Tag Archives: internet

Swisscom Pocket Connect #FAIL

This rant is for the benefit of anyone thinking about hiring a Swisscom Pocket Connect device for WiFi access in Switzerland. Regular readers can probably skip this post. Summary: good idea spoiled by lousy service. I’m just jotting a few notes down here to vent some spleen and to warn anyone else thinking of signing up for Swisscom Pocket Connect (hopefully it will get on the first page of the search results for relevant terms).

I recently went on a family holiday, touring Switzerland by train. I needed to be able to check my emails every day (preferably several times per day). I have a mobile data contract in the UK, but roaming data costs in Europe are prohibitive, and I didn’t want to depend on the vagaries of free hotel WiFi. So I paid to rent a mobile access dongle from Swisscom for the duration of the trip. It sounded great on paper. You pay a fixed fee in advance, pick up the pre-configured dongle from an airport or train station on arrival and then put it in the post when you leave. I could check my emails as often as I wanted. Even on the train. Perfect! In reality it was a shambles.

I paid swisspasses.com for 13 days of use. They emailed me a voucher which I printed. I presented the voucher a Geneva train station ticket office. The staff member passed me on to a colleague, who looked a little irritated. Not a good start. It took her some 30 minutes to issue the dongle and she said it was the first one she had done. She assured me that it was for 13 days.

I turned on the dongle and accessed my email. It worked, but Swisscom had sent me an email saying the dongle was activated for 6 days. Damn. Also I was able to access the dongle without the printed WiFi password. So my communications with the dongle were completely unencrypted. Pressing the WPS button made no difference. Double damn.

I went to the Swisscom shop in Geneva, thinking they might be a bit more clued up. After waiting an eternity to be served, they phoned someone at Swisscom and assured me it was activated for 13 days. When I told them about the lack of encryption they said they weren’t involved in pocket connect and that I should call the non-free support number (an expensive proposition with roaming fees). I asked them to call it for me. They refused.

I emailed Swisscom technical support to explain the WPS problem. They (eventually) emailed me to tell me to return it for a replacement. I emailed them to tell them what I thought of their service so far. They didn’t bother to reply.

I used Google to find the instruction manual and worked out that holding the power and WPS button for 3 seconds did a factory reset. I now had encryption, no thanks to Swisscom. Things were looking up.

On day 6 the dongle bricked. I wasn’t sure if it was broken or deactivated by Swisscom. I took it too Chur Train station SBB counter. They obviously didn’t want to know. ‘I just issue tickets’ the man said. The queue was building behind me. He tried to get me to go to a Swisscom shop. After about 30 minutes with me getting increasingly hot under the collar and refusing to back down they eventually issued me another dongle for 7 more days. The encryption worked this time. Everything worked ok for the remaining 7 days.

The first dongle wasn’t correctly configured. The rental period wasn’t set up correctly. The station staff hadn’t had sufficient training. The Swisscom shop staff weren’t interested. The email support was very poor. I spent several hours of my holiday trying to sort all this out. Communication issues further exacerbated problems (my French is poor and my German is non-existent). It was all incredibly frustrating. So much for Swiss efficiency.

** UPDATE **

I posted a link to this article to Swisscom support. Here is the email they sent me back (somewhat faster and more detailed than their responses to my technical problems). I am unconvinced by their attempt to blame some of the problems on their reseller, swisspasses.com .

Dear Mr. Brice

We have read your blog entry and we would like to apologize for all the
circumstances. Pocket Connect is a new product which we offer and we constantly
try to improve the service for it.

Because of the credits for only 6 days. We could check it and it had credits for
a total of 13 days on this prepaid card. We can not say now what the error was
that it was not working after that. It could be a network error at the location
you were or another interruption which brought this error.

To the 0800 000 164 Support Hotline we offer. This is a free of charge number if
you call from a Swiss mobilephone or landline. Of course you have roaming
charges if you call from a number of foreign.

Swisspasses.com is only a reseller. If you had reserved/rented it at our
homepage pocketconnect.ch it would all have been easier. 

This should be not a excuse but in our opinion were these three points no
mistake of our side. But of course you became wrong technical informations
regarding the encryption.
As we said in the beginning we are still improve this service. We will take your
feedback very seriously and promise you to take these improvements to our
service in the future.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you have further questions.

Yours sincerely
Swisscom Schweiz AG

Service Center Pocket Connect
3050 Bern

Helpdesk 0800 800 164

Asshole x software = Asshole at scale

A builder recently dumped a couple of wheelbarrows full of rubble on the common land behind my house. He’s an asshole. But at least he is limited in how much of an asshole he can be by physical constraints, such as the amount of waste he can generate and dump in a day. With the right software, there is almost no limit to how big an asshole he could be.

Spammers send out millions of emails in the hope of getting a few hundred dollars in sales of Viagra, Ugg boots or whatever other dubious merchandise they might be pushing. According to one study the sending of 348 million pharmacy spam emails resulted in 83 million emails delivered and a grand total of 28 sales. That is a 0.0000081% conversion rate. Assuming that the 83 million emails delivered took an average of a second each for a human to scan and delete, that’s around 23 thousand hours wasted. For 28 sales,  netting perhaps a few hundred dollars in profit. You have to be a massive asshole to waste so much of other people’s time just to make a few hundred dollars.

Spamming is just one of the more obvious and egregious examples of being an asshole at scale. But there are lots more. Article spinning for example. This is where assholes use software to generate lots of small variations on a (usually poor written or plagiarised) article in a desperate attempt to increase their SEO ‘footprint’. It might seem like a clever way to game the system and get one over on the all-powerful Google. But, if it works, the search results will fill up with poorly written garbage and the signal gets squeezed out by ever increasing noise. A tragedy of the commons in which we all lose in the long run.

Comment spam on forums and blogs is another area where assholes can use software to scale their activities. To date this blog has had a total of 77,811 spam comments, most of them undoubtedly generated automatically. Thankfully, the vast majority were caught by WordPress’s Akismet software. But I still waste a few minutes every week sifting through the spam for false positives. If you multiply that by millions of blog and forum owners, week after week, it adds up to a massive amount of wasted time. Again for marginal gains.

As software becomes increasingly pervasive and bandwidth becomes ever cheaper, new areas are becoming available for assholes to exploit. For example using software to algorithmically generate vast numbers of T-shirt slogans for Amazon without properly checking the results. Not only does this fill up Amazon search results with garbage (many of the slogans make no sense) but some of the slogans were deeply offensive.

The best defense against the assholes is more software, for example: spam filtering software and improved search algorithms. I guess that is good news for those of us that make a living writing software. But I worry that the assholes will win the arms race in the long run and the Internet, one of the greatest inventions in human history, will be reduced to the information equivalent of grey goo.

What can we do about it as software developers? Firstly don’t be an asshole. Consider the overall impact of your actions. Sure you could blast out thousands of poorly targeted emails to promote your product. But, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Secondly, consider whether there is a product you could write that could help combat the assholes. People and businesses (especially businesses) will pay good money for products that save them time.

Finally, don’t create software for assholes. Generally speaking, a tool is not inherently good or evil. You can use a knife to stab someone, or cut a sandwich. But if you are writing software specifically aimed at spamming, spinning or other asshole scaling activities, then you are the biggest asshole of all.  With power comes responsibility.’If I didn’t do it someone else would’ is no defense. Of course, if you are a true asshole, you don’t (by definition) care what other people think. But, in the unlikely event that you are an asshole that has read this far, consider this – surely even you don’t want a customer base comprised entirely of assholes?

Mobile Internet access in New Zealand?

cape reingaI am thinking about a trip to New Zealand with the family (my wife is a Kiwi). As a microISV I need Internet access to keep the business running. I might be able to rent accommodation with broadband or find Internet cafes, but I would like to have mobile Internet access as a back-up. Unfortunately it looks as if my UK mobile Internet provider doesn’t even support roaming in NZ. Even if I swap to another UK provider, roaming costs would probably be prohibitive.

Ideally I would like to just rent a data card in NZ for a month. But a search on Google turned up nothing, apart from one service apparently only available to Australians. My only other thought is to ask one of my wife’s relatives to sign up with vodaphone.co.nz for their ‘no term’ mobile broadband plan, then cancel at the end of the trip. I will probably have to buy a new data card as well, as I doubt my Three Networks Huawei USB modem and SIM would work with Vodaphone NZ.

Any Kiwis reading this? Suggestions would be welcome.

The view from my office

This was the view from my ‘office’ last week, on holiday in Dorset (that’s Corfe Castle you can see in the background). You never really get a day off when you run a microISV, but spending an hour a day answering emails isn’t too onerous. Certainly it is better than not going on holiday. Mobile Internet access is truly a wonderful thing.

The above photo was taken by Claire. Below is a panorama created using Autostitch from 8 separate photos taken by me (click to enlarge).