Sunday, February 24, 2013

Optical fibre

I don’t actually want a fibre-optic cable into the Crumbling Villa to deliver internets, telephone, and cable TV. When Beloved Wife and I first moved in over five years ago, the only telephone service available was through the execrable Itisalot. Getting a telephone landline presented little difficulty, but internet was more of a challenge owing, apparently, to a lack of capacity at the telephone exchange.

In fact, the Head of Customer Service at Itisalot’s Deira branch had promised internet within two weeks of the application. He subsequently hung up or was otherwise not available whenever I phoned him. This is Head of Customer service; just as well he wasn’t some disincentivised minion.

We got a wireless internet eventually, and it works fine except when the cheapo wire from the squaerial on the roof to a box in the study perishes in the sunshine and has to be replaced with more of the same. Tropical grade co-ax is apparently Not Coming In Dubai.

But leaving well alone isn’t in Itisalot’s business model, it seems. I’d been putting off random “You should migrate to our all-singing and all-dancing eLife service” phone calls for over a year until in October 2012 when, under threat of having the existing connection cut off, I finally said, “OK, you want to install a fibre-optic cable for eLife? Make it so.”

Sadly, Itisalot’s technicians have had extreme difficulty in making it so.

Sometime in October 2012, a team arrived and put new optical fibre cable from the junction box in the street up to a hole in the skirting board under the stairs of the Crumbling Villa. A second team arrived and advised that there was no signal from the telephone exchange. This would be fixed, and then someone would come and fix the modem, and we’d have our eLife.
  • Itisalot phoned to make an appointment for 3rd November 2012, but nobody turned up.
  • Itisalot phoned and made an appointment for 12th November, and nobody turned up.
  •  I phoned Itisalot on 29th November to find out what had happened, and got a vague apology.
  •  Itisalot rang on 28th January 2013 to make an appointment to fix the eLife cable. Never mind that the cable was already fixed, and the problem was at the exchange.
  • Nobody turned up on 29th January. So much for the appointment.
  •  Itisalot rang on 4th February, demanding to know why no-one was at home. We were in Cyprus; I got the technician to make an appointment for 7th February.
  • Nobody came on 7th February.
  •  On 9th February, a technician rolled up and declared that the problem was at the exchange, not in the Crumbling Villa. Thanks, but we knew this in October.
  •  Finally, on 20th February, an Itislalot technician got a signal from the exchange. He fitted a box to the wall at a jaunty angle, and then disappeared, promising that the modem would be fitted by another team ‘tomorrow.’
  • Tomorrow never comes. On 24th February a different team phoned, promising that they’d come today at 2pm. At 2:30pm they rolled up and declared that a different team would come “Later today without fail” to fix the modem. Exactly the same story spun the previous week.
Here is where I lost my rag. I tried to complain, but was first told that I’d have to give the technician’s phone number to the Itisalot call centre. When I called back, I was transferred to Complaints. Here, they declared that they had no record of my eLife application. This is weird, as the previous call person I’d been talking to had found the details on the same computer database. I’m forced to conclude that lying to customers is endemic and not limited to technicians.

Aside from the repeated lying and theft of my life days at a time, why should I worry? I neither want nor need cable television, and the current internet and telephone systems work adequately. OK, eLife would marginally reduce the monthly payment, and I can buy a Scotch egg with the monthly saving.

So the telecom company can continue on their inefficient way as far as I’m concerned. Phone and make appointments if you must, but I’m past staying at home to await your non-arrival. If you can’t arrange and then keep your own appointments, there’s little reason why I should hold up my side of the bargain. It is surely not in Itisalot’s financial interest to pay contractors to make repeated visits to customers’ houses to undertake the same task. And it certainly flies in the face of customer satisfaction to employ people who lie to customers.

Edited 2nd March to add that: Itisalot rocked up at 1150 today, having phoned me at 9am. Just over two hours later they've gone, leaving me with a working internet (q.v.) and a landline and cable TV decoder that will come on line 'in 24 hours.' Now I have to visit Itisalot to get my old connection cancelled or I'll be paying for both. Oh, and while the guys were here I received an SMS to say that they'd be arriving on 9th March. I wonder if anyone will turn up?


Monday, February 18, 2013

Like a Rocket

Judge Grumpy on his Lawmaster
I took my bike in to the workshop to have some work done last Saturday. It's four years old, so the brake pipes ought to be replaced, and I mail-ordered steel-braided hoses. Replacing the hydraulics is a job I've done before on other motorbikes, so this time I wisely paid someone else to do the work.

It turned out to be an excellent decision: the mechanics had trouble bleeding the system and even resorted to dismantling the master cylinder to its component molecules in a fruitless search for a mechanical fault. Beloved Wife had dropped me off at the workshop, briefly looked around the showroom, declared how much she liked the looks of the cruisers, and then driven home.

The ongoing problem bleeding air bubbles out of the hydraulic system meant that my bike wasn't ready by 6.30pm after all. I suggested that if the shop would let me borrow a bike for an overnight test ride, it would take the pressure off the mechanics and they could finish the job on Sunday.

And so I found myself astride a 2011 model Triumph Rocket III Touring. By a staggering coincidence, this was the same machine that Beloved Wife had so admired earlier.

The Rocket III has the largest engine ever bolted into in a production motorcycle. It's a monstrous 2294cc in-line three cylinder water-cooled powerplant that produces massive torque at pretty much any revs. The Touring version that I rode is a bike that comes with a windscreen and panniers, and the engine has been tuned for cruising. There's an unfaired Roadster version of the same bike that produces 40 more horespowers and even more torques. I've a friend in Qatar with one of those, and acceleration coupled with no wind protection make a strenuous effort to pull his arms out of their sockets whenever he rides con brio.

The Touring version (105BHP and 150lb.ft, which is 78kW and 203Nm in Centigrade) encourages cruising. There's a very comfy riding position behind hugely wide handlebars in a capsule of still air. The simple clear polycarbonate windscreen is extremely effective at keeping the breeze off the rider. There's no tachometer, but this is hardly an issue because the bike accelerates strongly in any gear from pretty much any speed. As with a lot of shaft-drive bikes, the tail lifts when accelerating, and the front forks extend as the bike attempts to wheelie, and the overall effect is one of lifting her skirts and going for it.

At first, I got the impression that the handling wasn't up to much. Compared to my own Kawasaki 1400GTR the Rocket III seemed twitchy. But I think a lot of this is to do with the enormous handlebars that are over a metre tip to tip. Actually, the Triumph is very light to steer, considering its 395kg kerbside weight, but flickable it certainly isn't. There was a hint of a weave up at the national speed limit, but I think this was mostly me trying to see if it would. Cruising on straight and gently curving roads, the Triumph behaved impeccably. I didn't test the ABS, but it's a comfort to know that it's there.

I'm new to footboards and the cruiser style of motorcycle, and the rear brake pedal position took a little getting used to. The gearshift has both heel and toe, so it's possible to change up without scuffing your shiny shoes. I thought the five-speed gearbox was clunky. There are probably pieces of girder bridges inside to withstand the huge torques and pass them from engine to rear wheel without going ping.

As for equipment, the panniers are hugely long but very narrow. A 200mm wide top opening won't swallow a helmet. But a nice touch is the lids can be secured without locking them. Instruments are very basic, consisting of a single tank-mounted speedo and fuel gauge, and an array of warning lights. There's an LCD panel that houses the odometer and clock, two trip meters and tank range. The last lot are all accessible via a single thumb switch on the right handlebar. I should have liked to see a cruise control fitted to this cruiser.

I didn't ride it enough to measure fuel consumption, so the next bit is from the internet: I'd expect to be refilling the 22 litre tank every 250km or so. Nobody buys a 2.3 litre motorbike and expects it to be economical.

The three cylinders exhaust into a single manifold that then splits into two silencers. The example I rode had some rather loud aftermarket exhaust pipes that caused popping and banging on over-run. If I owned the bike I test-rode, I'd put the stock silencers back on.

Overall, I liked it. Definitely, it's a bike to put a smile on my face. And Beloved Wife likes the looks of the machine, which is a bonus. But would I buy one?

"Not this year," says Beloved Wife.

I returned the Triumph and rode my GTR home. I still like my sports-tourer more.

Thanks to DusejaMoto of Dubai for the test ride, and for fixing my brakes.


Saturday, February 09, 2013

There and back again

Thank you so much, Beloved Wife, for the Christmas present of an EWI. What is an EWI? It's an Electric Wind Instrument; essentially a synthesiser that the player blows into, and produces music by fingering the keys as if it's a flute, or recorder, or oboe, or saxophone. I use the term "music" loosely, but because the instrument is electronic, all the tooting and parping during practice can be limited to the player's headphones.

The EWI came from in London, a shop that specialises in saxophones but that has a sideline in other woodwind instruments. They were very helpful.

Unfortunately, my EWI has a fault, in that it won't play if it's plugged in to an external power supply. have agreed that the unit should be replaced. All I have to do is get the existing one to London and they'll swap it. Simples.

Herein lies the problem. Aramex, who do so well with their Shop-n-Schlep service, won't insure the package without seeing the original receipt. I did show them a document entitled "Customer Receipt," but apparently that's not good enough. Aramex also want a sizeable portion of the value of the instrument just to ship it: Five hundred dirhams.

At least the thing will run perfectly on four AA batteries, and you can buy a lot of Duracells for less than five hundred dirhams.

But I've encountered Aramex's reluctance to ship from the UAE before. How is anyone supposed to ship used goods when they won't accept them for carriage without seeing some form of invoice, and they won't insure without an original sales invoice that Aramex alone will decide is acceptable. I didn't have any sales paperwork for a small gift that Aramex refused point-blank to ship to Australia.

One solution is to use Emirates Post, where they'll accept a package provided the sender fills in a customs declaration that gets stuck on to the package. Another is to beg favours from colleagues, friends or relatives who are travelling internationally.


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