More loony research

I was watching the TV news the other night and in amongst all the doom gloom, the mayhem and murder, was this gem: several universities working together have decided that penguins don’t fly because of…………………………………… their wings.  Thank God for that, it’s been keeping me awake.


Should BBC journalist consider ‘Korea change’?

Well, after all the furore about the BBC ‘Panorama’ secret filming of North Korea, what did we see?  Not much, actually: a few odd clips of John Sweeney’s profile on a bus, empty streets and passers-by from fixed camera positions, an empty hospital clinic and a farm that wasn’t a farm.  The whole programme only lasted 30 minutes, a good chunk of which was stock and ‘YouTube’ footage, interviews with dissidents, analysts, and experts, none of which required clandestine filming in-country.  There were precious few penetrating questions: why did nobody ask why the lights kept going out?  And if they did, wouldn’t the answer have been illuminating (pardon the pun)? The first minute set the context for broadcasting this programme, and I quote: an “unstable, aggressive” country “marching towards armageddon” and “threatening thermonuclear war on the USA”.  One analyst stated that, while North Korea wouldn’t want a nuclear war, one was certainly possible due to a “disastrous miscalculation”.  On this evidence the decisions taken by the BBC to expose the whole world, and the ‘human shield’ LSE students, to risk were wholly unjustified. Two expatriat-dissidents said that dissent, even questions, would inevitably lead to summary execution: on that basis what justification do John Sweeney and the BBC offer for the consequences for the two hapless tour guides whom they have so publicly humiliated?

We learned so little that was new about this closed society that I can’t help wonder why the BBC bothered to air it at all.  It may have been a coincidence that the programme was filmed at a time of “escalating tensions” (to quote from the programme) but I am more certain than ever that the decision to broadcast it now, despite the delicacy of the situation, had more to do with BBC opportunism than the need to inform the “public interest”.  Shame on you BBC.

I can’t even be bothered to GRRR.

Ding Dong the World is Dead

The death of Margaret Thatcher has spawned a popular protest, in the form of a re-release of a record from The Wizard of Oz – “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”.  The BBC decided that it would not ban playing it, but would only play a 5 second excerpt as it was deemed potentially offensive.  Days later the same BBC decided to broadcast, in full, a Panorama film made clandestinely in North Korea, under cover of a London School of Economics study trip – at a time when the North Koreans are hyper-sensitive about outside pressure and have their finger on the nuclear trigger.

That’s double standards, isn’t it?  The BBC doesn’t want to cause offence by broadcasting a record that, in the context of MT’s death, might be tasteless, but cites “an overwheming public interest case” in support of showing the Panorama film at this time; I would sugggest it smacks more of an overwhelming journalistic case.  From the North Korean end of the telescope it can’t be seen as anything else but an example of western duplicity and spying, at least that’s what they’ll say.  And, would they be wrong?  All through the ‘cold war’ the west routinely ‘spied’ on communist bloc countries by infiltrating tourist or educational study groups.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the footage (and notes) not broadcast ended up with MI6 or the CIA and maybe was part sponsored by the security services in the first place.  The LSE was, at best, naive if it didn’t consider that possibility.

Whatever the truth of that, it is monumentally stupid, and self-serving, of the BBC to poke a caged, dangerous, and angry animal with a sharp stick when it could just wait for things to calm down.


Freedom of the press

Amazing.  Leveson is not to be implemented IN FULL, at least there seems to be an element of press voluntary involvement.  The three main political parties are each crowing about how they have won….even though what each wanted was different.  So it looks like the Press barons will get what they want and it will be a commercial decision as to whether they lie, or infringe someone’s privacy: if the legal costs are worth the boost in circulation, what the heck.  It makes you wonder what they have on these politicians in their collective files to wield such power.  Conspiracy theorist, moi?

Adulteration of food for profit

Horse burger anyone?  I for one am not surprised that some pre-prepared foods don’t contain what they purport to.  Any industry (and food is a multi-billion £/$ industry) that is susceptible to fraud will suffer fraud, the ‘crims’ will try anything.   I wonder how far this might go: any foodstuff which contains a high value component is at risk of having part, or all, of that component substituted by a similar, lower value, component.  How sure are you that your tuna mayo sandwich is really all tuna, and not part mackerel, or that the mayo really is mayonnaise?

What is more disturbing is that we seem to have learned little from the BSE crisis.The  answer must be buying, or growing, your own ingredients and cooking your own food.


PS I wrote to the Food Standards Agency about the testing of other foods; they said, in effect, that they don’t have the resources to test anything but the high risk items and were concentration on the beef issue for now.

Mis-selling insurance and one-way car hire charges

We’ve, presumably, all heard about the PPI (Payment Protection Insurance) mis-selling scandal.  Here’s another dodge to get you hot under the dashboard – Car Hire Collision Damage Waiver (CDW).  When you hire a car all the companies (Hertz, Europcar, Avis etc.) tell you that if you damage the car at all you will be liable for the first guzzilion pounds of repair costs.  Then they offer to mitigate your risk by selling additional insurance – often adding 50% to the apparently competitive headline daily rate for hire alone.

I recently hired a car from, a broker, who subcontracted me to Avis at Exeter Airport for a one-way trip to Bristol Airport.  In round numbers that’s £80 for a one-way, one day, hire plus £20 for CDW.  When I picked up the car Avis told me that the CDW I had prepaid to did not mitigate my risk to Avis and that, in any case, it didn’t cover everything that Avis insurance would do (windscreen, tyres etc.).  Given they had upgraded me, for reasons unexplained, from a cheapo Peugeot 107 to an Audi A3 I was obliged to buy another load of insurance: scratch an Audi and it’s going to cost a lot more to fix than a Peugeot roller skate.  We (the Avis receptionist and I) spoke to who confirmed that their CDW was limited in scope (though this is not confirmed on their website).  So, my 75 mile trip cost £120 + fuel.  Despite the fact that my contract was with, I was railroaded by their subcontractor.

As for one-way premium charges, what’s that all about?  Lots of people want to go from A to B rather than A to A.  I don’t believe the individual hire locations have a fixed inventory – they hire out what they have ‘in stock’ (hence unexplained upgrades) and only rarely have to transport a car back to base.  If it were that common an occurence they could offer one-way hirers to take the car back: “I’m going from A to B, have you got any cars to return there?”



I e-mailed, via their customer services contact, and they very promptly considered my complaint.  They stated that the ‘small print’ gave them the high ground but, as a gesture, refunded the charge for CDW insurance that I couldn’t use.  My advice would be that, if you regularly hire cars, you take out a comprehensive stand-alone CDW policy (e.g. from which will cover you for unlimited hires over a year for substantially less than the hire companies will charge.

Reasearch suggests….

Research is a great job opportunity for someone.  Where / who are these spivs thinking up research projects to pitch to funders – for a FEE of course?  It seems like every week we have at least one headlined announcement about the results of some new piece of work.  Have you noticed that they often have the following features: the answer was predictable and it will soon be contradicted by another piece of so-called research?  Sometimes I sit here thinking “I could have told them that”, I bet that you do the same.  This morning it was Statins:  a few weeks ago we were told that we should all be, more-or-less, compulsorily medicated with statins, and now “research suggests” those on statins should have their dosage cut to avoid side effects.  Doh!  I could have told them that.  Not long ago we were hearing that research suggested a glass of wine a day (for those that can afford to drink wine) is good for you:  now it isn’t.  Let’s all take an Aspirin a day.  No, on second thoughts, let’s not.  Give up smoking, it will kill you.  Well, hang on, it’s apparently relatively ok to smoke until you are thirty (who thought that one up, Imperial Tobacco?).  “People with more money are generally happier and healthier than poor people”  Well, blow me down, who’d have thought it?  At least purveyors of anti-wrinkle cream are transparent: we know what they want.  “82% of 129 women (or men) agree…”, it’s only the maths that’s suspect: presumably 105 agreed but one person wasn’t sure.  What lunatic bases a marketing campaign on such a thin sample, and why would anyone base a purchase on that sort of evidence.  I suppose it’s the transparent contempt for our intelligence and common sense that is so offensive.

I wonder how much of our shrunken GDP is dependent on the research industry?  Maybe SAGA could set up a research consultancy?  I’m sure that a panel of “economically underactive” older people could answer some of these pressing questions over a cup of tea and a Hob Nob.  A nice little earner in a recession too, and more entertaining than a trip to the local day-care centre.  Oh, sorry, that’s probably closed isn’t it.






What was your name?

We’ve all been there: the receptionist at an hotel, the telephone enquiry, the customer services representative who barely looks up and says “and what was your name?”  Why should my name have a past?  I haven’t changed it: I’m not a part of a police witness programme or a pop musician travelling incognito.  I know they mean “What name is the booking / purchase under” or similar but why can’t they say “What is your name?”  “Please” would be a nice addition, but I suppose that is too many syllables.   It grates like the announcements in the local airport, which invite us to “await in the departure lounge”; await what, exactly?  Don’t they know the difference between wait and await?  Silly question.  I wonder if these truncations are borne from tweeting and texting, assuming the random casting off of words isn’t important, that we’ll all understand.

The last time I was asked “What was your name” I said “it was, and still is, Andrew Gold”.  There was only the slightest twitch of a mascara’d  eyebrow to show that she was thinking “pedantic old twat” but she said, “Room 401.  Take the lift to the fourth floor and turn right.  Have a nice stay with us”.  What she meant was “and I hope the lift gets stuck.” Maybe she had a point.

Where’s my magazine?

In March of this year I gave a magazine subscription as a birthday present.  I did it online with the publisher, Archant Life Magazines, who print and circulate a range of glossy ‘lifestyle’ magazines across the UK.  This one is a monthly about Devon and is called ‘Devon Life’.  The issues have repeatedly arrived late, or not at all, the latter event prompting an extension of the subscription.  There have been several ‘phone conversations with subscription staff and, earlier in the year they applied a “Track and Trace” label to our copies which briefly seemed to correct the situation.  Needless to say the October issue, which was released on 26th September, hasn’t arrived.  My wife ‘phoned Archant and was given the clear impression that they thought she was making a fuss about nothing: “We allow 10 days for delivery, but if it isn’t there by 4 October, call back”.  It wasn’t, so I did.  Finally I got to the truth: it is because we are not in Devon.  Apparently the magazines are shipped by a carrier, TNT, who will not ship until they have at least 25 items for the same distribution hub.  However long it takes.  I railed against this, particularly since there is nothing in the subscription process that warns you of these facts.  Although the subscriptions are quoted as including P&P (postage and packing) there isn’t a way of “out of area” subscribers to pay extra for postal delivery.  So we are left with two options: cancel and get a refund or wait indefinitely for a magazine that is out of date if and when it arrives.  “We don’t want to lose a valued customer” seems pretty hollow to us, so I wrote to the MD and got a reasonably quick and positive (if badly written) reply.  Our subscription is being extended for 12 months in compensation.

Update 26 October

Archant promised a direct mailing of the missing issue by first class post.  It arrived 5 days later, having been posted second class.  The original traceable copy, supposedly with TNT, has still not arrived.  The MD of Archant admitted they were having a meeting with TNT as we weren’t the only people to complain.  My wife wrote to him on the 17th to ask about progress, and express her worry that this would happen all over again with the November issue, but he hasn’t bothered to reply.  Great Service, Archant.

Pass the parcel – part 3 “The way home”

14:00 02 OctoberLenovo ring to tell me the laptop has been repaired and is on its way back.  I got a new tracking number at 17:00.

08:00 03 October – tracking number returns no data on the website – I’ll try again later.

16:30 I embark on a lengthy, and ultimately fruitless, attempt to discover where my laptop is: DPD parcels has no record of the tracking number I have been given!  Despite the valiant efforts of Lloyd he suggests I speak to Lenovo.  James, at Lenovo, agrees to send an e-mail to Germany but the repair centre is  closed and he, James, is not at work tomorrow (4th) so he can’t get me an answer before Friday.  He concedes the laptop may  already be with me by then.  Let’s hope so, and that it works.

08:00 4th October.  The use of the tracking number still returns no data, more than 40 hours after it was issued.  I would have expected my parcel to have a unique number that followed it wherever it went, and however it was combined and recombined with other parcels to form larger consignments.  It appears that once an item is into the system it can attract layers of numbers which cloud, rather than clarify, the identity of an item, its destination and ultimate owner.

16:00 .  Lenovo explain that although my laptop/parcel had been given a tracking number two days ago, it was probably sitting on a pallet to make up a full load.  Nice of someone to tell me.  They suggest I check the (German) website tomorrow and, once it appears there it should be in UK within 24 hours.

09:30 5th October.  Checked the site.  My parcel was scanned, on pick-up for Kesselsdorf, at 19:29 (18:29 UK BST) last night but still does not show on the tracking system on the UK website 13 hours later.  At least the destination is shown as our postcode.  What is the point of a tracking system that doesn’t update and track internationally?  It’s ludicrous that you have to check the website of the country the parcel is (or may be) in at the time you check.  That’s a question for ‘James’ from Lenovo, who promised to ring me with an update today.

18:30 .  Guess what, no call from James (or anyone else).  The laptop parcel’s location is still where it was 24 hours ago, according to the website.  According to the site it still doesn’t exist.  GRR.

07:00 6th October.  According to the parcel was scanned into Unna Depot, still in Germany, at 02:34 this morning.  Still doesn’t exist on the UK site.

07:00 7th October. According to the parcel hasn’t moved from Unna and it still doesn’t appear on the UK site.

09:00 8th October.  Both DPD.DE and UK show no change.

12:45 . I ‘phoned Lenovo again because I’d had an e-mail from Medion Electronics inviting me to complete a customer satisfaction survey because I had now received my computer back! After apologising that James had not ‘phoned as he promised they told me what I already knew – they have no idea where my parcel is.  Ben promised to call back but “since he would have to contact Germany, it might not be today”.

06:30 9th October.  Hooray!  Suddenly my parcel appears on both websites:  it was allegedly scanned into Oldbury (Hub 3 Birmingham) at 20:42 yesterday.  This is a bit odd since I checked before I went to bed and nothing had changed then.  Still, mustn’t grumble eh?

13:01 .  It has arrived in at my local depot but is not marked ‘Out for Delivery’.  I think this means it missed the afternoon van and will be here tomorrow afternoon.  Let’s hope it works after all this.  I’m still waiting for Ben to call back.  GRR.

09:03 10th October. ‘Out for delivery’

14:00 AAAAARGGHHHH!  It has ‘misrouted’ – been put on the wrong van!! I don’t believe it.  (Actually yes I do).  of course, nobody let me know, so I waited in.  Chris, from DPD customer services in Swansea offers to “upgrade” me to a delivery before 12 tomorrow but, sort of, suggests they cannot track parcels being moved by third parties.  Since AJG in Inverness is acting for them, in primary pick-up and final delivery, I don’t understand his point.  The bottom line is that NONE of this is my fault.  I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do, even when it was really up to DPD / Lenovo / Medion to do it.  Throughout, nobody has kept me in the loop and nobody has ever called back when they promised to.  I just hope the laptop works – I couldn’t go through all this again.

12:05 11th October Far from being here before 12 noon it is still showing at the depot, where it was returned to at 18:00 last night: not even ‘Out for Delivery’.  I rang DPD again, this time speaking to Tom in Liverpool who ‘phones Swansea and then the depot (Inverness).  Tom tells me they left it off the van for today!  He also says that the Inverness depot can’t deliver to us in the morning, despite Chris saying they would, because of our “remote location” (which all of 45 minutes from the depot).  Talk about being economical with the truth!  He PROMISES it will be here this afternoon.  This is SO infuriating – I was in Inverness this morning and could have collected it.

12:42. Miraculously the parcel is now marked ‘Out for Delivery’ – with the scan timed at 09:36!!  How do they think they can get away with changing their records like this?

16:30 It’s arrived!  Now for the laborious process of updating it with everything that MS and my Security programme has issued in the last 3 weeks.

Conclusion 17 October   Well, my laptop is working as it should.  I bought an item with a warranty and, when the item failed, the warranty was honoured.  The process has clearly been less successful.  It would be better to not give customers a means of tracking the progress of their repair if that system doesn’t work.  The major difficulty arose because MY supplier devolved responsibility for managing the process, and our relationship, to third parties.  This is a major systemic customer services failure :  as Lenovo’s customer I should NOT have been left (and sometimes explicitly encouraged) to progress chase or project manage Lenovo’s suppliers – even if those suppliers are subsidiaries.  I’m closing this blog now with one final comment: DPD promised that someone from their customer service team would call to discuss their failures (which they admitted): they haven’t.  Enough said.