Archive for the ‘Ottawa’ category

Weird Rogers 3G network error


Since about Sunday, Dec 7th (I remember exactly because I noticed it when leaving the regular ByMUG meeting at Patty Bolands) my iPhone for no particular reason decided to translocate itself to GMT+1 time zone. It was not visible immediately, only emails received at 16:20 were shown as received 6 hour in the future.

All this without any changes or installing anything on my end …

The Clock application showed what was wrong (this snapshot was taken on Sunday, 16:02 Ottawa time):


I tried to change settings for Date and Time to manual and correct the problem, but any time I switched back to keeping time synchronized automatically it jumped back to wrong time.

I believe this is a Rogers problem as it happens only when 3G is on. With Edge, you can safely switch forth and back beween any impact on the correct time. It would look like the iPhone is getting wrong information from the 3G network about time or about timezone (despite the settings of timezone to Ottawa, Canada). I tried Toronto and Montreal for timezone settings – same results.

Currently there are two workarounds:

1) Use Edge and suffer the slow speed, partially compensated by better battery life
2) Use manual setting and take into account that without network synchronization time your phone can get out of sync byt as much as few minutes
per day.

There is also discussion thread on Apple site.

I suggest that everybody that experiences this calls Rogers and requests fix. I would also consider asking for refund of part of the data plan, because this problem basically does not allow to use the 3G service we are paying for.

Chances are slim for getting few bucks back but maybe it will help to elevate the severity of the problem in their Bugzilla (or whatever they use for issue tracking).

Free eBook on ALT.NET


It is always a nice surprise to find something that is free and actually useful on the Net :-). Like this one: a fellow Ottawan Karl Sequin wrote and generously made available as free download “Foundations of programming” eBook.

He touches many topics of various levels from high level design concepts (dependency injection) to low level “Back to Basics” – how memory allocation and pointers work. Especially the later is often neglected and overlooked (and consequently misunderstood) by younger developers who started their education with a garbage collected language such as Java or C# and never were exposed to beauty and horrors of C 😉

The book is using .NET and C# as platform, but the applicability of the chapters goes way beyond the Windows or Microsoft world. After all, Alt.Net has very close relations with Java world.

If you have time, give it a look. Were it not free, I would say it is worth every penny. Now I can only say it is definitely worth the time you spend on it.

Thanks Karl, I hope I’ll meet you in person sometimes. The advantage of living in Ottawa is that you have lots of smart people around you :-).

Rogers, iPhone and Conspiracy Theory


It was very interesting to observe during last few weeks – since WWDC announcement – the wave of expectations building up here in Canada. After all, we will finally officially have the iPhone and will be allowed to join the family of first-category nations, legally iPhonized, blessed by his Steveness himself. Selection of Rogers as carrier was no surprise. Rogers is only company that (IMHO) actually can run 3G iPhone – at least around here in Ontario / Quebec. You see, here in True North, we do not really have anything remotly resembling true competition in telecom space. Nor we have a reasonably good telecoms selling the phone service – only bad, really bad and terrible.

Many speculations were published about pricing, and when it was made official few days ago, public outroar of disapproval happened. The pricing published here was so bad, that quickly on-line petition started at the website, which signed by over 60000 people. Pretty large number, considering the nation of 30 milion. The sentiment of the comments on the site is well expressed by the fact that another URL which redirects you to the site is http://f*** – try it out :-).

Two days ago, there seems to be some announcement that for $30 more, you can get 6 GB data plan on top of your existing voice plan with Rogers. That made many people quite happy and probably many more decided to buy after all. But was it really good news and did the petition really forced large company to backpedal ? Does democracy work in business world ?

Here is my cynical view of what could have just happened. Disclaimer (for the lawyers and themalike): this is pure fiction and any resemblance to real life event is purely accidental.

Assume that you are in charge of marketing for a company R that is about to sell product P and wants to get as much as possible money over the fair price (which includes reasonable margin) N. Your goal is to sell for double that price – 2*N.

What you do is announce price plans quoting 3*N and wait for unhappy customer feedback. You fuel that sentiment, so soon many more people are aware of that and word of mouth spreads. You even help to grow the sentiment in the website and see happily how more and more people get involved.

Then, few days before launch, you “beg down”, and announce the big price break – down to 2*N. Sentiment swings, and many people are now happy to pay what is in reality outrageous sum of money for the P. And because of the campaign and petition, many more people now know about the product and may consider buying – after all, they are about to save big after the price break, aren’t they ? And you can still in wiggle out of the promised break by fine-print rules, ifs and whens ….

Yes, you get some really bad sentiment and bad publicity – but it is publicity and it is free :-). Many newspapers and channels (even those owned by you) reported on that. And, if you get lucky, maybe even some eager-beaver politicians may take the bait and join the game “to defend interest of the public”.

But back to reality: on Friday, when the sale starts, we will see how many people will go and buy.
I hope that as few as possible. Because even after the price “break” (which we still do not know if and how it will be applied because Rogers site still shows old pricing info), it is still a bad deal compared to the USA.

The amount of money you pay is actually much higher and is cleverly hidden is variety of fees – system access, value pack fees, and just-because-we-can-we-will-charge-you-pack fees. This way the cheapest 60 dollar plan is more like 85 / month and the more likely 100+ month. Which means that over lifetime you will pay 300 for the phone, 35 activation plus 3600 for monthly fees – over $4000. And that, my friends is lot of money for giving up the freedom to be inaccessible by email and have possibility to spend even more time on the web …

If you are developer, 4000 bucks buys you a Mac Pro, Macbook Pro plus Mac Mini, or about 6 Windows desktop PC’s. If you are not a geek (which makes me wonder – why are you then reading this blog 😉 ), $4000 is nice escape from frozen Canadian winter for you and your family to warm Caribbean …

Without options to choose from and any competition, all you can do is to vote with your dollars. Because, honestly, your dollars are the only thing Rogers is interested in. I am their customer for over 10 years so I have some first hand experience.

Voting means: Do not buy. Wait.

The ONLY thing that will drive price down is lack of demand. Or competition.

If you absolutely MUST have iPhone, you can still “vote” – cancel some other Rogers services or switch them to competition: other cell phones, internet, TV – and let Rogers KNOW that you are going away and why. In worst case, the customer retention department will kick in and you can get some freebies 🙂 Because unlike with iPhone, here you have some alternatives.

Unfortunately, switching is always an inconvenience for the end user and none of the competitors is much better (sometimes quite a lot worse) than Rogers, so it is really up to you how far are you willing to go in order to send a message.

Or – if you are mainly after the new platform and mobile apps, you can get iPod touch and get most of the experience – minus phone and minus the montly fees for less than subsidized iPhone price.

I personally will wait. I have iPod Touch, so I am looking forward to new apps. And I will re-evaluate the iPhone need after all you, my impatient friends can share the news about your montly bills and how much you actually shot over the ridiculous amounts of data bandwidth in them…

No words necessary. No DRM either …


On White Stuff and Other Disasters


Guess what are three most useful tools without which no proper Ottawa household can exist ? Snow shovel, snow pusher and car window ice scratcher. If the number was 4, the next would be snowblower. Up to yesterday, our family was in safe position being equipped with several shovels, four or five scratchers and one pusher.

Then disaster stroke: my son broke the pusher while moving away few cube meters of snow we removed from the roof. In case you do not understand – removing snow from roof is another favorite winter leisure time activity in Ottawa: almost everybody is doing it. Not that it would be so much fun, but because of the dreadful consequences – avoid it and you may end up like this guy.

Especially in year rich on snow, like this one. And this winter – despite beig warm and cosy, only few days of -25 and below – it is snow-wise very likely a record year. The previous record winter happened (fortunately) long before I set foot on this continent: in 1970-71, we had 444 cm of snow during winter. Right now, it is about 415. The weather forecast for next week mentions possibility of another 50 cm. Ouch.

picture-19.pngThe shoveling is no fun at all. The back garden is full of snow, with top of the snowhill well over 3 m high. Another mountain in front of the house. I can hardly imagine where we do put another 50 cm, and most importantly HOW. Because the darn pusher is broken.
Now if you think that in modern market economy it is just a matter of driving to next store and buying one, think again. This is what I did today, just to discover that full Garden and Outdoor section is filled with barbecues, rakes, seeds, lawn movers and other completely ridiculous tools :-). No pushers at all. Only small pack of deserted shovels set aside. I bought one to make the trip worth the time ….

I guess I will have to BORROW a pusher from neighbor :-(. What a shame to admit I am pusher-less …

Out of desperation, I have decided to share my experience with the public in the following book:
Snow Shovelling

Unify Tour 2007 and Open Source


This week was full with attending the demos and workshops. On Tuesday, I spent half day on the Microsoft Unify Tour 2007. I planned to be there full day but an important business meeting made me change the plan. Fortunately, the sessions should be available recorded on the Web, so I will be able to check them later. The topic was bang-on – considering that we are in final phase of large project, using distributed network of SQL Server 2005 installations with replication and location was same as usual.

The format chosen for the presenation reminded reality show: introductory video and scripted/acted sequences of implementing the Web 2.0 enabled Web site. Two speakers – Christian Beauclair and Damir Bersinic were personifying the archetype of a developer (“.. sure it works. Just give me admin access to the PDC …”) and a system administrator (” .. sure we are aware that the patch XYZ is out since last month. We are evaluating it and eventually will deploy it in 2-3 months timeframe … “) and walked the audience over very real-life like scenario. It turned up to be much better than one would expect – very convincing and often quite funny. I guess neither of them needed to act much – they just became what was their profession and passion before converting to techevangelism :-). For me personally, the IT-Pro part was more informative and the SCM 2007 looks like really nice piece of software worth looking at.

And now for something completely different (as Monty Python’s used to say): the second presentation I have attended this week (today) was on the alchemy business of open source business organized by OCRI. Couple of names caught my eye – e.g. Mike Milinkovich – executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, Dwight Deugo, assistant professor at the Carleton University and also of the Java Report fame. Too bad that the fame ended in 2001, Java report was the best Java and OOP oriented journal available. I have very high admiration for everything Eclipse and both these gentlemen were involved with the local Ottawa company which designed and created the first version of the platform – so I was curious to listen what they have to say.

From other talks – it was interesting to see the Nortel Chief architect talking about open source. Large companies of the Nortel size have always had uneasy relation with open source software and it really depended on the team and local manager how much of the open technologies was allowed in. We were lucky, had great Nortel manager who understood the value and risks. As result, we were allowed to use what was right for the task and did some pretty amazing stuff with Enhydra application server, Freemarker and Jython back in 1999-2000.

Another surprise for me was Ingres. First of all, that it is still around – and according the the presenter, doing fairly well and growing. Secondarily, that Ingres was re-opensourced – started originally as opensource project back in 1980-ies, then was commercialized and closed, lost the lead against Oracle, IBM and Microsoft and found second life in re-opening the codebase. It was probably the only way – but I am not sure whether the world really badly needs another SQL database – with MySQL and Postgresql and few others already established and available, with larger mind-share and momentum …

Sales as Con Art – or welcome to Direct Energy flat rate plan


During over 8 years living on this continent I’ve developed reasonably thick skin in dealing with business calls, unsolicited mailings and other annoyances of aggressive selling. I was pretty sure nothing can make me really upset. Up until yesterday. Thanks to amazing capability of the Direct Energy sales force who does not take No for an answer.

But let’s start from the beginning. About 3 weeks ago I started to get frequent calls from Direct Energy about their flat rate plan. After avoiding them few times, I realized that they will not give up and answered the call. I have got myself into a discussion with guy who wanted me to lock up my price per kWh for next 5 years. Sort of protection plan. The idea is that you pay same amount – starting with higher than market price – and as the price goes up, you may end up to be better off over time.

As I never buy anything from a telemarketer, I said no. Upon insistence, I agreed that it is OK to mail me information about the prices and so on. I was very explicit to repeat about three times that I am not ordering anything, or enrolling into any plan – and the guy agreed. Just an information – no obligations.

Now guess what: yesterday I have received a letter starting with sentence “Thanks for enrolling into flat rate …”. That got me really going. I had to call customer support just to find out that I was indeed enrolled. I cancelled, of course, but feel this is such rude and inappropriate behaviour, that it deserves some publicity.

What is proper English term for this “business” method – when a sales person is openly lying to you ? It is not false advertisement. In that case, the consumer decides to buy based on incorrect information – but at the end, it is the customer that says yes and decides to buy. I am not a lawyer, but what happened sounds like fraud to me – I was put in position to be paying for something I have not ordered. And because one can safely assume I was not the only case they have tried it on, maybe even a scam ? It would not be the first time:

“Direct Energy Marketing Ltd. and Ontario Energy Savings Corp. have been fined a total of $232,500 after some of their agents apparently forged signatures on 31 consumer contracts, the Ontario Energy Board said today. Direct Energy was fined $7,500 for each of the 21 switched consumers and Ontario Energy Savings Corp. was fined the same amount for 10 switched consumers.”

The only difference is that now, they are not even bothering to fake your signature – they just sign you up, because you have answered the phone.

There seems to be nothing wrong with the idea of locking down the rate you pay for electricity for 5 years. Assumed that a) the prices will go up by predictable amount and b) you will indeed be able to get electricity or whatever you paid for for the full duration of the contract. There is even sound business plan behind – with enough subscribers, you can buy in large quantities with discount and have decent margin. What happened to a friend of mine was that he enrolled and paid about 2 years higher price. On year 3, the company he had contract with claimed bankrupcy and the new company promptly offered new 5 year plan – for a price about 30% above market price in year three. Hmm, how very convenient …

As Hanlon’s razor says Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice. Last week, I would give them benefit of the doubt. Not today, I am afraid.

Lesson learned – never ever go to any discussion with a business caller. If you want to save time and do not mind sound rude, just say NO and hang the phone on them. If you want to invest some time and avoid being rude, here is what you can do: start recording the phone calls and tell the bugger you are doing so. Ask them to remove your name and phone number from their list – technically, they should be oblidged to do so when you ask. You can also ask for the intruder’s name, home address and home phone number – why should only you have to provide private information to him/her ? Ask also for the name of the manager or superior, his or her home phone number. When they ask why, tell them that you would like to call them at home, in their private space just to let them experience how it tastes when an unwelcomed stranger interrupts whatever they are doing and steals their time talking about some stupid braindead useless product or service. Let them feel the pain.