You could be seeing a great picture here
_

Charles on… anything that comes along

Monday 28 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:01 pm

Grangemouth strikers are just the start. Wait for other essential services to realise…

So the Grangemouth strikers have realised that the fact that they’re essential to the running of a plant which refines huge amounts of oil and which in turn powers other oil-refinining plants gives them enormous leverage.

Yet the thing about this strike is that it’s not about pay. Not per se - it’s about pensions. The Grangemouth strikers have the plumpest pensions:

(Presently the top result on a “Grangemouth strikers” search is “why not sack the lot of them?” Obvious answer being “because it’s not an easy job”.)

The workers there don’t pay into a pension scheme; yet even so they get a final salary scheme. This has of course nettled Ineos, which is a bit of a Mr Burns, at least according to what I’ve read. (The Guardian seems to have the only sensible coverage on this.)

So the strike’s about the pension scheme. Ineos wants to close it to new employees and get the existing ones paying in to it. Even so it says

Ineos says it will keep a final salary scheme for all existing workers, paying one sixtieth salary for every year worked, and is proposing that employees contribute 6% over the next six years.

Anyhow, what this strike has shown the Grangemouth workers is that if you’re in the right industry, in the right place, in a key loction, you have to be listened to.

Who’s next? Water workers? Electricity? Gas? Docks? We get the underground strikes from time to time, but the Grangemouth case shows that some workers will realise that they can - at least - get their pensions improved, at the very least.

I’m sure the government’s COBRA group will already know which are the key parts of our infrastructure that need to be kept running. I wonder how easily that would leak to the staff involved there?

Thursday 24 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:37 pm

Like water on a stone, slow processes work: bank penalty charges declared illegal. Update: *maybe* illegal

And to think it all started with a little note by a barrister in Guardian Money. Richard Colbey, wherever he is (probably hiding from angry bankers), wrote a short piece that suggested that credit card charges didn’t conform to contract law. That was 2004.

Years on, we have this:

UK banks could be forced to return billions of pounds of overdraft fees to consumers after a high court judge said the fees could be challenged by the Office of Fair Trading.

The strange thing: somewhere along the line, people stopped worrying about credit cards and focussed on banks. I don’t know quite where.

Mr Justice Andrew Smith agreed with the OFT that charges were covered under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulation 1999.

This paves the way for a further hearing in which the court will decide whether the charges are unfair and, if so, what a fair charge should be.

According to the OFT, banks receive up to £3.5bn a year in unauthorised overdraft fees - nearly £10m a day.

They charge up to £39 for a bounced cheque, standing order or direct debit, and critics of the system say this does not reflect the actual cost incurred by the banks, which could be as little as £2.

The ruling followed a test case in January between the OFT and eight banks and building societies.

I think it could be a while before we see banks pass on interest rate drops. Just a.. feeling I’ve got.

The intriguing thing is that the OFT hasn’t done this with credit card companies - are they next?.

But the bad news, BT customers, is that the earlier case against it failed. BT seems to have law on its side:

at Walsall County Court, District Judge Michael Ellery ruled the customers had been given proper notice of the charge, that it was fair and was a core term of BT’s contract. It is the fifth time BT has won a county court case over the charge.

This doesn’t stop it feeling wrong, very wrong, since there’s no processing involved in internet banking, for example. Paging Richard Colbey..

Update: as suggested by Mark in the comments, they’re only maybe illegal. So I changed the headline.

Update: in comments which got spam-trapped and then deleted, “Jojo” added:

The OFT have already done this with credit card companies - 2 years ago. Default charges were restricted to £12 (anything over that was to be automatically considered unfair and therefore illegal), though some people think this is still too high, especially as the actual cost to the companies is probably closer to £2 than £12. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4878798.stm

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:38 am

The “oh crappp” moment: when cochlear implants are recalled

I haven’t written much about child3 and his cochlear implant because, well, things are going so well in general. His speech improves all the time (”I don’t want it!” is his favourite new phrase), his listening skills get better (he can hear us saying things, or the sound of the front door, in a room where we have the Today programme with its babble of voices on in the background), all is rosy.

Then you come across this:

The FDA announced that the implants “pose a public health risk due to excessive moisture, exposing patients to the risk of device failure, possible surgery, and the potential for additional hearing loss.” “Advanced Bionics shipped [cochlear implants] in violation of the law between January 2005 and July 2006.”

The reason: a supplier, Astro Seal, provided components that once incorporated didn’t keep the implants waterproof. Now, if moisture gets into the implant (inside your head, above your ear) then when you attach the external processor - which powers it via FM waves which also carry the signal - then the wearer, besides not getting any hearing, gets unpleasant electric shocks.

The backstory: the FDA had told Advanced Bionics to stop shipping implants with these parts in 2003. Yet somehow they hung around in the system. And child3 was implanted in May 2006. Did that mean he might have one of the potentially faulty implants, which AB itself said had a fail rate of 20% within 3 years?

Note that the FDA/AB recall isn’t for implants already, um, implanted -

In March 2006 Advanced Bionics recalled all unimplanted HiResolution 90K cochlear implants containing the Astro Seal component because some of the devices were not water proof and were failing at an unacceptable rate. Mrs. Rappaport’s device [she’s the one suing for damages in the link], unfortunately, had already been implanted by the time of the recall. [Hers failed.]

The FDA estimates that 3,477 of the devices with the Astro Seal component had already been implanted at the time of the 2006 recall. Of those an estimated 1,502 devices were implanted in children under 18 years old.

It wasn’t good finding this on a Sunday evening. Everything’s going swimmingly. But this brought on visions: it stops working, and then we have to go with the nuclear option - explantation. (Implant = put in, explant = take out.) That is, taking the old one out, and putting a new one in. Probably in the same ear. (Would you, though? Or would you implant in the other ear?) That would mean some period during which you’d realise it wasn’t working. And then you’d have the explantation operation, and then at least six weeks for it to heal, and then you’d have to start all over again on the process of “tuning” - getting the brain to start realising what it’s hearing via the implant. OK, young brains have amazing plasticity (their ability to adapt to new inputs) but this feels like a step too far. And that delay, in the time when he should be learning more speech, words, perhaps even written language. Even implanting the other ear some time ahead, if you knew you were going to explant

It’s at this point that you wonder quite what you’ve done to your child. Is that his salvation in his head? Or a ticking time bomb? We’d never had any doubts about the benefits of cochlear implants, but for me this was the most uncomfortable moment of all. The Damoclean sword hanging there: is that seal waterproof? Will it hold?

So being able to check on the next day and confirm that child3’s is not one of the affected implants was the best possible news. Weights lifted, all that sort of thing. But it’s also a reminder that technology isn’t perfect. Hell, nothing is. And the choices we make are all fallible; all we can hope is that they’re the best for the longest possible periods of time.

Update: Advanced Bionics has got in touch to point out that it manufactures in the US - which means the FDA is right on its doorstep, and on its case, with visits every couple of months to the manufacturing. That’s different from other CI makers, based outside the US; while they still have to get FDA approval for work in the US, there’s not the same in-depth inspection. Plus, they don’t get fined for errors.

There’s probably something to be written about how one would hold CI makers to consistent standards: what do you count as an “event” that needs to be reported to the national devices agency? But that’s outside my purview. I’m just relieved, is all.

Friday 18 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 1:06 pm

A race of dwarves and giants: visualising income inequality

The scary thing about the following is that it’s now an underestimate. So, start reading:

Imagine that we live in a world in which, owing to genetic mutation, income translates directly into height. The richer you are, the taller you are. Then imagine that the entire population of Britain marches past you, in the course of an hour, ranked in order of their income. What sort of procession would you see?

After three minutes the walkers would be 2ft tall. After a quarter of a hour they would still be dwarfs, of about 3ft; they would reach 4ft after 24 minutes. You would have to wait until 37 minutes before a person of average height, about 5ft 8in, walked by. In the final quarter of an hour, abnormally large people, more than 7ft in height, would start appearing.

With three minutes left, people of twice average height would be passing by. In the final minute, the figures would be giants 30 yards high. Yet even they would not be the biggest. In the hour’s closing seconds, a small number of super-earners would walk past: each would be earning pounds 1m a year or more - and thus each would be at least 235 yards tall. These freakish beings - top barristers, leading City analysts, a few chief executives as well as stars in the entertainment industries - are the products of a society that is increasingly organised in a new, freakish way.

This comes from “How fat cats rock the boat“, by Charles Leadbeater - when he was deputy editor at The Independent. Guess when it was written?

November, 1996. Since then, income inequality has got worse.

It’s one of the most insightful pieces I’ve ever read on how celebrity culture feeds on itself:

In theory competition should make it more difficult for a small elite to charge excessively high prices and make monopoly profits. Yet in fact more competition helps such elites. In highly competitive markets there is a premium on perceived value - on standing out from the competition by looking distinctive; after price, the biggest influence on consumer choice is brand. So those people and companies that are particularly good at marketing, advertising and self- promotion will tend to do better, everything else being equal. Success will breed success, celebrity will beget celebrity.

Thus, in television a handful of comedians have cornered the market in light entertainment, becoming a self-perpetuating elite. And, of course, celebrities like to deal with other celebrities; that is a symbol of their status.

If you are a film celebrity, you want your divorce handled by a celebrity divorce barrister, your hair done by a celebrity cutter, your home decorated by a celebrity designer and so on. As well as being more competitive, however, markets for many goods, whether they are computer games, books, films or legal services, are becoming more international. And larger markets mean larger rewards for the people who win. Being a winner in a purely local market - a school sports day - might bring you a small cup; winning in a global market - the Olympics - brings you vast rewards.

Remember, this was all before the rise of magazines like Heat. But it shows why they rose: because we focus on those at “the top” or near it, and that attention begets more attention. But it also has dramatic effects on income inequality.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 5:33 pm

OK, ZDNet, I give up - I can’t register to comment on your site

Over at ZDNet, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes (which sounds like a wonderful Terry Thomas-style name; one imagines he waxes his goatee and chuckles) picked up my post from the Guardian Tech blog about the mysteriously wandering Psystar. You know, basically doing a little bit of journalism, rather than repeating what had been on Every Other Mac Site.

Down in the comments one then finds someone remarking

Isn’t it interesting that it is some blogger that actually engages in true investigative journalism. The big news houses like ZDNet, ComputerWorld, etc. simply re-printed press releases.

Methinks the small mammals are going to outlive the aging, soon to be extinct dinosaurs.

To which obviously wants to respond, saying “Uh, yeah, that would be one of us small mammal big media journalist types. The word ‘blog’ not being exclusive to people sitting in their front room.”

But ZDNet insists that you must register before you can comment. Well, fair enough - so does the Guardian. After giving your name, rank, serial number and grandmother’s maiden name, it sends an email which has a URL that you click to confirm you’re not a bot. Fair enough.

Until you get the email. It’s been written by a prehistoric - or possibly post-historic - emailer, which uses high-bit ASCII, and these get mangled when they come through your average mail server. So I get a message that looks literaly like this:

Thank you for registering with ZDNet. To fully activate your free membershi=
p and gain unlimited access to all of ZDNet=92s business technology content=
, simply click this link:

http://membership.zdnet.com/1318-1_24-44.html?e=3Dc0vme%2F4pHESbnmCnr7Zun1x=
NtXT6%2Bei8Rp%2FoldU1JY%2BBEo%2F0Wzxazf9%2FcZB%2Bxht7C9C%2BhcSgLIbJfk6rDee8=
ht2mqhTyzu9x

Note: This final registration step is a security measure that=92s designed =
to protect you. Clicking the link above confirms your e-mail address and he=
lps ensure the authenticity of your registration. (If you experience proble=
ms with our link, just copy and paste the entire URL into your browser=92s =
address field and press Enter.)

(I’ve changed one of the characters in that field, so you can’t log in as me.) I’ve tried everything, or what feels like everything: removing the line breaks only, removing the = signs apart from the first one, replacing %2F and %2B with their ASCII equivalents. Nothing works. But then looking at how the email is mangled - in a way that I’ve not seen with anything for absolutely *ages* - it’s clear that there might be any sort of gummidging in there.

So I thought I’d try to contact the help centre, as it offers when you put a “bad” URL in. There’s a link there saying “Contact Customer Support for more information” and it says it links to http://cma.zdnet.com/texis/members/zdnetcontact.html. Except every time I tried it, I was through the rabbit hole, and back at the front page. Uh?

ZDNet got rid of some people recently and I’m sure it’s been having hassles - financial? - though I’m damned if I can find any trace of it now. I wonder if the impossibility of commenting/registering is anything to do with it?

Monday 14 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:49 am

Real-life Sopranos in the ‘burbs

So grateful to the fine burbia for this tale of how they moved house and found they have a new contractor. You’ll recall (of course) how in series 5 (I think) of The Sopranos the issue of who got to mow whose lawns and cut whose trees was the subject of a bitter turf war between Pauli Walnuts and a recently-released Wise Guy; curb-stomped arms (breaks them thoroughly, y’see) were involved, as was thumping people holding the rope for guys up in trees who then fell to earth.

What, you thought that was made up? Wake up to how The gardener made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, which tells of how one morning the bell was rung by

a small man, as dessicated as a piece of beef jerky and about as thin, stood on the step, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. His eyes were like stainless steel, his skin was the color of tobacco. He wore a soiled cap and blackened pigskin gloves, holding the burnished handle of a heavy rake in one hand.

Uh, yeah? What could it be?

“Mister,” he said slowly. “I’m the gardener.”

He looked up and down the quiet street. “I mow this lawn,” he said. “I mow that lawn. And the lawn across the street. Mrs. Tagliali on the corner, I mow her lawn. Mr. Schmetterer, I mowed his lawn, until he died.” I wondered what killed Mr. Schmetterer. Can coercive raking result in death?

“Uh, uh, um, what…” I replied, channelling my inner Daniel Webster. “I thought I’d, uh, do it myself, actually.”

The gardener swung the rake gently to and fro. “Do it yourself? That could be very hard work,” he said slowly. How does one recognize menacing behavior in gardeners? He continued with his pitch coldly. “I mow, and rake the leaves in the fall, and spread the fertilizer and the lime. This lawn, that lawn, across the street, up the block, everywhere around here. No do-it-yourself around here. Do-it-yourself could get you a heart attack.”

He fished into his shirt pocket and came up with another cigarette. Unfiltered. “Sometimes they try to do-it-themselves. Things happen. Lose an eye, a finger, who knows what could happen.” He gestured over to the fire-engine red mower at the garage door. “The blade can be very, very sharp.” He lit his cigarette and snuffed the match with his glove.

But read the whole thing - this isn’t the end - to get the full, look-over-your-shoulder feel.

Sunday 13 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:38 pm

Ten signs you’re in a recession

I’m trying to remember these from the last time we had a proper one (1990-2). The title is obvious enough though…

  1. People stop talking about how the price of their house has gone up in the past six months
  2. People start talking about this wonderful new water filter thingy they can sell to you, and actually would you like to buy a few and sell them on? It’s this amazing “multi-level marketing” idea…
  3. Sight of a car with new numberplates makes you blink your eyes
  4. People cut you off if you ask how their house sale is going
  5. Rents drop like stones because everyone’s taking in lodgers
  6. Newspapers get really scarily thin - too thin to mop up, say, a spilt cup of coffee
  7. Starcostabucks start shutting down because people realise that a brilliant way to save £60 per month is simply not to buy one of those bloody fattening lattes in the morning. (Bit of a guess, this one. We didn’t have Starcostabucks in the last recession.)
  8. People at dinner parties and other social events start offering you cappuccino makers - and would you like to buy a few, because they can do them on this amazing multi-level marketing scheme…
  9. Newspapers start running stories like “How to sue your surveyor” and “how to gazunder“. Ooh, look, happening already.
  10. The “six months on” in Property Ladder, Location Location, etc return and find that the people haven’t sold the house and have had to declare bankruptcy.

Come on, tell me all the ones I’ve missed.

Update: one that wasn’t around for the previous recession: blog spam. So, the next one we can add is:

  • you start getting (attempted) comment spam, amidst all the usual crap for poker/pr0n/pharmaaaa that reads “Secured Home Loans for UK Homeowners... Secured loans can be the best form of loan for homeowners when looking for competitive loan rates...

which I’ve just noted in my filters.

Monday 7 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 9:41 pm

The short life and times of my Powerbook’s G4’s replacement battery

The picture over there? The readout from the (rather handy, and free) CoconutBattery, which tells you how much juice is left in your Apple laptop’s (obviously) battery, and what percentage of the original life is left. (The important stuff is the lower part of the display: the current and the original capacity.)

Which, as you can see, is a pathetic - there’s no other word - 2% of the original. In fact, it’s so small that it doesn’t even bother turning on the display now when I open it up; it detects that there’s too little power there to make it worth turning on and then shutting down. So it doesn’t turn on. It just sleeps.

What’s amazing about this is that this is a battery which has gone from brand new only 18 months ago to completely kaput now.

And it turns out that I’ve done fairly well out of it. Apple’s Powerbook batteries, one discovers, could be summed up in one word: expensive crap. OK, two words.

The battery I have, snoring gently away as I type, was a replacement because the original that came with this machine was one of the “OMG it might catch fire!!” ones made by Sony. (This of course led to a whole detailed malarkey of shipping by sea/rail/road because it couldn’t be sent on a plane. ‘Cos it might catch fire, yeah?)

At the time the original was replaced, it was getting average life. The Powerbook is never your choice if you want three or four hours battery life; you’ll get a couple of you’re parsimonious - but I was able to work comfortably on the hour’s journey of my train ride.

That's not life, that's death

But a few weeks ago that changed. “You are now running on reserve power,” the machine would interrupt crankily. “Please plug the machine into the power, or it will go to sleep automatically.” First I would be 5 minutes outside my destination. Then 10. And gradually it crept backwards and backwards, until this morning when it just wouldn’t rouse.

The trouble is though that replacement Powerbook batteries are expensive. In the UK, they’re around the £80 mark. And like the Powerbook power cord (which also went wrong on me and is hugely unpopular), they have a terrible writeup on the Apple UK store. (This may be a link there. But Apple Store links are famously evanescent.)

Let’s see some of the reviews:

From my experience of two batteries, I agree with many of the other reviews, after ca.1 year, one has a desktop in effect and one which runs very hot, constantly topping up the battery. I sat next to a guy on a ‘plane last week who used his old and cheap Acer laptop for over 4 hours. I was just stunned - after a year with my second battery my G4 Powerbook lasts about 50 minutes. One has little choice, but £89! Taking the proverbial, I would say - shows contempt.

Hmm. Another:

after buying my third battery for my 3 and a half year old powerbook, apple left me no choice but to shop around ebay. I managed to pick up a perfect working recycled one for half the price…knowing that they will probably last about a year of fairly heavy duty usage as I travel a lot, I’d rather throw my money at a stranger selling them for a more realistic price than the ridiculous overinflated 90 quid price tag

Perhaps another will be better?

I have not used my Powerbook G4 (I have a Macbook Pro) in over a year but had the replacement battery under the recall program, plugged it in, used it for a bit, installed Leopard, played around for a bit, put it on the shelf for 6 months, picked it up and the battery is dead. Cannot have used the battery for more than 20 hours and 4/5 cycles. The previous battery worked faultlessly. Come on Apple you have to do better than this.

And just take note of this one, because it’s interesting:

i replaced my battery less than a year ago when apple advised my current one was potentially dangerous only to have the replacement effectively die within months when the original one had worked faultlessly for well over 2 years. none of this is covered by warranty and has left me with the expense of replacing it with no review of whether or not the product was faulty at the time of supply. this has to change

Interesting that the latter (who is by no means the last of those slagging the battery and its huge price off) also had a replacement battery, eh? I wonder if the replacement bunch were made by super-cautious elves who didn’t put the usual amount of the magic pixie dust inside. (The reviews on the US store are no more complimentary, apart from one guy who gives them 5 stars - uh? - and says

Great, long lasting battery. [Are you on crack?? CA] For best battery life, run the battery dry once a month and 3 times when you first get it.

Notwithstanding that advice, I now have a Powerbook whose battery isn’t worth bothering with; it’s a desktop I can carry around.

Important question: are the eBay batteries (usually from HK) worth getting? It’s not for me, you understand - the death of this has come at the perfect time, as I’ve ordered a new MacBook. (Black. Not shiny. Fantastic battery life and excellent Wi-Fi detection - unlike the Powerbook on both counts.)

But I’m passing it on to some friends, and I’d like to feel they’ll have a machine with a battery. So do I recommend they get the HK ones off eBay, which cost about £30 all told? (I guess you could get three for the price of one “official” one..) Anyone got any experience there?

And is there something one should do to extend the life of Li-ion batteries, such as draining them to the max every time?

Update: OK, a search on “maximise li-ion laptop battery life” yields this HP page, which says

The user simply has to periodically discharge the battery until the 5% capacity alarm is received. The need to perform this procedure will vary with individual use. In general, a Li-Ion battery should be calibrated a minimum of once every 3 months. A battery that is seldom discharged completely should be calibrated about once a month.

and there’s Yahoo Answers which suggests you should

Avoid frequent full discharges because this puts additional strain on the battery. Several partial discharges with frequent recharges are better for lithium-ion than one deep one. Recharging a partially charged lithium-ion does not cause harm because there is no memory. (In this respect, lithium-ion differs from nickel-based batteries.) Short battery life in a laptop is mainly cause by heat rather than charge / discharge patterns

. It also says that you should recalibrate once every 30 charges. Ahh.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 11:01 pm

Why some sell out and others don’t

Fascinating stuff over at Meranda Watling’s blog - she’s a local journalist in Ohio - watching a colleague who joined a year after her (and she’s only been there a couple of years max) go off to a super-well-paid job in government:

So, when I asked him today why he decided to take the other job (aside from the obvious pay increase and daytime hours, lack of weekends, lack of people yelling at you or returning your calls, shorter commute, etc.), he was pretty blunt. Basically, he said, ‘If I’m going to hate my job, I might as well be well compensated.’ Not that his job was terrible or that he didn’t like it, but he said he could only cover so many CAFO meetings where no one would talk to him. Plus, he said he’s resigned himself to the fact that he won’t like any job. But he figures, it’s only eight hours a day.

I laughed at his bluntness. And then I pondered, ‘I could sell out for that much money.’ And he was quick to reply, ‘No you couldn’t.’ To which I protested, ‘Why not?’ And his reply, which kind of cements the difference between me and a lot of journalists, ‘How many posts have you made on happyjournalist?’

I’d not seen happyjournalist (though I think I’ve seen it mentioned; in contrast to angryjournalist, below)..

I guessed two posts. But he corrected me, three. He had read them all, apparently. He’s a bigger fan of angryjournalist. But that’s another point entirely.

The differences between this reporter and myself span much more than the month and a half age difference, the colleges where we earned our degrees or the states we claim as our homes.

There is something fundamental that many working journalists don’t get: You can’t just ‘do’ journalism. You have to want to effect change — however small and however many unreturned phone calls or boring meetings it takes. You have to care about the community you cover, whether it’s a topic or a geographic region or both. You need to have a purpose. You have to believe in it.

Absolutely. Got it in one.

If you don’t take it to heart, then you’re not going to enjoy journalism. Those meetings will just be three hour wastes of your youth, and the stories you write, just another byline to fill your quota. You’re not going to be happy. And you know what, my soon-to-be-former colleague is absolutely right: If you’re going to hate your job, you may as well be paid well to hate it. Or as I often say, ‘I’m not paid enough to hate my job.’”

Yeah. I’ve just always enjoyed doing this. I recall working in the civil service, right at the beginning of my career, and looking out the window and being beyond bored. It’s too much fun making mischief and discovering it. Plus this week - for the second time in my life - I was rung out of the blue by a minister who wanted to talk to me, specifically, which always flatters. (In both cases, because of the Free Our Data campaign. Which is quite a good purpose, just now.)

Meranda’s right - though I think too that journalism will always have people who just care about getting it right. But what we’ll live on, hmm.. I looked at the price of the London flat I bought 20 years ago (and sold about 10 years ago). I couldn’t afford it on my wages now. It’s not just public sector workers being priced out of houses - though it’s them too, of course.

(Via Meranda Writes.)

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 10:13 pm

Oh god, The Apprentice is *so* compulsive

The people who come up with the tasks for The Apprentice really are fiendish, because they have come up with challenges that are so hands-on. Selling fresh fish one week; doing laundry the next; trying to organise pub food the next.

The reason why that’s so brilliant is that these people who come to throw themselves at the promise of a job (something of a chalice, but breeze past that) are all from the “modern” world of management and business. You know, the one where you don’t actually get your hands dirty doing anything like buying real stuff, or dealing with people who are not that far above living from hand to mouth.

Instead, they’ve all got experience of telesales and similar non-jobs, where you work off a script to people who may already be halfway to buying whatever crap you’re offering because they rang you up and hung on the phone for a quarter of an hour.

Which leads to their classic pricing mistakes. Lobsters for £5. An offer to do the overnight laundry for a hotel for £5,000 (only 25 times more expensive than the bloke was seeking.) And the negotiating skills? Nonexistent! “I was looking for something in the region of £200,” says the hotel manager. “I’m delighted to accept your offer of £200!” says the telesales regional manager of the year. There was a similar scene last week when they were trying to sell the last of their fish. The would-be buyers simply bid low. The telesales dolts couldn’t even pretend to have another buyer outside; they just caved.

Oh, I forgot until I looked at Anna Pickard’s writeup at the Guardian. The 24-hour laundry hotline. Oh good god. The absolute embodiment of the bodiless, no-product rubbish of modern British business. As Sugar says: “who on earth needs a hotline to ring up to ask ‘how’s my pants doin’?”

And, to cap it all, they lost some of the clothes. Get these people over to Terminal 5, quick.

And so the boardroom denouement. Why shouldn’t I fire you, asks Sugar? “Team motivation and working within a group is one of my fortes,” the woman replies. Flipping heck! Find a straight answer, can’t you? What is this rubbish. He asks a straight question and you explain about how you don’t move peoples’ choose.

Why shouldn’t I fire you? “I’m an opportunist, I’m a doer.. I don’t know in this task where I went wrong.” The other facing the axe answers for her: “She lied, she complained, she manipulated, didn’t deliver on the task… could you be quiet?” This because the second has started yacking.

Second one again: “I put the process in place… at no point was any machine left unattended.” Except it was, by her, who knew which clothes were whose.

Now, I’ve crossed swords with Sir Alan (I’ve still got the emails from him lurking somewhere in my inbox..) but I don’t envy him the task of trying to choose between this bunch. Terrible. Management-speak spurts forth from their mouths, but there’s absolutely nothing behind it. Classic British business today.

Powered by WordPress