Russ’ blog archives—2010

Welcome to my web logs for 2010. In June, I began using for my personal blog and abandoned these.

Toyota: a conspiracy

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

At first I watched bemused as the press began to drag Toyota through the mud over supposed problems in its cars. They began immediately talking about how much this was going to hurt the company, make it fall from grace. I thought, yeah, they'll do their best to fulfill this prophecy. Then I began casting my mind over the potential interference by American car manufacturers who've taken a beating from Toyota, wondering where the points of conspiracy really lay.

I've decided that the real reason to beat up Toyota was that this was too great an opportunity to resist—the latest catastrophe come to distract the attention of the public from the socio-, politico- and economic disaster that is the government of the United States of America and the Fifty States. Of course, even without incentive from Detroit, the press are all over protecting their elected liberal darlings.

However, for me, the last straw came a day or two ago when it was reported that someone in Utah lost control of his (or her) Rav4 and drove it down a fence line trying to get it stopped.

Now, I'm generally sympathetic to people in accidents. I might even find myself there one day.

But, this goes a little over the top. I know others have reported this, but here we are months after the thing has started and out of nowhere it keeps happening.

What I want to know is are they forcing these people to surrender their motor vehicle operator's permit?

As any fool knows, and there's not an office drinking fountain in America that hasn't heard this this point raised in the last few months, any car can can be put into neutral whether it has an automatic transmission or a standard one. It's a matter of competence—whatever mechanical malfunction has occurred. Toyota has of course been too polite to point out that some of its product has fallen into the hands of mouth-breathing morons who throw up their hands in surrender at the first sign of trouble.

You'd expect a 16 year-old driver, like a couple of local boys in a pick-up truck (not a Toyota by the way) around the same time as the event I'm reporting, to forget which of the accelerator or the brake pedal stops the car before ending up in the master bedroom of a neighbor's house as in their case. But, you don't expect this—or should I say I pray it couldn't be so—that a mature driver would freak out and give up. Maybe it's because NBC's Brian Williams said that Toyota is evil, nobody has confidence anymore in this company, that all hope is gone and your car is a total loss.

The solution should occur to the least competent driver with more than a couple of years under his (or her) belt immediately after removing his (or her) foot from the accelerator and applying the brakes. It's hard for me to believe that the brakes won't carry the day quickly over the engine, but hey, admitting that this doesn't work (I'm giving a football field of room for doubt on that point), the next thought has got to be, "What else can I try?" and the one immediately upon its heels is, inevitably, "Oh yeah, I'll just shift into neutral; the engine will race, maybe out of control, maybe it will throw a rod (unlikely), but at least without power to the wheels, the brakes will then bring it to a halt."

I'm trying really hard here not to abandon myself to uncharitable statements about the competence of these drivers (oops! I did say the m-word a couple of paragraphs ago, didn't I?), but I'll leave it at:

  1. Why would they speak up and embarrass themselves?
  2. Why haven't they been ticketed for failure to retain control of their motor vehicle?
  3. Why are they still driving?

You think me uncharitable, but I have reason to believe there are ordinances and/or laws about remaining in control of your vehicle. No matter what.

I'm really getting close to needing one or two new cars. We're trying to hold off until we've finished paying our mortgage, but it might happen before then. Oh, how I wish I were getting a new car today. It would surely be a Toyota, probably a Camry, and I'd offer to appear free in any commercial and say anything warm and fuzzy they wanted me to about my confidence in Toyotas.

Don't you think it strange that only people who couldn't stop their cars are complaining? Where are the owners whose cars have accelerated out of control and who relate that they simply shifted into neutral and braked to a stop? Has it not occurred to anyone that maybe these people need to lose their licenses rather than fining Toyota?

Just the realization that these people are out on the streets and highways (I'm sure the misfortunate Toyota owners are only the tip of the iceberg) makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.


Saturday, 9 January 2010

That’s the name of the game in customer support: never admit to being at fault or that the problem your customer has called about is one any other customer shares!

Thursday morning last, I send a message off to work to the effect that I would not be in. In fact, this was planned, but to boot, I had been suffering from laryngitis for a couple of days along with a annoying sinus condition which makes people justifiably nervous and they had sent me home.

In fact, we had long been scheduled to marry off Anya, our Russian, sort-of daughter for many years. She’s stayed several summers with us.

The upshot of this is to explain that I was too busy (and miserable) Thursday to do anything about my Internet connection which was gone by the time I came home in the evening. Friday evening, I decided to complain after running through the standard ritual of bouncing every device from my router and hubs to my computers. Nothing worked.

And then a bizarre thing happened. I noticed that Skype was in working order. Yes, Skype was working and I began complaining to my nephew, who was off-line, about the symptoms. Sometimes it’s very useful to complain to someone else about a problem because in writing it up and ensuring an accurate diagnosis, one often solves it.

Broadweave’s customer support guy was courteous, but clueless. He punted to "second-level" support and told me that they might fix it during the night (Friday-to-Saturday), but would not call me until a decent hour the next day.

For me, the decent hour was shortly after 8 when I decided that clearly they had not fixed the problem. I called again, got a different person who said that their contract promised they’d get to it within something like 48 hours. I was bummed to have to spend the whole weekend without a useful Internet connection.

Meanwhile, as it was a "decent" hour, I gave Richard a call because while Skype appeared to work (I had even looked up and added a new contact in this state of things), I wasn’t totally sure and I wanted to find out if he had got my messages.

Of course, ever the helpful gentleman, he quickly abandoned whatever useful, productive undertaking he’d planned and began to help me diagnose the problem. In particular, he helped me tunnel through SSH/SOCKS in an attempt to get some DNS resolution after we decided that it was really DNS. In the end, our playing around lasted just short of an hour (during which I did my first protocol-tunneling exercise).

I elected to make use of a couple of different DNS servers in place of Broadweave’s which pretty much ended the bleak nightmare of no connectivity.

Which brings me to my third support call.

I carefully goaded the young lady into admitting that Broadweave only makes two IP addresses available through first-line support for customers’ DNS use. She thanked me for tracking down the problem, but quickly got brighter and more deceptive once it became clear that I could not have been the only Broadweave customer out of the tens of thousands whose ability to surf the web, use Windows Messenger, do e-mail, etc. had been inoperative for at least 36 hours.

When I asked her how this could possibly be, she clammed up and repeated her expressions of gratitude that I had tracked the problem down and, given the bad DNS addresses I had discovered, opined that the second-tier support folks would have all the more advantage in tracking down my problem.

Sheesh. Thousands of Broadweave customers have been without DNS for the last couple of days and these jokers are that clueless? If this was what I did for a living, it surely would not have taken me the scant hour Richard and I spent going over the problem to conclude that the DNS servers were toast. We were already at that conclusion early on, but the tunneling exercise was too much for two geeks to resist. So, that’s right: Broadweave knew it too.

So why didn’t Broadweave support reply to my calls with, "Yes, we know our DNS servers are down and we’re working on the problem," instead of carefully wording our support conversation to uphold the possiblity that it might be a difficult problem to solve (and my own problem to boot)?

Obfuscation, baby!