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.

It’s not embarrassing to be seen using cycle lanes instead of busy roads, so for everyone’s sake make use of these when they are available.

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

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!


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 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!

Front Page News?

It’s bewildering what the BBC considers to be front page news.

BBC NEWS TOP STORIES: O2 apologises for roaming glitch

Oh dear! Did international roaming fail leaving O2 customers without data services abroad, or did naughty O2 overcharge their customers? No, neither.

This headline actually relates to an insignificant story of how a very small number of O2’s roaming customers received a text message incorrectly informing them that they had run up large data roaming charges.

Rachel Sinclair, from Bristol, was just hours into her trip to France on the 24 September, when she received a text on her iPhone telling her she had downloaded £20 of data.

“I double checked the roaming function was off and then turned off the handset but the next morning I received another text saying the bill had gone up to £40. I was away with friends and it really took a bit of pleasure out of the holiday.”

After investigating her case, O2 said that she had in fact accrued just 60p in data roaming charges, not £40.

The company estimates that she was one of up to 100 customers who were sent messages in error at the end of last month, warning them they had reached data roaming limits even though they had not downloaded that amount.

So this wasn’t a case of a mobile operator overcharging, just their automatic warning systems being a bit trigger happy.

This text glitch apparently affected “up to 100” of O2’s 22 million mobile customers (0.0005% of O2’s mobile customer base), but still the BBC News editors deemed this story of sufficient international public interest to promote it to their front page.

BBC: Some travellers have been hit with bill shocks in the past

So? Some travellers have been hit by lightning in the past! What has this got to do with anything? It’s sloppy sensationalist journalism, at a time when the National Union of Journalists are complaining about the proposed cuts at the BBC. First for the chop should be Susannah Streeter, the author of this drivel.