@Orcon, Should I Stay or Should I Go?


Life used to be so easy when it was just Telecom who looked after landlines. Now when something goes wrong it’s all like, “your call is really important to us and is there anything else we can do for you?” BUT:

Our connection, which is unbundled, (so there is no dial tone and if the Internet is down, so is the phone) started playing up on Friday. Saturday it was on and off intermittently. I rang the nice man at Orcon who said that they would put a monitor on the line and he could see that it had disconnected about 9 times so far that day. So there was definitely a problem.

He said they would monitor it for 24 hours and see if they could find the problem. I was OK with that. I’m not an unreasonable person.

But I never heard back from them and it continued to be on and off all weekend until this morning, as I was trying to sort out emails and confirm my hydrotherapy for midday for my back injury, it all died. No phone, no internet.

So I rang them again and told them I suspected it could have been something to do with the company who looks after our water who had done some repairs for a neighbour and I asked if anyone else had any problems. “No” they assured me, Chorus had not advised of any other problems.

So they said they would try to get someone on to it today BUT:

  • If it was on our property, it would cost us $130 for them to locate it.
  • If they had to come inside and fix something it would be $230; and
  • If I wasn’t home when they had to come in to check it out, and they therefore couldn’t come in, they would charge me $130.

So I had to cancel my hydrotherapy which I had been looking forward to. If you’ve ever had a serious back injury, you know how good it is to be in water and not have gravity pressing down on those bulging disks. The therapy is very important and I am doing it to either avoid serious surgery, or at worst be strong for a speedy recovery if I need it. I don’t need the stress on top of the pain.

Chorus I went up to the end of the driveway to see if there was anything obvious and found an engineer who was working on a fault for my next door neighbour who apparently had reported problems since Friday and also had no Internet or phone!

The problem is that her account is with Vodafone and it seems that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. With so many companies busy clipping the ticket of old copper wires, you have to wonder what happened to the ‘Kiwi Share’.

Given that I couldn’t go and do my physio, I got my daughter to stick around so I could at least go for a walk around the block and not get ‘fined’ if Chorus needed to get into the house.

When I got back I learned that yet another neighbour also had no phone. He didn’t report it because he knew that Chorus were working ‘on the line’. But he was with Spark, who don’t share information with Vodafone, who don’t share information with Orcon. It seems that internally Chorus don’t escalate things unless they are widespread, so they treat each call from the various ‘providers’ as isolated events.  My third neighbour didn’t realise that if he didn’t report it, nobody would know he had no phone or Internet and it wouldn’t get sorted.

So he is now ringing Spark and between us we don’t know if there are any other neighbours with a problem.

OrconI did get a nice email from Orcon  saying “We’ve Got This’ and suggesting that I might want to reboot my modem as this often solves ‘problems’. I was thinking more that the telecommunications systems of virtual telecommunications providers might need solving.

I replied to the email from Orcon telling them how annoyed and frustrated I was with all the advice of what everything could cost me, when I know the problem is not on my side of the network. I then got a nice automated response telling me that they usually deal with issues within one working day and there were a couple of websites with “loads of answers for some of the most common questions”.

Chorus vanNext thing you know, as I am writing this, a Chorus wagon comes down my drive with another engineer who apparently knew nothing about the first engineer that had the plinth off, working on my neighbour’s line. No wonder they need so many lots of $130. I can’t imagine the overhead this all takes.

What I also don’t understand is why so many people have to be manually engaged in help-desks (at least one for each brand), manual testing and logging calls whilst not communicating with each other. Why doesn’t the network have some sort of intelligence that monitors lines and reports faults and outages?

I’m not being silly here. My first job was as a Technical Service Officer and I was the guy on the other end of ‘Faults Service’. I was highly trained and given a very thorough knowledge of all aspects of telecommunications. Now that was a long time ago and the systems were already reasonably sophisticated.

It was very easy to run ‘line tests’ and if there was a fault, we could usually see what type of fault it was from the ‘Test Room’ and what type of person (faultman, lineman, cable jointer etc) we would need to send out to check on the problem. The types of tests they do today are not dissimilar because much of the country still uses those same copper cables that haven’t been replaced in many decades.

I explained to the new Chorus representative what had happened. He went and had a look and eventually came back and told me that there was a problem in the neighborhood and that he would  report it to Chorus so they could send the right kind of engineer, probably tomorrow.

He also said that for a small monthly fee I could have a service agreement maintaining the telecommunications system on the inside of my property and house. I have never had a single problem in my house except for faulty Orcon routers! With today’s systems I don’t need to use the slick Cat 5 cable system my house was wired with, everything is wireless. I don’t use any of the other jack points. They are now redundant.

So now, he has told me they will hopefully send someone else out tomorrow!

So what do you think? Should I stay or Should I Go Now. Isn’t it ironic that this song is by The Clash.

I just got a text message saying the first available technician will be booked to look at my problem tomorrow. They had better come before my dentist appointment. They charge a lot more than $130 if you cancel on them.

Am I being unreasonable? Can one of the other Telcos do better? They know how to charge and threaten with additional costs, but what about compensation for me, including mobile data and lost time?

 

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Of Asimov, Robots, Artificial Intelligence and What is a Human Anyway


You might say I have too much time on my hands. I would answer that I never have enough time, but my back injury continues and I have had time to think in a few directions.

Whether it is HAL 9000, remember “I’m sorry but I can’t do that Dave” as an answer to “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” from 2001 A Space Odyssey?

If you haven’t tried it, ask Alexa, Siri, Cortana or whatever your speech interface is to the internet, those famous words. “Open the Pod bay doors HAL” If only Arthur C Clarke was around to experience that.

Damn, I just remembered that they had a 4K restoration of the movie at Imax last month for the 50th anniversary of the movie. I was hoping to find someone to go with and then totally forgot about it. That would have been amazing.

AsimovI collect books and in recent years have given away many books that I was never going to read again, but decided to extend my collections of specific writers and starting at the beginning of the alphabet, I looked at what was missing from my Isaac Asimov collection and amongst others bought a copy of The Bicentennial Man.

Asimov is of course famous for the 3 Laws of Robotics. Ironically a lot of people debunked his laws and said they were flawed and used that to criticise him as being unrealistic or perhaps idealistic, which is a trait of many SciFi authors of the 70’s. However, he knew that himself. In many of his stories, robots disobeyed the laws.

There is a great story in this book called That Thou Art Mindful of Him, in which is a play on Psalm 8:4-6, he also infers in some of the stories that he was Jewish through some of the characters and had a keen sense of humor.

In this story (and I’m sorry for the spoiler) a series of robots are produced and given the capability to become self aware, in effect sentient. They redefine what it is to be human and declare themselves as such.

I played with the thought of Singularity and imagined if autonomous cars could pass the Turing Test 

I also looked at what might happen if they didn’t and what hackers might be able to do.

What I keep coming back to and writers like Philip K Dick, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and many others foresaw 50 and more years ago and similar to where the TV series Humans is heading, is that humans are dangerous to the planet.

Now I like being human and I hope that my descendants will have safe and healthy planet for thousands of years from now and many of my little stories are in jest.

BUT, if climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution, brinkmanship politics, drought, famine, and war are the result of how great and committed we humans fancy ourselves to be, would it not be realistic if an Artificial Intelligence was developed to the point of Singularity and able to continue to learn with or without programmed biases, would their logic determine that the human race should either be limited or allowed to exterminate ourselves?

Kurzweil looked at it a different way and said that Singularity would occur around 2045 and potentially be a synthesis between human and machine, in effect human 2.0. He would be about 98 at that point in time, so it will be interesting to see if he is still around and if he is right.

Maybe Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and many futuristic projects should have the last word. He’s pretty successful and walks the talk. DARPA, Rex Bionics and hundreds of companies, universities and other innovators are developing systems that will be able to think for themselves. Yes, for specific purposes, but they are being created.

It’s interesting that in this clip, they say that Science Fiction is usually about 50 years ahead of its time. So back to Asimov, reading him today, especially a book like The Bicentennial Man, where like Stephen King and others, he talks about his stories, was he in fact prophetic?

Yes, maybe I’ve had too much time to think, but do you think we should be thinking about this. Just imagined if a machine, say a Robocop decided that using facial recognition or perhaps racial recognition, that you were, could be, or could become a criminal and then think about biases that go into programming, often of necessity.

What conclusions could an AI start taking when given some information and some bias and then left to learn on the basis of that starting point? Oh and I didn’t even mention George Orwell. He wrote Animal Farm in 1945. Remember “All humans are equal, but some are more equal than others”? Shutting up now……..

 

What could go wrong if you leave your mobile on during an air flight?


The engineer sitting next to me dropped his head in disbelief and then shook it from side to side with an air of disappointment and dismay. I followed his gaze back to  the flight attendant who was leaning into the window taking photos with her mobile of the stunning sunset from the empty front row seat on the port side of our Air NZ ATR 72 flight in the final minutes of our descent into Auckland yesterday evening. I looked back at him and said “I was thinking the same thing.” Having had a conversation with him about our reliance on computers in transport these days.

This is not the flight I was on last night, nor the same type of plane.

This is not the flight I was on last night, nor the same type of plane.

As she was clicking with the volume turned up making a loud camera shutter emulation sound, I thought back to earlier in the flight when one of the flight attendants did her first PA not long into our 1 hour domestic flight. The PA came complete with the GSM bleep a phone makes when it is too close to a speaker; you know, the noise your mobile phone computer makes when you have your it too close to the speaker as it connects to the telecommunications network.

This got me to thinking about the number of people I see on flights who put their phones into flight mode before take off, but don’t actually switch them off, despite being instructed. It seems that a very large percentage of people don’t actually switch them off before they go into their pockets. Most of us have probably done that at some time, not thinking further, even though the instructions are very clear, flight mode, then switch off.

Farther into the flight, we had broken the clouds as I asked a flight attendant, serving mineral water into the plastic glass I was holding out for her, if I could now use my Kindle, which was dutifully in flight mode. I had to say Kindle several times, which she didn’t seem to understand, so I asked if we were at cruise altitude so we could use safe electronic devices. “No.” she replied after a little thought.

On her next PA, there was that GSM ping-ping again, as the flight attendant began another PA, telling us that the coffee service would be delayed due to unexpected turbulence. It was briefly interrupted and the pinging stopped, perhaps as she moved her mobile farther away from the microphone.

I was looking forward to the PA to tell me that electronic devices in flight mode could be used, so I could enjoy one of the books I recently purchased for my Kindle. It never came. The next PA, again with the GSM pings came on to say we were heading into our final descent again, was to tell us to stop using and switch off all electronic devices.

I was most disappointed because there had been some stunning cloud formations on the flight home that I would have loved to have captured. This is why my attached pic is from a different trip, I took with Air NZ last week.

So back to watching the flight crew attendant taking photos just before she strapped her self in for landing. I discussed the situation of fly by wire and the fact that there were rumors that the American Federal Aviation Authority were going to relax their rules on using mobiles during take off and landing, that they suspected it wasn’t in fact dangerous. With both of us having a degree of engineering training, we understood the concept of signal induction, which was of course the cause of the tell tale bleeps on the PA, which suggested that he phone might not have been switched into flight mode at any stage during the flight.

As we landed, we were pleased to be on the tarmac safe and sound,  but we thought back to the missing Malaysian Airlines plane and I remarked “Whether it is safe to use your mobile or not, imagine if the plane had crashed and it was your mobile they found that was still switched on?”

It amazes me that passengers flout the rules as if they know better than the Aviation Authorities with “I’ve flown a thousand times and I’m still here.” When it is the professional flight crew who flout their position in front of passengers in order to get that great sunset shot, several minutes after having told everyone to turn their devices off, that might be taking it too far.

I didn’t get to read my Kindle eBook, because she had never told us we could turn our devices on. I looked around several times to check if anyone else was using a tablet or other device and they weren’t. What was interesting to me is that not a soul said a word to her about having her mobile on and using it, despite having told passengers that the rules were that we couldn’t. What if her mobile had cause interference during a wing over or other maneuvering of the plane? You might not be reading this blog.

Do you switch off all your devices during flight when instructed. Did you realize they have to be not only in flight mode but be switched off?

 

 

 

 

Census 2013 So What Did You Think?


CensusOur household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.

However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.

Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:

Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will  select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.

The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.

What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.

I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.

The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.

The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?

They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.

Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).

What else would I like to know?

  • Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
  • Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
  • How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
  • How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
  • How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
  • Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
  • How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
  • What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
  • How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?

There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?

So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.

Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.

What do you think?

Orcon I Was Wrong


I’ve had more than my share of troubles with my ISP, Orcon in the past and I haven’t been slow in coming forward sending them brickbats.

I thought this was another of those occasions when I checked my account and it was quite a bit over what I expected. The PDF of the accounts didn’t show why and I didn’t think to check on-line  which I could have done, because the amount I was being charged appeared to be about the same as I was paying before I signed up to a new plan.

I didn’t call them about it straight away because I had spent so much time in the past waiting for their call centre to answer and if there is one thing I can’t stand it is waiting in a queue listening to musak, ads and being told that my call is important.

Yesterday I received an email asking me to respond to an on-line survey and thinking they were in the wrong, I gave them 2 out of 10 for service and explained why.

Today I was delighted to receive a phone call from the call centre on my mobile, discovered that the invoices were in fact correct, I had gone over my data cap of 30GB, but not enough that I should go to a higher plan. I also switched to a new plan that was slightly better than the one I was on and cancelled a service I no longer require.

So while I have no problem in complaining when I feel I’m getting a raw deal, I also want to compliment them on their quick response. I didn’t expect a call at all and I was really impressed with the prompt and friendly service. So this time, thanks Orcon. 10 out of 10.

Now if you wouldn’t drop the connection momentarily from time to time when I’m on-line playing poker and am going all in on a monster hand and playing for real money I would not only be happy, I’d be over the moon.