Saturday, August 18, 2007

Feed that burner

Or burn that feed!

Ever been at a party and everyone is tucking in to the canapes on the tray, and you don't even know what canapes are? (Why would anyone seek to put fish on toast? It beggars belief.)

Well, that's how I feel about Feeds.
I just don't get it.
Oh sure, there's a Discussion Forum for new guys like me.
Hey, there's even 'Frequently Asked Questions'.
But didn't you ever get into that position where somebody was saying to you, (back at the Cocktail Party, perhaps), 'You're better off going in via the access portal rather than the live feed', and you haven't a clue what they're trying to say?
(Maybe it's flirting.)

Well, gentle reader, you've stuck with me before, and you know - even better than me - that ignorance is often a temporary feature of my life, (please, God).
So it may be that in the not-too-distant future we will look back on all this and laugh.
(Why not? We're laughing now.)
And say, 'Gosh, was that a problem? Then? How foolish I feel now to think that I was stuck at the hurdle of understanding, when all I had to do was vault the horse of technology - and move on'.

People of my age and disposition feel the same way about decimal currency.
That was a huge change.
Meanwhile, we're dreading the metric system.
(When's that due to arrive in England?)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Detectives Beyond Borders: A Forum for International Crime Fiction: Ian Rankin finds an outlet for his writing

Detectives Beyond Borders: A Forum for International Crime Fiction: Ian Rankin finds an outlet for his writing

As a crime writer myself (waddya mean? Didn't you see the links at left, eh??) I can recommend this chat page. Very well done, Peter. Good stuff.

Like, especially dropping the odd Rankin name. Did I ever mention I was chatting to Ian Rankin at the Crime Fiction Convention in Doncaster in 1997? Well, I heard him talking. Well, I saw him pass by. But I heard people talking about him. Hey, that's nearly good enough, isn't it? 'Friend to the stars' and all that?

Strange thing is, when you read stuff about people who write crime fiction, the writers are always trying to explain what's going on. But isn't the point about the genre that it's Mystery fiction (as they call it in America) ? Shouldn't we just leave a bit of it alone? Why does everything have to have a reason?

Why, that's only true in fiction!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hanging on the telephone

If I had to target the next big corporation that nearly ruined my life, I've have to pick on Kodak (get the picture?)

Ooops, I know you're going to say this is my fault, but hear me out. I bought a new mobile phone about 2 years ago, and it was because I needed a camera. I'd seen these people who'd taken pics and got them on telly. I thought, wouldn't it be great if I was walking down the street and suddenly saw a dear old lady being mugged (or a bank being robbed, or Sporty Spice signing autographs) and I could get them into a pic? Then I could download them and put them on my website, (or my Blog, hey pay attention, this means you) or some 'Breaking News' programme? Yeah.

Let's cut this short. For most of that 2 years I had pics on the phone but couldn't get them off. My biggest and most immediate problem is that didn't have a wire. Everyone else did. 'Plug your phone in', they'd say. It's easy, they'd imply. I got no wire, I'd reply. Worse, I got no hole. The only input into my phone that I could see, anywhere, was the wide connection at the bottom that I used for charging. There wasn't anything else, honest.

Okay, look in the Manual, they'd say. Well yes, I got a small instruction booklet with the device, but it was less than helpful when talking about getting the damn pictures out. The only route it recommended was sending them to Kodak, or more precisely, the Kodak web site, (and it would be all jam after that, it seemed to be saying). I tried that, early on, but the thing wanted me to sign on, fill in forms, choose a password, all the usual dross, and when I went back the next day to see if it was working, I couldn't remember what I'd told them. I couldn't log on.

Skip 6 months. Yes, really. You don't want to know the agonies I went through trying to get that little lot sorted out. The basic problem was that I couldn't log on, but I couldn't use the helpful 'Forgotten your password?' button, because it kept telling me that nobody with my name and email address had joined. Ever. Great, I thought. I'll join again. That didn't work either. Every time I filled in the form (and I tried several times) it said something like 'That phone number is already registered'. I know, I wanted to scream. It's me. Hey, I'm banging on the door. Let me in. Frustration followed frustration, as I tried to email, many many times, and got no reply, just an acknowledgement and a promise that I was being 'dealt with'. I wasn't.

Okay, now it gets really good. I looked up Kodak in the phone book. No, they aren't in Manchester, England, where I am, but they had some kind of Head Office in Guildford, or Ilford, or some garden suburb of London. I plucked up my courage, girded my loins, and dialled. A very nice lady said I needed to call the Freephone number. Great. I got a number and it's free, what could possibly go wrong? They didn't answer. I got a recorded message and an assurance that my call was important to them, but nobody picked up the damn phone. Worse, it was Robbie Williams singing while I waited. Grrr, my teeth gnash at the very memory. After 45 minutes I was ready to climb the walls, then someone picked up. I made it! Wrong. You got the wrong number, they said.

But I phoned (G)Ilford I screamed! Besides, I've suffered Robbie for three quarters of an hour. Have you any idea what that's like? I bellowed. They gave me another number. I called it. A man answered straight away, listened, then said, 'Simple, I'll cancel that registration and you can re-register. Here, I'll even wait on the line while you do it'. God, he was helpful and all my problems were answered. I was in, I could upload my photos, I was open in Kodak with my own album, everything was going my way. What could possibly go wrong?

Easy. (Well you knew it was going to be something, didn't you?) I wanted to use my phone photos on my web sites or, possibly, to email pics of the wild party to my friends. Simple, all I had to do was click and save, right? It didn't work. No matter how I manoeuvred, there was no option like that at all. The only thing they were offering was to print out the pics. Ahhhh, Kodak, you say. Don't you get it? They sell films. They print pictures. What else did you expect?

Back to Google. I searched for someone to take my mobile phone pics and found Moblog. Thank the Lordey for Moblog. In case you don't know, it's and you can find my pics there, under the username 'mburry', (well, you don't want 'Mike' all the time, do you?) And that's it. Well, not quite the end of the story. There's a final kicker. When I was setting up my Moblog account it told me to email my pics in, which I did. Hold on a minute. Email?? Yes, the fact is that I could have emailed my photos at any time to any of my email accounts. What do you mean, you know that? Why didn't you tell me?

Ah well, two years later. A little wiser.

Monday, June 04, 2007

May-er (or June-er)

It's the beginning of June and the Mayor has come to visit our little street.
(Shouldn't that be June-er?)
Well, there's nobody dancing round the Maypole any more in Ordsall, or even dressing the wells like they used to. (Apparently Well Dressing is still a tradition that's alive and well in Derbyshire, not too far away.) It could be about akin to Morris Dancing, which seems to have faded out when Break Dancing hit the streets, (literally).
The Mayor is impressed with our little gathering, and had something complementary to say about our liitle business, Salford LIDS (see their web site at
Meanwhile the sun is shining, the leaves are rustling, and only the cries of children and the yapping of dogs disturbs the idyllic scene.
What does that look like?
I'll try to insert a photo below.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Technical or Technorati?

Technorati Profile

Okay, no, I don't get it -
because yes, I've seen 'The Da Vinci Code',
and yes again, I've even read Dan Brown's other contribution to Western culture, a page-turner called 'Angels and Demons',
and in that he talks about The Illuminati.

Which, you'll have to agree dammit, sounds a lot like Technorati.
Or is it just me?

So let's just think about the collapse of that so-called Western civilisation and, if necessary, sit in the corner and think about what we've done....

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Blogging and Blocking

If I had to launch off on a list of corporate Multi-Nationals that are ruining our world, I'd have to start with Microsoft.
(Who wouldn't?)

My particular story goes back a few years and concerns email.
You see, I'm old enough to remember when a bright new company called Hotmail burst on the scene. Founded by a bunch of college geeks, they had the innovative idea of offering 'free' email on the internet, to everyone, without having to go through your usual service provider.
Yep, folks, it was new.
Up to then, in fact all through the 1990s, the only way you could get email was to sign on with an ISP such as Compuserve or AOL and they'd give you an email account as part of the package. Hotmail was different, it was innovative. It was offering email straight from the web.
So, what happened next?
You guessed it. You're right. Microsoft bought it.

Now, maybe they thought they had to be nice to the old clients, and not rock the boat too much, (while they were changing the company, incorporating it into the MS empire, and recruiting millions of new members) but nothing changed for a while. Us old Hotmail members carried on as normal.
Until 6 months later when my account was closed.

Suddenly, without warning, it was gone. I woke up one morning and couldn't log on.
You have to understand, if you couldn't log on you couldn't access the 'Help' file. In other words, there was absolutely no way to find out what had happened. There was no way of contacting the company unless you were a member, and I wasn't. I had been kicked out. Terminated.

It took a week for the penny to drop. Then I figured it out.
I changed my name, slightly, and rejoined. (They allowed that. There doesn't seem to be any system of checking. They can decide they don't like you one day and finish you. The next day they'll welcome you back. How logical is that?)
Anyway, then I was in a position to start asking questions.
I got no answers.
It seems that Microsoft had instituted a 'Contact Us' procedure that took you straight to the Help file. That listed a number of things that could go wrong, and listed a number of suggestions about what might happen and what you might be able to do about it.
The one thing it didn't do is answer the question: Okay, what happened to ME? Why did I get dropped? Where has my account gone?

Are you keeping up? Because, you see, that's now two things. One, is that my account disappeared. Two, is that there was no way of finding out why, and what happened to it.

I never did get an answer from the big boys.
One possible answer came from another source, a friend.
He pointed out that we had been having trouble with a guy in Manchester spreading rumours about our charitable community project. 'Think', he said to me. 'What was the last thing you did before your email shut down?' I thought about it. Then I knew. I had sent an email to the rumour spreader, challenging him to come up with facts and figures. Prove what you're allleging, I said. Put up, or shut up.

He came up with something better. He shut ME down.

We figured it out. He must have written to Hotmail, complaining about these 'abusive' emails he was getting. So the company took action. They pulled my plug.

Okay, okay, I hear you say. Isn't that fair enough? The internet is full of abuse. If it happens, shouldn't the providers take action? Yes, but what action? How about if they had contacted me and asked if what the man was saying was true? How about if they read the correspondence HE was sending out? (Now that was real 'abuse'?) How about if they did something, anything, apart from simply close the account?

Because - and this is where paranoia creeps in - it's the cheapest option, isn't it?
It's got nothing to do with being 'fair' - that would involve investigating the case.
It's got nothing to do with 'abuse' even, because that was alleged, sure, but not proved. (They didn't bother 'proving' anything, they just acted.)
It's all about the company, the people in charge, who have all the power but don't take any responsibility. Not once did Hotmail ever even admit that they'd closed the account. They never supplied any info, any correspondence, from the man with a grievance, from us, from any interested party. They never replied to the emails we sent them, and never answered any questions we sent them.
Of course. They'd have no time, would they? It would distract them from their work (of taking over the world).
The big corporate companies blather on about 'involving the customers', 'responding to feedback', and then set up an automatic Help file that means you never get the opportunity to speak to a real person. Heavens no, because then you might actually complain. This way, Microsoft can explain that they 'never get any complaints' about Hotmail. They don't! They don't let them through.

Still, I'm using Hotmail now.
Would I recommend it to anyone? Sure, but don't rely on it. Accept that your account might be closed anytime, any way, and you'd get nothing - no word, no explanation, no recompense. And, like me, you might lose 2 years of emails, just like that. No recovery, nothing you can do.
I don't think that's right, but hey, I'm just a guy.
There's six and a half billion people in the world and Microsoft wants all of them.
Why would they worry about little old me?

Photo credit: Annie Golden and Lisa O'Neil

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Parking and Clamping

Living across the river in Salford has many advantages.
In fact, I very rarely visit Manchester.
Now I know why.

This lunchtime, Friday, I was persuaded by a friend to go shopping in Rusholme.
We parked behind the halal supermarket and prepared to go in.
Since it was a nice sunny day, we decided instead to walk along Wilmslow Road first and find a place to eat.
We relaxed, and worked on our shopping list over lunch.
We came back to start shopping, and got a shock.
Someone had clamped our car.

Stranger still, no one would admit to doing it!

The supermarket said it wasn't them.
The security company, who eventually arrived and charged us £85 for the privilege of driving away, said it wasn't their fault either.
They blamed the supermarket.
Both said we had been warned.
They said that what we had taken to be a car park was actually a 'clamping zone' and pointed to signs on the far wall, (not visible behind parked white vans).

So, we had to decline the chance to shop in Rusholme and went on instead to the Lidl in Salford, where parking is free.
Come off it, Rusholme!
You want people to use your restaurants, but parking is limited, and the supermarket penalises people who want to both shop and eat.
Our experience?
Rusholme is quick to take money off you, either for food or parking fines, it doesn't matter which.
Now that is not what I would call people-friendly.

Sorry Manchester. It's closer to home for us in future!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The visit

The day before ... we went to the BBC, and met a ghost!
Yeah, this is me, looking guilty and speaking up for truth, justice and the British Broadcasting Corporation - before getting there.
As part of my training at Ordsall Community Cafe, I signed up for the free tour of BBC Mansions in downtown Manchester.
Wow, a real behind-the-scenes lowdown and -
we met that nice Mr Gordon Burns (at last).

Hint - if you scroll down the page and look at my last link to 'the BBC' you will get to see the nice Mr B.
(and me, in the Community Cafe.)


Friday, March 30, 2007

Blackmail? This is just business

Roll up, Roll up (roll of drums) -
Yes, it's the one, the only, the original -
Tripe Pickers Journal
(fresh from 1978).

If this works, and Heaven knows, technology is miserable now, you may see an image of the very first, (yes, it still exists), the very first cover, ever.
Spiffing, eh?
(Isn't that what they used to say, back in the old days?)
That's Paul and Mike on the cover.
Which one is me?
(Clue: compare to last blog's pic!)

Fanzines are different now.
(They might not even have that name.
They might be e-zines, or whatever.)
Of course, everything was made out of wax and cement in those days. Fanzines were etched on parchment or cranked out on duplicators. (The word Gestetner comes to mind.)

Nowadays the word is Epson, and aren't they a pain?

Anyone else out there doesn't like Epson?
Sign up!
It started out OK.
I bought one of those '1,000 in one' jobs -
you know - print, scan, etch, make tea, etc etc
and it worked fine, at all those jobs
(the tea was a bit weak)
but I wasn't happy with it.
The main problem was it insisted on lecturing me,
haranguing me,
telling me off,
whenever I wasn't doing exactly what it commanded me to do.

The main point of contention was that Epson wanted me to use their own ink in their printer.
Only their ink.
No one else's.
And the messages came up, over and over, every time one or other of the ink cartridges got anywhere near getting used up (which happened suprisingly quickly, strangely enough).
Now, I didn't mind. At first.
For months and months, I toddled down to Staples superstore at the end of our road and stocked and re-stocked with inks whenever needed. The real ink, the Epson ink, just as ordered.
I didn't think of doing anything else.

Until yesterday.
That was the day the Staples woman behind the counter said to me 'Our brand is cheaper. Oh, and the cartridges contain more ink'.
Well then, if someone is promising you 12mls for the price of 7, that's got to be a bargain, right?
And, hell, this was Staples, right?
They're a big name, even round here, the north of the north.
Far from the maddening London crowd.
We're heard of Staples, begorrah.
(Why we even have frothy milk in our coffees now.)
It seemed like I couldn't lose.

But I did.
First think that happened was that I took out the used black cartridge (Epson made) and put in the new Staples cartridge.
Well, I got the message.
My computer told me - 'This isn't one of ours'.

What I wanted to say was 'Go ahead anyway'.
It wouldn't.
I clicked on this, I clicked on that, but no dice.
The printer wouldn't start.
There was a big red cross over the pic in the Printer dialog box,
like it wasn't even there.
But it was.
I'd bought it and I wanted to use it.

I changed the next cartridge, yellow, and the same thing happened.
So I took out the new black one and shook it all about.
Bad mistake.
I got black ink all over my hands -
the printer,
my other (laser) printer,
my cup of tea -

I hunted around for inspiration.
I clicked on the 'Help' button.
Things started happening.
Before I knew it, I was connected to the internet and in earnest dialogue with a man in Epsom, (the place, not the printer).

He was unsympathetic.
He was about as haranguing as the damn computer.
He told me he 'couldn't be responsible'.
He thought it might be a 'faulty chip'.

I had a question.
I wanted to know what Epson had done to the printer to make it refuse to accept all cheap ink cartridges.
He was outraged.
'We don't do that', he said (not out loud, in typing - this was an email, after all).
Why not? This is business, right?
Why wouldn't you jimmy our printers so we have to pay more for only the 'legitimate' ink?
'Oh no, no', my new-found friend insisted.

He really wanted to help, he really did.
Well, that's nice, but it was me that had to troll on back down the road to Staples on the junction and change all those flashy new cartridges I bought,
and pay for new Epson ones, just like they 'advised'.
So, now the message is clear.
Not only should you use the same-make cartridges, brother, you got no choice.
Only Epson cartridges work in Epson printers.
Neat, huh?

One more question.
Isn't that blackmail?
Isn't that, you know, illegal or something?
Isn't it unethical, at least?

What do you think?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Science Fiction? So 1970s

I've said it before and I'll say it again -

Well, yes, I have to actually, because no one was listening last time.

This blog is named after a science fiction fanzine that I had something to do with back in the day, mostly when I lived in Bristol (clue in picture on right, see it?)

Latest News

You can now see more of my output from that Golden Age at a brand new web site.
(It's listed on the left, for the faint-hearted.)

Now, hey, this is not to be confused with the other Mike Scantlebury's, ie com, org, or biz.
So that's that sorted out.

Well done me.

What else?
Well, if you look carefully, you might find a link displayed below.
Click on, and see Mike walking and talking,
(Well, talking, anyway) -
controversial, as always..........

Monday, February 19, 2007

New technology? It's so Al Goring

Okay, so Valentine's Day might not be the best day of the year for you to receive presents.
But for me, it's different.
It's my birthday.

Planning ahead, I decided what my Loved One would really like to give me would be a DVD of Al Gore warning me about Climate Change and global warming.

We stoked up the fire, turned the central heating to full, and settled down in front of the machinery.
No picture.

Yes, it did seem a bit ironic that here we were, ready to be primed about how new technology is threatening the planet, and we couldn't get the technology to work.
There were words, of a sort, someone mumbling. And music, kinda.
But no visuals.

Ah, I thought, clever Al.
It's a test.
If we can get the DVD to work, it proves we're ready to adapt to the post-Apocalyptic world.
On the other hand, there might be a bit of fluff on the laser head.
What we need is a Head Cleaner.

Then I had a bright idea.
I would take out the Al Gore DVD and put another one in. If that worked, it would tell me - something - and I could move on.
With fumbling fingers, I took the Tai Chi DVD out of its cover and slapped it in the player.
Thing is, I knew this would work. We had played it only last week, dancing round the room and improving our balance, co-ordination and Chi. It had to work.
It didn't.

Then I had another idea.
I would take Al Gore out of the set-top box, the DVD player on my TV, and instead put it on my desktop computer. If the programme played on that, it would prove - something. I'd be able to work out what the problem was.
It didn't work.

Strangely enough, it did prove one thing, but something totally new.
Me, for one, didn't know that Bill Gates has no intention of letting us watch DVDs on our computers, unless we pay another 14.95 dollars.
I'd played DVDs before, hadn't I?
Ah, but then it hit me.
The DVDs came from - 'a friend'. He also gave me a copy of Win DVD.
In short, a knocked off program to watch a knock-off DVD.
I hadn't put two and two together.
Since I switched to Windows XP I hadn't dabbled in DVDs and had no need to test the system.
So, suprise, surprise to me.
DVD's don't work, not with Windows Media Player, without an add-on, and more money.

Well, you're probably getting bored now, so here's the ending.
Yes, we did get Al Gore working.
No, it wasn't anything complicated.
The Loved One said 'Try twiddling the wires', so I did.
Seems like the SCART socket was loose, or maybe the SCART plug.
Either way, visuals came on and I learned a lot about global warming.

Thanks, Al.

Monday, January 08, 2007

New Year's Revolting

Lost, again.

Hey, I never said this was 1978, not really -
but I woke up this morning and someone is shouting at me (on the radio) that it's 2007.
How did that happen?

Weren't we meant to have 2001 first?
You know, the trip to Jupiter and finding the big, black concrete thing?

Weren't we meant to have 1984, you know when Big Brother took over.
That hasn't happened yet, has it?

Weren't we meant to have the New Millenium?
(Something about jam for all, and a chicken in every pot.)

If I look confused, don't be fooled.
I am confused.

Meanwhile I've developed a New Year's Resolution.
In this wonderful New Year, I've decided that I definitely won't confuse 'resolution' with 'revolution' ever again.