Showing posts with label rant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rant. Show all posts

21 June 2010

Nedbank Service Fail

<span style="font-style: italic;">Rant ahead. Feel free to leave now.<br /><br />No, really! This is just whining in public about the unbelievably crapulatious service Nedbank dishes out to its customers.</span><br /><br />A service I recurringly buy, and have repeatedly bought for... oh, probably more than 5 years, now... using the self-same <span style="font-weight: bold;">Nedbank</span> credit-card... came up for renewal yesterday. Mysteriously the transaction failed, so the vendor sent me an email to let me know. Very odd! As I say, it has worked fine for years. The card has not expired - the only reason transactions have failed before now.<br /><br />Oh well, off to pay the invoice manually. Using the same card, naturally. (It's the Business card, you see, so simpler for tax and accounting than using a personal card.)<br /><br />Next thing, I find my browser redirected to some foreign website "" for "verification". <span style="font-style: italic;">Oh yeah?!</span> There's a crappy, pixelated copy of a Nedbank logo at the top. <span style="font-style: italic;">That sure looks convincing!</span> And they're asking me for all sorts of account details, including my CVV number, ID number, and some arbitrary and mysterious field labeled only "Personal".<br /><br /><span style="font-style: italic;">What sort of phishing operation is this?</span><br /><br />Actually it turns out to be an alleged "Fraud Prevention" thing called 3-D Secure. I've only heard of it because I know people who have had the pain of implementing payment solutions that use it.<br /><ul><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Why did Nedbank not <span style="font-style: italic;">bother</span> to communicate to their customers that they would be requiring this much-changed payment process?</li><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Why do Nedbank not do it on <span style="font-style: italic;">their own website</span>, instead sending me to some website who's identity is a complete unknown to me?</li><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Is this not the most incredibly stupid thing to do in a web where phishing and identity theft is rife?</li></ul>Later, a call to Nedbank's unbelievably crappy customer "service" centre illuminated a whole lot of these details. The bottom line is that:<br /><ol><li>Nedbank <span style="font-style: italic;">absolutely require</span> us to use this 3-D Secure thingie.</li><li>The shitty 3-D "secure" thingie absolutely requires that I enter my cellphone number to complete their process. Unfortunately, where I live, cellphone reception simply does not exist, so <span style="font-style: italic;">not an option</span>.<br /></li><li>So: I have no way to complete their crappy process, and</li><li>Nedbank has no other process.</li></ol><span style="font-weight: bold;">Fail!</span><br /><br />The 3-D Secure form did not even have a field labeled "Cellphone number". How is anyone supposed to guess at this?<br /><br />Then, too, there is no way to opt out. They claim that the 3-D Secure process is to "verify my
identity". This despite the fact that they have all my FICA docs on
record. They have my other business account details on record (because
that's how they get paid every month) and they manage to successfully
send me statements every month, and a new card every couple of years.<br /><br />And the process <span style="font-style: italic;">absolutely requires</span> that I be reachable by cellphone. What if I don't have or want one? What if I have one but can't get reception? Has anybody pointed out to the shit-heads at Nedbank that <span style="font-weight: bold;">SMS is not a secure nor reliable channel of communication</span>?<br /><br /><ul><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Why would I <span style="font-style: italic;">jump through all these hoops</span>, put up with really shitty service and all this pain from Nedbank when Standard Bank (my other, other bank) have been trying to give me a business credit-card for years, only to be turned down (because why would I want <span style="font-style: italic;">another</span> credit card?)</li><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: <span style="font-style: italic;">How quickly can I close this Nedbank account?</span></li><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Did anybody at Nedbank <span style="font-style: italic;">bother to turn their brains on</span> when thinking about this process, or were they - as usual - operating with their heads stuck so far up their own arse that they could see out their own throat?</li></ul><br />Oh! I paid the invoice using my personal credit-card (Standard Bank.) Payment went through flawlessly, painlessly and instantly with no hoops to jump through.

10 September 2009

Network Disasters Happen in Threes Fours

Only 9 more sleeps to go...

Strike 1: Last week, disaster struck in the form of a 2-day DSL outage. Telkom -- my current DSL provider -- blithely went and cleared the fault ticket after 24hours -- without any consultation with me -- because their test centre said that my router was getting a connection to the local exchange. The ticket comment was, "Fault closed at customer request." Liars!

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth later, they discovered that a whole lot of people in the area were experiencing the same problems: very sporadic connectivity with almost no traffic getting through. Turned out to be a fault on the exchange itself.

Strike 2: On the same day that this problem started, my London-housed server went down for Reasons Unknown. Of course I was blissfully unaware of it until Friday. 2 days of server outage. Then my service provider there was terribly slow to rectify the problem (which -- as the universe will insist upon -- involved a fractal nesting of sub-problems with their own sub-sub-problems ad mandelbrot.) As I write, the server is still only partially up. Apache service -- the one my paying customers rely on -- is up and working fine on one IP address, but Tomcat, hosting my personal and "corporate" sites, blogs and wikis still cannot talk through the other IP address. The service I get from VAServ is pretty kak, but not so kak as to be noteworthy -- they really are giving me a very low-cost package, and, as always, You Gets What You Pays For.

Strike 3: At the same time an FTP backup service I use for offsite backups refused to authenticate me, using the same credentials I've been using for years, with the result that I could not even ensure the safety of all the data! Be Still, My Twitching Ulcer.

You're Out: Welcome to this morning, where we present -- for your entertainment and edification -- a reprise of last week's DSL outage. Telkom, predictably, and once again, are in complete denial that there is actually a problem. Their tests show a solid connection between my router and their exchange. No shit, Sherlock! Pity the bits can't squeeze through the tiny opening.

I've always been very happy with the ISP service I've received from WebAfrica, and have, over the years, put many friends and colleagues onto them, not one of whom has had anything less than Sterling service. I've asked WA to take over my DSL service1, too, in light of recent events. The only bit of business Telkom will be getting from me for the foreseeable future will be POTS.

Only 9 more sleeps to go...2

I think this sorry whining actually has a point; it tends to back up my long-held belief that telcos are constitutionally incapable of competently running IP services. The cultures and philosophies that make end-to-end controlled networks are unable to comprehend -- in some weirdly deep, DNA-level way -- how to cope with IP networks which have almost no intelligence in the middle, but live, instead, with all the intelligence at the edges.

People who run IP networks, on the other hand, are able to provide perfectly adequate voice services over IP, which is why they're going to eat the telcos' lunch over the long term.

[1] There's no transfer/installation fee. Their monthly rates are at present the same as Telkom's, and as they roll out their own infrastructure, they anticipate reducing the charges. Their support desk is outstanding, staffed by people who actually know stuff, don't mind admitting mistakes and problems, treat customers like Real Humans instead of problem-id's, and follow through on promises and commitments and ensuring that things get fixed. I can't see any downside, can you?

[2] Of course, it occurs to me a little late, that I'll only be able to actually post this when I get the server working properly again. Which will only happen when I get some reasonable connectivity back. Which might happen slightly after Lucifer goes skiing from his front doorstep.

19 June 2008

Damager or Manager?

Since Open Letters to Management seem so flavour du jour, I thought I'd save the following fine rant from oblivion. Names and project details changed to protect the guilty, of course.

DumbTribe is a small startup in the mobile space. They have started seeing some good traction for their product, but are completely chaotic in their "management" of the company. The company is 100% reliant on IT, yet, whilst they're willing to spend an ordleplex of money on fancy new offices, they're astoundingly short of cash when it comes to things like buying another server to act as failover for their single server. Said server is the sole source of income for the business.
What [ManagerX] calls a "blogger tool" is really a form of Content Management system that ends up providing (among other things) Atom and RSS feeds...

[ManagerX] wrote:

> This has certainly taken longer than we initially thought it would. I
> think it was over a few of months back that we were expecting a
> finished blogger tool.

You seem to have forgotten that there were other tasks that YOU prioritised ahead of the "blog" tool -- development of the feed aggregator and the [BigClient] pilot, not to mention system administration tasks more numerous than I can recall, design and coding assistance to my colleague, installation and maintenance of essential technical infrastructure indispensable to organised development (some of which runs on my own servers, at no additional charge to [DumbTribe], simply because that was the fastest way to get the tools in place.) I regret that I am unable to work on more than one thing at a time, but these are rather complex systems dealing with some very erratic, "dirty" data coming-in, and, like most men, I don't multitask well.

> It is of zero use in it's present state(just like the blogger tool you
> created was in it’s 'unskinned' state(to me the level of things that
> fell under 'skinning' was surprising.

First: I warned right from the start that installation of the necessary software was the quick and easy part, but that changing templates -- "skinning" as you call it -- would take at least several days for someone expert in the templating system. I also made it clear that such templating was NOT in my sphere of competence. Evidently nobody was listening to the bits they didn't want to hear.

Second: I will not take responsibility for your inability to produce a coherent specification for the tool. Lack of any technical specification underlies the several misdirections and false starts. A powerpoint does not BEGIN to form a clear technical specification.

Example: I, at one stage, asked you how many "blogs" it is necessary for the system to support. At that time I had in mind to use a particular piece of software as the foundation infrastructure. Your answer to my question was "thousands!" which answer had a significant impact on my technical decision-making, since the tentatively-chosen solution is unsuited to such large volumes. I certainly made it clear that I was unfamiliar with the more suitable tool, and, indeed, the "skinning" -- the writing of custom templates -- turned out to be more problematic than I anticipated. I made a poor guess in the face of inadequate information, a misleading business requirement and insufficient time to evaluate alternative technical solutions.

In the long run it turned out that a "blog" system is just what [DumbTribe] does NOT need. What IS needed is an article/story management system for providing Atom/RSS feed output. This is in the final stages of development.

You seem to have forgotten that using a blog-system was initially mooted merely as a temporary stopgap solution to provide a mechanism for getting article content into feeds; it was never intended to be the "real" solution. What I have been developing is such solution. Assuming you don't sabotage delivery with yet another interruption.

I would have been finished 10 days ago had [my colleague] had enough spare hours to assist me on areas where I do not have the deep knowledge of data structures and code she already has in place, and if the "specification" had not been changed on a number of occasions. Unfortunately other more pressing issues have had to take precedence on her time, with resulting delays on the "blog" project. Furthermore the assistance I have (gladly) given [said colleague] on other projects has also had the effect of taking several days from "blog" development.

> I am sure you understand what this looks like from our end. It just
> feels like you can’t give us what we need.

Yes, I am pretty sure I DO understand. It seems to me that you think one of two things; either:

1. That I am incompetent to produce working software, or

2. That I am dishonest and lie to you about my activities.

I am neither, and find either accusation hurtful, denigrating, and completely unprofessional. Software development, unlike so many other jobs, does not allow one to delude oneself about the limits of ones knowledge or abilities, so the charge of incompetence is easier for me to dismiss when I consider its source; I know exactly how good I am.

Clearly you have absolutely no clue how software development works, nor what is a "normal" pace of production for software systems. The fact that your most-recent experience of software development is exemplified by [colleague], who is prepared, for reasons I cannot comprehend, to endanger her health and wellbeing by working outrageous hours in order to meet ridiculous, unrealistic and arbitrary deadlines does not alter the truth of what I am saying. Nor is it my place to attempt to teach you how software development works; for that sort of work I charge considerably more than you pay me.

The fact that you have badly under-resourced this area of the business is hardly my fault.

> I am so frustrated and feel if I have to explain what we need again I
> will go mad.

Unfortunately software is all about the detail. If you do not tell a developer all the detail that they need, they will guess, and likely guess wrong.

Therefore, where details are lacking I will ask again and again and again. I have on occasion asked users to describe their requirement from beginning to end as many as 8 times in a single day in order to be sure I understood the requirement. Then I asked them a couple more times the next day. I am deeply sorry if my need to know what you want in full detail drives you mad -- I certainly do not wish to cause such mental anguish.

> Please can you confirm that you understand and accept all the
> functionality that we need

No. I do not believe I understand what you need, particularly as you keep changing the requirements. I am not a mind-reader, and you have not produced a comprehensive technical specification.

Example: Your comment on Monday, "Make sure we can direct the 'see original story' link to a site of our choosing (e.g. [ClientA] sites or [ClientB] sites)" This directly CONTRADICTS the requirement laid out in your powerpoint that NO such link be present. What am I supposed to do with that? I can put such a link in (though linking to what, I have no idea, nor do you say -- another missing detail) or I can leave it out (as is done at present.) I am happy to do either, or to make any changes you require, since I understand that business requirements can and do change from time to time. However, changing what is already implemented does unfortunately take some time and cannot simply be done with a wave of a magic wand.

Example: The original requirement was for articles to have a single image attached. Then an image or a URL. Then multiple images or URLS. Then it became "unusable unless we can upload video". Then we didn't need video any longer. Then we were back to one image/URL. Currently I am informed that multiple images/URLS are a non-negotiable requirement. Every time a change such as this is introduced it costs me hours or days in the attempt to comply.

And you wonder why there have been delays.

My current aim is to get the system in place with the capability to upload ONE image or attach ONE URL, either of which shall appear at the tail-end of the feed content (another detail not specified.) It is my belief that it is better to get SOMETHING up and running, even though we all agree that it is NOT the end-product desired. Then we evolve it to the state we desire. After all, that is why it is called "soft"-ware.

> and let me know what *date* we can expect a working tool to start
> testing.

In the absence of a full, clear, comprehensive specification, no such estimate can be made by anybody. In effect you are waving your hands about, saying "build me a Tudor-style house over there" and then demanding that I tell you how long it is going to take without giving me the plans for the house, specifying the building materials, size of the house, number of bedrooms, etc. When you supply me with a proper User Requirement Specification -- for which I will gladly supply a Word template outlining all the necessary information it should contain -- I may consider beginning to make estimates.

> I don’t think it is unreasonable for me to ask you to commit to a
> deadline, the brief is surely clear now after all these emails back
> and forth and the very easily accessed example of which I
> asked you to use as a starting point.

On the contrary I think it thoroughly unreasonable to make such demands. The "brief" (whatever THAT is) is non-existent. To point to and claim that that is what you want is ridiculous, since is totally unsuited to your needs. If it were suitable there would have been no need to build anything else and we would not be having this conversation.

I will remind you that I am contracted to deliver 40 to 80 hours per MONTH of work -- not per week. This was deliberately and clearly negotiated up front. Consequently I do not work full 8-hour days on DumbTribe activities, which, too has its effect on delivery schedules. The fact that I consistently seem to end up working more than the agreed number of hours per month seems to be taken for granted, or alternatively is regarded by you as an attempt to rip you off. On the contrary, it is a good-faith attempt to come some way further than I strictly, am contractually obliged, in an attempt to help DumbTribe meet its goals.

A lack of planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part.

In the extremely unlikely event that I elect to extend/renew my contract, should DumbTribe wish to do so, please be assured that I will require a considerable tightening-up of the conditions relating to all of these issues.

16 December 2006

Technorati STILL sucks (and blows!)

In response to "The Technorati prism vs reality":

Technorati is a joke - a complete fucking waste of time. 

As a source of statistics it is meaningless, inconsistent within their its own presentation, and takes forever to catch up with reality - sometimes months.

As a search engine it sucks.  Google's blogsearch is way, way better at finding relevant blogs and articles.

And then Technorati have the gall to present Alexa stats on blogs, too, as if Alexa's stats were any better.

This has all been covered before.  Ad nauseam.

Frankly, I'm not sure why we all keep using this piece of crap. Perhaps its time to build something that actually works!
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