Thursday, August 31, 2006

Neotel gets only one chance

"Neotel officially brought competition to the fixed line telecoms industry today with the launch of its first services to the wholesale telecommunications market.
Neotel is the new identity of the second national operator, unveiled at a prestigious event in Kyalami, Johannesburg by the company’s Managing Director, Mr Ajay Pandey. He outlined the planned rollout of telecommunication services based on leading-edge technologies and reiterated the company’s promise to introduce initial services for consumers by March 2007."

A note to Neotel: We've been waiting for decades for this, and Telkom's bad service is exceeded only by their arrogant incompetence. If you do just as bad, we're going to take all our decades of frustration with them out on YOU. You have been warned! All I can say is: don't screw it up!

How do I find out who gives my details away??? Discussion Forums: How do I find out who gives my details away???: It seems I'm not the only one having problems with unsolicited junk mail, junk sms's, and so on.

Why am I not surprised that Edgars, Woolworths, Jet and Nedbank get unfavourable mentions? Because they think its OK to violate the privacy of customers and prospective customers. They call it marketing; I call it an insult.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Russian-born painter Tretchikoff dies in South Africa

The only original Tretchikoff painting I have ever seen and liked is in the boardroom of the National Horseracing [sic] Authority in Turffontein. It's a huge painting, shown above. The news of his death reminded me of the picture. Horse racing is on the decline in South Africa, to the point where the NHRA is jokingly referred to as "Negligible Horse Racing Activity".

Johannesburg - Russian-born painter Vladimir Tretchikoff died at the age of 92 in South Africa on 26th August, having produced the world's biggest selling print and a host of popular paintings during a career that spanned five decades, it was reported on Sunday.

The artist who settled in South Africa in the late 1940s after living in Asia where he worked as a propaganda artist for British authorities, is listed as one of the southern African country's top artists.
His China Girl portrait (above) is considered the most famous of his works, many of which are displayed in galleries worldwide. It has the record for the largest number of prints sold. The colourful painting by the self-taught painter and several of his other works, including, The Dying Swan, Zulu Girl and Lost Orchid, are also widely embraced as kitsch in some art circles.
Tretchikoff was born in 1913 and raised in Manchuria. He also lived and worked in Singapore and Jakarta before moving to the South African city of Cape Town where he ran a busy studio until he suffered a stroke four years ago, according to the Sunday Times newspaper.

Monday, August 28, 2006

MTNSP: Marketing Gone Mad

MTNSP is my cell phone service provider. They've obviously just changed their marketing staff or strategy, and now they are employing someone who thinks it's really clever to send me and SMS every day advertising their latest contract specials.
On Friday it was a Nokia 6111. Today it's a Samsung E370 phone. I wonder what it will be tomorrow? Are these guys totally stupid? I phoned their call centre and I've been on hold for the last 37 minutes or so. No-one seems to know how to deal with my request. It's a good job I phoned 083-1808 and didn't have to actually pay for the call. And while I've been on hold they have sent me yet another SMS for the Nokia 6111. The reference number for my complaint is 20820135.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

SurfSpeed: The Numbers are in on Telkom's ADSL speeds

PC Magazine has a utility to test your internet bandwidth speed. My speed is supposed to be 384kbps download, and 128kbps upload. As you can see from the numbers, I am getting between 90 and 100 kbps, on a Sunday morning! Now you know why I don't think much of Telkom's ADSL "service".
Before anyone accuses me of being biased towards overseas sites, there are results for a bunch of local ones. Click on the graphics to see the actual screen shots in more detail.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Converting Audible .aa files to MP3 format

In an ideal world, we would be able to pay for an audio book, download it, and play it on our MP3 player. Unfortunately life is not that simple. Apple's iPod has a Digital Rights Management system that makes it almost impossible to play iTunes music on anything other than an iPod, or your PC. Windows Media players use a different DRM, which won't play on an iPod. And you can't share your iPod without completely erasing all the music on it, which sucks.
The only way round this nightmare is to convert all this copy-protected content into something a little more portable. MP3 happens to be that format. It's like the music equivalent of a Word document file.
Two years ago when I installed all my software on my ThinkPad G40 (the one with the fan problem) the version of AudibleManager was older than the current one, and there was some kind of loophole that allowed you to open the .aa file from Audible using GoldWave, and then save it in .mp3 format. I have converted and backed up most of the Audible books I have purchased in this way, knowing that at some point in the future my .aa files may no longer work.
The day arrived sooner than I thought, and I have had some hasles listening to older .aa files on my new laptop. Then I discovered that the GoldWave method no longer works, and neither does anything else that I have tried. Until I found Total Recorder, which solves several other problems as well, such as how to record Skype conversations, or the news on streaming audio, or anything else for that matter.
This is what I found on their web site: "Total Recorder records PC audio from almost any source, including streamed audio from programs like Windows Media Player. It can also record conventional audio from CD's, the microphone and other input lines on a sound card." Version 6 PE costs $17.95, which is not bad: about the cost of a single book.
So I can record a backup while I'm listeing to to the book, or leave it running all night recording while I'm asleep. It's not as fast as a GoldWave, but it'll work fine for me. Then I can edit the file using WavePad (as long as it isn't too long) or with GoldWave.

Older methods of conversion | Total Recorder | GoldWave | WavePad

Friday, August 25, 2006

ThinkPads Hit the Fan

What is it about IBM ThinkPads and their cooling fan? Last week my G40 stopped working, and I took it in on Friday to have it repaired. I'll only know in 96 hours what the cost will be.
This week Penny's R31 laptop started overheating. Same problem: the fan just doesn't turn fast enough. Are ThinkPads all this unreliable? A quick Google search mentions other people having problems with their fans. I'm sure that the cooling system on my G40 isn't adequate, and I'm going to retire it to become a Linux server when I get it back. But surely a simple R31 with a small hard drive, not that much memory and student usage isn't nough to make the darn thin conk out after a few months usage?

MTN sends SMS spam and breaks the law

I can't tell it it is MTN or MTNSP, and their call centre doesn't seem to know what it is doing, but today I got an SMS spam message from my cell phone company. The sending number is +27831238763 and the message refers to a call centre number 083 123 3667. It mentions limited stock, terms and conditions apply, E&OE and valid until 28.08.06. It's a special offer on a Nokia 6111 phone.
What they don't mention is what you need to do to stop getting stupid messages like this in the middle of an important meeting when you are waiting for another message to arrive. Because they don't mention how to unsubscribe, the message is ilegal. See section 45 of the ECT act.
So I phoned them and told them to stop sending me this junk. The orc on the other end of the phone didn't even bother to listen, and rattled off something about it being a limited offer. DUH
Then I visited the WASPA web site at but of course MTN isn't a member. Neither is Cell-C or Vodacom. What a bunch of hypocrites. Then I looked up the number on, which confirms that WASPA can't match 0831238763 to any of its members. When will these fools learn that it isn't a good idea to make a special offer to someone who renewed his contract a few months ago. Are they stupid or just incompetent? In this case I think they are criminals who need to apologise and hire some decent lawyers.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Creative MuVo TX FM broken

We bought this little MP3 player in March, and now the damn thing has stopped working. The power switch seems to be faulty, and the battery life has dwindled dramatically.
Now we wait for 4 weeks while the thing gets repaired. I hope all the Creative Labs players aren't this unreliable. After all, my Apple iPod Shuffle has been working very hard since September last year, and apart from crappy headphones that were replaced, it's doing fine.
While Apple may have paid Creative $100 million in a patent settlement, they appear to be able to make better products.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Privacy Debacle Hall of Fame

Wired News: Privacy Debacle Hall of Fame: "Earlier this month AOL publicly released a data trove: 500,000 search queries culled from three months of user traffic on its search engine.
The company claimed it was trying to help researchers by providing 'anonymized' search information, but experts and the public were shocked at how easy it was to figure out who had been searching on what. Apparently, AOL's anonymizing process didn't include removing names, addresses and Social Security numbers. Although the company has since apologized and taken the data down, there are at least half-a-dozen mirrors still out there for all to browse.
This may have been one of the dumbest privacy debacles of all time, but it certainly wasn't the first. Here are ten other privacy snafus that made the world an unsafer place."

Monday, August 21, 2006

It's a Broken Machine

I've finally figured out what IBM really stands for: [I]t's a [B]roken [M]achine. See article below on my laptop fiasco. And to think I bought a ThinkPad because it is supposed to be more reliable!

2049366339213 doesn't happen for me, Nedbank

They love their new marketing slogan: making things happen. Just like their old "Makes you think, dosn't it?" slogan from many years ago, this one has bitten them back.
The same crowd who sent me an unwanted (and illegal) SMS also sent me a letter. At the top of the letter is my barcode and reference number: 2049366339213. Then it gets my address wrong. Again, they are "congratulating" me for possibly qualifying for a personal loan of up to R100 000, depending on my salary.
So they are trying to make things happen. I guess it's a start. But instead of getting a new customer, they have lost one by their dubious tactics. The sad thing is that I'm in the market for a home loan. So by sending me an illegal SMS and an unwanted marketing letter, they have lost out on a lot more business.
I got a call from the personal loans people today, and they guy insisted that the SMS message is not illegal. Section 45 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, no 25 of 2002. states the following:
45. (1) Any person who sends unsolicited commercial communications to consumers, must provide the consumer—­
(a) with the option to cancel his or her subscription to the mailing list of that person; and
(b) with the identifying particulars of the source from which that person obtained the consumer'spersonal information, on request of the consumer.
The SMS message itself did not indicate any option to remove me from their list, so it becomes illegal. Secondly, they can tell me that they got the information from ETL Solutions, but ETL Solutions can't or won't tell me where they got my details from. They only said that it "could" be from the TV License database. So who then is breaking the law, Nedbank or ETL? Does it matter? They are both dodgy organisations in my book

Sunday, August 20, 2006

My sad ThinkPad story

I usually leave my IBM ThinkPad G40 running overnight. Big mstake. On Friday night the fan malfunctioned and it overheated. Notice the large power supply in the picure. That thing is great during winter to keep your feet warm. And where the air comes out the side you can keep you4 coffee warm too.
This whole weekend has been wasted installing all my apps on a replacement laptop, so that I can send the damn ThinkPad in for repairs or whatever. When it comes back it's going to be transformed into an Ubuntu Linux server with LAMP and Samba.
I paid nearly R20 000 for my ThinkPad G40 with 1GB ram and a 3GHz P4 processor. It has given me trouble from the moment I started using it. First, the hard drive died on day 8. I lost a week's worth of emails and a week's worth of work setting up the damn thing.
It's always had a heat problem. Let's see how much money the IBM guys try to rip me off to fix it. last time they "fixed" the hard drive, by replacing it, they installed Windows XP Home Edition on it and wasted even more time. Then whenthey got the correct (professional) version of XP going, they installed some spyware as well.
I bought the ThinkPad in May 2004, but culd only start using it the week before Christmas 2004. By new year's day 2005 it was already in the workshop, and my old Fujitech laptop finally gave up and died a few days after I got the ThinkPad back.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Shawn Hogan, Hero

Last November, Shawn Hogan received an unsettling call: A lawyer representing Universal Pictures and the Motion Picture Association of America informed the 30-year-old software developer that they were suing him for downloading Meet the Fockers over BitTorrent. Hogan was baffled. Not only does he deny the accusation, he says he already owned the film on DVD. The attorney said they would settle for $2,500. Hogan declined.
Now he’s embroiled in a surprisingly rare situation – a drawn-out legal fight with the MPAA. The organization and its music cousin, the Recording Industry Association of America, have filed thousands of similar lawsuits between them, but largely because of the legal costs few have been contested and none have gone to trial. This has left several controversies unresolved, including the lawfulness of how the associations get access to ISP records and whether it’s possible to definitively tie a person to an IP address in the age of Wi-Fi.
Hogan, who coded his way to millions as the CEO of Digital Point Solutions, is determined to change this. Though he expects to incur more than $100,000 in legal fees, he thinks it’s a small price to pay to challenge the MPAA’s tactics. “They’re completely abusing the system,” Hogan says. “I would spend well into the millions on this.”
Of course, the MPAA isn’t backing down either. “I hear Mr. Hogan has said, ‘I’m absolutely going to go to trial,’ and that is his prerogative,” says John G. Malcolm, the MPAA’s head of antipiracy. “We look forward to addressing his issues in a court of law.” Look for a jury to weigh in by next summer.

Wired Magazine: Shawn Hogan, Hero

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hit back at SMS Spammers

Spam is something that is widely associated with email, but this growing problem is slowly creeping into the world of SMS’s.
According to Dominic Cull, an associate at Niccifeguson Inc and an adjudicator for WASPA, recommended that people who feel there are being bombarded by spam go to the Wireless Applications Service Provider’s Association ( for help.
“The Wireless Application Service Provider’s Association (WASPA) has set up a hassle-free way to deal with spam and other problems experienced with SMS communications,” said Cull.“They [WASPA] have a code of conduct (sanctioned by the networks) which is binding on WASP’s and a complaints procedure which can be used to lodge complaints for adjudication,” Cull continued.
The WASPA Code of Conduct covers issues such as:
• Spam – the Code specifies an opt-in system
• Subscription services
• Advertising and pricing
• Competitions
• Complaint resolution
• Adult services
According to Cull, if you believe that you have received spam which you have not consented to you can follow these steps:
1. Go to
2. Fill in the Complaint Form and otherwise follow the instructions.
3. If you do not know the name of the Service Provider who sent you the spam SMS then say so and WASPA will figure it out.
4. Submit the Complaint Form after giving as much information as you can. Provide the full text of the message.
WASPA will then forward a copy of your complaint to the service provider and if it is a relatively simple matter it will be resolved within 5 days.
If not, the service provider will respond within 5 days and an independent adjudicator, a lawyer, will then make a finding.
What is encouraging to see is that WASPA have enough clout to take action that can genuinely hurt spammers.
“If there is found to be a breach of the Code then the Adjudicator can issue a reprimand, fine or suspension and can order compensation to be paid. The Adjudicator can, if the breach is serious and ongoing, request the Networks to take action,” states Cull.