Archive for June, 2005

Ask nicely…

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Travelocity are usually pretty good with bookings and so I’ve used them for a few trips. I also use Deckchair and ATP (when I want weirdly cheaper routings via Amsterdam). I also had Trailfinders recommended to me last night by Clare because they’re apparently consistently cheaper for her. Worth a look. Anyway, Travelocity were used to book my flight to Amsterdam to connect with my return flight via here (for that cheaper routing) but late at night (because I had limited holiday available). Now that I’ve changed jobs and got a little more flexibility on that front, I wanted to get an earlier flight and have some time to wonder around Amsterdam in the afternoon. Their original reply went:

Dear Mr Masters,

Thank you for contacting

As per the airline fare rules, you will need to pay a change fee of 30
GBP/45 Euros to change your flight times (Trip id LLHGWD). Please let us
know if you wish to go ahead and change your flight as we do not have
availability of different flights on 12th Jul. Below are the different
times available to book your seat:


We look forward to hearing from you.

Then I asked about return flights, if I wanted to go back via Amsterdam. Obviously this represented a whole new flight in itself and I wasn’t sure it would be ok. They quite reasonably replied as follows:

Dear Mr Masters,

Thank you for contacting

Please be advised that you cannot add a return flight to your existing
booking. You will need to make a new reservation.

Kindly call our Customer Service Center in the United Kingdom if you
wish to change your existing booking:

Within the United Kingdom-
Telephone: 0870 111 7080
Fax: 0870 8766 555

Outside the United Kingdom-
Telephone: +44 20 7852 5501
Fax: +44 20 7852 5533

Monday through Friday, 9 am to 8 pm; Saturday 9:30 am to 5 pm and Sunday
10:30 am to 3:30 pm (Local UK time).

But they were at least willing to change the existing booking. Cool. I left this for a while until I recently decided I should get around to having the booking changed. I called up and got routed through to a random call centre somewhere. The person at the other end of the line told me, “I will surely get back to you”, but didn’t. They had said that changing the booking was impossible but would ask about it anyway. After about a week or so went by without any word from them, I decided to mail them again:

I tried calling to do this but was told that it’s not possible. You’ve
already told me that it /is/ possible and I’m sure that it is – could
someone at Travelocity please figure out why I’m being told I can’t do
this and tell me?

I’d like a morning flight, just please go ahead and change this to the
10:40 flight and charge my credit card or whatever – it shouldn’t be too
hard to do this, I use you guys often enough. I’d like to think I don’t
have to switch to using Deckchair more often for this stuff.

Which was enough for them to sort this out immediately:

As per our request on the current request there was seat availability we
have changed your reservation to an earlier flight.

Name of the passenger:
Itinerary: LH6587W 12JUL LHRAMS 1230 1445

So at least they can change the booking. I wish they would just pay/train their staff more at these places but then, you can’t go for the cheapest fare and expect to not have a little trouble with call centres in this modern day and age – we stopped caring about quality of service years ago. It was, then, nice to see that Travelocity could sort this out promptly and curtiously in the end to my satisfaction. Thanks guys.


Intel Party – Moore’s Law’s 40th anniversary

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Photo: A silicon wafer signed by Intel co-founder and technology legend, Gordon Moore. Intel celebrate Moore’s Law’s 40th anniversary at the “Digitopolis” at the Science Museum in London.

I popped into London this evening for a private party celebrating the 40th anniversary of Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore first proposed this legendary “law” back in 1965 and the microprocessor industry have followed it like lemmings ever since. But hey, it’s all about megahertz and nothing else, right? :-) Anyway, I managed to meet precisely nobody who was able to talk about anything much and very few Intel people seemed to be there. I spoke to one or two of the other guests, but generally got only some good free food and a little light entertainment as we waited around for basically no reason (a free prize draw). I talked to Clare James for a while, which was quite interesting – especially since she’s just got back from Peru. So I managed to learn quite a lot (compared with little background on Perusian politics) about the country and am inspired to read into it some more at some point. I should make a special mention of the chocolate fountain and sweet goodness that was one corner of the room tonight. I was able to restrain my indulgance, but only so much.


LUGRadio Live 2005

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

LUG Radio Live team

Photo: LUG Radio Live 2005 – a live LUGRadio show recording, with the usual gang, is in progress.

I went to LUGRadio’s Live 2005 event in Wolverhampton on Saturday afternoon. The event kicked off late morning and I arrived just after it had started, due to fun with trains as usual. I met up with a lot of people and partook of a few pints of coke between listening to some excellent talks. The organisers had asked me to give a talk on Embedded Linux and I was on in the afternoon with a number of props to help in making my varied points. Jonathan Riddell kindly made some notes on my talk on the LUGRadio Wiki. He was one of the many others who also gave talks – in his case on Kubuntu, the KDE based Ubuntu derivative for those who like KDE (keep taking the pills folks…I’ll just be sticking with GNOME for now :P )

Photo: Jonathan Riddell promotes Kubuntu when not scribbling down some notes on the talks.

Wolves LUG met up the evening before this year’s Live show event (which was also the first one there’s been, but there will now be another show again next year) for food and we all got together on the evening of the show itself at the regular curryhouse – The Standard – which was sponsored in part by profits from the 3GBP (approx 5USD, nearly 7CAD) on-the-door nominal charge that covered a bit more than costs of the day itself. RedHat chipped in a bit to help out too.

Photo: Kat and Dave manning a stall prompting Free and Open Source software. They actually do this at various computer shows too – I should try to help them out sometime with this laudable goal.

The cool thing about the friends I’ve got is that they’re all such nice people. Kat and Dave live next door to Hannah and Joe and kindly put me up again since their neighbours were off on their honeymoon around bits of the Cornish/Devonshire countryside. The next morning, I managed to just about be ready at 08:00 so that we could leave for the Paintballing at the Delta Force near Birmingham. I wasn’t going to be able to make it, but at the insistance of Jono and the LUGRadio gang (who apparently have been advertising that they plan to “shoot the roundhead”) and thanks to the kind offer of a lift to Nottingham from Matthew Walster, I was able to go paintballing in the morning and be miles away in time for Dave’s annual DDE/EP BBQ.

Photo: Paul Sladen asks a question of the team during a live recording of LUGRadio.

Matthew tells me that he flies a PA-28 Piper Cherokee and has kindly offered to take me flying in August if we can work out a mutually agreeable sunny day to fly over to see the museum at Duxford. Taking a few weeks out in Florida to learn to fly is something that had actually interested me. Certainly, I’ve gotten a few outstanding offers of being flown around various places that I really should take people up on – I wonder if Martin will reaffirm his offer to take me gliding if I see him when I’m up in Edinburgh at the weekend. In any case, I’m a little happier with the idea now. I have actually been in an army helicopter (I was one of those chosen at school to go flying with one of the teachers’ brother – or something like that – who is/was in the RAF and turned up one day with a SeaKing and another helicopter too) but have never been in a really small prop-driven areoplane (“airplane” to the USians amongst you).

Photo: Mark Shuttleworth talks about being an astronault, his motivation for getting involved with Free and Open Source software and where he sees the future heading.

Someone who didn’t have trouble with trains was Mark Shuttleworth. His jet being at London Stanstead, he elected to fly to the show in a private helicopter and was picked up from around the corner by one of the friends of the show. Mark amused us with tales of his trip to space and showed slides (as if it were a gigantic “holiday” – well, I guess it was really) while he talked. Mark is the angel investor behind Canonical and therefore by extension the primary financial backer of the Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution. This was the second time I’ve met Mark and again I ended up really trying to stress a few points about things that suck with Linux distros right now that need fixing – mostly device detection and integrating stuff like Dell’s DKMS into mainline Linux distributions. I pointed out that the OS X shared text editor app he wanted to have an Ubuntu counterpart for relies upon proprietary Rendezvous technology and therefore that it may cause patent fun if a direct clone were produced.

Photo: Malcolm Parsons demonstrates his DSLinux port to the Nintendo DS.

Various other people turned up that I hadn’t seen in a while, including Kimble, Sledge, mjg59 and other Debian people, Brian, Josette, and probably many others. I enjoyed this year’s show and gave it what I considered a reasonable writeup for the mag. I’ll aim to be at the event next year and in the meantime suggest that readers head over to


Farewell O.I.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Yesterday was my final day at O.I.. It’s been a fun three years since I first turned up on the doorstep of Resonance all bright eyed, bushy tailed and curious as to what NMR was all about. I’ve learned a lot since then and benefitted from working with some great people. Unfortunately, things were never really the same for me following the buyout last summer and I decided I couldn’t stay any longer. The surprising thing was the realisation how much I’ll miss a few of the people I’ve worked with – but I hope they’ll feel likewise and we’ll end up meeting up from time to time to yack about Linuxy stuff, the weather, etc. It was with a little emotion that I left the place last night, not sad to see the back of the office (it is, after all, completely impractical to get to on public transport) but sad to realise I won’t see some of these people again. I hope they have nice lives.



Saturday, June 25th, 2005

LUG Radio Live 2005

LUG Radio Live 2005: I’ll be talking about Embedded Linux and demoing some cool tech gadgets, including talking about recent Xilinx FPGA kit running Linux.

BT tried to blame the weather for continued ADSL outages last night, in much the same way that rail operators – not bothering to be prepared for the inevitable British weather temprementality – choose to blame the “wrong kind of snow” or “wrong kind of rain” or whatever for their general incompetence. No! They should just learn to deal with the odd thunderstorm without going all shit on us.

I nearly ended up using dialup at home for the first time in years, but my ADSL modem is now getting line sync once again and I have broadband access once again this morning. It’s just annoying that, even after “local loop unbundling”, we’re still stuck with the shitty service that is BT. Where did my high-speed fibre to the home option go to?

No thanks to BT, I have managed to put together preparations for today’s LUG Radio Live 2005 talk on Embedded Linux. I even had to use a USB pen drive to store my presentation because BT were being shit. They suck – they wouldn’t suck nearly half as much if I could actually speak to the ADSL people without being forced to go via my provider. I can use some reasonably ok automated crap to report a fault and eventually run the risk of potentially talking to a human being – but they aren’t really qualified to test the DSLAM connection on your line (now to me, it’s part of the telephony service and should be part of a standard line test by this point in time – they’ve had several years to get that sorted). hint: human beings are useful things to talk to, shitty automated systems are not. Hopefully today will be more fun than last night preparing without ADSL was.


Telemarketeering: Revenge of the consumer

Friday, June 24th, 2005

I was just sitting and watching Top Of The Pops (TOTP) on BBC television and had just concluded that the country had gone to pot with the trash that was in the “music” chart when a telemarketeer decided it would be a good moment to call.

Why Space Kitchens felt the need to call…

Using my standard procedure, I first wasted as much of the person’s time as I could get away with and then said that I would like to speak to (whatever silly management title) someone about the offer of a chance to get a free kitchen in return for appearing in a magazine apparently called something like “Focus” (published four times a year! wow!). True to his word, I got a call back from a manager about the offer and promptly entered into a conversation about whether he felt it was appropriate to disturb my evening with a marketing call. Then, when I was done with him, I called freephone on:

+44 800 169 1140

I spoke to a guy there to confirm that it was likely his company that had just had a call center call me and then entered into a discussion with him about this unpleasant business practice. He was increadibly professional and even told me about the caller preference service and preventing future calls but advised me that, aside from registering on such a list, anything else I tried was likely to be useless – I admire his reasonable level of honesty. Still, I explained how much such things leave me very much uninclined to ever purchase a product or service from such a company that feels the need to cold call. One of the people I spoke to told me that they also advertise online and perhaps on TV, to which I responded that one can always ignore a website or a TV advert but that it’s harder to just ignore every telephone call. I pointed out that finding “Space Kitchens” was increadibly easy once I knew of them.

So, if you want a kitchen, you might want to avoid Space Kitchens. But you can write to their head office to tell them how bad it is to cold call people (the Companies House information is just not very useful here so I used their website):

Shadsworth Business Park,
Sett End Road, Blackburn BB1 2GJ

Next time one of these people call you, try:

  • Waste as much time of their time as you are willing to waste of your own for a moment of amusement.
  • Engage them in a discussion of whether they work for an ethical company. You’ll find they often don’t seem to be allowed to hang up on you.
  • Pretend to be really interested, but say that you have to go and check with your husband/wife/spouse/girlfriend/other and that you’ll be right back. Leave them hanging on the line for as long as possible.

I wish people in general weren’t stupid enough to buy from companies using these tactics, but they are and that’s the reason that this kind of shit will forevermore continue to happen.

[UPDATE] I’ve just registered our home numbers with the Telephone Preference Service. We’ll see if it actually makes any difference whatsoever. My guess is it won’t, since it won’t stop people outside the EU (especially those in the US making automated calls) from leaving unwanted messages.


P.S. Thanks Disney for the automated call about a holiday to one of your theme parks earlier today. It’ll help me avoid ever actually going.

Friday, 24th June 2005

Friday, June 24th, 2005

Random stuff…

I’ve booked another driving test (can’t practically – pun intended – get one until August) but I will attempt to move it into a cancellation slot before then. The DSA (Driving Standards Agency) have an insanely ludicrous telephone automation system which requires no less than five menu choices just to book a driving test – a very likely reason for calling. When I complained about it, I was informed that I could just press “22221″ to get through to a human – I had figured that out, but only after having to call back 3 times. It takes 3 minutes to get through the system if you listen to the recorded prompts and simply electing not to let it think you have a touchtone phone in the hope that it skips the crap doesn’t work in this case. They hired a team of monkeys to implement an ape to text “speech recognition” system which fails more often than it works, or so it seems. They suck. But I’m stuck with this evil government agency for the moment. I haven’t wanted to physically smash a phone like that in a while – congrats on the utter shite phone system.

I’ll probably look into extending my stay in NYC by a day or so since I have a growing todo list. I’ve arranged to have lunch with my publisher (yes, I always wanted to say that) and stuff. Cool! Reminds me that I should probably be writing stuff and not up blogging but meh. I’ve been idling on #nylug (we say “hash nylug” and I’ll never get used to “pound nylug” or even “pound define” or “press the pound key” – it’s “hash” and eternally should be :P ) and have also been checking out Wikitravel for some visiting advice. I will investigate visiting Liberty Island (renamed after the statue) but due to witch hysteria it’s not possible to actually enter the statue (apparently) so that might not be so much fun – though sailing across the water might make for some good sightseeing. I’ve been on to the Ticket information pages on NBC to investigate tickets for the Conan O’Brien show that I seem to be watching more of on CNBC Europe. It’s actually a funny late night TV show – one of the better USian late night TV shows I have flicked over to – and I enjoy the fact that they seem to understand irony and humour in a British-compatible way.

I just got back from seeing Mr. and Mrs. Smith – it had potential, but that’s all. And I paid over 19 pounds (25+ dollars) for three tickets. In a regular cinema. By the time I’d also snuck in a bag of Starbucks merchandise, the total run to around twice the weekly earnings of a citizen in parts of Moscow (according to a Discovery documentary I saw tonight on the girl with X-ray eyes).

Train Ordinal Train Number Date Origin Destination Departure Time Arrival Time Notes
1 32 26JUL Ottawa, ON Montreal, QC 0915 1101 1 hour, 46 minutes.
2 33 30JUL Montreal, QC Ottawa, ON 1000 1146 1 hour, 46 minutes.