Media in concerted racist christianphobic rant

I’ve just been listening to a DUP representative being given a hard time on Radio 4’s Today program over his religious views. How could May work with these bigots?

Actually, their views are taken direct from the Christian Bible, and somewhat watered down at that. Yet their religious convictions are considered fair game.

Compare and contrast the media treatment of politicians from other religions, which can basically be summarized as deferential respect.

So the Bible comes out strongly against abortion, homosexuality and a lot of stuff that modern society considers perfectly acceptable. The people are entitled to vote for representatives holding whatever views they like, and in Northern Ireland these views are mainstream. The Catholic church uses the same Bible, and Mohammedans have similar rules written down. The media says nothing to them.

Sadiq Khan, socialist mayor of London, happens to be a Muslim. This doesn’t appear to have bothered the people who elected him, but does seem of concern to some people. However, his religion-inspired views are unknown because they’re off-limits to the media. Personally, I doubt I’d have a problem with them although I find non-scientific views in general problematic. However, neither I nor his critics have ever even heard them. By not questioning everyone to the same standard the media leaves the public to draw conclusions that may be wholly unjustified.

But the BBC sees fit to attack representatives of one group and question their beliefs.

And spare a thought for poor Tim Farron, Christian leader of the Liberal Democrats. The media was obsessed with asking him if homosexuality was a sin. Of course it’s a sin; it says it’s a sin in the Bible. So are a lot of other things, like feeling jealous of someone. If you follow Christian teaching, everyone’s a sinner (baby), including homosexuals. So what? This line of questioning was very unfair indeed, as non-Christians would have a completely different understanding of the answer. And I’d hazard a guess that most Christians don’t understand their religion that well either.

Now I’m not against questioning religious beliefs. But it has to be ALL religious beliefs. If people wish to elect representatives who are also guided by a particular religion that’s their right; it’s how our democracy works. But unequal treatment of religions by the media cannot be allowed.

Blue Whale Challenge

Blue Whale at the Marine Life Hall, American Museum of Natural History
This is a blue whale. Nothing to do with the latest chain letter hoax.
People seem to be getting really worked up about a so-called “Blue Whale Challenge” social media game. And understandably so – it’s a game where vulnerable children are targeted and given progressive challenge, culminating in something that will kill them.

I saw this first a couple of months ago, and each time it turns up the lurid details have been embellished further. It sounds too macabre to be true. And it’s not.

About a year ago someone in Russia published an on-line article hoping to explain the high number of teenage suicides in the country, and blaming it on the Internet. Apparently a statistically significant number of teenagers belonging to one particular on-line group had died; the on-line group must therefore be to blame.

Wrong! If you have an on-line group of depressed teenagers then you are going to have a higher proportion of suicides amongst them. The writers have confused cause and effect.

However, facts never got in the way of a good lurid story and this one seems to have bounced around Russia for most of 2016, where it morphed into an evil on-line challenge game. It then jumped the language gap to English in winter 2017.

The story spreads as a cautionary tale, with the suggestion that you should pass it on to everyone you know so they can check their kids for early signs they are being targeted (specifically, cutting a picture of a whale in to their arm). In other words, a classic email urban legend. It’s only a matter of time before the neighbourhood watch people add it to their newsletters.

Update:

The Daily Mail has reported this as fact, so I must be wrong and it must be true. Or perhaps I’m right and they have nothing to back their carefully worded account. Wouldn’t be the first time…

 

 

BT Internet Mail Fail (again)

BT Internet’s email system is broken AGAIN. It rejects everything it gets as “spam” (554 Message rejected, policy (3.2.1.1) – Your message looks like SPAM or has been reported as SPAM please read…)

Having checked against blacklists, and sent perfectly innocuous test text messages to friends account, it’s definitely busted.

My advice to anyone using BT Internet for important email is to get a proper account with a proper provider (or handle your email in-house if your name is not Fred and you don’t work from a shed).

New DVLA on-line system is broken

Why can’t companies implementing government on-line systems actually get anything right? And if they must mess things up, why can’t they do it in private? The new DVLA system is broken. They ought to have tested it in-house, without launching a beta version on the public. Seriously, do they not know what a beta version is for?

My experience – I went through and entered all the details, paid, and got this:


It’s now impossible to tell whether it’s taken payment from the card or not. Okay, this appears to be an external system that’s screwed up BUT it’s not be handled properly. Basic rule of data communications – Assume the link will be corrupted and cope with it.

AO.com extended warranty – the hard sell

Our 1997 AEG Lavamat washing machine is demised. The motor finally gave up the ghost, and Electrolux (AEG) no longer stocks the spares – and even if they did, the cost of buying a new motor for such an old machine is debatable. AEG and Samsung make the machines that clean the best (according to Consumers Association tests), so another AEG it was. Unfortunately our local shop, Ruislip Appliances, is shut for the holidays so on-line shopping it was, and  AO.com had a suitable replacement that can be delivered next day. And helpfully, they agreed to take away an old dishwasher too, having paid to take away the old washing machine.

To get the latter deal, I had to order by telephone. After concluding this, the guy on the end launched in to explaining the fabulous after-care service they offered – at a price. Basically they’ll fix stuff that’s “not covered by the warranty”, such as accidental damage and bits wearing out – like bearings and door seals. Eh? Doesn’t the AEG warranty cover premature failure of non-consumable items? If a car was warranted for a year and you wheel bearings wore out just because you were driving it (reasonable distances) then you’d expect it to be fixed. Tyres are another matter; they’re consumable.

I checked the AEG warranty exclusions, and nothing like this was excluded. Basically commercial use, improper use and accidental damage. Anything else they’d fix. And their warranty lasts five years – which tells me they reckon their product won’t break down and have the data to prove it.

AO.com’s warranty excludes stuff covered by the manufacturers warranty, so that leaves very little to cover. “Ah yes, but if we can’t fix it we’ll give you a new comparable model!”. AEG would have to do the same, if it came to it. But if you read their T+C, AO.com will only do this as a last resort and they will automatically cancel your policy.

So for this little extra protection, how much did they want? Well to cover this £500 washing machine for five years it worked out at £450. Basically, where their warranty takes over from AEG’s, you’ll have already paid out the cost of a new one. If the machine was a write-off after ten years (reasonable for an AEG machine), you’d have paid for a new one twice over.

The warranties are actually called product protection plans internally, and they’re sold by AO on behalf of a third party – Domestic and General Services Ltd. They administer the plans, collect the money from the customers and pay a commission to AO

In Y/E 2014, AO.com sold £18m worth of these dubious warranties, and the value is increasing. They’ve been a bit coy about mentioning the figures in subsequent published accounts. If you’re the kind of person that’s totally unable to save up for a new appliance, it may be worth it as a saving scheme – a sort of pre-paid expensive credit option. If you pay up-front for what you buy it’s as much use as a cardboard washing machine.

I feel an OFT investigation coming on. Followed by “haveigotao.com” and similar sites.

One of the significant risks to AO Group’s future is desertion by customers (according to their Annual Report and Accounts 2015). I’m afraid the hard-sell of a dodgy product on the telephone during my first order left me questioning whether I wanted to deal with these people then, or ever again. They don’t have a price advantage over local independent dealers, and I don’t get taken for a fool by the locals either.

Other impressions of AO were good. But the washing machine hasn’t turned up yet!

No More Mr Nice Guy

Ever since I was Tech Ed on PCW (1991?), strange people have beaten a path to my door with a their domestic computer problems. Solving them was, for ten years, a good source of material for my column but that was in the 1990’s. Yet still them come. And still I help them. Why? Well I know if they took their precious data anywhere else it’d either cost more than they could afford, or they’d be ripped off and lose their data too. And I’d rather recover it before the mobile phone unlockers on the High Street made it harder.

So why is it that when you’re doing some people a favour they feel they have the right to telephone you for progress reports? Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth,

One recent example is an elderly lady who’s PC World special laptop threw a shoe. I don’t know her, but a we had a mutual friend who asked if I’d help her out. This is not uncommon.

So along I go and take a look at it. Standard stuff – Windows is a mess and it won’t boot. After about an hour of trying, it almost boots but I opt for a System Restore as I really can’t stay any longer. “Call me in the morning and let me know what it says.”

I make it a rule NEVER to have a freebie fix in my workshop. People used to turn up and leave broken kit on my doorstep for “when I have time”. I also have to figure out what’s wrong with it the hard way. I don’t mind making the odd house-call for a worthy cause, but the kit stays with its owner. Period.

So what does she do? Call me in the morning? No! It turns out she’d get around my rule of not taking freebies back to base by leaving the laptop with our mutual friend. Then some time later she called me to see how I was getting on. Eh? First I’d heard she left it.

At the next opportunity I picked it up, against my better judgement, an spent an overnight session trying to sort it. I then had my proper work to do. And she called again. And after I’d spent all that time and effort on it came out with the immortal words “Well I don’t want to take your time up so why don’t I just take it to the [mobile phone unlockers] in the High Street. In other words, I know this is a freebee but so I’m going to use emotional blackmail to get you to hurry up.

I’m fed up of this game. I’ve seen it often enough. So I called her bluff. Let our mutual friend sort it out – I’m not touching it again with a barge pole. I’ve wasted about ten hours on it, I shall waste not a second more. Except I couldn’t help myself; someone told me she’d been unwell in hospital and I went soft.

And today she called me again. I could feel myself losing my cool, so I ended up asking her to sort out out with our friend and hung up before I blew. Ironically, her disk had been on the analyser, in place of paid work, for the last couple of days (as you may or may not know, data recovery systems can take long time to run if the disk is trashed).

And as I write this, she calls again (perfect timing) with more emotional blackmail. I apologize she caught me at a bad time earlier, but that she needed to understand… Then she gets down-right rude. I point out I’ve spent ten hours working on her machine and she might consider she’s out of order; she says “I beg your pardon…” so I just have to hang up. Her attitude is not pardonable.

I really don’t need all this. So if anyone is thinking of dumping some kit on my doorstep for a freebee, think again!

 

Enough with this “Trump Crashes Immigration Site” rubbish!

Ha Ha Ha! On Wednesday, Canada’s web site for prospective immigrants crashed due to the weight of American’s trying to escape from a USA run by Donald Trump. Really? Now other immigration sites such as New Zealand are reporting similar problems and certain some media outlets are lapping it up.

It’s a funny story, but I suspect that it’s too good for some people to check the facts.

There are two possibilities here:

  1. A load of American’s panicked suddenly.
  2. Some jokers decided a DDoS attack at this point to make it appear American’s were panicking would me funny

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I think option two is way more likely. People have been joking about the “move to Canada” option for months.

A-Level scrappage scheme – Tony Robinson dug up to condem it

Earlier this week AQA scrapped the A-Level in Art History, and today Archeology got the chop too. The luvvies at the BBC decided to get some expert comment about this act of cultural vandalism, and naturally turned to one of their own – Left-wing comedian and actor, (Sir) Tony Robinson. He’s keen on archeology, having made some reality TV show about it. However, he was knighted for his services to politics, having been a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee. So who better to discuss it?

Sir Tony was, unsurprisingly, keen to blather on without any balance, roundly condemning AQA for their decision. He knows a lot about education; after pre-school he went to a grammer where it scraped four ‘O’ Levels, and dropped out of ‘A’s.

Unfortunately Sir Tony couldn’t directly criticise the government as it was the exam board decided to drop it, but it didn’t stop him trying. And for balance, they dug up a professor of archaeology too – not a luvvie, but definitely an academic.

The argument made by this brace of lefties is that scrapping subjects like this means poor people going to state schools won’t have the chance to study these subjects. A view that wasn’t questioned. Well I’ll question it – if AQA has scrapped it, no one can do it.

Apparently it was also “limiting choice” to concentrate on core subjects. This stands no scrutiny. Hardly any schools offer A-levels in these subjects anyway, as no one wants to do them and even if they did, there is no one to teach them. If you have a love of a subject, go and study it yourself. Apparently, last year only 400 students took Archeology.

No one was keen to make the opposite case; that such A-Levels are a really bad idea. You can go on to study a degree in archeology without having done an A-Level in it; you just need a brain and the ability to think critically. You can get that by studying anything difficult. You don’t need to be spoon-fed a subject to “try it out”, all you need to do is go to the library and read some books.

Having A-Levels in weird subjects is actually a bad thing, in my view. People may choose to do them. In itself that’s fine, but human nature leads to many choosing the easy ride. In at least one private school I know of, most of the pupils leave with an A-Level in Scripture (Religious Studies). It’s an easy one to get and boosts the A-level tally.

So what happens when you take your A-Level in Media Studies, Archeology and Divinity to university? Do they prepare you for a degree course? Well, it might for a degree Archeology, but so would self-study and a love of the subject combined with an A-Levels in Maths and Physics. THat’s true of practically any subject at degree level.

The result of the current ridiculous situation is this: I have people trying to study for a degree in Computer Science who are unable to write a proper sentence in English. Their basic arithmetic skills are almost non-existent; and as for mathematics: forget it! And, surprise, surprise, they got on the course using A-Levels in soft subjects, so they don’t know how to study anything hard.

Bring on the A-Level scrappage scheme.

The Royal Mail is Doomed

Britain without the Royal Mail? ThRoyal Mailat’d be, well, un-British. But, like Woolworths, it’s coming to the end of its natural life after 500 years.

Realising this, it was sold out of public ownership in 2013 in the hope this would give it the flexibility to adapt and change with the times. Form most of its life it’s existed to provide communication in the form of letters. It survived the introduction of the telephone – in fact it used to run that too, messed it up and had that part of the business privatised as British Telecom in the 1981. This didn’t stop BT doing some odd things (like selling the division running these new-fangled mobile phones), but it has replaced the dwindling demand for fix-line domestic telephone calls by selling infrastructure of networking instead. BT are doing rather well at it.

Fax, and then email, has really put a dent in written communication. Who sends letters any more (apart from idiots)? However, the Internet has resulted in a massive boom in on-line commerce, and physical products still need delivery to the purchaser. Royal Mail plc needs to re-invent itself as a delivery company, and use its existing infrastructure to do it better than the start-ups who are filling the void. Unfortunately it’s doing spectacularly badly at this, whatever it’s accounts say.

Hereabouts, our two nearest Post Offices are closing, in spite of there still being a demand. There’s always a queue. The Post Office was their advantage – you could visit it to drop off a parcel and pay the postage on it at the same time. If you can’t do this, you may as well have an account with some other carrier, who’ll pick up from your premises without any fuss. Royal Mail will, if you’re big enough.

But the big problem they have is delivery. With another courier, it’s not a problem. They’ll always follow instructions and leave it across the road, where we have an agreement to take each others’ deliveries. Not a problem. If that doesn’t work they drive past a few hours later and there’s always someone around to handle it.

But Royal Mail has a “better idea”. They stuff a card into your post box telling you to collect your parcel the following day, from your local Post Office. (The one they’re just closing) And your local Post Office parcel department is only available until noon.

Whilst I like my local postman, and the people in the parcel office, the reality is that other shipping companies provide a much better service whereas they’re constrained by crazy working practices, partly fought for by their own trade union.

Unless Royal Mail can get parcel delivery right, by delivering the things to the address the sender intended, when they intended it, they’re going to be stuck with operating an almost pointless shrinking letter service, and eventually decreasing economies of scale will mean the competition can do that cheaper too.

How fraudulent sellers operate on Amazon

Mail order fraud is nothing new. There’s the apocryphal story from the 1950’s, and probably earlier, of the newspaper advert for Ever-lasting Slug Killer, “guaranteed to kill slugs indefinitely”. Respondents received two rocks, with instructions to place the slug on the first one and hit it with the second.

Consumer protection laws in the 1970’s and European distance selling regulations have rendered this kind of scam difficult. If the product you deliver isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, or even if it is, the purchaser has the right to reject it when they see it. Therefore there’s no point in delivering tat; you might as well not send anything. Ebay has been plagued by such scams, and there are now plenty on Amazon too.

To combat this, Ebay has policies that mean if the buyer complains, the seller doesn’t get the money. This has lead to the reverse-scam, where bogus buyers order something and then claim it didn’t arrive, and this has put a lot of sellers off using Ebay.

Amazon has a similar dispute resolution procedure, but in my experience, has a team of people with functional brains who can tell the difference between a wrong’un and a victim. Eventually.

You can see two common forms of scam on Amazon: Crazy price and Non-delivery.

Taking the second first; given that you don’t deliver the goods, how do you get the money? Without actually testing the theory I can’t prove this works, but I imagine it goes something like this:

  1. Set up as a seller, and pretend to be somewhere like China – long distance shipping.
  2. Find big-selling products and list them yourself, but at a slightly lower price than the other sellers.
  3. Wait for the orders to roll in, and then delay. Firstly, don’t ship immediately and then when you do, set as long a delivery window as allowed.
  4. Run off with the money.

This works because of step 3. Amazon doesn’t allow you to report a seller when you spot something merely suspicious, so they can keep selling stuff for several weeks before Amazon has the chance to investigate. The complaints procedure only allows you to report non-delivery AFTER the last date specified by the bogus seller when they ship it.

The thing is that bogus sellers like this are possible to spot before this. The extended delivery time is a first warning, and you can then research the range of products sold and how plausible it is that they’re cheaper than anyone else for the same product. Picking the cheapest supplier is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, especially when there are several scammers offering similar prices for fast moving items. Who would check further?

The other scam involves putting small items on at a crazy price, often a hundred times their real value. It’s quite conceivable that someone in a hurry wouldn’t notice they’d bought a small item at completely the wrong price. I’ve been noticing these sellers for several years, and out of public spirit, I’ve reported them to Amazon staff and they’ve disappeared shortly afterwards, with a note thanking me for bringing them to their attention.

Having never fallen foul of a crazy-price scammer, I don’t actually know how the problem gets resolved if you do buy something. Under contract law, if you’ve agreed a price and they’ve delivered your picture hook for £120+£50 delivery, you don’t have a claim. I see nothing Amazon can actually do about this, other than refund the buyer out of its own pocket and strike the seller off. Amazon’s lawyers may have something more creative.

However, even if the scammer only has one sale before being shut down, if that nets them £200 it’s going to be worth it.

As for the non-delivery scam, I don’t know how possible it is for the criminals to get away with the money. Amazon can’t hold on to it indefinitely, and will have to hand it to the seller at some point. Even if Amazon holds it until the latest delivery date, people aren’t going to flag it as fraudulent immediately – especially as the latest delivery date could be months later.

It ought to be fairly easy to spot these bogus sellers automatically by heuristics, and it’s high time Amazon put some effort in it. Perhaps they’re making so much money they’d rather write it all off.