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location.location.location

Most of the time when services want to know your location, a post code and house number will suffice. For others, your longitude and latitude are necessary. From online shopping to GPS, so much depends on letting others know where you are.

Knowing where you are these days is, for the most part, very simple. Most of us carry a smartphone. GPS has been part of smartphones since the days of the Nokia N95, but it’s far more accurate these days and the software has come on leaps and bounds. While Google Latitude is no longer an option, others have stepped in. Glympse is by far my favourite for sharing my location on the fly. It tracks the phone or tablet and shares your location using a one-off web address to whoever you want to share it with, and only them. It automatically terminates the web page when you reach your destination, after a preset time, or by both (whichever comes first). When it comes to sharing your location it’s great, assuming you’re on the move.

When you’re not on the move and want to share a specific place, you’ll likely fall back to either an address, or longitude and latitude. I could say I’m at Tower Knowe Visitors Centre, Kielder, NE48 1BX and you could find me fairly easily. If I said I was parked at 55.1739, -2.4746 then you’d have a more accurate position, but postcodes only work if there’s a building nearby and long/lat can be easily mistaken or forgotten. What we need is a more elegant, simpler approach. Thankfully someone’s already solved that problem.

Imagine if everywhere on the planet, city, homes, seas or deserts could be found using just three words. Everywhere. Three words to describe every three by three metre square. Texting someone would be far simpler. Calling 999 for emergency services, or roadside assistance (AA, RAC, Green Flag etc) could be far less stressful by giving them positions.dreaming.nipping rather than spelling out Knowe and Kielder. It’s not hard to get the location from the three words either. Prefix the three words with what3words.com/ or easier still, w3w.co/ and you have your location. w3w.co/positions.dreaming.nipping will take you to the Tower Knowe car park at Kielder Forest.

With a range of map overlay options compatible with various browsers and apps for Android and iOS, it strikes me that the obvious choice for sharing your location is no longer street names or the more traditional “turn left at the Red Lion”. The app doesn’t even need an internet connection, it can provide your three word location and can even show direction and distance to a three word pin or waymarker (think geocaching). I’ve been using What3Words for a few years now, and we still add it for delivery instructions to indicate the right house, or for the front or back door. I’ve converted w3w addresses to QR codes and João Dias has added W3W’s Developer’s API to AutoTools so now a secret phrase can be sent to my phone and it will automatically reply with a link to my location. To date we’ve used W3W for everything from ‘additional instructions for the driver’ to the traditional treasure hunt for our son at Christmas and even our wedding invitations.

One thing is for certain, Ozero Kovdozero, Republic of Karelia, Russia or 63.1539N, 32.1040E aren’t remotely as easy to remember as w3w.co/location.location.location.

Police Station

Lost balance.
Crutch went out to regain balance.
Crutch hit son’s Lego Police Station at full force.
20 minutes trying to work out which piece belongs to the Police Station and which bricks are standard (non kit) Lego, where they go and if it will all fit afterwards.
All this so an eight year old won’t come downstairs in the morning, see his work in pieces and have a bad day at school.

In hindsight I should’ve told him the Lego criminals broke out and blew the place up.
That would’ve been much cooler!

@EE – how not to do it

I’ve been with Orange since January 1996.  When you’ve been with a company that long you expect a certain amount of hiccups.  Nobody’s perfect, and where there’s humans, there’s human error.  Unfortunately, since 1996 Orange has changed hands a few times and each time the level of customer service has deteriorated.  None more so than when EE took over.

May 2013 was a frustrating time.  I’d been forced on to a 24 month contract because Orange no longer recognised their own contracts.  I started the month on Everyday 50, a 12 month contract charging 50p per day for 50 minutes of talk time.  Add to that £5 a month for 500MB of 3G data and it covered everything I needed.

The trouble came when I tried to upgrade.  Orange had become EE and with it brought new software.  Unfortunately, the programmers didn’t think to incorporate all active tariffs, (presumably only the ones available to buy at the time).  As a result, EE refused to let me upgrade and keep the talk plan.  They grossly miscalculated ‘a customer’s value’ because I was on a daily tariff, not monthly.  This was stupidity worthy of Vodafone.

It was only when I asked for a PAC (necessary to port my number elsewhere) that EE sat up and took notice.  I was offered a 24 month contract with extra talk time and data thrown in.  I took down the details and went away to consider my options.

When I called back, I’d expected notes on my account outlining the offer.  After several calls I’d found:

  • Some people couldn’t find the notes, or the person I’d spoken to (including a team manager at North Tyneside call centre who suggested if I didn’t take her basic package I should go).
  • Others could find the person, but not the notes.
  • Some found the person and the notes, but couldn’t find the gratuitous extra minutes/data.
  • Some found the person, the notes and the extra minutes and data, but couldn’t activate them.
  • One person found the person, the notes, extra minutes and data but could only activate part of it.

Ultimately, the person who offered me the package got back to me and activated it.  He really was very helpful, and checked everything over before submitting.

I have fallen victim to too many of Orange’s little mistakes over the years.  I was adamant it wasn’t to be the case this time.  I asked if there were any additional charges, hidden charges or anything else.  There would be none.  The line rental was all I’d pay unless I used more minutes or data than in the bundles.
But, thats just not true.

The trouble is, EE (a company I now lovingly refer to as Exceptional Extortionists) failed to mention that I’d be charged for delivery receipts on texts, for calls to freephone numbers (ironically, they’re not free or even included in your monthly minutes) and worst of all, a fine of £3.58 every month for not giving EE control of my bank account via Direct Debit!
None of the above were mentioned.  I even received the wrong phone.

When this was queried, an apology was made, a refund for the Direct Debit payment was applied to the account and I was told she would make sure I wouldn’t get any more, but only for the duration of the contract.  Once the contract is up, the fine will apply.  It turns out the fine has applied ever since.

When I called, I discovered the question of whether EE see you as a valued customer or the means of making money, was answered.  It turns out you can pay EE to jump their queue!  Your call isn’t important to them; your money is!
Although I was repeatedly told “the credit to the account wouldn’t be coming from his pocket”, he didn’t actually credit the account.  He promised the bar on the account would be lifted within 20 minutes, and hurriedly explained it was the end of his shift and had to go! 35 minutes later he called back to explain the buck was to be passed back to the woman who had credited the account and who’d promised I wouldn’t get charged for the remainder of the contract.  The phone call I was promised at 14:00 the following day didn’t happen.  When the buck was passed I’d expected a call back the following day, not to have to wait days for their member of staff to wander back in.

While the bar was into its fifth day I called EE – I’d waited long enough for them to call me.  [I hadn’t told EE but this phone is part of a ‘panic button’ system due to a disability so having it barred has the potential to impact on us a fair bit.]  After having to repeat everything only four times I managed to speak to someone who took on board my complaint.  He apologised, credited the account for what I was incorrectly charged and is sending a letter of apology.  I’m £12-odd in credit.  I suppose that’s what happens when you keep rounding up your bills to the nearest whole pound.

I thought that would be everything sorted, but the bar was still in force.  I called EE on the sixth day to query why it hadn’t been removed overnight.  No reason could be found.  I chalked this one down to either an interruption before it could be done, a technical failure or it was simply overlooked.  What really annoyed me is after explaining everything I’d gone through, the excessively cheery woman told me to “be careful not to go past my (allotted) minutes in future” [something I’ve never once done with this contract] and to “be sure to promote EE to all my friends” and to “tell everyone how good they are”.

So, I’m going to do exactly that.

EE are good at:

  • Making promises they can’t keep
  • Repeatedly letting customers down
  • Giving incorrect information
  • Not advising customers when promises can’t be kept
  • Poorly composing a brief for software developers (active tariffs)
  • Badly training their staff
  • Valuing everything above their customers
  • Ignoring what a customer tells them
  • Self promoting

and they excel at being unable to make calls to customers, and keeping those customers up to date with relevant information.

Why is it communications companies are unable to communicate?

2014

2014 has been an odd year.

  • Google made contact lenses with Google Glass tech.
  • Samsung and Cisco agreed to share patents (or at least not sue over them).
  • We learned a quarter of Americans think the Sun orbits the Earth.
  • The world’s first Braille mobile phone became available.
  • One of my Billy Connolly audio tapes got snapped, shredded and spat out.
  • Iain Duncan Smith was called to account for using misleading ‘statistics’ to justify his actions.
  • We visited Cragside, and I had the chance to tick “ride in Lord Armstrong’s lift” off my bucket list.
  • Vegan friendly cheese was grown in a lab.
  • Gaza disgusted the world with its unrelenting attack on Palestine.
  • The 3Doodler (3D printing pen) went on sale.
  • Vapes are exempt from the indoor smoking ban.
  • Workfare schemes were deemed illegal.
  • George Takei got slammed for his bullying of the disabled.
  • Skellow and Greggs made the headlines following their publicity on Google.
  • The iPhone 6 followed LG and Samsung’s curved screen approach.
  • Scotland’s referendum voted to remain part of the UK.
  • Apple’s proved their patents are more secure than your data when their iCloud got hacked.
  • Australia proved solar power could replace fossil fuels.
  • @CassetteBoy’s David Cameron video went viral just as David Cameron was criticised for holding a £25,000 champagne party immediately before announcing benefit cuts.
  • Sainsbury’s launched the best Christmas advert I’ve ever seen, while Famous Grouse went mainstream.
  • Ghostbusters reached 30.
  • Three years to the day after we met, we got engaged.
  • And after nearly 20 years, I’m giving up smoking.

Let’s hope that 2015 will be just as interesting. Hopefully in a good way. Personally, I can’t wait to get my hoverboard.

Happy New Year!

Final Smoke

It is my intention to give up smoking on the 31st December this year. It’s not something I want to do. If we had the money I’d keep smoking until my dying breath, but wishing for a lottery win isn’t going to get us anywhere.

When I started smoking back in 1994 it was a social event. There was always someone close by to smoke with. You didn’t have to go outside in bad weather, and while it wasn’t a written rule, there were some places where you just didn’t smoke. You could smoke in shopping centres, but nobody smoked in the shop itself. Smoke breaks were spent with colleagues, or sometimes you’d find yourself smoking with someone who shared the building, but from another company. You’d talk, share problems, and more often than not return to your desk with a fresh perspective or even the solution. It was genial, social, pleasant. With this in mind I’ve decided to not spend my last smoke alone.

I’ve decided to smoke with someone who can offer the same intellectual conversation that used to take place 20 years ago. My last smoke will be with my (soon to be) father in law.

My first smoke was a Hamlet Reserve. Since then I’ve changed brands a number of times, often due to the termination of a line or even the brand itself. I’ve tried cigarettes but didn’t find them to my taste. I’ve also bought a few pipes and have tried numerous variations of pipe baccy. I still have some. It’s always been cigars that I’ve gone back to, from cigarillos to coronas. With this in mind, it’s the Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 (Toro), bought from the Cuban Cigar Club in Newcastle that I’ve chosen as my last smoke.

From the 1st January 2015 I’ll be using vapes exclusively. Watch this space.

Apology to @DPD_UK

It would appear I owe DPD couriers an apology.

I’d ordered three items via Amazon for Ian-Ogri’s birthday. Amazon had emailed me saying one had been despatched, and the other two were despatched within a minute or two of each other. One of those items was delivered by Parcelforce, another by DPD. My partner, @Carole29, signed for the DPD item.

When checking DPD’s tracking facility I could see that the item had been delivered, although the signature showed my surname. Amazon emailed me, advising me that an item had been delivered but the signature differed from that of DPD’s site. It showed ‘D FOR [my surname]’.

Leaping to the wrong conclusion with great haste I’d assumed that the tracking number was for two items (it made sense, especially as they appeared to have been despatched together). I’d also tweeted as much, mentioning DPD in the tweet. DPD looked in to the complaint and respecting privacy, this continued privately via DM. Their last message to me (at the time of typing this) was “Thank you. We do only have the one parcel, I am sorry.”

Something didn’t ring true. I had two different digital signatures, one [my surname], the other D FOR [my surname] and neither Carole’s name. I needed to take this up with Amazon themselves.

It was only after complaining and wasting DPD’s time that I checked Amazon’s order page. Much to my surprise, the missing item, the discrepancy, turned out to not have a tracking option! If DPD is the courier, it would appear to be completely coincidental.

I’d like to apologise to DPD for my mistake. I’ve wasted their time and sent an embarrassing tweet which no doubt has resulted in bad publicity. I hope this blog post will in some way rectify this.

Scottish Independence

As a Geordie I have no real say in how the people of Scotland vote. I do, however, have an opinion.

The way I see it Scotland is better off without the rest of us, while we are better off with Scotland. As a result it comes as no surprise that Cameron and his cronies are doing everything they can to prevent an independent Scotland.

Scotland would be better off keeping the Pound. The government are threatening to prevent the Pound being shared.

Scotland would be free from some of the ridiculous laws and rulings so the government threatens border control.

It goes on. Every time the Scots are made aware of how much better off they’d be without the rest of us, the government’s tactics threaten to not share their toys.

There are so many reasons for Scotland to be free, but for me the best reason of all is how the government is handling the situation. The desperation and vicious, nasty, threatening manner of the powers that be as we approach the big day.

I would love for Scotland to stay part of this country. The Scots I’ve met have been warm, friendly and completely undeserving of the stereotype image. There’s a rich heritage, community and unity that Scotland brings (possibly in a united hatred of the English). Scotland gets so little back in return from us.

Unfortunately, while my heart wants Scotland to stay, my head knows Scotland is better off moving on. Whatever comes, I wish Scotland the very best.

There was a man from Gallifrey

There was a man from Gallifrey
Who would travel to different days
But when talk turned to hate
He would regenerate
And get up and fly off on his way.
©@FourQ

Memory

When I was young there was always one man, a friend of my Dad’s, who knew more fascinating (sometimes almost completely useless) facts than anyone I’d met, certainly at that young age. You could pick any subject and he could tell you something obscure about it. I remember checking up a few when I grew older, partly because I was sceptical that such fascinating ‘facts’ were true, and partly because if I was going to pass on this information to others I wanted to be able to tell them a little more about it (I never once found anything he said to be false or even exaggerated).

Today, I was able to educate my son with a true rarity – a fact I’d remembered from QI (a staggering achievement considering my medication). More often than not I’ll watch the half hour programme (or 45 minute QI XL) and be unable to remember a half dozen facts from it. A phenomenon Billy Connolly once mentioned in one of his gigs – the ability to leave a two hour gig and be unable to repeat anything from it.

My son stood, aghast in shock of what he’d learned, replying only “reeeeeeeeeeeeeallllllllllllly?”, as kids do. He held a look of surprise before the almost inevitable “I’m so going to tell [school friend’s name] tomorrow!”

From now on I’m getting armed up. I’m going to scour @qikipedia@scienceporn and @learnsomething daily for something to pass on. I want to be able to say that ‘x’ is a fact and that ‘y’ is an urban myth. I want klaxons going off each time someone says something as fact from QI’s General Ignorance,  but even I know that’s taking it too far.

I want to become that man I admired so much, and I’m thoroughly ashamed to say I can’t recall his name.

 

Facebook

Those who know me are painfully aware that I have no love of Facebook.  It feels as though Facebook is where the English language goes to die.  I don’t mean people in the States claiming their own bastardisation of the English language is English, annoying as it is, I’m referring to people who drop as many letters from a word and still claiming it has some resemblance.  It feels as though Facebook is the low-brow incestuous offspring of the village idiot and their mother.

So, why have an account if I dislike it so much?  I have friends whose primary means of keeping in touch is Facebook.  There are companies whose laziness or greed means their primary online presence is on Facebook.  It would appear that a Facebook account is not just a means of keeping in touch with people, but is a passport to much more.

We give Facebook so much information about ourselves.  We complete extensive profiles, detailing our every interest.  We give our name, date of birth, birthplace, current town of residence, photos of ourself and friends, and so much more required to identify ourselves.  We then give them answers to much more personal questions in the name of security, mother’s maiden name, first pet’s name etc.  Why?  Because we invest so much time in giving Facebook every detail about our lives.

It would appear, however, that this isn’t enough.  Facebook wants more.  I took a read through some of the permissions required by Facebook if you want to use their app on your smartphone.

SMS records: The first permission shows it wants access to all of your texts.  It doesn’t matter who they’re from or how personal they are.  Facebook wants to know who you’re texting and what you’re talking about.  [How dare you not use Facebook chat!]

Storage: Facebook wants full access to your SD card. [They can see which music preferences you’ve not told them about, and which photos you’ve not yet uploaded to them.  They can also create/delete anything.]

System Tools: Facebook wants to be able to

  • change your network state – turn on or off your 3G, 4G, WiFi, Auto-sync, read (or change) your WiFi connections, etc.
  • Draw over other apps – pop up with notifications on parts/all of your screen, not just the notification bar.
  • Prevent your phone from sleeping – keep it running while the screen is off.
  • Re-order running apps – this changes priorities of your apps, it can ensure it has greater priority than your antivirus or launcher.
  • Retrieve running apps – Facebook wants to know which other apps you’ve used recently or currently.
  • Toggle sync – Facebook wants to ensure it, and every other app, is up to date at all times, even if you’ve turned it off to save battery and data.

Location: This is not only which cellular transmitter or WiFi router you’re connected to (used to identify which town you’re in), but it also wants to know which number of which street you’re at.  [You’ve already told Facebook where in the country you live, but it also wants to know your home/work address and the addresses of your friends, where you’re drinking etc.]

Services that cost you money: Basically, Facebook wants to call or text numbers for you, or without you knowing.

Hardware controls: Which includes:

  • Changing audio settings – volume settings and which speaker is used for notifications.
  • Record audio – this means Facebook can turn on your microphone at any time.  Big brother is not only watching you but can listen to you as well.
  • Take pictures and videos – not only can Facebook read the photos, videos, music etc. on your SD card, it can take pictures and/or videos from either camera on your phone at any time, for any purpose.

Accounts: Facebook not only wants to know which accounts you have on your phone (which members of the family can use a phone/tablet, but it also wants to be able to add/change/delete the account and/or the password).

Your personal information: By approving this, Facebook can:

  • add/modify/remove calendar events and email anyone to invite/revoke as guests without your knowledge
  • Modify your contacts – not only does this allow Facebook to read a contact’s name, but their phone numbers, email addresses, home/work addresses and how often you’ve communicated with them, but also gives permission to add/modify/delete any contact(s).
  • Read calendar events – it doesn’t matter whether the privacy setting in your calendar has marked the event as private/public, Facebook can now see what you’re doing and when.
  • Read call log – Facebook can not only read who you’ve called, when, and how long for, it can keep a copy of the call log for its own purpose.
  • Write call log – not only can Facebook write entries to your call log, but it can cover its tracks if it wants to make a call without you knowing.

Full network access – This permission allows the Facebook app to create customised links.  Any data that the app has access to can now be uploaded without having to ask you.

Phone calls: Read phone status and identity.  In short, if you hadn’t given Facebook your phone number, they’re going to get it anyway.  Not only that, but also the serial number of your phone/tablet, and the type of device you’re using.  Not just whether it’s a phone/tablet, but the make and model of the device.

Default: Modify battery statistics.  If Facebook has used over half of your battery to turn on your 3G, upload your contacts, call logs, text messages and scour through your SD card, it can change the battery statistics to make you think another app has pillaged your battery instead.

System Tools: This can mean anything from adjusting your wallpaper, its size, expand/collapse the status bar, install shortcuts so you go to sponsors sites, read your sync settings, run at startup, or send sticky broadcasts.

Network communication: 

  • Facebook can now secretly download anything it wants to your phone/tablet.  Ideal for filling your SD card with videos from sponsors.
  • View WiFi connections, not only does Facebook know which network you’re connected to but it will see what time you connected/disconnected and potentially who else is on the network with you.  Facebook can see whether you’ve ever connected to McDonald’s or Starbucks WiFi.

 

Obviously people are aware of these permissions.  They’re shown before you’re able to install the app, but how many of us realise the implications of the permissions.  I’m aware that the above focuses on the negative and I’d like to think that even Facebook isn’t that nefarious when it comes to this sort of data farming, but there have been reports of Facebook selling our information, so who knows?

Each time Facebook changes the privacy settings everyone is up in arms about it.  We share it with everyone we know, the frustration dissipates and we continue sharing information in full knowledge of how it’s used.  We’ll use fake names, withhold our phone numbers, create email addresses exclusively for use with Facebook etc., but as outlined above it doesn’t matter.  Facebook can see your phone number, your real name and who you’ve talked to.  You can take all the steps you want to keep your personal information private but if you use the app it may all be a waste of time.

I just thought you might like to know.

Facebook Permissions

Facebook Permissions