Gales, garage and gunge

Cropped Screen Shot showing the, to me at least, pointless changes to Google.

Gales, garage and gunge

Garage

As part of the ongoing tidying and fixing of the garage it became apparent that the roof was leaking. Closer inspection indicated that almost the whole of the edge strip where the roofing felt bends over the edge had split. On getting onto the roof I also discovered that the original installation in several places had left voids and the local gulls had pecked holes through. All these edges now patch fixed but I think we may need a replacement garage roof next year, part of the problem is some  sagging between the joists so that on a flat roof, the water simply puddles rather than running off. I have never liked felted, flat-roofs, this one is now 44 years old and showing its age.

Gales

The forecast threats of gales sharpened the mind to the need to get the garage roof fixed, or at least bodge-patched, rapidly. Stella and I got much of it done on Sunday. The finishing off work I did during Tuesday. It seems to have survived the gale; hopefully, it will last through to the Spring when we can see what needs to be done for  a proper re-roof. Ideally, I would hope to go for a change with some extra wedge shaped walling at the ends, new joists on a slope and the flat felted roof roof replaced with corrugated sheeting. The alternative is to have it re-felted and then put a sun-deck up there too. The forecast gale; when it arrived was less strong than many we have had recently. I think we escaped quite lightly this time around.

Gunge

So that brings me to gunge, despite wearing riggers gloves, and the oldest set of workwear I could find, the bitumen based roofing felt jollop gets through the tiniest of cracks. Yes it will scrub off, and needs to be as it is mildly hazardous, but how do you get it out from under finger nails?! Despite days of scrubbing there is still an un-shiftable layer underneath the finger nails.

Google, Facebook and changes

Cropped Screen Shot showing the, to me at least, pointless changes to Google.
Cropped Screen Grab showing the, to me at least, pointless changes to Google.

Google

Google have made, and are making further, changes. I can see the logic in the behind the scenes changes to how they are to index websites that are not structured in a way that is responsive to the device being used to access it. Technology has changed, Google needs to reflect that; yes it if forcing work onto web designers to ensure compliance but that is work that should be undertaken anyway to keep the websites current. What I really can’t see the point in though, and Twitter did the same thing recently, is the switch to round icons and rounded edges to search boxes etc. This seems to be just a design fad and change for change’s sake.

Facebook

The same can be said of Facebook’s annoying changes made recently (one example below); from a user’s perspective they are just annoying and are making social media, at least the FB aspect of it, more difficult. Shooting one’s self in the foot comes to mind, make it harder  to use and people won’t bother adding their content, less content less viewers, less viewers, less adverting revenue. This does not appear to require a genius to see.

Facebook no longer supports Publicise connections to Facebook Profiles, but you can still connect Facebook Pages. Please select a Facebook Page to publish updates to.

GDPR, was it pointless?

Now this is shaking down was it pointless? Today I startled one of the junk callers as they were clearly from the slightly more responsible end of this annoying trade. It was a human caller, not a recording, and obviously not expecting what she got. I definitely think my request that my details to be removed from their database under GDPR was not what she was expecting! Since doing that I have now decided I can use this regulation to my satisfaction. How? The next time someone rings I am going to ask them to supply me with my full details, as held under GDPR, and log their’s too so I can check compliance. On receipt of the info’ I will then add to their workload by asking them to remove it! Let’s annoy these blighters back!

Of course the counter problem is that regarding most of these annoying SPAM and Junk callers/emailers the GDPR is totally pointless – if you are spamming you are hardly likely to be operating within, or with a care for, the law or bothered about compliance with it. Very pleased though to note from the news that the regulations do have teeth and the first high-profile offender has been fined.

Writing and editing

Moving on from the G’s another SLS Journal done and published. All that needs doing now, and all is one of those words with a hidden meaning, is update the website with the latest contents. Why has all got a hidden meaning? The answer is simple, it appears to be an easy job, but in actuality is a lot of fuss and faff making changes to around a dozen pages to varying degrees of alteration. It will be done but may be delayed a bit.

Copy of SLSJournal cover
SLS Journal cover

 

Jottings for August

Image of Yorkshire Rose

It’s August

Image of a Yorkshire Rose.
Yorkshire Rose – original creator unknown.

Firstly why the Yorkshire rose? 1st August was Yorkshire day, a day when we can all celebrate the best of the county and our heritage.

I was going to head up this up as August jottings, however, that would perhaps have suggested a gravitas for the post far greater than justified. The problem being positioning of the capital letter, would it get read as August (the month) or august (the word)? Conversely, the revision immediately suggests the blindingly obvious retaliation of “no s**t Sherlock”, although, when placed in the listing of blog posts sorted by title, it will be logical.

Why add this jotted note? July, for me, had been one with a high output of writing, 5000 words of academic prose for a Conference, interspersed with fiction pieces at two writer’s groups plus some work on the first draft of an ongoing work of my own. Together those generated around another 5-6000 words. The style swapping was an interesting challenge.

Today’s blog post therefore just a few observations on writing, publicity and the related software used.

Heat

Indoors, or outdoors, where to write in a heatwave? The dilemma of going outdoors is that whilst the concept is ideal, the practicality of working with a laptop screen in the outdoors not so. Indoors though is hot and stuffy unless all the windows are open; opening the windows attracts in the flies. Not only that but the very Mediterranean nature of the weather is a distraction to aid procrastination. How did those writers who deliberately based themselves in the Med’ cope?

Facebook changes – adding complications

This appears to be a company, for whatever reason, trying its hardest to shoot itself in the foot. They have decided that blog posts can no longer be linked to a Profile but have to go to a Page. (See quote below from my ISP)

“Facebook no longer supports Publicize connections to Facebook Profiles, but you can still connect Facebook Pages. Please select a Facebook Page to publish updates to.”

That doubles the hassle and faff for the content provider. I do not currently have a separate author page; for the SLS where I manage the FB content, we have that split and there are some issues, for example people Friend one or the other – not both, and content often shows up twice in the main FB feed. That experience is why I have, to date, neither needed, nor wanted, a second FB page; my serious stuff is on my website.

(Updated) It initially it appeared the back-door cheat for a blog link still worked, that a twitter post forwards onto a FB page, as it appeared to work when first tested. It appears that is not the case for blog posts – out to Twitter – then on to FB does not work. Only Twitter posts started on Twitter hold the FB link.

FB are also, allegedly, messing about with their filtering algorithms, probably forced on them by the fake news scandals, although the cynic in me suggests this is entirely from a need to boost income via paid for content promotion. I will await this outcome with interest. FB generally is a poorer service than it was (personal opinion obviously) with many posts from people I am friends with on FB never showing up: either they have moved on to other social media providers or the filters stop me seeing their posts.

That generates the last observation – social media was a great  invention when there were only a few providers. Now that there is a wide spread I find there are too many to monitor or push content into all, it therefore decreases the usefulness of social media to both content providers and readers.

Software changes generally

More changes on the way, this time in the WordPress editor. I don’t mind changes where it adds functionality, although relearning can be annoying when they move items from one menu to another (needlessly from a customer perspective), or even worse removal in the new release of a useful piece of functionality that was in the older version. The latter something done over the years by both Adobe and Microsoft.

NB Post subsequently updated regarding Facebook.

March blog entry

Brief blog update

Another very brief blog post this month as whilst workload seems never ending time, sadly, is inelastic.

Railways – Three weekends out with events.

With a conference planning meeting for the Early Mainline Railways Conference (In York), The London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace and then back to York for the York Model Railway Show you can see where the time has gone.

Add into that mix, as I am now the Editor, getting The Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal out on time and you can appreciate the problems.

Another lunatic IT system design

Another really classic example of outright stupidity from the last few days. On checking my Nectar account I discovered I had not updated it when my last email address was deleted. After updating the link to the current one I discovered the change could only be stored by entering a validation code. Fair enough, except it gets sent to the obsolete email with no option offered for an alternative. Duh. What numpty did the systems check on that as a process.

Hopefully April will see two updates

I have content to write, so hopefully April will see two updates.

 

Non-stop editing!

Photo - dippy

A month of solid editing

I ended last month’s blog expressing hopefully “What would have been the January content will therefore appear during February when I get back home and resume normality.” Well that hoped for return to normality during February went well, or not! What it ended up as was a month of solid editing to get my second SLS Journal and Newsletter out on time. My problem; not the page layout et al, but all the catch up reading of back submissions to find the content ready to drop in. It is easing, the third edition will be a bit easier again from the experience gained from editing the first two. I am already planning content for the issues through to December.

Is there a lesson to be learnt by other Societies – yes – succession planning. That said, we did try, but no other suitably experienced member volunteered. My lesson learnt, if you know at the back of your mind that reality is you are going to get roped in regardless, give in early and take the longest lead in period you can get.

image of Journal cover
The March/April cover (C) SLS/AISLT with thanks to the A1SLT for permission to use the image.

The earlier editing job

Image Front cover NG & Miniature
Front cover NG & Miniature
Image Eclectic Electrics the front cover design
Eclectic Electrics the front cover design

 

As mentioned in the November blog post I was also Production Editor for the SLS in producing the first two volumes of material from The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives.(Cover images above)

  • Narrow Gauge & Miniature (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 1)
  • Eclectic Electrics (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 2)

Sales went live on the Society stand at the NEC and copies will also be available from us at the London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace and over the following Easter weekend at York Model Railway. They can also be ordered from me direct by post. The SLS Board has approved electronic selling but I have yet to get the system into place on the Society website.

PayPal and other computer gremlins

The most recent editing nightmare, a fault with the way the Google app on i-phones and i-pads interacts with the code we got from PayPal to sell tickets on the York Model Railway Show website. (I am Website Manager) The culprit is not Google Chrome, that is fine, but their search app. The app ignores the shopping cart it is supposed to open and tries to log directly into the customer’s PayPal account. This system has worked properly for eighteen months, why does the mighty Google feel the need to make changes that then b*****s up other systems that were working properly. Not good customer care by them, although I like to think our own response was better than the other customer care issue discovered recently – Apple repair fault logging and repair protocols (See next item).

Apple’s appalling customer care protocol

This final item is a bit of a rant and gives me another Victor Meldrew feeling about the sanity of some modern ways of doing things. Have organisations learnt nothing about customer care?

Scenario – I drop my Apple laptop it needs a fix as the display becomes intermittent. Oh yes I think to myself there is an Apple dealer in Bournemouth, I’m in Bournemouth tomorrow, I will drop it off for repair. Off I duly tootle to the said Apple shop (Solutions inc) who I have used before. To paraphrase –

“I’d like to drop this off for repair please.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No I just want to drop it off for repair.”

You can’t without an appointment.” (Duh thinks I – a shop that doesn’t want you to buy the service!!!)

“So I have to waste time and money driving home today, ring you, and then come back again? That’s madness and unacceptable!”

“But it is Apple’s policy Sir, no appointment, no drop off, no fix! (Shades of Jobsworth, or worse, me thinks)

At this point I got very firm and eventually a techie deigned to appear from the bowels of the shop, discuss my issue and take the lap-top in.

Dear Apple – Either the staff at your dealership are a complete bunch of numpties or your accredited repair logging system, they claim they have to use it, is the most ridiculous state of BAD customer care I have ever come across. How about this – It’s a shop and authorised repair dealer, you walk in with a repair job, they take the order and any due examination/inspection fee money and then a techie looks at the job later in the queue (customers are not stupid – we understand queues and waiting lists), it then gets fixed/can’t be fixed and the customer is rung and advised either it is ready or is bust beyond economic repair. How difficult is that?

Finally – Dippy the dinosaur in Dorchester

Despite the horrendous monsoon like half-term weather on the day over half term we had booked, and the car failing to start, we visited Dippy with the family. The outcome was two awed grand-children and four very impressed adults.

Photo - dippy
Dippy the dinosaur ‘on tour’ at Dorchester Photo: C) John New (Has had some minor digital adjustment/de-skewing)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS A final note

It’s not that February was a hectic month or anything but this update for the month got posted almost at the deadline of midnight on the 28th. Final editing took place today, Thursday 1st March!

The transient internet revisited

Ambulance picture

Internet attacks crash computers

Internet and computer failures spread chaos across the world beginning last Friday (12th May) as a criminal, or criminal gang, released a malware virus to hijack and hold computer systems to ransom. A much bigger problem than the one I covered last year with my article for the BACOMM course blog on the Transient Internet (8 Jan 2016) A different cause admittedly this time, but an even more catastrophic outcome as the all-digital systems and internet and network linked systems have again shown that when they fail to be sufficiently robust everything grinds to a halt.

“This seems foolhardy – [ …….. ] but ending the tried and tested back-up system for electronic trading does seem to be short-sighted in the light of these recent issues, all of which can be expected to recur.” from my earlier article – Jan 2016.

What is of concern is that, 17 months on from the problems of January 2016, society does not seem to have done anything about this predictable issue of occasional, serious and widespread, system failures. Vital systems like prescription issuing and other medical records are now 100% digital, in many highly important, and system critical internet and network linked processes there is apparently not an analogue based system or record keeping method that can kick-in and replace the digital when it fails. There may well be a generator on stand-by for when the power fails, but no back up for the internet based system, which, given that the internet was developed to provide just that resilience to communications, is a farcical scenario.

Ambulance picture
Ambulance (privatised patient transport) image from 2015. (Author’s own)

Emergency planning thoughts

I retired as an Emergency Planning Officer in 2008. The above is a worrying trend that had begun before I retired. Then it was the Blackberry phone that was the latest in hi-tech all singing, all dancing kit, the latest “sexy” must have gadget and older, more robust systems, like RAYNET were under threat of displacement. There was a perception among many of my younger colleagues that the idea of a radio operated from the back of a car or Land-Rover was unfit for purpose in the 21st Century; despite low battery life on the phones compared to running a radio rig off a full-tank of fuel.  True there are many things computerised systems and modern cell-phones can do that older provision either can’t do or does much slower but there needs to be resilience and back up. The internet is brilliant, but it is a flawed brilliance, as the last few days have shown.

Picture of an early internat capable computer
An Amstrad PC1512. This image is reproduced under Creative Commons rights. Amstrad_1512_DD.jpg: KoS derivative work: Ubcule (talk) – Amstrad_1512_DD.jpg

I am not anti-computer by any means, I use PC, lap-tops, tablets, smart phones and the internet all the time, and was heavily involved with introducing IT and the internet into office systems from the pioneering days of the desk-top PC revolution of the 1980s, with early machines like the Amstrad above,  through to retirement. I still use them nowadays in my secondary career as historian/writer. We have left the analogue world behind, probably for ever in the mainstream, but also appear to have lost some of the caution and planning that went into system design in days that aren’t that long ago in real-time but are an eternity in computer progression time. Don’t overlook the need for an analogue back-up with a simple pen and paper based option for when the fancy IT system fails.

Do they save businesses money today?

The savings from IT were huge when the simple PC systems first arrived; repetitive re-keying and redrafting of work meant the shedding of labour among an army of clerical workers, typists, drawing office staff and the like, and the PC systems themselves were not that expensive. All that has changed, we can do more, we expect more, and the systems require ever more costly experts to get the best out of them. The systems themselves  have also now become expensive too, arguably not in hardware but software. The labour costs shed by the loss from payrolls of relatively low-paid operatives has been replaced by much more expense on hiring IT specialists. Pause for thought and the catch-22 scenario; without this highly expensive kit the NHS can’t perform many of today’s medical procedures but the sheer cost of it means there is no money left over to hire, and adequately pay, the ordinary ancillary staff and the nursing and other care professionals needed on the wards.  We can diagnose the problems with this expensive kit, but can’t afford to keep the wards open to undertake the cures.

IT is not going to go away, but there is a need to think through the result of our headlong rush to adopt digital systems without a thought for how to process their tasks when they inevitably fail, sometimes catastrophically. 2016 (January), 2017 (May), 2018 – ???

Website conversion and a brief retrospective.

1987; the year we began

An Amstrad PC1512. This image is reproduced under Creative Commons rights. Amstrad_1512_DD.jpg: KoS derivative work: Ubcule (talk) - Amstrad_1512_DD.jpg
An Amstrad PC1512. This image is reproduced under Creative Commons rights.  KoS derivative work: Ubcule

When I began this task of website conversion from hand coded pages into contemporary WordPress format it struck me just how far on the industry has come from the first iteration of the Island-Publishing business. Back in those days I had been using computers since 1981 and extremely primitive models they had been too. Then came the IBM PC revolution, and in due course I obtained an Amstrad IBM clone.

Although I had been published as a writer before this it was with an Amstrad that I can say Island Publishing began, initially producing simple ribbon banners for a few local clubs and together with, what now seem very primitive, newsletters printed on dot-matrix printers for photo-copying. That all seems so primitive looking back but was a big advancement over spirit duplicators and typed stencils.

Traditional printing gear
Traditional printing gear as used into the 1970s.

When I started the modern internet was way in the future, networking was carrying a disk from one unit to another! The printing press had evolved from impress type machines like that above to more modern off-set litho’ processes but the thought that in the not too distant future we would have quality laser printing available to everyone was the stuff of science fiction.

Desk-top publishing began the revolution that has, today, encompassed the e-book and self-publishing.  All ideas undreamt of back in 1987. My late father had taught traditional printing, fine-art and illustration; I like to think he approves, even though the gear he used is now almost all scrapped or only existing as museum pieces. Absolute quality in writing and printing may have declined but we have gained from the low-cost availability of the published word.

The key of course as a consumer is to seek out the material that suits you, we may be swamped via social media, e-books of varying quality and citizen journalism, but it isn’t all froth and there is still good stuff out there if you care to seek it out.

However, those primitive beginnings do mean that next year we will be celebrating Island Publishing’s  3oth year!

Website conversion

This site is being converted, not only because the upgrade is long overdue, but also as a test-bed for updating The Stephenson Locomotive Society‘s web-site too. As it is a pioneer project for me there is a learning curve, there will inevitably be conversion changes and issues arising and being overcome as I go. For these changes I apologise in advance, however, I think the end product will be worth it.