Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the category “communications”

Twitter vs Facebook and blog stats

This blog got the biggest number of hits over the last 30 days on 21 February, when I re-announced an old post on Home Schooling and Bigotry on both Facebook and Twitter.

I just checked the blog stats for that day, and the home schooling post was the most popular. It was interesting, though, that 45 visitors were referred from Facebook, and only 2 from Twitter.

I’m not a great one for stats, and don’t often look at them, though I have noticed that since I moved this blog from Blogger to WordPress the number of visitors dropped drastically and still hasn’t recovered. I moved it because the Blogger editor became more difficult to use.

But another blog I read, A Pilgrim in Narnia, had an article on blogging stats, and so I thought I’d take a closer look at them. And it seems that that blog, too, gets far more hits from Facebook than from Twitter.

Perhaps as a result of this, Twitter has started trying to imitate the Facebook way of doing things, and I suspect that that will cause them to lose a lot more ground a lot more quickly. Instead of doing what Twitter did well, the people at Twitter are trying to do what Facebook does, and doing it badly.

To start with, Twitter was a quick and concise way of sharing information, if necessary with links to where one could get more detail (so great for announcing blog posts). The 140 character limit ensured that. But then they added pictures, which made nonsense of the 140-character limit. Now, like Facebook, they are deciding what to show people, which means that big organisations get more exposure than individuals, and eventually the individuals will leave Twitter to the big organisations to tweet to each other.

There were other tools that enabled one to fine related material on blogs, but they’ve all killed themselves off, perhaps by trying, like Twitter, to emulate the Facebook model instead of doing something useful and unique. There were Technorati and BlogCatalog, which killed themselves off in that way.

So statistically, at any rate, Facebook seems to be one of the best ways of announcing blog posts at the moment



Technology addiction?

This morning at TGIF Dr Marlena Kruger spoke on the impact of our technology addiction.

I think she made some useful points, for example that young children learn more from playing with hands-on toys that from playing with simulations of them on a computer screen.

Shape sorting toy

Shape sorting toy

When our kids were small, they had one of these shape sorting toys. It would be possible to design a computer app to match the same shapes to spaces on the screen, but kids learn a lot more by handling the shapes, coordinating their sense of sight with the sense of touch by feeling it, and yes, putting it in their mouths.

So playing with computer apps is no substitute for playing with actual things in the real world.

But the problem with this kind of talk about “technology” is that people seem to get locked into a narrow two-dimensional world like a computer screen. What do we mean by words like “technology”?

Consider, for example, this article, which seems to be making a similar point to that made by Dr Kruger — 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12 | The Huffington Post:

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012).

Think about it for a while, especially the heading, because it is an example of tunnel vision — like limiting yourself to the number of pixels on a computer screen, and seeing nothing outside that.

What is a “handheld device”? A pen, a pencil, a crayon, a pair of scissors — all these are handheld devices. All these are technology. Specialists in early childhood education have been saying that children should learn to handle such things long before they start school.

Ah, you say, but those are mechanical devices, and we are talking about electronic devices.

But experts in early childhood education say that listening to music is important for the development of young children. Does that mean you are going to take your toddlers to symphony concerts? No recordings, because playing recordings nowadays usually requires electronic devices — when last did you hear a wind-up gramophone played? No discos, because there they use electronic devices to amplify the music.

I’m not simply being pedantic here. Before making huge generalisations about “technology” and “hand-held devices” we need to see the three-dimensio0nal world beyond the computer screen. When you dig in a garden you are using a hand-held device and a spade is technology. Technology is part of what makes us human. Saying that children under 2 should have no exposure to technology is insane. No cooked food, because cooking uses technology.

huntgathEven hunter-gatherer societies use technology, at least for the “hunter” part. Without technology we would just be gatherers.

So when we talk about being “addicted” to technology, we need to think about the wider meaning of technology, and the extent to which technology has made us human.

And when we speak of a remedy for addiction to technology, we need to think about whether the addiction is to technology, or to something else that the technology is used for.

When television was invented, people learnt how to send images to a cathode-ray screen (later LCD) in a remote location. At first, in television, the image was controlled by the sender. The receivers were passive. They could perhaps choose between images sent by different senders, but they had no control over the content of the images received.

Technophobes lamented the bad influence on children — “the flickering blue parent” was one phrase bandied about.

But it was not the TV that was generating the images. They were being sent by people who decided on what was sent, to serve their own purposes. It was one-way communication, yes, but it was one-communication from one group of people to another. The technology facilitated the communication, and to some extent determined it (yes, I’m old enough to have been influenced by Marshall McLuhan, and maybe I’ll say more about him some other time) but it was still communication from people to people.

For me it was a huge liberation when personal computers came along.

Yes, there I was looking at images on a cathode ray tube (CRT), but they were images that I put there. They were things I could control. For a while the rest of the family thought I was opting out of family life. I was “playing with the computer” instead of being sociable and watching TV with the family. That was tantamount to being accused of being addicted to technology. But it wasn’t. If I wrote a letter on the computer, I was no more addicted to the computer as technology than I was addicted to the typewriter before I had a computer, or addicted to a fountain pen before I had a typewriter.

In every case I was “using technology” to communicate with other people, and what I was doing was not “playing with the computer” any more than a handwritten letter is “playing with a pen”. Yes, I do sometimes play with a pen. I twiddle it, I idly click a ballpoint pen so the tip comes in and out.  But using it for a task is not “playing with it”. Is doodling “playing with” a pen? Idly and absentmindedly drawing little pictures? Is sketching fellow participants at a meeting playing with a pen? Perhaps great art exists because some people were addicted to playing with the technology of paint and paintbrushes.

One of the things Marlena Kruger said was coming home and putting your cell phone down and not touching it. Abstain from using the cellphone, because people are more important than the device.

But on Wednesday night we went to church in Brixton, Johannesburg. On the way home at 9:30 pm, on a badly lit road, with cars with bright lights coming the other way, we hit a pothole which dented the wheel rim so the tyre went flat. It was the first time in 11 years and 250000 km that we had had a flat tyre. Where is the jack? We’ve never had to use it before.

So I phone my son, who is a Toyota mechanic and knows these things. And ask where is the jack (it’s dark, you see). It’s under a plastic cover under the front passenger seat. You’d never find it by feeling for it. And how do you remove the cover, and how do you get it out?

But if he switches off his phone, because he’s not going to be addicted to it, it’s not a mere device. There is a person at the other end of the device. So by switching off the phone, you are switching off the person.

So speaking of “technology addiction” can be a bit simplistic. Your addiction can be to the device, like a cell phone, but more often it is addiction to what you do with the device. A cell phone is mainly used to communicate with other people. And you have the stereotype of a group of people all sitting together, all using their cell phones. Are they addicted to their phones? Not necessarily. What it means is that they prefer to communicate with people elsewhere than communicate with the people they are close to at that moment. The problem is not so much with the device used to communicate, but with human relations, that you would rather communicate with someone other than the people you happen to be with.

I said personal computers were a liberation, and its true. I can store information on my computer and find it much more quickly than if I had written it down on bits of paper. I’m writing an essay or an academic paper or even a blog post, and I need to verify the date of a historical event. Google leads me to that information much more quickly than trying to see if I have a reference book that has it.

E-mail was a liberation too.

I used to hate phoning people, and still do. I don’t know if I will be interrupting them when they are doing something important. If I send them e-mail, then they can read it and reply to it at their convenience.

But the people who liked the one-way, one-to-many model of broadcasting did not like this liberation. They wanted their captive audience. And Microsoft developed Windows 98 which was the first version of Windows to be integrated with the Internet, and the developed “push” technology for it. It was an attempt to re-enslave people that personal computers had liberated — by networking those computers and then pushing stuff at them.

And now cell phones use “push” technology too. My smartphone had “push” notifications for Facebook and Twitter, which drove me mad until I found how to switch them off (they don’t give you a manual, so it’s not easy to find out how to do that). So yes, cell phones are useful, but they can drive you mad. And there’s even a cell phone advertising itself with the slogan “Never miss a moment” — you’ll be so busy not missing moments that you’ll never have a moment to do anything.

But even though this is labelled “push technology”, it is not the technology that is doing the pushing. It is people doing the pushing. Yesterday I downloaded 90 emails and 85 of them were spam, sent to my “junk and suspicious mail” folder and deleted in bulk. They may have been sent by bots, but it was people who programmed the bots to send them.

Then back to TGIF, where technology, even electronic technology, was not absent.

TGIF: technology addiction. Two laptops and a projector

TGIF: technology addiction. Two laptops and a projector

I’m not against using educational technology. At one time I used some quite complicated gadgets to improve students’ reading skills, or at least show them how they could improve their won reading skills. But there is also this: Universities should ban PowerPoint — It makes students stupid and professors boring – Business Insider:

Overreliance on slides has contributed to the absurd belief that expecting and requiring students to read books, attend classes, take notes and do homework is unreasonable.

Courses designed around slides therefore propagate the myth that students can become skilled and knowledgeable without working through dozens of books, hundreds of articles and thousands of problems.

I’m not sure I agree with that article either. A lot depends on the content of what is being taught. Some topics can be enhanced by the use of slides, and others not. I must say that in this morning’s presentation I paid very little attention to the slides, and can remember little of what was on them


For more than three weeks we have had a faulty ADSL line, and have been virtually incommunicado.

Every time we tried to connect to a Web page, the following message appeared:

Secure Connection Failed

The connection to was interrupted while the page was loading.

The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because the authenticity of the received data could not be verified.
Please contact the website owners to inform them of this problem.

Learn more…

Report errors like this to help Mozilla identify and block malicious sites

Today the problem has been fixed, and we can communicate again.

Instead of reporting it to the Website owners or to Mozilla (how would we do that when we are unable to send e-mail?) we reported it to Telkom. They sent a couple of people round who informed us that our router was at fault and pushed off. We spent R1000 on a new router, and installed it and it had exactly the same problem. So we reported it again to Telkom.

The people came back, restrung the wire between the house and the pole, and tested various other things, but could not solve the problem.

huaweiWe were able to communicate to a limited extent with a mobile WiFi gadget supplied by Telkom, which works on 3G. We’ve previously used it when travelling, but it proved quite useful for emergency use when the ADSL line wasn’t working. Unfortunately, however, it only has 1 Gb a month on our contract, and when that was used up, even our limited emergency access to the Web came to an end. We asked Telkom if we could transfer some of our bandwidth from the ADSL line to the 3G mobile WiFi device until the ADSL line was repaired, but in spite of their advertising such devices in their brochures as “failover”, they said it wasn’t possible. We’d only get another 1Gb at the end of the month. They would give us a credit on our phone bill for the time the line wasn’t working. In the mean time, of course, there is still snail mail.

I’ve actually been able to download most of my e-mail, usually after 5-20 attempts. But none of the queued replies were sent.


Telkom subcontractors trying, unsuccessfully, to repair our line

Telkom subcontractors trying, unsuccessfully, to repair our line

I’ve been thinking uncharitable thoughts about who ever it was who invented and recommended outsourcing. On a previous occasion when our phone line was down, we got two different subcontractors, who could not sort out the problem. The third one came in a Telkom van, and fixed it. This time it was the second subcontractor. But outsourcing such things seems to be a remarkably inefficient way to run a telecoms business.

But my main purpose in writing this is not just to complain about Telkom’s rigidity in being unwilling to allow us to use the 3G device while the the ADSL line waa not working (if you ever see this, it will be working again). It is about the bad advice from Mozilla.

Reporting such errors to Website owners or to Mozilla, as the error message suggests, could be not merely misleading but could cause a lot of unneccessary problems. There is nothing a Website owner can do about a line fault, which might be in another country or another continent.

Similarly, the line fault does not necessarily mean that a site is malicious, and so reporting such things to Mozilla could lead to a lot of quite innocuous sites being identified as malicious and blocked.

So I suggest that Mozilla add a line to their error message along the lines of “if this error is reported for several sites, report it to your ISP, as your connection may be faulty”.


Cellphone blues

I have three cell phones. This puzzles people who try to phone me, and are not sure which number to use, But I’m sure I’m not the only person how has acquired a number of cellphones as “upgrades” of a previous model.

The problem is that the perfect cell phone has not been developed. Each one has particular features that the others lack, and which makes it useful, and very often the “upgrade” is actually a downgrade.

I don’t know if it will help anyone who wants to call me, but here are my three phones, with a kind of catalogue raisonne of what they are good at, and what I try to use them for. Perhaps if any cell phone manufacturer happens to read this they might use it as a resource for designing the perfect phone, with all the good features and none of the bad.

My current cell phones

My current cell phones

Here they are, with the newest on the left. The leftmost one (Phone 1) I’ve had for a year. It’s from Vodacom, but I think the manufacturer is LG. I got it as an upgrade for the middle one, an Alcatel (Phone 2), which was in turn an upgrade for an HTC Cha Cha (since lost). The one on the right, the Samsung (Phone 3) was one Val got as an upgrade back in 2008, and she gave it to me when it was itself upgraded in 2010.

The main advantage of Phone 3 (the Samsung) is that it has a good quality 5 megapixel camera, which actually works. The main disadvantages are that its battery life is pretty short, and if you want to send an SMS you have to press the same keys multiple times. Also, its ring is not very loud, so if it’s at the other end of the house I often don’t hear it ringing. I use it mainly for family members, and for sending SMS messages to remind people about church services. And, of course, as a notebook camera for recording all kinds of things.

The main advantages of Phone 2, the Alcatel, is that it’s battery lasts for several days, and it has a loud and unmistakable ring. It also gives me 100 minutes a month (on our Telkom contract) so I use it for outgoing calls where possible. It also has a comprehensive keypad, which is good for typing SMSs, but I’m not sure how many one is allowed to send, and it will suddenly offer 50 free ones, to be used the same day, but then no more till the end of the month. It has a crummy 2 megapixel camera, with no easy way of getting pictures off, so I usually carry the Samsung along as well. It’s not so good for incoming calls, however, because it tends to switch itself off when it’s in my pocket, so there are sometimes missed calls.

The main advantage of Phone 1 is that it a smartphone, and so can theoretically connect to the Internet and send photos of gravestones to BillionGraves. Like the Samsung it has a 5 megapixel camera, but the quality is not so good, when it does take a picture, and most times it doesn’t. It will take any number of test pictures of nothing in particular, but when it’s something you really want, it doesn’t work at all, so I always carry the Samsung with it. It also has no keypad at all. When I first got it it took me a month to discover how to answer it when it rang. The other two have a green button you push to answer the phone. This one has a virtual button that appears randomly, and pushing it makes not a blind bit of difference. After a month or so I discovered you had to swipe right, if you can find the screen you are supposed to swipe right from. So I get a lot of missed calls on this one too.

The Internet connection on Phone 1 is also useful for times (like now) when our ADSL connsction isn’t working, but connecting to the Internet by 3G is pretty expensive.

Phone 1 is also good for receiving SMSs and replying to them. Unfortunately it often gives me phantom notifications for SMSs that are not there. It is also not so good for sending SMSs to groups. The other two are good for that, except for the Alcatel’s tendency to suddenly offer 50 free SMSs on the 3rd of the month, and nothing for the rest of the month. I realise that’s not the phone’s fault, but some inexplicable policy of the service provder (Telkom).

Phone 1 also likes to show photos of some of the people in my contacts list. They are not people I often phone, except by accident, because when I put the phone down on the table I may accidentally touch one of the pictures and the phone dials their number without my being aware of it.

So if I get a missed call on one phone, I might return the call from one of the others (usually the Alcatel, because that’s cheapest). And if I get an SMS on the Alcatel, I might reply on one of the others, because the Alcatel may have reached its monthly limit.

And if any phone manufacturer is thinking of producing the perfect phone, then I’d like to see one with a decent camera, and an easy way of getting any pictures I take from my phone to my computer. The Samsung (the oldest) does that best. It has a cable, and an SD card you can remove without having to open the phone and take out the battery and put in the computer’s card reader slot.

I’d like to see one with an easy and intuitive way of answering the phone when it rings.

But until I get one, whenever I buy trousers I look to see if they have enough pockets for three phones.

Farewell to Dropbox!

I’ve just had notice from Dropbox that it will cease functioning on my computer at the end of August.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

I’m just wondering if there is any other similar “cloud” computing system that will work across different platforms, including different versions of Windows.

I’ve found Dropbox useful for making files available on different computers, so that my wife and I can work on the same file at different times, and always find the latest version, as well as having a cloud backup in case things go wrong. Perhaps we need to study the working of our home network a bit more to see if that can accomplish the same thing.

Here’s the message I received from Dropbox:

We noticed that you’re running the Dropbox desktop application (client) on Windows XP. We’re writing to let you know that as of August 29th, 2016, Dropbox will no longer support this version of Windows. You can find which devices connected to your account are running Windows XP by visiting your account page.

Don’t worry — your files and photos aren’t going anywhere! But you’ll need to update your computer to Windows Vista or later to access them through the Dropbox desktop application. You can find instructions on how to update your operating system on Microsoft’s website.

If you don’t want to update your operating system, your files will still be available through the Dropbox website. However, on August 29th, you’ll be signed out of your Dropbox account on your computer and the Dropbox desktop application will no longer be accessible.

We apologize for the inconvenience this may cause. For more information, please see our Help Center.

cloud1Well, it will cause quite a bit of inconvenience, but not nearly as much as reinstalling Windows would. Reinstalling Windows would take me the rest of my life, which I’d rather spend doing other things. Spending days and days searching through hundreds of CDs and DVDs looking for installation discs, and editing setting everything up all over again is no fun.

Dropbox was especially useful when travelling: we could enter notes and collect data on research trips, and sync them to Dropbox whenever we found and Internet connection, and everything would be waiting on my home computer when I got home. I suppose one could revert to the pre-cloud practice of backing up to small DVD discs, and mailing them home by snail mail.

And for the rest we’ll just have to forego the convenience of Dropbox and go back to using USB flash drives for everything.

When cloud computing is no longer available, can you call it a drought?

Can we blame El Nino?


Improving your user experience

If there is one thing guaranteed to annoy me on the Internet, it is people offering or promising to “improve your user experience.”

At the top of this page, as I write this, WordPress exhorts me: There’s now an easier way to create on! Switch to the improved posting experience.

I had as look at the “improved posting experience”, and found that it was absolutely dysfunctional. What do these people think “experience” means? And “improved”? Do they regard increasing people’s frustration levels as an “improvement”.

To all web page designers out there, there are two ways of improving my user experience. These two ways are:

  1. make pages more readable, and
  2. make pages more readable

The first way of making pages more readable is to increase the contrast between text and background.

The second way of making pages more readable is to make the text stand still long enough so that one can read it.

Get that?

  1. increase contrast between text and background

  2. stop the text from jumping around when people are trying to read it

The first problem is the main problem with the new WordPress editor. I can’t use it because I can’t read the instructions or even find them on the page.

Fortunately the old functional editor is still available, but in order to make up for the high levels of frustration that are essential to an “improved posting experience” they have hidden it away so it is hard to find.

pushI have two ways of enjoying the enhanced user experience of low contrast between text and background.

One that I use with short pieces of text (a line or two) is to hold a powerful magnifying glass up to the screen and try to work out what is written in that way.

For longer pieces of text, like a full article, and only if I’m really motivated to read it, I mark the text as if I am going to copy it. This usually reverses it, and instead of illegible light grey text on a white background it often gives white text on a blue background, which is usually more readable.

There doesn’t seem to be much that can be done about the jumping text.

uxguideIt usually jumps when pictures are being loaded, and if it hasn’t stopping jumping within 30 seconds, I usually close that screen and give up trying to read it. The only solution is for web designers to design their pages better.

When I first started designing web pages 20 years ago one of the cardinal rules was that one should use graphics sparingly, because too many clutter up the page and take longer to load. Too many graphics is bad taste, and, what’s more, it leads to a bad user experience, but will web designers learn that? No.

And one of the first things to know about “user experience” is to stop talking about it! Just make our pages readable and make your pages readable and move on to something else. And, if you must, read this article

20 things you can do this year to improve your user’s experience:

With all of this emphasis on ‘experience’, don’t lose sight of the fact that most people use technology to get stuff done. Frankly, most people don’t want an ‘experience’ with a car park machine, they just want to buy a parking ticket and move on.

Remember that. Write it out 10000 times: most users don’t want an “experience”, they just want to get stuff done. When I’m writing a blog post in WordPress, I don’t want a posting experience, I want to get my stuff written and posted. I want to accomplish a task not have an experience.

A couple of months ago I got a new cell phone. It took me two weeks to discover how to answer it when it rang. My old phone had a red phone icon and a green phone icon. You pressed the green one to answer when it rang, and the red one to hang up. Simple.

But that didn’t work on the new one. It had green phones and red phones and flashing dots in expanding circles, but no matter which one you pressed it kept on ringing until the caller gave up. A marvellous user experience that — I really have nothing better to do than watch flashing dots while the phone is ringing and I’m wondering how to answer it.

I’ve also encountered user surveys, many of which claim to be trying to provide an “enhanced user experience” — “Help us to learn more about our users so we can provide an enhanced user experience.” But most of them don’t want any kind of user feedback at all. They just want to know how they can sell you stuff. They are not seeking to provide an enhanced user experience, they are wanting to have an improved marketing experience. It’s their experience, not yours, that they are concerned about.

One was from the Daily Maverick which I had thought was one of the least unreliable news sources in South Africa today. It was very disappointing. One question was about what you used the Internet for, and most of the things I use the Internet for were not even among the options, just subsumed under “Other”.

It turned out to be all about online shopping habits, and one question asked you to choose 3 advantages you saw to online shopping. None of the suggested answers seemed to apply, so I clicked on “Other” and moved on. It want back, and said you have to give three. I closed it. If it had been allowed, I would have said “None of the above”, but I was disappointed that the Daily Maverick seems to have joined the ranks of the shameless manipulators. That doesn’t enhance my “user experience” at all, at all.

Telkom upgrade: lots of freebies, but what are they for?

One of those Telkom salespeople phoned a couple of months ago and offered us a faster Internet connection for an extra R100.00 a month, and it included free datadownloads between midnight and 6:00 am.

Since one son does computer animation which requires regular huge program updates, and the other likes to watch videos of motor racing, that seemed like a useful deal, so I signed up for it.

It came with a lot of other benefits. One was that it included Telkom-Telkom calls 24/7 instead of just during “CallMor” time. We don’t make many calls anyway, so it’s not really a benefit, but nice to know in case we need it.

But there were a lot of physical goodies too, which came in a big box.

The trouble is that there were no instructions, and only the barest descriptions, so we don’t know what half these things are, never mind how to use them, and for what.

So this is a plea for help: can anyone tell us what these things do, and if they are at all useful? Or do they just incur more liabilities?

Can we use any of them, or should we just advertise them for sale on an online auction site?

You can see the web page with the list of goodies here: Telkom Smarthome Premium ADSL.

And here are the goodies that came in the box:

  1. D-link ADSL Wi-Fi Router
  2. 3G Hauwei E5330 Mi-Fi Router
  3. Huawei Wi-Fi Range Extender
  4. Microsoft Office 365 (x2)
  5. SIM 1 with 1GB Data Every Month
  6. SIM 2 with 1GB Data Every Month
  7. SIM 3 with 100min Talk Time Every Month
  8. SIM 4 with 100min Talk Time Every Month
  9. Free DStv Explora

(1) The D-link ADSL Wi-Fi Router may be useful if our existing router gets struck by lightning.

(3) The Huawei Wi-Fi Range Extender may be useful for using laptops away from the router — is that what it does? How do we get it to work?

3G Hauwei E5330 Mi-Fi Router

3G Hauwei E5330 Mi-Fi Router

(2) 3G Hauwei E5330 Mi-Fi Router — Am I right in assuming that this could be used to connect to the Internet while travelling or during load shedding, using SIM cards (5) or (6)?

If so, it could be the most useful thing in the box. We’d just need to learn how to set it up and get it working.

MS Office 365

MS Office 365

(4) and (9) —Microsoft Office 365 and Free DStv Explora seem to be the gifts that go on taking, since it seems that you can’t use them without paying expensive monthly subscriptions. Should we try to sell them on an online auction site?

(7) & (8) the SIMs with 100min Talk Time Every Month seem to be useless without extra cell phones, or are they the kind that you can transfer your existing number to when your present contract expires?

Any ideas/comments/suggestions anyone?


Eish MTN

When I first got a cell phone back in 2001, I got one from MTN, mainly because it was easier to understand their pricing. It was a pay-as-you-go one, and I got it because I was running around trying to organise for a student to travel to Kenya, and getting passports and visas and had to keep phoning.

Now they started sending me all kinds of offers. I’d get an SMS once a week or so, urging me to recharge and get double the air time and things like that. I usually ignored them because I don’t phone a lot, and prefer e-mail to talking on the phone. Then they started sending them twice or three times a day.

Y’ello! Recharge today and get 500% your recharge value from MTN. Offer  valid till 05-AUG-14. T&C’s Apply Opt Out: STOP to 30246 (FREE)

So after all that nagging, I thought I’d try it. I had about R78.00 worth of airtime on my phone, and topped it up with another R60.00. They sent me an SMS to say that the top up was worth R300, to be used within a week.

MTNAyobaI’m hard-put to find enough to talk about for that long, but I phoned some friends I hadn’t seen for a long time, who lived far away, and caught up with their news. By the end of the week I’d used upabout R50.00 or so of the R300.00 they’d given me. So I expected that by the end of the week my airtime would be back to what it was before. But it wasn’t. It was R60.00, the amount I had paid for the recharge, but without the R78.00 I’d had before.

So it’s a scam. They sday they are giving you more airtime, but they take away the same amount at the end of the period. In the end, they give you nothing. They pretend to give you air time to make more calls, but the cost of those calls comes off your original airtime, when the extra airtime expires.

It’s all smoke and mirrors, a ripoff.

EishMTNWell, I did like they said in that SMS, and SMSed STOP to the number they gave, and they said I’d been removed from their marketing list.

But it’s ironic to think that I first joined MTN because I thought their pricing was more transparent, that What You SEE IS What You Get (WYISYG). But it isn’t, not at all.

So it’s Boo! Hiss! to MTN.

Ayoba MTN? No, it’s Eish MTN.

Next time I want a cell phone, I know where not to go.

97% of you have not danced

Sometimes I feel like that generation.

And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept (Luke 7:31-32).

I sometimes feel like that, especially when I look at Facebook and similar web sites, and the kind of communication they promote.

LoveMom2When people repost (“share” in Facebook-speak) something second-hand, trite and derivative, it gets lots of shares. Turn a worn-out cliche into a graphic, and say “97% of you won’t share this” and a lot more than 3% will.

I love my mother, and I love my daughter and I love my sons, and I love my cousins (even if they don’t all love me), and I don’t need to click on some mawkish graphic to prove it. Yet a huge proportion of Facebook “communication” is made up of just such trite trivialities.

Of course quite a lot of these are scams — people set up such a thing to get lots of “likes” for a page or site, and then sell it to the highest bidder. That’s why they say that on web sites like Facebook you are the product that they are selling.

But I have noticed in the last couple of weeks that when I share things that other people have posted, they get a lot more “likes” than actual personal stuff. And even if those things are not just tarted up cliches, I find that rather sad. It might be a news item, or comment that I think is worth thinking about, even if I don’t entirely agree with it. And sometimes people comment on such things too.

97percentBut when I posted something of my own, as opposed to something derivative and second hand, like this, for example, Tuesday 4 August 1914 | Khanya, it got precisely one “like” and one “share”, and no comments, either on the blog itself, or even on Facebook. It’s not that I go soliciting “likes” and “shares”, and I’m not posting this to urge my friends to “like” stuff that they dislike, or that they don’t give a damn about. I am rather noting that Facebook as a medium seems to favour and promote communication in the second-hand and derivative. Much of it seems calculated to appeal to those who are more amenable to our blackmail than our message — like the appeal to mother love above, or the ones that begin “97% of you won’t repost this”.

So I’m not asking people to “like” things that they don’t like, or “share” things that they don’t agree with, though I really do wonder what people are thinking when they imply that I am among the 97% of their friends who love cancer, and just hate their spouses, parents, children and other relatives.

LikeFacebookWhat I would like to solicit, however, is comments — preferably on the blog post itself, but on Facebook if you must. You can comment on something even if you don’t “like” it, and even if you don’t actually like it. You can disagree and say why you disagree. In that way sites like Facebook can facilitate communication between people, rather than just endlessly recycling sentimental cliches. Having said that, if by any chance you do actually like this (or any other post on my blog) there’s a button down at the bottom where you can click to “like” it on Facebook.

97percent2After observing these things, I think I’ll be trying to cut down on the number of second-hand things I recycle on Facebook. I’ll still “like” things that my friends post that are theirs — their photos, their articles, their blog posts. But I’ll try to resist the temptation to repost fancy illustrated slogans, no matter how witty they may be. It’s not that I think they should not be there at all. It’s just the proportions are all wrong. It seems to be 10% personal and 90% derivative. It should be the other way round.

Of course this post is 99% whinge, complaining that “We have piped for you and 97% of you have not danced.”

That’s enough whinging for now, so let there be an end to it.

Pre-1994 — or pre-Thatcherist?

In a somewhat disingenuous article, My Broadband accuses Zumas government of returning to a pre-1994 structuring of Posts and Telecommunications:

Zuma going full circle – from apartheid telecoms and back:

Unbeknownst to many people, Zuma returned to the structure used under the apartheid government, which had a Department of Communications and a Department of Post and Telecommunications.

The cabinet of FW de Klerk, which ran South Africa from 16 August 1989 to 11 May 1994, had Roelf Meyer as minister of communications and Piet Welgemoed as minister of post and telecommunication.

Zuma’s decision to go back to the pre-1994 structure is seen as a mistake by many commentators – and they have a point.

In South Africa, telecommunications services were operated by the South African Post Office until 1991. It therefore made sense to combine telecommunications and postal services into one ministry.

However, Telkom became a public company in 1991, which meant that it started to operate independently from the SA Post Office.

This is rather misleading, and the give-away is there in the text — it was F.W. de Klerk’s National Party government that privatised Telkom back in 1991, and the ANC government inherited that structure in 1994. The previous structure was not a specifically apartheid one, but was found in most Commonwealth countries before the Thatcher-era privatisation mania.

telephone-5579776Back in the 19th century post offices handled the delivery of written communications, whether physically, by means of hard copy, or electrically, by means of telegraphs. These were complementary, and the services were integrated. Later telephones added voice communications to the mix but in many cases the same infrastructure was used.

Was the apartheid between posts and telecommunications brought about by privatisation a good thing? Some, like the people at My Broadband, might argue that it is, but don’t try to muddy the issue by pretending that the integration had anything to do with apartheid in the past.

postboxThere are similar problems when it comes to moving people, rather than moving words and pictures. An integrated bus, train, and mini-bus taxi public transport system would arguably be of greater benefit to the travelling public. But such a thing meets opposition from vested interests in the privatised taxi industry, and those vested interests are sometimes prepared to use hitmen to oppose integration, where as those with vested interests in privatised telecommunications services have not gone as far as that. But in principle the issues are the same.

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