June 2010

Excellent Telenor customer service

by Limbic on June 21, 2010

This last week my mobile phone started malfunctioning. I called Telenor who asked me to bring it in to a shop.

I tool it in to the shop on Knez Mihailova. They took a look at the phone and decided it needed repair.

They were about to issue me with a spare when they realised I needed a company stamp to authorise getting a loan phone (I am a business customer).

One of the managers overrode the procedure and accepted my work ID as proof enough.

It is now in getting repaired.

My experience, from calling the call centre and being offered an English option, through to talking to Customer Services and my treatment in the shop were all excellent.

After some recent Customer Service disasters, I just wanted to point out a truly exception company operating here in Serbia that we can all learn from.


Massive failure for SBB customer service

by Limbic on June 21, 2010

On Friday morning our SBB cable TV signal abruptly failed. I called the call centre and an agent told me there was a general problem in my area and it would be fixed later.

On Saturday morning it was still broken, so I called again. This time I was told that it was not that general problem, but something specific to me, so  “someone will call you later”. On Saturday afternoon I called again, and this time I was told “maybe they will call you today, maybe tomorrow”.

On Sunday, no call from SBB,  I called again and got the  “someone will call you later”. Of course no one called.

This afternoon (Monday) I called again and, yes,  “someone will call you later”. I explained that I had been told this every day for three days, so the agent put me on hold and then came back to tell me “That was the weekend, someone will call you later or tomorrow”.

I do not expect that call any time soon….

Some things that SBB could do to improve thremselves.

1. English option. Its is pot luck if you get an English speaking agent or not when you call the Call Centre. English language skills should be mandatory for all call centre staff. The new phone system (that seems to have gone live today) presents the caller with various options (Press 1 for …). All the options are in Serbian. No English option at all. They could learn from Telenor on this.

2. Tell the truth. I would much rather be told that there are too few engineers working at the weekend to be able to get my problem solved before Monday or Tuesday than fobbed off with nonsense about an imminent call. One can go out and buy an aerial, but not when you think the engineer is imminent.

3. If you say you will call back, then make sure you do. It is deeply frustrating to be told you will be called back then hear nothing day after day. I have Bel Medic do this to me today too. Must be the season for it.


“Stop, smell the rose”, Dorcol, Belgrade, 2010

Update November 2016:

Two new pieces to add to this article:

Agnotology. It’s a term worth knowing, since it is going global. The word was coined by Stanford University professor Robert N. Proctor, who described it as “culturally constructed ignorance, created by special interest groups to create confusion and suppress the truth in a societally important issue.” It is especially useful to sow seeds of doubt in complex scientific issues by publicizing inaccurate or misleading data. – Bloomberg.com

And this great piece on nested debunking from FiveThirtyEight called “Who will debunk the debunkers?

Original post

A Boston Globe article – “Warning: Your reality is out of date” – alerted me to the concept of the Mesofact (http://www.mesofacts.org/):

When people think of knowledge, they generally think of two sorts of facts: facts that don’t change, like the height of Mount Everest or the capital of the United States, and facts that fluctuate constantly, like the temperature or the stock market close.

But in between there is a third kind: facts that change slowly. These are facts which we tend to view as fixed, but which shift over the course of a lifetime. For example: What is Earth’s population? I remember learning 6 billion, and some of you might even have learned 5 billion. Well, it turns out it’s about 6.8 billion.

Or, imagine you are considering relocating to another city. Not recognizing the slow change in the economic fortunes of various metropolitan areas, you immediately dismiss certain cities. For example, Pittsburgh, a city in the core of the historic Rust Belt of the United States, was for a long time considered to be something of a city to avoid. But recently, its economic fortunes have changed, swapping steel mills for technology, with its job growth ranked sixth in the entire United States.

These slow-changing facts are what I term “mesofacts.” Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale.

This got me thinking about how this plays out in human affairs.

I thought of how 10 years since the end of the last Balkan war (Kosovo 1998-1999) and the establishment of a liberal democracy in Serbia, Serbs are still thought of as the “bad guys” in the Kosovo story, even though we have seen over a decade of exemplary Serb behaviour (economic and social liberalisation, reconciliation with neighbours, apologies for crimes committed by Serbs, cooperation with international authorities, use of diplomacy not aggression) and yet during the same period in Kosovo we saw of ongoing political and violent oppression of of Serbs (and other minorities), massacres, ethnic cleansing, rampant corruption and organised crime penetrating all levels of government and society to operate the vilest practices of human slavery, drug and weapons smuggling.

The same is true of the Afrikaner people of South Africa. Fifteen years since the end of Apartheid, one third of Afrikaners are living below the poverty line. Rural Afrikaans farmers are being subjected to what some describe as a genocidal campaign of murder and intimidation. Three thousand people have been killed, many of whom tortured and mutilated in acts of near incomprehensible cruelty and sadism. Despite this, both at home and abroad they are still seen as a strongly, privileged group, even though they are politically and economically disenfranchised, and subject to violent oppression.

Outdated mesofacts about the Serbs and Afrikaners dominate the public discourse, and these “facts” strongly influence the fortunes of these people.

When you combine the phenomenon of the mesofact, with disinformation and the confirmation bias, you have entire nations trapped in a negative stereotype deliberately maintained by special interest groups for political purposes.

In fact the mesofact can be established over time by relentless propaganda and other disinformation. Once the “facts” about the target group are established – they become Flat Earth News – all it takes is an occasional “top up” to refresh the stereotype. Reporting the anniversaries of massacres is a good excuse.

In the Serbian example, the media focusses on the trials of notorious Serbs over crimes committed in the 1990’s whilst ignoring the daily attacks on Serbs in Kosovo today.

Similarly, in South Africa a case where a white farmer murdered one of his workers then fed his remains to lions made front page news across the world, yet the 11 gruesome murders committed against white farmers that month were never reported, and continue to be largely ignored to this day.

Nebojsa Malic of Gray Falcon explores this in relation to the recent Gaza Flotilla incident, where he observes that the Israel’s were “Serbed”:

It should be obvious by now that the “Gaza flotilla” was a trap. Israel walked right into it. Fortunately for the Israelis, they too were filming the whole thing, and knew how to use blogs and YouTube, so they may have even come out ahead in the propaganda skirmish that followed. But there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the whole flotilla operation was designed from the start to be a propaganda stunt. The “activists” (is that what they are called these days?) aboard those ships were armed and ready. They wanted to be stopped and boarded, so they could scream to high heaven about being abused by the Israeli “pirates” on the high seas. It almost worked, too.

…the entire strategy employed by Hamas seems to be a reprise of Sarajevo. So the Israeli presence on its borders becomes a “siege”, the legitimate blockade of a hostile polity becomes “strangling”, and Israeli raids in response to missiles fired from Gaza become “terror.” Israel is dubbed an occupying power even though it unilaterally retreated from Gaza in 2005, leaving it as a de facto independent city-state. And Israeli inspections in international waters, though legal, become “piracy.”

Hamas routinely fires missiles from Gaza at Israeli civilians across the border. They see nothing wrong with this – remember, to Hamas, Israel has no right to exist, and needs to be obliterated. But if Israel retaliates, whether by assassinating Hamas leaders or sending tanks into Gaza to destroy missile launchers, or by enforcing a perfectly legal blockade to deny Hamas weapons and ammunition, while allowing food and other civilian supplies in – ah, that’s nothing short of “genocide,” then!

Israel has a powerful conventional army, navy, air force, and most likely even nuclear weapons (though not officially acknowledged). It has defeated Arab armies on numerous occasions in open warfare, and has successfully fought terrorism and insurgency through special operations. So those who wish it destroyed came up with a way of turning that strength into a weakness: cast themselves as innocent, unarmed, helpless victims and howl as loud as possible about being abused by that very Israel whose strength no one can dispute.

We can now chance a definition of the verb “To Serb”:

To Serb (verb): To place a country, ethnic group or people in a situation where their designated victims can literally get away with murder yet be portrayed as innocent and virtuous, while they, the designated culprit, can be slandered with impunity, and anything they do is portrayed as as purely evil and motivated by malice.

The mechanisms is simple and effective. It is a staple of 4th Generation warfare, which is conducted mostly as a pantomime for the global mediated masses (public opinion). Perceived weakness is an asset, and perceived strength is a liability. One side is cartoonishly evil, the other saintly and beyond reproach. Simple tropes and characters for a simple media landscape.

So, in summary, the way to defeat your enemy in the 21st Century:

  1. “Serb” your enemy so that their evil become Flat Earth News
  2. Maintain a steady stream of propaganda, disinformation and selective reporting to “top up” the myth of evil applied to your enemy
  3. Attack and otherwise provoke your enemy, relying on your friends in the media to ignore your violence and provocations
  4. When your enemy counter-attacks or resists your violence, cry foul and rely on your friends on the media to portray them as evil and depraved.
  5. Continue to exploit your enemy’s vile reputation in the post-conflict era to cover up and distract attention from your own crimes against them and corruption.


Logarithmic counting

by Limbic on June 7, 2010

I am finally getting around to posting about a wonderful Radio Lab episode about Innate Numbers.

I was particularly fascinated by logarithmic counting, which is how how babies (and people in primitive societies) count before they are taught to count “properly”.

WNYC – Radiolab: Innate Numbers? (October 09, 2009)


Great piece from Charles Crawford, commenting on a review by Adam Thierer of Nicholas Carr’s new book about how the internet is changing our brains:

The general Carr argument is that the immediacy of unlimited communication actually changes the way we think, to the extent of affecting the way our very neural circuits tick:

… fewer and fewer people are likely to be engaged in such contemplative, deep reading activities due to the highly distractive nature of the Internet and digital technologies.

“With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use,” Carr claims. “At the very least, it’s the most powerful that has come along since the book.”

The Net and multimedia “strains our cognitive abilities, diminishing our learning and weakening our understanding” …

…Anyway, does the Internet in fact change our brains?


We read more, but surely we also read less systematically. We get jumpy if we have not checked our emails/texts.

I am struck by the way even serious grown-ups now think there is nothing wrong in abruptly tuning out of a conversation with the person next to them while checking some or other e-device. Go to a park or restaurant and look at people who are ostensibly together in fact ignoring each other, as they tap away on little gadgets or simply talk to people on their mobiles. The remote starts to get more ‘real’ or at least immediate/important than reality.

Read on at: http://www.charlescrawford.biz/blog/the-internet-changes-our-brains


“We fool the world”

by Limbic on June 6, 2010

Great video parody of  “We are the World” , spoofing the Gaza Hamas Aid Flotilla and its “peaceful” intentions.

Also see this bonus video of the UN Watch representative ripping the ass out of the joke that is the UN Human Rights Council.

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Neuromarketing and the Pepsi Paradox

by Limbic on June 5, 2010

Great discussion with Danish science journalist Lorne Frank on “All In The Mind“.

Natasha Mitchell:…the Pepsi paradox: that actually is very interesting isn’t it? In a sense it gets at the neurobiology of branding.

Lorne Frank: That was a study that started off this whole neuromarketing, I think it was in 2004, it’s been known for a long time that there’s this thing called the Pepsi paradox because Coca Cola of course sells much more than Pepsi. But in blind tastings most people will say that they prefer Pepsi, so why do they actually buy Coke? So there’s this guy Clinton Kilts in Georgia who wanted to find out what is going on in the brain, where is branding actually happening, can we pinpoint it somewhere? So he took people and did that blind tasting while they were in a MRI scanner (they just had very, very long straws).

Natasha Mitchell: Is that what they did?

Lorne Frank: Yeah, it looks crazy to see a picture of it, they would be sucking on these straws metres long, and they would guess Pepsi or Coke, and in the first round it was blind tasting, they didn’t know what was what. And you could see the response in the brain and the response to the one, the drink they liked the most, there was more reward, basically, in reward areas.

Natasha Mitchell: It’s a whole sort of circuitry in the brain, it’s no one spot.

Lorne Frank: Everything in the brain is basically circuitry, but there are areas where you can see that will really light up and become active when you ingest something sweet for example—oh, that gives you a reward. And Pepsi is sweeter than Coke, so most people would like that best and it would give the best response, basically. And then in the next round they would tell people, now you’re ingesting Pepsi and now you’re ingesting Coke. And then you would have the same, initially the same kind of reward reaction, but then an area in the front of the brain where we actually do our conscious thinking and whatever would come on. There would be an area that is usually involved when you think about yourself, and you think about what you like in the world. This would come on and would sort of actually convince the reward system that oh no, Pepsi is not the best drink, Coke is the best drink. So the reward would actually be dampened so they would actually trick themselves to like Coke better because of this branding effect that goes on in the thinking part of the brain.

Natasha Mitchell: Real identification with the branding.

Lorne Frank: Yes, this is more me.

In The Mind – 29 May 2010 – It’s a Mindfield! All in the Mind at the
2010 Sydney Writers’ Festival

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Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust

by Limbic on June 5, 2010

Jerry Weinberg is a legend in Project Management and Consulting circles. Here are his 10 Laws of Trust:

1. Nobody but you cares about the reason you let another person down.
2. Trust takes years to win, moments to lose.
3. People don’t tell you when they stop trusting you.
4. The trick of earning trust is to avoid all tricks.
5. People are never liars—in their own eyes.
6. Always trust your client—and cut the cards.
7. Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it.
8. Never promise anything.
9. Always keep your promise.
10. Get it in writing, but depend on trust.

Conferences That Work | Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust


Doomsayers, is it time to retire?

by Limbic on June 5, 2010

Good one from the New York Times on Matt Ridley’s new book “The Rational Optimist“:

Long before “sustainable” became a buzzword, intellectuals wondered how
long industrial society could survive. In “The
Idea of Decline in Western History,”
after surveying predictions
from the mid-19th century until today, the historian Arthur Herman
identifies two consistently dominant schools of thought.

The first school despairs because it foresees inevitable ruin. The
second school is hopeful — but only because these intellectuals foresee
ruin, too, and can hardly wait for the decadent modern world to be
replaced by one more to their liking. Every now and then, someone comes
along to note that society has failed to collapse and might go on
prospering, but the notion is promptly dismissed in academia as happy
talk from a simpleton. Predicting that the world will not end is also
pretty good insurance against a prolonged stay on the best-seller list.

“The Rational Optimist,”
by Matt Ridley. It does much more than debunk the doomsaying. Dr.
Ridley provides a grand unified theory of history from the Stone Age to
the better age awaiting us in 2100.
It’s an audacious task, but he has the intellectual breadth for it… he takes on all of human history, starting with our mysteriously
successful debut. What made Homo sapiens so special? Dr. Ridley argues
that it wasn’t our big brain, because Neanderthals had a big brain, too.
Nor was it our willingness to help one another, because apes and other
social animals also had an instinct for reciprocity.

…“Forget wars, religions, famines and poems for the moment,” Dr. Ridley
writes. “This is history’s greatest theme: the metastasis of exchange,
specialization and the invention it has called forth, the ‘creation’ of

You can appreciate the timesaving benefits through a measure devised by
the economist William D.
: how long it takes the average worker to pay for an hour of
reading light. In ancient Babylon, it took more than 50 hours to pay
for that light from a sesame-oil lamp. In 1800, it took more than six
hours of work to pay for it from a tallow candle. Today, thanks to the
countless specialists producing electricity and compact fluorescent bulbs, it takes less
than a second. That technological progress, though, was sporadic.
Innovation would flourish in one trading hub for a while but then
stagnate, sometimes because of external predators — roving pirates,
invading barbarians — but more often because of internal parasites, as
Dr. Ridley writes:

“Empires bought stability at the price of creating a parasitic court;
monotheistic religions bought social cohesion at the expense of a
parasitic priestly class; nationalism bought power at the expense of a
parasitic military; socialism bought equality at the price of a
parasitic bureaucracy; capitalism bought efficiency at the price of
parasitic financiers.”

Progress this century could be impeded by politics, wars, plagues or climate change, but Dr. Ridley argues that,
as usual, the “apocaholics” are overstating the risks and
underestimating innovative responses.

“The modern world is a history of ideas meeting, mixing, mating and
mutating,” Dr. Ridley writes. “And the reason that economic growth has
accelerated so in the past two centuries is down to the fact that ideas
have been mixing more than ever before.”

Our progress is unsustainable, he argues, only if we stifle innovation
and trade, the way China and other empires did in the past. Is that
possible? Well, European countries are already banning technologies
based on the precautionary principle requiring advance proof that
they’re risk-free. Americans are turning more protectionist
and advocating byzantine restrictions like carbon tariffs.
Globalization is denounced by affluent Westerners preaching a return to

Findings – Doomsayers Beware, a Bright Future Beckons – NYTimes.com


Mulitation-Murders of SA Farmers Continue

by Limbic on June 2, 2010

The Afrikaner Genocide Archives make for grim reading. It documents the ongoing slow motion genocide against white farmers in South Africa.

Today I was reading with genuine horror the case of mutilation of two Afrikaner ladies, Mrs Alice Lotter, 78, and her daughter Ms Helen Lotter, 57:

“I  found two large pieces of her body-fat the size of my hand lying next to her on the kitchen floor where she was found covered in blood.”

“The ‘most cruel crime scene [the responding police] had ever witnessed.”

“Both women were ‘extensively mutilated’. ”

“Helen Lotter’s breasts were also partially cut off and broken bottle-shards were inserted in her vagina and anus as part of the extensive torture she and her mother Alice had endured”

“At the backdoor of the homestead he found a ‘very badly injured Miss Helen Lotter.’ Her face was coated in blood, some of her teeth had been smashed out, she wore a bloodied t-shirt and her naked underbody was covered in blood. A bloodied knife and scissors were found at the scene as well as bloodied beer-glass shards lying near the daughter’s legs.  He found the mother leaning against a dining-room chair, just about to fall over. He gently helped her lie down on the carpet of the living room. She asked him: “Who are you?” while he examined the ‘gaping wounds at her throat, arms and hands,’ he told the court. “


People went and protest the murders at the court case, and the ANC held a counter-demonstration!

I marvel that this issue continues to be effectively ignored domestically and internationally.

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