Category Archives: Reflections

Camelot Greed

I’ve become increasingly disenfranchised with Camelot, the operator currently given the license to run the National Lottery in the UK.

Just over a year ago they doubled the price of the basic “Lotto” offering, and by increasing the number of balls in the draw have reduced the odds of wining the Jackpot from something like 14 million to one to 45 million to one.   At the same time parallel changes have been made to increase the chances of winning a prize.  Many of my friends and family agreed that we’d be doing LESS lines on the National Lottery as a result, or at the very least spending the same sum on lottery tickets, but doing 50% of the lines.  The evidence of this failure is clear to see.  Gone are the £6-8m jackpots at a weekend with no rollover.  Instead we’re lucky if the jackpot reaches £4m without a rollover, and the number of sequential rollovers is clearly increasing.

The latest Camelot ploy has annoyed me further still, and to me points at a company that is loosing public support.  The paying public are voting with their feet, and not backing the National Lottery as they once did.  Not only are Camelot loosing out, but the extent of the Lottery funds channelled to good causes and charities is similarly shrinking.

At this time of year, there are normally multiple different seasonal scratch cards on sale.  These are usually a mix of £1, £2, £5, and £10 scratch cards with a Christmas theme.  The £1 scratch cards are often in the form of tags, so they can be used to label a present “from” and “to” an individual.

However it would seem that there are no £1 Christmas scratch cards on sale anywhere this year!  The list of Scratch cards in circulation most definitely doesn’t include a Christmas specific one for only £1 this year.

Many people (myself included) use these as part of our Christmas gift giving, using them as Stocking fillers or to boost presents, and it seems likely that Camelot expect everyone to just buy £2 cards instead.

I wonder if Camelot will retain it’s license at the next review?  Based on current performance, I sincerely hope not!

One post per year?

Each year, I promise myself to make more regular entries on my blog, and every year I fail miserably. 2014 was no exception, with naught but a single public post in 2014.

I once regularly found things to talk about on a regular basis, although admittedly they were fairly trivial, but now it’s less so.

I’d like to think that it’s a side effect of the stage of life I find myself in; I’m now the wrong side of 40, and have been in a stable relationship for in excess of 3 years now. I guess many of the things that I might have blogged about have become the province of conversations with my other half. Much of the crap I’ve put up with in relationships before this is now a distant memory, and generally I can see those events in a completely different light now.

So, once again I will promise myself that I will try to make more regular comments here; indeed I’d like to think that people may read them, find them of interest and comment from time to time!

I’ve not lost my desire for undertaking little “projects”, so that might well provide some fodder for blog entries, time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll just settle for wishing my friends and family a Happy New Year, and wish that for all of us, 2015 will be a better year than 2014 proved to be.

Reboots Rebooted!

I’ve mentioned this previously, but it never ceases to frustrate and annoy me how our Film and Television Studios insist on “rebooting” or re-imagining an existing film franchise. I am of course focussing my thoughts on the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, since that’s where my tastes lie.

Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Judge Dredd, Godzilla, Star Trek, Robocop, Flash Gordon, Total Recall, Conan, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, The Tomorrow People, V, Dune, – all of which have been rebooted or re imagined to varying degrees of success. Usually with a change in some or all of the principal cast, often with Cameo appearances from earlier incarnations, but most of the time with a re-imagining of the original storyline.

This frustrates me for two reasons. Firstly, as someone who is feeling distinctly middle aged, I usually grew up with the original incarnation of the film or TV programme, and seeing it re-written and produced afresh with new actors undermines the originals I feel.

I don’t mind so much where the storyline picks up later on, or where the original left off, or even before the original (eg Star Wars Eps 1-3). Finding a way to solve a cliffhanger from the last episode or incarnation is where some of the story lines come in to their own, and is not a foreign skill to Scriptwriters, or Storytellers.

However even then, the new storytellers have a dangerous tendency to step away from Canon, and play fast and loose with the old history because they think we won’t remember; Take Doctor Who for instance, which in the new post-Ecclestone era seems to have developed a tendency to ignore much of what went before. The Cybermen were originally from Mondas, and in the later series they re-originated from a parallel universe and were supposedly created by John Lumic from CyBus industries. While the two story lines weren’t totally incompatible, there was really no good reason why a new origin and back story was created.

My Second frustration is that there is no end of Fiction out there which is crying out for transition to Film or TV, which I wish the Screenwriters and Authors would turn their attention to. Some of the best TV in recent years has come from this route, and includes the acclaimed “Game of Thrones” – adapted from George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire“.

Here’s just a few of the candidates that come to mind:
– The Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne & Todd McCaffrey
– The Magician series, by Raymond E. Feist
– The Assassin / Fool series’ by Robin Hobb
– The Honor Harrington series by David Webber
– The Troy Rising series by John Ringo
– The Kris Longknife series by Mike Shepherd
– The RAMA series by Arthur C. Clarke
– The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov

There are of course hundreds more. I understand of course that there is an implicit cost to obtaining rights to materials, and some authors may not be so keen to allow their content to be transitioned, based on the experiences of people like Ursula K. LeGuin with her Earthsea series, where she was exceedingly unhappy with the transition to screen.

Of course, not every attempt succeeds, and there are a number of critically acclaimed hits, and an equally extensive list of misses.

I’d point at a number of successes, including:
– The Colour of Magic / Going Postal / The Hogfather produced by Sky
Enders Game – the 2013/2014 film
Blade Runner, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly; All based on novels by Philip K. Dick
I am Legend, and  I Robot – adapted from books and starring Will Smith

Thor, Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America, etc – The Marvel Machine is doing a great job of making the most of their intellectual property and transitioning one story after the other to the big (and the small!) screen.

Some of the also-ran’s include:

John Carter – the attempt to transition the “… of Mars” series by Edgar Rice Burrows didn’t wow audiences, although it was an entertaining enough film in it’s own right.
Oblivion – starring Tom Cruise, but based on a book by Joseph Kosinski, it didn’t really draw the crowds at the box office.
Battlefield Earth – based on a book by renowned Scientologist L. Ron Hubbard, this one had strong potential, but the links including the Star John Travolta to the Church of Scientology contributed to low popularity.
Red Planet – an all star cast including Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Terence Stamp wasn’t enough to drag this one up the charts.
Lost in Space – the remake starring Heather Graham, William Hurt, and Matt Le Blanc, failed to engage audiences, despite being an entertaining and well executed update.

Often these films fail because they don’t stick closely enough to the book to satisfy the die-hard fans.

Unfortunately the number of reboots far outweighs the number of original Films & Serials.

So this is a heartfelt plea, to the Film & Television industry. Please PLEASE PLEASE, enough with the Reboots and Remakes, how about putting some effort and time in to some original Scifi and Fantasy?

Do you agree?

The 10 Commandments of Logic:

1.  Thou shall not attack the person’s character, but the argument.  (Ad hominiem).

2.  Thou shall not misrepresent or exaggerate a person’s argument in order to make them easier to attack.  (Straw man fallacy).

3.  Thou shall not use small numbers to represent the whole.  (Hasty generalisation).

4.  Thou shall not argue thy position by assuming that one of it’s premises is true.  (Begging the question).

5.  Thou shall not claim that because something occured before, it must be the cause.  (Post Hoc / False cause).

6.  Thou shall not reduce the argument down to two possibilities (False dichotomy).

7.  Thou shall not argue that because of our ignorace, a claim must be true or false.  (Ad ignorantum).

8.  Thou shall not lay the burden of proof on to him that is questioning the claim.  (Burden of proof reversal).

9.  Thou shall not assume that “this” follows “that” when it has no logical connection.  (Non sequitur).

10. Thou shall not claim that because a premise is popular, therefore it must be true.  (Bandwagon fallacy).

Customer Service

I’ve seen examples of both Amazing/Excellent Customer Service, and pretty piss poor couldn’t-care-less Customer Service in the last 24 hours.

My DART Tag

Starting with the negative first, earlier this week I had cause to travel through the Dartford Toll Crossing twice. As a reasonably regular traveler of that route in the past, I long ago invested in a “DART-TAG” to make my life easier, and to save a few pennies.  What SHOULD happen is that as you approach the toll barrier, the equipment there somehow senses the presence of your tag, and so just debits the charge to your account.  In most cases you don’t even have to stop, the barrier is sensitive enough and quick enough for you to just slowly drive on through.  The Tag usually emits a loud “bleep” to indicate it’s been recognised, and you get a nice friendly message saying that the toll had been paid (or your credit was low of course!).  But this time, when I tried it on the way “out” this week, NOTHING HAPPENED.

No Bleep.  No nice friendly message, and most importantly NO ACCESS through the barrier.   And of course the car behind me was right up behind me, meaning I couldn’t reverse to reach the machine’s coin catcher if I wanted to.

I had to go rummaging around in the loose change in my pockets, and rolling about in the car trying to find enough change to pay my toll.  I could see the people in the car behind me getting impatient and exasperated, and then I had to sort of wriggle out of the window and reach over my shoulder and behind me to get the money in the machine.

The return journey was a similar experience, only I was prepared for the eventuality that it might not work and had the cash ready to use.

So as you might expect, I looked at the Tag Website to see what if anything was said about a Tag not responding, and there was nothing.  The “FAQ” seemed quite laughable in actual fact, when you consider the number of tags that must be out there (mine is numbered well in to the hundreds of thousands) it is not outside the realms of possibility that they might just stop working every so often, for whatever reason.   Simply NOT having a “What do I do if my tag doesn’t work” in the FAQ doesn’t really make me think that it’s a wholly reliable solution that never goes wrong, merely that the operators of the service are too short sighted to realise that this is EXACTLY the sort of thing an FAQ might actually be Helpful with.   Instead I resorted to the “for any other enquiries please e-mail xxxxxx” option, seeing as the published telephone numbers all seemingly close at 5.30pm!

Anyway, to my disappointment, it’s been over 24 hours now, and I’ve not so much as had an acknowledgement of my e-mail, let alone an answer to my problem.   If I’d have been traveling through the Crossing again today, it would have cost me £1.50 each way instead of £1 each way with the tag, so I’d have lost more money.  I therefore hold this up as a classic example of (1) how to NOT help your customers via your Service Website, and (2) how to NOT help your customers by responding in a timely manner.  There’s nothing for it but to label this as  BAD CUSTOMER SERVICE.

And then the positive.

I was gutted today to discover when I picked my Kindle up intending to use it, that the screen appears to have broken.

My rather broken Kindle

I can genuinely say that I’ve not dropped it, smacked it, or anything else.  Indeed you can see the plastic surround is pristine and undamaged, as is the surface of the screen itself.   I keep it in a purpose made leather wallet which is also totally undamaged.   When transporting it, I tend to put it in my baggage right next to my iPad which is also absolutely fine, so I have absolutely no idea how this damage occured.

Unfortunately it renders the Kindle quite unusable.  The top/right hand part of the screen stubbornly displays the last “advert” it displayed in Sleep mode before I turned it on, and the bottom/left part of the screen works more or less as normal.

So I called Amazon using the “call me back” facility on the Website.   I bought the Kindle back in March this year, from my local Tesco.  I had Googled “Kindle Repairs” and come up fairly short, so really wanted to ask Amazon if they could offer or recommend a repair service.  However I was astounded by what happened next.

I explained what I’d found, and how I couldn’t explain how the damage had occured, and before I could ask my questions, the operator started asking me a few other things.  When did I purchase the unit?  I wasn’t totally sure, maybe as long as 6 months ago from Tesco, I hadn’t bought it from Amazon.co.uk directly.  No, to the best of my knowledge it hadn’t been dropped, or squashed, or exposed to water.  Yes, I had tried the “cold reset” facility.    Ok then, in that case they’ll dispatch a replacement today on next-day delivery, please send the old one back in the next 30 days.

I was astounded.    Given my honesty and sheer puzzlement over what could have caused the damage, I certainly wasn’t angling for a free replacement.  I was expecting to have to pay for a repair or even replace it at my own expense.   Never did I expect a replacement to be sent out just like that.   No “proof of purchase” required, no quibbles, or messing about.  Just a straight replacement, and I hadn’t even asked!

Of course I wasn’t going to turn it down, so I went from being quite angry and annoyed with the prospect of spending another £150 on a replacement Kindle to elated and overjoyed that I’d be getting a Free Replacement (and a postage-paid label to return my old broken one with!) the very next day.

That in my estimation is going above and beyond the requirements of Acceptable Customer Service in to the realms of the Exceptional.  Well done indeed Amazon.co.uk, you have one very happy customer here!

 

Putting things in to perspective!

I was just reading an article on the Sky News website about a new “Blue Giant” star that’s been discovered in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

It linked to this Youtube Video to help you visualise the sheer size.   I love it, as it kind of puts life in to perspective!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEheh1BH34Q