Archive for May, 2005

Changes to publication.

I have had a rethink on my publishing strategy and, on reading through my posts again over the last couple of months it is becoming apparent that it is getting harder to find seven new items evey week.

Rather than continue along these lines I have decided to publish five blogs every week, unless there is a public holiday. In other words, one blog for every working weekday.

In addition to this, as I have said before, I cannot easily post blogs when I go on holiday, about thirty weekdays in every year.

This will probably mean around two hundred and twenty-two blogs a year.


Chapman’s Peak Drive (Cape Peninsular) -Photo by Andrew Taylor

I know I have promised you some notes from our South African trip. I kept a full diary of our three weeks in the area of Cape Town – Stellenbosch – including a two day trip to George, Knysna and Oudtshoorn.

If you would like a PDF of this, e-mail me (there is a place to do this in the right hand column near the top) Put SA PDF in the subject line, that is all that is needed. If you include any body content. (I will, of course, read it 🙂

If you drive along the Atlatic Coast, South from Cape Town, through Green Point, Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Clifton, Camps Bay you come to the Chapman’s Peak Drive as you approach Hout Bay. This is a must. There are plenty of spots to stop for photographers and scenary appreciators

To complete your experience, follow the road to Simonstown in False Bay and right opposite the Navy gates is a restaurant called le Bon Appetite. No need to book for lunch but they do get full in the evening. This is a terrific restaurant and the owner/chef is a Breton, married to a South African, who is one of only 18 “five star” chefs in South Africa. Prices for a Brit for this top rate restaurant are stupid. Two people, with a bottle of “great” wine would set you back about £17.50 each.


Andrew Taylor paying the bill – Photo by Keith Barnes

Keith, who joined us in our holiday flat for the middle week of our stay, is a good friend who often comes to London and treats me to a good meal at some of Londons decent restaurants. Even when my wife and I went to Nottingham and invited him to lunch he turned the tables on us and got in first with his credit card. And the staff who knew him were on his side!

Anyway I say all this because Keith found it hilarious taking a photo of me actually paying a bill. But those of you who know me will know I am generous to a fault normally, and those who don’t… well no matter!

Andrew

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The English and the Scots

It seems that others feel as I do about the unfairness of the present system.

I have just received the following e-mail from Steve Uncles about the campaign for an English Parliament.

LORD Tebbit last night led Tory calls in England for a radical “rebalancing” of the post-devolution settlement that would result in Scotland receiving less taxpayers’ money from Whitehall, having even fewer MPs and seeing all its parliamentarians at Westminster banned from participating in England-only bills.

The peer’s belief that the current constitutional set-up is “unsustainable” is shared by a significant group of Tories in London and is coupled with a warning from the opposition’s back benches of the beginnings of an English backlash against Scotland’s current deal in a devolved Britain.

“What you can’t do is expect the people of England to sit back and tolerate this for another five years,” said Boris Johnson, MP for Henley.

Conservative MPs and peers have already begun emphasising the fact that more people south of the border voted Tory than Labour. In his first Commons outing as shadow chancellor on Wednesday, George Osborne boasted: “Our education policies, which were designed for England, received the majority of the votes in England.”

Last week, James Gray, the Glasgow-born Tory MP for North Wiltshire, was sacked as shadow Scottish secretary after David McLetchie, the Scottish Tories’ leader, complained to Michael Howard, that his suggestion the post-devolution settlement could be rewritten went against all the efforts by Tories in Scotland to support the Scottish Parliament.

However, The Herald has found a deal of sympathy for Mr Gray among Conservative MPs at Westminster.

Indeed, the proposal posited by Lord Forsyth, John Major’s Scottish secretary, that the current 129 MSPs should be axed, with Scottish MPs sitting part-time in London and Edinburgh, is clearly finding favour among Tory parliamentarians.

Lord Tebbit said: “I would not have any objection to that at all. It would be less expensive and would probably be a little less scandal-prone than the present Scottish parliament.”

The former Conservative chairman made clear he was against Holyrood and claimed every time Tony Blair spoke about modernisation he went back in time. “We did have two parliaments in the kingdom for a couple of hundred years but that system was abandoned because it did not work. It’s not a very good system.”

He added: “Scotland has retained all the advantages of being in the United Kingdom which has taken into account the various disadvantages which Scotland suffered, so it has retained all the advantages like the Barnett Formula but now has the benefit of its own parliament and legislation. There has to be some rebalancing not least that England is allowed to run its own affairs.”

Lord Tebbit insisted the Barnett Formula would have “to go sooner or later” and, despite the cut in Scottish MPs from 72 to 59, there was still “an electoral bias” towards Scotland.

Mr Johnson described the Forsyth option as “perfectly reasonable”, and suggested the number of Scottish parliamentarians – currently 188 not counting peers – was far too many. “We should take Occam’s razor to the beardy Scots,” he insisted.

He continued: “The only fact you need to understand at the general election is that the people of England voted by a majority for the Tories rather than Labour and yet the Tories have a deficit in England. That’s not equitable.”

LORD Tebbit last night led Tory calls in England for a radical “rebalancing” of the post-devolution settlement that would result in Scotland receiving less taxpayers’ money from Whitehall, having even fewer MPs and seeing all its parliamentarians at Westminster banned from participating in England-only bills.

The peer’s belief that the current constitutional set-up is “unsustainable” is shared by a significant group of Tories in London and is coupled with a warning from the opposition’s back benches of the beginnings of an English backlash against Scotland’s current deal in a devolved Britain.

“What you can’t do is expect the people of England to sit back and tolerate this for another five years,” said Boris Johnson, MP for Henley.

Conservative MPs and peers have already begun emphasising the fact that more people south of the border voted Tory than Labour. In his first Commons outing as shadow chancellor on Wednesday, George Osborne boasted: “Our education policies, which were designed for England, received the majority of the votes in England.”

Last week, James Gray, the Glasgow-born Tory MP for North Wiltshire, was sacked as shadow Scottish secretary after David McLetchie, the Scottish Tories’ leader, complained to Michael Howard, that his suggestion the post-devolution settlement could be rewritten went against all the efforts by Tories in Scotland to support the Scottish Parliament.

However, The Herald has found a deal of sympathy for Mr Gray among Conservative MPs at Westminster.

Indeed, the proposal posited by Lord Forsyth, John Major’s Scottish secretary, that the current 129 MSPs should be axed, with Scottish MPs sitting part-time in London and Edinburgh, is clearly finding favour among Tory parliamentarians.

Lord Tebbit said: “I would not have any objection to that at all. It would be less expensive and would probably be a little less scandal-prone than the present Scottish parliament.”

The former Conservative chairman made clear he was against Holyrood and claimed every time Tony Blair spoke about modernisation he went back in time. “We did have two parliaments in the kingdom for a couple of hundred years but that system was abandoned because it did not work. It’s not a very good system.”

He added: “Scotland has retained all the advantages of being in the United Kingdom which has taken into account the various disadvantages which Scotland suffered, so it has retained all the advantages like the Barnett Formula but now has the benefit of its own parliament and legislation. There has to be some rebalancing not least that England is allowed to run its own affairs.”

Lord Tebbit insisted the Barnett Formula would have “to go sooner or later” and, despite the cut in Scottish MPs from 72 to 59, there was still “an electoral bias” towards Scotland.

Mr Johnson described the Forsyth option as “perfectly reasonable”, and suggested the number of Scottish parliamentarians – currently 188 not counting peers – was far too many. “We should take Occam’s razor to the beardy Scots,” he insisted.

He continued: “The only fact you need to understand at the general election is that the people of England voted by a majority for the Tories rather than Labour and yet the Tories have a deficit in England. That’s not equitable.”

If anything develops, I will blog again!

Andrew

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Conservatives got more votes!

Hands up all of my readers who knew that the Conservatives got more votes in England at the last General Election this month?

Yes, you are right. There were more votes for the Conservatives in England than for the Socialists.

Now that Scotland has its own parliament and the Welsh have their own Assembly, it seems very unfair that our country is governed by the whims of foreigners. A percentage of Welsh people and also the Scots are foreigners. These are the ones who live in their respective countries and vote in our parliament so that the people who are English have to do their bidding.

Those who live in England and have become English are excluded from the foreigner tag.

My parents were Scots but my Father left to go to South Africa because he was ashamed of the extreme left-wing views of his own nationality – he had been brought up from three months to twenty-one in New York, where to get on, you had to do it all yourself.

I was brought up in South Africa and know all about having to do things without leaning on the State.

I think Westminster should be a Parliament for the English and I think we should force the other to go their own separate ways and have their own armies, embassies etc. They have wanted to long enough. And I think we should stop financing them, which many of you will be aware we do.

I am proud of my earlier heritage – my ancestors came to Scotland in 970 from lands now known as Flanders. But modern day Scotland? No! Just think of me as South African!

But there is no way the Socialists would allow this. And before any of you tag me as a Conservative, you are very very wrong. They are traitors to this country – it was them who signed us up to the EU in the first place.

Andrew.

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The Minolta Saga – is it at an end?

First of all, something most of you have already experienced.

I had, as mentioned previously, taken my camera in to my local dealer and he happily signed an affidavit after testing the camera to say it was doing things as I claimed.

I turned up in Milton Keynes at Bernard Petticrew’s office at 9:00am on the dot. He came out into the reception and examined the camera. The bloody thing worked perfectly. He took shot after shot after shot. Everything worked.

I took it from him in absolute disbelief, and yes, it worked perfectly… then!

I mentioned this to my friend inNottingham and he told me of the story of his problem with his windscreen wipers. They worked intermittantly and whenever he took the car back, they worked perfectly. He would collect the car and within minutes they would give trouble again!

But all was not lost. The camera froze and had to be turned on and off. My “face” was saved. This kept on happening and after a while Bernard noticed that one of the knobs which I seldom used, was in between “settings”. He clicked it back onto a setting, and all was well again.

I took my leave from him at around ten o’clock and took about 250 photographs whilst outside the building, but everything worked fine.

This morning I have taken more and all is still working.

I cannot believe that one knob in between settings can cause all these problems. And next time I have any problems I will check all the knobs first. Who said that! You’re rude!!!

I think it is going to take many months of heavy usage before I will trust the camera again so I will be going on eBay looking for a second hand film body as a backup. Maybe when Minolta produce their second dSLR I might buy one of those and use this one as my backup.

Time will tell – I’ll keep you informed.

Andrew

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The EU question

The French are being cajoled to vote Yes to the new EU constitution and now the Dutch are making noises against it as well..

Can anyone guess why I am for totally pulling out of the EU, but hope the French “No” vote wins the day?

Simple, if the French vote no, the EU will ignore them and the French won’t complain too much.

Also, our government may use this as an excuse not to let us choose. And that would be tragic. For if we vote no, the EU would think twice about riding rough-shod over us. We would not only kick up a stink, but ordinary people who don’t really understand what the EU is really all about will suddenly become incenced. It is the British way!

I will write more on this at a later date.

Andrew

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Do you use its full potential?

I was speaking to my wife this morning, who works from home for a group of Management Consultants, and asked whether, within Firefox, she bookmarked the sites shee knew she had to return to.

No, she said, wondering what I was on about. “I just google them again.”

This led me to wondering. I first started using Pagemaker from Adobe at version 3.x and although, right up to version 7.x when it wass superceded by In-Design, I rarely improved my skills to take advantages of all the extras that Adobe offered on each upgrade.

Do you?

When you get the next version of Office, or the next operating System version, or your next browser edition, do you learn the extra additions to the program?

If not, why not? Or a better question to ask may be; “Why do you pay all that extra money to upgrade if you don’t use the additional functionality?”

Try this little exercise – and it is very easy really. Next time you upgrade a piece of software there is usually a file describing all the additional things the program writers have added. Print it out. Then, each day, work on five items and as you master them, cross them off the list. Continue doing this until you have crossed off all the additional functions. This way you may actually get your monies worth.

If you hate replacing your computers every three years or so, here is an additional tip. When you purchased your new computer, it comes with a set of software written especially for a computer with a modern processor.

If your software is doing its job adequately, try not to update it at all. One of the main reasons people change their computers every three years or so is that it gets so slow.

The reason? Because the new version of the software has been written for computers with faster processors than your older machine. Your computer will perform at its usual speed if you keep the same software versions. And it may last for five or even six years.

Andrew.

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Trust – on eBay

Well, there can be very very little trust when you are buying and selling on eBay and, dear reader, you may have thought of it – and were afraid of getting your fingers burned.

Well. One the whole, you may be perfectly right. But if you don’t procrastinate, and are street-wise, eBay can be a good vehicle for buying and selling.

I use it to buy “men’s toys” – you know, the latest MP3 gizmo, a new flashgun,
battery for my cellphone – whatever.
I use it to sell all the stuff I do not need. There is a lot of stuff that it junk to me, but could well be useful to someone else.

For example, I had an old camera manual which I was about to throw away – and put it on e-bay at 99p. It sold for over a fiver. And the bidder always pays extra for the postage.

The first of two real secrets of buying and selling on eBay is

The “feedback” system.
It is simple to use but if you have an inability to be able to read between the lines, it can be less helpful than it seems.

When I sell something, or buy something, when the transaction has been completed – satisfactorily or not – we both leave feedback for the other.

If I am buying, he will say whether I was a quick payer or not. I will say about him whether he delivered quickly and whether the goods were as described. And vice versa.

When one sees a name on eBay of a buyer or seller, one sees their feedback score, as a number, in brackets. i.e. Ampers (15).

One has to leave the feedback whilst ticking one or three radio buttons. “positive”, “neutral” or “negative”

Before carrying on any transactions one reads the feedback, looking in particular for negative or neutral feedback.

If the person has traded with hundreds or thousands of people, you will expect up to 1% in negative and neutral feedback combined. I mean, there are always those who are unhappy about something in this life.

Check what the negative people say. Often it is because the other person is a slow or bad communicator. But they have sent the money or goods and if goods, they have been as described.

If you have problems with the order, you know that it will be resolved, eventually, but you might have to send a few e-mails first because the seller is so busy – how do you think he got such a high score.

I read between the lines and allow myself to have a gut feeling one way or another – I have learned in the past to trust my instincts.

The second of two real secrets of buying and selling on eBay is

PayPal.
PayPal started out as a separate company allowing ordinary people to accept payment from other ordinary people by credit card without having to apply for merchant status.

Merchant status is cheaper per transaction but can take up to a year of trading before you can get it as, besides continuity, they want to check that you are a good trader and you are selling a huge amount of goods or services.

PayPal, however, doesn’t care. They do need to check you out though and the way they do it is to ask for your home address and telephone number. They will then phone you when you say it is convenient. It is an automatic voice that gives you a four digit number to feed into PayPal’s website.

They may also post you a letter by snail mail with a six digit number that you have to feed in to another PayPal web page.

In addition to this, you have to lodge your bank account details with them and make out a variable direct debit. Remember this is part of the world’s fastest growing company in the history of the world and they will not want to jeopardise their success with naughty or inefficient goings on. They will then make two payments into your account, totalling under a pound each and you then have to enter both those amounts into a third webpage on their site.
Congratulations. You are now a premier account holder with Paypal – who are now a wholly owned subsidiary of the fastest growing company in the history of the world; eBay!

Now you can pay for your items you have won by a press of a button. And, what is more important, other Paypal account holders can do the same. Non PayPal account holders can still pay you, but they have to go to the PayPal website and do it there.

A lot of “gear” is from China or Hong Kong. Two things to watch out for here. First you will almost certainly have to pay import tax and VAT to the courier or postman before you can get your parcel.

The second thing is, watch the post and carriage price. The far East, and America, put a high price on the carriage – far above the real cost. Sometimes 300% or 400%. Don’t worry about this, just take the carriage and bid price together and never go over the worth – to you – of the item’s total combined price. The reason for this is they can put the true bid price as the value of the goods, and you pay less import tax and VAT when you receive the item.

Also, they pay less to eBay in fees which are based on the bid price.

I have bought camera batteries from Hong Kong, a cellphone battery from Singapore and a Lowepro camera case from China. All three transactions have been perfectly fine.

If you have an attic full of “stuff” that you would like to clear out, by all means, dump a lot in the dustbin.

Stuff too heavy to post easily may be tempting to through away. But if you mark your bid, collection only – you may get bids for some of the larger stuff! But remember, only from those within easy driving distance of your home.

You will need a digital camera, and a computer.

The computer goes without saying – and of course you have to be on the Internet!

But the camera? This is used to photograph what you are selling. Don’t use photographs of items you have seen on the net. Bidders want to see the photograph of your item. Not one that is brand new. Crop the item tight as possible. For example, if your beautiful daughter is modelling your haversack – buyers really are only interested in the haversack, crop it and send that up. You can always send the full photograph to me! I always try to send a minimum of three photographs of what I am selling. Bidders seem to bid more if I do.

So, the things to remember here are.

  1. Learn to read feedback “between the lines”
    (Don’t worry by up to 1% negative feedback unduly.)
  2. Open a PayPal account. Treat it as another bank account.
    (Fiddley to open but worth its weight in gold.)
  3. Confirm your address and your credit card with PayPal.
    (Even more fiddley but you’ll get paid quicker.)
  4. When buying, pay as soon as possible after the auction end.
    (You will get yet another positive feedback under your belt.)
  5. When selling, post goods within 24 hours of receiving payment.
    (Auctions ending on Saturdays excepted.)
  6. Don’t have an auction ending if you are going to be away.
    (Unless you are buying and have access to the Internet.)

Andrew

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