Monday, December 15, 2008

Are you a film addict?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Presidential Debates 1.0

This week see the final of three televised debates between Barack Obama and John McCain ahead of the US Presidential Election on November 6th. Obama has shaded the two events so far, although McCain has had a couple of moments in each that would give his support something to hang onto. With previous research suggesting that many US voters watch all these events before finally deciding who to vote for, Thursday will be vital to both candidates. The fact remains though that the candidate that all politicians should aspire to be is Bill Clinton. It’s not just a matter of his politics, because as this paper published in the Scientific American sets out, he was a master of communication to a degree unsurpassed by any other living politician. Having an impressive natural ability is one thing, but using this to its full potential by having an eye for detail and a commitment to preparation is simply extraordinary. To understand greatness in most fields of life is understand that most of the single actions of great people are easily understood, but the greatness comes from an ability to put them all together and have an understanding of the entire context of your work and how individual actions contribute to it. I’ve had the honour to see Clinton once in person, when he was at Westminster at an event with Nelson Mandela and Tony Blair. I was outside on the rope line with a huddle of devotees ranging from cleaners to junior Ministers, and there was a real sense of excitement about their appearance together. Blair, as usual, was charismatic and radiant, and Mandela, even though he was by this point an elderly man who needed a little assistance to his car, Clinton had the presence of a real superstar. The fact that he worked on this type of presentation over and above employing his natural abilities is why he’s the greatest politician of his generation.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

FrankenBurger

This is just scary.  
The burger on the left is 12 years old. 
(pic from bestwellnessconsultant.com)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Crisis? What Crisis?

Debbie and I have been discussing at great length what course of action we should follow around getting our house move sorted out.  My house has been on the market since the end of May, and as we hadn't had a single viewer at one of our open viewings (Thursdays 7-8, Sundays 2-4, or contact our solicitor for an appointment) we've reduced the price we want by over 15%.  So things haven't been going well. 
Following a turbulent financial week, and everything that's been happening in the financial markets and the banking world in the last few days, I wouldn't have thought that things were looking up for the wider economy either. 
So I'm not sure what to make of the fact that we've had two viewers round to see the flat today. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My emotional track record

My emotional track record is fairly well established.  I'm a greeter.  
Sob-stories on the X-Factor, the wedding scene in Father of the Bride, the bit at the end of the Undercover Millionaire when they hand over the money.  I've cried at them all.
But there are only 3 times that I can recall in my life when I've been moved to tears by music:
1. When John Squire played the opening chords of 'Waterfall' at his last gig before he left the Stone Roses at Wembley Arena.  We were supposed to be in some of the worst seats in the venue, but skipped into the VIP area, then managed to get into the crowd at the front, and got right up to the barrier. They started with 'I Wanna Be Adored', then did 'She Bangs the Drums', then 'Waterfall'.  I cried, and embraced the guy next to me, who was in an equally emotional state.  Greetin' and hugging strangers.  That was the 1990's for you.
2. When Sheena sang 'My love is like a red, red rose' at my wedding last year.  'Nuff said. 
3.  On Tuesday on the No. 5 bus going up Leith Street in Edinburgh at 7.30am on my way to work.  Listening  to Glasvegas sing 'Geraldine'. I have listened to nothing but their album for three days now, it is truly awesome. 

Kirk Broadfoot: Scotland Hero

"Limited ability" now seems to include an ability to play at both right back and centre half for your country in the same game, make a series of decent runs and crosses, and score with a header from a corner...... 
But last night may have lasting ramifications for Scotland beyond the short-term of this qualifying campaign.  All over Scotland, I can imagine our football mad youth waking up and saying:
"Mummy, when I grow up, I want to be just like Kirk Broadfoot".

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Reality Check

Affter reading this article in Wired, I thought that Leland Chee had the coolest job in the world. 
This was the antidote.

Hypocrites

I'm a huge fan of Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, and this video is why:
Sometimes politicians and politics get an unfair hearing from the media, but most of the time they deserve it.  Everyone on this video deserves it. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

For Sale

I’m currently trying to sell my house. After we got married last year, Debbie and I made plans to move somewhere bigger, and so we redecorated her one-bedroom flat in Gorgie and got it on the market last spring. After a flurry of interest, culminating in three offers it sold in three weeks, and the deal concluded on the last weekend in May. In the interim period, we redecorated, de-cluttered and cleaned our house. We painted, grouted, and polished, then hoovered, sealed, pollyfiller-ed, then scrubbed, scraped and finished. Our flat was ready for the market. It was advertised in the Edinburgh Solicitors’ Property Guide on the first day of June. On the first weekend on the market, one person came to see it. She lived in the flats next door. The next three weeks saw one person a week come to view our flat. In fact, until last Wednesday, when we were visited by a friendly, well meaning but ultimately disinterested viewer who hadn’t even decided to buy any property and was just ‘seeing what was available’ we had had no one express any interest in over two months. Three months down the line we’ve had four viewers round to see our clean, tidy, competitively priced flat (near to Sainsbury’s, Meadowbank Stadium and on good public transport links to all parts of Edinburgh. White Meter Heating). We’re in a decent financial position. We’re not overcommitted and we have an above average annual income. There are people in the current financial crisis that are in a far worse position than my wife and I. But if Gordon Brown and Alasdair Darling honestly believe that a time limited stamp duty holiday will have any great impact on our quest to find a buyer for our house (which would be within the price limits of the Stamp Duty freeze) they will be mistaken. Only increased confidence in the economy at large can help, and with OECD predicting that the UK, and the UK alone amongst the G7 countries, will face negative growth and a recession, combined with the fact that property prices in Edinburgh have dropped for the first time in almost four decades this doesn’t look likely soon. Short-term, spin inspired, measures will not inspire increased confidence in the economy and turn the country’s fortunes around. It will not sell my house in the near future, and especially not to a first-time buyer. I’m told that this measure could cost £600m, but it will not work. That’s bad news for my wife and I, bad news for the first time buyers who can’t get on the property market, and bad news for the economy in general. But it’s exceptionally bad news for the Government. We reduced the asking price on our flat yesterday by 7%.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The glamour of life on the ocean waves

I went to a meeting in Dunoon yesterday, and was delighted to be able to travel by ferry. It's the first time I've arrived at a meeting by boat, and it certainly beats the London Underground as a method of travel. On the way back I thought that I'd capture the view of the Cowal peninsula for posterity: I'll remember this the next time I've a meeting on a wet Tuesday night in faceless Municipal Buildings somewhere.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Resolutions Update

My new year resolutions were:

Set up a new home with Debbie (In progress. I feel a bit like the Queen this last month - there always seems to be a smell of paint.....) Get fit (Patchy progress....) Blog regularly (Check!)

and, [drum roll]:

Get a golf handicap below 20 (CHECK!)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I hate it when I think I'm missing out on an underground subculture

A list of all available Bluetooth devices in the front carriage of the 8.30 train this morning from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street: 8 Nokia 6300 Unknown Device JOHNLAPTOP Whore Unknown device Nick Barley’s Computer

Monday, May 19, 2008

Infinite Monkey Theorem So far Unproved

The internet is great, anyone can use it. Think of this site like a greatest hits, so you don't ever have to read the comments on The Herald's politics stories ever again. (With thanks to doctorvee)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kaizen in practice

Continuous improvement must be the watchword of every successful business. That's why I was delighted to see that the best off-licence on this side of Edinburgh has taken it to heart......

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Coming to terms with my inner middle-class self

The first in an irregular series:

1. It’s been impossible to live my middle class lifestyle while keeping my green guilt in check, so one of them has to give. I’m therefore going to buy a new car at the first available opportunity. The Car Club isn’t working for me: the cars either don’t work or aren’t available when I want them. What’s the point of walking 20 minutes there and 20 minutes back to hire a car for 2 hours?

2. And I’m going to buy the biggest car I can afford so I can keep my golf clubs in the boot.

3. The Edinburgh Golf Club is not great, as the greens on the public courses are crap and I’m blaming them for the spate of 3-putting. I will work out how to blame the quality of the course maintenance on my hook later. I want to join a private golf club and am willing to pay for the privilege.

4. I’m looking forward to living in a big house with a garden and dining kitchen. Probably in Perth. We won’t be out partying in the big city at the weekend, but will be able to host fabulous dinner parties. I can invite people from the golf club.

5. I’m not adversely affected by the abolition of the 10p Income tax band.

6. We’re going on holiday to a villa in Tuscany.

7. My biggest pleasure in life is going for dinner with friends. A nice dinner, in a good restaurant, with a carefully chosen bottle of wine. And then leaving in good time to get home at a reasonable time as we’ve got to get up early and clean/de-clutter/decorate the house because we want to get it on the market in June as then we can use the capital to put down a decent deposit on a new place because we reckon that being able to put in quick, low offers is the best way forward in a slowing market and anyway we can use the opportunity to try out the commute from Linlithgow/Perth to see if it’s manageable, Debbie’s already raised it with her boss and so she’ll probably be able to work more flexible hours and it won’t be much of a difference to me as I commute from Edinburgh to Glasgow every day anyway.

This is not a complaint. I’m just guilty and thankful at the same time.

Friday, May 2, 2008

From an election spectator

I’m currently in London, where I now go to take my orders ;) A few personal reflections about the election here today:
  1. I went to the bookies to put money on Boris and couldn’t do it. Partly because of the economics of the short odds, partly because of the moral implications of betting on someone you wouldn’t vote for. Will those who thought they’d vote for Boris when they woke up today face a similar dilemma? Is his vote weak?
  2. I put £20 on Ken to win. YouGov got the gap between SNP and Labour wrong by about 6% in last year’s Scottish election, and today predicted a similar gap between Boris and Ken. Given this, and the Ken lead shown in the other polls in the past week I think it will be within about 2% on first votes, so well worth a punt on Ken.
  3. Likely Labour voters – folk my age who have probably always voted for Ken – talked of their motivation today in terms of what a disaster Boris would be rather than how good Ken was/is/will be. Will the lack of positive motivation for Ken and Labour voters harm him and make a difference to voting?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Goodbye to an friend I’ve never met

I’ve always said that one of the greatest gifts that my mother ever gave to me was the gift of BBC Radio 4. My life at home was punctuated by the authority of the Six o’clock News of an evening , the drama of the Archers omnibus on a Sunday morning and the warm laughter which accompanied The News Quiz, Just a Minute and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. So while this morning’s obitiaries of Humphrey Littleton focus on his undoubted (but to jazz philistines like me) unknown musical talents (I didn’t know he played on a Radiohead album either), my memories of Humph are for his deadpan delivery in the funniest comedy show on radio.

No-one does filth like an old Etonian talking to a middle class audience. And many of his radio monologues were just that – hilarious and filthy. It’s a sad state of affairs that at thirty-two years of age the very thought of discussing sex with my parents makes me feel nervous and wary, but we have always been free to share a laugh at a particularly dirty double entendre.

When I listen to the shows I bought last year on CD I can give or take many of the middle rounds, and can easily skip by some games of Mornington Crescent played under some of the more obscure rule books, I never skip Humph’s parts. Genius’ are often respected and admired, but this one was loved my many, including me.

Listening to I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue reminds me of happy times and places. Listening to CDs on honeymoon while driving through the Arizona desert, or sitting in the kitchen with my mother listening in to the Sunday repeat. I will miss Humphrey Littleton.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's the power of the hat

Jason asked 'what's the play count on your most played song in your iTunes library?' Well, given my new laptop and ipod I've only got records going back to December last year, and it wasn't quite what I was expecting. It seems that my visit to Memphis and Nashville at that time was more influential that I thought. My top 5 is: Lovin' Pretty Women by the Steep Canyon Rangers, 24 plays Handle With Care, Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, 22 plays Bloody Mary Morning, Willie Nelson, 22 plays Time is Tight, Booker T and the MGs, 17 plays If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time, Willie Nelson, 16 plays My top play is a song I heard live at the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville, while I spent a long afternoon in the Stax Museum poring over the genesis of the Memphis sound, backed by Booker T and the MGs. On the back of this trip, I've persuaded Debbie to come with me to see Willie Nelson in Glasgow next month. In the last 4 months, I've listened to 1699 of the 4920 in my library, which is not bad going I think. Thankfully for my musical credibility as an indie-kid at heart Morrissey, Paul Weller and The Beta Band all feature in my top 10.

Friday, March 21, 2008

(Not) my new car

At long last the Car Club have delivered their car to my parking space outside the flat. All the convenience of my own car without the attendant hassle – and if one other person in the street gives up their car too we’ll start to see some progress in dealing with the chronic parking problems in the area. Result!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Five years ago the war in Iraq began.

It was a war justified to the public and world audience on the premise that Saddam Hussein’s regime had successfully developed a weapons programme which could kill human beings on a biblical scale. If successfully deployed, these weapons of mass destruction would cause untold levels of harm to thousands in the Middle East and, thanks to the missile system he was developing, even directly to the fringes of the European continent. If these weapons were to get into the hands of terrorists, the danger posed by Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons arsenal would be spread worldwide.

Today’s newspapers carry countless facts about the war and this country in turmoil. The financial cost of the war. The number of Iraqi civilians, soldiers and journalists who have died in the five years of conflict. Iraqi inflation.

There also are stories today about defiant statements made by those politicians who took us to war, declaring their continued belief that victory, one day, will be theirs and how those who criticise the actions of the UK and US Governments in taking us to war implicitly support the return of a dictatorial regime in Iraq and the return of Saddam Hussein from the dead.

The important fact remains that this is a war based on a lie. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no links to Islamic terrorist organisations.

Iraq is a tragedy. It is a tragedy because thousands have died, and millions displaced, while many more continue to live in fear. It is a tragedy because the world is not now a safer place because of these actions. It is a tragedy that because of the actions of the US and UK five years ago it is now impossible to see a peaceful solution for the population there in either the near or distant future, with or without the continued presence of foreign troops. It is a tragedy because of the crisis in the international community caused by this bilateral action without the support of the United Nations without a basis in international law.

But when our leaders lie to us to justify war, it is beyond a tragedy. It is a fundamental challenge to the social contract, the underlying principles of our civilisation. And that’s why it’s important to remember, to challenge, and to change.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another nail in the coffin of youth

Today I repaid my final instalment of my Student Loans.

I now look forward to spending the monthly savings on slippers and cardigans as my wife and I contemplate our move away from the bright lights of the big city..........

PS - My new geeky web toy

I'd been thinking of having a regular 'link dump' here setting out stuff I've read and thought others should read. Rather than having to take time out to blog on a set of links each day, I found that Google Reader allows you to share links instantly, and that they have a Blogger widget for this task. So from now on, please consider the new links to the right as the things that I've read today that have caught my eye. ---> Enjoy.

Not the time to worry

Although I’ve been a fairly regular air passenger in the past, I’ve always been a nervous flyer. On my way West across the Atlantic last year I got a decent case of the jitters mid-flight (not related to my wedding two days before!), but landings have always made me a bit nervous.

Well, it looks like I’ve been worrying at the wrong time.

It appears that forty-five percent of the crashes happen on landing, but remarkably these crashes account for only 2 percent of all the fatalities. The worst crashes are those when you are climbing or cruising (14 percent of crashes, but 37 percent of fatalities).

So that should put my mind at ease.

Monday, March 17, 2008

“I want to gaze at sunsets”

This is a beautiful and thought-provoking piece of radio.

I believe in a work ethic, and that my work is not only important to me but is an integral part of who I am. But after five years of knocking my pan in for the job, my boss and (hopefully) the greater good I now have a different perspective on my work, my life and politics.

When I was drunk enough at my stag night last year to seek answers from my father on the most important emotionally driven issues men always have trouble asking each other, I asked him for one piece of advice to help me as a married man. He told me to always put my family first. Not his family, or my mother’s family. My new family.

That simple advice helped me complete the journey I’d been on since I left my previous job.

I’d learned to appreciate my life, and understood that it wasn’t only OK to do things that I enjoyed, like playing golf and getting home in time to eat a meal with Debbie, it was essential.

So here’s to putting your priorities in order. Gazing at sunsets, and putting your family first.

£77.50 - the benefit of a clear green conscience

I read this announcement this morning, which made me think of the number of sustainable transport initiatives operating in Scotland already, including the one I recently joined – the City Car Club in Edinburgh.

My trusty Renault Laguna went for its MOT last month and didn’t return. If I’d have known the Scrapyard was going to give me £77.50 for it based on its weight I definitely wouldn’t have spent an hour clearing out 3 years of accumulated crap from the boot ;)

So I joined the Car Club. It cost £75 upfront, and £5 a month to bring the insurance excess down from £500 to a more manageable £100, and costs me £4.50 an hour to drive, which includes tax, insurance and petrol. It’s currently working out slightly cheaper than running my old car, but I’d expect it to save me in the medium term as I don’t have repairs to pay. I’ve booked on the phone and online so far with no problems.

The best thing about it is the fact that after a couple of quick emails to the Car Club, they are due to put one of their cars in my private parking space outside my flat. The car will be available to all members, so anyone can hire it, but it’s going to be pretty handy to have immediate access to a car at my doorstep. I’ve already found that I’ve been able to book the car I want in the location I want every time of asking, so although I don’t expect a 100% record forever, I know that it’s likely that I’ll be able to book it when I need it. If having the car on my street acts as an incentive for more members, they’ll look at putting new cars in the area to cope with demand.

So I’m driving a smaller car, reducing my own emissions. I’m also driving less, as having a direct hypothecated cost for stepping into a car stops unnecessary journeys, and I’ll hopefully also help to reduce the parking chaos in the streets around me as more people nearby get rid of their own car to take advantage of the new Car Club vehicle on their doorstep.

So this is a win-win-win: for my pocket, for my neighbours, and for our environment.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The challenges of power

I was sad to read this week that both the Tartan Hero and Granite City blogs are to, albeit temporarily, stop blogging. I know both Mark and Grant and they've both produced some good work, some funny, some interesting and some thought provoking. I always wondered why it seemed to me that supporters of opposition parties semed to be far more active (and effective) in the blogosphere in Scotland and England. Think about it - Iain Dale and Guido v Labour Home or Recess Monkey. No contest if you're looking for quality blogging. In Scotland, Labour only really seems to have Kez and Terry Kelly who are read widely by non-supporters (for wildly different reasons!), or am I missing someone? Perhaps if the election of Mark and Grant as Councillors last year has put paid to their blogging, perhaps opposition will mean a new wave of quality Labour and Lib Dem blogging in Scotland?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What's the best mobile broadband? Not 3.

The Guardian ran a short piece yesterday morning of the relative merits of the various 3G broadband services which have become available in recent months. It’s a decent overview, but fails to mention the service that I use , 3 Mobile’s Pay As You Go service.

I signed up a couple of months ago in order to use the service on my daily commute from Edinburgh to Glasgow. I thought that it would be useful to be able to catch up on the papers and a bit of work on my travels, but wanted to dip into the service, rather than committing myself to a 12 month contract.

The ‘dongle’ cost £95 and I can but top ups from £10. The software works fine, no problems there, but it’s in the service levels and cost that the problems begin.

Despite the reassurance of the shop assistant, the 3G service is not universally available on the journey to and from Glasgow Queen Street, so you be often ‘dropped’ from the service on route, which is both irritating and time consuming. But my main gripe is with the cost of the service.

I used it the other day to do some work on my way back from a meeting. I stopped for about an hour and went through my emails, firing off a few short replies. I downloaded three or four short Word documents and a small Excel file. I ran up £10 worth of charges, making this service far more expensive than even a regular hotel’s broadband service, which usually provides unlimited downloads in a set time period.

My dongle is now consigned to the bottom of my briefcase – for emergencies only. I’m posting this from the train – on a far more reliable, free service.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

10 good reasons not to blog in a week:

1. Football Manager is too addictive When you manage, against all expectations, to take Sheffield United to the Championship title in your first season, then guide Man City to the top of the Premiership and the quarter finals of European competition the following season, who wouldn’t want to slip an extra couple of hours in? 2. It’s Barack Obama’s fault Having decided to have a second go at reading ‘The Audacity of Hope’, it’s a lot better than I remember the first time around. So when I’m not Guiding Man City through a tricky away tie in the League Cup to Derby, I’m catching up on the thoughts of America’s favourite next president. 3. I’ve been ill It’s a chest infection, I’ve got antibiotics. Nobody argues with the “I’m ill, I’ve got antibiotics” excuse for general lethargy..... 4. Not redecorating a house you want to sell The “I’m ill, I’ve got antibiotics” excuse even works on sceptical wives who’ve invited their brother through for the weekend to help with painting the house. Too ill to paint = too ill to blog. 5. I’ve sold my car For £77.50. But joining a Car Club at long last seems to be working out OK, at least in the short term. Although the idiot who did some gardening in the front seats of the car in Waterloo Place last weekend put a slight dampener on my first hire. 6. I took a Jungian psychology test for work Apparently I’m a fairly classic ENFP (Extrovert-Intuitive-Feeling-Perceptive), but with an out-of-preference Questioning rather than accommodating type. I blame my old job ;) If only someone had told me that I can be “typically tactful, but can be sceptical, confrontational, and outspoken” in addition to the fact that I “may find that your questions are sometimes misinterpreted as oppositional and contentious” before my appraisal at work last week, and then I could have used it in my defence....... 7. I’ve been watching the Sopranos Thank God More4 and Sky+, a combination of sheer wholesome goodness. It’s still as good the second time around. 8. And ‘The Wire’ Thanks to ‘Call the Cops’ in the Guardian Guide for this. This is how TV is supposed to be. 9. My three mobile USB internet card thing is rubbish It just eats data, so a £10 top-up runs out in a few days of surfing on the train. And the service is not as reliable as they promised. So coupled with the fact that FirstScotrail are not as enlightened as National Express East Coast when it comes to free WiFi, I’ve not had the chance to blog from the train as much. Which is a shame, as occasional moments of sunshine like this morning’s visit by Mark, the world’s happiest train conductor, (seriously, it’s amazing how others around you perk up a bit when you’re just outwardly happy and nice to people) definitely deserve recording. 10. Who remembers their own New Year resolutions by the end of February anyway? I didn’t. But I do now.

Monday, February 18, 2008

If in doubt, write a list.....

From Love and Garbage, a meme:

A) Four jobs I have had in my life (other than current job): Door-to-door Book Salesman, Golf Ball Collector at a Driving Range, Rodie for Celine Dion, DJ B.) Four movies I would watch over and over: Goodfellas, Star Wars, Zulu, Fight Club C.) Four places I have lived Edinburgh, Brixton, North Dakota, Wishaw & Bellshill D.) Four TV shows that I watch The Wire, The Sopranos, Prison Break & Entorage E.) Four places I have been: Florence, Nashville, Skye & Cornwall F.) People who e-mail me (regularly): My wife, my mother, my media monitoring service & the automated press release service at my old work (despite repeated requests to unsubscribe!) G.) Four of my favourite foods: Ribeye Steak (medium rare), a nice juicy burger, quail, proper chorizo sausages H. ) Four places I would rather be right now: In bed (in the arms of my wife), in bed (fast asleep), on a golf course, playing high stakes poker J.) Four Things I am looking forward to this year: Continued married bliss, our holiday in Tuscany, playing more golf, watch politics from the outside K.) Four favourite authors: Irvine Welsh, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Hemmingway

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Today was a good day

Today was a good day for many reasons, including:
  • The weather was good. Who doesn’t feel better on a sunny day?
  • I had a good meeting at work. Imagine, a meeting that actually served its purpose and was attended by people you respect, with some clearly defined outcomes that will help me in my job
  • I got to the final 2 players in a big poker game online
  • Debbie and I are still definitely in the honeymoon period....
  • BT’s customer service improved significantly, with the reconnection of my home phone
  • I got a letter from BT (how 20th century!) confirming that I was to receive the £5 off my bill Debbie was promised on the phone last week.

So thank you to Ben and Janet at BT for resolving my situation, and sorry to the BT Customer Services person Debbie spoke to last week who I thought was just useless. She clearly did what she said she’d do. All BT need now is the systems to match the people and everyone will be a satisfied customer.

So, did I mention that it took me 25 minutes on the phone to book my car in for a service this week.............

This is not good. BT's Customer Service is still crap.

So, top marks from Sam at BT's press office, who responded to my email within an hour of arriving at work yesterday, and at least sounded like she/he could/would help. I'm not sure if it was Sam's intervention which prompted my first contact with BT's Customer Complaints staff, but if it was this brave work was in vain. Here's the email the eContact Customer Service team member sent me (in full): Dear Sir/ Madam Thank you for giving me opportunity to assist you. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience you may have been caused and my thanks for your patience and co operation in this matter. This is in response to your query dated 10/02/08, regarding BT account. I understand that your are enquiring about your BT account. I will be more than happy to assist you, but I am sorry I am unable to understand your real concern. I would like to inform you kindly, elaborate your query . The moment you throw light on issue in question, I will reply to the query accordingly. If you should have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us again via e-mail. Thank you for contacting BT. Yours sincerely, Dxxx Mxxxxxxx eContact Customer Service (I've just spent 5 mintes staring at my computer screen, trying not to swear.) Seriously, is this the best BT can do? So, for the benefit of BT Customer Services, here's the story so far: My phone does not make outgoing calls. That's my real concern. I have paid my bill. I have contacted the automated service, which promised me that I'd be reconnected within 24 hours. I spoke to several customer services reps, some of whom have apologised, and all of whom have promised that my service would be reconnected imminently. I have even been promised a £5 discount on my next bill for the poor service that I've received. So what's the chances of my phone service being fixed today? I'm not sure, but perhaps my email to the Chief Executive will help?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

BT’s Customer Service is crap

Everyone appreciates good service. If I get good service in restaurants I tip well, and I’ll gratefully recommend services to my friends and others if they merit it. It makes me feel good to be able to pass on my good experiences to others. Right now, I can heartily recommend:

· National Express Trains from Edinburgh to Glasgow Central (£5 cheaper and less crowded than FirstScotrail, with Free WiFi)

· Compass, North Charlotte Street, Leith (the food and service are great, and there’s a always a good atmosphere inside)

· Sky+ (this is one of the best things ever invented. Never miss an episode of any of your favourite programmes and always have the option of watching something good you’ve recorded, rather than whatever’s on at the time)

What I can’t recommend to my friends is BT.

It’s not that their product is poor, their wireless broadband service has always been reliable and has never caused me any problems. It’s their customer service. It’s shocking. We’ve not had the use of our phone for outgoing calls a couple of weeks.

I’m not entirely sure of the source of our problem. I recently moved to paperless billing to pay online, as we were a few weeks late with a payment that was due when we were away on honeymoon. So we have no outstanding balance with BT. But our phone still does not work.

I called BT and used their automated service, which confirmed that I’d paid and said we’d be reconnected within 24 hours. 48 hours later I called again, managed to negotiate the automated service to speak to a real human being, and explained my situation again. They promised to reconnect me within 24 hours. Last Thursday, and still no phone, Debbie called. They were in trouble now. She secured a £5 discount on our bill for their poor service and a promise from the lady at BT that the line would be reconnected “in 3-4 hours”.

That’s my girl, I thought. No-one messes with Debbie.

Next morning – still no phone. Debbie calls again. BT Customer services were “very very sorry”. They would “sort it out in a few hours”, he said. I called again tonight to find no customer service staff at home, but a kindly computer who confirmed one again that I had a zero balance and could have my line reconnected ASAP.

BUT STILL NO PHONE SERVICE. NUMEROUS CALLS, SEVERAL APOLOGIES AND A COUPLE OF PROMISES, BUT STILL NO SODDING PHONE. I'VE BEEN PAYING LINE RENTAL THROUGHOUT THIS PROCESS, BUT STILL NO SERVICE.

So, I am doing what a good friend would do, and pointing out BT’s shocking service to you all. I hope that the muppets who have been dealing with my request to date receive the service that they’ve been given to me in every bar and restaurant that they frequent. And I hope that the poor customer service that BT have been displaying is sorted out more quickly now I’ve posted it on Facebook and onto my blog for all the world to see.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Suffering Addicts

You can pick them out quite clearly in the bus queues and on the trains this morning as these functioning addicts trudge to work in the biting cold. It seems as though their collective consciousness has somehow been pervaded by the desert heat, deepening the effects of the freezing North wind as it sweeps in over the Firth of Forth. Their eyes and limbs are heavy as they slog through the crowds to their trains and buses, or sit sedated in the queuing traffic. They are outsiders, who view their own odd, antisocial obsession as a badge of pride even as it takes its inevitable toll on their personal and social lives. 'I remember that from the 80's' is the standard office putdown, a sign of feigned interest and thinly veiled pity for those still stricken by yesterday's phenomena. This morning they seem especially detached as they consider the events of last night. They long to share their bewilderment of their situation, to talk it through with others, but without a way of expressing their feelings and opinions they can't properly crystallise their thoughts and emotions for an external audience. Why? How? And the lack of sleep is not helping. The working day is glaring at them from the near distance, threatening the slumbering drones and they drag themselves through their commute. They'll leave on the dot tonight, as afternoon meetings have been deliberately curtailed or called off. There will be no working late today. The buzz has worn off and the consequences of their addiction have settled on them. The morning after the Superbowl is a bittersweet moment for American football fans from Edinburgh. I’m knackered.

Friday, February 1, 2008

I was wrong

Twice. Firstly, on the US election, just like Joe Strummer, I was wrong - Rudy can fail. Although my post Iowa bet on Hillary to win the nomination looks depressingly accurate......... The mainstream media have had their way and forced both contests down to a straight choice: McCain v Romney and Clinton v Obama. Roll on Super-Duper tuesday! Secondly, my default position on Big Brother contestants has been that they will be self serving arseholes who deserve contempt from the society that they crave recognintion from. Maybe the majority are, but that John Loughton from Big Brother's Celebrity Hijack is a genuinely nice, thoughtful guy. I met him last night at a work event and he was self-effacing, polite, and used the event to promote others, not himself. Despite my preconceptions, I liked him. Good on the big guy, he's an inspiration to the larger man interested in politics!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What to do with a former England captain and football legend?

He’s a footballing legend with an international pedigree. He’s won winners medals on the pitch at the highest levels of European competition and has achieved success as a player outside England. Many may think that this record of achievement, and at times downright adulation, by both fans and the media would mean that he has worked to earn the respect of all the football community. But within the next few weeks decisions will be made which to will have to use both the heart and the head, and will begin the new process of defining the new manager of the international team.

Terry Butcher and David Beckham require need to be dealt with in a similar way if George Burley and Fabio Capello are to build respect and achieve success in their new posts.

Capello needs to use his head and put aside the public clamour for a token place in the England team for Beckham in their next match against Switzerland. It is, no doubt, a temptation for the new England manager to use the LA Galaxy player as a human shield from the often rabid English redtops, a measure to avert attention from the inevitable challenges he’ll face on the field as he builds and shapes his own team from the smouldering wreckage Steve McLaren has left behind. But as the first act of significance of a new managerial post it would send out unhelpful messages which will prevent future progress for the England team. Capello cannot afford to send the message that he will be swayed by media hype or player pressure. He must be guided by a belief in his own abilities and the desire to win and to realise the huge, and as yet unfulfilled, potential of English football to regularly compete at the World Cups and European Championships.

David Beckham, for all his undoubted skills on the pitch, is the past and not the future for England. Beckham didn’t move to LA to maintain his position at the peak of on-field prowess, he know himself that the game’s up. His inclusion will be an impediment for England and cannot contribute to the development of the team or the confidence of any of his likely replacements in Lennon or Wright-Phillips. Capello, who dropped Beckham at Real Madrid, must do so again if he’s to succeed with England in the long-term.

The imminent appointment of Terry Butcher as an assistant to George Burley at Scotland has raised the hackles of a few of the Tartan Army, and several of Scottish football’s many bigots. Butcher has through his past success managed to put out both the anti-Rangers and anti-English elements of the Scotland support, and so will inevitably face a mixed reaction in his early period in charge. But the fact remains that the vast majority of Scotland fans yearn for success on the pitch to match the spectacular achievements in the bars and city squares of Europe that our fans have achieved over the past twenty years. I’m not a fan of Berti Voghts, but that was because he was rubbish, not because he was German.

I don’t want Butcher to wear a kilt for a double page Daily Record spread the day of our game against Croatia. I don’t want some faux patriotism from him, or to see him belt out ‘Flower of Scotland’ because it will make the bigots hate him less. I don’t want him not to be an English football legend.

I want him to provide inspiration and sound advice to Scotland’s up and coming talent. I want him to help make Stephen McManus and Andy Webster half the player at an international level he was, because it that’s the case we’ll have a great chance to qualify for the next World Cup. I want him to do the job he’s been asked to do by the new manager, because George Burley, like Fabio Capello, deserves a fair chance to make his own mark at international level, and if that means Terry Butcher then so be it. His appointment has to be a footballing decision, not an emotional one.

The same Scotland fans who cheered Nigel Quashie’s goal against Trinidad and Tobago and laughed with him as he kissed the badge for the fans as we sang ‘You’re Not English Any More’ will also accept Butcher if he demonstrates professionalism off the pitch and shows real commitment to the team. I hope Terry Butcher is the most popular Assistant Manager in Scottish football history, because if he is I’ll be watching the team in the World Cup finals in 2010.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The brightest jewel in my crown.....

With a mother from Ayr,and being well within school-trip range of Burns' Cottage, I'd have been hard pressed not to have an interest in Scotland's national poet. When Debbie and I thought about what sort of wedding we'd like to have last year we wanted the poetry and songs of Burns to be part of it. My sister Rachel's reading of 'O Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast' was one of the day's highlights for me, and Debbie and I were so happy to have her mother's friend Sheena sing "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose" in the church. She was wonderful too, as you can see from the picture of me (above) listening from the side after we signed the register. I don't recall ever seeing this Burns poem before I saw it in Lizzie MacGregor and Liz Lochhead's wonderful book of Scottish readings for weddings, so today seems like an appropriate day to share. Enjoy!

Robert Burns: O, Wert Thou In The Cauld Blast O, wert thou in the cauld blast On yonder lea, on yonder lea, My plaidie to the angry airt, I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter thee, Or did Misfortune's bitter storms Around thee blaw, around thee blaw, Thy bield should be my bosom, To share it a', to share it a'.

Or were I in the wildest waste, Sae black and bare, sae black and bare, The desert were a Paradise, If thou wert there, if thou wert there. Or were I monarch of the globe, Wi' thee to reign, wi' thee to reign, The brightest jewel in my crown Wad be my queen, wad be my queen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Congatulations George Burley!

George Burley's imminent appointment as the new Scotland manager is good news for the National team. He's well respected (although does Craig Brown hate anyone - he seems such a reasonable man), has a track record of achievement in management and hates Vladimir Romanov. What more could a Scottish football fan ask for? Mark McGhee's generous praise for Burley, especially given that he was told the news while being interviewed on Sky Sports, is just another reason why the Motherwell manager is held with increasing respect by fans. The longer Motherwell can hold on to him the better. Now, if only the SFA would hurry up and send me a new renewal form for the Supporters Club.....

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Don’t Write off Rudy

His late starting strategy means that the Republican hopeful’s poll ratings were bound to fall.

While some UK commentators have already started writing off Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for the Republican nomination, it’s far from over for the former Mayor of New York. Giuliani’s strategy was clear from the start; he would let the other candidates fight it out early on in the campaign while he concentrated on the big ticket states which go to the polls later in the campaign.

With none of the others able to build real momentum by winning two of out of two in Iowa and New Hampshire, neither Romney (who now has most delegates - see left) nor McCain (who is topping the national polls for the first time) can be said to be leading the charge.

Given the focus on the state by state races, it would be expected that Giuliani’s relative lack of profile would have a short-term effect on his national polling numbers, but those who write him off do so at their own peril. ‘Super Tuesday’ brings Florida, California and New Jersey to the polls, and so can still be a launchpad for this candidate. McCain’s stated lead in Florida is within the margin of error making the race neck and neck, while Giuliani’s local credentials must put him in the driving seat in New Jersey. Although McCain looks ahead in a close race in California, if Giuliani can win two out of these three significant states he’ll be up and running and may be able to put real pressure on the Huckabee and Romney campaigns.

There are four strong candidates still in the Republican contest with the vast majority of states still to choose their candidate. It’s not over yet for Giuliani.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A backward step for Cheeky Boy?

Scottish coverage of James McFadden’s move to Birmingham has been almost entirely positive and uncritical. His genius displays for Scotland (and especially that goal) have cemented his good reputation in the minds of the Tartan Army, and so it’s definitely the case that his move has been seen as a positive move which will guarantee him the regular first team starts the English Premiership he richly deserves, or so seems to be the prevailing opinion.

I’m not so easily convinced, however, that this is the right move for him right now. While he has acknowledged the inconsistency in his form, Everton fans also seem to be of a mind that although he will be missed by fans getting £6m for a ‘luxury player’ who scored 18 goals in 136 games for the club has been good business.

Although they haven’t set the heather on fire, Everton have been a consistent force in the Premiership in the last few seasons with decent finishing positions in the league. Birmingham, on the other hand, are hovering above the bottom three on goal difference. The main question must be whether, given his inconsistency at club level, are McFadden’s talents better employed in a team going forward or one who have to grind out another 20 points before the end of the season to avoid the drop? I’ve not seen a great deal of Kenny Miller’s games for Derby, but although it’s clear that he’s doing the best he can, it’s impossible to fulfil your full potential as an attacking player when playing for a team who are constantly forced onto the back foot.

So fingers crossed for Cheeky Boy, and here’s hoping he can produce the same kind of match-winning performances for McLeish in the Premiership as he has delivered for Scotland. At 24 he needs to be playing top-class football, not in the English Championship.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Scotland Shortlist: My Verdict

This week the SFA will be interviewing their chosen four candidates for the Scotland Manager's job.  I  don't envy their task, as their choice will be not only between these four individuals, but what style of management we'll have for our resurgent team, and how that will shape the development of international football in Scotland.

So what's the verdict so far on the shortlist?

Graeme Souness:
First class pedigree as a player as captain of Liverpool and Scotland, mixed fortunes as a manager. Even Rangers supporters who flocked back to Ibrox during his reign recognise his reliance on the chequebook as a management tool, sometimes with mixed results – e.g. Terry Butcher and Colin West were 2 of his first signings.  Since leaving Glasgow, Souness has failed to reproduce anywhere near the impressive results seen at Rangers at a string of clubs across Europe.  His recent track record as a manager seems to be to confined to leaving the club before too much long-term damage has been done.  

Special powers – the moustache.  Tackling Steaua Bucharest players.

Tommy Burns:
2 words – Berti Voghts.  He was there and is complicit in the failure.  While he redeemed himself slightly under Walter Smith, this proves that he's better as a No. 2 rather than his own man.  As a manager in his own right, winning a single Scottish Cup in three years at Celtic is not a successful record.

Special powers – Ginger, speaks some German.

George Burley:
A solid player with European success, Burly performed managerial miracles at Ipswich in 1999-2001 taking them from the English Championship to Europe. In the space of 10 unbeaten games made Hearts favourites for the Premier League, before leaving in the face of Vladimir Romanov's interference in the team. His fair performance since at Southampton has not been up to his previous standard.  

Special powers – hates Vladimir Romanov.

Mark McGhee:
Played under Ferguson at Aberdeen, successful spells at Celtic and in Germany . Solid record in management, but has not managed a team at the highest level. Even as a Motherwell fan I can't argue that that this has changes this season. What he has a track record in is building up teams with limited resources to achieve relative success. Good with the media, his teams play exciting attacking football.

Special powers – Likeable, plays 3 up front.

I think it's a straight choice between Burley and McGhee, much as it hurts to nominate a manager who may take Motherwell to Europe next year. Both have all the required experience and a good record in management, and would have the support of fans (or at least, neither are hated by one side of teh Old Firm).

We'll know soon enough.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Free Wifi on the train

If I'd have known about the free internet access on the National Express East Coast train from Glasgow Central to Edinburgh, I may have spared myself the £100 I spent on this. :(

Ah well, happy days! All I have to do now is work out why Google now thinks that I'm in Sweden, when I'm actually travelling through Wishaw at 70 miles an hour......

Why all the polls are wrong

Opinion polls are political heroin. You know they're no good over the long term, but they provide a short-term hit for political junkies and despite their inherent, and significant, problems it's possible to function with them from day to day. And they cost a lot of money.

But the problem with opinion polls is that no individual poll is reliably accurate.

The 1992 General Election was seen as a watershed in political opinion polling in the UK, when the professionals got it (very) wrong and predicted a victory for Neil Kinnock's Labour Party even up to the exit polls carried out for that night's TV coverage. More recently, polls in New Hampshire which showed a clear advantage for Barack Obama left many commentators on both sides of the Atlantic with egg on their faces. In Scotland, there have been wildly different results for political opinion polls carried out in roughly the same time.

Significantly, the manner in which the UK polling organisations subsequently tightened up their act and tried to introduce a greater degree of 'science' into the way that they interpreted the raw data they collect is the reason that we can't infer any great significance in a single opinion poll. Because different organisations have different systems for presenting, for example, an individual's likelihood to vote, (some only count respondents who rate their likelihood to vote as greater than 7 or 8 out of 10, while some don't ask this question as a matter of course) or a slightly tweaked demographic model (or none) which they use to plug the statistical gaps in their data collection, it's a fact that different organisations would present different headline 'results' using the exact same questions and answers. Polls carried out by the YouGov for the SNP the Telegraph, in November 2006 in the run up to last year's election which were carried out at the same time had different results, mainly because the questions asked were slightly different.

When you then factor in the relative merits of phone polling (generally less accurate) versus internet polling (YouGov produced the most accurate polls for the last General Election, but was out in last year's Scottish Election), and the often different questions posed to try to examine the same issue it's even more apparent that polls can't all be 'right'. That's why they're all wrong.

So, as an aide memoir, here's a short checklist on what to look for if you want a poll that's less inaccurate than others:

1. Any poll by an organisation which isn't in the British Polling Council should be immediately discounted. Member organisations are required to publish their full data of any questions released to the media if asked, so it can be held up to independent scrutiny. Scottish Opinion is one company which does not do this in Scotland and so it's not possible to compare their methods against other operators. Scottish Opinion polls of voting intention in Scotland in the last year have been the most volatile of all the polling organisations over this period and appeared to show wild swings in opinion when other polls showed steady trends.

2. A poll with a small sample is not reliable. You need a big sample (<900>

3. Don't look at the snapshot, look at the trends over time. Even a poll with a dodgy methodology will, if applied consistently, show trends over time. You may not be able to say with 100% confidence that polling levels for Political Party A are at X percent, but you will be able to say whether support is rising or falling over time if the questions are the same.

4. Beware of shy voters and the 'spiral of silence' Research has shown that there is a tendency for some voters not to want to reveal a party preference they perceive to be unpopular or unfashionable. So in the UK voters have been less inclined to declare their support for the Conservative Party, while there has been some discussion of whether in New Hampshire, Barack Obama 'suffered' from an inflated support rating as voters did not want to be perceived as having a racial bias against him when asked to choose between the candidates for the Democratic Presidential nominee.

So, polling is not an exact science, governed by arithmetical certainty. It's a social science, shaped by opinions and affected by direct interaction with fallible human beings. And that's why all opinion polls are wrong.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

McGhee or not McGhee.....

.....that is the question.

As a Motherwell fan, I’m delighted at the performance of Mark McGhee since his appointment last summer, and know he’s our best bet to secure success in the coming years as he builds his team. But as a Scotland fan, I know that he’s the best in a mediocre bunch who have been shortlisted. None of the other candidates, Craig Levein, Joe Jordan, Billy Davies, and Jim Jefferies, have the track record of success that McGhee has at club level, who has achieved tangible success with every team he has managed.

So today’s interview with Graham Spiers in The Times gave a reassuring message. While it looks though he would want the Scotland job if offered, he’s not going to leave Motherwell in the lurch if it comes about. While some football managers seem to be more concerned with financial gain than delivering results on the pitch, this is a football man with principles.

Who wouldn’t want a manager like that?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Stuff I like today

(for wildly different reasons.....) How journalism works. Journalists get a hard time, and sometimes it’s justified, but often it’s not. I too, such as, know that we should believe in children. The BossHoss - Toxic (Britney spears) German country band sing Britney. It’s a fitting tribute to a troubled heroine.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Clinton and Giuliani: down but not out

I’ve always been interested in American politics, so being in the States for most of December and having a closer view of the run up to the Presidential nomination process was like being a kid in the political sweetie shop. Now Barack Obama has won the Iowa caucus, the UK media has gotten a hook to start following the race to be President with gusto. He is dynamic, young(ish), a different colour from the other candidates and has developed a easy to understand narrative about Change. The bandwagon has left the building, and is currently trundling through New Hampshire. The fawning media should try to read his book, 'The Audacity of Hope'. That would knock the shine off their coverage by sending them hurtling to the land of nod..... Despite their great starts, I’m not 100% convinced that either winners in Iowa, Obama and Mike Huckabee, can go on to with their respective party’s nominations. My favourite factoid from the weekend’s papers has been that only two Democrats have won both Iowa and New Hampshire since 1976, and neither Al Gore nor John Kerry went on to become President. Winning early is not a bad thing, but it’s not essential, especially in these three and four horse races. In the Democrat race, the problem with Hillary Clinton so far is that she’s been seen as the establishment candidate. Now she can compete as the underdog, which can be the change that her campaign needs. If I were her I’d spend more time campaigning with Chelsea and less time standing in front of old Clinton allies like Madeline Albright. Also in her favour she will have a more experienced campaign staff, and she has money and a consistent significant and substantial lead in the national polls. While this weekend’s polls have it too close to call in New Hampshire, she has around a twenty point lead in both Florida and California which go to the polls within a month. By comparison, New Hampshire and Iowa together send 77 delegates to the Democratic Convention, while Florida sends 185 and California sends 370. Hillary needs to hold her ground in New Hampshire and this campaign will still be wide open as we move to Super Tuesday. The fact that Edwards will still be in the race in a month should help Clinton, as it should help to split the 'anti-establishment' vote. Compared to the Democratic race, the contest for the Republican nomination has been largely ignored by the UK media, but it’s a far more interesting contest in electoral terms. It still seems like a real 4-way contest between a former fat preacher who does not believe in evolution, a flip-flopping Mormon, a man who is even older than Menzies Campbell, and the former Mayor of New York. I still think that Rudy Giuliani has a great chance of winning. His stated strategy has been to focus on larger states which poll later in the contest like Florida, so even his sixth-place finish in Iowa was no cause for concern. If the other Republicans pick each other off early, currently Romney seems to be the villain-de-jour, then Rudy would be well-placed to come through the middle as the least-hated candidate. He’s still the narrow favourite on Betfair from the likely winner in New Hampshire, John McCain. So with one Primary down and twenty-eight to go, I’ve put money on Clinton and Giuliani to win the nominations.

Long time no see.

Long time no see.

Since my last post I managed to get married, go on an amazing honeymoon and survive Christmas and New Year. I thought blogging while on honeymoon would be a little beyond the pale.....

So better late than never, here's my review of my goals for 2007 and my thoughts and plans for 2008.

2007 was a good year. My main goals for the year were to (in no particular order):

  • Get married
  • Have a better work/life balance
  • Play my part in helping the SNP win the election
  • Improve my range of professional skills

Married – check. New job means weekend working is a thing of the past and I can for the first time in 5 years make plans to go out midweek without worrying about work. The SNP are now in Government in Scotland, and the expanded range of responsibilities I have with my new job means that I'm still learning new things at work while keeping my hand in with writing and media/PR work.

So this year, I've a lot to live up to. Given the life-changing 2007 I had it would be difficult to set new goals which are as challenging, but I reckon that while my work goals will be set at a high level I want to spend the next year enjoying my new life with Debbie and my friends and family. So, for posterity's sake, here are my personal goals for 2008:

  • Set up a new home with Debbie

  • Get a golf handicap below 20

  • Get fit

  • Blog regularly

So – here's to a successful 2008 for us all!