July 2006 Archives

What's he doing?

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Have you ever had that odd feeling, when doing a phone interview, that your interviewee is doing something odd? First he sounded a bit out of breath halfway through, then the mobile phone signal started going a bit wonky, then I could swear there was the sound of water splashing.

I have the oddest feeling my interviewee was in the bath.

Oh well.

Not as weird as the interview I did where the French CEO of the company had hurt his back mountaineering the day before and was completely off his head on his painkillers, though.

Please don't scare the owl

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It makes them go weird

Last reason to leave Orange

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Tomorrow is Orange Wednesday aka The Day I Leave Orange Forever. Here, though, is my final reason for leaving Orange.

Remember how Ernst & Young seemed to be taking their time getting back to me? Turns out they called back almost instantly and left me a voicemail on my mobile phone. That was on the 6th July. Orange finally got round to telling me I had a voicemail - on Friday. That means it took a grand total of 15 days for Orange to let me know I had a voicemail.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another reason why I'm leaving Orange.

Spoke too soon. Looks like we're both doing Italian now.

Language class problem solved

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We've worked out which language class to go to. Sarah's going to go to French level 3, I'm going to go on Spanish level 1. That way Sarah will be able to get her French up to the level of fluency she'd like, I can get my Spanish up to the same level as Sarah's and next year, we'll be able to do Spanish level 2 together.

For some reason, Italian just doesn't appeal. German was on the wrong day and the others had a ceiling that was too low. Plus this way we don't get too competitive too early.

I've mentioned my ailing PowerBook and the ever-vexing question of whether I should get a new one or not. Here's another one for you: if your camera is slightly broken, when should you get a new one?

We have a Sony DSC-P200. It is/was very nice indeed. Then we dropped it, trying to take a picture of ourselves. The zoom lens was out so now the camera doesn't zoom anymore. Its focusing capabilities are now in the range of "no focus at all" to "very, very nearly in focus".

We'd like to get it repaired. But here's the thing. The camera cost about £200. We rang Sony and asked how much it would cost to get it repaired. £112 (or something very close) just to have it looked at, with the possibility of more costs if parts need replacing. So basically the entire cost of the camera then?

"But aren't there other people who could repair it?" you might ask. No. I rang a camera repair shop to ask that very same question.

"Ah. It's a Sony is it? That's going to be a problem. They won't sell us the spare parts."

So only Sony can repair your camera if it goes wrong and it'll cost at least half the price of the camera to get it replaced.

I'm thinking it's time to buy a Fuji Finepix F30. Anyone had any experience with one of those? The ISO3200 feature looks very inviting...

Sometimes you can feel so naive and trusting.

I spent a happy couple of hours removing spam files from my web server last night. I hadn't realised they were spam. I hadn't been compromised myself. There was no sign they were there without a good look at the file system. But thanks to the rubbishness of my host, Dataflame, I found out about them and took them away.

Cool Gorilla are doing some free language packs for iPods, including German, French, Greek and Spanish. Get 'em while they're hot!

There's something about Virgin Mobile call centre staff. You just can't be nasty to them. It'd be like killing Bambi. You just can't do it.

As you may know, I'm in the process of moving from Orange to Virgin Mobile, a process that is taking way, way longer than it should. Since I've now got a PAC code from Orange, migrating my phone number to Virgin Mobile is now a Virgin problem, rather than an Orange problem.

Trouble is, Virgin aren't proving terrible efficient. There was that trouble with setting up my direct debit for starters. Although I mentioned in that last entry that I'd set up my direct debit, what I should have said was "I asked Virgin to set up the direct debit for me".

You see, two days after getting my new PAC code, I rang to give it to Virgin. The trouble was that direct debit hadn't gone through, so they couldn't start the migration. The fluffy person who took my call promised, just promised that as soon as it was authorised, she'd text me (on my Orange number) to let me know and that she'd start the migration as well, texting me the date of the migration at the same time. She was on duty till 11pm that evening, so she really would, honest.

Except I didn't get a text. A day later I tried my Virgin SIM card and there was a text waiting for me there, to tell me the paperwork had all gone through. No migration date though.

So I called the next day. Oh yes, the fluffy man at the other end said. She'll text you when it goes through. She'll do it for sure. That was Friday.

Today, textless on both SIMs, I called Virgin again. Fluffy new lady spent six minutes going through my account before revealing that the port hadn't been authorised because of the direct debit screw up. She'd put it through now and I'd be getting ported on the 26th.

That's 16 days and five phone calls to do something that should take seven days and one phone call at best. And yet, they're so fluffy at Virgin, I just don't have in my heart to complain. At least I'm on my way at last.

The one redeeming thing is that Orange's rubbishness means that I still haven't had my account disabled, so I can still use my old number for now.

Thanks heavens for small Orange mercies.

The lowdown from BDO

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Just spoken to Chris Coles, a nice man at BDO Stoy Hayward. As discussed yesterday, Ernst & Young are hoping to get BDO to hand out the contents of the so-called "ring-fenced fund" to those freelances who did work between 12th December and 19th January for Highbury.

E&Y appointed BDO on the 10th July, but with court taking holidays over summer, it's likely to be September before BDO can be officially appointed as a joint trustee of the fund. BDO will then go through all the purchase orders approved by Highbury, together with the invoices they have, to see who's owed what.

At the moment, it looks like the fund actually has a "small surplus" of cash, although that's contingent on various estimates, etc, so the fund might realistically only be able to pay out a percentage of owed monies to creditors. Coles hopes that he'll have everything done and dusted as soon as possible and hopefully by the end of the year though.

BDO is working on a letter, currently with the lawyers, that they'll send everyone in the next week or so, advising them of what's happening. If you don't get one, you should probably give BDO a call to make sure they've got your current details. I'll let you know if/when I get mine, just so you know whether to panic or not.

Progress at last. Just spoken with Simon Yeadell of Ernst & Young. He says that E&Y have just appointed a group of accountants EDO Storey-Hayward (can't seem to find them on a Google search so I probably misheard the name, but it's something similar). They're going to look after the "credit trust" (the new name for the so-called ring-fenced fund) and decide who gets paid from it.

Yeadell's given me a phone number for someone at EDO S-H so I'll give them a call tomorrow. But his expectation is that the company would be writing letters to all concerned very soon to let them know what's happening.

UPDATED: The correct name of the company is BDO Stoy Hayward. Thanks to Scott for the enlightenment.

Called again. Left another message. Will call again tomorrow if necessary.

Are they trying to avoid me, I wonder?

Cardiff Bay

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Cardiff Bay

I spent the weekend in Cardiff Bay, which is pretty impressive, I have to say, even if they seem to be allergic to apostrophes there. Not much to say, other than there some's pretty impressive architecture down there and to ignore the tour bus since one of the guides is very bad indeed and you might be unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of her "guidance".
Cardiff Bay from the other endLooking out across Cardiff Bay

More tomorrow, where I'll be talking about the hotel we were staying at.

I've upgraded SCHWIF2004 to version 0.5. There are no changes between beta 2 and the final version. You can download it from the SCHWIF2004 download page.

No one's called me back. Will try again next week.

How will I get a better response? I think I'll claim to be a journalist writing a story about what's going on.

Oh wait. I am...

Managed to get through to an actual human being this time - Maggie Mills' assistant in fact. She promised someone would get back to me to let me know what was going on with Highbury.

When to upgrade a laptop

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Like most freelances, I'm extremely stingy when it comes to upgrading gadgets. I don't know why it should be any different for those on staff than those not - maybe it's because we're a bit older than most and the gadget phase is starting to pass us by.

All I know for sure is that it was three and a half years before my iMac was out of its prime and that I've now had my PowerBook for three years (almost as long as I've been a freelance) and I still haven't upgraded it.

As you may know from my earlier entry on the subject, my PowerBook has been getting a bit temperamental of late. Well, yet another thing's gone wrong with it. It still works, but it's gone wrong.

Here's a list of all the flaws I've come across so far. At what point would you have returned or replaced it?

  • Tendency to freeze for no adequately explored reason (I ignored it)
  • Little rubber feet falling off (I let them)
  • Great big black marks appearing on the surface (nothing I could do)
  • Heat scoring appearing on the surface (nothing I could do)
  • Hard drive packing up (replaced it)
  • New hard drive packing up (replaced it again)
  • '7' key falling off (keep putting it back on)
  • AC power supply stopped working (replaced it)
  • Battery life reduced to 40 minutes (replaced it)
  • Screen starting to split away from the back (looking for the super-glue, right now)

If I hadn't read such scary things about the new MacBooks, I think I would have bought a replacement by now. Plus the 12" PowerBook has such a great keyboard, even if the 7 keeps falling off. Plus probably all my accessories would stop working as well if I upgraded.

I'm still thinking about it though. Maybe next year...

Pick a language, any language

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So Sarah and I are thinking of signing up for language classes at City University in the Autumn. There's a choice, but the trouble is matching it to our levels of ability.

Now I did two language GCSEs - French (eight years' study) and German (three years' study) - getting on for 20 years ago. I've had to use German in my work, French to a lesser extent. I've also learnt some Greek, Spanish, Italian and Japanese, but only at a very functional level

Sarah, however, has A-levels in Russian, French, German and Spanish. Her Spanish is much better than mine; her French is better than mine; her German is about the same as mine, maybe not quite as good.

Here are our choices for languages to learn:

  • French (all levels),
  • Spanish (all levels),
  • Arabic (level one only),
  • German (level two and three),
  • Italian (level one, two and three) and
  • Japanese.

Level two means "rusty GCSE" or better. Level three means "rusty A-level" or better.

So which should we pick?

  • German's on a bad day for both us, but would probably be the most useful for me, since I'm frequently dealing with German companies and we'd both enjoy getting ourselves properly fluent again
  • French is interesting but we'd essentially be attending different classes for that, which defeats the point of learning a language together.
  • Ditto Spanish (no hablo Espa?ɬ�ol mui bien).
  • Japanese would be utterly useless for us both but would be interesting
  • Arabic would be interesting, but we'd have to stop after a year
  • Italian would be fun and potentially useful since we might actually go on holiday to Italy again. But I've already done a few lessons, so I'd be at a very slight advantage.

It's looking like Italian at that moment, with German the main contender. Anyone recommend a different choice?

More SMD payments fun

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So I've been contacted by more SMD writers.

Yes I have had trouble with collecting my payment from Hotdog. I really hope they're not going down the toilet...

From someone who wrote to me a while back:

I actually did manage to get paid in June, after emailing you to say that I'd been ringing SMD constantly with no luck!

I emailed my editor to ask about it, and he confirmed SMD were having some "short-term" problems but that things should be sorted now.

And from Thursday's complainant

I just received payment for an Invoice

So it seems like SMD are paying, just a touch tardily.

They just won't let me go. It's just getting ridiculous. Didn't I tell you they wouldn't?

Last I left you, I'd got a PAC code to migrate my number from Orange. Today, 26 days from the day I gave Orange notice, I rung up Virgin to migrate the number.

I got a very earnest person trying his hardest to do the customer service thing. This appears to consist of saying 'Excellent!' a lot and going into infinite detail about every step that's involved, even when I'd already reassured him I'd done something. I don't have problems with that, really: they have scripts to go through. So I let it coast over me.

First obstacle, before I can migrate my number, I have to pay by direct debit. Before I can pay by direct debit, I have to have set up my voicemail. I've already set up my voicemail, but clearly not on the new number once it's migrated to Virgin. But that's all right because it's Virgin and we're chummy at Virgin. So I set up the direct debit.

Next step, they need my PAC number. I gave it to him. When did I get it? 14th June. Oh, you won't be able to use it then. You're best off going back to Orange and getting a new PAC code. Why? The letter says I'm okay to use it within 30 days. Ah, but migration takes seven days. By the time the PAC number needs to be used, it will have expired. Could they not have put that in the letter? No one's ever thought of that. Could you try the PAC code anyway? It won't work. We could try but I don't want you to be disappointed. I want the migration to go as smoothly as possible.

It's a little late for that.

Advice point 1: Use your PAC code within 20 days of getting since the letter is a lie

So I ring up Orange to get a new code (remembering my contract probably expires on Friday).

Well, I try. "...please call our Mobile Number Portability team on 0800 376 2885". I do. The number's unobtainable. So I ring the main Orange number, type in my mobile number, descend through the seven layers of the "Press 1 to be connected to Satan" voicemail system, get asked for my mobile number again before finally being allowed to ask for a new code.

Okay, we'll send that out to you and it should arrive within three to four working days. Can you not give it to me now? No, it has to be done by letter.

Okay. How come you don't put on your letter that it needs to be used within 23 days, incidentally? Well you need a new PAC code because you let the old one expire. I didn't. I used it within 30 days. It's the networks that need an extra seven days. You let the PAC code expire, so you need a new one. No...

Eventually, she understands what I'm getting at.

Could you perhaps put 20 days or even 23 days on the letter?

It's not up to me. It's Orange who decide.

Well, could you suggest it?

I've had lots of customer suggestions and this is the first time I've had this request so they probably won't listen to me.

Could you suggest it anyway?


Ah. Orange customer service. And they wonder why I'm leaving.

I'll keep you posted.

A while ago I developed a strategy for dealing with calls from call centres. I've a new one now and it seems to be working. It's also kind of fun.

Basically, if you ask BT nicely, you can get a second number for your line. It's an extra feature ('Call Sign') that you can get by itself for £1.75 a month or as a bundle with three or four other features like Caller ID. So that's £21 a year for this, basically.

The great thing about your second number is that if anyone dials it, your phone makes a completely different ringing noise.

So what you do is you give out your main number to everyone you don't like or don't care about and your second number to everyone you do like and care about. Then, whenever anyone calls the main number, you just let it go through to your answer machine; if they call your second number, you answer it.

It's great. You never have to answer a “courtesy call from MBNA” again.

More amusingly, as I mentioned in my last entry on the subject, overseas call centres take quite a while to connect once you've picked up the phone. I've just re-recorded my answer phone message. It's not short - about six or seven seconds - but it's shorter than the delay at their end.

So now, every time a call centre rings, my answer phone gets filled up with a stranger person from India going “HELLO?” at the top of their voice, because they didn't hear my answer phone message.

Very funny.

You remember them: they're the receivers for Highbury. I gave them a call yesterday - well, two calls actually to Maggie Mills and her assistant - just to find out what's up, since they were supposed to have compiled a report a couple of months ago. But they weren't in and haven't returned my call.

I'll try again next week, but I'm just wondering whether anyone else has heard from them.

Remember how I related the tale of how SMD weren't paying very promptly? One of those affected has contacted me again:

They're using a new tactic over there now. They tell you payment has been sent out - for your invoice - but it really hasn't. First, they tell you that your invoice has received “Final Authorization” and then you pressure them and they lie and tell you payment has been sent. So far, I've gotten paid for two invoices (I have three more outstanding) and the only way I got paid for those was threatening to withhold publication of future articles.

So if you were planning on writing for an SMD publication, I'd say hold off for a while, since you might not get paid for quite some time (assuming this isn't an isolated incident).

None of us need it, of course, but Poynter's set up a new blog to help readers improve their writing. Based on his previous collection of essays, Writing Tools is written by Roy Peter Clark, well known for his 50 short essays on writing, and should be something to add to your RSS aggregator at the very least.

And it was going so well...

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Curses. Just as I thought my escape to Virgin Mobile might lead to competent customer service for a change, I find out that NTL has just acquired Virgin Mobile.

Remember that ad in favour of pollution that Exxon put out via the CEI? Well FactCheck have analysed the ad, in conjunction with the scientists whose worked was quoted, to debunk it.

Stuck for a good word?

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Then try one of these nice here dead words. Marvellous, all of them.

Mystic Pizza

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Karl Khan's written to me again:

Dear sir,
i did not intend for this to be posted on the internet, please remove it from your blog site.
If you dont write articles about finance, business, intellectual property and internet stuff then i apologise for sending you the story,


Curiouser and curiouser. So he writes to me (and believe me, I gave you the entire email in the last blog entry: I wasn't hiding any stipulations on his part) telling me “Please use this as you feel appropriate. I believe this will make a good story for a Sunday paper to run perhaps”. I publish it... and he complains.

The world is full of interesting people.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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