Category Archives: Complaints

Traffic really grinds my gears

Jenny: For your information, pal, that was a yellow light back there!
Starman: I watched you very carefully: red light, stop; green light, go; yellow light, go very fast.
Starman (1984)

I’m more likely to be this terrified than any actual car driver in London, seeing as I’m the one in danger

I’ve finally urged myself into writing in this blog again, and it’s a complaint about people driving (and operating other vehicles) here in London.  Aren’t you lucky I found the strength to type?  After all, I don’t want to neglect this, even if the only people signing up seem to be random Outlook.com addresses, which don’t seem to increase my number of subscribers…

Long-time readers may remember my first ever serious complaints post, and even back then, I was slagging off London cabbies; this hasn’t changed, as they still drive through red lights, apparently hoping that pedestrians won’t start crossing for a couple of seconds — because hey, your convenience is more important than pedestrian safety!  In all honesty, screw the bullies of the road, regardless of how good they are at “the Knowledge” — I’d rather people were late for appointments than I was lying dead in the street.

Having said that, my current medical condition has made me a lot more brash in crossing London streets: if I have to die some day, it’d be a lot worse for it to happen on the operating table, thus risking the NHS’s future, than on the bumper of some arrogant driver who would deservedly lose his licence.  Like the idiot who turned into the side street I was crossing, but didn’t flash his indicators — I calmly walked in front of his SUV without flinching, and refused to hurry up and get out of his way.

(My mother’s probably gasping at my recklessness even now, but don’t worry, Mumsy: I have no intention of actually dying any decade soon!)

It didn’t help back when I worked near King’s Cross, and simply trying to cross the road would often mean dicing with death: drivers would often race the yellow light at the top of Grays Inn Road, but risk getting stuck in the middle of the junction and trapped by the cross traffic on Euston Road — so naturally, they’d force their way through the busy pedestrian crossing at the foot of York Way, acting as though they had right of (no pun intended) way!

And years later, working on the nearby Pentonville Road, when I crossed the foot of Caledonian Road (which in its southernmost reaches is one-way), and a sports car tried to swerve north into the junction!  I suspect it was only the opposing traffic waiting patiently at the lights that stopped him going any further, otherwise he’d have not only endangered pedestrians (i.e. me), but continued going the wrong way up a one-way street!

But it’s even worse when drivers are not breaking the law: there’s a box junction at the place where New Cavendish Street (which I walk along to and from work) crosses Portland Place (the road which, further south, becomes Regent Street), but only the southern segments of the two lanes of the latter road have pedestrian crossings with lights, and for some reason drivers are allowed to U-turn from the southbound lane into the northbound lane (which are separated by a traffic island), there being an absence of a “no U-turns” sign.

This means traffic moving through each phase of the traffic light pattern — westbound on New Cavendish (it’s one-way), northbound on Portland and southbound on Portland — can go through the signal-free pedestrian crossing in the northwest part of the junction, and thus there’s technically no safe time to cross!  But oh, if they stopped to let people cross, they’d get fines for stopping in a yellow box junction, which is far worse than running someone down…

(And don’t even get me started on boy racers, who do it for kicks… does anyone, anywhere, respect them?!)

It’s not just arrogant car drivers I hate, however: the other day, at that exact junction, I refused to get out of a cyclist’s way, as he tried to go through a red light while the pedestrian crossing was showing the green man.  I’m sure I have a lot more support here: I have zero respect for cyclists who don’t obey the laws of the road, and act like a red light is their signal to go!  No, idiot, you stop like all the other vehicles, and go when the light is green — got that?  If you can’t cycle safely on the road, DON’T CYCLE!!!

And yes, that also applies to cyclists who ride on the pavement (“sidewalk” if you’re American) — that’s actually against the law, no excuses, especially if you’re just doing it to go the wrong way down a one-way street (which itself makes no sense if the next street over goes the right way).  It always seems to be twentysomething blokes with hipster beards, who nonetheless obey a different law: wearing a helmet while riding a bike.  Why, you’d almost think they were more concerned with their own safety than that of pedestrians!

Okay, fine, one time I foolishly tried to cross Tottenham Court Road (also one-way) without looking first, and had a foreign-sounding cyclist call me a “stupid man” for nearly being hit by him, but am I still being punished all these years later, to atone for causing him a minor inconvenience, and possibly wear on his brakes?  What about the cyclist who knocked down my old work friend outside King’s Cross, while she was crossing at the correct time, and just got back on his bike and left without even apologising?

Fortunately, nearly every time I see a cyclist breaking the law, I see other cyclists on the road obeying the law (possibly even wearing helmets), and I still remember the time in the early 21st century, when I cycled in Worthing, that I followed a cycle lane onto the pavement and got shouted at by a passenger in a parking car (who couldn’t see the cycle lane due to the parked cars between us)!  There are good cyclists, just as there are good drivers (well, my mother and “best mate”, to name two), and a lot of honest, well-behaved drivers are punished these days for violations (parking and moving) that it seems they were tricked into, especially here in Barnet (see, for example, Mr. Mustard’s blog here).

Whatever problems I may have with drivers, I don’t want them ripped off — fines are supposed to change behaviour, not act as a revenue stream, and if a lot of drivers are making the same mistake, surely that indicates there’s an issue with confusing or missing signage that needs to be corrected, not left as it is out of a blatant desire to make money unethically?

However, there’s one group I can’t stand or sympathise with: motorcyclists.  Even after escaping from Caledonian Road, where every passing biker’s two-stroke engine would interfere with my digital TV reception, I’ve hated them all — they deliberately tune their engines to be as LOUD as possible, like they’re compensating for something.

(Maybe they should be forced to put noise-cancellers on their bike, which replaces the engine sound with “HEY EVERYONE, I’VE GOT A REALLY SMALL PENIS!”?  Or would that be stating the obvious?)

But that’s just a side issue: too many bikers drive like reckless (feckless?) fools, endangering real people out of a desire to thrill themselves and act tough.  One time I was crossing Seven Sisters Road near Finsbury Park, on my way to the Castle after a bus journey, at a pedestrian crossing with the green man showing… and one of a group of bikers coming north along the road accelerated and raced through, even though the traffic light was already long since red!  What was he trying to prove?!

And the other day, in the western extremes of the aforementioned New Cavendish Street (near my workplace), I saw a biker, with a passenger, driving dangerously: he swerved and came back down the one-way street in order to turn into a side street he’d missed, and I looked down that road to see him then swerving onto the pavement in order to get around some queuing cars!  At least he didn’t threaten my safety, like another biker who didn’t even slow down when I was crossing a zebra crossing — aside from breaking the law (driving through a zebra crossing that a pedestrian was using), he endangered someone (i.e. me), and deserves a ban!

Phew, I feel better getting all that off my chest… there’s no real resolution or conclusion to this blog post, it’s just a disorganised series of complaints about road users (and pavement intruders) who really ought to change their ways.  But hey, maybe if Peter Dibdin had taught them to drive, they’d be remotely competent?

— — —

P.S. One time when I lived on Caledonian Road, I witnessed two of my hates battle: a London cabbie had knocked down a chavvy cyclist (without a helmet) who had apparently tried to cycle across the zebra crossing right in front of him, and I found myself hoping both sides would be punished for their crimes (the cabbie for not stopping, the cyclist for cycling where pedestrians are king).  Sadly, the chav was up and cycling moments later as the cabbie got a talking-to…

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Belligerent socialising

Maybe it’s the anti-epilepsy medication I’m on, but I’ve found myself to be rather more talkative at work than before — chatty, humorous (without being offensive), and supportive to my “flock”.  However, today I’ve had an experience that makes me feel like I need to tone it down, as I really didn’t enjoy the presence of an extrovert at a social event… though doubtless it’s all my fault somehow, as it usually is.

(Ah, there’s the mood swing my medication warned me about — at least it took over a week!)

My Polish friend (who, considering we haven’t kissed beyond polite cheek pecks, probably isn’t my girlfriend and is more like a “friend who is a girl”) invited me today to an event, at a famous vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the Regent Street area, for a meetup group concerning animal welfare.  I was feeling exhausted after yesterday (my first personal training session in over a month), not to mention lethargic from a combination of the aforementioned medication and January being the most dismal month of the year, but still wanted to go and keep her company (since she was the one who asked), and so set off for the city centre to meet her.  So far, so good.

However, it seems I still don’t like forced socialising, as although I can talk to unfamiliar people in a small group, gradually getting to know them, I still can’t stand it when someone — almost always a bloke with a loud voice — barges into the group, acting like he’s doing us a favour, and droning on and on and on in a manner that suggests he thinks he’s a skilled orator… I felt a little shame for loathing the presence of this guy, but felt like I was trapped: my female friend was staying put (and even joining in the conversation), and I didn’t think I could just walk away from her, and I also worried that simply leaving to talk to someone else would be considered rude.

(I’d already lost my opportunity to go talk to a cute Far Eastern girl with pink hair, who was talking to some other bloke, and is probably engaged by now… yes, that’s the mood swing again!)

Things like this have happened before, including at Japanese meetup events (which is why I can’t bring myself to go to them any more, despite still being interested in the language and the people — plus I hate loud, crowded places).  One time in 2012, I was sitting alone when I suddenly found myself surrounded by white English blokes, with Japanese girlfriends, who were all acting friendly in the sense that there was no possible way I could be uncomfortable with them intruding like that.  I didn’t enjoy their company one bit, and excused myself to buy a drink.  I nearly walked out entirely, but with a cider in hand, I managed to get together with a group of Japanese girls for conversation.  Not with the intention of pulling one of them (well, not the sole intention), but because they were (a) actually Japanese (the whole point of the event), and (b) female (whose company I find much less intimidating than male)!

I suppose I haven’t changed much over the past few years: if anything, I enjoy socialising even less than I did when I worked in that dead-end admin job up to 2014, when at least meetup events (and especially Meetup.com events) meant a change from my dull working environment.  Now, after spending my entire week helping familiar people, and trying to be funny, I find I want nothing more than to relax at home afterwards, even at the weekend.  In fact, I’d love it if I never had to socialise again — but there’s no other way I’m ever likely to find the girl of my dreams, so I feel obliged to keep going to social events, no matter how uncomfortable I am.

Indeed, socialising is considered an obligation for human beings, and even my own mother has told me off for not wanting to enthusiastically shake hands with strangers in social settings, or to let random blokes strike up conversations with me when I’m at singles events.  That’s the thing: I still don’t want to make new male friends just for the sake of it, and new male friends happen more by chance than anything (“best mate”, my personal trainer, my yoga teacher etc.).  It’s simple: although a few blokes turn out, astonishingly, to be worthy of my friendship, most men in the world hold zero interest for me, because I’ve never wanted to be “one of the lads” or have “drinking buddies”, or watch sportsball with other blokes.

To balance, though, there are times guys have approached me and we’ve got talking (like an occasion back in 2013 you may remember, though I never really saw that group again) — it all depends on the energy.  I’m happy to make new acquaintances, for example, when I go climbing at the Castle, and I say hi to blokes I’m familiar with when I see them at the Session (one looks like my old school friend in the 1990s, another resembles the actor Kevin Eldon).  It’s when I’m at a social event and someone with a large, overbearing personality forces me to interact with them that I get up-tight and withdrawn.  Maybe they’re an introvert like me, trying to make a new friend but misjudging their approach, and if they see they’re intimidating and dial it back a bit, fair enough — that’s something I can empathise with.  But it’s the extroverts I want to avoid, because they don’t even have a dial to turn back: they’re incessantly, belligerently sociable, and act like the only reason you’re not fawning over them is that they haven’t been loud and cheerful enough yet.

(Hence the problem I had with a certain work colleague many years ago…)

It’s not just me who has social interaction issues, though: I remember a time a couple of years ago when I was attending a dating guidance event led by (just to name her for once) Hayley Quinn; I was watching other people’s interactions, keeping myself to myself and woolgathering, when suddenly the bloke sitting next to me — who I wasn’t even looking at, and who could only see the back of my head — suddenly all but shouted a “sociable” question, almost right in my ear!  That’s right, he didn’t even tap me on the shoulder (or otherwise attract my attention) and introduce himself, he just blurted it out, and boy, that really ground my gears, making me want to interact with him as little as possible.

Today: everyone in the entire human race!

Back to the incident at today’s event: although she was happy to leave with me when she saw I was uncomfortable, my Polish friend seemed to think I was in the wrong, and that if I didn’t like the loudmouth, I should have just walked away from the group and spoken to someone else — but like I said above, I felt like I had a Hobson’s choice, and would be in the wrong simply for not liking the guy from the get-go (since he wasn’t rude or violent), whether I clammed up, walked away or told him to turn it down.  As though you should like anyone who is polite, no matter how much they grate on your nerves!

However, the fact that I’m talking so much at work at the moment — being political, making smart-alec comments like I’m performing to a crowd and so on — makes me wonder if I need to dial things back as well, and resist becoming an “extroverted introvert”.  I especially worry that the nice female team member who sits opposite me at work (who’s a lot quieter and more demure than the blokes, and thus far more pleasant for me to interact with) is getting fed up with my constant quasi-standup comedy routines, and references to old TV shows, songs etc. that were big before she was even born.

Maybe I need to settle down and be more sensible — or at least more willing to ask people questions (and actually listen to the answers) than drone on about my experiences and opinions like some kind of rambling old-timer.  Despite my introvercy (or maybe because of it?), it’s easy for me to talk a great deal when I’m around familiar people, but I don’t want to annoy them the way extroverts annoy me at social events, as nobody likes a hypocrite.  I may even need to rant my heart out in a blog post here, just to get it out of my system, so I don’t go on and on at people I actually like.

Of course, this could all just be part of the aforementioned mood swing, bordering on outright depression (I’ve certainly felt like having a damn good cry this evening), caused by one of the medications I’ve been prescribed for my medical condition — I’ve certainly felt better after coming home and having dinner (and talking to my housemates).  That’s not the only reason I wish the quacks would let me come off clobazam, though: amongst other things, it makes it harder to… shall we say… shed excess mass?  It’s not just Easter eggs in the shops that are causing me to gain weight…

— — —

P.S. My Polish friend texted me while I was writing this, and she still wants to hang out with me and have me over for vegan pizza (even if she uses “Netflix and chill” in a more literal context than sex maniacs do), so at least I haven’t blown our friendship entirely by being antisocial to strangers…

The bullies who made me

No, this is not in any way, shape or form a clue to his name, or the reason I refer to him as “capital P” — those are alternative facts.  Sad!

I’m lucky to be online tonight, as when I came back from visiting my folks in Worthing for the first time in two months, our Internet connection was down.  I knew how to fix it (unscrew the cable from the router, touch the core, screw it back in), and so did my former-drummer housemate — indeed, he was the one who came up with the solution originally — but for some reason he hadn’t done so, and with him in the lounge (where the router is), I felt I couldn’t go in and take care of it.

It was only when I heard him go in the shower that I dared step foot outside the sanctity of my room, and got it working on the second or third attempt; I’d killed the intervening time by, amongst other things, starting season 5 of Game of Thrones, which I have on Blu-ray and thus don’t need an Internet connection to watch (sorry Netflix).

But why should I feel so intimidated by my housemate, a session drummer / music teacher who became a truck driver?  Wait… shall I call him “drummer-trucker”?  Yes, that works.  I find “drummer-trucker” intimidating because he’s gone wonky recently, and acts condescending and confrontational, like the kind of bully who insults you for no reason and then claims you’re the one with the problem, because he’s just having a laugh and you’re taking it too seriously.  About the only thing missing is a crowd for him to be playing up to, like when I was at school…

Don’t worry, I won’t drone on about every individual school bully I faced off against, or we’d be here all day (and I’ve probably forgotten a few) — and more to the point, I’ve covered a lot of this before.  No, I’ll just focus on the ones who stayed with me, up here (Dave-ros taps his temple, pointing approximately at his brain), for long periods of time, and perhaps changed my life directions now and then…

Moving to Worthing in 1992 wasn’t ideal — I’d worked my way up the social order going to an all-boys school in Surrey (and no, not through any vulgar or political means), and going to a mixed school in September just meant I got bullied by the girls as well as the guys.  Fortunately the girls had grown to accept me by Easter 1993, and it was just the boys making my life hellish… especially one guy with curly hair, big gums and permanently-slitted eyes (and no, he wasn’t from the Far East, just incredibly smug).  He was certainly the kind of bully who’d get everyone against me when I was minding my own business, and somehow I let him get inside my head, to the point that it was only when he left school at the end of Year 11 that I was finally able to get on with my life.

The strange thing is, a couple of times he was actually nice to me — either returning my schoolbag when other thugs were throwing it around, or chatting amiably outside school one day.  It’s why I’ve often wondered if he and I were actually supposed to be friends… but hey, I wasn’t into BYOB parties when I was 15-16, so I’d never have fitted into his crowd.  Fortunately, I no longer bear him ill will, and hope he’s sorted his life out.

You’d think leaving home would change things, but nooo, I got more of it at university — perhaps due to studying Geology, the most “thuggish” of the sciences (presumably because you have to do a lot of walking, and get to hit rocks with hammers!).  Not only did I get comments like “coathanger” shouted out when I was nearby during a field trip to Wales, but apparently one night two real scumbags got drunk and decided to come by my room to beat me up!  Fortunately I was out playing Quake in a computer lab that evening, otherwise I’d have suffered for the crime of… what, exactly?  Being myself?  I guess they made me more determined to be myself, if they had any effect at all…

My postgrad days saw the two blokes in my Astrophysics MSc ka-tet treating me badly, but at least one naffed off to do a PhD, while the other became the fellow I always refer to as “good housemate” in these hallowed pages, simply because I learned to roll with the punches, and gave as good as I got — in a way, he toughened me up and helped me laugh.  This guy, of course, once upset me by saying I was obliged to hurry up and (he thought) lose my virginity to a prostitute, to stop letting mankind down, but when he got his own place, and precipitated my worst month, he let me sleep on his couch for a week, while I waited for my new room to become available, so he’s forgiven.  I haven’t heard from him in ages, but I hope he’s all right and living his life!

Even beyond education, there exist bullies — and sadly, some of them have authority… when I first moved in with “good housemate” and our two female friends in Wood Green, I managed to get a temp admin job working for the local council (which I’ve mentioned before); at first I was doing well, organising deliveries and collections of Occupational Therapy (OT) equipment, and making friends with the delivery men (and on one or two occasions, helping them out when they were a man down) — and this seemed to frustrate the boss, a Scots lady with long white hair, whose very presence eventually made me cringe.

Although at first I was apparently the best they’d had in that job, she changed her appraisal of me when she decided that I should stop using my initiative and start blindly following rules — as though process was more important than results.  She’d also heap her own work on me in stupid ways, telling me to prepare fax messages, then telling me “that’s not how I’d phrase it” and requiring me to ask her for the exact wording I should use (which she then scrawled on the smallest size of Post-It notes, rather than e-mailing me).

At times it felt like she was trying to “sicken” me, and one day I actually had a bit of a breakdown from her constant nagging and work-heaping… fortunately the guy between me and her smoothed things over.  Still, this was the only job I ever quit for reasons other than returning to university or moving on to a better job, and I don’t regret doing so — and apparently I lasted longer than anyone else, and virtually no-one else liked her!

She wasn’t the only female superior to make me sad at work, though at least the loud girl I worked with at a nearby housing department in 2005 turned out to be all right in the end, and just a bit bossy at times.  However, it was a different but similar girl in my HR (Recruitment) days who really got to me — and, much like my current woes (not to mention the “brain fuzz” I was getting at the start of the year), it would always seem to be one week good, one week bad.  If she was unhappy with me, she’d criticise me for just about everything, even stuff that wasn’t my fault (like two recruiting managers for the same job telling us different things, or someone having written the wrong department next to a job in the diary), and claim I was “picking and choosing” my work.  If I was lucky, she’d leave me alone, and maybe sometimes even thank me.

It’s largely thanks to her hot-and-cold treatment that I didn’t reapply for my job there when yet another restructuring took place, and jumped at the chance to be redeployed in 2009 (to the job I was doing when I first started this blog).  Mind you, she got her comeuppance: she actually wanted to work in HR as a career and so reapplied for her job, yet when it came time to her interview, she panicked so much (perhaps due to criticism of her treatment of me?) that she had to walk out to compose herself!  After that she was a lot nicer to me during the remainder of our time there, and I wished her well when she went on to better things.

I reckon she was going through some bad stuff at that time of her life — what with actually wanting to succeed in a job I could take or leave — and perhaps that’s why my “drummer-trucker” housemate is being such a see-you-next-Tuesday lately: he regrets his decision to throw in music in favour of trucking, and is taking it out on the rest of us… or maybe he’s gone alcoholic: he drinks a six-pack every time he’s home in the evenings, with his music or DVDs playing loudly, and these are the worst times if we encounter each other.

He used to be all right: yes, there have been times we’ve argued, and he accused me of “needing to get laid” when I didn’t enjoy being locked out of the kitchen, but he also drove me to the hospital when I did my ankle in last year… mind you, he was still teaching drumming at the time, and thus had social skills.  Still, his pranks have never even been funny: things like shouting out he’s joining me and “best mate” when we’re going to the Castle, or telling me there’s a man who keeps coming to the door asking for me — it’s like he’s setting up jokes, but never follows through with the punchline.  Even today, he yanked the kitchen door open as he was walking past from the lounge, and any time he catches me using the upstairs toilet, he rattles the door handle impatiently.

Worst of all: this guy who sits alone drinking, actually has the gaul to accuse me and my other housemates (including “best mate”, the only person who doesn’t actively try to avoid him) of being “anti-social”!  Perhaps he’s just a hypocrite, considering he fills the house with his cookery smells (or on one occasion, petrol fumes from the motorbike he keeps on the front path), after leaving passive-aggressive notes in the kitchen for a previous housemate over curry odours.

I wish things hadn’t gotten to this stage, as I respect him for handling our billing (and the landlady) all these years, and want to part on good terms — but it’s up to him to make any moves to apologise, as he’s the one behaving badly… though I wonder if he himself is trying to avoid me, for precisely that reason?

My gears are still being ground in 2016

gmg

Bet you never thought you’d see this picture again, did you?

I was supposed to be writing a “happy alone time” post tonight about how I’ve been relaxing this weekend, and indeed will be doing so tomorrow as well (I’ve got to stay in to let in the gas man), but in fact I’ve got a number of things to moan about, and a number of famous companies to name and shame for their awful service.

(Obviously I should include a disclaimer that this is all my personal opinion and experience, and thus protected by freedom of speech!)

As if it wasn’t bad enough that I hurt my toes recently, and so have been hobbling around everywhere (hence doing nothing this weekend), and that I’ve had to cut down on my personal trainer sessions, so I feel bad (and still short of money!), and that it’s constantly cold, despite beingalmost March (I really hope the weather doesn’t copy 2013 and stay cold until April!), I’ve been let down this week.  For one thing, the “catchall” address at my personal e-mail domain at Fasthosts, which receives all e-mails sent to any address at surname.org.uk that isn’t in a pre-defined mailbox, turned out to be full on Wednesday, and I only found this out when I checked it in webmail format after noting I’d had no e-mails from Meetup.com (who haven’t upset me, hence their name isn’t in bold) since Tuesday evening arriving in Outlook.

It turned out that although I’d only used up 15% of the allocated space, I’d also used up the maximum number of e-mails (yes, you can have “too many” e-mails in there without them taking up too much space), and they hadn’t notified me!  I dread to think what I might have lost if I hadn’t realised — and this is on top of how I couldn’t connect to their servers properly in late 2014, when I was trying desperately to apply for jobs and suffering from bad mobile signal as well (but don’t worry, 3 have been adequate recently, so they’re not getting a mention here).  I’ve just recently paid them for another year of e-mail hosting, so what can I do?

But now let’s focus on this weekend, and two particular foodstuffs I won’t be buying again: Linda McCartney pies and Hovis sliced bread.  Now, normally I’d endorse anything vegetarian, but the pie in question was soggy and undercooked even after 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven, something which never happened before they changed their packaging, so clearly they’re doing something wrong now (and I’ll be getting the Quorn ones instead).  As for the bread, well, it was so weak and insubstantial that the mere act of trying to spread butter with a knife tore it apart — what’s the point of bread you can’t spread butter upon?  Is it only suitable for toast?!  I used to get Warburtons, which had served me well almost since I moved to Finchley and started making my own lunches, but Tesco stopped selling it in half-loaf size (I can’t buy a whole loaf because too much of it would go off before I could eat it), and so I have to buy whatever’s available… maybe I’ll stick to rolls from now on?

Most of my ire, however, is reserved for the Co-op Bank, who I joined in 2013 and now want to ditch entirely.  I’ve hardly used my account with them since joining Halifax in 2014 (they give me better terms), and foolishly I thus stopped checking it.  I managed to get overdrawn in late 2015 (partly because they still let you take money out at cashpoints even when you’re overdrawn, and partly because PayPal, who I’m also angry at, have made it so hard to set my Halifax account as the default).  Even though I paid back what I owed in early January and had my account at zero, they still charged me £40 in January, and didn’t notify me (they thought a letter before Christmas sufficed), and since I didn’t realise I was overdrawn again until today, in addition to being charged £10 unauthorised overdraft fees in January and February, I’ll have to pay another £10 in March in full and final settlement, plus interest (fortunately less than a pound).  All because they don’t apply fees right away, they make you WAIT before you know how much you owe!  I only kept this account open for emergencies anyway, and now I’m going to cut up my Co-op debit card and be done with them forever, because I really don’t need to lose £70 right now.  But hey, their former chairman has to pay for his coke somehow, right?

gatchaman_ad

Now I’ve finished watching this, it’s time for “South Park” on my morning commute

I suppose the one good thing about this incident is the lesson I’ve received in taking responsibility for my finances, instead of just leaving things.  Not only will I continue to check my Co-op account until I can close it and do away with them forever, and make sure I pay through PayPal only if they use the right bank account, but the financial hit has inspired me to finally put my old Gatchaman DVDs on eBay (these are the ones I was slowly buying in 2005, and which were replaced on my birthday by a single box set of the entire series, which takes up considerably less space).  If I can get suckers customers to pay the prices I’m after, it’ll make up for my losses… and maybe then I’ll be tempted to sell my copy of Stephen King’s The Bachman Books that includes “Rage” (which he allowed to fall out of print due to real life school shootings), for rather more than the £1 I paid for it in a charity shop.

(Don’t worry, I’d split the money with the shop in question — unlike the Co-op bank, I’m ethical!)

As for the other things, well, I’ve wanted to leave Fasthosts for a long time (I doubt anyone in the IT industry would even try to persuade me to stay!), so I’ll make sure to leave them before 2017, no matter what they do to convince me otherwise.  I’ll also avoid the two products named above like the plague: it sucks when I try to save money by making my own food only for it to blow up in my face, but I’m not going to let it get me downhearted, and will avoid eating out, or even getting lunch at the supermarket, for as much of March as I can muster…

Microsoft really grinds my gears

beavbuttpcFirst of all, I’ve atoned for my failure in July by passing my Windows Server 2008 exam, though unlike passing Windows 7, or A+, or the other A+, I feel merely relieved.  The past eighteen months have come to this — I’ve been studying it through some of the biggest changes and the deepest depressions of my life, and I can honestly say I’m glad it’s finally over.  My room even seems slightly larger… because I’ve taken down the myriad Post-It Notes* upon which I’d written revision notes.

(* Other sticky notes are available… but aren’t as good or as noteworthy)

This follows getting a job in an IT department at long, long last (the six-week unpaid one last year doesn’t count, and the shift-based one after that certainly doesn’t count!), so you’d think I’d be pleased, wouldn’t you?  Indeed, grateful to Microsoft themselves for giving me a purpose in life?  After all, if something goes wrong with Windows, I have a chance to fix it, don’t I?

Alas, Microsoft have started doing something for which they criticised Google: harvesting user information.  Windows 10 gathers all sorts of stuff from you and transmits it to MS — even your keystrokes — and requires visits to various options screens to turn it off, but at least they let you know about this kind of thing in the agreement you electronically sign at installation (hey, you do read those things, don’t you?).  However, they’ve also begun back-patching some of that “telemetry” into Windows 7 and 8, in very sneaky patches that simply say “resolve issues in Windows”.  Do they really think that not having access to our private information is an “issue” that needs to be “resolved”?

It gets worse: they’ve also really begun pushing upgrades to Windows 10 onto users, including those who didn’t signal their interest in the programme.  And since this involves secretly downloading gigabytes of installation files onto your PC, if you’re on a metered connection (such as, $DEITY help you, 3G or 4G), they’ve just cost you a load of money or even gotten you cut off completely, haven’t they?  They claim the auto-ticked upgrade was a mistake (they would, wouldn’t they?), but they haven’t apologised for their habit of unhiding the Windows Updates that nag you to upgrade to Windows 10 after you’ve taken the trouble to hide them.

I’m thus going to post this link to a program, whose honesty I can confirm, that will enable you to keep all the Windows 10 upgrade badness off your PC.  I also have this link to a thread at MS’s own forums about how to cancel the Windows 10 upgrade if it’s inadvertently triggered.  I would advise you to tinker with your Windows Update settings and untick “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates”… and then keep unticking it after every big patch download, as MS seem to be re-ticking it (it seems even their essential security updates are getting dishonest).  If any of those nasty telemetry patches have infected your system, check this list and uninstall them.

The idea of Microsoft claiming the right to lists of filenames on our PCs, the nature of our web searches, the stuff we type out (including passwords, remember?) and other private information is so nauseating to me that I’m actually considering getting rid of Windows on my own PC and installing some form of Linux instead, and buying a games console for gaming instead.  This, of course, would mean only using Windows at work, which would perhaps resolve the issue of “bringing work home with me”…

— — —

On a related topic, online advertising also really grinds my gears: we’re all sick of advertising that doesn’t just sit there at the top or side of a page, and insists on moving around distractingly, playing music, claiming you’ve “won” something or have a “virus”, and (once again) using up your bandwidth with something you didn’t ask for and don’t need.  However, a lot of online advertising now tracks you across different websites (I should point out I don’t mind Amazon showing me stuff related to things I’ve viewed at Amazon while logged in as myself), and in some very bad cases, can even infect your PC with malware thanks to ad brokers taking no real care regarding the advertising they show.  I’ve got two solutions for this:

  • Go to this site, save the text into a text file called “hosts” (not “hosts.txt”), copy it into your Windows\System32\Drivers\Etc folder, and as a result your PC will not have any contact with ad servers (as a side effect, this particular list also blocks out some of Microsoft’s nefariousness).  This works even better than solely using browser ad-blocking plugins (which reminds me, ditch AdBlock Plus and go for uBlock Origin, and also grab Ghostery).
  • Uninstall Adobe Flash, because YouTube works through HTML5 now, and BBC iPlayer is trialling the same.  Flash is so full of security holes it makes even Windows look safe, and deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history.  Yes, a lot of online games use Flash, but sacrifices have to be made; however, if it’s absolutely essential you have Flash on your PC, at least install a Flash blocker in your browser, so you can control which Flash elements appear on a case-by-case basis.

Together we can beat the scumbags who see our private information as something to be exploited rather than protected… and then maybe we can get to work on the government organisations who think they need to spy on us all the time to make sure we aren’t terrorists?

My own computer really grinds my gears

beavbuttpc

I was feeling like this today… just work, bunghole!

As I may have intimated before, when I’m with my folks in Worthing I use a cobbled-together PC that I call “the Frankencomputer” (and please don’t point out that Frankenstein was the creator, I’m well aware of this).  Throughout its history it’s been troublesome for me, and this weekend and Monday have been the worst…

(I call my PC in London “the übercontraption”, if you must know!)

Until late 2011 I was using my mother’s old prebuilt eMachines PC as my Worthing computer, but it was so slow that I couldn’t even listen to Tony Blackburn via iPlayer without stuttering, unless I turned off the antivirus!  Thus, using spare parts (such as a casing I’d bought for my mother’s previous PC, the motherboard I’d upgraded from when my hard drive died in May, and an old copy of Windows XP), I began assembling the Frankencomputer in November.  The casing wasn’t exactly soundproof, however, and I had a good casing in London… and so I carried it home one arm-aching weekend (naturally the nearest Tube station was closed at that exact time).

To make matters worse, the PSU (one of several I had going spare, and one which had needed an extension for the 12V cable) wasn’t able to handle the increased number of cooling fans, and so the hard drive was damaged by power fluctuations.  All I’d wanted to do was play the original F.E.A.R. and its expansions over Christmas, but multiple attempts to download and validate the files through Steam took ages as the drive slowed everything to glacial speeds… and even when I’d finally finished, the ancient 7900GS graphics card turned out to be on the way out.  Gah!

Thus it was that the Frankencomputer was used for only simple tasks for about a year; I tried replacing the hard drive, but only succeeded on the second attempt (the first time I mistakenly bought an old IDE drive, the sort that takes a ribbon cable, and almost killed that one too).  I got a better PSU eventually, and when I bought my mother a compact all-in-one PC for Christmas in 2012, I took the decent graphics card (and memory) from her old PC and stuck it where it might be of some use at last (ooh, Matron!).  It was Easter 2013 (about the time I wrote this entry) when I finally reinstalled Steam, admittedly in the vain hope of being able to play Mumsy’s copy of Total War: Shogun 2 (a difficult prospect even on a decent PC).

However, broadly speaking, the Frankencomputer was finally working more or less fine — and received a boost when I got a DVI-to-HDMI cable so I could plug it into the big TV in my Worthing room, and not need my mother’s old VGA monitor (which joined many other devices and components in the electronics section at Worthing dump), though this of course meant I couldn’t watch TV at the same time.  During my self-imposed exile in September 2013 I was able to study, play games and surf the Interthingy to my heart’s content (but not write in this blog very much, I note), and similarly while keeping my grandmother company recently.

However, since Windows XP officially became obsolete this year, and no longer receives significant updates, it was high time I upgraded it to Windows 7.  I put a slightly better processor in it (more a way of refreshing my thermal paste-scraping skills before I did the same with my own PC in London), and brought home a slightly larger hard drive I had going spare; my intention was to get a copy of Windows 7 and set up an installation on a USB thumb drive including an Autounattend file, just to prove my superior PC skills.

It took me a while to get a copy of Windows 7 (since Computer Exchange’s stock of things I want to buy can go down as well as up, and I needed to sell some stuff to get the necessary credit), but this weekend I created an Autounattend file on my London PC, partly thanks to experimentation with installing it in a virtual machine (just let me big up VirtualBox here… okay, that’s big enough).  I had to use my mother’s PC to set up the USB thumb drive (which I’d foolishly left in Worthing) as a bootable object, and copy the installation files across from the Windows 7 DVD; then I had to use my mother’s PC again in order to recreate the Autounattend file from scratch, because the one I’d brought with me had somehow been corrupted!

I had many, many other issues with this installation, and here’s a litany (apologies for the techie language, but perhaps someone else out there will benefit from my comedy of errors):

  • You need to use both CreatePartition and ManagePartition — don’t just create a partition and not then set it to NTFS (or whatever) format, or you’ll get an error: “Windows could not prepare the partition selected for installation.”
  • Windows 7 needs a 100MB “System” partition, and the rest can be for Windows itself — but both need to be “Primary”, not “MSR” or “EFI” or anything!
  • If you set the main partition to “Extend” (i.e. fill up all remaining space on the hard drive) in CreatePartition, DON’T set it to “Extend” in ManagePartition as well, or the whole installation process will stop with a weird error (0x80300024, fact fans).

And then there’s more to get right in the PC’s BIOS:

  • If you’re using a SATA drive (and you should be, it’s not 1997 any more), for $DEITY’s sake, set it to AHCI mode before you start installing Windows 7, otherwise you’ll have a choice between reinstalling, doing some scary registry hacking via a bootable DVD (to ensure the right drivers get loaded), or living with a slower hard drive!
  • Make sure you’ve set the right boot device order — don’t keep selecting USB-FDD like I did, and then think the thumb drive had been set to no longer be a bootable object, possibly because you edited the Autounattend file under Windows XP… your PC might just ignore everything and go for the first hard drive it finds, ignoring your USB thumb drive entirely!
  • Just because your USB keyboard & mouse work in the BIOS screens and in Windows, there’s no guarantee they’ll work in the Windows boot screen (e.g. to select “Start in Safe Mode”) as well — make sure the BIOS is set to accept input from USB devices!

(Those last two might be quirks of this motherboard’s weird BIOS — the same BIOS that convinced me I’d lost my documents drive in May 2011 as well as my Windows drive, when in fact only the Windows drive had conked out!)

And even once installation is over, there’s still more problems to face:

  • By default, the Administrator account is unavailable to log into — indeed, you won’t even be able to type in the Administrator password when UAC deploys (it’ll tell you to do so, but won’t give you a box to type it into!); to unlock it, you need to restart in Safe Mode, log in as Administrator and run a command before it’ll be available in “normal” mode.  (Oh, all right: net user administrator /active:yes).
  • If you’ve got an older Wi-Fi network card, Windows Updates might misidentify it and install “updated” drivers that actually stop it from detecting any Wi-Fi networks — so make sure you’ve got the right drivers available!
  • Microsoft are paying attention now, so don’t try to install Office 2010 (or similar) on more than one desktop PC, though you might be allowed to install it on a laptop as well.

Honestly, the number of times I’ve had to watch the Windows 7 installation process today alone!  But it’s all finally done, and I’ve saved some useful files (such as nVidia drivers and Firefox) onto the USB thumb drive, in case I ever have to do it all again.  I know, if I’d been better prepared I could have set up a customised WIM image including all the software and drivers I wanted, or even made a fully-updated virtual machine and created an image from that, but I didn’t have time.

Anyway, the Frankencomputer works fine now — but alas, it’s late at night and I need to go back to London tomorrow, to psyche myself up for my first night shift on Thursday, so I have no chance to enjoy it…

Recovering from setbacks

Comic Book Guy

15/9/2014: Worst Tube journey ever.

You’re very lucky I’m writing this tonight… wait, is that right?  Yes, you’re lucky to be reading my blog, indeed privileged — but the reason you might not have been is that my PC, which has existed in more or less its current form since May 2011, today suffered a small hardware failure resulting in the loss of one of my two 4GB sticks of memory.  I was getting weird problems last night (such as Thief crashing to desktop), but thought it was down to the latest nVidia graphics drivers not being up to snuff; however, this morning, when I got a weird error instead of startup, and then repeated “blue screens of death”, I knew something was up…

Fortunately I kept my head and diagnosed the problem, and confirmed that the other stick of memory works fine (for now).  I’m thus down to 4 gigabytes, which isn’t ideal but I can survive for the time being.  Suffice to say, the broken module clearly has a scratch on one of the gold pins, which explains the problem; I don’t know what caused it, though it may explain the strange hissing noise I heard this morning.  Perhaps some ne’er-do-well snuck into my room while I was sleeping, took a memory module out of my computer, carefully scratched one of its gold terminals, and put it back again, all without waking me?

I coped with this little disaster rather better than I coped last Monday with the utter debacle of public transport in London.  I use the Northern and Central Lines to get to my internship in Greenford, and both lines were in utter chaos (as was the Victoria Line, which the other intern had to use).  I ended up having to get a bus for the last part of the journey (and then walk twice as far as I would from the Tube station), and so my 90-minute commute took THREE HOURS!

And, sadly, no-one was ecstatic to see me or thankful that I’d braved such horror and stupidity in order to get to an unpaid job.  I was also still down following last weekend’s events, and then my journey home was almost as bad as getting to work (the Northern Line hadn’t improved), and our Internet connection was down when I finally got home, and when this was restored I couldn’t remember which e-mail address and postcode I’d used to register my Oyster card (part of the hoops you have to jump through for a refund these days)…

(Yes, this was far worse than Christmas Eve — at least I had Christmas with my folks to look forward to afterwards, not a day failing to be paid followed by a similar journey within 24 hours!)

This all made me decide that I’d leave London if I ever had such a dreadful day again.  I know, I went through something similar last year, but at least I didn’t get as low as on a previous occasion, or even another previous occasion, and somehow found the strength to carry on living in London.  I get over it every time, but it keeps happening, doesn’t it?

It’s getting frustrating, having to look into the abyss at least once every year, because no amount of advice along the lines of “this too shall pass” can stop me brooding when I get going.  As someone running a spiritual meetup group told me, if you think about something for 17 seconds, it becomes harder to stop thinking about it, and this repeats every 17 seconds, like a self-reinforcing spiral into blackness… I’ve got to stop doing this, somehow — perhaps this should be my achievement for 2014: never, ever giving in to depression again!

Fortunately, when I’m not trapped on public transport, the job itself is going fine — I may not spend literally all day solving people’s computer problems, but the gaps give me time to study and apply for “proper” jobs (both of which are entirely in line with my employer’s blessing), and at least the big, jolly Canadian guy seems to like and encourage me.  Unfortunately the area has no decent shops, unless you want “junk food”, and so it seems I’m going to have to go back to the days when I made my own lunch — something I started doing in 2012 when I was recovering from depression for the first time, and living in a new house.

Hopefully soon I’ll get a new job, and begin my career in IT; assuming it’s at least £20k, I intend to buy some new computer components, thereby enabling me to divest myself of the CPU, motherboard and memory (what’s left of it!) that I acquired in 2011.  Why, I still remember turning on this contraption’s predecessor before work that morning (24th May) and discovering that the main hard drive had failed, and deciding that since I was already planning to upgrade, instead of buying just a new hard drive, I’d get new components as well (which meant I had to take a half-day), so I wouldn’t need to install Windows twice in quick succession.  Although I’ve changed casing, graphics card, keyboard, mouse, monitor and sound system, these bits have remained constant, and have followed me from Caledonian Road to Finchley.

So you see, it’s not just depression I picked up in 2011 and want to rid myself of once and for all…