Projector

I’m watching old episodes of Ze Frank’s “A Show” and this one titled “Projector” is a great one:​

This is why honest users pirate music

I’ve been an eMusic subscriber for years. It has been one of the few pretty decent legal music download services available to us South Africans. This morning I browsed to the page to see if some music that interests me is available there and this little page loaded:

EMusic licensing revelation

This licensing restrictions issue is why iTunes and Amazon MP3 are not available (legally, at least) to us South Africans. This is the music industry working overtime to preserve a business model that is rapidly becoming irrelevant except where the industry artificially constricts and shapes demand for its content.

Like many people who buy a fair amount of music, I don’t use physical media anymore. I have an iPhone, iPod Touch, my MacBook and all my CDs from back in the day are packed up in boxes somewhere. I listen to all my music digitally and while the audio quality isn’t as good as some might like, its perfect for me. The music industry would have me carry my CDs around with me and listen only to those CDs. That is utter bullshit and more appropriate for the 20th century.

When faced with digital alternatives to its current business models, the music industry points to piracy and how the artists are being raped by all these terrible consumers pirating their music. The artists are the music industry’s last priority, its all about making as much money as they possibly can and maintaining as much control as they can as the copyright owners. The artists tend to be screwed over by the labels who offer to sign them as if they would be anointed by some divine authority. In fact, very few artists actually benefit meaningfully from being signed. They would probably be better off developing their own distribution channels and marketing their music on more flexible terms.

When it comes to music piracy, the people who have no interest in paying for music never will. Those of us who really want to support the artists (in theory) or who don’t want to torrent music are prepared to pay but not for a stupid piece of plastic that is irrelevant to how we listen to our music every day. We want legal music download services with good quality music, at a reasonable price and for our devices of choice. The music industry isn’t interested in providing that [Update: change is happening]. So that leaves otherwise honest consumers frustrated and disinterested in supporting an industry that seems intent on fucking them. BitTorrent is just a few searches away and the labels lose more money.

Good job!

What trashy property spam looks like

I used to feel that opt-out marketing was bad, generally, and should be wholly replaced by an opt-in model. Warren Moss, Demographica’s MD, pointed out the value of an opt-out paradigm when it comes to people who are simply unaware of the products and services that are available to them and which they may only learn of through unsolicited marketing. In those circumstances an opt-in requirement could prejudice those consumers.

On the other hand, there is some spam which is just trashy and one of the big culprits is property sales spam. I received an email from some dubious crowd called France Leasebacks which irked me. I particularly liked this bit in the disclaimer:

This message (including any attachments) is classified and may be privileged. If you have received it by mistake please notify the sender by return e-­‐mail and delete this message from your system. Any unauthorised use or dissemination of this message in whole or in part is strictly prohibited.

What a cheek! There is no opt-out option or any indication why this email is even remotely relevant to me.

France Leasebacks Spam

Surge protection plugs can be shockers

Lightning1

These days buying surge protection plugs are practically a no-brainer. They are supposed to protect our appliances when lightning strikes or power supply surges and they come with warranties that involve payouts if appliances are damaged. What many consumers may not be aware of is that there are a number of conditions attaching to these warranties and unless your claim fits within some pretty tight parameters, you may find yourself with fried appliances and no warranty to fall back on. I received an email from a community leader recently with such a story:

During the storm on Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, our home was struck by lightening. On investigation, I discovered that, even though I had bought Africa Surge lightening protection plugs, a router, fax and computer had been damaged. The packaging of the plug states that there is a R20,000 warranty if your stuff is damaged by lightening. Great, I thought, and contacted Africa Surge via the middleman who sold me the plugs.

They have refused to pay any compensation.

Firstly, because they say it cannot happen that a lightening strike will damage your stuff if you use their plugs. I say it did – I know it did!

Secondly, they say I cannot be paid out because I didn’t fill in the warranty form inside each packet. I didn’t fill in the warranty form – because none of the 3 plugs/packets I bought contained such a form. And I had pretty good proof. Fortunately I had bought 3 plugs and only used 2, so one plug was still in the packaging – without any warranty inside. When I returned the packet, Africa Surge claimed that the middleman must have carefully removed each form from the packet and therefore rejected my claim; though how and why the middleman would do such a thing is beyond me.

As things stand, despite buying quite expensive ‘guaranteed’ Africa Surge plugs, I have suffered damage Africa Surge refuses to compensate me for.

I received a copy of the warranty claim form this person sent to me. It doesn’t exactly support an impression that the company concerned stands firmly behind its product and instead looks to just about every possible way out of paying, including your own insurers.

Warranty Claim Form

When this consumer challenged the company’s assertions regarding the plugs’ apparent failure, they got back to him with a list of conditions:

They require a Certificate of Compliance for the house (my house hasn’t been sold in the time since that legal requirement was introduced), 3 (!) quotes for repairs, then they will do full tests on the units, then consider a payment…

There may be a sound contractual basis for the company’s approach (I’m being generous here, I haven’t seen any terms and conditions and it appears that these may not always be included in packaging) but taking such an obstructive line is just terrible marketing and bordering on aggressive. Promoting these plugs as being covered by these warranties without advising consumers which hoops they have to jump through to qualify for the payout is misleading.

My advice is to make sure you have backup home insurance to cover your appliances in the very real likelihood that these companies refuse to honour their warranties.


Image credit: Lightning1 by Aquila, licensed CC BY NC 2.0

Getting screwed by over the counter medication

We realised that we have just hit our medical aid self-payment gap all of 2 and a half months into the year. It sounded completely wrong so we checked our records and it turns out a substantial portion of the amounts pharmacists submitted to Discovery was for over the counter medication which included our baby’s inoculations. My wife also pointed out that the over the counter stuff effectively extended our self-payment gap too. I thought about this for a bit and realised that we are effectively being double charged for over the counter stuff submitted to medical aid.

Insurance Ad, Boy in Bed

Here is a hypothetical scenario:

  • Medical savings balance: R5 000;
  • Over the counter medication submitted to and paid by medical aid: R2 500;
  • Original self-payment gap: R5 000.

What seems to be happening here is that the over the counter submissions are deducted from savings and paid by the medical aid. So that is R2 500 less than we would have had available if we had paid cash for that medication instead. Fair enough, except what happens next is that the over the counter submissions of R2 500 is effectively added to the original self-payment gap, extending that self-payment gap to R7 500. Of course the self-payment gap is that amount you fund out of your pocket before the above threshold portion of your cover kicks in and covers some of your medical costs.

So, as I understand this, we pay R2 500 out of our savings because the pharmacists just submitted the charges to our medical aid (it also bothers us that our baby’s inoculations were considered over the counter – they probably account for a substantial portion of the over the counter submissions). We would have had to pay cash for that stuff anyway, had it not been submitted. At this point we have basically paid for the over the counter stuff, Discovery just paid it on our behalf and recovered the money from our savings.

Now, once we exhaust our savings, largely due to these over the counter charges, we find that Discovery has added the over the counter charge to our self-payment gap which means that we have to pay an additional R2 500 of medical expenses ourselves, in addition to the R5 000 self-payment gap we had originally. That is a double charge. We paid for the over the counter stuff when it was deducted from our savings and now we have to cover that amount again as part of an expanded self-payment gap. We could have saved ourselves R2 500 if we were just paying for our routine medical stuff ourselves.

Am I missing something? This seems like a bit of a problem in how medical aids work.

Transparency in government and media freedom

I watched a video produced by the White House which I found really interesting for a couple reasons.

West Wing Week: 8/20/10 or “Turkey Turkey and a Jammer” from The White House on Vimeo.

This week, travel with the First Family to Panama City Beach, Florida for a weekend of swimming, mini-golf, and meeting with local business owners. Next up, the President hits the road traveling to Milwaukee, Seattle and Columbus to talk to business owners and families about the economy.

The video is a pretty transparent political/PR tool but it also speaks to a level of transparency in the US government which we don’t really see here in South Africa. What we increasingly see in South Africa is intolerance for media scrutiny of what our government officials are doing and how they abuse our trust.

The ANC sees itself as synonymous with government and media freedom has become more about opposition to the ruling party than holding the government to account for its actions. We saw that in the Mzilikazi wa Afrika arrest – he was interrogated about his opposition to the ANC, not government and even then, why is that an offence? The ANC doesn’t seem to like being subject to scrutiny, perhaps because its support base may find out the extent of the ANC’s betrayal?

I keep talking about how we are living in a real life Animal Farm and the pigs are starting to behave exactly like the farmers they forced out. Now, more than ever, we need a vigilant and active press. If the media is shut down by the ANC’s efforts to curb a free press, we will be right back where we were 30 years ago with a new National Party, censorship and darkness. We are on the edge of an abyss and this is its face:


Image source: Julius Malema: Role Model or Menace to Society?

Google threatens to switch off China

google_128.pngI linked to this post on the Google blog this morning from The Daily Maverick newsletter. It is a very interesting story because of what it reveals about what our world will be like in the months and years ahead.

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

I’m still working on a post about my thoughts about Google and some of its 2009 product launches for another site (its turning into one of those posts which take me forever to finish) but what I found really interesting about this story is the scale of it. Google and a number of other companies have come under attack from within China, very likely the Chinese government, and Google, a private and massive corporation, is taking action against the Chinese government under the guise of sticking to its values and working with the Chinese government.

Google is taking a stand against the Chinese government and is apparently willing to risk turning off the massive Chinese market, practically in retaliation for the attacks on its infrastructure. What I am more curious about is how the landscape will change as Google becomes more pervasive and influential. Will there one day be digital warfare between a corporation and a government?

Overpaid Eskom execs rake it in

Yes, while we sit in darkness for hours at a time, the executives running Eskom are forced to settle for pay packets in the millions, regardless of whether they actually keep Eskom going and the country electrified. According to Moneyweb:

As the furore around South African parastatal Eskom continues to explode, all kinds of inconvenient evidence is starting to rise to the top, just as certain brown stuff rises. One area where there can be no argument is over how much Eskom’s top brass has been paid, apparently with the mandate of emasculating the utility supplying 95% of the country’s electrical power.

The evidence for executive pay is found in the fine print of Eskom’s annual reports. In the past three financial years, Eskom’s top brass has been paid a total of R143m. This total includes bonuses, and, for 2005, extraordinarily high payments for “expiry of five-year contracts”, as if people on such bloated packages wouldn’t come back for more. Erstwhile Eskom CEO Thulani Gcabashe, who long ago qualified with a Bachelor of Arts in Botswana, was paid a mind-boggling R13,1m in 2005.

For years, Eskom executives have been paid “normal” bonuses running into millions of rands. Its top brass has lived the life of royalty, with monster Eskom-funded housing loans, and contributions for everything from retirement funding to fees for miscellaneous expenses. This is a gravy train of B-grade movie proportions, crushing anything in its way as its passengers wallow in bling.

Read the full article for more of this sad, sad tale.

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