Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Spot the Difference

I was very excited to receive a letter from my good friends at Barclaycard this morning. Had I won two tickets to the annual dinner and dance? Alas, no, it was yet another missive about how they are creating a "ring-fenced" bank, simultaneously telling me how important it is and that it will make not a jot of difference to my day-to-day banking experience. Included was another yawn-inducing notification:
We're making important changes to your minimum monthly payments
I glanced over the next paragraph, as one does whilst readying the left hand to scrunch the whole thing up prior to filing it in the recycling bag but my attention was arrested by the following:
See below to get an idea of how these changes affect your account
If your standard balance was £100.00 your minimum payment would've been £5.00. Based on the new calculation and the below assumptions the minimum payment for this balance would be £5.00
Clearly I am missing something here. The important changes, so vitally important that they bothered to put "would've" instead of "would have" (nice saving of an entire printed character there, give yourselves another £1m bonus all round, boys), are going to increase my minimum payment (assuming I only spent a measly £100 in a month, which quite frankly is hardly going to keep Mrs. Commuter in the style she aspires to) by a whopping 0.00%, correct to 2 sig.fig. Or, to put it another way, the important changes are not going to make any difference at all. Why couldn't (sorry, could not) they have said that? Or could not someone have had the basic sense to realise that, because there is a minimum repayment of £5,  the change (which is an increase from 2.0% to 2.25%)  only affect people whose balance is  in excess of £222.22. You see how I did that? £5 / 0.0225. An easy job for my desktop calculator.

My piece is now written, the letter is on its way to its rendezvous with a landfill site but before I lay down my pen I should note that another business communication reached me this morning. I changed car insurers recently; the jilted party has now written a sad little note asking me why I no longer love them and please would I get in touch, they promise to be nicer this time, honest. What a waste of money - I called them a month ago and told them I was going. They'll have to do a lot better if they want to win me back - a nice big box of chocs will do for a start.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dr Commuter Advises... the England Cricket Team

Source: BBC Website

Thank you for your enquiry Jonathan. I assume it is a question although it does appear in the form of a categorical statement in the rendering reproduced above. The Ashes is, as many of us know, a series of cricket matches played between teams representing England and Australia. The side that wins the most in any one series is declared the winner of the "The Ashes" and goes on to spray large quantities of sparkling wines over one another.

In my opinion the England team can certainly win the Ashes. What they must do is to score more runs than their opposition and to take more wickets. In this way they will have a larger score of runs at the end of each game and if they take all of the wickets as well then they will be adjudged the winners and may commence to spray sparkling wine, albeit not in the same liberal quantities as they are permitted to use should they win the entire series.They will win the entire series if they manage to follow this prescription in sufficient games.

If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter,  do contact us at the usual address. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lines on the Departure of Robert Mugabe

Editor's note: It is customary, when penning a ditty to mark a significant occasion of someone, to find suitable rhymes with their name.This produces a pleasing piece of doggerel. The following effort has made every effort to observe this rule but readers must be aware that it is not easy to match English words to a Zimbabewean surname and we hope they will make due allowances

The crowds were milling in the street
Was it to see the derby?
What brought them out despite the heat
T'was to see off R Mugabe.

The military strutted up and down
As if enjoying a barbie.
But graver business brought them to town;
To chuck out R Mugabe.

The market stalls had fish and meat,
Lettuces and kohl rabi.
And eager buyers flocked to eat
Ignoring R Mugabe.

Then ZanuPF gathered, all
Going rhubarbe, rhubarbe
And made the long awaited call
To ditch one R Mugabe.

Chasing the Ratings

Recently I renewed my annual motor insurance. As is sadly so often the case these days, this process required ditching my previous provider because they had hiked up the premium massively for no obvious reason; a few minutes online and I had a quote from someone else. This is not only more than £100 cheaper than the quote from my current provider, it was less than I had been charged last year. It would not surprise me if the same thing happens next year.

And that, you might be thinking, is surely that. One buys motor insurance, one puts the policies away (or in today's case, downloads the documents) and the matter is closed until the first frosts of next winter announce that the festive season of insurance renewals is with us once again. Alas, there is always a postscript. My old provider has cold-shouldered me and no doubt crossed me off their Christmas card list but the new one is keen to further our acquaintance. They have asked me to rate their product. Apparently this will help other customers.

I can go to a restaurant, eat an enjoyable meal and give them a high rating. I can buy an electrical product that fails to do what it claims to do and give it a low rating. But how on earth do I rate an insurance policy? We are not talking about how easy it was to chat to them over the phone because I did the whole business online. Nor about the key feature of any insurance policy - what happens when you make a claim. We are talking about how I rate the product itself and it doesn't even come into effect for another ten days.I am baffled as to how to proceed. Something sarcastic on the following lines perhaps?

A lovely little policy, although clause 14.b is rather obscure and I didn't like the sour notes emitted from clause 18.d(2), albeit that the exclusion of liability for acts of aliens from the Planet Tharg added a delightful touch of levity. My partner enjoyed the cover for the towing of caravans less than 35 cwt. The typeface used for the small print was well-chosen. I can definitely see this policy lasting the full twelve months.  4 stars


Saturday, November 11, 2017

(Un)Silent Witness

Some stories demand to read. Such was the case with this gem concerning a police suspect who, during a routine interview at the station, declined to answer his interlocutor with speech but used an entirely different orifice to emit sounds. The policeman shut his notebook, opened a window and terminated proceedings.

That this took place in Kansas (albeit not the state but the town of the same name in Missouri) adds a certain piquancy.

"Aunt Em, Aunt Em, that terrible noise, that rushing wind, is it ... is it a twister?"
"Hush child, it's just one of the farmhands making, er, comments, to the cops"

Whether the successor to the highly acclaimed Breaking Bad will be called Breaking Wind is not yet clear.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Every unit of measurement has its technical definition (such as a second being so many billions of vibrations of a caesium atom) and its everyday definition (large areas being so many times the size of Wales, smaller areas being so many football pitches). The world of consumer technology is not exempt. The technical definition of broadband speed is the number of bits per second that information can be transmitted but the man in the street doesn't hold with that. The benchmark of  internet access speed is how long it takes to download a high-definition film.

A nice example of this usage is in today's papers with the announcement by big player Vodafone of very fast broadband facilities coming soon to selected UK cities. How do we know how fast it will be? It will enable the downloading of films to be achieved in a few minutes instead the current average of half-an-hour. And this is where I start scratching my head. Because it is not just film-as-measurement that is the problem, it is film-as-justification. The reason why this upgrading of communications infrastructure matters, apparently, is so that consumers can download films faster. And I have to ask - does it really matter?

The film market may be very big. But I have the impression that huge numbers of people choose to watch them on very small screens, smartphones, tablets and the like. So all that high definition is utterly wasted. I sometimes watch films or TV on my 24" monitor and the picture quality is outstanding and this is from standard definition stuff (the files of which are less than a quarter the size of high-definition versions). And why does it matter if some kid has to wait an extra half an hour to begin watching, even assuming they do start watching the moment the download is ended? Suppose they were going to a cinema to see the same film - it might take them half an hour just to get there, then there's the queue to pay, the queue for popcorn and the interminable bloody adverts and trailers before the film begins. This is all regarded as perfectly in order and does not detract from the popularity of film-going. But apparently it is appallingly backward for anyone to have to wait a trivial amount of time once they have decided to see a film on their own device.

Now there are some good reasons for upgrading the speed of internet communications. The article I cite mentions transmission of CT scans between medical facilities. Businesses need to have rapid communications of data. But as long as the film speed standard holds then it is very hard to take the need for faster broadband seriously. I couldn't care less if it takes a few minutes or a few hours to download a game (such as the amazing Skyrim, which has been taking up most of my gaming hours in the past few years) because like any rational human being I can think and plan and find other things to do during the download (such as doing it overnight). And the idea that I, as a general consumer of broadband, may find myself paying more for it in future, so that some spotty herbert can get Alien Bloodbath IV ("This time the blood is even more bloody than last time") a little bit quicker than he could previously, does not make my heart sing on this bright but chilly November morning.

[Oh dear, I think I must have missed Alien Bloodbaths I to III. Were they any good, do you know? Ed]

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Return of the Grauniad

Regular readers, should there be any, of these musings will be aware that I often quote from The Guardian newspaper. This is because I subscribe to it. Consequently that august organ of the press knows my address.

Imagine my surprise then to receive an email from said paper apologising for sending me another email that, they say, was sent by mistake because it relates to a competition open only to UK residents. My surprise was compounded in that I never received the original email.

There may be something sinister going on here, though I cannot quite see what. Or we are back to the modern equivalent of the glorious days of Garudian misprints, a regular source of hilarity in other popular journals during the 1960s (and 70s and probably well into the 90s). They erred by not sending me the first email and erred again by telling me that I no longer appear in the very country to which they nonetheless faithfully mail my subscription vouchers each quarter.

I now eagerly await a third email apologising for the second and explaining that as I am indeed eligible to join the competition, that the closing date was last Friday, and that only non-subscribers resident in Antarctica are eligible to enter. 

Friday, November 03, 2017

Having The Builders In

Few structures on Earth have inspired as many, and as widely diverse, theories about their construction than the Pyramids of Egypt. Scientific interest in them dates back to the turn of the 19c with the French expedition under Napoleon and yet experts (and plenty of non-experts) continue to find new information and to promulgate their own ideas about how and why they were built. Today we have something tangible (or perhaps I should say non-tangible) to add to the story, for a huge space has been detected in the middle of the Great Pyramid.

For those of who believe in the scientific method, (as opposed to the "Aliens did it" school of nutters), it is very satisfying that this finding came about through the application of hard science - in this instance using detectors to measure the frequency of muons (high energy and highly unstable fundamental particles) as they tore through the Pyramid interacting with the stable atoms of which it is composed. More of them got through in one part than in the rest, the giveaway sign that there was far less solid matter for them to collide with.

Until cameras can be inserted into the void, which appears to be above the Great Gallery that leads to the King's Chamber in the very heart of the Pyramid, it is not possible to say much more about it but there is no reason why one should not speculate.  So purely in the interests of science here is the likely explanation.

Scene: The Giza plateau approx 4,500 years ago. The Pharoah Khufu reclines under a shade contemplating the empty sands of the desert. Before him kneels a man holding a papyrus inscribed with many geometrical symbols.
Pharoah:  How goes your work, oh Imhotep my architect? Have the gods inspired you? Can you truly construct the magnificent mausoleum that will house my immortal spirit and thus defend Egypt for ever?
Imhoteop: Pretty good, pretty good your highness. The lads have put in an extra shift, managed to get the plans finished. Here, take a shufti
Pharoah: I see you have allowed for the chamber leading to my tomb, even as we spoke.
Imhotep: Yeah, yeah, it's all there, bit tricky working out how to put a bloody great gallery right in the middle of the pyramid without the roof falling in but a few extra bits of four by two, bit of stone to cover up them and it should look fine.
Pharoah: You have accomplished much. However my priests assure me that there is much that must accompany me to the afterlife. Many chariots, statues, vases, fine clothes and jars of wine, and all the treasures of my many conquests.
Imhotep: Yes.... it's always the same when you're moving house, isn't it, so much gear you suddenly realise that you've got stashed away and there are never enough camels when it comes to it.
Pharoah:  Where then, oh servant of the gods, whose very life hangs upon the merest flick of my finger, shall I store for eternity the necessary objects for my sustenance?
Imhotep: Well, seeing as how you put it that way, highness, perhaps me and the lads could put in a sort of loft conversion for you, knock out a bit in the middle, make good, few quick hieroglyphics to make it look nice, say five bags of gold for the lot, VAT not included?
Pharoah: Four bags including VAT. Or shall I summon my executioner?
Imhotep: Alright blimey, Four bags then. I'd better be getting on with it
Pharoah: Let it be so. And now, as Memphis United are playing away to Thebes Academicals, we shall take our leave.