Monday, May 01, 2017

Julius vs The ANC

This documentary is from the same producer who did the documentary on Marikana that the SABC refused to broadcast. It paints a chilling picture of the years to come, and is well worth watching.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MTN Monitoring and Monetizing My Call Logs

This is part of a letter I have written to MTN (my mobile operator), following the events that happened after I made a call to my domestic worker's mobile phone. I recived a popup-style "alert SMS" message, followed by a standard spam SMS from the MTN short code 46163:
This morning I called my domestic worker from my MTN phone. Her phone is very basic. I can do SMS messages and not much more. She is illiterate, so she cannot read SMS messages.
When I had finished the call I got an annoying little popup message on my phone, followed by an SMS from 46163 claiming that my domestic’s phone number “just sent me a Caller Notify message.” [See screen shot above]
My first concern is that clearly my domestic does not have the capability to type out the message, let alone send it as an alert style SMS instead of a standard SMS message.
Secondly, she has no way of sending messages on behalf of 46163
Thirdly, 46163 is not a short code registered with WASPA.
But my biggest question is: who gave the operators of 46163 the network capability to monitor calls to and from my phone, and to and from her phone? I should also point out that I am the account holder of both phones and at no point do I recall permitting subscription services to be deducted from her phone, or have I given MTN permission to give calling metadata to anyone, and that it should only be used for the purposes of police investigations or billing.
So the privacy and compliance issues surrounding this “service” are of grave concern to me as a subscriber. Please would you explain what is going on?
Best wishes
Donn Edwards
I await their reply with interest, and will publish it as soon as it becomes available. I have called their call centre and discovered that the "service" deducts R2 per month R1 per day from the phone's account. Not much until you consider that she only gets R50 airtime a month. Then it's a big deal.
Update Friday 28 April: According to this tweet the call centre was lying. The cost for this "service" is R1 per day, or R5 per week. That's plain daylight robbery. My email has been passed from pillar to post at MTN, but still no one has actually replied. I guess I'll have to wait until Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

JoziBear 24/7: Customer Service Gone Wrong*

Earlier this week I became aware of a new startup in the taxi business, trying to compete with the likes of Uber and Zebra Cabs in Johannesburg. One of my gripes with Uber is they have no phone lines, so you have to reply on Twitter or email to talk to them.
Being cautious, I first asked if they had a phone number I could use. They replied and gave me the number 011-082-9825 which I duly added to my phone contacts, hoping I would never need to use it. How wrong I was.
I resolved to try using their service on my way home from gym on Tuesday. As it turned out I left gym early, and at 4.17pm I requested a ride from Victory Park Shopping Centre to my home.
Within seconds I got an SMS reply to say they would be finding a nearby driver. After that, nothing.
Bear in mind I'm sitting on the pavement outside the shopping centre, I've had a long day and I just want to go home. I check on the app and get this:
"Sorry, no trips to display". And a programmer's error message about a missing data id, or something. It was gone before I could get a screen shot. So at 4.23pm (after 5 minutes) I sent this tweet: No reply, even though they tweeted at 4.15pm and again at 4.30pm. Turns out that was a Twitter bot giving the illusion of human activity. Clearly no service via Twitter. So I tried the number on the SMS at 4.27pm (i.e after 10 minutes). No answer from 086-001-5666, just an automated message that says "The user you are trying to reach is unavailable". I have yet to get any kind of answer from that number. Presumably faulty.
So I try the landline number, 011-082-9825 hoping at least someone would answer. After all, this is a 24 hour a day operation. I get voicemail. I didn't leave a message. I was already waiting for them to "get back to me" with no results.
Instead, since I was trying out alternatives to Uber, I decided to give Zebra Cabs another go. The first time I installed their app I didn't get the SMS code they promised, and a call to their call centre wasn't particularly enlightening either. But this time I installed the app and it worked. By 4.33 I had requested a ride and by 4.57 I was home. My first trip with Zebra Cabs was a complete success.
At 9.09am this morning I gave twitter another try and decided to try calling again. The 086-001-5666 number still gave me "The user you are trying to reach is unavailable", but I did manage to speak to someone (I think it was Kampa) who said he had no idea what was going on because he had just got into the office. I pointed out that they advertise a 24/7 service and he promised to investigate.
At lunchtime I noticed another tweet from @JoziBear247 and wondered why they still hadn't replied. I decided to reply to every tweet they sent out until someone replied. It took several hours but by 3pm (23 hours after my first "help!" tweet) they finally replied, saying their "internet was down". SAY AGAIN!?. What was the social media person doing all day on his/her phone? Playing solitaire? Oh, wait. This is an internet startup. Of course they don't have smart phones. What was I thinking?
At 2.57 they send an email that reads:
From: Jozibear Sales&Marketing <jozibearjhb1@gmail.com>
Subject: Apology
Good day Donn.
I wish to convey my sincere apology on behalf of JoziBear for missing your trip yesterday.
I wish to advise that we are still adding drivers to our system to meet the demand. We could not get you a ride as all our drivers in your area were busy being the peak hour.
Furthermore, we could not reply to your messages on Twitter as our Internet was down since morning due to maintenance that just ended a while ago.
I wish to again apologise for the inconvenience cause you. We hope to serve you better next time should you give us a second chance.
Kind Regards,
So I get a "sincere apology" that turned out to be totally insincere when he blocked my Twitter account, and a load of lame excuses and justifications. No sense of concern or urgency. And this is the PR guy! The person who is supposed to put the customer first. Completely oblivious to how arrogant his "apology" sounds. He wasn't able to call me during the internet outage? Or send an SMS? He's obviously a very busy man. Can't answer his cell phone at 3.27 or his land line. Instead I get passed on to Mandla Zuma in "Operations" who was just as clueless as to why no one let me know they couldn't find a ride for me.
But wait, there's more! Read section 6 of their Privacy page:
6. Direct marketing
We only use your e-mail address and phone number for sharing our product related marketing messages if you have given consent via Jozibear 24/7 app during installation and registration. If you no longer wish to receive direct marketing messages, please email us at support@jozibear247.com
Nowhere in the installation or registration process was there any mention of providing consent for direct marketing. None. Nothing. Nor is there any mention of it on the app page in the Google Play store. There are some angry reviews about this, and I have written to support@jozibear247.com but not had a reply as yet. I doubt I'll get one either. I have CC'd Craig Geswindt, their CEO, so we'll see what happens.
All I want them to do is fix their systems so that other people don't get left stranded like I was. I'm certainly not going to put their app on my wife's phone until they do.
*Update Thursday 10am: The CEO called me personally. He understands the issues and is working to fix them. I don't envy these challenges, but if they are working on them I will cut them some slack. I'll try again in a month or so and see how things have improved.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bethlehemian Rhapsody

This video was first posted on YouTube on 7 Jan 2009, yet I only saw it the say before Christmas this year, sent via WhatsApp. It's a great parody. Enjoy! You can also download it (without captions) on http://www.puppetunes.com/

Friday, December 09, 2016

My Before and After Pictures So Far

A quick glance at these "before" and "after" images shows no dramatic change to my body shape after 2 years of training using the Bigger Leaner Stronger program. Or so you would think. Certainly my body measurements haven't changed much, but that's not the only data that matters. At least for me. I am 5kg heavier, yet not fatter. I am stronger in all the main 4 exercises that matter.
I don't have a record of my efforts for 2014, but I was struggling to do a Squat properly, and hadn't even attempted the Seated Military Press until 2015. I started keeping records of my exercises at gym in January 2015. So my stats (for at least one set of 6 reps) are:
Jan 2015
Deadlift 40kg
Squat 40kg
Seated Military Press 25kg
Bench Press 40kg
Dec 2016
Deadlift 100kg (+60kg)
Squat 90kg (+50kg)
Seated Military Press 40kg (+15kg)
Bench Press 60kg (+20kg)
Next week is "Strength Week", so these numbers may improve further. Either way, I am achieving personal best results in many of the exercises every week. Progress has been slow but steady, especially considering I turned 55 this year, and only have the time and energy to go to gym 3 times a week.
I have been going to the gym regularly for over 3 years now, and my progress has been great, at least for me. In August 2013 I couldn't do any of the basic exercises. I could manage around 5 pushups if I was lucky. Now I do 12 pushups as part of a warm-up routine. For me that's great progress, and it has been worth the time and effort. This week I am starting my warmup exercises with the weights I was doing as working sets in January 2015, or heavier. And the warmup sets start with 12 reps, not 6.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Windows 10 is ignoring my file associations

Microsoft just doesn't understand how annoying they are when they mess with my computer. I have put up with all kinds of weirdness with Windows 10, but thanks to Classic Shell and Spybot Anti Beacon I feel I am at least partially in control of my own PC. Until recently.
I started noticing some weirdness with my file associations. I've learnt to put up with the occasional file association reset that Windows Update does, trying to force me to use Edge to open PDF files instead of Acrobat. That's a well known and much hated "feature" of Windows 10. But this is different: it's a stubborn refusal to pay any attention to the fact that I don't want to edit text files with Notepad. I use EditPad Pro, and when I check in the registry it is correctly set up to use EditPad Pro. Except that the desktop ignores this completely. It seems that Windows Explorer (that's explorer.exe not Internet Explorer) is loaded is some weird mode when Windows 10 boots up. Any text file on the desktop will open in notepad. Any folder I navigate to from the desktop, such as via "This Computer" or via the "User's Files" icon is also affected.
I noticed an important exception: I have a batch file that opens my TrueCrypt drives and then runs the following command:
start explorer.exe X:\dev
which opens the X:\dev folder on the TrueCrypt drive. This version of Explorer gets the file associations correct every time. Some further experimenting has led me to a simple, but weird, workaround:
  • Allow Windows 10 to boot up and stabilize as normal.
  • Open the Windows Task Manager.
  • Scroll down the list of tasks until you get to the "Windows Processes" section.
  • Right Click on the one or two copies of Windows Explorer, and select "End Task".
  • Don't panic when the desktop disappears.
  • From the Task Manager go to the top menu, select File, then "Run new task".
  • Type in "explorer.exe" and make sure you tick the box that says "Create this task with administrative privileges"
  • Click OK.
You will get your desktop back and once it has settled down the file association problem will be gone until the next time you reboot the PC.
Like many workarounds I cannot explain why it works, only that it does. I don't know if it is something peculiar to my Windows setup, but I suspect not. If this helps you too, please leave a comment.

Update 3rd December 2016: After updating to version 1607 the problem seems to have gone away. I am cautiously optimistic.
The upgrade process turned into a bit of a mission, but after leaving the laptop to do its thing overnight I have a new version of Windows 10.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Not so fast, Vumatel!

This morning when I was putting out the rubbish bins I nearly tripped over the Vumatel manhole cover that has been partially open in the middle of a busy sidewalk for the past few weeks.
So as a good public citizen I reported the problem to our local Vumatel Twitter account, and they promised to have it fixed.
And, true to their word they sent someone to "fix" it, and the one on the opposite side of the road.
Now I'm wondering in what parallel universe this makes the manhole safer? Then the Pikitup people arrived to collect the rubbish bins, and one of the guys nearly impaled his foot on the spike. If he wasn't wearing boots he would be in the emergency room.
So I reported it again. And again they sent someone to "fix" the problem.
At this point I give up. We are back to square one. They obviously live in some kind of parallel universe.

Update Monday 17 October 2016: Since Vumatel took the whole day to do nothing. I fixed it myself, with some sticky tape and a piece of aluminium that they left lying around. Clearly they don't care if anyone opens the unlocked manhole cover and sabotages their stuff.

Update 20 April 2017: Six months later and all but 2 of the manhole covers in the area are either unlocked, or the cover is upside down with the spiky stuff sticking out. They don't give a damn, but I will suffer from an internet outage when some bored kid with too much time on his hands decides to vandalize the cables for the hell of it.

These photos taken on 18 January 2017:

These photos taken and tweeted to Vumatel on 17 March 2017:


Update: Saturday 6 May 2017: Today's walkabout is not much different, even after they supposedly "locked" all the covers.



Update: Tuesday 16 May: One of the Vumatel contractors came to the suburb and locked all the unlocked manhole covers in our suburb. Brilliant, especially since he wasn't responsible for the mess in the first place.

Update Wednesday 17 May: Now there's this, a day after all the manhole covers were locked:

I really don't know what to make of the people at Vumatel. The concrete top in which the "locked" manhole is fixed, is not even cemeted to its base!

Warning: The NSA and 4 million other sick weirdos with "security clearance" have intercepted this page and know that you are reading it.