Category Archives: Technology

Tech biz

Optus Fail on Customer Service

Always be coolWhen my mobile phone service came off contract I wanted to go month to month while I waited for the new iPhone’s to come out this year. Optus at the time were running some compelling prepaid deals. So I signed up.

I converted to a post paid accout and accepted a dealer’s offer for a shiny new iPhone 4S. That’s when the nightmare started.

The dealer ordered a white iPhone 4S when I asked for a black one. The dealer cancelled the order for the white and raised a new order for the black. Optus meanwhile cancelled my pre-paid service and with the cancellation of the white iPhone, my number suddenly became unlinked to any services and went into limbo.

Suddenly Optus claimed I could no longer keep my number. The number that I’d had since the mid 1990’s when GSM phones were introduced. This is a number everyone had. As I’m not famous enough to be overly harassed by people trying to do deals with me, I therefore want to be found. Changing phone numbers is a bad thing.

Aside: should I ever be successful or famous enough that I need a gatekeeper, I will keep that number, but give it to a PA to filter calls. People who I’ve worked with or known in the past will be able to reach me.

Optus prepaid and post-paid customer support escalated my problem but post-paid CS claimed I didn’t have an account (yet) and the prepaid CS had zero influence. After all prepaid mobile services weren’t worth keeping were they? Despite the fact that the call rates on pre-paid are highest and there is no bad debt or accounts receivable problems. Sounds like a great business to be in.

It finally took a call to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman to get the issue to someone powerful enough in Optus to fix my problem. In the meanwhile I’d lost a client worth $12,000 p.a. as they had an urgent problem and couldn’t get through to me. Lesson: Always have two phone numbers a client can reach you on especially if your primary number is a mobile.

Optus’s TIO contact asked me to quantify the client loss and raise a claim. I was angry enough to do it at first. But after I’d calmed down I realised I’d contributed to the loss at least a bit. Better to spend my energy building my business than raising claims against well protected telco’s. Chalk it up to experience and move on.

Telstra and the National Broadband Network

IF you believe mainstream media, Sol Trujillo is the most unpopular man in Australia and Telstra is the most unpopular company [full disclosure: I am the beneficiary of a Telstra shareholding]. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven Telstra for its monopolistic behaviour back when it was Telecom and I didn’t have a choice of carriers.

When Telstra was booted out of the National Broadband Network tender process for submitting a non-compliant tender, pundits were eagerly predicting Telstra’s demise or other “dark and awful consequences”. Telstra had submitted a tender that suited their business model, aspirations and view of the future. They signaled the only way they’d consider lining up for the $4.7 Billion AUD the government was offering. I congratulate them for having the balls to stick to their guns.

Today the Federal Government announced none of the remaining tenders were “value for money” and instead would form a new company to build a fibre to the home network to 90% of Australians. Much ink will be spilled in the future on this deviation from the tender outcomes requested, namely 98% fibre to the node.

Here’s my quick take home analysis:

  1. Submitting a tender of this size and complexity is a very expensive exercise.
  2. No tenderer was awarded a contract despite complying with the guidelines.
  3. Telstra spent a little money outlining the conditions they would accept.
  4. Who looks smart now?

This seems like a brilliant use of game theory by Telstra. Sol and his team have been called arrogant and out-of-touch, I think they protected their shareholders interests well.

Just because a deal is on the table doesn’t mean it’s always wisest to take it.

MSN Clones update

In response to a question on MSN Clones I’ve been using Pidgin for multiprotocal IM on Windows and Adium on Apple Mac’s.

My kids still like aMSN and I like how easy it works for people who just want to connect to MSN buddies. However I have way too many people on Google-Talk to use a single protocol client.

Interestingly I’m using Skype for a lot of IM at the moment. After two or three IM’s it’s quicker to initiate a call. I like that functionality.

OpenMoko everything iPhone should have been

OpenMoko powered Neo1973 from FICI’m awaiting my iPhone courtesy of working for a multinational. One of my coworkers travelling in the USA will hopefully pick it up. However since lusting for one, Apple has rained on the parade by turning iPhones into iBricks with their latest firmware upgrade. The consensus seems to be Apple didn’t need to be so draconian on fans who have unlocked their phones.

Still I’m going to get an iPhone and I’ll unlock it eventually to use it in Australia with a local SIM.

I’ve come across the OpenMoko freed phone. It’s open source (except for a few drivers for legal reasons). The entire phone is open an if enough developers get behind it, it will become everything the iPhone should have been. Cool apps written on an open platform. WiFi, quad-band, GPS enabled out of the box.

It’s not production ready, but it looks like the mass-market version will ship in time for Christmas 2007.

I think the Wireless Voice and Data phone convergence will be one of the most exciting industries over the next 20 years, so this may be a project I invest some time into.

Channel Ten finally on Foxtel’s EPG

Channel Ten Australia has finally signed a deal to allow digital broadcast to Foxtel’s cable and satellite subscribers. Until now channels Ten and Seven has only been available on Foxtel cable as an analogue retransmission. This meant that Foxtel’s digital Electronic Program Guide did not list Ten’s or Seven’s schedule.

In the new media world not being in an EPG make you invisible. It doesn’t matter that I can scan while channel surfing, I rely on the description that pops up on screen or on the EPG. Until last year I would go online and look it up, but I finally got tired of that. So as a result my family watch precisely one (1) hour of channel Ten per week. We watch less channel 7.

What amazes me is that the management of these businesses obviously thought cutting a deal to be on Foxtel’s digital would not impact their ratings. Instead it allow the other Foxtel digital channels to capture eyeballs and forget about their programming. So the only way I discover their programming is to see their expensive advertising in other media.

My informal pub chat poll shows my household is not unusual. Foxtel subscribers love their remotes, their electronic program guides and their planners.  Media analysts counter that very few Australians watch Foxtel’s channels other than sport or movies. It doesn’t matter, enough of us have stopped watching Seven and Ten because it is not accessible.

Lesson: Do not get between your product and your customer.

Thankfully Ten is has now joined the party. Now seven needs to get over their C7 digital hissy fit and make their schedule available.

Nasty Javascript loop

Today I also came across a nasty endless Javascript loop. This sucker can trap IE, Firefox and Opera in an endless loop requiring you to kill the application via task manager or kill the process if using one of the *nix.

Javascript is really useful on the sites I regularly visit. But I’d like to have it always on for those sites, and mostly off for just web surfing.

Go get the NoScript – Firefox Extension immediately.

From the description

NoScript allows JavaScript execution only for trusted domains of your choice (e.g. your home-banking web site). This whitelist based pre-emptive script blocking approach prevents exploitation of security vulnerabilities (known and even unknown!) with no loss of functionality… Experts will agree: Firefox is really safer with NoScript 😉

If you doubt the need for this I point you to the following site. I won’t link to it as it will kill 90% of my visitors’ browsers. Save your work first and copy the address and paste it into your address bar. It will kick off an endless loop javascript. Let me know if your browser is safe. Of course that applies only if you have javascript on.

Meet Joe Blogs

I subscribe to the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Technology weekly. Sometimes I don’t know why I bother with Main Stream Media. Their fact checking is so dubious – see below.

Mentioned this week but datelined 31 May and archived 30 May is Meet Joe Blogs with the teaser

The “blogosphere” is exploding, with millions of blogs screaming for attention. Next asked some of Australia’s most influential bloggers what it takes to stand out from the loudmouthed crowd.

Fine lets meet who the Fairfax press thinks are Australia’s most influential bloggers. They interview Simon Wright founder of the Australian broadband choice community. Now whirlpool is a mighty fine community, but it is anything but a blog. Online communities are a valuable part of the internet, go check out Somersoft Property Investors Forum where I was once a moderator.

Blogs are “web logs”, generally with one voice (or so) conducting a conversation with a specific readership. How did the SMH confuse the voice of a lone blogger with a few hundred/thousand posts with the anarchy of Whirlpool and its 84,929 members; 321,861 threads and 5,132,127 posts? Who did the fact checking on this uncredited puff piece?

Ah but there was a link to I am blogger, hear me roar by Hugh J. Martin with Rob O’Neill. At least this one had writers willing to take ownership.

Here at least is a case for identifying four Australian bloggers as “influential”. Martin and O’Neill set the scene at the opening and explain some of technorati’s usefulness as a blog seach engine. The sixth paragraph is useful

It is important to distinguish between traffic – visits to a blog’s pages – and hyperlinks. By tracking links and not page views, Technorati is tracking the level of motivation required to create the hyperlink. If lots of bloggers cite, or link to, a blog or an individual post, they are casting a vote in favour of its relevance or importance. It’s a crude measure but it does allow a basic ranking of blogs according to the number of links they attract. It also allows readers to get a feel for the authority or wider popularity of a blog.

But three paragraphs later

Tim Dunlop is an Australian academic and writer living in Washington, DC. His academic work dealt with the role of intellectuals and citizens in public debate and that led to his interest in blogging. He first published his blog, The Road to Surfdom, in May 2002 and quickly became Australia’s most widely read left-leaning blog.

Huh? Australia’s most widely read left-leaning blog? They just explained how link popularity is a valid proxy for influence, but it doesn’t automatically equate to most widely read. So now technorati links explain your public popularity? What about RSS readers and aggregators? I know many readers never come to my site but read via RSS. Very Bad Logic SMH.

eBay scammers and phishing

kasia in a nutshell had the unpleasant experience of a scammer using her lovely photo of a lake to sell some land on eBay.

Follow her wonderfully nasty solution via the link,

As an eBay Power Seller I hate throw away bidding accounts. But throwaway scammers are worse. It would have been tempting to bid the scam up to $50K or so. That would have excited the scammer too much and prevented some innocent buyer getting caught.

While I disagree with Kasia and think eBay do care about crud like this, they don’t adequately resource their copyright infringement section. The listing was pulled eventually most likely because it smelled like a scam. My company has been an inadvertant copyright thief on eBay once and the listing was pulled. But the time our own image was stolen eBay didn’t do anything before the auction finished, so the seller got a free run on our photograph.

Most eBay buyers and sellers are honest but there are enough horror stories out there to make new users pause and wonder if it is safe. Buying online with an Australian credit card is remarkably safe when you deal with an established company. The consumer protection built into Australian issued credit card are quite strong.

The second related story comes from an email scam I received today. It claimed to be from eBay’s security department and included executable attachment called eBayProtection.exe

This is almost certainly a keylogger or some other scam to capture your eBay details. This is called phishing – a fake email supposedly from a trusted company directing you to run some software or click on a link for the purposes of getting your login details. Financial institutions and online transaction companies will never ask you to run an executable like that, normally they won’t even include a link to the specific login part of their site.

Always type in the full URI of website into your web browser, and login normally. If there is a security problem with your account you’ll find out immediately via the site.

Should you ever accidently click on a phishing link the page you get will probably look exactly like your bank (or eBay or Paypal) but the beginning part of the address may have numbers or be a mispelling of the site (in your browswer’s address bar). Just close your browser and forward the email to the webmaster at the financial institution. This last step is important in the fight against phishing – customer noise makes them do something about it.