House and Home (Canal Walk – Cape Town, South Africa) Horrible customer service

I don’t vent often, but this purchasing experience was so ridiculous that I think they deserve an entire post about this. This might be because I’ve lived in the US for so long, but it’s absolutely unacceptable for me to spend any amount of money on a product and for a retailer to be completely apathetic about providing what I purchased. Hopefully anyone who finds themselves in Cape Town shopping for furniture will look at House and Home in Canal Walk and then keep on walking by. They don’t have a great website – but here’s what I found : http://www.houseandhome.co.za/finding_a_store1.asp?prov=WESTERN%20CAPE

Here’s my story:

I was in town visiting family this December. We were in the market for new patio furniture. On December 21st we came across House & Home in Canal Walk and they had some reasonable prices for patio furniture. After spending considerable time with the sales rep, we agreed on a set. The price was roughly R4200 ( About $600). The cashier even went back to the computer to double check to make sure the furniture was in stock. We asked about delivery and she said they did next day delivery. I made it clear that we needed this purchase because this furniture was needed for a Christmas event we were hosting. With this assurance, I went ahead and made the purchase. I also indicated that same day delivery would be great, and she said she would check with her manager and said it might be possible.

We discussed the delivery process and she indicated that they would call right before they arrived. After all of this, I was dismayed to see that on December 22nd nothing arrived. I called the store in the afternoon to inquire about my purchase. First I sat on hold for a very long time. Once I got to speak with someone they said that they would call me back in a few minutes. Of course no one called back. I called again and they said – no one is picking up in the delivery department, they must be loading the truck and your stuff is probably on the truck. An hour later I called again. This time they said, “I’m sorry , it seems that two of the chairs you want weren’t on the order, so they didn’t deliver it.” At this point I was livid. I asked the woman on the phone why our stuff was left off. She indicated that this time she would actually check on the next delivery. So why was I not surprised that on December 23rd – still no delivery. In fact – our furniture didn’t arrive ever. So on Saturday December 26th, we went back to the store to get our refund.

After confused looks on the cashier’s faces – they decided to get a manager. I’d like to note that when we said we want a refund, they thought we were coming for a refund for a refrigerator. This leads me to think that a lot of people were angry about not getting their purchases, and we’re not the only ones who wanted a refund. The manager was hesitant to give us his name or contact information. We paid with a debit card so they insisted that the refund had to be done in cash. Oh and surprise-surprise – they didn’t have enough cash in the register. Therefore they claimed that they would be getting money from sales in the rest of the day and someone would go to the bank.

Needless to say we spent Christmas without any patio furniture. We haven’t received any communication regarding this – and don’t know if we got our refund yet. It’s pathetic that a major retailer can have such pathetic customer service. Their manager was a joke, and was clearly uncomfortable. It was obvious that he just wanted to get out of this situation as quickly as possible. The sales person simply lied about having our stuff in inventory and their phone support is pathetic. If this retailer wants to compete with real chains, they will have to do better than this – because I will never shop at House & Home. And now that I know House & Home is a division of Checkers (for those who don’t know – a grocery store chain) – I don’t think they deserve my money either. I’ve been sharing this story with all of my friends to protect them from going through the same nonsense.

Network Setup for UMA Calling

After getting the Blackberry Bold 2 (9700) on T-Mobile I was anxious to try out the UMA voice feature. My WIFI network at the house consists of apple devices, the airport extreme and express. After struggling to get a UMA connection working on my existing network, I found out from several web postings that there are compatibility issues between apple wireless network devices and UMA connections. There could be a solution as of this blog post but I gave up looking for one.

I also found out that T-Mobile was giving away a D-Link wireless router model # TM-G240 at their stores for 1 cent. This router is one of their recommended devices for UMA calling. I picked one up and tried to figure out how to integrate it into our home network.

Our home network consists of dual WAN connections, a DSL line and a Cable line. We have this set up for redundancy and load balancing. I use a Xincom dual WAN router to take in both the DSL and Cable connections and feed the local network consisting of a mix of wired and wireless devices.

Here is a scratch diagram of the current network setup. (I apologize, I do not have MS Visio or any other tools to create visually appealing diagrams at the time of this post)

Current Network Setup

Current Network Setup
Current Network Setup

I tried creating a separate wireless network with the new D-Link router from T-Mobile within my LAN but was still not able to establish a UMA connection. I was able to connect to the Blackberry Infrastructure and the device showed a UMA network was available however not connected. The following error code was displayed.

W006.1 – ISP or T-Mobile network error.

To view the UMA connection status, perform the following steps on your bold 2 device

Manage Connections > Wi-FI Options > Select Connection > Wi-Fi Tools > WI-Fi Diagnosis

A quick search on Google showed what the different error codes mean.
http://www.blackberryfaq.com/index.php/Wifi_/_UMA_Error_Codes

I knew that the likely culprit would be my IPSec settings on my gateway device, the Xincom router. If you have ever tried changing settings on this device you know how complicated it can get and there is not much manufacturer or forum support out there. It is a very robust device though. I tried making a few changes to no avail and did not want to change additional settings and break something else so I considered an alternate way of connecting the D-Link router and still maintain dual WAN connectivity for most of my network.

I moved the D-Link router from behind the Xicom device to right after the DSL modem and used the D-Link to establish the PPPOE connection, provide a secondary Wi-Fi connection and provide a LAN IP address which serves as the main IP for the secondary WAN connection on the Xincom device. Using this set up, the Blackberry devices with UMA can connect to the new Wi-Fi network and by being directly connected to the internet, the D-Link wireless router was then able to allow UMA calling.

Having successfully set up the UMA calling with a router connected to the internet, I begun to question the apple wireless compatibility issues. When I get time I will try and connect the both the apple devices directly to the internet, bypassing the Xincom router and see if that set up works.

New Network Setup

New Network Setup
New Network Setup

Blackberry UMA International Calling

I figured the trip to South Africa would be a good test of UMA calling on the blackberry in an international setting. I set up a wireless network connected to a DSL 256/512 connection. As soon as I connected to the WiFI network with the blackberry the UMA symbol popped up.

I disabled the carrier wireless network just to be certain that I would not be roaming and made a few test calls on UMA. The call quality was surprisingly good. I made a few changes enabling Quality of Service for the UMA ports – TCP 500 and 4500. I selected this ports per this RIM document
http://www.blackberry.com/btsc/search.do?cmd=displayKC&docType=kc&externalId=KB13922

I am not sure if the QOS settings will make a difference or not.

Since South Africa is currently 7 hours ahead of the US, internet speeds are decent when the US is asleep. As soon as the US wakes up, the internet speed slows down significantly. The UMA voice quality also degrades when US internet usage begins in the morning US hours.

So far I am very satisfied with the service. I did make a mistake and pay the $9.99 with T-Mobile for UMA / WiFi calling when I did not need to. I am on the unlimited voice plan so using UMA voice has no affect on my minutes used. The $9.99 add-on is only for people with restricted minute plans, who want to use UMA / WiFi calling without burning the minutes on their plan.

Emergency Landing on a Commercial Flight

I never thought I’d have an emergency landing in a plane. In fact, I never really paid any attention to those safety cards. Yes, we read them and make sure we know what’s there, but every time we get into a plane, we assume that it won’t apply to us. Well, a week ago, we were coming from Johannesburg to Cape Town and actually had to use what was in those safety cards.

For starters, we had been awake for about 3 straight days. We were catching our flight back to Cape Town in the afternoon. Our flight was delayed, because the plane couldn’t land in JHB. The plane circled for a while and was redirected to another airport to refuel. Finally the plane arrived. Once it arrived ( and 5 gate changes later) we boarded and were ready to roll out. The weather had turned horrible. A storm formed and the heavy rains started. Despite that, our flight took off. The first oddity of this flight was the fact that we actually flew low for a long time until the pilot found a hole in the clouds. Once we started ascending, a flurry of lightning crashed around the plane. Once we got above the clouds, I was convinced that the worst was over. About 40 minutes before landing, the pilot came on the speaker,” Ladies and gentlemen, we are having problems with the landing gear. We will have to prepare the cabin for an emergency landing and emergency evacuation of the plane. The crew will be coming through the cabin to brief you on the procedures and please cooperate with them.” The woman next to Peter kept asking if this was really happening. I told her “I know this is horribly philosophical, but we can’t stress over what’s happened – since we can’t change it. All we have now is to change the way we react to what’s coming next.” I’m not sure if that gave me any comfort, but it felt like a painful reality.

At this point people started seriously reacting. One woman across from us simply broke into tears. People started praying. The flight crew asked people in the emergency rows if they were still willing to open the doors. One woman simply threw her hands up and walked away from the seat. Now this is just me being pissy – but frankly speaking – shame on anyone who asks for an emergency row because they want more room but when push comes to shove, they aren’t willing to fulfill the role. The flight crew found people who were willing to open the doors and briefed them thrice on how to open them. As well as reminding them that if they saw flames or smoke, not to open that door, but to exit on the other side. The flight crew then swept through the cabin, removing all personal items and stowing all of them. They instructed us to leave all personal items. At this point, I started to realize that this was a very bad situation. Then the crew started teaching us how to do the brace position for an emergency landing. The pilot said ,”This is just precautionary, and we’ll only give the command if we need it.”

When we started descending, we noticed that this was not a normal descent. The plane was dropping so fast that our ears were popping. Suddenly the crew started shouting over and over, “Brace Brace – Put your head down! Brace Brace – Put your head down!” At this point it hit me that we might not make it through this. People were saying their final goodbyes, praying, and some just sobbing. We put our head’s down and waited to see if there would be sparks or flames or something. Fortunately we landed ok. People cheered when the plane touched down. The captain came on and said that we landed ok but our steering mechanism was shot, so we would have to be towed into the gate. Needless to say, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable on a plane again – but I NEVER want to go through an ordeal like that again.

Chapman’s Peak Drive in Cape Town

Chapman’s peak drive is some of the most scenic drives in Cape Town. It’s a blur of hair pin bends , beautiful backdrops, mountains coming out of the ocean, etc. I thought I’d share some of the pictures we took when we were there in 2006.

[flickr album=72157622983921992 num=30 size=Thumbnail]

SharePoint Tip of the Day: 1000 file limit in document libraries

Although I’m anti-folders and I like to use columns as a way to organize things – there is a limit to how many things you can put in a folder before SharePoint performance starts to degrade. I have always preferred 1000 although some say you can go as high as 2000 items per folder before you have issues.  There’s a good article on scaling the performance of SharePoint here.

You can have up to 5 million files comfortably in a document library – but you must use folders. You should set your views to show less than 2000 items. This can be difficult, but remember that your views don’t have to show folders. A flat view can allow you to use folders for organization but still display without folders when needed.

Also remember that you can turn on indexing to improve performance as well.

Cancun Mexico in December 2009

We went to Cancun for a friend’s wedding this December. I have to admit, we didn’t need any excuse – we’d definitely make it. It was our first time in Cancun and I think I’m hooked. Although you can get blue water in a lot of places – how many places can you get to the airport around 3:30 – 4:00 PM and by 8:30 PM you can be on a perfect beach. We stayed in the Le Meridien hotel. It’s a pretty nice 5-star hotel. Their service is great and the pools are great. The beach isn’t huge and it has a strong surf. However, they have three large pools. The first pool is heated. All in all – we had a blast and will be going back at some point. Here are some pictures taken with a Blackberry Bold 2:

[flickr album=72157622983124730 num=30 size=Thumbnail]

Feedback Server: A potential survey tool (possibly in SharePoint too?)

Feedback Server
Feedback Server

I’ve been tasked with finding a survey solution. Now before I get started, I will acknowledge that I posted a lengthy post about how you can use SharePoint as a survey collection tool. This is true, but sometimes your needs can go beyond what SharePoint does. I was looking for a .NET based survey solution that can be used easily and still has hope for being integrated cleanly into SharePoint. In my search, what I found was the Feedback Server. I also want to add another caveat – I haven’t deployed this solution yet so I can only go by what the brochures say!

Sometimes you don’t want to go with a 3rd party hosted solution for a corporate product. My main concern is when we have security requirements. I don’t like the idea of going to a 3rd party for stuff like that. In my search, I came across the Feedback Server – and here’s what they describe:

Feedback Server is an asp.net web based survey software and form builder to manage and deploy without any technical knowledge web based surveys across your organization to gather important feedback from your customers, employees, students or website visitors and let you to analyze the collected data.

In addition to a ton of features, there is a SharePoint connector for it. Click here for that. In a nutshell this provides:

The Sharepoint 2007 extension enables you to integrate the power of Feedback Server’s survey and form management tools within your Sharepoint portal pages and web parts.

To highlight some of the cooler features:

  1. It’s skinnable
  2. It has full permissions control – for example even limiting access by IP address.
  3. It has that SharePoint connector
  4. It uses AJAX
  5. It has built in email reminder systems
  6. It  has solid reporting
  7. It can export reports in excel and SPSS format
  8. It uses CAPTCHA
  9. It has an integrated analysis tool
  10. It uses XML to import and export surveys
  11. It has a SDK for custom integration

I’m just saying…… this seems cool!

Roaming internationally with T-mobile BES with a blackberry 9700

I had to post something about this because I have had a field day with T-mobile’s tech support regarding my blackberry. First, I was lured in by the great priced plans that T-mobile has. And just to give some perspective… I’m paying half of what ATT charged me per month, I qualified for 0% interest financing on 2 new blackberries, and get this…. I don’t have a contract. I’ve got the unlimited blackberry data plan and I’m loving it.

Now for the ugly part. T-mobile’s customer support rocks, but their reps are very hit or miss. When I signed up, I made it clear I needed corporate email. The sales person set up BIS instead of BES on my line. Fine… no problem…. after fighting with enterprise activation for a day, I finally called T-mobile and asked if the issue was that my account wasn’t provisioned. Sure enough – that was the case. The rep told me that it would take up to 48 hours for my account to be provisioned. Please note that my activation took just a day later- so I was happy.  Since Peter and I were taking a trip to Cancun, I wanted to make sure that I could have my email while roaming. I called them up and set up the $19.99 a month addition to let you get your data internationally.

I get to Cancun and I have ZERO connectivity. After furiously trying to switch networks, I got on the T-mobile chat to talk to a rep. Lo and behold she mentions that … yes you have data, but your line hasn’t been provisioned to roam internationally. Imagine that! Anyway, long story short… she went ahead and provisioned my account to get international data. So problem solved right? NOPE – this created a new problem. Now I couldn’t surf the web, my blackberry app world didn’t work, and my facebook App wasn’t working either!

So here I am back in the US, on chat AGAIN with T-mobile. After the rep takes me through a sequence of steps (rebooting my phone, taking out sim cards, taking out batteries), he finally gets it all working.  He also lets me know that whenever I travel internationally this problem  is possible .

Just FYI – here’s the fix :

1 – Take your battery + sim card out

2 – Give your IMIE and Pin to the tech support

3 – They will push down updates and new service books

4 – Power your phone back up and pray

5 – Repeat if it doesn’t take the first time.

Needless to say they got it fixed, and their tech support is great. But frankly speaking, my new blackberry has been anything but plug and play ! T-mobile really needs to work on the default settings for accounts, because it’s just not practical to have to keep going back to tech support because features keep randomly turning off.

Been quiet for a few days

I haven’t had a chance to post in a bit – but I’ll rectify that soon. Just to give an update:

We finally got the SharePoint LMS platform in house. I’m excited to get started. We’ve laid out a plan for how we will be using it.

  1. Installing the LMS
  2. Skinning it with a custom master page
  3. Creating flash based SCORM lessons

More to come on this!