Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Telkom ADSL service down again

Maybe the reason why he's called "Jack the cable guy" is because the service goes up and down like a Jack-in-the-box. Last night the Telkom ADSL "service" went down again. I'm wondering how long it will take for them to attend to the problem, given that yesterday they still thought they hadn't fixed the previous problem from 12 days ago.
It's always the same thing: it rains, and then the PPP signal goes. I have notes from the last 5 outages: in each case the phone line remained working, but the ADSL light started flashing, or just no PPP facility and no ability to authenticate. Here are the reference numbers:
  • 6ARK170206: 16th Feb 2006
  • 36ARK170506: 17th May 2006
  • 215ARK211206: 21st Dec 2006
  • 237CRK180107: 18th Jan 2007
  • 24CRK310107: 31st Jan 2007
That's a pretty impressive list for the last year: 5 outages for a total of 12 days, or only 96.71% uptime. So much for "always on", and that doesn't take into account the fact that the service is disconnected every 24 hours to assign a new IP address, and this can interrupt downloads or streaming audio.
Update: Last night I called to find out the status of my fault. The person who originally took the call, Mahomed Moses, cancelled the call after we were disconnected, so I waited the whole day for nothing to be done, even though I had been sent an SMS telling me the fault had been logged. So I had the fault reinstated, and asked for a written letter of apology. Do they get paid commission on the number of calls they don't log?
Update: When they reinstated my fault it got a new fault number: 378ARK310107. Nice of them to let me know. The line is back for now. Does that mean that it would have been back yesterday already if the call hadn't been cancelled? I guess that's too much to hope for.
Update: The line went down again on Friday afternoon at 3.30pm, so it will presumably be down for the entire weekend. I have to re-use reference number 378ARK310107 because even though the service was working the call hadn't been closed. These guys are unbelievable.

Monday, January 29, 2007

1LifeDirect Tries SPAM Marketing

Spam is not a good idea for any kind of financial institution. I got an email from 1LifeDirect advertising life insurance or something. A quick visit to their web site told me that:
a) They don't comply with the Promotion of Access to Information Act
b) The and email addresses on their web site are bogus. I got a message saying that these mailboxs do not exist. I hope that the mailbox works.
My complaint to HelloPeter got some results, however. They have put my name on their "do not call" database, and the offending company,, has apologised. They obtained my name from a "competition" entered by a relative, and then didn't validate whether I wanted to "opt in" or not. They don't have a web site, but the contact email above can be used to opt out.

Many-to-Many Relationships get a new look in Miami

Consider the Many-to-Many relationship shown in the diagram above. Many "References" can be used in many "Enquiries". The list of which references are used in each enquiry is stored in "RefsUsed". The composite picture below shows a new way of managing these relationships in Miami database applications. The edit screen in the background is for the "Enquiry" table.
The page shown lists the relationship between the "Enquiry" table and the "Reference" table, and the combination information is stored in "RefsUsed". This relationship is displayed by using listboxes. The one on the left is based on "RefsUsed", and the one on the right is the "Reference" table.
Double-clicking on the "RefsUsed" record in the listbox on the left allows the user to edit the relationship details, by means of the foreground form. Is has not been possible to do this kind of multiple-table editing in Miami forms before.

More Privacy Scumbags Float to the Surface

Why do these marketing types think its OK to bombard me with special offers, SMS messages, calls, and so on? Don't they already understand that our society is overloaded with ads, billboards, publications, and other marketing junk? I guess not. And even if they did, would they care?
On the weekend I had the misfortune of getting an SMS from "Call Co" in Durban. The SMS number used was 083-227-2416 and when they called me the number used was 079-204-6982. Their offices are on the 10th floor of 85 on Field Street, Durban. When they called me I informed them that I do not wish to get marketing calls from them, and asked where they got my details from.
They said they got my details from "Durban Database Solutions" and gave me the contact number of a Mr Paul Sartorius 082-659-9309. They apologised. Paul has taken my name of his grubby little database, and apologised for the inconvenience. However, he got the information from either ETL Solutions in Johannesburg or TIS in Cape Town. I have had dealings with ETL Solutions before. Mr Barry Cowden or his BEE partner "Mpumelelo Patrick Snowy Mafunda" may spend a year in jail thinking about their broken database system unless they sort this out.
Their web site has a form you can fill in, but they didn't set it up correctly so it doesn't work. You have to send the information to instead. I called them on 011-467-2984 to complaint that even though my details were supposed to be removed in August lat year, I was still getting calls. They said they'd get back to me.
The matter gets worse: CallCo made calls on behalf of AutoPage. I have already told AutoPage, both on the phone any via email that I didn't want to receive any marketing calls from them, or on behalf of them. It seems that they aren't prepared to listen either. Even the AutoPage Marketing Manager had to apologise for the obvious and complete lack of thought given to this issue by the company. I hope that forcing the General Manager to send me an apology will wake them up. If not, a year behind bars will surely do the trick. Probably not.

Yet another HelloPeter complaint

Sunday, January 28, 2007

NetFileCopy: when slow copying is faster

It seems counter-intuitive: to get files to copy faster you need to copy them slower. Welcome to the world of the Virtual Private Network (VPN) that uses internet connections between computers.
Because the performance of the connection can be very erratic, even over an ADSL line, the usual "copy" command in a batch file can give unreliable results. So I wrote "NetFileCopy", a Visual Basic utility that copies files in smaller chunks: in this case 2048 bytes at a time.
The picture shows NetFileCopy in action, and the network traffic it encountered.
A progress bar and elapsed time indicator help the user to know how the copying is progressing, and if the file copy encounters an error the partial file is deleted, something that the normal "copy" command doesn't always do. This is a free utility, and will be made available once some features are added and the error handling improved.

Miami library gets improved "Find" form

Miami users will benefit from an improved search facility in browse forms, thanks to a request made by Dennis Polack this week. Until now, the "Find" facility on browse forms and subforms provided an "InputBox" form, where you could type in a word or number to search for. While this is quick and simple, it isn't particularly helpful.
This week we replaced it with a pop-up form. Not only does the form provide formatting facilities, it also "remembers" previous queries, so you don't have to retype them. The query strings are remembered until you quit the program.
Because the new facility is part of the standard Miami library, existing applications can have this facility included without major re-programming.

"Stop Panicking About Crime" - Selebi plays politics while the country bleeds

Zapiro cartoon on corruption

"What's all the fuss about crime, and its effect on the 2010 World Cup given that the situation has improved since South Africa boasted the Rugby World Cup 12 years ago?" National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi asked MPs this week.
Mr Selebi is playing cheap politics while the country bleeds. Crime is far more invasive now than it was then, and more people have been affected by crime since the Rugby World Cup. Take for example, the Polack family, whom I know.
A Family Ravaged By Crime
Their story made it to the front page of The Star this week. The entire family has been affected by crime, most of it since the Rugby World Cup: hijackings, burglaries, etc.
Then there is my brother, who was hijacked in his own driveway. Fortunately the family in the house didn't see it. The stolen vehicle is now being used as a taxi in Midrand, and the Midrand police have refused to impound the vehicle on the grounds that they are busy with an "ongoing investigation". More likely "ongoing corruption"!
I have been mugged twice, and my car broken into twice, all since the World Cup. Mr Selebi, whose own reputation is somewhat dubious ofter the Kebble murder, is doing what any idiot politician can do: play with stats. That isn't going to be of much comfort to the families of victims who are killed before 2010, or the visitors who get mugged, beaten, hijacked or raped during the next world cup.
We are at war with ourselves
And on the day he addressed parliament, a prominent historian was murdered in KwaZulu Natal. Mr Selebi should resign; but he won't because he has no backbone. That's why his department is in such a mess in the first place. He should be fired, but then his job is secure because the person who should fire him hasn't fired the infamous Minister of Health either.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Telkom ADSL service down for a week already - Fixed at last

Telkom's ADSL "service" stopped at home on Thursday 18th January at 6pm, when the Aasvoelkop exchange was presumably struck by lightning.
It's not the first time that exchange has lost its ability to provide a PPP connection or to authenticate users. Usually it gets fixed in a day or two, but this time it must be a bit more serious. When I call 0800-375-375 to find out the status of my reference number 237CRK180107 they tell me that there are a lot of faults in that area and it will take "a few weeks" to repair.
Perhaps they have to order the equipment, or perhaps the techies don't know what they are doing. I'm just glad my business doesn't depend on the line. Of course Telkom won't refund me the cost of the dial-up calls made to check emails, nor will they refund the lost bandwidth that I have to pay for even if I can't use it.
I can't exactly use a dial-up line to download podcasts or audio books at 33kbps, so I have to rely on office connections to get email and do web updates of software. Presumably "Jack the Cable Guy" is making house calls for more important customers.
Update Friday 26-Jan-2007 15:12:38 the connection came back. Thanks to who the folks who eventualy managed to fix it.
Bizarre update 30-Jan-2007 1pm: Telkom phoned to arrange to send a technician to my house to fix the line. Weird.

Telecommunications Action group interview of why Telkom doesn't deliver service and how many unhappy customers it has. One thing has changed in the last few years: they have signed up with the HelloPeter web site, so they now have to pay to listen to your complaint.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007's Peter Cheales insults his own customers

Naughty Naughty! Rule #1 of Customer Service is "The Customer is Always Right". And when you make a living teaching others about customer service, it pays to practice what you preach. That's why I was quite stunned to read Peter Cheales' response to my complaint:
"Sunday afternoon and I really can't be bothered to respond to childish drivel. Regards - Peter"
It's hardly surprising. The poor guy has updated the design of his web site, and his customers hate it, by a huge margin of 62% against, 31% for. In addition, the web site design company is taking ages to fix a simple colour scheme problem, and the line breaks don't seem to be working. It must have been a tough week.
In a related post, Peter refers to my complaint in these generous terms:
"... Been working on contrasts and legibility - feedback has been harsh, but beneficial.
Re comments from abusers - they come, and fortunately they go when they find someone / something else to criticise. You'll find that they're the sort of people who'll never put themselves in the firing line - just wait to criticise others. In the office, we refer to them as ab-losers, but don't tell anyone."
All the success in dealing with complaints must have gone to his head. The sad thing is that two simple mistakes have made a big difference to customer perceptions of his web site:
  • The change in design has made it difficult to read
  • The lack of response to the change in design has made him seem intransigent, which is worse.
Of course, it doesn't help when you insult your customer, however misunderstood or provoked. I guess the only redeeming feature about the site at all is that some of the companies do actually respond to the complaints posted there. That's why I like it. I guess I'll just have to go through the hassle of using the site to get the desired response. No one said complaining about poor service was easy.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

HelloPeter web site edits its own complaints

It's incredible. I filed a complaint with HelloPeter complaining that the site was unreadable and it looks disabled. I included a link to the blog article (below) in my complaint.
Now the link has been removed from the article. Do companies have the right to do this, or is it only HelloPteter employees who can do this? I wonder what they are going to do with my new complaint, which refers to this article and the previous one. We'll see.
I wonder how long it will take them to notice that all the new lines have been removed, because they aren't replacing the CR LF sequence with the HTML BR command.

New complaint | Original complaint

Friday, January 19, 2007

Aleit Park looking good

You need to click on the image to see it in more detail. Its a composite made by Autostitch, and shows a view of the part from our fence.
The grass was last cut 6 weeks ago, and it needed a cut after all the rain. It's a pity the chopped down tree is still blocking a large patch of lawn on the left of the photo.
This picture shows the tree debris when it was cut down on 23rd November, about 2 months ago. The wood remains untouched and the foreground is totally overgrown.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

HelloPeter web site disabled by its own colour scheme

It's amazing how quickly a bad colour scheme can ruin a web site. What's more amazing is how slow these guys are at fixing the problem. Surely it can't be that difficult to change a few colour selections in a Cascading Style Sheet? It doesn't even take that long!
It turns out that the web development was done by "Bonzai Web Design" who can't spell Bonsai, even though they have a tree on their web page. Presumably they got the name from the Bonzai Linux distribution. They also don't know that the plural of "site" is "sites" not "site's", but what do you expect from a company whose reputation is about to be sunk along with its client?
Judging by the voting (see results in image above) the regular customers hate it. I'm sure the companies who receive complaints think its brilliant because no one can read the complaints. The mind boggles.
Grey text may be a cool fashion statement, but it's not particularly readable, and is the universally accepted colour for "greyed out" or "disabled" features. The choice of colour thus gives the instant impression of a site that doesn't work, or is somehow disabled. To make matters worse, all the adverts are still displayed in the usual loud colours, so the overall effect is that the ads are highlighted and the complaint text is ignored. What were they thinking?
Update 25 Jan 2007: it turns out that the style sheet was "borrowed" from The Bonzai web team left a comment in the style sheet that reads "/* dinersclub css */", and the design of the Diners Club site looks similar, if not better. Given that grey and blue are part of the Diners Club corporate logo, their site works. They also have a FAQ section, which is missing from the HelloPeter site.