All Posts Filed in ‘Rant


Customer Service Sucks!


Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath before I write this down. On the whole I’m a pretty relaxed sort of guy and I tend not to get stressed about things. But if I were the type to fly off the handle I’d have flown off it and entered orbit quite some time ago.

I mentioned that my laptop had been taken away to be repaired. Well, apparently it was repaired and sent out to me on the 2nd of January. Great. Except that it didn’t appear. I didn’t know this and phoned up the computer company and they said it had been sent out, but that the delivery company had decided to route it to Oxford instead of my house. So I called the delivery company and they said that their man had been out the day before but had been unable to find my house (sounded pretty unlikely to me).

Let me just rewind a month. I ordered a hard drive for my desktop PC and opted for next day delivery. When it didn’t turn up I called the delivery company and they said the driver couldn’t find my address (I was having it sent to work), it turned up 10 days later. Guess who the delivery company was? That’s right, the same one supposed to deliver my laptop…

Anyway, back to the present. The guy I spoke to said that he’d have it delivered to my work address the next day. Guess what? It didn’t turn up.

So I phoned them again and was told that it couldn’t be delivered to my work address but that it was against their policy to deliver packages to different addresses so try to deliver it to my house the next day. I explained that during the week I’m never at home between 9-5 so I wouldn’t be there to pick it up. I then said “why don’t you get the delivery man to give me a ring and I’ll meet him at my house?” which the lady I spoke to said she would. Next day I get the call and then sneakily direct the guy to my work and collect the laptop! Result.

Well, not quite. The laptop seems to work perfectly now having had a replaced motherboard. The problem is that when I sent it away it was a Pentium III 1GHz. And now it’s a Pentium III 500MHz. To the non-technically inclined, that means I’ve got a far inferior computer now. So, first thing this morning I was back on the phone to the computer company and they’re going to come and collect it on Monday.

So I’m writing this article on my laptop but when I get home I’ll have to copy the site back onto my desktop again and re-package it up in preparation to lose it again for another week or so. It’s just lucky that I don’t get stressed out about that sort of thing. I’ve gotten so used to bad service and never getting what I want that I just take it in my stride. In fact I get more shocked when things do go my way and I get good service.

Anyway, the moral of the story? Don’t expect and you won’t be disappointed. And never throw out the boxes your electronic equipment comes in!


Ten Reasons I Don’t Vote


I remember the first time I was eligible to vote. I believe it was for the 1992 UK General Election. It felt great. I knew all about the generations that dedicated their lives to ensuring that everybody has a free vote and it would have been an insult to their struggles if I didn’t exercise that right. So I voted. And that was the last time I did. Begin rant…

You see, since that time I’ve lost all faith in politics in the UK. Britain as a whole is a pretty small country in the world scheme of things, except that it has a great deal of self-importance. Whenever I travel to other countries I almost never see a mention of Britain on the news. But when I come back I realise why. The news here is filled with tabloid stories like “Diana’s former butler in gay marriage claim” and “celebrity drugs and sex shame”. The only other thing that seems to get reported is political bickering and sleaze. It’s pathetic.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating and perhaps ranting again. But what I’m illustrating is the state of mind I have when I think about voting. I just don’t have any faith that if I vote for any party that life in this country will improve in any way. I’m not bothered about myself, I earn plenty money and have a pretty damn good quality of life. If I have to pay a bit more tax to see our health service improve, or improvements in education, then I’m not going to complain. But it doesn’t work that way.

In the years since I was eligible to vote I’ve seen no improvement to this country, all I’ve seen is degradation. When you come back from America or France or any other civilised country you really notice what a dilapidated place this is. The roads are clogged, in very poor condition, the health service sucks (don’t get me on that one, it gets personal), crime is on the increase (it is you know) and the summers are rubbish. Okay, they can’t do anything about the weather, but the government should do something about the rest. When the Labour party replaced the Conservatives nothing changed. There was a real sense of optimism after a single party had been in power so long. But that optimism turned to apathy with me soon after.

I guess my problem is with politicians. The trouble is that they’re human. I’m sure that many of them do what they do because they passionately believe in making the world a better place. They seek a position of power so that they can try to make a difference. But sadly a great many of them are not there for that reason at all. It’s all about personal power. Spin. Never answering the question asked but instead putting a political point across that may be related, it may not. Seeming to say and do the right thing rather than doing the right thing. About staying in power at all costs once in power. It’s not noble. And as the old adage goes “all power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

There is a great deal of research done when an election is upcoming to determine the cause of voter apathy. For example, more people voted on the series Big Brother than voted for the Labour party at the last election. Well, the reason for my apathy is simple. I have no faith in politicians making anything better. No matter who is in power I just don’t believe anything will change. To me political parties in Britain are all the same. They’re stocked with the same people. They talk the same rhetoric. And they achieve the same results. Very little.

All views expressed above represent those of the author. Okay?


Who Says I’ve Got No Culture?


On Friday night I went to see the thoroughly action-packed film XXX. This 21st century James Bond with steroids picture was a lot of fun. The dialogue was cheesy, the stunts were ridiculous, the storyline implausible and the one-liners awful. Precisely what I used to love about the Bond films of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. So that was refreshing and it served as an excellent advert for what a beautiful city Prague is. I really must go there.

Saturday evening, on the other hand, was quite a contrast. I went to see the musical Chicago in Leeds. For those of you who don’t know (including me prior to Saturday night) Chicago is a musical set in, eh, Chicago. It’s a story of murder, sex, more murder, exploitation, the American legal system and also murder. More than this was that nearly every girl in the show was scantily clad and in excellent shape. And for the ladies, there were plenty of good looking muscular male dancers on hand. I really did enjoy it and, while the only other big musical I’ve seen was Phantom of the Opera (now that was superb), I do like a good show.

John Altman, who played Nick Cotton in the quintessential British soap opera Eastenders (about down-trodden life in the east end of London) played the money-obsessed lawyer and it must be said that while his singing was excellent, his American accent seemed to wander from English west country to South African to American. It was quite funny and only added to the performance. I’ve sat through amateur dramatics before and – while some have been great – I’ve also spent plenty time watching the second hand of my watch rolling around. But with this I was glued to it and enjoying of it from start to finish.

My long-suffering girlfriend’s brother’s partner (are you with me?) knows me quite well and couldn’t believe I was going to a musical. I suppose most modern stereotypical males aren’t supposed to want to do that sort of thing. While I’m not the classic lager-drinking post-modern lad (in fact I almost never drink), I’m not exactly the shandy-drinking, limp-wristed, over-sensitive wet blanket type either. I guess like most people I’m somewhere in between. I just do the things I like, and I like the things I do (I love those phrases, like “winners never quit and quitters never win” or “it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice”, I know dozens of them).

Sunday was spent mostly loafing around and eating, with a bit of kicking a football around (which I like to do). I train Monday to Friday so it’s always nice to have at least one lazy day at the weekend replacing all those burned calories (at least that’s my excuse). But if you’re thinking of going to see a musical but you either can’t be bothered or don’t think it’s your style, then my advice is to go. It’s better to try and fail than fail to try.


A Breath Of Fresh Air


Okay, try this. Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose. Nice isn’t it? Well, now pinch your nose so that you can’t suck any air in and then relax your grip slightly so that only a tiny amount can get in. Now breathe like that through your nose for a minute or so. It’s pretty annoying isn’t it? Just like having a cold. Frustrating and eventually you’ll want to let go of your nose or breathe through your mouth. Well, that’s what it’s like all the time for me. My nasal passages are pretty narrow and this means that I can’t really breathe through my nose at all – it’s like it’s permanently blocked.

This is the reason I never sleep more than 3-4 hours at any one time. My brain has worked out that my nose is useless and so when I fall asleep I automatically breathe through my mouth. This means that after a couple of hours my mouth gets extremely dry. And then it gets so dry that I wake up and take a swig of juice. I then go back to sleep again and the whole cycle continues.

A picture of a nasal stripTo be honest, this has never really bothered me and I’ve never really noticed it. Until now. You see I’ve found a way to breathe like a normal human being. I’ve discovered nasal strips. These are pieces of self-adhesive plastic that you place over your nose. They have the effect of widening the nasal passages and increase the oxygen intake of an athlete. Whether they do any good or not to athletes is questionable, but the change they make to me is incredible.

My long-suffering girlfriend happened to get a free packet of them and I decided to put one on just for fun. And as soon as I did it changed my life (I’m not exaggerating). I could breathe through my nose! I could suck in a deep breath without fighting for it! I could close my mouth and not suffocate within a few minutes! So I’ve worn them for the past couple of nights. My brain still makes me breathe through my mouth when I sleep (it’s tough to teach your brain new tricks), but the feeling of being able to breathe properly is like a drug – and I love it. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe how wonderful it is.

But come morning my dream wears off. I get up and wander over to the shower and realise that I’m going to have to take the strip off. I’m breathing normally with it on and I think to myself that “it won’t be that bad” and maybe my nose will be okay this time. But as soon as I remove it, my nose is back to normal and it feels like someone has put cotton wool up my nostrils. It’s terrible. Like Cinderella after the ball when her carriage turns back into a pumpkin.

So I have two choices: either I go and buy another box of strips and just wear them in the evening – removing them and coming down to earth the following morning. Or I could go and have surgery to widen my nostrils. I’m not sure I can be bothered with an operation, although my company offers free private health care so it’s tempting. I’ll persist with the nasal strips for now, as I can live without having my nostrils altered, but I just had to write down how wonderful being able to breathe is. So go on, spend the next ten minutes breathing through your nose only. I certainly won’t be able to without sounding like a vacuum cleaner or collapsing with asphyxia. But you can for me!


A Stranger In A Strange Land


I’ve been living in England for about 3 years now. Previously I’d been living in Scotland since birth for all of about 24 years. That makes me Scottish (as if you couldn’t tell by the accent). I know for a fact that some of my English friends at University had a bit of a hard time living in Scotland (the Scots can be quite ignorant at times) but I’ve had none of that down here. Maybe it’s Yorkshire, my aggressive haircut, powerful physique, or even my winning personality, but I’ve found nothing but friendliness everywhere I’ve gone. I feel quite at home here.

I’m not anti-English. I’ve got loads of English friends. And I’m well educated and experienced enough to know that people are just the same wherever they’re from. They’ve got the same hopes and dreams. The same neuroses. Different accents. But the same people underneath. So bigotry is out.

I can’t say I was particularly interested in the Golden Jubilee. I’m not a Royalist and as far as I’m concerned a bunch of Germans (they changed their name to Windsor just before the First World War if memory serves me correctly) descended from some rather effective murderers and thieves are no better than anybody else. They’re nice for foreign tourists but that’s as useful as the Royal family are in this modern world. (I did say I’m not a Royalist you know). However, if people want to try to relive colonial jingoism and practise Union Jack waving, then I’m not going to stop them. I’m all for it.

And so we come to the reason I started writing this article. The World Cup. And England doing well in it.

In Scotland it’s traditional to support the opposition to England in any football match. If England were playing the “Evil All-Stars” consisting of people like Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Ming The Merciless and John Wayne, then the streets of Scotland would be paved with Swastikas and people would be wearing pointy moustaches (all evil people have pointy moustaches). I too would always support the opposition and, although in the minority in England, I’d be wanting England to lose.

But something’s changed. It started when David Beckham scored a last-minute free kick against Greece to secure qualification to the finals. I was pleased. I didn’t know I wanted them to get through until Becks scored that goal. And it’s gotten worse. Although it goes against everything I should believe, I’ve been watching the England games wanting them to win. Which they’ve just about been doing.

I was starting to feel dirty and sick – I’m Scottish after all! Walking through Skipton after England made the quarter finals I was horrified to see drunken youths singing “Eng-er-land! Eng-er-land! Eng-er-land!” and wearing England flags over their backs. It takes a strong Scotsman to bear such a traumatic sight.

But an antidote is looming on my horizon. If Brazil beat Belgium (not a great footballing nation) then they will face England in the quarter finals. And you know what? I want Brazil to give them a lesson and beat them 4-1. I’m all for England doing well, but I love the way Brazil play. The flair. The quality. And more importantly: if England beat Brazil I’m pretty sure they’d win the damn World Cup. And I just couldn’t bear that. I’d have to leave the country. I can only take so much pain and suffering. It’s bad enough that Scotland’s football team would be easily beaten by an under-16 schoolgirl team at the moment. But to have England win…

I’m sorry. I just can’t write any more – I’m going to have to go and hit the punch bag for a few minutes to work the tension out. And I bet I have nightmares tonight. See ya.


Evil In A Box

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I’ve recently become addicted to a new substance. No, not cocaine, crack, crystal meth or even alcohol. Far worse. I’m hooked on Cadbury’s Brunch Bars. By the description on the box they are a “Tasty Cereal Bar” consisting of “oats, bran flakes, raisins, crispies and honey in a bed of Cadbury’s milk chocolate”. If you break down the ingredients (right) then they’re nothing more than flapjacks covered with chocolate. But it doesn’t stop me eating them by the box-load.

Back in my triathlon training days I’d sometimes buy an entire trifle, and then just eat the whole thing at once. I realise that they’re supposed to be eaten by four people but I’d be pretty hungry and I like trifles. Well, I eventually managed to cut that habit out, although I do still occasionally buy and devour trifles and it’s just like old times.

Back to the main point. Brunch bars come in boxes of 6 and currently retail at 99p. They’re chewy, sweet without being sickly and very more-ish (the more you eat the more you want to eat). I buy a couple of box and have the first one eaten an hour later. I tried buying three boxes to make them last longer but I just ate more of the damn things. I’ve just finished yet another box and I’m going to try and make that my last. Enough is enough. I will not be controlled by 35g chewy cereal bars. No chance. Not any more.

On a lighter note, I see that the UK air traffic control centre in Swanwick has gone horribly wrong again causing travel chaos for thousands. Opened 6 years later than planned, this part-privatised project has been a demonstration of how not to run a large mission-critical project. The software was written from scratch and the management changed hands several times over the years, both contributing heavily to the problems. As a software developer myself (and, I hope, a pretty good one) this comes as no surprise to me. It’s a well known fact in the industry that you can’t get a late software project finished faster by throwing more money at the problem. Conversely, throwing more money in will make it even later.

It can take just one person to fuck up a project like this one up. A bad critical decision here and there can snowball and result in a total fiasco of astronomic proportions (pun intended). However, the fact that over a year was spent fixing 1400 bugs is pretty good by my estimations. Nevertheless, I’m glad I wasn’t on that project – I can’t stand incompetence at any level, and while I’ve no doubt there were a lot of highly intelligent superstars there, their performance was dwarfed by those not in the same bracket making the decisions.

My two cents: maybe the technology sector wouldn’t be in such a slump if there hadn’t been so many idiots in the business that had no technical right to be there.


The Virtues Of Anonymity

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My brother is working in St. Andrews for a week at a trade show. I think the show must be in a hotel, because this story takes place in a hotel. A woman comes up to him and asks if the phones where they were could ring the rooms – he says yes. The woman dials a room number and says to the person on the other end “you’ll never believe who I’ve just seen in the gym…” a pause… “Prince William!”. (Note: the aforementioned Prince is attending St. Andrews University, and as I went to school there for 6 years I know what a miserable time he must be having – not even a single nightclub…). On hearing this, my brother went straight to the gym to confirm the facts. Lo and behold, there he was. So my brother’s colleague finds out and wants a look too. They go back, pretending to have a look at the equipment but really at him. (Turns out he’s a taller bloke than you might think).

The point of this story is that I’m not very good at telling stories. Oh no, that’s not it. The point is that I’m sure this happens to the heir to the throne all the time and it must drive him mad. He’s a smart lad, he’ll know that all the people “examining the gym equipment” are really just checking him out and doing a bad job of trying to be subtle. He’ll never be a normal bloke. That’s why I love being a nobody.

I can walk down the street and nobody pays me any attention. People don’t look at me, and they don’t care. If I get a new haircut (unlikely I know), it doesn’t appear in the paper the next day. If I have a late night on the town with a few drinks and a bit of bad behaviour (even less likely than the haircut), I don’t have paparazzi banging on my door with some cock-and-bull story about what I did the night before.

I remember watching a programme on the BBC when I was a kid about the Parachute Regiment training. The instructor (a rather burly, red-haired bloke if I remember correctly, or maybe I’m generalising – although I’m sure he had a moustache) kept shouting out to his poor recruits “don’t stand out!“. His point was that if he could single a man out then so could the enemy. In general life that’s what I try to do.

Maybe it’s my average looks, but I often find that I am virtually invisible to people. I almost never get recognised and I can speak to the same person several times before they realise that they’ve spoken to me before. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t want attention, I just want to get on with what I’m doing (living my life). I’m not famous, and I’m not going to be. And it’s great. Don’t take it that I don’t want to meet new people – I just don’t want to know everybody, or, more to the point, I don’t want everybody to know me.

In case you’re wondering, my toe is somewhat better. I can almost walk properly and the swelling has gone down a lot. I still can’t run on it, or even hop on it. While most of the discolouration has gone, some small patches of the darker stuff seems to be spreading away from the toe – which is unusual. I’m hoping to be back running within the next few days and I’m 90% sure it wasn’t fractured. And I was unable to not do anything over the weekend, I went biking, did some weights, and did a few miles of rowing. No rest for the wicked…


Shopping Until I Wish I Would Drop

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For reasons I can barely begin to comprehend, going shopping for things like clothes is one of the most draining tasks that can be undertaken. After a few hours of trailing from shop to shop my normally loose back is tight and sore, my feet feel like they’ve run a triple marathon uphill, emotionally I feel like I’ve got nothing left to give, I’ve long since forgotten why this trip seemed like a good idea and I’m ready to drop dead to get out of doing any more.

My approach to shopping is rather militaristic. I normally only go shopping when I absolutely need something – like food or washing liquid. I’ll write a short and precise list of what I want to get, plot in my head exactly what I’m going to do and where, and then shop in as quick and efficient a time as I can.

It’s not as though I don’t like spending money. I do. Love it. Can’t spend enough of it. Neat piece of technology or shiny bit of kit? I’ll buy it right now. No problem. Especially over the net, it’s so easy and quick. But shopping for things like clothes is an inexact thing – you can’t exactly plan what you want beforehand – so it requires more wandering around looking for the right thing… And that’s only clothes shopping, never mind going to Ikea for furniture!

You’ll gather that I spent a good portion of my Saturday shopping. My girlfriend is going away on holiday for a couple of weeks to a hotter climate so she needed a couple of bits and pieces. We were up in Scotland visiting family so my brother tagged along. It didn’t take much time before we were all completely worn out and sipping cafe latte’s at Starbucks, talking about everything and nothing. For example: having lived in England for a few years now it never ceases to amaze me what the Dundee accent is like compared to other places. People seem to say “Ken” every 5 seconds, and I’ve never heard a Dundee accent that actually sounds soft, like in the north-west – it’s just a course, harsh accent and that’s all there is to it.

I suppose there are 5 stages I go through when I go shopping:

1. Anticipation: You’re looking forward to going out and looking at things you want and some you don’t. There’s going to be loads of choice and everything’s going to fit / look right / match the wallpaper.

2. Holding on valiantly to optimism: You’ve gone around a few shops now and notice that you haven’t bought anything you were looking for yet. But you’re not about ready to give up!

3. Reality sets in: You’ve lost the plot of what you were trying to achieve and you’re walking almost aimlessly from shop to shop. You’re not even looking properly because you know that they won’t have what you want. Although you’re struggling to remember what that was in the first place.

4. Desperation sets in: You’re wiped out now. You’re looking for any excuse to get in the car and go home, but something in the back of your mind keeps you there. You sit and have a cup of coffee with your co-shoppers and all try to persuade each other to go home and try again another time, making each argument sound more and more reasonable.

5. The end of the line. You’ve all decided to go to one last shop at the other end of town (seems like a good last-ditch effort). You get there, barely look around, and head back to the car to go home. You almost fall asleep in the car with fatigue but are glad it’s all over.

Maybe I’m just doing it all wrong.


The Sense Of Humour Has Left The Building

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Today I found a message left on my “leave a message for me” page and it goes like this:

“This is the most self-congratulatory egotistical look at me aren’t I great web site I have ever seen”.

And boy did I laugh. As any of you who know me will already know, I have a rather droll sense of humour. Life can be so shit and miserable (I’ve been to far more funerals of friends and family than weddings and I could write many articles that would make you wonder how so much bad luck can hit one family) that I’ve long since given up trying to take it, or myself, seriously. If you take a pinch of salt with every paragraph I write you’ll start to get what I’m doing.

If I’m honest, I can’t really put a finger on why I’m doing this site. I may get bored in the future and go on to doing something more interesting with the odd hour here and there (I can hear you crossing your fingers). But until then, what the hell. I’ve got friends and family dotted all over the place and I can point them at photos of where I work or what I’ve been up to recently.

And it could be worse, I could just write about technical things and believe me, that would be even less interesting. I guess that being a software developer doesn’t give me the chance to write much and tell stories – that sorta thing. So why not?

So Brenda, you’re probably quite right. The intention isn’t to come across that way, just wrap a few words around some pictures. I guess that so far my articles are just the wrong side of cheesy. Still, if you read it and think “damn, I’m glad I’m not that sad” then maybe you’ll feel better about yourself and the site is doing some good after all (clutching at straws there)…

And if anybody can find a more egotistical, aren’t I great website out there, please drop me a line!

P.S. This site is basically a diary. And isn’t a non-egotistical diary an oxymoron? After all, a diary is about yourself!


British Summer Time

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Well, it’s the 2nd of April, and the clocks just went forward at the weekend. This has the immediate effect of losing an hour’s sleep in the changeover. It has the slightly less immediate effect of making the sun set an hour later in the evening.

While you can argue for hours as to the point of British Summer Time, it has the bonus of heralding the start of the run up to the summer. The trouble is that the British summer doesn’t seem to appear like it used to. I remember the summers of my youth – the blue skies seemed to last for ever, the sun was always baking hot, weeks would pass with not a cloud in the sky. It also used to snow in the winter (even on Christmas day) and, basically, there were four seasons (you know, spring, summer, autumn and winter).

Nowadays, thanks no doubt to global warming and not being 12 any more, we seem to be stuck in a state of perpetual autumn. Frequent cold spells, lots of rain, occasional blue skies. Maybe I’m just depressed because I’m back to work after a lovely, relaxing, long weekend… Yeah, that sounds about right.

I’ve been playing around a bit with PHP and mySQL to do some more interesting things on John’s Adventures including revamping the mailing list (you subscribe, it sends you an e-mail that gives you a link to confirm the subscription and everything lives in a mySQL database table – no more Perl required). I’m also working on a discussion list, although more for fun as I can’t see anyone using it for anything other than slagging me off (you know who you are). Anyway, it’s pretty straightforward, which was a nice surprise.

Had a nice few days off, by the way. It’s not often that sunny in Scotland so you’ve got to make the most of it!

And why is internet access in the UK so overpriced?