When contract hunting goes wrong: TEKsystems & Allegis Group

I was approached by a recruiter from TEKsystems who were looking for a Linux systems administration and automation type person for a project with one of their clients.  I took a look at the job description, and it seemed like a pretty good match for my skills, so I was happy to apply and for TEKsystems to represent me.

I was interviewed three times by members of the team I would be working in over the course of about two weeks.  The people were based in Sweden and Norway and, having previously lived in Norway, I felt brave enough to try out bits of my very very rusty Norwegian.  The interviews all seemed to go well and, a few days later, I was offered the role which I accepted.  A start date of May 15th 2023 was agreed.

I consider it a sincere and meaningful compliment when I am offered work, so it’s important to know that, in accepting this role, I had turned down three other opportunities, two permanent roles and one other contract.

As this role was deemed inside IR35, I would have to work through an umbrella company.  It’s usually less friction to just go with the agency’s recommended option which was to use their parent company, Allegis Group.  I duly went through their onboarding process, proving my address, identity, right to work and so on and so forth.  All pretty standard stuff.

As May 15th approached, I was conscious that I had not, as yet, received any initial onboarding instructions neither directly from the client or via the agency. Whom did I contact on the 15th, when and how?  As this was a remote work contract, I was also expecting delivery of a corporate laptop.  This had not yet turned up.

Late in the week before the 15th, I had a call from the agency saying that there had been some kind of incident that the team I would be working with had to deal with.  They had no-one available to do any kind of onboarding with me, so would I mind deferring the start of the contract by a week?

It turned out it was very convenient for me.  A friend of the family had died a few weeks earlier from breast cancer and the funeral was on the Friday beforehand and, as it happened, my wife and daughter also got stranded in France due to the strikes.  A couple of extra days free to deal with all of that were helpful, so I agreed and everyone was happy.

Towards the end of that week, there had still been radio silence from the client. The agency was trying to obtain a Scope Of Work from them which would lead to an actual contract being drawn up for signing.

The next Monday was a bank holiday and, on the Tuesday morning, I got this message from the agency.

Hello Martin

We would like to update you to confirm we are unable to continue with your onboarding journey, and as such your onboarding journey has now ceased.

We wish you all the best for your future assignments.

Many thanks,


Needless to say, this was rather surprising and resulted in me attempting to get in touch with someone there to discover what was going on.  No immediate answer was forthcoming other than vague mentions of difficulty with a Swedish business entity not being able to take on a UK-based resource.  I was told that efforts would be made to clarify the situation.  To the day of writing this, that’s still not happened.  Well, not for me at least.

At the end of that week, it became obvious that whatever problem had happened was terminal for my contract, so I started back contact hunting and reactivating my CV on the various job boards.

I asked TEKsystems if they would offer any kind of compensation.  I’d acted entirely in good faith: I’d turned down three other offers of work, told other agencies I was no longer available and deactivated my CV on the various job boards.  It seemed fair they should offer me some kind of compensation for the lost earnings, wasted time and lost opportunities.  They have declined this request leaving me entirely out of pocket for the 3 weeks I should have been working for them and, of course, unexpectedly out of work.

I’m obviously back looking for my next opportunity and I’m sure something will be along in due course.  This is a cautionary tale of what can go wrong in the world of contracting and, if your next contract involves TEKsystems or Allegis Group, you might wish to be extra careful, making sure they are actually able to offer you the work they say they are, and that you get paid.

Buying a custom gaming PC from Overclockers UK

My current workstation and gaming PC is slowly disintegrating. I built it myself from components some 6 years ago and it’s simply wearing out.  Several USB ports don’t work and Windows sometimes bluescreens with errors that suggests bits of the motherboard are getting tired.  I don’t really have the spare time needed to build a high-end PC and make a great job of it, so I decided to treat myself to a pre-built custom system.   After hunting round, I settled on Overclockers as the company to buy from.

Their system configurator didn’t quite give me what I wanted, so I contacted them and asked if they could customise further which they could.   I put together my list of requirements, they send back a price.  I paid, cash wired to their bank account, upfront and sat back and waited for my new shiny liquid-cooled PC to arrive.

The system shipped.  It shipped to the wrong address.  I had provided Overclockers with a billing address and a shipping address.  They shipped to the billing address which is almost guaranteed to be unoccupied during regular working hours.

A simple mistake.  It happens.  I contacted the courier who were unable to redeliver again that day, but promised they would deliver it to the shipping address the next day.

Next day, my new shiny PC arrives.  I opened the smaller of the two boxes, one for spare components and so on, and immediately see a problem.  The spares and cables and whatnots are not branded with anything I specified, wrong motherboard and wrong graphics card.  I call Overclockers who suggest that the component boxes may have been mixed up and can I please open the main box and check. I do.  It’s someone else’s computer.  I later learn that my system has been shipped to somewhere else.  Overclockers’ mistake?  Courier’s mistake?  It doesn’t really matter. Overclockers have a courier come and pick up this system.

Meanwhile, my system makes its merry way back to Overclockers’ HQ and I, confusingly, get an email asking what I’d like done with it.   I suggest shipping it to the shipping address and could I please have an AM delivery so I don’t potentially waste a whole day.  I offered to pay for whatever that was going to cost.  Overclockers said it was no problem.  Super.

My PC finally showed up at Friday 8pm.   The more astute amongst you will spot that 8pm is not exactly an AM delivery.  Overclockers’ mistake?  Courier’s mistake?  I have no idea, the question has not yet been answered.

I unpack my new PC.  The first thing I notice is that there is a bolt rolling around in the bottom of it.  Stuff can come loose in shipping, so what.  I find that the bolt belongs to a radiator housing in the bottom of the case, there’s a hole, a loose radiator and tool marks around the hole.  Not ideal, but the system’s not going to be moved around much so no big problem.  Despite being an SLI system, there was no SLI cable installed linking the graphics cards.  Simple to fix, but a silly thing for an expert system builder to miss.

One of the customised things I asked for was the pre-cabling of some SATA drives bays: one for a blu-ray writer and two for a pair of big SATA disks I use for bulk local storage.   None of these were done.   I call Overclockers about this, and the loose bolt, and they say there’s not much that can be done without returning the system to them.  As I’ve no interest in another game of couriers, I grumble a bit but then do the cabling myself.

Over the next day or so I had almost no chance to really push the new system.  It ticked over happily, was lovely and quiet and lovely to look at too.  On Sunday night, though, the headphones went on, the office door was closed and I got on with a bit of GRID 2, with all the visual effects turned up to maximum.  I settled down for a couple of hours of hard racing.   After about an hour, the screen froze, went black, and all the system fans kicked into life.

I powered off, reached for my mini-torch and opened the case.  What I saw sickened me: liquid coolant leaking from the CPU block, down onto a graphics card and spilling on to the motherboard.  It was impossible to tell whether the CPU had simply thermally shut down or if the coolant had shorted something expensive.  It kind of didn’t matter.

The next morning I called Overclockers who arranged to pick the system up.  I asked if they could sort of the cabling and the loose bolts while they were at it.  They agreed.

A couple of days later, I got an email saying the system had been repaired and was on its way back to me.  The next evening I get a call from the owner of the billing address saying that a courier had tried to deliver something with my name on it.   They had shipped to the wrong address. Again.

I had now run out of patience and I asked for a full refund.   To their credit, Overclockers didn’t argue on this and they said one would be arranged.  As it was convenient for me, I asked to keep the Windows 8.1 licence and the SSD.   As it was convenient for them, I agreed to pay for these again separately, they would then issue a refund for the full amount of the original transaction.  I didn’t ask, but I kind of expected they would simply wire the cash back to my bank account.

After 3 days or so, nothing had showed up, so I called and they said that processing a refund might take up to 7 working days.

Today, 10 days on, nothing had showed up, so I called them and they said a cheque had been issued on the 4th and had been sent to……. you guessed it, the wrong address.  The owner of the address had not had a cheque arrive.

They offered to send a new cheque to the right address.  I suggested they simply wire the money to my account, I was told this was impossible due to the people who would have to do that being in Germany.  No, makes no sense to me either.  I asked if the cheque could be sent by special delivery, for which I was happy to cover the costs.   This was, of course, not possible.

So, 5 weeks after placing a cash order for a high-spec custom PC from Overclockers UK, I have no PC and they have a large amount of my money.

Please consider this post next time you’re thinking of ordering from them.


(Update: 15/4/2014:  A handwritten cheque arrived from Overclockers this morning. )

Cooperative Energy and password security

As a protest vote against the Big 6 energy companies, I recently switched supplier to Cooperative Energy.   Switching is painless, fill your details in online, click the button and off you go.   They do of course want a password from you and I used LastPass to generate a unique one for me and memorise it.

Some time later, I went to login in to the customer portal just to see what I could do and was quite surprised to find my password didn’t work.  I mentally shrugged and clicked on the Forgotten Password link and waited for the usual password reset email to arrive.  I got this instead:

Dear Customer

The information you requested is…

If you have any questions please contact our customer service team

(This is, of course, not my actual password, this is just an example that I’ll treat the same way as the Coop did.)

Here we have two immediate problems.  The first is, of course, they have sent me my password in plain text in an email.  We all know that’s a bad idea.  Secondly, what they have sent is not actually my password.  My password looks like this:


See what they did?  For whatever reason the caret has been removed and all the letters have be converted to lower case thus making my password less secure.    I sighed and went to change my password online and found I couldn’t.   If I want to change my password then I have to go talk to a human to do so.   This leads to problem three, which is that people generally pick stupid passwords and reuse them.   I’m sure Coop Energy only employ wonderful honest people, but giving them an email address and a stupid password is only ever going to end badly for someone eventually.

I’ve spoken to Coop Energy’s customer service team and they acknowledge the problems I’ve found.   Let’s hope, for the sake of a safer and more secure internet, they sort them out.

No writing nasty things about the 2012 London Olympics, okay?

As mentioned on Twitter, in the Terms of Use of the London 2012 Olympics Web site is this:

Links to the Site. You may create your own link to the Site, provided that your link is in a text-only format. You may not use any link to the Site as a method of creating an unauthorized association between an organization, business, goods, or services and London 2012, and agree that no such link shall portray us or any other official London 2012 organizations (or our or their activities, products, or services) in a false, misleading, derogatory, or otherwise objectionable manner.

So, just to be completely clear, the 2012 London Olympics is a disgraceful waste of taxpayer’s money at a time of austerity in public spending.  The corporate sponsorship and outrageous curtailment of freedoms inflicted on visitors is un-British and a national disgrace.  I can think of no other occasions where so much public money has been splurged with so little accountability. Public scrutiny will be curtailed too, behind the sham of a private company.

Oh, and how can you call it the London games when chunks of it are happening in other countries?


On the size of the solar system and manned space travel

Today a few news outlets picked up the confirmation of the discovery of an Earth-like planet in the habital zone of a star 600 light years away, but the closest such planet discovered so far.  This has created an excited buzz as indeed it should.  Life certainly exists elsewhere in the universe, and we know a planet like ours can sustain life quite well, albeit grudgingly at times, so finding a planet like our own “just” 600 light years away is indeed exciting.

Well, is it? Alas I am a bit meh about the whole thing.

Let’s assume that there’s a civilisation as advanced as ours there.  The bads news is that we’re never going to visit them, and we’re never going to establish meaningful communications with them.  Let’s look at the best possible timeline.

A “Hello Kepler 22-b” signal sent today will reach them no earlier them December 5th 2611 so we’ve got some finger tapping to do between now and then.  And we’re assuming they’re looking for a signal, and spot it, and can decode it. If they do all that, and send us back engineering plans for their FTL communications device right away, then we’ll be getting those no sooner than December 3211, twelve centuries from now.  And then we merely have to build a device designed by an alien species who almost certainly won’t be using the same engineering principles we are.

Remember what happened to the Mars Climate Orbiter?

Okay, so while we’re waiting, let’s send a ship up there.  Twelve centuries is plenty of time to develop space exploration technology.  At some point during this maybe we will figure how to build a useful FTL communications device, in which case we can beam the specifications over to Kepler 22-b.  It’ll be at least a 600 year wait for them to get back to us, but no harm in trying.

If we’re sending a ship, and we don’t have FTL yet, manning it isn’t really an option. At light speed, it’s a 600 year trip, at half light speed it’s 1200 years, and so on.  People just don’t live that long so we’d be looking at building a generation ship, currently way beyond our current technology, and beyond anything we’re likely to achieve in the next century at least.

Unmanned is easier, and we’re good at that.  We’ve had probes in space for decades that are still working just fine.  None of the complexities of life-support, all that’s needed is a nice big nuclear plant for electricity and a nice big antenna for talking back to Mother Earth. Cunning use of orbital slingshots, especially using the gas giants, means we could get this baby really moving through space.  With the nations of the world behind the project, we could launch this inside a couple of years carrying all the knowledge we dare share with the Keplians. And then, again, we sit back and wait, and work on that FTL communications device.

The fastest speed attained by a probe launched from Earth is about 157,000 mph.   This was achieved by Helios probes using the Sun’s gravity well.  We have a pretty good grasp of orbital mechanics, so I don’t expect it’d be too difficult to design a slingshot approach to the Sun that would take our probe, accelerate it to this sort of speed and then send it in exactly the right direction to meet up with Kepler 22-b in a few years time.  That was sarcasm.  We have zero experience of sending probes into interstellar space, the existence of a planet tells us nothing about how to navigate a probe through distant gravity fields to get there.  Despite the moon’s gravitational interaction with the Earth being quite well understood, Apollo spacecraft on trips to and from the moon routinely had to use course-correction burns to make sure they attained successful moon orbit and earth re-entry.

So we do build our probe, and we do manage to find a course to send it on its way at 260,000 (we got better) km/h.  What next?  Well what happens is we wait.  A long time.

The Solar system is big, much bigger than most people realise.  At the center is our Sun and one of the furthest significant objects from it we know about is Pluto.  Worst case, Pluto is 48.871AU from the Sun, that’s roughly 7.38 billion kilometers. Time to get there at our probe’s speed is 28,120 hours, or 3 years.  Not too shabby.  Alas Pluto is not the edge of the solar system.

Voyager 1 will beat our probe to interstellar space.  It’s currently about 2.5 times further away fom the sun than Pluto is. Being generous, launched today, our probe will get there around 2020. Voyager 1 was launched in 1977. So off into the inky black and on to Kepler 22-b.

Alas this is still not the edge of the solar system.

It it theorised that there is a sphere of leftover junk from the formation of the solar system called the Oort Cloud.  It’s thought to be where some of our long-period comets come from.  Recall that Pluto, at worst was about 49AU from the Sun?  Well the Oort Cloud is thought to be 50,000AU from the Sun, and marks the edge of the Sun’s gravitational influence.  Conveniently, this is quite close to the distance of 1 light year. Less conveniently, this means our probe is going to take the thick end of ten millenia to make it this far at best speed. Keppler 22-b is 600 light years away, so a mere 5 and a bit million years in space for our probe.

I would like to think that mankind will travel between the stars.  But it’s not going to happen in my lifetime, nor is it likely to in the next several centuries.  Looking out into the universe to see what we can learn is great science but, really, we need to focus on making sure we survive as a species, something we seem determined not to do.

We should have had a permanent manned presence on the moon by now.  We have taken all the hard work done to get us to the moon and allowed it to be washed away.  With the end of the space shuttle programme, the country that worked hardest to put a man on the moon now has no way of putting a man in orbit. And we watched and allowed that to happen.

I consider myself to be an orphan of the Apollo project.


A shopper’s tale

I swing the car round the roundabout and through the switch back that leads into the car park.  This is done at 3mph due to the enormously oversized MPV in front which ignores the roundabout entirely and has trouble negotiating the bends.  The MPV indicates right and then drives straight on taking the next right instead, ignoring the No Entry sign.

I take the correct right and swan up and down the car park lanes looking for a free spot, I eventually find one, after removing the stray shopping trolley, and park.  I walk back across to car park to the main entrance smiling slightly at the sight of a traffic jam around the MPV as it tries to park in a space between two badly parked cars. It eventually squeezes in, and one very small woman gets out.

I mentally flip a coin: basket or small trolley.  Tails, small trolley it is. I walk to the main trolley corral and find it empty, I wander to the nearest trolley deposit area and spend a few minutes finding one with steering that attempts to obey the laws of physics.  With my new friend pushed gallantly ahead I walk back to the main entrance.  Fifty meters later the wheels lock solid, immobilising the trolley and tarnishing my soul with the resulting mental swearwords.  I head towards the baskets to find none available and proceed down the checkouts looking for one that’s been abandoned.  Success!  I walk back from checkout 18 to 1, and proceed up the travelator to the upper floor where CDs, DVDs and other housewares are kept.

I walk on to the moving belt and stride upwards.  A woman ahead has parked her trolley right in the center, “excuse me”, and I breathe in and try to squeeze past.  The next obstacle is a small family.  Husband, wife, trolley and 3 crack-fuelled pixie-demons coated in the sticky remains of high-sugar, high-caffeine bribes to stop them sucking the souls out of passers by.  I decide it’s not worth the risk and wait as the belt takes us up to the first floor and the speed of a snail swimming through a bucket of treacle. The pixie-demons emit unspeakable slime.

Looking round at the signs overhead, I spy the section I’m looking for, it’s at the far end of the next aisle.  I turn the corner into the lane and am confronted by the living dead.  A hugely obese woman takes step and slow painful step towards me pushing a trolley, mouth open and respirating heavily.  An item takes her interest; she parks her trolley sideways across the aisle and stares vacantly into the middle distance when suddenly the sounds of souls in extreme external agony come from the empty air.  She answers her mobile phone and her deep concentration of the ensuing conversation means she fails to notice the queue of traffic backing up behind her.  I take the long way round.

The trip back to the food floor is easier; I slalom past the trolleys and manage not to cause serious injury to the kids Heelying down with me.  Must try harder.  I consult my list, just 6 items required but scattered around the store.  I need a plan.

I mentally map out a route that takes me past everything I need, but avoiding the busiest junctions.  Let’s go. Dairy proves no problem, nor the fresh meat, nor the veg.  I narrowly avoid splintering my knee on a trolley being piloted by a 6 year old boy and duck into the Asian food section to be confronted by the entire Indian nation, in miniature.

After a moment, I revise my estimate of the number of children present down from several millions to about 12.  I soon learn to appreciate the training they have been given.  I move to one side and two or three of them cunningly move to block me whilst maintaining the air of innocence. I break right to avoid them and nearly trip over another child who’s moved in to flank me.  Only acrobatics save the kid from the lifelong mutilation of having the wires of a shopping basket imprinted on its face.  I grab the item I need and head for the last section required: wine and beer.

It’s quiet, too quiet.  I hastily pick up the bottle of wine I need and head for the checkout.  With just a few items in my basket I head to the Baskets Only queue and am delighted to find a till with just two people in it, one being served and one waiting.

I should have spotted the trap a mile away.  I am such a fool.

The chap waiting has been there so long that he’s near fossilised.  I peer over his shoulder to examine the situation and glance into someone’s Hell.

An evil harpy crows over the contents of her shopping, picking an item out at random and asking “So how much is this one?” and then “It never said that on the shelf!” after the till jockey blips the item through once more.  “Well I don’t want it, or this one”.  This continues.

Hideous as it is, you have to admire the sheer malignance here.  When shopping on a budget, don’t bother looking at the prices carefully,  just jam as much as you can into a basket, then hit the “10 items or less” queue and debate it with the poor sap manning the checkout. Brilliant.

Several centuries pass, my turn arrives.

“This is buy one get one free.” I awake from my hibernation.  “Hmmm?”   “It’s buy one get one free, and you only have one.”  “That’s okay.”  “I can go get one for you.”  “NOOOOOO! I mean, No, thanks”, avoiding another millennium rooted to the spot. I pay, decline the Computers For Fools vouchers, I leave.

I return to the car and on my way find that a BMW X5 has parked next to the MPV mentioned earlier.  It’s parked by the MPV’s driver side door and I estimate the very small woman will need to slim down to nanometers to get into her car.  It’s tempting to hang around to see the resulting argument but I think I’ve had enough fun for one day.  I go home and start to prepare dinner, chopping the onions mask my tears.

HSBC security nonsense

As has been widely reported, HSBC have rolled out a new security system for personal Internet banking. The requires you to have an Internet Banking ID, a memorable passphrase and a PIN for a small one-time code pad.  I already carry one HSBC token around with me, I have no wish to carry another. The new system is cumbersome beyond belief.  Here’s why:

Worst case logging on to my HSBC business account:

  1. Enter username that I chose.
  2. Enter password that I chose.
  3. Press button on RSA key, enter number into web browser.
  4. I am now logged in.

Worst case logging on to my HSBC personal account:

  1. Enter account number.
  2. Entry sort code.
  3. Enter date of bith.
  4. Enter 3 arbitrary characters from my security number.
  5. Obtain Internet Banking (IB) number.
  6. Enter IB number.
  7. Enter passphrase.
  8. Type a different PIN into OTP pad.
  9. Take number from OTP pad and enter into browser.
  10. I am now logged in.

At best, this process can be shortened to start at step 6. HSBC recommend not writing anything down, your IB number is “IB” then 8ish digits not in any way related to your account number. When setting this up I was asked to set two security questions and answers.

Select from drop-down “father’s middle name”

> John

< Error.

Select from drop-down “pet’s name”

> Lili

< Error.

> Lililili

< Okay!

Aaarrrrrrgghh. So I now have to remember incorrect answers to security questions.  Sure, that’ll work.  I contact HSBC:

Me> Can I use my HSBC business banking token for my personal account?


Me> Can I revert to not using this token at all?


Me> I will close my account if you cannot turn this nonsense off.

HSBC> Sorry, nothing we can do.


After 16 years with HSBC, I am no longer one of their customers.


Hardware review: Samsung Galaxy S2

I was terribly excited by the pre-release information about the Samsung Galaxy S2.  The photos and specs released showed it to be attractive, well featured and light.  Certainly everything I read suggested it would give the iPhone 4 a run for its money and might even give the upcoming iPhone 5 some competition.  I ordered the new handset on an upgrade deal from Orange and breathlessly awaited delivery.

The phone arrives in a box not at all dissimilar to that of an iPhone.  You get the handset, battery, data cable, charger cable and some leaflets.  Extracting the handset from the plastic wrap I immediately noticed the lightness and admired the shape of the phone.  It’s flatter than my iPhone 3GS but a tiny bit wider and longer. I flipped the phone to open the cover and install the battery and, sadly, here’s where the love affair starts to go wrong.

The rear cover is both large and flimsy, and certainly not splash proof.  Removing it had me gritting my teeth fearing I might snap it.  It came off much more easily than I expected due to it being held in by tiny sub-millimetre plastic flanges.  Examining them screamed “FRAGILE!” at me and I mentally added “Substantial case” to my shopping list. Installing the SIM and battery was as easy as you would expect. I crunched the panel back on, no proper insertion angle, just poke two corners in as best you can then press all the way round.

Powering the phone on for the first time put the love affair back on track.  The display is gorgeous.  It’s larger than the iPhone 3GS, nicer looking than iPhone 4, but proportionally takes up about the same percentage of the front of the handset.  The material is called Gorilla Glass and it’s beautifully smooth and slightly cooler than you would expect to the touch.  The surface does seem to take and hold fingerprints more than the iPhone’s, but this was a very hot and sticky day so maybe it was literally just me.

I have not used an Android-based phone before, for the past 2 years I have had an iPhone and before that I had a Blackberry.  I have possibly simply got used to the “Apple” way of doing things.  I am very willing and able to mock Apple products when I feel it’s needed, but one thing Apple usually get right is their user interface.  The S2’s interface is literally the worst I have experienced, a few of the gripes are:

  • No way to group icons.  On the iPhone I drop one icon on top of another, they become a group.
  • No easily accessible app switcher, you have to go menu hunting.
  • All the fonts are way too big, the smallest size is 12pt.
  • Text auto completion is both awful and broken (see below).
  • Pinch-zoom works in some places but not in others.
  • The supplied SMS and email apps are just plain ugly.
  • The email app subscribes me to all my IMAP folders, all 70 or 80, when I would normally want about 6. No unsubscribe option.
  • No strike-out-to-delete-motion facility for emails and text messages.
  • No equivalent to the double-tap-the-title-bar to scroll to the top function.

Some of the stuff mentioned above can be fixed by buying better pieces of software.  However for a £500 piece of kit, i would expect it to perform all the basic functions well and then have pieces of software I can then opt to buy to make things better.  I don’t expect to have to pay to make things work at the bare minimum standard I would expect for £500.

The text auto completion function deserves an entire paragraph of scorn.  Many of you will have used the official Twitter application for your iPhone.  You start a new tweet and you get your onscreen keyboard and an empty text box.  You start typing.  On the iPhone, when it wants to suggest a word you get a balloon come up near the word and you can tap to complete, or tap the X on the corner of the balloon to get rid of the suggestion. On the S2 you start typing and, when a word is suggested, suddenly the text box jumps up the screen and a set of words appear underneath in a really big font.  You type some more, maybe the words disappear and the box jumps back, you type another letter and it jumps again.  I started typing a word, “street’s” I think it was and promptly got into a fight with the predictive text as it doesn’t really seem to understand apostrophes.  We ended up in a bizarre state where it was suggesting “streetsunamis” [sic] and every attempt I made to delete and retype resulted in it not letting me type the word “street’s”.  Arrrrgh.  Let’s turn that off then.

I figured that maybe all the crap littering the phone (like the games that let you play once for free, then want money) might be an Orange branding thing.  So I figured I would wipe the phone and reinstall the OS, thus expunging any Orangey nonsense and letting me see the phone as its manufacturer intended.  Samsung has a piece of software called “Kies” which is kind of like iTunes but more Samsungy.  I went to the Samsung website, downloaded the 77MB installer and installed it.  I then ran it for the first time, without the phone plugged in, and it said “this isn’t the latest version of Kies” and would I like to update.  Blink.  Okay. More stuff is downloaded and installed.

I run the app, it seems to be happy and then I connect the phone.  Except I don’t, because it’s at this point that it’s not a mini USB connector as I had thought and I don’t have the right cable.  Determined not to be dismayed I go and buy the right sodding cable at PC World comedy prices.  I plug the phone in.  “MTP USB device failed to install”, or words to that effect.  I hadn’t rebooted since installing Kies so I do so.  I start Kies, plug the phone in and… same problem.  Googling the error makes me very sad indeed.  At this point I give up.  I simply want a phone that works and syncs stuff to my PC, I don’t want to dick around running a utility to locate files that might have names somehow incompatible with my running OS, or mess around with registry settings because I’m running a 64 bit operating system in the year 2011.  If I can’t run Kies, I can’t wipe the phone and reinstall it.

I’ve called Orange and arranged to return the handset.  It’s a lovely piece of hardware let down by awful third-rate software.


Unethical email marketing from ComShop / digitcom.co.uk

Just a few minutes ago I received an unsolicited commercial email from ComShop / DigitCom. It was a multipart text/html email and I have reposted the HTML part verbatim here.

I don’t recall ever having bought anything from these guys, but I buy a lot of stuff online, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and clicked on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the page.  That’s when I started to get a little suspicious, the URL I was being sent to contained no information that could identify me to the site.  The unsubscribe link points here and, just on the offchance it disappears, I’ve also put it here (the image does not display).  Look at the source, it’s just static HTML.

In other words, their unsubscribe link does nothing at all, whilst claiming you have been unsubscribed.  That’s breathtakingly deceitful.

Enjoy the publicity guys.

An open letter to National Express East Anglia

Hello NXEA,

For the past five working days I have had to deal with your professional handling of what no-one on the planet could have predicted: a bit of snow in winter.  Because of 48 hours, now a week ago, where we had some snow come down, I have now had to deal with 5 straight working days of late running and cancelled trains.  On none of those days was there any significant snowfall.  “Adverse weather conditions” has been your slogan and excuse for pisspoor service leaving us, the pre-paying public, stranded and frustrated at your inability to guess that sometimes there is wintery weather during winter.

Oh but that’s not all. You sprung into action with your special timetable.  In this case “special” meaning that you run fewer services, working on the basis that fewer trains can be run more reliably.   Not one single one of your “special” trains that I was interested in ran on time.  Not one single one.  Indeed several didn’t run at all as they were affected by the “adverse weather conditions” mentioned above.

And then you feckless maniacs decide to add even more Christmas cheer.  You decided at fuck all notice that the last train for my route (Liverpool Steet to Shenfield) shall be at 20.00 on the 24th. Excuse me? What? That’s something like 30 train journeys you’ve decided not to run: Just Like That.  And that’s just on my route. What about workers who finish after 8pm?

Will you be issuing refunds for people affected by this unilateral withdrawal of service?   Of course you won’t.

Just to add to the fun, you guys are going to be upping the cost of my ticket in January.  I will be paying more money for a service that is barely adequate at the best of times, barely acceptable most of the time and non-existent all too often.

National Express East Anglia, you are incompetent fuckwits.  You have no business being in charge of national infrastructure.  There appears not to be one mild excess of weather you are capable of dealing with.  Too much rain in spring, too much heat in summer, pesky leaves in autumn and cold days in winter.  I have simply no idea how you plan to cope with the predicted number of people wanting to travel to Stratford for the 2012 Olympics.  Fortunately, I plan to be elsewhere during that period.

Did I mention that you’re incompetent fuckwits?