Saturday, October 23, 2010

Salander's T-Shirt Slogans

I love Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy for various reasons, such as Salander's hacking abilities. But I also think her T-shirt slogans are amazing.
Salander was dressed for the day in a black T-shirt with a picture on it of E.T. with fangs, and the words
"I am also an Alien"
Then there is:
"Armageddon Was Yesterday — Today We Have a Serious Problem."
"I Can Be a Regular Bitch. Just Try Me"
"Kill Them All and Let God Sort Them Out"
"Consider This A Fair Warning"
"You Have The Right To Remain Silent"
and in classic understatement at her trial,
"I Am Annoyed"
The audio books are fantastic, and are well narrated. I can thoroughly recommend them

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I'm tired of being called a "racist"

© 2010 Zapiro (All rights reserved)
Printed with permission from www.zapiro.com
For more Zapiro cartoons visit www.zapiro.com

One of the most annoying things about South African politics is the speed and rapidity with which any criticism of any ANC politician is dubbed "racist", especially if the minister concerned is accused of incompetence. If the critic happens to have a "white" complexion, no further justification is given. If the complexion is different, then some long tedious argument about "reactionary forces" is added, in order not to look too ridiculous.
Take Gareth Cliff as an example. He is a presenter on a State-controlled radio station, as well as a judge on the SA Idols TV show. He has a "white" face, therefore he must be racist, because he wrote an open letter to the Government that was critical. The Times contacted Nzimande's office about Cliff's letter and Nzimande's chief of staff, Nqaba Nqandela, said: "Please note that Minister Nzimande is not going to dignify these rantings of a racist with a response."
Read it carefully and underline all the racist remarks that it contains. I couldn't find any. But that's because I must be a racist too. By definition.
Dear Government
OK, I get it, the President isn't the only one in charge. The ANC believes in "collective responsibility" (So that nobody has to get blamed when things get screwed up), so I address this to everyone in government - the whole lot of you - good, bad and ugly (That's you, Blade).

We were all so pleased with your renewed promises to deliver services (we'll forgive the fact that in some places people are worse off than in 1994); to root out corruption (so far your record is worse than under Mbeki, Mandela or the Apartheid regime - what with family members becoming overnight millionaires); and build infrastructure (State tenders going disgustingly awry and pretty stadia standing empty notwithstanding) - and with the good job you did when FIFA were telling you what to do for a few months this year. Give yourselves half a pat on the back. Since President Sepp went off with his billions I'm afraid we have less to be proud of - Public Servants Strikes, more Presidential bastard children, increasing unemployment and a lack of leadership that allowed the Unions to make the elected government it's bitch. You should be more than a little worried - but you're not. Hence my letter. Here are some things that might have passed you by:

1. You have to stop corruption. Don't stop it because rich people moan about it and because it makes poor people feel that you are self-enriching parasites of state resources, but because it is a disease that will kill us all. It's simple - there is only so much money left to be plundered. When that money runs out, the plunderers will raise taxes, chase and drain all the remaining cash out of the country and be left with nothing but the rotting remains of what could have been the greatest success story of post-colonial Africa. It's called corruption because it decomposes the fabric of society. When someone is found guilty of corruption, don't go near them - it's catchy. Making yourself rich at the country's expense is what colonialists do.

2. Stop complaining about the media. You're only complaining about them because they show you up for how little you really do or care. If you were trying really hard, and you didn't drive the most expensive car in the land, or have a nephew who suddenly went from modesty to ostentatious opulence, we'd have only positive things to report. Think of Jay Naidoo, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Zwelinzima Vavi - they come under a lot of fire, but it's never embarrassing - always about their ideas, their positions, and is perfectly acceptable criticism for people in power to put up with. When the media go after Blade Nzimande, Siphiwe Nyanda and the President, they say we need a new piece of legislation to "make the media responsible". That's because they're being humiliated by the facts we uncover about them daily, not because there is an agenda in some newsroom. If there had been a free press during the reigns of Henry VIII, Idi Amin or Hitler, their regimes might just have been kept a little less destructive, and certainly would have been less brazen and unchecked.

3. Education is a disaster. We're the least literate and numerate country in Africa. Zimbabwe produces better school results and turns out smarter kids than we do. Our youth aren't usemployed, they're unemployable. Outcomes-based-education, Teachers' Unions and an attitude of mediocrity that discourages excellence have reduced us to a laughing stock. Our learners can't spell, read, add or subtract. What are all these people going to do? Become President? There's only one job like that. We need clever people, not average or stupid ones. The failure of the Education Department happened under your watch. Someone who writes Matric now hadn't even started school under the Apartheid regime, so you cannot blame anyone but yourselves for this colossal cock-up. Fix it before three-quarters of our matrics end up begging on Oxford Road. Reward schools and teachers who deliver great pass rates and clever students into the system. Fire the teachers who march and neglect their classrooms.

4. Give up on BEE [Black Economic Empowerment]. It isn't working. Free shares for new black partnerships in old white companies has made everyone poorer except for Tokyo Sexwale. Giving people control of existing business won't make more jobs either. In fact, big companies aren't growing, they're reducing staff and costs. The key is entrepreneurship. People with initiative, creative ideas and small companies must be given tax breaks and assistance. Young black professionals must be encouraged to start their own businesses rather than join a big corporation's board as their token black shareholder or director. Government must also stop thinking that state employment is a way to decrease unemployment - it isn't - it's a tax burden. India and China are churning out new, brilliant, qualified people at a rate that makes us look like losers. South Africa has a proud history of innovation, pioneering and genius. This is the only way we can advance our society and economy beyond merely coping.

5. Stop squabbling over power. Offices are not there for you to occupy (or be deployed to) and aggrandize yourself. Offices in government are there to provide a service. If you think outrageous salaries, big German cars, first-class travel and state housing are the reasons to aspire to leadership, you're in the wrong business - you should be working for a dysfunctional, tumbledown parastatal (or Glenn Agliotti). We don't care who the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces is if we don't have running water, electricity, schools and clean streets. You work for us. Do your job, don't imagine you ARE your job.

6. Stop renaming things. Build new things to name. If I live in a street down which the sewage runs, I don't care if it's called Hans Strijdom or Malibongwe. Calling it something nice and new won't make it smell nice and new. Re-branding is something Cell C do with Trevor Noah, not something you can whitewash your lack of delivery with.

7. Don't think you'll be in power forever. People aren't as stupid as you think we are. We know you sit around laughing about how much you get away with. We'll take you down, either at the polls - or if it comes down to the wire - by revolution (Yes, Julius, the real kind, not the one you imagine happened in 2008). Careless, wasteful and wanton government is a thing of the past. The days of thin propaganda and idealized struggle are over. The people put you in power - they will take you out of it. Africa is tired of tin-pot dictators, one-party states and banana republics. We know who we are now, we care about our future - and so should you.

I couldn't agree more with what Gareth wrote. He expresses our frustrations well. And before you rant and rave about how I'm a white racist South African who benefited from the Apartheid regime, stop right there and check the facts. I did not "benefit" from the state education system: my parents sent me to private schools, and used up a huge part of their income to do so.
I only got to university by means of a bursary, i.e. on merit. I refused to serve in the SADF, the army that shot people in the townships. For this I nearly landed up in jail for 6 years. I was not without its cost, or risks.
I met and worked with several Anti-Apartheid activists who later became cabinet ministers. I was not a "trendy lefty" who spent all day talking out strategy: I was a person who did grunt work like printing pamphlets at teaching media skills. Later I put my programming and computer skills to good use by helping media companies around the country, and today my software is used by companies that benefit all South Africans.
So, don't bother to call me (or Gareth Cliff) a racist. It just shows how desperately stupid or totally ignorant you are. Perhaps you call me a racist because of my skin colour. That's the definition of racism, stupid!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

20h10 20-October 2010 plans?

I'm not a clock watcher, nor do I think that anything particularly significant happens at midnight on 1st January. Still, I decided it might be fun to do something significant on Wednesday evening, given the unusual pattern of numbers in the date: 20:10 20/10/2010. I'd be interested to know what other readers will do, or did.
Update: We spent a pleasant evening having dinner at the Cape Town Fish Market restaurant. Both the food and the service was great.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cell C forced to stop using 4G logo



South Africa's most exaggerated mobile operator just "apologised" for using the term "4G" in interviews, billboards and adverts. The CEO claims that it was a "marketing term" (i.e. lies) and they did it because other networks do it. What a lame excuse. It would be much more honest for Lars to admit they lied.
Naturally this "apology" wasn't voluntary. They were forced to do so by the Advertising Standards Authority, after the other networks filed formal complaints. The other networks quite correctly pointed out that Cell C doesn't use 4G technology, and in any case the final 4G standard has not been drawn up yet. Given the ratio between the "G" and the "S" in the "4Gs" logo, the ASA clearly didn't buy the excuse that "4Gs" doesn't stand for "4G" but for "4 Great Speed".
Cell C's excuses are as lame as their service. Perhaps when they get their new network to actually work, things will improve. Right now the best they can do is get their "other" CEO to tell jokes and check that the coffee in their stores is OK. What a joker.

Friday, October 15, 2010

First Federal Insurance - Scam Alert!

Today I was called by someone from a call centre claiming to be from "First Federal Insurance" which they assured me was part of First National Bank (they are not) and a "registered financial services provider", which they are not. A search for "First Federal Insurance" on the FSB web site revealed nothing. The closest is "First Federal Investments", which is a private company.
These scam artists have been using direct marketing techniques for years. I last ran into them in 2006, and the company secretary of the FirstRand group assured me they had never heard of them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clientele Life's illegal SMS spam

Would you trust a financial services company that buys spam lists and uses them for marketing? I certainly don't. Especially when they don't check the database against the DMA's "Do NOT Contact" list before they send out the spam. Just because they are a "Registered Finacial Services Provider" doesn't mean I should trust them with my money. Because they buy spam lists I wouldn't trust them with my personal information, or my money.
My views on unsolicited marketing messages are well known: don't send them. Get permission from your potential customer before you annoy them with messages on their cell phone or in their inbox. They sent and SMS and gave me the option to send a "STOP" message, which I did. They ignored it and called me anyway. How stupid is that? Not to mention that it's illegal.
The second illegal part is that they are unable or unwilling to tell me where they bought the spam list from. So I have now filed a HelloPeter complaint. It seems I am one of three people in the last 2 days complaining about spam. I have already emailed them to tell them to add me to their do not contact database, but it seems they have no idea about the difference between "opt-in" and "opt-out" lists, or the damage that it does to their reputation.
I have also complained about this activity to the Financial Services Board, not that I think they'll do anything about it.
Update 21 Oct: I have complained again on HelloPeter because they promised to "get back to me" but nothing has happened after a week.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

How to find the real Nemo

Nemo belongs to a group of fish commonly known as Clownfish. The scientists have given Nemo the scientific name, Amphiprion percula. Clownfish have a very interesting relationship with the anemones in which they live and produce their young. Because of this relationship, Clownfish are often also known as Anemone Fish. Although Nemo is now bred in large numbers in tanks, owning a Nemo clownfish impacts on the fish populations of the oceans, because some are still captured from the wild for the aquarium trade. I know this because I have been helping Dennis Polack with Fishwise Pro, an extensive fish database that he is publishing on the web at www.fishwisepro.com.
To quote the instructions on the web site: Go to Common Names, click in the "Used In" column filter and type "Disney". This will show all the Disney cartoon characters that are fish. Look for "Nemo" and click on the record. Click on the "Back: Species" link to find out about Nemo's Species. Click on the species record and choose "Pictures" to find 11 photos of Nemo's real life relatives, Amphiprion percula ("Clownfish").
Sally Polack took the best picture, shown here. Dennis would also appreciate any comments or feedback on the site. There are currently 33,200 pictures on the site, covering most of the known fish species.

After reading the October 2010 edition of National Geographic, I wonder how long it will be before Nemo and most other fishes are extinct. Read "Time for a Sea Change" and buy the magazine to see the maps of how we are over-fishing the oceans. Then check out their 2007 coverage of the oceans, and weep.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

iBurst taught me a lesson I won't forget

I'm not a conspiracy junkie, so I don't believe there are a bunch of malicious plotters at iBurst wondering how they can frustrate me next. If they were, they'd be using their champagne budget to good effect right now. No, this is a tale of a big company that has lost its way. And I doubt if their CEO will ever read this because he is part of the problem, and he should be fired.
iBurst is an ISP in South Africa. They are were owned by Vodacom, the largest cellphone operator in the country. They "compete" against Vodacom's own 3G offering, and appear to operate independently. One thing they share: their call centres are both worse than useless. But there are three parts to this story: support, accounts and publicity.
In spite of all assurances to the contrary, the turnaround/response time on support is one week, or longer. When I decided to get an iBurst account, I contacted them via their web site, and asked them to call me. After a few days I gave up waiting and went to their offices to speak to someone in person, because I don't see why I should pay their exorbitant phone rates: dialling their 0877 contact numbers are more expensive than calling another cell phone. Only phone sex and international dialling costs more. R3.37 per minute to wait on hold for 10 minutes is not much fun.
The people at their accounts reception were quite helpful, and even kept my ID book for me when I left it behind. Nonetheless someone managed to mis-type my name and to incorrectly put my postal address as my physical address as well. So now I have to tell the support engineers that my physical location is not Cresta, but Emmarentia. Not that this helps.
The initial installation was a miserable failure. I was stuck with an awful "control panel" that doesn't work, and the connection kept dropping because the PC we used was too slow. Of course there is nothing on their web site about correct installation, or things to check. So their helpline is overloaded with the same query over and over again. And management is either too lazy, out of touch or incompetent to fix this.
Eventually I took the machine in to their offices and then a competent technician attended to the problem, after I had already paid an extra R300 for an extra antenna that I don't need. I keep the antenna so they can't wriggle out of fixing the problems with some half-baked excuse about reception quality.
They showed me how to set up the software on my Windows Vista laptop, basically telling me to ignore the default setup instructions and just install the two drivers from the CD. At least that works. I guess no-one would think of putting that info on their web site either, or bother to advise users of Outlook, Outlook Express or Windows Live Mail to uncheck the "disconnect when done" button. I have already written about the iBurst security problems which they have still not addressed.
When I set up Cara's Windows 7 laptop I forgot to uncheck the "disconnect when done" button, because after all it's a permanent broadband connection, right? Wrong. It's a dial-up connection, with the sluggish response times of radio/WiFi to prove it. My experience with MyWireless had taught me the difference between copper and radio "broadband".
The next problem was an issue of bandwidth: I thought 1GB per month would be fine, and then added an iCall facility to allow her to make phone calls. But that turned out to be a lame duck because the call rates to and from an 0877 number are worse than cell phone rates, plus it uses up bandwidth, when it works. The SIP software isn't intuitive to set up either.
I found out about their "unlimited" bandwidth option on the web site, and the account department was super-efficient about billing me for it immediately. I guess they are empowered to add items to the account without any problem.
So now I was paying double to get a better bandwidth package, and since Cara was using Skype instead of iCall I gave up on the iCall system and asked them to cancel it in August. Not so fast. They would have to "request" a cancellation because they are not able to do it directly. And I would have to pay for the full month, and there was no talk about refunding the unused call money.
Several weeks later I realised that nothing had been done, because they were gearing up to bill me in advance for my October "use" of iCall. I phoned to complain, and followed it up with an email to point out that under no circumstances should they bill me R457 at the end of September, but only R407.
Of course they ignored all of this and billed me R457, so I lost my sense of humour and started shouting. I asked to speak to the Accounts department manager, who not only has not taken any of my calls, but refuses to even reply to my emails. She should be fired too.
This is where the lesson comes in: if you want them to do anything, then join their Facebook page and complain about it in public. Then make the same complaint on Twitter. The Twitter responder then asks you to email your request to twitter@iburstgroup.co.za. Not that this helps, but they then "escalate" the "request" without actually doing anything. Then they followed up to ask if I had been "helped", so which I explained that nothing had actually changed yet. I had done a little "escalating" of my own, demanding a refund for both September and October, plus the remaining iCall credits: R125 instead of the original R50.
I also received an email to say that my "escalated request" had in fact been processed, not that they could tell me what had been done. It took another round of escalations to find out what had been done.
I also emailed accounts@iburstgroup.co.za to inform them that I would no longer be paying by debit order, since they had taken the wrong amount out of my account, and an "accounts consultant" sent back the following impersonal pre-written template reply:
Good Day
Thank you for contacting the Iburst accounts department, we value your email to us. Please note that as an individual we cannot remove the debit order option from our system, that we only reserve for our business/company clients. However if you wish for the debit order not to go off then a payment needs to be made into the IBurst bank account +-5 working days before the debit order day
Thank you for using Iburst.
Should you have any further enquiries please free to contact us on 087 720 2020, your call is important to us.
I was so pleased with this response I immediately posted the first part on their Facebook page. I have now been assured by a "Marketing Assistant" that my banking details have, in fact, been removed from their system. Time will tell.
As a programmer I analyse systems: both functional ones and dysfunctional ones. This is definitely a dysfunctional system: the call centre people are only there to take a message: they can't actually help. The message gets passed on to someone else who is either too lazy, too overworked, or too incompetent to understand or act on the message in time. You have to bypass or override the system by complaining on their Facebook page, at which point Marketing tries to do some damage control.
That's why the CEO should be fired: because it's management's job to prevent systems from breaking down like this, and clearly management is not doing its job. Does he even know about the 1 week response time? Does he know that the tech support people weren't able to tell me which tower I'm connecting to (for "security reasons"), or how many times a day I was disconnecting? Doesn't he wonder why the towers aren't shown on the coverage map?
Does he know how useless the accounts department is? Does he realise how little tech support information is published on their web site? Does he read the litany of (unanswered) complaints on HelloPeter? I guess the answer to all of this is no, given his response to other complaints, some of which have made the pages of Noseweek.
I'm a fast learner; I now know how to get things done at iBurst: send them an email, from their web site. Wait for it to be ignored. Then send a follow up email asking for a reference number. Wait for that to be ignored. Complain about it on Twitter (that gets the ball rolling) and then finally get it fixed by complaining on Facebook. What a bunch of losers. One day they'll put the "S" back into "ISP".
Update: As of September Vodacom no longer has shares in iBurst. There has been some useful discussion on the MyBroadband forums about this.
Update 13 October: Someone in the MyBroadband forums insists that I apply for "permission" to use their logo. So I have changed the graphic accordingly. I wonder whether they want Google Image Search to apply for permission too? Their skills at customer relations just got even worse than I thought it could possibly get.

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