Saturday, December 11, 2010

How to get Froyo on your SaskTel Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant

EDIT, APRIL 2011: Hey guys, I noticed for some reason this blog post is getting lots of traffic. Just a heads-up, the info might be out of date and inaccurate by now, especially considering that Android 2.3 is starting to roll out to the Vibrant phones!

Irritating news yesterday, as Samsung Canada announced Froyo (Android 2.2) was available for the Galaxy S Vibrant on SaskTel - and SaskTel said that was false.

Well, good news, a bunch of enterprising hackers have figured out how to get Froyo on their SaskTel Vibrants anyway. Basically, we're going to flash our SaskTel Vibrants with Bell firmware. I'm collecting these links as a helpful internet denizen, but I can't take any credit for any of the process (I do want to thank Bman_1 for pointing me in the right direction).

Standard Disclaimer: While this worked for me, there's a chance it may not work for you. If messing with your phone's firmware makes you queasy, wait for the official SaskTel update. You and you alone are responsible if you brick your phone. These instructions are largely based on this forum post with a few more details added.

UPDATE DECEMBER 19/2010: I can't say whether it's because of this procedure or not, but my Vibrant bricked itself a few days after this update. I heard it turn itself off (it played that off animation) and I was unable to revive it. It died randomly while I wasn't touching it. BEWARE!!!

--== How to get Froyo on your SaskTel Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant ==--

1. Download Kies Registry Patcher from this forum post on XDA-Developers. You will need to register for the forums. Yes, a small pain, but you want the latest version of this software.

2. Download and install Samsung Kies. This is Samsung's massive, bloated updating program. If you already have it installed, make sure you have version 1.5.3.10103.102 installed.

3. If you have Kies open after installing it, close it. Launch Kies Registry Patcher.

  • Set "Enable Spoof" to true
  • Set "Spoof Product Code as" to BMC (this is Bell Mobility Canada's code). 
  • After you select BMC, "Spoof Software Revision as" should say "I9000UGJG9/I9000BMCJG9/I9000UGJG9/I9000UGJG9". Kies version should be the same as above.
  • Click "Write Registry" and click "yes" to apply the update. 
  • You're done with the Kies Registry Patcher for now, but leave it running in the background. You'll need it in a minute. 
4. Open Samsung Kies. Now, refer to Samsung's great step-by-step instructions to updating your phone to Android 2.2. 

5. When you get to Step 13 on Samsung's upgrade instructions, you'll be waiting 2-5 minutes while the firmware is downloading to your Vibrant. This is a great time to snag a copy of the ROM, so go back to Kies Registry Patcher and select Rom (top menu bar) then "Save ROM". Don't worry, the update takes a few minutes, you'll have plenty of time to make this step. 

6. After Step 14, your Vibrant will reboot itself. The first bootup to 2.2 will be the longest bootup you will ever experience, DON'T PANIC and DON'T PULL THE BATTERY. It will start up after a few minutes. 

Once your phone has booted up, you will be running in the slowest and ugliest Android environment you will ever experience. BE PATIENT. All programs and services need to re-initialize themselves in the 2.2 environment. Give your phone about 20 minutes to sort itself out, then reboot it again (shut it down by holding the power button, don't do a battery pull). 

After upgrading, my Email app (not Samsung Email) was crashing and preventing me from pulling down the top status bar. I had to remove my work Exchange account from Settings -> Accounts and Sync. After that, things were working perfectly. 

I didn't see that much of a speed increase with the upgrade (I don't have a rooted phone or OneClickLagFix) BUT the new features are really awesome. Voice Search works great, you can install Skype, and Chrome to Phone works perfectly! 

I hope this guide is useful to a few people! If you're looking for support, your best bet is visiting that XDA-Developers thread. My upgrade went perfectly so I won't be much help troubleshooting. 

Good luck! 

--== BONUS: Fix GPS Issues if you haven't already ==--

When I got my Vibrant, the GPS was lackluster. If you're running Android 2.1, visit this XDA-Developers post and follow those instructions. 

If you're running Android 2.2, the number code stops in the above link stops working. You can get to the LbsTestMode menu by downloading an app called Any Cut from the Market, long-pressing your home screen, select Shortcuts, select Any Cut, select Activity, then scroll way down and select LbsTestMode. Click the shortcut, then go back to the above-linked post and change your SUPL/CP settings.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Supper at Hole in the Wall

Robyn beat me to the punch posting about our excellent meal at Hole in the Wall, near Dundurn, SK. I highly recommend you check out her pictures of our amazing meal.

Here's a preview:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Waking Up Easy for $35

Problem: I am a heavy sleeper. I am usually great at waking up on time for ultra-early morning commitments in the summer because of all the natural light, but when it's dark in the winter, I have a lot of trouble throwing myself out of bed.

Not a solution: Bedside wake-up lights/alarm clocks.

(click to go to Amazon)

These tacky wake-up light alarm clocks aren't any more complex or expensive (materials-wise) than your average $20 alarm clock, but because they're often marketed as "beauty products" or "therapeutic products" (for such magical side effects as "improved mood" and "more energy") the cheap ones are often $100 or more. Personally I don't buy those sketchy claims, I just want to wake up in some light! 

Solution: Programmable Timer/Light Switch, $35
Packaging pictured with my awesome desktop wallpaper.

I grabbed the AUBE TI032-3W from Rona at Preston Crossing for $35 after finding good reviews online. It features seven memory slots where you can easily program your light's behaviour. I've used five memory slots by setting it to turn on at 6:15am and turn off at 7:00am each weekday.

Here's the control panel. Future bedroom!!

When that little switch is set to "on" (it really means "auto") the switch follows the programs you specify. However, you can also override the programs at any time by pushing the outer faceplate - it's one big button. So on a Monday when my light turns on at 6:15am with my alarm, I can hop out of bed and turn it off at 6:20am - it doesn't have to stay on until 7am, as I've programmed it to do. But if I forget to turn off my light, it will turn off at 7am. Similarly, I can turn on my light at any time during a period where it's programmed to stay off.

The panel under the LCD closes to become one big on/off button. 

This $35 device took me under 15 minutes to install. Basically I just took out my old manual light switch and connected this one. Even though the installation was easy, if you're unfamiliar with electrical wiring and HOW TO DO IT SAFELY I would highly recommend finding someone with experience - preferably an electrician - to help you out

5/5 stars so far!! As the days keep getting longer, I am looking forward to not waking up in pitch blackness.

Monday, October 18, 2010

SLOWTALLICA

My friends.... we have invented something amazing. Picture Metallica's crunchy riffs - yes, even if you're a Metallica hater, you know there is that one song you still like - and now picture them slowed down and pitch reduced by 25%.


Yes... enter SLOWTALLICA.

I was at a buddy's house, playing some video games and having some beers. We through Metallica's Master of Puppets 45rpm LP on his record player, without realizing the turntable was set to 33rpm. Dismay and annoyance at our so-called "error" immediately turned to PURE JOY as we realized just what we had discovered*.

*Technically, Slowtallica has already been discovered. But we'd still like credit for an independent discovery. 

I can barely express how awesome Slowtallica is without extremely profane and emphatic language, but I will do my best to keep this clean.

Slowtallica takes Metallica's thrash hits and turns them into crunchy, deliberate pieces of low, heavy metal. In some respects, Slowtallica sounds like the slower, incredibly low and crunchy viking metal songs of Amon Amarth. And like Amon Amarth, James Hetfield's voice is transformed from his normal pseudo-raspy mid-range "Yeaaahhhh!"s and "OHhhhhhh!"s to awesome, demonic, hellspawn vocals - the way heavy metal was meant to be delivered.

Don't believe me? I took the liberty of including a few samples in the 1-minute-30-second video below:



I kept the sound clips to 30 seconds to minimize the odds of the video getting flagged for copyrighted content. We start off with a Metallica song that everyone should know: Master of Puppets. We then slow it down 25% and therefore make it 25% better. We move on to a sampling of Leper Messiah, which sounds absolutely, insanely deadly with your speakers or headphones maximized, and finish it off with an instrumental sampling from Orion.

Wow, just wow, right?

If you want a Slowtallica album all for yourself, I can't give it to you! But, if you have some legally-acquired mp3s (or any mp3s, really), you can download Audacity then follow this tutorial to create some Slowtallica of your very own. Tip: -25.9% is the perfect slowing factor.

\m/

Monday, October 4, 2010

Best Deal I've Encountered in a While!

I'm a huge Law & Order fan. HUGE.

I told myself that when I graduated, I'd buy every (available) season of Law & Order on DVD. This includes the original series, not SVU or Criminal Intent. About 9 seasons are available now (though not Seasons 1-9 - it's 1-7 and a few Emmy-winning seasons).

So I had the NBC/Universal Store bookmarked for ages. Yesterday I clicked it, and saw that all Law & Order DVD box sets were marked down to $20 from $60!

On top of that, I Googled "NBC coupon" and managed to get another 25% off my entire purchase! By pure luck, that magnificent coupon expired yesterday - the day of my purchase!

No more words. Here's my magnificent email receipt (click for big):

Oh yeah! Seven seasons of Law & Order plus a few other small items, plus shipping to Canada cost me less than $150! My life is awesome.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"IF x=toxic, BAN x" - doesn't work.

This story caught my eye and ear this week: Children Hospitalized after eating toxic plant seeds.

If the article is TL;DR for you, five kids in Moose Jaw were taken to hospital after ingesting the seeds of Angel’s Trumpet, a toxic plant that can easily kill a human. The kids tried it because they heard about its hallucinogenic effects and wanted to get high.

The article and the accompanying story on CBC Radio touched a nerve when interviewees (a professor in the SP article and a police officer on the radio) floated the idea of banning the plant to prevent this from happening again.

Banning a pretty flower because of its toxicity and availability is a bad idea for several reasons:

  • Hundreds of other poisonous substances that can get people high and/or kill them are available everywhere - cleaning products, gas, glue, Mom & Dad’s medicine cabinet, off-the-shelf pharma products like cough syrup, paint, varnish, etc etc. 
  • Difficulty of enforcement. Although I’d love to see RCMP and police carefully inspecting flower beds as part of their patrols. 
  • Frequency of incidents. All of the parents, police, and newscasters in this story had no idea this plant was toxic - it’s not like Angel’s Trumpet abuse is a common problem. 
  • Taxpayers pick up the tab for processing civil (or criminal!) penalties, enforcement, and awareness.

On top of these reasons, no one likes getting high from this flower. A doctor on CBC Radio said that the threshold between getting high and death from the Angel’s Trumpet is “dangerously thin”. Wikipedia cited this paragraph about the plant’s effects: “No other psychoactive substance has received as many "train wreck" (i.e., severely negative experience) reports as has Datura. The overwhelming majority of those who describe their use of Datura find their experiences extremely mentally and physically unpleasant and often physically dangerous.” In other words, if people want to get high, there are plenty of safer, more accessible, and more controllable options (however illicit those options may be).

CBC Radio had talked to some smart Moose Jaw kids who said that this was really an eye opener for them, and that they had no idea about the plant or its effects until this incident. There’s the perfect solution straight from the kids! Let’s re-focus on outdoor education and safety - “don’t randomly eat plants and mushrooms from the woods!”

Those five kids made an extremely dumb mistake, but I hope they pull through and get out of the hospital soon. They’ve learned their lesson and their experience highlighted the dangers of this plant enough to scare the whole province out of trying it. If we ignore education and push for enforcement, well, I can’t help but be reminded of this article.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fuel Economy and the Weather

In January of 2008 I got my first-ever car and I was curious about the mileage - so I built this.

Here's my fuel economy by month (click for more):


Here's the weather, by month (click for more): 




Hooray for data! Who knew a 40-degree temperature difference would make car mileage almost twice as bad.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The CRTC Sucks

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission sucks.

I just got this nifty little widget in my Gmail inbox:


Yeah!! It's a PHONE! How awesome is that? Right now, you can use a phone inside of Gmail to call ANYWHERE in Canada or the USA - for free. Look, here are some calls I've made:



Mmm, Chinese food. 

But wait, there's more! Check out all these cool features...


Basically, Google will give you a new - free - phone number that allows you to answer phone calls on your computer, transfer calls from your cell to your computer (or vice versa), and allows you to give people one telephone number that could ring your cell, home, and work numbers all at the same time (if you wanted).

But there's the catch - US numbers only. 

The reason Canadians don't get access to futuristic call managing systems and advanced voicemail functionality is not because Google doesn't like Canadians - it's because the CRTC doesn't like Canadians. 

To have those advanced features, you need a real telephone number to link to your Google Voice account. CRTC regulations state that anything that can receive incoming phone calls - period - needs to have e911 services, so that when you call 911 from that number they can find your position. 

A purely VOIP telephone number, like Skype or Google Voice, cannot receive incoming calls (unless you do some advanced hackery by purchasing a US-based phone number) from a cell phone or landline because Skype and Google Voice can't offer e911 services - it's just the nature of the technology. So the CRTC is essentially telling Canadians to take their advanced technology and "suck it". No, you cannot have a newer way to communicate because then your friendly neighbourhood telecom can't charge you 83 cents plus a $6.25 system administration fee per phone bill.

What's most painful about these restrictions that prevent Canadians from benefiting from new technology is that the CRTC knows they suck:
The paradigm of broadcasting is bound in time by the technology which informed it. We are moving away from that technology and its limitations and our laws should move to address problems appropriate to today and not those of 1958 or 1997.
The rights of Canadians to talk and communicate across the Internet are vastly too important to be subjected to a scheme of government licensing. - Timothy Denton, CRTC Commissioner
Join me in contacting the CRTC, voice your concerns about restrictions over new technology and tell them to stop shafting Canadians out of new technologies! 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Check-In: Predictions About SaskTel's 3G+ Network Upgrade

Back in July, I wrote this post about SaskTel's HSPA network upgrade. Phase 1 was rolled out on August 16th.

At the end of my post, I summarized my predictions:
So, hedge your bets. SaskTel has ~30 days until August 16, 2010, when they’re going to light up the new network. Sorry SaskTel! Here are my pessimistic predictions:
  1. Some kind of launch day complication or delay that affects CDMA users.
  2. Sub-standard device lineup on launch day.
  3. No iPhone 4.
  4. No Android devices (I would be truly sad about this one).
  5. Palm Centro still available to purchase on SaskTel website.
 Let's see how accurate I was. One point per correct answer!

1. Some kind of launch day complication or delay that affects CDMA users. 

To my knowledge, the network light-up went off without a hitch, and nobody I know noticed any adverse effects on their existing phones. Good job, SaskTel!

0/1 Points.

2. Sub-standard device lineup on launch day. 

The 3G+ network launched with five devices: Nokia 6530, Nokia 7230, a Novatel Internet Stick, BlackBerry Pearl 9100, and the BlackBerry Bold 9700. A few days later, they added the Samsung Gravity Touch, but it wasn't available on launch day so it doesn't count.

The two BlackBerry devices are pretty rad, but the Nokias are a big "meh" and even the Gravity Touch isn't that impressive.

0.5/1 Points

3. No iPhone 4. 

Right on the money!

1/1 Points

4. No Android Devices

The Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant looks like it's on its way - which is good, it's a well-reviewed phone - but it wasn't available at launch.

1/1 Points

5. Palm Centro still available to purchase on SaskTel website. 

Awwww.... poor little Palm Centro. Still available.

1/1 Points

3.5/5 isn't bad! Truth be told, I wish I'd been wrong about more. Oh well. Here's hoping that this is just the start of a turnaround for device availability at SaskTel!

Music as Data

This is the first post in a series about how data helps me make decisions, maintain ongoing histories, and discover new things.

Music plays a huge role in our lives as an uplifter, a comforter, a creative outlet, and an escape. I can think of few things more perfect to collect information on and analyze.

I listen to most of my music on my computer or my iPod. Since June of 2006, I have been saving statistics on nearly every music file I've listened to with a program/website called last.fm. Last.fm saves the artist, song, album, date and time the song was listened to, and generates a dynamic music history for each user.



Last.fm has a built-in recommendations system. It compares your listening habits with those of millions of other users to generate recommendations for new artists to listen to or upcoming concerts to attend. The more music you "scrobble" to last.fm, the better your recommendations become, and the more music you discover.



Last.fm has an open API (application programming interface), which means that developers and programmers can create websites and programs that can access your last.fm data and give you more insight into your listening habits. One graph-generator I found (sorry, lost the link!) plots fascinating historical charts which allow you to visualize your listening habits over time. It's interesting to see your subconscious listening habits pop out - listening to certain artists exclusively during final exams, or the summer, or on weekends.



One of my favourite recent websites to compliment last.fm is called BandsInTown. You can sign up in two clicks with an existing Twitter account then import your last.fm or Pandora history. Finally, you give BandsInTown your location (ie, city or province) and it compiles a cloud of concerts in your area based on your last.fm musical preferences.


Don't want to constantly check BandsInTown or last.fm for upcoming concerts? No problem. BandsInTown allows you to import your concert recommendations to Google Calendar (and you can get the time zones right by using this little script that I wrote).

Now I listen to songs, have them scrobbled to last.fm, which is monitored by BandsInTown for concerts in my area, which automatically show up on my Google Calendar. 



This proves to be amazing every time I check my calendar and discover a new concert that I'd love to see. In my opinion, a setup like this is essential for music lovers. Given that technology exists to automate this process, if you don't do this you are wasting data.

Data waste - there's a concept I want to return to!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Saskatoon's Semi-Secret Lost and Found

This article about stolen bikes appeared in the Star Phoenix today, which reminded me about a cool story I have about the City of Saskatoon's Lost and Found department.

Read the article for details about Saskatoon's Lost and Found program. Essentially, the City has a huge warehouse where missing property is directed to - they say everything except for pets, people, and automobiles.

In 2007, I was walking home from the pub when I was jumped by three bandana-wearing kids who demanded my wallet and cell phone. I complied (I was in no state of mind to protest), but strangely, they let me keep my credit cards and ID from my wallet. Someone later suggested this could have been a gang initiation ("bring us back a wallet and a phone") and they were feeling guilty, but who knows.

Anyway, my cell phone was gone for good and I assumed the same for my wallet, which only had $20, my blood donor card, SIN card (dumb! don't do this!), health card, and a few random membership cards left after I hurriedly grabbed my credit cards and government ID.

Funny side story - the next day I took inventory of my missing cards. I called Canadian Blood Services to report a stolen card (I was being a keener - I didn't know if there was any privacy risks involved). I had to be transferred to a manager because no one had ever called to report their blood donor card as stolen.

Anyway, six months after the robbery, I got an ambiguous manilla envelope in the mail with the return address "LOST AND FOUND, ONTARIO AVE, SASKATOON" - that was it. I opened the envelope and there was my wallet, covered in dirt. No accompanying note or documentation. The $20 was missing but the cards that I'd left in it were still there, including my health card and SIN card.

I was very impressed that a random stranger would take the time to submit my dirty wallet to the City, and that the City would take the time to track down an address from my documentation to send my wallet back. I vowed, right then and there, to pay it forward and do the same if I ever got a chance.

That opportunity came sooner than I thought - when I inspected the contents of my wallet I found that my random cards had been bundled with someone else's student card, library card, health card, blood donor card, and Scotiabank card.

I tracked down the guy's email address from the student card and managed to successfully reunite another stranger with their random wallet contents. It was strange they were bundled together, because we had lost them completely different ways.

Moral of the story: Most cities have a huge lost and found warehouse that is occasionally successful at reuniting people with their missing goods! Thanks, City of Saskatoon!

Friday, August 13, 2010

SaskTel's Once Upon A Smart Choice Sale - Not So Smart!

SaskTel has a sale on right now where they're selling smartphones for $0. DON'T FALL FOR IT!

Every single one of those phones is old and outdated - not only are they using SaskTel's old CDMA network technology, but in most cases the phones on this sale are one generation behind the current (for example, the BlackBerry Storm is a $0 phone on this sale, but SaskTel sells the Storm 2 - the newer, more superior phone on the old CDMA network).

For instance, if buy the Palm Centro, you're buying a 3-year-old piece of hardware that Palm stopped supporting years ago.

Mobile Syrup, one of Canada's most well-read mobile phone blogs recommends the BlackBerry Storm $0 phone with a three year contract. That's a terrible recommendation - the phone was released to terrible reviews in tech blogging circles. You'd be saddling yourself with old, crappy hardware on a network that is going to be shut down in three years anyway.

Spend $200 on a new generation smartphone if you're going into a three-year contract - it's a drop in the bucket considering the total cost of ownership over a three-year contract. Don't get saddled with an old piece of garbage that mobile phone manufacturers (Palm, BlackBerry, etc) no longer want to support.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ticketmaster extorted $20 from me. I vowed to get it back and [eventually] succeeded.

Warning: This post is epic and long.

In early 2010, I joined the Iron Maiden fan club to get the best tickets possible for the Dream Theater/Iron Maiden concert in Saskatoon, SK, on June 29, 2010. I paid $380 for four tickets on my student VISA card, well in advance of the show. When I purchased the tickets, I only had the option of purchasing paperless tickets.

Fast-forward to the day of the show. I had completed my degree and my bank had sent me a new, "grown-up" VISA card. The card number had changed.

My party of four arrived at the venue, parked the car and got in line at 6:30PM. Doors opened at 6:15PM, and Dream Theater was starting at 7:15. The line outside the door was probably 200 meters long, moving slow.

By 7:15pm, we were barely standing inside the front entry, waiting to present my VISA for paperless ticket entry. Dream Theater had just started their set. So many people are having problems with paperless tickets, we stood in the entranceway for over 10 minutes. Progress was excruciatingly slow - it felt like one of those dreams where you can never finish packing your suitcase.

My credit card was scanned at the door, as per the paperless ticketing process. It was rejected (remember, my card number had changed). We were redirected to the box office. We moved from the front of the enter-the-venue line to the back of the box office line.

Dream Theater finished a song as I started talking to a woman at the box office. She asked for my government-issued ID for comparison to my order and my VISA, which I provided. She asked to see a printed order confirmation, and I replied that I didn't print anything because these are paperless tickets. I offered to bring up the exact-same email confirmation on my BlackBerry and that was refused (and refused a second time after I tried to clarify why). I was then informed that I would need to pay a $5-per-ticket fee to get into the venue, for a total of $20.

I asked what the fee was for, and was told, "to get into the show." I asked for clarification and was told, "if you want to get in, you need to pay this fee." Wow! That's extortion, and if it's ever happened to you, you know it feels terrible. If I didn't pay it, I'd forfeit $380 worth of tickets. Talk about pressure - the opening act was already well into their set, and we felt like we were out of options.

Reluctantly, I agreed to pay the fee. I asked (multiple times) for an itemized receipt and that request was refused; I walked away with 4 tickets and a credit card stub but no receipt describing the fee. My friends and I got back into the entry line, waited anxiously to get through the door, and made it to the concert floor by 7:40PM, half-way through Dream Theater's set.

I am a principled guy and I know that charding extra fees for paid-in-full tickets is illegal - Saskatchewan's Consumer Protection Act describes it as an "unfair practice." Bring ripped off so blatantly made me furious and I vowed to recover that $20 any way I could.

Recovery Attempt #1 - VISA.
A few days after the show (by the way, Iron Maiden was awesome), I collected a ton of documentation that supported my claim, and talked to my friends - they were willing to offer statements of support.

I phoned VISA. VISA loves to advertise cardholder protection and fraud protection and surely, I thought, they'll back me up. This will be the easiest recovery ever. Having paid in full for my tickets, VISA will protect me and my purchase from having additional after-the-fact fees charged.

Well, as it turns out, VISA doesn't believe that extortion exists. If you sign a receipt or enter your PIN, you're committed to that purchase, no matter what. I asked the rep, "what if someone was holding a gun to my head?" and got a snarky response, "well, maybe you should call the police."

I got angry and frustrated on the call which probably didn't help (lesson learned). The entire rest of this ordeal I focused on being as extraordinarily polite, patient, and respectful as possible. Sorry, VISA.

Recovery Attempt #2 - Ticketmaster Canada.
Every time you buy tickets with a credit card, Ticketmaster's national phone number shows up on your credit card statement, presumably to help settle billing disputes. I phoned the number and after getting transferred around for 20 minutes. I spoke to a very helpful and polite rep who found out that the fee was a "credit card swap" fee.

I suppose if Ticketmaster wants to charge a fee for everything, that's their business. But the fee wasn't advertised anywhere - on Ticketmaster's site, on any of my order confirmations, or posted at the Credit Union Centre. And knowing what the fee is in retrospect doesn't excuse the box office rep for not explaining the fee or issuing a receipt.

I disputed the fee with the national rep, and she said that she couldn't help me - I will have to settle the dispute with the Saskatoon box office. I made some notes and thanked her for her time.

Recovery Attempt #3 - Ticketmaster Saskatoon.
Before calling the Saskatoon box office, I printed a copy of the Consumer Protection Act at Staples for $15 and read the whole thing, front to back, just to make triple-sure I was in the right. I highlighted everything relevant and picked up the phone.

I left a message and a manager (who would not identify herself or provide a call-back number) phoned me back. She allowed me to explain my situation and I finished by saying that I should be refunded the $20 that was wrongfully charged at the door.

She told me a fantastic story - that she'd spoken to the box office clerk who recalled explaining the fee to me and remembered offering me a receipt. That was an outright lie and I informed her I had three witnesses who would say otherwise. Then, she said that it was not possible to issue refunds with their system. Err, right. It's gone from "won't refund $20" to "can't refund $20." I calmly, politely said that I am a principled guy and I am entitled to that refund, and was willing to pursue the matter in Small Claims Court - it would be cheaper for everyone, time-wise, to issue the refund now. She said "do what you have to do" and hung up.

Ouch!

Recovery Attempt #4 - Small Claims Court
This attempt took a lot of time and consultation, but to be brief: no-one can sue Ticketmaster in Saskatchewan Small Claims Courts because Ticketmaster is not registered as a corporation in this province. I talked to Small Claims, the Corporations Branch of the provincial government, and the Consumer Protection Branch and the consensus was that it would be complicated and expensive to file directly against Ticketmaster.

I could, however, file against the venue (the Credit Union Centre) in Small Claims, who utilized Ticketmaster's services.

Recovery Attempt #5 - Credit Union Centre
I checked out the Credit Union Centre's website, and lo and behold, they have a Director of Ticketing and Business Projects - which sounded exactly like the person I should be talking to.

I composed a detailed, polite letter of complaint to that person, outlining my experience at the venue and my attempts-to-date to recover the $20 fee. I wrote about how I see 6-12 events per year at the CUC, and how I was hesitant to file against the Credit Union Centre in Small Claims because I believed that it was Ticketmaster who was in the wrong, not the CUC.

I expressed my concerns over paperless ticketing in general and my negative experience at the box office. I also included a snippit of legislation from the Consumer Protection Act which I felt supported my complaint quite clearly. The only thing I explicitly requested in the letter was an acknowledgement that it had been received. The final letter was about 3 pages long, and I signed it "without prejudice".

Success!
On August 3, one day after I emailed the letter, the Director emailed me back, acknowledging he'd received the letter and was investigating. On August 5, he left a message on my voicemail saying that the $20 charge had been reversed, and that he'd like to speak with me on the phone about the situation, if possible.

I called him back that day and spoke with him. Right away, I thanked him for reversing the charge. He apologized for the situation, saying, "in my opinion, you demonstrated you were the individual who bought the tickets and you shouldn't have been charged that fee at all." I reiterated that it wasn't necessarily the fee, rather, the refusal of an explanation and receipt that really irked me, but the issue is resolved and we don't need to go over those details again. I thanked him multiple times and expressed my sincere gratitude that he actually took the time to investigate and resolve my complaint.

He asked me if I'd seen Circ du Soleil yet and offered me a set of tickets as a gesture of kindness. I declined, for two reasons - one, I had plans all weekend (family reunion) and two, the offer was very generous but with the apology and the refund I consider the matter fully and completely resolved (I wasn't complaining for the sake of a free show). I thanked him one last time and we ended the call.

On August 6, a $20 credit appeared in my VISA account.

Reflection

I spent far more than $20 in time and resources trying to resolve this issue, but money was never the point (nor was extra compensation, ie, declining the Circ du Soleil ticket offer). If you've ever had something extorted from you, you know that gut-wrenching feeling of in-the-moment helplessness and cosmic unfairness.

I think the key was finding someone who is proud of their work and/or organization. In this whole ordeal, no-one I talked to in traditional customer service channels (phone support for VISA and Ticketmaster, local box office managers) seemed concerned that a customer had a terrible experience - all I experienced was deflection and denial.

In the end, I received a perfect apology. The Director of Ticketing was genuinely concerned and investigated (and responded to) my claim seriously and professionally. When I heard the charge was reversed after two months of dead ends, I felt like a superhero - offering free tickets to another show as compensation goes above and beyond what I expected. Thanks, Credit Union Centre - I'll be back, for sure.

Lessons Learned:
  • If possible, avoid Paperless Ticketing like the plague. If you want to see any part of the opening act, arrive early, because the process is sloowwww.
    • If you can't avoid paperless tickets, try not to graduate or do anything that might prompt your VISA, MasterCard, or your bank to change your credit card number. If your card number does change, be aware Ticketmaster will use this as a chance to rip you off - best to call them and sort it out in advance. Don't let them talk you into paying a credit card swap fee. 
  • If resolving complaints with Ticketmaster is a dead end, complain directly to the venue. There's a better chance of encountering someone who likes their job, is proud of their venue, and will lend an ear to a polite, concerned customer.
  • The three "P"s of complaint resolution: Politeness, Patience, Persistence.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Water for Thought

    Our homepage at work is an intranet news page with company updates, global news, and a Quality Point. Yesterday's point really surprised me:
    "Quality Point: Americans drink $11 billion worth of bottled water, i.e. more [bottled] water than milk. Furthermore, Americans drink nearly as much bottled water as beer. If the growth trend continues, Americans could be drinking more bottled water than tap water (which in most of America is perfectly good water) within a few years." [emphasis added]
    Not only is bottled water more expensive than gasoline (per litre), it's also unregulated in the USA and Canada, there are no standards for its production, and it's basically just tap water anyway. Crazy.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010

    Google Transit, Where Are You?

    In March of this year, the Star Phoenix reported that Google Transit was going to roll out in Saskatoon. At the end of June, to be exact.

    It's now the end of July, and there's no Google Transit in sight! A careful googling for clues reveals nothing - there's literally no mention of Google Transit and Saskatoon on the internet except for that one article (and on Wikipedia, citing the same Star Phoenix article). Is it really coming?

    I'd love to see Google Transit in Saskatoon. Anything would be better than Saskatoon's incredibly slow, complex Click'n'Go. I recall during the extremely cold week of January 2010 the entire City of Saskatoon's website was completely unavailable for several days due to the volume of people trying to access it. Assuming the buses weren't running, I skipped class (it turned out the buses were running).

    The best feature that Google Transit would bring is Google Maps integration. Plug in where you are and where you're going, and Google Transit finds the best route(s). Google Transit also works with Google Maps on smartphones - iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Android phones. This alone has the potential to massively boost transit ridership! Making routes easy to access - and more importantly, easy to search for while on the go - has the potential to significantly increase the number of riders.

    Google has a knack for organizing information and making it easy to use and access. Hopefully, Google Transit for Saskatoon rolls out soon, and provides us with a better solution than Click'n'Go, dialing 975-7500, or carrying around a massive stash of brochures.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Scams

    Lately, I've seen local news stories of people falling for scams and losing money, property, or both. This non-local story was on the radio this morning.

    Some of these circumstances seemed like they’d be a very obvious scam. It’s got me thinking about how we trust organizations we do business with, how we determine credibility, and how we fall for scams.

    Having a computer science dad, I had home internet access before lots of kids at school. Actually, before we had internet at home, I remember going to my dad’s office at the university and being allowed to search for pictures of the Simpsons and Toy Story on Netscape Navigator, then printing them on a colour laser (the unit probably cost an insane amount of money at the time).

    When we got home internet access (around... ‘96 or ‘97?) my dad told me two simple rules for protecting myself online:
    • Never, ever post my name, address, or other personal information online. 
    • Never, ever trust anything online (banner ads, spam, e-commerce) - it’s ALL a scam. 
    These were probably the two best pieces of advice anyone could have been given growing up with the internet in the 90s and the early 2000s.

    The evolution of the internet from 1997 to 2010 has made following these rules impossible. The social web encourages disclosure of personal information, and our most trusted organizations and companies have websites that we happily plug our information into (universities, science camps, e-commerce, banks, etc). This isn’t a bad thing - I love the convenience of web-based services.

    Despite the changes to the online landscape, my dad’s two rules of the internet never lost their significance, especially when new services pop up online. It’s safest for consumers not to trust organizations by default. It took me a long time to become convinced that sites like eBay, PayPal, Facebook, Google’s non-search services, Quicken Online, Twitter, and more were trustworthy enough to use. I don’t use online products without careful consideration and review (or a bogus test account).

    A happy side effect of my dad’s two rules for the internet is how easily those principles transfer to “offline” business:
    • Never give your info to any company/organization, ever. 
    • Never trust any company/organization - everything is a scam. 
    The point is exaggerated. I trust and do business with dozens of companies. Organizations that I am unfamiliar with have to earn my trust, be it through a positive first experience or through reputation and reviews.

    Let me rephrase: There’s no social or economic obligation to trust a business by default, and consumers should never feel guilty when they (directly or indirectly) question the legitimacy of an organization. Organizations are completely responsible for earning and keeping the consumer’s trust.

    Over the past few years, something unexpected has happened: I trust organizations more through the web than in real life.

    For example:
    • When RBC sends me communications through my online banking inbox, I trust those messages much more than the RBC telemarketers who phone me with the same offer. How do I know those calls are from RBC?
    • When someone shows up at my door from the Heart & Stroke Foundation, the Lung Association, or another fundraising campaign, I politely turn them away and say that I’ll contribute to the cause through their website, if anything. No website, no credibility. Sorry, random dude raising money for your kids' hockey team*. 
    • When someone phones me with a survey about a service they provide for me (say, SaskTel or Shaw), how do I know I’m actually talking to a rep from that company? Send me a link to the survey, hosted directly on your organization’s website.
    *I could have sworn someone pulled this scam in Saskatoon a while ago, but I couldn't find a link.

    Being a skeptical consumer is most important when money or personal information is involved. If my car dealer phones me about a recall, or London Drugs phones to say my photos are ready, or UPS shows up to deliver a package, should I worry? No. There are few practical reasons not to trust a purely informational solicitation, especially from an organization you’re connected to.

    So, why do we fall for scams? Is it generational, or is it a result of our previous experiences? I don’t really know. Perhaps people are too trusting, or perhaps the enticement of money, love or reward eclipses that little internal voice that repeats, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” I found some interesting research  from the Office of Fair Trading in the UK on who is susceptible to scams, but no one has a straight answer.

    To wrap up, like the best way to protect yourself from getting scammed or ripped off is to assume that everything is a scam or a ripoff, online or offline (a word of caution: be practical, not cynical), avoid acting on impulse, and make sure that organizations earn your trust.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Movie Review: Inception (no spoilers)

    I saw Inception on Monday night and if I had to describe the movie in two words, I'd say, "really good." It's definitely worth seeing. 

    Is it #3 of the top 250 movies ever made, as it is currently ranked on the Internet Movie Database? Absolutely not (Rotten Tomatoes has a better consensus). I have no idea where the IMDB hype came from. But people should still check it out.

    What I really liked

    The coolest part about this movie was the premise - that you can steal people's secrets by entering their dreams and manipulating their minds. It sounds corny on paper, but it's well-executed in the movie. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a "best-in-the-business" type character - he's the best at entering people's dreams. The plot of the movie follows Leo and his team as they face the biggest challenge of all - not only entering someone's dream, but planting a thought without being detected in the subject's mind ("inception"). 

    There's tons of action and the concept of entering people's dreams within other dreams creates tons of uncertainty throughout the movie as you ask yourself where the characters really are (reality, dreams, or dreams within dreams). The movie is thrilling, puzzling, well-cast, and the concept of entering other people's dreams forces the audience to question what their own reality is. For this feeling alone, it's worth seeing. 

    I sincerely appreciated that the producers did not bullshit the audience on how this dream-entering is possible. While they talk sciencey mumbo-jumbo about what is and is not possible within dreams, and discuss the consequences of messing with someone's subconscious, the movie does not force you to swallow a BS pseudo-scientific explanation of how entering someone's dreams is possible. The process is never mentioned and the audience just accepts that if you have a fancy-looking suitcase, it's possible. As such, the audience is spared the type of insanely impossible science that made the Core such an unbearable (yet, in its own special way, awesome) movie. 

    What I didn't like

    Despite the cool concept behind the movie, the first 20 minutes really drag. No spoilers, but it's the typical action-movie, "let's assemble a team" sequence. Okay, let's track down an old professor. Now let's grab the smart guy, the charmer, the token black brown guy (Indian, in this film!), and an impossibly talented cute young girl. Sprinkle lightly with action. Postpone real story until team is assembled. 

    Remember in Armageddon where Bruce Willis had to track down Billy Bob Thorton, Steve Buscemi, Ben Affleck, and the other space rig-pigs? Yeah, it's that scene. Or remember in Ocean's 11, 12, and 13 where George Clooney has to track down his team? Yeah, it's that scene. Robyn accurately described this sequence as "quite boring" and that if you saw it on TV, you'd probably change the channel. 

    That's really my main complaint. It's slow to start, and there are a few eye-rolling moments in the film (not too many), but again, I have to emphasize that the incredibly smart, puzzling main plot forgives these few grievances. 

    Verdict

    Go see it in theatres; I'd say it's worth it. Christopher Nolan (of Batman Begins, the Dark Night, Memento fame) knows how to put together a captivating, original and overall enjoyable film. 

    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    Will Smartphones Availability Edge Out Small Carriers?

    Here's a thought: Will the rise in popularity of smartphones push smaller carriers out of the market?

    This past week I posted about SaskTel's upcoming network upgrade in August. Wayne added a helpful comment; he'd tracked down the preliminary smartphone lineup, which includes two new BlackBerry devices and two unexciting Nokia phones.

    Tech-savvy consumers want the latest and greatest in smartphones. The larger the carrier, the sooner you can get the latest and greatest devices. If you're with a small carrier, you get to play the waiting game. Or the jealousy game. Or both.

    SaskTel has admitted they're working on getting the iPhone 4, but I'm skeptical that will happen. Rogers has the Sony Xperia X10 and will have the iPhone 4 (as will sister company Fido), Bell will have the iPhone 4 (though Bell doesn't do business in little ole' Saskatchewan), and Telus has the HTC Hero and the HTC Desire is coming soon.

    As ill-reviewed as Rogers is here in Saskatchewan, they're the only national carrier with a full selection of BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone devices.

    And why is Rogers ill-reviewed in Saskatchewan? Well, their coverage is one issue - SaskTel certainly has them beat. But once SaskTel's new network is operational, Rogers customers should be able to roam on that expanded network (correct me if I'm wrong)

    Rogers also adjusts their prices and plans to compete regionally. Go to Rogers.com and select that you live on Ontario. Look at voice/data plans, and you can see that evening calling starts at 9PM. Terrible! But chance your locale to Saskatchewan and look at those plans, evening calling starts at 6PM, presumably to compete with SaskTel's provincial stronghold on the mobile market.

    Guess what? Their rates aren't even that bad. I priced out a new Sony Xperia X10 and they've included a helpful bill calculator on checkout, it would be approximately what I'm paying for my BlackBerry on SaskTel.

    Eight years ago, when all phones did the same thing, plus or minus a few bells and whistles, SaskTel was the obvious choice for cell phone service in Saskatchewan for their coverage. Now that line is blurred - other providers have equally great coverage and offer better devices for similar rates.

    I'm not about to jump SaskTel's ship and go to Rogers (I have 2 years left on my current contract, and I can't bring myself to give up BlackBerry Messenger for an Android phone quite yet), but since no carrier has a significant coverage or price advantage, more and more decisions will be made based on device availability. Carriers will need to stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest devices to earn new business.

    Friday, July 16, 2010

    My Predictions For SaskTel's Network Upgrade (spoiler: lots of doubt)

    Everyone and their dog is tickled pink about SaskTel’s upcoming 3G+ network upgrade, which promises to bring better speeds and better devices to the SaskTel network. And the iPhone!!! OH GAHWD, the iPhone. Read any article in the Star Phoenix or the Leader-Post about the network upgrade, and you’ll believe that the sole reason for this upgrade is to bring the iPhone to Saskatchewan (despite the fact that it’s been available through Rogers for years).

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of SaskTel - I’ve been a SaskTel Mobility customer for nearly 10 years and have no significant complaints. The province-owned crown corporation kicks butt in many areas: extraordinary province-wide cellular coverage, high-speed internet (again, nearly province-wide), SaskTel Max, and competitive rates for all of their services.

    However, SaskTel has a severe technology deficits in some areas that call into question their ability to su ccessfully launch this new network successfully and on time. 

    1. Web Presence


    SaskTel’s website is
    terrible, and they
    must know it. Visit SaskTel.com, then visit any other wireless website in Canada and draw your own conclusions. There’s no way that SaskTel’s tech guys are content with this bloated, Javascript-based piece of garbage.

    “But it seems okay! It’s not that bad!!” - you. Yes, if you’re running IE6 on Windows ME. Here’s what’s wrong:
    • JavaScript links for EVERYTHING makes sharing links impossible. I can’t right-click then copy most links because they look like this:
      • javascript:c_d(s_0,new Array("1-16IMS8","s_7_2_16_1","SWERowId0=1-JMOXX,SWERowId1=1-16IMS8"),s_1,s_2,this) (This link, by the way, is for the BlackBerry Tour 9630 device info page)
    • Another side effect of the JavaScript links is that search engines can’t read/find SaskTel’s product pages. The result: when you search on Google for info about SaskTel products, you get terrible results. This is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and SaskTel doesn’t do it.
    • The ever-present search bar at the top-right of each page actually makes you select a search category. This is 2010; search is supposed to be smart.
    • SaskTel claims to support Firefox in their Supported Browsers List but anyone who has used the site with Firefox (or Google Chrome) knows this is a cruel joke. Hope you have IE installed.
    Immediately after typing this list I spotted this announcement about an upcoming upgrade to SaskTel’s 
    website starting July 16, ending July 19. I’m eager to see if they’ll roll out a new site, or add bloat to the existing piece of crap. I promise I will post an update. 

    2. Smartphone Selection


    SaskTel’s CEO h
    as been using a classic formula to get his name in the paper: mention the iPhone
    all the time. Maybe SaskTel will have it in August! Let's be honest with ourselves; it's not happening.

    If you’re buying a smartphone from SaskTel, you have 11 choices right now. I have good news for you if you like buying obsolete crap: half of these phones are obsolete crap.

    Here are some of the gems they’re selling:
    • BlackBerry Curve 8330, released 2007, even though they’re selling superior BlackBerry devices alongside it.
    • The universally-hated BlackBerry Storm, released December 2008, even though they’re selling the Storm 2 (the better, less shitty version) right alongside it.
    • Samsung Ace, released April 2008, possibly the dumbest smartphone anyone could buy.
    • Correction, the dumbest smartphone anyone could buy from SaskTel is the Palm Centro, released October 2007. Running Palm Operating System, it is now three years outdated by Palm’s new webOS devices, the Pre and Pixi (which SaskTel does not carry).
    • The Palm Treo Pro, released August 2008, another “classic” smartphone that won’t do anything modern.
    “Maybe they’re saving their new phones for the upgrade!” - you. Yeah, maybe. My response: this lineup has remained unchanged for the past year, with the exception of the new BlackBerry Tour, Storm 2, and Curve 8530. SaskTel rarely gets new devices. Right now, they’re selling three modern BlackBerry devices and a bunch of crap, and it's been that way for a while. 

    Apple, de
    spite their ongoing iPhone 4
    antenna
    issues shitfest, are still concerned about their image and are not going to be selling the iPhone 4 to a carrier that is proudly selling the shitty, shitty, super-shitty Palm Centro.

    So, hedge your bets. SaskTel has ~30 days until August 16, 2010, when they’re going to light up the new network. Sorry SaskTel! Here are my pessimistic predictions:
    • Some kind of launch day complication or delay that affects CDMA users.
    • Sub-standard device lineup on launch day.
    • No iPhone 4.
    • No Android devices (I would be truly sad about this one).
    • Palm Centro still available to purchase on SaskTel website.
    I’m hoping that I’m wrong - I’d love to see SaskTel succeed so I could grab a next-gen (Android!?! But I’d hate to give up BlackBerry Messenger!) device on what I hope will be a very competitive data plan. Sadly, given the state of their device lineup and website, I don’t see it happening.

    Extra Reading:
    - SaskTel’s info sheet about the upcoming upgrade (PDF)