Why I am going to stop banking with Standard Bank.

I think it is important to preface this by saying: Shit happens. It will happen at every bank, every online retailer, every restaurant, no matter who you are or where you go. What separates the good from the bad is, and always has been, *how you fix the problems when they happen*. Unfortunately when greedy business practices become institutionalised and the institution chooses to tie the hands of anyone trying to remedy the problem, well then you are left with little option but to walk away, with your money.

Strike 1. When all other banks are offering SMS updates for free you choose to charge customers.

Strike 2. You offer that service free to your private banking clients, ignoring the demographic that represents the bulk of your income, and instead decide to charge them even more.

Strike 3. As a customer with a Standard Bank home loan, vehicle loan, cheque account and credit card  I am patently aware of how much money you make out of me every month. When I speak to the most senior person I am deemed fit to speak to (not actually the bank manager) I am told that even the bank manager is unable to waive the R17 fee. That sort of hand-tied’ness makes me want to cry.

I could handle greed.
I could handle badly thought out products.
I could handle incompetence.

But I can not handle all three simultaneously from an organisation making hundreds of rands off me every month.

Time to do some bank shopping when I get back.

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Open Source Printing Hardware

Printing is unreasonably expensive. I’m sure hardware manufacturers like HP, Samsung, Canon etc lie in bed at night smiling in disbelief that we all seem to happily pay their ridiculous prices and drink their kool-aid.

I recently repaired a HP 2605dn colour laser. Those things are built with a pretty glaring design fault. While I was poking around in the optics box (LASERS!) I had an epiphany. If some well meaning university engineering department designed and built an open source laser printer, they could change the world.

A little bit of context is important. At the moment there are a few big printer hardware manufacturers. At the heart of every laser printer is something called the “Engine”. Only a few of the big guys make engines and you’ll probably find that whoever made the engine also built the printer, regardless of what brand ends up on it. Canon makes HP and Canon, Lexmark make Dell, Samsung and IBM while Xerox is made by Sharp. Who the actual designs belong to is unknown, but I suspect that most of the time the design IP belongs to the manufacturer, regardless of the brand.

It’s also important to know that most of the rollers, bearings etc inside a printer are made by someone else and bought en-masse. So it’s not like you’d have to start fabricating rubber in order to build your own printer.

How a computer talks to a printer is called the command language. At the moment something called PCL (Printer Command Language) (developed by HP) is the de-facto standard in most printers. (Don’t ask why we still need a bajillion printer drivers). The ownership/legalities of PCL is hard to figure out, and since HP will probably accuse any Open Source project that uses PCL of patent infringement it would be wise to develop a new (probably a lot simpler) page description language.

The fact that they do this is clear evidence that they’re ripping you off.

If the big manufacturers sold their cartridges for reasonable prices there would be no market for “compatibles”.

Manufacturers make a fortune from cartridges. They consider the cartridge design and interface to be their intelectual property and therefore anyone who builds a compatible cartridge will incur their wrath and lawyers. In an attempt to make it hard to refill the cartridges they’ve even gone as far as putting microchips directly on the cartridge that track how many pages you’ve printed and then when you reach a magic number, regardless of how much toner is left, stop working. They do this purely to make money. The fact that they do this is clear evidence that they’re ripping you off. If the big manufacturers sold their cartridges for reasonable prices there would be no market for “compatibles”.

And then there’s Asia where the whole idea of intellectual property is kinda-sorta-fuzzy. A good example would be guys like Nanchang who openly sell the microchips for specific printer cartridges to anyone. The printer manufactures lawyers would obviously like to prosecute anyone caught with those chips in the West. They’ll claim that he chips are the manufacturer’s IP and reverse engineering them is considered a breach of the DMCA. How those things live on Amazon is anyone’s guess. I wonder if the manufacturers would react if big retailer (Wallmart etc) sold those kits? (Do any?)

So how cheaply can a cartridge be made? Very cheaply. There is very little on a laser cartridge that actually wears. Toner (powdered ink) is really the only thing that runs out and as you can imagine, toner is cheap.

So there are manufacturers in Asia that can produce “counterfeit” printer cartridges for a fraction of the price of the originals, but due to legalities, those are hard to acquire in the West, and you never know whether you’re dealing with a reputable business or some fly by night that will screw up your printer.

If there was an Open Source printer and reference design for the cartridges, reputable manufacturers could build those printers and cartridges and reputable retailers could import them without fear of legal battles for a fraction of the price. Most importantly, an Open Source designed cartridge would almost certainly be designed from the ground up to be easy to refill at home.

Over time there would be design revisions (bugfixes) and eventually the printers would be as good (probably better) than the built-in-redundancy printers that the big manufacturers currently produce.

Open Source Hardware creates a unique ecosystem. It is naturally competitive, pushing prices down on consumables and making sure that people pay for build and print quality rather than brands.

Why you probably shouldn't buy an HTC phone in South Africa.

Update October 2010: It looks like Leaf have stopped messing with the phones. I have a Vodacom Desire and it doesn’t have any Leaf stink on it. Maybe someone at Leaf read this post?

My mobile phone has a weird bug. The wifi works perfectly and then I leave the house and it never switches over to 3G unless I reboot the phone.

That’s a pretty annoying bug, but what makes it even more annoying is that the problem was actually fixed 8 months ago with the release of Android 1.6. There are also a whole bunch of cool updates as part of that 1.6 release, but still, I’m stuck with version 1.5.

So why not upgrade? Well, the problem lies with a company called Leaf. Leaf are the HTC importers for South Africa. Sadly, if all Leaf did was import the phones we’d be fine, but the over-reaching company gets involved in the process of managing the software on the phones and this is a job they fail at miserably.

When I phoned Leaf to ask when there will be an update made available they said that they were busy “testing” and that I should wait 3 to 4 weeks… This sounds reasonable but unfortunately I can’t believe them. You see, Leaf have a long history of completely stuffing up Android phones in South Africa. This dates back to many many months ago when Leaf first launched the HTC Magic (my phone).

Regular Android phones have an application called “Market” which contains thousands of applications (much like the Apple App Store). You can find all kinds of things like Google Sky Map (hold it up to the sky and it shows you which stars you’re looking at) to apps that make farting sounds. Great stuff, generally.

But when Leaf launched the Magic it came bundled with an app called “Open Market” and no regular “Market”. Open Market had a few (ie, like 30) really really bad applications on it… I think the top rated app was something with wallpapers of dogs. When pressed for an explanation Leaf said that Google didn’t give them permission to use the Market app. After chatting to some people from Google who work on Android it sounds like this “permission” excuse was made up. The more likely explanation is that Leaf were hoping to start selling applications via their Open Market app. Yes, Open Market is developed (used losely) by Leaf. Once they realised that nobody cares about them they buckled and said they were working on an update that included Market… they suggested we wait 3 to 4 weeks while they tested the new version. This was in May.

Eventually, late in August, 5 months after promising something in 3 to 4 weeks, Leaf quietly released an update on their website. The phone was finally what I’d paid for… a fully fledged Android phone… but only for a few weeks as Android released version 1.6 a few days later.

One of the big attractions of Android, and certainly why I bought my phone, is the Open Source and constantly evolving platform… The idea that your phone’s operating system isn’t frozen in time for 2 years and can get updates (automatically if you want)…Unfortunately Leaf are just plain incompetent and don’t seem to care that they’re selling a device that isn’t quite what the customer paid for… Our phones are stuck in time… and, when pushed for an answer we’re told again “3 to 4 weeks”.

When I eventually lost my cool and tracked down Peter, Leaf’s marketing person, he said I should send him an email and that he would get me some answers in a few days… He then got his PR agency to phone me and promise that they would get me some answers the next day… Perhaps ironically it has been 3 weeks and I’m yet to get anything out of them.

So here are the questions I asked Peter in that email 3 weeks ago.

  • When will the HTC Magic get a 1.6 ROM
  • Why has it taken so long? (8 months and counting)
  • What is Leaf doing to correct the problems with the process and how are they going to convince consumers that buying via Leaf is a good idea?

Until Leaf can answer these questions I would advise against buying any HTC products in South Africa.You’re just not getting what you paid for.

The end.

ps. I heard that Leaf are bringing in two new HTC phones, the Legend and Desire… Both look like sweet phones, it’s a pity that if Leaf will probably ruin it for anyone who buys the phone by never releasing any updates. Cash in hand baby, cash in hand.

Corporate Call Centre Rules

callgirl
  1. Try to employ people who are very apathetic. Your training costs will be reduced as they are far less likely to resign.
  2. When you have your phone system installed, make sure that departments are unable to transfer calls to other departments. By doing this it is far more likely that the customer will just stop calling.
  3. Involve as many people as possible in every process (More hands make light work!) and encourage “arms-length” customer relations. If anything goes wrong it’s best if there’s nobody to blame.
  4. Never transfer the call to a manager, instead always take a message and promise that the manager will return the call within the hour. Obviously the consultant can not be held responsible if the manager never returns the call because everyone knows that managers are very busy managing things.
  5. Managers should never call customers, this is a waste of their time being managers. Instead, let juniors deal with the problem and decide amongst themselves that nobody is to blame. This keeps the company “Dynamic”.
  6. Serious complaints should not be answered by consultants, even if they know exactly what went wrong and how to fix it.  Instead, let the already angry customer wait days for a manager to “investigate” before replying.
  7. Voicemail is a great weapon in the modern corporate’s fight against customers. The best voicemail systems should answer almost immediately so that consultants aren’t bothered by ringing phones. Also, make the message as generic as possible so the customer has no idea if their message will reach its intended recipient. Computer “glitches” are a great way to explain the lack of response to voicemail.
  8. Be big, really big. So big that if a customer phones the same number 100 times they are still unlikely to ever get the consultant they originally dealt with.
  9. Employ staff whose language and diction are sub-standard. These individuals are great at deflecting customers; most will just give up after 20 seconds of trying to understand what’s going on.
  10. Always remember, if the customer came to you they must be really desperate! Treat them like crap, anything less risks being confused as “customer service”.

You can keep Mr Huntley

Part of me wants to write a scathing commentary on how much of a tonsil I think Brandon Huntley is, but there’s no point in beating a dead horse so I’ll just say it once. Brandon Huntley is an a-grade, raging, super massive ass hole. There, I’m done.

Canada is a lovely country, it’s so lovely it gets boring. When I was living there they had a shooting in Alberta. For two days the news covered this shooting, which is entirely reasonable until you found out that nobody actually died; in fact nobody was even hurt… actually, nobody was even shot at… it was just a guy shooting his gun into the air to show how much of a man he was. For two days they covered something that probably happens on an almost hourly basis in the Cape Flats. When a Canadian says their car was hijacked they actually mean it was stolen…. when they weren’t around, stolen… because in Canada the idea of someone actually forcing you out of your own car at gunpoint is just too far fetched for them to comprehend. Keep that in mind.

Canadians are also lovely people, they are friendly and helpful. I didn’t meet any racist Canadians while I lived there, but I also didn’t meet many black people. Canada has a much better reputation for “knowing about other countries” than the Americans, but the truth is that a lot of them, while *knowing* full well that we have cities and suburbs etc, still have a very romanticised, sleeping in tents in the bush with the lions roaring in the distance, idea of South Africa.

In contrast, South Africa is a pretty scary place at times. We have levels of crime that are unbelievable. Babies getting raped, people getting shot for the cars etc, just insane… and it’s published internationally.

Enter Brandon Huntley. He went to De Villier’s Graaf High School in Villiersdorp, an Afrikaans boarding school about 100km outside of Cape Town. This is a school for kids who had been expelled from other schools or wanted to get as far away from their parents as possible, a school where the machismo and racism run side by side. The boys are tough; disputes are resolved in fist fights where the loser can walk away covered in blood, and the winner, a hero. Kids go through initiations that involve being caned repeatedly for no reason. The idea that any boy who attended De Villiers Graaf High School could end up as the repeated victim of racially motivated attacks is very very hard to believe. And I should know; I went to school with Brandon Huntley… I only stayed for a year. He was 1 year ahead of me.

I don’t remember Brandon clearly but his face seems familiar and based on what people who knew him better have said about him, he fits very neatly into a stereotype that existed in the school. Hard, tough and mean. He did martial arts and played rugby.

Brandon claims that he was attacked multiple times, by black people, who attacked him because he was white. To put this in context, I have never been attacked by a black person. I know a few people who have been mugged by black people, but they knew, just as their attacker knew, that the attack wasn’t motivated by the colour of their skin, but merely because they had stuff worth stealing. When Lucky Dube’s attacker pulled the trigger it was because Lucky was driving a luxury vehicle… No other reasons, No racism needed.

Brandon claims to have scars on his body from all the times he was stabbed by black people who were attacking him because he was white. I find it so incredibly far fetched that a tough white kid who went to the school he did, and subsequently lived in the suburbs he lived in, ever got attacked by anyone… without provocation. I think that it’s far more believable that Brandon went around looking for shit, picking fights with people in night clubs and occasionally came off second best.

There are really two issues here.

1. Brandon lied in order to stay in Canada. There are some unforgivable lies. Lying about being the victim of racially based attacks in South Africa is one of them. Brandon has perverted the most painful element of South Africa’s history to his advantage and in doing so has brought about a world of pain for himself. I’m sure he never thought that we would find out what he’d said, but now he has made himself unwelcome in two countries… one of them being the country of his birth. We legally have to take him back… pity.

2. The Canadian authorities believed his lies. The individual who processed Brandon’s application is definitely a racist. Brandon’s story seems unbelievable, even to most Canadians. To be in a position within government responsible for dealing with foreigners on a daily makes this official’s ignorance unbelievable… ie. I don’t believe that he really believed Brandon, I think he just wanted to help Brandon get away from the savage and vengeful blacks that both believed in. The part of this story that is so incredibly sad to me is this: The officer responsible for approving Brandon’s racist lies is also responsible for approving, or denying, the refugee applications from countries like Darfur. What chance do honest, petrified human beings, whose families have been slaughtered and who happen to be black, have of gaining asylum when being interviewed by a man like that?

Quality Vacation Club Scam

Just to add my 2c to the herd.

There is a group of people who operate under various names and basically phone people, tell them they’ve won a car or something and then make them attend a prize giving where they discover they’ve won nothing but then subsequently get lured into some contract holiday garbage which invariably ends up costing them way more than they expected. This bait and switch operation is the very definition of a scam.

Long story short, if someone phones you and says you’ve won something, don’t believe them… alternatively you can tell them to drop off the car at your house when they have a moment 🙂

In the mean time, another South African blogger wrote some stuff about the scam on his blog and QVC are subsequently trying to sue him for over half a million rand, which is basically their way of saying “We’re bigger than you”… well, they might be, but they’re not bigger than all of us.

You can read more about this case here and here

ps QVC, aka Quality Vacation Club, aka Prestige Business Solutions, aka Unique Connections, aka World Connect/VIP/VIP World Connect, aka Prime Vision, aka Media Magic, aka Mega Communications, aka Ezweni Communications, aka Dynamic Communication, aka Real Communications/Real Communication, aka Ecoworld, aka Market Matrix.

Why would a legitimate business need so many aliases?

I encourage other bloggers to get this story out into the wild so that these con artists start to feel the google crunch.

There is nothing worse than an expat asshole.

So we had a lovely dinner with my folks and then after they had said their goodbyes I checked my email and was left seething. An asshole ruined the entire evening.

I’m on a number of civic mailing lists for Observatory, the suburb we live in. One particularly active list is the neighbourhood watch list which is peppered with crime reports and the occasional report of residents aiding the police (who’re doing an incredible job) catching criminals.

It can be a daunting list to be on. Especially before you even move in. But soon you realise that crime is everywhere and that being on this list is like spending your days in the police station… You’re going to hear about a lot of crime.

Pessimists piss me off. People who think they’re being smart by saying thing like “Oh, It’s obviously going to go the way of Zimbabwe” etc etc. What these fuckers don’t seem to realise is that assholes like them have been saying shit like that since the dark ages. I have a friend whose grandfather sold everything in 1990 because he was convinced that Mandela was going to take his home. He died, bitter and twisted, in a caravan, while all around him the Rainbow Nation smiled.

Anyway, back to the mailing list. Some asshole, who has already fled the country, in reply to a report about a cash in transit robbery that happened in front of a child, felt the need to basically tell everyone that we’re fucked and “Get out of that hellhole which South Africa has become!” and “There’s no future in SA for you and your children”. He also went on about white suburbs and how the criminals hate our skin colour.

My reply was cordial. I suggest politely that he never post on the list again because we don’t really need his pessimism.

But here’s what I wanted to say.

You ignorant fuckwad. You racist, bigoted, coward. How dare you come onto a public forum and spout your simple-minded drivel, aimed at nothing else but undermining the good that these people are doing. The blood of generations of slain innocents stains our soil and punctuates our history…The struggle is not new or unique. Our legend is one of truth and reconciliation, of forgiveness and grace… and I would be honoured to have my own blood take its place in this soil while I worked to make this country better. You on the other hand ran away. You asked whether we love our children more than our country… My answer to that, you shallow dipshit, is that no parent wants to see their child hurt, but I would rather build a better future for all the children of this country than teach my own that running away is an option. In short, fuck you and the horse you left town on.

I didn’t post that because it’s a public list and we’re trying to be civil.

I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with a Zimbabwean the other day. He, like millions of other Zimbabweans, left their country because the realistic alternative was starvation or torture. He will never be anything but Zimbabwean. He has a passion and a deep love for his country. He knows that HOPE is greater than FEAR. He believes that normal people make a difference, even in light of insurmountable obstacles. He knows that the human spirit can stop tanks and dictators even when their bodies can’t.

A lot of what Tawanda, the Zimbabwean, knows about the human spirit was taught to him by us. South Africa.  A country where the story is so incredible that people would have not believed it if it were not for CNN.

This blood in our soil belongs to men and woman far greater than any of us can comprehend. Millions of unsung heros, children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters… I could not dishonour their sacrifice by running away now.

And hey, I’m actually loving my life. You’re the miserable dude in the first world telling other people how fucked their lives are over the internet.

ps. I have no issues with people leaving the country because they just want to live somewhere else. My sister lives permanently in the UK. She left for a whole bunch of reasons, crime was obviously a factor but it wasn’t the biggest factor. She can’t wait to come home for holidays.

pps. I don’t have any children.