Globalisation isn't working

I thought globalisation was supposed to mean prices were the same around the world. No more of these ridiculous price inequalities. Well not in electronics, they certainly aren't!

I'm looking to a digitial camera and a work colleague showed me the one he just bought in Malayia for the equivalent of £350. Beautiful camera! Of course, the price in the UK at the cheapest available price, it's £500!

Australia isn't looking much better. Even at wholesale prices, the similar Canon camera is more than it costs in the UK even! Insane.

The problem, of course, is tarrifs. Now I don't have a problem with tarrifs, per-se. The problem is that they're applied differently to different importers.

If you're Canon, you import at well below wholesale price, and pay taxes accordingly. Then your "local distributor" (a division of your company) takes their profit cut. Then they sell it.

If you're Joe Net User buying it from the US and having it posted to you, customs apply a 20% "lift" to the price on the invoice because they assume you got it at wholesale prices. Then the shipping company charges you a fee for processing the import duties. Ends up you pay the same price as you'd pay locally, which is just how they price it in the shops.

So how about some equal application of tarrifs? Hell, get the Amazons of the world to collect it for the EU as a whole, but they'll be sourcing from a lower initial price. That sounds like the kind of globalisation I'd like!

I fought Easycar and won (for now)

A month or so ago, I tried to hire a car from Easycar. First mistake, of course, with their ridiculous policies and puny (100km/day) mileage allowance. But anyway, I attempted to do it.

I use Mozilla to browse the web, which has no problems with nearly all sites these days. Easycar's site seemed to work fine but, for some reason, at the very last stage of booking, it crashes. So I got that far with my booking, and no further. I hadn't finalised the booking, so I just gave up.

A few days later, I thought I'd try it again, this time booking a longer hire as my parents wanted to drive around England a bit more after our weekend away. The browser crashed again at the last stage, so I gave up and rented from a company without such ridiculous policies for not too much more money.

So a few days later I'm looking at my bank statement online and notice two payments from Easycar. Odd, I think, since I haven't received any emails or anything from them thus far. Going to their site and logging in, however, I discover that there are indeed two bookings under my name. Opening the bookings at this point also seems to trigger the confirmation emails, which are sent at that point.

Not wanting three cars, I decide to cancel the Easycar bookings. Of course Easycar have a policy of not allowing cancellations, despite the fact that they don't have this right under consumer law. So I fill in a problem ticket on their online help system. I'd phone them, but the only number they publish charges 60p/minute for the privilege of sorting out their fuckups!

Two days later, I've still received nothing from them over there online system, nor heard from them. I'm fed up by this point and can see I'm just going to hear nothing and will have to exercise my consumer rights. Digging around, the only fax number I can find is the one you're supposed to use for damage reports. I fax them a formal letter cancelling both bookings, pointing out my right to do so under the EU Distance Selling Directive (which, of course, Easycar are trying to weasel out of), and the fact that the order wasn't actually finalised and there are faults in their system. As a precaution, I also sent it by registered post to the address listed for them at Companies House, so they can have no excuse of not receiving it at the appropriate place.

Of course, I still haven't heard a peep from these clowns. It's the height of rudeness that they don't even bother to respond to ANY communications. If this were to end up in court, I suspect the judge would rule in my favour just due to the fact that I made so many attempts at communication and they ignored them all.

So I sent a fax to my bank, explaining all this. They have summarily refunded my money, put the transactions in dispute and asked Easycar to explain. I know how these things (chargebacks) work from my time working in mail order. Easycar would have to present a pretty damn strong case to get the money back from the banks without resort to the courts.

Regardless, I now have my money back and the ball is in Easycar's court. If their communications with the bank are anything like their communications with their customers, they'll just ignore the chargeback notification and lose the money. Good.

If you're in dispute with Easycar, let me know how you get on. I'm curious.

Shoe voodoo

Last night I went shoe shopping. I normally buy shoes in outdoor stores. They tend to stock hiking-type shoes which suit my lifestyle, plus I don't wear bright white shoes. Ugh.

Anyway, I'm going through all the stock and the sales guy is telling me why some pairs were worth £80 or more. Oh yeah, such-and-such high-tech feature. Of course you read the blurbs on these high-tech features, and it's just marketing bullshit. "x technology means we design for maximum durability and performance using space-age materials and..." wank wank wank.

The daggy thing I ended up doing was this: I bought the same shoes I'd walked in with. I tried on heaps of these high-tech new designs, but none was as comfortable as the ones I'd already owned, and I know they're durable and good for long hikes! They were also cheaper. Daggy huh?

Can you find something more brain damaged?

I'm thinking of getting a driving licence, so I check out this site from the Automobile Association. And they have this little gem of idiocy:

Get a £24 discount when you sign up for lessons online.
Click the special offer icon for more details.
Call us on 0800 587 0087.

Of course, clicking on the link gets the same info and the same exortation to call them for details, and no link to book online. Smart huh?

Power is back

London can't let New York edge us out for crappiest infrastructure of a so-called modern city. No, we had our own little power outage this evening.

I was in the tube but fortunately the power cut out just as the train hit Waterloo station, my destination. 20 seconds earlier and I would have been stuck in the tunnel. As it was, we all had to file up to the front carriage to get out, but it wasn't so bad.

So I go along to my play at the Young Vic (Le Costume, directed by Peter Brook -- quite good but a bit pricey at £25 for four actors, even if they are amongst the best) which starts a bit late due to the power cut, but the power came back just in time.

After the play, two hours since the power cut ended, and I wander back to Waterloo to find that all the tubes are still down. Four transport changes and two hours later, I'm finally home. Yeesh!

Recruit scum volume 1

(first installment of a trilogy in eighty-three parts)

What is it about recruiters that they're uniformly clueless, lying scumbags?

But getting more specific, why are they all terrified of email? Surely those recruiting technical people would have worked out that most of us prefer not to be interrupted from our daily work, prefer not to need to surreptitiously glance over the shoulder to see who's within earshot before you start discussing some job, and mostly prefer not to have to waste real-time communication space dealing with the world's lowest profession.

Case in point is an exchange I just had, here's what I sent the person concerned:
Please give me a call when you can.

I'd prefer to do it by email, if you don't mind. It's a lot more convenient for me.

And about five minutes later, the phone rings. ARGH!

If anyone from the recruit scum industry is reading this, I'd be happy to consult with you on how to make the ideal IT recruitment company. I warn you that it's not going to be easy, as the first tenet is going to be "don't lie, ever".

Converting to Maildir

Well I've finally decided to take the plunge. I'm going to convert to Maildir for my mailboxes tonight. The impetus has been Squirrelmail, which Holly uses for her email. It needs an IMAP server and I've now been through UW and Dovecot IMAP servers, and both of them are now silently failing after upgrades. No errors given in logs, no reason given.

So tonight, armed with mb2md I'm gonna make the big switch, then install Courier IMAP. Hopefully it'll work, and hopefully it'll be a bit faster too.

Annoying ads are avoidable

It always amazes me what the average Internet user puts up with when browsing the web. Adverts flashing beside content, the throbbing making the content unreadable. Pop-ups in the hundreds, closing them causing more to open. Yeesh!

I was showing a mate how to use Bit Torrent recently, and pointed him to Suprnova. To my surprise, a whole swag of pop-ups, pop-unders and assorted undesirables over took the screen.

You see, I've had protection from ads for years. It was when they started animating them that I decided to find a solution, because they made the web annoyingly hard to use. More recent ideas like pop-ups have just confirmed in my mind the lack of value added by banner advertising. You see, for much of my career I've worked for companies that, directly or indirectly, are funded by advertising. But where advertising becomes so intrusive that it gets in the way of the content, something's got to give.

You see, I've had protection from ads for years. It was when they started animating them that I decided to find a solution, because they made the web annoyingly hard to use. More recent ideas like pop-ups have just confirmed in my mind the lack of value added by banner advertising. You see, for much of my career I've worked for companies that, directly or indirectly, are funded by advertising. But where advertising becomes so intrusive that it gets in the way of the content, something's got to give.

If you're a Windows user, try the Proxomitron. It's pretty damn effective at dumping all of them. For somewhat adept Linux users, try Craig's squid filter, though there are probably nicer and more cleanly designed ones out there.

Start blocking ads today. You'll be amazed at what a difference it makes to your browsing experience.


Playing with Friendster

I know it's perhaps a little old news now, but I finally got around to playing with Friendster. It's an interesting concept, and the implications are pretty huge.

In case you don't know, Friendster is a site that maps social networks of people. You start by filling in your profile and then attempting to find and link with friends you actually know already. Once your real-world network of mates is hooked up with you, your "Personal Network" includes those friends, and their friends, and their friends etc etc. You can search within this huge friends-of-friends network and find people with similar interests, mabye ask someone in between you on the network to introduce you.

Of course the main application here is dating, and that seems to be the main driver for its popularity. But it's also an interesting social experiment. The six-degrees-of-separation experiment mapped online.

This shit could get really interesting when you start looking at the interests of your "Personal Network" of people. I already get a lot of tips about films, music, gigs and the like from my mates. I know my mates' interests, they know mine, so we tip each other off on things we think they might like all the time.

Now imagine we start listing the kinda music we're liking, or perhaps even have that fed in automagically, and you start getting another interesting axis on which to make recommendations. Friendster, hooked in with the Ringo/HOMR/Firefly concept, could get very interesting!

Anyway, if you have a Friendster account and you're a mate of mine, add me into yer list then eh? I'd go and invite loads of my mates except I don't like that myself. Too much like the spam-producing greeting card scam. Give the gift of spam: the giift that keeps on giving!