Failure to Launch

I’m trying to make a fresh start with my writing.  I have not blogged as frequently as I have would have preferred, and my eye problems do not make it conducive to using LCD screens at night (RCE).  Thus, I am attempting to re-vitalise my writing, at least on paper.  Sadly late at night is the only time it seems I have to be alone with my thoughts.

The problem now lies with getting this material published.  The most straight forward method will probably be to scan my scrawl and send it to someone to have it typed.  Of course I will still need to edit, but that should be afforded during the other parts of the dat when I am less creative and expressive.

I have tried multiple types of mobile devices to try and take advantage of when I am in transit, or have a few moments of free time.  I tried the keypad of the Nokia E71, and even managed to punch out an article.  The iPhone text entry is still a problem for me, between its predictive text and my fat fingers, it is quite a long haul.  For any serious technical writing, I just don’t think small form factor mobile devices are ready just yet.

In today’s world, in this attempt to write this blog by hand, there is something special about writing in pen.  I don’t get to do it much these days, but it feels refreshing after a day on the computer.  Incidentally, my four year old son received his first letter in the mail today, handwritten by his Pop.  A great delight that will be a rare occurrence for his generation.

So if it all goes to plan, I will write a number of these posts and eventually have them published in a batch.  For now, this will only see the light of day in my notepad.  All I need now is someone who can read my handwriting!

Addendum:  Four days after I penned this, I typed this article myself during a lunch break, when I was alert and had lots of natural daylight available.

Back to Work

I’m back to work after four weeks of leave for the birth of my second child, a baby girl. It has been a wonderful four weeks, spending time with my family and generally relaxing. Although I wasn’t totally offline, I wasn’t working (nor updating my blog) and got to catch up with friends and family, as well as visit some great parks in Brisbane. I struggled a little bit this morning, and was only 10 minutes late into the office.

In the few days that preceeded my return, I was a little anxious about going back – how much work would there be? What was I doing before I left? What was my password to log in? Thankfully, I was able to log in, and the emails were processed by lunchtime, without too much new work for me to worry about. My brain was still a bit mushed from the information re-load, and I didn’t get to have my afternoon nap I had become accustomed to. While I’m still on the high of my holiday time, I hope to keep a relaxed mentality going, and focus on what I can achieve.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t totally disconnected on my break. I still had plenty of time to download & edit photos, get more social on facebook and play a few mindless flash games. And YouTube…great for keeping me awake at 3am while settling a child!

Now that I am back into the world, I plan to blog more regularly, streamline my activities online, and keep that quality time with the family going.

Could we survive without Google?

Unfortunately the phrase ‘Google it’ is too often heard where I work, and undoubtedly used throughout the world.  It seems that one can get by in an IT job just by being able to search the internet.  Even I catch myself trying to solve problems online when I really should have spent a bit more time trying to figure it out.  It is just too easy sometimes.

I’m not against using search technologies, and can appreciate the efficiencies from learning from past mistakes and preventing the reinvention of the proverbial wheel.  I’ll be the first person to admit when I to know something, I’ll ‘Google it’, and I usually demand that I find out immediately – the knowledge must be in the now.

Rewind 10+ years, I recall a support environment that I was in.  At the time it was pre-Google, and when the accessibility to the internet was limited to one terminal in our workplace of 300 staff.  How did I ever survive?  Fortunately learning on the job, learning from books, and learning from peers was common practice.  For the most part I learned how to troubleshoot and resolve problems.  I learned how to think.

Since then I have hired support staff and I can attest that analytical problem solving skills are lacking in a large number of candidates.  These people are typically ‘Gen-Y‘ and they don’t have the drive to just figure it out for themselves.  This may be fine for mainstream applications where documentation, forums and blog posts are abound and plentiful, but very problematic for bespoke applications or mainstream applications which have very closed documentation sources.

We live in an information rich age and accessibility is everywhere.  It has become our way of life.  However I do question if we will come to a situation where we could survive without Google, or other search technologies.  Probably not completely, but I challenge you to spend some time to get your thinking hat on before you start pounding the keys and ‘Google it’. As we proceed further, we present to you the latest Hawkhost Review and hope y’all guys enjoy it as much as we did.

Hanging Up on Vodafone

Lessons learned:

  • Companies, like Vodafone, make it extremely difficult for you to terminate a service.
  • Staff are only doing what they have been told, try hard not to blame them.
  • Sometimes you need to seek alternate paths, away from the obvious route.

The first revision of this blog post was going to be a rant on the problems I had trying to disconnect my Vodafone mobile broadband service. In the spirit of trying to keep positive on life, I thought some constructive criticism would be better.

To begin, I signed up to the mobile broadband service in June 2008  for 5 GB per month, $39 per month on a 24 month contract.  This was one of the best deals available at the time.  I predominately used it commuting to work, and it came handy while on holidays or when the home ADSL service was unavailable.  I had good days with this service, and terrible days too.  Between problems with USB modem detection and inconsistent coverage, I usually had a 50% chance of getting on first go, and then a 50% chance of staying connected on my daily journeys (within 15km of CBD) commute.  The experience over the two years was barely passable as satisfactory.

My actual usage varied from what I initially thought I needed, and I found myself to consistently use less than 500MB a month.  If you take that into a pure $/MB view, I was only using 10%, wasting $35 per month.

Very recently,my work laptop died just one month out of the Vodafone mobile broadband contract.  With no immediate plans for it to be replaced, I decided to terminate the service.  This should have been a straightforward task, so I decided to visit my local Vodafone outlet.  The guy there was helpful enough, confirmed my contract had ended, but couldn’t cancel the service.  He cited that I would need to agree to some legal clauses which would be recorded over the phone.

The next day I called the number given to me at the first store. At 12pm, on my lunchbreak, I attempted the vodafone customer service number. After getting through the IVR, I waited 30 minutes before I gave up.

30 minutes waiting for Vodafone...
30 minutes waiting for Vodafone...

That afternoon, I visited one of the Vodafone stores in the Brisbane CBD.  Again I was told to call the Vodafone customer service line.  I explained the 30 minute wait time, and I was advised that it would be busy now (approx 5pm), and told me to call at lunchtime when it would be quieter.  It is quite frustrating that a simple task as I perceived it couldn’t be achieved immediately in store.

After I got home that evening, I tried three times to call customer service.  Each time I cited to the IVR, as per their recommendations, to ‘cancel my service’.  I was played a standard message of ‘we have more calls than usual’ and then had my call disconnected.  Clearly a ploy to imped my request to terminate.

To test my theory that service cancellations were given a low priority, I tried for a fourth time.  I was now within 15 minutes of my first call that evening, and I had 15 minutes to go before the call centre closed at 8pm.  I rang again and told the IVR I wanted an ”account enquiry’.  I few moments passed and I heard on hold music,  and there was no message that they were all busy.  Finally some progress.

Twelve minutes later, I was answered by a gentleman who was part of the accounts department.  He helped me reset my PIN, but had to transfer my call to a separate team to perform the cancellation.  It was now 8pm, and my hopes of getting through to someone was diminishing quickly.  Thankfully, a representative answered, and after I abruptly stopped their cross-sell and retention effort, I had the cancellation scheduled for the next business day – no legal questions asked.

I’ve never met an organisation so unwilling to assist with a basic, legitimate request.  Had this had been resolved upon first contact, Vodafone would have been perceived by myself in a positive light, and I would have been happy to recommend their service.

The Book is Mightier than the Internet

My wife was online this evening trying to find some information on a particular issue.  It was very specific information, and she had spent a good twenty minutes looking for it.  Later after we had finished dinner, I asked if she had found her answer.  While the keyboard was again pounded and Google interrogated, I went to our library of books.  It didn’t take me long.  I grabbed the most relevant book, and within about five minutes I had located the information we needed.  My wife meanwhile was still trying to find something relevant, with about eight words being searched upon!

So what went wrong?  Why wasn’t the mighty internet (& Google) able to find this information quicker?

I suggest its time for a little more search helpfulness and better understanding of what someone is trying to search upon.  Be suggestive – a little more beyond spelling mistakes.

For example, a search on the word java could hold several meanings – the programming language, the island, the coffee etc.  But in Google it returns simply the highest ranked (ie Java from Sun/Oracle) and perhaps not the most relavant (eg if I was looking for a holiday).

Wikipedia seems to do a good job of disambiguation, perhaps something that a giant search engine could incorporate and offer a more guided search.