Thursday, December 13, 2012

Eat It, Bell!

You evil telecommunications monopoly!

I alluded previously to my problems with a Bell Mobility prepaid plan for my mobile, noting that by topping up my account, using the credit, and then charging back the top-up fee, I forced them to honour their agreed rate of 30¢/minute (more or less).

Well, it's a few months later and the chargeback stands; either Bell has declined to dispute the matter or they have failed to convince my credit card company that 50 = 30, so I have officially won. Yay me.

For my next trip, I'm going to consider renting a portable satellite uplink rather than muck about with local SIM cards and prepaid plans. Especially if I end up in third worldier destinations next time. (Here's hoping, at any rate.)

Speaking of which, plans to sail to/from Manila are on indefinite suspension on the grounds that cruise lines suck.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Little Things That BUG Me #5

Pet food commercials that use the advertising tropes used to sell human food.

I'm starting to worry that this blog is turning into Why Marketers Suck rather than a sort of general collection of the wide variety of ideas I actually have, but pet food commercials which tout ingredients and tastiness and have detailed close-ups just bug me.

Yes, humans make the purchase decisions not pets, but I refuse to believe that the neural pathways by which people think about feeding their pets and those they use for enjoying their own food are the same. When I see such a commercial, the similarity between pet food and human food is just enough that trying to make me view the former in terms of the latter mentally "works" just enough to be really disgusting.

Sort of like how arsenic is toxic because it's chemically similar enough to phosphorous to insert itself into our important phosphates but different enough that the resulting arsenates can't replace their function. Or why it's really disturbing when people try to make me think of children as cute in the same way kittens are.

Pro tip: My dog will eat anything. Therefore, I buy her the cheapest food.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Other Ads Fail

I really wish there was a version of Safari that supports adblock and runs on my machine. (Or a version of TenFourFox that supports Flash.)

Because apparently every site I visit that requires plugins and uses ads has the most obnoxious ads there are. So far, I've seen:

An ad for a scammy lead-gen site that tries to convince people seeking insurance/mortgages/whatever to search through them so they can get a big affiliate commission. This ad features a creepy Uncanny Valley woman waving her arms, with a big flashing light on her head, so that it creates a constant seizure-inducing blinking rendering it impossible to concentrate on my actual email. The ad claims you can get, like, a WHOLE BUNCH of free money by clicking it; an actual spite-click revealed absolutely nothing beyond the usual "click these links to visit insurance companies/banks/etc so we can get our affiliate commission." The people who made this ad should be forced to spend eternity with an autistic child who constantly shouts "HEY! LOOK AT ME! LOOK WHAT I DID!" at them 24 hours a day.

An ad for something called "Wartune" which depicts Lady Not-Appearing-In-This-Game, with the caption "She has all the excitement you need!" This ad regularly shakes itself, creating distracting motion in the corner of my eye. The people who made this ad should be forced to spend eternity with a stamp collector, train spotter, or bird watcher (whichever they consider the most boring) who tells them that their hobby represents all the excitement they need and makes them do that whenever they try to do something they consider more fulfilling.

Several repeated ads for cruises. What part of "I Am Not A 'Cruise' Person" do they find difficult to comprehend? These are targeted ads, after all; despite making a big show to help escape regulation, it's not actually possible to opt out of targeted ads. The people responsible for this ad should be forced to spend a substantial chunk of their lives attempting to flirt with someone who is clearly not interested in them, except in all likelihood they already do, so I suppose wasting their money advertising at me is punishment enough.

A website trying to sell me some scam (I don't remember which) that I got paid to visit, and which when I attempted to leave, popped up a javascript-induced dialog box saying: "ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO LEAVE? If you close this window, you'll miss out on this FANTASTIC OFFER!" I can't think of a cool and unusual punishment for popping up dialog boxes with sales pitches in reaction to people leaving, so I'll just propose the death penalty for it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Google Ads Fail

So whenever I use a browser without adblock, I get piles upon piles of ads asking me to download Google's Chrome browser. I have no clue why Google has the obsession with which browser I use (since it's not like they get any extra ad revenue from Chrome; maybe it has built-in spyware to track my browsing habits?) but they seemed extremely adamant.

So having seen months of constant ads begging me to try Google Chrome, I finally clicked one of the ads.

At which point, Google declared: "Click here to download the Chrome browser for Mac! System requirements: OSX 10.6 or later."


I'd been seeing these ads for awhile, so I looked up the system requirements for the earliest versions of Chrome, in case they had only just changed.

System requirements for Mac: "OSX 10.5 or higher, Intel only."

So this entire time, Google has spent untold sums of its ad money or its ad space or its clients' ad money/space, in a massive and perpetual effort to convince me to download a browser that would never, at any point, run on my computer.

Obviously, I never got rich starting up or getting hired as CEO for a massive international company, but if you asked me, I'm pretty sure it's not a particularly good use of Google's marketing budget trying to convince me to download a piece of software just so I can look at a message that says: "You can't open the application 'Chrome' because it is not supported on this architecture."

And the most ridiculous thing is that even without any privacy-invading profiling and without any cookies, Google's ad server can tell that my computer won't run Chrome; I'm pretty sure I can download a user agent switcher for TenFourFox, but I haven't.

Now I have to install Chrome on the laptop just to see if I get ads for Chrome whilst actually using Chrome. Assuming it doesn't require Add Minn privileges to install, since there's no way Google's getting those out of me even if I could give them.

Vital stats:

Browser: TenFourFox
Date: Today
Current Mood: Ironic
Sleep Status: Wrong
Word of the Day: Architecture
Platform: Mac
Operating System: Mac OSX 10.5.8
Processor: Dual 1 Ghz PowerPC G4
RAM: Broken and tends to cause kernel panics.
RAM: Replaced
Redundancy: There is some redundancy here in that this item is redundant.
Redundancy: Yes
Redundancy: Triply so for added security
IBM: No, Motorola
Mobile: Also Motorola
Computer: 10 years old.
Intactness: It still runs.
Computer Store: A bin.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Farmville 2 Review

I reviewed Farmville previously, and was not that impressed with it.

Then, when I made the mistake of briefly using a browser without adblock, I saw an advert saying "Now available! Farmville 2: This Time It Doesn't Suck" or words to that effect. Willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a new and improved version, I clicked the ad and opened Farmville 2.

After thirty seconds of the You Must Wait, I closed Farmville 2.

I then proceeded to file a criminal complaint against Zynga for assault and battery on my graphics card.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Have Some Facebook Credits

No, I didn't buy them. I got some Facebook credits for free. (It may or may not have involved a zany scheme.)

So what exactly do I do with them? I'm stumped. Facebook credits appear to be completely worthless; there's nothing you can buy with them (except "virtual goods" which are inherently worthless in that they don't exist and you can't own them).

I've bugged a phone number for Facebook out of a harried Zynga support agent (who considered my email to be proof positive that I could be persuaded to actually play Farmville if only s/he threw enough powerups at me) so I can call some Facebook support agent and try to cash out my Facebook credits for hard currency. (If I let Facebook keep the 30% cut they charge developers and only ask for the 70% they'd pay out anyway, they might agree to it!)

If not, maybe I can register as a developer and create a Facebook app that lets you look at pictures of cake if you pay me money, then use the app to cash out my credits. And, with luck, the credits of millions of Facebook thickies who think my app is the COOLEST THING EVAR!!11!eleventyone!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Little Things That BUG Me #4

First-time breeders who are overly proud of their success.

There are some feats so amazing they seem at first to be impossible. There are some achievements that seem ordinary only because they happened long ago. There are some things that require a lot of skill even if they're not mind-bendingly difficult.

Reproducing, however, is something so basic and so unskilled that being able to do it is inherent to all life by definition. Yet many humans who successfully reproduce act as though this were some amazing achievement that no one in the history of the planet has ever even dreamed of, as opposed to something slime moulds can do.

I'm not saying you can't love your offspring or even that you shouldn't have any; just don't act like producing them was some mystical magical thing that defies our very notion of what's possible. And definitely don't try to claim you're somehow better than me for having done it.

If you tell me that I'm incomplete for not breeding or that I'm missing out on something sooo wonderful or amazing, then I am going to invite you out to your favourite restaurant on a day I know you can't get a babysitter.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I Am Not A "Cruise" Person

I'm still delaying on my holiday photos, in part because they're either not ready yet or still hiding on one of my myriad memory cards, but I oughtn't let this blog fall into any semblance of disuse (not with a very nice offer potential for actual readership on the line). So I suppose I might as well fill in for another previously alluded-to reference regarding: me and cruise lines. I promise this one will contain actual advice on service improvements, rather than just several paragraphs of me taking the piss out of yet another industry.

So as previously referenced, I'm not a "cruise" person. I suspected as much from the start; I've always traveled independently, and I suspected I would find tour groups and prepackaged packages overly restricting. However, I also needed to get from Anchorage, AK to Prince Rupert, BC (or Vancouver, there's a ferry) and I needed to do it without flying because no one should ever fly out of an American airport; I'm sure a cursory search for "TSA molestation" or "airport nude scanner" or perhaps "TSA lawsuit" would already cover everything I would say on the matter were it not for pending litigation of my very own.

So a simple cruise from Anchorage (strictly speaking, either Whittier or Seward) to somewhere on the west coast of Canada couldn't be particularly bad; transportation, plus hotel, with meals included is always a plus and I'm not required to participate in the guided tours of this particular square foot of Alaska after all.

Then I actually tried booking the cruise. A clash of personality between me and whatever demographic the cruise lines cater to began as soon as I began searching websites and placing information-gathering phone calls.

First and foremost, cruise lines seem to market themselves exclusively to couples and groups; to a cruise line, solo travelers are at most an afterthought and at worst, actively unwelcome. (For example, Princess and Holland America set aside rooms that solo travelers are outright barred from booking even though they already have to buy two tickets to travel anyway.) Obviously, I've discussed the fraud of "per person, assuming double occupancy" already so there's no need to rehash that at length.

The other thing I discovered at this very early stage was that cruise lines base not just their marketing materials and itineraries, but their advice, FAQs, and salesperson training on the assumption that riding on the cruise ship is a holiday in and of itself. I don't mean they have itineraries that stop in ports of call; that's to be expected. I mean, when I was on the phone with a Princess reservation agent, trying to locate alternatives to a specific sold-out sailing from Whittier to Vancouver, the agent offered me a room on a north-bound trip from Vancouver to Whittier; I had to explain (rather slowly) that I was actually traveling from Whittier to Vancouver, not trying to book a holiday centered around being on a ship at some point on the Alaskan Inside Passage, where minor concerns like direction and destination didn't matter. And I lost track of the number of cruise line agents who, having located the sailings from Whittier to Vancouver, asked me if I needed to book a flight from Vancouver to Whittier in order to get on the boat.

Honestly, I should have known cruising wasn't for me when I discovered that the average cruise line website offers "ship name" and "cruise duration" as standard search refinement options, but destination is buried in the "advanced" options. (Yes, I know there's usually something called "destination" up front, but that only narrows it down to what approximate part of the planet you're planning to travel within; when you book reservations on ScotRail, you're asked to provide specific origin and destination stations, not offered a handful of general regions on the assumption that you haven't yet decided on the exact details of where you're going.)

So as previously mentioned, I ultimately declined to book travel on a cruise ship due to the fortuitous discovery of the Alaska Marine Highway System, which offered the exact itinerary I needed at a much lower price, without the arrogant assumption that I left home for the sole purpose of spending time on board.

But I didn't say that I had no experience with a cruise.

Because, you see, while I didn't book travel on a cruise ship, I did book a cruisetour, which is basically the exact same thing but on land.

So why did I book a cruisetour when I already knew for a fact that I prefer independent travel, and didn't even have the excuse of no-other-transportation?

Well, it was cheap.

I'd never been to Alaska before, so I decided to take the sampler tour for my first trip and come back to spend more time elsewhere once I knew where to go. To that end, I decided to fly into Anchorage (from an American airport, BIG mistake!), travel to Denali by train (Alaska being big on scenery but a bit short on roads), explore Denali National Park, then travel by train to Fairbanks (partly for the sake of exploration and partly so I can claim to have been farther north in America than anyone I know) before returning to Anchorage and continuing to Whittier.

As I began to research and plan my trip, I discovered that the Alaska Railroad fare in first class from Anchorage to Fairbanks with a stopover in Denali was $350, while Princess Lodges (a subsidiary of Princess which operates several Alaskan hotels and the rail/motorcoach tours that take cruise passengers to them) offered the exact same train fare and two nights at a reasonably high-class hotel in Denali for $368. The hotel I'd be staying at, Princess Lodge Denali, was $300/night if booked a la carte; assuming I'd have to pay a $350 train fare anyway, I was getting it for $9/night. I was convinced that this package wasn't too prepackaged (after all, the itinerary had nothing but the rail travel segments bisected by the single sentence "day at leisure in Denali"), and so I decided to book it, wondering what the catch was to make it so cheap.

It turned out, the catch was I had to travel with cruise passengers.

No, seriously, if you have no objection to traveling with cruise passengers, then there was no catch at all. Princess Tours owns private railcars for their tour passengers and needed those railcars to carry previous cruise passengers north from Denali, the limitations of the railroad meant a car carried into Denali had to be carried out of Anchorage, but there was no ship in that day to fill the Anchorage to Denali segment or the hotel rooms for that night, so they offered me the "anything's better than deadheading" fare. I get a cheap trip; they get some revenue from a wagon that had to run anyway and a hotel room that exists whether it's occupied or not.

But the actual catch was, I had to travel with cruise passengers, and, that I had to travel with a cruise company.

It turned out, I was the only person to take Princess up on their "anything's better than deadheading" offer and it wasn't worth crewing a car just for me, so when I arrived at the station, I learned I had been consolidated into a Holland America-owned car, filled with passengers fresh off (or waiting to board) a Holland America ship, a group consisting entirely of elderly people. (Plus one family with annoying children.)

Now I was well aware that the sorts of people who book cruises (and cruisetours) tend to differ from those with a strong preference for independent travel, but I hadn't realised until I actually took this trip just how much hand-holding cruise passengers need and cruise companies expect their passengers to need. After a less-than-perfect but quite tolerable start (the crew introduced themselves, and asked how many people were just off a cruise ship and how many people were about to board a cruise ship; I was the only one to answer neither, followed by an extremely mediocre and very expensive breakfast), we ultimately reached Talkeetna.

At Talkeetna, we had to make a longish stop (probably about 20 minutes) for reasons probably relating to the regular-service Alaska Railroad train the cruise carriages were trailing behind. At Talkeetna, our cruise section also boarded some additional passengers, meaning that the doors were opened and the stairs were lowered. I waited for the crew member to open the stairs so I could step off, only to be told I wasn't allowed off the train because he was worried I'd get left behind when the train departed.

Now I'm no stranger to train travel; you could certainly say I like to travel by train. I've done it quite extensively. And when the train makes a long stop for servicing or any other reason, I always step off. I have stepped off my train in San Jose and Sioux Lookout, Winona and Winnipeg, Denver and Davis, and I have never been Duffilled— not even at Domodossola. The staffer refused to listen to reason but ultimately conceded he couldn't stop me from stepping off, as long as he didn't formally give permission.

I stepped off and walked up and down for a few minutes, at which point the crew member insisted I get back on, as he was increasingly worried I'd get lost and/or confused and the train would leave without me. All while I was standing about three meters from it. I pointed out that the engineer typically signals "all aboard" by sounding the train whistle; he refused to listen and demanded I board immediately. I stepped back on the train, and we proceeded to sit in the station for another 15 minutes before the whistle sounded and we departed. When I pointed out to the staffer that the engineer did, in fact, sound the all aboard just like every other engineer on every other train on the entire continent, the crew member honestly told me he had never noticed that before.

Once we arrived in Denali and I got settled in at the lodge, I began planning the following day; after all, there were only so many trails I'd be able to walk and I wanted to find the best ones. That's when I learned several things about the lodge itself.

First and foremost, the property is fairly small; 650 rooms and a dozen-odd buildings fairly clustered together. Yet, the property has a shuttle van that drives around and around for the purpose of shuttling visitors between buildings. When I got off the bus, the driver told me to wait for the shuttle to take me to my room, which couldn't have been more than 20 meters away! I suppose elderly people with too much luggage might have trouble walking that far, but the "take the shuttle" mentality was so ingrained into staff training that a young fit bloke like myself was directed to ride in a van rather than simply walk.

The second thing I noticed was that the lodge appeared, at first sight, to be a "resort" rather than a hotel. The next thing I noticed was that its resort-full appearance was completely deceptive. I have fond memories of staying in a resort from when I was little; between two pools and extensive hiking trails, ponds and wild berry bushes, vast open spaces, afternoon tea, and constantly-rotating activities, one could take half a holiday just on the property itself. Princess Lodge Denali was basically the same as that, except with all of the activities and amenities of the previous sentence removed and replaced with overpriced restaurants selling mediocre food and overpriced gift shops selling worthless tat.

And then I reached the main building itself. The check-in desk was located at the far wall and occupied half the width of the lobby. The other half was occupied by the "Tour Desk," where cheery-mannered clerks offered for sale a wide range of tours at prices between $120 and $600— tours which the same clerks candidly admitted were all available for free from the Park Service. (Strictly speaking, the Park Service charged a $10 park entry fee for some tours, but that's still nowhere near $600.)

I'm not sure what struck me more; that Princess was charging several hundred dollars for a "tour" that anybody could take for free, or that they were happy to admit that the tour was available for free, secure in the knowledge that the majority of their clientele would rather pay a small fortune than have to think for themselves for a day.

But the one little incident that I will quote whenever anybody asks me why I hate cruising occurred the day I left the resort. Everyone bound for Fairbanks got on board a bus to take us to the rail depot. The bus arrived in front of the depot. The driver turned off the engine, opened the door, and stepped out. And I was unable to disembark, because the aisle in front of me was blocked by some idiot who wouldn't get off the bus until the driver got back on and told him that we had arrived at the depot and it was time to leave.

That, to me, is the quintessential cruise passenger— someone so helpless that he can't acknowledge the blazingly obvious until a cheerful uniformed escort explicitly tells him about it. And that's why I'm glad I didn't book any more cruise-related anything on that trip.

And yet.

The ferry from Whittier to Juneau and then on to Prince Rupert had all the obvious advantages over a cruise. It was cheaper. It didn't even think of trying to quote "per person, assuming double occupancy" fares. The two-day layover gave me enough time to be in Juneau properly while a cruise line's 6-8 hour stop wouldn't. Because the ferry is primarily a form of transportation, most of the passengers were native Alaskans; whilst waiting to get my room key in Juneau, I learned that the person in the queue ahead of me was actually an Alaska state senator returning home to his district. Being taken directly to Prince Rupert rather than having to make my way from Vancouver was very convenient. And had I taken the cruise ship, I would never have stopped in Yakutat, a town so tiny that it doesn't have mobile service and the ferry's cafeteria is their most popular restaurant.

But a cruise ship has certain advantages not available on the ferry. Being so small, and intended primarily for transportation, the ferry lacks many of the amenities a cruise ship has to offer. Perhaps the most readily noticeable is that ferry food is extremely boring and having to eat it for days on end starts to become unpleasant to the point of near-sickening; one ferry has been outfitted with a proper restaurant and I wasn't on it. I make a point of always having a selection of video games and half a season of Doctor Who on my laptop at all times in case of a Level 6 Boredom Emergency, and the ferry was known to provoke a couple; yes, it's very scenic in parts, but you can only stare at scenery for so long and there's basically nothing else to do on board.

Next time I book a holiday like this may be awhile; I got lucky this time, but I normally can't afford long trips and if I can afford another one soon, Egypt is not going to visit itself. However, someday I will be able to book another trip across America and Canada, and when I do, I will be taking a cruise ship southbound. (If only because I will be taking the ferry northbound, I mean it when I warn you never to fly out of an American airport.)

It's a real pity there's no middle ground "best of both worlds" option; a luxury ferry fitted like a cruise ship with the all the amenities, but without the hand-holding and prepackaging and assumption that riding on it is your entire holiday.

There are so many cruise companies with so many ships; one of them could readily devote one ship to a ferry-like Alaska service, running between Whittier and Vancouver, but selling intermediate tickets between ports of call. I suspect that the cruise companies would object to doing this simply because I suspect that most of their revenue comes from selling prepackaged tours of the cruise's ports of call which the cruise-hating demographic just wouldn't buy, and because true cruise passengers who need their hands held through every step of a trip are more profitable overall because, obviously enough, it's easier to fleece your customers if they happen to be sheep.

However, it's an untapped market and if I had a ship handy, I would try to fill it. In fact, there are several places on the planet where a ship with cruise-like amenities and a ferry-like attitude might be very profitable; obviously, the Alaskan inside passage is the prime example since they already run a ferry to serve that market to say nothing of cruises, but trans-Atlantic journeys might be another given the horrors of flying out of American airports. Currently, the trans-Atlantic passage market is served only by Cunard, and I have problems with them, primarily relating to the fact that their dress code is incompatible with my baggage limits.

Even leaving aside the idea of ships that offer passage without the cruise attitude, there is the other matter of solo travelers. I haven't exactly conducted thorough market research studies, but unless you have, I'm not willing to believe that people who travel solo are substantially less likely to book cruises than those who travel as couples or in groups— that the small handful of single rooms on one particular ship sell out extremely quickly tends to suggest that solo travelers are quite willing to book on the existing crop of cruises. Yes, solo travelers represent only about 10% of cruise line bookings, but that's sort of expected when every cruise line jumps through hoops to make solo travelers unwelcome. When your policy is "solo travelers must pay double, and even then are accepted only in Designated Solo Rooms, and can't get most of the special fares and promotions," then it's surprising they even got 10%.

Cruise lines claim they need to drive away solo travelers because a solo traveler occupying a double room deprives them of the onboard spending that a second person would have made. This is, of course, absolute nonsense; if they divided some of the double rooms into two single rooms with adjoining door (or perhaps even collapsable wall), the cruise line would fit just as many people for the same space and wouldn't have to drive away any market share.

Plus, when was the last time a couple racked up a massive bar tab buying drinks for people who clearly weren't interested in them? How much money do you think Hubby would have lost in the casino if Wifey hadn't dragged him away after the first round? The first cruise line that opens up to solo travelers might well see total onboard spending increase substantially.

As for me, I would definitely book a cruise ticket for my next trip if I can do it without paying double. After all, if they drop their assumptions about how I travel, the "per person" fare on the cruise is actually cheaper than the ferry, and when my holiday consists of a six-week adventure across two of the world's largest countries, every penny counts!

After all, I'd book another Alaskan cruisetour if it's cheap enough; a cheap cruise is much better than a more expensive ferry.

If no cruise company offers equitable fares to solo travelers, I may have to raise money to start a cruise line of my own!

Vital stats:

Holiday: Over
Date: Today
Current Mood: Thoughtful
Sleep Status: Yes
Word of the Day: Defenestrate
Total Cost: $7,000 USD and $2,500 CAD
Trains: 11
Planes: 1
Automobiles: 2
Fun: 67.4 Parties
A Moose: No
Finances: Shambles
Health: 17 Hitpoints
Level: Confound Delivery

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bell Mobility Needs To Burn In Corporate Hell

As alluded to in a previous post, Bell Mobility won the fraudulent advertising contest and won it readily. Any mobile phone will be advertised based on the price "with purchase of new two-year contract" (for America) or three-year contract (for Canada), and cruise lines are wedded to their "per person, assuming double occupancy" quotes; the advert lists one price, and then they pull a bait and switch, retracting that price and telling you the real price is actually much higher.

However, at least they tell you the actual price before you've agreed to pay.

And that's why Bell Mobility wins the fraudulent advertising contest.

I purchased the $15.75 prepaid plan from Bell Mobility. The terms of this plan state that after paying $15.75 up front and loading credit onto the plan, local calls will be billed at 20¢/minute, while long-distance calls within Canada and from Canada to America will be billed at 30¢/minute. (A conversation with their staff revealed that calls to the UK were billed at 49¢/minute though that didn't appear on my plan, and I managed to avoid making any.)

Circumstances obliged me to make many long-distance calls, primarily to Toronto to work out a hotel issue before I actually arrived, and some to New York. This persisted for a few days before my service abruptly cut out, claiming I had run out of credit and needed to top up. I had kept reasonably good track of how many calls I had made and I had prepaid $50 worth of credit, so it seemed I should have plenty remaining. I topped up (had to make calls, you know!) but being curious, I then called Bell Mobility support to investigate the mysterious disappearing credit.

That's when I learned all of my calls had been billed at 50¢/minute.

The terms of my plan clearly stated that local calls were 20¢/minute and long-distance calls were 30¢/minute; nowhere did any of my terms and documentation state that any calls were billed at 50¢/minute. When I explained this, the Bell service agent declared that when it said long-distance calls were 30¢/minute, that obviously meant 50, because a long-distance call has to be routed through a local exchange before it can be forwarded to its destination, therefore a long-distance call is both a long-distance call and a local call and is simultaneously billed as both.


If it says 30¢/minute, it's 30¢/minute. Not 30¢/minute plus any arbitrary thing you decide to add. If the ticket from Vancouver to Jasper is $100 and the ticket from Vancouver to Edmonton is $200, and I choose to buy a ticket from Vancouver to Edmonton, you can't retroactively charge me $300 on the grounds that the trip from Vancouver to Edmonton passes through Jasper. And yes, I explained exactly that to the agent, who was absolutely impervious to logic.

And get this: When I asked to speak to a supervisor, the agent refused, telling me: "I already explained the price to you, so you're not allowed to talk to a supervisor."

A second call did yield a supervisor, who merely reiterated the fallacious argument that because long-distance calls start their connection at local exchanges, they get billed as both separate local and long-distance calls, and added the new claim that the 20¢/minute charge specifically identified as being the charge for local calls was, in fact, the "airtime rate" automatically applied to all calls regardless of other charges.

And keep in mind that modern telephone networks are pretty much all VoIP-based; the days in which operators had to manually connect calls at switchboards are long past, so there's little functional difference between a local and long-distance call anyway, at least within Canada.

Not one to take that kind of thing from anybody, I disputed the top up charge with my credit card company and (so far) seem to have won a reversal. Of course, I only disputed it after I used up all the credit the top up yielded— Bell Mobility is legally obligated to honour the rate they agreed to, and by topping up, using the credit, and then charging back the top up, the total amount paid for the total credit used roughly equals the agreed-upon rate of 30¢/minute.

I even did the maths for you:

I gave them $50 to prepay the account, from which they deducted a $15.75 activation fee and $10 for data service. (Yes, smartphone.)

That leaves $24.25 to call with. At the agreed-upon 30¢/minute, that would yield roughly 80 minutes of calling; having billed me at 50¢/minute, I was left with only 48 minutes, so their fraud deprived me of 32 minutes of calling.

When I topped up my account, I added $15. Because that was also billed at the fraudulent 50¢/minute rate, it yielded another 30 minutes.

So by using the top-up credit and then charging back the fee, I recovered 30 minutes of talk time out of the 32 they owed me. (They can keep the remaining two minutes.)

Assuming the preliminary chargeback is approved as a proper chargeback, I will have paid for $24.25 worth of calling credit and used 78 minutes from that, for a final cost of 31¢/minute, reasonably close to the advertised rate.

However, I will not be buying service from Bell Mobility ever again.

And companies everywhere are advised that I will not be defrauded, even if it's only for CAD$17.43 ($15 top up, plus GST, plus currency conversion and foreign transaction fees.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

OK I'm back.

Yes, it's been a long time since this blog was updated. No, I wasn't legally dead this whole time; only last week.

I was on holiday!

Having suddenly had a small bout of monetary good fortune, I responded in the only way appropriate— by spending every last penny of my new-found wealth on an epic adventure. I traveled across ALL the Americas! ALL OF THEM!

Obviously some details of my experience (and photos! Don't forget the photos!) will be forthcoming at some point, but first I'd like to relate a few experiences I had in the preparation and booking phases of my trip.


One of the life lessons I learned on this trip is that I'm really not a "cruise" person, and I can provide many insights into that (in a later post). However, I booked this trip without benefit of that foreknowledge and so I set out to book a cruise from Anchorage, AK to Vancouver, BC. (Actually, I wanted to go to Prince Rupert, BC but none of the cruise lines stopped there.)

That's when I found out that all cruise lines advertise prices substantially lower than the actual real prices they actually charge. When a cruise line advertises a price of $800, they mean the actual price of the cruise is $1,600 because the quoted price is "per person, assuming double occupancy." That means the room, which they are actually in the business of selling, because a cruise line has rooms, sells rooms, and can't sell half a room, costs $1,600; if you book two people in it, you pay $1,600, and if you book one person in it, you pay $1,600. So far so good; American hotels work the same way. The problem is that when asked for the price of a room, an American hotel quotes you the actual price of the room; they don't quote you half the price of the room because that's what you would pay per person, if you put two people in it. European hotels may use "per person" quotes for double rooms, but they almost invariably have single rooms as well; cruise lines invariably don't so if you book a cruise as a solo traveler, you are required to pay double the advertised fare.

Understandably annoyed, I googled around for solo cruise options, but only confirmed that cruise lines simply hate solo travelers; nearly every article I found on how to avoid paying double started with: "Find a second person to travel with you (who is willing to pay their own way)." Even the most definitive article on solo cruising that I found (that would be this one) spends a lot more effort painstakingly detailing what programs and amenities cater to solo travelers, on the assumption that the only reason one ever travels solo is because one is looking for a mate or because one is an elderly woman whose husband has died. It confirms single cabins are available on a very small handful of ships (none of which were in Alaska), and referred to cruise lines charging 1.5 fares to solo travelers as offering "discounts," as if the solo-pay-double was expected rather than fraudulent. Which is why I will make my fortune offering all-inclusive cruises to solo travelers with no "single supplement" fares or "per person, assuming double occupancy" adverts.

Incidentally, after much faffing about and struggling to find a reasonable price from the cruise lines, I stumbled across the Alaska Marine Highway System, which is substantially cheaper, which doesn't pull the "per person, assuming double occupancy" trickery, and which actually goes to Prince Rupert! (Bonus!) Sure, it required a two-day layover in Juneau, but two days isn't a layover, it's another destination and it proved well worth it.


So in addition to booking (and ultimately declining to book) a cruise, I also decided to break down and buy a smartphone. Yes, a toy whose limited uses fail to counterbalance its massive price tag, SHUT UP OK! I have developed a dependency on certain parts of the internet and I planned to spend a lot of time without wifi, so I decided to buy a smartphone, because it proved impossible to find a suitable mobile hotspot and most smartphones have a mobile hotspot feature. And I had a limited budget, so I wasn't planning to pay any massive price tags.

That's when I found out that mobile phone companies advertising trickery put cruise lines to shame. The advertised price for a mobile phone is less than half of the actual price; a $650 smartphone is typically advertised as $200. Why? Because the advertised price is $200 with purchase of a new two-year contract. I suspect many people buy their phones with new contracts, but as my holiday was not two years long and required a prepaid service, I was obliged to pay the actual price of the phone. I was also obliged to double- and triple-check to make sure my phone was suitable; it turns out many mobile phones are artificially locked to one carrier even if purchased from a high street shop without a contract. Plus, many American carriers use CDMA networks, presumably for the same reason they call football "soccer."

Ultimately, I did find a smartphone that used GSM networks, which wasn't locked to any carrier, and which was extremely cheap (on account of being secondhand). So at least that worked out.

What didn't work out was that Bell Mobility won the fraudulent advert contest, beating all of its fellow service providers and cruise companies, but I'll cover that some other time.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Richard O'Dwyer

Richard O'Dwyer is a British citizen living in Britain who established a website based in Britain, which catered to British viewers and was legal under British law. However, the United States has asked that he be extradited to face charges in the US on the grounds that his website, had it been in the US would have been illegal under US law.

The website in question hosted links. The links pointed to copyrighted content which had been uploaded to third-party websites without permission from the copyright owners. However, O'Dwyer hosted no infringing content on his own site, and so his site did not violate any UK law.

This is a case about copyright, obviously. And it's about justice, just as obviously. But it's also fundamentally about sovereignty. The fundamental question at the heart of this matter is: Does the United States Congress have the power to pass laws that are applicable in Britain? Are British citizens required to obey United States laws in their own country?

If Britain agrees to extradite O'Dwyer, then Britain will cease to be a sovereign nation. If Britain agrees that O'Dwyer should be extradited to a country he's never been to because that country's laws must be obeyed at home, then Britain will become, in essence, a colony of the United States.

The case hasn't been decided yet, but I will be preemptively destroying my irony meter to offset the risk of catastrophic explosion.

Oh, and the final absurdity: I'm not quite up to date on the matter, but I'm fairly certain O'Dwyer's website was legal under US law as well. It can be a bit hard to tell though; US copyright law is somewhat analogous to British libel law and I will never be surprised at the nonsense churned out from it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Farmville Review

So with all the fuss about "FarmVille" being the big craze thing on Facebook, I decided to give it a try, partially out of morbid curiosity and partly because this blog has been languishing for a few months and an update might prevent Google deactivating it on the assumption that I'm legally dead.

So I decided to play Farmville. And review it.

Obviously, the first thing one needs for playing Farmville is a Facebook account, and as I value my privacy just a little bit more than the average lunkhead, I'm not on Facebook. I do, however, have several pseudonymous dummy accounts on Facebook that I use for various malevolent purposes, so I installed Farmville on one of them.

Before even installing, the app immediately demanded access to a truly inordinate number of privileges; before deeming me worthy of playing, it demanded to access my posts and track my current location, the right to extract my email address from my Facebook profile so it could spam me even after I delete the app (and Facebook account), and the right to post on my account whenever it jolly well wanted to. Obviously, no one who uses their real name and information on Facebook, and certainly no one who interacts on Facebook with people they know in real life would ever voluntarily hand over that sort of permission without a very good reason (such as at gunpoint), but I had no qualms about letting an app have access to a pseudonym, a throwaway hotmail address, and a fake birthday so I clicked "allow" and loaded the app.

Once the app was loaded, I had to click through about three or four screens soliciting money and one asking me to spam my friends with ads for Farmville before I could actually access the "game" part of the game, whereupon a helpful tutorial guided me through the process of harvesting crops, plowing fields, and planting new crops. Afterwards, I was left to my own devices where I quickly discovered that half of the clickable objects popped up solicitations for money when clicked. It took about five or six solicitations for money before I could figure out how to plow a new section of field and find some sort of slot machine thing to award items for planting or something. I also quickly discovered that attempting any action that I couldn't complete because the prerequisites had not been met would produce, you guessed it, a solicitation for money.

So my overall impression is that Farmville isn't so much a "game" as an aggressive panhandler. I'm not sure how anybody manages to withstand it long enough to develop the "addiction" it's supposedly known for.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Trouble With Tablets

Now, I have nothing against tablet PCs per se. In fact, if my budget were (considerably) bigger than it actually is, I could see several ways in which I'd quite happily use one. I object only to the fact that they cost as much as a proper computer but are less capable than a proper computer; the irritating touchscreen interface, which is never quite compatible with my hands, makes them unusable for more than video watching and maybe some casual browsing; typing on a touchscreen for anything more than a search query is impossible.

And yet, I'm filled with a sense of foreboding.

My grandfather was a lawyer; he worked with many clients including some who were quite high-profile for the time. He was actively practicing law until the day he died; he actually died at his office. And yet, he only barely learned to type. He could manage, sure. Difficultly. Awkwardly. With two fingers. The reason he found it so difficult to type was because when he was growing up and starting his career, the personal computer hadn't been invented yet. At that time, typing (on typewriters) was something that secretaries did for you; unless you were planning to become a secretary, you didn't need to learn how to type. And so, he never learned. Once the advent of the PC brought on the expectation that everyone be able to type, he was past the point at which learning new basic skills comes naturally.

I have the unpleasant feeling that typing on a touchscreen will be to my generation what typing was to his.

Tablet sales are exploding and even cannibalising the sales of netbooks, which tend to be cheaper and more capable. The major desktop operating systems are becoming increasingly tablet-like; Windows 8 will sport a touchscreen-friendly interface, with the conventional desktop hidden behind a preference box, Mac OS has become more like iOS with every release, and desktop Linux is still stagnant while its mobile counterpart (including Android) now runs on at least a plurality of mobile devices. It's clear that Microsoft and Apple are increasingly treating a proper computer as an accessory that needs to be compatible with your tablet rather than the other way around. As much as I hope tablets are a passing fad, every day there are more indications that they're here to stay.

And while keyboard accessories for tablets exist, they're awkward and defeat the purpose of a tablet— that it's extremely portable. No; tablets mean touchscreens.

And I saw an employee at an Apple store typing quite deftly on an iPad. Obviously, as an employee, he is required to make Apple's products look easy to use and I have no idea how much training was required before he could obtain that level of proficiency, or how long he could type like that, or to what extent he was selected for the position specifically because his hands were identical in size and proportion to those of the late Steve Jobs. But he could type on an iPad. Typing on an iPad is a thing that can be done.

And if I hold out against the tablet monstrosity until social necessity forces me to cave, it'll be too late for me to learn another basic skill easily. I'll end up like my grandfather; able to type awkwardly, with difficulty, because typing (as it's understood in that distant future day) just wasn't a skill you needed to learn when I was growing up and starting my career.

Unless you were planning to become an Apple store employee.

Vital stats:

Interface: Psychic
Date: 5 April 2012
Current Mood: Foreboding
Sleep Status: Hopeful
Word of the Day: Commune
Name: Host
Registration Identity: host
Species: Not Applicable
Realm: Vault
Casting Method: Daman
Casting Power: Environmental
Location: Omnipresent
Time: 5 Months, 1 Day since blog-start.
Casting: Local Transept 80401, Registry 229

Thank you and goodbye.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bing Rewards

Apparently, Bing has a "rewards program" now. As in, if you search you can earn points and then redeem them for rewards.

Now, I've seen many variations on the "rewards for search" concept. There's Swagbucks, which is apparently owned by a rabbi. And it has myriad competitors like Zoombucks which is totally not just the same thing but with the serial numbers filed off for trademark reasons. I think even Publishers Clearing House has something along those lines. However, this is the first I've heard of one of the "big" search engines doing such a thing.

Microsoft probably still has aspirations of Bing taking on Google someday, and yet they've thrown it down with that lot. Now there's nothing actually wrong with being in that lot. In fact, those companies probably make a fair profit and their users probably get valuable rewards. But it's a different league of online entity; smaller, and perhaps even a bit of a niche market. For one of Google's peers to start offering rewards points like a little specialty company is extremely slutty indeed.

My Cocaine Rewards

This being the internet, I am absolutely baffled that "My Cocaine Rewards" is not a real thing. If it's not defictionalised at some point in the next whenever I bother to look again, I am so going to have to do it myself. Seriously.

Vital stats:

Impulse: Totally
Date: Today
Current Mood: Impulsive (that one was obvious)
Sleep Status: Pending
Word of the Day: Terrarium
Plants: 6
Animals: 2
Manchester United: 0
Ashes: Burned
Lovers: Spurned
Stocks: Up
Stipes: Down
Obscure References: 8
Blatant Lies: 1

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Netflix Is A Slut

Language is fluid and constantly changing. With effort, any of us can coin a new word and see it adopted into the dictionary. Moreover, existing words change; in the 1890s, a "gay" marriage was an ideal husbands and wives hoped for; today, "gay" marriage is a fundamental human right that governments worldwide are slowly learning to respect. "Nunnery" doesn't mean nearly the same thing now as it did in one of Shakespeare's more well-known plays. And to my great annoyance, many people are redefining the word "literally" to mean "superlatively" or "extremely."

I, for one, am a firm believer in taking the words used by bigots as racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory slurs and redefining them in non-bigoted ways. The word I'm currently trying to redefine is "slut."

In particular, I have taken to using the word "slut" in the following manner:

slut [sluht]
1. a company or organisation which, through its methods of advertising, conveys illegitimacy or desperation for customers.
2. a company or organisation which uses unusual methods of advertising normally associated with fraudulent or illegal activity.
2009-2011 or whenever I made it up.

So, under my new definition, Netflix is a slut. They advertise in pop-up ads as if it were still 1996 (and they're probably the only legitimate company that does). They advertise using what I call "lead-gen" sites - typically referred to by their owners as "offerwalls" - where users are awarded virtual currency (such as Facebook credits) for clicking on special ads and signing up as per the advertiser's request; Trialpay is one such example but Netflix can be found with virtually all of them. They even send spammy emails to people who have closed their accounts, asking them to sign up again. Each one suggests that they're not legitimate (even if they are) and/or that they're desperate for any customers (especially bothering their exes). So, in my dictionary, Netflix is a slut.

Vital stats:

Post: Longish
Date: Today
Current Mood: Plodding
Sleep Status: Insufficient
Word of the Day: Slut
Season: Allergy
Interest: 0.5%
Dollar: £0.63
Russia: Big
Appointment: Tuesday
Score: Q-12
Angels: Floofy
Clerk: Efficient
Riches: I wish. :(

Monday, March 26, 2012

Little Things That BUG Me #3

People who say "empa├▒adas" when they mean "empanadas."

Call them empanadas, samosas, dumplings, or calzones but none of the variations on the concept of stuff inside dough is spelled with an ├▒.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I'm a moron.

I was watching a video just now. One line was spoken quietly (and I was eating loudilly), so I said "Hm?"

Instead of, you know, rewinding it because it's a video and he can't hear me.

Also, is it "loudilly" or "loudally?" It's a real pain remembering how to misspell correctly.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Youtube Video Suggestions

I just watched one of Stuart Ashen's videos on Youtube. For those unfamiliar with Stuart Ashen, he has a series of videos called "Terrible Old Games You Probably Never Heard Of" and also reviews electronic tat dolled up to look like popular items.

As I watched said video, I took a look at the sidebar containing ostensibly related videos that Youtube's algorithm decided I might be interested in watching next. Can you spot the one that doesn't belong?

(Well the image file got et, probably when I killed my Yahoo account. I'll try to get around to re-uploading it if I can find it, but basically it was a long list of Ashen's other videos with a single incongruous My Little Pony vid wedged in the middle. The title text for the image was: "I think my little sister used my computer once and now my Google profile is permanently contaminated with whatever she looked at." Also, the alt text, which is meant to appear when the image can't load but appears on mouseover instead of the title text in Internet Exploder said: "Apparently, My Little Pony is now in some way related to electronic tat. And if this appeared when you pointed your cursor at the image, then upgrade to Firefox you wally.")

I knew you could!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Little Things That BUG Me #2

Media (movies, books, etc), whose stories offer "morals" that have already received near universal acceptance by society before the work was written. Gee, District 9, apartheid is bad? You know, South African society kind of figured that out about a decade before the short film that was later expanded into the movie bothered to tell them but thanks anyway. Sure it took them long enough but delivering sermons that far after the fact just bugs me.