My new iPhone 6!

Yes, I was one of the lucky ones who managed to register my interest for Apple’s new iPhone 6 and book an appointment before everything ran out of stock.

I’m a longstanding SingTel customer and while my experience with them in the past has been a bit mixed, I have to say that this time, things were very organised.  But as a customer competing with many others for a coveted product, you also have to be pretty much on the ball.

Firstly, it does pay to be ‘kiasu’. If SingTel tells you to log in ‘from 3pm’ to book an appointment, you do it as soon as you can. I had a technical hitch but managed to reload my page, so it was probably at 3.01pm that I managed to lock in my appointment slot.  Those who logged in several minutes later apparently found that stocks had already run out.

I chose to collect my iPhone 6 (space grey, 128GB) this Saturday from 2 to 4pm. It was a good idea for SingTel to book a large venue – in this case, Hall A at Marina Bay Sands (MBS).  Despite ongoing Formula 1 activities in the area, the  open air car park and MBS car park had many spaces available.

My husband and I arrived at 2pm sharp and there was already a queue just to get in. Fortunately, things moved quickly and I managed to verify my details and get a proper queue number… with 110 people ahead of me.

However, things moved quickly as there were 60 counters.  Each counter had two staff – one to verify your details (again) and let you inspect your new iPhone, and the other to re-contract your phone line.

So every minute you would hear a ringing sound indicating that a new customer could be served.  There were other things to do too, like playing with samples of the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and getting free Nescafe coffee.  SingTel Prestige customers were treated like VIPs, with their own separate section where light refreshments were served.

There were also other partners around, promoting their products in conjunction with the iPhone 6 launch. I made use of my waiting time to sign up for Standard Chartered’s Dash service, which immediately gives new users $5 + $5 which you can use to pay for your new iPhone’s accessories. However they originally wanted me to collect my new iPhone, install the Dash app, activate my Dash account and then purchase the accessory using my new iPhone. I thought that was a little inflexible and not the most efficient use of customers’ time. Fortunately the cashier managed to let me purchase an iPhone 6 case with the $10 rebate before I collected the new iPhone.

So… right after I purchased my new case, my queue number was called! Perfect timing. Everything went smoothly except that the re-contracting took a while due to the system being ‘slow’. Then we were told to go to the nearest cashier, where we paid up and collected the iPhone 6 in question.

Total time from start to finish: 2pm to about 3.15pm.  Which seems long but given the hordes of customers involved, it wasn’t too bad at all.  However, when we walked out of the Hall, we noticed there was no longer a queue to get in. So ironically, arriving at the later end of your time slot might save you some waiting time. But you cannot miss your appointment as you may not be given a replacement slot.

Thanks to Ron for patiently waiting with me (although I’m sure he was just as excited to see the new iPhone 6 as I was!).

Finally revamped

It took a couple of server errors over the past day to prompt me to finally unveil the revamped blog I’ve been working on. Just moved it out of hiding from a subfolder, backed up my old blog pages, played with my database and thankfully everything seems to be working.

After a few years of contemplation I have decided to bid farewell to Movable Type. It served me well enough in the early 2000s when there were fewer options to choose from. However, it is not easy to set up or troubleshoot, especially when I would prefer to focus on thinking and writing instead of hacking away at code.

Maybe it’s just a question of throwing Perl before swine. WordPress is now my weapon of choice, sleek and very easy to fire with.

So, send me your love.

What Samsung can still learn from Apple

Cracked Samsung screen
Cracked Samsung screen

As a loyal Apple user for many years, friends were surprised that I had decided to switch to a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition – what a mouthful!) last year. It was mainly because I like to draw, and write notes by hand. Also I liked being able to customise my screens so they would display information immediately, like ‘widgets’, rather than requiring an app to be opened first.

And I did indeed write notes – over 300 pages’ worth so far. Hopefully that has saved a tree or two as I cut down on paper notebooks. While S Note has been generally satisfactory, particularly with its ability to sync with Evernote now, one thing which has annoyed me is how my Note tablet has three buttons at the bottom that are rather easily activated. These buttons tend to get in the way when I write notes and my arm presses down on them, resulting in me going back or exiting the app suddenly. Of course, I could just turn it upside down to avoid touching the buttons, but still it made me think that it was a design oversight. Apple’s single Home button is less intrusive and I didn’t feel a loss of functionality from having two fewer buttons. Less is more.

Too many SKUs

The other thing I noticed about Samsung is that it has too many different variations of phones, phablets and tablets. This makes it hard for find suitable accessories at times (presumably because it makes things harder for manufacturers making these accessories in the first place). When I purchased the Note, I had to wait for another month or two before I was able to get hold of a third-party case from Amazon. It took even longer for the official Samsung case to be available in Singapore. Again, Apple would have been more ready to cross-sell their accessories to complement new products.

This trickles down to the software. I found Samsung had cluttered my Note with pre-installed apps that I didn’t find useful. Why have a separate Samsung app store when there was already a Google Play store? I also found the Google Play store is nowhere as organised or well-curated as the Apple app store. Also, many apps are designed for Android phones, not tablets. This wouldn’t have been an issue with the Apple app store because search results would have filtered unsuitable apps out, depending on what type of device you were using (i.e. iPhone, iPad or Mac).

Samsung should trust its customers more, like Apple

Someone knocked my Note onto a concrete floor this morning and the screen cracked. So I went about getting quotes from various repair shops around town. Two third-party shops said that my Note was a ‘rare’ device, and because Samsung had too many different models to support, it would take another week for the parts (which cost between $280-350) to arrive. I was told that my best best would be Samsung itself.

At the Samsung store, before I was allowed to talk about my broken Note, I was presented with an A4 sheet of Terms and Conditions emphasising that Samsung was not liable to repair anything due to accidental breakage. I wondered if some customers had tried their luck, so Samsung was reacting to them by becoming more legalistic towards *all* of us. I don’t recall ever being confronted with legalese when I last got an Apple product repaired.

After getting through the Samsung T&Cs, I was told that my model was an ‘export’ version, the parts might be slightly different and thus they could not repair it! I was stunned. I told the Samsung rep that “this would not have happened in an Apple store” and he acknowledged it. He later added that Samsung had “too many conditions and procedures”.

It also sounded like they had a more complex production line, if the same type of product could be made of different components, depending on where you bought it from. Even if so, they should recognise (like Apple did, years ago) that customers these days are globalised and you may very well have to support and repair products that were made in other regions. That is, if you want to be taken seriously as a global brand yourself.

In addition, even if they repaired my Note, under the new Personal Data Protection Act, they were obliged to wipe out all my data – even though they were fixing a hardware problem, not a software problem. I had not linked my Note to Samsung Kies which apparently was their backup system (not very well marketed to me at least, compared to the obviousness and ease of using Apple’s iCloud). While my note data was backed up to Evernote, I was not keen to lose my son’s drawings nor my customised screen settings. They advised me to go home first to sync my Note using a cable (no direct, wireless syncing to the cloud, like Apple?). But having braved the MRT crowds just to get to the Samsung store, and with little time left before my next appointment, I was certain there could be some other way to preserve my data.

After I demanded to speak to the manager, they thought about it again and eventually agreed to 1) repair my Note and 2) not to wipe out my data (reason being that since it was an ‘export’ version, the usual rules apparently did not apply). So they *were* flexible! But it took some effort and made me feel rather vexed with them. So my repair will cost almost half the price of the original Note, because even though it’s just my screen that’s cracked, we need to change BOTH the screen and LCD as they’re fixed together.

Now, I’m not a hardware expert but could there be the slightest possibly of Samsung designing their products so that one does not have to spend an unnecessary amount of money replacing a part that is still working? I could say ditto to the car manufacturers. It just makes me feel like I’m paying more for something that isn’t needed and we’re wasting resources. It’s not very green, either.

Thus ends my rant against Samsung, having been their customer for just one year. And it does look like my next tablet will be an iPad, once again – if just to preserve my sanity.

Letter to God

This is homework for my bible study group. We’re each supposed to write to God about the first time we experienced Him, and subsequent times. I thought it would be useful to post this on my blog.

Dear God,

You first came to me not in a flash of light or roll of thunder, but in a very gradual, almost invisible way. I was a child who had no awareness of God, since my own parents at the time did not pursue a religion. However I was fortunate to have a grandmother and aunt who did. I would be brought to church and asked to pray.

One day, your Spirit touched me as I prayed, because I was filled with something wonderful. I felt uplifted and had no petulant thoughts inside me for a few days. Of course, at the time I had no idea I was benefiting from the fruit of the Spirit. I yearned to feel it once again but strangely, I don’t think I have been filled with that level of epiphany ever since.

Much, much later, you touched me gently many times through my classmates in Junior College who would give me Christian books to read. Similar things happened when I went to University, when some of the best friends I made there were Christians. I attended church with them and knew the Bible well, but you were still more in my head than in my heart. I volunteered my web design skills at church and was then encouraged to join Alpha.

It was finally the miracle of the bus that alerted me to your presence in a much stronger way. You spoke to me! And, like your sheep, I just knew it was your voice. What you told me to do, I immediately obeyed and sure enough, there was the stranger that needed my help.

You returned in later years to save me from evil attacks, which only served to draw me closer to you. You filled me with calm when I was approaching a state of panic in the night, because you told me you were already here with me.

In a way I’m sorry that I haven’t heard your voice in a while. But hopefully it’s because I’m not so ‘thick’ anymore that I don’t notice your presence in other ways, like through other people. Possibly though, it’s because I may have hit a plateau and taken you for granted again. You know I’m trying to overcome this by becoming more organised and putting you first more often. All I ask now is that you touch my husband and son (and any future children we have) in ways that will make them respond best to you, so that we all can be a God-centred family.

Thank you, God, for everything.

Love,
Vanessa.

Respect

There is something missing from the vocabulary of the inexperienced and immature, and that is the ability to think before speaking and to choose appropriate words that do not demean specific types of people. Even if the words are supposedly meant in jest, they can be taken out of context. People have been known to commit suicide from a barrage of verbal insults and who is to tell them that some of these comments were not meant to be taken seriously?

This is even more important when one is speaking on behalf of others, or a cause, and can be misconstrued to be endorsing a position that is cavalier or bigoted. With power comes responsibility, and that includes the responsibility to choose one’s words wisely.

Clearing the air about purifiers

It is a known fact in Singapore that air purifiers and N95 masks will be in hot demand during the haze season.

We may, however, be less aware of the air pollution in other countries which may be caused by other factors. Case in point: I found myself preparing for a trip to Paris and learned that the city was having even worse air pollution than Beijing. And I was going to stay there for nearly a week, commuting by foot. And the hotel I would be staying in is along a main avenue that leads to the Arc de Triomphe, which means there’d be plenty of traffic exhaust.

Now, I’m not too sure whether the French hotels bother to purify their air when there’s serious pollution. I wasn’t going to risk spending a week inhaling polluted air, if I could help it. So I decided to look for mobile air purifiers. Then many questions popped into my head.

1) What sort of technology should I be looking for?

As a layperson I heard that HEPA filters were good while ionisers were not as reliable. Trawling through many websites and forums, it appeared that there were two camps: Those that swore by HEPA and filters, and those that didn’t. But HEPA only filters particle sizes of 0.3 microns (micrometres, or 1/1000th of a milligram). This would be fine if we were only looking to remove things like pet allergens, pollen, spores, dust mites, bacteria and fungi.

However, that led to the next (and more key question):

2) What am I actually trying to remove or purify, in Parisian air?

That led me to a detailed search where I found two key documents: A Guardian article on how Paris air pollution is caused by diesel vehicles, industry and agriculture. Given that I was living in the city centre and that two thirds of motorists use diesel vehicles in Paris due to some pretty poor policy decision-making, I searched for the particle size of diesel exhaust. And voila! This document from the University of Minnesota found that quite a lot of diesel exhaust particles were tiny – technically labelled as ‘nano’ as they were less than 0.05 microns in size. Some were even as small, or smaller, than 0.01.

And you know how people like to smoke in Paris (I expect this to happen even at healthcare conferences). Generally I have found that people still smoke in non-smoking rooms – you can tell from the smell. Tobacco smoke is 0.003 to 0.04 microns in size. Again, a HEPA air purifier will not remove this.

So, given that the most dangerous stuff would be the nano particles that your lungs can’t get rid of, I wanted an air purifier that could do more than HEPA. But that led to the next question:

3) What was effective? And portable?

This Youtube video by the Air Purifier Guy was useful, if slightly dated. I was also looking for something in a different context – I was more concerned about vehicle exhaust particles. But I took the point that ideally, a good air purifier should have multiple technologies. Companies also like to rip off consumers by making them buy overpriced filters (just as with people who buy cheap printers with expensive cartridges) and don’t give them sufficient information about each air purifier, to make a qualified decision.

So I kind of had an idea about what would be effective. Next, what was portable? Further internet searches led to a product which was the size of a modem but claims to carry the same photocatalytic air purifying technology as NASA, for growing fruits. It also had a UVC light and ion generator. It can remove particles up to 0.01 microns, which is what I was looking for. Larger particles will be collected in a washable filter. It can also be installed in your car.

A phone call to the local dealer led to me having a chat with the boss, who followed up quickly to check if stock was available. Since I needed to replace a component of this mobile air purifier every year, I wanted to ensure that this company was quick in following up with customers. I am hopeful about this device but still a shred of doubt remains, as the air purifier market is flooded with so many products and technologies – and jargon that confuses the casual shopper – that I will test it out first before adding a link to its product page. Still, it is very hard to prove whether the air purifier removes nano particles – unless I  bother (and can spend a few thousand dollars) to get laboratory equipment. I will just have to trust its scientific lab reports.

While doing my research, I also did not like how some brands claim to have HEPA and Nano filters, but in fact these ‘Nano’ filters do not filter out the truly ‘nano’ particles. To cite the wisdom of Wikipedia on particle sizes:

Particles are further classified according to diameter.[1] Coarse particles cover a range between 2,500 and 10,000 nanometers. Fine particles are sized between 100 and 2,500 nanometers. Ultrafine particles, or nanoparticles, are between 1 and 100 nanometers in size.

1 nanometer is 0.001 microns. 100 nanometers is 0.1 microns. As mentioned earlier, HEPA filters only address particles up to 0.3 microns and I am still trying to find a commercial website that states the particle size that their ‘nano’ technology is able to remove. These nano particles are so small, filter technology can’t block them.

4) Conclusion

If you’re searching for an air purifier, you need to be very clear what it is you’re trying to remove. Is it the haze which you can see (i.e. of larger particles)? Or a certain odour that won’t go away? A certain allergen? Or are you trying to avoid catching a bug from someone else near you? Then, find out the particle sizes that you need to remove, and an air purifier with the technologies that can do the job.

You also need to know the volume of the room where you intend to place your air purifier, so that you get one with the right capacity. Other things to consider are the cost of maintaining it and how noisy it can be (although again, these less desirable points are not going to be easily found on product web pages).

For me, being near the centre of Paris, it’s literally the finer things in life that matter the most.