Tag: negative

Translink NI – How not to do trains, or customer service

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Second day travelling on a new job, scheduled to arrive in plenty of time. Cue Translink, with their mysterious ‘signalling problems’ to make a rainy morning even worse. I honestly received the most unprofessional service possible today by Translink. You need to do so much better.

Bus whooshSo I was standing at Adelaide train station trying to reach Central Station, and got to the station with my housemate Nicky Young at 0815 this morning. The train was due to arrive at 0824, although, as I arrived at the station I heard the other platform (to Portadown direction) had a delay via the tannoy. I anticipated a delay given the conditions, but sure, I’d left plenty of time to arrive at Central by 0915, when I was due to start the day’s work.

I hear an announcement on our line – a delay of 8 minutes. No sweat, sure I’m getting a bit damp, but I’ve got loads of time. I even expected Translink’s usual dirty trick – rolling delay a service until the next one is due. They use this frequently to avoid logging a cancelled service, which impacts on their performance reviews. So, me and Nicky wait… and wait… only to have first one (about 0830), then two (about 0840), then a third train (0855) pass straight through Adelaide. One even teased by slowing a bit, then going through anyway. Thanks to this and my feeling that the first one might have whooshed on through because it was full, I noticed clearly that at least the latter two of these trains had free seats.

All under the guise of ‘signalling problems’. Translink announced NO cancellation over the tannoy, only rolling delays. They seemingly just – excuse the phrase – threw the 30 or so passengers at Adelaide station under the bus for the sake of getting the already late others to Great Victoria Street a minute faster. We were all there, waiting, ready each time we heard a train, hoping one would stop. But sure, it’s ok, most of us are week ticket holders, Translink already have our money. Yup, we all paid money for a service – then didn’t get it. That’s failure to deliver on a contract right there, ladies and gentlemen. Yet, their reimbursement policy makes it pointless to pursue such a reimbursement.

Bad ServiceSo the service at the station by the trains, and by whoever made those decisions to skip the stops, is not only totally unprofessional, but it gets worse. I’m never one to let bad service go unheard – I stand up to at least try to make things better in future. So, when I phoned up (after giving up waiting and having to book a taxi instead at my own expense; I should get to claim this back too, Translink) to complain, I got a woman on the phone, and despite merely politely trying to ask why no train had stopped, got the excuse of signal problems. I countered by saying that three trains had passed by, none of which stopped. She seemed surprised,putting me back on hold to ‘check’. I honestly think this poor woman was not aware of this decision. However, when I tried to reply saying that this was unacceptable, she rudely cut me off mid-sentence to put me through to so-called ‘customer services’. Well, you need to do some more training here too – I was put through to a man who I openly told I knew it wasn’t his fault. I said I would like to register a complaint and he took a few details (Matthew Leebody by the way – I hope it’s logged and I hope recorded).

Yet, in response to my criticism, he questioned me on whether I was SURE that I’d seen free seats on the train. I was. He went on to tell me that neither he nor I really knew what decisions were getting made in the best interests of everyone, and unless I had experience working in the railway system I couldn’t really criticise! The fact I am a paying customer apparently means squat – the almighty train conductor gods work in mysterious ways, and are above the will of us mere mortals to comprehend! I mean, I’m sure they were, but really, this is not the way to address a customer! The lack of knowledge in customer service is baffling. I don’t believe the staff are appropriately trained. Instead of making the customer feel important, I was simply told that I was incapable of understanding the problems. I was told the trains must have been full despite my eyes. I was told that the signal problems weren’t the cause of the rain.

Well then, I ask, why did they fail? Why do Translink have no backup for crucial signalling systems failing during the rush hours? Why did the trains fail to stop at Adelaide for approximately an hour today? These questions still remain unanswered. And I remain out of pocket to the tune of £5.23 (My £7.30 week ticket, divided by the 10 journeys, is £0.73, and my share of the £9.00 taxi is £4.50). I will accept a cheque anytime, Translink.

The War for the Internet

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You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about ‘Cablegate’ – the continuing saga of USA, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Anonymous, TheJester, the list goes on. A quick summary of the situation follows, and some analysis and knock-on effects as I see them.

WikiLeaks is an anonymous whistle-blower organisation – ‘wiki’ being that anyone can contribute, similarly to Wikipedia. WikiLeaks stopped this ‘free edit’ policy a while back as it was too hard to manage, but set up a system for people to anonymously submit secrets. Now, we aren’t talking about how you’re the one stole your neighbour’s gnome here; we’re talking big things – governments, corporations, groups etc.
A while back, WikiLeaks released a multitude of material on the Iraq war, including video of US chopper pilots and soldiers shooting at a bunch of civilians, journalists and children. Ever since, the US has been on a slow burn – make no mistake, they hate WikiLeaks in the US Government. It’s very clear.
Cablegate has pushed the US to breaking – it is the simultaneous release of hundreds of ‘cables’ i.e. little notes or snippets from US ambassadors, representative and more. They are retained by the government and access is restricted but the cables are NOT classified. The contents range from little observances on foreign policitians, to records of orders from Hilary Clinton to collect intelligence, DNA, biometrics and more on foreign UN ambassadors. It also sheds light on the relationship between nations.

The US Government knew about the planned release and had worked hard to mitigate the damage but there will obviously be fallout, and perhaps a loss of trust between nations, spies, ambassadors and so on. And that’s when things get silly…
The Americans are taking things out firmly on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. I have a number of problems with that. Firstly, they are spouting a line of “This will cost lives” yet have admitted that the information has, thus far, neither been damaging nor has placed anyone at risk. They have also called to name WikiLeaks a ‘terrorist organisation’

WHAT? WikiLeaks a terrorist organisation? Or from Sarah Palin, who called that Assange be designated a terrorist and that US Special Forces move in and assassinate him? What is WRONG with the USA???

I know that every government, to a greater or lesser degree, involves themselves in this kind of stuff. But what they all have to realise is that information flow is greater now than it ever has been. When something occurs, everybody knows in seconds. And I’m sorry, but governments need to rethink themselves – this stuff WILL out, and in this age everybody WILL hear about it. So it’s time to STOP. If you don’t want to be damaged by a leak, stop doing crazy, morally ambiguous, evil, terrorising stuff.
“Oh, but the UK does it too, they all do” – Yeah, I bet. And it’s in YOUR name. Is ignorance bliss? You don’t care as long as nobody finds out? Bullshit. I don’t want this stuff done in my name.

Moving on to Assange. I don’t know the ins and outs of his accused crime, but all the coverage I’ve seen suggests that the allegations have some serious flaws, mostly in the two particular girls. They seem to have decided it was non-consensual AFTER they found out he was two-timing them. So, he’s a dick, but hardly rape. However, Sweden has odd sex laws such as “I was drunk therefore it was rape” kinds of allegations. I personally think these are damaging on the whole to the victims of rape.
I hope that the US did not put pressure on Sweden to continue to pursue allegations that had TWICE been rejected at appellate courts, but I’m willing to bet they did. At the same time, PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, SwissBank, Amazon, EveryDNS… they have all cut their ties with WikiLeaks for various reasons. This has severely hurt the funds of WikiLeaks. The only one to actively admit that it was pressed by the US was PayPal, who said that the “State dept. informed us that they were involved in illegal activities”.

So yeah, forget courts, burden of proof, justice. PayPal doesn’t care. I’m willing to bet the story is similar to the rest. What exactly has America got to hide?

Enter TheJester and Anonymous. TheJester is some absolute juvenile cunt who, prior to this, was presumably in the US army serving in the Middle East. He calls himself a “hacktivist fighting for good” when really he is a patriot. And you know, I use that word now without even thinking of the presumed “I love my country” bullshit. When I hear patriot I think of a stupid, blind, puppet of an American. The ones that blindly follow the whim of the government or their leaders for some delusion of national pride. TheJester also seems to be some sort of programmer, though I suspect his programming experience is average. He seems to have ‘adapted’ (plagiarised) a program called SlowLORIS to make XerXes, a DDOS (Distributed Denial Of Service) program that routes using Tor, the onion network, for anonymity. He has used his software in the past in order to DDOS ‘jihadist’ websites. A noble cause maybe.
Now he has turned on WikiLeaks. Yet, his failings became evident very quickly; mere hours after egotistically declaring “TANGO DOWN” on his twitter the WikiLeaks site was back. And this guy has himself an enemy.

Anonymous have waded in, in the name of Internet openness and freedom. And they have launched Operation:Payback, and it has been working fantastically! They have their target list of all those who betrayed WikiLeaks, and have been attacking as a group; today, MasterCard has been down.
Anonymous are a force and one you do not want against you – they have no head, only teeth. They are generally morally guided to causes, and while sometimes dicky, I think they are an important bunch. Those who do not care that their methods are illegal, they are vigilantes and rioters. But sometimes you need such people to effect great change.

So, in what could be the first Internet War, who are the players?
WikiLeaks and their ally Anonymous fight for a free internet and world.
USA government (and others), their foot-soldiers (TheJester) and their subservient corporations fight for their own ends.

This won’t be a war that you know when it ends. But it could fundamentally change the internet, and it some ways it already has shown me one thing. Companies control too much of the Internet for my liking. Amazon, Ebay, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, PayPal… the list goes on. And as long as these entities have no moral centre of their own and will do whatever the US tell them to, the Internet is at risk. They want WikiLeaks shut down because its not under their control, and that scares them. Bastards, that’s all I can say. USA always has the approach of policing the world, and always to its own ends. The line stops here; the Internet is NOT yours to police and there are those who will fight to keep it from you.

In summary; go WikiLeaks, go Anonymous, go fuck yourself USA. Hypocritical, paranoid monsters with some severe entitlement issues.

I know which side I’m on, have you chosen yours yet? The time may soon come where your voice needs heard, not just in disapproving comments in the pub, work, online comments, but instead on the streets – it is the only thing they will listen to.
It is time that governments started doing what their masters tell them; that’s you and me.

UPDATE: Anonymous has now taken down Visa

Vapourware – Like a Needle in a Haystack

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Vapourware describes a product, usually software, that has been announced by a developer during or before its development, if there is significant doubt whether the product will actually be released. It is software which at best is still in development, and at worst is no more than an interesting concept in the mind of someone at the organisation. Vapourware is sometimes announced with great fanfare as a spoiling tactic to hurt sales of a competitors already launched product.

Maybe you don’t know, but in many parts of the world the internet is not free. It is not open. Many countries have, or are considering, filtering the internet. The reason for this is always cited as “protecting the public” or even just “child porn” (‘Think of the Children!’ defence). Make no mistake; filtering the internet is a bad thing, and it is coming to a country near you – the USA, Australia and UK are both considering ‘net neutrality’ bills, and the continued tightening of digital rights (think the Digital Economy Act) pushes us one step closer to a constrained internet, an internet which is no longer the last true bastion of free speech.

…but this article isn’t about that. This article is a warning. Vapourware. The definition is above. So, Matt, why did you launch into a tirade against internet law? Well, because the people of the world have been had; specifically the people of Iran. I’m talking about ‘Haystack‘.

Haystack was a fantastic story. The myth – a young, bright, entrepreneurial and morally-guided man, Austin Heap, heard the suffering of the people of Iran, and developed an encrypted proxy network, one which would bypass the filtering imposed upon the innocent Iranian people.
The fact – no software officially released to date; the beta has leaked to many Iranians but is full of basic security holes. Despite much money donated to the project, it fails and in fact risks the security of millions of Iranians, both online but also from state police.

Austin Heap, the creator, was being lauded in the press, with absolutely no software credentials to back this up. He conjured false hope about a solution better than any currently available. He even claims that Haystack is better for privacy than the Tor onion network. He refused outside, open-source development, under the guise of preventing the Iranian authorities from breaking his system. However, when the executable finally found its way into the hands of some reputable software programmers, it was clear that the product was just not what it should have been (link is to Danny O’Brien’s twitter feed. He also wrote an article about Haystack here). Even their main developer resigned.

Austin Heap was quoted as saying:

“I hope we are ready to take on the next country. We will systematically take on each repressive country that censors its people. We have a list. Don’t piss off hackers who will have their way with you. A mischievous kid will show you how the Internet works.”

I think he fell victim to his own hype, and his own motto.

A lesson indeed in the dangers of getting wrapped up in an idea. I doubt that the Dragons from Dragon’s Den would have invested in his idea. An idea is NOT a product, not a result. Ideas are easy; the idea of creating a proxy system for repressed regimes is an easy idea. The reality is all the steps in between, the lives you are risking along the way, the code and its robustness. One error can spell doom, and it seems for Haystack, this might have happened.

So… Diaspora anyone? Yeah, this is still vapourware. Diaspora purports to be a better Facebook – fixing the much-maligned privacy concerns in Facebook, removing the trash, making it clean. You can host your own Diaspora network, with its own look and feel, but all the Diaspora networks can interact and share information in a controlled way. And, yet again, it was hyped to an insane degree, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding, for a mere idea.

Even at the time of announcing I was dubious. Now Facebook is everywhere, it is tightly integrated into so much of the web at the minute. Diaspora might now be a step backwards. Heck, Facebook might even be getting into the phone OS game now. But Diaspora has now released the first elements of its source code. It at least has one advantage over Haystack – it is open-source. Bugs and problems can be fixed by the internet swarm. But, so far, it has more problems than fixes.

Diaspora may still come out clean in the wash. Haystack, doubtful. The point is, don’t pay people for an idea. Or at least, if you are going to pay someone for an idea that won’t happen, pay me. But don’t get your hopes up on software that might never materialise. And, Austin Heap, don’t get up the hopes of an entire country, and don’t release to them insecure software that might end up getting them in severe trouble for using it.

Peace, out!

-Matt

Pre-owned Gamers – THQ Hates You

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Pre-owned games have long been a controversial area of modern gaming. Now, some developers, such as THQ, are putting the fingers up to the pre-owned market.

It’s like this – if you walk into a store and buy a pre-owned game, you give zero money to the company that made the game:
Gamestop buy a copy of Final Fantasy XIII from Square Enix, imagine it costs them £15. Square Enix gains £15. Gamestop sell this game, new, to you for £40. Gamestop are now £25 up.
You return the game, and they give you £15 for it. Gamestop are still £10 up.
They sell this game, used, for £30. Gamestop are now £40 up.

THQ
They hatin' - THQ are among the first developers to start with restrictive DRM that prevents reselling

See how profitable pre-owned can be for the store? Yet, in the example, Square Enix only benefit from the initial £15.

Now, you might say that when people trade in games, they spend this on more games. A perhaps valid counter-argument.

Now, let’s get back to the news… developer THQ has said that it’s upcoming title “Smackdown vs. Raw 2011” will feature a one-time code in the box, and without activating this one-time code, online play is locked out. You also get the first DLC free. The most newsworthy part of this story is, THQ ‘doesn’t care’.

That’s according to Cory Ledesma, an employee of THQ, who said “loyal fans” who are interested in buying the game first-hand are the priority:

“I don’t think we really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset they don’t get the online feature set I don’t really have much sympathy for them.”

“That’s a little blunt but we hope it doesn’t disappoint people. We hope people understand that when the game’s bought used we get cheated,” he continued.

“I don’t think anyone wants that so in order for us to make strong, high-quality WWE games we need loyal fans that are interested in purchasing the game. We want to award those fans with additional content.”

EA were perhaps the first ones to test such a system, using “Online Pass” on its sports games. It similarly requires gamers to enter a one-time code for in-game content.

I understand the situation of the developers. Yeah, they are essentially losing money to the retaillers, who are taking advantage of the situation. However I have a few big problems with these plans.
Firstly, I am very disillusioned with the recent trend of giving ‘new’ buyers a code that allows ‘DLC’ when in fact that DLC is already on the game disc, just locked out. I also dislike the current trend that DLC is created for short games, expanding them to what I consider a ‘normal’ level, and that we have to pay for this ‘privilege’. Online play is similar to this.
Next, perhaps giving ‘new’ buyers some exclusive content is ok, but just plain DISABLING part of the game (online play) is dirty. A lot of buyers won’t even realise that if they buy this game pre-owned, it won’t work AS ADVERTISED.
What happens if my Xbox dies? I buy a new one… but what happens to the code? It was locked to that Xbox…
My big worry is the future. This is the next step in a more and more locked down digital world, and in fact this might hinder our culture. I can only imagine if the same measures were in some of the games I remember from my youth, which you can still get from eBay or other places, for retro and long dead consoles. I love old games too, my Sonics and Chaos Engine, etc. Will future generations be able to enjoy this game once the publisher stops manufacturing / goes bankrupt?

More and more, we don’t own digital property, we ‘rent’ it. And this is just a reminder that the company you ‘lease’ it from can take it away from you any time it likes. I can’t help but draw parallels to the music industry, who cry and wail about losing money in piracy etc yet still turn record profits… How much do you value cash over customer good-feeling, digital industries?

Interestingly, with a bit of clever work, I am already tricked into a similar situation with Steam. But I guess there I never had any expectation of being able to resell my games, and Steam value their customers, and have great deals without restrictive DRM. I can also always re-download everything as long as Valve exist.

My message to THQ and other developers is this: Stop punishing the customer – he will just stop buying from you. Put the squeeze on retaillers to give you some profit. They don’t like it? Tell them you won’t give them distribution rights to your games at all. I’m sure they will comply.

Peace, out!

Matt

PS – Surprise surprise, the masters of DRM, Ubisoft, are said to be ‘very interested’ in a similar approach.

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Blackberry OS 6 – A Storm is brewing

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I have been greatly anticipating the upcoming release of Blackberry OS 6, as I assumed that my Storm 2 (released in the UK last November, and I bought it only in January) would be getting the upgrade.

It would seem not.

From GadgetVenue:

RIM just announced the BlackBerry Torch 9800 this morning. The new BlackBerry Torch will run the long awaited OS 6 when it launches in a couple of weeks time. Along with the launch details earlier today, a press release was sent out that indicates that older devices will not be getting an update to BlackBerry OS 6.

Subject to carrier certifications in the months ahead, the new OS is expected to be available for the BlackBerry® Bold™ 9700, BlackBerry® Bold™ 9650 and BlackBerry® Pearl™ 3G, as well as future BlackBerry smartphones.

For those who have an older device, it looks like you’ll be stuck on BlackBerry OS 5 and will need to upgrade to a BlackBerry Torch or another new unreleased phone if you want to test what OS 6 is all about.

Hints at older devices not being capable of running OS 6 came recently when some Storm 3 details were revealed that show the device has more memory and power to make it more capable of running the newer OS.

I am gutted. Not because the current OS is bad, but because the additions were to include a new webkit browser, and more fluid scrolling, social network integration, along with just an updated UI. I also don’t understand why it can’t come to Storm 2 in particular. The Storm 2 has specifications that match or exceed the Bold 9700, so there is no reason why it cannot come to Storm 2. Add that to the fact that on the teaser videos all over the internet, it is clearly a Storm 2 screen.

I am still hoping this is a mistake, an error of omission from the press release. I will be very disappointed otherwise. If I wasn’t only 6 months into my contract, I’d consider going to Android.