31 August 2005

'A Rule Is A Rule, Locked Doors Have To Remain Locked'

I have received an e-mail response from Singnet to my query about their unreasonably high charges for the premature termination of my broadband account. In a terse, business-like manner, it says unflinchingly:

"Dear Mr Koo

Thank you for your email.

I would like to inform you that we base our Early Termination Charge for 512kbps Unlimited plan as follows:-

For contract balance of more than 12 months: $420
For contract balance of less than 12 months: $315

I would also like to highlight that this is applied across for all existing 512kbps SingNet Subscribers who wish to terminate their account prematurely. I seek your understanding on this and hope that you would comprehend."

I checked the agreement form that I have signed. The above terms and conditions were indeed stated clearly in the form. The different terms and conditions which I mentioned in my last post were nowhere to be found in the agreement - I must have seen them somewhere else. But I still think that what I mentioned is the maximum anyone can charge for any breach of contract. A more reasonable amount should be even lesser.

In any case, how many of us read the small print before we sign on the dotted line of an agreement? At my age, I couldn't read them even if I wanted to, if I didn't bring my reading glasses along. In addition, there are so many clauses and legal terms in the agreement, the sales staff never have the time or patience to explain them to the customer. In all likelihood, the customer might not understand the legal mumbo jumbo even if they did.

Is this another case of poor service and inflexible rules? Well, maybe and maybe not. I can only utter the same words as I did in an earlier post, i.e. caveat emptor or buyers beware.

29 August 2005

A Backdoor That Is Locked

Our family has been with Singnet for more than 4 years now, ever since Mar 2001 when we got our first PC at a S'pore Expo exhibition. It is a Datamini which is still serving us faithfully albeit slowly. I recently heard from a sales person that the company had since closed down. No wonder I don't see this brand being sold in the hyperstores anymore. It makes me reflect on how many products we are still using for which their manufacturers have since closed shop. It might be that they don't make companies as well as their products anymore.

Except for the recent connection problem (see my recent blog entitled 'A World Without Internet') and a power supply problem with the PC, we are generally quite satisfied with Singnet's quality of service as well as our antique PC.

I had a chance to try out Starhub's MaxOnLine service recently (see recent blog) and was quite impressed with the reliable and fuss-free connection. I was eager to switch my loyalty to this ISP. So I sent an e-mail to Singnet asking what will be the penalty imposed if I switched loyalty now since my contract with Singnet was up to 1 Dec 2005. To my surprise, Singnet's reply was I have to pay a penalty of $315 if I breached the contract now. Compare this amount with the slightly over $140 which is the subscription fee that I would have incurred if I just let the contract expire by itself on 1 Dec 2005. Moreover, while I could pay the $140 by 3 monthly instalments, I doubt that I could do the same with the penalty amount.

Which of the 2 options would a sane person choose? Unless I am a moron, the answer is obvious. And it looks like Singnet is treating me like a moron because their opt-out offer to me looks as good as a 'backdoor that is locked'. It remains a mystery to me how Singnet came up with the magical figure of $315. According to what is written in the fine print of the contract (which I have earlier 'misplaced') the penalty amount should be the 'monthly subscription' x 'remaining number of months of contract period'. This is logically the maximum amount Singnet could charge as penalty. Whether the amount is reasonable or not is however another matter.

25 August 2005


Chris, the above 4 letters were created using Microsoft IME 3.0 for Chinese (PRC).
Quite easy leh. (I can almost see you swearing "Show Off!" at me again, hee。)
To switch from 中文 to English, you just need to press the 中 (Chinese) button if you want it to toggle to English. You press the “英” (English) button again to toggle it back to Chinese.
Simple isn't it?
And to choose tones you can type the figure directly after the pinyin e.g. "ta" gives you 他 but "ta3" gives you 塔, and "ta4" gives you 踏。
Alternatively you can type "ta" first and get 他 and when it is underlined by the program, you hit the right arrow key - this will bring up a list of possible variations of the same hanyu pinyin character based on the various tones available. Press down arrow to move to the character you want and then hit to choose the right character.

24 August 2005

14 August 2005

A More Computer-literate Me

Over the last 3 days, I attended an Adobe Photoshop course sponsored by the office. That's where I learned how to create the image on the left - a lost penguin in the desert. Admittedly, it is quite an amateurish effort when compared to the professional masterpiece which Chris produced by swopping the heads of 2 women colleagues in a photograph taken at a recent wedding dinner.

Talking about the image on the left, some 7 years ago, I was exactly like a 'lost penguin in a desert' when it comes to computers and the Internet. Because my job required me to search for information, a colleague whom I called 'Jek' very kindly taught me how to use search engines to look for information on the Internet. Since then I have never looked back.

Besides learning Adobe Photoshop, I have since progressed to learning other IT (information technology) stuff like:

a. The basics of how to assemble a PC;

b. Upgrading my PC's RAM with a card bought from Yahoo Auctions and installing it myself;

c. Learning the basics of designing web pages using HTML;

d. Diagnosing Internet connection problems (see last post);

e. Chatting using MSN Messenger; and of course

f. Blogging.

As you can see, I am actually quite keen to learn. It should be evident that I also believe in putting into practice what I have learnt. Unless I practice what I have learnt, I will not be able to remember or find meaning in what I have learnt. There is a Chinese saying that goes something like this when literally translated - live till old, learn till old. This saying cannot be more true. Because of my thirst for knowledge, I am now far from being a 'lost penguin in the desert' when it comes to IT. But there is still so much more to be learnt. I am intent on dispelling Chris' assertion that 'old dogs can't learn new tricks'. Some can.

09 August 2005

A World Without Internet

As promised, here's the first person account explaining my recent 'disappearance act' from this blog. (Caution: This is a very long post. You have a choice not to read on. But please do if you would like to learn more about diagnosing Internet connection problems and also how to be a more educated consumer. Contrary to Chris' practice, I blog when I have the time, an issue to talk about and last but not least, when I have an Internet connection. Unlike Chris, I do not blog when I am stressed. Sorry Chris, no offence meant.)

My Internet connection had been acting strangely for the past 1 or 2 months. I was on Singnet Broadband which used an ADSL modem and existing telephone line for connection to the Internet. I kept getting disconnected while on-line. At first the problem wasn't so bad. After a disconnection, the modem would re-sync itself after a while. If not, it would after I rebooted my PC. Then things got worse. Even after letting the PC rest for a while and rebooting several times, the connection just refused to come back until the next day. Then it would happen again. This problem was intermittent but it was enough to drive the sanity out of any person.

The first thing was to make sure that my equipment set-up and configuration was correct. I also reinstalled the modem driver. I even got the latest driver from Singnet's website. No use. Then I upgraded my Windows OS to XP Pro from ME. Still no use. Chris, being a true friend who was ever willing to offer a helping hand, lent me his Prolink 7000 ADSL modem which had been lying in his storeroom ever since he upgraded to Starhub cable. His modem also failed to solve the problem. So I ruled out a modem problem as the cause.

I called Singtel and was advised to connect my computer to another wall socket to see if the problem persisted. It did. I was at my wits' end. I even contemplated buying a brand new PC, hoping that the problem might just go away with a new PC (see cartoon above). But being an analytical person, I was determined to find out the root cause. Then I thought of something – when the disconnection problem happened, I disconnected all equipment from each and every telephone wall socket in the house (I had 5 but normally only 3 were connected – 2 for telephones connected via microfilters and 1 for the PC's ADSL modem.) After about 5 minutes, I reconnected a single telephone without a microfilter to one of the wall sockets. Eureka! No matter which socket I tried, there was a loud high-pitched humming noise on the line.

I immediately contacted Singtel. They said that this noise was not a normal phenomenon (as if I didn't know!). They offered to send a technician to my place to check the line. However they first cautioned me that if the cause of the problem was found within my premises e.g., there was a loose connection somewhere in my house, there would be a service charge of $20. I asked, 'What if you can't trace the problem or the problem did not occur while your technician is here?' 'Then there would be no charge,' came the reassuring reply.

By now, I was quite certain that the fault did not lie within my premises. (It was fortunate that I was tech-savvy enough to do some pre-diagnostic troubleshooting myself. I really sympathized with those who can't.) 'Send your man over', I replied confidently. Besides, I was losing so much connection time that certainly amounted to more than $20, not to mention the inconvenience.

The technician called via phone on 2 Aug 05 at around 11 am. He told me that he 'changed my line'. At that time the connection seemed alright so I thought that the problem had been solved. But no, it happened again later that day. So I called Singtel again to summon the same technician back. The technician called via phone again to say that he identified the problem to be 'an internal network problem' (meaning that it was not my problem but Singtel's). However, Singtel could not attend to the problem immediately so I had no choice but to be at home again on the morning of 6 Aug 05 to 'welcome another technician who would be more well-equipped' into my house for another thorough check. Imagine my frustration!

Meanwhile, my elder son's homework was in arrears and it was getting more so each day without the Internet connection. So the next day, I went to a Starhub shop to see what Internet cable packages they had to offer. One of the packages called 'MaxOnLine FlexiSurf 2000' required you to buy a cable modem for S$99.23 and then sign up for a minimum of 3-day block of Internet connection time (at S$7.50 each) by entering your credit card details on first-connect to the Starhub page when you used the modem for the first time. You didn't have to pay if you didn't use. There was also no contract period. On expiry of your connection time, you just sign up for another 3-day block if you needed it. I thought that this package was neat and served my needs very well. It would provide a temporary solution while Singtel could take their own (sweet) time to rectify the problem. So I paid S$99.23 for the modem, went home and signed up for the 3-day S$7.50 connection time.

Much to my dismay and anger, I found out from Starhub's website the next day that there was another more attractive package called 'Fun Learning Pack' offered by the Telemarketing Dept of Starhub (yes, they were from the same organization!). Mainly, this package had the added feature of free 60 days Flexisurf thrown in when you buy the cable modem for S$99.23. How could the same organization offer 2 packages with different benefits for the same price? And I had been given the less attractive of the 2 packages just because I didn't know what to ask.

Therefore the next day, I contacted Starhub to demand that they put things right. They said that the package must be bought via a telephone number of their Telemarketing Dept, In other words, it was my own fault for missing out this piece of crucial information. However at my insistence, they offered to refund me for the purchase of the modem. Then I could sign up for the 'Fun Learning Pack'. Ironically, this whole experience was definitely no 'fun learning' for me. And I believe that Starhub could have avoided all this trouble in the first place if they had been more transparent at the point of sale.

Singnet finally managed to solve the line problem on 6 Aug 05 by replacing a 'mux' (multiplexer) at the neighbourhood access point. My Internet connection has been good for the past 4 days now and I am keeping my fingers crossed.

So my advice to all – if you intend to make a purchase whether big or small, always do you homework. Ultimately, the rule in a free and open market is caveat emptor or buyers beware.

A Visit To Pulau Ubin

I have not written for more than a month now. Chris very kindly informed me that my blog had spider webs growing on it. "Guess that's why it is called the World Wide Web", I thought to myself. I shall not bore you with the details of my 'disappearance act' here - it is actually quite interesting, meaning that I feel it is worthy of a separate post which I will do in due course. (Patience, Chris). But briefly, besides being preoccupied with other more pressing issues, I had another reason for not writing for some time - my computer had difficulty connecting to the Internet. After personally carrying out about a week of diagnostic tests and troubleshooting, I finally managed to identify the cause to be a noisy Singtel line which carried my ADSL signals. Singtel finally rectified the problem on 6 Aug 05 and I am back in action again.

So this post is part of my BackLOG (hehe, no pun intended).

On 24 Jul 05, my family of four visited Pulau Ubin. It was a trip organised by the Sports Club of my wife's office. We took a ferry (the more correct terminology is a bumboat) from Changi Village ferry terminal at about 9 am. The ferry could take a maximum of 12 passengers. It would normally not leave the terminal until it was filled to capacity. However this was not a problem that morning as there were scores of trip participants in addition to the usual Sunday crowd.

No one in my family can remember ever visiting Ubin although we have come across much media information about this idyllic island before. The media has always emphasized that this island is one of the last countryside places in Singapore where one can enjoy peace and serenity away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore's hectic city life. The nature lovers have always been clamouring that the island be left in its present pristine natural condition. They do not want the island to undergo too much development and commercialisation like Sentosa. If it were so, the island would lose it main attraction that is its natural charm and become just another tourist attraction.

My personal impression of the trip was that it was indeed quite an experience for all of us. For example, I can't remember when I last did a 4-hour walk, much less my younger son. At one point, he complained that he can't feel his legs! But the trek must go on for there was no transport provided - we had chosen to go on foot rather than on bicycles and daddy had left the car at home. It didn't help when it started to pour.

When we reached Noordin beach in the 'Noorth' of the island, we could see Malaysia across the straits. We even felt that we were in Malaysia - our phones started receiving smses welcoming us to Malaysia. We were careful not to call each other indiscriminately then because we would be charged double trunk call rates if we did - once for routing the call back to Singapore because the called party was a Singapore subscriber and another time for re-routing the call back to Malaysia where the called party had been falsely detected to be roaming. Yes it was that complicated. Even on the idyllic island, we could not run away from this technological intrusion which was evident from the ringing of mobile phones every now and then... unless we had purposely left them at home.

On the walk back to the jetty, we visited a prawn farm. The prawns were intensively bred in huge cement tanks some distance away from the sea. This high-tech agro-industry was set up on the island only about 2 years ago. If the industry proved to be successful, it would be able supply relatively cheaper live prawns for the local market.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience for all of us but we are not so sure if we would want to make the 4-hour walk again anytime soon. Maybe the next time we visit the island, we would either be on bicycles or on one of those 'PU' registered vans which abound on the island.