Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Money goes from Shiti bank in De most mysterious way

When's the last time you got pickpocketed? I lost a phone (two in fact) in Namibia a little over a year ago. I remember getting back with lunch in hand not really realising that there were two phones with all my contacts somewhere on the streets of Windhoek. I realised when I wanted to make a call that I couldn't find my phones... either of them... it's not like the person who pulled them out of my pocket was kind enough to stick around and acknowledge the fact, inform me or even leave me a note to tell me that he or she had grown richer at my expense.

Things have changed in the last year it seems. Technology is much better and theft being more polite now comes with intimation - LOTS of intimation.

I'm usually pretty scared of signing stuff, so make sure I read whatever's been put before me before I think about signing it (one exception was a housing loan agreement that didn't really come through - I put two signatures per page on some 60 pages that time). I'm such a worrier that I read all correspondence that looks even remotely legal. That includes incidentally credit card terms and conditions that were sent along with my "pre-approved Gold card" that was offered to me on the basis of my "Excellent transactions in your savings account".

I'm also quite finicky about looking at bills before I pay them (ever since a slight issue with Airtel where they were charging me a monthly roaming fee every time I got out of the city - that got sorted pretty quick though). Because of all this I've never thought of setting up a direct debit from my account for anything really. If there's a mistake on your bill it's easier to withhold payment till the matter's resolved rather than get the money back right?

For this reason I was quite concerned when I noticed a transaction on my savings account one day debiting some Rs. 2000+ from my account in favour of "SI" or some other such transaction. Not sure why, but this amount looked kind of familiar. I called up the bank and they confirmed that it was a "Standing Instruction" transaction to debit the minimum due on my credit card bill.

I eventually wrote to the Head of customer care... but waitaminit... why'm I telling you this? I'll paste the "slightly modified" (removed references to the bank and account mail below - read away:

My name is Sunil De. I've been through a little bit of mental torture over the last few weeks so thought I'd share my experience in the hope that at least some action will be taken to prevent this from happening to anyone else. I have a (type removed) Gold card which was provided to me based on my "excellent transactions" on my savings account (no. xxxxxxxxxx)

It's a long mail, but please ensure that you read it - after such an experience I do expect some action to be taken and will publish the same (minus the account and card info) on as many blogs as I can put it on if I find that it's done no good.

The following resources in terms of time and mental stress have been consumed to cause the cancellation of an illegal (no request was made or acknowledged for the same) standing instruction to debit my savings account of the minimum balance irrespective of amount paid by the due date (in my case well in excess of the total DUE amount):

40 minutes of phone calls with customer care representatives who STILL maintain that the standing instruction can not be cancelled as the card was provided to me on the basis of my "excellent savings account transactions"

2 requests logged on the net banking system - the first was a polite request to cancel the standing instruction - the response to this was "this is a standing instruction" followed by a 10 line explanation of what a standing instruction is. The second request was a little more impolite - an eventuality I would prefer not to resort to. The conversation in its entirety is attached for your reference at the end of this mail.

One call back from a "Supervisor" who made the same claim as the two customer care representatives offering me the choice of "take it or I'll transfer you to the cancellation department", which he did.

28 days after the first request I get the second response confirming that the instruction has been cancelled. The threat of legal action possibly did the trick (as in the second net banking query). Why should I have to make such threats? The bank officers I spoke with all told me to "check the terms and conditions sent to you". I've been through them with a special eye out for anything that may tell me that you'll take the minimum balance from my savings account yet found nothing. In fact, the letter that was sent says "If you have given us a standing instruction for payment towards the balance on your Card, it would be valid for reissue/swap to a new Card."

Add a few minutes to type this mail complaining about the pathetic levels of service that make your old (bankname removed) service look good (was pathetic before, but is scraping the bottom of the barrel now - at least there were ill informed people who were willing to admit their ignorance rather than haughty supervisors willing to allow the bank to get into a legal wrangle)

Incidentally, I'm assuming my issues with this card have been resolved. I'd suggest you check with whoever you need to to ensure that they are.

First attempt:

Your Query

There appears to be a standing instruction to pay my credit card bill on the 14th of each month. I did not set or authorize this standing instruction. Please cancel it immediately.

Our Message

Dear Mr. Kumar, This is with reference to your query dated Augus

t 22, 2006. Your credit card # xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx is given to you

based on your (savings) account. Standing instruction is maintaine

d in your account towards payment of minimum amount due in your c

redit card. Hence, Rs. 2633.81 has been debited from your accou

nt on August 14, 2006. We wish to clarify that the Standing Instr

uction towards payment to card will be executed irrespective of w

hether the payment is done by you or not. Kindly note that it is

a automated process. The excess payments made towards the card wi

ll be adjusted towards future bills. We assure you of our best a

ttention at all times. Thank you for accessing (bankname removed) Online. W

arm Regards, Officer - Customer Care

Second Attempt:

Your Query

CANCEL THE UNAUTHORISED STANDING INSTRUCTION WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT. I have neither authorized nor accepted this. I would appreciate that such service be discontinued to avoid legal action.

Our Message

Dear Mr. De, This is with reference to your query dated September

09, 2006. As stated earlier, your card # xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx has

been issued to you in appreciation of your (savings) account held

with us. As requested, we have deregistered the Standing Instruct

ion to debit the Minimum Amount Due from your (savings) account. H

ence, October 2006 onwards your (savings) account will not get debi

ted towards Minimum Amount Due for your card # xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

Thank you for accessing (bankname removed) online. Warm Regards Officer -

Customer Care

The joke was on me... I got a call 15 working days after sending that mail (the bank says they'll get back to youwithin the next 14 working days in an autoresponse) asking me if I wanted to cancel the standing instruction.

Needless to say I've blogged it...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

De vs. Nokia - what happened toDe?

The N91's a rocking gadget. It's got a 4Gig hard disk. Wi-fi enabled. aka iPod Killer...
Apple's not going down any time soon if I've got anything to say. The primary function of this device is something to do with getting and recieving calls. The last time that happened (just now as a matter of fact) was a call from a friend asking me for another friends number. Seems he couldn't get through and the number that I gave him was the one he'd been trying for the last half hour or so.
This gadget's a rocker - I told the guy to hold and made another call. Quickly asked friend number 2 if he was avoiding calls from friend number 1 - an unlikely event, but possible in any case. Then I decided to conference the two calls.

BIG mistake. At the moment those two are talking to each other and I'm sitting here wondering why my phone crashed when I tried conferencing the call. It was kind enough to freeze then blank out and show me the "Nokia" startup screen.

Let me give you a little background on this device. I read about it in the last quarter of 2003 - it was set to be launched in 2004 (the second quarter I think - could have been third). I'd read about it just after getting a Nokia 6600. Here's a bit of a comparison between the two phones:



6 MB phone memory

30MB phone memory

Upto 1GB MMC

4GB Hard disk

VGA Camera

2 Megapixel camera

Connectivity over GPRS, Bluetooth, iR, pop port

GPRS, EDGE, Bluetooth, wi-fi, USB

Hang on... I'm stopping the comparison. There's no point. The 6600 was around at the end of 2003. The N91 was released in April of 2006. There should be no need to make a comparison at all. The features on this phone were enough to convince me just after I got the 6600 that this would be my next phone. I didn't quite count on dropping my phone and someone stealing it before I could pick it up off the road.

Was depressed enough to walk into a shop the next day and buy a 6230 at a criminally high price. It was a good phone - a series 40 - Nokia hasn't had too many issues with them. They've always been relatively stable. This phone came with a VGA camera again and an inbuilt MP3 player. Was decent enough till it got stolen.

I thought I'd just wait till the N91 was released after that - the site kept telling me that its release was imminent. I waited a few months borrowing phones from friends. Then got sick of borrowing so got me a 1108 (the cheapest phone I could get with an added headset). That was a phone. It's never quit on me. It's battery life was beyond anyones expectations. Features were very reasonable - there were those little things that you'd have to experience to understand. I at one point of time wanted to add a number to my phonebook. I type out the number, select save and instead of an empty text box asking me for a name, there was a name already there... the name that I'd already stored the number as. I made corrections and attempted to save. It asked if I wanted to replace the old number or make a new entry.

This hasn't happened on any other Nokia phone I've used (or the Samsung one for that matter). At any rate. The N91 was released in April of 2006. I bought it 2 days after it was released for 34K. That's in INR. In USD that'd be just below $740. I didn't care. I wanted the gadget. I wanted something to play with. I wanted something I could install software on - I'd been using a mentally challenged phone for too long by now. I figured I'd at least be able to replace my MP3 player, camera and phone with this device (I was carrying them around everywhere till then - quite a pain having three devices when one should suffice). I was sure that 2MPix should be enough and 4Gig was more than all the memory cards I had for my MP3 player.

The camera was a big disappointment. There was no scope of replacing my camera with this crap. Hell - my 6230 gave me better quality pics. The sound recorder's limited to 60 seconds. The hard disk is slow and unreliable - I've got bad sectors, but the OS doesn't seem to understand that so keeps trying to write to the bad areas. The phone crashed 2 hours after the first startup without fiddling too much.

All in all, the gadget wasn't terribly stable. There were issues with pretty much everything. I'd tried to set it so that all messages went to the hard disk rather than the phone memory and every time a message came in, I found I couldn't open it. Could see the first few characters from the inbox, but it would refuse to open. I formatted the hard disk and tried again and it seemed to work. THEN I saw a link to the Nokia UK site telling me I could flash the device with the new firmware if I wanted. It came with warning after warning to back up the device which I did. It also gave reasonable amounts of input on what could possibly go wrong. I got into it thinking "if it works and I get a phone that works well I'm okay. If it doesn't work, I give it back to the guys and they do the job right for me".

Okay, so I went back to using the 1108 for a few days after that... big deal. Got the phone back after a week (the new firmware was a major release so I'm assuming lots of bugs had been fixed). Thought I'd try the phone memory for messages again and found the same problem. There are issues with changing settings with the browser - once you change them, there's no way to change back other than resetting the phone - so now I had it all working and restored my backup... POOF! there went all posibilities of using the browser the way it was supposed to be used... reset the phone myself (a key combo I got online) and found I had all my numbers and stuff - only it'd automatically (without asking me that is) copied all numbers from the SIM card to the phone - now I get calls from numbers (names don't show) when there are 2 copies of the names registered in the phone book.

There's loads of issues that Nokia needs to fix with this device. I don't think it's right that they sell you a phone for 34K, the software of which shouldn't have passed to beta release...

I've always been anti Sony (anyone who knows me gets quite shocked now when I tell em to get Sony Ericsson rather than Nokia). I think I can safely say that any high end phone I get will NOT be a Nokia unless it's been in the market for at least a year first - by which time it's not really going to be high end any more... sad. I have respect for their UI, but it's like the difference between Windows and Linux. I'd take Linux any day if I didn't need windows (I need it for work and frankly, I've got too much stuff on Windows and got too used to the interface to consider the change).

The last gripe (don't take my word for that one - there are going to be more) I have with this phone is that it's a Symbian v3 operating system. That means I can't run any of the old apps I have on this phone unless there's a port available for them. Themes, programs, blah... there's very little I can do with this phone that I could do with my 6600.

At the end of this post let me recommend the Sony Ericsson M600i. Seems like a decent enough phone without a camera and their pricing is justified. The other ones with cameras are good enough to use for JUST that. This one's a business phone. It's got the features, the stylus, the size, the wieght... it's a neat machine and a gadget to boot. Those guys make sure there's enough software available for free - no trial versions on their site (Nokia has an "expense" program that's a 14 day trial). A friend just got one of these phones. I'll have a look at it and validate this recommendation. Till then, tata.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ghosts from De's past, information overload and social networking with an ad to boot

The amount of information you get online these days just isn't funny. It's helped me enough to catch up with old friends, but as I wrote to a long lost school friend I found recently, if I mentioned just how much information I'd got (history of work numbers, home numbers, mobile, mail addresses, home address, work address, education (places of, degrees, awards, scholarships), blah), folks'd probably think I was stalking them!

All of this was in under 5 minutes of searching.

It does reflect of course on just how well people who associate with me wind up doing :)

Hell, why not make this an ad for my school - not many people who went there gave it too much respect. There were teachers who weren't liked, concepts that no one liked, lots of snooty rich kids who actually thought they could buy other kids (and some did as well). I even remember an incident where there was a bit of a fight between two friends with one threatening the other with dire consequences of some form or the other. The next day two thugs landed up outside the gate with guns pulled out. I've got lots of great memories of the place (who doesn't have good memories of school?), but lots of these other ones that sort of make me not want to step through those gates till I've sorted out those demons. On the upshot, even folks who no one beleived would make anything out of their lives are doing amazingly well. I'm in touch with very few folks from those days (it's been 13 years since I finished from there and I didn't really get too many numbers from people - there were too many and I sort of didn't realise I wouldn't be seeing them for so long), but like I said before. There's the net and search. If you've written a paper, reviewed a book, given a musical instrument for repair, been registered on the electoral roll in India, asked for or given help on a public forum or written a blog, chances are it's not going to be too difficult to contact you.

It's been a month of "ghosts from the past". Met up with an old school friend who I haven't heard from/contacted since school finished. He's changed quite a bit, but he's just the same. Googled him, found out he's working with a US univ, that he's got his doctorate and he's doing research work. Met him after 13 years and it's pretty much like meeting a good friend after a year - with a lot more to catch up on and of course different types of drinks from those days.

Things were already starting to kick in with so many people getting on social networking sites. Orkut in particular has been growing in leaps and bounds (at least for me). I don't really get along with the concept of having 2000 friends on the list of which you'd know maybe 200 on decent enough terms to say hi to them and would have met maybe 10 of them.

Currently I've got 100 people on my friends list (it grows by one or two every week or so) of which I've never met 4. The rest are on my list because they're friends.

I always enjoy getting back in touch with old friends and it's great to know most of them are doing so well. You choose your friends - I've got proof of my impeccable taste.

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the name of the school here... I decided to cut the ad out.