Dec 19 2012

A Year Of Instagram

Ever since I killed my accounts on LinkedIn and Odnoklassniki social networks, I was extremely reluctant to try anything similar. Loads of spam, unnecessary contacts, and data mining companies extracting my personal data to publish it, or sell to advertisers… Lots of unrequired and uncontrollable exposure – I hated it.

But Instagram caught me hands down with its funny square-image format. That was smart, making one think and see things “outside of the box”. We got so accustomed to the stretched wide images of computer screens and TV, that looking at the same stuff through a square hole appeared to be truly innovative and inspiring.

Besides, they’ve got an actually working tag-driven discovery structure. As soon as I’ve started to tag my photos, followers begun popping up out of nothing. My account had no links to any other social network, not even Twitter, yet fans were coming in, slapping “likes” and commenting positively – that was helping a lot to go for more!

Popular Page was an obvious piece of junk, promoting already promoted celebrities together with some weird stuff expected to demonstrate “no bias” and motivate the beginners. Tag-based communities, though, were truly awesome – intentionally misleading tags never strong enough to kill their utility. On the other hand, stealing and reposting other people photos, tumblr-style, was ever present.

And then there were filters. Mind you, photoshop experts may have done the photo editing way more professional, but hey – getting a lame snap almost shine with just a few movements of your finger was definitely cool! I’ve started with generic Instagram filters, which were ok, but rather vanilla – and soon got completely hooked on Pixlromatic and Snapseed. Funny, but Photoshop Express never quite cut it to me – greedy and inefficient sibling of the old good monster…

Creating fancy pics, adding smart tags – carefully selected to match the image and be within popular trends – and here we go, within less than a year I’ve got half thousand followers on just about a hundred photos! That was a clear success, keeping in mind that I never thought of my creative abilities as being anywhere beyond average.

Instagram almost rehabilitated a concept of social networking to me… just to be swallowed by a basic instrument of privacy invasion, Facebook. They obviously started with common BS about users’ privacy – while doing their usual job of collecting as much personal information and identifiable behavior, as possible. That’s what FB was created for – data mine voluntarily provided personal info, organize and analyze it, then sell results to advertisers, government, and government-contracted agencies.

I was right in the middle of my experiment, account and popularity growing steadily, so decided to keep it going further before they’d kill all the fun. Obviously, cleaning up all my previous search results and completely stopping to use search except for a totally innocent cases. That eliminated much of a “social” utility of Instagram to me, but at least it was still working as a photo-sharing and tagging platform.

And the fun was cut short real quick. Zuckerberg knows how he earns his money – and he gives his corporate buddies an opportunity to gain some, though these are not as bright and efficient. Instagram idiots, for example, jumped up with a stunning idea – let’s grab the user-produced content, and start making money on it in the most pathetic way – sticking ads within photo streams, or sticking photos within the ads, or tracking what people like to spam them with “relevant” crap!

Sure, dumb asses wanted to “monetize” on their platform, but they’ve already made money by selling it to FB – yet, their greed was not satisfied with that. As if a greed could ever be satisfied…

The simple and fair way would have been – sell our photos and give us royalty. Do that with explicit permission and clear-cut definition of the copyright. Wipe out the flourishing content piracy and give people an opportunity to get their 15 minutes of fame – all so easy, obvious, and reasonable! But no, Instagram bosses decided to push into the spam market, then kinda withdrew, then kinad push again in a different way, wagging their asses with ever changing statements, apologies, and consequent pushes in a slightly different direction… Even the infamous “homeless” dude to whom the cop gave free shoes did not look as pathetic.

Well, enough was enough – I’ve sent a nice thank you message to my followers, killed the blog content, and cancelled the account. Obviously, there is no guarantee that whatever was ever stored (and backed up) on the external, privately owned server, would’ve been actually deleted. There are more than enough fancy clauses in the user agreements which may allow doing things not really expected by the one hitting the “I agree” button. Go sue them then. But that’s the reality, and we have to take it as is – or dive deep into the legal hooks, nooks and crannies – only to realize how bad we were screwed.

Instagram experiment concluded my latest and unexpected affair with “social networking”. Web 2.0 concepts, declared as a sweet idea of the users generating, sharing and discovering free content, grew up into yet another data-mining tool used by marketing morons and shady enforcement entities – and I see no place in it for my content. Not that I’m feeling too entitled, but I perfectly know what my shit is worth.

Bye-bye, Instagram – you was a nice toy, smartly designed and with good potential. This world is changing, corporate greed and rigidity sealing its fate – such a pity you were an early victim, but oh well. See you in another life!


May 19 2012

Forced to Drive

I am going down to the underground garage to get my car. A large, gray, rusty ’92 Mercury station wagon is parked nose-first next to my Fusion, in diagonal, its huge trunk hanging over the yellow line. Did that old dude, owner of the Mercury, realize he’s blocking me? Maybe. Did he care? No.

I am squeezing out and rolling towards the garage door. Before I can get my wheels on the cable unlocking it, the door opens itself – another car stands face to face against me, an SUV with a girl wearing sunglasses even in the darkness of the underground garage ramp. She just stands there and waits. I wave my hand, roll back and let her in. Wait for the door to close, and then finally exit. Did she know she could back off as easily? Yes she did. Did she even think to give it a try? Not at all.

I am on the street now, the traffic fun begins. Three lines stand still at the lights – middle one is the longest, leftmost is twice shorter, on the right there’s barely two cars. The light turns on and suddenly the whole bunch of cars start hitting the brakes and turning right – there is one out of five shopping entrances there, and all at once everybdy realized they need to use the first one, right now! Could those people plan their movement a bit in advance? Sure. Did they want to? Apparently not.

Past the shopping, splitting to the gas pumps. Taxi stands next to the vacuum cleaner, blocking the air hoses. Cabbie is cleaning his car – I’m wondering if that’s his company policy? Another car is parked right after the cab, no one inside. Did these people realize they have denied the air pump usage for all the rest of us? Probably. Did they care? Not a dime.

I am on the leftmost line, approaching the traffic lights. A big-foot Chevy truck pushes on my side without turning the lights – I notice him last moment and squeeze out of the lateral smack. The truck roars past me and swings into the turning line. He’s big and beaten; one more bump in the side won’t make it prettier. Bunch of rednecks stares blindly from the cabin – smoking, laughing, enjoying themselves.

Passing under the bridge with a small pack of cars, speed increasing. An old, long, dark-red Buick emerges from the left, cutting at the speed way below us. Tiny old lady is barely visible behind the steering wheel – I’m wondering if she could see us or at least realize there are other cars on the road? Probably not, she just wants to crawl home and have this driving nightmare to be over. If she closes her eyes or looks the other side it may feel like no one else is there, and hey, we are all younger and should take care of ourselves!

Highway, speed limit 100, left line is going about 105. White Fusion pulls into the left line and keeps the speed up… for a time being. Than slows down to about a hundred. Than 95… 90… and keeps it there. I slow down; the cars behind me slow down, the whole line starts compressing itself rather tightly – the most impatient jump out into the second line to roar past us. Does the driver realize that he have just created a lot of opportunities for the rear-end and sideways crashes? Maybe. Does he know he’s above the speed limit anyway? For sure! Yet, he wants to have things his way. When I get too close for his comfort, he immediately smack the breaks and shows me a finger. Nice guy, glad I kept the distance safe.

The point is – all these flocks of people driving around are only that dangerous because they weight about a ton and a half each, and carry about 200 horse power under the belt. Meet any of them on a sidewalk, and there won’t be even a shoulder check, probably a smile and polite “sorry” instead of a close call.

Each of these people in their real life are plain and usual – some smarter than others, some not as bright, but overall we are reasonably good at keeping the sidewalk traffic safe. We just fail to do that on a highway, operating relatively forgiving vehicles in a fairly complex environment, with a very limited time to make the right decisions fast. Besides, most people just hate to make decisions, and hate even more to be held responsible for them.

But we are forced to drive. We have to demonstrate split-second reactions, be efficient, think in advance, and if we fail – resulting crash would be very damaging to our ego and pocket. Many, if not most of us, would rather not be engaged in such a demanding game, but…

Most of the Western cities have a rather inefficient public transportation system. It is always ad-hoc, always reacting with significant delay to the fact that a large number of people must travel from home to work, and back. As that’s an enforced commute, people have no option but to pay, and public transportation companies want to make money, so buses are hitting the road.

In many cases, public transit is managed by the city governments or municipalities, which makes things even worse – their planning and estimations sucks, they work letargically slow, and tend to use an expensive “heavy artillery” of public transportation, such as light trains, streetcars and so on. Unless the whole city is static, built once and forever following a general plan – such as Soviet industrial megapolises – there is no way light rail transit to be efficient. Dynamic, fast changing Western cities demand the automotive means of transportation.

Buses are more agile, but they invariably block the traffic and get stuck in it themselves. They could also be very expensive compared to trains – even without added cost of the fixed tracks maintenance. Many cities use the more agile, privately operated public minivans to squeeze the remaining passenger flows into something that looks like an organized transportation structure, but they still suffer from the same problems, scaled down.

Unfortunately, thougt-through strategy is never there – only reaction to the more or less long-term needs of more or less significant groups of the travellers. All the rest of us have to move on our own – the cheapest way being a bicycle or a small motorcycle, or a combination of public transit and long walks. Riding a scooter or a bike in a major city is as close to the daily death wish as it gets, so for most of the reasonable cases we’re stuck with public transportation, long waiting and walk combo.

Or we can drive.

In the modern developed society, personal cars are reasonably affordable and road infrastructure is reasonably efficient in reaching every possible destination. There is a major market oriented to the people who use their vehicle as a mean of pleasing personal ego and proving superiority over the neighbors. Traffic rules and drivers training and certification are adjusted so that accidents never completely cease, so the whole surrounding insurance and wreck maintenance industry remain strong and healthy.

Many common transportation tasks are resolved seemingly easier with a personally owned and operated vehicle. Bringing a bunch of kids to school, ladies to a shopping mall, driving friends to the movies, plumbers to their clients, etc., etc., etc…

Looks like the mankind is doomed to lose millions of lives yearly in the road accidents.

But let’s imagine some futuristic city where public transit is converted from inefficient light rail and buses with millions of self-propelled small vehicles, into something that looks like a network of computer-controlled cars, using common routes.

You choose your destination on a mobile device, press a button – and a robotized “cab” immediately pops up on your driveway. You put your stuff and kids inside, hop on a front seat and close the door. Done! Next thing you’ll have to do is spend some time, enjoying the show displayed on the inner windows of your vehicle, chatting with your family, etc. The car will merge into a network of other drones, get through the city using the fastest route possible, maintaining the speed required and carefully slowing down to self-park on arrival.

Businesses would use service drones to deliver goods and personnel to the site. Police, firefighters and paramedics will bypass the robotized traffic so fast it’s hard to believe, as there will be no one blocking their way unnecessarily. Road maintenance would be so much more predictable and easier to plan and execute, the whole road structure unified, light rails and bicycle lines becoming a thing of the past. Swift ride – and you are in the park, enjoying some fresh air. Zoom – and you are back in the office. All tired, want to go home? Press the button, sit, relax, and here you are…

There’d be no accidents – drone cars will not attempt to race each other or break the rules. Transportation speed would be impressive – as computerized network will know the state of each route and use smart algorithms to guarantee the most efficient path finding. Drone car could come in two or three standard sizes – so everything from grocery packs to baby sits would plug in seamlessly, and there will be no problem with too big or too small a vehicle – you’d only pay for the size you need. And no drunk drivers – just drunk passengers maybe.

Even the enormous parking lots will disappear – robotized cars should not sit idling and waiting for the riders, rather they will attend as much clients as possible! That alone will change the landscape of our cities to much better.

Oh yes, there shall be a charge to maintain the roads, computerized guides and drone fleet – and that would be flexible, fairly corresponding to the travel length and complexity. Joyride over the desert to Las Vegas would be cheaper than twisty squeeze through the New York avenues, but that’s just logical.

How does that sound? Good?

Many, many people will lose their jobs and businesses if we’ll kill the car as we know it. There will be no need to advertise more and more impressive personal vehicles – they’d all be the same. Parts market will shrink to the few fanatics desiring to tweak their toy cars and ride them in a designated places (transporting their toys between locations on a drone truck platforms). Insurance companies would feel bored and dying. No need to keep  armies of traffic cops, no crazy races to catch an idiot escaping by narrow streets or highways, no way for the robbers to smash into the bank doors and jump out with the guns…

Oh yes, those drones will always know who’s in, where and from where it’s going. By that beautiful future time every person will have an ID chip implanted, and there would be no chance for an “anonymous” ride. Transportation will become not only efficient and safe, but also criminally transparent.

Fuel efficiency will soar, maintenance of the standardized vehicles would be a bliss, our cities will become clean, easy to move through, and much safer than today – simply by removing the sacred symbol of Western culture, a privately owned and operated motor vehicle.

I’m wondering if that’d ever happen. I’m wondering if humanity can survive the madness of all-prevailing personal transportation. Meanwhile, be prepared – an old lady in her Buick cruiser is as lethal as a sixteen years old boy in his “need for speed” tuned Civic. And you can’t remove either of them from the road without providing a feasible transportation alternative.

Though even now there are some folks who really care about driving as part of the lifestyle and self-respect. You can easily distinguish them from those forced to drive by the way they park – rear end first. Not many of those are there on the streets, but as one beggar stated, “anything is better than nothing”. At least for now.

Which one cares?

Which one cares?

Feb 4 2012

Flying Nightmares

One may expect a blood-chilling aviation accident story from such a title, but I just wanted to talk about a mind-crushing sleeping disorder. Sorry! 🙂

So back in time, before becoming a pilot, I used to have those nightmarish dreams where my invisible “self” was propelled up in the air, flying high in the sky… only to eventually fell down to the ground and wake up shaking from horror. The fall was accelerated and absolutely unstoppable. I was honestly trying to trick my mind into something like “but yeah, now that I’ve gained speed falling, I will sort of pop-up again instead of hitting the ground!” And my mind was like “Aha, look – you did, but being that much higher now you will go down like a rocket!” Hopeless fight against the twisted nightmare logic.

After becoming a pilot, that flying in my dreams has interestingly changed. When it happens now, I actually pilot a flying machine – for example, today it was something that looked like a one-seater version of  a SeaRey amphibian. I took off from a grass strip and proceed to a usual pointless wandering over an enormous forest of highrise – tall and huge skyscrapers. My dear brain routinely tried to hurt me, creating invisible “downdrafts” which were forcing me to fly between the towers, dodging the spider web of electric cables hanging between them. While I was successful in that, a flow of impossibly strong wind literally pinned me to the wall of a building and I had to fly inside, landing in one of its ridiculously huge halls, which looked dark and abandoned.

Yes, now that I am flying the imaginary machines, my mind can’t simply drop me to the ground – I am not a helpless monkey anymore, those things got wings! But how persistent is my inner “dream director” in creating such a negative, destructive situations, my god, why… Even though most of my sleepy adventures in the flying machines generally end at least with a crash-landing, there is still some scary crap going on in many cases! Like in the today’s nightmare, after landing and exiting my “SeaRey”, I walked down a passage, turned and found a presumably dead body of a woman dressed in a black business suit and partially covered with the curtain. I’ve seen quite a bit of dead bodies in the real life, why the heck should I have to enjoy another one in my sleep?

Would love to change that. Will be happy to know how.

Feb 23 2011

Bimmers for the Winners

So here is that busy intersection. Huge lines of cars on each side, people rushing while the pedestrian lights are counting down the last seconds, yellow light, than red light, then green for the main mass of the traffic… and here he goes – a knight in shining armor! That guy in a flawless white shirt in his flawlessly white bimmer… He will make it, oh yeah – blindly glancing around while plowing through the intersection in front of the already moving traffic, and chatting on his cell phone…

Bbuff! Not even a sound of brakes – only a bimmer with its hood bent, slowly rolling to the curb with the rest of the traffic stopped in shock. And an old dude standing still in the middle of the intersection with his old black Sunfire… He was turning on his green light, but our hero got him first. And now he jumps out of the bimmer, and grabs his head, and waves his hands, and curses, and jumps around the wreck… Then the old dude is carefully parking his Sunfire after the bimmer and slowly gets out of the car to face the horseless knight.

Have you ever been a witness to the similar scene? I’ve seen dozens of those – and hundreds of the very close calls, where the crash did not happen only because someone was able to hit the brakes in a last split second. Makes you think that there is something wrong with those bimmers… Or their drivers?

Ok let’s think – what are the reasons to choose a specific make and model of the car? What are we people looking for? Soccer moms may think their family – kids, grandmas, and shopping stuff – so they buy caravans. Office ladies may feel themselves weak and hysteric, so they buy cayennes to become aggressors instead of victims. Same happens to many guys, too – though they tend to prefer pickup trucks instead. It’s nice to have all that space on the back, empty, but carefully covered with a custom leather screen. Old and rich guys buy slick sport cars, to show everyone how much money they can waste to go that slow. Kids get rotten civics and “customize” them with a noisiest possible exhaust, resembling a piece of plastic hitting the spokes of their bicycles. Everyone has a reason.

The pattern here is unevenly split between a conscious choice of something that suit your needs and wallet, and unconscious – yet oh so strong – desire to compensate for something you are lacking on a social and personal level. One must really have some balls to deliberately drive a small car which everyone can stomp on.

The market is obviously answering to that foundation of the consumers’ mentality, attempting to fulfill any desire of the potential customers. Legends are created about how one car is so durable, and another is so comfortable, and another one so fast, or so safe… with a nice little touch of being affordable. Oh and if that’s not something appealing to you, no worries – the market will give you anything as expensive as you wish, just to prove your wealth!

Very few people are able to make conscious decisions, and even less of us are able to stand for their choice against the market hype. It’s tough to be different.

So most of us aren’t.

You obviously should know somehow that German cars are that much superior to anything else on the road? So you go to the local auto mart and get a used bimmer. Everyone knows that even a used bimmer beats anything else, including the newer ones. And you can always tell that you’ve bought it really expensive, and help enforcing and maintaining the high resale value for your car – isn’t that just neat! Hey, and why not to buy a Mercedes, or a Porsche? Oh, because they are… ehm, well, of no importance, bimmer is better – anyone smart about the cars will agree with you!

In South America they buy Volkswagens for exactly the same reason. Yes, used Volkswagens.

You know, I don’t even see it valuable to discuss the stupidity of a human being compensating for the personal and social shortcomings with power, comfort and agility of a purchased vehicle – if I could somehow be safe from those constant attempts of a superiority demonstration on each intersection.

Oh yes, them people obviously need to show-off. Otherwise, what’s the point? For sure it may be cool to have such a great car in the garage, but it’s so much better to actually punch an accelerator and trundle around, so everyone will pay attention to who’s important here! And every day we are witnessing abrupt line changes, engines roaring, tires whistling, and honking, and cutting in front, and stopping over the pedestrian crossing stripes… Everything to call the attention – and supposedly, some recognition and respect.

Yes I understand that it is as pathetic as it sounds. No I don’t have any respect to the people just because of a car they are driving. If you are driving like a jerk – you are just a jerk, regardless to your sex, make and model of your car. I know I’m not alone in that understanding, so next time you’d lift your eyes from that blackberry you were texting with, while rolling over a white line on a red light, try to look into the eyes of the people staring at you from the curb. Experience may hurt, for sure, but maybe that would be a revelation, a first step of becoming a human being, not a marketing target? I dearly hope so, even realizing how futile such dream is.

Oct 13 2010

Bell Turbo Suck

And I mean – those guys sucks big deal. Many companies suck in a similar way, but Bell for me is now a most disgusting sample of a monstrous client-ignoring money-drainers, struggling to keep their monopoly as the only mean to stay in business.

Let me tell a story of a recent Bell Mobile Internet ex-customer.

To begin with, I was strongly discouraged by at least two of my friends to even consider Bell. They were not keen to provide details, but their disgust was absolutely obvious and genuine. Regrettably, I’ve ignored their advices and decided to try Bell for myself.

Bell’s shop in the busy Eaton Centre was empty – another sign of a crappy business, people were going elsewhere. But I’ve entered, with an exact intention – I needed a 3G modem for my travels across the country, and Bell was supposed to have a largest coverage in Canada. It was also a Boxing Day, so I was expecting a discount.

Sales rep was not able to explain why there were discounts on certain models of the GPRS modems, but not the others, nevertheless a discount was there – with an obvious gotcha of a 2-year contract. I have asked about the cancellation fee, and sales rep provided an estimation of 20 dollars per each month remaining after the cancellation date. That resulted to be a false statement on Bell’s behalf.

I considered a possibility of the risk, but calculated that I’d probably cancel the contract after about a year, maximum year and a half – and in the worst case would not pay more than a couple of hundred dollars. Which, incidentally, was a price of the new GPRS modem I was getting “for free” that day. Crappy deal, but I just wanted to try the whole mobile internet thing, and other companies were offering more or less the same, but without Bell’s promised coverage.

So I’ve got a nice, Mac-style designed box with a sexy-looking Bell Turbostick (Novatel Wireless U998) inside. Smooth-talking salesmen, as always, shaded some nasty hidden fees – such as a “one-time activation fee” (equal to an additional monthly payment), US data roaming surcharge and “optional paper billing fee”. I was told by the salesmen that U998 was sort of a top line, possessing the best antenna and extended range of supported protocols.

Mobile Internet Flex plan allowed automatic upgrade to more expensive level if I use more than predetermined bandwidth. Increment steps were 500M for the initial 35$ per month plan, 45$ for a 1G of data, 60$ for 3G and 70$+ for 3 to 5G, after which a fee of 5c per megabyte was applied. It supposed that the plan will automatically downgrade to a cheaper as soon as you’ll stop using that much bandwidth, but I never got a chance to verify that, as my bandwidth usage was just growing steadily.

To give you an idea, typical bunch of Skype calls, MSN or ICQ hanging in the tray, a couple of visits to yahoo or gmail, together with some occasional browsing (flash, and sometimes images disabled in the browser) for 2-3 days a week was easily bringing me to a minimum 500M monthly threshold. How’s that?

One nifty gotcha was Mobile Connect software by Bell. That ugly and uncomfortable piece of sloppy user experience had a life of its own, downloading and uploading hefty megabytes of “something” as soon as the Turbostick was plugged into the laptop. It used to tell me that I am online while the modem was shutting off all by itself, or saying me I am disconnected while I was still browsing. It was also writing a hundred megabytes heavy logs in my C drive root, without any possibility of disabling that “feature”.

And the modem itself was overheating, unexpectedly shutting down, and losing signal, unable to find a network – well all the signs of a crappy hardware. The only way to safely shut it down and prevent a download of garbage by Mobile Connect in the “disconnected” state, was to unplug the sucker. If that is how their top-line model performed, what sort of thrash is Bell selling as their “normal” products?

As for the famous Bell 3G network coverage… Guys, I am living on the 50-s floor, downtown core next to the CN Tower – do you think I may expect a decent reception? Well, that wasn’t the case. Even when the darned Turbostick was working, the signal was medium to low, and only when I was sitting next to the panoramic window. There was no signal in the bedroom. One more lie from Bell – if they are unable to provide coverage in this situation, the hell I will believe that there is any reception outside of the big cities… In fact, I’ve tried it in Calgary downtown – same poor reception and dropping the signal; a bit better in Toronto Pearson airport.

Overall feeling was that Bell’s 3G network is expensive, slow, weak and inefficient. Also, the modem was mostly hooking on the slowest GPRS protocol, only in rare occasions switching to a faster HSUPA. Together with frequent signal drops and useless extra traffic paid out of my pocket, usage of the Turbostick was a pathetic, annoying experience.

So one day when we were shopping at Eaton Canter again, I’ve just took the Turbostick with me and approached a so-called “SPA” or customer service at the Bell store. Two tables, one guy attending the customers; two customers – we and other couple.  Manager who finally emerged from the staff room after about 5-minutes wait was not particularly happy to see us and listen to my problems.

He told me that default software shipped with the modem is faulty and I am supposed to replace it with a new version. He also told that my SIM card was from a “bad” series, with lots of known problems. And he also commented that the modem is probably faulty, too, and should be replaced. Instead of just giving me another modem from the shelf, manager filled in a form to request it from the warehouse, and told me that if I am lucky and there are modems in stock, I will get a replacement hopefully by the end of next week.

[Yah, yah I know – first thing that you should do when you have troubles with your Internet connection is somehow still connect and download an update, ain’t that funny? And also, updates are hefty – this Mobile Connect crap weighs enough to cost me the whole day of browsing. So I am supposed to pay out of my own pocket for going beyond the bandwidth minimum just to replace a crappy piece of Bell’s software. Coincidentally, Bell owns the network I have to use for download, so they will get paid that extra money – such a smart business model! Keep on shipping that crappy software, guys… By the way, can anyone tell me why the hell should I install it in my machine when wireless modem itself has a flash memory, where original version of the crappy connection soft is stored – why not to update directly that flash storage, so to keep a device completely mobile?]

I didn’t like how all that sounded and asked if it would be possible to replace my miserable Mobile Internet with a cable connection from Bell. Manager told me that it is dealt with by another department, and he cannot communicate with them. No attempt to cross-sell, up-sell or any of the basic stuff. No compensation or excuses for selling fake fraud instead of a service were given, even after my wife explicitly requested them.

So I went home and installed the new version of the Novacore software. Magic happened – Mobile Connect stopped downloading shit on my computer! What a waste of money without a word or email from Bell guys who could have just tell me that their standard soft is crappier than it was obvious.  Regrettably, the new version of the software was prone to crash without warning, and after reinstallation begin crashing immediately during the start – there was no way to use the Turbostick unless I downgrade back to the initial version.

So I called Bell customer service and requested to cancel my contract. Finally someone at Bell tried to do their job and offered me a “backup cell phone for only 60$ per month”. I have mentioned the possibility to switch to the land cable, which was refused by previous customer service rep, but got silence in response. Cancellation fee after less than a year of usage was 260$; less than expected and nothing to do with promised 20 per month.

Obviously, I had to somehow know that Bell only cancels the contracts with month-ahead notice. So they will have to charge me for this month, but being so nice, they will only charge me for 1/3 of a monthly fee, and I should not use the Turbostick for more than this time. I was so happy to get rid of Bell’s “service” that two-eighty was not even feeling that bad, and I assured the support guy that I would not even touch the Turbostick again for all the rest of the time.

Than – surprise! – after just a couple of weeks I’ve got a box from Purolator, with replacement Turbostick. I haven’t even open it, but packed back and tried to return it right away. It was weekend, we went to Eaton Center and I dropped in the SPA again. This time there were no one at the service desks, and I had to ask the sales people to call someone, otherwise we were just sitting there with my wife, completely ignored. Sales rep was obviously pissed when I’ve asked her to please call someone from support desk. Pathetic bitch snapped something like: “What is your problem?” and got some cold notion in her face, after which she finally called someone.

An important (I guess) dude with “manager” on his badge emerged from the staff room. He was not happy to see us, and even more annoyed by the fact that I was not a Bell’ customer starting next month. He told me that I cannot return their fucking modem to them directly, and should send it back via Purolator, not later than 5 days after receiving a package. On my way out of the Bell store I was not able to contain myself and cheerfully suggested to a couple of potential buyers trying to enter that place: “Don’t by anything from those fuckers, they are pure fraud!” I hope they didn’t.

Purolator package went out yesterday and I am looking forward to pay the last bill next month. What a journey, eh? Now I know what my friends were talking about when trying to make me avoid Bell by any cost. This company is a shameful sample of the customer-ignoring money-draining monopolist, only good to cause a global crisis with their unprofessional and ugly business practices.

[Oh yes I understand that customer acquisition is way more important than customer retention, and brand awareness is pretty much nothing nowadays. I am sort of generalizing on that final conclusion, but still, honestly, Bell – sucks!]

Mar 13 2010

Car On Fire at Canadian Tire

An old GMC minivan unexpectedly caught fire on the parking lot of the Canadian Tire at Macleod Trail. All happened pretty fast – there was a loudspeaker announcement and people run outside. Parked next to the fireball pulled off, and some of them got blocked by a scared jerk on a huge SUV which was standing further but wanted to get-out-itis and stuck the traffic. Otherwise everything was smooth. Fire crews arrived in a couple of minutes (literally!) and put down the flames. There was a couple of light explosions – probably the tires of the van. People were first scared, than curious. Poor new Infinity which was standing next to the van got burned, the owner was desperate. Later even the paramedics arrived, no idea why.

May 10 2009

On the Exclusivity of Ontario Driving License

First time in Toronto I was pleasantly surprised by the safe and polite traffic around. After some crazy Argentinean and Russian realities, seeing a bus or even a taxi stopping to let me cross the street was positively amazing! No, it was not up to the, say, Swiss or German standards, but miles ahead of the US wilderness, for example.

I was never a car buff, though I do enjoy driving on occasions. The reason for that is simple – I’ve lived most of my life in a heart of some huge cities, like Moscow or Buenos Aires, where all I ever need to access was within a walking distance. Public transit was also efficient enough to make the longest journeys in less than half an hour. That’s why my dad never owned a car, and I had just one – only because of my general attraction to the transportation machinery.

Now, when I want something, I take it seriously. So before buying a car, I have accumulated a certain driving experience, including successfuly racing the go-carts, and test-driving a bunch of “normal” cars all over the world. After purchasing my first car I’ve crossed the South American continent from coast to coast a couple of times, simply because of the long-distance travel fun. I drove through thick fog and mountain roads, at night and during tropical thunderstorms, over some pretty wild trails, and between the most and least disciplined drivers ever, on three different continents…

With that in mind, I have never had any doubt about a possibility to obtain a Canadian driving license. So the first interview in the Service Ontario office was a kind of shocker – having in their hands a two-language (French and Russian) internationally recognized license, issued seven years ago, they bluntly requested to translate it to English and “confirm my driving experience”. How? By bringing them a letter from some foreign embassy. Which embassy? Russian or Argentinean.

Well, here is the deal – Argentinean consulate has a really wacky procedure of issuing such letter, and Russian consulate simply issued me a wrong paper. They bluntly refused to give me what I was paying for, and returned a simple confirmation of the license translation validity. Guys in Service Ontario were neither impressed nor surprised, and just offered me to pass an exam for G1 license. I’ve passed it right on the spot and they offered me to book a G2 driving test – apparently after that one they should be satisfied with my experience demonstration and will issue me a normal G license.

All cool, except for the fact that with G1 I can not even rent a car, let alone practice a bit on the Canadian roads before attempting the exam. And yes, I need to find someone to sit on my right during that time. It’s okay for a Canadian kid that can simply ask his dad to help, but who the heck is going to help me – the foreign worker – on such occasion? I haven’t seen any people readily available and willing to do this for free.

So I dropped the whole idea for a time being – or better say, before finding some Good Samaritan to share time with me. Meanwhile I’ve started to pay attention to the way people are really driving here in Ontario. First impression vanished really fast… From my window I can see a huge sector of Gardiner, crossing Bathurst and going further west. I spot at least 2-3 crashes per week on this piece of road only. Taking in account that normally wrecks are evacuated in less than 20 minutes and I am not spending much of my time looking at the window, statistics should be probably worse.

Even more impressive – there is a turn from Front West to Spadina with two signs “no turn right on a red light”. I am crossing this section at least 4 times a day and every time see someone ignoring the sign and making an illegal turn, consistently. How’s that for a top-notch training, licensing and law enforcement system? And I can’t stop smiling while observing how those exclusive Ontario drivers are attempting the parallel parking. I am seriously curious on how they’ve passed their multiple-stage exams without learning such a basic maneuver? Or they just keep on driving on a student license, never upgrading to a less relaxed exams?

Plus there is a whole bunch of people that look as foreign as it can be, though apparently they’ve got not only a license, but a full-time professional job in Toronto – for example the airport limo drivers. I’ve seen them speeding next to a streetcar unloading passengers, crossing on the red light, splashing the people on a sidewalk with dirty water when there is a whole road available to pass further, honking on the drivers that stop to let the pedestrians cross the street, smashing bicycles and swearing at the person riding it, etc, etc, etc… I’m just curious, had those people also “confirm their driving experience” before being allowed to work? Smells like administrative corruption to me.

Ontario may be proud that its driving licenses are recognized in Austria, but hey, guys, you’d better not show any “pilots” described above to Austrian cops. Nothing special, just a simple fact that people who are unable to handle the steering wheel (especially while eating and texting on the cell phone at the same time), know and respect the traffic rules, should not possess driving licenses. That clear, that obvious.

Granted, if some of those crappy drivers will lose their jobs or even just an ability to drive because of such misfortune, selected sort of politicians would start raving – but should we care? It’s us who will be rolled over eventually, not them! So let this post be a sincere desire for everyone to be addressed with the same criteria of road-worthiness, without exceptions.