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Charles on… anything that comes along

Tuesday 30 January 2007

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:39 pm

Why do you use a Mac? The answer’s in the question, sorta

The latest Freedom2Surf newsletter pings into the inbox.

The top line:

Apple Mac users: Let us know how we can improve our Mac support.

There’s a linked survey, which includes the question “Why do you use a Mac?”

Back at the newsletter, what else is there to feast on? Inter alia..

Great Security Deals: Great security doesn’t have to cost the earth. Check out our competitive Security promotions!

Check your virus knowledge! You can never know enough about internet-born viruses. Make sure you remain safe with our mini guide and top tips.

Stay safe when banking online: Read our advice and protect yourself against online attacks.

FREE DeskDefender Scan! If you haven’t already subscribed to one of our Security Suite packages, Download IntY’s FREE DeskDefender scan!

Yeah, so anyway, remind me - why is it I use a Mac?

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:26 pm

Orange, are you there? Because soon I’m not going to be with you.

“Orange wants to give you excellent customer service,” says the recorded message.

That’s nice. I’d like to either get a replacement for my not-quite-a-year-old Sony Ericsson K600, on which the backspace and # keys have stopped working (the latter means I can’t pick up voicemail on the phone; the former that I can’t correct any error in a text message or phone number I enter, so have to either start again or continue - in a text - with the error).

Orange. How joined up is it? I call the operator on 100. “Call 152,” he says. I call 152. “This number has been discontinued. Please call 150,” says the recorded voice. Yes, that is slightly typical: left hand, meet right hand.

On 150, there’s the option to compla.. I mean, find out about your mobile or your broadband. Avoiding that latter pit of pain, I poke various numbers until I get through to someone who tells me my contract, nearly a year old, has another 6 months to go.

Curse these 18-month contracts; Orange has joined those companies that are at war with their customers, as Simon Caulkin - for my money the most perceptive writer about how management keeps failing to listen to its own good practice - points out.

The first person I speak to at Orange on 150 says that they’ll need my IMEI number so they can proceed, because they need to know it’s the same phone that’s on the contract (OK, makes sense) and then it can all be worked out. However, getting the IMEI, which unsurprisingly (because it’s the least-useful number in the universe until your phone gets stolen) I don’t know off by heart requires taking the battery out which means that I have to end the call.

OK, that’s slightly annoying, if understandable - just about - from both points of view. The woman tells me how to navigate through the menu to get quickly to the people who’ll do the phone replacement. (It’s 1,3,2,2 if you’re interested.)

So I end the call, dismantle the phone, get the IMEI, phone 150, 1,3,2,2. The person there says that they can give me a fault code, and then I can get in touch with Sony Ericsson and see if they’ll replace it, since it’s inside the year.

Er, no, it’s inside the year, so you can send me a replacement, and you can have the wrangle with Sony Ericsson, I say. Sale of Goods Act.

No, he says, for the first six months it’s our problem, and then it’s between you and the manufacturer. Sale of Goods Act. (I’m paraphrasing.)

Ridiculous, I say. If I bought a DVD from Dixons and it went wrong after 11 months would Dixons be telling me to take it up with Toshiba or whoever? Of course not.

Orange man won’t be swayed. He can give me a fault code number and I can get in touch with Sony Ericsson. Which of course I’m really eager to do. Not.

The trouble is that I don’t at the time I’m having the conversation I’m not utterly certain of the SOGA, but I’m sure I recall plenty of letters in Guardian Money on precisely this sort of topic.

“Look, I’ve been a customer for a long time with you, and this could be a dealbreaker here,” I say. He won’t budge. “I’ll call your contract cancellation people in the morning,” I say. And at the same time, I realise: it doesn’t mean anything to them. They don’t care how long I’ve been with them; that’s all money in the past to them. They’ve spent it. All that matters is whether I’m signed up now.

Loyalty? Doesn’t exist for them. Now, maybe they wouldn’t make back the cost of the phone (about £249 at retail, no doubt a lot less at wholesale) in the next six months. But they could be sure - or have more confidence - that I’d think they did offer excellent customer service, which you’ll recall is where we came in.

Instead, I’m now looking at how costly it’ll be to buy myself out of this contract and get an all-the-net-you-can-eat phone from 3..

Update Weds 2130: done in the interests of full disclosure. Orange’s press office got in touch. Apparently what I was told on the phone was correct; but they are going to send me a replacement phone that they happen to have lying about the office. Well, OK. Gift horses, mouths, that sort of thing. I hate to be playing the journalist card (hmm, I would have linked to a Wikipedia article on it - looks like I’ll have to create it myself). But the comments this piece has attracted indicate that all the companies have some way to go. A long way. For instance, one quick way to endear yourself to customers would be to extend the warranty on contracts to a year - would it cost that much?

But the other thing that’s clear is that loyalty simply doesn’t matter any more (as I’m sure Simon Caulkin wrote in that piece). It’s degraded, pointless, stupid: to be a loyal customer is to be a foolish one in this modern world.

Filed under: — Charles @ 12:09 am

Attack of the killer students (with blogs)

Bobbie is being attacked by killer students, using their killer logic to utterly defeat him.

Well, maybe not. Seems that bunch of j-students got some course assignment that included looking at his Multimedia 101 post and then commenting on it. These being blogs, commenting directly.

But follow the stream back to its source, and you find, oh, such open minds. Why, you can see through to the other side, they’re so open.

Thus Pigtown:

Although an ambitious endeavor, Johnson sacrifices actually covering these events well for covering them in a plethora of media. I came away feeling like I didn’t know as much about the CES as I could have if he had just stuck to one medium and gotten things straight. I understand this was a choice, at least in part, from his news agency, and in a later blog he shows the BBC doing all of this well by sending an entire team of reporters. Unfortunately, Bobbie Johnson does not appear to be the next coming of Kevin Sites.

Hey, charmed to meet you too, Mr don’t-know-a-news-agency-from-hole-in-ground. His excuse (in the comments):

My professor sent the link to the entire class and asked us to post our thoughts.

My thoughts, while mostly unprintable, might include getting the professor to read all the student blogs and consider: do you think you’re helping journalism by encouraging stream of consciousness writing? Is that what Emerson.edu ought to be doing? Just wondering.

And what’s really interesting is how little investigative journalism is implied in any of the final projects this bunch is planning.

So at joyceman’s idea for a story:

The Men’s Basketball team here at Emerson is perfect for a multimedia, multi layered, web project. There are at least 11 different stories to tell from the players, as well as the Coach’s and now because of the gym, there is a fan angle too. For me, sports are really dynamic. Every game there is a chance for great video of the game, the fans, and after the game for some awesome sound bites.

You know what I wonder? Whether there’s any drug abuse. Any abuse of sponsorship rules (quite tight on college basketball, I think). And so on. You know, the things that one would count on from a future, oh, Kevin Sites.

Thursday 25 January 2007

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:02 pm

Darwin vs Daily Express readers: die from fire, not dirty dishcloths. Not that the latter happens anyway

So I missed it, for reasons that ought to be obvious, but apparently yesterday the Daily Express advised its readers - in its splash?! - that MICROWAVE ovens can be used to combat deadly food poisoning bugs by sterilising kitchen cloths, scientists have claimed.. (Popup warning: use a popup blocker on that site.)

Interested?

Experiments show that zapping sponges, cloths and plastic scouring pads for just two minutes in a microwave can kill 99 per cent of the germs contained in them.

BBC News 24, never knowingly replete with stories, repeated it. And some people tried it.

Result: Firefighters Warn Against Microwaving Sponges And Clothes (from firefighting.com): Shropshire Fire Service said that they had attended a fire that occurred, when a person attempted to sterilize a dishcloth in a microwave oven. (Check out the ads on that site too. “Single firefighters.” Female single firefighters? Ur.)

So there are two things which are stupid about this story.

1) Doing something because the paper said it would work. What red-tops, especially the terminally malnourished Express, may tell you is almost certainly the opposite of the truth.

2) Excuse me, but how many deaths are there each year in the UK due to slightly mangy cloths? Even how many cases of food poisoning? This is precisely the sort of scare story I detest. Surely there are more case of food poisoning from things like salmonella in eggs, undercooked chicken and so on. The Health Protection Agency has 70,000-odd cases recorded - on a downward slope - but how many deaths from bacterially-infected towels?

I can’t find a single cite.

So: people are burning down their houses - well, making a start on their kitchens - because of a pointless story about a piece of research into something that’s unnecessary.

Oh yeah, but it’s nice that it’s the Express doing it to its readers. Like there weren’t few enough of them already.

Monday 22 January 2007

Filed under: — Charles @ 4:20 pm

Hello, Mr Australian Open - apparently there’s nowhere to tell you how dire your site is

Now, I recognise that I might only be a small subsection of a small subsection, but even so I get annoyed to go to sites like the Australian Open to try to see what’s happening, and click on the “scoreboard” , which would let you watch a live scoreboard, when I’m using Camino 1.1alpha-something, I get

The content selected requires features of Flash 8, at minimum, that are supported on the following browsers:
Internet Explorer 5.0 and higher
Netscape 8.0 and higher
Mozilla 1.7.5 and higher
Firefox 1.0 and higher
Safari 1.3 and higher
Please use one of these browsers to see this content.

at which I simply respond “I’m using Flash 9, you gizmos, and the version of Mozilla that this is built on is far beyond Firefox 1. What do you think I am, prehistoric?”

The problem though is that there’s absolutely nowhere on the site where you can point out this failing. IBM claims responsibility for building it, but isn’t entertaining any complaints either (although interestingly if one clicks on its “Technology” link at the bottom of the Open page, one gets a very busy advert all written in… Flash.

A site you can’t complain about? Which doesn’t want to listen to how it could improve? Which won’t let you use it in your favourite browser?

As I said, Camino may be one of a tiny minority, but we’re the ones who’ll find the big, gaping flaws in the system. Sure, I could hack it to pretend to be a different browser, but life’s too short.

But don’t you love the idea of all that money spent on the site, and nowhere to enter what you think of them? It really reminds me of the whole pro tennis culture.

Friday 19 January 2007

Filed under: — Charles @ 2:36 pm

Amazon reviews of 1984, by the post-1984 class: what sort of clock “strikes” anyway?

Got a minute, or 13? Amazon reviews of Orwell’s 1984 by schoolkids made to read it.

If I had to sum them up, I’d say they were doubleplus goodthink - particularly the one saying

i give this book one star i had to read it for class and i know it’s suposed to be a “classic” but god itis awful. first of all its NOTHING like the future is probly going to turn out. second of all every one says the aurthor george orwell is so trippy and wierd but i think he’s just trying to cover up for the fact that HE CAN’T WRITE. please george do us all a faver and stop writing books.

Excellent grasp of newspeak and goodthink - this one could go far in the Ministry of Truth, or perhaps the Ministry of Knowledge and Understanding would be the best place for them (just while the Minister of Knowledge and Understanding is busy this week). The Min of Educashun is currently full up. (Doubleplusgood by the NCC for its work on the memory hole about the Minister there, though this Google is still plusungood - its memory hole is clearly very faulty in allowing this search to remain.)

Oh, and doubleplusgood for the one who did

The whole reason we live in a democracy is so that we the people don’t have to worry about things like this

- yes, splendid, don’tsayguantanamowiretapping.

Filed under: — Charles @ 2:26 pm

A haiku on picking our dog up from the vet

Digital, our dog
The vet flipped his bits over
Zeroes remaining

That’s all, really.

Monday 15 January 2007

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:36 pm

Marvin the Paranoid Android is here, spamming blogs

A notable development in blog spamming: at least one of them out there seems to be channelling Marvin the Paranoid Android.

I’m getting stuff like this:

Comment Author: Sten69875
Basically nothing seems worth thinking about. I haven’t been up to much these days. I just don’t have much to say right now. I can’t be bothered with anything , but whatever.

Or

I just don’t have much to say these days, but so it goes. Today was a total loss. I guess it doesn’t bother me.

And

I feel like an empty room, but eh. Nothing seems worth doing. I haven’t gotten much done today.

One more:

Basically nothing seems worth thinking about. I haven’t been up to much these days. I just don’t have much to say right now. I can’t be bothered with anything , but whatever.

Are these culled from some suicidal teen’s MySpace page or something? (That’s a new tactic that spammers are using: grabbing real humans’ text that’s been posted somewhere or other and then chunking it wholesale onto a page. I found the whole text from this page’s top post - including the particular spelling of “jibberish” - caught in my spamtrap the other day.)

The thing is that lots of these spam depressives are not that far short of the threshold, so they do pop up on the “is it OK that these linger in spam hell forever?” email. Let me tell you, it can be quite depressing reading them. As you already know.

Me? Well, I haven’t done much today. Don’t know, just can’t seem to find the.. anyway..

Friday 12 January 2007

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:14 pm

The Independent has a blog. Or blogs. You hadn’t noticed?

Via Greenslade to Martin Stabe and Andrew Grant-Adamson, The Independent has a blog which is so awful (think cheap: think getting a free Typepad account and then possibly forgetting the password, or not reminding people to update it, or possibly not having enough - or any? - machines capable of running an operating system introduced in 2001) that the kindest thing would be to bin them and start again.

In my time there - around 2003, I think, when the Guardian started blogging mildly (via The Online blog, which still exists but doesn’t do anything - Neil? - I did briefly consider doing something (going as far as getting a blogger account, doing one post just to prove it, and halting). And though David Felton, then the web boss, said “Sure, do” I also thought that I wouldn’t get any extra time or money or resources to do it. So I didn’t.

It looks like that great tradition continues…

..oh, I hadn’t seen this Press Gazette interview with Ivan Fallon, who could audition for Canute when panto season rolls around.

The Indy has resisted the newsroom integration efforts announced by The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph, and won’t be following the other quality papers’ efforts to post some of their material online before it appears in print. “Newspaper journalists are not geared to instant news; it’s not what they do,” says Fallon.

Funny, then, who are all those people on these things we call “wire services”? Or on the TV? That’s pretty instant. What’s different about someone in front of a keyboard who could post to a website or to a printing press? Answer: the printing press takes longer to appear. But once you press “send”, it’s gone.

“Most political stories happen during the day, and our journalists — like most journalists — reflect on them and write something that is more analytical than what you see on breaking news.”

Yes, and they can do that online too.

Readers look for analysis and nuance out of newspaper stories, Fallon insists. Newspapers don’t break stories, and neither do their websites. “I’ve never seen a story broken online. Before radio or TV? I have Sky News on all day,” he says.

Possibly this came out before Jeff Randall and the Telegraph broke the story of Michael Grade going to ITV. Which was online first, TV next, print last. (Ah yes, it was - June 2006. Changed your mind at all, Ivan?)

“You don’t get your news out of newspapers. People haven’t done for quite a few years. We’ve gone one stage further: we don’t put news on the front page because we’re trying to give them something different. Our front page has become our brand, and we think that’s the direction that newspapers are going, what we call ‘viewspapers’.” But despite the “viewspaper” emphasis, the Indy isn’t rushing to embrace online commentary or blogs. “We’re podcasting where we can make money out of it. How do we make money out of doing blogs?

Ah yes, the “podcasting making money”. I hear that a publisher offered to pay some good money to have their author featured on a podcast. Not on merit (ie not chosen by the Indie), but for the money coming in. Tail, dog, wag?

Wednesday 10 January 2007

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:14 pm

A fact you don’t know about Morrissey and the Eurovision Song Contest

Amidst all the burble about Morrissey being approached by the BBC to be this year’s Eurovision entry, it turns out nobody knows this:

Morrissey can name not just the winner, but also the second- and third-placed acts from its beginning.

This seems bordering on autistic, but apparently he was glued to it as a child.

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