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Saturday, May 9th, 2015, 12:14 pm

Members of the Quarter

Members of the quarter

Thursday, April 30th, 2015, 12:00 am

BT Complaints Again (Updatedx14)

BT is driving us up the walls again. My wife and I do our job over the Internet, so this is a very big deal. BT cannot even handle a seemingly simple case.

A month ago we started having horrible connection speeds at certain hours (lasting for many hours), as well as chronic disconnections. This is far from a normal behaviour and it makes it impossible to do all sorts of things. Lots of sessions are lost, some sites are inaccessible, etc.

It’s bad enough when there’s an issue, but it’s a lot worse when the handling of the issue is so appalling that it can take over a month to tackle it.

When I first reported the issue to BT the first-line support person failed to diagnose the issue and said they would escalate the issue and phone back with the findings within 72 hours. I never received a call.

After 4 days or so I phoned BT again. They knew almost nothing of my initial report and so I had to go through the aforementioned long process again (it takes a long time, not just waiting in the queue). They said they would phone back with the findings and this time they even set a precise time for the call. They never called.

At this stage I had already spent about a fortnight with a faulty connection.

I phoned BT again and the person on the other end of the line said that my issue had been closed. Well, I didn’t even know what made them assume that. I was furious at that stage, so I had them escalate to the manager and I made a complaint (that was on April 19th).

What followed then was a long series of calls (much time already wasted due to bad connection, never mind time on the line, testing the connection, etc.).

The manager, Mr. Gupta, decided to send a home hub and said it would take just 2 days to do this. A day later I was told it would actually take almost 10 days, which means another week and a half with a faulty connection.

The home hub finally arrived on the 29th of April and it did not resolve the issue. I didn’t think it would, but then again, it wasn’t my idea to have the hub replaced. Mr. Gupta took over the case and did too little to actually tackle the issue.

I immediately responded the issue to BT but received no response, so I called them up and had to work hard to speak to the manager again (their log was too choppy to identify him). He then assigned this for a person to investigate and I was promised a call between 11 and 12 today (I asked several times for reassurance that the call would be made, having experienced several failures by BT to call back). What an utter disaster.

Well, guess what? I received no call between 11 and 12. I phones BT again and got through to another person, Raj. I have just spent about an hour on the phone with him, in vain (he could not find the issue either and apparently no investigation was made, despite their promises). I have asked him to make a complaint to higher management about the way it has been handled and this case is still unresolved (2 calls scheduled for tomorrow, although given the poor rate of callbacks and the false promises, it remains to be seen).

To be continued…

Updates from Twitter:

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: War on #vpn even for those who use it for #security http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/03/27/bt_home_hub_3a_scuppers_some_vpn_connections/

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: All my VPN connections are now dead. Thanks, #bt http://schestowitz.com/Weblog/archives/2015/04/30/bt-complaints-again/ … http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/03/27/bt_home_hub_3a_scuppers_some_vpn_connections/

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: The case against #bt is not building up as it seems like they silently suppress the use of #vpn by #sabotage – grounds for litigation

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: 2 years ago I wrote about “BT Connection Throttling” http://schestowitz.com/Weblog/archives/2013/02/15/bt-connection-throttling/ … now it looks like they punish people whose job requires #vpn

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: If #bt is targeting (punishing) particular clients on behalf of Big Clients (government, Hollywood, Army etc.), then it’s ground for lawsuit

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt home hubs do have a back door. How does one know? Ask BT staff; they can remotely access and see your home network in action.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Over the past 4 years I must have spent about 50 hours on phone with #bt and endless hours due to bad connection. Now they push #censorship

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Criticism of #bt for technical reasons is one thing; BT also a core partner in #drone #assassination hubs – #uk gov. killed British citizens

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Words cannot express how scary a company #bt is (instrument of power): censor, assassination, back doors/DPI, traffic ‘shaping’, bad service

BT staff (but not officially representing BT): @schestowitz with respect, your assertions aren’t true. Traffic throttling at exchange & in HomeHub about guaranteeing consistent service

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: [to BT staff] That’s what they say; what about when traffic is slowed down because of protocol type?

BT staff: @schestowitz limited in what I can say here as not spokesperson or support, but if you have issues can point you in direction of help :)

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: [to BT staff] I have some friends who work there, but it’s usually not of use in such a vast company

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: [to BT staff] I wouldn’t be surprised if BT are quietly trying to stifle “bittorrent by vpn”, “netflix by vpn” and other such use cases

BT staff: @schestowitz traffic shaping of any kind is always controversial. To my knowledge BT doesn’t throttle VPN traffic.

BT staff: @schestowitz prod them to use the employee action line! :)

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: [to BT staff] Which in terms harms people like me who require many VPNs just to do their job

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: [to BT staff] Reports say that BT now admits a ‘bug’ that breaks VPNs in their home hubs

A another person (to the BT staff): That throttling used to render BitTorrent unusable. I solved problem by moving to non-throttling ISP. @schestowitz

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: [to BT staff] Tonight I expect two calls from BT management; I will raise the VPN issue as well

BT staff: @schestowitz not seen them myself, but looking now. If so, worth bearing in mind a bug by definition is unintended behaviour.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: [to BT staff] Facebook called surveillance of non-useds “bug”. Companies say “bug” for legal reasons.

Update #2:

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Tonight I am going to confront managers at #bt over the ‘bug’ which broke #vpn for millions of people. Let’s see if it’s really a ‘bug’.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: I was unable to do my job last night because it requires several VPNs (and different VPN software), all of which #bt broke.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Real British journalists like @MarkJBallard should press #bt and find out if the company is breaking VPNs as part of Hollywood’s latest push

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Web search for “vpn block isp” reveals that quite a few ISPs already admit blocking/suppressing VPNs at the behest of abusive monopolies

Update #3: BT was supposed to call between 6 and 8 today. It ‘forgot’. Someone else, however, called at 9. So there again we have BT failing to call back when promising to do so and now we have two issues, a bad connection (it’s still faulty and choppy) and no VPN. Here is what I posted online:

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt is a massive disaster. Their solution to 2 major issue (preventing me & my wife from doing our job)? “We’ll phone again at 11PM” sigh

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Despite #bt admitting (to the press) that a ‘bug’ is blocking #vpn connections in Home Bub, the BT manager I speak to is totally unaware of it

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: On phone with #bt now. They failed AGAIN to phone back (fifth time in 3 weeks), they’re not working to fix anything http://schestowitz.com/Weblog/archives/2015/04/30/bt-complaints-again/

Rather than 1 issue now we have 2. After a month of work…

Update #4: From social media…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: 11PM. #bt promised to call by now, but again, for the 6th time in 3 weeks even management makes false promises, false hopes, no fix

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: More than 1.5 hours on phone with BT manager. He can’t solve this issue. They’re so unbelievably useless. For a month now…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt are basically giving up on trying to fix the issue, or at least they say they don’t know how to fix it (even managers)…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt management on phone now, still asking me what problem I’m having after I reported it a dozen times for a month

I have meanwhile swapped back to the old Home Hub, restoring VPN access and proving that the ‘new’ BT hubs are — deliberately or not — breaking VPN connections over ipsec, openvpn and probably more VPN tools. The issues persist and BT say they will call again in 2 days, despite having no plan or concrete steps towards solving the issue. The manager I spoke to at one point tried to blame wireless, only to be proven that the issue affects wired connections as well (he wanted me to buy a Wi-Fi booster at my own expense). He also tried blaming GNU/Linux…

BT are hopeless and so are we, as we need to get our work (daytime and nighttime job) done. BT offered no advice on VPN and refuses to give any (except on a premium, i.e. expensive, helpline). Advice put on the Web regarding BT Web Address Help (some say we should disable it) has not helped fix the VPN on the new hub.

Some British journalists ought to investigate why BT is breaking people’s Wi-Fi connections with its ‘new’ hubs, especially given what Sony leaks revealed, alongside other similar reports about a conspiracy to derail VPN connections (privacy tools).

Update #5 (May 1st): From social media…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: BT staff (management) even asked us to waste money on “Wi-Fi booster” despite the issue clearly affecting wired connections as well.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: BT staff (management) tried blaming Linux or “you’re using a lot of devices” for its connection being faulty http://schestowitz.com/Weblog/archives/2015/04/30/bt-complaints-again/

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: I can now confirm, based on a detailed analysis, that #bt breaks #vpn (IPSec, OpenVPN etc.) in its ‘new’ Home Hubs. Appalling. #uk #internet

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: If the connection always drops at midnight (and just now at midday) for wired devices and #bt management blames Wi-Fi it shows that they lie

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: When I reported #bt speed test results that confirm there’s an issue they refused to accept it (management), asked for REMOTE ACCESS to PC

Update #6 (May 1st at night): From social media…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt connection is a disaster again (unusable), a month-long issue. BT is supposed to phone back now, but they rarely keep such promises.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt seems to be getting closer to finding culprit. Probably faulty equipment in BT exchange, perhaps drip in electricity/wire. Cheers Tilak!

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt is now experimenting with my line, perhaps realising that the issue affects many houses and that I am the one who helped them solve it

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt managers full of arrogance and Hubris. They refused to escalate for a MONTH. Now it’s finally escalated to BT Wholesale. Hardware issue?

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt managers blamed “Linux”, “too many devices”, “need Wi-Fi booster”, “change hub”, “give me remote access to your PC”. Issue at their end?

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Sleepless nights, dozens of hours of phone, lots of diagontics, reporting. Seems like I did #bt ‘s job for them because they blame customers

@angrymofo: Did you actually get to speak to someone who knew what they were talking about, I’ve found that this is the hard part.

@angrymofo: Once I called BT to tell them the DNS servers are offline and had been for hours. They had no idea what I was talking about.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: @angrymofo The guy I spoke to (my wife did too yesterday) was quite good. His name is Tilak. He’s technical and nice. #bt

@jrobertson: @schestowitz That’s an interesting insight to what sort of support answers BT have to provide. I couldn’t do that job.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: .@jrobertson They only try to blame the customer, even when their own systems are at fault. A month to acknowledge this? #bt

So a guy called Tilak, a good guy who knows his job, seems to have finally found the issue (based on logs he had looked at), he ran some tests, then escalated this to the local team. At long last. After a month.

Update #7 (May 5th at night): From social media…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt complaints (several formal ones) in preparation, scale of compensation to be negotiated, then I’m dropping them for good

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt now confirms there is an error on our line every 3 seconds; dropping out all the time as a result; took one month to ‘find’ this?!

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt told me that escalation of the fault took almost one month, April 30th (to second line), despite them knowing about the issue

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Over a month unable to do my job, wife also unable to do job, many hours on phone, bad connection, damage immeasurable. #bt

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: BT issues in 2013 took them 3 months to fix (sending engineers at end), this time it’s already over one month. #bt

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt says that if I quit BT, I cannot receive compensation for the suffering (must resolve first). Is that even legal as per #eu law?

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Port reset by #bt on May 2nd, not kept us in the loop, made things even worse, didn’t bother to check if it solved the issue

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Another day, another couple of hours on the phone with #bt and line more faulty than ever. Over a month to merely send an engineer.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: The exchange-to-router issue still persists, meaning that the fault with with #bt all along, took over 1 month to send engineer

Update #8 (May 8th at night): From social media…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #openreach engineer here (BT took over a month to send him), turns out a neighbour has just reported the issue also

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt could have probably solved an issue for a lot of houses if only it wasn’t so arrogant to blame me rather than the issue

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt was asked by me over a month ago to investigate the fault (I have technical details), refused to send out engineer

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt did not send an engineer before I told 3 staff (including management) that I wish to cancel my BT account

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: A company as wealthy as #bt shouldn’t be in the business of saving money on engineers where real issues are being reported

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Some equipment of the #openreach team has the letters “BT” on it, the uniform too. So much for hiding who’s really behind Openreach.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Moving away from #bt would not have solved the issue; it’s a wiring issue. The issue is BT refusing to fix upon report.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #openreach (BT with another uniform) spent half a day here drilling, changing wires, plates, still error unresolved. Argh…

Update #9 (May 9th at night): From social media…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Chaotic and truly unproductive month and a half due to what seems like faulty wiring that #bt is still unable/unwilling to fix

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt knows that my connection is faulty, still isn’t sending another engineer to fix it. Now it’s dropping every hour, thousands of errors.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: For a digital house, where everyone works in IT over wire, having a faulty #bt connection is like having no water. BT doesn’t seem to care.

Update #10: I have gotten truly tired at this stage. The connection is in a state of disarray, it is worse than ever before. Nobody in the house is able to do anything reliably, the line drops very often, there is endless packet loss/errors. I do my job (for a living) over this wire and so does my wife. The BT wires, managed and owned by BT, have been faulty for about a month and a half and BT is unable or unwilling to fix them. Not enough is being done and whatever is being done is too little, too late. This is a colossal failure. I already reported this issue to BT — several times — a very long time ago. I spent many hours giving useful technical details, but BT was arrogant enough to always try to blame the issues on me.

As I must do my work reliably I am not wishing to pursue the full scale of compensation, even by a lawsuit if necessary (I have pages of text written to support my case), I am prepared to ask for a refund for line rental and I am going to register for a wireless connectivity pack at my home. My BT line is just defunct and after a month and a half with a dozen hours on the phone and hundreds of hours in loss productivity it is clear that BT has no plan for fixing the line. I cannot rely on this line anymore, so I will receive compensation from BT (even if by suing) and work my way out of their infrastructure. 2 years ago it took 3 months for BT to fix a similar issue. It took them 3 months to send engineers out.

Update #11: From social media…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Passed between 4 people, 4 departments in BT, including Barry in the sales team in the UK (not India) just to cancel my account

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #bt is now taking almost an hour to just process cancellation. They keep passing me between people, refuse to escalate to managers.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Now over an hour with #bt on the phone trying to process cancellation. Still nowhere near success. They’ll “phone back”…

Update #12: From social media, 12/05/2015…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: #openreach says electrical interference noise (e.g high voltage), e.g. rain issue, affects other people (confirmed now, number 34)

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: The #openreach “rain team” to work underground on D side. The engineer confirms to me the whole block likely affected.

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: It is unclear to me why an issue I reported when it started around March is only now being taken care of by #bt (affects many people)

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: In the month of April a wiring serious issue affecting a whole block was blamed on me “using Linux” or “many devices”. #bt blame games.

Update #13: From social media, 13/05/2015…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Another half an hour spent on phone with #bt – still no resolution, they’re trying to act dumb, assigning new (unfamiliar with case) people

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Our whole neighborhood is now suffering from bad wiring — a fault that #bt has now failed for 1.5 months to fix (I told them about it)

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: I have explained to #bt that if I distributed flyers in the neighborhood about how BT f**ed everyone’s connection , they’d cancel in anger

Update #14: From social media, 13/05/2015 in the evening (another incoming call from a manager)…

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: Every single day now (even right now) is wasted acting as a volunteer debugging person for #bt because they’re too stingy to do this work

Dr. Roy Schestowitz: It seems like next step re #bt fiasco: going door to door to post letter regarding BT’s failure to fix neighborhood-wide issue for 1.5 months

Saturday, April 25th, 2015, 12:37 am

Metrolink Customer Services Not a Good Service (Updated)

Manchester transport

The Manchester Metrolink, a broadening system of electric public transport, is generally a good service. I love it. Many people love it, some hate it, and judging by some aggregated numbers or more recent polls, the number of complaints seems to be rising, which should definitely be cause for concern. Metrolink staff should listen. Some common complaints may be all to do with maintenance, but any service that it being extended/augmented should be expected to have occasional disruptions, which relate to maintenance or faults. Speaking for myself and my wife, we did suffer from such disruptions before, but it’s usually not critical and the bus system is a safe fallback.

In order for the Metrolink system to continue its growth (reaching further and further in each direction) it will need to have public consent, general popularity, and support from the Council. Any kind of disruption might be excusable, depending on how Metrolink handles it and explains it. Failure to deal with a failure or with a complaint would not be viewed favourably and since people speak to each other, negative sentiments can spread quickly.

This post is not intended to bash Metrolink itself but only to express concern about the way Metrolink staff handles failure. Metrolink should by all means be supported as a whole. This is great use of taxpayers’ money and it can be self-subsidising because it’s of interest to millions of people on a daily basis. It keeps pollution low and the city relatively clean, also in the noise sense. Greater Manchester can be proud of it and derive a lot of value from it (it now goes as far as the airport down south now). Despite running its Web site using horrible Microsoft software which is not only expensive but also unreliable (there have been issues over the years), the trams are quite reliable, except when cars get in the track (the trams use rail, unlike some other such services). This post is not a complaint about the frequency of failures but purely about the way they are handled, either by people at the stations or those accepting calls and E-mails (customerservices@metrolink.co.uk). They must improve or they will inevitably alienate regular customers and therefore put the whole service at risk (due to lack of public support).

My wife and I, both regular travelers of the Metrolink, embarked on a journey from Holt Town last Tuesday, as we quite often do. I was using the machine at the west side of the station, which was a big mistake. As soon as I dropped the first pound coin inside in order to make the payment (8 pounds for my wife and I, overall, in total) it was slow to fall in and I waited until it finally did, barely. Something was clogging it up its way. I then put in a 2-pound coin and it really struggled to go in. I tried to push it in with the next coin (1-pound coin) and at this stage both were stuck inside. The machine then cancelled the transaction, shut the lid, and returned one pound to me (the other two coins were still stuck inside), so I basically lost 3 pounds. To retrieve such lost money it usually takes a lot of work (bureaucracy), but I remained optimistic. This ultimately ruined the rest of my day, especially since I approached Metrolink staff and all they could say is that I should send an E-mail. I even saw one man fixing a machine with a similar fault in Piccadilly Gardens station (north side) half an hour later and asked him if he could report this for me, but he could not help (he wore a shirt that said “Metrolink” but insisted that he does not work for Metrolink). There was nobody to speak to and those whom I could reach by phone were unwilling to help (I asked repeatedly if this can be done over the telephone). The fault with the machine was apparently not so uncommon (despite it being the first time I have such an issue) because the guy working at Piccadilly Gardens station was fixing what seems like a similar if not identical issue (the guy works for the company contracted to maintain them). The machine would not accept cash anymore, at least not in Piccadilly Gardens station, which indicates either a chronic issue with these machines or some yobs messing about with many of these machine in an effort to abuse them, which in turn hurts people like ourselves. Either way, never mind the frequency of these issues or the cause; this may not be the top issue, just the way they were handled (or not). I honestly think that jumping through all these hoops to receive my money back shouldn’t be happening. They said I should give my postcode. Our address was given to them. It has not been 4 days and we are still waiting.

After spending a lot of time giving Metrolink all my details I said: “Please rectify this as soon as possible (I can send ticket number/time if you need it). I presume you already have log files/CCTV footage near the machine, it was around 2PM today. I cannot believe that I have to go through all this trouble just to get my 3 pounds back. I will be writing about this experience online because by this stage you are the third line of support that I approach and for merely 3 pounds which were lost not by my own fault I think there’s merit for a complaint.”

I did receive a reply on the same day. It said:

Hi,

Thank you for your email and all your valuable feedback.

Can you send copies of your Metrolink tickets.

Best regards

That’s an odd thing to say because, putting aside the work required to photograph/scan, then pass files and E-mail them (or sending any originals by post), these tickets have nothing to do with my issue. We later purchased two tickets with my debit card; are these relevant to it? Not really, these are not the tickets which the report is about.

Why is Metrolink staff asking for photographs of tickets completely unrelated to the ones for which error made. They’re terrible at reading the detailed explanation of what happened. Maybe it was a ‘template’ response.

I then had to nag them again for another response. About a day passed with not a single reply. It’s almost as though they discourage one from reporting the issue and hope that the person will just lose interest and walk away (problem ‘solved’).

In my response to my nag the Metrolink staff (which I won’t name because privacy is deserved here) wrote:

Hi,

After reviewing further all you have said I can give you the option to receive a £3.00 cheque refund (within 15 working days) or I can post two replacement day tickets to you this evening.

I have forwarded all your feedback in relation to the refund procedure, to the management team.

“Thanks for getting back to me,” I replied. “If you can send replacement day tickets for me and my wife, that would be preferable.”

I have not heard anything since them. It has been two days.

I added: “I appreciate you making the effort to pass my comments to those who can improve response in the future. As soon as the coins got jammed I foresaw it becoming a huge hassle and I was right.”

Well, it still is a hassle because I have not heard back and here I am writing a long rant about it. Because of 3 pounds. That’s less than five US dollars.

Metrolink should definitely reassess its handling of cases like these because if it repeats this, then it’s likely that not only will it lose customers but also tarnish its reputation.

This post will be updated as developments are made

Update (one week later): After waiting for over a week, contacting 3 people, and sending ~5 unanswered mails I am going to make a complaint against Metrolink Customer Services. From my one-way communication with them:

  • “Any update on this?”
  • “Any progress on this? This is the third time I write to you guys this week. This is very bad service…”
  • “At this stage I wish to make a formal complaint about metrolink customer services. Please provide me with contact details of the relevant department.”

Update #2: 9 days later I finally received a response again (first in about a week, only after I had expressed intent to file a formal complaint).

Metrolink staff:

Hi,

Thank you for your email.

I have been awaiting your address.

I have just read the email trail below, and it appears I have not asked you. I am very sorry for my error.

Can I please have you full postal address.

Best regards

[redacted]
Customer Experience Advisor
Metrolink RATP Dev Ltd

And later:

Hi,

I was on rest day yesterday, you will notice I have just responded to your email on Tuesday (as that is the first one I came to), would you still like to take this further?

Best regards

[redacted]
Customer Experience Advisor
Metrolink RATP Dev Ltd

To which my response was: “My full postal address was in my first message, as I was advised over the telephone to get it to you (I phoned the Services at Piccadilly Gardens Station last Tuesday).

“I was disappointed to see what hoops people have to jump through, even if they’re loyal customers, due to machine malfunction and a subsequent prolonged process that discourages the victim. I can imagine that few people bother pursuing (getting their lost money) and those who do bother will lose interest quite fast and be grumpy about it, whereupon they might stop using the service. I did try to provide a detailed account of what my wife and I had to go through and how it ruined not only our day but also our week (as this has been preying on my mind since).”

Let’s see how long it takes for money to be returned.

Update #3: The staff replied promptly, stating:

Thank you for your sending me your address.

Follow passenger feedback, similar to your own, the process is currently being reviewed. Hopefully the process can be improved.

I have now posted your tickets, my apologies once again.

Best regards

[redacted]
Customer Experience Advisor
Metrolink RATP Dev Ltd

This indicates that other people have had similar problems.

Update #4: Yet another week and a half has passed and still we’ve received nothing. Here is the correspondence so far.

Me (one week later):

We have not received anything by post yet. Was it sent last week?

Metrolink:

Hi,

Four complimentary tickets were sent last Friday.

Please allow a couple more days, as our post may have been delayed with the bank holiday weekend.

Best regards

[redacted]
Customer Experience Advisor
Metrolink RATP Dev Ltd

Me (another half a week later):

Nothing has arrived by post. Can we please have the complaints E-mail address?

Metrolink:

Hi Roy,

The tickets are in letter form, have you received the letter?

Best regards

[redacted]
Customer Experience Advisor
Metrolink RATP Dev Ltd

Me:

We have not received anything yet. Was it sent to [redacted] Manchester? Was it returned to sender maybe?

Metrolink:

Hi,

I have no idea why you have still not received your tickets. I have double checked the address, and it matches the one you sent.

My manager has authorised me to email them to you, do you have access to a printer?

Best regards

[redacted]
Customer Experience Advisor
Metrolink RATP Dev Ltd

Sounds like a lot of trouble. Now we need to print our own compensation, if it ever gets sent digitally at all.

I replied:

Yes, we have a printer at home.

Later I added:

Watch how much trouble we have had to go through over the 3 pounds devoured by the Metrolink machines (not our fault). What a total waste of time it has been (maybe about 5 hours so far). I could earn hundreds of pounds at work in such a period of time. Earlier today we rode the tram, but it’s an experience like this which leaves me wanting to just avoid the tram altogether, for good, as a matter of principle. I have started to have a bit of resentment towards the service because of what happened — a complete reversal of my previous position. Had someone at the station been able to help us on the day it happened (about 20 minutes later in Piccadilly Gardens), I wouldn’t have had to start this month-long pursuit which I now regret, seeing what a waste of time it is (at both sides, yours too). This type of procedure needs to be fixed/rectified, which is why I asked about a complaints address. Nothing is going to improve unless cases like ours are properly studied and there’s risk that you would alienate yet more loyal customers.

Update: this has finally been escalated to management. Turns out that Metrolink Customer Services sent the replacement tickets to the wrong address (a manager has just told me). Wow. Disaster on top of a disaster. Here is the full message I’ve just received:

Good Evening

My name is [redacted] I am a Customer Network Manager here at Metrolink.

I cannot apologise enough that firstly you had an issue with the ticket machines and then you had to wait for the replacement tickets to be sent to you only to find they had initially been sent to the wrong address.

I have checked the database where the tickets are generated and it does show that three tickets have been posted out to you. As it seems the post is unreliable I asked my colleague to email them over to ensure they are received.

Here at Metrolink we operate an open system where it is not possible to man all 94 stations on all platforms throughout service hours. I understand how frustrating this must be when you have a problem with the ticket machine and I sincerely apologise.

Metrolink are contracted by Transport for Greater Manchester to operate the system any major changes to our operations would need to be made by them. If you would like to contact them and discuss any suggestions you may have please email customer.relations@tfgm.com

I will have my colleague email the ticket over to you as soon as possible.

Kind Regards

[redacted]

Customer Network Manager

Metrolink RATP Dev Ltd

For the record, I have asked again to ensure a mistake was indeed made:

Good Evening [redacted],

If I understand this correctly, you initially posted the tickets to the wrong address, which helps explain the infinite delay. Is that the case?

Regards,

Roy

This was then confirmed:

That is the feedback I had from my colleague the initial address was incorrect that we had on our database.

Again I apologise

My reply (while still waiting to see how to acquire or redeem the replacement tickets:

Thanks, I appreciate you taking the time to respond and acknowledge the error.

Hopefully it will all be fine from here onwards.

Saturday, April 18th, 2015, 9:23 am

Argos Uses GNU/Linux, Windows Leads Only to Malware

200px-Argos.svg

ARGOS, the British retailer which according to Wikipedia employs over 50,000 people, seems to have moved many of its well-integrated systems (online and in-store) to a new platform not too long ago. We’re frequent customers, so sometimes we see downtimes and issues which reveal details about the back end. There is something we can report today.

Yesterday at Argos there was a malfunction at the terminal (thin client with IBM touchscreens as the only user-facing part) and it uses GNU/Linux, as one can easily tell. Argos seems to be using Fedora (an old version likely) based on the window decorations, probably with GNOME/GTK. For 50,000+ staff plus millions of customers that would be a lot terminals running GNU/Linux.

Argos recently changed the terminal systems/front end (not to my liking, as I liked the old interface better). The crash yesterday resulted in an error message showing Opera (proprietary Web browser), so presumably that is what they are using on top of GNU/Linux. Odd choice of browser, but that’s what they want….

Last year we reported that another British giant, Ryman (smaller than Argos, but still a highstreet chain), had moved to GNU/Linux. They told me that had dumped it due to Windows malware.

Incidentally, a friend who goes by the name iophk (for anonymity), shared this link with me yesterday. “Windows should not be on PoS or anything else mission-critical,” iophk wrote. Well, based on Ryman and Argos turning to GNU/Linux, many large stores gradually learn this. My current employer moved Specsavers (British giant) to Free software in the server room a long time ago, about a decade ago.

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015, 7:41 pm

Why I Believe British Police Serves and Protects Only Itself (and Maybe the Rich/Powerful)

Manchester Police

EVERY adult person will sooner or later (quite inevitably in today’s world) have an encounter with the police, either as a reporter of a crime, a victim of some crime, or an accused party. This is another rant about the police, but it isn’t just about police violence, which unless caught on tape is typically being justified (I wrote about it before) and defended by the powerful media establishment. It’s too easy to pick on the police, including Greater Manchester Police (which this post is all about), based only on sheer aggression and misuse of force. These people are tough — even too tough — perhaps because they live in a tough world and witness/confront a lot of very tough people, so it’s no wonder they often take it all out on the weak and innocent bystanders — those who want no problems with the police, let alone violate any particular law. Outbursts of violence often come from those who were themselves victims of violence — people who experience a lot of fear and pain as children, at work, and so on. There’s a reason why so many British cops (not just British) kill their wives and it’s not because their wives ask for it.

I was never accused of anything by the police or even reported to the police (I am very law-abiding), but I did report incidents to the police (on behalf on myself and others, either family or complete strangers), I provided testimonies, and I was also a victim of crime. Not even once did the police really help. I can barely say that I’m thankful for anything, not even any encouraging words (some cops were nicer than others, but words and attitudes don’t solve crimes).

Here are half a dozen memorable examples, spanning a period of time no longer than a decade (the first one being 2006 when I was foolish enough to provide a report into violence I had witnessed in the streets).

DDOS attacks

In 2008 or thereabouts my site came under a massive DDOS attack which rendered the site complete inaccessible for several days. The webhost couldn’t take it, there was nothing I can do (I were effectively censored), my sysadmin skills did not help, and the only thing I could do after days of downtime was contact the police (as a non-emergency report through a non-emergencies contact number). The conversions, which I mentioned several times online, were long and unproductive. It didn’t go anywhere. The police didn’t know what DDOS even meant, let alone offered any remedial action, a contact I could use to pursue this further, etc.

I never even bothered phoning again, not even when my sites came under more DDOS attacks in the following few years (the last time being last year).

Attempted break-in

At around 2AM in the morning someone tried to open my flat’s door. That someone first tested to see if someone was inside. I never found out how the person got inside the well-guarded (by two levels of doors with electronic keys to each), but eventually he opened by flat’s door and showed up at the doorstep. It was a guy who spoke nonsense, looked seemingly drunk or stoned and repeatedly groaned “help me!”

I shouted at him to leave, which after about a minute he finally did (he just stood there for a while, staring as though he was not sober, until I stepped towards him with assertive requests that he exits). I locked the door, at which point he started banging on it, whereupon I phoned the police (because of the banging).

What did the police do? It phoned me back quite a while later (maybe an hour later) to check everything was OK. It didn’t even try to catch the guy who could meanwhile move to another target (a different flat). I guess it would be different if I was “Sir” or “Duke”; the police reacts differently to different reporters.

It was 2 years ago that I phoned the police because of this dodgy guy who was trying to enter my house, I assume or presume in order to rob me or something (my friends said he could also try to rape someone, perhaps an unwitting female). This was the last time that I really bothered phoning the police about such incidents. The next incidents near the flat I only reported to the neighbour’s landlord (by SMS) and later to the management of the building (RMG). Those too were fruitless, despite access to CCTV etc. More on those incidents below…

Man beaten up in the street by a gang

The first real encounter that I had with Greater Manchester Police was in 2006. I gave testimony to the police because I was the closest person to the incident (at the time). I saw nobody else providing a testimony and I as a not-so-faraway bystander could accurately describe the perpetrators and what they had been up to in the street minutes before hand. I wrote about it in USENET at the time (also in this blog). I’ll never forget what happened. I saw three guys smashing a poor skinny lad, probably because he was Irish (based on what was later discussed), to the point where he lost consciousness and was just laying there motionless. He thanked me later when we spoke to the police and to give some credit to the police, they handled me politely and took a lot of notes for quite some time.

The problem was this; the police dropped me off (I gave testimony from within the police van for my own protection) near the scene of the crime, where I believe I then saw once again one of the perpetrators (there were several of them who soon dispersed and the police never caught all of them), who could easily follow me to my nearby house (I looked behind myself like a paranoid). I didn’t feel safe for several days to come, thinking I may have been an attractive revenge target for my testimony (the guy could probably just assault me right there at the street, if not just follow me). I phoned angrily to make a complaint to the police, but a nearby guard (non-police, just security at my home) strongly discouraged me, persuading me away from taking this any further, saying they would try to frame me for libel or some other abuse in order to cover their own behinds. I did eventually give up on this, following this guard’s advice (he knew the police here better than I did).

A few years later I witnessed a similar incidents at almost exactly the same place. I saw many guys attacking one guy at the telephone booth where he was trying to hide from them or maybe even phone the cops. I was there almost alone and the guy asked for help. Having already encountered that bittering experience in 2006 I did not report it to the police or get involved. Hopefully that latter guy was OK; I watched for a whole to check that they didn’t slaughter him or something. Later on I started seeing dedicated and well-shielded (at the chest) cops attending that area even in daytime (the first incident I saw was later at night, the other around noon), so presumably the police had by that stage recognised there was a violence issue there. One can perhaps save another person from one thug, but not a whole gang of them (even if they have no weapons), so the least one can do in these circumstances is provide the police with concise information.

Online scam

A relative on mine in the UK got scammed by a man in Africa, or a group of men working together within some kind of network/syndicate. It’s like she lost an entire house to them over the course of nearly one year and finally I got her to report it in December 2013. It has already begun a cyclic scam, almost like a racket. I spoke to the police on her behalf several times because she was shellshocked and terrified; it affected her health, her speech, her marriage, her entire life basically…

The police didn’t do anything (only promises and redirection) and at first even refused to visit the terrified victim, which was rightly (and rationally) afraid for her safety after she had reported the perpetrators to the police with my help (they knew were she lived, and some were seemingly based in the UK or other parts of Europe as well, based on evidence she had).

At the very end there was a cop kind enough to visit my relative and give her advice that would help protect her. He did not, however, try to resolve the crime. When I asked him why the police could not use GCHQ data to track down the perpetrators (I was partly joking, as Snowden’s leaks were having the biggest impact at that time, back in early 2014) he said that it cannot be used for such cases.

All in all, my relative saw none of the money had she lost. She now has to work for many years to pay back debt. The syndicate gets to keep all the money and move on to more victims. Well done, police! It’s worth noting that this is the only case where Yorkshire Police, not Greater Manchester Police, was involved. It actually did better than Greater Manchester Police in some sense. It was kinder and it at least tried to do some things right. It just wasn’t effective at all. Police is supposed to solve crimes, not merely provide mental support.

Domestic violence

My neighbour across the hall (not a friend at all, we never socialised) abused his girlfriend. One day he allegedly punched her. She screamed, but I wasn’t sure what had happened until she left the house and made a noise, saying he had punched her. A neighbour seemingly called the police about it, whereas I just sent an SMS to the neighbour’s landlord (I had spoke to that landlord before, but never to the neighbour, whom I find a little menacing). Why did I not phone the police like I presume my neighbours did (because the police later showed up)? See the above experiences. This later incident was in 2013. By this stage I lost faith in the police.

The police later knocked on my door, I suppose for me to provide with some testimony (like things I heard from across the fall). I didn’t even answer the door as I don’t wish to be used as a witness against a violent neighbour. There’s a lot of risk in being a police tool against a person next door. Weeks later I got mail delivered to my box (by accident). It was intended to go to the neighbour, but the postman made an error. In the envelope I saw a letter from Greater Manchester Police, whereupon I understood what happened, the impact/severity, etc. It wasn’t long thereafter that this neighbour left (or was evicted). The landlord’s daughter and her boyfriend moved in. They were a lovely couple which my wife and I got along with. But it wasn’t the end of abuse in that same building, which we have since then left. See below.

Intrusion and (nearly) assault

In that same building, one of the Three Towers, there were other negative experiences, including one that affected my wife and left her somewhat terrified. The details are all in this older post. The neighbour above us was thankfully at the scene at the time and he protected my wife. She still remembers this. It was last brought up 2 days ago even though the incident is about a year old.

I did not even bother reporting this to the police, having gone through all the above experiences to no avail. The police wouldn’t have helped; neither did RMG. It’s all useless. Maybe they’ll care only when someone dies. They must be busy protecting precious copyrights of rich people or finding people who smoke joints in the streets. If the goal of CCTV (there was footage in this case) is to prevent, deter or solve cases of violence, then this was a great example of this ideology’s profound flaws and severe failings.

Stolen bicycle

Two years ago, in a post titled “CCTV Not Effective”, I already wrote about this incident. Not much has happened since. Greater Manchester Police doesn’t have time to deal with theft. They phoned me weeks later just to say it’s unlikely they’ll find anything. Hours of phonecalls, reports etc. were basically a waste of time. There was hardly any use to reporting the incident in the first place.

Concluding

There are no other experiences that I can recall involving the police, probably because these were very minor and I have since then dodged any interaction with the police. People say that once you are known to the police (for good or bad) they can frame you for just about anything and cause you trouble if they don’t like you (unlike the intelligence community, cope can easily resort to violence and find/manufacture ways to justify this later), so it’s generally a good idea to always stay below these thugs’ radar, outside their scope of interest. To me, based on my experiences, this advice rings true.

Can we generalise all this to Manchester’s police force or to British police? Well, given the increasing size of the statistical sample above (so far nearly 10 incidents), it does seem like there’s a pattern and that pattern indicates that the police either won’t help or will just use the sources (witnesses) like tissue paper.

Sunday, April 12th, 2015, 12:47 pm

How to Block Facebook and Stop the Most Creepy Type of Spying

Facebook is facing a massive class action lawsuit in Europe right now. Facebook is indeed very unique when it comes to mass surveillance because the intrusive spying (data collected) is being shared among private companies. Facebook is a malicious network which spies on everyone, not only people who are registered with Facebook, and then sells this data to various different companies; it does not only share it with government spies. In order to protect oneself from Facebook’s wide-reaching privacy-infringing data-sharing (e.g. sharing of one’s browsing history and ID with advertising giants and even worse vultures) one must block all Facebook domains and IP addresses. In Debian/Ubuntu systems this can be achieved in the following way:


$ host www.facebook.com
$ whois -h whois.radb.net 31.13.91.2  | awk '$1=="origin:" { print $2 }'
$ whois -h whois.radb.net '!gAS32934' | tr ' ' '\n' > /tmp/fb
$ sort -n -k1,1 -k2,2 -k3,3 -k4,4 /tmp/fb > /tmp/fb2
$ for net in $(grep '^[[:digit:]]' /tmp/fb2); do sudo ufw --dry-run \
  reject out to $net;done

Or modify for direct use of iptables on OpenWRT.

Remove --dry-run to make it work on systems that use UFW. For plain iptables, one needs to use a different line but then need some additional tricks unique to each distro to make the settings persistent across reboots.

“I put up something a while back on HowToForge about this,” said the source of the above script/comamnds, “but it always needs new coverage. I usually do the same for Microsoft networks, too.

“People with decent router hardware but still with stock firmware should be nudged to OpenWRT.”

Saturday, April 11th, 2015, 7:49 am

Mike Coogan Winning European 400m Championship

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