Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another Look at Defraggler

Defraggler is a free product from the good guys who make CCleaner, which I use often. It has been in a beta program for months, and the improvements being made are impressive.
It's simple, but fast. I can't think of a single program that is able to analyse a hard drive quicker. And often the file defrag time is faster than I have come to expect. I always assumed that contig would remain my simple defrag utility of choice, but I am finding Defraggler indispensable.
I use an external USB hard drive for making backups, and once I have used SyncToy to make the backups, I do a quick check with Defraggler to make sure that nothing is fragmented. (See screen shot). A quick selection of the fragmented files, and a click on the "Defrag"button and the files are tidied up in no time.
Defraggler is not a full-featured defrag tool yet. It makes no attempt to optimise file placement, and relies on the availability of a block of free space big enough for the entire file being defragged. But when speed is required, or a quick check to see if there are a lot of fragmented files on a drive, this has become my first port-of-call.
It does not attempt to compete with fully-featured products like JkDefrag or PerfectDisk, especially with regard to file placement, but if you're used to using the built-in Windows defrag utility, then give Defraggler a try at www.defraggler.com. It's a small 445kb download, with no nagware or annoying ads: just a quick and simple way to tidy up your hard drive quickly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stress Shedding: an experiment

Yesterday I got a call from my brother, who lives in Walmer, Port Elizabeth. He explained that their local substation had exploded and his home had been without power for 5 days already, with no sign of a replacement transformer anytime soon. Umkhonto We Sizwe would have been proud.
He had bought a small generator to run the fridge and the washing machine, and a gas cooker, but they had no hot water because the geyser used more power than the generator could provide. His 4 children were having baths at friends houses, and they are doing their best. They are taking next week off to get away from the chaos and try to relax for a few days at friends in Plett.
Meanwhile, our flat has been experiencing the "joys" of load shedding, with the power being off for 4 hours last night, from 6pm to 10pm. It will be off again on Saturday. The only reason they need to cut power on Saturday evenings is to keep their timetables "fair", although I think the businesses in Cresta Shopping Centre think otherwise.
I decided to try staying at home and relaxing for 4 hours. It was quite peaceful having a long soaking bath by candlelight, but I had to keep my ears under water to block out the sound of a petrol generator a few houses down the road.
Then I made tea from the thermos flask and settled down in bed under the blankets with "The Bourne Ultimatum" audio book on my iPod. It turned out to be quite restful, and I feel far more relaxed today. Perhaps I have found the silver lining to the cloud of Eskom incompetence.

Update: Kempton Park has also experienced a major substation meltdown, and some areas will be without power for at least 5 days. Last year the Atlasville, Bedfordview, Centurion, Plumstead and Skinner substations failed, according to the SABC news site.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Autopage MD calls

Stephen Blewett, the MD of Autopage called me this morning to apologise about the Look4Me, Look4Help issues. He told me that Autopage does not give out its customer information to anyone, and that if he catches any Autopage employee doing so he will fire them personally.
He explained to me that the call centres guess the number ranges of his and other companies, and then make calls without their knowledge. The first time they hear of the billing is when it comes from the network provider (i.e. Vodacom) as a WASP billing record. This system is full of problems, and can be abused by the WASPs. As an example of call centres guessing cell phone numbers, he told me of his wife being called to be offered a "better deal" on her phone.
Stephen also personally apologised on the HelloPeter web site.

I guess the question is why Cellfind claims to have obtained my number from Autopage and why they say they have contacted Autopage to ensure I am on their DNC list. Is it more ducking and diving? Eugenie from Autopage was also extremely doubtful that Autopage had supplied my number to Cellfind. Yet both Carla Legatt and Neil Barnard from Cellfind say it was so. Perhaps they are getting confused with who they sent the billing info to.

Update 11:30am: Andre Geboers from Digicall phoned to accept responsibility for his call centre's part in the process. They didn't check the numbers against the DMA list at the time of making the call, because they received their first list from the DMA on 1st December. They are doing checks against the DMA's list now. Because he was willing to accept personal responsibility for the call, I have dropped my demand for an advert in the Sunday Times.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Clueless About Press Freedom

Not only did the Sunday Times fail to read David Bullard's column before publishing it, but they failed to uphold the press freedom they so ardently espouse. We are expected to become alarmed when a media buyout threatens their independence, or the editor is arrested, but agree with them when they fire a columnist without even the option of an apology. Clueless.
What is even more stupid is that they have pulled all navigation links to Bullard's columns from their web site. Clearly they have no idea. Once an article is on the web, it's on the web. There is no "unpublish" button:
Uncolonised Africa wouldn’t know what it was missing
Imagine for a moment what life would be like in South Africa if the evil white man hadn’t come to disturb the rustic idyll of the early black settlers.
Ignored by the Portuguese and Dutch, except as a convenient resting point en route to India. Shunned by the British, who had decided that their empire was already large enough and didn’t need to include bits of Africa.
The vast mineral wealth lying undisturbed below the Highveld soil as simple tribesmen graze their cattle blissfully unaware that beneath them lies one of the richest gold seams in the world. But what would they want with gold?
There are no roads because no roads are needed because there are no cars. It’s 2008 and no one has taken the slightest interest in South Africa, apart from a handful of botanists and zoologists who reckon that the country’s flora and fauna rank as one of the largest unspoilt areas in a polluted world.
Because they have never been exposed to the sinful ways of the West, the various tribes of South Africa live healthy and peaceful lives, only occasionally indulging in a bit of ethnic cleansing.
Their children don’t watch television because there is no television to watch. Instead they listen to their grandparents telling stories around a fire. They live in single-storey huts arranged to catch most of the day’s sunshine and their animals are kept nearby.
Nobody has any more animals than his family needs and nobody grows more crops than he requires to feed his family and swap for other crops. Ostentation is unknown because what is the point of trying to impress your fellow citizens when they are not impressible?
The dreaded Internet doesn’t exist in South Africa and cellphone companies have laughed off any hope of interesting the inhabitants in talking expensively into a piece of black plastic. There are no unsightly shopping malls selling expensive goods made by Asian slave workers and consequently there are no newspapers or magazines carrying articles comparing the relative merits of ladies’ handbags.
Whisky, the curse of the white man, isn’t known in this undeveloped land and neither are cigars. The locals brew a sort of beer out of vegetables and drink it out of shallow wooden bowls. Five-litre paint cans have yet to arrive in South Africa.
Every so often a child goes missing from the village, eaten either by a hungry lion or a crocodile. The family mourn for a week or so and then have another child. Life is, on the whole, pretty good but there is something vital missing. Being unaware of the temptations of the outside world, nobody knows what it is. Fire has been discovered and the development of the wheel is coming on nicely but the tribal elders are still aware of some essential happiness ingredient they still need to discover. Praying to the ancestors is no help because they are just as clueless.
Then something happens that will change this undisturbed South Africa forever. Huge metal ships land on the coast and big metal flying birds are sent to explore the sparsely populated hinterland. They are full of men from a place called China and they are looking for coal, metal, oil, platinum, farmland, fresh water and cheap labour and lots of it. Suddenly the indigenous population realise what they have been missing all along: someone to blame. At last their prayers have been answered.
In his justification of the firing, the editor writes,
At the outset, I must state that the column should never have been published in the first place.
Our systems failed us badly. [How convenient. Blame it on the system.]
I will make no excuses for the mess [you just did] and I will not blame anyone else for that system failure. [How about just saying that you didn't read the article. That's called dereliction of duty]
I am the editor of this newspaper and take full responsibility for having allowed the poison to pollute the pages of the Sunday Times. [Then you should resign for dereliction of duty.]
We have now begun a process of assessing our internal systems and how to tighten them [read: an internal purge is under way and you can kiss media freedom goodbye] without compromising the right of columnists to speak their minds. [I see, fire the columnist but he is still allowed to speak his mind - as long as it is somewhere else.]
The right to free speech is something everyone on this newspaper holds dear. [Oh, please, give me a break!]
...
Over the years Bullard had fun with the space. He espoused views that were contrary to the views of the newspaper and did so without any hindrance from me or my predecessors. He made people angry and he made them laugh. [He also had the courage to raise matters for debate and discussion that need to be discussed.]
Last Sunday he crossed the line. For those who have not read the column, it would be useful to log on to thetimes.co.za and see if you can hold the food in your stomach. [You deleted all links to the article from your web site. DUH.]
In the subsequent conversation I had with Bullard, it was clear that he holds the views he expressed in the article — which was essentially that black people are indolent savages. [Blame the white man. It happens all the time.]
The Sunday Times respects its readers and — while it is our mission to provoke, challenge and entertain — will not insult or abuse them.
Bullard did that last Sunday; by publishing him we were complicit in disseminating his Stone Age philosophies. [Thanks for insulting me with your savage knee-jerk reaction. How about a discussion about colonialism and the myth of the noble savage?]

The sad fact is that this idyllic pre-colonial existence is taught in schools and universities, but the irony is that this myth is the invention of a French colonialist. Once again, euro-centric political correctness is suckered by euro-centric colonial claptrap.
It seems to be a national pastime that whenever someone is accused of incompetence or stupidity, the race card is played. And if it isn't the race card, it's the colonial/imperial card.
Face it: Africa is a hard place with hard leaders who cling to power and amass vast personal fortunes while destroying their country. While some of the moderate leaders sing songs about machine guns, others buy them in bulk and use them against their rivals, when they are not torturing them or locking them up on Robben Island.

Update:
"David Bullard's weekly Out to Lunch column is the finest example of the benefits of a free and unshackled press. Let's hope it continues to be so."
Quote from the dust jacket of Bullard's book "Screw it, Let's Do Lunch", written by Sunday Times Editor Mondli Makhanya, the same person who fired him!?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Look4Help, Look4Me ducking and diving after getting caught out

These guys are unbelievable. Every time they talk to me they dig their own graves a little deeper. I have been send emails back and forth today, trying to obtain clarification of CellFind's behaviour and response to my enquiries. The last email I got reads as follows:
Dear Mr Edwards
Confirmation: Your wife’s number was added to our internal Do Not Call when you spoke to Carla yesterday. Your number was added this morning after you responded to my initial e-mail.
[Thanks for letting me know. No previous emails or phone calls confirmed this, and no SMS messages have been sent to my phone]
Cellfind notified you/your wife on at least 12 occasions via SMS of the changes. [Earlier in the day you told me that you had only sent 4 messages on 30-11-2007 and 2 on 10-04-2008. I wonder when the other 6 were sent, if at all?] I cannot speak for them but Autopage as a rule notify every customer, every time a new service is added to their account (Also via SMS).

Please tell me what in your view would be adequate:
  • We have added both you and your wife to our exclusion list
  • I’ve also ensured that your details have been added to Autopage and Digicall’s lists
  • We have/will refund you in full
  • We have apologized (All three companies) in person [All the apologies have been conditional, and in private.]
  • The Sales Agent has been fired [How convenient. When? Who?]
  • We have checked our processes to ensure we exclude DMA Do Not Calls to the best of our abilities [How do you do this when there are no ID numbers in your lists and the DMA works with ID numbers?]
  • We have checked our processes to ensure we exclude our own Do Not Calls [Earlier today you admitted that this was not done in November]
  • We have removed the services from your account
  • We have sent you all the information we have available [I am still waiting for replies to numerous questions not addressed here, for a copy of the sales script and the audio recording]
Let me ensure [sic] you that I take this very seriously and even though in our view, we are not in contravention of any law, we have made every effort possible to ensure we don’t have a repeat occurrence and have provided you with as much assistance as humanly possible. So, please let me know what you see as adequate?

Thank you,
Niel Barnard
Chief Executive Officer

Cellfind (PTY) LTD
Tel: 011-8488200
Fax: 011-8488205

Since you ask, Mr Barnard, it would be helpful if you actually stopped ducking and diving and pushing responsibility onto someone else. Autopage did not make the call or send the first 4 SMS messages. Each one of those messages violates the ECT Act, even though you claim you didn't know that I should have been on your list. That was due to your negligence, not mine. Ignorance is no excuse. A thief who gets caught with the stolen goods is still a thief, even if he says "sorry" and gives the goods back.
Secondly, adding someone onto your database without their permission is dishonest, and expecting them to opt out is even more so. In fact it's a bloody cheek, and not the best way to treat your customers. The correct option is "Opt-in", where customers confirm that they WANT the service, rather than being expected to say if they don't, assuming they heard the question.
Thirdly, your call centre first told me that they had obtained the number from Vodacom, and then the story changed later to Autopage. They have yet to confirm that they did, in fact, supply the number. Who am I supposed to believe?
It's all very well to "fire" the person who called my wife, but when are you going to tell me that your company or Digicall made any attempt to contact ALL the people this person subscribed, to make sure they were aware of paying for the service. This could be done by sending an SMS to all the "subscribers", asking them to confirm that they still WANT the service. Clearly this did not happen because we did not receive any messages "several months ago" when the alleged bad apple was "fired".
Either your company is completely incompetent and cavalier in its approach to customer privacy; or you are systematically exploiting loopholes and using convenient excuses to pacify irate customers while you continue to deduct money on a monthly basis from thousands of unsuspecting consumers. I don't know which of the two it is, but neither is a good idea.
If you are genuinely concerned about people being subscribed without their knowledge or permission, then change your business model to an "opt-in" one, and send an SMS to all your existing subscribers asking them to confirm that they still want the service. Also, publish an apology on your web site for the inconvenience caused by your current dodgy practices. Then I'll believe you. Until then, CellFind is the company who got caught with its hands in the cookie jar.

Update Monday 14 th April: Autopage company policy is that they don't give out lists of numbers to anyone. What do you say to that, Mr Barnard? You were very vague about who you got the numbers from.

Update 21 November 2008: It seems that their practices have not changed. Here is an article from the Independent Online web site.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Look4Me and Look4Help Billing Fraud and Illegal Privacy Violations


In November a call centre agent phoned my wife's cell phone and offered her services called "Look4Me" and "Look4Help". We don't like marketing calls and she did not agree to anything. Even so, we started getting billed for this service, in spite of the fact that no permission was obtained from the account holder, i.e. me, violating AutoPage's own policy on customer accounts.
So I called AutoPage (0860 23 2424) and they promised to cancel the service. I also asked for a refund. Judging by the complaints on HelloPeter, I am not the only one to be billed in this way. As far as I can tell this is a case of fraud.
Then I called the Look4Help call centre for on 086 010 5774, and was told that Vodacom had supplied them with my wife's number. Later I received an email from Carla Leggatt who claimed that AutoPage had supplied them with the number. Since AutoPage has done this before, I am not surprised, but now CellFind have added an ECT Act violation to their billing fraud. By phoning a number that is already marked as a Do Not Call (both by Autopage and the Direct Marketing Association), they violated the ECT Act, and the penalty for this is 1 year in jail, with no option of a fine.
What also gets me is that at no point was I, as the account holder, notified, either by mail, email or SMS, that we had been signed up for this service, and it was only because I checked my cell phone bill that I noticed the problem. Scumbags like this should rot in jail, and I am considering charges against them for both fraud and privacy violations, unless they make a public apology, preferably in the national newspapers, and request anyone else billed in this way to contact them for a refund.
Update Friday 10am: Niel Barnard from CellFind confirmed that the details were obtained from AutoPage, and admitted that they did not check the data against the DMA's list. He has promised to send me a copy of the recording of the original call. I spoke to the secretary for the MD for AutoPage, who put me through to customer services without really listening to my enquiry. I spoke to Andre Geboers at Digicall, the call centre company in Cape Town (021-405-1425), and he explained that they only get cell numbers from AutoPage, not ID numbers, so they can't really do any checks against the DMA list. It seems to me like a deliberate loophole to avoid prosecution, and the call verification process sounds a little vague. I have asked for a copy of the "script" used by the call centre agents, to see how well it complies with the DMA's Code of Conduct.
Update Friday 12noon: Neil Barnard informs me that
The person who spoke to your wife has in actual fact been fired a few months ago. I have an agreement with Digicall that any transgression of the script, etc will lead to an immediate dismissal of the offending agent on their side.
How convenient. Employ a temp worker for a few months (say November and December), sign up as many people as possible, legally or not, and then when anyone complains tell them that the person was fired. But they cannot tell me who this person was, or whether any of the people he/she called have been contacted to confirm that they did, in fact, agree to the service. So the firing does not absolve the company of the ECT Act violations or the billing fraud, for which the company as a whole is responsible.
Then there is the question of the SMS "confirmation" messages. They sent 4, all at 2007-11-30 11:50:50, shortly after calling my wife:
  • Look4help is designed to help you when you need it most. Please reply to this sms with the way you would like to setup eg. WWW, WAP, SMS or call 0860105774
  • Welcome to Look4help, a panic button on your cellphone & costs only R12.08 per month, easy setup details to follow. To unsubscribe sms STOP to 31888
  • Look4me is designed to help keep your loved ones safe. Please reply to this sms with the way you would like to setup eg. WWW, WAP, SMS or call 0822360919
  • Welcome to Look4me, a service which allows you 2 track cellphones & costs only R11.13 per month, easy setup details to follow -sms unsubscribe to 31888 to stop
So if you don't get the messages, ignore them, or just delete them as spam, you have effectively "agreed" to their service by not doing anything. Not only is this dishonest and unethical, it's also a violation of the DMA's Code of Conduct.
Update Monday 14 th April: Autopage company policy is that they don't give out lists of numbers to anyone.


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