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.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Spam Frighters

The phone rang the other day and I had the following worrying conversation with .... well perhaps I should disguise the identity of the person involved and just use coded initials. Let's call her "BN".

BN: "I've just had a nice lady from Microsoft on the phone helping me sort out the PC".

Me: ""

BN: "Yes it has been a bit slow recently. She told me all the special codes to put in so she could take control of my PC and get all the problems sorted out".

Me: "...gulp..."

It wasn't long ago that we all laughed at the humorous attempts of spammers and scammers to let them have our passwords so they could help themselves to our banking or credit cards. How we guffawed when a Nigerian General emailed us to let us know about the 12 billion dollars he wanted our help to move into the UK. How we reached for the sewing basket to repair our sides when a Russian Oligarch requested our login credentials to help them move their Gasprom shares. These amusing foreigners were so obvious and crass we could treat them as a rib tickling diversion.

However, things have moved on. The "Microsoft Tech Support" scam is not new but is reaching new generations of PC users who have built up much more confidence with computers and it's just plausible enough to hook in all but the most savvy users. Similarly, the dodgy emails which entice you to click a link and thereby install a key logger or bot script are getting very sophisticated. I've had two in the last week that I *almost* fell for - one an eBay "customer" requesting a link to a finished item and one a UPS delivery exception report. And I'm one of the 12 most suspicious people in the Country!

There isn't an easy answer. All I can suggest is ensuring your virus detection is current and effective (I swear by the free ) and keeping your guard up with every email. Let's be careful out there folks!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

New Direction

Well,  I'm astonished to note that this is my third blog post this year! Can I maintain this frenetic pace or will I succumb to Mighty Mo burnout? Will you, my last and most valued reader, now walk past as if I'm Ed Balls or a provincial branch of Woolworth's?

I suppose blogging has moved into a new phase, at least for me. When I was lashed to the wheel of wage slavery in a dysfunctional family business (where I wasn't in the family) my blog posts were a wonderful outlet for the boredom and frustration of it all. They were my Shawshank Redemption, my Messge in a Bottle to the World. My daily struggles with bureaucracy and idiocy were the grit stones in my oyster which fashioned the occasional pearl. My faithful Labrador Collie and Tibetan Terrier  (Messrs Murph & Oz) both thought along similar lines, although in that case I was the much derided authority figure.

Now that I'm joint CEO of a customer facing Upcycling nternet based jargon spouting business myself, the need for creative outlet has diminished. I suppose Lily and Holly have moved into that space and they may have to let off steam in a blog direction now - I will keep an eye open and let you know. 

The other matter which has diverted us over the last few months is moving house. We had scoured the length and breadth of Rightmoves for three years looking for the perfect house and finally found it - 5 miles away. It's in a far more "proper" village than our previous one (which was more "hamlet") and has two pubs, a shop and a windmill. Aside from the stress of doing a full channel 4 style Sarah Beeney makeover of our house to sell it we now have all the concerns of de-Beenying our new residence to drag it back down into the comfort zone. All very  diverting but probably too smug and "pleased with self" for entertaining blog posts.

However another potential for blog direction is the matter of the socialisation of two sociophobes into the fabric of Midsomer Norfolk. There could be sufficient jeapordy and edge to divert my dear reader. I'll keep you, er, posted.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Laugh a Minute

One of the things that's missing from our Television screens today is a good old fashioned situation comedy. Any glint of a funny series is missing amongst the sea of low budget formulaic reality, house, cooking, sewing and baking shows. What comedies there are tend to be crass and slapstick ("Mrs Brown's Boys") or re-commissioned well past their short sell-by date ("My Family").

Fortunately good old BBC4 is there to ride to our rescue with re-runs of classics from the Good Old Days. Having recently enjoyed the complete, sublime series of "Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads" they have followed through with the wonderful 1980's "Ever Decreasing Circles" which is just as funny and sharply observed as it ever was. Written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey ("Please Sir", "The Good Life", "Brush Strokes") it follows the adventures of tedious OCD control freak Martin (Richard Briers) and his long suffering wife Ann (Penelope Wilton ) who hankers after suave and laid back new neighbour Paul (Peter Egan). Martin is a genius invention of the writers and evokes just the right balance of dread and sympathy as he obsesses over trivia and twiddles the curly phone cord to straighten it (what's a curly phone cord, enquires my under 35 reader). It's a "Close Close" and neighbours Howard and Hilda Hughes add colour with their matching knitted sweaters.

But here's the thing. 

In the original showing, I closely identified with the Paul character and was once actually mistaken for him. Now with the lapse of 30 years, I relate much more closely to (and have been directly compared with by certain parties!) the Briers character Martin.

Now I'm dreading the next re-run of "One Foot in the Grave".