All Posts Filed in ‘Rant


Don’t Be A Drone, Destroy All Sat-Nav!


I’ve noticed a lot of people use satellite navigation in cars these days. What I find most surprising is that people use the things while driving along a motorway. For instance, when I last drove up to Scotland I spotted loads of people driving along an empty motorway with their sat-nav telling them to keep driving straight ahead. Great you might think, there’s no way the can get lost, they don’t need to think at all. They just follow the instructions and they’ll arrive with no problems!

Let me tell you a story that illustrates why I find that mentality to be bad. A few years ago an American shopping mall caught fire (I can’t remember which one). When the accident investigators came in they were bewildered by the number of fatalities. There had been plenty of time for people to escape, there were multiple fire exits and really no reason that anybody should have died at all. The answer to why lay in the location of the bodies.

The greatest concentration of bodies was in a restaurant – again with ample means of escape. It turns out that when the fire alarms sounded the staff all ran out of the restaurant to escape. However some of the customers didn’t, they didn’t want to leave until they’d paid their bills – as all good people do – so they were burned alive where they stood. Stupid right?

The fact is that most people follow scripts in their daily lives. Procedures that mean they don’t have to think about what they’re doing – like being on auto-pilot. You go in, get a table, have your drinks order taken, look at the menu, order food, eat it, pay and leave. Social conventions you might say. The problem comes when something unexpected happens. A lot of people freeze, their brains switch off and they have that rabbit-in-the-headlights look about them. They can’t adapt to an unexpected situation and so shut down.

As far as I’m concerned, once you stop thinking you’re a drone. Soldiers are trained to always think on their feet so they can react to situations rather than standing slack-jawed as enemy fire comes in. And so it is with satellite navigation (although to be fair it’s not quite up there with being burned alive in a restaurant waiting to pay).

Navigation isn’t very hard – I’ve never found myself lost and I’ve driven all over the place (well, there was that one time in LA but we got there in the end). When I go somewhere I’ve not been before I make sure I know the route, get a geographical picture in my head so as I’m driving I know where I am. If I were to start using sat-nav I’m sure I’d still get there, but if anything went wrong – like one of the GPS satellites fell out of the sky, a UFO interfered with the signal, the lousy sat-nav broke or there is a road closed ahead and I have to follow a diversion and then it broke – then I’d be far more lost than I would have been without it. I’d have been following what it told me without thinking like a good little boy and my brain would have been slowly turning to mush through inactivity.

If you don’t exercise regularly and just sit around watching TV all the time it’s no surprise that you’ll get tired walking up the stairs and consequently never get any regular exercise and just sit around watching TV all the time. You end up in a rut. If you do the same with your brain and never use it, never challenge it, you’ll spend your whole life as a drone doing what you’re told to do by adverts or articles in glossy magazines. Never thinking for yourself. You’ll be a sheep. Oh wait, that’s what most people do already isn’t it? I think I’m too late…


What Is It With Wednesdays?

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I play football every Wednesday after work and I make sure I leave a little bit early so I can arrive 20 minutes before kick-off and get a really good warm-up. I always play better after a good warm-up and it helps reduce my chances of picking up yet another injury to add to the list.

Unfortunately I never seem to arrive early any more.

The drive from work home takes around 40-45 minutes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday no matter what time I leave at (the football pitch is a further 10 minutes away). But Wednesday throws up something new every week. Today it was an accident in an innocuous section of 30mph road. Of course it involved 20 minutes of crawling at 2mph in a queue of traffic to find out that the road ahead was closed and I’d have to take a surprisingly long detour. I wouldn’t mind but the week before my Christmas holiday some work men decided to put up some traffic lights for one day only that caused several miles of tail backs. The week before it was another accident. And so on.

Those living in a big city won’t be surprised by this sort of thing but I live in the countryside! It shouldn’t be like this. And it definitely shouldn’t happen on a Wednesday – the only day I actually need to be somewhere at a specific time. Next week I’m allowing 90 minutes to get there. And if I’m still late I think I will scream!


No Wonder People Complain About Slow PCs


So I was round at a friend’s last night “fixing” her laptop. She had just signed up for broadband using BT Broadband with Yahoo! and got sent a wireless router, some instructions and a CD. She dutifully followed all the instructions and everything seemed fine. For about 5 minutes. Her net connection kept hanging, software kept crashing and it was completely unusable. In steps me to figure out what’s going on.

I first changed the default channel on the router to stop it interfering with her neighbour’s wireless network (which I’ll be was on the same default channel). I then confirmed that my laptop could quite happily surf the net using her wireless setup so with a deduction as insightful as any Sherlock Holmes could have made, I reckoned it was her laptop that was to blame. Within two minutes of digging into what was installed I was shocked – there was so much junk on there! And it’s a new laptop.

If you have a wireless router and Windows XP SP2 installed, you don’t need any other software to surf the net – it’ll just work out of the box. So I was dismayed to find that the BT Yahoo! CD had installed all manner of connection software, its own browser (which looked in every way worse than any browser I’ve seen before) and a long list of other pieces of software that seemed to me designed to slow down your computer. She’d also installed McAfee virus scanner which in its default state installs another whole bunch of useless stuff including a personal security app that means as well as logging into Windows you have to log into that to connect to the internet. Why? All it did was get in the way.

So an hour after I started I had uninstalled virtually everything that was on there – from AOL to about 12 BT Yahoo! applications to most of McAfee. I had to get into the registry and take out a bunch of start-up tasks that weren’t removed by their uninstallers (more second-rate developers at work I guess). Once this was all done the computer ran a hell of a lot faster and happily connected to the internet and stayed connected. Oh, and removing the MSN toolbar stopped Internet Explorer from crashing too. I instructed her to never install any software again and she’d be fine. Job done!

It’s disappointing to see that the end result of BT and Yahoo! getting together to offer a broadband package (with wireless networking) – and presumably the real reason they’re doing it – is to install a bunch of useless adware on the customers machine. Sure, it constantly reminds them of the BT and Yahoo! – there are shortcuts on the desktop, popups, items in the system tray and God knows where else to get the branding across – but it adversely affects the user experience and just causes frustration. I wonder how many people have just accepted the lousy performance and flaky connection and assumed there’s nothing they can do about it?

And it’s also interesting to see McAfee trying to offer a competitive advantage in the form of a bunch of applications to keep you “safe” while on the net. I question the effectiveness and need to have any of them to be honest. You can have all the supposedly safe software in the world installed but there’s nothing to stop you from downloading a piece of software that trashes your computer and running it. You’re in control after all. So all it does really is slow down your computer and further damage the user experience.

Safety is all about perception. Just because you feel safe doesn’t mean you actually are. And in sales and marketing perception is everything.


So Much For Eating My Bread Crusts


I knew I wouldn’t last long before posting about my hair, so I’ll try and get it over and done with as quickly as possible and then we can move on!

I remember the last time I grew my hair long. It was probably 10-15 years ago and from what I recall it was a neat short back and sides one day and long enough for me to tie up in a ponytail the next. There didn’t seem to be an in-between stage, or more likely I’ve blanked it out because it was so long ago. Okay, my memory may be hazy about that but what I distinctly remember was that my hair was completely straight.

I’d wash it in the morning, brush it and an hour later it would be dry and as straight as if I’d run it through some GHD straightening irons. So naturally when I decided a year ago to grow my hair long again and put the military crew-cut look to bed I thought it would be perfectly straight again. How wrong I was, as you can see below:


At first I tried to deny it and pretend it was still straight. I must confess that I even stole my girlfriend’s straighteners and used them on more occasions than I’ll admit to. I learned how to blow-dry my hair straight and I’d get annoyed when I wouldn’t quite get it right and see a bit curling away of its own accord. But then I just thought “what the hell”. I’d get up, have a shower, wash my hair, towel dry it a bit, brush it and leave it to its own devices. And much to my surprise it dried completely straight!

Okay, that was a lie. It dried as curly as you see in the picture above, and I just accepted it for what it was and decided I liked it after all. Who wants straight hair anyway? But I still find it strange that it’s no longer as straight as it was in my younger days…

Okay, that’s the hair post out of the way, I can get back to more interesting topics! 🙂


The End Of My Bavarian Affair


my325ciMy current car is a black BMW 325Ci Sport and I always wanted a car like it. It’s got a 2.5 litre 6 cylinder engine that sounds beautiful. It accelerates like a jet. It corners like it’s on rails. The tyres are about twice as wide as a normal car’s (and are 18 inch rims – no need to pimp my ride!). It’s got a leather interior and all the gadgets you could dream of. So I’m happy right?

Well no. You see, there’s a downside. I need an oil tanker to follow me around because it drinks petrol like a teenager drinks cider (it cost around £50 to fill it and I’m lucky if it covers 300 miles). Those super-wide tyres cost around £200 each and don’t last a year (the rear ones are wider and so cost more than the fronts). An oil service (that’s the cheap one) can easily cost £500 – just like the one it had today. And in less than 12 months of ownership the thing’s lost around £6000 in value!

I should have learned by now. My previous car was also a BMW and I eventually traded it in when I had to cough up nearly £1000 for a service (that wasn’t a pleasant day). Unfortunately I was seduced by my current one as it looks great and is an animal to drive. Well no more. I’m going to downgrade.

I’ve had enough of BMW’s. They’re very good cars but I just don’t think they’re worth the money and the running costs. My mate Neil says that all cars under £70,000 are much the same whether they’re a Kia or a BMW and I’m beginning to think he’s right. For the same money that mine’s worth I can get a brand new car that’s quicker, smaller, has most of the same gadgets as mine and has far lower running costs. Can you guess what it is?


A View Of Things To Come


It’s an oft-quoted statement that “civilisation is only three meals away from anarchy” and it’s easy to dismiss it but recent events in New Orleans show that if you strip away the comforts of our modern world – running water, electricity, easily available food – we all revert to our basic instincts. Humans are just sophisticated, intelligent animals. But we’re animals nonetheless with a need to survive and protect our family. Most find comfort and defence in groups, some are scavengers, prowling on their own. Some are just plain evil.

The scenes on TV could easily have been from some African state in the midst of civil war or from decades gone by. But it was modern America and up until a few days before these were normal people living normal lives in the world’s only superpower. I’m not going to go on about it because that’s been discussed everywhere.

But it makes me think about what things will be like in the future. Currently doing the rounds just now is the high price of petrol in the UK (which is around £1 per litre). Back in 2000 blockades by farmers and hauliers meant that petrol stations ran out of petrol for a while. People were panic-buying petrol and so draining the stations and just making things worse. This time around despite the fact that there are no blockades planned they’re at it again – panic buying.

The logical thing to do is just carry on as normal because if everybody fills their cars up at once, the stations will run out of petrol but if you do nothing then the machine keeps rolling. But when the tiniest possibility of having no petrol enters people’s minds they become completely self centred and panic buy. Individually humans are complex, emotional creatures but collectively they’re entirely predictable. As an individual you might not like the idea of rationing, but if you think about the bigger picture it’s often the best policy – we humans can’t be trusted to act for the greater good!

So cut to 50 years time (or whenever doomsayers claim we’ll start running out of fossil fuels), what’s that going to be like? I can’t drive through my own village because people are queueing for miles to get petrol when there isn’t even a shortage. What happens when there really is? Are we going to end up in a Mad Max world? Unless there’s an alternative, I’d say yes. Can you tell I don’t have a lot of hope for the human race? 😉


Top Phone Tips


One of the minor annoyances I didn’t expect during my time out of work is telephone related. My land line phone number is ex-directory, meaning it’s not listed in the phonebook. I only ever hand out my mobile number because when people call me their best chance of catching me is on that phone (I move around a lot). In fact the only people who know my land line number are people like the utility companies that you have to hand it out to (and of course our phone service provider). Oh, and my girlfriend’s friends and family. So when the land line rings I know for a fact that it’s 99% most likely to not be for me. So when it rings during the day I just know it’s not for me.

To my dismay I discovered that sales people phone and try to sell you medical insurance, get you to change your gas and electricity suppliers, sell you house insurance and a whole host of other things I’m not even vaguely interested in. I didn’t know this. It started when one of these guys from some call centre in India (I could tell it was in India because I’d read reports of how the people can’t understand you and vice-versa, and this was exactly the case). He wanted to send me a quote to change my utility suppliers. Naturally I couldn’t care less if it would save me some miniscule amount each year so I told him I wasn’t interested. He continued to press while I just told him that he was wasting his time. He just wouldn’t give up, he must have said “what’s holding you back Mr. Conners?” about 7 times. Finally he gave up and slammed the phone down – no manners! (If it had been on my mobile phone I could have terminated the call myself but you can’t do that on a land line – caller’s privilege).

Anyway, I’m a bit paranoid over the phone and am keen to neither be scammed nor tricked into buying something I don’t want. So here are my top tips to avoid getting caught out:

  1. Never give out your address to someone who calls you that you don’t know.
    As far as I’m concerned, if they’ve phoned me they should know who I am. Plus, if you give away personal information like this it wouldn’t be hard for someone to steal your identity and apply for credit cards, etc.
  2. Never give out your credit card or bank details to someone who calls you that you don’t know.
    See point 1. I don’t care if you believe they’re genuine or not – don’t tell them, they could be anyone!
  3. Don’t agree to anything.
    These people know that the best time to get someone is when they’re not prepared for it, hence why cold-calling catches you off-guard and makes you agree without due consideration. And they’ll press you.
  4. Don’t give specific reasons for why you’re not interested.
    They hate that. They’re ready to counter most reasons you can give but if you just say you’re not interested and don’t give them a reason, then they find themselves a bit stuck.
  5. Be polite but firm – don’t waver.
    Any hesitation or weakness from you and they’ll pounce on it. Keep your game face on (or is that game voice?).
  6. Remember, they’re only human.
    So there’s no need to be horrible to them. They’re just doing a job.
  7. Don’t feel guilty, you’re not going to make them bankrupt.
    Just console yourself by remembering that some other person will be sucked in and they’ll make their commission even if they don’t with you. Hey, a sucker is born every day.
  8. If all else fails, lie.
    If you really can’t get rid of them, just come up with a convincing and amusing lie and run with it. Maybe you can say “I’m sorry, the line’s breaking up, I can’t hear you” and hang up. Or you can put on a deep German accent and start talking rubbish. When they ask you what’s going on you can pretend it’s a cross line and get them to hang up. Or you could just say there’s someone at the door and that you have to go right now. Alternatively you can simply repeat everything they say to you back to them. It’s a bit immature and it’ll drive them nuts – but they’ll hang up pretty quick (remember, calls may be recorded for training purposes).

You know maybe I should just stop answering the phone. I know it’s not for me. If it’s important they’ll leave a message. And if they’re a sales[wo]man they won’t leave one and I’ll know I did the right thing.


The National Hell Service


There’s not a day that goes by when the state of the British health service isn’t panned on the news. There are tales of long waiting lists, inconsistencies on standards of service across the country, under-staffing, low morale, botched operations and mis-diagnoses to name but a few. But until you actually have to use the NHS (National Health Service) you don’t really believe how bad it is. For various reasons that I’ll get into, I’ve had close encounters with the NHS a few times recently – and so have some friends – and I can report that the situation is worse than you could believe.

Let’s start with my mother. She was diagnosed with cancer around October 2001 and it was the beginning of a nightmare. Between that point and the day she died nine months later she never once had an MRI scan and we never once knew the extent of the spread of her cancer. She saw several different doctors and it always felt like a roller coaster ride of good and bad news reflecting the differing opinions of the doctors. At the time I felt my mother wasn’t getting particularly good treatment as I knew that if you want to track the progress of cancer treatments you need to have checkpoints of the tumours to compare and contrast. They never had that information and it seemed they were using guesswork and some endoscope explorations to surmise the state of her cancer. I can understand why people decide to sue hospitals or doctors for messing things up but it wouldn’t bring my mother back. As it happens, there probably wouldn’t have been anything they could have done, except give us a realistic timeframe as to how long she would have lived.

Next is my next door neighbour. He came back from a holiday in Australia a few weeks ago and he then went to watch a game of rugby. At this point he had a very sharp pain in one of his calf muscles and went to casualty in Cardiff. He was diagnosed with a possible DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and would need to undergo some test to make sure and they gave him a shot of warfarin. On returning home he went to the local hospital and they told him to take some pain killers and come back in two weeks if it persisted. He wasn’t taking that for an answer knowing that if he had a DVT he could drop dead the next day. So they told him to come back the next day for a scan. Come next morning he returned and was told that he should have made an appointment for the scan and besides, he’d need another test first to see if the scan was required! They performed the primary test which came back positive and then made an appointment for the scan. So he came back again the next day for the scan which showed a 10cm long blood clot in his calf muscle (good job he didn’t go home and see how he got on for 2 weeks).

So he was given daily injections of warfarin to thin his blood and would need to keep having them until his blood thinned to a certain amount for a certain amount of time (he even got conflicting information about taking alcohol – one doctor said he should take small amounts whereas another was adamant that he shouldn’t touch a drop). But after a while he started getting numbness in one of his arms and sharp shooting pains in his chest. At the same time he started having panic attacks (heart racing, adrenaline pumping, shaking, light-headed, that sort of thing). So he went back to hospital when the pain in his chest got too much. They strapped him to some monitors but discharged him shortly afterwards telling him there was nothing they could do. The pains continued and he decided to visit his local GP. This was where it got a bit bizarre. The GP looked up the side-effects for the medication he was on and they didn’t match up to what he was experiencing. So she just told him to take some pain killers and suck on a boiled sweet if he had another panic attack. He also mentioned that he had a sore throat so she recommended he suck on some ice! World class advice that ain’t.

Next on my list is my brother. And that’s what’s prompted this article. When he was younger he had a ganglion cyst in his hand (and had it removed). They’re basically swellings that appear under the skin and can restrict movement and cause some pain. The modern practice is no longer to hit them with a bible (absolutely true), but instead drain the fluid or in some cases perform minor surgery. Anyway, for the past couple of weeks a ganglion has been forming on his hand and it had started to cause him quite a bit of pain. So he decided to take a trip to casualty to see what they could do. After waiting for around an hour and a half a nurse came over to him to tell him that a doctor was going to come and see to him. When the doctor turned up he didn’t even look at the ganglion but instead told my brother that as he’d had the symptoms for more than three days that he’d have to go and visit his GP instead! Of course, he’ll have to wait until Monday to book an appointment and they’ll most likely refer him to a consultant which will most likely take three months before he gets to see him. Marvellous.

There’s talk just now of foundation hospitals and a two-tiered system and how that will destroy the principles of the same standard of service for all. But what use is the “same standard of service for all” if that standard of service is abysmal. I get private health care from work and I’m bloody glad that I do, you can waltz into your GP and arrange to see a consultant any time you want – no waiting around. I pay taxes to fund the NHS and I’d happily pay more if it would improve the standard of health care, but I very much doubt it would. I mean, it’s in such a state that it would take a miracle to turn it around. Maybe it’s time to reach for that bible and hit some politicians upside the head with it.


Who Wrote These Stupid Rules Anyway?


When you want to buy a house in Scotland it’s easy. You have a look around the place and if you like the price, you make an offer through the estate agent. If the seller is happy with the offer and agrees to sell you it then that’s it. It’s legally binding. You have to buy the house and the seller has to sell it to you. You then go and get a mortgage, then agree on a move-in date, wait until then and move in. Simple, quick and effective. And that’s how house buying should be.

But I live in England. Things are different down here. It starts out the same way as in Scotland. You have a look around the house, make an offer and the seller accepts (assuming they’re happy with your offer). Now, that agreement is not legally binding so you can back out at any time and they can decide at a later point to do any of the following:

  • Decide to not sell the house any more.
  • Decide to add 10,000 on to the price.
  • Decide to sell to somebody else instead, who may or may not have offered more money.
  • Paint the house pink.

Okay, that last point is fairly unlikely. But the main point is that nothing is certain at this point in the process. So you go and get yourself a mortgage offer and get the deposit together. All set? Well, not quite. The seller may be in a chain. This means that they’re buying a house from someone else who may need to sell their house before moving out and so on. At any point, anybody in the chain can drop out and the whole thing breaks down. Contrast this with Scotland where you’ve already agreed the sale and there’s no backing out.

So, before you can actually buy the house, the seller has to have sold their house, and the person they’re buying from has to have already sold theirs, and so on. And all this can take quite some time. And, I stress, can break down at any time.

Luckily for me there is no chain involved and I should (fingers crossed) get into my new house in the next 3 weeks or so. But seeing how this system works compared to my native country’s makes me wonder why the hell it has to be this way. There’s uncertainty all the way and nobody trusts anybody else. It’s just plain stupid, and it’s not as if there’s no alternative. It’s also fantastically slow. Even though I’m not in a chain, it takes a damned long time to get anywhere in the process. You can nag everybody involved as much as you like but it seems to have little or no effect. Why aren’t they using modern technology to manage the whole process? I mean, come on, we live in the 21st century!

Okay, I feel a bit better now having got that off my chest. But I’ll say this much. Should it fall through at this stage for any reason, then I’ll be getting decidedly Braveheart on their asses…


Have You Read These Books?


I’ve read books as long as I can remember and I must have read hundreds of them. Some are better than others and the speed at which I read them determines how good they are (if I enjoy it I’ll rattle through it at top speed). I’ll read the really good ones again if they’re that good. I read a couple of books many years ago (over 10) and I’ve forgotten what they were called, who they were written by and what they were about. But for some reason I want to read them again. I’m a bit older and wiser now and might enjoy them on a different level. My mother borrowed them from my local library and now that she’s gone I’ve no way to trace them.

I’ve tried putting descriptions of sections of the books into search engines in the hope that someone had quoted from them but to no avail. As a last hope I thought I’d describe a short section from each book here and see if any of you recognise them. For all I know they might be the same book. Well, here goes…

Book 1.

The main thing I remember from this first book is that it was set in a time where advanced technology was outlawed. I think this book was written in two parts. In the first a class of people with technical expertise, termed “tinkers”, played around with small-scale technology fuelled by natural curiosity no doubt. Anyway, one of these guys met up with some kid who had a natural aptitude for whatever he had in mind. If I remember correctly the kid was playing an arcade game where he had to land a craft on a moon and it was pretty difficult, which impressed the guy, who took the kid under his wing. The only other thing I remember was that the bloke had miniature cameras planted around the grounds of his house so he could effectively see everywhere at once.

The second part of this book was concerned with bubbles. You could use a device to create one of these bubbles around you and set them to pop after a certain amount of time. While you were inside the bubble time would stop and nobody could damage the bubbles either. In fact, if you touched one it would reflect the heat from your hand back onto yourself. The people using them were travellers going forward in time who suddenly discovered that everybody had disappeared. Now they were doomed to go thousands of years into the future of an empty planet and watch the spiders evolve. Anyway, that’s about all I can remember of the book. Does it ring any bells?

Book 2.

I remember far less about this book. In fact, all I can remember is a single scene. There was a family wandering around some kind of space station. They bump into a guard who says words to the effect of “go wherever you feel like”. As the family went around they decided they didn’t want to go down one particular corridor, except the youngest daughter who was wearing some sort of alien space helmet. The father realised that instead of using locked doors to keep people out the guards used some kind of device that made people feel compelled to not go there at all. The helmet counteracted this effect. That’s all I can remember.

So if any of these descriptions mean anything to you then don’t hesitate to post a comment below and put me out of my misery. It makes me wonder why I didn’t write about this before, but I can be a bit slow at times…