Customer Services

DSC_0363Another “great customer service” experience at Natwest West Ealing yesterday morning. Branch opens at 9:00, is still shut by 9:30. No notice at the door, no apology, just a number of customers wishing to surrender their money using the automated service (there’s no human cashier even when they are open).

But they happily take my money, play with it, pay negligible interest and charge substantial fees.

Makes me wish there was a really customer friendly alternative nearby.

My experience at HSBC Ealing on the same day wasn’t much better, but at least they were open when they said they would be, and a human being greeted me, ready to point out the appropriate machine for the service I require.

Commuter’s Commute

DSC_0989My daily commute to work takes 30 seconds or 12 steps, but today, I joined the rat race at the peak commute into town for a follow-up visit to the Charing Cross hospitals. I had forgotten about the morning commute and how special it is:

Trains packed but nobody is drunk or rowdy. Three quarter of people show off their latest headset, smart phone or tablet device, while the others shuffle through a newspaper or await their arrival dozing the train journey away. It’s got a lovely sleepy atmosphere, but can’t beat the pre-commute early morning trip into town, when the big city hasn’t quite woken up yet. Back in 1997, when I made this trip around 7 am Monday to Friday, that was my favourite part of the commute by far.

On balance, I prefer my stress-free 30 second commute within my own home.

Amazon Spectrum Analysis

01-05-2015 16-32-01Do you use the Amazon Music player? Yes? Did you ever watch the small orange “bar graph” display?

You might want to watch it a little closer. I realized only now that this is a simple animated display which bears no correlation to the audio stream, let alone a result of real time spectrum analysis.

Well, maybe it’s better that way. I need my CPU for things that matter to me. But I am fascinated to notice how easily fooled I was, and how this dumb animated picture gives the illusion of science, high-tech, something sophisticated.

So, I reckon it’s a pretty clever piece of engineering given how dumb it is.

Important To Us, Important To Us

DSC_0337How is it possible that I send an email comment or inquiry to a company or government department and receive an almost instant acknowledgement of receipt with the reassurance that my message is very important and that they promise, hands down, to come up with an answer within 21 working days.

Some challenge themselves and aim at ten days, but very few manage within 24 hours.

How, I ask you, how is this possible?

Maybe the person who normally deals with those things is taken ill or retired a few days ago. Given the regularity of this effect, I can’t quite believe it.

Maybe Mondays, or the start of a month, provoke a much higher influx of inquiries than the rest of the week (or month), so that this is the peak of an oscillating pattern of inquiry demands? Also not very likely in my opinion.

Maybe they deliberately slow down their response because they’d prefer that I subscribe to their paid premium service with guaranteed four hour response time. I suppose that is possible, but not the case for several recent cases that I encountered.

Maybe my inquiry is of such a complicated nature that it takes five days (ten, 21, etc) to graft a response? No, certainly not.

This leaves only one explanation: they continuously have a backlog of five (ten, 21) days. You’d think the temporary reassignment of workforce and a little push of an effort would clear the backlog, thus remove the delays, making the overall service much more responsive and useful. Somehow, this never seems to happen.

What other explanation am I missing?

The Optician’s Margin

DSC_0999Just ordered new pair of reading glasses. Again. My eyesight is deteriorating faster than I want it to. I blame the computer work, but what’s to be done? I take breaks from the screens as much as I can, but in the end, 95% of my working time is screen-bound.

I couldn’t help marvel at the margins these guys must have though. I paid a substantial amount of money for lenses with bi-focal, prism, anti-this and anti-that, plus a frame, plus the eye test, but the place was crawling with more employees than customers – and full of customers, too! On a normal Monday morning. No wonder there are almost as many opticians in our high streets as there are mobile phone shops or coffee bars.

Dear Mr. Waite and Rose

DSC_0016Increasingly, I find supermarkets push towards self-service checkouts by way of providing less and less normally operated tills. I assume my own surrender is not far away, even though I hate the idea.

I quite like 90 seconds of human interaction at the checkout. I quite like not having to master a machine when I do my shopping. First and foremost, however, I think they should make an effort to take my money.

Waitrose in particular generally prides itself of its human approach, so I find the rise of the machine in their stores particularly disturbing.

The consequence can only be to buy even less at the supermarkets. Here in London’s suburbia, little actually requires a visit to a self-service equipped supermarket, and little can be found there (least of all at Waitrose) at a price lower than the local independent and small chain stores.

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Happy Days

DSC_0593Don’t you just love it to wake up and night and a need to pee when it is only just 45 minutes prior to the regular alarm time?

Don’t you just love it to lie awake for the next five minutes and ponder whether to follow nature’s call, thus reducing the remaining sleep time to 35 minutes by the time you’re back in bed, or try, and fail to, doze for the remaining 40 minutes?

Don’t you just love it when you give up, mentally quoting one of the late Amy Winehouse’s finest lines: Fuck it! you tell yourself. You call the night a day and get up, do what nature demands, then what the dentist demands, then take a shower, get dressed, step downstairs to make an extra-large and extra-strong coffee.

Don’t you just love it when the newspaper hasn’t arrived yet?

Don’t you just love it when your favourite breakfast radio presenter is on holidays again, and somebody else tries to be cheerful with the microphone?

Don’t you just love it when the kitchen clock informs you reliably that your sleepy eyes misread the bedside alarm clock. It’s 4:20 in the morning, and now that you made yourself wake up, there really is no point in reverting the process and going back to bed again.

Happy days.


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Yes, You Please Me

DSC_0690Back in February, on its 50th anniversary, the BBC recorded the Beatles’ Please, Please, Me in 12 hours with various artists and, of course, in the old Abbey Road Studios. The one hour TV summary comes up in repeats every once in a while, so if you have a chance to watch it, I recommend it. (article, iplayer)

Not every track is to my liking, but some are immensely well done.

Mick Hucknall of Simply Red performs Anna brilliantly, I Am Kloot gives us beautiful Chains, Ian Broudie does a fine job with Do You Want To Know A Secret. Others are doing well too, but these stand out for me. Plus, of course, the finale: Beverly Knight gives it all for Twist And Shout, very nearly blowing the roof off.

So, why do I mention this? Well, it’s because finally took the time to watch the TV recording again, and then finally took the time to explore the Manchester-based trio I Am Kloot. I am always surprised when I discover contemporary musicians which I like, but those boys certainly are to be liked. A. Lot. Check it out!

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No No No

DSC_0105No solicitation, some people write onto their letter boxes or front doors, No junk mail some others. You can even buy these as stickers or in engraved brass, and, quite possible, you can even buy these from a travelling door-to-door salesman.

It seems that I need to make my own sign though. It would go something like this:

No solicitation, none whatsoever.

This includes, but is not limited to, the sale or recommendation of goods (such as UPVC windows), services (such as tree pruning or gutter cleaning), or spiritual concepts (such as Christianity).

Followers of St Florian, in the very spirit of St Florian’s principle, are also kindly requested to go elsewhere.

Anita Kapoor, elected councillor for the Conservative Party (Elthorne Ward) now prides herself of having successfully campaigned against plans to convert a derelict local building into a local centre for rehabilitation of former drug users. In reality Anita will have jumped onto the bandwagon brought into motion by others, but I guess that’s what politicians do.  I told you about this campaign earlier.

I can only hope that the local junkies discover this excellent site really soon. The Studios, as the run-down small office block is known, has amble parking space, good mobile phone reception, a forecourt with space to mingle, meet and trade at all times of the day. The site is generally unoccupied outside main working hours, rarely checked out by the police, and offers a few dark corners for more private meetings.


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The Truth About Manned Spaceflight

12111615093433184189What did the Romans do for Britain [^], one may wonder. Others asked what we ever got out from manned spaceflight.

Well, we all know the answer to that, don’t we? First, there’s Velcro, then there’s the crystal alarm clock, and of course the non-sticking frying pan.

Right? Right:

Velcro was invented in 1948 by Swiss engineer George de Mestral.

No direct link between the crystal alarm clock and spaceflight is evident, especially given that the first quartz clock was build at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1927 [^].

Teflon, the stuff from which the non-sticking frying pan gets its special properties, was discovered in 1938 by Roy J. Plunkett by accident, and without any direct link to spaceflight.

Surely, this must be one of the more frustrating truths in modern history.

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Scratch That

DSC_0764When is the last time you watched a 12-year old using Scratch?

I had my first (and so far last) opportunity just a few days ago. In conversation, it turned out that one of our visitors, a 12 year old boy growing up in a household with very limited technology awareness was familiar with Scratch, the MIT’s programming tool for kids: So, I took the boys upstairs, and gave them access to a mouse, keyboard, and a Raspberry Pi running Scratch.

It was for them to take the front row and time for me to step back, occasionally leaning over their shoulders for a better look.

This programming tool is obviously easy to understand and comes with a very flat learning curve, and is made to stimulate. Can you make it eat the monster? or when they hit the tree, they’ll die or other creative ideas were shouted out by the younger of the boys, while the eldest solved practically every task thrown at him in this manner. He didn’t always know how to do it, but looking around and browsing the available programming building blocks, we’d soon find a way.

After a very short time, he had a cat and wing-flapping bats chasing each other, scoring at certain events and exhausting their lives at others, messages were sent and received, sound was coming from the speakers, environmental factors changed, and he even sketched together his own character. Rough and primitive as it was, the total was just very impressive and awe-inspiring.

I had heard of Scratch before, but seeing it in action used by children is something different altogether.

Excellent stuff.


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First Day In The Office

DSCF0220Yeah. You can tell how the first day in the office is going to work out:

Interview with human resources, sign for access cards and company car. Sign dress code policy, code of conduct, travel expenses policy and the sexual harassment policy.

Move into the new office but have nothing to do, as the laptop and network password won’t be ready before noon.

Peter from next door introduces himself, then Michael and everybody else from the same floor. People refer to the warm welcome email, which you cannot yet receive. It’s quite a blur, you’ll get a headache and can’t remember most names in the end. Maria from facilities finally brings the work uniform, but the shoes are the wrong size. Apparently, there’ll be a second uniform later in the day.

More papers to sign, more faces to greet, and still no password.

Ha ha. I wonder what Francis’ first day really is like. Probably not quite the same as a normal person’s first day.

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