Mobile Woes

[Note] Following on from further contact with O2, there’s an update at the end of this post.

It’s not been a good week for my adventures in the mobile phone world. Those who know me know that over the years I’ve taken a keen interest in the industry – mainly the handset end rather than the operator but equally with the rise of every other new phone being announced being a variant on ‘ooh look, another touchscreen slab’ that my interest has waned somewhat of late.

However handsets aside which my current pair serve my needs satisfactorily I’ve been generally happy in the world of mobiles, if not particularly enthused.

That was however till last week when I got a text message from T-Mobile saying I’d reached 80% of my data allowance – which is one of those ‘Unlimited but we really mean 1GB’ types.

Then a couple of days later I received a message saying I’d exceeded it and my browsing would be restricted. How I’d managed to exceed 1GB of data in the space of a fortnight is a mystery as having been a long time user of mobile data – which basically means I discovered mobile internet before the first Iphone came out I’ve stuck with the practices of old in terms of knowing the tricks of how to keep my usage down and as my phone’s log says I’ve used just shy of 4GB for the entirety of it’s existence (18 months) how 1GB of that is from the last fortnight is bizarre.

A phone call to T-Mobile’s customer service basically resulted in a ‘We can’t do anything because we don’t keep any records of your data usage because it’s against the Data Protection Act’ answer which is complete cobblers as they then informed me it would take two weeks to investigate why their system thought I’d gone over – which by definition means they must keep a record of data usage and if it is against the DPA then why does O2 list all my data connections and amount used on my bill then?

So I chalked that down to poor quality customer care and perhaps when that contract expires next year that’ll be one to change to another supplier.

My first thought would be to change it to O2 because generally speaking I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for the last 15 years although I have to admit I had become more disappointed with their home broadband of late but they’re mobile section I was still pretty happy with (which incidentally is up for renewal next month and I may go shopping around for). The Phone Coop looking like a good contender in those stakes.

That general happiness came to an end this morning when I got my bill. Now just for the record, it’s normally £11.50 unless I do something that is chargeable like sending an international text or on roaming, which after our holiday’s in Germany this August I have to also admit I don’t particularly like the way O2 do their charging policy for roaming. T-Mobile’s in that sense are far better although neither are completely within the spirit of how the EU’s instructions to operators should work in my opinion.

However this morning my bill came in at £18.27. Checking I hadn’t done anything unusual it would appear that the addition plus a bit of VAT on top came from this section of the bill – my extras.

o2 bill

Yes, not only had O2 added a fiver’s worth of charges for “The All Rounder Data Plan” they also seemed fit to recognise my 15 years of custom with a ‘Loyalty Discount’ charge of £1.48.

A call to O2′s customer service obviously ensued. Apparently I’d come to the end of my contract and they’d decided that to get exactly the same service as last month that they’d up my charges by 63%. Not bad work if you can get it. I wish I could up my customers charges by that amount.

The end of the call effectively resulted in me agreeing to a new 12 month contract at £20 a month as it works out cheaper than the £15.50 contract over 12 months as the first 3 are free.

After this a cheeky tweet awarding ‘Crafty Capitalist of the month’ came to the attention of O2′s Twitter account.

I’d just like to explain why this is crafty. To keep a bill around what I currently pay I’d have to agree to a contract with 100MB a month allowance. Now I’m fairly thrifty as I mentioned above but 100MB a month for any smartphone user who gets out and about a bit is pushing it to the point of near impossibility. For the record my last months usage was 158MB – low by many people’s standards but outside this new tariff.

So I’m basically pushed out of my current tariff price range by a crafty change in the data allowance and here’s where O2 really are taking the proverbial. The next step in their data allowance is 500MB which puts you in the £15.50 a month category but hey presto we’ve got a deal that works out cheaper and before you know it you’re into a £20 a month contract which a few years ago would have got you a free phone upgrade to boot even on a 12 month contract.

What is interesting though is that, having a quick check. T-Mobile and Vodafone offer 250MB allowances. Something that would probably fit my usage pattern for £10 or £10.50 respectively. Each with more minutes although not unlimited texts but just while we’re at it, I used 44 minutes and sent the shockingly high number of 13 texts last month. Put simple, I think O2 do very well out of me already taking into account my usage. Data excluded as it wasn’t really about back then, I probably got a better deal out of Radiolinja in Finland back in 1999 where I presume the relative costs of running networks would have fallen with better technology over the years.

Anyway, O2 contacted me via Twitter and after a few tweets back and forth pointed me in the direction of their online web-based chat sessions help section. Which I spent about an hour of today effectively getting nowhere and in some respects coming away with a more negative impression. Take a read, here’s the transcript of that chat: (With a few obvious personal data bits and bobs redacted of course)

*************START***************

Welcome to O2. Someone will be with you soon.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

Hold that thought. You’re not connected yet.

You’re through to ‘O2 – Asma’

Asma: Hi I’m O2 – Asma. How can I help?

Gareth Walker: Your people on your Twitter stream said I should come here.

Asma: Okay.

Asma: How can I help you?

Gareth Walker: It was in response to a tweet I did about you effectively increasing the cost of my monthly bill by nearly 50% for the same services without informing me and adding insult to injury by adding £1.68 to my bill under the header ‘Loyalty Bonus’. Being charged for being a loyal customer for 15 years is rather insulting.

Asma: I’m sorry to know this.

Asma: let me check this for you.

Gareth Walker: Thank you.

Asma: Please can you tell me the 1st and 4th characters of your security answer?

Gareth Walker: ? and ?.

Asma: That’s perfect.

Asma: Thanks for the information. Please give me a few minutes while I check this for you.

Asma: Thanks for waiting.

Asma: Gareth, I see that your current bill is for £18.27

Asma: Your monthly tariff is for £20

Gareth Walker: Yes. It’s normally £11.50. This changed without me being informed.

Asma: Your tariff was changed on ??/06/2011 for unlimited tariff for £20

Gareth Walker: It will be after who I spoke to this morning although looking around at other suppliers and given I have a 7 day cooling off period I may well go elsewhere.

Asma: Let me check this for you.

Asma: Thanks for waiting.

Asma: I see that you spoked to Upgrades team in morning is that correct?

Gareth Walker: I spoke to two different people, presumably billing and someone else yes.

Asma: Okay.

Asma: Thanks for confirming.

Asma: I see that the request is still inprocess.

Asma: They’ve kept your account on hold for investigation.

Asma: Our Support team will contact you once the request is

processed.

Asma: You can also contact them and check this with them.

Gareth Walker: Erm, what are they investigating exactly?

Asma: The charges and the upgrade when your contract was upgrade for unlimited tariff for £20

Asma: You can speak them and they’ll help you with full details.

Asma: Shall I help you with the number?

Asma: I haven’t heard from you for a while. Are you still there?

Gareth Walker: I’m not quite sure where this conversation is going. I was referred here by the people who run the @O2 twitter account. It doesn’t really address the central problem that you are effectively forcing a near 50% increase on my tariff for the same services I had last month and actually by nature of the way your plans are set up effectively shoe-horning people into £20 a month 12 month tariffs. This is quite disgusting in my opinion and despite I’ve been a loyal customer for 15 years I look around the marketplace and I can get a better deal than this.

Asma: I’m sorry about this.

Asma: I can see that your prices have been increased due to upgrading the tariff.

Gareth Walker: They weren’t increased due to upgrading the tariff. That was the position I was forced into this morning on the back of receiving a bill where you had charged me around 75% more than I normally pay without my prior knowledge or agreement.

Asma: Let me chekc this.

Asma: Thanks for waiting.

Asma: I’m sorry but as per our terms and conditions clearly state that we may increase or decrease our charges from time to time but our monthly contract prices haven’t increased mid-term.

Gareth Walker: So are you basically saying that I’m wasting my time and I may as well just switch to someone else to get a better deal?

Asma: Gareth, I understand your concern and I completely agree to this.

Asma: I’d request you to contact our Support team and they’ll check this for you.

Gareth Walker: Could you give me my PAC code please.

Asma: Let me check this for you.

Asma: Thanks for waiting.

Asma: Gareth, your contract ends on ??/112013, if you cancel the contract in between you’ll be charged early termination charges for it.

Asma: Are you okay with the charges?

Gareth Walker: I don’t think I will be. You are referring to the fact that I agreed a new contract this morning that has a 7 day cooling off period on it or are you suggesting that the information one of your representatives gave me this morning is incorrect?

Asma: Gareth, last upgrade on your account was on ??/05/2011.

Asma: Have you placed any order today or yesterday?

Gareth Walker: Can you tell me what ‘upgrade’ that was? The last upgrade (handset terms) I had from you was a Nokia E90 that was sometime around mid-2008.

Asma: It was Simplicity upgrade.

Gareth Walker: I also already explained that I had changed the contract this morning but it has a 7 day cooling off period.

Asma: The tariff was upgrade on ??/05/2011 to £20

Gareth Walker: OK, if you’re talking the Simplicity yes perhaps but it was not for £20, was for £11.50 and was a 12 month contract with the option to upgrade at any time.

Asma: Yes that’s true you can upgrade early than your contract end date.

Asma: As per the offer you can upgrade on ??/02/2013

Asma: Gareth, I’d request you to contact our 7 days return team and they’ll cancel the contract for you.

Asma: I see that £20 unlimited tariff upgrade was done today on ??/11/2012 at 10:09:35.

Asma: If you don’t wish to have this tariff you can change it and get a new one without any charges.

Gareth Walker: Hang on. I think something is seriously wrong at your end. You are contradicting yourself. If as you say I went on a 12 month contract on ??/05/2011 and that presumably was automatically renewed as another 12 month contract in May this year then I would currently be 5 months into that contract so you are increasing my charges mid-term. Therefore where does this contract ends in exactly a year’s time date come from. If it comes from the 12 month contract I agreed to this morning with the 7 day cooling off period which would look likely then why do you give me an upgrade date in February as your representative this morning told me that it was only possible to upgrade after 6 months which would put that date in May next year.

Asma: Gareth, I guess there’s some confussion.

Asma: let start again.

Asma: I’ll explain it to you.

Asma: Have you upgrade your contract today for £20 unlimited tariff?

Gareth Walker: Yes.

Asma: Thanks for confirming.

Asma: You can cancel your contract within 7 days cooling off period without incurring any extra charges.

Asma: Is that fine with you?

Gareth Walker: It’s fine that I can cancel it within 7 days – I was told that this morning and fully understand that.

Asma: Thanks.

Asma: Do you want to me to check your bill that is for £18.27?

Gareth Walker: You can if you want.

Asma: Sure.

Asma: The bill that you received for £18.27 is for the new tariff that you upgrade.

Asma: If you cancel your contract within 7 days this charges will be credited back to your account.

Asma: I haven’t heard from you for a while. Are you still there?

Gareth Walker: How is that possible? I received the bill this morning – hence my calling your contact centre. As a result of that call I upgraded. Or are you saying that without my knowledge or consent you put me on a £20 a month tariff? If so why does my bills say: “Your tariffs – O2 Simplicity 300 12 month with O2 Travel £8.75″. ?

Asma: Gareth, I’m sorry for all the confussion.

Asma: Can you please contact our Support team and they’ll speak to you about this.

Asma: I guess they can explain you manually.

Gareth Walker: OK. Thank you for your time.

***********END**********

Where from here I don’t know. O2′s Twitter account contacted me again when I tweeted I’d got nowhere. In fairness to them they offered to DM but to be frank, it’s a little more complex than 140 characters can afford hence the post. Let’s see if they get back. If not, well 7 days to have a butchers at the market but it would be a shame after 15 years of custom for it all to end like this.

[Update]

A victory for social media over corporate call centres. There’s probably a lesson in here somewhere about how use of social media by companies, or even the public sector can be more reactive and to customer/residents needs. Following on from publishing this post O2 got back to me on Twitter and sorted out someone to call me. The upshot, a reasonable discount on the contract that leave me happy and them still with me as a customer for another year. So thanks O2, I do appreciate it and credit where credit’s due.

CCL Computers and the case of the well, crap case

Hi folks, yeah, the blog isn’t dead although for the amount of attention I give it sometimes it might as well be but it comes in handy at times like this when illuminating more than the 140 characters that Twitter allows.

So I thought I’d like to share a little something with you. I’ve been a longstanding customer of CCL Computers. Barring the motherboard and RAM, all the other components in my current desktop I purchased from them including the monitor. I’ve always been very happy with their service and quality of products which probably makes this all the worse.

You see, if it had been a first purchase and I’d received the pitiful excuse of a desktop computer that they sent me then I’d have just chalked it down to yet another poor quality merchant, sent it back, got my money and gone elsewhere, but when you’ve ordered stuff from a company over the years you build up a trust relationship. When that comes crashing to the ground it hurts, especially when you’ve recommended them to friends as a good and trusted supplier.

However, I have a sorry tale to tell about my recent experience with CCL Computers that I’d like to share.

A couple of weeks ago the computer used as the main office PC for an organisation run by a friend of mine broke. Technically it didn’t, the OS, Windows XP went completely tits up to the point of it being impossible to restore and the system restore discs seem to have disappeared too. So it was a case of grabbing a copy of Windows 7 to put on it or just take the opportunity to do an upgrade. The system in question was about 8 years old and would cost more to upgrade to make it capable of running Windows 7 than simply getting a new one. So with all his files safely recoved by the use of a Live Linux CD we decided to do a full blown new purchase.

Now my friend in question was due to go off abroad on holiday over Christmas so he woudn’t be around to receive collection of a new machine so we decided to order him a new computer, a proper Vanilla version of Windows 7 and Office Pro 2007 and I’d set it all up for him while he’s away. He’s back soon btw and expecting a fully functional computer that I promised him.

We found the PC we wanted from CCL Computers, made a few adjustments to specs and tried to place an order but we couldn’t specify a different delivery address as apparently, and this is quite reasonable from an anti-fraud perspective; you can’t do this on a first purchase after registering an account.

So, we went to the extra trouble of contacting our bank, thankfully we have the same one and getting the money transferred from his account to mine so that I could purchase the machine on his behalf and get it delivered to my address.

It came the other week.

I took it out the box and put it on the kitchen surface. It wobbled. I inspected it, one of the leg pins was bent in so it wouldn’t stand straight. Then I looked at it a bit closer, the back panel section was bent quite considerably outwards to the point where you would have problems plugging the cables into the interface sockets on the motherboard. Then I looked even closer, the top of the one side of the case at the rear was completely buckled in.

OK I thought after also spotting that the polystyrene surround in the packaging was also damaged, this thing has been dropped quite heavily, or something heavy dropped on it. Hey, it’s Christmas, the weather’s interferring with deliveries up and down the land, accidents do happen.

So, I called up CCL Computers on the phone, explained what I thought had happened and they said no problem, we’ll get someone to pick it up and they’ll sort it out. Great I thought. I explained the situation, that I was on a timescale in getting this thing up and running for my friend’s return and they said they’d be as quick as they can.

It got picked up. I got an e-mail confirming they’d received the unit for inspection. Then, rather surprisingly, the following day I received the computer back. Wow, great turnaround service I thought. That was until I took it out the box and put it on the kitchen surface. It wobbled and rocked. The backplate still stuck out from the connectors on the motherboard.

At first I thought they’d just sent exactly the same computer back. I got on the phone. This was Christmas Eve btw.

I was told the case had been changed. I looked carefully at it, yes the buckle in the case at the top was no longer present. So this was a new case with the same wonkey leg and buckled out backplate? Apparently yes I was told, they’re quite cheap cases so the guy on the other said and if I wanted better I’d have to pay more money.

Now I’ll admit I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I’ve been building computers right since it was pretty much possible to do it with more standard components. Since 1992 in fact. In that time I’ve seen some ‘cheap cases’, one’s which to be frank, I would fancy dropping but in all that time, I’ve never seen even the cheapest or nastiest of cases that came brand new incapable of standing up straight on a flat surface or that has a backplate so bent outwards that it actual inhibits the ability to stick the cables in the motherboard. I’m not sure if it’s just me or my age but when exactly was a case that stands straight or has a non-buckled backplate considered to be a premium quality of PC’s that you should expect to pay extra for.

They asked if I could send them pictures, I did one better and did a video and posted it to Youtube. It’s at the end of this post. I’ve tweeted at them, sent them a message via their online submission form on their website to get in touch. As yet they haven’t. Well, it is Christmas time after all so I’m reasonable to give them a bit of a break but it’s Tuesday now and still nothing.

I’ll give them another couple of hours and then I’ll be on the phone. They said they couldn’t collect till Thursday anyway when I spoke to them but as things stand, I fear I can do nothing more than send this piece of crap back, get my money, go elsewhere and drop them on the blacklist of companies I’ll never bother doing business with again which is a real shame.

The problem is now, I’m going to have to source another machine, get it delivered and what’s the chance they’re not going to refund my money straight away so I’m going to be forced into raiding the savings (yes it is just after Christmas and like everyone else I’m skint) just to be able to get a new machine up and running before my friend returns from holiday.

Thank you so much for all this hassle and fuss CCL Computers. Just because you couldn’t supply me with a computer in a case that wasn’t a load of old crap. I also have a tip; this is exactly the kind of practice that turns good longstanding customers like myself who have recommended you to friends into people who never want to do business with you again, and will tell their friends why.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZQS1LrtskQ[/youtube]

Some ponderous thoughts on mobile phones

I have a confession to make. I’m an addict. Since I first owned a mobile phone in 1997 I have diligently upgraded my handset at every available opportunity. As soon as the contract runs out I get these little pangs of anticipation and an insatiable urge to start looking around for something new.

This is in many respects completely out of character to the rest of my persona. I’m a consummate re-user of old bits of stuff. I had (still do) a Sony Walkman circa 1989 that was by default music player right up until I first got a mobile phone with an FM radio on it sometime around 2001. I keep bits of old wood (much to Mrs Penguin’s annoyance) on the off-chance they might come in useful one day for something and absolutely everything else in my consumer habits from computers, to tellies (got a Decca Colour that is at least 27 years old) through to clothes I will make do and mend or use till completely knackered and or unrepairable.

Partly this is down to a desire to not overly impact upon the natural resources of our little planet but mostly it’s down to being brought up that way – poor.

So without too many other aspects of my consumer lifestyle being dominated by a constant desire to buy more, mobiles are the one little vice in life and I’m happy to admit it.

The point of this post is more thinking out aloud rather than anything else because it’s that time again. My contract expired a month ago and I’m getting the shakes again for a new handset. The only problem this time around is that with all my previous upgrades there’s always been something more alluring knocking around and with equal measure, something about my current handset that I could pick fault with (with the exception of my first ever phone) but that’s really not the case this time around.

So without further ado, I thought it would be helpful to do a bit of a rundown and comment on every handset I’ve ever had.

Nokia 8110:

Nokia_8110The venerable Nokia 8110 AKA the ‘Banana Phone’ AKA the ‘Matrix phone’ (Yes, I know the photo is of an 8110i for the zealots but the phone is identical on the outside apart from ‘Nokia’ being written in white on the 8110 and dark grey on the 8110i)

My first ever mobile and well, it was great. It might only have had the capacity to store 12 text messages and look a bit retro by today’s standard with its sticky out aerial but it was an ace phone. Virtually indestructible (I did once drop it on concrete and snap the sliding out section off but no worry it popped back on and worked fine).

I really did like this bit of kit and I’d probably still have it lying around somewhere had it not been for an encounter with some muggers in Estonia but hey ho, that’s life and shit sometimes happens.

Compared to what was around at the time it was a very nice stylish phone and after seeing the horrendous menu structure on friends Motorola phones the logical and well thought out user interface was just perfect.

Nokia 6110:

nokia-6110

Not the prettiest of handsets ever produced but typical of the time. What it lacked in outward appearances it made up for in added functionality over the 8110.

Again building on a nicely laid out menu structure, more memory capacity, generally faster performance and a few niceties like the ability to store one solitary personalised ringtone that had to virtually be forced on to the handset through the not so perfect bit of software in Nokia Cellular Data Suite but at the time that was something really cool.

Long before late night telly was festooned with adverts for ringtones and background pictures of naked ladies, a world before Jamster or whatever the hell it’s called, this phone could have a personalised ringtone and in a world of ‘Nokia Tune’ coming out from half the handsets you’d come across in the street, that was something special.

Yes, me and my Dutch mate Rudolf were indeed probably some of the first people to start knocking up our own ringtones and when the Soviet Union anthem goes off in a bar in Finland, you don’t half get some strange looks. Not quite as strange as when we were once in a bar and a Soviet Union anthem ringtone went off and it wasn’t our phone, but that’s what happens when you flog it to Radiolinja and they start punting it out to customers.

Note, soon after this I switched to Maamme as my ringtone, the little ‘.wav’ audio file having stayed with me right up until a couple of months ago until I accidentally wiped it doing a firmware upgrade on my current phone. So now I have a new version of Maamme which I’m not quite so keen on. (Note to self, check old phones donated to parents to see if it’s still on one of those).

Sadly this phone got nicked in the mugging incident too although it wasn’t as great a loss as the 8110.

Ericsson GA628:

GA628After having both the other phones nicked I was on the verge of cancelling my contract but O2 or as we used to call it in the olden days, BT Cellnet said they’d send me a replacement for free if I didn’t cancel and it wouldn’t be considered an upgrade so my contract would stay the same.

They didn’t say what they’d send me but this is what turned up.

Without doubt the most useless, crappy, hideous mobile phone I have ever had the unfortunate experience of using.

There is nothing remotely endearing about the handset. It was heavy, thick, looked shite, had a useless menu system, even though the battery was huge, it’s talktime was crap, even though the aerial was huge the signal was crap and the charger connector was loose.

Put simply, this is the worst phone I’ve ever owned and probably went some way towards ensuring I never bought anything from Ericsson/Sony Ericsson ever since.

It was so crap that a few years later when my boss broke his phone and I lent it to him, he had to selotape phone numbers on the back of the battery because he couldn’t use the memory system to store them as it was so rubbish.

Did I mention, this phone was crap?

Nokia 6150:

nokia6150

There’s not a lot I can really say about the Nokia 6150. It was essentially a 6110 on steroids in both outward appearance and inner functionality.

I really did quite like it a lot at the time and I have a suspicion it may still be lying in a box in the attic somewhere.

Eventually after a lot of use it did start getting a bit funny. Mainly down the the battery coming a bit loose. I could probably have got a new battery to fix the problem but got a new phone instead.

All in all though, a nice usable phone with some good enterprise touches which probably represents how phone since it started to diverge into handsets aimed at different market segments.

Nokia 8210:

nokia-8210My first strictly speaking candybar phone without the big old aerial sticking out the top.

Still to date my lightest and smallest phone which was both a good thing and bad.

It carried on the traditional functionality of the 6110/6150 in a smaller package but if I’m honest it was probably too small and light for me that I used to get paranoid it had slipped out of my trouser pocket as I couldn’t feel the damn thing.

That said, it was well built and took a fair few knocks in its time and I believe is still working to this day with a friend in Malta after having a prolonged loan period to my mate Wally in Walsall.

Nice phone apart from the size and weight.

Ericsson T18:

Ericsson-T18I did state I’d never own another Ericsson after how crap the GA628 was and this remains technically true in that I never owned this phone but thought I should include phones that I’ve also used.

This was a works phone. It was crap, the menu system was almost as bad as the GA628 but it had a whopping 2 lines instead of 1. It was heavy and the battery was crap.

That’s about all that can be said of this handset.

Nokia 6510i:

Nokia-6510iIt was  the first phone I owned that had an FM radio (pretty sure there wasn’t one on theNokia 8210) and which finally consigned my Sony Walkman to the shelf of doom.

Another classic candybar but heavier and a bit larger than the 8210 which was nice.

Functionality wise it was pretty much the same but did have one horribly addictive space shooter game on it that I must have wasted hours of my life on doing the daily commute.

Not a great deal to say about it, simply another incarnation of the same sort of feature set as the 8210 but was a generally nicer phone to mill around with.

This phone did teach me the very important lesson of keeping mobile phone in a different pocket to my house keys as by the time I’d finished with it, almost all the metallic paint had been scratched back to the not so impressive looking white plastic underneath.

Nokia 9200 Communicator:

nokia-9200-communicator

Another works phone, but one I chose this time and well, it was bloody brilliant (for its time).

The keyboard was a bit rubbery and almost Spectrun ZX 48K-ish but functionality wise, it was a world away from everything I’d had before and ushered in my first ever usage of mobilei internet, which as the contract covered 0845 numbers meant it was effectively free if dial-up was a pants really.

My only regret with this phone was not using it to its full potential but it did set me along the road to where I am these days in terms of what I find important in a handset.

Nokia 8910:

nokia-8910For the pedants, yes, this is a picture of an 8910i, the obvious differential being the colour screen as opposed to the grey scale screen on the 8910.

I have mixed feelings abouth this phone. In many respects I liked it, but in others I didn’t.

It was a pricey handset and eventually the spring-loaded slider mechanism got quite touchy, in that over time the metal clips stopping it from springing up had worn down meaning it would open very easily or not stay shut properly.

Just after I’d upgraded from it, the keypad went bandy and overall it wasn’t as good or highly specced as the 6510i that it replaced. Bit of a disappointment of a phone really, but it did teach me to start looking more at the full tech specification sheet of phones rather than outward appearances. It is also the first of only two phones I’ve ever owned that has had a technical problem with it. (I don’t include the loose battery on the 6150)

Nokia 6230i:nokia-6230i

This phone represents my shift towards a fairly consistant appreciation of the business orientated Nokia range, from the 6000 series through to the E Series handsets where functionality and capability has been a key aspect of any handset purchase ever since.

It also represents the first time I started to look at phones, less as what they come with, but more with what’s going on underneath and the first time I heard about Symbian (of which this ran Symbian S40) and a realisation of how important the software of phones was becoming.

It was also the first phone I owned that had a camera which even way back then could do video, of which the first ever home vid of my son was done on. The resolution wasn’t much to speak of but the still camera, even at 1.3Megapixels turned out surprisingly good snaps.

I really liked this phone and it is happily working away to this day in the safe hands of my father.

Note:

There’s a bit of an interruption in my upgrade schedule at this point in time because it’s when Mrs Penguin moved in and so we started down the road of alternating upgrade on my contract so technically speaking, the next phone I had was a Nokia N73 but she nabbed it and apart from fixing the odd thing on it for her, I never really got to use it which wasn’t a problem as I was still very happy with my 6230i.

I will note though that although a hideous looking phone, the N73 was a very good multimedia phone that even by todays standards isn’t exactly that far off the mark and the video quality on it was probably better than Mrs Penguin’s current phone.

Back to the list – the Nokia E65:

nokia-e65We’re entering the true smartphone era with this handset and a continuation for my appreciation of business orientated Nokia phones.

With it’s slider form factor hankering back to my old 8110 I have to admit I really did like this phone. It was pretty powerful and very good at multitasking running Symbian S60 3rd Edition.

It was also the first phone I used properly online with a data tarriff as prices were starting to get reasonable in the UK market.

It was the first phone I discovered how many applications there were actually available for mobile phones and the first I ever used Opera Mini on.

Put simply, this was a really ace phone but with my increased use of applications and in particular, mobile web access came a realisation that despite how fast I am at typing on a T9 configuration keypad, it was just that little bit annoying and I was looking for a QWERTY solution.

It’s also the first phone that I started regularly looking out for things like firmware updates which also made me realise the limitations of a network purchased phone when O2 can’t be bothered to punt out an update when Nokia release one.

It’s the first phone I ever used Nemesis on to change the product number and install default firmware upgrades and rid the phone of those bloody bubbles.

This phone represents a lot of firsts for me and even now when I decide to turn it on again to try something out, it impresses me with both its build quality and general performance for what is a pretty old phone these days.

This phone is currently in Germany as I forgot to bring it back from holidays, I hope to see it again soon.

The only criticism I’d lay at this phone is the battery life wasn’t as good as it could be. It did need recharging at the end of every day after being used with multiple applications. This by the way was the second phone that I’ve ever had a technical fault on, microphone went a bit screwey on it but it was fixed and worked fine ever since.

Right up to the present – my trusty Nokia E90 Communicator:

nokia-e90-communicator

It’s hard to know where to start with this phone. It is my current handset and has been faithfully by my side for the last 18 months.

Barring a few bits of chipping in the exterior and D-Pad paintwork it’s in good nick and I really did expect the hinges to get looser over time but they’ve stayed solid.

It like the E65 runs on Symbian S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 which gives it a massive selection of applications that are available for it although with it’s dual screen configuration this does cause the odd problem with a few but none that have bothered me.

The QWERTY keyboard is easily the best I’ve ever tried on any phone, past, present, hard or touchscreen, it’s perfect with the allignments of ever key obviously well thought out (that shift key below the ‘@’ symbol key, spot on).

It’s fair to say that general online usage, reading, feeds, Twittering, this phone has replaced my desktop. It’s not a complete desktop replacement, there’s things it doesn’t lend itself perfectly to doing but they’re few and far between.

By todays standards it’s speed is suffering a little against modern handsets but it is getting a bit long in the tooth as a design.

It is the first phone I’ve had that’s had GPS in it which has opened up a new world of daft little things to do with my phone.

In short, I really, really, really like this phone and if Nokia bought out a handset identical in form factor, upped the processor, RAM and memory (mine’s got an 8Gb chip in it), ditch the D-Pad and install a slightly deeper touchscreen, switch it to USB rechargable and fix the completely crap camera button I’d snap it up in no time irrespective of whether it’s running Symbian S60 5th Edition or Maemo 5/6.

Just to note, the battery on this thing is huge and lasts very well, unless you’re canning it on GPS and running wifi/3.5g, while listening to MP3′s all at the same time.

So where to now?

The simple approach would be to stick with the E90. It’s got no faults, hardware wise and runs quite nicely but the upgrade urge is very strong.

The problem I have this time around is that there are things I’ve come to appreciate which draw me away from the routine of call up operator and see what they’ve got and upgrade to it.

Firmware:

The main reason for this lies in operator customised firmware. I know operators may wish to tweak handset firmware to optimise it for their networks but I’ve not noticed any difference in performance between my O2 firmwares and my virgin Nokia firmwares, if anything at least the phones seem to run faster without the O2 stuff on them.

This is also important with the firmware upgrade cycle. My E90 was stuck on the 212.xxx firmware for ages because O2 wouldn’t update it until I complained and they bought out version 300.xxx by which time version 400.xxx was out. In the end I did a Nemesis job on it to get it to the latest Nokia produced firmware and it runs far better and definitely more stable than the 300.xxx firmware from O2.

This very much pushes me towards buying an unbranded sim-free handset in the future where my primary concern on firmware is what the manufacturer pushes out. I also quite like the idea of not being tied to a stupidly long contract as these have slowly moved from 12 months, to 18 months to 24 months over recent years and even arguing discounts for long standing custom is getting a bit of a pain these days. A simple cheaper tarriff with no lock-ins is starting to look preferable.

Software: (or as it seems to be called these days – apps)

I need a reasonably good selection and the focus of them is on functionality and productivity, not games or farting noises. I’m probably in that class of business user when it comes to things I need to run on my phone whether they’re pre-packaged as I’ve come to be used to with 6000 and E-Series Nokia phones or ones I can download from somewhere. There’s probably only about a dozen applications I need on my phone to cover various areas of usage for regular use and a dozen more for on-off usage or specialised functions but on-going development of applications for the handset is important which means something running an OS with a reasonable community/in-house company behind it.

Hardware specifications:

Has to be obviously better than my current E90, so faster, more RAM, not that fussed about memory really, 8Gb is more than I need now anyway unless I start putting loads of movies on the phone. 5Megapixel camera seems to be the reasonable standard for a good smartphone these days, GPS obviously, all the connectivity options as well and a hard QWERTY keyboard. I recognise you can get touchscreen QWERTY’s but I generally haven’t liked them. Haptic feedback ones aren’t so bad like on Mrs Penguin’s 5800 but a QWERTY with proper buttons is a probably a must, at least this time round and I’ll see how good the touchscreen ones get in the future. Must also have a touchscreen for OS navigation and browsing.

OS:

Linked in heavily with the development and community support, has to have reasonable backing and definitely has to be able to multi-task, there is no debate about that. The OS being open source is also a distinct advantage from both ideological/practical reasons and the sad geeky hackery perspective.

Price:

Not too much, but obviously recognise something good is going to cost a fair bit of wonga.

Form factor:

I’m not that fussed on form factor apart from obviously prefering to have a hardware QWERTY keyboard is going to impact on this a lot and pretty much means a side slide-out keyboard ala Sony Ericsson Satio/Nokia N900, a bottom slide out QWERTY ala Palm Pre or a front side one like the Nokia E71/72 or Blackberry style. I should note, I’m not that keen on narrow QWERTY’s like the Blackberry/Nokia E71/72, I do prefer a wider orientated keyboard.

Display:

I think this is an area that’s often overlooked but having had the E90 and used other ‘smartphones’ I have come to the conclusion that any mobile device aimed at internet usage should have a minimum width resolution of 800pixels. I’m happy to accept that maybe it’s just me that thinks this but most of these phones sport around the 640pixel width displays and rely to some extent on making up for that by using innovative zoom features. I’ve never used the zoom feature on my E90 because the screen displays website fine.

For me, 640 pixels was my Amstrad 1640 circa 1990. Most websites are designed with resolutions of 800-1024pixels in mind and the best results from mobile browsing, taking into account how hard it would currently be to get a 1024pixel width display on a phone, then 800pixels is very much preferable. I’m not so fussed about the vertical resolution, 353pixels on the E90 has been fine but it’s a strange ratio and something a little bit taller would be nice.

Battery life:

I want good performance obviously.

Other odds and sods:

Less important but do need a mention. I am a bit of a greenie at heart, so extra bonus points go to stuff made by companies with good environmental records, produced in Europe. Sorry I can’t say Britain here but apart from those really stupidly expensive ones with diamonds and crap on them and a hotchpotch of weird, generally crappy custom made for network jobbies, we don’t make mobiles in this country.

So who’s in the running of the current or due to start coming out soon handsets:

Blackberry Storm 2/Curve:

blackberry

I’ve never owned a Blackberry, probably on account of the orientation of their keyboards more than anything else. I recognise they’re solidly well built bits of kit with a good OS and user functionality but I’m reticent about one.

Mainly due to the proprietary/corporate nature of the way they work. I like open standards and minimal lock-ins.

There’s plenty of applications available, but there’s just that keyboard issue. I might consider the Storm 2 if the touchscreen keyboard were something special but that’s to be seen. I thought the Storm 1 had the most horrendous touchscreen keyboard I’ve ever used; more akin to banging on a piece of plexiglass that any sense of feedback.

Might be fun to try as something new but it’s not that far up on the list as things stand unless the Storm 2 is something brilliant.

Palm Pre:palm-pre

The latest hyped bit of kit. I get tetchie about handsets that get hyped up, particularly in the US media. Hardware wise it looks well specced and the user interface seems very polished. I’m just not sure about this Web OS. It’s looks nice and functional but is there the developer community behind it or not?

I think in the case of the Palm Pre, in very much the same vein as an Android phone when the first one came out, I’d sit back and see what happens for a bit to see if it’s a viable proposition. Personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about, but perhaps I’m a boring old techie.

Nokia N97:

I’m getting a bit tired now, so enough of the pictures.

Earlier this year I have to admit I anticipated the N97 as the most likely replacement for my E90. It is a very good handset in many ways, I really do like the innovative angled hinge for the slide out keyboard but after having tried it out a couple of times there’s just too much about it that I would pick fault with.

The keyboard isn’t really that pleasant to use. I’m still humming and ahhing about this whole off-set space bar layout but I could probably live with that. However the keyboard on the N97 seemed tiny compared to my E90, and just didn’t look right. My two pence on what they should have done; ditch the D-Pad, it’s not needed and make the QWERTY larger and easier to use. It’s interesting to note that this seems to have been the approach with the N97 Mini but I’m not contemplating buying that anyway.

Added into this so hardware specs on the RAM, processor side which although with the latest firmware don’t impact heavily on performance, it’s still not much of a leg up from what I’ve got, so I’m definitely not going to get the N97.

Iphone 3GS:

I guess it’s compulsory to mention the fruit machine phone in any run down of higher end mobiles these days.

Simple, can’t multi-task, doesn’t have a hardware qwerty, a desktop UI that amounts to a layout of icons is so dated, locked down proprietary OS and one single monopoly vendor of applications, doesn’t support Flash, stupidly expensive and rip-off contracts by O2 (yes I know it’s coming to other networks soon, we’ll see how much they charge); answer’s no.

Sony Ericsson Satio:

I have to admit I really like the look of this phone. It has a very high specification and a lovely looking keyboard. It is probably my number 2 choice of any phone out there, or likely to be out there in the very near future. There are only really two major drawbacks to it. It’s not getting good reviews on battery life and there’s a question mark over how much upgrading or commitment there’s going to be to the software on it as it’s a highly customised version of Symbian S60 5th Edition.

Samsung Omnia HD i8910:

Again a phone I really do like. Samsung have done a great job customising the Symian OS on it and it’s solid in almost every area apart from the obvious lack of a hardware keyboard which pretty much puts it out of the picture.

Some form of Google Android based phone:

I haven’t rounded on one model in particular although the obvious would be the HTC Hero. I have to admit, I don’t quite get Android. I know everyone seems to rave about it being Linux based and open and all that but it looks more like a proprietary OS built on top of a Linux stack to me. I could be completely wrong but I also recognise that Google is coming at the market from being a service provider that is tryin to punt out hardware that compliments those services.

The problem is, apart from search and occasional maps, I don’t really used any of Google’s services so there’s not that much attraction to me. I’m also wary of the whole app store culture which has been why I’ve quite liked the open and varied marketplace for Symbian applications up until now.

Update:

I actually started penning this post last night but didn’t get round to finishing it. Since then I’ve been doing a bit of thinking and ‘if’ I get a new mobile phone, it’s going to be this one:

Nokia N900:

nokia-n900First up, it’s not perfect. I’m still not convinced about that smallish three line QWERTY with off-set space bar but it doesn’t look like there’s a direct replacement for the E90 Communicator coming along any time soon.

There’s a double edged sword in the OS, running Maemo 5. The downside being it’s brand new (yes Maemo’s been around for ages but version 5 was a major revision) and applications for it are obviously still quite light given that it’s the only phone in the world that runs that OS and hasn’t even been released yet.

There’s also looking to the future, which is obviously QT and it’s using GTK. That said, QT has already been ported to it so this probably won’t be a problem but something to consider.

There’s also the issue of how long it will be developed for with the N920 probably emerging in the first half of next year which I’ll admit does look very nice but it lacks the hardware QWERTY that I, at least currently, prefer.

I was a bit concerned about the battery in it. Still am. I’m used to pretty good lengthy usage out of my E90 with a 1,500 mAh battery and this takes a 1,320mAh battery. However it has had some good reviews on the battery strength so this may be a case of the OS being optimised to negate this issue. Still think Nokia should have put the BP-4L battery in it, if only so I had a couple of spare lying around.

That’s about it on the negatives, on the positives however:

It will be the most powerful handset available on the raw processing/RAM side. I’m not going to start wittering on about OMAP, ARM11 and virtualised RAM but the specs are good, very good.

However, even though it was a minus point in one sense, the Maemo OS is a massive plus which probably outweighs everything.

I actually really like the Symbian OS in all it’s current and recent flavours. It’s solid, has mammoth amounts of customisability and options hidden away in its labyrinthine menus. It has masses of application written for it, some of which I really do enjoy, like Opera Mini and JoikuSpot. (If you have a Symbian based phone with wifi, then I highly recommend checking out Joikuspot. Brilliant application that can save a fortune in dongles, and no I don’t work for or get any kickbacks from them, it’s just really good).

However what I really anticipate, should I decide to get the phone is having a handset that runs a Linux based OS. I’ve fancied one for a few years but LIMO phones never really impressed me. The openness of the OS is an increasingly important thing to me. I don’t necessarily intend to crack the software on it, there should really be no reason to need to crack the software on a phone if it’s open enough but I do fancy a tinker around. A command line would be very nice to see. The ability to add in other Codec’s (I’m talking Oggs here) would be very nice. I know it doesn’t support them by default but that should while away an evening trying – probably.

So to run down, it’s got the QWERTY keyboard, an 800pixel width screen, is a significant step up in performance over my E90 and runs and open source Linux based OS. Oh, and until the 21st of October I can pre-order it for £424.15 as opposed to the normal list price of £499 so I have a day or two to decide on it. I’m still a bit wary of ordering a phone I’ve not used, but that price offer seems too good to miss and if I don’t like it, then I still have a 14 day cooling off period in which to send it back.

One Laptop per Child – not a chance

I truly hate myself for this as it’s hard to put down what was and still is a very worthy campaign but I’m going to predict that the One Laptop per Child scheme is doomed to failure after it’s European release on November 17th was announced on the BBC.

For those who aren’t aware it was a scheme to produce a laptop for under $100 that could be purchased in the order of millions to provide access to computing to children in the developing world.

It never did get down to the $100 price tag, arrived late, had distribution problems and since then has shifted away from trying to get mass orders from governments to a sort of charitable ‘person from richer country buys two, they keep one and the other is donated’ scheme.

A great idea but it wasn’t particularly successful when they rolled out the scheme in the US and if the BBC article is correct, a price tag of £268 will kill it because to be fair, for that price, it’s crap.

Unless you want a laptop that looks like one of those Leapfrog toddlers learning things with a pitiful 256Mb of RAM, an undisclosed x86 processor, 1Gb of “mass storage” ie a solid state hard drive and a weight of 1.5Kg then it’s not a runner.

The principle was great, if they’d got them to market a couple of years ago as planned then they could have made a killing and would have found a rich seam or Western buyers signing up for what would have been then, a not too bad bit of kit to pick up for the little one here and feel good about donating one to a less well off child in some far flung region of our planet but things are decidedly different now.

£268 will buy you a lot in the current market. Typing this as I am on an MSI Wind (rebadged as an Advent 4211) that cost £280 back in July with an Intel Atom processor 2Gb of Ram (comes with 1Gb, I had it upgraded) an 80Gb hard drive, all the connectivity of a OLPC plus bluetooth and comes in half a kilo lighter (actually it is a bit heavier than the circa 1 kilo that I bought because I have a replacement 6 cell battery that adds a bit more to the weight but it’s still not more than the 1.5Kg weight of a OLPC). You could get these for £250 (£220 from PC World Business briefly) at one stage but PC World/Currys put the price back up. You can get exactly the same model rebadged as a Medion Akoya from Morrisons for £250 with a 160Gb hard drive the other week.

You could get an Acer Aspire One for a lot less or a Celeron based Eee PC 904 for the lower end of £200 or two original Eee PC 701′s for £268 if you shop around which still out-spec the OLPC.

Faced with those real consumer choices no one but a few trendy dinner party liberal types who want to boast about their charitable nature are going to fork out for a OLPC machine.

Sad I know. Personally I wish it were otherwise because the original idea was a very noble one but the market has been overhauled in the last 12 months alone and I just don’t see it working anymore particularly as consumers will be looking for a lot more for their money in the current economic climate.

Rainwater diverters redux

Following on from the follow-up post to my original post on rainwater diverters and honest, the site hasn’t turned into some kind of pseudo green DIY forum I’d just for information’s sake like to put up the results of my inquiry to Marley.

Marley unfortunately at this time don’t sell anything in the UK comparable to the DN75 that they sell in Germany and this of course doesn’t fit to British Standard UK downpipes. (Mine was a funny size that it actually fitted quite well)

However they point me in the direction of another company called 3P Technik UK Ltd based in Cardigan, Wales, who appear to ironically be a German company that makes diverters that seem to fit UK downpipes.

They have two diverter type models as far as I can see. The ‘Rain Collector’ model and the ‘Filter Collector’ model.

The sizes aren’t clear on the Rain Collector but the Filter Collector does specify the size of a normal UK downpipe and I may look into this further for my own uses.

So there you go, hopefully that helps a few people although I’d certainly drop them a line beforehand to check out any specifications that anyone might require. That’s my bit of public information for today.

Osbourne and carrots

Hey, promised we’d get back to a bit of politics didn’t I?

Our subject for today is Georgie ‘I is a greenie and I’m going to bung you some wonga in the process’ Osbourne.

OK, first lesson in recycling for George. In almost all cases there is no financial incentive in recycling. Sorry but there isn’t. One would hope that the bloke who wants to take over the country’s finances would be able to get his head around this.

Whether you like it or not, our economic structure is based on capitalism (yes, you don’t hear that word very often these days). Its driving principle is the creation of profit and that’s, well about it. There is no profit in recycling because when everything is reduced down to the hideously crude and simplistic concept of price, then barring a few odds and sods like some metals it’s simply easier (cheaper) to get new materials than it is to recycle old.

All ‘incentives’ to recycle are in fact sticks somewhere along the line. It doesn’t matter if you dress it up as we’re going to bung you some dosh to recycle because the premise on which that scheme is based is to creation of a false economy through regulation and or taxation.

In this case we’re dealing with landfill taxes on local authorities which is a pan-European scheme set up by the EU to encourage/force (choose whichever you fancy) member states to up their recycling rates because it’s been decided at a political level that reducing the amount of waste we as human beings produce is probably a good idea.

There’s nothing wrong with the introduction of targeted taxation to attempt to change societal behaviour as long as you can justify it with sound reasoning and preferably a lot of evidece to support your position too.

In the case of landfill, it’s fair to say you’d be hard pressed to find many people who think that reducing the amount of rubbish we chuck on tips is a bad idea although when you mention they might actually have to do something about it themselves or cough up a few bob then for some reason perspectives suddenly start to change a bit.

So we’re here, Osbourne’s little carrot is actually nothing more than the product of a very large EU stick that has created certain market conditions in the first place.

That of course leads us nicely on to the whole civil liberties malarky that seems to be doing the rounds of late.

The US company in question that Osbourne has so fallen in love with is RecycleBank and there’s two very interesting elements to their operation. The first being their use of ‘chipped’ bins. Yes folks we’re back to putting little bits a silicon chips in the bins to monitor how much waste we throw out.

Now for those with short memories, last year the Government was falling in love with the whole hi-tech approach of chipping everyone’s bins and forgive me for being a cynical old sod but wasn’t it all the Tories coming out of the woodwork saying it would be a crap idea (actually I agree with them on this one) and that flytipping would go though the roof.

There were a few pilots done, the first that springs to mind was South Norfolk District Council where it was such a disaster in both the technology breaking down and surprise surprise flytipping going through the roof that when the *ahem Tories took over the council they scrapped it.

Georgie boy might also want to have a word with Eric Pickles their very own local government spokesman because he said ‘they are also an invasion of people’s privacy’ on the issue of chipping people’s bins. Go on, what are the odds on another principled resignation of seat to stand in by-election moment? Nah, didn’t think so either.

To be fair to RecycleBank they seem really good folk and there’s nothing to suggest that they would use any information gleamed from such a system in a bad way. That said, they operate in the States where they have like proper bits of legislation and stuff written down on paper ensuring their citizens rights, not the data-mining free for all we have in the UK, seriously folks, the possibilities are endless.

How’s this for a wicked idea to catch out naughty people burning stuff in the back garden or flytipping. We could hand the service over to Tesco. They could monitor what we buy and if it doesn’t end up in our bin then we could get automatic fines as well, how’s that? Seriously folks, I’m here all week.

What Ozzy boy doesn’t exactly go out of his way to mention is the nature of payments, if indeed we’re taking RecycleBank as our model.

We’re not talking cold hard cash, you know, that stuff that’s readily accepted everywhere, even in the local boozer. No we’re talking tokens, and not the 30p off a box of Daz type (do they still sell Daz? Haven’t seen it for ages).

We’re talking (at least as far as can be ascertained from the information on their website) spend £50 in selected partner store and get £10 off tokens. OK, don’t quote those figures but we all know where we stand, to get the sweetener we’ve got to shell out a larger amount which is all well and good if you’ve got a reasonable income in the first place but if you’re getting by down to the last penny then are you going to have or even want to spend the extra to redeem the token?

What this approach also fails to address is the exact criticism the Tories were laying at the concept of pay as you bin last year. When you introduce a system whereby there is either a financial cost or benefit to putting less in your bin, doesn’t matter which. You will encourage fly-tipping and backyard burning because the financial incentive is there.

Of course what is continually being missed is not the actual desire or lack of from households to recycle, many aspects of the problems we face in the UK arise from the inability to recycle due to either poor facilities or, at least in my opinion poor packaging.

I’ve lived abroad, over a decade ago, seen how they did it back then. I’ve travelled about a bit, observed different recycling practices because it’s an area of personal interest but all came down to one very important factor. The recyclability of the packaging in the first place.

It doesn’t matter whether you try to penalise or incentivise recycling, if consumers can’t recycled the 2 litre bottle of coke they bought from Sainsbury’s then they can’t recycle it. They could if they lived in Finland or Germany but they can’t here. It’s the same product (admittedly produced locally under license) but in the UK it goes in the bin because it’s made of cheaper thinner plastic compared to thicker reusable (after being washed out) plastic abroad. There’s no scheme available to recycle them here, in other countries you just take them back to the supermarket, plonk them in a machine, it prints out a ticket that can be used at the checkout and hey presto, there’s your incentive system, it’s really not that hard and the whole lot doesn’t even have to be done by the public sector, you simply mandate the supermarkets to do it instead. They do after all have extensive distribution networks and it makes sense that after making deliveries they can do a pick up as well rather than driving back empty.

A bit of joined up thinking wouldn’t go amiss here.

I’ll finish on a positive point. It used to be (the last time I looked) impossible to recycle Tetrapak in the UK which is barmy. I was going to write a bit about it in this post but after some research it does appear to be picking up and your humble Penguin is planning a trip to Sandwell in the near future now he knows that he can recycle the milk cartons. Wednesbury to be precise as they apparently have a facility at the Leisure Centre. It’s just a bit sad that the most accessible facility for me is in an entirely different borough, but hey, that’s what you get from living in an area covered by Walsall Council I guess.

My final good deed for this post is a littl link to Tetrapaks recycling locator. I think I should move to Sandwell.

Rainwater diverters and all that

This is a politics blog, honest guv. Not like there’s been much in the way of it of late but I will try and rectify that in the near future as the rather hectic planting season draws to a close and the crops slowly, well grow.

Sometimes it’s a bit strange the posts that get attention. You can write at length about a complex political issue and zip, nothing. You can write about something as obscure as rainwater diverters and bang the inquiries start coming in.

So this is a special post for those who’ve dropped a comment on the blog or who have privately contacted me via the contacts section.

As I mentioned to Betty in the comments section on my original post about rainwater diverters I had a hunch that the manufacturer was actually the same one that produce the one’s sold at B&Q.

I just happened to drop into B&Q in Wednesbury today hunting for shelving which due to the wonders of modern society the helpful staff couldn’t tell me if they had the extra two brackets I needed in stock because the computer system was down.

Side note. I love computers, they’re ace, but if as a species we lose the ability to think ‘hang on I can nip in the stock room and have a look’ without the aid of microprocessors then we’re losing it. Either that or the person I spoke to was just lazy and couldn’t be arsed. They didn’t get a sale and my money went across the road to Ikea instead who were well helpful.

However while I was there I did think about Betty and pop outside to have a look at their drainage stock. The brand in question that they sell which is square and designed to connect to a water butt is produced by a company called Marley.

That rang a bell and I was sure it was the same brand as my German procured system.

A few searches later and I got to this site which is the German arm of Marley. Quite clearly, that’s the system that I’ve got that fits to a round downpipe and has a connector to hook up to a hosepipe as opposed to a water butt. Mines the DN75 btw.

Having a further scoop around I ended up at the main Marley site and it turns out that Markey are a UK company based in Kent which also appears to be their manufacturing base as well which is ironic that to get what I wanted I had to go all the way to Germany when it was banged out of a factory down the road. (Note, that’s one of those perspective remarks. Strictly speaking it would be hard to define Kent as being down the road from Wolverhampton but in contrast to Cottbus in Germany it would be).

So we know they’re made by a British company in Kent. What we don’t know is if they’re available here. I’ve sent off an inquiry to Marley about this to ask if they are available in the UK and I’ll post up their reply when I get it.

I did forget to mention

On leaving Virgin, they helpfully follow up with another letter which rather nicely explains that they’ll be dropping round on so and so a date to collect their cable set top box, but hey, don’t worry if you don’t have it any more, they’ll just stick £250 on to your final bill.

Ahem, £250 for a Scientific Atlanta 4200 DVB box, not to mention it being second hand and well, second hand when I got it so at least third hand. Not accounting for the fact you can pick the things up for £50 on the net. Here’s a really good tip for Virgin Media. When trying to convince people at the last gasp not to leave you, don’t appear like a bunch of rip-off merchants in the process.

I wouldn’t mind if it was a particularly good bit of kit that didn’t consume more electricity than my desktop PC (which is considerably more useful) or throw out enough heat to warm up a room by a few degrees on its tod but to suggest it has that kind of value is laughable.

Thankfully I didn’t get tempted to bin it but while they’re at it, they can have their ancient Motorola modem back as well and I won’t be taking their advice that I keep it in my house just in case, I have no desire for it to clutter up my house anymore.

Joining the 21st century

Further to my last post, and yes I’ve been somewhat busy of late and not posting; I finally got sick of Virgin Media. It’s been on the cards for a while now but the whole Phorm issue pushed it over the edge.

For the record, here’s why I’ve left Virgin Media:

1. Price. It’s possible to get faster and cheaper packages so they’re not price competitive. I was previously on their 2 for £20 offer in that being the phone line and broadband with free TV. Now I will pay £10.50 for line rental from BT and £7.50 for broadband from O2 because they also happen to be my mobile phone provider. This is for an 8Mbit connection as opposed to a 2Mbit connection from Virgin.

2. Customer service. There are a number of elements to this aspect and I’ll do a direct comparison with my new provider O2. When Virgin Media swallowed up my then provider Telewest who were actually very good, they did a number of things. They outsourced the technical customer services to (presumably India) in an obvious attempt to cut cost. They then changed from the previous free call to a premium rate line in an attempt to further cream off money from customers. I don’t like this. I’ll be the first to admit that as a techie I’ve never called their technical line but there is a principle at stake. I don’t like shifting call centres overseas and as a Trades Unionist and pretty patriotic kind of guy I’d be a hypocrite to not be supporting British based workers as much as can. In contrast O2 have wholly UK based customer and technical services and are actually available all round the clock as I’ve just experienced having needed to get a few settings off them. Oh and they’re customer/technical services are free to call on an 0800 number. I like that.

3. The technical angle. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a bandwidth intensive customer for any ISP. I don’t download music or movies and certainly don’t do any illegal file sharing stuff. However as a techie I do on the odd occasion require the ability to download large files. Usually we’re talking an ISO image of a Linux operating system distribution but we’re talking anything from 650MB to 4GB. In such circumstances the use of torrent file sharing technology is handy. Sadly though it is obvious that Virgin Media monitor the nature of their customers traffic and after 5 minutes of so using torrents I’ve had my bandwidth throttled down to below dial-up speeds. Even on a box standard FTP download it’s clear to see throttling going on as speeds a sequentially cut in half until it’s a quarter of the speed I’ve been paying for.

As a bit of a contrast, here’s a little screenshot from an few hours ago of me downloading a few updates:

O2-download-speed

Yes, that would be 2351 kiloBytes per second which I work out to be around 18.3Mbits per second. After having a chat to the technical guy about an unrelated matter I did mention how impressed I was and was told that for the first day or so it does run un-capped so I shouldn’t get used to that kind of speed but even with their top package being £15 a month, those kinds of speeds are very tempting (don’t tell the missus).

I also deliberately tried a torrent connection (a download of a 3.3GB iso image) and the exact same file took close to 12 hours on Virgin but only took less than 45 minutes today with no drops in speed or throttling in sight.

4. I feel like an adult again. I may be getting old and grumpy but my interpretation of my relationship with my ISP and indeed any other company that I deal with is that they provide a service and I pay for it. They’re not my mate or chum, they’re a company that does (hopefully) what I pay them to do. Equally I am an adult, I’ve not been a teenager for a very long time and I don’t like a company trying to be all hip and trendy talking to me in ‘yoof’ speak. I don’t like reference to terms and conditions as being ‘legal stuff’ and I’m sick and tired of the error screen on my account that provides me with a picture of a young female model who looks like a heroin addict.

In contrast so far I’m impressed with O2. They’re staff are courteous and polite, don’t patronise me but are simply informative and helpful. Oh and they don’t seem to try and mislead you either which brings me on to the next point.

When you quit Virgin there’s a special department that deals with presumably trying to talk you out of it. They ask you why. Strangely enough I mentioned some of the above points and was told there was nothing wrong with my connection speed and they don’t throttle torrents. They also helpfully informed me that I wouldn’t be able to get more than a 2Mbit connection from an ADSL connection. This I thought a bit strange given all these other companies that aren’t cable based are offering much higher speeds than 2Mbit. Then it dawned on me that this was a very crafty bit of not necessarily wrong but rather misleading advice. There are of course different versions of ADSL from the box standard ADSL which yes, is technically only capable of up to 2Mbits but there’s also ADSL Max services which go up to 8Mbits and ADSL2+ which will deliver up to 24Mbits. So in just saying ADSL they’re being technically truthful but given how many other providers office ADSL Max and increasingly ADSL2+ it’s a bit disingenuous and may deter a non-techie from arguing the toss which of course I did.

So for the munchkin at Virgin Media who tried to convince me I wouldn’t get anything faster, please feel free to take another look at the screenshot. Yes, that’s 18.3Mbit/s across an ADSL2+ connection with local loop un-bundling at the exchange which incidentally is a plus given the exchange is less than half a kilometre away.

5. The biggie really, Phorm and this also links into my little experience while trying to leave Virgin and also the nature of what I want from an ISP. It’s pretty simple, I pay for a connection to the internet, that’s where it stops. I don’t want value added, content or targeted advertising I simple want a connection that can exchange packets of data. What a certainly don’t want is miserable little companies that used to bang out spyware intercepting all my packets of data, analysing it to work out what kind of consumer I am to bang up adverts for it although if anyone really wants to know, I’m an incredibly arsie a merciless consumer which probably puts me out of their target audience anyway.

That said, personal information is important to me, this isn’t an episode of The Prisoner, I’m not a number (or bleeding cookie file for that matter) and I don’t appreciate people wanting to profile who I am in an attempt to flog me stuff, not that it would work anyway. The ‘please don’t leave us’ marketing lady did attempt to point me in the direction of a web page outlining all the wonderful benefits of Phorm but for some reason when I decided to start getting into techie details I think just decided to give up on trying to convince me otherwise.

So there we go. One day into being a customer of O2 and I’m very happy so far. I did have trepidations as I’ve been a very happy mobile customer of their’s for over a decade (yes I know technically speaking they weren’t O2 then and yes I still have bills with BT Cellnet on them filed away) but I’d have hated for them to have let me down on the broadband front. So far so good though, one thoroughly contented arsie consumer here at the moment and as long as they stay away from Phorm I may be around as a customer for a very long time.