Annoyances

Mustard

I found myself in Tesco the other day, doing a shop. I also found myself getting really annoyed.

Why?

It was the pricing policy. With a range of items, it can be hard to compare prices, so they 'helpfully' put on the shelf label something like 57p/100g.

Some may object to the SI system being used there. I don't, in fact, I think it's a crying shame that we're stuck halfway between the imperial system with its funny numbers of subunits and the SI system.... but that isn't an argument I want to get into here, it's a distraction from the main point.

Tesco Mustard Pricing

What I objected to was the lack of consistency of which units were chosen for the shelf label - not between different types of item, but between different types of the same class of item. I won't always go for the cheapest item - but if I am paying more it's helpful to be able to fairly compare how much more I'm paying!

Mustard, for example, had prices per kg, prices per 100g (okay, annoying but not too tricky) and prices per 100 millilitre... what? To make a direct conversion I would have to carry around the density of that brand of mustard in my head. I could make an educated guess of about 1gram/millilitre (i.e. asume it's mostly water) - but that could easily be 10% out, making the final price per 100g roughly 10% out - rendering it pointless.

I didn't really care what the basic unit was for price comparison, only that it was the same unit. By mixing units like this the labels are obscuring the information that they're trying to make clear.

I thought that what's happened is they've got some bit of software doing this which says 'If it's over X pence per 100g, give the price as pound sterling per kg' and the same bit of software chooses whether volume of mass is the appropriate unit (kg is a unit of mass, not weight, there is a difference - imperial doesn't make the distinction). Why on earth can't they make their pricing software say 'It's mustard. Look at the results of the other mustard calculations, and if the majority are prices per 100g, then we'll force that for all mustard and flag up any lines where the mass is unknown for referral to the supplier'.

Actually, it's not even that - as some of the pricier mustards are per kg. What is going on?

It is not an excuse to say 'some jars are labelled in millilitres, and some in grams therefore it's all we can do'. Tesco have enough clout to be able to say to their suppliers 'give us this data if you want us to stock your product' - and this certainly wouldn't explain the 100g vs kg inconsistency (which is annoying but not insurmountable by the customer).

The only reasons I can think of for the status quo and for this bit of logic being missing are:

  1. Genuine oversight.
  2. Deliberate obfuscation, whilst trying to appear helpful (i.e. making more expensive products as price per 100g or price per 10g, whilst making cheaper products price per kg)
  3. Incompetence.

Whichever is the truth, the lack of consistency within product lines got really annoying, and I decided to fill out a comment form. At the front of the store was the 'customer feedback' display board, which contained the usual selected quotes asking for things they'd implemented years ago, with the smug 'reply' underneath. No forms were to be seen...

I went to 'customer service' for a form, waited to be served, and then had to wait for them to hunt for a form for me. I didn't get the impression that they got asked for these often. Hint to Tesco: If you really want customer feedback, make the forms really obvious - don't hide them away.

I've requested a reply. Let's see what they say. I hope they sort it out; every little improvement would help...!

As an aside: Interestingly, the kilogram is the only base unit with 'kilo' in front of its name. I wonder how that happened?

US 'Gas' Prices

I'm sick and tired of reading sites in the US complaining about how expensive 'Gas' is. Just over 3.50USD per US gallon is cheap by the standards of basically everyone else in the non-OPEC world. Crikey, even their pumps are wearing out! I wonder what will happen when the petrol price approaches that which I'm used to, maybe they won't be able to afford the bun for their burger? Update: As if to make my point about the zeitgeist in the US at the moment, in sweeps the excellent Yehuda.

In the UK, the price is about 1.20UKP per litre (it's changing right now), that's 9.7 USD per US gallon. When I started driving (mid nineties), the price then was 4.50USD per US Gallon (at today's currency rate).

Granted, much of that is tax - which (alledgedly) is a green tax designed to try and shift people onto public transport. I might believe it if public transport was more ubiquitous and less expensive (if you're in London, fine... but otherwise...)

If people in the US didn't seem to put such a premium on driving cars that do 12miles per gallon, then they might have a point. I get about 40 miles per imperial gallon (about 35 miles per US gallon), and there are several cars out there that do better. We do see vehicles with such SUV-like poor fuel economy this side of the atlantic, but they tend to either be the exception (people with more money than sense). Alternatively they are used in particular circumstances - e.g. for driving around a farm, not nipping to the shops.

Stop whinging, yanks - your prices may look high to you, but they're still cheaper than I've ever had to pay (except when I visited the US in 2002). Your country is the biggest producer of CO2 per capita in the world (both per capita and in total) - from the point of view of everyone else, something which improves your fuel economy could well be a good thing.

The oil may look pricey, but oil is a finite resource - you ain't seen nuthin' yet. That's even if you decide to take the short term fix of drilling in new areas, like Alaska (or using the increased price to make it economical to extract that 'hard to reach' last drop from an existing field).

What we really need is serious research and serious funding for technologies which are oil free. If we wait until we need these, it's too late, and that's world war three right there. (I remember saying this back in the 1980s, when I was a teenager - that's twenty years of research down the pan right there).

In the meantime: 'High' petrol prices? Drive less. Swap to a motorbike. Use public transport. Ride a bicycle. Walk. Don't take pride that your car does 12miles per gallon - that's just moronic.

For Governments, we need public transport that's cheaper than cars, and certainly trains that are cheaper than planes (especially when travelling as a couple or as a small family). In the UK, we need a more connected system - e.g. train routes that bypass London (an M25 for trains), if you will.

At least some folks over the pond 'get it'.

In short. Higher oil prices are something we will all have to get used to - it's a fact of life. In the UK we've recently had protests on the matter - and I can understand this, livelihoods are at stake. The French fisherman have been protesting too. Whilst accepting that, do realise, USA, that your prices are not high by the standards of everybody else.

The sad thing is that the electorate over there (and to be fair, in most places) respond to short term thinking. A recent example was people talking about 'tax holidays' on fuel, this is one area where Obama gained lots of credibility with me, and Clinton (in particular) lost all credibility by totally ignoring all expert opinion.

What we really need is the new President to 'do a Kennedy'. JFK stood up and said that by the end of the decade Man would be on the Moon. They went all out, and they did it. Admittedly, they then dropped the ball (where is my space elevator?) - but they did it.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the new president, be it McCain, Clinton or Obama, said 'By the end of the next decade we will have developed technology to remove our dependence on oil.'?

They could cite reasons including energy security ('The Arabs have the Oil'), the environment ('Save the Planet'), and sheer economics (rising prices). As long as the first reason didn't become 'The Arabs have OUR Oil'....

Halloween

I hate Halloween, with its imported US custom of ‘Trick or Treat’ (otherwise known as extortion). In essence, I come home in the evening, wanting to relax. The doorbell goes. If I answer it I’ll find some oiks mumbling ‘trick or treat’.

At this point, I am supposed to give them something which will increase childhood obesity and make their teeth fall out. I will also have had to go out and buy this stuff - there is no way to have the right amount. Either I’d run out and feel guilty for latecomers, or have tonnes left over and have to eat it myself - I have no willpower in this regard.

If I refuse, then I’m liable to get eggs thrown at my house which I have to clean up.

Either way, I’m out of pocket.

It’s a ghastly idea, really horrible - and one that is relatively recent in my experience. It certainly wasn’t commonplace in the 70s and early 80s.

It’ll be Carol Singers next month. Don’t get me started on ruddy Carol Singers and their two lines of ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’….

Amazon Annoying

I've recently wanted to buy a couple of xd cards. No problem, on to Amazon, ooh, good price. Add to basket - more than enough to qualify for free delivery. Checkout... click... click 10 quid postage?! For two items the size of postage stamps?

It turns out that I'd clicked on an item supplied by a third party vendor, and with these, unless you go digging, the postage costs can be a bit of a shock (it is possible to find out in advance, but it's several clicks to find out - and you have to know where to look).

I've had third party suppliers through amazon before, but sometimes I'd just like to turn them OFF. If I qualify for supersaver delivery, I'd rather pay the 6 quid and get that extra item with free postage, instead of 5 quid and have to pay a delivery fee.

... and sometimes, I just want to know who I'm dealing with!

I know I can select which vendor to use on amazon, but is there a way to limit searched to particular vendors? e.g. 'Amazon only', or '98%+ vendors' only ... or 'vendors who don't rip off with the postage costs only'

Is there a way to do that?

Hassles with multiple vendors for one batch of items is really putting me off amazon - the 'click to add to basket' has become 'check that you're buying from the same person to add to basket, so that your order isn't liable for multiple extortionate postage costs'

DVD Annoyances

This morning, whilst having my breakfast, I thought 'I know, I'll put an episode of Stargate on in the background'. I've a DVD boxed set of season 8 waiting to be watched. In went disc 1.

Several minutes of adverts, which couldn't be broken into, to buy DVDs of.... Stargate.

Arrrgh! Recursive Dilemma, Batman!

I can't stand those ads on DVDs, they do nothing but annoy. If they must go on the disc, then make them skippable, please... or better still, something selected from a menu option. I just hope that they're not on every disc in the set. I fear they will be.

Still, the episode began and the annoyance was overlooked, until next time...

Season 8 of SG1 and Season 1 of Atlantis go together, and can be watched separately or in parallel. We watched the first episode of SG1. It's quality stuff, for me the episode really finds its stride about the time when Jackson and Weir start discussing Lord Yu ("don't... every pun has been done to death"), and Carter and Teal'c start talking to Thor ("That's understandable.."... "For Some")

Stargate really is quality stuff.

Headlines

When I see a headline which reads like this one from the Times of India, India among top 13 countries in scientific papers - surely I can't be the only one whose first reaction is 'so, you're at Number 13, then?' After all, who gets the number 10 slot and says 'we're in the top 13?'

If you've spotted other examples, please let me know.

Gotta Have a bit of Bubbly at the Shareholders'....

It's really bugging me how, in popular culture, shareholders are being painted as rich fat cats with evil intent. A classic example is the Nationwide adverts. A woman complains of being charged for taking her money out while abroad, and is told that that's like their 'tip' which pays for 'The Bubbly at the Shareholders' meeting'.

There are other examples, e.g. when a company makes a profit, there seems to be implicit disapproval (e.g. Tesco). This forgets that if a company with a turnover of a 100billion making a 1billion profit is equivalent to a company with a turnover of 100million making a million.

Now, all things being equal, I'm perfectly happy to concede that if Company A pays dividends to shareholders, and Company B has no shareholders to pay, then Company B is likely to provide better value to customers. It's common sense. However, all things are not equal.

Let's take a look at the best buy tables for financial products right now

The top three results for an instant access savings account are HSBC (6%), Citibank (5.84%) and Bradford and Bingley (demutualised BS) (5.8%). The Post Office comes fourth. Nationwide, offers 4.7% on their Instant Access account. (Based on saving £3000)

True, if you can put aside 200 quid a month, their regular saver account looks attractive, at 6.5% - until we see the Halifax at 7% (admittedly, that's a one year term though). We can do even better, with Alliance and Leicester at 12%. To be fair, it's not as straightforward as that, and here's where my argument is undermined. The higher rate is for one year, and after that you have to start from scratch, transferring the total to a regular account (6%). I think the 6.5% with Nationwide can be over a longer period. So assuming it's not fixed term then after about 20 months the 6.5% from Nationwide would be better (if I've done my sums correctly).

However, interest rates can, and do, change - 20 months is a long enough timeframe that the 'best solution' shifts, and 12% over one year could well be the better route in that case.

It doe annoy that Building societies, for example, regularly play the "we're not paying shareholders" card, but the interest rates, especially for 'starter' accounts, can be appalling, e.g. the Britannia offer 2.55% with their flexible savings account on amounts over £100000... okay, they offer more on their 'direct savings' account, but still, there are a significant number of people who want the 'security blanket' of a passbook.

In other fields, Pharmaceutical companies are sometimes castigated for the prices of their pills (and I'm completely behind the argument that prices should be lower when it comes to countries in places like Africa, supplying these nations at cost is good PR for the company too). When paying for the pills the implication is often that the company is profiting from illness and that this is inherently bad. It is true that the company profits from illness. However, it's conveniently forgotten that though each pill costs pence to produce, the first pill cost billions, and that has to be recovered in order to make the next wonderdrug. Yes, the shareholders are making a profit from illness, but without their investment that cure would not have been developed at all. There are also issues about third parties making 'copycat' drugs once someone has paid the development costs. That's a whole other issue.

Putting the nitty-gritty arguments about individual sectors of the economy aside, what really annoys me about this tendency to see shareholders as evil is the fact that it's share dividend and capital growth that pays for things like pensions. If you have a pension, you are indirectly a shareholder.

It's true that there are corporations which do not 'play nice' and seem to exhibit the short term view of maximising shareholder profit only. Guess what? These are corporations which, unless they have a monopoly (which is another matter) tend to die. Whilst it is the long term aim of a company to maximise shareholder return, this in turn gives rise to the aim of 'pleasing the customer'. It's in shareholders' interests for the company to please it's customers. Though the sole aim of the company is to maximise shareholder returns and a company which fails to supply what customers want, in the way they want it, will soon not have customers and fail. The message here is that if you want better interest rates and terms from your bank, be prepared to move your account - it's easy these days, they do all the paperwork for you.

Of course, I'm not saying that organisations with shareholders are whiter than white. Of course not, I'm simply saying that they're not necessarily evil.

This 'shareholders are fat cats' outlook allowed Gordon Brown to remove some tax benefits for dividend income on shares around a decade ago. This was reasonably popular at the time, presumably as it was seen as targeting the rich. However, it had a direct impact on the success of pension funds, and the subsequent difficulties which some have experienced.

As you've no doubt realised, the demonisation of shareholders is really annoying me. Shareholders are regular people, like you and me - even if they haven't bought shares directly. It's real people, investing in businesses which provide jobs and pay taxes. It's people putting their own money at risk - of course, they're doing it in the expectation of a reward - and why not? After all, that's why people save money in savings accounts...

Giving money to a good cause is called 'Charity'. Companies are not charities, nor should they be.

Disclosure: Yes, I have shares. The only company mentioned above that I directly have shares in is Tesco (though I will have an interest in FTSE100 companies via a tracker).

Big Brother

No, not politics. The inane TV show makes a return. It was advertised last night with the slogan 'say goodbye to your summer'. No thanks.

This is brain-dead TV which appeals to the lowest common denominator in our society. It's manufactured 'celebrity' is hard (though not impossible) to avoid.

I like Channel 4, E4 and More 4. They bring me 'ER' and 'The Daily Show', they brought me 'The West Wing'. They bring documentary, news. They bring Tony Soprano - however, in the summer they undermine all that goodwill with non-stop drivel of the first degree (there is drivel throughout the rest of the year, with things like 'Sex in Court', but this is easy to ignore).

For people who know that Big Brother is trash but get sucked in anyway, please, for the love of whatever world-view you hold dear, give it a wide berth. Avoid newspapers that replace news with endless 'Popsy was mean to Tiddles' stories (they often have odd names), avoid the TV channels showing it. If you pick up that a company sponsors it, avoid them.... please!

Big Brother next week? Thank goodness I can use my remote and avoid direct exposure - however, it's very tricky to avoid the incidental exposure in all the other thousands of media outlets.

To anyone who isn't channel 4 - do remember that Big Brother is your competitor, it shouldn't appear on the BBC for instance!

Signs to Customers

Seth Godin points out a type of sign which has been annoying me whenever I see it, for exactly the same reasons:

Noexceptions

Leaving aside the obvious contradiction of strategy (laptop users are more likely to buy books and less likely to steal stuff, so why not let them in the store and offer them a mesh bag to carry about), this sign highlights one of the silliest (and common) policy rules: no exceptions.

No exceptions? Really?

If I gave you a million dollars could you make an exception?

And on top of the unreality of the idea, consider the message it sends to the consumer. "We're so busy and so centralized and so hierarchical that you shouldn't even bother to discuss this with our staff." Or, the short version, "go away."

Why not try a sign that says,

WELCOME!
To keep costs down, we require anyone carrying a bag bigger than this square to check it. Our check area is run by Ralph, who is kind and honest, but I hope you can understand that we can't be responsible for any items you might want to check. If this is a problem for you, consider asking for one of our mesh bags, which can safely tote your laptop or camera. Thanks for shopping at the Strand... we're really glad you're here.

If making a sign gets you all stressed out, let someone else do it for you.

On a related note, another thing that's been irking me is when a sign begins 'Polite notice'. Just put up the notice and allow me to decide if it's polite, please. It's a rough rule of thumb that if something begins 'Polite notice' that what follows is not polite.

The above was also picked up on 'Business Opportunities and Ideas' under the title thief or customer?:

Seth Godin recently posted about no exceptions commenting on a sign he saw in a shop that reads:

ATTENTION:

IF YOUR BAG IS LARGER THAN THIS,

THEN YOU MUST CHECK IT IN.

NO EXCEPTIONS.

DO NOT LEAVE

CAMERAS OR LAPTOPS.

THANK YOU. THE MANAGEMENT.

Presumably the sign is in response to a high level of shop lifting, but even then I can’t believe that more than 5% of their customers are thieves, in fact the statistics I found for the UK show that shrinkage from small retailers is on average 1.91% and large retailers 1.49%. So why treat the 98+% of customers that are honest like thieves?

Seth suggests some alternate wording for the sign:

WELCOME!
To keep costs down, we require anyone carrying a bag bigger than this square to check it. Our check area is run by Ralph, who is kind and honest, but I hope you can understand that we can’t be responsible for any items you might want to check. If this is a problem for you, consider asking for one of our mesh bags, which can safely tote your laptop or camera.

Thanks for shopping with us… we’re really glad you’re here.

Which do you think would make your customers feel more welcome?

NTL sucked, and now I have a connection again.

NTL decided to 'upgrade' my connection. Unfortunately they forgot to check their records - my cable modem (which they supplied and which they own) could not handle the upgrade. My connection stopped working.

Great plan.

I'm now back online, the engineer said that all he's done for the last week is change over cable modems, which rather begs the question of why they didn't check their records, change over the modems gradually and THEN upgrade the line speeds?

I wonder why.... ah yes. It's NTL, that's all the explanation that's needed.

Right hand, this is the left hand. Look at what I'm doing today.

Cinema Tickets

I wanted to get cinema tickets this weekend, and normally don't like to use the automated booking line for the cinema for several reasons 1) I can walk there during the week to get tickets for the weekend. This lets me point at the screen to choose my own seats (yes, one has some flexibility when talking on the phone, but one has none using the online system). (Update: this has now changed)

2) The phone line costs, over two pounds extra for four tickets. I really do not understand this, surely any cost would be per phone call, not per ticket. In addition they get certainty of selling the ticket and they have to pay for less staff manning all the individual cinemas! The same is true when booking online. It's almost as mysifying as a ferry company charging more for ferry tickets as the gap increases between outbound and return journeys. The only explanation is blatant profiteering.

3) The call can be frustrating

Unfortunately I did not have a chance to go to the cinema in person in the week and so I had to use the automated line. I have discovered a nice dodge.

When it says 'Please state the name of the cinema you require', saying 'Operator' puts you straight through to a Human Being.

This is so useful to know, I've put it here so I can find it again using the helpful search box on the homepage.

The film? Underworld: Evolution

Amazon Annoyances

Last night I made an order on Amazon.co.uk [my wishlist, it's worth a shot!], I didn't need it in a hurry and so merged it with a larger order which is due at the end of september in order to save on the postage costs. I got the "merge done" screen, but not the emails and to be honest I did not give it a second thought, email can take time.

Today I got the "your order has been dispatched" message, with lots of postage charges that I would have avoided with the merge. Ack.

I was going to email amazon today to see if my big order could be split into two medium orders (each above the free postage point), but instead I have had to navigate their "contact us" hierarchy in order to find a box to fill in and open a discussion on this issue with them.

I am not amused.

In related news, Amazon is now blogging, well the web services bit, anyway.

[Edit: 7/9/05 (september, for the middle enders out there), Amazon are refunding the postage, which is good, however I was told that if ordering things from stock then the combine orders may not happen as the item is processed almost immediately. What is the solution in this case? The only thing I can think of is to order an extra item with a delay, combine, then cancel the extra item. This is a bit of a pain, and there should be an easier way, i.e. instead of checking out, you could have the option to combine at that stage.]

Coffee Shop Annoyances

My local town now has more coffee shops than anything else, it seems. It's a small market town in Surrey and the third Starbucks has opened today. Add to that a Cafe Nero or two, some Costa Coffees and so forth, and you can walk from one end of town to the other never being more than a few steps from frothy coffee. Last night I was working late (I didn't head home in the end until about half eight), so I went into a Starbucks to get a frothy coffee and a bun at about half five. What follows is paraphrased, but not far off.

Me: Can I have a medium mocha and a cinnamon bun please?

'Barista': A what?

Me: A medium mocha.

'Barista': Pardon?

Me: (slowly) A medium mocha?

'Barista': We only do Tall, Grande and Venti.

Me: The one on the middle. The medium one.

'Barista': And what was the other thing?

Me: A cinnamon bun.

'Barista': A what?

Me: (pointing) one of those.

'Barista': One of which?

Me: (pointing a little more vigorously) These. A cinnamon bun.

'Barista': (Looks confused and bewildered).

Me: A cinammon bun. The thing next to the muffin.

'Barista': (Disapproving) Oh, you mean a Cinammon Swirl. They're called Cinammon Swirls.

Me: No. It's a bun. It has Cinammon in. And it's a bun.

I'd like to think she was having a laugh, except that I don't think this. I really do believe she was confused by the word 'bun'. Either than or she's such a good actress she is wasted in Starbucks.

Arghhh! Who can I blame for 'Tall' or 'Regular' replacing 'Small', and the necessary inflation of adjectives that ensues? If this carries on it'll be 'Big', 'Huge' and 'Ginormous'! If you're an advertising exec reading this - don't even think it!

... and don't get me started on the word 'Barista'...

(12th June: This post featured on BritBlog Roundup)

Arrogance of Advertisers!

I'm using Firefox, which has a built in popup blocker. Given that I have a pop up blocker, what makes an advertiser so sure that I want to buy from them that they have to find ways to bypass the blocker? Pop-unders are the spawn of satan, and they are starting to spread beyong Microsoft Internet Explorer. Fortunately, in a very low key way, so far.

Hint to advertisers. If you have to bend over backwards to get your ad seen, chances are you're going to annoy people. Given the choice, I will avoid companies which use popups, and I certainly will never buy from companies which spam.

Junk Mail

This morning I had some junk mail from M&G, which I opened in the pile of the other mail. Nothing unusual there, you might think. Except that some genius decided that they could make their junk a little more noticeable by including a handful of confetti.

Wonderful... confetti everywhere.

I rang them up to say that I had been looking at them to take some of my business (a slight fib), but that this had annoyed me so much that they could now forget that.

Stupid, messy, bad idea marketing drones. Annoying potential customers certainly won't earn my business! What will earn my business are good investment products - nothing less.

Reply from Card Company

A while ago I wrote to my Credit Card company, the reply has been sitting in my intray for a while. Here it is.

Thank you for your letter dated 28 November and for taking the time to tell us of your concerns.

I would firstly like to sincerely apologise for any concern you have been caused, and confirm that you are entirely correct about being vigilant with your personal information. I would like to assure you that staff are required to only ask for sections of your identification questions and not the full answer, for example to only give the month of your birth and the first two letters of the password/mothers maiden name.

Please accept my sincere apologies that the member of staff bullied you into giving your security details. I can assure you that customer complaints are taken very seriously and this matter will be raised as internal training issues with the members of staff concerned.

The problems that you have mentioned have been raised before by staff on regular occasions, I am aware that the Royal Bank of Scotland group as a whole is currently looking for a resolution to these problems. Staff have been suggesting some sort of password system, and we are looking to find ways of making a system like this work.

The telephone number given in our messages is given for a specific reason, as the number is for our designated fraud detection call centre with specialist staff.

In the meantime, if you receive a call from someone advising that they are calling from NatWest and is asking for all your security information in full, please feel free to refuse to give this information and call the telephone number on the back of your card. As far as I have been made aware, sales calls will not ask you to divulge any security information so you will only need to do this when we are actually needing to discuss your account.

I would like to confirm that it should have been explained to you that failing to give your details on the phone at that time would only have resulted on problems with your card until you did call the number on the back of your card and confirmed usage genuine. Please accept my apologies that you were threatened with the card not working at all.

I hope that, in spite of your complaint, my response has helped restore your confidence in us. We want you to stay with us and would welcome the chance to look after you in the future.

If you remain dissatisfied with this response, you can write to: (snip). Thereafter if you remain unhappy, The Financial Ombudsman Service is an alternative open to you. Details can be found in the enclosed leaflet.

My reply to this will be sent tomorrow:

I am writing in response to a letter from *****, dated 10th December. Your ref: ***/*****. Please accept my apologies for the delay in this response.

There are several aspects of the reply which I am not satisfied with, and the fact that the fundamental problem remains does not inspire my confidence. I will explain the problems as carefully as I'm able.

Firstly, you quite rightly say that I should not divulge my full security information to anyone who phones me and says they're from RBS or Natwest. However, I was phoned, left a number I did not recognize and when I rang it I was asked to divulge some of my details. This leaves the customer open to two possible attacks.

The first attack is that this could be repeated over a period of time, and each time a different fragment of the security details could be asked for. Eventually there would be enough information for the third party to stand a good chance of gaining access to the accounts of the customer. The second attack is the classic "man in the middle" attack. Once the customer is identified, the person on the phone claims a slow computer whilst a colleague phones the bank. The colleague identifies themselves as the customer, and when asked for the security information the request is relayed back to the customer, the system slowdown having "cleared up". The effect of this is that the customer believes they are talking to the bank, and the bank believes they're talking to the customer. Once the business of the real customer is over, they hang up the phone and the "man in the middle" can continue the conversation with the bank. For this reason, one should not yield ANY security information.

These attacks may seem unlikely, but they are quite workable for an organized team.

The second issue is the statement that "the problems ... mentioned have been raised by staff before on regular occasions". Frankly I find this amazing. If this is the case, then why have steps not been taken to rectify this issue? It was mentioned that the bank was looking into a password system, this seems completely superfluous. A fix could be implemented right this second without any more passwords for the customer. I suggested this in my original letter.

My suggested fix was that if the bank needs to contact the customer, and security information is needed, then the bank should simply say: "please telephone us on the number on the back of your credit card, or on the top of your statement". Should a specific department be needed, then the customer should be asked to dial that number, and then be forwarded on to the appropriate extension. This should be the case even if the person answers the phone. There should be a sentence of the statement reminding customers that they should only divulge security information when they ring one of the numbers which are printed on the statement.

The original letter was due to the fact that I'd been asked to ring back a number which I didn't recognize and asked to provide security details, had the number been the one on my card there would have been no problem.

More Stupid Drivers

The stupid drivers are out in force. I went out today to a nearby town. The usual route home was busy so I came out a different way and got lost, no great problem.

I followed my nose home, and found myself going down some country lanes.

I got stuck behind two learner horseriders being trailed by a brown estate car going slow. The estate was obviously there to ensure people gave the horses a wide berth.

Now, this was at a blind left turn (in the UK we drive on the left). Visibility was only a metre or two beyond the horses, not enough to overtake horses safely, especially at an extra low speed and an extra wide berth to account for the learner status of the riders.

The person in the estate wound down their window and beckoned me to overtake - I'm shaking my head - 'no'. They keep beckoning.

I hate other people trying to drive my car for me. Flashing lights and so on. I'll go when *I* can see it is safe to do so, not when the other guy says it's safe. I'm extra glad I didn't do it as some cars come the other way and I would have had a head on crash. Only after I saw the cars did they stop beckoning and indicate 'stop', then they immediately started to beckon again.

Idiot estate driver.

The estate driver had absolutely NO business beckoning me past, I appreciated the fact that they stayed as far left as they could to give me maximum visibility, but they had no place waving at me - especially in a situation where if I'd have followed their 'advice' I would have been dead.

I don't know if this is slightly worse than the people who leave a gap then start flashing their lights stupidly at you when you don't immediately move into it (and plough over the cyclist they haven't seen).

Golden rule: I appreciate other drivers trying to be considerate, but at the end of the day I am the one who must make decisions about my car's direction and speed - make allowances for others, but drive your own car, people!

Christmas annoyances

It has been a very annoying day. I wandered around my local county town today. Musak everywhere, the number of times I heard things like 'Rocking around the Christmas Tree' was unbelievable.

The forced jollity pissed me off quite a lot. The same musak all the time. In the end I grabbed a 'coffee' from Starbucks and ran away. (I know it's not real coffee, it's frothy coffee, but hey, I like frothy coffee).

I ran away to find only to find more musak in Tesco (I needed to get some catfood). The same song repeated thrice whilst I was there; some of the staff were wearing deely boppers. Maybe it's a sign of impending insanity?

If only some of the major chains would realise that NOT playing Noddy Holder songs at this time of year would probably keep the customers happier.

I went to PC World to get some photo quality paper. The woman in front of me was buying something inconsequential and the bloke said 'Can I have your postcode?' .... she told him... 'and your house number?' Argh! She was buying a 'How to' manual and happily gave over enough information to receive junk mail forever. I gave him a 'just ask me, go on then' look. He didn't ask. Why do people give this information over freely? Once I was buying a kettle and was asked for this information, the sales drone told me that they could not proceed without it - I asked them if they wanted to sell me a kettle or not - I could easily take my business to the competitor next door (it's not as if they needed to deliver it). They quickly found a way to get around this previously insurmountable problem.

I also found myself getting annoyed at people saying 'sorry' after I bumped into THEM! What exactly are they apologising FOR? From time to time I've got a 'sorry' and asked 'What for?' Only to receive the answer 'erm....'. If people mean 'excuse me', then SAY 'excuse me'!

Having got home, I wanted to print some photos from my ski trip and the printout kept being stupidly stripey. The stripes were less prominent on plain paper, but that is only as the ink spreads out a bit and resolution is lost - the prints are duller on plain paper too.

I cleaned the heads several times, printed the 'test page' with no problem and all seemed well - but it did not clear the problem. I *hate* inkjets!

I am thoroughly peeved. Does this mean I now have a grumpy git frame of mind?

I'll go into work tomorrow to print the pictures there, I'll take in my photo paper and cross my fingers.