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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Eurovision song contest


Eurovision scores – see website for larger picture

Terry Wogan at his best.

I don’t watch the actual songs and switched on about half way through to watch and listen to each country giving their points to their friends and neighbours! And, of course, to hear our Tel’s humour.

The countries that seem to have fared worse are the UK amd France, and also suprisingly enough Germany. I say “surprisingly enough” as France are threatening to upset the EU applecart and this might have been punishment by the people of Europe who want to share in the three major payers wealth. (UK, France & Germany are net contributors).

Now we Brits all know that nobody abroad really likes us – and we would not have it any other way. But France and Germany? The two bullies in the EU? Ah! Perhaps we already have an answer! 😉

Two years ago I fired off an e-mail to the French Embassy in London saying that I had made a list of all countries who gave their scores in English and all those who gave their scores in French – the two official languages of the event.

The number of scores in French was ONE, yes – even Brussels gave their scores in English. I further asked whether the Ambassador would agree with me that maybe French should be dropped as the secondry official language of this event.

I did not get a reply.

However, last year Brussels gave their score in French so France had at least one supporter.

Surprise surprise… this year – out of 39 countries giving in their scores, Five were in French, and 34 were in English. The ones who used French were:

France!
AlbaniaThis is a surprise – must have been a deal here?
AndoraInteresting – Spain gave theirs in English
BelgiumWho leaned on who?
MonacoSurprise surprise

It is so glad when one fires of an e-mail – to have the recipients actually get off their arses and do something!

Well done France!

Follow the link after my sign-out for the full scores.

Andrew

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On the tube

I was travelling down to Waterloo today, on the Northern Line and a group of men, four black and three white got on at Euston and travelled to Tottenham Court Road.

They were so extremely happy together, laughing and joking together in the corner at one of the ends.

Their ages ranged between 35 years and 50 years old. The shortest was about six foot three inches tall! The comeradie was so great that I immediately thought: they must from South Africa as blacks and whites never mix so well together in England. My next thought was; they were probably rugby players. When a seat nearer them became vacant I moved dow to see if I was right.

Well, I was right in one of the guesses, they were speaking several languages all together. Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu. I asked in Afrikaans what were they doing in England. I don’t know any Xhosa and my Zulu is extremely rusty now. One of the white guys – one of those nearer fifty came over and said they were over here on business and had been given a day off to come down and see London. They were probably catching the SAA 220 flight that leaves Heathrow every day around 9pm.

I must admit, it made me feel homesick for my childhood when I lived amongst the Afrikaners. A much misunderstood race because of their apartheid – which I am not condining – and one rarely saw such comeradie amongst the English South Africans and the blacks.

A little incident lasting no more than about eight or nine minutes which brightened up my whole day.

Andrew

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I don’t believe it! – Minolta Saga V

I got the camera back yesterday and it worked yesterday afternoon as I mentioned in yesterdays blog.

This morning the flash syc has completely gone and photographs I take in natural light have a quarter to a third of the top of the photograph (when taking in landscape mode) blacked out.

I have contacted Minolta and will be driving up in person as it seemed they didn’t believe me last time and told me there is nothing wrong!.

However this time I took the camera into a camera dealer and asked him to examine the Minolta, and confirm my comments in a do-it-yourself affidavit and then sign it and put their dealer stamp on it. This he did, absolutely confirming that I was telling the truth.

I don’t own a car as I work in London mostly and for the very few times I need to go out, I hire a car from our local Alamo. So I have hired a car for next Wednesday as I want to go up there myself and show these guys the camera not working. Unfortunately they have refused to re-imburse me my travelling expenses.

Friends have said that I am very patient. But, hell, I am a journalist, I smell a big story brewing which will more than repay the problems I have had being without a camera – other, unfortunately, than the loss of my South African trip.

Andrew

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Minolta IV – Final

Today I received a brand new Minolta D7 DSLR camera – the fourth since last December, and also a brand new grip.

So far, so good… but time will tell and I will keep you all informed.

Minolta have told me they could find absolutely nothing wrong with the third body, or the grip but in the spirit of good will… even though there was “abslutely nothing wrong with the camera or grip” they would send me brand new gear… a brand new camera and a brand new grip.

Well… considering, as they say, there was nothing wrong with the equipment, that was jolly decent of them. In addition they sent me the entire box of goodies even though I had only send the basic body – and included two batteries.


London Eye – Embankment – Photo by Andrew Taylor

I took a hundred or so photographs down the embankment this afternoon and everything seemed OK… a slight hiccup but that might have been teething problems so, for now, I will ignore (the flash wasn’t in sync and the settings were correct for my lenses and flashgun).

Andrew

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Blogspot have a problem

My blogs are not uploading but I will write a blog each day until they get my problem right.

I have now been told how I can fix this my end. I need to have fewer blogs on my main page, so readers will now have to use the archives to see some of the older blogs.

Andrew

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The following letters are alleged to be taken from an actual incident between a London hotel and one of its guests. It is also alleged that the hotel ended up submitting the letters to the London Sunday Times.

Dear Maid,

Please do not leave any more of those little bars of soap in my bathroom since I have brought my own bath-sized Imperial Leather. Please remove the six unopened little bars from the shelf under the medicine chest and another three in the shower soap dish. They are in my way.

Thank you, S. Berman

Dear Room 635,

I am not your regular maid. She will be back tomorrow, Thursday, from her day off. I took the 3 hotel soaps out of the shower soap dish as you requested. The 6 bars on your shelf I took out of your way and put on top of your Kleenex dispenser in case you should change your mind. This leaves only the 3 bars I left today which my instructions from the management are to leave 3 soaps daily. I hope this is satisfactory.

Kathy, Relief Maid

Dear Maid

I hope you are my regular maid. Apparently Kathy did not tell you about my note to her concerning the little bars of soap. When I got back to my room this evening, found you had added 3 little Camays to the shelf under my medicine cabinet. I am going to be here in the hotel for two weeks and have brought my own bath-size Imperial Leather, so I won’t need those 6 little Camays, which are on the shelf. They are in my way when shaving, brushing teeth, etc. Please remove them.

S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

The assistant manager, Mr. Kensedder, informed me this morning that you called him last evening and said you were unhappy with your maid service. I have assigned a new girl to your room. I hope you will accept my apologies for any past inconvenience. If you have any future complaints, please contact me so I can give it my personal attention. Call extension 1108 between 8AMand 5PM.

Thank you. Elaine Carmen, Housekeeper

Dear Miss Carmen,

It is impossible to contact you by phone since I leave the hotel for business at 7:45AMand don’t get back before 5:30or 6PM. That’s the reason I called Mr Kensedder last night. You were already off duty. I only asked Mr Kensedder if he could do anything about those little bars of soap. The new maid you assigned me must have thought I was a new check in today, since she left another 3 bars of hotel soap in my medicine cabinet, along with her regular delivery of 3 bars on the Bathroom shelf. In just 5 days here I have accumulated 24 little barsof soap.

Why are you doing this to me?

S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

Your maid, Kathy, has been instructed to stop delivering soap to your room and remove the extra soaps. If I can be of further assistance,please call extension 1108 between 8AMand 5PM.

Thank you,

Elaine Carmen, Housekeeper

Dear Mr. Kensedder,

My bath-size Imperial Leather is missing. Every bar of soap was taken from my room, including my own bath-size Imperial Leather. I came in late last night and had to call the bellhop to bring me 4 little Cashmere Bouquets

S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

I have informed our housekeeper, Elaine Carmen, of your soap problem. I cannot understand why there was no soap in your room since our maids are instructed to leave 3 bars of soap each time they service a room. The situation will be rectified immediately. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience.

Martin L. Kensedder,
Assistant Manager

Dear Mrs. Carmen,

Who the heck left 54 little bars of Camay in my room? I came in last night and found 54 little bars of soap. I don’t want 54 little bars of Camay. I want my one darn bar of bath-size Imperial Leather. Do you realise I have 54 bars of soap in here? All I want is my bath-size Imperial Leather. Please give me back my bath-size Imperial Leather.

S. Berman

Dear Mr. Berman,

You complained of too much soap in your room, so I had them removed. Then you complained to Mr. Kensedder that all your soap was missing, so I personally returned them The 24 Camays which had been taken and the 3 Camays you are supposed to receive daily. I don’t know anything about the 4 Cashmere Bouquets. Obviously your maid, Kathy, did not know I had returned your soaps, so she also brought 24 Camays plus the 3 daily Camays. I don’t know where you got the idea this hotel issues bath-size Imperial Leather. I was able to locate some bath-size Ivory that I left in your room.

Elaine Carmen, Housekeeper

Dear Mrs. Carmen,

Just a short note to bring you up-to-date on my latest soap inventory. As

of today I possess:

  • On the shelf under the medicine cabinet -18 Camay in 4 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 2.
  • On the Kleenex dispenser – 11 Camay in 2 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 3.
  • On the bedroom dresser – 1 stack of 3 Cashmere Bouquet, 1 stack of 4 hotel-size Ivory, and 8 Camay in 2 stacks of 4.
  • Inside the medicine cabinet – 14 Camay in 3 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 2.
  • In the shower soap dish – 6 Camay, very moist.
  • On the northeast corner of the tub – 1 CashmereBouquet, slightly used.
  • On the northwest corner of the tub – 6 Camays in 2 stacks of 3.

Please ask Kathy when she services my room to make sure the stacks are neatly piled and dusted. Also, please advise her that stacks of more than 4 have a tendency to tip. May I suggest that my bedroom window still is not in use and will make an excellent spot for future soap deliveries? One more item, I have purchased another bar of bath-size Imperial Leather which I am keeping in the hotel vault in order to avoid further misunderstandings.

S. Berman

Andrew

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Top Ten Tips for Writing a Business Plan

This came in a press release at a very opportune time, so I have reproduced it in full. I have put their advertising blurb at the end for two reasons. First of all as I am using it instead of my own work, they deserve that I keep it in and secondly, the software may be sueful for those starting a larger business.

Writing a business plan can seem a daunting challenge. However, this skill is a vital requirement for any entrepreneur or business seeking to increase their chances of survival. Here is a list of my top ten tips for writing that winning plan:

1.Write from the audience’s perspective.

The starting point for any business plan should be from the perspective of the audience. What is the purpose of the plan? Is it to secure funding? Is it to communicate the future plans for the company? The writer should tailor the plan for different audiences, as they will each have very specific requirements. For example, a potential investor will seek clear explanations detailing the proposed return on their investment and time frames for getting their money back.

2. Research the market thoroughly

The recent Dragons’ Den series on BBC 2 reiterated the importance prospective investors place on knowledge of the market and the need for entrepreneurs to thoroughly research their market. The entrepreneur should undertake market research and ensure that the plan includes reference to the market size, its predicted growth path and how they will gain access to this market. A plan for an Internet café will consider the local population, Internet penetration rates, predictions about whether it is likely to grow or decline, etc., concluding with a review of the competitive environment.

3. Understand the competition

An integral component to understanding any business environment is understanding the competition, both its nature and the bases for competition within the industry. Is it a particularly competitive environment, or one that lacks competition? How are the incumbents competing-–is there a price leader evident? Finally, including a thorough understanding of the bases on which you intend to compete is vital; can you compete effectively with the existing players?

4. Attention to Detail

Make the plan concise, but include enough detail to ensure the reader has sufficient information to make informed decisions. Given that the plan’s writer usually has a significant role to play in the running of the business, the plan should reflect a sense of professionalism, with no spelling mistakes, realistic assumptions, credible projections and accurate content. The writer should also consider the format of the plan, e.g., if a presentation is required, a back-up PowerPoint presentation should be created.

5. Focus on the Opportunity

If you are seeking investment in your business, it is important to clearly describe the investment opportunity. Why would the investor be better off investing in your business rather than leaving money in a bank account, shares or investing in another business? What is the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for the business? Why will people part with their cash to buy from you?

6. Ensure all Key Areas are covered in the Plan

Undertake research on what a business plan should contain; one good place to find this is at http://www.bplans.co.uk. Include sections on the Company, Product/Service, Market, Competition, Management Team, Marketing, Operations and Financials. The plan should also take on board the readers’ various preferences for viewing data. While many plans are predominantly textual, the plan should include some simple colour charts and spreadsheets.

7. Do the Sums

The numbers will be subject to particular scrutiny. Costs should be documented in full and sales predictions should be both conservative and realistic. While costs are more certain and predictable, a crucial factor in the success or failure of the business will be the level of sales. If you are not particularly comfortable with maths, have someone assist you in preparing a simple cash flow and break even chart. This will help the reader understand how many sales you must make to cover your costs, and also how much financing you must raise to start up successfully. Remember, at the beginning, there are a lot of start-up expenses in a period of uncertain sales volumes. If sales are on credit (including via credit card) it may take up to 4 weeks for you to receive the cash.

8. Executive Summary

Arguably the most important component of the plan is the executive summary. This is a summary of the entire plan and is usually contained at the start of the plan. It also tends to act as a key qualifier for time-pressed investors–if they like it, they will read on, if not they will go no further. It should be completed at the very end of the business planning process and should have a ‘wow factor’ that entices them to read further. In tandem with this, the writer should also prepare a short ‘elevator pitch,’ a five-minute overview of the key benefits of the new product/service.

9. Review Process

Once you have completed your plan, have it independently reviewed. Select someone detached from the process who can offer constructive criticism on all aspects of the plan. Your local Business Link or Enterprise Agency should be able to assist with this. This review should prompt further questions that will need to be addressed in a revised draft.

10. Implement the Plan

Finally, a plan should always be viewed as a living document and contain specifics regarding dates, deadlines and specific responsibilities. It should be constantly reviewed and updated, as well as being used in regular ‘plan versus actual’ discussions. Business relies heavily on people taking actions and being accountable for them. A winning business plan will help to ensure that the business is fully focused on what is required to achieve the company’s goals

Alan Gleeson is the Managing Director of Palo Alto Software, Ltd., creators of Business Plan Pro ® 2005. He holds an MBA from Oxford University and is a graduate of University College Cork, Ireland. If you would like further information on business planning, he can be contacted at alan@paloalto.co.uk. Business Plan Pro Standard Edition retails at £99.99 and the Premier Edition retails at £159 and is available from http://www.paloalto.co.uk.

About Palo Alto Software

Palo Alto Software, Inc., founded in 1988, develops, publishes and markets software products for use with personal computers. BUSINESS PLAN PRO is the best-selling business planning software in the U.S. retail market, according to NPD Intelect (formerly PC Data). Palo Alto Software’s award-winning site, http://www.bplans.com, continues to be one of the highest trafficked sites in the small business arena, offering numerous free business planning resources. The European operation of Palo Alto Software is run out of the London office. It produces UK versions of the software and offers free local support for their UK product range.

Andrew

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Starting a new business – Part 2

So you want to start a business. (2)

Letterwriting

Letter writing (and adverts) are important. You need to ask yourself (a) what is your overall objective? With adverts and sales letters, there is an obective for each paragraph and that is to make sure the reader then goes on to read the next paragraph. Elementary but very few people consider this. If you are writing to get an appointment, for example, your overall objective is not to sell your product. Write with this in mind and you may fail. Your sole objective is to get an appointment. You will have a better chance of succeeding if you bear this strongly in mind.

When writing a business letter of any time, and advertisements of course, is that your last paragraph must tell the reader what action you expect of him. It is even better when writing to make an appointment if you take into account that the reader may not take action.

I have, in the past, successfully used the following ending, but please write it using your own words…

“I’ll contact you again in a few days so that we may make an appointment to discuss this in more detail, or perhaps you would like to pass this letter to your secretary so that she may make the appointment on your hehalf?”

I suggest he asks his secretary to make an appointment but also I am letting him know that, like Arnie, I will be back.

Also, with letters and literature, never forget the age old principle, your writings must be a joy to look at and read. Use plenty of “white paper” i.e. don’t bunch your message too tightly. Isn’t it better to use more space, or more paper, than have most people give up and move on?

Finally, your letterheads and business cards.

Bearing in mind that these reflect yourself to the company. They should be well designed and well printed. But remember, the criteria should be, not what you want, but what does your client expect to see.

Let me give an example – alright it might be to the extreme but it helps make my point.

One the one hand you have a top flight barrister, on the other a self employed ‘man with van’ van driver. The barrister has a cheap litho’d businesscard on the cheapest thinnest card – would you be confident about having him represent you in court?

You go to your van driver for a quote and he gives you a beautifully embossed businesscard on excellent ivory card. Would you think he was too expensive and hasten to make your excuses to depart?

Now give the barrister the embossed cards and the van driver the litho cards, and they will both do good business as that is what their clients expect to see.

The internet

First of all, E-Mail.

When you dictate a letter and your secretary types it out, you read it before signing don’t you?

It is surprising how many people write an e-mail and never bother to check it before sending it out into the ether! Check your e-mail carefully! If you have to send an attached doscument, save it as an RTF (rich text file) as there is less chance of your sending a virus with this method and nearly all word processors can read such files.

If research plays an important part of your business, consider broadband (ADSL) I am a journalist and being constantly on line is invaluable. Nowadays you can get it from £15 a month and this includes all phone charges and ISP charges.

Either way, get your own domain name if you are going to use the net. Check out http://www.123-reg.co.ukowned by a major ISP and one of the cheapest prices in town.

Unless your business is truly international don’t get a .com address but a co.uk is ideal; or a ltd.uk if you have a limited name. It is a good idea to get your domain name before you finally chose your company name. “Finch Publications” found “finch.co.uk” had been taken so, before they had got any printing done they found that the old English version of Finch, “Fynche” was available so snapped it up. So now the company called themselves “Fynche Publications” and everything was fine.

There are two schools of thought as to whether, once you have decided on your web domain, you should snap up the name with all the endings, com, org, co.uk, org,uk, ltd.uk etc etc.

I do not subecribe to this if you are going to use co.uk as this is the natural ending people will consider in the UK and is the best in my opinion for this reason alone. Also registering more names will just cost more of your precious capital. Mind you, if I were talking about a huge Corporate I might suggest differently.

Pay on time

Your clients might take a long time to pay you, but pay your bills on time if at all possible. This is a powerful incentive for your suppliers to put you first, even though your orders are smaller than anyone elses. Remember, they also have a cash flow problem.

Remember, they, in turn, have slow paying suppliers, and are often strapped for cash.

Regular payers, no matter how small, are very important to them. Put it another way, they have 200 of an item, their largest customer desparately needs 250, and you only need 20. You can bet your bottom dollar that you will get your 20 in full and the large customer will have to make do with 180! You don’t believe me? Turn the tables around, what would you do if you had a quick payer and a slow payer? Who would you value most with your cashflow was low?

Credit Control

Don’t be afraid to chase for money, I was never afraid and never lost a client because I was tough on payment. I would give 8% for payment within 10 days and 1.5% for payment within 30 days. I did it this way because many slow payers often took the discount anyway! This way if they took two months to pay, then they would take the 1.5% rather than the 8%! Naturally I priced my products accordingly. Mind you, with ,y chasing that never happened.

On the very next day, after the thirty days were up, I would telephone – not send a reminder – for settlement. I would use a lot of humour with my credit control and would never get angry no matter how many broken promises were given. Initially I’d telephone every two days, but soon I would ring every day. But always in a friendly way.

Clients would have been told that quick payers always got a faster service at the expense of slow payers. So if someone complained who was overdue I would explain this but would always say that I would look into it and see if I could hurry things up for them. Your best weapon in credit control is to have their purchasing department on your side and do the chasing up with their accounts department for you.

Written Goals

You need to write down your goals and review them every month, updating them as you go along.

There are many ways of setting goals but I will just cover the simplest.

Write down what you want at the end of the first year of business, the second year and the fifth year. This is enough for the first twelve months. After this you may want to set longer goals.

Each month, update these three goal periods, based on the information your have gathered in during the previous month – also taking into account the information developing in your bsuiness plan, marketing plan, cash flow forecasting and what you have gleaned about the market you are entering.

It doesn’t matter what you write down for the first time as, over a ten to twelve month period, as you update these goals, they will begin to take on a more realistic shape.

Print them out and put them on your dressing table mirror so you read them every morning.

Todo list

Everything you have to do should be written down in a daily todo list. a third of the way up the page draw a horizontal line. Place all the todos that fit in with the goals you have set above the line, and the ones which don’t feature in your goals below the line. Do all the chores above the line before you tackly those below the line.

At the end of each working day have a short meeting with yourself! Look at your todos, have you done all that is important? Transfer those not done to the next day, and look at those that need doing the next day. At this meating with yourself, go through your diary for the next day and check all the work in your in-basket to see what is still to be done.

You need a meeting with yourself on Sunday evenings as well, where you can set out the next week in detail, bringing in those undone chores from the previous week and plan through your fixed key a+reas of interest.

Ten Key areas

This is an idea I got from Time Manager. You divide your life into nine key areas, with no overlap between each area. For example, a general one could be:

1 Sales & Marketing
2 Purchasing
3 Curent Projects
4 Administration
5 Finance & Legal
6 Networking for business
7 Colleagues and friends
8 Self Improvement
9 Close friends and family

Once a week, go through the key areas, making notes on what needs to be done in each area and when. On your Sunday meeting with yourself, transfer all the things that need to be done during the coming week into your diary and Todo list. Item 9 may save your marriage!

The objective here is that you ensure that all areas of your life and business are covered and that nothing gets left out.

All this is to try and make it easy for you to organise yourself – a daunting task if you just say to yourself, I must get organised. Many readers will not be executives trained in organisation and, if any of you are reading this, forgive me if you have heard this true story from America.

I have forgotten names and places as this happened so long ago, but in America a management consultant was trying to tell the chief executive officer of this large corporation what he must do to expand the business. “We know what we must do” said the executive “but we just don’t know how to get the time to do it all”.

The consulatant said, if I can help here, what would it be worth to you – and was immediately told he could name his price within reason.

The executive was told – get a blank sheet of paper, take your time, and list the six most important things you have to do tomorrow. After the CEO had done this the consultant told him to then number these in the order of their importance.

The CEO was then told to come in tomorrow morning and start working on item one. When this was done, to do item two and so on, and try to finish the list.

At this, the consultant stood up, put on his coat and said, do this evcery working day for the next three months, and then send me a cheque for what you think it has been worth.

Three months later the consultant received a cheque for $25,000 – and this happened many, many decades ago!

Do it!

Andrew

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Starting a New Business – Part 1

So you want to start a business. (1)

Over the years I have started a few businesses, some of them have been successful and one a dismal failure. I would like to share my experiences with you so that you will not make the same mistakes that I have.

It might work with your business but …

Often when one imparts ones experiences, as advice, one gets one particular remark more than all others. That is “Ah yes, it might work in your business but it wouldn’t work in mine”. Those remarks are more than often made by people with rather closed minds which is a shame. Especially amongst people wanting to run their own business. In business one must constantly be examining new ideas and conceptions if one wants to succeed.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Lets look at a famous American catchphrase – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, now let’s examine a basic Japanese philosophy which is, “if it is working, and working well – let’s sit down and work out how we can make it better”. Those of you whose grandfathers are still alive should ask them about the quality of Japanese products just after the war. They were shoddy and just imitations of our own better made goods.

About this time (mid to late ‘forties) an American, W Edwards Deming, tried to sell the idea to other Americans that they should never be satisfied with their products and should constantly try to improve. He wasn’t exactly laughed out of America but he was laughed at, and was so disappointed with the way Corporate America threw his ideas out, probably with the words “It might work with your products but, no sir, it would never work with ours”, that he went over to Japan who immediately took up his ideas.

Iver the last fifty years Japanese products went from worse to good to extremely good (except Minolta of course.) Their cars are everywhere, their computer printers, scanners, and other peripherals span the world. Japanese cameras are everywhere, Nikon, Canon, Olympus etc. And their top industrial award is the coverted Deming award. And our American Hero, last time I heard of him, had returned to the US where, in his eighties, was the most sort after “after dinner speaker” around.

What can we learn here? Once you have your business plan, and start up your business, whether in the manufacturing or service industry, don’t ever be satisfied. Ask your customers to complete surveys (but if you do, read the bloody things), ask them how they feel you could make your company easier for them to do business with. You have to make it as easy as possible for your clients to spend their money in your business!

Finance

The most important subject when starting up a new business is finance and cash flow. I am presuming you are already in employment and are thinking of taking the plunge.

Their are many stages in preparation but what I am about to say is a little novel but if you take it on board you will start up with an excellent cash flow.

Your bank account should be healthy before you start and if you have loans on your credit cards pay them off before you start, even if it means putting your plans off for a year or so. Make sure your car is as new as you can afford to have it, and that it is fully serviced before you start.

If you need a computer for the business, make sure you have the best the job requires before you start. Do not ever purchase any goods or services on easy terms, credit or lease. Leasing is fine for the larger company but the smaller company will surely die when times are hard if they have large fixed monthly outgoings.

Imaging you have a turnover of £200,000 a year with fixed outgoings of £75,000 a year. There is a recession, or a rival opens up in your area of location or expertise and sales fall by 50%? That now leaves £25,000 a year for your salary and variable expenses, something will have to give and the more that gives will equate to your new annual turnover shrinking even further.

I was in a store looking at the latest gizmo recently and the salesman must have been sure I was on the point of purchasing – I was! So he thought he’d throw in a clincher – he said I could buy on easy terms. That was his one big mistake as I suddenly ‘came to’ realised I was on the point of buying something I didn’t really need, and walked out. You see, since I lost a good business because I had so much equipment on lease, I had conditioned myself to turn off immediately anyone says anything that suggests I will be paying interest or fixed payments.

So you see, all payments, whether in your home, or your place of work, which occur regularly, which you cannot switch off, are the real killers when times get hard. And believe me, whether you are John or Jayne Smith, or Richard Branson, times will get hard from time to time – if you cannot cope with such challenges, don’t read further and, for heavens sake, don’t give up the day job.

Learn how to make a business plan, also how to draw up a cash flow and finally a marketing plan. I know it is difficult but if you want to be successful, you must also know as much as you can take on board about accounts and accounting.

As a one-person business this will save you money. As you expand into a company, and maybe a corporation, this will ensure you can check to see if an employed accountant is not milking your company. Don’t you read the newspapers? Whilst you are clearing your credit cards, updating your car and acquiring the required office equipment, go to evening classes and learn how to handle your accounts, book-keeping really isn’t that difficult. Just remember Credit has an “r” in it, so it is on the right hand side. Debit therefore must be on the left!

You’ll also need to find a good accountant and lawyer. This doesn’t mean you have to take them on board straight away. Use the year or two setting up to quiz business friends and colleagues locally and see if you can find someone who comes highly recommended.

Further advice is to get a computerised accounts program that will also give you management accounting information. I have used many in the past but do have a liking for Quickbooks. It is ideal for the small business and allows you to make mistakes and to totally erase entries so you can post the correct entry. Some accounts programs insist on no erasure, you then have to make an ajustment and then repost the entry again. For someone who makes mistakes like me, this produces messy accounts which cost more when being audited. Quickbooks isn’t like this and allows deletions. Remember, the more you can do means the more an expensive accountant can charge you.

Enter all your accounts as often as you can. Definitely at least once a week. This way you can always see exactly where you are. Once you enter all your figures, don’t close down, print a cash flow or a profit and loss report. A balance sheet will give you a pretty good picture of what your business is worth. And, by pusting one button, you can produce an up-to-date balance sheet every week. The same goes for a profit and loss account!

My wife and I use the smaller home program, Quicken for our household accounts. We set and maintain budgets, our shares are listed and everytime we log on to the internet, our shares gain the current price automatically, and we always have a “bottom line” of our exact worth. After a couple of years of doing this we have found we have much more disposable cash available – and I am talking four figures here!

Unless you are willing to take the time to enter current information to get a regular update of your “bottom line”, you’ll hit the bottom line, pretty quickly.

Sales & Marketing

Every business needs to market both themselves and their products. If you have built a better mousetrap, people will not come flooding to your door – you have to go out and find them!

In addition to this every business owner must be a salesman. If you can’t go out there and sell, you are lost before you begin. Before you even sell products you have others to sell to.

First of all, you have to sell your idea to your spouse. It is no good giving up the security of a regular monthly salary unless your spouse is not only with you all the way, but is prepared to help. They have to realise that, working for yourself doesn’t mean you can do the shopping during working hours, look after the children when you have to go out and sell your services, or when you have to see your bank manager.

Talking about bank managers, if you have to raise finance and pay interest, you will have to close the “sale of your life” to get past all their objections. Don’t even think about a visit unless you have a full businessplan worked out and a full marketing plan. Within your businessplan you must have a full cash flow shown, with inflated costs and pessimistic sales – show worse case scenarios. If you fail here, you’ll fail miserably as the bank, although extortionate in their rates, are still usually the lowest game in town. Don’t use credit cards for financing as that is the very worse thing you, or anyone else, can do. And don’t forget to include your own salary in the plans. The bank will ask!

Now consider marketing logistics. If you need to advertise in magazines, how many cover your industry? If it is an obsure subect and only two or three cover your subject you are in luck – you can cover 100% of your possible customers with two or three regular adverts. If, for example, you are in the computer industry, there are literally dozens and dozens of magazines and it will cost you a fortunate to cover 100%.

When advertising in newspapers or magazines there are three things to consider. (a) Advertise regularly, in every issue, as it often takes many issues before someone takes the plunge. (b) Ensure your advert is large enough to catch the eye – I don’t mean you need huge page adverts, but they must be large enough for your main catch line to be at least 16 points high, and your body never smaller than 10 points. Your catch line is the only important part of your advert. If it is not good people will never read your advert. If it is good, the reader will always read the next paragraph. (c) Always ensure your advert is placed on a page with some copy on it. Pages of adverts alone are usually never looked at by the majority of readers.

Before you advertise, where do you want to sell? If your business needs you to be close to your customers and you want to advertise in the Daily Mail, you need to find out how many readers are in your catchment area, and work out the cost per thousand based on that figure. Do this with all your adverts and you will see the true cost to you for each newspaper or magazine.

For example, a magazine charges £1000 for your “size of advert” and has 200,000 readers. That works out at £5 per thousand. But if there are only 2,000 readers in your catchment area, that will work out, to you, at £500 per thousand. A big difference after you have done your homework, isn’t it? Now check those figures against other forms of advertising, a local newspaper for instance. But remember, if it leans too much to the left, or too much to the right you will know that half the people will throw it away as soon as they read it. You can still advertise in it but, when you are working out the cost per 1,000 discount their publication figures by 50%!

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The Minolta saga IV – Interim

Minolta have had my camera since Monday and all I am getting from them is silence.

But my faith in human nature has been restored.

I have had a problem with my 80GB Flashtrax. This is a device I take with me on Photographic assignments as it allows me, on one charge of the battery, to upload five full 1GB CF cards to the hard disk. It also has a 3.5″ screen to check on focus and other things, and shows pictures to the client. This is a £400 gadget!

I had problems connecting the mini-USB cable into the Flashtrax and had only had reason to connect it on our return from South Africa. So I had to send it back. I purchased it last December at the same time as I purchased my Minolta.

Yesterday afternoon I posted the Flashtrax back to SmartDisk, with their returns number clearly visible. I also asked to be informed when it arrived safely.

This morning I get an e-mail telling me a replacement will be posted today and I should receive it tomorrow morning. Less than 48 hours since I posted it.

What a difference to Minolta’s idea of customer service?

Does anyone remember Dr Deming?

Dr Deming has strong ideas about business. In opposition to the “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it” philosophy, his idea was “If it works, sit down and look at it again and see if you can make it better”. The Americans laughed at him after WWII so he went to Japan and at first they listened politely but very soon became extremely enthusiastic about his philosophy.

Here is an extract from a publishing site – you can see more of him here.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a household name in Japan, became the prime catalyst behind the incredible success of Japanese industry. In fact, since 1951, the Deming Prize has been the most coveted and prestigious award among Japanese corporations, similar to the Malcolm Baldrige Award for quality in business in the United States. Today, Deming is finally becoming a household name in his own country. The lessons he has to teach American business are more urgent than ever

It’s a pity Minolta have never heard of him!

Andrew

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South Africa – delays


Winery dog orchestra – Photo by Andrew Taylor

As I have written in my travel log on 20th April…

Afterwards we went to Annandale where two larger dogs – a retriever and a doberman – put their snouts together and howled a song for us with a miniature doberman who sat slightly apart but joining in!

This was a more “working” environment winery and I have to admit, I thought it much better!

Annadale winery was deserted when we arrived. We kept calling but nobody was around except three dogs. A Golden Retriever a Doberman and a little miniature Doberman. They were friendly enough – even the Dobermans!

And, when the dogs realised we were looking for someone, the two larger dogs stood with their mouths close together and howled. Gawd, did they howl. The little one who couldn’t reach up, sat a little way away and joined in.

Very effective they were because, within minutes, a nice Afrikaans lady appeared and took us into the farmhouse for a wine tasting. Apologising profusely for not being there.

The travel log is now finished and a friend who is a professional proof reader is checking it over. After we have corrected the millions of errors he will have found – he is very good, we will publish it as a PDF, complete with photographs and make it downloadable from my website.

We’ll let you know on this blog, over the coming week, when it will be ready.

Andrew

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Flickr

This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Added by Andrew:

This should enable me to post more pictures for you, dear reader.

Please excuse light posting today but I have been under the weather

No rude comments please… I said under the weather, not over the heather!

Andrew

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Citibank

For the last five years my wife and I have banked with Citibank Global Consumer Banking and we really have had an excellent service. Far better than British banks.

I know they only have six branches in the UK but that really isn’t a problem. First of all, we can pay in at any Lloyds Bank branch free of charge. Then we can withdraw up to £500 a day from any bank ATM free of charge. In addition, each month we have an umbrella free overdraft facility of £500 which is arrangement fee free and interest free – the only thing they ask is that each month, for at least one day, our account is in the black.

I have just had a run in with a guy in their Oxford Street branch. Talk about thick! I am having todays rant about him. But I don’t blame Citibank and it won’t affect the good feelings I have for them.

In fact it is rather funny really!

I had ordered a thousand pounds worth of South African rands before going away last month. We were due to fly out on the 5th April so I ordered the currency on their website two weeks in advance. (They ask for a minimum of two days only.)

Then one week before the due collection date (Friday 1st April) I reminded them of the transaction. It is better to be safe than sorry!

I had occasion to ring them on Tuesday 29th March so I reminded them again that I would be collecting on the coming Friday.

Friday afternoon saw me in their Oxford Street branch which I had designated for collection.

They had not got anything in at all so I asked to see a manager and was sent upstairs to the customer services office where I spoke to Andy Pass. He checked through and tried to help and was very apologetic and promised to reimburse me £25 into my account for my trouble. And said the earliest he could get the money was Tuesday. The day I was flying out.

I said OK as I thought the £25 would cover the extra taxi fare to Heathrow. I live in North London and it was very much out of my way.

In fact, I had to pay £23 more to the taxi driver by the time I arrived at Heathrow.

Anyway I called in on the Tuesday to collect and it was there waiting for me.

I checked my account on the Internet today and found the £25 had not been paid. This upset me as a promise is a promise and should be kept.

I phoned up and asked to speak to Any Pass and was told he had left the department. I spoke to the Australian who answered the phone and boy, it was hard getting through to him. I explained everything and he just didn’t seem to grasp what it was about. I explained it all a second time. But he still couldn’t grasp it. So I said, I’ll explain it a third time, and he said ” I don’t think that is going to help” and I nearly burst out laughing but, in stead, said “Yes, I suppose you are right”.

He said he’d try to get Andy Pass to telephone me but I am not holding my breath. Mind you, I am sure Andy Pass will telephone me if he gets the message.

I’ll be better off explaining it to Citibank via their website server.

But I still think Citibank is the best thing since sliced bread. I mean, you get occasions like this all over the world in all sorts of good companies.

Andrew

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Moving my computer

Pam and I work from home – she for a firm of management consultants in the financial sector and myself as a freelance journalist.

We have had a Sharps “fitted office” built into our second bedroom and it is nice–we work together, but not for each other.

People say, how do you manage it? Living in the same house and working in the same house 24 hours a day.

But it works.

I think the reason is because we do not work for each other. She is part of a team who all work from home and therefore are all supportive of each other. Weekly meetings at the Institute of Directors, a weekly conference call, and people always on the phone to each other.

I am often on the phone to other freelance journalists, more than often to PR people, and get out and about – going to press events or photographing meetings, concerts and other assignments.

We don’t have a lot of time to talk to each other in our office because one of us is nearly always on the phone. Besides, my phone is a DECT and when I get a call I start striding up and down the passageways and into the lounge. I am sure you all know what I mean!

And today I got up early to move my computer, only slightly, but leads had to all come out and items had to be moved.

Four hours later I got the computer and screen running with the mouse and keyboard. But no printer as I needed a 3m cable and all I needed before was a 2m one. But help was at hand, a friend’s son asked if I had ever bought one of those small pen type flash memory sticks. I said I had and he suggested I check to see if an extension USB cable came with it. Eurika, I remembered it did have one. So I got out the “big box” of cables and there it was.

I now have my printer working. Time to relax a little.

The next thing was to set up the P900 mobile phone cradle (with power and USB cable for up/downloading, and to set up my Psion Netbook with power and serial leads for the same reason. I have bought a docking station for the Netbook but that hasn’t arrived yet.

So now, those two are also working fine.

I have added cables for my 80GB Flashtrax external hard disk. This is bigger than an iPod but is portable and has input for Compact Flash cards so I can add photographs to it when I am out and about and my camera CF card is full. This allows me to continue shooting.

Also my camera battery charger is set up close at hand as I like to take three batteries out with me – allows at least 750 shots between them.

Not to forget the Sandisk memory card reader for faster transfers from the camera when I am by my desk.

Finally there is the hi-fi double cassette unit which I use to copy cassettes to MP3 files. I finally get those cables in the right sockets!

But I still have leads left over and cannot – for the life of me – decide what they were or are for! It’s like when I try and fix something, there are always a screw or two left over.

I had previously thought that manufacturers added a couple of spare screws loose in their products to put the fear of God in people who try to repair items themselves. But now I have found I have leads left over – perhaps I am wrong and have misjudged said manufacterers!

No doubt at a later time I will try and do something and it won’t work – and I will remember the odd cables left over.

Until that time, dear reader, until that time!

Now I must go… The Grand Prix (Formula One) is on the box…

Andrew

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As an ex-soldier…

I must print the speach Reg Keys delivered at the election count moments after his defeat by Mr Blair in Sedgefield. A remarkable father.

When we join up, we know what may be in store and – although the do-gooders in our society fail to understand – welcome the chance to put our training into practical use.

Well, most of us anyway!

Here is the speach…


Fighting this campaign has not been an easy task for me but I had to do it for my son, Thomas Keys, Royal Military Policeman, killed in Iraq four days short of his 21st birthday, sent to war under extremely controversial circumstances … (at this, he turned directly towards Tony Blair) extremely controversial circumstances.

If the war had been justified by international law I would have grieved and not campaigned. If weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, l would have grieved and not campaigned.

Tonight there are lessons to be learned and I hope in my heart that one day the Prime Minister will be able to say sorry, that one day he will say sorry to the families of the bereaved and that one day the Prime Minister might be able to visit wounded soldiers in hospital.

Then our campaign will not have been in vain and all the people who have given me their votes tonight have sent a clear resounding message about the Iraq war.

I would like to dedicate this campaign to all the brave 88, yes 88, British servicemen – because some people do not know how many have been killed (again turning towards Tony Blair who admitted recently that he did not know the exact figure) — servicemen who gave their young lives in this conflict.

But may I just in particular mention, as they have become known, The Six, the six Royal Military Policemen left behind and slaughtered in a filthy police station in Majar Al-Kabir: Thomas Keys, Russ Aston, Si Miller, Paul Long, Ben Hyde and Simon Hamilton-Jewell.

Thank you.


Andrew

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Unreasonable mothers

For those of you that are not mums yet …

Was your Mum mean? I know mine was. We had the meanest mother in the whole world! While other children ate candy for breakfast, we had cereal, eggs, and toast. When others had a Pepsi and a Mars Bar for lunch, we had to eat healthy sandwiches. And you can guess our mother fixed us a dinner that was different from what other kids had, too.

Mother insisted on knowing where we were all times. You’d think we were convicts in a prison. She had to know who our friends were, and what we were doing all the time. She insisted that if we said we would be gone for an hour, we would be gone for an hour or less.

We were ashamed to admit it, but she had the nerve to break the Child Employment Laws by making us work. We had to wash the dishes, make the beds, learn to cook, vacuum the floor, do laundry, and all sorts of cruel jobs. I think she would lie awake at night thinking of more things for us to do. She always insisted on us telling the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

By the time we were teenagers, she could read our minds. Then, life was really tough! Mother would not let our friends just honk the horn when they drove up. They had to come to the door so she could meet them. While everyone else could date when they were 12 or 13, we had to wait until we were 16.

Because of our mother we missed out on lots of things other kids experienced. None of us have ever been caught shoplifting, vandalising others property or ever arrested for any crime. It was all her fault. We never got drunk, took up smoking – or drugs, stayed out all night, or a million other things kids did.

Now that we all left home, we are all educated, honest adults. We are doing our best to be mean parents just like mum was.

I think that is what’s wrong with the world today. It just doesn’t have enough mean mums anymore.

(Taken from http://www.funkymunky.co.za/letter99.html)

Andrew

PS, I was up until half past four this morning following the election results. Not a happy bunny – but that’s life I suppose.

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Price-Grabber

Good heavens…

Price Grabber, at http://uk.pricegrabber.com/ compares prices of all types of goods so you can check out whatever you are intending to buy.

However, they now have a comparison of all the heads of political parties with star ratings for their “Style” and “Leadership Qualities”.

If you click on http://uk.pricegrabber.com/election2005.php you can check out all the parties yourself.

Click on the leaders name and you get their background, any scandal attached to them, and where they stand on all the main issues and a mini-bio. Brilliant!

Andrew

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The Choice Narrows

I am referring to who I am going to vote for.

Our Candidates are:

Liberal Democrat
Socialist
Conservative
Green
UK Independence Party
and some Rainbow thingy.

First of all, I will discount the nutters – the Rainbow thingy.

The Greens are all for the EU, although they say that, Like the Conservatives, they want to reform it. Ha ha ha!

The Liberal Democrats, to a candidate, have all refused to sign the BDI (British Declaraton of Independence. So there is no way I would want to vote for any of those!

That leaves the choice between Labour, Conservative and UK Independence Party.

If there was a Veritas candidate I would vote for them but there isn’t and, until yesterday my wife and I thought we would vote for UK Independence Party.

But, we have had to rule them out.

I have heard from a reliable souce that they are not really interested in getting MPs in, they are more interested in targeting Veritas. Not a pleasant way for decent people to go about their business… take a look at:


UKIP drops campaigning to thwart Kilroy-Silk in Erewash

Donor pays Bed-and-breakfast charges for UKIP’s ‘Get Kilroy’ Campaign in Erewash

John Whittaker MEP – the man who is standing for 8 seats in the North West – tells UKIP workers to campaign against Kilroy in Erewash, rather than campaign in their own areas

A VERITAS sympathiser in the U.K. Independence Party’s North-West Region has leaked, to VERITAS, an internal e-mail from their North-West MEP, John Whittaker. Mr. Whittaker sent his e-mail, which refers to a donor offering to pay for bed-and-breakfast for UKIP workers willing to campaign against Robert Kilroy-Silk, to all UKIP members in the North-West. The e-mail was leaked this afternoon to Mr Kilroy-Silk’s Researcher.

The e-mail from John Whittaker states:

“While I know you are all busy doing what you can in your home patches, there is another call on our time. I am trying to gather support for the UKIP campaign in Erewash constituency (between Derby and Nottingham) where Kilroy is standing. I do think this is important and shall be spending time there myself. If any of you, or members, family etc. could help with the usual leafleting – canvassing – general campaigning activities, please get in touch with me (07752 643946) A donor has promised to pay for B&B for any who stay over”.

The targeting of VERITAS candidates in this way has been a feature of UKIP’s strategy in this General Election. Rather than field a candidate in several Hertfordshire seats where neither UKIP nor VERITAS is standing, UKIP deliberately fielded a candidate – Hertfordshire man John Felgate – in the Essex constituency of Harlow against VERITAS candidate Tony Bennett. A similar pattern occurred in Staffordshire as soon as VERITAS announced its candidates in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. UKIP immediately put up candidates against VERITAS but not in several other constituencies in the area. As soon as Robert Kilroy-Silk announced – in February – that he was contesting Erewash, UKIP responded immediately by fielding its Regional Organiser, Geoffrey Kingscott, against him.



The Hyena, Blair…

So that gives me a choice between Labour and the Conservatives.

Do I help vote in the grinning (and lying) Hyena Blair, or the micky mouse Howard “who has a little of the night about him” voiced by Ann Widdecombe a few years ago.

According to the BDI website, both the candidates have either signed the BDI or have expressed sympathy.

I have decided that the only thing I can do is to look at the candidates and vote for whoever I feel will be best for Finchley & Golders Green.


Rudi Vis is the Labour Candidate and is the incumberant or “sitting” MP. A quick Google on him got this mini-bio

Labour’s candidate:
Rudi Vis

  • Born 04.04.41, Alkmaar, The Netherlands.
  • Married. Three children.
  • BSc (Econ), University of Maryland. MSc (Econ), London School of Economics. PhD, Brunel University.
  • Member of CND, Friends of the Earth, Sera, RSBP, Friends of Cyprus and Labour Friends of Israel, UNA, and The Tree Faith Forum
  • Assisted in saving college farm and Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute and preventing trains carrying spent nuclear fuel from parking and passing through constituency. Trustee Hendon Youth, College Farm.
  • Received Honorary PhD from Schiller International University.

Plus; an educated man and he helped save our college farm.

Minus; he is 64, and is a Hollander which makes me suspect his motives re the BDI.


Then the Conservative candidate Andrew Mennear. A quick Google finds this mini-bio

Andrew is married to Sophie and they have two sons currently attending nursery. Having joined BP in 1989, Andrew currently works at promoting the growth of its renewable energy businesses. Born in Wallsend in December 1966 and brought up in Whitley Bay, he was the only pupil from his local comprehensive to win a place at Oxford or Cambridge, going to University College, Oxford to study PPE. Both his parents were both teachers; his father being the head-teacher of a special school for 19 years.

Andrew joined the Young Conservatives in 1982. He was President of Oxford University Conservative Association during the 1987 general election. Elected to Camden Council in 1998, he was re-elected in 2002. At the 2001 general election, he gained a 4% swing standing against Glenda Jackson in Hampstead & Highgate with his ‘Surrender Glenda’ campaign.

“The top concerns of residents in Finchley & Golders Green are undoubtedly the lack of police officers on the beat together with intolerable levels of anti-social behaviour and the Government’s underfunding of local schools. This is an area where the Government has been seen to have failed to deliver – local people are now impatient for change”, remarks Andrew.

On Camden Council, Andrew has been the lead Conservative spokesman on leisure issues and policing, campaigning successfully to stop Labour from closing nearly a third of Camden’s libraries and to keep a police station in Hampstead. He has also consistently opposed Labour’s misguided plans to redevelop Swiss Cottage Sports Centre and the accompanying open space.

This opposition led to an announcement of a four-fold increase in sports halls open to the public in the north of Camden. Most recently, he has drawn attention to Labour’s failure to pay more than lip-service attention to its biodiversity action plan and its failure to deliver the number of nursery places it has promised. Andrew is a member of the Camden Community Police Consultative Group and is also a member of the Management Committee of the Winchester Project, a registered charity for young people at Swiss Cottage.

Andrew remains a season ticket-holder with Newcastle United, but has found it increasingly difficult to get to matches since having children, but looks forward to watching plenty of boys’ football in the years ahead! His leisure time is now spent with his family, often at London Zoo, where they are members, or at the cinema.

Plus; age 39, stopped Camden closing libraries, helped increase sports halls by a factor of 4

Minus;
Supports Newcastle United!


I am tempted to vote for Andrew, he has a good Christian name which can only be a plus! However, when the Conservatives took us into the EU I swore I would never vote for them again until everyone who signed the treaties were long dead and buried.

So I am in a dilema. Yes, dear Reader, I know that labour have taken us even further into the clutches of the EU but, in a way, they are not to blame so much. After all, the Conservatives are the party who is supposed to love Britain so – to my way of thinking, that makes them the biggest traitors.

I will go to the voting booth but may well, with a heavy black marker pen write on my ballot paper – I can’t vote for any of these, they are a bunch of Bankers. At least I can’t be charged for using bad language but everyone will know what I mean!

Andrew

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British Declaration of Independence

This blog is only for people who vote for one of the three main parties and who would like Britain to withdraw from the EU.

As far as I am aware, the BDI do not take note of the smaller parties. Therefore we cannot ascertain their true views. The Greens are listed on their own site as not wanting to withdraw but think they can reform these greedy MEPs and reform the system! Ha ha.

Most UKIP candidates probably want to withdraw but I am extremely suspicious of the motives of their senior leaders such as Roger Knapman and Nigel Farage.

Veritas want to pull out of the EU and run their own country. William Hill the bookmakers are now refusing to take further bets on Robert Kilroy-Silk winning his seat.

As for Respect… the BBC have written… “George Galloway’s Respect party is also standing in Harwich. They too oppose the Euro and the European constitution saying the EU is undemocratic and doesn’t support workers. Will their stance on that and against the Iraq war take votes away from Labour ? It is an intriguing battle and far too close to call.”

The BDI only publish the names of candidates who have refused to sign up to the British Declaration of Independence. Or have refused to express sympathy to its aims. Missing names could therefore either have signed up, or have expressed sympathy to its aims.

If you would like to know more, click on the British Declaration of Independence

The following has been reported verbatim from the BDI website:


BDI – The Results

The results by constituency will be posted this weekend. We list below the names of those candidates who not only refused to sign the BDI but most fervently rejected the whole idea of British Parliamentary democracy.

The Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties openly campaign for the end of British Democracy. They do not believe in nor will they legislate to confirm the British Constitution and a Parliament for the British people. They cannot be accused, as parties, of standing on a false platform.

Both Parties did their utmost to prevent their candidates even seeing a copy of the BDI. Of the two parties our experience of Liberal Democrat candidates is by far the worst. They have been the most dismissive of the British Constitution and of democratic principles. Not one Liberal Democrat candidate has signed the BDI. There are however many Labour candidates who have signed the BDI or who have expressed an interest in it, although as a party they have not signed up to its principles.

So both the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties can be contrasted with the Conservatives who have set out to deceive not only their own members and candidates but the electorate as a whole.

No other party has been as aggressive towards its own candidates as has the Conservative Party. Several party associations have been suspended (e.g. Falmouth and Camborne, Middlesborough South and Cleveland, Slough) and several candidates elected by party members, were summarily dismissed by Michael Howard who was NOT elected by party members.

When tested in the High Court it was ruled that the Conservative Party constitution allowed the party machine to dismiss any candidate and impose without consultation a centrally appointed alternative.

This is the reason why the BDI will not reveal the names of signatories.

Conservative refusals

Dr Julian Lewis
Hon Nicholas Soames
Dr Liam Fox
Michael Fabricant
Sir Michael Spicer
Ashley Gray
Caroline Flynn-Macleod
Paul Maynard
David Amess
Cllr Kim Humphreys
Rt Hon Oliver Letwin
Jacqui Lait
Ian Taylor MBE
James Paice
Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell
John Maples
Douglas Carswell
Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC
Rt Hon David Curry
Angela Browning
William Cash
Rt Hon David Heathcoat-Amory
Laurence Robertson
Rt Hon Michael Howard QC
Edward Leigh
Robert Walter
Quentin Davies
Rt Hon Francis Maude
Owen Paterson
John Bercow
Tim Collins
Peter Luff
Tony Baldry
Andrew Robathan
Sir John Butterfill
Peter Bottomley
Rt Hon John Gummer
Geoffrey Cox QC
Anthony Steen
Christopher Chope
Scott-Haywood
Peter Atkinson

Labour refusals

Doug Henderson
Joan Walley
Rt Hon Robin Cook
Valerie Davey
Barbara Follett
Austin Mitchell
Mike Gapes
Keith Vaz
Barry Sheerman
Rt Hon Peter Hain

All candidates of the Liberal Democrat Party refused to sign.


Follow the link after my signout to the BDI website.

Andrew

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The Minolta Saga III

It’s never ending…

I took my new Minolta D7 replacement camera to the embankment and took 175 photographs. I was using the grip with 6 x AA 2300 mAmp rechargeable batteries in the supplimentary grip. At the end of the 175 photographs I got a message up as “battery exhausted”. These were “fine” “large”. In addition to this, the camera kept on freezing and I had to take the batteries out and put them back. I found if I turned off the camera between photographs I did not have to do this too often.

The next day I wandered around locally to take some more photographs, not using the grip at all. First of all I then noticed that I could not change the type of photograph from “fine” “large” “jpg” – it would work until I turned the camera off, and would then revert automatically back to “fine” “large” “jpg” as soon as I turned the camera back on. In exactly the same way, the flash setting would accept whatever I used (ttl) but would revert to “adi” as soon as I turned the camera off and then on again. “adi” is for digital lenses and my ordinary professional lenses would not syncronise on this setting so the flashgun (5600HS (D)) was useless.

I will go back to Konica-Minolta and keep you all informed. I have been using Minolta for years and have not had the slightest problem with their equipment until they amalgamated with Konica.

Andrew.

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Why I haven’t got Sky


Sky Television

Everyone seems to have Sky except me. Or, if they haven’t got Sky, then they have Cable.

There are two reasons why I don’t have Sky!

The first and most important is that they charge a rental figure and although I don’t mind what I spend outright – we have just had three weeks in sunny South Africa for a total cost of £4,000 – I hate paying out for subscriptions.

My mobile is on Virgin. I use GPRS a lot on my P900 phone (bought outright, which also cost more but it was a one off payment) and Virgin charge much more for this. But there is no contract and I am free to leave at any time.

What happens if your business goes down the pan, or you lose your job? It is your fixed monthly outgoings on contract which will “kill” you.

So I happily pay a little more to avoid contracts.

The other thing, of course, is the fact that Sky only use 0870 numbers which, at 8p a minute, is four times what I pay to phone a friend in California. Extortionate I think.

My father had a way with sayings, he would twist the words to ensure I remembered them. One being: Take care fo the pennies and you can have fun squandering the pounds. This has, sort of, stuck with me for sixty years now!

I have to admit, over the years I have nearly succumbed to ordering Sky but have been rescued at the last minute by their 0870 number.

However, now they have released their FreeSat, their free-to-view offering, I am very interested.

£150, one off payment. No contract. No monthly rental. To include the set top box, remote control, sat dish, and installation to include connecting to a telephone line. 120 stations for tv and 80 stations for radio.

Includes Sky News and CNN. And all the 27 Free-to-Air channels

Now all I have to do is to find a dealer who doesn’t use an 0870 number.

Ah! I have just Googled one who will take orders over the web.

Their link is below my signout and although the site is a little garish, they seem to be experts and you can learn a lot from the site if you are inexperienced with these things.

Andrew

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