Saturday, September 30, 2017

Ryanair - Still Toxic after all these Years

Almost exactly four years after I commented critically on low-cost airline Ryanair's hatred of its customers, a fresh storm has hit the company. It seems that the holiday rosters of its pilots were switched so recklessly that the airline had to cancel thousands of flights this autumn. This screwed up the plans of people who had booked tickets with holidays or other travel arrangements in mind. The airline blithely assumed it didn't matter if hotel bookings or precious holiday days were lost.  Ryanair attempted to refuse the compensation required by law (whilst apologising profusely for PR purposes) then said they would pay full compensation, including the costs of finding alternative flights. Now the latest reports show it is still in denial and still attempting to screw its customers, especially those who it misinformed about their rights in the first place.

One might say that anyone who choose to fly with this sort of carrier must take the risk of being treated as expendable. But if you buy a ticket and pay upfront then you are entitled to fulfilment of that contract by the supplier. I am so glad that I no longer fly for business and don't have to fly when I go on holiday. This industry, or at least some of it, is not fit for purpose.

Poor old Spotify

For those ignorant of such things, Spotify is a website that permits users to play music directly from their internet-enabled devices. There is a large catalogue from which to choose. If one wishes to keep the music then it must be purchased. There are plenty of other such websites but I single out this one because it is one of the very few that I have used from time to time, and because today I received a plaintive little email from them displaying this desperate plea:

Apologies if you find this hard to read but this is exactly how it was sent. I suppose people who spend all day listening to pop music don't know much about image design.  Anyway, let us examine the contents forensically.

"It's been a while...".  No greeting. No "Dear Ramblings" or, if they wanted to be more formal "Dear Mr Commuter (Ruislip)". Instead they give me a phrase without a subject. What has been a while? How long is a while?

We then move from this unsubstantiated assertion to the baffling "So we made you a throwback playlist...". If they had said "So here is a gift voucher that you can spend in the retailer of your choice; please, please spend more time browsing our website" then this would definitely have grabbed my attention. I don't know what a throwback playlist is. Every single piece of music I (and, I suspect, you) own was recorded at some time in the past. At what point is a track sufficiently old to be dubbed as a throwback? Does anyone on Spotify even realise that there is a huge body of work produced in the past five centuries that is regularly performed? Clearly not, because for these dumbos the pieces included in this unwanted playlist are tracks from about twenty or thirty years ago.

The suggestion that I might have memories for works by a-ha and Eurythmics shows once again the inadequacies of data mining and prevalence of stupidity over thought processes in consumer websites. Spotify know the sort of thing I have browsed in the past. They also therefore know the sort of thing in which I have not the slightest interest, and pop songs of the past thirty years feature pretty damn high in this list.

And so we come to the summing up. Will I "love" their "throwback playlist"?  Here are the possible answers and you, dear reader, may select the one you feel is most appropriate.

  • No
  • No, no, a thousand times no
  • Do you really think I can be arsed even to look at their stupid list, never mind actually listen to it?
  • Er, that's about it, one of the above should be sufficient

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Across the Alps

Mrs. C. and I enjoyed a week in Piedmont recently, with a heavy (and I mean that in more than one sense) emphasis on the gastronomic delights of this beautiful region. As usual we travelled by train and this in turn meant an overnight stop in Lyon, following a fearfully early start in order to catch the only Eurostar that goes directly from London to Marseilles (thereby cutting out the usual faffing about trying to cross Paris). Our hotel was placed almost directly outside the main train station in Lyon and what could be more natural than to picture some of the highly modernist trams that serviced the area.

After Lyon we took the train to Turin, a wonderful journey cutting directly through the Alps and on to  four nights in Cuneo sampling what must be one of the finest cuisines in the world  (with an enormous emphasis on local production and rigorous standards) and then two nights in Turin, a city previously unknown to us. Unlike other Italian cities of its size, Turin is amazingly well-ordered, and easy to navigate. The whole centre (with only a few exceptions) comprises handsome buildings of some 5 floors in height, laid out on a regular grid system so precise that one can stand at the gates of the Royal Palace and look down through piazza after piazza to the equally imposing railway station 1km away. It has a large number of pedestrian only areas and many miles of porticos - wide streets with arched arcades running on both sides in Renaissance style. And it also has a tram system, but unlike those in Lyon, the impression is of a hotch-potch of styles that suggests either a devotion to preservation or a lack of cash. 

Perceptive readers will spot the that the two trams on the right, one rather old-fashioned in appearance, the other modern, are both working the no. 13 route. It's rather refreshing compared to the Underground where every train on each line is identical pretty well all of the time. Alas we were not able to ride any of them so as to determine which was the more comfortable.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Morality of Ledgers

BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme, Today, devoted this morning's output to the question of how digital technologies are changing the way we live. They marvelled at developments in artificial intelligence, the proliferation of start-ups and the speed at which traditional jobs were disappearing. There was a plethora of modernity and technospeak, but I was greatly heartened - and dismayed - at the phrase used by one of the experts. Leslie Berlin said, in the context of the impact of Silicon Valley and the developments of which she approves

... all of this has to be put on the good side of the ledger

 Writing as someone who learned their craft back in the days when ledgers meant ledgers - thick volumes in weighty black binders containing bookkeeping entries which we auditors used to embellish with curious ticks, curls and marks, sometimes in green ink, sometimes in purple - and which survive only on the dusty shelves of Museums of Accountancy - it is indeed life affirming to think that this word still carries a meaning for the modern entrepreneur, though what the younger listeners to Today (if there are any) made of her imagery I have no idea. She did not invoke the usual discussion so dear to us accounting veterans as to whether the ledger should be laid out facing or sideways on to the window, nor the best way to remove the stains left by chocolate biscuits, nor the fierce, sometimes violent, altercations about the most appropriate colour for ticking up a calculated balance the third year running (having already used the traditional green and purple pens in previous years).

Pleased as I was to hear that ledgers, and all that they stand for, are still in vogue with the highest of hi-tech trend-setters, I was not in any way chuffed at all at the wanton ignorance displayed by the words 'good side'. Ledgers do not have good or bad sides. They are repositories of information and how that information is processed is up to the person perusing it. The problem, I think, lies with the commonly misunderstood words 'debit' and 'credit'; these are technical terms used in bookkeeping and imply no moral virtues and 'credit' is the prime culprit because it has at least three utterly different meanings;
  • Credit (accounting expression): an entry made in the ledger on the side nearest the window, an entry that is not a debit
  • Credit (expression of social approbation) "It was to Don's credit that he he acknowledged that he was the audit clerk who had dropped the chocolate biscuit onto line 34 of the ledger thereby obliterating the entry referring to the sale of 14 widgets at £1 13/6d (gross)"
  • Credit (measure of financial standing or believability) "Would you credit it, that sodding bookie has refused to give me any more credit?"
So there are no good or bad sides, just as people who talk about things being "on the credit side of the balance sheet" know not of which they speak. Perhaps the concept of souls being weighed in the balance on judgement day has something to do with it. But surely even the gods, these days, use computerised systems to keep track of who is worthy and who is going into the land of perpetual twilight; although one imagines meeting Anubis, the fearsome jackal-headed god who, as he goes to measure your sins against a mere feather, says wearily "I'm sorry, the computer's running very slowly today, can you come back in a thousand years?" That's the thing about ledgers - they may be obscured by chocolate but at least they don't need to be taken offline, virus-checked and rebooted at regular intervals.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Desperately Seeking Sydni

As I have written recently, I joined Facebook in order to keep in touch with a small group interested in the products of the computer software company from which, many years ago, I drew a regular wage packet. I do nothing whatsoever other than read the messages and now and then pop in a pithy comment of my own, none of which are likely to end up in the forthcoming slim volume provisionally entitled The Wit and Wisdom of A Commuter (Ruislip). So you may imagine my surprise when I received an email from Facebook (apparently) which featured a small picture of a young lady of a certain physical attractiveness disporting herself upon a chaise longue in her undergarments*. The accompanying text said no more than
Sydni Bau wants to be friends with you on Facebook
and invited me to click a link to commence this relationship.

To someone of my advanced years it is undeniably fascinating that this hitherto unknown female should have such sufficient confidence in our reaching an understanding that she is happy to share with me those things that ladies normally reserve for a much better acquaintance. But I failed to click on the button and, as Facebook does not give you the option of rejecting the offer, I simply ignored it. No doubt Mr Zuckerberg and his minions will start harassing me to say I have invitations outstanding but if that is how they wish to waste their time, who am I to interfere?  I don't suppose they get much fun these days.

The reason I have abstained from that tempting little blue button is simple. I Googled Sydni Bau, figuring that someone like that, who (if we are to speak frankly) appears to put it about a bit, must be known to others - New Scotland Yard if nothing else - and also because the idea of anyone, male or female, calling themselves Sydni has an alluring quality all of its own. Nobody of that name turned up. One or two Sydnis did, none of whom were Baus, but I also learned that it is defined on the Urban Dictionary website as a "Silly or goofy girl."

Anyway, dear Sydni, if you happen to read this, do get in touch again and this time give me some tangible reason for being friends. I'm happily married, you know, and so we need to find some more suitable mutual interests. A love of stupid names perhaps?

* The Editor wishes to point out that copies of the photograph may be obtained upon request. It will be supplied in a plain brown email and marked "Paving Stone Monthly" to avoid embarrassment.