Break the Cycle

During the month of October I’ll be riding my bike to help raise money to support childrens’ cancer research. It’s all part of the Great Cycle Challenge, raising funds for the Children’s Medical Research Institute, one of the major research bodies aimed at finding a cure for cancer. I think it’s a worthy cause.

So many people I know have been affected by cancer. We desperately need to find the solution to this awful disease and it can only be done with research, and research costs money.

I’ve committed to ride 250km this month to raise $1000 for CMRI. So far people have been very generous and the fundraising has gone pretty well so I might revise that goal. I think the 250km will be enough of a challenge, but it would be nice to raise more money.

If you’d like to support this great cause, you can head over to my fundraising page at https://greatcyclechallenge.com.au/Riders/ChrisBetcher and donate whatever you feel works for you.

GCC-FB-cover-2014-im-riding

And on behalf of the kids, thank you!

Watch Me Drive

There is an advertisement on TV at the moment for an Australian car insurance company that encourages drivers to download an app to their phone to find out who is “Australia’s Best Driver“.  Here’s the ad…

When you download and install the app it starts by asking you a few questions…  your name, gender, email address, home address, etc. Then it keeps track of your driving using GPS location, timestamps, speed tracking, etc for at least the next 300km. In fact, it even defaults to an autostart mode so that you don’t have to remember to turn it on. Every so often it will check in with you to make sure that you are in fact the driver of the trips it’s been tracking. Then it scores your driving style in an attempt to find out who is the best driver in Australia.

Think about it. As well as knowing exactly who you are, it knows how fast you’re driving, when you’re driving, where you’ve been, who was driving and how long for, and even what your phone was doing as you drove. And remember, it just starts tracking automatically every time you drive. Without you even needing to turn it on.

Over time, the data will show whether you speed or not, whether you drive long distances without taking a break, whether you accelerate and brake erratically, what times of day you drive, and of course whether you’re using your phone as you drive. This is not just Big Data.  This is highly personalised data about you as an individual.

But it’s just a game right? You’re encouraged to compete with your friends via social media, so that lots of people are playing the game with you, all submitting the intimate details of their driving history as well. Let’s see who’s the best driver. Plus you can earn badges. Yay! Badges! That’s what it’s about right?

I can’t believe anyone would voluntarily give all this data to an insurance company. I mean they say it’s to make you a safer driver. Yeah, sure, that’s totally the reason. Until you apply for insurance one day and you find they know a little bit more about your driving habits than you might’ve thought and your insurance premium reflects that knowledge. If you’re a good driver, maybe you’ll pay less for you insurance. And maybe you won’t. I know which one I’m betting on.

I like to think that I’m a pretty good driver, but even with the promise of a big cash prize, to voluntarily hand over that much personal driving history data to an insurance company seems absolutely crazy to me.

Thanks AAMI, but I’ll leave this little adventure to Neil, Gaz and Loretta Jones.

Featured CC BY-NC Image “The Sunset Storm, Brisbane Australia“, by Ben Ashmole on Flickr

Merry Christmas

As we celebrate Christmas and 2010 draws to a close, here’s a little video to make you smile.

Special Christmas wishes to everyone who has been part of my world for the last 12 months.  It’s been a wonderful year, full of learning, fun, travel, meeting interesting people, connecting with my network, and sharing ideas with each other.  I’ve had the good fortune to do some travelling this year and met many wonderful folk in person that I’ve only ever known online, as well as meeting a whole of great new people, and that’s been a real highlight for me.  You know who you are, and I feel so much richer for it.  Thanks!  

I feel like 2010 has been an amazing year of connecting with others, and it’s been incredibly rewarding on many levels.  To everyone who has left comments on the blog, connected via Twitter or Facebook or Skype or email or the many other ways we have of being connected (including face to face of course!), thank you… those connections mean a great deal to me.

Hope you all have a great Christmas with your families and friends, and that 2011 will be a great year for you.

Love, Chris

Thanks to ExcentricPT on YouTube for excellent video!

Happy New Year

Hope 2010 is a great year for you all!

This photo is made of three separate images stitched together with Photoshop.  It’s the calm before the fireworks storm!  I thought it turned out quite well considering I didn’t have a tripod and was just leaning up against the wall to hold the camera steady on a 4 second/f3.5 setting.

CC photo by betchaboy
http://www.flickr.com/photos/betchaboy/4233820172/

The shocking cost of international data

I was in New Zealand recently for a conference and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Land of the Long White Cloud. I got to meet other passionate educators, talk geeky edtech stuff and just generally hang out with them for a couple of days.  As part of the fun of hanging out with fellow geeks, I made a short video from my Nokia N95 using the live streaming ability of Qik.  The live stream was just a bit of fun, and went for a total of 5 minutes and 15 seconds.  Apart from the brief live stream, I also checked my email twice using the mobile Gmail client, and also checked my location on a Google Map while wandering through the streets of Napier.

While in Napier, a text message arrived from my carrier, 3 Mobile, saying that my account balance for the month has just reached $535.  What??!!  I mean, I know that mobile roaming can be expensive, but surely this had to be some sort of mistake!  I switched my phone off and left it off until I returned to Australia.

When I arrived back home (I was in NZ for three days) I rang 3 Mobile to clarify their message.  I was told that, yes, I had been using data while roaming and that my roaming data bill was $480 (plus my regular monthly charges).  I was stunned.  How can anyone possibly accrue a $480 roaming data bill in just a couple of days, and quite literally only using mobile broadband for less than 10 minutes in total?

I spoke to a “3 Care” operator, who kept calling me “Christopher” and repeating back every question I asked her. She was almost no help whatsoever, so eventually I insisted that she escalate this call to a supervisor.  The supervisor I spoke to was equally as unhelpful, and told me that he would have to check with a different department and get back to me.

Two days later, they called back and basically reiterated everything they said on the last call, except they were now telling me that my roaming bill was $850, as all the data had not been logged as of my last contact with them.  $850!!!!!  For a few minutes of broadband access in New Zealand!!!

Outraged, I asked what they could do about this bill, only to be told that there was nothing they could do, that roaming data in New Zealand comes through NZ Vodafone and is charged at $20/Mb.  I argued that $850 equated to roughly 42Mb of data and that I seriously doubted my mobile phone could have transferred 42Mb of data in less than 10 minutes.  The supervisor said they would check it and get back to me.

A week later, I had still heard nothing, so I called them back again, having to explain the whole story again to a new person.  This guy agreed that the data charges did seem excessive and way beyond my regular monthly charge.  He commiserated and said he was sorry, but insisted that there was nothing he could do.  He said the charges would stick, although they offered a token $100 discount.

I pointed out that I had been a customer with 3 Mobile since its inception in Australia, in fact I was one of their original “family and Friends” customers.  I pointed out that I pay my bill on time each month and do in fact pay a relatively high amount every month for their services, since I don’t have a landline and my mobile phone is my only phone.  I pointed out that between my immediate family, I am responsible for a number of phone accounts with them.  He agreed I was a model  customer, but still refused to do anything about my bill.  This call lasted nearly an hour, only to get absolutely nowhere.

So, 3 Mobile, I’m not happy with you.  You charge 50 cents a Mb for off-network data roaming in Australia, yet have the audacious gall to charge me $20 per Mb when I’m in New Zealand?  You have the courtesy to send me a warning SMS when my balance gets excessive, but the balls to wait until it’s more than six times my regular monthly spend until you bother flagging it with me?  You admit that the charge is excessive, yet you happily charge me for it? Your response to me was that I should read the terms of service more carefully and that it was all there in the fine print.  (Try finding it on their website without using the search function!)

I threatened to cancel my phone services with you, and still you insist that there is nothing you can do about this bill. You would rather lose me as a long term valued customer, than to cut me some slack on this outrageously excessive charge.

I WILL cancel all of my phone services with you, and I will take as many other account holders with me as possible.  I’m not happy, 3 Mobile.  Not happy at all.

To everyone else who reads this, my advice is to be really careful when travelling with your mobile phone overseas.  Data roaming charges can be ridiculously excessive, even for small amounts of usage.  Check the data roaming costs before you leave home and perhaps even disable it unless you really need it.  Even at those costs, there is no way I would have expected an $850 bill for a few minutes of network use.

Oh, and my other advice would be to avoid 3 Mobile as a carrier. Their attitude to their customers sucks.

UPDATE: Just received my official bill from 3 this morning…  the final amount was $874.41.  I have also lodged a formal complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.  Oh, and then I also find out about this!  Wish I’d have know about it a few weeks ago!

The Human Touch

I’m in a hotel in Montreal, Quebec at the moment, just about to leave to spend the day with Sharon Peters at her school.  But before I leave I wanted to share this little note that was left in the hotel room.

“To our guests,
Because this hotel is a human institution to serve people, and not solely a money making organisation, we hope that god will grant you peace and rest while you are under our roof.
May this room and hotel be your second home. May those you love be near you in thoughts and dreams.  Even though we may not get to know you, we hope that you will be comfortable and happy as if you were in your own home.
May the business that brought you our way prosper. May every call you make and every message you receive add to your joy, and when you leave, may your journey be safe.
We are all travelers. From birth to death, we travel between the eternities.  May these days be pleasant for you, profitable to society, helpful for those you meet, and a joy to those who know and love you best.”

There was also a large white plate in the room when I arrived, with three chocolates and the words “Welcome Chris Betcher” written in chocolate.  Next to the bed was a booklet with short “Chicken Soup for the Soul” style stories in it, with a note saying that these were for reading before bedtime and an invitation to take a copy.

This hotel is not grand and upmarket.  It’s just a Quality Inn near the Montreal Airport, much like thousands of other midrange hotels dotted across North America… as a hotel there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, but these few small human touches have made it seem very remarkable to me.  The extra little human touch makes a huge difference to the overall experience. I’m really impressed.  I’ve staying in many hotels over the years, but I have never had these sorts of personal touches left in the room.

As we launch into a new year, I think there are lessons in all of this for how we interact with each other, how we treat our families, our colleagues, our students, our fellow humans.  I’m going to try and make sure that I always remember the importance of the human touch and how important it is to making those around us feel special and more human.

Happy New Year to you all.

The joining of two diamonds…

What a world we live in. I’m sitting here in Sydney Australia, watching Clay and Eunjeong getting married in Seoul, South Korea…

They are quite literally getting married as I write this, with a live video stream being sent to viewers from all over the world using ustream.tv.

To be sitting here in Sydney Australia, watching the wedding of someone I’ve never met, but yet feel I know, joined by a group of people who I also feel I know but have never met, is quite amazing.

And yet, as amazing as I think it is, there is another part of me that says this is quite normal. After all, the technology that has enabled this event to be shared, and the technology that has enabled there to even be an audience with which to share it, have become an integral part of the world in which we live.

This event is a wonderful day for Clay and Eunjeong, and it was an honour to be able to share it. Far from feeling impersonal, being able to share in their special day thanks to these networked technologies is an amazing testament to the power of a networked world and the relationships one is able to build within it.

Congratulations to both of you!

PS: I created a Voicethread for anyone wishing to convey their well wishes to Clay and Eunjeong… if you attended (or even if you didn’t but would like to join in) please leave your thoughts and congratulations below…

[kml_flashembed movie="http://voicethread.com/book.swf?b=77403" width="600" height="450" wmode="transparent" /]

PPS: If you have any photos from the wedding, please join the Flickr group called burell_wedding and add your photos to the group pool. I think this is the most global wedding I’ve been to… (and the most fun, and the one where it’s been a learning experience at the same time!)