Archives: November 2006

Phone SPAM - Part 2

I’ve heard back from my contact at Vodacom. (cough smitty cough):

I have looked at this clients complained and have established the following: We have in the passed received similar complained from this company (Platinum) Firstly they are not a WASP service so they don’t need to comply as stated. They are a company that do sales and use random cell phone ranges prefixes 082 445 xxxx to SMS clients or call randomly. If the client wants to stop them from contacting him, he needs to call then and advise them accordingly.

Platinum 0219441600


Sounds like they are from Cape Town, (but north of the borewors curtain).

So, I phoned them… Naturally, I ended up at a voicemailbox (for extension 1649), so I asked to be called back. Lets see…

If I don’t hear from them, next stop is the Ombudsman for financial services.

migrating to aptitiude

After reading an article about using aptitude properly, I decided that it’s time to make the switch from apt-get. Sure, on some really low memory systems, running aptitude isn’t an option, but for most machines, keeping track of which packages were installed as dependancies really helps keep a system trimmed.

I didn’t like the way that the author did it, I opted for a variant of one of the comments:

aptitude markauto ‘~i!~M!~nbuild-essential!~nsubversion!~nlibncurses5-dev!~npython’ \

While rather a monster command, it does a good job of selecting things that were probably installed as dependancies. If you see anything in the list of things to be removed that you want to keep, you just add in an !~npackagename. Then after that, I run aptitude, limit to ~i!~M (installed, but not automatically) and mark everything that should be a dependancy with M.

Then, it’s simply a case of only ever using aptitude, and your system will be kept nice and clean :-)

Aptitude search patterns are really powerful, instead of having to do the whole dpkg -l | grep ^r type mission, you can just do aptitude search '~c'.

Letter to Acer 2

Gianfranco Lanci
Acer Europe SA

RE: Extended Warranty not valid outside country of purchase.
Pages: 1 (including this)

Dear Sir,

I faxed your office on the 13th of November, concerning my Acer Ferrari 4005WMLi laptop (with an Acer Advantage Extended Warranty), that my UK employer bought me, out of my salary while I was working there. The laptop’s motherboard has failed, about 14 months after it was purchased. When I tried to get it repaired by Acer South Africa, they said that my extended warranty isn’t valid outside UK. I bought the warranty because I was explicitly told it would be valid Internationally (by the sales staff at Easy Computers).

You can read the rest of my previous fax here

I’ve since heard from Dave Malherbe of Acer South Africa, who told me that your office had authorised reducing the cost of repairs from R6 099 to R4 400. That’s hardly much of a discount, and I could still buy an entire new laptop for less than that. After a few phone-calls back and forth, he even agreed to drop it to R2 250, on condition that Acer SA kept my damaged motherboard. While I appreciate this discount, it’s not what I was looking for. I want the repair done entirely at Acer’s cost, as I purchased an Extended Warranty that (I believed) entitles me to this.

I’ve seen that other people are having major hassles with Acer support, so I weighed in as well, and made my impressions of Acer public, on my blog. It’s not my intention to rage about how terrible Acer’s support is, but rather to warn others away from the nightmares I’ve had to deal with. I’ve highly recommended the Acer Ferrari 4000 to everyone who asked me about it (or high end laptops in general), and I hope that none of them ever have to deal with these kind of support issues.

Please can you organise for my laptop to be repaired at Acer’s expense, under warranty, in South Africa. I’d really like this to end amicably. I’m not enjoying life on my old substitute HP laptop very much, at all, and I’d love to have my Ferrari back in working condition.


Stefano Rivera

Playing with a server

I’m having fun with a dedicated server.

A video-hosting site that I admin is currently hosted on a colo box with some very expensive bandwith. While the burstable bandwidth we can get on it is amazing, it’s staggeringly expensive, and we have a small quota. Thus we can’t sustain too much traffic.

For poorer customers, I want to look at some cheaper bandwidth… are having a special where you can try a dedicated box for £0.99 for it’s first month. With 2TiB of traffic / month (2 orders of magnitude more than the co-lo box) it is more than up to the job, and upgrading to an un-metered 10M link is cheap.

So, I’m trying out the mid-range option. I get a GiB of RAM, 80GB HDD, and more bandwidth than I know what to do with. A bittorent :-) test shows that it’s reasonably well connected.

Now to set up a demo website and see how it compares to our current uber-expensive box.

Acer Laptop woes - part 3

I got a reply!

Dave Malherbe from Acer South Africa called me, and after a chain of “returning your call” voicemails, we spoke yesterday. He told me that my request has gone up the chain of command at Acer HQ in Europe, all they way to the President (or at least his PA), and he’d been authorised to give me a discount on my repair.

He could drop the cost from over R6 000 down to around R4 400 (+VAT). Not much of a discount. For something that escalated so high, I wasn’t very impressed. I said that I’d rather get it repaired in UK (if you factor in courier costs, it’s still cheaper to send it there).

We then discussed my extended warranty, and he said I’d need to pry it out of Easy Computers (my supplier in UK who’d sent me the wrong laptop). So I fired off an e-mail to them. It’s gone backwards and forwards a few times, and they told me to contact Acer again. So I sent a very strong e-mail back to them:

We are sorry you are experiencing technical difficulties with your goods. All manufacturers have dedicated support lines staffed by trained personnel. We strongly recommend that you contact the appropriate manufacturer of your product:

I did that. Over a year ago, in fact. And they did nothing. Eventually, this week, they told me to contact you guys, as you didn’t supply me with the extended warranty pack that I paid you for.

If this is going to be a problem, please speak to my Acer contact who I’ve been dealing with: David Malherbe +27 11 233 XXXX. He knows all about my case, and if you mention my name, he should know who I am. He says that you guys need to supply me, you say they need to supply me, please can your sort it out between yourselves.


We’ll see…

I spoke to Dave again, this morning, and he offered me an even bigger discount. If I didn’t want my motherboard back, he could discount it to R1 999 + labour (R250) and VAT. That’s starting to sound reasonable. I still think I should get it for free, but I’m almost prepared to pay that kind of price, just to save myself further hassle…

Wordpress getting set up

OK. I’ve switched over to a reasonable looking non-default theme. (Although I’ll still write my own at some point…)

My personal tastes would have preferred a flat-file based bloging system. But none of the ones out there seem to come close to Wordpress in terms of features, or style (technical style, naturally)

And I’ve decided that Wordpress’ built in HTML markup-er sucks big time. Markdown, on the other hand, is fantastic. I can’t believe that it’s gone from being the default in the past to being left out of the distribution entirely these days… Tsk tsk

Phone SPAM!

Americans may be used to telemarketing, but thanks to Telkom’s monopolistic pricing, it’s been simply uneconomical to do such things in South Africa. This has started to change… My friends don’t seem to get them, but over the last 2 months, I’ve received at least 6 automated phone calls.

They go something like this: Here’s a rough transcript the one I got at 20h46 today, from + (i.e. withheld caller ID):

  • Machine: Hello, do you need cash in a hurry? You’ve been accepted for platinum credit. To find out more, press 9.
  • Me: Arrgh! 9
  • Rings…
  • Salesman: <with a Xhosa accent> Hello…
  • Me: Hi. What can you tell me about this?
  • Salesman: You’ve been selected for ple-tin-ahm credit.
  • Me: Yes, and? who selected me? What is the company called?
  • Salesman: eh… the company is name is ple-tin-ahm
  • Me: Are you sure - is that the name of the company you work for?
  • Salesman: yes, ah, the company name is ple-tin-ahm
  • Me: yes? and? Why are you calling me, why do you think I want your services?
  • Salesman: The comp-pu-ta picked your number.
  • Me: What computer?
  • Salesman: The computa.
  • Me: Where did it get my number from?
  • Salesman: The computa picked it.

etc… round and round we go…

  • Me: Will you please tell your computer never to call me again?
  • Salesman: No, I can’t do that.
  • Me: Can I speak to your boss please?
  • Salesman: No, he’s out right now.
  • Me: Can I leave a message for him to call me?
  • Salesman: No, he’s out right now.


I started getting the feeling that the poor salesman was rigidly sticking to a script…

Eventually, I got hung up on. And I didn’t manage to find out a single bit of information about these bastards. Maybe I should have pretended to buy…

So I phone Vodacom Customer care 111. And after working my way through the IVR menus (no there isn’t an option for abuse anywhere, you just have to keep hitting 0), I sat on hold for half an hour. After 20 minutes, a callback feature was advertised, if I pressed # they’d call me back. I pressed #, repeatedly, but nothing happened… Maybe the bad reception was interfering with the DTMF tone…

While I was sitting on hold, listening to horrific music emanating from my speaker phone, and browsing the web, I came across the WASPA code of conduct. It seemed interesting.

My reasoning is that the telemarketers must be using cell phone networks, or some other commercial gateway, because they could hide their number. AFAIK you can’t hide your number when calling from a Telkom line. That means that Vodacom could actually do something about this. The code of conduct states:

5. Commercial communications

5.1. Sending of commercial communications

5.1.1. All commercial messages must contain a valid originating number and/or the name or identifier of the message originator.

5.1.2. Any message originator must have a facility to allow the recipient to remove his or herself from the message originator’s database, so as not to receive any further messages from that message originator.

5.1.3. Where feasible, persons receiving commercial messages should be able to remove themselves from the database of a message originator using no more than two words, one of which must be ‘STOP’.

5.1.4. Any mechanism for allowing a recipient to remove him or herself from a database must not cost more than one rand.

5.1.5. Upon request of the recipient, the message originator must, within a reasonable period of time, identify the source from which the recipient’s personal information was obtained.

5.1.6. Commercial communications may not be timed to be delivered between 20:00 and 06:00, unless explicitly agreed to by the recipient, or unless delivery during this period forms part of the up-front description of the service.

Hmm. Quite a few violations…

Letter to Acer

To: Support Manager, Acer Europe, Switzerland

Cc: Support Manager, Acer Africa (Pty) Ltd, Sandton

Incl: Invoice for laptop and 3yr Extended Warranty, Original complaint about wrong model, Support reply, Pricing for new motherboard

RE: Extended Warranty not valid outside country of purchase.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I had an Acer Ferrari 4005WMLi laptop bought for me (it came out of my salary) by GetReel Digital Services, while I was working for them in the UK around August 2005. It was bought through Easy Computers, in the guise of, which is prominently linked from Acer’s website.

I didn’t actually receive the right model from Easy Computers, I got one with 32bit Windows XP, and no paperwork for my extended warranty. I complained about this (complaint attached), but received no reply from Acer, so I dropped it. I hardly ever use Windows, so it wasn’t very important to me, and I had the invoice to prove the warranty.

It’s given me good service for a year, definitely a good buy. It ran Ubuntu Linux pretty well (although the DSDT provided in the BIOS is atrocious —- it thinks that my battery (dis)charges in ~3s, and is full of other errors). I have recommended the same model to several associates and clients.

Around 2 weeks ago, it developed a fault that is causing it to crash constantly, and occasionally fail to boot up, beeping 3 times. I have verified the same crashes in Windows, and they seem temperature dependant. I contacted Acer Support, who postulated that it’s a dead motherboard, I concur. I was never given a support ID that I can quote, only an automated response (attached), the rest of the conversation happened over the phone to Acer South Africa.

However, they also told me that my warranty isn’t valid, because I bought the laptop in a different country, and accused me of illegally grey-importing my laptop while on a holiday in UK. They have quoted me R6 099 for a new motherboard and labour. I assume this repair would take place in Johannesburg, so I would have to pay courier costs to and from there, too. That is insane, for that price, I could take a trip to the UK, where my warranty is valid, and get a repair that wouldn’t void my (rather dubious) warranty.

I work for GetReel in both UK (I’m an EU citizen), and remotely from South Africa, so when I bought the laptop, I specifically enquired if the warranty was international. I was informed that it was, so I bought the 3yr extended version. I’m an IT professional, so I know that hard drives have a propensity to die, laptops aren’t easy or cheap to mend, and so long warranties are a good thing. I spend a lot of time in South Africa, so I wouldn’t have bought the extended warranty if they had told me that it wasn’t valid internationally.

In this day and age, laptop users travel the world, constantly, so I find the idea of a global laptop manufacturer, whose warranties are only valid in one country ludicrous.

Please can you organise for my laptop to repaired, at Acer’s expense, under warranty in South Africa, or for it to be couriered for free to Europe for repair and back.


Stefano Rivera

Acer Laptop woes - part 2

My faithful Ferrari has been chugging along merrily for a year, following me almost everywhere, and keeping up with the latest fashions in Ubuntu Linux (amd64).

Suddenly, while I was busy reading some lecture slides, cramming for an exam earlier this month, it crashed. Odd. Reboot.


Hmm. Badly seated RAM? Try a quick re-seat.


To cut a long overly-geeky story short, it seemed temperature-related. It would run for ~20 mins and then crash. And after that while still warm, it wouldn’t turn on without giving the beeps of death.

Aha! It’s Just as well I bought a 3yr warranty, thinks tumbleweed, otherwise I’d be in a bit of a bind. The laptop is 14months old now - what good thinking! < pats self on back />

Not so fast. Acer informs me that my 3yr warranty isn’t valid in South Africa (as I’d been assured it was when I bought it). They also accused me of grey-importing my laptop. Sure, I spend most of my time in South Africa, but surely I can get my employers to buy me hardware in the country they exist in?

I was quoted over R6000 to get it repaired. For that price I could fly to London, (with the help of youth fares) get an in-warranty-repair and have a quick holiday to boot. Rude letter writing time… (I’ll add the letter as soon as I’ve vetted it for the spammy world of the web)

I faxed it off to the EU HQ, as well as the local office, and waited.

Acer Laptop woes - part 1

While I was working in London in August 2005, I needed a new laptop (to replace my rather old and battered one that I’d found in a cupboard at work). I seriously looked at ThinkPads, but then read an outstanding review for an Acer Ferrari 4k, that was half the price of lower specced ThinkPads.

I was convinced, and bought an Acer Ferrari 4005WLMi laptop from Acer Notebooks (alias Laptops Direct, alias Easy Computers). They convinced me into a 50 quid 3yr warranty that covered accidental damage, which I was assured that it was International. Sounded like a good deal. The laptop was to be delivered post-haste by a courier company better known for it’s parent company’s pest removal abilities. I should have known that I was in for trouble…

I was going to South Africa in a week, so it was essential that the deliver happened fast

Well, a couple of days later, I got a call back. Company policy stated that they couldn’t deliver to my office, because it was in the same building as a car park, and they don’t deliver to car parks. After lots of wangling, and eventually fudging the address enough that it didn’t look like a carpark any more, they agreed to deliver to me. (and added a note to the couriers, explaining the address)

On the eventual day of delivery, a green branded courier van stopped outside my office. I waited…

Another van pulled up behind it.

The driver of the first van took out a large laptop-sized box and gave it to the other driver, and they both sped off in different directions.

I phoned up the courier company, and asked them where my delivery was. After a thorough search, they decided that it had been lost. I was assured that I shouldn’t worry, it was insured (I bet the driver knew that), and I should contact the supplier to send another one. :-) Being a good soul, I tried to report the van driver for thievery, but they couldn’t care. All their staff were beyond reproach.

Needless to say, this second delivery happened after I’d left the country, and I only got my laptop later.

Oh, and it wasn’t the right model, and it didn’t come with the extended warranty that I’d purchased. So I phoned up the supplier who referred me to Acer. I opened a ticket with them. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Hello world!

OK, hell has frozen over, tumbleweed has a blog. He’s entered the blogosphere for good or for bad, and will attempt to do a decent job of it.

It might not last long, and if I get bored, I promise to pull it down rather than let it languish into unmaintained hell, but hopefully we won’t need to go there…

Now of course, something had to actually exist that I wanted to blog about before this could happen. Hopefully I’ll update the site with all of that stuff soon. Subscribe to my feed now! :-)

Nice themes, etc coming soon…