Some phones can read #Myki cards. Could you one day check your expiry/balance on a phone?

For anybody with an NFC (Near Field Contact)-compatible phone (such as my new Google Nexus 5), you can use the this little app — Tag Info Lite to read Myki cards.

Not that it’ll tell you very much — see below. All the actual useful information appears to be encrypted.

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Apparently in some parts of the world an unencrypted copy of the card balance/status is also stored, allowing apps that will let you check your balance. For instance Farebot works with cards from Seattle, San Francisco, Singapore, the Netherlands and parts of Japan, and Travel Card Reader looks similar.

Shame Myki doesn’t appear to have this option, not even in PTV’s own apps — though I guess in theory they and/or Keane could do it, given they issue devices to Authorised Officers to do card checks.

With the old Metcards, you could easily see the expiry date(s) as it was printed on the card itself.

This is an opportunity, of course. As more phones include this technology, perhaps a future (hopefully minor) upgrade could allow people to check their card balance or fare expiry in this way.

(Some apps claim to do this with Myki, but what they’re really doing is checking your online account, which is not necessarily up to date — the card is the point of truth.)

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Oh, and here’s what I get from a Brisbane Go Card:

Untitled

Every mobile phone I’ve ever owned

Inspired by Andrew’s post a few months ago, here’s a list of the mobile phones I’ve had over the years.

Ericsson GH198 (from 1994). It had a twirly antenna that could be flat against the main part of the phone, or twirled around and up to make calls. I seem to recall it cost me about $400 plus a 2 year contract

Predictive text on the Nokia N95I think after that I had an Ericsson GH337 or 338 for a couple of years. Or maybe I had a 337 then a 338? Can’t remember.

Nokia 6210 (from 2001) — first one with a web browser and an internal antenna rather than one which stuck up out of the phone.

Motorola E365 (Briefly in 2004, before I sent it back because I didn’t like it) — it was the first one with a camera.

Nokia 6100 (2004) — a titchy, tiny phone, with interchangable covers. Neat.

Nokia 6230i (2006)

Nokia N95 (2009) — this was great.

HTC Desire S (2011). Also been great, though it’s a bit slow with Android 4 loaded onto it. I’m about due for a new one now.

  • A 2011 post where I compared the SAR (Specific Absorbtion Rate — eg radio waves going into your head) of some of these phones.

Pics: How they fix mobile phone towers

How do they fix or upgrade a mobile phone tower? With a very big crane, that’s how.

It wouldn’t be a job for someone with a fear of heights.

Fixing a mobile phone tower (1/2)

Fixing a mobile phone tower (2/2)

In my family, my sister gave up her landline when she moved last year, and in her household now relies totally on mobile phones for making calls (plus naked DSL for internet). My mum has (without moving) just switched from landline to mobile as well. I moved to VOIP at home plus mobile earlier this year — it’s been pretty good, though occasionally the modem needs rebooting.

We’ve all given up the landline due to costs, and needing to have a mobile anyway. Are others doing the same?

Where’s my phone? (New levels of dopiness)

Need to leave. Where’s my phone?

Not on the counter. Not on my bedside table. Not on the desk. Not on the kitchen table. Not on the dresser. Not on the couch.

Look again in all those places. Not found.

Really need to go.

Reach for home phone. Dial mobile number. It rings.

It’s in my pocket. Oh man. Not good.

* * *

Later…

Oh. My mobile says a missed call. From a private number.

No voicemail was left. Why do these people not leave a voicemail so I can ring them back?

Oh, wait…

It was me.

Are mobile phones the new cigarettes?

Fifty years ago the people waiting on this bench might have been smoking — now they’re all fiddling with their phones.

Ripponlea station

It’s long been thought that mobile phones might be replacing cigarettes:

Teenagers may be getting healthier because mobile phones are replacing cigarettes as a symbol of rebellion and fashion.

Clive Bates, Ash director, suggested that the need to stay in fashion by owning a phone may mean less money is available to pay for cigarettes.

– BBC, November 2000

This Age article from 2005 suggested the same thing.

I’m pondering other links:

Phones, like cigarettes, give you something to do with your hands, something to fiddle with.

Phones, like cigarettes, are social. Instead of standing around in doorways chatting to fellow smokers, you’re talking to your friends via social media — wherever they are.

Phones, like cigarettes, can be invasive if used thoughtlessly in a group of people (though having to listen to someone’s boring conversation is less unhealthy and unpleasant than secondhand smoke).

I’d love to reach some profound conclusion here, but that’s all I’ve got. Thoughts?

Telstra brochure from 1997 explains new-fangled “text messages”

Clearing out some old books, I found this from 1997. It’s a Telstra brochure explaining a new product they’re introducing: the “SMS Text Message Service.”

Front cover:
Telstra brochure explaining text messages: page 1

Middle pages:
Telstra brochure explaining text messages: pages 2-3

Back page:
Telstra brochure explaining text messages: page 4

Everything was new once upon a time, right?

From the brochure (and this matches my recollection), initially messages could not be sent between operators. This didn’t come until April 2000, and predictably resulted in exponential growth in messages sent.

The prepaid phone saga

Predictive textA while back I gave eldest son my old (but quite capable) mobile phone, and got him a SIM card that looked to be a reasonable cheap basic prepaid phone service: Woolworths Everyday Mobile.

This worked fine until early October when the phone stopped working.

Or to be precise, the SIM stopped working. We tried the usual stuff: turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, trying a different SIM in the phone. It was clear the SIM didn’t work.

I should note that this company has all its Call Centre people in Australia. While in an ideal world this shouldn’t make a difference, of course in reality it can. But in this case there was no issue with communications problems due to bad phone lines and people struggling to understand each other.

So on Sunday 9/10, I rang them up. Of course the gatekeepers to the real technical support staff tried to deflect me, only letting me get through after I had explained that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone.

They said they’d check some things on their end, give me a call back within two days.

No call back, so on Thursday 13/10, I rang back. Once again I had to explain that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. They said nobody from technical support was available, because it was after 8:30pm. I said I’d ring back the next day.

I rang back on Friday 14/10 at lunchtime. Explained that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. They said the relevant person isn’t available, but they would ring or email back later in day.

Yeah. Sure they would.

Nothing, of course, so just after 6pm I rang back. Explained that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. They said the relevant person isn’t available, and apologised that I hadn’t been contacted.

And a key bit of information finally came to light: I already knew the service is closing down and being replaced by a different Woolworths mobile phone service. What I didn’t know was that this will be run by a different company. (It’s clear now that these operations are effectively franchise users of the Woolworths name). For this reason the lady said they were having problems simply sending out a new SIM.

I asked for a refund. She said she couldn’t do that. She said it would be referred to their IT group, and someone would ring the next day to discuss other options.

Well if you can’t provide the service, and you won’t give me a refund, what other options are there that don’t involve me being ripped-off? I was suddenly grateful that there was only $20 credit on the account.

But it sounded like this miracle-working IT group might be able to wangle another SIM.

Needless to say, there was no phone call back the next day.

Rang back again on Sunday 16/10. Explained yet again that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. Also explained that I had originally rung them a week before, and nothing had happened.

They said — unbelievably — that the original problem had never been referred to IT.

I was pretty narky at this point, emphasising that it wasn’t this particular guy’s fault, but asking how it was possible that after such a long period of them being unable to provide me a service, nothing had been done to resolve it.

The guy was very apologetic, and assured me things would happen.

At about 4:15pm on Tuesday 18/10, they actually rang me. Wow. An actual call back. For once I didn’t have to explain again that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. They already knew I needed a replacement SIM. And they said they did have some spares, and they’d be sending one out Express Post to me straight away.

Friday 21/10, a new SIM arrived in plain brown envelope. The letter is dated 18/10, but it very clearly did not go via Express Post. Luckily however it works fine.

The conclusion from all this is: steer clear of Woolworths’ mobile phone operation. It works fine as long as everything goes smoothly, but if you have a problem, even accounting for the fact that they are closing down, it’s very difficult to get them to take action. OK, maybe their replacement service will be better, but I’d not be willing to take that risk again.

Thankfully the phone’s new owner has been very patient throughout this saga.

The postscript

I knew before the first call that Everyday Mobile were closing down, and wondered if they would end up giving me a refund. Either way, knowing we’d have to port off them by early next year, I took the opportunity to order a new SIM from another provider. I looked around for a bit and for some unknown reason, decided I liked the look of Amaysim. So on 13/10 I ordered a SIM from them through their web site, with some credit on it.

To this day, that SIM has not arrived.

On Sunday I emailed them to ask them where it was. They got back to me on Tuesday to apologise and say their system messed up on my delivery address (odd, it’s a fairly conventional post office box, no weirdness like apostrophes) and it should now arrive in a few days.

Are all prepaid mobile companies like this?

I know they’d probably prefer to lock you into a contract on a postpaid plan, but surely they should be treating prepaid customers (many of whom spend considerable amounts of money) with better care.

How timely are Metro’s SMS alerts? (and SMS vs web)

Last Friday MX ran a story about Metro plans to shut down its SMS text alert service, in favour of pushing people towards the mobile web site and Twitter. This was sparked by an ad earlier in the week in MX, station posters, and an email sent to SMS subscribers, all encouraging people to “say goodbye to SMS messages that fill up your inbox and hello to the Metro mobile web site.”

Metro encouraging the switch from SMS to the mobile web site

On Monday, in a followup story, Metro denied they were shutting down SMS.

Interestingly, they said people “preferred real-time information, not possible via SMS but available on Metro’s mobile site“. A surprising argument, given it appears (from the outside) that both get updated generally simultaneously.

Now, I like Metro’s mobile web site… it’s great for seeing the state of the trains, and (unlike the Twitter feed) it includes individual service cancellations and delays. I certainly recommend people have it in their phone. It’s particularly useful when travelling on different lines and at different times than you have set up for SMS alerts.

But you have to go and look at it, and it’s only “real-time” if you happen to be looking at it when something happens.

In contrast, the SMS alerts tell you that something’s happening, and although some people have complained of the late delivery of alerts (which could be Metro sending them late, or issues with phone providers), I think most of them to get to my phone in a timely manner.

How timely are Metro SMS alerts?

As it happens, I have a lot of SMS alerts from the past few months in my phone. I’m not sure why, but I haven’t deleted them since July. So I thought I’d do a quick check of the time of the train being cancelled vs the time the message arrived. (The “arrival” time appears to be the time the message was received by my phone provider for me, or perhaps the time it was sent, as some times appear early in the morning when I know my phone wasn’t on.)

Leaving out alerts that are less time specific (eg general delays to services), my sample is 50 messages over 2 months (early-July to early-September) covering the alerts I’m subscribed to, which is morning trains from Bentleigh into the city, and evening trains going the other way.

Of the 50 messages, 35 were cancellations, 3 were “will now run” (eg negating an earlier cancellation) and 12 were about Loop trains altered to run direct to/from Flinders Street. There were none about delays to individual services (these are normally only sent if the delay is 15 minutes or more.)

Overall 37 (74%) were received before the relevant event — with a median of 52 minutes. 13 (26%) were after the event, with a median of 8 minutes.

Counting only notices of cancellations, there were: 30 (86%) of which arrived early, 5 (14%) late.

Late messages

Of the 13 received late, 9 were in the afternoon peak, reflecting that some cancellations and alterations are made at the last minute (eg due to a fault found in the loop-facing cab), and my alert is for Flinders Street departures, so there’s often less notice. Headed to the city, Bentleigh is about halfway along the Frankston line, so there’s probably often more time for passengers there to receive alerts.

Of the 13 received late, 8 were loop diversions (a Loop train altered to run direct), and most in the afternoon peak. Doesn’t make it any less annoying of course, if you were waiting in a Loop station to catch a train — some forward notice means you can try and get out of the Loop to Richmond/North Melbourne/Jolimont and pick up your diverted train there. In some cases they’ll make announcements in the stations as well, of course.

Morning vs evening

There were 13 morning cancellations. None arrived after the departure time at Bentleigh. The median was 104 minutes ahead of the event. The lowest was 31 minutes ahead. (This concerned a 7:31 departure from Bentleigh, which originated at Carrum at 7:02. Those waiting at the first few stops got almost no warning, but they had the option of catching an express scheduled 4 minutes later.)

So while being halfway along the line on the way to the City helps for me, it appears every morning cancellation alert was received before the service was expected to run, sometimes hours before, so people could plan around it.

Conclusion

So my conclusion would have to be that while some SMSs are received too late (and on-time delivery is not guaranteed), most are on received time and provide genuinely useful information about disrupted services.

It’s costing Metro a lot of money of course. SMS alerts have 25,000 subscribers according to Monday’s article. I had heard a figure last year that it was costing them about $50,000 per month to send the alerts, which is a lot.

But it’s a valuable service, and as noted in Friday’s article, the best way for them to cut costs is to reduce cancellations and delays.