Loud ramblings of a Software Artisan

Saturday 5 June 2010

How I came to be without a cell-phone

Last October, after moving out west here in Vancouver, I wanted to change my cell-phone number from the 819 area code to the local 604 area code used here in BC (or a 778 as the overlay area code, even though I'd rather not, but that's a detail). There was two reason. First, people calling from Vancouver wouldn't have to pay long distance charges, and I'd stop getting "what country am I calling" from people that forgot that cell-phone exists and that there is life out east. Second, I'd stop getting dinged on roaming[1] charges for incoming calls I receive out of the local area (Ottawa-Hull). I was with Rogers, one of the 3 from the nation-wide-cell-phone cartel.

I called, and everything was fine until the customer service representive at Rogers failed to change the number because the system was rejecting it (after having been given a new number and hung up). I'll skip the part where he failed to call me back, were the number I just got assigned ended up assigned to another person[2] and jump directly to the part were I call back and get told "it failed because you plan is no longer available". WTF? Much like AT&T changed their plans today to provide less for more, the Canadian telcos, RoBelUs do the same. I one make a move, they all follow. Not to do better, to do the same. And believe me, the trend is not to provide more for less. Absolutely not. Bell and Telus started charging for incoming SMS, Rogers, after promising they'd never do it, did it, even for people with a contract. They also do what we call pocket pricing, and practice that should be considered illegal, where they change their offering depending on your geographical location, because sometime there is a local competitor that does better.

In short, they told me that to change my phone number, I had to resign for a contract, to get a seemingly identical offering, more or less a nickel, with a different price structure, or pay a 25% premium to not have the contract. It should be noted that I was near the end of the 3 year contract I was on, so that constitute a unilateral change of the terms, something that ought to be illegal[3] but they have been keeping doing without being worried. Also this just show that the claim that contract are here to protect the subsidy on the locked phone they cell you is an obvious lies. There was no subsidy beyond the 2 weeks left, nor do you get a rebate if you bring your own phone[4]. It was just to lock people in, probably the only way they have to keep customers.

Why would I make business with a company that just wanted to screw their customers each time they can, making doing business with the mob a very pleasant activity? I asked to cancel instead and ended with just an almost useless piece of electronics made by Motorola.

Concerning the price structure here is approximately how it was:

  • System access fee: $6.95
  • 9-1-1 fee: $0.25
  • Voicemail + caller ID + 250 SMS: around $10
  • Voice plan with a low number of minutes out, a higher number of minute incoming, $n (I don't remember the amount)

The new pricing:

  • No system access fee.
  • No 9-1-1 fee.
  • Voicemail + caller ID + more SMS: around $11
  • Voice plan with a low number of minutes out, a higher number of minute incoming, $n + $5 (to compensate on the above fees they now put in the advertised price)
  • Government Regulatory Recovery Fee: around $3

All of these are without the GST and PST (the federal and provincial sale taxes)

I must explain a bit. The system access fee is a very controversial fee that the carriers use to force you pay more than the advertised price, making you wrongfully believe that it is a government fee. They were order to state it was a non-governmental fee after a class action lawsuit was brought in 2006. The 9-1-1 fee is the carrier charging customer for the 911 emergency access that they get charged per line. Again billing it separately allow them to claim a price lower than it is in their advertising. The Government Regulatory Recovery Fee is just a renaming of the two above, with a lower charge, but still, with a name like it clearly show how they treat their customers. It is a bit like adding a surcharge to your billing to compensate the utility bill (water, electricity, heat). In short, it is a gimmick.

There is a lot of work in the area of consumer protection that should be done to address these issues, and the marketplace as it is is just disgusting, with no competition.

The proof that there is no competition: iPad data plans - something very easy to compare - are exactly the same with Roger or Bell (Telus' are worse and it is just their fault because they announced them last).

But what is happening now?

Thursday, June 3rd 2010, WIND Mobile opened in Vancouver. What is it? WIND Mobile is just one of the new new entrants on the cell phone market, probably the only one that is clearly going nationwide, West of Ottawa-Hull. The others are Mobilicity (Toronto only at the moment), Public Mobile (Toronto and Montreal), Videotron (Quebec, not yet open), Shaw (in the West, starting in Alberta, not yet open), and I might forget a few local one. This is the result of a recent airwave band auction in the 1700MHz frequencies held in Canada.

In short, since Thursday there is a beginning of competition in the cell-carrier market, in Vancouver, with the hope to see saner business practices, better prices...

I'll comment more on the offering later.

Notes

[1] telcos here call this long-distance, but you call a cat cat, dont you?

[2] I called it to check

[3] IANAL

[4] actually the tend to frown upon this

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Public Service Announcement

Generated by the Bart Simpson Chalkboard Generator

For those who wonder why, it is because I'm tired of people using Facebook to send message to people when there is email (and I'm not talking about the "comment" feature but realy about initiating conversions using the facebook wall, which is public, or the facebook message which is...). It goes in line with what I have been saying for a while: Facebook is the new AOL, a proprietary silo that does not communicate with the outside world.

Sunday 7 October 2007

From the what if machine...

What if Google was really evil? This short fiction story by Cory Doctorow could be the reality...

Wednesday 21 September 2005

Copy unprotected CDs?

Message about copy protection on CDs, or lack thereof.

We learn that:

  1. artist do not have the choice. It is the disc company.
  2. that non Windows users are somewhat safe with some protection systems. The lack of interest for Linux and *BSD will still keep us apart at some point, happily.

That is not news in fact. But perhaps people should really start to care? Fortunately the success of the iPod might help moving in that direction as no one provide iPod ready CDs (they all give proprietary DRM WMA file which put customers into a vendor silo), and with the copy protections making things less easy for iPod owners, they might get annoyed. I myself am careful to not buy any product of this kind. I stick to oldies :-)

Thursday 8 September 2005

New iPod, new tax ?

Yesterday Apple announced a replacement of the hard-drive based iPod Mini by a flash based iPod Nano with similar capacities.

But new iPod, new taxes in France. There have been some complaints about the iPod-dollar being 60% more expensive than the real USD. First the the iPod price in France include 19.6% VAT, which allow us to account roughly 20% of difference with the displayed price. In US or Canada, the displayed price does not include tax. But there is also something interesting: the "tax" for private copy is also completely different. According to hardware.fr, the "tax" on a 4GB hard-drive iPod Mini was 9.57EUR, while on a 4GB flash iPod nano, it is 51.44EUR because it is flash memory. Do you find that fair?

For once Apple is not to blame. Lobbies are.

Fortunately in Canada, the levy has been declared void, and you can even get a refund.

Saturday 20 August 2005

Bundled software, or monopoly abuse

Back in 1999, there was a Windows Refund Day organized in the bay area to protest against the fact that you couldn't buy a "branded" computer without Microsoft Windows operating system. In 6 years, thing haven't changed. You still can't buy just any "branded" PC without it. Even worse, today you have to buy a photo editing software with your digital camera. And I'm talking about third party software, not about software by the same company. For example, MacOS X with Apple hardware is not really a bundle sale; because they are both Apple products, arguments may fall flat as it sounds unfair to require a competing product.

I went a couple of month back, into requesting to that manufacturer a refund on a software I don't use that they forced me to buy with the camera. They gave me the following arguments about why they should:

  • the software is not made by them, they can't provide a support That explicitly means it is another product, and yes, I can find it for CDN$150 at the electronic store around the corner
  • the software is here to allow the user to familiarize with photo-editing. So I don't need it to use their product. That means again it is not required, so they have NO reason to force you to get it.
  • the software can not open the prorpietary RAW files the camera generate. You can contact the publisher to purchase an upgrade. That means it gives no a single added value for using the camera.

How many of you don't use or need that software, and how many in that case did request a refund? I don't think there is a big number for the second case, while the first one is probably higher than one might think. If you read that and don't use the third party software that comes with you camera, contact the manufacturer and request a refund. I still haven't gotten mine, but as usual, the more one ask, the more we can achieve getting what we want.

Now back to the bundled OS. In February 2002, Be Inc filed a complain for monopoly abuse against Microsoft, because Microsoft bundling agreement forbid to bundle any competiting operating system. So how to do want manufacturer give the choice if they can't? That is the whole purpose. The lawsuit ended with a settlement of over USD$23M. Since the company was already out of business (they sold their assets for a tenth of that settlement), it is obvious that this was the only thing to be expected. This $23M is just pocket money for Microsoft, so it had no effect whatsoever.

Beside a few random refunds in various countries (France and US), nobody get backs its money for the unused software. Even vendors of laptop with Linux preinstalled can't get supplies for laptop without Windows as stated Lincoln Durey in his LJ Editorial. And vendors requires you to accept the software EULA in order to use their hardware, said EULA allowing to refund of the software in case of disagreement. Some like IBM just say: "IBM does not provide refunds or credits for portions of a packaged offering provided at a single price." And IBM claim to support Linux? (I know they sold to Lenovo, but they still say IBM)

They take away the exit for software refund... unless this agreement is void in your jurisdiction. And Microsoft then sue people trying to resell said license and media, because they say it is illegal, even those acquired outside of a bundle sale.

So what can we do ? Fight. Request refund everytime you have to do it. Inaction leads to the worse.

Thursday 18 August 2005

No sir, you can not charge your iPod shuffle

Apple, after providing DRM on the MacOS X did provide ERM (Electron Rights Management -- credit to desrt for the idea on #gnome-hackers) on its iPod. It is in principle that you can't charge your iPod Shuffle just anywhere you have USB.

If you plug it into a MacOS X or a Windows machine, with iTunes installed, iTunes will gently ask you if you want to replace the music on the iPod with the one on the computer. Of course you don't want. This is not your computer, you are just borrowing a few electrons to charge the battery, that's it. So far no problem, at least for what you want to do: charge it. But no. Clicking NO just "disconnects" the iPod (basically make it off-line), and it no longer charges. Is it that difficult to let it charge?

The final solution was just to plug it into a Linux machine, because Linux does not care about that.

Thank you Apple for being so smart.

Sunday 26 June 2005

PayPal suck

It is NOT once again a gratuitous bashing. I remember at some point I had a PayPal account, so I went to recover everything to access it. Then I realized that they still had an old address in France. So I went to modify and I can't change the country. Here the "support" answer:

When you change your street address, unfortunately, you will be unable to change your country of residence. To change your country of residence, you must close your existing account and open a new account.

That suck no ? Sure I'll close the account, and sure I will NOT reopen it.

Thursday 26 May 2005

DRM only punish honest customers

Boin Boing has an article about problems with legally acquired DRMed eBooks. The customer bought an eBook for $172 and when he installed a new version of Acrobat, he no longer can read it...

See also Espen log that has more information, including reply from the customer support of the vendor, given that the publisher did not even dare to reply.

Perhaps we should just Free Dimitry Sklyarov and say NO to DRM.

Thursday 12 May 2005

Modernity

We are in 2005 and applying for a SDK at Nikon requires to send a form by mail (yes, printed on dead tree). Since it is not a contract requiring signature, it is not justified.

Don't we live in a modern and computerized world ?

Sunday 1 May 2005

Lobbies win again

According to the Register, The Netherlands will probably levy a taxation on MP3 players at the price of EUR3.28 per GB of storage. Off course this goes into the powerfull music publishers' pocket. That would make a 20GB iPod 65.6 EUR more expensive (it costs around 300 EUR with taxes in that country).

Wednesday 20 April 2005

The Irony...

In my previous post I ranted about the fact that Nikon was making life difficult to decode RAW file from their high-end digital cameras... pointing to article telling that Adobe was mad for that. There have been a couple of insightful comments, that remind me that little ironic story.

Adobe is complaining that Nikon could use DMCA to sue them if they attempted to decrypt these data. The irony is that Adobe using that same law to sue Dmitry Sklyarov for reverse engineering the eBook file format encryption. There are affraid of the weapon they use against other people.

To not be mistaken, I'm not defending Adobe's position at all, I'm just defending photographers, aka customers, rights against an attempt from mafucturer to control the ownership of the pictures photographers take. The only product I have from Adobe is Photoshop Element 2.0 that I was illegally forced to purchase with my camera, and that I will use to see what should be done to improve free software solutions for digital photography, because lot of people claim that it is not good... and I still haven't gone past installing it.

So here is my word: Camera manufacturers, you don't own the pictures people take with your products. So you MUST provide a fully disclosed documentation of all the file formats and protocols used by your products for photographers to be able to plainly use them and exercise their rights on the photographic material they produce.

The unfair side is that Adobe did use the free software dcraw to improve their Camera RAW plugin, but dcraw author cannot use Adobe's software source code to improve his. That is one of the reason I would have released that software as GPL.

Tuesday 19 April 2005

I was always afraid of that...

...and it happens.

Thanks to Tuomas for the link.

It appears that Nikon has decided to lock down the NEF RAW file format used in their high end cameras. This is very bad. It just goes way beyond the simple dollar issues, as it seems to require people to buy the Nikon software instead of just using third parties, may it be the free dcraw or the pricey Adobe Photoshop.

It is a matter of who own the copyright on images and who own the key to view these images. With that scheme, the photographer depends on Nikon to view the images. It is like having a dependency on some magnifier manufacturer to view your printed pictures or your developed film. This has never happened. There have been some exclusive film processing like Kodachrome, but once processed, the film could be used freely like anything else.

Even worse. It just make these memories fading. Photographic archives are priceless for our history memory. And film has been somewhat appropriate to keep them, to some extent. With the era of digital picture, lot of professionnals have concerns about the perenity of the storage medias. But with Nikon initiative, that reduce it even more. In 100 years, there is absolutely no warranty that one will be able to decode these. Even in 30 years, and maybe not in 10 years.

I would have prefered the adoption of a free and documented common RAW format instead.

Photoshop news has an article.

Monday 18 April 2005

Are recruiters tech savvy ?

I got a mail from a recruiter this morning. It is for a contracting job in France. Note that I'm not interested at all, it was unsollicited, but I just wanted to underline the level of tech skills they have, or more the lack thereof. This is a basic minimum they just don't have.

In their e-mail they say:

Comp├ętences Techniques de base

Au moins un UNIX parmi : Solaris, Tru 64, AIX, NT4/WIN2K/WIN2003

That means in English:

Basic technical skills required

At least one UNIX in the following : Solaris, Tru 64, AIX, NT4/WIN2K/WIN2003

If on this they are even unable to be accurate in their job postings, then I wonder how they can select applicants (the error is left as an exercise to the reader). The sender of this mail is a "Director" for one of these contracting agency, that try to fullfills customer IT staff requirement. So knowing that should be part of his job.

I simply replied to him that he failed to the basic technical knowledge test.

Friday 1 April 2005

Mars discovery

There is water on Mars !

Source: NASA.