Monday, 28 February 2011

My gripe with Telstra

In Australia it seems that every second person you meet has a gripe about Telstra. Until recently I wasn't one of them. I've never really had any reason to point the finger -- but I'm coming to realise that this may be because I've only been dealing with them for a single straightforward service: my home phone line. Given that I make very few calls or phone plan changes, there's been very little to go wrong.

Since finishing my job, however, my relationship with Telstra has grown more complicated. I've had to transfer my mobile phone service into my name (which turned out to be far simpler than I envisaged) and ditto for my ADSL connection (which is turning out to be far more complicated than I could possibly have imagined . . . as I write this I am once more on the line to technical support. . .)

So, what has gone wrong? The litany of evils is so long I hardly know where to start. And with each new day, it's one step forward, three steps back. It's been going on for three weeks and I've lost count of the number of calls I've made, let alone the number of phone consultants I've spoken to in about five different departments.

I'm not going to painstakingly retell the story here -- partly because it's so complicated I can't remember it properly, and partly because I'm sure it wouldn't be that interesting. But I am going to attempt to summarise all the things that have gone wrong:
1. Double invoicing since August last year, when the account was first transferred into my name (but remained on the 2nd business line into my house). It took an hour on the phone to untangle the twin accounts and figure out the invoicing.
2. Incorrect records on Telstra's part. They have at least three different computer systems with conflicting information. Some of these systems stated (incorrectly) that the ADSL service was already on my home phone line, which made a request to transfer the service to this line confusing from their point of view. So confusing they simply did nothing.
3. When I finally received a call from Telstra stating that the ADSL service had gone onto my home phone line, the entire line ended up dead. This meant I had to wait five days for a service technician to come out to repair the line. (The technician informed me that it had been wired incorrectly at the exchange.)
4. Once my home phone line was up again, still no ADSL service to my modem. Telstra's systems stated that I should have it, so this eventually led to a second call out.
5. Reconfiguration of modem, which took out the existing ADSL service (on the business line).
6. Morons on the end of the phone, who took 20 mins to figure out they didn't know how to reschedule the call-out for a time when I'd actually be home, and said they'd ring me back to confirm a rescheduled time -- which they never did.
7. The second call-out went ahead this morning, despite my attempts to reschedule it, but it seemed I wasn't needed anyway. Received a call from call-out guy number 2 while I was on the tram, stating that he'd fixed my ADSL (once again it was apparently 'wired incorrectly' . . .) and he'd confirmed a signal from my modem. Low and behold, returned home to find ADSL working today! (yay)
8. When I began writing this post, I thought it was all over . . . but no! Received a call from my mother half an hour ago to say that my home phone was now ringing through to some unknown man . . . Back on the phone to Telstra and now we're up to escalation number 3. How long until I have a functional home phone number is anyone's guess.

This has been the nightmare of all nightmares. I will say that 80% of the Telstra consultants have been polite and seemed knowledgeable. The rest have been morons. But the bigger problem is that there are so many phone help desks responsible for specific things, that it's very tempting for the phone consultants to fling you to another department if they don't know how to solve something. I think on one call I spoke to four or five different departments. And then every time I call, I have to speak to different people and explain the situation from the beginning -- AGAIN.

And what's with getting you to type in your phone number into the phone keypad, only to have to repeat this information to the consultant anyway? (I asked one of the consultants this, irritably, and was told it was for security/identification purposes . . . bollocks.) And what's with the stupid voice responses that then get repeated back to you and then you get transferred somewhere else anyway . . .? Aaarrrgh!

Yep, I now have a gripe with Telstra, and it's going to take me a while to get over this one. I have wasted so many hours -- I reckon five or six by now -- ringing or thinking about ringing (not wanting to ring, because I know it's going to blow my afternoon). That company has a lot to answer for. And their share price is crap. No wonder.

And the ordeal still isn't over . . .

UPDATE Monday 7 March:
All seems to be working as of 1 March.
The Age featured this article (very similar story!) on 6 March

Friday, 25 February 2011

Browsing in the eBook era

With all the drama surrounding RED Group's financial woes, there has been much analysis on the interwebs and in media discussing how readers' changing habits are impacting the book selling and publishing industry. One of the main differences is the trend for consumers to purchase books online (especially internationally via Amazon or the Book Depository, for example). Another is the emergence of eReaders and the eBook.

I've never purchased a book online. Not a hard copy one. I've traditionally been a book store browser, far more inclined to peruse the shelves, pick up a book, flick through it and purchase -- often with the intention of reading immediately, but certainly not always. I never have identified a book I wanted and then ordered a cheaper version over the net. Until last September, I never had an account at Amazon; indeed, I had only ever visited the site a handful of times.

eBooks are another matter entirely.

I'm surprising myself at the readiness with which I seem to have embraced the eBook. I think it's the absolute immediacy, coupled with the relatively low cost. I love the fact I can look up a specific book or genre and download it to my Kindle right away. It's great for nights like tonight when I feel like something lightweight and fluffy.

Moreover, the lightweight Kindle device makes a chunky book so much easier to read. I haven't abandoned paperbacks all together. At least I don't think I have. (Although I can't help noticing that the only paperbacks I've bought in the last 6 months were books not available to me on the Kindle . . .) But there's a definite shift in my purchasing.

What I've also noticed, though, is how my foray into eReading has radically changed the way I browse for books to read. It's the classic digital media 'viral' marketing model. Amazon sends me a suggestions email every week, based on bestsellers and books similar to what I've recently bought or looked at. Similarly, the web site itself will tell you what books others who looked at this title ultimately bought. Everything is ranked on reader reviews, and price, and 'what others bought'. This often has me clicking and viewing and contemplating books that I would never have come across in a conventional book store.

In many ways this is fabulous. There are so many more titles available in the USA and online than could ever be featured in a local Australian book store -- even one usually as well stocked as Borders. But one needs to remember that quantity does not necessarily mean quality. I'm very well aware there's a whole lot of dross out there, dross that may well have been weeded out by the trusty book shop owner. Amazon reader reviews really cannot be trusted to provide an accurate indication, since one doesn't know what their criteria are. Much reading between the lines is required. On the flip side, however, the prices of such novels can be extremely low, often as little as 99c or even free, so there's little risk.

I'm finding this journey fascinating. It's giving me the freedom to be a whole lot more experimental in my reading, without clogging up my bookshelves or killing any trees. (Yes, I know a library would achieve the same, but that's beyond the scope of my contemplation.) The digital format is somehow baggage-free, a whole different medium. And yet I can still lurk in book shops as the mood takes me. In truth, however, a conventional tree-book now needs to carry a whole heap more weight in order to persuade me to buy it. My frivolous purchases are now more likely to be in pixels.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Priorities

A couple of weeks ago I devised a schedule for all the things I want to achieve while on respite from the daily grind. As expected, the plan was probably a little ambitious, but I have managed to fulfill the two main goals for February: walk and write every day (more or less).

It's been great to have some solid writing time, particularly given that the closer I get to the end of the novel, the harder the final few chapters are to write. It's been very difficult to 'lay the pen down' in the afternoon in order to attend to some of those other items on my list. Some days I've just gone with it and ignored everything else I'm supposed to be doing (like, maybe, finding an income). Other days I've dragged myself away and ticked some of the other things off the list.

February will be finished soon, and I suppose I'll have to give up the indulgence of prioritising writing. Mostly. But I do want and need to maintain a focus on walking and exercising every day. Otherwise, without even the walk to the train station, I'm in danger of becoming a couch potato. But I will need to do something about the time I'm getting up in the morning . . .

Friday, 18 February 2011

Irony

I am currently reading The Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart - How three totally wired teenagers (and a mother who slept with her iPhone) pulled the plug on their technology and lived to tell the tale.

It's a true story about a recent (2009) 6-month experiment, in which a family eschews all digital screens (TVs, iPods, computers...) in the home to reconnect with life instead. The author was greatly influenced in this by Henry David Thoreau and his book Walden, which I gather is the account of Thoreau's two-year 'experiment in living' in the North American Wilderness.

I'm only a couple of chapters in, but already it's striking a chord within me as it discusses the modern trend of today's youth in inhabiting (as opposed to using) digital media. While I am not anywhere close to simultaneously instant messaging, facebooking, twittering/tweeting, skyping . . . and whatever else there is, I certainly find myself effortlessly clicking between my facebook community and my local work-in-progress on a daily (and all-day) basis.

It's too early for me to know what the main message of this book is going to be, but I do find it ironic that at the very time I am reading a book that scrutinises these digital habits, I established my first LinkedIn account. More digital 'connections' to add to my network, and a whole new way of managing my career. More reasons to remain glued to the computer, or my impending iPhone...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Serendipity

I learnt a valuable lesson this afternoon: stressing over all the things on your to-do list is counter-productive. It is a far better idea to go out and meet that friend for lunch. The exercise, fresh air and sunshine (that eventually appears) will cause all the silly angst to evaporate, until you wonder what on earth the problem was. Even better, you realise mid-meal that serendipitously you're only a 5 minute walk from the bathroom shop that is one of the things on your to-do list... So all is well with the world.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A cowardly despicable person

No, I'm not accusing anyone here, just highlighting a cool 'word of the day':

Caitiff
noun: A cowardly and despicable person.
adjective: cowardly, despicable.

I like it! (And I may have someone in mind, after all...)

From wordsmith.org

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The schedule

I have been . . . I'm not sure whether I want to say 'unemployed', but I guess that is the truth . . . for two days now. That is not to say I've been doing nothing, however, for I have set myself a rather long list of tasks to achieve over the next couple of months, and in order to succeed I've drawn up a schedule.

The two most important things in the short term are health/fitness and finishing my novel. As a result, I'm targeting an early morning walk (unless I have an errand to run on foot later in the day) and a morning writing session. That gets the two essentials ticked off by midday.

This allows me to plan all sorts of other critical tasks for the afternoons. This week I am prioritising career stuff: resume, tech writing/communications portfolio . . . and then I guess I'd better check out the job market and start networking. I'm still not clear on what I want to do, but I intend to apply widely and at least get some interview practice in!

I also have grand renovation plans, not to mention house and garden decluttering and maintenance, and myriad 'life stuff' to sort while I have the head space and can attend to things during the day. It's amazing all the little things I have let slide merely owing to a too-hectic job. I am so looking forward to getting my life in order.

Of course, the likelihood of me sticking to the schedule 100% is slim, owing to several factors, including over-optimism, inability to get up at 7am, and things taking longer than I think they will. I am sure I will also have to rein myself in on the writing front some days, when I get absorbed and don't want to stop.

Or maybe sometimes I'll cut myself some slack and go where the mood takes me. Whatever happens, the next couple of months should be awesome.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Wishlist temptation

I've become rather enamoured of my Amazon kindle wishlist. It's like a virtual library of desperately interesting books that I'm simply dying to read -- and they are only a single-click away. Merely perusing the eight titles currently wishlisted makes my stomach lurch with anticipation, and I start contemplating blowing off whatever plans I had for the evening in favour of settling down with a good book . . . er, e-reader. (Actually, I do have plenty of paper-and-ink books I could be reading as well.)

My kindle wishlist is currently growing at a furious rate, because it's that time of the year when my reading group starts nominating books for 2011. Although I may end up deciding to buy hardcopies, I want to identify which selected books are available as kindle books (and therefore can be downloaded instantaneously) before I get suddenly stuck unable to source the book. Unfortunately the first book up for the year is NOT available on the kindle (for Australian readers), but at least I know now!

My kindle wishlist as of this moment is:
  • Room, Emma Donoghue
  • The distant hours, Kate Morton
  • The lake of dreams, Kim Edwards
  • At home, Bill Bryson
  • The next two Sookie Stackhouse novels, Charlaine Harris
  • Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
  • The Scar, China Mieville
 Oh, the temptation!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Mii in the dead of night

I recently received the most awesome early birthday present of a Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit Plus. Since I was away for this past weekend, I didn't get to set up more than the basic unit. But I did get so far as to establish my first 'Mii' (personal avatar).

When I was in Germany, we played Wii Fit a lot, and I loved the avatar created for me by my niece. 'Ellie' was really cool, and I believe she is still the household 'King' of several games, including tightrope walk, big top juggling, segway circuit, bird's eye bulls-eye, and rhythm parade. I haven't been able to create a Mii avatar nearly as good on my own -- does anyone know how I can get hold of Ellie from Germany and download her to my system?

Last night as I stared at the ceiling at 2am, very far from sleep, I hit upon the idea of making Mii avatars of the main characters in my novel. (This is so I have some friends to cheer me on as I seek to improve all my scores.) In fact, I was so wide awake that I got out of bed in the dead of night and spent 20 mins creating avatars for my two leading characters. I was a bit limited as to colours and hairstyle, and I was unable to include a sword for my swordsman, but it's them, more or less. All a bit of fun!