Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tale of 3 Telcos - Reliance, Airtel and Vodafone

Over the last two days, some Mobile telcos have reminded me of my opinions. This, despite me approaching them with an open mind and starting over afresh.

Big daddy doesn't mind customer support that bosses over callers.

I had to call up, because my mother's phone couldn't receive incoming calls since morning. She had recently ported over to their GSM service, after having been with Reliance CDMA for ten years. She called 59059 to complete SIM activation in the morning, and when it seemed to work an hour later, thought all is well.

Reliance wasn't in the mood to let us experience simplicity this time either. 
Her phone could make outgoing calls, but calling her number would give us a recorded message, "Please check the number you have dialed." After an hour of trying solutions we could think of, there was no other way forward with incoming calls - we had to call customer service.

As usual, after a maze of IVR options and waiting 25 minutes to speak to a human, I had a voice saying hello (he didn't bother to introduce himself with a name until I asked). He went through his script, did all he could to declare that the problem was my mobile phone and the way I use it. Eventually, he was willing to admit that the problem could be at the network back-end, that something broke when porting to GSM which also involved a plan change. He took down a complaint, gave a 9-digit complaint number, and said issue should be resolved within 72 hours by the technical team. He was particular that today and those three other days will get no compensation in my bill, because, after all, they were going to fix the issue. (oh wow, you're my hero! /s)

Could he tell me what the problem could be? Well, he'd received two similar calls and resolved them, but would not say what could solve it this time. Would he (or a colleague) be willing to follow-up, and call us back once each day until it gets fixed? No way. Was it acceptable to leave a lady unreachable by phone? He had no opinion, had apparently done me a favour by taking down a complaint, and now I should just wait it out. Could I speak to a manager? After ten minutes of on-hold music, Arun, the 'floor supervisor' speaks to me, with an insouciant attitude of 'just be grateful'.

I'd had enough, this wasn't my first such encounter with Reliance's bossy customer support and uncaring stores either. I don't wonder anymore, about how Rcom's market-share heads in its current direction. Go right on, ignore funding of operations and support, pay employees poorly, but splurge on marketing - and then complain about the poor RoI.

Keep on offering more non-offers to your customer base.

I walked into an Airtel store. The latest mobile phones from Samsung/Apple/Blackberry took pride of place at almost 50% of the area, as though Airtel was going to compete with a mobile phone sales store. A woefully inadequate "desk" exists to serve mobile service customers. At the very rear, screened off by a fake wall as though it's a shameful unwanted child, is a desk to serve land-line/DSL customers.

What I was exploring, was the probability of re-activating a land-line which I'd had for 14 years, and getting a prepaid SIM card. The store felt sleepy even at peak hours with lots of people. The employees were attending to cute girls out-of-turn. A long haired, bearded guy seemed to be the only one capable of handling work, with 11 others trying to appear busy and keeping customers engaged until beard-guy could get to them. My enquiries were re-directed to the Airtel call center (wait time 30 mins), or the area sales manager (who just wouldn't pick up his phone). There's lots more, but the ambience and the customer experience were terrible. The call center of course, played that accursed tune on a loop, which I've hated since my teenage.

Suffice to say it felt a lot like a government office. I kept telling myself to be calm. Beyond the first minute, every Airtel employee angered and infuriated me, in behaviour and speech. Thank you Airtel, for reminding me why I swore to never give you my business.

If you didn't exist, it'd have been necessary to invent you.

Every service provider runs into issues, but the way they resolve them makes all the difference. Let me talk about the last week alone. I walked into the Vodafone store, waited just two minutes. Had to see if I could save on my monthly bill. The rep said that there indeed was a plan priced at half of mine. Also, I hadn't activated the free CUG on my plan, would I like it now? I said yes to both. And walked out, a cheerful man.

Two days later, my outgoing calls weren't going through. Alright, a five minute walk to the friendly store was needed. I ask the rep to fix my issue. He smiles, turns to me and explains there was "CUG barring" at the back-end, a faulty plan-change that he admits to. He IM's a colleague who does have access to fix it, and also sends the formal email required by process. It should be fixed in two hours he said, but it actually was resolved in 20 minutes.

I saw a chance to reduce my Mobile Data plan cost, and he did what I wanted. Also in the past, Vodafone has been willing to follow-up on issues I face, so I don't have a trust issue with believing what was said. I breezed out of the Vodafone store again within a few minutes, cheerful. I wish I could say the same about Airtel and Reliance.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Martian Solitude

I am the hero (obviously), and am fit in a man-next-door way, not too beefy. I had taken off from Earth in a spacecraft 7 years ago. I have been living for the last four years, on the planet Mars in a habitat module. It's a lonely life, living on this arid, dry, unfriendly planet which needs a spacesuit whenever I step out of my tiny living area. I carry out sampling for scientific experiments done remotely from Earth, and keep the lab instruments functional. I keep trying to reverse the atmosphere's effects on my muscles. I get to speak to Mission Control, smart kids, family of other NASA astronauts-to-be... and plenty of important people who mean nothing to me in the here and now.

There has been a hitch in my ride back home. My mission was meant to have ended a year ago. NASA keeps saying that they want me to do "just a few more" tasks while the vehicle is on its way to pick me up, that I'm important as the pioneer, etc. I think the vehicle just had a botched launch, and remember, a launch window to Mars won't open until 26 months later. Every once in a while, one of the Mars Orbiters drop off supplies, tugged back to me by an autonomous Rover.

In a quest to do more today, I am traveling much farther than usual. Far out in the Martian red-sand deserts, I see... GATES and a roadway. Positive that we from Earth hadn't set up a gate or any kind of real-estate property up here, in curiosity and trepidation I walk on. Every few metres, on both sides of the road, at waist-level height, are thick poles with rotund heads that didn't quite glow at present. I see a cluster of apartments, water pools with recreational fun rides, and humans enjoying a gala time with plenty of noise and shouts. There was this cute girl who seemed oddly familiar, in a way I couldn't place. I pinch myself, but no this is no desert mirage.

I pick up my communications device. In my shock, I break protocol and talk not to NASA Mission Control, but go over their head by 3 levels. I make a secret call to the Space Secretary herself. I tell her what I found, and that these people on Mars may be unauthorized in their use of NASA's resources.
[no idea why I said that, could they be from a Cold War military project?]

[cut to next shot]

The Space Secretary is a professional official in the administration, and knows of some other things being out of place too. She walks over to the President's office, and greets him. The big chair turns 180° towards the desk, and Will Smith's big ears twitch in an unearthly manner, when he tells Secret Service to "leave us alone."

[cut to next shot]

Paranoid about a hot pursuit, I now find myself in a small Martian railroad town. I am on the platform, after buying my ticket. To my horror, I recognize somebody, a colleague from back when we were in low-grav training. Just as I take my seat and the train moves, he meets my gaze, breaking into a friendly smile, naïve and oblivious to what I fear is about to happen. He will need strength.

I blurt, "Have your lunch" ... No reaction, he hasn't understood the urgency.
The message needs conveying, so I mouth a screaming, "KHAANA KHAALEY!"

This is where I woke up in the morning, so it stops here.
For non-Hindi readers: "khaana khaley" means eat food.

Hastily typed it all before I forget, because I dreamt it up in my sleep. The plot seemed like something that had to be shared with the world. From memory, I recognize that the above story intersects multiple plot devices I have read and seen.
*wood, you're welcome to build it into a more interesting story, just retain Will Smith!

*Disclosure: I had been watching an ISS documentary last evening.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

ACT Broadband: 10-25 Mbps is not realistic in offered speeds

The making of an elaborate April Fool's:

1. Host a speedtest server in Bangalore.

2. Provide "high speed" internet connections to people.

3. Wait till they inevitably "benchmark" it with SpeedTest and smile. Obviously you have a SpeedTest server very close by and so will intercept their attempts to benchmark. You can thus show them only the speed from yourself to the customer.

4. Let the customer wrack their head as to why they don't get full speed to rest of the internet, because they are "sure" their speed is what it is claimed to be.

5. In the meantime, charge as high as other ISPs who offer connections more in line with actual speeds. Tack on miserable FUP limits and poor post-FUP speeds.

6. Make sure your spending on operations is minimal and that support is almost absent. Direct all your efforts through clever sales and disingenuous marketing.

7. Ta.... daaaa.... ! Call yourself ACT broadband.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Why'd Anil Kapoor HAVE to make a joke of 24?

The Hindi version of 24 has been a FAIL. Cue more indian editions of the same, in Tamil maybe?

A friend posted on Facebook that it finally proves Anil Kapoor can't act, that "Hindi 24 is a sad excuse for... well, everything the producers would want it to be" and wanted to check if i was still crying. Be that as it may, it happened to draw an outburst out of me because I was waiting for the show and hoping it acquits itself well. Provided FB doesn't C+D me for copy-pasting my post here, my thoughts are reproduced below.

Well that, or see my day-old tweet - "Congrats #24india , you have achieved the impossible - made even the first season UNexciting and boring."

Sorry, but i find it hard to believe those who say it may get better. Episode 1 (4th Oct 2013) had GOT to be powerful and showcase the best. The "Coming Up" feature of Colors, and the pre-Season trailer has all but revealed the complete plot - it's just the American Season 6 with an overlay of the American Season 1. From this point on, even if it tries to fool us with a "Singhania PM" it's just laboured drudgery in saas-bahu style, 23 more episodes foisted upon the hopeful.

See, i am not a typical pro-US indian, i did find 24 Season 7 & 8 was only cashing out on reputation. But the darned Hindi trailer has even revealed who the mole in ATU is, and that there is one in the first place. We're sadly sandwiched in Sun TV style, where you get to pick a power-packed punch of a trailer... OR... the suspense and thrill of a... GASP... thriller show/movie, but not enough content for BOTH.

I'm still reeling from the last time that happened - After Earth and Man of Steel. Its trailer was awesome, particularly to a fan of Will Smith who's taken the difficult route to fame. But the movie began, started building-up and i was waiting for the plot to reach the mid-point and take-off... but the movie laboured on and, SUDDENLY it was OVER.
(producer/director had enough and decided to wrap it up for release? a part2 is coming?) a particular guy would have called it a klpd.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"So Be It"

So Be It - I saw this inscribed on the back of a bike today morning, while commuting to work. That is the meaning as it were, of the Sanskrit word "Tathaastu".

According to mythology, that was how the Gods granted boons to seekers. Including prayers that were mis-phrased or mis-pronounced (a famous one being Kumbhakarna's twist of tongue requesting "nidhra dehi" instead of "vidhya dehi" - after rigorous tapasya/penance, him thus sleeping for 6 months of each year).

The intention of this post though, is the chain of thoughts set off in me, after reading that inscription on the bike. Imagine that we are Gods, you and I. What we voice influences events and makes them occur. That extends to even our thoughts, not only words that come out of our mouth.

What happens then? What do I say and what does it result in?
"This is too difficult" - I actually find it difficult.
"Nopes, I can't reach office in time today" - I actually end up late.
"This race is just too long" - I drop out of the race.
"I don't like you" - I actually feel animosity towards you.
"$%^# YOU!!!" - I see only the wasted effort.
"I won't accept what you say" - I don't accept whatever is said.
"You can't help me in what I'm dealing with" - I get no help from you.

Gentle reader of this blog, the above is hypothetical. I'm sure you have thought even further through each sentence, so explaining is redundant.

Call it self-fulfilling prophecy, power of negative thought, or a thesis in the psyche of despondent people. But the end result is the same, and we have all found ourselves in the situations described above.

We have indulged in the opposite as well, regardless of someone calling it arrogance or over-confidence - and found our confidence well placed and working out alright in the end.

Replace the above negatively-phrased quotes in a manner that is consistent with your status as a God - the hows and whats are best known to you. Voice a sentence out loud, then imagine your own overwhelming divinity giving that sentence the power of fulfillment.

You might notice you then want to give a thought about how you phrase your sentences, and what you think. You are a God.

So Be It - Tathaastu!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Web Browser Thoughts: 64-bit Firefox, portable Chrome and Unfreezing Chrome Browser

Firefox 5 browser for desktop and mobile devices, has been released to the "stable" tree, as fruition of the first "Rapid Release" cycle. With this version's release , Firefox 6 would move up to Aurora from Channel, while Firefox 7 remains at "nightly" alpha builds for now.

With rapid releases, the changes between versions are not nearly as much, so you can be fairly sure that a Firefox 4 extension/addon will still work on Firefox 7. On a related note, beta1 of Thunderbird 5.0 has also been released.

It has been bothering me that other than Internet Explorer which has had a native 64-bit version since v6, no other (big name) browser actually seemed to care about 64-bit native versions. Understandably due to a chicken-and-egg situation (with "no Adobe Flash for 64-bit" being the oft-cited excuse). Mozilla itself had a proper Intel 64-bit (x86_64) variant of Firefox available for Linux and OSX, but not Windows. Pretty much the same applied to Google Chrome (to be precise, the Chromium project).

But now, those who want a native 64-bit version of Firefox on Windows can get it from the Nightly builds. You'll need the Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 Redistributable Package (x64) installed too.

Google Chrome Browser and how to make Chromium portable:
The other recent stable release of an alternative browser was Google Chrome 12. If it annoyed you that the installer offered for it was always a 500-odd KB web installer, then here's a direct link to the official Stand-alone and 3rd-party Portable version installers. But as usual, I refuse to let a pre-packaged portable installer dictate even the best terms to me. Below is what I suggest instead:

1. Download a relatively stable Chromium build from BuildBot or Softpedia.
2. Install it to the directory you like, preferably outside of C: drive, to be able to retain it between OS re-formats.
3. Now you may want to pre-configure it before distribution, or make it portable to prevent user profile files from landing up at the %AppData% folder. You can use a batch file for this, or an LNK shortcut.
4. Test your batch file by creating a text-based batch file named "portable.cmd" in the same folder as Chromium's EXE itself. The command is:  start Chromium-folder/chrome.exe --user-data-dir="User Data"
5. Click it, verify that no files are created in the %AppData% folder, and that your user profile is created within the program's folder itself.
6. Adapt the same command for a Desktop/Start Menu shortcut by using full/absolute paths, using System Variables did not seem to work for me. For example, the shortcut target must be
D:\Programs\Chromium\chrome.exe --user-data-dir=D:\Programs\Chromium\UserData
with a Start In folder value of D:\Programs\Chromium\
7. That is all. Note that the quotes as mentioned in the example command above, are to be used in case your folder path name has spaces. Of all the additional switches that could be used, I thought these two were the most deserving of mention: -disable-java and -incognito (what the switches do is obvious).

Next up, if you want to customize the UI by default, the method on Chrome 0.2 used to be as follows:
Dress up Google Chrome to your liking by downloading a Chrome theme and saving its default.dll file into the application's Themes directory - C:\Users\UserName\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application\\Themes\
That technique did not work for themes or WebStore apps, so going onwards to the next now.

Whereas Google Chrome has Adobe Flash included, Chromium does not. Pre-configuring the browser means NOT having to hope that your target PC will have the Flash plugin installed. Solution is as described below:

1. Download and install the latest version of Adobe Flash plugin (not ActiveX, which is only for IE).
2. Now from the folder C:\Windows\System32\Macromed\Flash get the files NPSWF32.dll and NPSWF32_FlashUtil.exe - copy and paste these somewhere temporarily.
3. Go to the folder D:\Programs\Chromium\Plugins (create the "Plugins" folder if it's not already present) and paste the two files that you copied in Step 2.
4. That is it. You might need to install the latest Redist of DirectX 9.0c and copy two DLLs to the same folder as Chromium's EXE.

Recovering from a "Frozen" Chrome
If you open a lot of tabs, in Chromium's incognito mode, a browser freeze/crash leaves you unable to even recover tabs/URLs that were previously open, due to the nature and intent of incognito. Can get mighty frustrating indeed. When a number of tabs are open and you call upon the file "Save As" dialog box often, the browser inexplicably slows down in saving.

Eventually, when you right-click and "Save As", a situation arises where the expected dialog box does not show up, and the browser itself does not respond (this is normal behaviour, if the dialog box is in the foreground). In UX terms, it feels like a loop - the "Save As" has not popped up yet, and the browser is not responding to clicks either. This description is applicable to Windows 7 and Vista.

I tried a number of things, for the 3-4 times this occurred. Each time it got more irritating to lose everything that was ongoing in the browser tabs (face it, a lot of your PC usage nowadays is via browser). Here is the solution that managed to work for me, and has been working each time since the first time I tried it:

1. Make sure your Chrome/Chromium browser freeze is caused by a file "Save As" dialog box stuck in the background, being rendered invisible.
2. Finish up any work in other apps and close them. End processes and services that are non-MS and non-crucial for the moment.
3. Now the important part. End/TaskKill instances of explorer.exe one by one, before finally killing the task named dwm.exe (which renders the GUI).
4. You can now Alt+Tab your way through open apps/windows, but the Windows Taskbar has disappeared. Just as well, since the darned "Save As" dialog box will now be exposed and visible for you to either Cancel or Save the file.
5. Done. Chrome will now be resuscitated. You can bring back the Taskbar, normal Windows UI and other apps. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to bring up Windows Task Manager, click "New Task" in Applications tab, and type explorer.exe to do so.

Lastly, I wonder if there is a way to import/export Tabbed Browsing Sessions between different browsers?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Assorted Thoughts of a Traffic-Clogged Morning

So I chose to blog about the traffic. Yeah right, so mundane. When more exciting times are upon us.

Such as Hazare's crusade for a super-empowered Lok Pal - and all I can think of in return to his kindly act is, "Those who forget History are doomed to repeat it", remember ancient Rome's "Dictator" post or its "Praetorian Guard"? Such as AMD's inability to capitalize on Intel's (relatively negligible) woes with the Cougar Point's SATA chip, and not try pulling ahead of at least the lower end Sandy Bridge processors, with its Fusion chips.

What has me exercised is the way barely a hundred people held up traffic for thousands of people on the Old Airport Road (Bangalore) this morning. The traffic police were present in considerable strength and re-routing vehicle flow. One side of the road was blocked out, and the other side was used for vehicles going in both directions. People on two-wheelers were delayed for a minimum of ten minutes, the larger vehicles for longer, and all this at peak-hour.

The village folk admittedly were only doing what they are entitled to. Conducting their "jaatre" or "thaeru", which is a form of "ooru habba". It comes once a year with a religious origin, in which the locality's "protector god" travels around the locality in a grand car. Lot of people volunteer their services in various capacities, lot of roadside hawkers get a chance to sell trinkets and candies, and residents watch the goings-on from within their houses or outside, some even dancing to the beat of the drums outside. The festivities start early, around 2 am in the morning, and wind up by 5 am in truly rural areas. Winds up by 6-7 am in villages that have been swallowed up by cities growing outward.

But not for these particular people, the concept of winding up. The sadistic concept of deliberately getting in your face to conduct these processions, officially blessed by the police, even as a number of traffic signals and roads get jammed, was seemingly so much more satisfying. Yes, we are a democracy where even a single person has the right to be heard. No, your right extends only so far as it does not trample upon mine.