Expensive mechanical objects

If you’re reading this, and you’re someone who cannot drive, take my advice and don’t even start to learn. Catch the bus, walk, run or get a bike. It’s so unbelievably expensive keeping a car working it’s unreal. I’m glad computers don’t wear out this easily or I’d have no money at all.

After filling the tank (at 110.9p/litre) with £40 of petrol, taxing it, insuring it, servicing it and giving it an MOT every year, the car gods demand a yearly sacrifice. Usually the sacrifice occurs at a really inappropriate time – 7:35am is the usual time. The sacrifice can be anything – a tyre with no air, a battery with no charge, magically unlocking central locking, or important bits of the car going bang, scrrrraaape or falling off.

Last year I had to have a coil spring replaced, after it spectacularly went kerbang!, and I managed to tear a hole in a rear tyre. Nice sidewall damage, that’s 60 quid for a new tyre mate. This year I found my spare doesn’t have a slow puncture, it has a split sidewall (bye 60 quid again) and now I need new front pads and disks. When slowing down my car sounds like the wheels have come off and the car is skidding on its undercarriage. Oh, and now the other coil spring has gone too. I didn’t really notice the coil spring had gone, but there was a few loud clunks coming from the car when I hit some speed bumps the other day.

Can I please get through the rest of this year without having to get anything major repaired? It’s not so much the cost since I’m sensible enough to put aside 10 or so quid a month specifically for car repairs, it’s the inconvenience and hassle of getting this crap fixed.

Or if stuff has to break because mechanical objects wear out when whizzing round at 70MPH covered in road salt, can it happen before the MOT is due so that it can all be done in one visit to the garage, not afterwards. Afterwards is taking the piss.

And if the local councils of this country could fill in the potholes in their roads, that’d be great too.

Managing my money, confusing callcentres

Photo from Wikipedia

After looking at the amount of money I throw down the drain every month, and feeling slightly irritated that most of it I have to pay, I’ve been looking at things to chop out or pay slightly differently. After weeding out my council tax, insurance, rent and other things like that number 1 on my list of “whoa that looks a bit expensive” was my mobile phone.

I’m on a contract, it costs me £35 a month including typical call usage and other junk (insurance and an Internet bundle). My family and everyone else I know with a mobile has a pay-as-you-go and it seems to cost them at most £10 a month.

So off I go to ring a certain fruity telecoms company to ask a very straight forward question “How do I switch from contract to PAYG, and will it cost me anything?”. I found their number and encountered their automated system, from which none of the options sounded remotely useful. I opted for “I want to change my billing details, but not my contact details, or payment details, I have another query” and within a few rings got through to a nice human being.

Since this is the modern world with the magic of VOIP, the person I had on the end of my phone was not in the same country as me. I am fairly certain he wasn’t on the same continent as me. I asked my question and he answered it in a pleasing way, informing me it would be free to go from contract to PAYG, and would I like to do this?

Well yes I would, this is so easy and I am happy!

OK, so I have to go on hold and be transferred to the relevant department (probably the bloke in the cubicle next to him). And here’s where spanners start falling into the works. Due to a bit of good old Chinese Whispers and misunderstanding they assumed I had already cancelled my contract, and already had a replacement PAYG SIM, ready to be activated. No, I don’t… I want one, is it still free? Does any of what I’m asking make any sense to you, or have you run off your script and are rapidly ad-libbing into a nasty dark pit of confusion?

Hm? Yes, I can hold again I guess… this is turning into a game, I no longer care if my query gets sorted, I want to see how many people I can talk to. I’m bored with nothing else to do today.

The crappy hold music ends, the line goes silent… and after some confusion an very nice English lady comes on the line. Hurrah! Someone I can speak to in my normal tone of voice, using normal slang, at my normal speaking speed, through a line that doesn’t sound like damp string. I may just get somewhere yet… This callcentre woman was good, she’d obviously been given the freedom to listen to her callers, think a bit, and suggest ideas to help them. She wasn’t a robot reading from a script.

She told me that no, unlike what the other lot had said (she didn’t sound too impressed with them either) it wouldn’t be free, I would have to buy out the end of my contract. So I did, since I have to pay that money even if I choose to give up and remain a loyal, money pissing contract customer. Replacement SIM will arrive within a week and “all” I have to do is ring back and get it activated.

So yeah, I’ll have to go back to the giant chicken farm and hope they can understand my routine request to have a PAYG activated.

A small point to make

Please do not fall under the misunderstanding that I dislike the people in the foreign callcentres that I spoke to originally. I’ve got no problem with them. my problem is with the companies that decide to shunt our calls over to another continent, without deciding whether the idea works socially. I’m English, I speak a certain way, using certain phrases and with an accent. If I was asked to handle calls coming from the other side of the planet I’d probably get things equally confused, mixed up and wrong.

Just because something is technically possible, and will save money, doesn’t mean it’s always socially acceptable. Outsourced, foreign callcentres are just bad bad inventions. It’d be like me teaching my kids by slapping a pile of instructions on their desks and saying “get on with it”. It’d work, but it wouldn’t be very good.

Driving on fumes

I’ve just discovered the computer in my car has trouble working out how many miles it can go before running out of fuel if the tank is nearly empty. For the past two days I’ve been driving around with the orange warning light on, indicating I really should fill up with petrol or face the consequences of my car stopping. The computer in my car claimed I had 60 miles left so, being me and slightly inquisitive, I ignored it.

The miles left seemed to drop to 40 and then stay around there for a long time. Enough for me to drive to and from work twice (which, conveniently, is approximately 40 miles! – I used to do that in a day before). As I was coming home, passing one of the many petrol stations on my route the computer in my car decided “nope, that’s your lot… you have —– miles left” and stopped telling me how far I could go.

I must have rolled into the petrol station with about a teacup of petrol left. There can’t have been more than a small amount sloshing around in the bottom of the petrol tank, just enough to make the fuel gauge register.

It’s very convenient living two minutes (on foot) away from a petrol station, even if it does want to charge 117.9p/litre.

3 Days left

Damn, my VMWare Fusion demo expires in three days. Looks like I’ll be without Windows on my Mac until I can afford to buy the full version. Despite being the shortest month of the year, this one has proven to be quite expensive for reasons I can’t quite work out. I think hiring the van and moving the sofa did it, I made use of the van to buy lots of large things that I’d have no other chance to move.

Looks like I’m living on beans for March 😉

rsync –preserve -avz ftp.slackware.com::/slackware/slackware-current

I thought I’d give my unmetered net access a workout by syncing my local copy of slackware-current with the real one. So far I’ve been downloading every night for three days (not 3 days solid, I have to turn my PCs off during the day because of the kitchen man) and I’m up to the n1 diskset. I cheated and downloaded the x1 and xap1 sets at work over ISDN.

I might give GRUB a go. The idea of not having to re-run Lilo every time I change the kernel sounds nice (There’s nothing worse than seeing ‘LI’ on your screen… “Where’s that bootdisk? Oh, I never made one… oops”)

Our kitchen looks nice. It’s got an oven with all sorts of dials and LCD displays on it, and we have cupboards on the walls.

My ongoing ‘fun’ with Planet Talk continues. They have this wonderful policy of referring you to a collection agency if you don’t pay them. They seem to have real problems making direct debits work with my account, so I keep getting interesting letters from collection people. I phoned them and asked for my bills to be paid by cheque. “Sure, I’ll see it is done”. This month’s bill arrived and written on the bottom was:

By being a direct debit customer, the blah blah blah

AAAARGH! I shall phone them tomorrow. It’ll make a nice change to telling telesales people to go away (they’re so rude “What’s your fax number?”. No introduction or anything. I’ve now armed myself
with a caller ID phone and an answering machine. I think for fun I might say “we don’t have a fax machine” to see what they say 🙂