Friday, 28 March 2008

Wha-? Who turned out the lights?!

There I am, 23:40 or so, watching "Falling Down" on ITV4 (Freeview), and all of a sudden, everything goes dark. I also realise that everything's gone exceptionally quiet as well. No refrigerator chiller unit sounds, no mains-powered clock ticking. nothing. As quiet and dark as the grave. Great, thinks I. Sodding fusebox is on the blink.

Then it dawns on me that there's no light from the street lights coming in from the windows. Oops. Not good. First, find a torch. So, I slowly, carefully, made my way to the bedroom, and fumbled around for the torch I keep on my desk in the corner.

It went something like this... Fumble fumble juggle blindly - of course blindly, there ain't no bleedin' light to be had! - nearly dropped the sucker - ah, got it! Let there be light!

I have a rather decent SureFire Nitrolon G2. Great torch. Not so great if you aren't thinking when you turn the sucker on, of course. 65 Lumens of pure OUCH THAT HURT in the eyes. I wound up standing there for a full minute blinking rapidly, having been staring onto the business end when I turned the blasted thing on. D'OH.

Anyhow, to cut a long story short, I found EDFs number in the phone book, called them up (one of the few 0800 numbers left, I suspect, cheers guys :) Keep the number going!), got answered in nothing flat, told them where I was, and that we'd got a power cut, to be told the wonderful news that many tens of thousands of homes were without power across the borough. Oh 'eck.

Well, he'd been very helpful and efficient, had volunteered information rather than having to be squeezed like a stone for it, so I thanked the lad for the info, and before I could ask how long it'd be before we got power back, the lad on the other end told me they'd been relaxing watching the telly (I didn't ask if it was Falling Down he'd been watching!), when all hell cut lose on the phone - and I was the fiftieth one he'd answered from the same rough area, that they had their engineers trying to figure out what'd happened already, and that they'd get the power back on asap. All in one breath.

Fair enough, thought I, thanked the harried lad, and let him get on with the other several thousand calls on his board. Who the heck knew that a Michael Douglas movie was being watched by so many folks so late at night?!

Anyhow, I decided I needed to get out of the flat for a while, and dropped in on a mate who's another night owl like me (Since we're both radio hams, I called him on the radio first of course, I'm not a completely arrogant wotsit!), and when I got back, about four hours after the power cut, I found the power restored. Well done, EDF! Quick, effective, and little fuss :)

Now if only other firms could learn from that example!

EDIT: Seems the power cut made the news, at least locally... News Shopper

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Free Our Data: Make taxpayers' data available to them

A nice blant this time

The Guardian has had this campaign running for a while now, but not being one of their readership, I'd not noticed it, until I came across it by chance at a forum I'm a member of...

I think that this is one argument we can all agree on (unless you work for OSGB, or are a Government minister of the Exchequer, etc )

Boiled down, the idea is that all government data (not, I hasten to add, classified or sensitive data) should be free for any individual, rather then business, to obtain (by means of electronic download, I hope), to re-use as he or she see fit.

Excellent idea, given that in the main, we've already paid for it through our taxes!

Read the campaign material: It's interesting, and a surprisingly common sense idea for once - if it all comes off, it'll be handy to actually be able to use the stuff we've already paid for!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

It seems Orange are as difficult to get rid of as flies around dog droppings.

It's official. When I'm furious, it takes more than fifteen drafts to get the steam out of my ears.

I've had myriad problems over the last eighteen plus months, with Orange Broadband, but also with their customer disservice people. Such is the extent and rudeness of those folks that I'm attempting to take my business elsewhere, as you probably noticed below. I've got a Broadband "migration activation code" I believe it stands for - coming in the post. THAT was the easy part, for once.

I've been attempting to get a PAC (I'm reliably informed that this stands for Porting Authority Code) for my phone, but they keep telling me I have two months to run on the contract, when I have documentary evidence (see the scan in the previous post on this topic, below) confirming IN WRITING that my contract expired three months ago. Frankly, I do not care for their bully-boy style sales tactics one jot, and the sooner I'm out of there, the happier I'll be. I will not, out of good manners, say what I truly think of them, but you can rest assured that this is one man who will never, ever, recommend their service, or even return to them, at all.

Frankly, they have one final chance to do the decent thing, and admit they're wrong and give me the MAC code, and that will be on Tuesday, since they're likely to be on holiday over this weekend, and I do not fancy raising my blood pressure over the holiday weekend in any case.

Come Tuesday, however, I plan to take the least possible amount of my time over them. Failure on their part means that I cease using their SIM card in my fully paid-for non-contract sim-free phone, go to another [provider (O2, most likely), get a SIM-only deal, and use that number from then on, rather then the mobile number that I've been using for the last ten years or so. Grossly inconvenient that'll be as well, as I'll then have to notify ALL my contacts (well over two hundred) of the change in phone number, and some are bound to be missed off somehow.

Orange will then get my final Direct Debit payment at the end of the month (and you can be certain I'll be checking with the bank that they took the same amount as they claim in the bill this month), for the completed month to the last statement date, whereupon I cancel the Direct Debit, check the billable charges to that point, and send them a cheque in full and final settlement to their Chairmen with a covering letter explaining why. They want any more from me, they can issue a summons, and to hell with them.

That's how steamingly angry I am with those morons at Orange.

Hope that makes things clear

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Writer Arthur C Clarke dies at 90

Arthur C. Clarke died, aged 90, today.

I'll make no bones about this: I'm a Science Fiction nut. I love the stuff. Today, however, is a sad day for the genre in general. One of the best-known authors of our time has passed on. Arthur C. Clarke (click here for a biography and bibliography) is probably best known as the author of the book "Sentinel", better known as "2001: A Space Odyssey". The success of the movie spurred three further books, as readers bought the first book, but only the second novel, without Clarkes' involvement, has been made into a further movie.

Clarkes' novel "Islands in the Sky" is the first Clarke novel I can recall reading. If I recall correctly, I read the book when I was eight or nine. Sci-Fi has always held a fascination for me ever since then. I should say well-written Sci-Fi, really. There's a lot of so-called Sci-Fi that should really be re-categorised as Science Fantasy, not Science Fiction, but Clarke never descended to that level. His novels, always thought provoking, impeccably and intelligently written, were a staple for me into my teens and beyond. With his contemporaries, Isaac Asimov (also sadly departed), Larry Niven (still with us), H. Beam Piper (sadly departed well before his time), and many others, came to epitomise the golden age of science fiction, which Clarke only entered late on in the period; his novel "The Sentinel" was, after all, written for the BBC in 1948 (and rejected, but that's the Beeb for you, nearly always getting it monstrously wrong!).

However late in entering the mainstream he was, enter he did, and with success. His is the British voice who brought us the geosynchronous communications satellite, the HAL-9000, and the Space Elevator - only one of those, in fact, is currently realised - the first. We're close to the second, and if material sciences and finances can meet the challenge, we may even see the third within the next hundred years - hopefully sooner!

Sir Arthur, you'll be missed. Godspeed, sir.

Monday, 17 March 2008

"Steeeeriiiike! Orange, You're outta here!"

For some time, I've been suffering at the hands of Orange Broadband. Their phone service has been marginally reliable, but nothing special, except expensive.

The Broadband service has been, shall we say, patchy at best (and that's being polite). Unplanned outages, yo-yo connections, slow connections, DNS databases woefully out of date (to the extent that I've had to reselect the OpenDNS system to get meaningful web usage), and a complete loss of service for days at a time, only for it to reappear for no apparent reason other than the day of the week may have a 'y' in it (and probably the same reason it went down in the first place, too.

So, I've patiently waited until I've safely been out of contract ties with them before proclaiming that I'll be jumping ship, and could they give me my MAC and PAC (or whatever they're bloody called) codes for the next supplier(s).

Well, first thing, they seem to think I've a 24 month contract with 2 months to go. WRONG. I've an 18 month contract, ran out three months ago, and I've proof. The scan to the left has been quite literally redacted to hide my personal details, EMEI numbers, etc, but you can clearly see that the sales girl at the Croydon Orange shop entered the contract as an 18-month contract, not 24 (excuse the lopped off top left corner. My till receipts and card receipt are stapled there, and there's no way on Gods' Green earth you're seeing those ). So yah-boo-sucks to them, count Number 1.

Next up, since last night, my net connection has been deader than a dodo. Imagine my lack of shock when I discover, the moment I get back from ripping a new rear end in Orange at their shop, that my connection back up and running. Interesting coincidence, that. Not gonna help 'em any, mind. I'm outta there asap anyhow. Yah-boo-sucks to them, count Number 2.

In addition, another Phone provider and ISP has better deals in the table than I'm paying right now; since I've got a perfectly good phone already, all I really need is a SIM Card deal. So, here's one: O2's Simplicity Online 15 plan, plus their web bolt on, and their broad band basic plan (an extra £7.50 per month if you're an O2 customer), which works out ten to twelve quid per month cheaper than what I'm currently paying Orange: This for a contract pay monthly with 30 days notice instead of 18 months minimum, 200 minutes, 400 texts (Orange only give me 200 texts), and unlimited web browsing from my phone via 3G/GPRS, etc. (Orange charge a fiver per megabyte or part thereof). Rude not to bin Orange, the above being the case. Yah-boo-sucks to them, count Number 3.

Three strikes, Orange - You're outta here!

Another site that fails to adhere to web standards and Browser Compatibility...

A freind of mine pointed me to the other day. I only just got around to having a look at it.

Certain categories of video there require you to verify your age. Not unreasonable, that (and no, it's not porn!). Unfortunately, their system is NOT Firefox compatible: I cannot reach the sign up page (called by a malformed JavaScript command), and I point blank refuse to fire up IE just so some lazy webmaster can say he's designed an uber site that all manner of folks visit and enjoy. Even I, when I've designed sites in the past, have included NON-JavaScript navigation alternatives for visitors. I have my principles (not many, I will admit), and I stick to them!

Therefore, I cannot see the videos I wanted to look at.

Thus, they've lost out on another potential premium customer.

Short-sighted, is what it is. Where's Browser Compatibility?

Come to that, where the hell is adherence to web standards?

Answers on a postcard, if you can be bothered to do so!

Don't get me wrong here, I know this is gonna be controversial.

I am not a Cleric - nor do I want to be. Here, however, is my less than holy sermon.

Clergyman in 'hate crime' attack

London bishop's horror at attack

Now, if it had been a 'minority' religion's cleric that had been attacked by white youths, there'd have been a riot by now, burning effigies, flags, and all manner of nastiness, most likely. We saw a similar thing happen in Bradford not so long ago, between what I probably incorrectly remember being two rival groups from different backgrounds, separated by religion.

Now that I've made half of you scream in anger and want to string me up for being another Enoch Powell, give me a little time to explain myself.

I'm far from being a perfect Christian: This I freely admit. I hardly ever turn the other cheek, I've probably committed my share (and then some) of the Mortal Sins, and so on... but I do believe in God.

I also believe that his representatives on this Earth, WHATEVER the religion or creed, are to remain inviolate - that is, untouchable, to be left strictly alone, not to be subjected to violence, and so on: You get the idea.

So. Given the lack of riots, other religions' holy places of worship not being ransacked, and so on infinitum, can we agree that somewhere along the line, certain elements within certain religions will use any excuse to rail against the country that took them, or their elders, in?

Where's the tolerance, folks? Where's the respect for ones' fellow man?

More to the point, even though there was no protest riot after the dastardly deed was done, are you going to shop the cowardly oiks that attacked a Christian cleric on holy ground, or are you going to keep being a small, but loud, bunch of small-minded Hypocrites, bending your religions Holy Words to your own twisted ends, or are you finally going to see that community spirit, the obeyance of English law, and the respect to others to continue to practice their own ways, like the vast majority of your fellow folks, is the way forward?

I would remind you of an oxymoron: "Shoot all Extremists".

Here endeth the Sermon. Go in peace. AFTER you've shopped the youths responsible for this outrage.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, 14 March 2008

*sigh*... Month number three on the inactivity listing for the sick :(


Renewal time for my sick note, it seems. There I was, ready for my quack - ahem, sorry, Doctor - to sign me back as ready for light duties, but no, he's still not happy with my blood pressure - despite it being a healthy 120/70 this time. So, he's raising one of my prescription doses, and signing me off for another month, with the comment "Let's see how we do in a fortnight".

What's with the "We" bit, Doc? Did you have this heart attack? nope, I did.

Are you the one going terminally insane from climbing the walls in boredom at home most of the time? No. I am.

Are you, perhaps, going terminally nucking futs from walking a mile a day or more to get my ticker in shape? No. I am, though. It's the same bloody scenery every day: Only the bleedin' weather changes.

Unlike a lot, it seems from the news, of those of us 'on the sick', I actually WANT to get back to earning a living, rather than collecting sick pay (although this might have more than a smidgen to do with company sick pay being, well, crap, in a word).

At least the Depot Inspector (Service Delivery Officer to give him his correct title!) was a bit more civilised that the Allocations guy last time (he's a good bloke, really!). While I was in the surgery getting the "Authority to continue to be a layabout" chit, he phoned me on my mobile. I'd naturally switched it off, as I was in a medical centre, and they frown on mobile phones being left on in places like that. Something about mobiles messing with medical equipment. I think it's probably more to do with horrifyingly banal and repetitive ring tones, but that's only my opinion, of course!

Cheerily, he left a message: "Coming back tomorrow, mate? Phone me on my mobile or at the depot, please!"

Less than cheerily, I phoned him back after getting out of the surgery. "I'm coming in to give you my latest chit. See you in a little while"

Didn't faze him a bit. Mind you, he did have a minor pop at me (he wouldn't be a Garage Inspector if he didn't take the opportunity!). "Gods, you've put on weight!"

Tell me sommat I didn't know, mate! It's the giving up smoking that did it. Next up: Crash diet (when the doc says it's OK to do so, that is. Don't want another bloody heart attack, do I?!)

So. here I am, later the same day. Writing my blant, and wondering just what the hell I'm gonna do for another month (maybe only a fortnight... yeah, right).

I'll write a fair few more blants, I guess.

I mean, what else am I apparently allowed to do? Answers on a postcard to the usual place, please!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

An Open Letter to the TomTom Board of Directors...

Dear TomTom Board of Directors,

Nice going, folks: Your execrable, scatologically-laden, intransigent, lacklustre, and frankly fluid-poor attitude to your customer base is even more arrogant than Microsoft, and that takes one hell of a of of work to achieve, as I'm sure you will readily agree. There ought to be an industry award for such an achievement.

In any event, I'm a man of my word. You have had eighteen months to fix your ways and actively support your last PPC/Smartphone product, as other GPS Navigation software producers have remarkably noticeably been doing for theirs. You did not.

I personally gave you, in this very place, until the end of CeBIT 2008 to make any form of statement regarding the PPC and/or Smartphone versions of your navigation software (at this time of writing, at version 6), and yet you continue to neglect to inform your customers why you were and continue to fail to support said product range.

18 months is long enough a piece of time-based rope with which to hang yourselves. As customer service and Press Relations exercises go, that's one monumentally massive failure to communicate, and that's putting things rather mildly.

As a result of your complete and utter failure in this regard, and as strongly pointed out in my earlier post in this very place, I will no longer purchase your products, and will, come the time to replace or upgrade my current satnav (TomTom version 6 for PPC), furnish one of TomTom's several competitors with my custom instead.

"No loss, there are plenty more suckers out there who'll part with their cash to us", you might say: I beg to differ. Word of mouth alone is a powerful marketing weapon. Rest sincerely and firmly assured: I will be using my mouth against your products to anyone who'll listen. That, by the way, stands to be quite a lot of people. I'm no slouch in the friends department. Viral negative marketing (of which this open letter is an example) is even more powerful. You'd be amazed at the numbers of people who read other people's blogs.

So, you have achieved something of note, after all. From being a loyal customer ready to plug your products to all and sundry, I am now diametrically positioned the other way: I will actively steer potential customers away from your products now, and for the foreseeable future.

Nice job, guys: It takes a really special talent to hack off a loyal customer like that.

Yours sincerely,

Roger [DELETED for privacy]
Formerly loyal TomTom customer.

PS: I doubt I'm the only former TomTom customer who feels this way. I am however, I suspect the first to put it into quite the scathing and sarcastic words that you see above. Look to your share price, ladies and gents. I suspect it might take a hit in a while from lack of sales.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Wake up and smell the coffee, TomTom - you're about to lose a customer.

CeBIT is the annual new tech show for all manner of consumer gadgets, including but not limited to computers, phones, and so on.

Now, for the last 18 months, I've been using a very good PPC - that's Pocket PC, which has the added advantage of being a phone and GPS as well. It's the iPAQ HP HW6915 Navigator. I've got lots of software on there, but the one I use the most in the car is the satnav, in the current case, TomTom version 6. And in the last 18 months, that's all I've been able to get for TomTom. No upgrades to 7, or 8 (the current personal Navigation Device standard for TomTom, by the way): Version 6 was the last version of TomTom for Pocket PCs and Smartphones in general.

Now, there have been rumours one way and the other regarding TomTom,and the features on the PNDs they have recently released are all well and good (such as Mapshare, providing the facility to automatically update maps from user uploaded reports, and so on), but nothing whatsoever in support of currently loyal customers, like me, who have TT v6 on their PPCs or Smartphones, and we are, it must be remembered, a reasonably large percentage of their customer base.

So, when I heard that TomTom had released a statement at the daily press conference at CeBIT (if you're there, you can harangue them at CeBIT Hall 15, Stand E14), I was all ears. Unfortunately, TomTom's response was basically "we've never left people in the cold for too long but there are no announcements regarding the navigator software today."

In the words of the person reporting this, they were saying STOP WORRYING.

Boiled down to "stop worrying" is it?

This after an utter age - 18 months or more - of literally zero comments regarding their either continuing support or lack of support for the PPC/PDA platforms. In the ever-so-slightly cleaned up vernacular, they're taking the bodily fluids with that one.

Now, a friend mentioned to me that it's probably cheaper for them to support their own PNDs than to support PPC/PDA software. This is NOT the issue. The issue at hand is whether they are going to continue, or not continue, to support what has, until now, been a very loyal customer base with PDAs and PPCs. The lack of information from one of the biggest companies in this market is frankly insulting to those of us with such equipment, and speaks highly of their complete and utter contempt for us - especially when you consider that we've spent a large sum of money with this company; TomTom v6 cost me close to a ton (£100) in the shops when I bought it, but that was 18 months ago, when TTv6 was the latest TomTom version out, and thus was more costly. Now it can be seen going for as little at sixty-odd quid in the on-line shops: That's purely due to TomTom Personal Navigation Devices (PNDs) having later versions (now at CeBIT, it's v8, it seems) of the software on board.

The tragic thing about all this, is that they've made an industry bench-mark product, used by tens of thousands of people around the world. To my mind, this means that they have a certain level of responsibility to continue to support their products. Sorry if this sounds silly to some, but I have really had enough of companies and their scatological levels, and attitudes of, and to, customer support. TomTom appears to be one such company, and I'm sure I'm not alone in my perception of this.

So, it's crunch time for me. Do I continue to have a slim to zero hope that this SatNav provider will continue to support my ageing software with new versions of it, or do I move to another, more visibly supportive supplier? The answer's quite obvious when you put it that way, isn't it?

My decision has been a while brewing (the last few months, in fact), and is therefore reasonably well thought out. For my part (I can't speak for you, of course), TT have until the end of CeBIT to announce one way or the other that they will continue to provide PPC/PDA software on general release - not just specific pre-loaded PPC/PDAs and phones - or I for one will be voting with my wallet, and looking to support a different satnav software provider when it comes time to renew my kit.

There y'go, TomTom. Forewarned is forearmed. Not that I expect to see any announcements for us TT v6 licence holders, but if you do, make the announcement a good one.