Thursday, 23 October 2014

New Speed Camera Loophole Exposed!!!

If you are a motorist, then you'll be delighted with this news from the EDP which exposes a hitherto unknown but gaping loophole in the law of speed cameras. In your interests of avoiding prosecution in the future I urge you to read and take note:

"Magistrates' courts could grind to a halt if thousands of motorists exploit a legal loophole unwittingly exposed by a Norfolk driver. 

Magistrates had no choice but to find Lily Bassett, of Garboldisham, not guilty of speeding when her case was heard on Thursday.

She had found a foolproof and legal way to avoid prosecution - and Norwich magistrates said they could find no way of proceeding with the prosecution.

"How did she do it?", asked our reporter when he caught up with her yesterday (The fact that he had to catch up with her may have resulted in his breathless prose).

"Simple", smiled Lily. "I used a little known technique that hardly any drivers are aware of. I drove within the speed limit".

Police have no power to compel car owners to exceed speed limits and have been expecting someone to spot the loophole.

Yesterday the Association of Road Side Experts, representing about 2,500 ARSE members, predicted drivers would soon get wind of the court case.

"Motorists are always very quick to seek any way to avoid paying for their speeding ticket, particularly when they've been caught by cameras because they resent very much the way the cameras operate," said spokesman Ivor Nowdie.

"The cameras have very much reduced public respect for the police and local authorities.

"People are only too glad to find a way to beat the system. Driving below the speed limit is something which none of us had ever thought of and it's a master stroke! It could empty the courts within weeks!"

The prospect of using the loophole could look especially appealing to people who already had endorsements on their licences, said Mr Nowdie.

"It's a useful indicator", he said. "As I never use my indicators anyway it will be doubly useful",

Mr Nowdie is the National Arse spokesman."

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Scots Wahey

As a half-Scot who was brought up on The Broons and Oor Wullie, I must just chuck in a few thoughts on the imploding (I was going to put "impending" but I'm probably nearer the mark now) referendum.

1. I told you so
This referendum should never be happening. It appears to have been a quick fix made by middle manager Cameron a few years ago to defuse a bit of political flack which he assumed would be a foregone conclusion. We now see the prospect of an historic 300 year Union going up in smoke because of his slick PR fix. It's a bloody tragedy.

2. Words
The next big mistake he made was in the wording of the referendum in which all the positivity of the word "YES" is given to the fracturing of the UK whilst those sensible souls who see us as better together are left with a negative "NO" vote. As a PR Middle Manager he should have KNOWN all about the effect on survey results of the loading and phrasing of questions. What about "Are you in favour of retaining the 300 year Union of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom?" - that would have helped.

3. Celebrities
Nobody had reckoned with the enormous power of Twitter and Facebook which has been hijacked by celebrity Scots to whip up a political fervour and make themselves look like folk heroes to the people around them. That would be Americans mainly as that's where most of these home loving kilted celebs live.

4. Fish
I think one look at Alec Salmond or Alex Hammond (I can't be bothered to look it up) should have been enough to turn voters away in droves in what's known in political wonk circles as "The Brown-Milliband effect". He must be a lot cleverer than he looks.

5. But Seriously
Scotland has been doing well over the last few years as part of the UK - one has only to look at parts of Europe to see how badly things could have gone. If this split actually goes ahead then a much smaller Country is going to flounder without the joint financial infrastructure which has helped dig us out of the financial hole - we'll all be worse off but the Scots proportionately more so. .
I'm also not sure people have quite taken account of the feelings of the English population who have had to sit quietly like long-suffering parents of teenagers whilst celebs North of the Border play their Braveheart cameos. If the split proceeds, then everyone South of the Border will start to feel resentful and bitter about this upstart flouncing-off and be in no mood to help finance the new start up. And if they think they're watching our Strictly Come Dancing for nothing they can Rabb C. Nesbitt off..

We'll be a bit like the Dragons faced with a particularly naive young entrepreneur who hasn't thought things through at all - and for that reason - I'm out!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Internet of Things

Next week it will be 19 years since eBay was founded in San Jose, California by French Iranian Pierre Omidyar. His previous joint venture with Albert Whatcanthematterbe was caught in a storm of controversy involving the three old ladies locked in a lavatory scandal.

One of the first items tested in 1995 was a broken laser pointer which sold for $14.83 and Omidyar is reputed to have contacted the buyer personally to check that he realised the laser pointer was broken. "I'm a collector of broken laser pointers", came the response.

Omidyar knew that he was setting out to create a "perfect market", which as my school economics lessons used to teach involved a "perfect" flow of information, infinite buyers and sellers, no bars to entry and several other things that escape me now. Certainly the ability for a seller of a broken laser pointer to find what must have been one of very few collectors of such does illustrate the principle.

EBay now produces over 16 billion dollars revenue and is the accepted single best place to buy and sell stuff. Although it is a lot smaller than the mighty Amazon it is far more interesting, flexible and transparent with greater scope for individuality. It has had a significant impact on all the major "collectables" markets in the world, with a steady downward pressure on prices as items which in the nineties were considered extreme rarities gradually became more common with the much more perfect market.

Key to the success of eBay has been the concept of feedback and the visibility of price data. Feedback was one of the earliest examples of internet crowd sourcing and really essential to building confidence in the site as it would certainly not have taken off without it. The price data of all sales transactions is available to all, so buyers and sellers can both get a pretty good idea of what prices similar lines to their own are making, not just in their own locality but Worldwide.

We've been part of this madness for quite a few years now and it was a vital ingredient in our downshift of lifestyle about seven years ago when we walked out of proper salaried jobs. The only regret is that eBay hadn't been around a few years earlier. We've sold stuff to celebrities like Jonathan Ross and Tracey Thorne, to famous museums and collections and to 40 or 50 different Countries but most transactions are to ordinary bods in the UK with similar interests and passions to our own. The only thing missing is the personal and individual contact that you get if you sell at antique fairs or in a shop and generally people can be more abrupt and curt online than they would be in person. Every now and then, however, we come across an extra special customer and it's very nice when you get nice feedback such as this letter which arrived the other day from a young chap who bought a vintage typewriter from us recently.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Cookie Crumble

A while ago I made a joke via gmail to my brother about his posh new shed, implying it just needed a toilet to complete it. I was a little surprised to find within 24 hours the banner ads on my eBay page comprised little else apart from sheds and ,er, toilets.

Then last week I searched for brown tape on eBay and shortly afterwards a sponsored advert on Facebook loomed into my timeline proffering brown tape and coyly wondering if I may be interested.

Now I think all of us apart from the criminally naive realised that Web 2.0 involved a pact with the devil. The devil provided lots of exciting free services and diversions in return for us letting them know the ins and outs of our cats bottom and inviting targeted advertising. As someone old enough to remember paying Compuserve a small fortune just for a dial-up email account and someone who used to buy Exchange & Mart for light entertainment on train journeys I was quite happy with the deal.

However the tracking of every move by mysterious "cookies" on virtually every web site one visits is starting to get just a little bit spooky. Even the name "cookies" is a euphemistic disguise to make "3rd Party Keyloggers" seem all cute and fluffy. It becomes so normal and pervasive that one gradually forgets how odd it is for Big Brother Google to be keeping such close tabs on one's activities. How does it relate to real life?

In, say, 1984 (30 years ago folks) imagine wandering around Woolworths and constantly being confronted by an annoying sales assistant who lunges out into your path as you proceed through the store.

"I couldn't help noticing you paused briefly to examine our range of toilet brushes. I wonder if you'd care to examine this polypropylene bucket in matching cerise?"

"You spent some time in the pick 'n mix section. Would you like to prepare for the inevitable demise of your teeth by investing in some Winfield denture fixative?".

"You just purchased the Beatles Revolver Album. Other customers also purchased Sugar Sugar by the Archies..."

It's all getting a bit weird and odd. And my brother HAS installed a toilet in his shed.  

Monday, 4 August 2014


Ever since the term "workshop" ceased to become a place with tools in and started to become a seminar on "coping strategies for the networking narrative" or "how to maintain equilibrium in the work space" our language has had to be toughened up to compensate.

Just like Gordon Ramsay has to swear a lot to cover up the fact that he's just doing girly cooking, modern working lives have to contain macho stuff like "bullet points" and "power point" to make up for the absence of proper "manly" manufacturing references. I once went to a Librarians' Conference which featured "break out workshops" - I led a platoon of 6 plucky librarians armed with chisels and hacksaws along a corridor before we were beaten back by a "robust initiatives" group from the Large Print directive.

Anyway, all I wanted to say is that I had an idea that I could combine my passing familiarity with Powerpoint and spreadsheet charts with the fact that I'm now one of the oldest people in Blogland and use these modern tools of communication to impart gems of ill-gotten wisdom to you, dear reader. No, please don't thank me ... it's a public service.

Anyway, here's Powerpointer No 1:
(This post originally appeared in January 2009. I have republished it to give me inspiration to get a bit more regular again. Pip Pip!)

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Knowing Wink

There is an interesting reflection on retail trends in the latest posting by Timbo making one reminisce fondly of the classic English Department Store, the endangered species in many provincial small town High Streets where only hairdressers and charity shops are clinging on like cockroaches after a nuclear bomb.

I'm still racked with guilt over not using Woolworths enough when they had turned into the showroom for people to look over their potential purchases before popping round the corner to Argos and purchasing via a terminal and an anonymous counter in a wall. The truth is that you can't turn the clock back and once Web 2.0 (remember that?) had facilitated full colour interactive viewing of products and UK distribution systems had stepped up to the mark to facilitate fast and cheap delivery (apart from the Royal Mail), the non-specialist large high street store outside of major retail "destinations" was done for.

Those large retail department groups that have made the transition into mail order integrated with click-and-collect services and view-then-buy are doing quite well, particularly John Lewis who have carved themselves an enormous middle-class niche by upholding quality standards and involving all staff via ownership in the drive for success.

Last week I succumbed to sibling pressure and bought a Nespresso coffee machine from John Lewis mail order after having mooched (mochad?) round their enormous range at the Norwich branch. A sexy black Magimix Inissia with a ticket price of £116.99 including a gift promotion of £40 of free coffee. What could possibly be more attractive? Of course there is the underlying backup of their being "Never Knowingly Undersold". Splendid!

Anyway, later the same day I happened to click a link to Currys which had no doubt been tracked and alerted by the invisible cookie monsters on my PC and discovered the exact same machine with the exact same promotion for £106.96. (Stay with me class, the bell goes in a few minutes).

Like some old pensioner with too much time on their hands, I contacted John Lewis customer service who invited me to fill out a "NKU" form (Never Knowingly Undersold") and sure enough they checked the price offer and came back with a refund of £10.03.

All very good. There is, however, a slight niggle in that the John Lewis web site continues to advertise the machine at £116.99 despite the fact that I've clearly informed them that they are being undersold. I'm off to check the exact dictionary definition of "knowingly".

Perhaps I should just get out more....

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

In which I bike to Cambridge with my Mum riding pillion

 6.37am Attleborough Station - Train not due till 6:52. Well "25 minutes early is better than 1 second late" as my old Grandad used to say, which may explain why he lost his job as quality control manager for a digital watch manufacturer. A serious man in a sharp suit has just walked onto the platform carrying a carrier bag full of tennis balls. Most others are casually dressed carrying briefcases.

6:47 Getting busy on platform. Hope my bike is ok to get on. Any problems and I may have to invoke the spirit of my mum who is currently riding pillion. I'm still recovering from the time I took her to Spain on easy jet and we were bumped out of our seats by two executive types. She just kept saying out loud what the rest of us were thinking.

6:54 I am on a train! No channelling of Ma required happily. Just about to flash past our old house which completed last week. Strange to think of new family inhabiting all the space and making it their own. Flash. It's gone.

7:05 We've just arrived in Thetford passing 2 more former residences of mine. The conductor announces a "Station Stop" and I wonder when it ceased to languish as a mere "station". I may be channelling Ed Reardon now.

7:22 I'm still in a big bike compartment on my own (apart from 2 bikes and my mum). I have a big double seat to myself -  Ben Elton would be proud of me. I can see a smartly dressed man who looks like Tim Rice in the next compartment talking animatedly and always smiling at his companion. Probably trying to sell him something.

7:30 We are on the proper fens now - a flat calm sea of rich dark loam as far as the eye can see. Possibly with the aid of glasses. Ely stands out in the distance like Ascension Island in the Atlantic. Tim Rice is still grinning away and beginning to get on my nerves with his early morning bonhommie.

7:32 Ely Station Stop. Strangely no bikes get on. Last time I travelled via Ely about 25 bike riders piled into the train and began to form the largest version of one of those metal puzzles you used to get in crackers.

7:40 I wonder if human ashes contain DNA. Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee I'm able to look it up and they don't. I wouldn't want some mad scientist able to clone hundreds of my mum - Jurassic Park would be a picnic in comparison.

7:52 Arrive at Cambridge station and the commuters all spill onto the platform. I head off to my brother's house.

8:30 We take Mum to rest in peace at the lovely bench my brother has created in the Gog Magog Hills park. She's the "Ma" in Gog Magog now and a nice focus for memories. She'd have been bursting with pride to hear of the birth of little Teddy Peacock last week. Arrivals and departures.

9:30 I set off without my pillion passenger to make the long journey home. A 64 mile bike ride is just what I need today.

16:04 I arrive home and have a lecture about over-doing it from my 80- year old neighbour who is up a ladder trimming his bushes.