Thursday, January 19, 2012

I F--king WIN at "Dad".

I've been busy. There have been visitors. There has been Sole Parent Duty. There have been disruptions to phone, Internet, etc. I will catch up soon. But right now, I just want to say this: I absolutely fucking win at "dad", right at this moment.

Observe these photographs:

It's a hot day by our standards. Perhaps 26, maybe 27 degrees, and sunny. My kids have now been out on that grassy slope for over two hours. It's their second session for the day.

They're covered in scratches from blackberries, full of burrs and thistlethorns. Despite the sunscreen, I expect they'll have a few burns. Yet from where I can sit, I can hear screams of delight from the Mau-mau, and wild cries from both Jake and Genghis.

They're sliding down a grassy hillside on a hot summer day.

But that's not the extent of the win. Oh no. It's much better than that. Y'see, the thing they're sliding on is the remnants of a large cardboard box. Yep.

Best of all, that cardboard box is the one which, less than 24 hours ago, was wrapped around the big, shiny, new LCD flatscreen TV which I bought to replace the beat-up, phosphor-failing Dick Smith cathode-ray-tube TV (for only fifty bucks more than the CRT thing cost us six years ago, or so.)

That's right. The brand-new television is sitting there in the lounge room, on its own. I've plugged a USB stick full of favourite tunes into the side of it, and it's playing the Imperial March from Star Wars as I write. Meanwhile, my kids are sliding down the hillside on pieces of cardboard. 

I'm behind on everything at the moment - but the hell with it. You don't get to slide down a hill with your kids very often, do you?

I'll catch up with you all soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Telstra Ad Nauseam

Ah, the fun of it all.

Must have touched a nerve, though. Thank you for the notes and kind words, one and all.

In the short term. Things Have Happened. The local techie dropped by, checked the line, and threw his hands in the air. "Hit by lightning," he said. Apparently, hit by lightning so often he couldn't even begin to figure out how to repair it. So they called in a full crew.

The full crew were prompt. They came. They checked the line. They threw their hands in the air. "Hit by lightning," they said. "Hit so often that we absolutely cannot repair this cable. And so, we will place a Temporary Cable into the system so that the phone is Restored."

This they did. It took 'em a day and a half or so, and it must have been genuinely hard work. There were two vans, a small flatbed and a digger down the bottom of our property this afternoon, and when I drove to Scottsdale, I saw... well, I'm not sure how much, but it was a hell of a lot of cable strung along the cutaway clay banks by the highway, and through the trees parallelling the road. Does the "temporary cable" go all the way to the exchange? I don't know. I didn't see any signs of it down by the exchange itself, but there was a suspicious loop of black, snaky stuff on the fence down close to the Brid River... again.

The techs were cool. They always are. I've had more Telstra techs through my house in the last ten years than I can actually count, and they're always friendly, likable, competent people. I stopped by the bottom of the property after the shopping today to check whether they were right for tea, coffee, toilets, etc - because yeah, I  do appreciate the work, and there's no public amenities down there.

Anyway, once it was up, one of the techs dropped by to see if the phone was working. It was, so we had a bit of a laugh. He told me that the lines are so old that they're actually a lead/copper pair, wrapped in PAPER insulation, of all things. I didn't know lead was ever used in telecom lines, to tell the truth. And... paper? Really? This place gets more lightning strikes than anywhere I've ever lived, including tropical North Queensland, and we get rain. Oh, my, we do get rain. And paper doesn't work well with water. Nor does it like intense heat. I suppose the lead/copper/paper stuff was state-of-the-art when it went in, but you have to wonder when that actually was.

Once the phone was up again, I decided to brave it, and call BigPond. Turns out that our 12gb monthly plan has been superseded. You can't even sign on for that any more. Now it's a 15gb plan for the same fee. I figured maybe if I asked nicely, they could upgrade us.

Guess what? The first bloke I talked to (spoke clear Australian English! But that's BigPond Internet, I suppose. Not strictly Telstra/phone) said he couldn't find us in the new system. Not even with names, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers and bill numbers. So he put me through to what he called "the old system". And there, I got a nice lady with a strong Indian accent. And in short order, she took my details... and then told me, yet again, that there's nothing on their system authorising me to handle this account.


Well, I was expecting it, so I handed the phone to Natalie. She was pretty pissed off, but when I explained it was Telstra, she sighed, and accepted the handset. After a few minutes, she took it upstairs.

Half an hour later, she came down and said: "Well, they can't find our records at all. But now their system has gone down. She'll call us back."

Three or four hours later, I called again. System was still down.

Makes you wonder how they manage to send bills to our address, doesn't it?

Well, at that point I took the advice I'd been given by a good many people. I opened my (now shaped to 64k) Internet connection, and lodged a complaint with the TIO.

I'm starting small. All I'm asking is that Telstra gets its fucking records straight. Nat and I have a landline, in her name, which I am supposed to be authorised to handle.  We have a NextG BigPond account which I created, bundled to her iPhone mobile account, which I am supposed to be authorised to handle. Then, obviously, there's her iPhone moblie account, to which apparently I have to have access in order to be able to access the bundled BigPond account. And then there's my piddly little prepaid mobile account.

And that's it. For now, I just want the right to contact Telstra and ask about those accounts, and NOT be told that I have no authority to deal with them. Nat and I have been together since 1992, married since... er... '95, I think. We've kept all the bills and accounts in joint names since the outset, because it makes sense, and it's easier. Telstra is the only goddam organisation for whom this has ever presented any kind of difficulty. Everybody else gets the instructions and the authorisations, puts 'em in their records, and after that it's all clear sailing.

So that's step one. Nat felt that was a small problem with which to bug the TIO, but I think otherwise. I think that if Telstra straightens out their records, it will do two things. First, it will stop the phantom bills arriving. (Did I mention we got a bill a couple weeks back? About $20. Our names, our address. No phone number cited. No account cited. When Nat rang Telstra, the lass on the other end insisted she couldn't find any record whatsoever of the bill in question. Natalie is now waiting to see if we get an overdue notice on that one.)

The second thing that straightening the records and the authorisations will do is to make future communications simpler. I do NOT want to have to hand Natalie the phone every time some change needs to be made. More: she really, really doesn't like sitting around, waiting for operators to become free. She WANTS me to be the one doing that, and much as I dislike it, better my time than hers. Therefore: if the TIO can prompt Telstra to get its bullshit recordkeeping in order, that alone will be a useful step forward.

I hope.

We'll see how it goes. Meanwhile, I'll call BigPond again tomorrow. Hopefully their system will be up again, and I can once more try to start the wearisome process of upgrading for those sweet, sweet 3gb extra per month. Of course, Natalie will be at the office tomorrow, not here - so when they tell me I'm not authorised to discuss the account, I'm probably going to lose my temper and say something sensible...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dear, Sweet, Darling Telstra

Note to friends: if you've been trying to ring me hereabouts and getting a busy tone... well, our line is dead. It's been dead since sometime Saturday, I think. The local Telstra chap called me (on the mobile, of course) and told me it looks to him as though it's been struck by lightning. Everybody up here on the hillside is without a phone at the moment, and given the patchy, crappy mobile coverage here, it's an interestingly silent sort of situation.

To top it off, it appears our Net connection has been shaped back to 64kbps. Still eight or nine days before the contract renews, and we get a massive 12Gb of 1.5mbps to play with again.

What went wrong? Well, Natalie updated her iPod. And of course, things like the iPad will happily update themselves. I take care of my own security, but Nat's new desktop machine doubtless constantly be checking into Jobsland. And the old machine the boys use runs Windows, so it gets regular security updates. And then there's the Wii... the last time I saw Jake switch it on, it had a vast array of new Internet channels, so I suppose it's been updating itself too.

Twelve gig a month. Gosh. The generosity of it. But that's the biggest allowance we can get under the 3G wireless plan via Telstra. It costs more than most of you are paying for four, five, ten times as much data at four or five times the speed, and it tends to drop out at unexpected moments... but it's what we've got, and it's all we're going to get, apparently.

Still, the dead phone line is a bit of a shit. I have some useful information for Telstra on that topic. Some of you may wish to stop reading at this point, because I may use language which isn't exactly suitable for the parlour at annual CWA meeting...

1) Dear Telstra: please put the following abbreviation on my record: NAFI. It stands for Not A Fucking Imbecile. What that means is that when I call your miserable, shitty call-centre to tell you there's something wrong with my phone line and I'm using my goddam mobile phone to do it, you can reasonably assume that I have ALREADY unplugged the handset and plugged it in again, tested the power, etc. I'm NAFI, Telstra. If I call you to say that my phone isn't working, can we just fucking well accept that it's actually not working?

2) Look, I have no problems with Indian folk. Dealing with people from the subcontinent face-to-face I don't even think about their race, or their culture, or mine. But you know what? The accent is a bit hard to follow, especially when I have to use a shitty Telstra - connection mobile phone to call your service. Oh, and the game where everybody tries to pretend they're actually in Sydney, and not in Chennai or Mumbai or Delhi? I have no idea who you think you're fooling. Yes, I know your Melbourne facility includes plenty of folk from the subcontinent, but honestly... I actually can't remember the last time I spoke to someone in your call centres who DIDN'T sound like they were fresh out of a Bollywood spectacular.

Telstra, I would very happily pay a reasonable premium for the opportunity to speak with someone who communicates in the same kind of English that I use, and who can share a friendly joke with me because we share the same basic cultural assumptions. I have no fucking idea why you imagine that outsourcing your call centre work was a good plan, but I promise you this: if any useful rival company ever, ever sets up out here in northern Tassie, I will abandon your fucking slipshod, pathetic, perpetually outsourced "service" so fast you won't know what hit you.

3) Speaking of service... lets go over our record of the last few years, shall we? First there's the horribly dodgy reception. Well, I live in a mountainous region. I guess I have to accept that. But... how come you can't upgrade my local exchange to be ADSL compatible? You've done it practically everywhere else. What's wrong with us? While I'm at it... the phone lines get blown to fuck by lightning every second year hereabouts. I remember one year you left a hundred-plus metres of phone cable draped over some farmer's fence because you couldn't figure out how else to keep it dry. (It was an electric fence, by the way. Every call we had for months (tick) included a regular (tick) noise that made the (tick) whole goddamned conversation sound like (tick) we had a fucking metronome going (tick.).

Anyway. Given that the aging copper lines on this hillside are prone to rain-death and lightning-death, and that we get a lot of rain and lightning, maintenance out here must cost you people a fortune, Telstra. But you know what ISN'T affected by water and electricity?

Glass. As in: fibre-optic cable.

I would dearly like to know what you fools pay to maintain the copper along this hillside. It would be fascinating to compare that ongoing cost with the cost of replacing the copper with glass fibre.

Ah well. I guess I'll never know, eh?

I remember the good old days when you convinced us to go with an ISDN modem for Internet purposes. We got a whopping 128kbps out of that. Yeee fucking haa, eh? Of course, storms blew out something like eight of your expensive modems in less than two years, until your people finally figured out you'd hooked our phone line to entirely the wrong lightning protection system... sure did make communications unreliable.

Anyway. When you pulled the plug on the ISDN system nationwide, you basically gave us the finger with regard to the Internet. No ADSL for us, no sir. Not out here. And back then, your shitty 3G service was still selling megabyte allowances for a couple-hundred bucks. Of course, we couldn't receive 3G Internet anyway... so for three or four years, we had a fucking satellite dish on the roof.

Actually, it's still there. But we're on 3G now, yeah. Not due to your work, though. Nope. To put it flatly, your consultants ranged from useless but friendly, to outright rude. The lass at the shop in Launceston was so unpleasant I've never gone back there, nor will. Luckily, one of my neighbours knew a bit about specialty 3G aerials, and after six months of phone calls and requests -- all of which came to nothing, except perhaps twenty to thirty wasted hours of conversation on the phone, plus a great deal of time listening to your fucking robot service -- I discovered that you have a business office in Invermay which actually sells the aerials my neighbour reccommended. So I drove there. And I bought one. And I installed it on the roof. And I connected it to your fucking base station router myself, and integrated the whole fucking lot with our LAN myself, and then argued my way through your tech support people until the account was up and running.

Yay me. Frankly, you should consider employing me, Telstra. Except you couldn't afford me, because I charge a vast premium when forced to work for utter arseholes.

Speaking of arseholes... what's with the business of maintaining parallel databases for all your different forms of customer? I can't actually count the number of times Natalie and I have had to tell some heavily-accented flunky to "check the records, yes, Mr Flinthart is not the account-holder but you'll see he has authority to access and make changes". Only, of course, practically every fucking time your people denied all knowledge because first we were private account holders. Then we held a business account (for the ISDN) and that didn't show the records from the private account. Then we were private again, but the authorisation didn't carry over. And then, even though you let me set up an entire fucking 3G BigPond account attached to Natalie's mobile, the first time I tried to fix and debug the account, your people insisted I didn't have the fucking authority.

How the fuck does that work? How can I create and authorise an online account -- but not have access to the simple issues of repair, because apparently I'm not authorised to work with the same mobile phone account that I built the goddam Internet account around? How is it you were willing to let me set up the whole 3G thing, including rolling all Nat's mobile bills in with the landline... but then you told me I didn't even have the authority to inquire about the usage afterwards?

Telstra... I really don't know where to begin with what I'd like to say. I'm writing this largely out of frustration, thinking back over ten seriously fucked up years of dealing with your wildly second-rate service, but the more I think about it, the more I realise just how piss-poor it's been, and how we've just come to accept it as a necessary part of life.

And I'm pretty goddam unhappy.

There's not much I can do about it, Telstra. Except, of course, to tell everybody: anytime you get the choice, anywhere, the answer is "Anyone But Telstra". And that includes hiring kids with plastic cups and long bits of string, to be honest.

I don't suppose we will ever see a competing service out here in the sticks. But if we do... I promise you, Telstra, the things you will have to do if you want to retain my custom will be so demeaning, so utterly obscene, and yet completely fulfilling from my viewpoint that you are probably going to have to hire an entirely new set of call-centre staff afterwards.

Until then: get stuffed.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Goodbye, Inigo. Goodbye, Darth Vader - And A Thousand Others.

Only one source I've found for this so far, but AICN is usually pretty reliable.

It looks like Bob Anderson has finally met his match.

If you don't know who Bob Anderson is... I'm very sorry for you. Or rather: you know his work. You just don't realise it. And when you do figure it out, you'll be as sad as I am, I expect.

I hope that wherever he's gone, they've got swords. (And I hope they're not dumb enough to try and keep him out!)

An Interesting Alternative To Murdoch's Bullshit

Here in Australia, Jolly Uncle Rupert controls something like 70% of the print media, and our political folks haven't the guts to take him on. He and army of shock-jocks, Bolty-boys and glove-puppet editors exert a truly alarming degree of control over the news to which we have access - and Uncle Rupe knows how to use that control.

Why do you think a rightwing nutjob like Tony Abbott continues in the job of Opposition leader? There are alternatives. Saner alternatives, even within Abbott's party. But Abbott is good for Murdoch business, and so he gets the press he wants, when he wants it, how he wants it.

Climate change. Carbon tax. Mining tax. Education spending. Health spending. Defense -- Uncle Rupe has a position on all these things, and he uses his media people to sell, sell, sell. The old saying goes: tell a lie often enough, and people will take it for the truth. Uncle Rupe has so many different ways of lying to us that it's next to impossible to find a way through to any sort of truth at all.

There are alternatives. Things like Al-jazeera and Green Left Weekly have significant media presences. The problem is that these outlets come with agendas of their own, potentially as screwy as even Uncle Rupert.

Then there's Crikey. Interesting, uniquely Australian... but now behind a paywall online. Do they have a print presence at all? I don't know.

There's a new, and very interesting, player in the game, however. Operating under the less-than-spellbinding name "The Conversation", the site appears to have great promise for a number of reasons.

The first reason is their up-front and avowed determination to involve academics, experts, and scientists. They're tightly linked with a broad university community, and the articles I've read so far have been thoughtful, reasoned -- and quite willing to call on people who appear to have genuine expertise in the areas under discussion.

That's a novel approach. I think I like it.

The second reason is their charter. Okay, yeah, anybody can write a charter and put it up on their site. But I have to admit, I like the look of this one. It's clearly written, simple, and focused in the right areas. Better still, their "ten rules" for involvement in the site are also clearly written, simple - and very plainly focused on producing a strong, inclusive, thoughtful, rational discourse.

A third reason: the team behind the site is shown in detail. Of course it could be a fiction - but if so, there are a lot of fictional people to be created and maintained here. Personally, I suspect the list is genuine. And it's an interesting list, heavy on expertise and knowledge... very, very light on magnates, Bolty-boys, celebrity fluffers, etc.

A fourth reason: I see no paywall here. I have no idea how these folks expect to generate revenue, or even if they expect it at all. But the information is there, and it's open, and there's space to comment, and converse.

At the moment, the site is still apparently in beta. I think it looks like something we desperately need in this country, so I'm going to dive in and take a look around. If there's anybody else reading this blog who thinks Uncle Rupert's deathgrip on our collective media gonads is an unhealthy thing... spread the word!