Archive for change

Long time no post…

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything on this site but for the last couple of years I’ve been very busy moderating and replying to comments. Most of these have come from people who have been conned by one of the many scams that I’ve looked into on this site.

‘Misleading contract’ business directory scams

A huge number of these people have been victims of ‘business directory’ scams. These trick people into signing a ‘contract’ for roughly €3,000 and then follow up with demands and finally threats from so-called debt collectors (in reality the same people as the scammers). Something like 4% of people snared pay out of fear or desperation. Given the sheer volume of these entrapping forms sent out each year, that’s millions of euro every year just for bullying people over the phone and with a few letters.

The good news is that my posts about these scams are high up in Google meaning that people who have got caught in the trap can find this site and in doing so, read and contribute to the thousands of comments from other people like them. The even better news is that this body of evidence shows that no-one has ever been taken to court by any of these scams. That makes for reassuring reading.

Another neat thing we achieved was to put our warnings about the fake ‘debt collection agencies’ these scams use high up into Google. As soon as someone receives a scary demand from – say ‘ICAA Cyprus Ltd’ on behalf of Expo Guide – they find this site and all the reassuring comments BEFORE they find ICAA’s own (rather 1-dimensional) website.

‘Prize draw promotions’

I can report that – as of the last couple of months – there has been a marked drop-off in ‘prize promotion’ activity. In these thinly-disguised scams, people receive letters telling them they have won a confirmed prize and should contact the company to claim. These promotions are designed to make the ‘lucky winner’ pay to get their prize. On average, the ‘cost’ to claim the prize has been around £15 (extracted through a range of methods such as premium-rate claim lines and insurances). In many, many cases people who paid that money received nothing. Where they did, it was often a throwaway Chinese digital camera with a value of about £2.50.

This scam was designed to appeal to people who are vulnerable and whose judgment is impaired whether through youth, naiivety, mental or other health problems. Finally, in February of 2011, The Office Of Fair Trading (OFT) finally got the UK’s #1 operator of these rip-offs into the High Court last year. Ross-on-Wye based McIntyre & Dodd Marketing Ltd was found to be operating unlawfully and ordered to stop the practice. To our surprise, these people (part of DM Plc) carried on mailing their letters for a couple of months after this ruling – judging by the comments that still regularly arrived in waves to coincide with each new M&D direct mail-out.

The good news is that – for the last couple of months at least – M&D appears to have stopped the mail-outs under the usual sounding names like ‘Community Awards Register’, ‘NB – Botification Bureau’ and ‘Unclaimed Prize Register’ etc etc. The traffic for those titles and for ‘McIntyre & Dodd Marketing Ltd’ has dropped right off – I’m pleased to announce. Let’s hope it won’t start up again under some other guise – although, to be quite honest, I fully expect it to at any moment.

Peter Popoff and his ‘Miracle Debt Cancellation’

This US ‘preacher’ was exposed by James Randi as being a complete and total fake. I was surprised, therefore, to see him sometime in the last year or two on UK TV (on ‘The Gospel Channel’ from Iceland) peddling his wares. A quick Google search for ‘Peter Popoff’ will show you just how much hatred this nasty con man has aroused. Google’s ‘popular searches’ feature tells a clear story: peter popoff prison / peter popoff miracle water / peter popoff fake / peter popoff false prophet.

“Peter Popoff is a mother fucker” says one non-fan on his blog. “Born again but still a religious fraud” says another. “Peter Popoff, back to his old tricks” is yet another. Even RipoffReport has a feature on this toad. Why isn’t he in prison, asks a chunk of the internet population. I’ve no idea – sadly, and there’s no sign of him stopping yet.


There is still a constant trickle of traffic into this site for the heinous keyphrase “touchlocal sc*m”. Why? Because someone out there isn’t happy with what they’re getting from TouchLocal. Nothing unusual about that but a couple of years ago it bubbled over into a bit of a problem. By publishing unhappy customer comments here, TL were forced to communicate with those customers. A very small number were resolved (better than none) and – under threat from TL – I agreed to take the thread down. Immediately after, TouchLocal tried to play some games to stuff the top of Google search with their own copy for the keyphrase – with the result that they looked like a business with something to hide.

Let’s hope things are improving for TouchLocal’s customers, ordinary non-computer literate business folk just hoping for a little extra business…


This one isn’t going away. We’re still getting regular horror-stories from people whose livelihoods are being ruined by PayPal when it freezes their accounts or does strange and, let’s face it, unacceptable-sounding things. My best advice at the time didn’t feel like much help even then – and I suspect that PayPal hasn’t got any more accountable (or regulatable) as it’s got bigger.

I’m pleased to be able to say that the all the traffic to this site for Amazon (and there’s been a lot of it) has shown that, apart from frustration at the company’s unwillingness to highlight its customer service phone number, most people are extremely satisfied with the quality of customer service they DO get when they get through to an agent.

This is exactly the experience I had in the beginning that prompted me to post. Keep up the good work Amazon – and why not make your customer service numbers more accessible? That way you’ll have even more advocates singing your praises worldwide.

..and so

It’s coming time to re-think this site and what I want to do with it.

What I’ve learned is that it is very satisfying to be able to help prevent people from being ripped off and save them from unnecessary worry and stress. In a cruel world that thinks its ok to rip people off because they didn’t see the trap coming, I’m pleased to have made some difference. But it takes a bit of effort and involves a bit of risk, too – so it’s time to consider where we go from here.

Paying for online news? No, no, five Times NO!

But is the Times plan to charge for online news really as bad as it sounds?

From June this year, TimesOnline (currently a free news website) will become two separate sites: the Times and Sunday Times accessible only to paying subscribers. The traditional newspaper market is in freefall and the move to charge directly for subscription to news is seen by many as a pivotal moment in the industry’s history.

In the 15 short years we’ve had the internet in our homes, we’ve become very used to consuming free content and somewhere near the top of the list has been news.  It’s hard enough to market and sell content online as it is but the idea of trying to sell something that’s always been free comes across as madness.

Continue Reading…

“I like to keep busy. It passes the time”

Is your need to get somewhere stopping you from being here?

Richard Cooke got me thinking with a post on his i-Change blog.  He talks about how it feels to have lost the familiar milestones and landmarks of change; to be out in the featureless plains of your life.  It got me thinking about time, change and the present moment.  I answered:

“I used to wonder what would happen if I shut myself in a room without windows, or clocks, or routine or any familiar landmarks of change.

My theory was that if I removed all signs of change then time itself would become meaningless and strangely elastic. Who knows?

But maybe that’s a bit of what happens when we move out of the routine landscape of change (school runs, workdays, weekdays and weekends…) – when we move from one stage of our lives into another?

You asked how people deal with this lack of the signs of progress. At the risk of being philosophical (lols – hey, you DID categorise this post as ‘Values and Philosophy’)…

I remember once someone saying to me “I like to keep busy, it passes the time”. Duh? To what? Death?

I’m really not in a hurry any more to be anywhere other than here and now, in the moment. I used to be, but not so much any more. It’s not always easy, but the result is that I don’t worry about change or progress because I’m not so attached to getting from somewhere to somewhere.”

Life, the Twitterverse and Everything

“I love this tool for cleaning up follower issues. Cannot live without it”

Saw this comment in a Tweet just now. The words “Can’t live without it” keep ringing (or is that ‘twinging’?) in my ears. This person is talking about some bit of software that let’s them prune their follower list…or something. Which is kind of amusing since most people using Twitter seem to be in a hurry to get as many followers as possible as quickly as possible.

Its not just the crazy sense of perspective in that Tweet. It also reminded me how self-referential the Twittersphere has become; how obsessed with itself and technology it is. And how grand it’s sense of it’s own place in history and its power to shape current affairs and even democracy itself.

Twitter is fascinating to watch, for sure. I read in the paper today one of the founders likened creating Twitter to putting a bat and a ball into a jungle clearing and hiding while the natives invented baseball.

Have people really reached a point where they can’t live without it? It looks like some have. Personally, I’m teetering at a point where the prospect of stopping using it is almost as attractive as using it, as I did with Facebook some months back.

Student debt poll

The TimesOnline’s ‘student debt’ poll: annoying for all kinds of reasons

beerandsmoke2“Would you pay an extra penny on income tax to subsidise students?” asks the TimesOnline in this worst-of-all-kinds-of-survey.

Why is this so annoying?

Firstly, because the question is pretty meaningless.  If you don’t think so, then take it seriously for a moment and try to answer it yourself.  Yes?  No?  It depends…?

It’s annoying because the issues of student debt and the way that education is funded are far more complex than this dumbed-down, ‘web-friendly’ question implies.

Secondly, because I’m not prepared to talk about subsidising education until we talk that other big student expense that never gets talked about: alcohol and drugs.

But guess what?  When did you last hear ANYONE honestly account for the part that alcohol and drugs played in their ‘£15,000′ overdraft?  Funny isn’t it?  They don’t, ever.  It’s always ‘tuition fees, books, rent, food’.

Booo!  Party-pooper!

In case you think I’m being fuddy duddy, I’ve been there and done it myself.  First as a student at university (where I spend a healthy amount on drink and drugs) and secondly as a university lecturer (where – like most, if not all of my colleagues – I also spent a healthy amount on drink and drugs).

So it’s not about a moral highground.  It’s about honesty.  In answer to your question, TimesOnline: ‘No.  I’m not prepared to subsibise ongoing cultural denial about the trouble our education system and our students are in with alcohol and substance abuse.’

Now, which box should I tick?

The Venus Project: Beyond Politics, Poverty and War….

Picture 2

..but not Shopping, ok?

The Venus Project claims to be “a bold, new direction for humanity that entails nothing less than the total redesign of our culture.”

Top of the drop down list of ways to ‘Get Involved’?  Why, through the Store of course, where you can purchase DVDs and other Venus Project goodies (including T-Shirts).

Sorry if I this sounds critical, but is there anyone else out there who thinks that the first thing we might need to lose in a total redesign of our culture is our attachment to selling each other stuff?  Hmmm?

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe social media and online shopping can fix the world.  What do you think?

Can’t drag and drop widgets? That’ll be WP Shopping Cart messing things up, then

WP Shopping Cart (Ecommerce) plugin and WP 2.8 don’t mix

Picture 2..but you’ll only have found out the hard way.  Like I did. Probably the first time you came to drag-and-drop widgets after upgrading (reluctantly if you’re anything like me) to WordPress 2.8.

I’ve ranted about the enslavement to upgrades that you’re forced into when you start blogging (or making sites) with WordPress.  No sooner than you get used to one version, some unknown entity decides its time to upgrade.  If you don’t things gradually stop working on your site.  Or your clients’ sites.  But even if you do, things inevitably and suddenly don’t work too.  Why? Because the people who make the free plugins you’re so dependent on haven’t caught up with the WordPress upgrade.  They either haven’t had time, or worse, can’t be bothered since no-one’s paying them to keep up.

With WordPress, things go down like a line of dominoes.   Just now, I noticed that the widget that comes with the WP AudioBoo plugin wasn’t showing on my homepage.  So I replaced that plugin with a more recent one.  Then I went to the widgets dashboard and tried to drag and drop the AudioBoo widget into my sidebar only to find I couldn’t.  Further exploration revealed I couldn’t drag or drop anything.  Ah. New problem.

Next step, Google and search for ‘can’t drag and drop widgets in WP’.  That led me to a number of threads in the WordPress Codex where people had upgraded to WP 2.8 only to find themselves unable to drag and drop widgets.  10 minutes later, I had worked out that it was the Ecommerce plugin from Instinct Entertainment (!) that was messing up the drag-and-drop function in WP 2.8.

A few people offered crude, temporary work-arounds.  None of them solved the problem and all of them required a level of php expertise that would kill off all but the code-obsessed developer.

My solution? Lose the WP Shopping Cart plugin since I’m not really using it.

And where does that leave me? Stranded between WP Shopping Cart 2.5 and 3.7 and WP 2.8 and 2.8.2 with no real confidence that anything will ever work properly and a growing sense of the stupidity of the whole, idiotic endeavour.

I’ve really, really had enough running just to stay still.  It’s insane – a modern madness that I want no further part of.  There. I’ve said it. :-)

East Midlands Trains customer service: Rachel’s not happy

Rachel Elnaugh isn’t happy with her automated response from East Midlands Trains customer service

Former Dragon Rachel Elnaugh booked a discounted First Class ticket on East Midlands Trains only to find that she couldn’t use the First Class lounge.  It seems her First Class…wasn’t really First Class when it came down to it.

She tells on her blog how she complained to EMT – only to receive a bland automatically-generated customer service email.  You know the kind that begin ‘Dear Rachel Elnaugh’ and end ‘I hope you find this information useful’.

From a business perspective, selling ‘First Class’ tickets that skimp on the first class benefits and leave customers with a bad taste in their mouths isn’t a great move.

Failing to communicate properly with the resulting unhappy customer is an even worse move.  Businesses seem to forget that by the time a customer is into complaint mode, they are hyper-sensitive to the quality of customer service.

It follows logically that if there’s one place to invest in the best communication skills it’s the customer service people who deal with complaints.

Perhaps it’s the ‘monopoly’ mentality of rail franchise holders that makes them think they can ignore the public’s desire for good customer service.  The reality is that falling customer satisfaction levels is one compelling reason for DfT to withdraw a franchise.

Meantime, in the absence of a genuine listening ear, people – like Rachel – will continue to resort to social media to air their frustration.  You’ve been warned!

WordPress 2.8? What was wrong with 2.7.1?

Who actually decided there has to be a WordPress 2.8? And why, exactly?

evolutionI often wonder who it is that decides there has to be the next version of something and more importantly, when.  Heck, I’ve only just managed to upgrade to WordPress 2.7.1 with its attendant joy of re-learning everything plus finding out (the hard way) which plugins no longer work.

So who is it that decides there has to be a WordPress 2.8 and when?  And, come to think of it, why?

Look, I’m no luddite.  But the difference between evolution and upgrade-mania is that evolution happens s l o w l y.  Nor does it happen just for fun or simply because the universe’s techies need to solve problems that don’t actually exist.

Why couldn’t we have planned upgrades? Hmm? Say, once a year on the same day?  Then, we could all look forward to it together and perhaps even declare a national holiday.

Upgrade Day: a whole day off to sort out all the chaos created by the latest upgrades.

The end of Woolworths

Mrs. Kau snaps the end of Woolworths in Tavistock

Shall I text her back and tell her to bid on the letters from the Woolworths’ name?

Its funny that in our culture, we’re not used to ‘the end’ of things. I’ve often wondered when will this building or that bridge stop being? When will this town no longer exist? When will the last car drive on the last road?

Because, odd as it all might seem to us, it’s all fleeting in the long run.

What’s even stranger is how much it all mattered while it existed.  People gave their lives to Woolworths, got upset about it, lost sleep over it, got angry with people in it…

And now it’s history.