rather glad that’s been cleared up for me.

A handytard’s dream!

People are asking me for news of Jethro, for photos of Jethro, for happy uplifting information, for rays of sunshine, for things like that.

I’ve been meaning to oblige. I really have. Sadly for you, you still ain’t gonna get no satisfaction. Perhaps some other time when I feel less demoralised.

Instead, I need to get something off my chest and this is the forum I’m going to use. I don’t expect to creating particularly interesting reading-matter, and neither should you expect to find any in this post.

Those who are frequent readers of this weblog will recall that some 8 months ago I bought a nice, shiny, new house. Useful pictures of it are available via Picasa Web Albums. I need to update those pictures with some real gems. A possible forthcoming attraction.

Becasue, as it turns out, the house is more soggy than shiny. It has rising damp. It has extensions that are falling away from the original part of the house, creating cracks in the roof and allowing water to infiltrate there too. The extensions don’t appear to have been built to standard building specifications, with the water-proofing layer below ground level in some places.

The building insurance guy came and had a look yesterday and his summary was: “Sorry for you. Existing damage. Take it up with the previous owner.”

He did at least give me good advice on what to do and who to contact in getting things fixed, but it seems like the bill will be entirely on me — unless I can get the previous owners to pay (Bah! What are the chances?)

A damp-proofing/rising damp expert is coming to have a look this afternoon. I hope it’s not as bad as I instinctively feel that it is.

Enough of being coherent and well-mannered.

Fuck fukc fuckfu kfu kfuckfcukfuc kffuckfuck ufkcufkfuckfufkfufkfuckfuffuckfuckfufckf uf kfu ,kfcufkfu kcfuck  fufkcufk fuck fuckfu kcukfuck

How to generate traffic for your blog

Write about solving the problems Microsoft Word imposes on you.

To my dismay, the post relating the way in which to solve the portrait/landscape printing mix-up conundrum generates the most page views on this blog.
Closely following that are the meandering and slightly obfuscated GPRS on linux and migrate from thunderbird to evolution howtos.
Then, I think people are searching for Kelty the place, and finding pictures of my dog. An entirely unsatisfying result for them and me.

It would seem people on the internet want help. I suppose that when I next write a technical howto post, I’ll make an effort to keep it clear and concise. Easy to understand. I might even summarise the key points. I should put in the extra effort there because that’s what the random people are actually bothering to read. I should try to make it a rewarding experience for them.

At the end, I’ll add some links to more entertaining posts that I actually want people to read.