Blog DOB: 22 Aug, 2006
Name: Mark O'Connor
Me in the Antarctic
Really Annoying Sh##
This is my blog where I can dump all the sh## that really annoys me. It stays here, I can get on and enjoy myself. It's like therapy, and you can join too for free. Just add yourself as a blogger and get rid of all your sh##.
Christmas is evolving into a pagan consumer festival to better appeal to a multi-cultural society and amid growing fears of litigation. The trend was highlighted in 2002 when the British Red Cross first implemented a policy to not display Christmas decorations in any of their 430 UK Charity Shops. The pace of change has been accelerating since. This year a report by the employment law firm Peninsula reveals that three out of four UK employers now ban festive decorations so as not to offend people of other faiths or because they fear litigation on the grounds of discrimination.
Health and Safety rules are also being blamed for the clampdown on yuletide tinsel with a spokesperson at Tower Hamlets local council defending their decision by maintaining "There's a concern people might hurt themselves trying to attach hanging decorations from the ceiling." The Royal Bank of Scotland has asked its staff to book an engineer if they want to hang cards on a string. Other employers are claiming the baubles and tinsel simply look unprofessional.
The Royal Mail seasonal stamps now exclude religious imagery and the majority of corporate cards you now receive are unlikely to contain the word Christmas or scenes of the nativity. Instead the cards are likely to wish you "Seasons Greetings" and feature winter scenes or a festive penguin. If the trend we see this year which has included refuse collectors in Kingston-upon-Hull being banned from wearing Santa hats, Wokingham District Council taking out an injunction against millionaire Vic Moszczynski for decorating the outside of his home, a college in Rotherham looking to replace traditional turkey lunch with halal chicken prepared according to Muslim beliefs, then I think we can predict that Christmas will have been replaced within twenty years by a pagan consumer festival and it's origins completely forgotten.
What is Christmas about anyway?
This morning I received a Christmas card which had already been opened. It wasn't sent this way, this had clearly happened since it entered the postal system. Yet another experience to compound my lack of confidence in the Royal Mail to get it right, but it doesn't quite match an incident I had earlier in the year when I was sent a suit from a tailor in Hong Kong which never arrived.
The Royal Mail tracking system said it had been delivered to me, seemingly on a date when there was no one at home. They even had proof. They had a digital signature. This appeared to be someone's first name, but was so badly drawn I couldn't even make out the characters. It was as if one of the squirrels in the back garden had taken delivery and signed for it.
When I complained the Royal Mail suggested it must have been delivered to one of my neighbours. "If you were going to do that", I asked, "why would you not put a card through my door to tell me what you've done or ensure you get a full signature or record where you've delivered it if you've delivered it to a different address? Is there a policy, are you not meant to deliver to the address on the label?".
It all seemed very suspicious, a fact reinforced when customer service told me the delivery person no longer worked with the Royal Mail. I was left to assume they were now roaming around in my suit, living a high life of sorts.
To my surprise, three months later, as I was getting out of my car, a neighbour, who lived about ten doors away and who I don't ever remember seeing before appeared with my Hong Kong parcel under his arm. "I've had this in my hall for a few months", he says.....
I recently heard the Cork City Council web site was being criticized for failing to really appreciate the needs of the people who might use it, in particular it didn't consider how the site might be displayed by other browsers. This seems to have culminated in the Council putting a note on the site saying it "will only operate correctly by using Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5. or greater". The user is then invited to "upgrade".
With close to 90% of browsers already using Internet Explorer 6 or above or using the superior Firefox browser the number of people this invitation would apply to is a very small minority, given that we must also count browsers such as Safari and Opera.
To change from Firefox to IE would actually be a downgrade. The W3C browser statistics for November '06, rate Firefox browser usage at just under 30%, as it continues to take market share away from Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The Council web site does not display properly in this browser, suggesting it was only developed on Internet Explorer and not tested on other environments. By web standards, this is very un PC (boom boom), as it has the potential to alienate a substantial number of visitors..
W3C, shorthand for the World Wide Web Consortium, are the standards body for the web. They develop and define the language standards that ensure the universality of the web. In addition to Cork City Council ignoring users with other browsers, the website doesn't meet these standards set by the W3C. In fact, it contains twenty three errors, which realistically, would take about ten minutes to correct.
They do include an accessibility roadmap which does mention attaining AA and AAA accessibility standards. This is all very well, but it's usually better to start at the begining: Lads, aim for the A standard first, a good point to start at would be to correct the twenty three errors, and sort out displaying the site on other browsers. As a local government body you should be setting a standard. Upgrade.
The Lions Club put a sleigh together each year and drive it up every street with ringing bells, knocking on every door to raise money. The collectors are dressed as Santa Claus or elves, who, according to the flyer, are meant to "bring a little Christmas cheer".
Grrrrr, I don't know about you, but I see this as a very "passive aggressive" method of raising funds. It doesn't rely on any spirit of giving, you're being subtlety bullied into empting your pockets, harassed at your own door. You open it to a Santa Claus singing a Christmas carol, are you really going to tell him to shut it and say no?
There must be a psychological barrier to people using the slow lane. This is why we end up with slow moving traffic in the fast and middle lanes while the slow lane is empty. We do not see either ourselves or our automobiles as the "type" of vehicle which belong in the slow lane. We do not fit or want to fit the profile of users of this lane so will automatically take position in the middle lane, or worse, accelerate straight into the fast lane, irrespective of the risks. We see it as our rightful position. Who really wants to be branded a "slow lane" driver?
Spending approximately thirty to forty days a year just sitting in commuter traffic I've had time to think about it's psychology. I've also wondered, during this time, whether our cave dwelling ancestors were not in some ways better off. What is our quality of life?
With the push for UK national identity cards being justified with sensational figures like an estimated £3.3Billion lost in identity theft, you would presuppose that government departments would take data protection very seriously. You would really expect them to be setting a standard.
When I complained to the UK Visa office I added my concern about the privacy of my data.
As a VISA sponsor you have to provide key information to UK Visas such as copies of your bank statements, utility bills and so on. UK Visas offers no information or assurance as to how any of this information might be protected, how it is used, how long it is kept for, whether it is used for any other purpose, where it is kept, who has access to it, what media it is kept on or how it might be disposed of. There is no public information on their website. In responding to my complaint UK Visas choose to ignore my concerns and made no comment at all.
Whatever happened to picking up the phone and talking to customers?
I received two letters from Direct Line. When they came through the letter box I didn't even open them. I assumed they were just part of the continuing junk mail I was receiving from Direct Line and I put them on the "junk mountain" for shredding later.
A few weeks on, when I finally get around to opening them for shredding, I glance at the contents. The first letter advises that, because I haven't sent them evidence of my No Claims Discount, they were removing the discount from my premium resulting in an additional premium of £471.45.
Obviously I hadn't answered the letter, so the next letter notifies me they are cancelling my insurance on, what would now be Tuesday. I wondered why Direct Line couldn't have just got the details directly from my previous insurer, to which Customer Service replied, the no claims discount was my responsibility.
Wouldn't be good if companies actually started to take some responsibility for their customers? Couldn't someone have picked up the phone, and talked to me, we had to do this in the end anyway?
I've already decided to not renew my insurance with Direct Line. I wanted to cancel it there and then but they quoted me over £200 as a cancellation charge.
When you start your computer the chances are you could actually go away and make a coffee while you wait for it to complete. Overtime your computer becomes so slow that you either replace it or you take a hammer to it in a moment of angry frustration. You only have a 256K or 128K memory card when they seem to be churning them out now with a 1GB card as standard.
Of course, this will help, and you will see an instant difference at start-up. Until, that is, you start to install all the other programs you used to run on your old computer.
The majority of these programs think you want to use them every time you start your computer. They also think it's perfectly ok to communicate with "VGER" when you're connected to the internet and even try to automatically restart your computer if they find and install an update. Marketing are likely to consider it beneficial to have the program load automatically. The user isn't likely to quickly forget the software or the maker or use an alternative, you're right there in their face every day.
This is fine if you actually want to use the program every day. If you only want to use it periodically then you should be able to easily turn it off, and when I say "easily" I mean you don't need a computer degree to do so or have to type "msconfig" or "regedit" into the start and run menu. Personally, I would prefer my computer to start with only one program, Kaspersky anti-virus software. Everything else I would like to choose to start when I am ready.
However, the default on the majority of software installations seems to be to run when windows starts and to automatically search for updates or newer versions of the software when you're connected to the internet without giving you the option to change it.
I was actually surprised that MSN Messenger 7 included the ability to un-tick "run this program when Windows starts" in the options tab. Prior to this version this wasn't included as an option. Instead you had to click start and run. Type in regedit.exe and click ok. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersion un. Once you're there click on the MSMSGS entry and select delete. Then click yes to confirm.
At least one piece of software has made a positive change, if only the rest would follow.
Having just spent five apoplectic hours trying to drive home, predominately gridlocked on the M25, I've had time to consider whether the congestion charge might have helped to reduce or alleviate todays congestion.
It all started this morning at 6:30am when a truck overturned on the anti-clockwise stretch of the M25 at junction 9. This didn't affect me as I was travelling clockwise. However, to my surprise, eleven hours later, in the return rush hour, two lanes of the M25 are still closed. Traffic is queuing from junction 14 at Heathrow.
Earlier, on my route in to work, going the opposite direction via the M25, A40 and North Circular I am delayed on the A40. The reason for this delay, of about forty minutes, is because a road crew are sweeping the central reservation and there is a lane closed. There is also a large stretch, over a mile, which is still coned off, even though the work is completed.
The traffic alerts I hear all day, having spent close to seven hours behind the wheel, are common to the traffic alerts I hear almost every day. These cite, in no particular order, road works, traffic lights out, collapsed manhole, broken down car, traffic accident and onlookers as the reasons for congestion. These create traffic black spots, and they will occur even if there is a congestion charge.
We're simply not clearing these issues quick enough, reopening lanes to get the traffic moving or deploying traffic police to failed traffic signals. Two lanes closed on the M25 for eleven hours is wrong, and I struggle to understand why the tax payer should be penalised for this through a congestion tax when the overall process of traffic management isn't effective.
With a charge of £1.30 per mile, the daily cost to me, using both the M25 and the North Circular, would be £104, equating to £520 per week or a staggering £24,000 per year on congestion charges. In order to pay the congestion charge I would need to earn at least £30,000 per annum as I also have to pay the PAYE and national insurance. Don't forget, at this stage I haven't even started paying any of my other bills such as mortgage payments, food, utility bills etc etc.............
I am intrigued by the contrast between Chancellor Gordon Browns Pre Budget and the Irish Budget announced by Irelands Finance Minister, Brian Cowen. On the one hand we have an incredibly pro business budget which is bound to encourage entrepreneurs, small business and equity investment in the Irish economy.
By comparison in the UK small business and entrepreneurs are continuing to be snuffed out. Managed service companies (MCS's) for instance, are deemed to only "disguise employment" and are subject to increased measures in the Pre-Budget announcement. This includes enabling the recovery of "outstanding" tax and NI contributions from the companies who engaged the MCS. An MCS could be a professional who has decided to set up a consultancy practice. This is a "tax motivated incorporation" rather than entrepreneurship and small business development vital for UK economic growth, i.e. the person isn't really a consultant she's a deemed employee.
It is actually becoming prohibitive to start a business in the UK to the point where, economically, you are actually better off staying in full time employment. Why would you want to take on the financial risk within a burdensome, complicated tax framework where your government assume the worst about you, and in any case you can be waiting up to six months for VAT registration without any guidance about accounting for VAT in that period.
What's the alternative, well moving your business out of the UK and incorporating it in Ireland where small business and entrepreneurs can be assured of support is looking a lot more attractive.
Why do web designers assume if we hit the button which says "exit" or "logout" we've done so accidentally?
I don't know anyone who either randomly clicks all around a web page because they don't know what to do or whose hand slips, moving the mouse over the exit button, and in their confusion, they click "exit".
Luckily for those a pop up message will appear saying, "Are you sure you want to exit?" - for the rest of us, I guess we'll have to continue, each time thinking to ourselves, "well why else would I have clicked the button?"
Following my blog on UK Visas toward the end of August I decided to complain to my local MP who agreed to contact UK Visas on my behalf (hooray). I still find it all too astonishing that a UK company could invite someone to the UK for a business meeting, providing full sponsorship and accommodation, and have them refused admission. It's even more disconcerting to think that this person, a Thai national, was already in the EC, actually in Dublin, so had been cleared by the Irish Embassy in Bangkok for entry into an EC country.
She had only planned to visit Ireland. She had not applied for a UK or a Schengen visa before she left (a Schengen visa allows entry to all EC countries in the Schengen zone).
She had a return ticket to Bangkok. The invitation she had from the UK company was out of the blue (not uncommon in business). You would think, having full sponsorship from a UK company, already being in the EC and having an onward ticket home would be sufficient support for a UK Visa application. But it wasn't, instead she was refused admission and the embarrassed company, had, ultimately to fly a representative to Bangkok to hold the meeting later in the month (hooray from the rep, boo from finance).
UK Visas claim to "issue visas to 80% of those who apply, and stop only those who are a significant immigration risk to the UK". I failed to comprehend, in the circumstances, how she could have been regarded as a significant risk. I had to complain, I couldn't understand the decision. It was so clearly wrong. I wanted to understand it.
The response from UK Visas shouldn't really have surprised me. I dug it out again this week to reread after learning 150 illegal immigrants were to be released on bail. I guess these 150 are set to join the estimated half a million immigrants working illegally in the UK at a cost of some £3.3Billion in unpaid taxes.
When a company receives a complaint it's an incredible opportunity to learn about their services and how they can improve them, because most people don't complain, they walk. This wasn't the spirit in which my complaint was read, perhaps because, with Public Services, you can't really walk, as there isn't an alternative. There's a lack of competition which might make it matter.
The Entry Clearance Manager (ECM) "would like to note that he reviews all refusals, and was satisfied that the decision was made in accordance with the Immigration Rules. The decision of refusal is therefore upheld" (high 5, we're in the clear).
He then adds, notwithstanding that the applicant is now happily back at home (beep goes the Tuc Tuc) for several months and has no reason to visit the UK, she is "welcome to submit a new application at any time, which will be judged on its individual merits and in accordance with the Immigration Rules".
Is there really any point in complaining to a Public Body about its service?