Total Pageviews

22 December 2008

Web project manager available

Senior iT project manager with extensive web, e-commerce public and private sector experience, immediately available for contract work UK wide. PRINCE2 practitioner, MSP, Agile, Security clearance.
http://www.linkedin.com/in/siliconglen

Craig Cockburn

11 December 2008

Web accessibility guidelines updated - WCAG 2.0 comes into force

The de facto standard for web accessibility was updated for the first time since 1999 today. Version two of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG 2.0, has been published following several years of development and debate.

One wonders when all the website owners who didn't think WCAG 1.0 applied to them or pretended the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (affected websites from 1999) didn't apply to them either might start paying attention.

Craig

03 December 2008

Folk music in London

Another long journey on the Internet comes to a conclusion - over 17 years ago I posted a note on the Internet (back then using a UUCP and Arpanet address in the pre-Internet days) about the English Folk Dance and Song Society at Cecil Sharp House in Camden, North London. I didn't go in those days as I was too busy with the choir I sang with in Covent Garden but last night had the chance to drop into Cecil Sharp House and a very worthwhile experience it was too - great music, atmosphere and singers and hopefully I'll be making a return trip soon - preferably long before another 17 years have passed!

Craig

30 November 2008

St Andrew's Day, Scotland

Please see the official site for information about what's on for St Andrew's day, and looking forward to HomecomingScotland2009.

We are of course the unofficial gateway, and the first - having launched an on-line guide to Scotland 14 years ago on the Internet and an on-line guide to Scotland open to 100,000+ readers back in the 1980s. That guide has been updated for St Andrews day, the 15th annual update, and is available at the soc.culture.scottish FAQ page on Silicon Glen. Additions and corrections to the FAQ always welcome.

Happy St Andrews Day to one and all, including the half million plus visitors so far this year to siliconglen.com

Craig

29 November 2008

Scottish Parliament E-petition "BBC ALBA"

Subject: Scottish Parliament E-petition "BBC ALBA"
From: "John Macleod" <john@andarach.com>
Date: 29/11/2008 20:01

A' chairdean,

Ma tha sibh airson ur n-ainm a chur ris an athchuinge gu h-àrd, chan eil
agaibh ach gu 5 Dùbhlachd 2008 airson sin a dheanamh. Bidh an athchuinge a'
dol gu foirmeil chun Phàrlamaid air 08.12.08 agus beachdaichidh Comataidh
nan Athchuingean air a' chuspair aig a' choinneamh aca air Dimàirt 16.12.08
aig 2.00f - Seòmar Comataidh 1. Tha còrr is 1000 neach air an ainm a chur
ris an athchuinge gu ruige seo. Airson tuilleadh taic a chur ris an iomairt
seo, chan eil agaibh ach putadh air
http://epetitions.scottish.parliament.uk/view_petition.asp?PetitionID=289
Feuch an innis sibh seo dha ur caraidean.

Moran taing.

Iain Macleòid


Dear folks,

If you would like to put your name to the above petition, the deadline for
this is 5 December 2008. The petition will formally be submitted to the
Scottish Parliament on 08.12.08 and the Public Petitions Committee will
discuss the subject at its meeting on Tuesday 16.12.08 at 2.00pm – Committee
Room 1. More than 1000 people have so far supported this petition. To add
your name. the link to the website is
http://epetitions.scottish.parliament.uk/view_petition.asp?PetitionID=289
Please let other Gaelic supporters know about this.

Many thanks,

John Macleod

Gaelic events in London

For more information, please contact eoghannp@hotmail.com

TACHARTASAN GÀIDHLIG AN LUNNAINN
ANNS NA SEACHDAINEAN A THA A’ TIGHINN
(29mh Samhain 2008 gu crìoch na bliadhna)

GAELIC EVENTS IN LONDON IN THE COMING WEEKS
(29th November 2008 until end of the year)

FÀILTE!

Uill, a-réir coltais, mar a’s duirche is a’s fhuaire a dh’fhàsas e, ’s ann a’s beothaile a dh’fhàsas e ... a thaobh saoghal nan Gàidheal an Lunnainn co-dhiùbh! Ged a tha e fliuch is fuar taobh a-muigh, tha mìos làn ghnìomhachasan romhainn eadar seo is àm na Nollaige (faicibh gu h-ìseal). Fileantach, neach-ionnsachaidh no ‘caraid do’n chànan’ – chan eil gu diofar: bithibh ’nur pàirt dheth – is mealaibh e!

Well, as it would seem, the colder and darker it gets, the livelier it gets ... at least as regards the Gaelic scene in London! Though it may be cold and wet outside, we have a month full of activities to look forward to between now and Christmas (see below). Native-speaker, learner or ‘friend of the language’ – it doesn’t matter: be part of it – and enjoy!

Tìoraidh an-dràsd’!

Beannachdan

Eòghann P.

PS/ Ma bhios sibh a’ cur air dòigh thachartasan a tha comh-cheangailte ri Gàidhlig no ris a’ chultur Ghàidhealach an Lunnainn no an Ceann Ear-dheas Shasainn ’san àm ri teachd, cuiribh fios chugam mu’n deidhinn! – If you are organising future events relating to Gaelic or to Highland culture in London or the South-East of England, let me know about them!

PPS/ ’S e Là Féill Anndra am-màireach! – St. Andrew’s Day tomorrow!


CÉILIDH-DANNSA
FHÉILL ANNDRA – AN-NOCHD!

Di-Sathairne, 29mh Samhain 2008, bho 7:30f

Comunn na Gàidhealtachd is nan Eilean an Lunnainn (HISL), Taigh Cecil Sharpe, NW1 (Fon-talamh: Camden Town)

Òrain Ghàidhlig bho Chaitlin Ghreumach (Eilean Sgitheanach), is ceòl bho Frank Reid is a chòmhlan-dannsa Albannach

Inntreas: £20 / £15 (buill HISL is ‘lùghdachaidhean’)

Làrach-lìn: http://www.hisl.org

Post-d: info@hisl.org



ST. ANDREW’S DAY CÉILIDH-DANCE – TONIGHT!

Saturday, 29th November 2008, from 7:30pm

Highlands and Islands Society of London (HISL), Cecil Sharpe House, NW1 (Underground: Camden Town)

Gaelic songs from Kathleen Graham (Isle of Skye), and music from Frank Reid and his Scottish dance band

Admission: £20 / £15 (HISL members and ‘concessions’)

Website: http://www.hisl.org

E-mail: info@hisl.org


‘LÁ NA GAEILGE’ –
AM-MÀIREACH!

Di-Dòmhnaich, 30mh Samhain 2008, 12:00 meadhon-latha gu 5:00f

Blasad ‘Gaeilge’ (no ‘Gaedhilge’ – ’s fheàrr leinn an seann litreachadh!) ann an Ionad Culturail nan Éireannach, oisinn Black’s Road is King Street, Hammersmith, W6 (Fon-talamh: Hammersmith).

Le òraidich, bùithtean-obrach is filmichean ùra ann an Gàidhlig na h-Éireann. Còmhla ri Coláiste na nGael.

Inntreas: £13 (no £40 air 4 tiocaidean), le biadh

Làrach-lìn: http://www.irishculturalcentre.co.uk



‘LÁ NA GAEILGE’ – IRISH GAELIC DAY – TOMORROW!

Sunday, 30th November 2008, 12:00 noon to 5:00pm

A taster of ‘Gaeilge’ (or ‘Gaedhilge’ – we prefer the old spelling!) at the Irish Cultural Centre, corner of Black’s Road and King Street, Hammersmith, W6 (Underground: Hammersmith).

With guest speakers, workshops and new films in Irish Gaelic. In association with Coláiste na nGael.

Admission: £13 (or £40 for 4 tickets), with lunch

Website: http://www.irishculturalcentre.co.uk


ATH-CHOISRIGEADH NA SEANN EAGLAISE GÀIDHEALAICH AN LUNNAINN

Di-Dòmhnaich, 7mh Dùdlachd 2008

Seirbhis eadar-eaglaiseil an Gàidhlig is ’sa Bheurla, leis an Urr. Athair Calum MacGill-Fhaolain (Eirisgeigh) is Còisir Lunnainn.

Eaglais Aonaichte Ath-Leasaichte, Tavistock Place (oisinn Regent Square), WC1

Greim-neòin bho 12:30f; seirbhis bho 2.00f

Làrach-lìn: www.regentsquare.urc.org.uk



RE-DEDICATION OF THE FORMER GAELIC CHAPEL IN LONDON


Sunday, 7th December 2008

Inter-denominational service in Gaelic and English with Rev. Father Calum MacLellan (Eriskay) and the London Gaelic Choir (Còisir Lunnainn).

United Reformed Church, Tavistock Place (corner of Regent Square), WC1

Buffet lunch from 12:30pm; service from 2.00pm

Làrach-lìn: www.regentsquare.urc.org.uk


CÉILIDH

Di-Sathairne, 13mh Dùdlachd 2008, bho 7:30f

Comunn Gàidhlig Lunnainn, talla Eaglais Cùirt a’ Chrùin, Covent Garden, WC2 (Fon-talamh: Covent Garden no Charing Cross)

Òrain Ghàidhlig bho Linn Phipps (a bhuannaich ‘Aigeallan-Airgid’ nam Ban aig a’ Mhòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail, 2008)

Inntreas: £20

Làrach-lìn: www.comunnlunnainn.co.uk



CÉILIDH

Saturday, 13th December 2008 from 7:30pm


Gaelic Society of London, hall of Crown Court Church, Covent Garden, WC2 (Underground: Covent Garden or Charing Cross)

Gaelic songs from Linn Phipps (winner of the Ladies’ ‘Silver Pendant’ at the Royal National Mòd, 2008)

Admission: £20

Website: www.comunnlunnainn.co.uk


SEIRBHIS GHÀIDHLIG

Di-Dòmhnaich, 14mh Dùdlachd 2008 aig 3:30f

Seirbhis an Gàidhlig ann an Eaglais Cùirt a’ Chrùin, Covent Garden, WC2, leis an Urr. Murchadh MacLeòid (Eaglais Rathad Chrow, Glaschu) (Fon-talamh: Covent Garden no Charing Cross)

Le srùbaig ann an talla na h-eaglaise an deaghaidh làimh (an t-srùbag a’s fheàrr a th’ann an Lunnainn!).



GAELIC SERVICE

Sunday, 14th December 2008 at 3:30pm


Service in Gaelic at Crown Court Church, Covent Garden, WC2, with Rev. Murdo MacLeod (Crow Road Church, Glasgow) (Underground: Covent Garden or Charing Cross)

With a ‘stroupach’ (cup of tea) in the church hall afterwards (London’s best ‘stroupach’!).


Agus na ‘regulars’: na dìochuimhnichibh gu’m bi na tachartasan seo a’ ruith
fad na bliadhna!

And the ‘regulars’: don’t forget that these events run throughout the year!


CÒISIR LUNNAINN

A’ chòisir Ghàidhlig an Lunnainn; coinneamh gach Di-Màirt ann an talla Eaglais Cùirt a’ Chrùin, Covent Garden, WC2 aig 7.00f (Fon-talamh: Covent Garden no Charing Cross)

Coinneamh dheireannach na bliadhna: Di-Màirt, 16mh Dùdlachd 2008 (CBC)

Làrach-lìn: www.coisirlunnainn.org.uk

Post-d: coisirlunnainn@fmail.co.uk



CÒISIR LUNNAINN

The Gaelic choir in London; meets every Tuesday in the hall of Crown Court Church, Covent Garden, WC2 at 7.00pm (Underground: Covent Garden or Charing Cross)

Last meeting of the year: Tuesday, 16th December 2008 (AGM)

Website: www.coisirlunnainn.org.uk

E-mail: coisirlunnainn@fmail.co.uk


CLASAICHEAN GÀIDHLIG

Anns a’ CityLit, Sràid Keeley, Lunnainn WC2 (Fon-talamh: Holborn)

Ìre 1: gach Di-Ciadaoin aig 6.00f

Ìre 2: gach Di-Ciadaoin aig 7:30f

Làrach-lìn: www.citylit.ac.uk



GAELIC CLASSES

In the CityLit, Keeley Street, London WC2 (Underground: Holborn)

Level 1: every Wednesday at 6:00pm

Level 2: every Wednesday at 7:30pm

Website: www.citylit.ac.uk

27 November 2008

Microsoft project rubbish


I attach a dump from the hated Microsoft Project.


This is the start of a plan, i.e. the top line is task #1. Why does project insist on taking tasks which are a round number of days or zero for a milestone and then rolling them up into fractional days? For the two rolled up tasks in the image, one is a whole number of days and the other isn't. Why is this?! All the tasks are using the same standard calendar.



thanks

Craig

21 November 2008

Seeking Senior Project Management / Web opportunities / CTO / Programme manager

If anyone reading this is hiring a web project manager/ CTO at the moment or knows anyone with this requirement then please view my details on my linkedin profile and get in touch.

I am looking for contract work UK wide, permanent work in Central Scotland but I would also look at permanent work further afield depending on the opportunity. I'm available from Mid December, happy to meet up, chat online before hand. I'm currently in London Mon-Fri working at BERR, 1 Victoria Street, Westminster.

Qualified and experienced Web Project Manager, recently qualified Programme manager, Agile experience and current security clearance.

thanks

Craig

09 November 2008

Barack Obama and Arnie's land of opportunity

I was pleased to read that Barack Obama is to be America's first black president (although as someone half white he is technically as much white as black). Nonetheless this is a huge leap forward in terms of equal rights. In his own words

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.


However, one barrier remains. America still requires the President to have been born in the US. Only a land of equal opportunity if you happen to have been born there. Factors such as skin colour which is something your are born with and have no control over should not be a barrier to becoming President. Neither for the same reason should be the place of your birth, it should be up to the people of America to decide whether a candidate and US citizen is fit to lead them and not some rule which says no After all, he's already leading 12% of Americans.

I'm glad to say that some in America are taking this discrimination seriously and perhaps Arnie is the one person of charisma and ability who can lead a campaign with as much emphasis on the land of opportunity as Barack Obama, and certainly a lot more stylish than boring John McCain.

Why do countries insist on state sponsored discrimination?

08 November 2008

The Genevieve Arnold Quintet - Jazz in London

Had the pleasure of seeing the Genevieve Arnold Quintet perform at the blag club in Notting Hill recently. Great gig and well worth looking out for in terms of future appearances.

Craig

07 November 2008

Gordon Ramsay, give the restaurant business a kick in the (expletive deleted)

Gordon,
I have watched your TV programme where you go into an individual restaurant and go through them like a dose of salts and get them sorted out. How about doing us frequent diners a favour and getting the whole industry to clean up its act.

I go to Tesco and get a milkshake for £1
I go to Boots and get a lunch for £2.99
I go to a pub and get a decent meal for £10 including drinks.


Rarely do any of the above refuse to accept credit cards.
Rarely do any of the above expect a tip, especially for shoddy service.
Rarely do any of the above distort their prices with hidden charges.
Rarely do any of the above fail to generate a VAT receipt, legally compliant and showing the VAT paid.

Yet go into a restaurant (not a pub or in a hotel), pay £20 upwards for a meal and invariably you get a scribble for a bill, no itemised VAT and often a mandatory service charge too. Together the 10% mandatory charge and the inability to claim back VAT adds almost 30% to the expected price of the food. What other business has a service charge which is optional to charge but mandatory to pay? Why does 1 person dining get charged for service anyway? Why are pubs clear with their pricing and billing but restaurants are not?

I have no objection to tipping, but a mandatory service charge just distorts the price of the food.

I call on you to ban this 30% surcharge on food and get restaurants to issue correct bills (with the VAT total separately itemised) and to stop this nonsense of mandatory service charges for 1 person dining, indeed I would welcome them being banned for tables of 4 or less. There's no need for it and it simply annoys and confuses customers and puts them off. The bill is the last thing the restaurant serves, don't let the parting taste be a bad one.

Yours in hope
Craig (a fellow Scot working in Central London)

Black Lion, 123 Bayswater Road, Bayswater W2 3JH

Visited here on 5th November to see if their food might be of interest for a future visit. Unfortunately as I was reading the menu the rude waiter demanded to collect all the menus in so I never got to make my mind up if the food would be worth returning for. In that event, I won't be returning and will likely go somewhere with better service.

Beer range limited, food range also appeared to be limited (from what I was permitted to see)

Avoid. Well worth the lowly 2/5 rating in Fancy a pint

To all pubs and restaurant: Please don't take menus away, customers might actually want to read them. They aren't a state secret.

01 November 2008

DVD and Cinema features I hate

I loved this comment from Clarke Ching's blog on "Things I would do if I were president of the world". This one comes in at #2.

I'd recall every single DVD player ever sold and get the manufacturers to add a "skip the shite" button which takes you straight past all the unwanted adverts, the insults and accusations that you may be a thief, and any sort of fancy, self-indulgent DVD-designer stuff. I buy the DVD to watch the movie or TV show ... not to be told I'm a thief. I'd also force movie theatres to put up a 10 second message which says, "Hey, you paid to watch this movie, so you're probably not a thief! Thanks! We appreciate your business and hope you enjoy this movie".


See also DVD forced advertising hell.

The "don't be a pirate" clips at the start of DVDs really did themselves proud when they warned me of the risks of watching a pirate DVD that might have been taped in a cinema and could have people standing up and getting in the way in the movie. Well done guys, you've just advertised a really good reason why I shouldn't go and see movies at all.

I would add another rule. I would require every entertainment outlet such as cinemas that is paranoid that you must only eat THEIR food in the cinema that in return the cinema is required to provide a wider range of food such that if you have to eat particular foods for dietary or religious reasons that you can actually either bring your own food or eat healthy food bought in the cinema. Currently the only options at the cinema seem to be "eat popcorn", "drink this unhealthy juice with lots of sugar in it", "eat these bags of sweets by the sackload", "have a hot dog (meat eaters only)" or "go hungry".

Pubs woke up to the food revolution about 30 years ago. When are cinemas going to catch up?

Craig

Craig

25 October 2008

Royal Bank of Scotland incompetence

I have always been a bit surprised by the banking industry. It must be that there is a special set of skills you can only get when working for banking that is completely unavailable anywhere else. The vast majority of banks (when they used to hire people) only took on people with previous banking experience. You might be the best web project manager going, but if you haven't worked for a bank they won't interview you. You might have all the relevant qualifications, but if you haven't worked for a bank, they won't interview you. You might even have extensive payments, e-commerce experience and been security vetted, but if you haven't worked for a bank they won't interview you. Although I have worked in financial services, retail, government and a wide range of sectors, banking is unique in that they require previous experience and will wait forever for the right person and pay over the odds for them rather than take someone who is capable of doing the job. Even government has realised that just employing government people to top jobs is a loser and is keen to recruit from outside. Not so the closed and incestuous world of banking which being so far shoved it own backside is now up the proverbial creek without a paddle and in the biggest mess for nearly a century. Led of course by people who are lifelong bankers, rather than well rounded individuals with a breadth of experience.

I turn now to the fiasco which is Royal Bank Digital Banking which has been the biggest disaster of a service imaginable ever since it first launched, failing of course to casually ignore the bank’s obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act to provide an accessible service for many years.

7 years after the likes of Egg and Intelligent Finance implemented online secure messaging, Royal Bank (they like to claim they are a leader) still doesn't have it. The "alternative" is a long phone call, possibly at expensive rates overseas from a mobile. Not very much of an "online" service then.

They also used to have a very useful financial planner application online. This service was withdrawn.

Recently, and completely unannounced, they made some changes to online banking such that even amending a payment to myself requires a card reader and a card with PIN. Being a business banking customer, my account had no card as all my transactions are online. I write a cheque about once a month and since it's posted, there is no requirement for a card, nor does my account come with one. So in order to do my transactions online I had to have a special online-only card issued. I also need a PIN and a card reader and I have to pack the card and reader as additional extras when I travel just so that I can pay wages into my own account. The alternative (having done it twice now) is a long conversation lasting about 20-30 minutes on the phone to do exactly the same thing but at great expense if I was calling from overseas.

I won't debate the merits of how secure or otherwise this recent change is nor indeed why they would need to implement all that security online when the phone system is as insecure as ever and of course is over an open channel, anyone within earshot can hear it etc. Bit like having 1 lock on your front door and 2 million locks on your back door then saying "we just added another million locks to the back door; our service is really secure now". Burglars aren't stupid. They break in at the weakest point; therefore the security of the back door is irrelevant until the front door is up to the same standard.

So now I turn to the latest set of problems with online banking. They sent me a card, PIN and reader for use with the online banking service over a year ago. However, at that time I had no need for them. The service didn't require their use either for regular payments. A year passed and in all that time I didn't need them once. Then all of a sudden without warning RBS changed the website behaviour so that paying myself via the same payment I had successfully been using for years was now deemed as high risk as setting up a brand new payment to Nigeria in response to a possible scam. Both transactions now need the card, card reader and PIN. No problem I thought and dug out the card and reader I'd got a year ago.

Went to set up transaction and the system said I would need to order a card reader. Funny that, I wonder what the system thought the thing I was holding was that was called a "card reader". There was no way to reset the flag in the system to say I already had one other than to order another one and wait several days until the system thought it had arrived, by which time I could then use the one I already had.

Then I went to use the card I'd had for a year and realised that since I'd never used the card, I couldn't remember the PIN. I called RBS and asked them to send me a new PIN. No can do, that type of card can't have its PIN reset, they had to order a new card instead. However, there's a problem with the supplier and the new card might take up to 3 weeks to arrive. 4 weeks later, I still have no card, no PIN for use with new card and therefore no on-line service. This remember is from a so called leading bank. Buggy websites, poor card functionality and supplier problems too.

On 15th October I put in the following complaint:

1. That the on-line system was changed without warning and for customers like me who required both a card and PIN we needed a 3 week warning at least to ensure no loss of service. This advance warning was not given.

2. I need a card and a PIN to do trivial on-line transactions between my own accounts that have never been a problem, if you are going to change the service to require cards and PINs, you need to check that these cards and PINs are actually available and there isn't a supplier problem. If there is, you need to either delay the upgrade or have an on-line workaround.

3. My wife and I share the same bank account. It isn't possible to set up pay from the business account to our joint account so that my pay goes through as one transaction and her pay goes through as another transaction without endless security checks. Paying a husband and wife who share a common account is such a basic item it is astonishing that it is impossible with direct banking to set up two payments to the same account but with two difference references (e.g. Craig pay and Joscelin pay). Never mind the "Craig dividends" "Joscelin dividends" and expenses payment references I might need as well - one account can only have one reference at a time.

4. When logging the above complaint on 15th October I was passed between several agents all of whom re-requested my details verbally. This is a security risk when I am calling from a phone as it increases the opportunity of people overhearing the conversation. RBS should implement an internal secure call transfer system, just as they already have when transferring from the telephone banking system to when you speak to an agent.

Points 1,2,3,4 were logged as a complaint on 15th October and I was told I would receive a response by 17th October. On 19th October I complained that no response had been received. On 21st October they wrote me a letter saying that they had tried to call me on the 21st but were unable to make contact. My phone has no record of a missed call or otherwise from the bank on 21st October. The response to my complaint was to explain that a card reader order was pending (which I knew) and that I could order a card reader on-line (which I don't care about as they've just acknowledged one was on its way). The letter then said that the changes were introduced to safeguard customers from possible fraud. No explanation as to why no notice was given, no explanation to explain why the loss of on-line service was not considered any explanation as to when my card and PIN which I am still waiting for would actually arrive, no explanation as to their poor call handling and complaint response times.

So I thought I would document the problems on-line just so they have a written record they can look up in case they lose the details again. I also find that telling an organisation I have put my comments on my blog generally results in a better response than the usual stock half-hearted template reply.

Maybe the next time I think of applying for a bank I should put "I want to work for an incestuous company that has no concept of customer service, technical capability or approach to delivering a high class product" and I might stand more of a chance in future. On the other hand, I might just put "Previous banking experience: UK taxpayer. Through your own incompetence taxpayers like me own a part of you. We bailed you out."

Surely an organisation that used to make billions of pounds profit a year and was bigger than Coke could actually deliver a basic on-line service and help desk that is better than this?

23 October 2008

Estate Agents and the no commission model

So the property market is now at the point where estate agents are selling houses with no commission charges (This is London; 20th October 2008)

Hardly news for me however, I wrote about this in the Linlithgow Gazette on 17th October and on this very blog almost 5 months ago.

How many more estate agents will go bust before they realise the commission model driven on a low number of high profit sales is no longer viable?

These days the main source of house sales is the Internet. If websites didn't run a closed shop estate agents only model, then members of the general public could sell their own homes for a tiny fraction of the present commission driven cost.

The longer that estate agents cling to the 1%+ sales commission model, the more incentive there is for some real competition from the likes of House network - commission free selling.

I should not more have to pay an estate agent several thousand pounds for picking up the phone and sending a seller my way than I should pay autotrader a commission for selling my car. Even eBay don't charge a commission for selling property.

Conventional estate agents pay attention! Time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Craig

Letter from Linlithgow Gazette 17th October 2008:

A challenge

Sir,— I have lived in Linlithgow for over seven years and during that time have seen businesses close in the High Street and seen a reduction in diversity in the High Street, including no toy shop, more sandwich shops and properties lying vacant. Coming from the other side of the argument, I worked for Tesco and was IT manager of the grocery website at their corporate HQ in Hertfordshire last year. Yet I feel that another out of town shopping centre is the last thing the town needs – I would rather have Tesco where it is than a larger supermarket that you need to get in a car to drive to.

The £10 minimum charge levied by retailers on credit cards doesn't apply at Tesco and if the small retailers don't want to alienate people they need to drop this requirement – even small retailers can use credit card clearing facilities that charge a flat amount per month (just like Tesco) rather than a per transaction fee.
My job as an e-commerce consultant takes me all over the UK. When I work in London, I see that small traders get more passing custom yet seem much more willing to capitalise on the internet to supplement their passing trade.

With online shopping continuing to rise, the efforts of the Linlithgow High Street to reach out to anyone wanting to shop on line are woeful by comparison. Even something as basic as a one page website listing the company name, address, email address, products and services and opening hours is missing from most of the High Street traders and instead people searching often find traders in Livingston or Falkirk instead – for example enter Linlithgow Plumber in Google and the first site returned says there are none.

Enter West Lothian computers and Google maps returns nothing for Linlithgow either. Most of the time entering generic search terms, for example Linlithgow pubs or Linlithgow restaurants such as tourists would use, simply results in generic listing type sites over which local businesses usually have little or no control – actually returning the site belonging to a local business or Linlithgow.com would be far more useful.

Whilst Linlithgow.com is a useful first step, in times of a credit crunch and competing with out of town shopping, the woeful presence of Linlithgow on the Internet does not help businesses reach out to new customers who would rather look online.

Indeed even those with the most developed websites, that is estate agents, now face challenges from online-only estate agents who list property for sale on the same websites and at a tiny fraction of the price charged by Linlithgow High Street agents. Even the might of Tesco.com can't tell me what's in stock at my local shop in Linlithgow.

The challenge of out of town shopping, online searching for businesses and online shopping presents a problem for businesses from local high street shops to major retail groups, and the people of Linlithgow. In difficult economic times we need to come together and do everything possible to reach as many customers as possible.
Not having an adequate Internet presence in this day and age is like not having a phone number 30 years ago.

Making Linlithgow at the heart of Silicon Glen fully connected with modern shopping trends would not only complement Cittaslow status, but would help businesses of all kinds to combat the challenges posed not only by Springfield's development but also global shopping trends.—Yours etc.,
CRAIG COCKBURN, M.Sc.,
Chartered IT Professional

17 October 2008

Star of Bombay, 157 Westbourne Grove, London W11

If you bought some goods and then had a mandatory 30% charge slapped on them without warning you'd probably be pretty annoyed.

Restaurants do this with alarming regularity, nowhere else indulges in such a dubious practice so why do restaurants such as the Star of Bombay and indeed about 90% of other restaurants annoy and mislead customers like this when 99% of non restaurant businesses are open and honest about their pricing?

Supposing the price of the food is £20. On top of this slap the 10% mandatory service charge whether you like the food or not and even if it's just you eating. So the price of the food is now £22. Rather than an honest price for the food of £22, it's a dishonest £20 with an extra £2 even if the service was rubbish.

On top of that, as a VAT registered business I should be able to claim back the VAT by getting a VAT bill. So the real cost to me should be £20 * 100/117.5 or £17.02. Instead, because the restaurant just issues a piece of paper with a VAT number and a total on it, this is not a VAT bill and as the VAT isn't separately itemised, it can't be reclaimed. Combined with the dishonest 10% mandatory service change (little more than a table ordering charge, since pub bring the food to my table and don't charge a tip) the cost of the meal is £22 instead of £17.02, a mark-up of over 29% and nearly £5. Eat out 5 times a week on business and approx 1.5 meals equivalent cost is due to rip off charges and poor billing practices by restaurants rather than the actual price of the food which I need to eat. When I registered for VAT, one of the first things I learned was how to issue a correct VAT invoice for customers and all it takes is a piece of paper, a computer or till, a printer and calculator/excel/word or similar so that the invoice has the total, vat total, date, address, and VAT number. Hardly rocket science, so why do restaurants think they are the only sector that can do what it likes in terms of billing? It also makes me wonder if a restaurant can't meet its VAT legal obligations, do they have the same laissez-faire attitude towards legal obligations towards food hygiene which require more skill to meet?


Anyone that rips me off by nearly 30% doesn't deserve praise. So in a recession where places are competing for customer business, I will be sending more business the way of pubs because 95%+ of pubs can produce a proper VAT receipt and don't rip me off with a mandatory service charge, whereas 90% of restaurants do (and they are more expensive). I note most restaurants, especially midweek, are pretty quiet just now. They might be busier if there wasn't a 29%+ surcharge in the bill.

As for the food at the Star of Bombay, well it may be the favourite restaurant of The Chemical Brothers, but I found the food fairly ordinary, the poppadoms were too crispy and disintegrated on touching and dumping the sweet menu in my face without asking me if I would like to see the sweet menu meant the mandatory 10% "service charge" was taking liberties with the name of service.

As for the Star of Bombay, I'll leave the Chemical Brothers to it and eat elsewhere in future. There's no chemistry here for me.

'Craig ate here' on 16th October.

16 October 2008

The Swan, 66 Bayswater Road, Lancaster Gate, W2

Decent enough pub serving a good choice of real ale and large portions of food. The slab of salmon completely dominated my plate and was one of the largest portions of fresh fish I've had in a while. Speedy service and a proper VAT receipt (unlike most restaurants) count in its favour, although having to walk through a smoky beer garden to get to the door was no fun. Convenient for Lancaster Gate tube and probably worth a repeat visit that next time I fancy a large slab of salmon!

'Craig ate here' on 14th October.

13 October 2008

The Victoria pub, Strathearn place, Paddington W2

Excellent traditional London pub steeped in history, serving great food at competitive prices. Good choice of Fullers beers makes this an ideal destination for the real ale enthusiast. Ample wine menu. There is also an upstairs function room. Quiz night 9pm Tuesdays can be busy, but there are also a few outside tables if it's full inside. Decent curry across the road too. Unlike many restaurants I've eaten at in the Paddington area, there's no mandatory rip off 'service charge' for the cheery service and unlike said restaurants, The Victoria CAN give you a correctly itemised VAT receipt. Excellent food, excellent atmosphere, excellent service. Recommended and will return and I suggest a few restaurant owners should dine at The Victoria too and learn how it should be done.

'Craig ate here' on 13th October.

09 October 2008

Khan's Indian restaurant, Westbourne Grove, Bayswater

Food poor, service even worse . Mandatory service charge even if you think the service doesn't deserve it. They can produce a bill with the service itemised but not a correct VAT bill with the VAT itemised, even though they know it should be. Oh and my credit card receipt said "cash". Dodgy food, dodgy billing. Avoid.

Craig

05 October 2008

Multimap goes down the toilet (literally)

I have already blogged about the failings of multimap. I first wrote to them in March 2001 that EH49 7PL is in fact called Avalon Gardens and always has been since the road was first built in 1999. Anyone, including multimap, can check this via the postcode database. Avalon Gardens is a cul-de-sac and only connects to Mill Road, is not a through road to the Falkirk road and indeed since there has been a school at the end of Avalon Gardens since 2002 on East Mill Road (no connection to Avalon Gardens) then the road name for the school is also wrong. Nearly 10 years later, the information is still completely wrong. Despite them writing to me in April 2007 with this information:

Your comments are much appreciated as having accurate data on the site is very important to us. Having investigated the issue you reported, we have identified a potential data anomaly. Our data comes from various suppliers and we have forwarded your query to the relevant supplier in order for them to investigate and make any necessary amendments at source. We receive regular data updates and although we are unable to give you a timescale of when this improvement will take place, you can rest assured that any corrections will filter through to the Multimap website in due course.

OK, here's another rather more humourous "anomaly". I entered a postcode to get a map. The correct map came up (surprise!). I then clicked on directions thinking it would use my map position as the starting point. I then entered my destination postcode. However, the initial postcode location wasn't populated from the map search, instead it was blanked off and the "default" postcode used instead. Not content with using the point in London where all distances are measured from, namely the equestrian statue of Charles I at the south end of Trafalgar Square (the original site of Charing Cross), multimap has its own central point of reference.

The actual centre of Multimap's universe is show on the following image (click to enlarge), taken from a screen capture and easily replicated via the above steps.



So now we know from the enlarged image. Not only is the centre of the multimap universe a gentlemen's private part just off King Willy (sorry William) Street, but on a journey to what should be the centre of UK mapping it sends us past Nelson's column and Cockspur Street (that's enough genital references) in a convoluted path apparently going the wrong way down a one way street between stages 3 and 4. All in all, rather a cock up.

I think that the orange advert says it all: "When turning back is out of the question you have to put your trust in what you know". Which is this case is knowing that multimap once again is not the dogs bollocks, rather it belongs in King William's toilet.

Craig

01 October 2008

Correct VAT receipt

I've blogged before about VAT receipts but just for the benefit of the 90%+ of restaurants who seem to think that a total and a VAT number constitutes a VAT receipt, here's the news - it doesn't.

The two things that most restaurants leave off is the separately itemised amount of VAT included in the bill and the rate of VAT applicable. If any restaurants are reading and want to know what you need to put on a VAT receipt, please check out the HMRC website.

thanks
Craig

17 September 2008

bengal indian restaurant bayswater paddington

Great Indian food, competitive prices. You need to remember to prod the waiter after they've collected your main course plates otherwise you get ignored. Also, no proper VAT receipt either just a total and a VAT number.

What must be on a VAT receipt.

21 August 2008

Scottish handmade silver jewellery


Joscelin Harden is looking to expand her trade in original handmade Scottish jewellery. This includes earrings, rings, necklaces, chokers etc in copper wire, hallmarked silver, beadwork etc. Unusual one offs from £30-£300+, free repairs, resizing and cleaning. Stock available on sale or return to retail outlets. At seen at the secret room, WL Morrison, Linlithgow. You can also view some of her silver jewelry on flickr. Time to start thinking about unique romantic Christmas presents?

the new site is at http://www.silverandwirejewellery.co.uk/

You'd likely pay a lot more for similar products in Harrods, Jenners or Harvey Nicols ....

Craig

19 August 2008

How Africa can be richer than the Middle East

I was reading about the completion in Dubai of the world's tallest skyscraper. Evidently no shortage of money in Dubai then to build tall or extravagant structures, funded of course by oil. Oil being of course a valuable commodity sold worldwide. Africa has a very valuable commidity, available in almost limitless quantities throughout most of the continent - solar power. Why can't we get our acts together and bring forward schemes for solar power in Africa, this one being even cheaper than oil with the potential to power Europe and 2/3 of the Middle East and North Africa countries. That's just one power station as well and using just 0.3% of the desert space. Why is the EU dragging its feet on this? Surely being able to generate electricty from a green source of energy and sharing the profits in Africa then Africa can not only enjoy the sort of spending power Dubai currently has, we can begin to address issues such as poverty in Africa, famine and disease - none of which seem to be major factors in Dubai.

With such a valuable resource, maybe Africa will become the New Middle East, not only in terms of power and wealth, but also wars and conflict involving the West.

Craig

13 August 2008

Back to work by working together

My idea on the show us a better way government website. £20,000 prize to be won by making better use of government data.

11 August 2008

Gaelic events at the Edinburgh Fringe 2008

Information follows about the Gaelic Partnership’s programme of Gaelic events at The Colmcille Centre this year during the Edinburgh Fringe. Please let your friends and colleagues know about them so that we can ensure reasonable attendances each night. Please note that Sunrise not Secular are appearing on the Monday night and Bannal on the Tuesday night – not as was previously circulated. poster and smaller flyers are available from the Gaelic Community Office in Dundee Street if you are able to circulate some. Look forward to seeing you there.

Fiosrachadh an cois seo mu thachartasan Gaidhlig a bhios againn aig Iomall Feis Dhun Eideann am-bliadhna. Feuch an toir sibh iomradh orra dhar cairdean is luchd-eolais gus am faigh sinn aireamhan math de dhaoine gan frithealadh. Thoiribh an aire gur e Sunrise not Secular a tha againn Diluain agus Bannal Dimairt – chan e an taobh eile mar a chaidh a chuairteachadh roimhe. Tha postair agus tha bileagan beaga rim faighinn san Oifis Choimhearsnachd mas urrainn dhuibh gin a chuairteachadh. Moran taing.


Please prefix numbers with 0131 when dialling from outside Edinburgh/from a mobile:

Tuesday 05.08.08 – 7.30pm Gaelic Conversation Circle –
Tollcross Community Centre, 117 Fountainbridge with Calum Cameron. (Cont:
334 7005)

Saturday 09.08.08 – 7.30pm Colmcille Gaelic Week - concert with
highly-acclaimed Gaelic singer and recording artiste Margaret Stewart, with
Ingrid & Allan Henderson, Colmcille Centre, 2 Newbattle Terrace. (Cont:
07906 318561)

Sunday 10.08.08 – 12.30pm Weekly Gaelic service, Greyfriars
Kirk, Greyfriars Place. (Cont: 225 1900).

Monday 11.08.08 – 7.30pm Colmcille Gaelic Week - concert with
‘Sunrise not Secular’ Lewis-based Celtic Rock group – David ‘The Davinator’
Nicolson, Brian Macleod, Ryan ’Ranjad’ Smith, and Michael ‘The Haggis’
Macdonald, plus local artistes, story-teller/bard, Colmcille Centre, 2
Newbattle Terrace. (Cont: 07906 318561)

Tuesday 12.08.08 – 7.30pm Colmcille Gaelic Week - concert with
‘Bannal’ Luaidh group featuring Kenna Campbell, Chrissie Macinnes, Sineag
MacIntyre, Wilma Kennedy, Margaret Callan, Margaret Anne Campbell, Christine
Grant, Tilly Macmillan & Morag Law & local musicians, story-teller/bard,
Colmcille Centre, 2 Newbattle Terrace. (Cont: 07906 318561)

Tuesday 12.08.08 – 7.30pm Gaelic Conversation Circle –
Tollcross Community Centre, 117 Fountainbridge with Calum Cameron. (Cont:
334 7005)

Tuesday 12.08.08 – 12.45pm National Museum of Scotland,
Hawthornden Court, Chambers Street – music from Skerryvore. Free event.
(Cont: 225 7534).

Wednesday 13.08.08 – 7.30pm Colmcille Gaelic Week – BBC Radio nan
Gaidheal recording of “Mo Roghainn Fhèin” with special guests Dolina
Maclennan & Allan Turner in conversation with Mark Wringe about their
favourite Gaelic poems. Plus local singers/musicians. Free admission. Doors
open 7pm. Recording 7.30pm. Colmcille Centre, 2 Newbattle Terrace. (Cont:
07906 318561)

Thursday 14.08.08 – 7.30pm Colmcille Gaelic Week – National Mod
2008 concert led by Mod Gold Medallist James Graham, with Kenna Campbell,
Arthur Cormack, Mairi Macmillan, Lyle Kennedy, Deans sisters, Cumbernauld
Gaelic Choir, Falkirk Jnr Gaelic Choir & local instrumentalists &
storyteller/bard. Colmcille Centre, 2 Newbattle Terrace. (Cont: 07906
318561)

Friday 15.08.08 – 7.30pm Colmcille Gaelic Week - concert
with ‘Daimh’ featuring Calum A Macmillan, with ‘phenomenal instrumental
arsenal’ of Ross Martin, Angus Mackenzie, Gabe McVarish, Col O’Rua & Seumas
Bremner, along with local entertainers & storytellers/bard. Colmcille
Centre, 2 Newbattle Terrace. (Cont: 07906 318561)

Saturday 16.08.08 – 7.30pm Colmcille Gaelic Week - concert with
Internationally-acclaimed piper ‘Fred Morrison along with Matheu Watson,
local musicians, story-teller & bard, Colmcille Centre, 2 Newbattle Terrace.
(Cont: 07906 318561)

Sunday 17.08.08 – 12.30pm Weekly Gaelic service, Greyfriars
Kirk, Greyfriars Place. (Cont: 225 1900).

Tuesday 19.08.08 – 7.30pm Gaelic Conversation Circle –
Tollcross Community Centre, 117 Fountainbridge with Calum Cameron. (Cont:
334 7005)

Tuesday 19.08.08 – 12.45pm National Museum of Scotland,
Hawthornden Court, Chambers Street – songs & music from Mary Ann Kennedy.
Free event. (Cont: 225 7534).

Wednesday 20.08.08 – 7.30pm Comann na Clarsaich Festival Ceilidh at
St. Andrew & St. George’s Church, George Street, with na Clarsairean, Isobel
Mieras & Jim Ferguson & Lothian Gaelic Choir. (Cont: 07906 318561)

Thursday 21.08.08 – 12.45pm National Museum of Scotland,
Hawthornden Court, Chambers Street – clarsach music from Ailie Robertson.
Free event. (Cont: 225 7534).

Sunday 24.08.08 – 12.30pm Weekly Gaelic service, Greyfriars
Kirk, Greyfriars Place. (Cont: 225 1900).

Sunday 24.08.08 – 2.00pm National Museum of Scotland,
Hawthornden Court, Chambers Street – final ceilidh with ceilidh band. Free
event. (Cont: 225 7534).

Sunday 24.08.08 – 8.30pm Edinburgh International Book
Festival, Peppers Theatre, Charlotte Sq. Gdns. Gaelic book launches with
Martin McIntyre & Ian Finlay Macleod. (Cont: 0845 373 5888)

Tuesday 26.08.08 – 7.30pm Gaelic Conversation Circle –
Tollcross Community Centre, 117 Fountainbridge with Calum Cameron. (Cont:
334 7005)

Sunday 31.08.08 – 12.30pm Weekly Gaelic service, Greyfriars
Kirk, Greyfriars Place. (Cont: 225 1900).

Tuesday 02.09.08 – 7.30pm Gaelic Conversation Circle – SNP
Rooms, North St. Andrew St. with Calum Cameron. (Cont: 334 7005)

Sunday 07.09.08 – 12.30pm Weekly Gaelic service, Greyfriars
Kirk, Greyfriars Place. (Cont: 225 1900).

Tuesday 09.09.08 – 7.30pm Gaelic Conversation Circle – SNP
Rooms, North St. Andrew St. with Calum Cameron. (Cont: 334 7005)

Tuesday 16.09.08 – 7.30pm Gaelic Conversation Circle – SNP
Rooms, North St. Andrew St. with Calum Cameron. (Cont: 334 7005)

Saturday 20.09.08 – 7.30pm Argyll Association ceilidh, St
John’s Church Hall, Princes Street (Cont: 453 5766)

Airson tuilleadh fiosrachaidh mu ghnothaichean Gàidhlig ann an Dùn Èideann,
cur fios gu Iain Macleòid, Oifigear Leasachaidh Coimhearsnachd air 07906
318561 no air post-d gu john@andarach.com


For further information on Gaelic activities in Edinburgh, please contact John Macleod, Gaelic Community Development Officer on 07906 318561 or john@andarach.com If you want your contact details added to the community e-mail circulation list, please send a brief message to the above e-mail address. If you know of other Gaelic events/courses etc that could be added
to this list, please let John know.


Regular weekly updates on Gaelic activities in Edinburgh are now also featured in the Stornoway Gazette (newspaper & website).

08 August 2008

Seeking Senior Project Management / Web opportunities / CTO


Wondering if anyone reading this is hiring a web project manager/ CTO at the moment
You can view my details on my linkedin profile. Looking for contract work UK wide, permanent work in Central Scotland but I would also look at permanent work further afield depending on the opportunity. I'm immediataly available, happy to meet up, chat online before hand. I'll be in London on Tuesday.

thanks

Craig

04 August 2008

UK Government big thinking. National Insurance

The present government is accused by Tony Blair of having no policies.

Here's a policy which someone who has been chancellor for 11 years should be able to sort out.

Simplify the tax system and make it accountable.

Here's an example - look at what National Insurance is for on the direct gov website.

Then use that explanation to explain why EMPLOYERS who derive only a minuscule benefit from National Insurance need to pay more NI than employees. Employers do not get the pension benefit, employers get only a tiny benefit from sick pay. Employers still have to pay the majority of maternity pay and employers get no benefit towards unemployment benefit through this tax. Indeed as a self employed person in a Ltd company, you end up paying approx 24% in National Insurance even though you CANNOT CLAIM UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT BETWEEN CONTRACTS because "looking for work" whilst out of work is deemed to be paid employment even though you are not being paid whilst doing it.

This nonsense is little better than the equally bureaucratic mess inherited from the Tories. I took my case in 1996 to my MP who now happens to be Chancellor of the Exchequer (i.e. Alistair Darling). This was around the time of Harriet Harman's "send my kids to private school" story:


Letter in The Herald 5-Feb-96
This was published in full as their main letter of the day
Poverty trap bound by red tape

The disproportionate publicity given to a Labour MP's decision to send her child to a grant maintained school is causing the real issues affecting millions of people to be quietly brushed aside by the Conservatives. Here is an example of a "customers" experience of the disastrous state the Welfare system is in after nearly 17 years of Tory rule. They only have themselves to blame. As a "Customer" my response is that the Welfare state is a mass of red tape and I'd like to shop elsewhere, if I could.

Last year I was made unemployed and I registered as such with the unemployment office. It turns out, that despite a 500 a month mortgage, approx. 100 a month in bills and a requirement to buy food to live, I am not eligible for any state aid. I am disqualified from receiving any unemployment because during the year 93/94 I was on the Government's Employment Training initiative and only being credited with National Insurance, not paying it. My other 7 full years of actual contributions count for nothing. I couldn't even get the Welfare State to pay my £70 train fare for an interview because the initial contract was for less than 12 months.

I am disqualified from Social Security as I live with my fiancée and she works 25 hours a week. It apparently doesn't matter that her monthly wage is the same as my mortgage. It costs about 600 a month minimum plus food for us to exist and every month we are going more overdrawn because of the lack of the welfare state. The government defines "full time employment" as 16 hours or week or over and if one of a couple is working this, the other is not eligible for social security or housing benefit no matter what their income is. This definition of "full time employment" is patently ridiculous. If I put on my job applications that I would work 16 hours full time, I'd get laughed at. If I put I'd only work 16 hours a week on my signing on card, I would not get full unemployment benefit. The Government clearly has it both ways.

The "Employment Service" fully accept this problem and numerous people at the Employment service have said "I shouldn't say this but you would be a lot better off if your fiancée gave up her job or moved out". Is it really the Conservative party which believes in "family values" which has created this appalling system - forcing people out of work or splitting up families so that they can afford to eat?

Taking the Conservative philosophy of choice to its conclusion - I believe my paying National Insurance is like obtaining an insurance policy for myself and for the benefit of others. My experience of this system is that the rules are obscure and complex. It eliminates people who need money whilst giving money to those who may be out of work but well off. I would like to opt out of this mess, as I can with a pension scheme, and pay towards a scheme which has clear, easy to understand rules which pays out when I need it. Looking at private redundancy schemes, this is what they offer.

What this country really needs though is a simple system for the unemployed and low paid of adding your income, subtracting reasonable outgoings and then paying all or some of the difference, at a level which gives a guaranteed minimum income but is an incentive to go back to work. No exclusion clauses based on one person's 16 hours work expected to fund a couple. No exclusion clauses based on what happened in the tax year years ago and no automatic benefit for the wealthy whilst genuinely poor people are trying to make ends meet.

The issues surrounding one child's schooling pale into insignificance next to the millions caught in a poverty trap by Conservative Red Tape.


So over 12 years later we still have a state system which means that people out of work can end up being disqualified from receiving any state aid whatsoever because of red tape. Zero income was the sort of thing that national insurance was supposed to eliminate so that people did not end up in poor houses. Zero income does not pay bills. Zero income fuels the credit crunch. In a credit crunch, we need an accountable and fair tax system which ensures that when someone is out of work they are entitled to a minimum benefit, just as when they are in work they are entitled to a minimum wage.

So no more paying 24% national insurance contributions and then excluding people from the very benefits that national insurance was set up to provide. Have a flat rate of NI for all. Abolish employers NI contributions and if necessary adjust the income tax rate accordingly to ensure no employees are worse off. This would result in a fairer and more open tax system. The present alternative of taking a 24% insurance premium and then refusing to pay out for the benefits of that scheme is little better than state theft.

Craig

31 July 2008

Modernising tips: Government starting to take action

Following my blog post on tips in April and my note on the government better regulation site logged at the same time, I am pleased to report that at least part of this is now being taken seriously by the government as reported in today's news. We now need to get complete transparency for charging in restaurants now and abolish the nefarious practice of the mandatory service charge, which only serves to distort prices for customers. No other industry distorts their prices this way, and it has to stop in restaurants. The government response (below) to my idea is non committal and does not help consumers.

There are no regulations covering the practice of mandatory service charges or tips; it is a matter for the individual establishment to decide if they make non-optional charges, at what level the charges are set, and if they include different rules in certain circumstances ie parties over a certain number. Of course, consumers can exercise choice by refusing to dine in the establishment where they consider the charges to be unduly prohibitive. However, where obligatory charges are enforced, they must be set out clearly for the consumer whenever there is an invitation to purchase, ie on a menu card. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) 2008, which came into force on 26 May, require traders not to omit material information which the average consumer needs, according to the context, to make an informed choice but is not prescriptive as to how this information must be given (eg in writing). A case could be made that the average consumer is likely to want to know what mandatory charges are included

The Prices Practices Guide which recommends to traders a set of good practices in giving the consumer information about prices in various situations, and takes account of the provisions of the CPRs, advises that where customers are required to pay a non-optional extra charge, such as a service charge, then it should be incorporated within the fully inclusive price wherever possible, also the non-optional charge should be displayed clearly on any price list or priced menu whether displayed inside or outside the establishment. Where, however, an optional sum is suggested for service, it should not automatically be included in the total bill presented to the customer.

Where a service charge or a tip is paid via a bill, it is a matter for the employer to negotiate with the employee how they are shared out. There is no law which sets this out. However, monies paid to a restaurant (eg by credit card) belong to the restaurant in the first instance, and tax is due on tips however they are paid to the waiter. National Insurance Contributions will be due if the tips are paid to workers by the employer.


Craig

29 July 2008

Problem with Iprofile: Contact details to log faults

I use Iprofile which is the online CV designed to make life easier for recruiters.

However, the system is extremely buggy, insecure and worse that that it's next to impossible to contact iprofile as they seem to ignore support requests sent through their webform and like so many user-hostile websites fail to publish a support phone number. Non existent customer service? Time for them to "read my blog"!

If you are experiencing similar difficulties with iProfile and want their customer service phone number it is available on the parent group website and just in case you missed it, here it is: 020 7025 0555 (I will also post the variant 02070250555) just to ensure it is picked up by search engines.

I was thinking of launching a startup website where people could log faults and see what faults had been logged, a bit like bugzilla but just as you can search for bugs in bugzilla by project, my idea would be that you could search and log bugs on other people's websites irrespective of whether they used bugzilla or not. Users could then vote on the bugs they wanted fixed first and if the company had any sense, they would look at the lists and do something about it. Here is this morning's batch of iprofile issues:

iprofile.org, bug 1. When I apply for a job, the acknowledgement I get back has someone else's email address in the candidate username link. This is a security risk as it exposes someone else's details (they work at barclaycard). I told you about this bug in May, you eventually responded in May saying the only way to fix it was the rather poor cop out of rebuilding my profile. I reluctantly agreed, however the bug is still present. Why?

iprofile.org, bug 2. My available from date has to be today or a date in the future. I have set it to today's date and I do this whenever I go into iprofile. However, several hours later I find it reset to a date 6 weeks ago in June which means I have to go in and manually change it again. Please fix this bug as it presents misleading information to prospective employers. I see you have also fixed the related bug which changes my jobseeker status from "actively looking" to "not actively looking", however other related problems persist.

I am aware of similar sites such as suggestion box but what I'm after here is more along the lines of a cross between that and utest.

Irrespective of your issues with iprofile, you might like to vote for this idea on reddit, maybe it will get some investors my way and we can start to use crowdsourcing to shame buggy websites into fixing their problems - satisfied users might actually help such sites to make more money?

Craig

28 July 2008

Homecoming Scotland

Please visit homecomingscotland2009.com for details of a major programme of events throughout 2009 to celebrate Scottish culture and to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns.

23 July 2008

Sorting out UK Government data privacy

Please view this idea I posted on the Better Regulation website to attempt to sort out the conflicts in UK privacy laws. Comments welcome. Following my posting here, this letter was published in this week's computing magazine.

Craig

18 July 2008

The demise of the Scottish entrepreneur

Two days ago I posted that Scotland's answer to Dragons Den had ceased trading.

I came across this note I posted to the First Tuesday Scotland network on 9th June 2003, over 5 years ago.

It seems not much has changed in that time to support the Scottish Entrepreneur, indeed with this week's announcement things are only getting worse. Sorry to sound so pessimistic but I tell it as it is.

In message <BPEDJNPNLJEFMFCOBAMOIEDDDOAA.gordon@firsttuesday
scotland.com>, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp <gordon@firsttuesdayscotland.com>wrote:
>
>For about 6 years I have disagreed with the direction of Scottish Enterprise
>as a whole and that is why I left the organisation to set up this network.
>Economies are driven by confidence and positivity, demand and the
>availability of disposable income. Regardless of the expertise of the man at
>the top and the people throughout the organisation SE can only do the
>bidding of the Scottish Parliament and this is where it goes wrong - it suffers
>from public sector thinking - good people hamstrung by red tape and politics.
>
I replied:

The public sector mentality is about as far removed as you can get from the
rapidly moving and flexible environment of being an entrepreneur.

Scottish Enterprise may be headed by a competent individual, but this is little
better than having a competent train driver. If the network operator can't work
the points, you end up permanently on a slow line or a dead end siding.

There needs to be a total change of mindset in the executive and at UK level
before anything serious begins to change.

How about assessing businesses on the quality of the idea, the opportunity it
addresses and the likelihood of success rather than engaging in little more
than a box ticking exercise, or claiming to provide a service for info which can
be easily obtained on line, or assessing businesses based on the number of
birthdays the founder has had?

Scotland is famous for its inventors - people who have changed the world and
been huge successes. What support is there for these people from Scottish
Enterprise? What help in filing for a patent would there be for today's John
Logie Bairds or Alexander Graham Bells or more widely James Dyson or
Trevor Bayliss both of whom had huge obstacles in getting products to
market.

What help would there be in helping the lone entrepreneur with a brilliant idea
if they have little or no resources of their own to do it? Such people would of
course be precluded from the "Proof of concept" funding because this is tied
to working in a research establishment.

Furthermore there is a huge contradiction when it comes down to help for the
entrepreneur. Businesses are supposed to be flexible, geared up for parents
with flexible working needs, geared up for people wanting to work part time,
geared up for distance working etc with all these directives and laws being
passed. So you tick all the boxes for things the executive is saying they want
to promote: "I'm wanting to start up, what help is there for time-poor, cash-
poor parents wanting to work part time in the business while they get going
and keep down a day job and I want to work from home to save money". What
help is there specifically for parents or anyone in these categories? None. The
"Who wants to be an entrepreneur" competition has become "Who wonders
where it went" and The John Logie Baird awards have vanished like the dot in
the middle of the inventor's TV screen. Meantime in the real world where
businesses in 2006 will be prosecuted for ageism in recruitment, we have the
exact opposite going on in the world of the entrepreneur where you can't get
certain awards (e.g. PSYBT) based on whether your partner has had more
than 30 birthdays (even though the main applicant qualifies). Are these to be
made illegal post 2006?

Why does the very nature of how SE lends its funding and help and what help
there is, go almost 100% against what businesses themselves are expected
to do when they employ people? Does no-one do joined up thinking anymore?

Craig

Popular Posts