Friday, June 29, 2007

Virgin (im)Mobile

I'm in the process of trying to migrate my mobile phone number from Verizon (who only have expensive plans with lots of monthly minutes that I never use) to Virgin Mobile (who have much more reasonable plans for my usage pattern).

The FCC has mandated that carriers must provide portability and has set a target time for the transfer process of 2.5 hours. So I submitted the request to Virgin Mobile on Wednesday and Verizon deactivated my service with them sometime yesterday. Yet there's still no sign of Virgin activating my new service and they're telling me that it could be another 2-3 business days meaning Tuesday or Wednesday before I have cell phone service again.

Fortunately I can fall back to roaming on my Australian GSM phone, which I'll need to do next week in HK and China anyway since US phones don't work anywhere else.

Don't you love an industry where 2.5 hours means 5 days! Maybe I should try that when my bill comes due - pay for one month and get four years service!

The carriers will all tell you that they can't provide any service guarantees for number portability because they are at the mercy of your old carrier. To some extent that's true. But Virgin Mobile are their own worst enemy. What they ought to do is allocate you a temporary number so you're not without service and if they don't care about that, so you can start making calls and spending money with them!

They can't do that because their software systems are crap. What I've deduced is that their system isn't built around an account number to which you can associate a handset and phone number, but rather the phone number is the account number. That means you can't change the phone number without closing the old account and opening a new one with all the problems that creates around balances and billing and customer information that is typically associated with an "account".

So I haven't even made a phone call yet with my new carrier and I hate them nearly as much as my old one.

Modelling these sorts of relationships - between things like customers and accounts and phone numbers and so on - is a critical part of what I do as a software architect. Getting it right means the difference between your systems letting you deliver responsive and flexible service to your customers or the lousy experience I'm having right now with Virgin Mobile.

My guess is that Virgin Mobile don't even know it's a problem, and if someone like me tried to point it out at time they were implementing the system they could only see the additional cost and not the value. And yet they probably wonder why even with their really competitive pricing it's so hard to win customers from existing carriers whilst their crap systems make the process something akin to torture (or whatever the Bush administration is calling it these days).

This is actually my second attempt to change carriers. To their credit, despite the annoyances described above, Virgin Mobile at least now have me as a customer, which is something t-mobile couldn't manage.

Update: (7 pm) Finally my phone is activated. That's about 50 hours. Compared to the FCC target of 2.5 hours that's 25 times as long as it should take.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Queuing theory

A short but interesting post over at Jane Galt on one of my pet hates - separate queues for multiple service points.

There ought to be a name for this kind of phenomenon - where anyone who has studied the issue knows the answer is A, but 95% of the world persists with B. Free trade is another example. Every economist in the world knows that free trade is good, but the great majority of people persist in thinking it's a bad thing.

I remember being stuck once in an immigration queue at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv for 30 minutes behind a lady from Mongolia. I suspect the Israeli immigration agent didn't even know where Mongolia was, let alone get his head around a Mongolian wanting to visit Israel (perhaps she was a member of one of those long lost Jewish tribes?) And there was absolutely no way they'd let me move to another line!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I called talk back radio today for the first time in my life. What makes this interesting is that I'm at home in Colorado and I called ABC Coast FM, a radio station in Australia that I regularly listen to online. It also helps that I have a phone service which includes unlimited calling to Australia.

And the issue that fired me up? Daylight Savings Time. Unlike most of Australia, Queensland doesn't have it even though a majority of the population are in favour. The reason is that people in rural areas who have disproportionate influence in Queensland's political system don't like it. Supposedly it upsets the cows or something (as someone who grew up on a farm I can tell you that the cows seem to cope pretty well, but maybe their owners are not as bright).

Finally the Queensland Government has proposed the obvious solution - have daylight saving only in the urban areas in the south east of the state that want it. As I mentioned when I called, there are states in the US that have different parts in different time zones and they seem to cope just fine.

Update: (1 July) Just got an email from my sister telling me that my nephew who lives on the Gold Coast heard me on the radio!

Balloon tragedy

Last week I posted pictures of our local hot air balloon making a close pass over our condo.

Unfortunately yesterday the balloon was associated with a tragedy - one of the passengers fell from the balloon to his death. The police are not confirming whether it was an accident or suicide, but the comments from the pilot indicate that the guy jumped.

I've been in that balloon and I can tell you that Ian the pilot is very focused on safety and that the basket is deep enough that you couldn't fall out accidentally unless you were doing something really stupid so it's pretty clear to me that this wasn't an accident.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Why it snows (so much) in Steamboat

Here's a great clip from the Weather Channel explaining why we get so much of our famous Champagne powder in Steamboat. Watch it and then book your ski trip for next year. After all it's only 152 days to go. Never too early for a little Steamboat dreaming...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Balloon alarm

I awoke this morning to a strange sound outside my bedroom window - the gas burner on a hot air balloon.

By the time I found my camera he'd managed to gain some altitude but when I first looked out the window it looked like he was going to land in our hot tub!

Not quite as dramatic as this previous encounter, but still a colourful start to the morning!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Zuned out

Last week I used some of my credit card miles (which build up pretty quickly when you buy spend thousands of dollars a month on plane tickets and hotels) to order myself Microsoft's answer to the iPod - the Zune.

It arrived today. My first impression was that it's quite a bit bigger than the video iPod, although I'll be using it with my Bose noise cancelling headphones so that doesn't really matter.

My second impression was that it's not quite as user friendly as the iPod, but the navigation is still pretty easy.

On the upside, it's a 30Gb device so it can comfortably hold my entire music library which is great because when you're away for weeks at a time it's impossible to predict what you're going to want to listen to. The sound quality is great and the graphics are awesome.

Two things annoy me. The first and more minor issue is that you can't sych it with Windows Media Player but instead need to install a separate program which looks almost exactly like - (drum roll please) - Windows Media Player.

The second and far more annoying problem is that my Windows Media Center PC records video files in a totally incompatible format. Yes that's right, Microsoft's supposed centre for the digital home doesn't work with Microsoft's portable player.

This was going to be my main source of video to watch on this device - I had visions of catching up on all my favourite shows as I wing my way back and forth across the Pacific - so I'm more than a little annoyed. But even more than that, I just don't understand how Microsoft could be so dumb. Synergy with their desktop products, where they own the market, is their best chance of catching Apple in the MP3 player game. So what on earth were these guys thinking?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back home

If you're one of my two or three avid and loyal readers you may have noticed that my posts for the last seven weeks have been coming from elsewhere. I've been on a extended business trip (fortunately accompanied by the Steamboat Lioness for most of it) taking in New Zealand (Wellington), Australia (Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney and Canberra) and China (Beijing).

We arrived home yesterday to find only a few tiny patches of snow remaining on the highest parts of the mountain and the valley as green and lush as you can imagine and Steamboat's construction boom well underway.

We flew as far as Denver where we took an overnight stop - it helps to space out the process of recovering from the jet lag and adjusting to the altitude. Avis upgraded me from the compact car I'd reserved to a Chrysler 300. It's a big, powerful, luxurious car. And I hated it. It has tiny windows so it feels really claustrophobic and corners like a bus. Hard work driving it in the Colorado mountains. Another fine piece of American engineering. And Detroit wonders why most of the cars built in America are Toyotas and Nissans and Subarus!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lake Burley Griffin

I took a walk after work today (I'm trying hard to lose some weight) around Lake Burley Griffen in Canberra. Since they're heading in to winter here the days are getting quite short so it wasn't all that late but already the sun was setting. It's a lovely time of the year to be here.

The lake is named after Walter Burley Griffen, the American architect who won the competition to design Canberra in 1912 and was part of his original design, although the river wasn't dammed to make the lake until 1963 (so it's as old as I am.)

The photos are not the best quality, but my camera phone isn't really equal to the task of landscape shots at sunset.