Friday, January 18, 2019

A Holiday Suggestion We May Decline

There is a wonderful website called Terrible Real Estate Photographs which is, for those of you who are unaware of it, a source of great joy not just for the very terrible pictures that some estate agents choose to illustrate property for sale, but for the witty captions with which Andy Donaldson (the site owner) embellishes them.

I dare not try to compete with the estimable Mr. Donaldson. However, I feel bound to make some sort of comment on the following image which was presented to me recently by a well-known interweb enterprise that facilitates making bookings with hotels and guest houses. I had been doing some lazy research in places near to where my mother-in-law is currently resident and this was high on the list of recommendations. It is described as a three bedroom holiday home featuring a garden.

The front
Not the front.

The proud owners did not add that the property benefits from two wheelie bins, placed so you always have to see one no matter whether you are relaxing on the spacious lawns at the back or strolling up the impressive drive to the front. The pleasing playfulness of the lack of symmetry in the arrangement of the windows and doors at the front is matched by the no-nonsense design of the whole. "This is an honest box" it says in forthright tones, the plain-speaking parlance of the hard-working down-to-earth folk of Derbyshire. [Don't want to worry you but we may run out of hyphens if you go on with all these compound phrases: Ed]

I decided not to make a booking.

Thursday, January 17, 2019


Those wonderful people at PayPal have sent me an email. It begins with the heading "Congratulations!" and, as if that were not enough, continues "You've been selected to apply for PayPal credit" and then it spoils it all by adding "subject to approval".

I was pretty damn excited when I saw "Congratulations". Even more so with that cheeky little exclamation mark stuck on the back. This is it, I thought, this is the big one. I've won the Nigerian Lottery. I've been asked to handle Britain's negotiations in leaving the EU. I've finally been awarded the OBE for services to literature. Maybe all three.

It was disappointing to find that I was merely being congratulated on being selected to apply for something that I have not the slightest intention of applying for. I mean, if they had said "We're going to give you loads of cash, no questions asked, all right my son?" then I think that would have warranted a wry smile of satisfaction and perhaps a phone call to my wine merchant for a half-bottle of something fizzy. But no. The humiliation. Not only have I not have been granted credit, I have merely been "selected" to apply for it. Can anyone apply for it? Yes. Do you need to be selected to make this application? No, of course not. If you want it, you apply for it.

And now we turn to the sting in the tail, the giveaway that betrays the whole communication as a mockery and a sham. "Subject to approval", indeed. I am expected to make some sort of pleading application and then wait for some machine in an air-conditioned room at the other end to whirr and flash some lights and spit out some punched cards which a white-coated boffin will scrutinise before making a tick on a list on his clipboard. [This imagery may be a little bit dated, you know: Ed]

 No, PayPal. If you want me to be excited about your offer then make it something exciting. There is no shortage of institutions wishing to lend me money. Offer to deliver the money to me in a limo driven by one of your vice-presidents before whisking me (and wife) off to a sun-drenched holiday in a luxury resort with all expenses paid, and then just maybe, I can consider making an application. Until then, let me answer your email with one of my own.

To: PayPal
From: Ramblings
Subject. Felicitations! You have been specially selected to receive vituperative and insulting mentions in my popular column and you don't even have to apply for them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Lemmings Revisited

Just before the madness exercise in democracy that was the referendum of 2016, I penned a whimsical little piece to summarise my feelings at the way the Brexit campaign seemed to be going. Tonight Parliament votes on the cunning plan to lower ourselves gently over the cliff  withdrawal agreement negotiated by the hapless minority Government led by Mrs May, a plan that is disliked by pretty well everybody and yet the only one on the table. The alternative, the dreaded no-deal, may well be the exact equivalent of the lemmings hurling themselves blissfully into oblivion while being reassured that this is far far better than staying precariously alive on the cliff-edge.

The real alternative, of course, is to remain in the EU until a deal that is generally acceptable can be agreed; failing which we remain on the grounds that the alternatives are so much worse.  Apparently this cannot be done because it would be a "betrayal of democracy". We have the paradox that those who argued passionately that Britain should "take back control" are now paralysed with fear about using that control in accordance with the constitution. We have a second paradox in that a further vote is also seen as a betrayal of democracy; does this mean there can be never again be a referendum on EU membership? If so what about the democratic result of the 1975 referendum? And why must a referendum be a Yes/ No decision? Suppose there are several options? How do you then reach a conclusion?

The British way has been to have elections to the House of Commons and to rely on the interactions between the MPs to produce an outcome that is both responsive to the wishes of the electorate and aligned with reality. Please can we get back to this?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Wait for me

Users of Windows 10 will be aware that, every six months or so, Microsoft puts out a new version which is compulsory to have and which is installed on one's computer whether you wish it or no. Nobody knows why they do this. Social anthropologists and historians in the future will doubtless produce many books and attend many conferences on the theme of 'Compulsive tinkering as a way of making oneself feel good'.

I have still to hear of any ordinary computer user who has beamed with delight after yet another bi-annual update session whereas huge numbers of people have been greatly inconvenienced by loss of use of their computers as they grind through hours of updating and some have lost files and precious data as a result of Microsoft's incompetence.

The last update was unveiled in September and ran into huge waves of criticism, not least because it was full of bugs that had been flagged by beta testers and ignored by Microsoft. They pulled it, released it again, pulled it again and finally got something out that seemed to work late last year. Yet nothing materialised on the workhorse used to create this very column, my trusty PC Specialist machine. And, having read of the many woes of those who foolishly attempted to obtain the update early, when it was still full of bugs, I was glad to be at the back of the queue, though becoming a little concerned that I might still be left out when the next update, in May this year, is forced on us all. The fear was that the update process might get itself so confused that it failed, and then Windows itself may have refused to work because it was no longer up to date.

Those concerns have been dispelled for yesterday the long awaited update happened. Yes, the September 2018 release made itself known by making my PC so slow that I realised something was happening in the background, so gave up trying to work on it and did other things until a couple of hours later it reached the magic 100%, rebooted once or twice and got back to normal.  As to the changes - I haven't the slightest idea. It looks and feels exactly the same. It rebooted itself last night as well without telling me why. On checking the system log there is a lot of guff about an X-Box app update. Whoopee. I don't have an X-Box. Neither do I have a microphone or camera yet Microsoft is really awfully keen that my computer is equipped with the Skype video calling application. And they are making noises about changing my beloved Snipping Tool (perfect for making instant screen shots, some of which find their way into these little pieces).  It's all just tinkering with little marginal bits and pieces and one day these very words will be a footnote to an article in a learned journal entitled "Futility in 21c software development - notes toward a theory of pointlessness" or some-such and a jolly good read it will be.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Unwanted Help

I received an email from Google informing me that Google Assistant had been downloaded to my smartphone. I had not requested this facility. Not only that, I had set my preferences on Google Play to download nothing unless I requested it.  I looked at the phone and there was a pop-up screen asking for permission to access all the data on my phone and to listen in at all times to anything I said. The alternative was not that I could disable or uninstall it . Oh no, the alternative was that it would go on running anyway but would not be "so helpful".  Realising it was already listening to my under the breath comments, I said "Go away" and, rather obligingly I thought, it put up a message saying "Popping off". I then looked, in vain, for any way to permanently disable the app. I suspect it is running in background whether I want it to or not and that thought is irritating.

You may say that I should be glad of having something that is ready to help. But get a load of this; it put up some suggestions as to how I could use it. The first was "Play Bruno Mars on Spotify". I don't use Spotify, my tastes in music do not include Mr Mars and in any case I have never played music on my phone. I use my little Sansa Clip when out and about, and hi-fi (or headphones when on my pc) when at home.  I think there was something about booking flights as well (yeah, right) and also telling me all about my busy (!) schedule.

Google should know all about me and appears to have learned nothing in all of the years that the two of us have been acquainted.  It's amazing, this lack of artificial intelligence.