01 December 2008

ADSL Insanity in Austria

So, I decided to upgrade my Internet experience, and ordered the "aDSL solo Privat max 8192/768" from iNode (now part of UPC) in Vienna, Austria.

Dealing with this company as a private customer is simply hell. They have phone trees which lead nowhere, or which direct you through to a hotline, only to immediately drop the call because of overload. When you do finally get through, they take a long time to process, and need to put you on hold for ages (assuming they don't simply do this for the pleasure of winding up "difficult" customers.)

My record for one call trying to get this Internet connection sorted out was more than one hour and five minutes.

Here's the fun part -- I first placed the order with them on October 8th. They finally gave me an installation date -- 2 January 2009. Yes, more than 10 weeks. They claim this is not their fault, because they outsource the installation of ADSL connections to Telekom Austria -- but I believe this is simply an excuse. Perhaps they are overloaded with demand, but they won't stay in business long if they treat customers in this way. Solve the problem already!

It gets better. I called to cancel, saying that 10 weeks is too long to wait. (In the meantime, I have been using mobile Internet, which is much more convenient.) And they tell me that there is a "cancellation charge" of 180 Euros -- for a service which they haven't been able to install! Oh yeah, and they blame this charge on Telekom as well.

So, bottom line. If you are an Internet user in Austria, STAY AWAY FROM INODE/UPC. They will rip you off, and are unable to deliver in a timely manner. Their support is abysmal, and they seem to be engaged in a marketing war with Telekom (to whom they subcontract the installation.) You have been warned.

Updated 6 Jan 2009: Finally, the Telekom installer came on 2 January (as promised), and installed the ADSL modem. So, now I have Internet again -- but there were still issues. First, the router wasn't working. I called tech support (which was quite helpful), and learned that I had to manually add the login credentials, via the Web interface at Second, the default configuration for the Thomson ADSL router leaves the wireless access point completely unsecured. As I already have enough WLAN routers, I simply disabled it. Thirdly, and this is the most serious issue -- the ADSL connection was set for a downstream bandwidth of 1,088 kbps and upstream 128 kbps -- basically one eighth of what I am paying for. I've logged another service call, and naturally it's down to an argument between UPC and Telekom again, each blaming the other. I'll be happy if they can increase it to 4 Mbps downstream.

04 September 2008

One night in London (are we there yet?)

The journey started out uneventfully. I was flying from Vienna to London Heathrow last Sunday night. The Austrian Airlines flight was quite full. Scheduled for 7:45 p.m., it left at 8 p.m. due to availability of the landing slot in London, but the pilot told us he would try to make up the time in the flight, so we expected a close to ontime arrival.

After two hours, we were approaching London Heathrow, when the pilot informed us we needed to sit in a holding pattern, while we waited for our landing assignment. Everyone on board was relaxed -- there had been no turbulence, and the cabin staff were friendly and attentive. After four or five circuits, some people were beginning to become impatient -- and then the Captain announced that we had to divert to Gatwick, due to weather-related problems at Heathrow.

Well, this was a major inconvenience for many, but not an unmitigated disaster. The pilot expressed the view that perhaps the plane could be refueled, and fly on to Heathrow when a slot became available. We landed at Gatwick 20 minutes later, and waited for the airstairs to arrive, along with the necessary buses.

After fifteen minutes of waiting, the Captain apologized for the delay, explaining that Austrian airlines wasn't able to find a gate agent to assist, but they were working on the problem. Again, he suggested that some people might wish to deplane at Gatwick, but their checked luggage would have to stay on board due to safety regulations (which in my view shouldn't apply for such a diversion -- but sorting through the luggage to separate items for individual passengers would of course be too time consuming.)

The time dragged on. The Captain was apologetic but professional, and gave us regular updates on the situation. Eventually, we waited two and a half hours on the ground, with no one able to leave the plane. The Heathrow option was no longer on the table -- that airport was closed. It was now past midnight. According to the Captain, in his more than twenty years of flying, including many airports in Africa, he had never experienced such a situation, where passengers were kept on a diverted aircraft because of unavailability of a gate agent company.

With the one hour time zone difference, our expected UK arrival time would have been 10:30 p.m. Including the holding pattern delays, we eventually landed in Gatwick at around 11:30 p.m. Two and a half hours later, we were allowed to board the buses to the terminal. Our pilot informed us that the matter had to be escalated through the Austrian foreign ministry, using diplomatic channels, as the situation was so unusual.

But things were't over yet. Once inside the terminal, it took forty minutes before any announcement was made about our luggage -- and another twenty minutes before it arrived on the conveyor. Next, I had to wait another half hour for the bus to Heathrow airport -- which took an hour.

Eventually, I arrived at Heathrow at 3:30 am -- that's after more than eight hours of travel, for something which should have taken less than three hours. Naturally, we weren't the only flight affected, leading to all hotels around Heathrow being full (except for the ones charging 200 pounds per night.) I chose to spend the night sleeping on the floor in Terminal two, to meet my wife's flight the next morning.

Next time, it might be faster to take a train.

11 August 2008

Pre-paid Mobile Internet Surfing in Austria

The offer seems quite compelling: pre-paid Mobile Internet surfing, using an anonymous card which you can buy in a supermarket.

But does it work?

Here's the link to the offer: http://www.yesss.at/diskont-surfen/angebote.php

It's sold in Austria through a chain of German supermarkets, which go by the name of Hofer. They take cash, so anonymity is assured.

They sell an unlocked modem (the Huawei E220, with HSDPA/UMTS/GPRS/GSM compatibility) for €69.99, and a pre-paid SIM card with (allegedly) 2 GB of data for 20 Euros -- with optional bonus cards selling additional blocks of 2 GB for the same rate.

I then struggled to make it work. Frankly, it was a real pain. Plugging it in to my Windows XP laptop, I saw the E:\ drive with all necessary files appear momentarily -- then disappear a few seconds later. Maybe it's a problem with some security software on my laptop, but I simply couldn't make it install under Windows. The support web site offers a Windows Vista download, but no files for XP -- you're meant to install direct from the USB connection.

So, I then tried my MacBook Pro. The software for this is on their Web site -- but once again, it was a bust. I was able to download and install the software, but couldn't configure it -- it failed each time I tried to add the APN information.

Finally, I got out my trusty Asus eee PC, running the standard Xandros distribution. I plugged it in, was prompted for the PIN, then configured the APN (which for this network in Austria is web.yesss.at), and clicked connect... and it worked perfectly.

So, here we have a system which struggles with Windows XP and OSX 10.5, yet works like a charm with Linux. Of course, I intended all along to use it with my eee PC, so I am quite pleased it works, but am still a little frustrated I couldn't get it working with the other systems.

Update: looking into the tariff options is interesting. Basically, they have two tariffs, one for light occasional use, and the other for heavy users. Both tariffs cost 20 Euros -- but for a heavy user, that 20 Euros buys 2 GB of data, while for an occasional user, it buys only 1 GB of data. The difference? As a heavy user, you must consume all of your 2 GB in one month, while occasional users get a year to consume the credit.

25 July 2008

My first Knol

OK, I decided to dip my toe into the Knowledge Management new wave (apart from tinkering with various articles on wikipedia over the years.) I have therefore published my first Knol, on the subject of Financial Fraud and Risk Management. Feel free to check it out.

03 February 2008

The Kerviel File

There has been a lot of ink printed about Jérôme Kerviel, the trader at Société Générale who cost the Bank US$7.2 billion. This is a classic case of failure of controls, which shows that there was a culture of lax oversight and enforcement.

Two recent articles caught my eye -- from the Wall Street Journal, and The Register. The former is a cogent analysis of what went wrong with the controls, and how the bank was forced to unwind the position, possibly contributing to the recent global hiccough on the world markets.

Especially noteworthy is the old chestnut of an employee who fails to take holidays -- the classic danger sign which every auditor is trained to look for. How could SG's internal revision department not see this as a red flag? It's a clear indicator that an employee doesn't want their position to be too closely inspected -- especially in one where such huge risks are being taken. Ostensibly, however, Kerviel's position was one of arbitrage, which should eliminate risk -- however, for reasons which have yet to be revealed, his counter trades were not covered, or were fictitious.

It was also interesting that the Deutsche Börse's Surveillance unit was the first to alert SG to the volume of trades -- but Kerviel himself blocked this, and it wasn't until a month later that in order to cover a masive profit! (which turned into a loss in a matter of days), a brokerage house was involved in the cover-up, which triggered a credit check, which forced his back office to investigate further, and led to his recall from holiday and eventual dismissal (which even now, isn't yet formalized due to French corporate culture.)

The Register's take is even more interesting, suggesting a number of ways that the trades could be masked. Once again, the classic techniques of "borrowing" passwords from colleagues, and the triviality of fudging the figures in Excel sheets used for reporting, highlight just how vulnerable most major Banks might be in this area. I especially recommend reading the comments from industry insiders, that suggest such abuse of systems and lack of formal oversight is endemic.

The Risks are clear -- any employee who is granted privileged access needs an appropriate level of oversight and relevant controls, however tedious, which are required to prevent similar events from unfolding in even the most reputable of institutions. And despite the progress of industry regulation and self-policing in the past dozen years since the collapse of Barings' Bank, not enough is being done.

The remedies are not very difficult -- clear segregation of duties, independent risk management, enforcement of policies, and regular rigorous audit -- but they are not being adequately applied, and until European Bank Managers experience personal liability (as their cousins in the USA are starting to feel with Sarbanes Oxley), we will continue to see collapses, possibly even larger than the latest fiasco.

01 February 2008

Vienna Review Newspaper

I am proud to be associated with the Vienna Review newspaper, who are launching their new Web site next week. I've been privileged to assist the capable team of students and staff, who are making the transition onto the Web.

Already published for several years as one of Vienna's few English-language newspapers, the title has prospered under the leadership of experienced journalist and professor, Dardis McNamee, who draws upon the talents of her students and several willing external volunteers, who donate their time to produce an impressive print publication.

Update March 2009

One year later, and we have relaunched the website, based on a new platform called ProsePoint, a variation based on Drupal. ProsePoint is much better suited to the needs of an on-line newspaper, providing better layout and control, as well as editions, author bios, comments, and much more.

25 January 2008

A Prayer for Everyone

The Agnostic Prayer

Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that I be forgiven for anything I may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness.

Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which I may be eligible after the destruction of my body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a way as to insure my receiving said benefit.

I ask this in my capacity as my elected intermediary between myself and that which might not be myself, but which may have an interest in the matter of my receiving as much of said benefit as it is possible for me to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony.


24 January 2008

New developments in SPAM?

I have fought SPAM off and on for nearly ten years, having administered mail servers for large organizations, but these days, I leave it to Google, by routing all my email through their excellent systems.

However, occasionally one slips through, and this one happened to catch my attention.

I am Mr Mike Leonard,a registered and legitimate private loan lender. I give out loans to Individuals,families,student,Organization, Business Men and women that needs financial assistance at the interest rate of 3%
Loan is given out in Pounds, Euro and $US. The MAXIMUM I give is 5,000,000 both in pounds and $US and the MINIMUM is 5,000 pounds and US$ so if you are really interested contact us for more information on how the loan can be transfered to you.
There is one Question i have to ask i hope you are serious? Because we give out loan to serious minded people and those that we know they can pay us at the stipulated time that was agreed.
Loan that is more $10,000,000M can be given to those that falls only on this category.

Manager of a company
A private Holder
A broker in banks
A director in any office or company
A high investor of a company
If you are interested you have to fill this application form below.
*Applicant full name:....................................

* Applicant Contact Address:..............................

* Phone No:.....................................

* Country:.......................................
* Age:.............................................

* Marital Status:................................
* Amount Required As Loan:............................
*Proposed Terms/Duration Of Loan:..................
*Annual Income:..................................


Mode of Payment:
* Payment by bank to bank transfer
* Payment by bank certified check(courier)
Fill this for and get back to us so that my loan terms and conditions will be sent to you. If you are interested i need you to get back to us via mike.leoloans@gmail.com and you will be glad you did!!!
Best regards,

And also this one:

Earle Crane to brad.boyce

If you have your own business and want:

- IMMEDIATE cash to spend ANY way you like.
- Extra money to give the business a boost.
- A low interest loan - NO STRINGS ATTACHED


Without investigating too much, I note that the first link is a relatively new approach (for me at least), to what I expect is a two-fold attack:

  • Advance fee fraud -- they will "process" the loan, but will expect some payment to facilitate the transfer, which of course will never happen

  • Identity Theft -- full disclosure of Bank Account and related details will of course be required.

The second link is more interesting. Visiting the site (which seems to use a Chinese DNS name), shows a Web server based in Beijing (which should ring alarm bells), for someone claiming to be "E2 Finance". At first glance, it might even be legitimate -- I can't figure out the angle, compared with the first one which seems more obvious. Perhaps they really are offering finance? Naaah. They're Spammers. Spammers lie. Ergo, they are simply a Phishing site, which will use any disclosed info for identity theft.

The obvious risk here -- trusting what one reads on the Internet, and entrusting financial information to unknown persons.

P.S. I heard a very funny comment on the local FM4 radio station this morning. I think it was daddyd (Dave), who suggested that the U.K. had actually proactively engineered a superb response to the current economic downturn -- by "accidentally" releasing in a series of incidents the identity information of more than half the U.K.'s population, this was going to provide a major boost to the only area of the economy which is currently experiencing double-digit growth -- identity theft. Respect, mate. I like the cut of your jib, and would subscribe to your newsletter.