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29 April 2008

Website reviews

I'm going to enjoy slagging off a few websites at, especially who have about the most user hostile website I have ever used.

Let me just say that any website that doesn't use passwords by trying to do things its own way is off to a very bad start indeed. Mandatory dates of birth when they aren't selling age related goods and all I want to do is just pay by credit card is also questionable under the data protection act, 3rd principle.

"Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed". The wide definition of processing should be borne in mind when considering the Third Principle. In complying with this Principle, data controllers should seek to identify the minimum amount of information that is required in order properly to fulfil their purpose and this will be a question of fact in each case. If it is necessary to hold additional information about certain individuals, such information should only be collected and recorded in those cases."

So if I can buy age related goods on without telling them my actual date of birth, merely that I am old enough why do I need to hand over material for ID theft when I buy on next and they don't sell age related goods?


27 April 2008

basic search engine failure

Why is it that 14 years after search engines took off, and millions of pounds of research later that in 2008 you still can't do something as basic and necessary as typing in your postcode to find out where the nearest chemist is that opens on a Sunday?

Even the NHS don't publish this info online, yet somehow they manage to give it to their contact centre staff. Staff who require to know your name, address and date of birth to answer a query.

How is this data collection justifiable when the information should be freely available online?

You can't search for post offices open on a Sunday either!


Better business regulation

I've submitted a few ideas to the better regulation website. If you want to cut red tape in business and improve productivity, why don't you do likewise?


The three rules of test driven development

A useful first step in proving the functionality of software, websites etc. Now all we need is a link up to ensure that the unit tests ensure what is being tested is actually what the end-user (as opposed to the customer) actually wants to use.


26 April 2008

Tesco, every little helps

Every Friday night when I get back from work about 11pm, the shops have long since closed. The local shops all have lights out, the businesses all have lights out and the only store with lights on is the local Tesco.

Every light on, plain as day, just as if the store was open and full of customers. Yet, the store has been shut for an hour. No dimmer switch, not even just some of them on. Even the staff canteen lights are on long after the staff have left.

Tesco, you are constantly going on about how green you are and isn't it wonderful that your store in Wick is powered by renewable energy and how we'll get green points if we reuse our carrier bags and all that stuff. I actually reuse my carrier bags, I use them instead of bin bags meaning that I don't need to buy use-once bin bags. Back to the point though. Do you not think you might save on the 4.13m tonnes of carbon you eject into the atmosphere every year if you did one simple thing?


You know, like every one else is told to do. Or is your store security more important than the environment?

Remember Tesco, every little helps.


25 April 2008

Scottish IT consultation with Enterprise minister

At an industry consultation earlier this week, ScotlandIS Members, including myself, met with the Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather. Issues raised included the increasing difficulty in accessing public sector contracts, the contribution the industry can make in helping to grow the economy, and the skills challenges the industry faces.

For more details including the White Paper prepared for the Industry Consultation see the page on the ScotlandIS site.


22 April 2008

Paddington Tandoori

Paddington tandoori
Gloucester terrace, London

Avoid. Cash only, mandatory tip and no VAT receipt. Eat elsewhere.

Why do so many businesses rip off consumers with mandatory charges and incompetent billing?

20 April 2008

Paypal's contender for most irritating and misleading information on the Internet

If you have a Paypal account linked to a bank account (i.e. so that you can withdraw money) then you are greeted with this abomination every time you attempt to pay by a credit card:

It's the default option to pay by bank account and you can't change it. However, I wonder if enough people wrote to and asked them to change this spurious policy they might change their mind. When I want to spend my money, I'd like the option of specifying which account is debited by default, especially if I ever pay by mobile phone the contortions you have to go to to change the payment method from the default are a major pain. As someone with a bit of e-commerce experience (E-commerce lead for Scotland's tourism portal and Project Manager for grocery) I'd like to think that the laughable reasons Paypal gives could do with a bit of comment.

Paypal's text:
Before deciding to fund your payment with a debit or credit card, consider the benefits of paying with your bank account.

Paying with your bank account is instant and your payment will be completed immediately, as easy as paying with cash

My response: Indeed, however since paying with cash isn't an online option this is rather a bogus comparison, no? Paying with a credit or debit card of course is also instant as paypal gets an authorisation code when I pay with a credit or debit card, therefore the vendor can dispatch the goods immediately. No different to paying with a debit or credit card in a shop, as opposed to handing over my banking details there. Furthermore, if I could pay with cash online it wouldn't be as easy because then I wouldn't benefit from any Paypal or credit card protection would I?

Paypal statement:

Paypal keeps your bank account information safe and secure through military-grade encryption and 100% coverage of any unauthorised use.

My response: I hope you're not implying that my other info, such as my card details, isn't held to the same exacting standards? Which military-grade encryption would that happen to be by the way, Ancient Roman Army encryption of letter transposition or 256 bit AES? 100% coverage of any unauthorised use eh, you mean just like all the credit cards I have?

Paypal statemet:

Easy - use the same bank account for making payments and withdrawals

My response: This isn't easy at all. I want to make withdrawals to my bank account so that I can spend the money. I want to make payments from a credit card so not only do I benefit from up to 7 weeks interest free credit and have a few weeks notice of any fraud hitting my actual bank account when the payment is due, I also don't want to use my business bank account for payments because being a business bank account it is charged per transaction fees whereas my credit card is not. So, using the same account for payments and withdrawals isn't easy at all, in fact you trying to make me use the same account for both is a major pain in the arse.

Let me now redo the screen to say what Paypal is probably wanting to write

Dear Customer, please pay using direct payment because it costs us less in fees.

Which does strike me as rather odd, especially since I can go onto numerous websites and legally download MP3s for as little as 79p. Clearly these sites not only have to cover the artists' licensing costs and their own profits but also any credit card processing charges which let's face it must be pretty minuscule. Indeed, companies such as Protx offer flat rate transactions of 10p for high volume users and the kind reader is referred to realbusiness or even an article I wrote for further info on credit card charges and the options available.

So come on Paypal, come clean with customers and give us some choice instead of bogus excuses please. After all, it's our money.


p.s. I wonder if Paypal presents the same bogus arguments when you try to pay with one of their own branded credit cards?

16 April 2008, no VAT

Be careful booking through if you are a business. The prices may appear cheap, but they don't issue VAT invoices, this then means you don't get the usual 15% discount over the published rates. 15% = 100*(1-100/117.5) in case you were wondering.

There seems something rather odd about paying to stay in a hotel and there being no VAT due. Where did it go and who collected it?


14 April 2008

review of The Ganges, Paddington

Great food, lousy service.

the service really let down the fine efforts of the chef, be warned.

first of all, when I was asking about the menu, the waiter wandered off.
The main course was served while I was still eating the starter.
The empty plates from the starter were left on the table when I was eating the main course.
There was no fresh cutlery brought for the main course.
I wasnt asked at any point if the meal was ok or if I enjoyed it.
Receipt isnt a proper VAT bill, it has to show the amount of actual VAT paid, not just a total.
Service for the dessert and bill were slow.

Great food badly let down by shoddy service - just as well the service isn't included.

See what other diners thought by looking at the reviews at the following link:

Ganges on Urbanspoon

04 April 2008

Nokia N95 MAC Address

How to get the WLAN MAC Address for a Nokia N95 or Nokia E61
Enter this *#62209526#
Corresponds to this *#MAC WLAN#

Might be even more useful if it was in the phone's help.

01 April 2008

Why I don't tip in restaurants

I haven't written a long blog in a while so I thought it was time to post this missive now that I've been living in London for 7 weeks.

I last tipped in a restaurant in December and I eat out 4 nights a week. So strictly speaking I do tip, when there's exceptional service and I want to say thanks (the last time was at Benedicts of Belfast) but so far I've been pretty unimpressed with London. Yet, some restaurants demand a 10% tip, there's no way to remove it from the bill and the service is pretty average.

I don't expect London to be cheap, but working in Whitehall, I can pop up the road from Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster and eat near the corner of Whitehall and Trafalgar Square at the Wetherspoons "Lord Moon of the Mall" for about a tenner including a drink. That's about as central as you can get, a stone's throw from where all the distances to London are measured and a few minutes walk from both the centre of government, theatreland, The Mall and The Strand. A decent (if somewhat basic) meal, a pint of beer and about a tenner. You pay at the bar so there's no tip added to the bill either.

Yet eat at a restaurant, even in more outlying areas such as Aldgate, Pimlico, Bayswater and so on and you'll usually pay over £20 for a meal for one in a restaurant for much the same meal. Eat in a pub, even a good one with "5 pints" on the website and you get decent food, a drink and it's still around £10-£12. There's clearly a rip off market amongst restaurants who seem to think it's par for the course to whack on at least a 50% premium then look surprised when I don't want to pay the mandatory 10% surcharge on on top of that just because someone has carried a few plates 6 feet from the service hatch to my table then asked me if the meal was OK, cue reference to the "Maharaja Indian Restaurant", Queensway London which indulges in this nefarious practice.

Then you get the bill and have to ask for a VAT receipt. Usually this is some sort of semi-scribbled effort that if you're lucky has the total and the VAT number. Sorry, not good enough. Because goods are rated at different levels, in order to accurately know what the VAT amount is, you can't just guess that 17.5% was added on to the net amount. The receipt actually has to show the amount of VAT paid, just like the receipts I get when I shop in major supermarkets. So even if I was thinking of giving a tip for outstanding plate carrying to my table, the amount of tip I was going to leave has more than been eroded by the fact that the said restaurant is incapable of producing a proper VAT receipt with their VAT number on it, the total VAT paid and the total of the bill. There goes their "tip" - off to the VATman because of incompetency.

So if I get a square meal like I do in Benedicts of Belfast (the sort of food where people come from miles around to eat there) or even basic food such as Wetherspoons and pay £12 then I figure for a restaurant in an expensive area it's going to be around £15 including VAT, assuming I get a correct VAT receipt. I know it's economic to run a restaurant on that basis, the Lord Moon of the Mall in Whitehall shows it can be done for much less.

Any restaurant wanting £20 for the same and especially those with no VAT receipt have just used up my budget and gone over by a fiver. The tip has already been spent on overpriced food.

So that's what I don't tip (in London at least). It's so completely different in the US, where eating in restaurants is much cheaper, the portions are much bigger, the service better and you actually feel tipping is worthwhile and the server deserves it rather than in London where it's a surcharge on top of a rip off.


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