Friday, 31 July 2009

The penultimate pith taking by Orange...

OK, new phone, new provider, new contract. And Orange are still taking the pith. Be warned: Requesting a PAC (Port Authority Code) from these muppits is like getting blood from a stone. Oh, they'll give it to you, but NOT on the phone. They WANT their extra pound of flesh. They'll send it to you by mail instead.

That's a marked difference to one2one, when I left them close to twelve years back, one call to their customer service department, on their phone, and I had a PAC to give to Orange the day I signed with them. No fuss, no problems.

Orange, on the other hand, refuse to do this. Oh, yeah, I know the regs are there from OFCOM to provide us number "portability", but Orange know the rules better than thee or me, and get around them by sending the PAC by mail.

Vodafone are under no obligation to accept a PAC after you've signed the contract with them, and this was made clear to me at the point of purchase, so there y'go. I could have delayed, but frankly I've had more than enough of Oranges stuff and nonsense (VERY polite way of putting it, lemme tell you), and just want the hell shot of them.

And I'm now at part one of "Operation Launch Orange Into Space". Part two will be replacing their broadband service with a more cost-effective (and cheaper) alternative, and for that, I'm gonna be doing a LOT of research over the coming weeks.

Parts three, four, and five will comprise replacing the broadband, and paying the final bills to orange, after which, you may well and truly colour Orange as greyed out.

I've been trying to compose a pithy end to this Blant, but really and truly, can't find one. Pity. Oh well. Obviously too early in the day - I mean night - for me. Oh well, breakfast calling...

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

It's shaping up to be one of those nights...

I'm writing this one on my nice shiny new toy, while I'm on the stand in my layover. Makes a pleasant change to be doing something other than staring into space at 01:40 am!

This evening got off to a wonderful start... First the heavens let go. Cats, dogs, stairs, bannisters, etc. etc. Makes for wonderful driving, lemme tell you.

Especially if you drive a bleedin' great bus... Everyone and their son then seems to leave their brains behind at home, and carves up every other road user they can find - especially if it's a big red thing designed to carry lots of people, like, oh, a bus.

One of these brainless twits, apparently having decided that letting folks know what he intended to do was a burdensome trouble, stopped in the middle of the road (at least two feet from the kerb), and waited to let someone get in - it was a minicab, of course. Now, when I was driving a minicab (close to seven years ago now), I never would have done that - not only is it inconsiderate to other road users, it is also asking to have someone less alert crash into the back of the car. Even more so if one doesn't indicate - let me remind some of you - telepathy only works when BOTH brains are working!

Anyhow, later on, I then had a rather dumb passenger and his two mates get on at a major South London route nexus (Where many routes cross paths); chummy thought it a great wheeze to play pass-the-pass.

Problem was that not only was he calling "take it! Take it!" to his mate behind him in a loud voice (What, they think I'm deaf?), but I could also see what was going on too (hmm... I must be blind too). Needless to say, the ticket machine bleeped twice and came up "Attempted Passback".

I pointed out that (a) I knew what he'd tried to do, (b) he was going to have to pay a cash fare to travel, and (c) had there been a Revenue Protection Officer on board, they'd most likely be in a spot of rather serious bother.

Anyhow, he didn't say a thing, just stumped up the two quid required, and naffed off to find his mate, who'd left him there to sink or swim. Nice having mates like that!

Then, I get a refugee from a Jamaican road movie, playing his harmonica at full tilt - thankfully he wasn't one of those beggars we occasionally see on the buses, and his playing was at least competent (in tune!), but his singing... Well to be charitable, it didn't break any windows, but then he couldn't pitch his voice high enough!

(Photo taken while killing time halted (service brake on) at a bus stop... sometimes, the scheduling gives a little too much time...!)

Then he got into a heated argument with another passenger upstairs... I thought I'd cornered the market in four-letter non-repetitive speeches, but ye gods, I'm glad the paint didn't peel!

Like I said. It's one of those shifts, and I'm only a third the way through!

Ye gods!


Later on, we had another fool on the road... this time, a regular. Seeing as I was for once this night empty of passengers, I took a minute to very briefly park the bus, stuck the hazard lights on, and took this photo. Note the blind bent to the right. To get past this idiot, one has to obviously cross onto the wrong side of the road. If someone's hammering it the other way, there's no way in hell they'll stop in time: Even at thirty, it'll be even odds if two vehicles can stop in time - especially in wet or damp conditions.

Wonder if he'll get a ticket, a summons, or just be ignored like so many other road offenders, when the accident he causes happens?

Monday, 27 July 2009

long wet tongues and mis-directions...

OK, got back home this morning from a long weekend away with the better half :) Damn, I needed that :) So did the dogs, when they saw me - they went somewhat nutso :) Especially Chunky, although she did wake me no less than five times on Sunday morning, presumably checking that I was still there, or that she was pleased to see me, or something like that... but at "oh-my-bleeping-god-not-again-in-the-morning!" one tends not to ask these questions, one merely buries ones head beneath the pillow! ... especially when you're having a cold nose thrust in your face immediately followed by a rasping seemingly ten yard long tongue haul across your face... when you aren't expecting this, it is a little... disconcerting... to say the least!

Anyhow, coming home again I used the trial version of CoPilot 7 that I'm trying out.

Having driven down about half the English side of the M4 into London, while I had no major issues with the actual route it supplied, there's a serious problem with the route information and safety Camera handling, to say the least.

I won't mention the roads I came down, but at two major traffic-lit junctions, it failed to give proper voice directions, and the visual confirmation on the screen merely showed the road apparently continuing to either left or right, taking no account of the fact that there was a junction. Luckily I knew the route it was taking me along, so no harm was don, but in an area that I didn't know, this could be potentially dangerous. This can be directly attributed to the fact that while the route follows a major "A" route, road names change: I'm assuming that the "A" route takes precedence over the road names, or even junctions - that's a very poor method of navigation, frankly - I expect to be told "turn left" or "take the (number) exit" and so on, from modern satellite navigation software. I don't expect the damn thing to try to stuff me on several major junctions, frankly.

In addition, it didn't report a "Monitron" safety camera on one road, and in several cases over the weekend away, I've noticed it reporting "caution safety camera" five times for the same camera - most annoying.

Now, remembering that this is on the trial version, I should add that I'm vastly impressed with the quality of the mapping, and clearness of the display: However, I'm not so impressed with the rest of it. I'll give it the full two weeks test to be fair, but I can't see me buying this - there are too many capability issues with it, which is odd, as it's been well reviewed and praised in the magazines and web sites that I've seen.

Maybe I'm expecting too much, but at the very least, I expect the latest generation of SatNav software to at least be able to match what TomTom put out THREE YEARS ago, in TT version 6.

really, that's not too much to ask for in TomTom's competitors, is it?

Friday, 24 July 2009

Testing times... a first look at ALKs CoPilot v 7 Trialware...

I'm trying out new software on the new phone now...

The main thing I'll use on the move (aside form the internet, and I'm doing that now via Opera Mobile from my partners' home this weekend) will be satnav software, of course. Since I got cheesed off by TomTom's total ignorance of it's long-term customer base, I've been looking for other products to go with whatever new PDA/phone I got. Now that I have the phone, it's time to try the software!

I'm ditching TomTom, for the reasons noted in previous Blant entries, main amongst these being a complete and utter lack of map updates - and software updates come to that - for PPC users, which has had a telling rebound effect for TomTom. To be blunt, TomTom (and this is the polite version) hacked off their formerly loyal PDA/PPC customer base, by ignoring them and concentrating on PND users instead, causing a large number of these former TT v6 customers to go to other manufacturers and products.

The upshot was that up until TT v7 was released this year (and which is STILL an obselete product as TomTom PNDs have been issued with v8 for almost a year now), the others had time to improve their products and get an edge into TT's virtual PDA/PPC satnav monopoly.

So, first on test is the free trial version of ALK's CoPilot version 7, one of TomTom's main rivals now that Navman have left the PDA/PPC satnav scene.

Initial downloading and installation of CoPilot was excellent; Downloading was straight-forward, with the software downloaded right off ALKs free trial page, and the maps from a page notified by immediate e-mail. Both the downloadable files (program and map files) came down the pipe and were transferred to the Touch Pro 2 via ActiveSync without a hitch; Installation was easy, but it was immediately after this that the problems started.

Once I'd accesed the intitial configuration files, I then tried to get CoPilot to accept my old TomTom v6 'OV2' Point Of Interest files, as ALK advertised that CoPilot could handle them. Well, it may well do, but certainly the evaluation copy that I'm using had major problems - I'm not convinced that "operator error" was the cause, as the software crashed each time I tried to import the Pocket GPS World OV2 camera files.

I eventually gave up, and downloaded the native CoPilot formatted CSV files instead. This went swimmingly, of course.

I found the menus in CoPilot to be reasonably intuitive and easy to use. I found, though, that the handling of "Safety Cameras" was a tad disappointing, when compared to TomTom: you don't get the option to have dedicated icons for the various types of cameras and speeds - for example, it doesn't differentiate between red light, Gatso, or even SPECS cameras. Likewise, you can't get dedicated warning icons for the various types of cameras. This is where TomTom definately scores over CoPilot.

Where ALK's CoPilot scores hand over fist over TomTom, is in the way it handles the Touch Pro 2 PPC's increased WVGA screen real estate (800 x 480 in portrait mode, as I await a Brodid clip car mount for the new phone) with ease - not once did I get any pixilation, pauses, hangs or video trouble - it was smooth and seamless, just the way it should be.

I did have one major problem, though.

The software got caught in one of those many and small GPS black spots you tend to find dotted around the place. TomTom handled these well, it just paused until it got a signal again, recalculated your position, and carried on.

CoPilot though, suffered a major hissy fit. On LOS (Loss Of Signal), it paused alright, and despite getting a valid RAS (Re-Aquisition of Signal) a few seconds later, petulantly refused to acknowledge this, remaining paused. Luckily for me, this happened in Bracknell at a place I know reaponably well enough not to have to use SatNav to drive through, and just as I was about to nip into the KFC (they HAD chicken this time!) for my better half. I was avble to stop the car in a safe place (the KFC car park, actually!), shut down the paused CoPilot, and re-start it, in order for the software to relise that yes, there was indeed a valid GPS signal coming in.

I had been half-expecting this problem, to be honest - it's been noted by others on various forums over the last few months. ALK need to look into this rather quickly - if it happens on, say, a motorway, where you're unfamiliar with the area, and cannot safely re-start CoPilot, you could find yourself with a very annoying and costly missed turn. NOT what one wants from bleeding edge technology, of course.

So, all things balanced out thus far, if TomTom v6 is graded at, say 7 (lack of maps is a big problem), then while CoPilot should get a 9, it also gets a 7, due to the LOS/RAS issue.

We'll see how it behaves for the rest of the 14 days of the 15 day trial period...

Watch this space :)

Helpful Customer Service - what a change!

Just got off the phone with Vodafone Customer Services - what a pleasure it was to actually speak to someone in this country in IT (Information Technology) who KNOWS what they're on about, rather than bluffing it or reading from a script!

I had to get my phone's SIM card enabled to allow access to "t'infernalnut" (as a mate up north once called it!). Phoned Vodafone at 0830 (right smack dab on opening hours, no less!), and got a lad named "Jake". Wondeful lad, asked how I was finding the phone ("turn left at London!") as he was considering getting one - aside from the technical whoopsie I had last night (read below), no problems, aside from getting the net on the phone. So, he guided me, step by step, through the process, including the wap and two different sets of mms settings et al, until it was all sorted - excellent work, that man - much appreciated :)

And WHAT a difference in attitude from Orange, who couldn't care less, from my last phone call to them when I cancelled my Orange contract, not even a plaintive "what can we do to keep you" was uttered, let me tell you. Frankly, I'm rather glad to be shot of orange - and back to Vodafone, who I recall from the dim and distant past (like, 1993 or so) were my first mobile phone service provider!

They were originally binned for being much too expensive (I eventually went to one2one back in 1997 - remember them? They're called T-Mobile now!), then to Orange (before the French take over they were good, then it all went downhill!), and now back to Vodafone...

Small world, innit? ;)

A new toy, a suborbital orbital teddy bear, and a EUREKA! moment...

Well, change day for my mobile phone is now here :)

Having a spare day to do whatever I wanted, I went out and told orange to shove it, and went over to Vodafone instead, purely on reasons of coverage, data, and cost. That and the nice shiny new HTC Touch Pro 2 that was on offer too :)

Then, of course, I got stuck in a God-awful snarl-up on the roads. Someone must have had one hell of a fender-bender or something, took me ages to drive home. Anyhow, I eventually got home, and unboxed all the goodies, loading the new version of ActiveSync into the CD drive, and installed it onto my PC. And that's when things started to go pear shaped, writ large :(

Before I got this new toy, I was using ActiveSync 4.2 with my HP iPAQ hw6915 with no trouble at all: That worked like a dream.

I spent about two hours tonight, getting more and more hacked off - and that's putting it exceedingly mildly... those who know me will readily translate that as turning the air blue, sending my dummy (American: Pacifier) through the nearest Oak tree, and my teddy bear into low earth orbit, and then some ;)

The problem surrounded getting the PC, running Windows XP (SP3, yes, it's fully up to date with all patches and so on), to recognise and play with my new toy. Now, while it happily did this for my iPAQ, it steadfastly refused to do it for the Touch Pro 2. I thought that this was something to do with the new version of ActiveSync, but no, it wasn't. Wish I'd known about this BEFORE I'd started... ho hum...

Before finding the solution, I'd tried messing around in the hardware manager, reloading the drivers, unloading and reloading ActiveSync 4.5, the whole nine blasted yards, and at the two hour point, I was pretty much ready to launch the bloody planet into the sun, let alone all the high-tech stuff on my desk!

But then, in a moment of weakness, I actually looked at the ActiveSync help files... and had a EUREKA! moment!

I'd FINALLY found the solution. Buried beneath the HTC TouchFLOtm interface on the TP2 screens is the actual windows mobile 6.1 operating interface. It's a right sneaky wotsit to find (well, I thought it was, anyhow), but find it I did. Combined with the information from the help files, it did the job :)

Here's the process:

Start -> settings (cog icon) -> ALL SETTINGS (bottom left of screen) -> Connections (tab, bottom right) -> USB to PC

You will now see a radio button "ActiveSync (Sync with outlook) - leave that clicked.

There's a check box immediately beneath - "Enable faster data synchronisation" - UNCHECK THIS.

You will find the Touch Pro 2 will now communicate with XP :)

Ye gods, it was a right bugger to figure out - couldn't find anything online, only stumbled on this by chance!

Hope this helps new TP2 owners like me, anyhow :)

Next up... phone Vodafone customer services tomorrow morning and find out why my unlimited internet hasn't been activated yet...

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Bikes, bumps, and a burn-up...

Another pedicab (a.k.a. another traffic hazard) caught my eye last night. Note the lack of lighting (hours of darkness, around 2am in Central London off a busy Oxford Street on Saturday Night). It's also parked up illegally on not one but two crossing points, this being the corner of a traffic lit junction. If a car parked there, it'd be lifted rather rapidly by Westminster... yet this gormless candidate from the Darwin School of Parking seems to have got away with it.

I'll say it until I'm blue on the face, most likely, but the riders of these things are dangerous. They do NOT obey the rules of the road, and they appear to have no regard for others on either the road or the pavement. Their machines do not meet even the bare minimum of regulations for road-going conveyances - hells bells, they don't even have red reflectors, let alone lights, and they weave in and out of traffic with wild abandon, whether they have paying passengers or not. When the hell will someone actually DO something about these morons?

Next up... bump!

The owner of the somewhat wrecked vehicle behind the Police car obviously watched too much Dukes of Hazard as a kid... he tried to impact weld the post he hit to his engines' piston block! Messy!

I was a bit luckier than my colleagues following me a few minutes later, mind... shortly after I passed the scene, a broadcast over my two-way radio informed me that the road had closed "for a short hold" to allow for recovery of the wreck. "Short hold" in this case meant, I was later told, forty-five minutes of waiting for a recovery truck driver to meander all over the place trying to get a good angle from which to lower his stingray lift flat bed recovery truck, attach a cable, and drag the thing onto the back of his flat bed - oops!

And lastly this time around... a burn-up :)

I've been trying to get a decent photo of this guy for ages :) Finally got a half decent shot this time :) he's shown great initiate in setting up his BBQ set opposite a night club in south London, but unluckily for this lad, it was not only cold, but a tad damp last night, which reduced, rather dramatically, the amount of potential customers he could serve!

He did, however, have a full rack of (presumably) chicken on the go when I passed him at five a.m. this morning morning, though - being a little blocked of nose, I couldn't smell it - which may or may not have been a good thing ;-)

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Leaving Orange... part three...

I've had a LOT of problems with Orange in the past while I was in contract, and I've been looking to leave them (at least, their mobile service, anyhow). The complication has always been the provision of their home broadband service as part of the last contract... so... having seen the blurb for the TG01, and thinking "ok, so I'm with Orange, so it might count for something, even if I'm out of contract now, so let's see what Orange can do"...

Note that I'm well out of contract lock from their Canary 30 calling package (with no data plan). This was the plan I signed up to when I got their broadband service a couple of years back; I also pay a notional fiver a month for their "unlimited" home broadband service. On the phone to their helpful young lady at orange Broadband, it turns out that if I leave orange Mobile, the fiver will rise to a score (twenty quid) a month.

That's an extra £15 a month for what I'm using!

OUCH Part one

I was then on the phone for something like 20 minutes to a fairly helpful (for a change I got an intelligent human there as well - I must've been on a roll!) bloke at Orange Mobile Retentions, to see what kind of deal they could do me on the latest gadget to hit the shelves, the Toshiba TG01, one heck of a powerful Windows Mobile PDA/Phone (details over on GSMArena)

However, despite looking at every dodge, from reduced calling plans, increased calling plans, length of contracts, and so on, the best they could offer was two years (24 months) at 50 quid a month including 1 gig of data allocation (that's a tenner a month) and a one-off charge of 100 quid for the Toshiba TG01 handset itself.

With the insurance, the Canary 30's costing me roughly £35 a month. They'd be asking an extra £15 to twenty (if you add in the Orange Car Insurance) a month.

OUCH part two

I think it's time to (1) revert to my original idea of a lesser phone (HTC Touch Pro 2 or Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 come immediately to mind) and (2) look at another service provider (T-Mobile comes to mind on data/phones alone) ...

Although getting all the figures to balance out on what the yanks call a "revenue neutral" model is gonna be... challenging...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Silent Callers (Part Deux)

I am now really really really ****** off with these morons. You would think that someone would pay attention to the Telephone preference Service.

I've been using "Who Called Me" to find out the details of these idiots who call when either I'm trying to sleep, or when I'm out, and who don't leave a message or hang up on answering their damned calls. It's an excellent resource, and I commend it to you. Here're the logs from others who are getting the same as I am from this one damned number... "Who called me" website details.

It appears that BT think that they're immune from the silent calls regulations. While I investigate how to disabuse them of this notion, I've now also registered with "SilentCall-Gard". Let's hope this works where TPS have failed.

I really am getting rather bloody tired of this.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Round and round the merry-go-round ;)


It was one of those shifts again, last night!

First off, Parliament Square. They're resurfacing and adding what appears to be Shell SureGrip to the road surface as well. As a result, they'd closed off lanes in all directions, on all approaches.

The traffic was, as you'd expect, even in very late evening, a bloody nightmare.

It took fifteen minutes to crawl round Parliament Square northbound, to find that the Whitehall exit was closed off.


Instead, we had to go along Bridge Street, turn onto Embankment, and then up Horseguards Avenue and onto Whitehall instead. Anyone who's driven that rout in heavy traffic will tell you: It adds another ten to twenty minutes onto your journey. Include the 15 minutes around the merry-go-round that was parliament Square, and you'll get the correct impression that I was well late.

So, it was into the stand in central London, spin the blinds, scribble madly onto the log card, check the bus for sleepers (more later), and off we go again.

South bound was a tad better - the traffic was moving more quickly, and the delays were manageable, meaning I only had to toe it for half the trip, not the remainder of the trip. Still, it kept the punters happy, as I wasn't having to "drag the road" and crawl along at 20-25mph for a change :)

Mid-duty, and getting to the southern end of the route for my meal (supposedly lunch, this at four in the morning!) break, the heavens decided to open up. Writ large.

One solid ten minute deluge of stair rods, cats, dogs, and any other notional live creatures dropped from altitude (yeuch, what a messy thought!) later, the road was as slick as, well, you supply the simile ;)

Just as well it was a Thursday night in the outer suburbs - the roads were extremely empty, helped me to keep to time at the reduced speed due to the slightly slippery road surface :)

Then, later, we got the last trip down south... and a sleeper, who really needed to be charged room and maybe even half board...? You decide if he needed to pay £48 for the bed *evil grin* - the photo was taken off the CCTV monitor - I've sanitised it to cover his face and preserve his anonymity (ain't I nice, lol), but damn, I was chuckling at the cheeky wotsit.

Then I realised that I'd probably have to wake to poor sod up at the other end, and my grin faded. Nothing worse that being the last bus south, and a punter waking up to find that he'd have to catch three more buses to get home after falling asleep. They tend to vary in reaction on that news, some good, some bad, most grumbling like you just ate their last Rolo or something.

Not this one, though :)

He actually woke up for his stop, and got off all on his own!

Nice one, guv! Hope the crick in the neck wears off!