Friday, April 16, 2021

1000 UP!

 This is the 1000th post. It's taken more than 16 years. Some might think I should mark this solemn moment with carefully worded reflections on the state of the world, the work of the blogger and perhaps the changes in the commuting landscape, especially since the covid infection has knocked the stuffing out of public transport.

But sod that. Here's something of much greater importance.

Source: BBC


The voters of Pontiac, Quebec, must be proud of their representative in parliament. Taking a phone call with colleagues, Mr Amos was seen unclothed, protecting his modesty with the phone itself. His explanation - "My video was accidentally turned on as I was changing into my work clothes after going for a jog".

 Insert your own "Member" of Parliament joke here.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Dissing Disney

 I am on Facebook. I am there in order to participate in some groups, mainly concerned with local affairs, the Metropolitan railway (obviously), the football team I support and so on. This, together with my age, ought to establish me in the minds of the Facebook programmers, as a certain sort of bloke. But it does not.

Facebook have taken to bombarding me (and, no doubt, everyone else) with "suggestions". They have never bothered to ask me what sort of thing I might wish to have suggested to me. This is not the Facebook way. Instead, they either blindly follow what their major advertisers want them to do and then pretend it is a genuine suggestion, or they simply don't care. My reasoning for arriving at this conclusion is that every day I receive a suggestion that I should visit a page or website concerned with Disney.

Anyone who followed my, surely-an-award-must-be-forthcoming-soon, series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die will recall my excoriation of the works of Disney.  I don't care for the stuff. I've made this clear. But will Facebook listen? No, only today they suggested a visit a page called Adults Who Love Disney.

Every time I get one of their ghastly suggestions I am offered the chance to send feedback. There is a list that pops-up if you click the little buttons to the side. It looks like this:


 Amongst the choices are Hide Post (with its intriguing byline of "see fewer posts like this" and Hide All from (in this case) Adults who love Disney. But here is the catch. You can only check one option. I would like both to receive fewer posts about Disney (preferably none at all but they don't give me that choice) AND to see no more references to the specific page in question. Not possible. As soon as you make a choice, the window and the suggestion itself vanish. Which would be fine if indeed they showed me fewer sites similar to the one I had expressed a dislike for. But they don't. They go one finding more sites about Disney and eagerly thrusting them in my face, like a cat bringing home bits of dead bird, ignoring the cries of disgust and racing back outside to assassinate more innocent sparrows.

It would nice to get rid of the lot by using the Hide Post option but as this does not work, I have to take my enemy down one at at time by using the Hide All From option. But how many sodding Disney sites are there? Is Facebook going to suggest a different one every day no matter how many times I beg them to hide them? Are there a couple of baffled boffins in their back room, scrutinising their clipboards?

Boffin 1: He's rejected Adult Disney Geeks1
Boffin 2: Damn, I thought we were on to a winner there. What about Disney Nerds?2
Boffin 1: No good, he rejected that two weeks ago.
Boffin 2: Disney Fans with IQs above 80?3 It's a tiny group but it might just work.
Boffin 1: OK, we'll line that up tomorrow and if that fails, let's go with Disney For Snuff-Box Collectors4.
Boffin 2: I didn't know he collected snuff boxes
Boffin 1: I don't suppose he does but what the hell, it's a Disney group and it's got to be relevant. I mean, that fact that he has asked us to hide the 58 previous suggestions just proves what a great fan of Disney he is.
Boffin 2: He sure must like Disney, hell, who doesn't? I can't believe there's any other possibility. Let's suggest again all the one's he's previously rejected, something's bound to stick.
Boffin 1: Great thinking. 


1. It's genuine (they suggested it)
2. So is this (also suggested)
3. I have a horrible suspicion this might real as well but I haven't bothered to check
4.[ Do you happen to have the address for this one? Asking for a friend: Ed]

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Operator - We seem to be cut-off

 There's no fun like trying to contact a telecoms company that finds itself unable to communicate, or, worse, which sends out false information and then is uncontactable. 

Today's case study concerns my mobile phone provider. I will not identify them fully, just in case all this is a ghastly mistake at my end, but let us simply call them "Walkmobile".

I pay my account by direct debit on the 9th of each month. Today, the 6th, I received a text message saying "We've noticed you haven't paid your last bill. Take a look at your account..." and it went on to give a website link. Naturally, I was horrified to think that £7.50 remained unpaid from last month. I was pleased with the "We've noticed" bit; so much nicer than "Look here, you utter bastard, you owe us serious cash so pay up or kiss goodbye to your house, car and life savings" which, I am told, is the tone taken by some, less respectful, phone companies. Nonetheless, this seemed urgent. I checked my bank account. The last amount due had been paid on time.

Thinking that perhaps there was a problem with them verifying my bank details in advance of the current payment, I attempted to log on to my account. Their website refused to accept my login details. I checked them. They were correct, although I probably have not logged on for many years so perhaps they had expired. I requested a change of password. They said they would send, at once, a confirmation to my email address. Nothing happened. Half an hour later it still had not happened*

I called them. I was told (and you knew this would be the next line, didn't you?) "We are experiencing a high volume of calls at the moment". Oh, and they were unable to tell me roughly how long I might have to wait. This is a phone company, let me remind you, who make their business by operating, by phone, to their customers.

Their text message also suggested I set up an online account. I thought perhaps a glitch had separated my account details from the phone number. Using the number they supplied I tried to re-register, only to be told that the account number was already in use.

I went to their website and saw a webchat feature. "If you see an orange Chat Now sign then there are advisors available" it said. I saw the orange sign and filled in my info. "Please wait, we are connecting you" it said. This looked promising. Then it updated "All our advisors are busy. Estimated delay is 31 minutes".

I give up. I can't contact them by phone. I can't reset my account details so I cannot login. I cannot access them by webchat. I shall have to resign myself to the loss of house, car and life savings after all.


* Update. The reset email did arrive, 2.5 hours afterwards. When I clicked on the link, it took me to a page that said the token was invalid or expired. 

**Update the next day: I received a grovelling text saying it was all down to a "clerical error" and the bailiffs had been called off. Phew! Those clerks, eh? I suppose someone's pen slipped and the wrong name got typed on to the list of people in default. Happens all the time in busy offices, I believe.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Panic revisited

 One year ago the great toilet paper panic began in the UK. Australia had already seen extraordinary scenes of shoppers overloading their trolleys, now it spread here. Our social media had pictures of empty shelves and the inevitable comments "What is wrong with people", and the heart-wrenching images of health workers unable to find food, after a very long day's work grappling with the first of the corona virus victims, were about to make headlines.

There was nothing "wrong" with people - that's the trouble. For individuals to try to protect their own position at a time of great uncertainty is rational. The problem is that what works for some does not work when everybody does the same, as economists have known for a long time whilst studying the workings of markets. I am currently reading a book about the South Sea Bubble of 1720, an amazing time in English history, when sophisticated financial products were snapped up by the upper and middle classes on the grounds that if someone else was doing it, then it must be the right thing to do. As with Bitcoin today, the rationale is always that there is no risk because you can sell out, when necessary, to others willing to buy. The notion that there might be nobody willing to buy, because everybody is aware that it is time to sell, always comes too late.

Anyway, those days of queues and rumour seem a very long time ago. We shopped this morning as normal, and the shelves were full and all was placid. Everybody was wearing masks and making spaces for others as they passed in the aisles; other than that one could barely distinguish the scene from that of normal times. Even the traffic around beautiful Ruislip was about as busy as it used to be.

We have reached a key moment in the vaccination campaign. Everyone over the age of 65 has been vaccinated, bar those who do not wish it or for whom it is not advised. This has been the main group of those admitted to hospital with severe breathing difficulties. The risk of the health services being unable to cope with those needing emergency treatment has therefore receded and continues to diminish.

Next week schools go back and then we face an agonising time to see if this pushes the infection rate back up to dangerous levels; if not, then the rest of the return to normality can continue.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021


 At a time when our news is dominated by stories of people receiving vaccination against covid-19, why should this column be different? Let it be herein recorded that last week, not only did I extend a bare arm to the ministrations of a very nice young lady in a local pharmacy, but Mrs Commuter had a similar experience in the local Youth Centre.

We had both been wondering when our turn would come. Curiously, whilst I received both a letter from the NHS and a text from my GP, the wife got only the second. Which is why we were treated at different locations.  

Within a day or so we were told that the vaccine we had both been given, the Astra Zeneca version, was not suitable for people of our age group, was ineffective against a new South African strain, might need to be boosted in the autumn, might be better if the second shot due in 12 weeks was the Pfizer vaccine ... but it's OK folks, really, because world-renowned virologist and medical researcher B. Johnson (also our local MP and Prime Minister) opines that it's all going to be fine. 

Not that it will make much difference. Until the level of infections is really very small (much below today's figure of some 12,000 new cases) our lifestyle will remain as it has been for the past 11 months - avoiding contact with people and staying almost entirely at home.