Sometimes I Surprise Myself

Gift

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I’ve recently received a little padded envelope, I knew it must be something I’ve bought on Ebay but I could not for the life of me remember what it was. I knew it must be one of those little cheap gadgets or decorative items that fill Ebay, Amazon and so on and are all too easy to buy but which one?

It is one of the unexpectedly pleasant side-effects of having a poor short-term memory, lacking concentration, or visiting Ebay or Amazon while mildly inebriated, or all three: being able to give yourself a surprise gift, not just at Christmas but all year round, as long as it’s not too expensive that is, or too large – it’s less of a nice surprise to be greeted by an unexpected Jacuzzi or life-size toy Tiger if you don’t have the space to appreciate it.

The best thing though is if you happen to have it delivered from the other side of the world too, that way you also have about a month to forget what you’ve bought while it’s sitting on a slow boat from, well, you know where…

Simplicity is Not Always Easy

Wood type

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Often an organisation or business will unveil a new logo, branding or slogan which is met by members of the public saying, like they also do when a footballer misses a goal, “I could do better than that” or “my six year old could do that with a packet of crayons.”
Such was the case with the London 2012 logo and the Scottish tourist board’s slogan of “Welcome to Scotland” which was ridiculed for its apparent simplicity – comments like “they spent hundreds of thousands on consultants and all they come up with is that, it’s bloody obvious.”

While it’s true that the end result is simple and obvious it was no doubt also the result of a long period of consultation on the wording of the message, then the design of the presentation of the message. Just because the end result seems obvious doesn’t mean it was from the start, hundreds of slogans were probably trialled on the public and expert groups and it could have been that something like “Get High on Scotland” combined with a talking Haggis could have been more memorable, made more of an impact and was now the slogan, the public would never have been aware that “Welcome to Scotland” had even been considered.

If a branding is seen as complex, showy, clever or edgy then the critical public feel that the money that was spent has been used, like it in some way involved more work, like a simple design would have been knocked out in five minutes between lunch and a few beers paid for from the budget. Was Kentucky’s slogan “Unbridled Spirit” which derived from the state’s big industries of horse racing and distilleries worth more just because it was a play on words and as such “a bit clever”?

Such armchair experts have never designed a logo. The last one I designed passed through numerous stages as it had to contend with people who really wanted to hold onto the old logo and then it evolved from two separate proposals that had elements combined into the final design. And I’m not even a professional designer.

Of course not all designs are successful, Nottinghamshire County Council’s “N” logo was dropped quickly due to negative public reaction, but again this was partly because the logo didn’t really symbolise the county but also because many people thought that the design’s simplicity indicated a lack of effort, that it was a waste of tax payers’ money. Combine this with the often repeated “it was just done on a computer” – by which they also mean “with no effort” (because the computer does all the work, of course) and the simpler logo will always seem worse value. I have encountered clients who insist on filling every square millimetre of an advert space with pictures and text because they think that white space is wasted space, I’ve been told that “customers want to see lots of pictures” and “the logo needs to fill the space” and so on, with my suggestions that white space helps to guide the eye around the ad and a cluttered design looks unprofessional went ignored because, well what would I know? As for distorting logotypes to fill a space so much that the end result would make the original typeface designer cry, don’t get me started.

There’s a video online that is a cartoon of a conversation between a designer and client in which the client keeps wanting to add more colour, more complexity etc, my takeaway phrase that I’ve used often was from the designer: “unbe-f***ing-lievable.”

Slow News Days

Press

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

I haven’t got much to say today so I’ll quickly mention newspapers that seem to be similarly afflicted.

Linda Smith once said on a B-series episode of QI “My favourite ever headline was “Worksop Man Dies Of Natural Causes.”

The internet era equivalent of the Worksop man are the people from across the country who have done some DIY on a budget. The Google News feed on my phone provides me with, at least once a week, a story from a local newspaper site wherein someone has given their kitchen, bathroom or garden a spruce up for less than it should surely cost by doing something novel and amazing – buying things from a cheaper shop. Gasp.

They’re generally along these lines: “Savvy shopper Tracy transformed her home using items from [insert bargain store name here]“, and the article tells us “she got a new look kitchen for just £200.” Sometimes you’ll “never believe how she did it.”

Why is this news? Why is it unbelievable? Why haven’t I got an article written about me? Just last night I had fish, chips and mushy peas for less than the chip shop cost by buying items from Asda and B&M Bargains. Chips shop quality mushy peas too. And I’ve given my living room a makeover using stuff from B&M and Ebay no less.

When there’s a two-hundred foot UFO hovering over the town hall, that’ll be news.

[Glances out the window, just in case.]

A Tale of Two Ciders

Cider

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

It’s a Friday night in summer, half-past-eight and I’m listening to Jazz, watching the sunset and drinking a glass of Cider. It is one of my great pleasures.

Cider used to be simple, it was an alcoholic drink made from Apples, but as with so many things now it has to have more variety to appeal to wider markets so now there are Raspberry Cider, Strawberry Cider and so on. They’re not Cider. In a shop once the man stood near me said into his phone “They’ve got a Pear Cider kit mush, just wondered if you want one,” “it’s not Cider, it’s Perry” I muttered under my breath. There used to be Sweet Cider and Dry Cider, and the likes of Scrumpy, but you still got progressively pissed, or merry at least, just at a different rate. And it all tasted of Apple.  Apparently even in France Cider has to be made entirely of Apples.

Our American friends have muddied the scrumpy even more with Apple Cider and Hard Cider – the first being pure Apple Juice (it isn’t Cider, yet) and the latter is, let me think, CIDER.

As a result of the different flavours my favourite brand of English Cider now has Apple Cider on the label, though it might surprise any Americans who were expecting a soft drink.

To take this to its ultimate conclusion will the famous novel featuring the drink in the title, in future, be renamed “Hard Cider with Rosie”?

Keeping Track

Parcel

Image by Harry Strauss from Pixabay

I wrote a number of posts a few years back about parcel deliveries in this country, but I’m pleased to see that now things have improved immensely.

One area that is impressive is how parcels can now be tracked more precisely than ever. I recently bought some sunglasses that fit over my normal glasses and the only ones that suited were located in the United States. I ordered them and the cost in total including shipping was just under £12, for that this item would travel part way across the US, then the Atlantic and finally up the UK to me. Monitoring the tracking the item moved around the postal network until it popped up in Illinois, finally arriving at Chicago before being loaded onto a plane for an overnight flight to London where it met our postal system.

Even more precise is the system used by Amazon for example that allows, via their phone app, notifications of how near the driver is away from you on a map, so you know that they’re five stops away, on a nearby street so you know not to go out or go in the bath, or to dash back to your house when you’ve just nipped out to the corner shop – maybe the app should have a button that says “just tell the driver to hang on two minutes…”

All this of course is made possible by GPS location tracking and handheld scanners that can communicate with the company so they know in real time where the vans are, and on what van your parcel is sitting. One strange aspect to this is another courier whose drivers are not allowed to deliver a parcel too early, though I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, something to do with them giving customers time slots for delivery. In business knowing when a parcel is going to arrive to within a specific one-hour time slot can help schedule work.

I do find myself occasionally saying, when I get a message from the same tracking system to inform me that the parcel’s been delivered, “I know, I received it, it’s in my hand.”  Still useful to know if you’re not home though.

All this tracking and technology has been helpful in these days of social distancing and contactless delivery where the courier doesn’t take a signature but uses the handset’s camera to show it where they left it on the doorstep instead, usually with your feet in the background – “we know you received the parcel, are those or are those not your socks?”

I’m rarely in a hurry for items, I remember the days of “please allow 28 days for delivery” so next day is a luxury, but it’s still interesting to see the data, to see where it’s been and I suppose it’s still exciting when it’s something nice or frivolous rather than functional to see when it’s close to being delivered.

The Ghosts of Software Past

I remember when all software came on magnetic floppy disks, sometimes on one, but later on many and even installing Windows 3.11 required a large number of disk changes, you couldn’t just set it going and leave it like today. I still have a copy of that version of Windows and of Borland C++ which came with a huge box of reference books and a similarly huge number of disks – both the smaller 3.5″ ones and the older 5.25″ ones – you really felt like you were getting your money’s worth. You’d put the first disk in and wait for what seemed like an eternity until the installer would flash a message up saying “Please insert disk 2” and you’d search through the stack if you’d somehow shuffled them and hope that it wasn’t missing – either not supplied, or lost if you were reinstalling. Then the waiting would continue and repeat until disk 10.  Fun times.

Since then we’ve been through CDs and DVDs and now thanks to high speed broadband you can even download a whole operating system in just a few small hours, or so it seemed to me when I did it a couple of months back with Windows 10. At each stage it was possible to shortcut the earlier process by copying the floppy disks onto a single CD, and then later copying whole CDs onto a large USB stick or portable hard drive though Windows can still use a DVD to install.

Because of all the disks, and the boxes in which to distribute them manufacturers in the past couldn’t keep selling old versions of software due to the manufacturing costs and the space required to warehouse them though some companies such as Serif would sell old versions cheaply alongside new ones for a while. Today though with downloadable software they can keep supplying old versions for much longer which is useful when you have old hardware that needs old software. Sometimes you’ll have an old computer that won’t run a 64 bit version of windows for example but new software won’t work on 32 bit windows, the newer version is incompatible with all or part your computer, or, as I found out, you buy an old negative scanner and the software disk that came with it was unreadable and the current version won’t work, luckily though the manufacturer still sells the old one via their website – preventing the new hardware becoming an expensive paperweight, or in the scanner’s case doorstop.  Many freeware, shareware or low cost independent software authors have an archive of old versions on their websites.

In other cases old, usually free, software or device drivers that have been rendered obsolete or the manufacturer has just decided not to continue developing them anymore can still be obtained via individuals uploading and archive copy to a download service. Again this is helpful as some older utilities have been replaced by newer, slower, clunkier “improved” replacements and you don’t have the option of the old program you liked – where the old version is either automatically upgraded or doesn’t come with a new operating system or application. This may also be true for paid for applications so long as you have the correct licence to install them.

Then there are the people who have managed to get really old software to run on modern PCs, like a Windows 3 emulator for that nineties computing experience. I had a Super Nintendo emulator to play games on my PC once but it just wasn’t the same so I bought a second hand real one instead.

When is a Mini not a Mini?

Mini Cooper

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

When it’s a Maxi and the Maxi was not a nice car.

I am not a person suited to the original Austin Mini, I have travelled in one, in the passenger seat and my knees were up round my ears. The car that is still referred to as the “New” Mini is a bit more my, er, size. I can’t stand the thing though, it’s not a Mini and I’m not the only person who has said this over the years.

Born of the trend for cool and “authentic” retro cars it is a product of fashion as opposed to the original which influenced fashion; a small, low cost, simple car, accessible to everyone (unless you’re as tall as me) yet something so essentially cool (in it’s original, sixties sense of not trying too hard to just be) that it was popular with celebrities too. Like the Fiat 500 it was small, cheeky and fun to drive, so I’m told. The new car is bigger, more expensive – a product aimed at, rather than adopted by, the fashionistas, the hipsters, hence the price tag. The size increase of course was due to car makers obsession with the idea that “people want more space” for stuff, more cup-holders, more cubbyholes, more drawers and more speakers, as such it is a pastiche as is the “New” Beetle. The coupe version looks ridiculous but the biggest travesty is the Mini Countryman which is comparatively huge, probably bigger than a Morris Minor Traveller, on the outside at least, less Countryman more Country Estate.  Even the headlights, angled backwards make it look like a mini that’s been in a very stiff gale.

Fiat fared better with the 500, it at least looks like it’s as small as the original though it still can’t really be called a “people’s car” any more and certainly can’t be fixed with parts from a local corner shop. My own car is half-way to a retro design, Citroen took the general shape of a 2CV for their retro effort but left out the pod headlights and the suspension suitable for ploughed fields – though that might have been useful, with the state of our potholed roads today…

There have been other such cars over the years but many of them, in my opinion, show that some things just can’t be improved on and the past is often best left where it belongs.

Foafexperts – The Customer’s Mate Down The Pub is Always Right

Learning

Learning

There is a term in the world of mysterious Fortean events to describe the sort of story that starts with “Apparently…” and is about some paranormal event witnessed by a “Friend of a Friend” hence they are called “foaftales”.  It seems though that the foafs have moved beyond the esoteric and become experts on absolutely everything.  Maybe it’s the internet’s illusion of knowledge – you can of course search and find many true answers on the net can’t you – but more often you encounter members of the public with no prior involvement in the industry they’re dealing with telling the person with many years of experience either what they know or how to do their job.  As they say a little knowledge is a bad thing.

For example a customer who when told they need safety glass in a door replies angrily “it doesn’t need toughened, it’s only an internal timber door” or others who say “the double glazed units were obviously made wrong because they’re not supposed to break down (get condensation inside) at all, I know how they work” to the one who wanted a sealed unit straight away “I shouldn’t have to wait, I know how long they take to make” – really, would you like a job?  I also encountered a customer with no prior experience of double-glazed glass units who insisted that I was measuring the thickness of the unit he’d brought in wrongly, as was an equally experienced colleague, and told me I needed to get a measuring caliper – I did and came up with the same measurement, surprisingly.

Part of this is someone who knows a little about a subject who wants to show off to their friend that they’re some kind of expert, other times it may be someone trying to promote themselves by appearing knowledgable.   Sometimes the person may be trying to help but more often than not, they’re not.

So many people seem to have a father-in-law who’s “in the trade” and knows that what you’re saying is wrong – this is almost always just a feeble attempt to prove that they haven’t made a mistake.  As for said expert often, who am I kidding, mostly, it turns out that they’ve either done a bit of DIY or they’re a joiner when the problem would be, for example, brickwork related, or worse still related to making the windows which is like a taxi driver saying that he’s an expert in assembling radios.  I’m a glass cutter by profession, I know next to nothing about making Murano glass vases so I wouldn’t try to tell a glass blower how to suck eggs, if you see what I mean.

Rebooted Music – Buy, Buy and Buy Again?

Many CDs

Many CDs

Sometime in the early 2000s I bought an REM album, in a record store, and on the sticker on the case I saw the words “DELUXE EDITION” and made the mistake of not inspecting it closely. It turned out that the rest of the (much smaller) words on the sticker said “also available as a”. Hmm.

Since then I generally check if an album has a deluxe version at release but generally I don’t tend to buy albums until they’ve been out for a while, which is helpful these days.

The reason being the trend of artists (or perhaps the labels more accurately) releasing a deluxe version six months or more after the first release and expecting fans to buy the whole album again. Some bands do it right, releasing an EP after the main album and reissuing the original packaged with the extra tracks for those who are catching up but more often than not they don’t.

One noteable current example that is being commented on regularly on the radio station I listen to is Ed Sheeran’s “X” which I bought when it first came out, it’s now also available as a deluxe version and a deluxe-deluxe (Wembley) version too, with different extra tracks.  The same was true with both Ellie Goulding albums I have, there are many others I’m sure.

Our modern methods of listening to and buying music kind of makes this a moot point these days, you could just buy the extra tracks from Amazon, Google Play or iTunes, often for less than the deluxe CD but if you want to have the actual album in your hands it can get a bit pricey.

Once you’ve enjoyed an album it’s nice to be able to get just a little bit more but doing it that way, while benefiting the labels, is just going to be bad for the artists as even if the reissue isn’t their choice it’s them who often get tagged as being cynical money-grabbers.

Don’t Panic…

…I tell myself.  I recently ordered a number of items from retailers on Ebay, all small, couple of pound items some from the UK some from China.  I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon though – this is important.  I received confirmation emails, then despatch confirmations for all items, from Ebay.

Then I received an email from Amazon saying my order had been despatched.  WHAT ORDER!

Before opening the email I googled the company listed in the email header, it was real, a well-known marketplace seller.  I tentatively opened the email, knowing that in spam or phishing emails the “from” address (amazon.co.uk) can be spoofed.  It was a normal Amazon despatch message containing my home address and sent to my usual email address.  The thing was that there was no products listed at all but there was a link to parcel tracking that I didn’t click of course.

When I eventually checked my real-world mailbox this morning I found a large flat cardboard envelope with Amazon.co.uk emblazoned across it.  Uh, huh?

I opened it and immediately understood.  Inside was a despatch note from the company listed in the email, on Amazon stationery so to speak, and the item I’d ordered from the UK Ebay seller.  I finally realised – the email had said it was from the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) section – I’d bought from a seller under one name on Ebay but the item was despatched from their stock held in Amazon’s warehouse under a different name.  I hadn’t realised that FBA extended beyond purchases from Amazon Marketplace to Ebay and elsewhere too.

If the product had been listed on the emailI would have realised sooner but as it was I spent yesterday morning changing my Ebay, Paypal and Amazon log-ins and passwords to be on the safe side.

The strange, confusing world of online shopping logistics.