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31 December 2006

Auld Lang Syne

Anyone looking for the lyrics and the original tune to which Burns set the lyrics for tonight can find them at this minimalist page on auld lang syne I put together many years ago.

Happy new year. Bliadhna mhath ùr!

16 December 2006

Good Honest Coffee

I was out for a coffee in Edinburgh last week and as usual was presented with the now mandatory bewildering range on offer. It's gone from being a "would you like milk or sugar" to "please take a look at the menu that resembles something from a Chinese restaurant".

I like cold milk in my coffee otherwise it's far too hot to drink and takes too long.
Like my wine and whisky, I don't feel much of a need to add froth or other flavourings such as chocolate, vanilla etc.

So all I want is a bog standard black filter coffee with cold milk in it. I'm sure that in amongst the range of fancy names of coffee on offer, that there must be a name for this particular brew. Traditional coffee? Regular coffee? But how do you make sure that it doesn't get warm frothy milk in it (warm milk is what I feed a baby and is nice to send them to sleep rather than wake you up!)

How about an Honest Coffee (tm) anyone?

The person I was meeting to discuss jobs had the same preference in coffee. Maybe I'm not the only one that needs more Honest Coffee?

Craig

14 December 2006

London Underground overheating

This will be my first blog post from the PDA and as I type this I am on a very warm London underground in the middle of December. I can well believe the horror stories of overheating in the summer, especially during rush hour and three trainloads of people queuing ahead of you before you can get on a train,

The problem is caused by hotter air in the Tube failing to rise (as hot air does) quickly enough, coupled with insufficient cooler air from outside replacing it, and insufficient air circulation generally, especially within the trains when the doors are closed. I offer the following as a possible solution and welcome comments on it.

1. Have a system which derives at least part of its power from solar energy.

2. Pump cooler air from outside (possibly augmented by air conditioning) into the gaps between stations such that it flows along the lines, pushed by the trains, into stations. Said air could be sucked in from the street level drainage system.

3. Complete the air cycle by using fans to suck the air out of stations by installing such vans in escalator shafts.

4. Dramatically improve the circulation in trains by having air scoops at the front of the train (where there is high pressure) and feeding this into each carraige separately via units in the carriage ceiling - there is currently a fair bit of spare headroom there that could be put to better use.

5. Install ceiling fans with mesh guards in carriages.

My 2p worth anyway, Ken Livingston are you listening?

12 December 2006

Search for accommodation in London?

When attempting to use the Internet to search for accommodation in London, it seems that despite 10+ years of e-commerce no-one appears to have a usable website to do this basic activity adequately. Perhaps I'm missing something here but I tried the popular sites, I tried various terms on Google, I tried various types of searches but nothing was adequate.

What I was looking for:

1. An en-suite double room in Greater London, ideally within about 5 miles of the City of London.

2. Less than £60 a night, including breakfast. This appears to be too complicated for some sites since some quote you without breakfast and then add it on as a surcharge.

3. Available on the night I want to stay. This is again a problem for some sites that do a cursory search then only check availability when you actually go to book the room only to find there isn't a room available to book. Other sites tell you they will get back to you by email in one business day, which is no use at short notice.

4. Wi-fi access would be a bonus but no-one seems to have invented a way of searching for it yet.

5. A place which has been favourably reviewed would obviously be good as many of the cheaper hotels are reviewed as dirty and substandard. Being able to filter for positively reviewed places rather than getting Fawlty Towers would be great. It would be even better if I could filter out the comments that were in languages I don't speak.

6. Searching by star grading would be a bonus, but isn't essential

7. A check in time of 1pm or earlier is a bonus, but isn't essential

8. Clearly the capability of quoting you an entire price, including any applicable credit card booking fee, is beyond the capability of any website in the year 2006 so I gave up on that one.

9. Being able to look at the matching results and see where they all were on a map is a very big usability bonus.

10. Being able to search for somewhere that has a shower. Saying there are en-suite facilities is not enough as some places are bath only.


Having spent ages wasting my time searching the various sites, the only one that even came remotely close to doing 1-3 and actually had available accommodation within my price range (and it has feature 9 too) was priceline. So there you go. Maybe there is a better search out there that can look for cheap availability but I couldn't find it. If anyone knows of one, please let me know.

I eventually found somewhere that was £40 for a double room including breakfast but some of the reviews are rather mixed so we'll see how it goes. I would have paid a bit more if I could have actually found somewhere suitable.

One positive thing from all of this is it's given me a really great idea for a Web2.0 start-up and no, it isn't an accommodation search.

Craig

28 November 2006

Crowdsourcing for consumer products - Web 2.0 hits manufacturing?

Crowdspirit launch on Techcrunch. Using Web 2.0 collaboration for inventing and improving consumer electronic products.

read more | digg story

CrowdSpirit - crowdsourcing for consumer products

CrowdSpirit: Using Web 2.0 to transform product creation and distribution

Today sees the launch of the first public beta of the CrowdSpirit site, an international venture based in Scotland (Edinburgh) and France (Paris and Grenoble), which couples the power of crowds and the collaboration of Web 2.0 to reinvent the supply chain and product development cycle.

CrowdSpirit has been created to resolve the problem of popular consumer products taking too long to reach the market place, not always being in tune with the public's needs and being unduly held up trying to find a route to market. Even The Beatles, JK Rowling and the inventor of the wind up radio all had significant problems setting up a supply chain to get their market leading products in front of an adoring public. It is not in the inventor's or the public's interest for it to be so difficult.

CrowdSpirit believes that the general public and not commercial interests are the best advisers on novel product creation and are targeting the field of electronic products to turn their revolutionary manufacturing vision into reality.

A joint venture between veterans of the IT and electronics business in the UK and France and Grenoble EM, CrowdSpirit is harnessing the "power of crowds" to allow inventors and adapters of technology to take their products to market via a collaborative distribution channel which overcomes many of the difficulties that inventors have faced in the past. Furthermore this distribution channel provides opportunities for inventors, developers, distributors and manufacturers to contribute at different stages to enable the supply chain.

This is Crowdsourcing taken to the marketplace and has been hailed by Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com, as "The next wave". Analysts believe the concept of product creation by companies that dynamically build the supply chain could be set to change the world of business. Sometimes labelled as 'prosumerism', Web 2.0 allows it to happen.

Web 2.0 has seen a massive generation of on-line content from blogs and video challenging traditional media companies. With the recent YouTube sale and the rapid movement of TV companies putting content on-line, Web 2.0 has only just begun. The media is, however, just one consumer space. CrowdSpirit is targeting the electronics sector initially and other sectors could follow as the Web 2.0 revolution extends outwards from on-line content through one consumer market after another.

Further Details

Business Model and the
team profile

Contact: the team by email on team@crowdspirit.org, or
Tel+[33] 6 86 87 25 49

17 October 2006

Lost

I am fed up with complaining about Multimap having incorrect data and failing to do anything about it. Five years of complaining about street names being wrong and no action. A public name and shame would seem to be in order and details of their SLA would be appreciated so that I can set a recurring reminder at the appropriate interval to kick their collective butts again.

Is it beyond the capabilities of an industry leading site to at least check the street names against the post office database?

Craig

11 October 2006

Biggart Baillie Innovation Award 2007

Calling all innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs in Scotland - the Biggart Baillie Innovation Award 2007 launches today.

Brief terms and conditions:

There is no limit to the number of entries an individual can submit but each entry can only be submitted for one category.

All entrants must:

  • Have an idea which is a first or an innovative twist on an old idea

  • Clearly demonstrate how it is unique

  • Be resident in Scotland

  • Be over 18 years of age

  • Be willing to participate in publicity around their ideas and the award



See the link for more details.

Craig

10 October 2006

Is "too experienced" the new ageism?

I applied for a job recently which would have been a slight step up the career ladder. The job was excellent and I was really excited about applying. I tailored my CV accordingly the agent liked it and thought I was a great match and after 2 weeks the company reported back that despite my impression that it was a step up the career ladder and it was a bigger package than I am currently on that they rejected me because they felt I was "too experienced".

Is this a euphemism for "too old" I wonder? I don't feel too experienced when shovelling horse shit each night when I clean the stable. I don't feel too experienced when I do the manual work around the house. I also don't feel too experienced being versatile enough to step in and do all sort of work that comes my way so long as it gets the job done for the company?

Too experienced? Is there such a thing? If I think I'm a good match for the job, the agency thinks I'm a good match for the job is it not better for a discussion to happen regarding whether the employer feels I'm too experienced or not rather than a flat rejection? After all, what some women prefer when returning from having a baby is an easier job with more flexible hours, less stress and a better work-life balance. Are they also rejected for taking a step back because they are "too experienced" ?

Well if the company wants me to run a multi billion pound company then fair enough I'll take the job, but really being a project manager would be just fine for me thanks. It would be a great job, would be a career move for me and would allow me to balance the day job and doing an MBA. Perhaps after 2 years I might be too experienced then, but 2 years is a long time to look around for a promotion.

My experience, as well as feedback from agencies and the experiences of other candidates indicate that recruitment is easily the most inefficient process when running a business. How can it be made to work more smoothly?

Crowdsourcing

The crowdsourcing revolution is coming. Read the blog. Official website launching shortly.

08 October 2006

The great business rip off

My bank wrote to me this week offering me a deal - a credit card in the name of my Ltd company and with no annual charge. Shock horror I thought to myself, has the world gone mad? On further reading I found the card was only free for the first year but there would be a £25 charge each year after that.

Lets do a few comparisons

Personal credit card with the bank: Free
Business credit card with the bank: £25.
Perhaps they don't appreciate that most people will get get another personal credit card for free and use that if they want to keep their business transactions separate?

A few more examples:
Personal banking with the bank: Free
Business banking with the bank: Charge per transaction

And finally:
Cost of filing annual (tax) return with the inland revenue: Free
Cost of filing annual return with companies house: £30 (£15 electronically). Criminal offence if you don't pay.

Why are companies seen as such an easy target for these rip off charges? They only result in costs being passed onto the general public. Is the £4.35bn profit that the bank makes per year not enough?

06 October 2006

Veiled confusion

So the biggest story of the last 24 hours has been Jack Straw politely requesting Muslim women not to wear a veil. Certainly Jack Straw got the debate he wanted. However I have a few questions.

1. Despite the apparent controversy raging in the media, many of the Muslims interviewed have been men. Excuse me, but it's not men that are being asked to lower the veil. Would I ask a bunch of men their opinion on whether bras were too tight? Could we ask the BBC for more female opinions please?

2. In all the time that Jack has been asking women, they have been free to refuse and none have done so. Does this not imply that the real people objecting are the men who wish to subjugate women to the status of dressing up according to their ideals rather than what the women want? Is this acceptable in a Western Society which advocates equality?

3. If women are choosing to dress this way, why is it that the toilet on air flights out of strictly Muslim countries is full for the first hour of the flight while women change into normal clothes?

4. If we force people to show their face at passport control, is a polite request in an MPs surgery really so controversial? What if veiled women want to go into a bank which has a big sign saying "Motorcyclists please remove your helmet'. Is it not seen as a security risk that a bloke could dress in a veil to rob a bank? The identity parade could be quite interesting. Also, what is going to happen when ID cards become mandatory?

5. If western, non Muslim, women don't cover their heads in Muslim countries or drive a car in Saudi Arabia, they face arrest. Westerners MUST conform to Muslim ideals in Muslim countries. If we had the same attitude here we'd be forcing Muslim women to go around half naked in summer like most Western women. The fact that we don't is a sign that we are a tolerant society, so why is it so controversial just to ask the question or removing a veil? We enshrine freedom of speech in this country and not being allowed to ask the question or have a debate on it is an attack on this right.

6. If a Muslim woman comes to collect a child from school and is wearing a veil, how do you know it is her and not a kidnapper?

7. Supposing you employ a Muslim woman wearing a veil at work and you employ a deaf person. The deaf person will not be able to work with the Muslim woman as they will be unable to lipread. If the deaf person can't do their job as a result, they could sue under the Disability Discrimination Act. The Muslim woman could sue under Religious Discrimination. Who is right?

8. The Muslim custom of wearing a veil could be considered the Islamic equivalent of men in western countries wearing ties. Neither is in fact prescribed by any religion. Both are long standing customs that allow the wearer to conform to other peoples ideals of dress. When we accept men in this country without ties to be equal to those that do and do not force any man to wear a tie at work then we will be in a much better position to judge the dress codes of other nations and religions when we have learned to accept people for who they are, not how they dress. Is the request for women to show their faces a parallel of expecting male politicians not to hide their mouth behind a beard?

9. Why is it that because an extremely tiny proportion of radical Muslims advocate violence and terrorism that suddenly every story concerning Muslims suddenly becomes a major crisis point? Did we react the same way towards all Irish people and carefully consider their point of view when the IRA was terrorising London. No. You can just imagine the nonsense that would ensue if Irish jokes were banned following an IRA bomb. Double standards?

10. If you look at the BBC debate on this point you'll see that the vast majority of people think on the BBC forum think that Jack Straw is right. If the BBC was reporting this in a balanced way, their TV reports could perhaps give some more objective analysis of this discussion by conducting an opinion poll amongst both the public at large and the people affected, namely Muslim WOMEN. Then we would be able to look at the issue objectively rather than the endless vox pops we've been getting where one person who disagrees with Jack seems to be speaking for the entire Muslim community when clearly the position is likely to be a lot more complex than that. In the struggle for so called balanced reporting, are the views of a small minority being over emphasised?

Can we have faith in more objective discussion on this or will the BBC continue to cover it up?

02 October 2006

Scotland and TechCrunch

We were mentioned on TechCrunch UK today. Watch this space for news on relaunching meetings for Scottish entrepreneurs and investors.

28 September 2006

Recommended job search site

As someone currently looking for a job, (anyone hiring for Technical Lead / IT Manager or CTO at the moment?) I have been using a wide variety of job search sites with mixed results. Incase anyone else is in the same situation, the site I have found that consistently returns the most relevant results and has the most flexible search (especially for Scotland) is ScotRecruit, the Scottish branded version of Jobsite who brand themselves as "The original, award-winning UK job search and jobs by email service". I guess my computerised job matching service I thought up in 1989 and got an award for in the Shell Livewire competition and my picture in the local paper doesn't count then? :-)

Seriously folks, there are loads of sites out there. Try this one first.

They have even lead the field and created a very useful page on the age discrimination legislation which is about to come into force in the UK.

25 September 2006

Worst contact centre award

Having been on hold to the Orange contact centre (I guess that's what you would call it, I might call it a non-contact centre) for approx 2 hours and still not been able to speak to anyone, I would like to nominate Orange wwww.orange.co.uk for the worst contact centre of the year award. I've already been transferred 5 times on the call I'm on and I've comfortably managed to log into blogger, enter this article and post it in between the last two transfers.

Congratulations Orange, by the time you connect me you'll be able to read this article I'm just about to point you to.

So will everyone else on the Internet, including your prospective customers.

My site gets tens of thousands of visitors a month and through this blog is syndicated on many RSS feeds. Enjoy the publicity.

18 September 2006

Religious Miracle

In new developments in the Pope Vs Islam story, this breaking news just in.

Muslim leaders, many of whom accepted the Pope's apology, are now concerned that the violence of recent days is now getting out of hand. Certainly the murdering of a nun and the firebombing of churches are against the core message of Islam which is a peaceful religion.

Noone wants to see the good name of Muslims tarnished by a tiny percentage of followers which use their religion as an excuse for violence and illegal acts.

The leaders go on to say that they understand how the West can often find it difficult to understand Muslims when the press pick on events like this and give the impression that Muslims will take to violence and illegal acts despite all that is said in the holy books regarding respect and understanding.

In order that the violence of recent days is put in its proper context, the religious leaders of Muslim groups and nations are today calling for an end to the illegal violence and are organising peaceful marches and protests, filled with the peaceful believers who comprise the majority of the Muslim faith and whose peaceful values and respect for other human beings are being misrepresented by the media focus on a few violent and isolated protests. This mass statement, which will emphasise the peaceful nature of Islam will be a silent protest against the Muslim minority who seek to misrepresent the faith as a whole.


Praise Be This Miracle.

16 September 2006

Religious clarification

I was going to write a longish blog about the Vatican braces for Muslim anger reports.

However, I found this quote from the Dilbert Blog sums it up:

My favorite story of the week is about Pope Benedict inadvertently insulting Islam in a speech. He quoted a Byzantine emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman” but made it clear that it wasn’t his own opinion.

In response to being labeled evil and inhuman by a dead Byzantine emperor, a group of Muslims did what anyone would do in that situation: They firebombed two churches in the West Bank.

This is funny on so many levels that I hardly know where to start.


Maybe we need to breed more atheists?.

Seriously, isn't it great how the Pope can issue a religious text to clarify what he said so that we can understand it better. Just think of the fun that would ensue if we could treat the bible the same way.

How about this for a starter

"Dear faithful. I thought up this religion to impose some order and fairness on early civilisation. Now that you have learnt these rules and adapted your own, you need not be bound by what was written in a dated book 2000 years ago, especially as society has moved on since then. Kindly disregard the stuff about the universe being created in 6 days and women and gays being inferior. Yes, you can have equal rights, that's what I meant really.

I hope you don't meet up with sentient beings from other planets in the future, because I completely ommited that in the bible, sorry everyone makes mistakes even those with complete power over time and space."

08 September 2006

We won blog of the day

The author of Blog of the Day came across this site in a search and picked us for the award! If anyone knows of any other blog awards then please feel free to submit the site :-)

View the award

Subsequent to winning that award, we also won this blog of the day award.

Craig

07 September 2006

American dates and 11th September

Why do Americans write dates backwards?

This is article the first about writing dates backwards. The one after this will be article the second. If I write eleven, the eleventh one will be article the eleventh.

No, wait a minute. Won't it be "the first article","the second article" and "the eleventh article"? If it's days of advent, it's the first day of advent not advent the first. In a few days it will be the eleventh day this month. The _eleventh_day_of_the_month. It makes sense, so much more so than reversing it to say day the eleventh. So why will everyone in the US write it backwards as September the 11th rather than something that is consistent with other American English usage, and say the 11th of September?

Let me remind you of an American film. "Born on the fourth of July". Not "Born on July 4th".

Let me remind you of an American song.

I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy, A Yankee Doodle do or die.
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam's Born on the Fourth of July.
George M. Cohan


Despite the fact that July 4th wouldn't rhyme, it seems that Americans can write the day the other way round, when it suits them.

Take a look at numbers

12345. Twelve thousand, three hundred and forty five. The digits go left to right in order of decreasing significance.

Or a UK date

7th September 2006. The elements go left to right in order of increasing significance.


Now a US date

07/09/2006. 7th of September or 9th of July? If the latter, it's the only number I know of that has the least significant element in the middle rather than the end.

It's worrying that this practice is spreading to the UK. After all, if people get mixed up with dates written "best before 08/07/06" on medicine and they think this means August the 7th, they might get a surprise if it really meant the 8th of July.

Especially in the run up to the 11th of September, the UK media is now uniformly calling it "9/11" rather than "11/9". We don't need this confusion in the UK as well, it's bad enough as a programmer trying to deal with US jumbled dates without people in the UK using two date systems at the same time.

That's my grumble anyway. What will I be doing on 11th September? Preparing for my 2nd daughter's 5th birthday the next day. That's daughter the 2nd, birthday the 5th in American format :-)

06 September 2006

Gordon Brown: Last prime minister of the UK?

It seems almost a foregone conclusion that Gordon Brown will succeed Tony Blair as Prime Minister. Without a vote from the public, without him seeing even lead his own party, the most powerful person in the land will be replaced next year with a process approaching a coronation rather than a meaningful contest. Such is the nature of UK democracy.

I have nothing against Gordon Brown as an individual, and under normal circumstances after the Iraq war I think many would be grateful for some change at the top to draw a line under that episode. I also think that he's done a decent if uninspired job as chancellor and although his Chancellorship has seen the longest period of sustained economic growth in UK history, 4 years of this was under the Tories and there has been general growth worldwide, not just in the UK.

However, there is a big difference between being a capable number cruncher, largely keeping quiet, and an inspired leader.

Recently, the Labour defeat in the Dunfermline and West Fife 2006 by-election, after a campaign largely led by Gordon Brown in a constituency in which he lives, cast doubt on his ability to win elections on his own. As a Westminster politician, he has no authority over issues such as transport which are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Yet, he became involved in devolved issues by stating these, would be reconsidered and he would build a new bridge. Seven months later, the tolls are still £1 and cause traffic jams as cars build up to queue at the tolls. Tolls which are decades behind other countries, that have long since implemented automatic toll collection schemes.

Since Fife is the only place in Scotland with bridge tolls, why not just remove them?

Here's some more examples of things that need simplified:

Class 2 national insurance contributions. £2.10 a week. Why bother? It probably costs as much to collect it and chase the non payers as any benefit derived from it.

National Insurance. It’s an income tax by any other name. Get rid of it by merging it with Income Tax.

Child Tax rebates. An excuse to spend millions of pounds on an IT system that doesn’t work. An excuse to miscalculate payments and overpay people who can’t afford to pay it back. An idea that was singularly unoriginal and was copied from the US, complete with all the bureaucracy that goes with it. It wastes £1.3 billion per year. The lack of joined up IT means that you have to fill in the figures for your earnings rather than just looking it up on the tax return computer.

Car Tax. What a bureaucratic nightmare that is and how much money is wasted on chasing payment, filling in forms, advertising on TV and paper shuffling. I couldn’t buy my current car because of the car tax nightmare. The previous owner was registered disabled and had registered the car as owned by a disabled person. They don’t pay car tax and so the vehicle was exempt. I go to buy the car, pay for the tax at the post office and can’t because the system won’t accept my full payment as the vehicle is recorded as being exempt. I can’t pay nothing either because I don’t have disabled exemption. So a 100 mile round trip was necessary in another car (remember, mine isn’t taxed) to the regional licensing centre and someone has to stand in a queue and sort it all out. Is this helping Britain to keep moving? Unnecessary journeys and paper shuffling? For goodness sake if you want disabled people to be exempt from paying them to register themselves on the vehicle licensing computer and then they get the exemption, after all it’s the person who is claiming the exemption, not the car.

Inheritance tax. See this article in the Scotsman calling the government's tax changes “grossly unfair”. This is in a country where many middle earners pay 40% income tax + 9% national insurance whilst at the same time the super rich like the Rolling Stones pay a derisory 1.9% tax on income. Surely we should have a fairer tax system than this?

Pensions. We have a pensions crisis but is the £160,000,000,000 hole in pension funds due to taxation helping to fix the problem or making it bigger?

Lets be prudent he says. Not when it comes to splashing out on Iraq. Or the millennium Dome. Or IT fiascos costing hundred of millions of pounds. How many hospitals would that misplaced prudence buy the nation?

The risk here is that unless Labour is inspirational, it will only feed into the hands of their main opposition - namely the Tories in England and the SNP in Scotland. If Labour does not want to lose the Scottish elections in 2007 then now is the time to act.

It could be that Gordon Brown is the one who indirectly delivers independence for Scotland. We live in interesting times.

Government demonstrates IT incompetence yet again

BBC NEWS | Politics | £141m benefits computer shelved: "It is the latest in a long series of computer problems for the government."

Too right. I put this onto Reddit with some rather choice language and it made the front page.

The government even has a Project Management method called PRINCE2 and a site all about it. So was the method at fault for the £140m problem or the people in charge? Why in the light of these overruns is there no accountability? After all, the 2nd First Minister of Scotland was forced to resign over a sum which is a tiny fraction of the above.

Lets not forget the £6.8Bn NHS upgrade overruns, the ID card running into delays and overruns, 1 month after I said it would and of course the gun register unfit for purpose 10 years on.

Clearly the taxpayer should be expecting better value for money in these projects so that instead of funding overruns the money can be spent on schools, hospitals, etc.

05 September 2006

Rip off Britain

There are so many examples I could give to illustrate Rip Off Britain. Ever since I first went to the US in the 1970s, many consumer goods are so much cheaper there.

Clearly over priced goods have an effect on the economy as people will buy less of them. I am interested in other examples of rip off Britain and the government's stance on this.

Here's my example from something I was looking to buy:

WN311B PCI card for NetGear router: Typical UK price £113 plus postage

Now compare it with the US: Typical US Price $96

The US price in dollars is cheaper than the UK price in pounds.

Now for a more direct comparison. Convert the US price to pounds £50.67. Add the rip off tax known as VAT (no sales tax applicable on US internet sales remember). This would make the US price with VAT £59.53. Lets call this £60.00

So the UK Rip Off margin is (113-60)/60 * 100 = 88%. 88% markup!!

Alleged cost of importing and postage $53

And of course where there is no importing or postage, the differential is even less excusable. In this BBC article on iTunes pricing, the UK price is 55% higher than the US price and 93% higher than the Canadian price.

Welcome to Rip Off Britain

Early History:
The UK Internet list, 1992, founded to keep UK Internet prices low.
Rip off prices in 1992
Rip off prices in 1993
More rip off prices in 1993
Rip off prices in 1995

Since Labour came to power, we have
Rip off insurance APR, 1999 and
High training prices 2006, because we're worth it?

Who is responsible for ensuring Britain stays competitive?

02 September 2006

The VisitScotland connection and jobhunting

Trying a bit of reverse marketing here to see whether posting to Google Groups: uk.jobs.wanted and also to Ebay.co.uk in an unconventional attempt to get me ahead of the crowd and in front of the right people. After all, with so many agencies not even bothering to acknowledge receipt of a CV or follow up, it's one way to get remembered. Many just ignore you. Some respond. One major agency however has contacted me through some third parties and commented "I would like to congratulate you on such a fantastic CV", which is certainly a lot more feedback and effort than others put in. So I'm reciprocating the effort and rather than just emailing the agency to say thanks I'm taking a few hours out of my day to meet them in person.

Maybe if other agencies were as attentive, they might get further. Back to the VisitScotland connection or visitscotland.com where I currently work - if only job searches were as flexible as the accommodation searches we've designed for that site then job hunting would be so much easier.

Craig

31 August 2006

Why Won't God Heal Amputees?

Following on from my Wiki Religion proposal, I came across a great site that makes us think about religion, a truly excellent work. Please read Why Won't God Heal Amputees?

Cancer Research UK : Linlithgow Relay For Life

Anyone in the Linlithow area at the weekend, please come along to the Cancer Research UK : Linlithgow Relay For Life which we're supporting. Joscelin will be selling some of her handmade Scottish jewellery and doing some face painting to raise money for cancer research and I'll be keeping the children out of trouble! Hope you can pop in and say hello for a good cause.

Craig

27 August 2006

SNP set to seize power at Holyrood

As reported in Scotland on Sunday today. Blogging it here as the BBC has completely ignored the story. Rather than covering a story that would mean the start of break up of the UK next year, we are treated to another episode of the Tony Blair when will he go soap opera. Ah, good old English Broadcasting Company!

Scotsman.com News - Politics - Poll: SNP set to seize power at Holyrood: "ALEX Salmond is on track to take Scotland to the brink of independence, according to a startling new poll which shows the SNP has opened up a clear lead over Labour.

With just eight months to go until the Holyrood elections, the party has established a four-point lead over its nearest rivals, and appears to be pulling away."

25 August 2006

World gone nuts

The scene: A person on vacation walks into a late night store to buy some nuts.
Present: The person, a shop assistant and a selection of tasty nutty snacks placed out of reach.


The story goes something like this

Shopper: I fancy a bag of salted peanuts, do you have any?

Assistant: You look under 21, can I see some ID?

Shopper: What the? Well, all I've got is my driving licence

The shopper shows his driving licence to the assistant, who checks it

Assistant: Thank you John <funny middle name john would rather not use> Doe, I see you're old enough to buy nuts, but unfortunately due to strict local laws we are outwith the permitted nut selling hours and there are severe penalties for serving nuts late at night, or early in the morning and especially on Sundays.

Shopper: What a ridiculous local law, why can't an adult buy nuts on a Sunday morning - what if I was having a picnic or barbeque?

Assistant: Well you might think so sir, but believe me nuts are a real problem for a minority of the population. First off, we've got small children pinging them and choking on them so it's an offence to give nuts to any young children. Then we've got teenagers congregating in public places eating them and making a general nuisance of themselves so we've banned outdoor nut eating in many places. Not to mention the health risks - did you know that you can be ill if you eat several large bags of nuts a day - see the healthwarning notice on the bag! Besides that there's the obvious allergy problem so even though it says "this is a bag of nuts" on the front, we still need a notice in small print on the side saying "may contain nuts". There's also people who can be addicted to certain foods, let me show you the local notices detailing meetings of nuts anonymous and al-a-nut for friends and relatives. We've also banned nuts in all the local schools because obviously if one child might be allergic then all the children must be banned from taking nuts in.

Shopper: That's mad. Surely the health benefits for the many shouldn't be affected by an allergy affecting a few. What if one child was allergic to bees, would you ban the children from taking in fruit incase it attracted bees to the playground? Surely it makes no sense to ban nuts because you've got all these other nut contaminated products that are just as deadly. Statistically, more children are hurt by dogs but you let the dogs run free in a park where children are playing.

Assistant: That's the rules Sir, we have dedicated nut free areas.

Shopper: I'd better watch out then when I'm walking back to my holiday cottage that I don't enter a nut free zone.

Assistant: Yes, and if you had a car you'd need to drive with the bag of nuts in your boot - people have been known to eat nuts when driving and a loose nut falling between your legs is such a distraction that we've made driving with an open bag of nuts in the car an offence. We've also found that nuts are a major cause of teenage pregnancy, once they get under the influence.

Shopper: How can nuts lead to pregnancy?

Assistant: Well it started harmlessly enough at a party. Everyone was enjoying themselves normally, drinking alcohol and behaving themselves when some troublemakers snuck in with some peanut butter paste in a squeezy bottle. All of a sudden they were eating it, someone got some on themselves and before long they were covered in the stuff. One thing just led to another and the situation got completely out of control. Especially when they started spinning the empty bottle. We had to put a bar on the use of nuts at underage parties.

Shopper: Thanks for telling me, it sounds like there's a lot of red tape around a product that for most people is healthy when taken in moderation. I can't even buy nuts on my way to work as their sale before 10am is prohibited.

Assistant: Yes, because of the health risks and the powerful anti-nut lobby the nut industry is heavily regulated. You can only buy nuts at certain times of day, consume them in certain indoor places and you have to be of legal age to buy them. Exceptions are granted for religion, where you can take nut loaves and fish into communion. The religious minority are keen to ensure that the only nut eaters on a Sunday morning are those in church.

Shopper: Oh, that's perverse. It's obviously far too complicated. All I wanted was a snack, I'll take a packet of crisps instead.

Assistant: Certainly sir, and are you wanting something to drink with it? They are a bit salty.

Shopper: Oh, OK then. I'll take a litre of whisky.

Assistant: Fine then, here you go. Clearly as you are not unduly the influence I see no reason why I shouldn't be serving you alchohol regardless of the time of day or day of the week. You might be surprised but in other places they actually have the same sort of laws for alchohol that we do for nuts, it's completely bonkers.

Shopper: I completely agree, it's totally nutty.

Why not see what the policicians said.

20 August 2006

Crowdsourcing the world's best email service

I've been looking around for a decent e-mail provider for a while. I haven't found one. Well, I have in parts but not all in the same place at the same time. So I thought, why not crowdsource this idea and build one?

Background


Thunderbird has proven that open source can take on Microsoft as an email client.

SpamAssassin has proven that open source can take on spam.

There is I believe a gap in the market for high quality email services to individuals. The major corporate anti-spam players do not serve the individual user. Many ISPs roll their own solution with mixed results. The GUI to many mail systems is also of variable quality. Email has a vast user base. Even if there is a great solution out there, few seem to know about it.

Solution


My ideal solution would have:
  1. A great user interface, at least as good as atmail for Firefox

  2. A great anti-spam solution based around spamassasin rules and avoiding
  3. challenge-response. As good as barracuda who appear to be the market leader (possibly with barracuda or roaringpenguin or similar as the engine)
  4. POP3, SMTP and IMAP access. Especially IMAP for speedy access to 'held' mail from a mail client. No slow websites when you're using your mail client!

  5. The ability for users to set their own spam threshold since a Doctor working in sexual health is likely to have a different spam threshold to a parent wanting to control their children's email. Similarly if you are actually researching spam, being able to discuss spam without said mail being blocked is problematic.

  6. Signing of important mail to pre-clear it through spam filters. This is important for at least two classes of mail. One is legal/business critical mail which must get through without delay. The other is where there is a financial penalty if the mail is undelivered.

  7. Auto-whitelisting any email address you send to, so that I don't send someone a mail and then a reply from them is held.

  8. A semi-reasonable ability to detect forged email addresses so that even if I whitelist an address, really what I am doing is whitelisting that mail address when sent from that company's servers and not the same address as forged by a spammer.

  9. A demo of the user interface that you can play with to get a feel for it before you sign up

  10. To keep my existing email addres and domains and to be able to send and receive email using my existing email addresses.

  11. Free from advertising, or I can opt into advertising and get a share of the advertising revenue.

Way forward

So what would the world's best email comprise and how much would you be prepared to pay for it? Perhaps it could be branded and franchised to e-mail hosting companies. Is there anything out there already that matches these requirements? I've looked at Gmail but it doesn't do much for me.

I asked those folks over at Cambrian House to see if they can build one. The link is below.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Please support this idea at Cambrian House.

18 August 2006

Still looking for a job

Incase anyone is still wondering, I'm still looking for a job and I'm open to reasonable offers.

Just incase Amazon down the road is reading this! (Hi Guys)

Seriously, I've had a few interviews and received glowing feedback from interviews and had numerous 2nd interviews. However, having been on a shortlist of 1 at least three times its rather frustrating when all of a sudden the job "goes away". Reasons have been:

1. Someone internally turned down the job 6 months ago but has now changed their mind and we're recruited them instead.
2. Completely out of the blue and much to the frustration of all the managers we've now got a company wide hiring freeze. Sorry, we don't know how long it will last.
3. We've rewritten the job spec.
4. We thought we had investment for the position, but in fact we're still negotiating it and this will take some months.

and so on. Indeed one positive thing out of this is that having impressed Amazon.com enough for them to get back in touch a year later, and for the aforementioned reasons missing out on jobs through no fault of my own, the agencies that put me forward for those jobs I was in a shortlist of 1 for are now really keen to put me forward for other positions knowing that I'm a very sellable candidate. I've even had major agencies writing to me via LinkedIn wanting me on their books because they've been impressed with my work.

In the meantime, several of my ideas on Cambrian House are doing OK so any votes you want to send their way are more than welcome! The Intelligent Search Spider and tell us how you want to search would both go some way to fixing broken job search sites, of which I now have plenty first hand experience.

Hopefully something will come of all this soon before I get laid off due to my work transferring to Austria in October.

For something as important as this, surely searching for a job shouldn't be as difficult and actually getting a job shouldn't involve this many people spending so much time for no return.

16 August 2006

Suing the spammer

I am getting extremely fed up indeed with the large number of unsolicited sales calls I'm getting to my mobile phone and my wife is getting to her phone regarding "upgrading our phone contract". We don't have upgreadable contracts as the tarrif we are on is rental free. Our numbers are on the Telephone Preference Service and have been so for years, and the registrations are still current. Yet, 4 times on Friday she was called. Even more irritating is that usually said companies hide their number (you can't unfortunately ban anonymous calls to a mobile) and when they do present a number you invariably get a standard message with no option to speak to a real person and complain about it.

Until Friday that is. For the moment, I'll keep the details confidential but we received 4 calls from the same number and they didn't hide their details. I called them back to complain and got the standard greeting of "we'lll phone you back again" and no option of speaking to a real person. However, they did give the company's name (I hadn't heard of them). I called said company to complain and they said they would phone me back. They didn't. Then I got through and they gave me some rubbish about even though I'm on the TPS list, I also have a data line and that was the number they were calling. I've confirmed with my telecom operator that I don't have a data line number. 5 days after they were supposed to call me back and explain themselves, I had to call them again for an explanation.

I spoke to someone who gave me the usual rubbish about "we collect our data from various sources but we can't say where we got your details from" blah blah blah. This is an irrelevant point since a TPS listing overrides such lists unless I have explicitly opted in to receive communications and no I don't tick the 3rd party box. In any case, my wife's number isn't used for anything except emergency calls and friends so there's no reason for a company to have it.

I refer said telephone companies to this widely publicised legal case under the same relevant law. Nigel Roberts, like me a Chartered Engineer with a background not only in IT but an interest in legal matters, won £300 damages as a result of that case involving email spam. I feel a test case involving phone spam will be the only thing that will make the industry stop random dialling and annoying people on the "do not call" TPS list. I have been in regular contact with Nigel Roberts following his victory, which used the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations of 2003 to sue the spammer. Invariably the phone spam companies also claim that they can't tell me who gave me their details because of the Data Protection Act. Since when was the DPA a device for concealing a crime? Evidently they have never heard of a Norwich Pharmacal order then, just what you need to get round that difficulty.

The real truth is that the phone spammers either don't record where the details come from or are simply indulging in random dialling.

We will see when the supervisor calls me back after I asked the person I spoke to for their company's legal address (well obviously I can get this from the companies house website but at least I've got to speak to a manager this time).

The £300 that Nigel Roberts won would be useful, but it's as much for the publicity that I'm doing this since this would seem to be the only way to get the message to the industry that enough is enough.

Craig

14 August 2006

Kneejerk reaction detector

"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities"
Tony Blair, sometime prior to 11th September 2001.

Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday rammed home that he saw identity cards as a "major plank" of the new Labour Party General Election manifesto.

Tony Blair, sometime after 11th September 2001.

Kneejerk reaction anyone? The same goes for the current situation with carryon baggage on flights. Carryon being the operative word here as it certainly is a carry on when you aren't allowed to take on a book. What do they think will happen? It's a bit difficult to conceal something of any size in a book isn't it. Let's play "Who wants to be a terrorist" now. You can phone a foreign tent, ask the Axis of Evil or have your motherland invaded by a superpower and partitioned 50:50. You have four choices, remember to choose carefully. OK, let's begin. You need to hide a few pounds of explosive material somewhere and a detonator. Where do you put them?

1. In between pages 666 and 667 of "Bomb making for novices", causing the book to expand to 10 times its normal size.
2. In between pages 1 and 1000 of your autographed copy of "Bin Laden: caves of the world an insider's guide." with a special large cut out section that security will see on an X-ray, or if they open the book or pick it up and notice its making a funny sloshing sound.
3. A schematic of an aircraft with your large bomb carefully wrapped inside, together with Afghan postmarks to carefully disguise it and make it look like a Genuine Parcel.
4. Somewhere else.

Not wanting to give too much away here, but I think "Somewhere else" might be the preferred option. Still maybe they think People With Books will be able to attack the crew and render them entirely helpless by shredding the book at high speed and dispensing mass paper cuts to the entire inflight crew before they have had time to react. Uh-oh, better ban all those in-flight magazines too then. And the safety notice as that's made of laminated plastic and could be carefully used as a weapon by creatively reflecting the reading light off the laminate and a spoon and into the flight crew's eyes rendering them paralysed.

All equally ridiculous and absurd I'm sure you'll agree.

You know it's a kneejerk reaction when you can still take your duty free booze on board and you can't take a bible. A 1 litre glass bottle and a paperback book. Which do you think represents a more dangerous weapon?

Never mind, all will be solved in the post-ID era when we all have ID cards. You'll be able to tell the terrorists quite easily then as they will have "I am a terrorist" on their ID cards. What? They won't? I thought that was the whole point?

I should read more. Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 anyone?

13 August 2006

Wiki Religion

When I read the classic letter to Dr Laura on religion and homosexuality, I thought it was one of the funniest put downs I've ever seen of people who take the bible too literally.

The bible is full of contradictions. Is it an "eye for an eye" or is it "turn the other cheek". Is it "a plague about your houses" or "the meek shall inherit the earth". Who knows? Certainly in a book that says one thing and then another it's easy to find something in there for everyone which is maybe why it became so popular. Oh, that and the religious persecution. And of course the fact that if you questioned religion in the dark ages you might have been put to a nasty death. Or burned for witchcraft. Or stoned. Not to mention the religious wars which have, lets face it, been one of the biggest preventable causes of death in the last 2,000 years. Hmm, maybe not such a good record on "turn the other cheek" then. "Love thy neighbour" might be a problem too. Freedom of thought is often too dangerous a concept for many religions.

Actually, it's not that hard to explain away some of the contradictions. If you look at the overall message of the bible, it tells the initial story of the creation, the explanation of how man came to live on earth and associated with that the folklore which comprised the old testament tales is reflective of those circumstances which were were pretty lawless. If the best that the Creator of the Entire Universe can do to fix things is flood the earth then I guess this speaks volumes. Anyway, the ten commandments saw the first set of order being established and of course much of the old testament points forward to the arrival of birth of Yehoshua and the New Testament (or should that be Testament 2.0, after the first one came out of beta). In testament 2.0, we have "I am the way, the truth and the light" prevailing, and so does an enhanced order using these revised morals and attitudes. So the bible tells the story of increasing order and structure in society and a movement from lawlessness to civilisation. This in part explains away many of the contradictions. However, many remain. The "creation in 6 days" bit is a bit of a problem for scientists. As is "the entire human race began with two people whose children then committed incest". Not to mention "Every species on the planet can fit in a boat", not to mention all the stuff about homosexuality which started me off. Oh and while I'm at it there's also "we have refrigerators now, so you can forget that nonsense about eating cloven hoof animals" and "we're a bit cleaner these days so circumcision is really legalised child abuse" or "perhaps we should look at the cannibalism of communion in a different light".

Never mind, it's useful to take a leaf out of Christianity's book (remember the 10 commandment where the structures got revised and remember also the revision with Testament 2.0?). So I propose we start a Wiki Religion where people can edit the text freely like WikiPedia and then we can have a modern up to date and entirely relevant religion free from 2,000 year old dogma. After all, the bible can hardly be considered to be the work of a deity when you see all the censorship and revisions it has been through.

Where would you start? Ah yes, the beginning. Anyone want to put it in a wiki and see what happens?

We might find out there's more in common between the peoples of the world than the differing religions currently at war with each other would have us believe.

Who knows, Jesus might even be let into a nightclub.

I wonder what they'll call this religion? "Common Sense" or maybe even "Science".

Amen.

11 August 2006

Friday round up

A quick round up of some interesting sites I've visited lately:

Israel and Hezbollah, media bias?

Video showing Sky news getting a well deserved slaughtering from George Galloway. Winner of the "Don't mess with me, I know what I'm talking about" award.

1984, more police state

The Guardian reports that British children, possibly as young as six, will be subjected to compulsory fingerprinting under European Union rules being drawn up in secret. The prints will be stored on a database which could be shared with countries around the world.

Business, redefined.

How turning the rules of business upside down and letting employees set their own salaries is making one company very successful and having people beat a path to their door to learn more.

Friday fun

Entertainment for the end of the week

Star Trek inspirational posters (funny).

Alternative office inspirational posters.

Milk is better for you than you think.

Undergarment disfunction from the author of Dilbert.

Games

Best free game I've seen online in a while (looks like Half life).

08 August 2006

No gods

Following the spectacular Tommy Sheridan victory, the party he founded is now likely to split and in the words of the BBC
All the party's key posts are up for grabs. The stage is set for a political bloodbath.

Regarless of whether you are a supporter of the SSP, the words of Aristotle would seem appropriate:

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

and certainly Tommy Sheridan is one of the most respected politicians, even if you disagree with his point of view.

With the Scottish Parliamentary elections now only 9 months away, perhaps a split in the SSP will help the SNP in the common quest each party has for Scottish Independence.

In the words of Brian McNeill, sung by Dick Gaughan

And I'm damned sure that there's plenty live in fear
Of the day we stand together with our shoulders at the wheel

Perhaps we will stand together in May, to touch the sun.

It's not just what you're born with
It's what you choose to bear
It's not how big your share is
But how much you can share
And it's not the fights you dreamed of
But those you really fought
It's not what you've been given
It's what you do with what you've got

One of my favourite quotes, from What You Do With What You've Got by Si Kahn.


Heros sought for May, no gods need apply.

06 August 2006

Bothered by Bosch

My article about Dyson's breakdown problems made the front page of reddit and hopefully this article on Bosch will do so too because my experience from the first time around shows that a front page article reaches a very substantial audience and I feel this article deserves similar treatment. Interestingly, as of two days ago, Dyson are now offering a five year guarantee as standard. Perhaps Bosch will follow this lead?

Why I will avoid buying Bosch, even though they are a recommended best buy.

In 1991 I bought an AEG washing machine. It was reliable enough but in 2001 it packed in and was uneconomic to repair. I think AEG were a best buy when I got them but by 2001 the engineer said they were no longer the brand they used to be. Bosch seemed to be better for reliability. After a posting on Usenet and lookup up reviews, including reliability, a Bosch machine I liked got a good write-up on price, features and reliability and were recommended as a best buy from the consumer's association. The machine was installed in June 2001 and after a few minor teething problems with small fingers, it worked well.

That was June 2001. On December 2003 I wrote the following to Bosch - incidentally, I am particularly pleased that my database driven e-mail client allows me to find emails and Usenet postings going all the way back to 1994 with ease.

Our Bosch maxx 2450 machine has completely broken down after less than 2 and a half years. The cost to repair this £400 machine, as quoted by your engineer today, was £340. Are you normally in the business of making machines that become uneconomic to repair after such a short period of time?

The drum has stopped moving and the Siemens engineer who called this morning gave us a £220 quote MINIMUM for repair on top of the offensive £50 call out plus he said it might also be the electrics and that would be another £100 on top plus VAT. £340 for a repair? you must be joking!!

My complaints:

1. Spending £400 on a machine EVERY 30 MONTHS is totally unacceptable and for a so-called reliable brand I would have reasonably expected such a critical component to last significantly longer than this.

2. The engineer today did not even bother to take the machine apart to diagnose the problem, this could have been handled over the phone, saving the £50+ callout today. Bosch told us over the phone that they knew the problem (electrics or motor), and we were expecting him to come and actually repair it. Yet he turned up today with no parts to do the work. This means he is going to have to come back again, adding needlessly to delay. With two small children and another on the way we use the machine daily and cannot hang around waiting for you to organise their procedures for a repair. Why was it not possible to bring spares or to attempt to diagnose whether it was the electrics, the motor or both? At £340 for a repair you will lose our business as I see the AEG OKO-LAVAMAT 86741 has now become the Which best buy and I would rather buy that brand instead if you make the repair uneconomic as my last AEG lasted for over 10 years.

3. The engineer only gave us a 7:30am - 5:30pm window for turning up. How many people complain at this outrageous practice? When the engineer has to attend a doctors do they treat their doctor with the same cavalier attitude of "I can't commit to turning up at a particular time, here's a 10 hour window. Clear your books of all other work, take the day off, and deal with it"? Doctors have to deal with both routine work and major emergencies, yet I can still get an appointment at the surgery and I'm seen usually within 30 minutes of it. Why can doctors manage with an appointments system but washing machine repair people from major companies require a 10-hour window?

4. The engineer said the problem might be the brushes and we should have called him sooner. However, the appliance was working fine until last week. How can we tell in advance the brushes are going to avoid this problem happening in another 30 months? We can’t! Where is the warning light "your brushes are about to go, please call an engineer"? How can we detect this fault in future? There is nothing whatsoever in the manual about it.

I note the following and await your response:

Under the Sale of Goods Act, retailers are responsible for faulty goods (that are not 'of satisfactory quality') for up to six years after you bought them. 'Satisfactory quality' covers various aspects that could be wrong with the goods, including whether they've lasted as long as you could reasonably expect.


The upshot of all of this is that the shop we bought the Bosch appliance from (John Lewis, a bastion of excellent service) accepted their responsibility under the Sale of Goods Act and gave us a brand new replacement machine. It had to be an equivalent to the one we had and so we got another Bosch and the replacement model to the one that had broken down.

So the first Bosch appliance broken down after 30 months and was replaced in December 2003. Hey, guess what happens 31 months later on 16th July 2006? Well, I find myself writing to Bosch again. Here's the e-mail that quoted the December 2001 incident.


An identical fault has developed with the replacement machine. Since breaking down seems to be a "design feature" after 30 months, I think I will need convincing to ever use your products again.

Please advise what we should do, I think a letter to the "Consumers' Association" suggesting that your products are too unreliable to ever be recommended by them is in order here.

Also, when I go to your site to locate the manual for the machine, it requires an E-nr number. The site states that this is on the top of the door. All I have there is a blank sticker with nothing underneath it. Perhaps you could have a site like everyone else's that simply allows me to type in the model number and find instructions that way rather than an obscure number in a place I can't find it.

Finally, your website is broken

I keep getting this error when looking for instruction manuals

Internal Server Error
The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.

Please contact the server administrator, you@your.address and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error.

More information about this error may be available in the server error log.

Apache/1.3.31 Server at cdcso035.mch.bshg.com Port 80

I think I'll be posting details on my website, 100,000+ page views a month and a particular emphasis on product quality. Your website reliability seems to be on a par with your product reliability.


Their response the next day (17th July)

In order that this matter be fully investigated, could you please supply
your full address and contact telephone number?

Their response on 18th July

In order that this matter can be investigated, please can you provide the full model number - enr and fd number. Once I am in receipt of this information, I will be able to look into this matter further.

Evidently they hadn't bothered to read my mail stating that I couldn't find said number.

I replied right away. Their next response was on 26th July

...
Having fully noted the points you have made, I respectfully advise that an engineer is required to inspect your appliance before any comments can be made. Please contact our Service Centre on 08705 678910 to arrange an engineer. As your appliance is out of the manufacturer's guarantee the callout charge of £59.50 will apply as will any repair costs thereafter.
...


Well, that would have been Bosch support then. 10 days just to advise me that I needed an appointment, that they weren't responding to my point about product reliability or the Sale of Goods Act and like last time were charging me absurd callout charges and day long appointment windows. What I hadn't told Bosch was that I had anticipated this lousy service from the last time around and on the day the appliance broke (a Sunday) I called a repair man advertising in the local paper. He says, he'll turn up at 9am the following morning and there he is bang on time. No callout charge either. Local Guy fixes the machine and it turns out it needed a new electric board (£95 inclusive to replace and fit it, 20 minute job once he gets started). 9:30am on Monday we have a working washing machine. Bosch hasn’t even read my email yet and are still 10 days off a request for setting up an appointment. Their SLA for replying to e-mail is 6 days. I've used their phone support too, but found it unhelpful especially with no e-Nr number available and in any case it's more convincing quoting the Sale of Goods Act to them in e-mail. I wonder if Bosch think it's acceptable for a family of 5 to have no washing machine for nearly 2 weeks when we normally use it twice a day? Reality check required there.

So I gave up on Bosch customer service for the washing machine. However, as of 6th August I have to go through the whole thing again with a different appliance.

Our house came pre-fitted with Neff appliances. I'd call them Naff really as the oven door doesn't close properly, the hob takes ages to light and the freezer door bangs. Incase you're thinking it's just us, it isn't most of the neighbours have had similar problems. The built-in dishwasher is also Neff. Neff is supported by BSH Appliance Care, the same people that do Bosch. Oh, joy and delight.

So the story of the dishwasher. Fitted brand new in 1999 before we bought the house, it failed catastrophically in June 2004 and was uneconomic to repair. The motor broke and the ensuing flood destroyed the electrics. As a result of the flood damage we got a replacement via the insurance. Between the Consumers' Association, the washing machine repairman and the dishwasher repair estimator, the three of them were still praising Bosch so I put down my experience 6 months previously with the washing machine as bad luck and in any case, this was a different appliance. So I bought Bosch dishwasher to replace the Naff one that had broken down and the replacement was actually big enough to take our dinner plates, it rocked.

August 2006 and the dishwasher has broken down, it may have also shorted out the whole house as the master fuse in the house went at the same time. This wasn't my fitting of the appliance either, the electrical part of fitting the dishwasher consists of plugging the prewired plug into the socket. The problem is that the water isn't heating up, the dishes aren't drying and the programme sticks at 1 minute to go for about an hour. My local engineer (open on a Sunday) reckons it’s the electrics. Wow! Three Bosch appliances with failed electrics, all well within 3 years - is this a record? My PC is still going strong after 6 years, maybe I should get the Bosch engineers in to learn something, I would naturally charge them a call out of £60 for my time, even if I don't have to do anything, and naturally tell them to block out 10 hours of their time for a 30 minute job, hurrah!

However, Local Hero can't help me out this time as he doesn't do dishwashers - reason being that Bosch make the parts too difficult for independent repair people to get hold of (according to him). So another phone around is required to see if there are any specifically dishwasher repair people who can fix it such that I don't have to charge the Bosch call out (currently around £60 before they do anything).

However, I had my revenge today. Not only do I get the Consumer's Association magazine but also this month I've been randomly selected to take part in their annual product reliability survey, including Dishwashers and Washing Machines. It's published in January 2007. Bottom marks all round from me for Bosch, top marks for my other appliances including my freezer that I've had for over 11 years with no faults at all.

Summary of Bosch

1. Surveys indicate they are reliable, my experience with 1 Neff and 3 Bosch appliances has been otherwise. However, even reliable appliances sometimes breakdown and you need reliable customer service to get you going again rather than 2 weeks dirty washing.

2. Bosch customer service by email is extremely slow and goes backwards and forwards asking questions about address and E-nr number rather than asking for all these up front.

3. Bosch charge an excessive call out fee and have laughably poor delivery windows. I have a thing about poor delivery windows and evidently according to consumers mentioned by Which so do many other people.

4. Local guy can often do the same job, cheaper, turn up at a specific time, has no call out charge and is open on Sunday.

Still thinking about buying Bosch? See how they do in the January 2007 report when my comments are incorporated.

03 August 2006

Web history

I was reading this article about the early days of the web and after a bit of searching found the original post from August 1991 when browser code was first made available on the net.

The BBC article also reports that in April 1993 the first browser to run on PCs was made available. Coincidentally, I'd just started my M.Sc at that point and was doing some research.

Without search engines and without even full Internet access (the University then only had email, no usenet) I still managed to write the following in a research report in June 1993:

The X based program xmosaic is an interface to the World Wide Web (WWW) started at CERN. Xmosaic allows a hypertext document to have links to files on machines across the world. This technology is very exciting and is based on the idea that setting up a connection to other computers is becoming cheap. Imagine hundreds of people on many continents collaborating on a single document. This is what WWW is aiming for and it works today.

You can read the full report here if you want a flavour of what the net was like back then.

What was I doing when Tim posted his note? I was drinking in pub of the year.

However, along with OWL in Edinburgh, who famously turned down Tim Berners-Lee when asked to build a browser, I was also thinking along similar hypertext lines at the time, having seen the help system in X-windows.

My boss at Digital was supportive of the idea and helped me draft a patent. However, there was then a reorganisation after the group manager died unexpectedly. The new manager thought my idea was too far fetched and withdrew support for the patent. It is probably just as well no patent was issued, the opennness and royalty-free nature of the web one one of the reasons it grew so quickly.

I don't suspect Digital would have known what to do with it anyway. In Digital's quest for money following the stock collapse of 1987 and the shift to PC's, the company was on the way out and would soon be bought by Compaq and then later merged into HP. The demise of the once leading altavista search engine, originally altavista.digital.com before they bought the domain for $3Million shows that the company might have had leading technology but lost the opportunity to use it effectively, especially once Google came along.

The pioneer of computing for the masses had lost its spirit by then and the users of the web were now leading the way.

The rest, of course, is history.

Cambrian House post launch features

A few new features now that the mad people at Cambrian House have launched:

Check out my Cambrian House profile Check out my Cambrian House profile.

Become a Top Astronaut and send Diet Coke to Space! Become a Top Astronaut and send Diet Coke to Space!

Vote for ideas, now changed to be like Digg.com and Reddit.com.

02 August 2006

Companies to watch

As mentioned previously on this blog. Cambrian House launches today and the company that fed Google 1,000 pizzas is certainly getting a lot of publicity. Will Crowded Source software take off?

Devshop. Next generation project management. Now in beta, this product is about successful management of software projects. Visit the site for more info and sign up for a preview.

Daxtra.com, a spin off from Edinburgh University, bringing order to the chaos of CV/Resume searching. It looks like things will get better for jobseekers before too long. Daxtra are already expanding internationally. Maybe poor job searches will be a thing of the past?

01 August 2006

Cable Guy

I cut the grass on Saturday. We went to the Safari Park on Sunday. They have a fun fair section view the map, with dodgems.

Putting the two together, I thought you could adapt a lawnmower to have a pole coming out the top like a dodgem, then the power cable could run from the top of the pole to an upstairs bedroom window. There the power cable would be on a reel with an auto rewind, like the ones used in some petrol pump filling hoses

With a complicated lawn with swings, slides, flower beds and the like, this would be a great way for me to cut the grass without the power cord constantly getting in the way, caught in bushes, wrapped round obstacles and so on.

That would make things a lot simpler. Well, until I get one of these, that is.

(Invention listed on americaninventorspot)

31 July 2006

Shared Biz - Scottish business

What was First Tuesday Scotland (Launched September 1999) and became the Now Forum is now SharedBiz. The forum for Scottish small businesses.

Why not drop in and say hello? We're working on deciding the future of the group and had a long webchat this evening that resulted in lots of interesting ideas.

There's still a chance for you to have a say on the future of the group if you want to have a say on business development in Silicon Glen.

Craig

29 July 2006

Virtual driver, plan your journey by video

Another idea for Cambrian House

YouTube for the road.

When we were on Skye recently, we shot a video from the car, and it's really interesting playing it back. To minimise shake, you need a camcorder with anti-shake correction and film on a wide angle lens (that way you also get more scenery to look at). The single track roads with sheep on them might be an eyeopener to tourists.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Support virtual driver at Cambrian House.

My other top ideas are currently


Support My Idea at Cambrian House The Voice Bank

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Early stage investor.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Intelligent search spider.
User Comments: "Basically the next google".

Support My Idea at Cambrian House Site Quality Report.

Support My Idea at Cambrian House The Idea Tree.

28 July 2006

Bare Breasts

Get people's attention. We'll you're reading this aren't you? Exposing the issue further, it's clear that breasts help to sell music, magazines and of course have been somewhat visible than usual lately given the exceptionally hot weather that the UK and US have been enjoying.

Which brings me to the point. It's seen as being perfectly acceptable in much of Western society (unless you happen to be visiting the Vatican, no bare flesh there) for women to show some cleavage. And why not? People should be allowed to dress how they please, especially in this weather it makes perfect sense. Also there's not much more being displayed in the breast area than you might see with a typical swimsuit and no one bothers about that. Even more appropriate if due to power outages your air conditioning is off.

No one seems to mind too much how women dress in the summer, so long as it's legal.

That being the case, if no one cares much what women are wearing, why does everyone then take such an interest in what men are wearing?

We seem to still require in many workplaces that men wear a shirt and tie although thankfully in this hot weather most offices are showing some common sense. Apart from that though, many workplaces still forbid men from wearing t-shirts. Whilst short skirts are acceptable for women, any shorts at all for men are still a definite no no.

Why is it considered OK for women to go around exposed and dressed appropriate for the weather and of course society is happy to accept this, yet at the same time the HR and personnel depts are busy writing memos and long manuals regarding how men must always have a collar on in order to be dressed in an acceptable way.

You might think there was sexism here, after all many men probably like the way women dress in summer and then set the rules accordingly.

However, when you consider that most HR depts are staffed mainly by women, I wonder if this is really the case.

Perhaps we just need less rules and more common sense. Managing a business well is about flexibility, and a flexible attitude towards dress would certainly seem to cover everything from a snowstorm to a prolonged heatwave. Sometimes it's appropriate to wear a suit, but as a cultural icon its meaning is shifting - certainly with no dress code at Google, there's a lesson there in simplicity and flexibility which would cut down on a lot of work for HR. As one of the world's top brands, the suitless image has done them no harm.

Flexibility and Simplicity. I guess the answer to both my points is staring you in the face. If you haven't seen the naked truth yet, then keep looking.

27 July 2006

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Feel the fear and do it anyway has been a popular quote since 1987 when it was popularised by Susan Jeffers in her book of the same name.

Unfortunately it's taking a while to sink in.

It was 2 years after that book was written that I started a smoke free campaign, and it is fear of change which has likely been the main reason for it taking almost two decades to happen.

In an earlier blog, I made a historic announcement about smoking. Note: it's "a historic announcement" in Scotland because we pronounce the h. It's "an historic announcement" in England because they generally say "an 'istoric announcement", grammar checkers please note!

The historic announcement was that Scotland had become the first part of the UK to become smoke free by law.

Here's a reference to the campaign in the Usenet archives of 1990 when I was in Scotland on Sunday. My workplace in England had gone smoke free in 1990 but my suggestion of having smoke free rooms in pubs was laughed at. Despite this set back I was on Channel4 and seen by 3 million viewers. The campaign got the biggest mailbag that the programme had ever had, and every letter was in favour. This backed up similar research by the Consumer's Association in Jan 1988 who found that smoke free areas were the most wanted change in UK pubs.

Despite public support, the industry felt the fear and didn't do it anyway. This attitude ran right through the 1990s and up until the time when the prospect arose not just of forcing public spaces to have a smoke free area, but of banning it completely. In the intervening years, I had come round to the same point of view. Here is an article from 2004 which is typical of the negative messages that were put out over the last few decades.

However, the gloom and doom merchants were wrong. Although there have been a small number of prosecutions, by and large the legislation to ban smoking in Scotland has been exceptionally well received. Read more about the ban being well received and the number of prosecutions. The ban may even be increasing custom.

So much for that then. After nearly 20 years of talking about it, the one way to find out for sure if it's going to be a success is to JFID (just flipping do it).

And now to Scottish independence.

Bogged down by similar fears, we seem unlikely to follow Montenegro's democratic example due to the Scottish Referendum Bill being blocked by the government. No surprises there. There's an election to the Scottish Parliament in May 2007 and with the SNP taking a surprising lead you can bet that the negativism will be flying thick and fast in the run up to the polls about how bad independence would be for Scotland. This is despite the former First Minister Donald Dewar publishing figures that Scotland would be the world's 7th richest country.

Like smoking, the figures speak for themselves but are obfuscated by spin from lobby groups.

I wonder how many of those who predicted the demise of the Scottish licensed trade post smoking ban will be writing letters to the national papers in the run up to next May suggesting the imminent demise of the Scottish economy under independence for much the same specious reasons? Perhaps they need to feel less fear and let democracy take its course. This isn't separatism, the pejorative term favoured by some unionists, independence is the right to take responsibility for our own affairs. Something that Scotland already has in many areas under devolution - we are effectively independent in all the areas devolved to the Scottish parliament.

Curiously the unionist parties keen to call the SNP, Greens, Socialists and independents separatists weren't calling Montenegro separatists earlier in the year. No, they were welcoming that nation's self determination to achieve nationhood through peaceful means and democratic right. Democracy is sometimes more uncomfortable when it is closer to home.

Perhaps those politicians need to talk less in terms of fear and more in terms of accepting democracy.

Maybe this time next year we will be on the road to independence. Only then will as a nation we will have grown enough to have felt the fear and done it anyway.

Recursion defined

A simple web based introduction to recursion.

When you return, hopefully you won't have lost your sense of humour as the people at Digg appear to have done.

23 July 2006

News, views and pictures for you.

Back in 2004 I did a short history of Scottish news and views on the internet.

This mentioned the news from Scotland news service I ran online in 1990. Also relevant is the online Scottish discussion forum I established in 1989 and which is mentioned in this posting.

This was long before the web of course and one thing about the web is that it allows specialist news to be served up to anyone online. Previously, outside of those able to get The News From Scotland was to phone a friend back home or wait several days for the specially ordered newspaper to arrive.

I was thinking though, what aspects of life back home are people still interested in that the web no longer fulfils?

Again in a pioneering fashion I was involved with Gaelic-L and which was established in May 1989. The first list for a minority language, it drew an otherwise disparate community together using the power of the internet.

People have strong ties to their homeland, or to somewhere they grew up or even visited a long time ago for a special occassion such as a honeymoon. These places are often not in the news and it is sometimes difficult to know what's happening there or how familiar places have changed in the years you've been away. What does your childhood home look like now? What does the high street look like? If you have ancestors in the area, what is on their gravestones? How about that spot where you had a holiday romance or met your partner? The web doesn't really have a service where you can get photos on demand of places you are connected to or would like to revisit without the expense of a holiday.

So, to provide such a service I'm proposing the "Flickr pays you" service, whereby people living near somewhere you are interested in can be reached via a geographic search and be paid to take pictures for you. If you think this would be a useful way to connect with your memories, please support the idea. It may even expand into providing an online shop for photos in general. I've got hundreds of pictures of the Isle of Skye following our many holidays there that I'm sure would be of interest to someone.

Craig

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