Cookie Monster

On visiting the web site of The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead you are greeted with this message:

To which if you respond that you don’t consent to receiving cookies you get this message:

What part of “No, I don’t consent to receiving cookies” do they not understand?!

Hapless Harry

In the ten game spell since Fabio Capello quit as England football manager, Spurs have won just 2 games, drawn 3 and lost 5. We were also thrashed in the North London derby and humiliated in a 5-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat at Wembley against Chelsea.

That current league form ranks Spurs in 16th place, a point behind Blackburn and Bolton who coincidentally are the next two teams we face.

Table courtesy of weekendfootball.co.uk

On that form it’s going to be a real challenge to make 5th place, let alone 4th.

What does England manager-elect Redknapp have to say in his defence?

After losing 2-1 to Norwich:

“Well all credit to them. I thought they deserved it, they worked very hard today and made it difficult for us. They played excellent. We were disappointing. I changed the system, I played 4-4-2 today, we played with four forwards and I really felt we were too open. We’ve got five big games to go, we’ve got to really look to win all five games.”

You might think that as manager he was actually responsible for the formation and tactics and could perhaps make changes if it wasn’t working?

After losing 1-0 to QPR:

“There’s four games left, we’ve got to win the last four games now. I think you’re gonna need 12 points now, you’re going to have to pick up 12 points from the last four games. It’s going to be tight, it’s all to play for. Four games to go, we need four wins.”

“We need to win x games”. That seems to be a recurring quote from Harry.

You don’t need to be a master tactician or even a mathematician to work that one out.

Fortunately The FA are all set to come to the rescue and pay to ‘release’ Harry before he suffers the ignominy of a sacking. So it’s ‘Harry for England’ and COME ON YOU SPURS!

Holidaylight Robbery

Center Parcs marketed itself as the original “British holiday the weather can’t spoil”, but they are doing a pretty good job of spoiling holidays without the weather.

Consider the pricing matrix above. What could possibly cause the astronomical price hike in that one specific week? It’s the half-term school holidays.

I do expect to have to pay a premium because of the school holidays. 50% would seem acceptable to me, but a 300% price hike? Even Michael O’Leary would find that hard to defend!

I have studied Economics, I know all about supply and demand and differential pricing. The prices above do not seem to be not reflecting a shortage of supply however. There is no “only x remaining” in the middle week, so I can only deduce that the huge cost spike is a deliberate and cynical manipulation of the pricing model to take account of school holidays.

While some families might bite the bullet and succumb to the exorbitant price tag, their stay must be tinged with bitterness at being financially exploited in this way. If you are being ripped-off so badly before you even arrive, what more do they have in store for you while you’re there? It’s not the kind of business that I would like to spend my money with.

Center Parcs certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on this exploitative behaviour. It’s an industry-wide phenomenon which has been allowed to run wild.

The blatant profiteering at the expense of parents and teachers is discrimination on a massive scale. Isn’t it time the UK Government acted on these unfair business practices?

Tips for cyclists

Wearing team colours won’t help you ride like Lance Armstrong, any more than putting on a Man United shirt helps you score goals like Wayne Rooney.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what shape you are in – Lycra is not flattering.

Try lifting your head and sniffing the air instead of the bum crack of the cyclist in front.

Having a cycle that weighs less than a bag of sugar won’t help you win le Tour de France.

Fitting a bell will not interfere with the delicate balance of your cycle.

Pavements are meant for pedestrians.

The UK road network is designed for motor vehicles. If you’re going to use it, abide by the rules.

You know those mysterious boxes with red, amber & green lights? Those are traffic lights. Yes, they apply to you too.

Ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends – like the Highway Code instructs you to.

Since you don’t pay Road Tax or have third-party insurance, get out of my way and use the cycle lanes provided.

Public urination is just that. Calling it a “nature break” doesn’t make it any less disgusting and unsanitary.

Take a car if you want to get somewhere quickly without dripping and stinking of sweat.

I’ll leave you with some considered words from someone I’d never heard of before, but for whom I now feel a close affinity – ESPN commentator Tony Kornheiser.

The last time I looked, the roads were made for automobiles…We’re going to be dominated as if this was Beijing by hundreds of thousands of bicyclists…They all wear … my God … with the little water bottle in the back and the stupid hats and their shiny shorts. They are the same disgusting poseurs that in the middle of a snowstorm come out with cross-country skiing on your block. Run ’em down…Let them use the right, I’m okay with that. I don’t take my car and ride on the sidewalk because I understand that’s not for my car… Why do these people think that these roads were built for bicycles? … They dare you to run them down.

Satellite TV Upgrade Pack?

The image above is of a jiffy bag that I received in the post this morning.

Being the wary soul that I am, I was immediately suspicious of this package and so inspected it in more detail.

On face value it looks like an official upgrade pack, perhaps from the satellite broadcaster BSkyB? They do occasionally update their viewing cards and so this seemed quite likely.

But on closer inspection I spotted this small-print:

This package contains promotional material from Virgin Media.

I should have guessed as much when I saw that it was addressed to “The Occupier”. This is a well known tactic of Virgin Media to stop their tat being classed as addressed mail and thereby sidestepping the Mailing Preference Service. I’ve never been able to shake off Virgin’s junk mail, I don’t think anyone ever has.

So this package isn’t anything to do with satellite TV at all. It’s yet more pointless unsolicited junk mail from Virgin Media.

A quick bit of web searching and I found a recent Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Adjudication on Virgin Media Limited.

The conclusion of the adjudication was that Virgin Media had breached two Committee of Advertising Practice codes and that their advert was misleading.

The ASA noted the text “This package contains promotional material from Virgin Media” was considerably smaller than the main copy on the front of the envelope, was at 90 degrees to all the other text on the envelope, and was located far to the right of the envelope under a series of reference numbers.  We considered that the combination of those factors meant it was likely to be overlooked by consumers and that consumers would therefore be unaware that the envelope contained promotional material from Virgin.

We noted Virgin considered the text “Please see inside for Legal Stuff” indicated that the envelope contained promotional material.  However, we considered that that statement was unlikely to be understood by consumers to mean that the mailing was a marketing communication. We considered, for instance, that the placement of that statement, combined with the likelihood that consumers might not have noticed the text which identified that the mailing was from Virgin, could lead consumers to think that the envelope contained legal and other information, and possibly technology, from their satellite TV provider which would result in an upgrade to their existing satellite TV package.

We considered the ad did not make clear that it was a marketing communication, or that it was sent with commercial intent, and concluded that it breached the Code.

The ASA adjudication is dated 2nd November 2011, but I received this package today on 16th November 2011.

It looks like Virgin have subtly altered the layout on the envelope and moved the line about it being promotional material, but this doesn’t make it any less misleading.

A complaint to the ASA has been submitted. Let’s see what happens this time!

Update!

The ASA response:

Further to my letter of 21 December, we have now received a response from Virgin Media. They have assured us they will not use the ad or similar ads again and that in future mailings they will make clear that they are marketing communications. We consider that this will resolve the complaint without referring the matter to the ASA Council, and will consequently be closing our file.

In a formal investigation, if the ASA Council decides that an ad is in breach of the Code, the advertisers are told to withdraw or amend it. Because Virgin Media has already assured us that the advertising you complained about has been withdrawn, we consider there is little to be gained from continuing with a formal investigation, which would achieve the same outcome.

So a small victory for the small guy then.

Kindle Tax

I don’t have much spare time to indulge in picking up a book, so when I do have the occasional few minutes what I need is quick and easy access to books on demand.

The 21st century solution to my needs is an eBook reader. It would allow me to keep all my books in one place and I won’t have weighty tomes cluttering up the bookshelves. I suppose there’s also a minuscule environmental benefit too 🙂

I’m sold on the obvious benefits, so what about the cost of the books?

Now call me old fashioned (I dare you!), but I did expect eBooks to cost less than the manufactured print equivalents. So a quick look at the most popular eBook seller – Amazon – had me confused.

Why are the electronic versions sometimes more expensive than their tree-killing counterparts?

For purchases made within the European Union, this is partly due to the addition of Value Added Tax (VAT).

Conventional print books have historically been treated as an exceptional item and attract a zero rate of VAT in the UK. An eBook however is classified as the “supply of the digitised content of books over the internet or an electronic network” and standard rates of VAT apply.

This is an unexpected reality, but maybe not a showstopper for me. At least I’ll be contributing to the UK economy right?

Unfortunately that’s a false assumption.

Amazon claims to deliver Kindle purchases from Luxembourg and according to the Kindle License Agreement: “The laws of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, without regard to principles of conflict of laws, will govern this Agreement and any dispute of any sort that might arise between you and Amazon.

The standard rate of VAT in Luxembourg is 15% and this is the sales tax included in the price of Kindle eBooks.

Every time you purchase a Kindle eBook from Amazon.co.uk you unwittingly contribute 15% of the purchase price to the Luxembourg economy.

I’d better put up some more shelves.

BlackBerry Fool

This post could perhaps have been more aptly titled ‘BlackBerry Jam’, but actually I don’t want to focus on the widespread service failures so much as the foolish customers who chose to rely on BlackBerry in the first place.

Why is it only now they realise that what they bought into wasn’t the Internet in your pocket, but a totally proprietary email and messaging service with an inherent single point of failure?

For the uninitiated, BlackBerry is a mobile email, messaging and web browsing service provided by Research In Motion Limited (RIM). The difference with BlackBerry services is that you don’t have a direct connection to the Internet like everyone else, instead all your mobile data traffic is tunnelled through RIM’s data centre(s).

The advertised advantage of this approach is that RIM applies data compression techniques to make more efficient use of the available bandwidth, which should result in faster web browsing and quicker email delivery.

For the privilege of using their data optimisation service RIM levies a hefty monthly System Access Fee (or SAF). This hidden per-subscriber BlackBerry tax is usually collected by the mobile operators in the form of higher monthly subscriptions or call charges.

The SAF revenue stream is hugely lucrative for RIM, which is why they are so keen to keep customers tied into their proprietary service model.

But RIM’s unique selling point is also their biggest flaw.

The problem with their architecture is that you are putting all your metaphorical eggs in RIM’s one basket. As we’ve seen with the prolonged service outages over the last two days, if RIM’s servers go down then so does all your connectivity.

RIM have been surprisingly tight-lipped about the problems. There is nothing on their corporate web site, nothing in the press releases. It’s like we imagined the whole thing!

The only source of information I’ve found is RIM’s official Twitter support account.

The news was broken yesterday with:

Some users in EMEA are experiencing issues. We’re investigating, and we apologize for any inconvenience.

This was followed up by:

We apologize to any of our customers in Europe, Middle East & Africa still experiencing issues. We’ll bring you an update as soon as we can.

BlackBerry email services restored. Some users still experiencing delays with browsing and IM. Sorry for inconvenience.

Just when we thought everything was getting better, more problems this afternoon:

Some areas have messaging delays and impaired browsing. We’re working to restore normal service as quickly as possible.

The most recent RIM Tweet says:

Message delays were caused by a core switch failure in RIM’s infrastructure. Now being resolved. Sorry for inconvenience.

Lots of faceless apologies from RIM, which is of little consolation to their customers.

This issue reminds me of my blog post about the Proprietary Internet. The success of the Internet has been that its distributed architecture makes it resilient from individual system failures. It was deliberately designed this way.

If you tie yourself into a single service provider then don’t be surprised if one day you too find yourself cut adrift from the connected world. If this communication tool is so critical to your business then it’s your duty to ensure that you have exercised due diligence in your choice of service provider.

You’ve only got yourselves to blame!