Saturday, October 23, 2010

Starhub: A Singapore style mugging?

A few years ago I went on holiday to Brazil. On the day I arrived three guys came up to me, hit me on the head, knocked me to the ground, hit me on the head again and took my money. It was not a pleasant experience.
Just a few months ago I move to Singapore to live and work. A colleague had a spare local-sim card and he lent it to me. We both agreed to transfer ownership of the sim, but it turned out to be quite a hassle. It couldn’t be done over the phone, online or by post. We had to go to a particular starhub centre and there were none near where we worked in central Singapore. We both had to go together to Dauby Gaut and wait for an hour to get it done.

While I had the sim in my phone I made a conscious decision to strictly limit the use of 3G. Most often I just used wifi, when it was available. When I saw a bill was slightly surpised to see that I had used 0.00877 GB ( just under 9 MB). I’m not exactly certain how that happened. Perhaps I viewed a map that I previously had downloaded but the phone refreshed via the 3G network.
I have frequently seen some starhub advertising that shows the cost of downloading to mobiles is something less than 35 SGD for 12GB. So I think that is might be acceptable to charge slightly more on other packages, may be even 30% extra. But to my amazement, I was charged 88 SGD for my tiny 0.00887 GB. At that rate 1 GB would cost more than 10,000 SGD, or to put it another way, I was charged over 317,000% above the advertised rate.
What’s worse is that my colleague didn’t show me the previous month’s bill, so when I saw it, there was a combined bill of 210 SGD. The best starhub has offered to do so far is to reduce it to 186 SGD.
What do you call it if a firm advertises one rate but charges 317,000% more?
Would it be appropriate to call it a Singapore style mugging?
If it is legal, then I think the law needs to be changed.
I must say I would have preferred if instead starhub had just sent someone to the airport when I arrive to mug me. I would have lost less money that way.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Response to Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens spoke on Progressive Radio (click here to listen to the broadcast)

When discussing the US lead invasion of Iraq, he mentioned that there are 4 conditions under which a country can be deemed to have lost its sovereignty and be open to international intervention to remove its government:

1: if it invades the territory or occupies the territory of neighbouring countries
2: if it violates the genocide convention (it is mandatory to prevent or punish genocide)
3: violates the non proliferation of nuclear weapons
4: gives support, encouragement and shelter to international terrorism

Lets look at the USA:
1: Invasion: The list of countries it has invaded either directly or by proxy over the past century is very long.

2: Genocide: The fire bombing of Tokyo on 25 Feb 1945 alone led to 100,000 civilian deaths. There were significantly more than 100,000 deaths in Cambodia in the spring of 1970 in the US Operation Menu.

3: Nuclear Weapons: The problem of nuclear weapons was born in the USA, they invented them and are the only country in history to ever use nuclear weapons. The sensible alternative to the nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not an invasion of Japan, but rather a negotiated surrender. The Japanese had already indicated their willingness to admit defeat and start talks.
Morally, if the US wants to be in a position to insist that other countries should give up their nuclear weapons programs, then they should lead by example.

4: The US has been the most consistent supporter of international terrorism for the past 60 years.

So using Hitch's criteria, the US has given up its sovereignty and so should be open to international intervention.

The biggest problem is that the US has been unable to get over the idea that if it is good for me then it is for the good. In general people are terrible judges of the morality of their own actions. When people don't have an external over-see-er, the consequence is that nuclear weapons are dropped on civilian centres ( Hiroshima and Nagasaki ) and the perpetrators think it was just.

Later in the discussion Hitchens mentioned that we should have 'blood for oil'. An important question for him is: how many barrels of oil is his youngest daughter's life worth?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

If you're wrong then how will you find out?

What is the truth? How can you find it? One of the interesting things about reading the works of the most intelligent people that ever lived is that even though they have amazing minds, they all seem to have the ability to be very silly sometimes and frequently are plain wrong, to my mind. Great minds don't think alike and so, a significant portion of them are wrong.

I reckon, the first step on the path to the truth is to realise that if one of the convictions that you currently hold is false, then you won't know it. That follows from the definition of conviction. So then what do you do?

Well, next step is to ask yourself the question: if I'm wrong, then how will I find out? We could think of some method that we could employ, but then the follow on question is of course, if that method doesn't work, how will I find out?

Suppose someone is asked: if your religious faith is incorrect, how will you find out? and they answer that God will tell them, then you can rightly tell them that they're being a nitwit, since if their faith is fundamentally wrong and God doesn't exist, then he won't be around to tell them. So they would need a better answer. To be honest I've never heard a sensibe answer to the quesition from a religious devotee. The statement I have the truth, I don't need to search any further, is very arrogant and is likely to lead to an end to progress for people who have that opinion.

To really answer the question about how we'll find out if we're wrong takes significant humility. The starting point is that we may well be wrong.

However there are some groups who really do try to answer the question about how they'll find out if they are wrong. For example scientists will say that if they are wrong, then future experiments will show it and so old theories will be dumped in favour of new ones that agree with the evidence. To me that is a reasonable answer, though there are perhaps flaws. For example if some new brilliant scientist comes along with a new exciting theory which explains all sorts of existing anomalies, it could well be rejected by the main-stream because the ideas are just too revolutionary. Older people in particular have difficulty taking on new ideas and so science may well miss out. The peer-review system in journals is not perfect, but to my mind, the achievments of science ovew the past few centuries have been amazing

Wikipedia is an interesting case. They have really shown humility. They say that they'll find out if they're wrong by allowing anyone correct it. The result is absolutely astounding. They have created the largest encyclopedia in the history of humanity and no other has been faster at fixing mistakes. The down-side is that it sometimes is vandalised, however when people vandalise articles, they get corrected and that is the key.

For me the important thing is not to absolutely know the truth, but rather the ensure that you have a path to get there.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Apcoa parking: you've been clamped

Recently I was in a private car-park in Dublin and I paid for 2.5 hours of parking, it was 2 euro per hour. When I returned I found that my car we being clamped. The clamper, who was from Apcoa parking claimed that I was 9 minutes late. A fact which I disputed. The clamper asked for a fee of 11 euro for each minute that I was late.

When I asked him if he thought that what he was doing was reasonable or moral, he gave me the Auschwitz Guard defence, i.e. he was just doing what he was told.

Can anyone think of a worse job than working for Apcoa. You'd go round clamping people, seriously annoying them and then dealing with the consequences.

I was told that I could appeal my fine, but I'd have to pay it first. I wonder has anyone every got money back from Apcoa after appealing to them?

Is there any legal protection, if someone returns to their car and Apcoa says that they are one second late. Are Apcoa legally allowed impose any arbitrary fine?

Apcoa have a notice saying that if you tamper with the clamp then they'll fine you 3,000 euro. I wonder is that more of a threat or a promise. Suppose someone were to break the lock with a metal cutter, then what would the real fine be?

I wonder would the following business be legal:
Buy a metal cutter and some locks that Apcoa use on their clamps. When anyone gets clamped, go to them, (before Apcoa) and offer to cut the locks. Any locks that are cut will be replaced. The fee charged to the car owner would be significantly less than the Apcoa fine.

I heard a story recently of a clamping firm that kept clamping builders as they worked on a site. Whenever the cars were clamped, the builders would get their angle grinders and cut off the locks.
This continued for a while until the clampers got very annoyed and threatened legal action if the cutting continued. Though they persisted in clamping. Then the builders started pouring glue into the locks. So the clampers were unable to unlock the clamps. The builders were then on hand to offer their services with the angle grinders. The offer was taken up. After that the builders' cars were left alone.

Sometimes, people do indeed turn the tables on clampers, for example in London last year some residents in a apartment complex blocked the clampers exit until they released the clamps for free. Click here to read the details.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Don't visit

A nasty virus has been going round facebook today.
In a way it is very simple. Someone visits the site:,
It looks quite like a facebook login page. They give their username and password then their facebook account is hacked into and all their friends are sent a message asking them to 'Check', some of them do and so the virus spreads.

If it happens to you, then you should immediately change your password.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Motivating players well

Back-ground: Chelsea lost the Chapions League Semi Final on 6-May-2009 after a string of penalty claims were turned down

It does nothing for the dignity of the sport to have footballers frequently throwing themselves on the ground looking for free-kicks and penalties. It makes the players look like cheats, which is indeed what they are. But one of the consequences, just like the boy who cried wolf, is that when Drogba genuinely should get a penalty, referees bear in mind that most time he goes down he is just looking for the foul and wasn't actually fouled. I don't have sympathy for Chelsea, because they cried wolf too many times.

However, I don't think the real problem is with players' ethics, but rather with the way they are motivated. Right now if a player is in the box and his half tackled, then falling over is a good option, quite frequently it will yield a penalty. We need to introduce incentives not to fake it. For example:
1: Play on advantage more often, then if no advantage is accruing pull back for the foul

2: After the match a video referee should look through the match for instances of diving. Those who are caught will get multi-match bans for bring the game into disrepute. Currently if a player is caught smoking hash he is dealt with harshly, if he dives, then he is rarely punished. Clearly the priorities need to be changed.

3: Referees should bear in mind that if a player is fouled he can still sometimes remain on his feet. Too often a referee will only give a free kick if someone falls.

Players often have very short-term horizons, they think that if they give away a corner then the danger has been averted, or if they get a yellow card, then they haven't hurt their team. So perhaps it is time to use a sin-bin for yellow card.

And finally, when a foul happens at the edge of the box, the important thing is not where the first contact was, but rather the last. If the first contact is outside the box, but then as the players move, contact continues into the box, the referee should play on the advantage until in the box and so a penalty should be given.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nasty side of facebook applications

I saw a rather nasty application on facebook today. It looked rather innocent at first, just a harmless IQ test that someone could take and possibly compare scores with friends. However there was a tiny bit of small print which I almost missed, it read:
Subscription service 4 items/ week, €2.50 per item + €2.50 to join. 18+. SP MTL 015260014. To unsubscribe txt stop to 57151

After being asked 10 general knowledge questions, I was then asked to submit my telephone number. I guess if I had done so then they would have taken €10 from my mobile phone account each week until I noticed. I reckon I'd prefer it if they would just mug me. There is a certain integrity of purpose about mugging which these quiz masters lack.

I'm certain that the scores of my friends which were displayed were not genuine results. In particular if the quiz just asks ten general knowledge questions, how could my friends possibly end up with scores such as 132, 126, 121, 116 and 109. I've asked one of my friends whom it was claimed took the test, she assures me that she did not.

If you want to see a version of the scam,click here.

If this is not currently illegal, then the law needs to be changed. As it stands now, plenty of people will do a one off quiz online and then for the rest of their lives the cheats will steal 10 euro per week from them.

I'd strongly encourage anyone affected to lodge a complaint with the Irish Consumer Agency, start by clicking here. Note the company behind the scam is Blinck United Ltd, The Digital Hub, 4 St Catherines Lane West, Dublin 8.

I'd define a scam to be a business where a majority of the customers would not have proceeded with the transaction if all the relevant facts were made clear to them before hand. Using that definition, this is clearly a scam. However that definition can't be used in a law.

I wonder are new regulations required to stop cheats like Celldorado?

I'm really interested to know, do they confirm ownership of a mobile before the mobile account is charged? For example, if I asked local politician to help me and he did nothing, then could I go to the celldorado scam site and then sign-up for a couple dozen services under a made-up name but using the politician's mobile number? Even if the politician's mobile is paid for by the state, I'm sure he would eventually notice a mobile phone bill in the thousands of euro per month. That might just prompt them to bring in some new regulations. Needless to say, I couldn't possibly condone such a strategy.