Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Joys of travelling by Train

The story of the man who threw a passenger off a train in Scotland gets more and more complex each day, so we must be careful to look at it from a totally unbiased viewpoint, without prejudice or pre-conceived ideas.

Basically last week, some drunken wretch started to get a bit gobby with the conductor and was thrown off by another passenger.

Alan Pollock (who threw the passenger off the train) hasn't said anything to the press and has been charged with assault. Was he a good citizen or just a bully?

Sam Main (wretch) has not been charged and says that he was given the wrong ticket. He also (predictably) claims to have something wrong with him that makes him a complete pain in the backside). He has spoken to everyone who will listen to him, as has his father.

The conductor was completely useless and nobody wants to speak to him. He will no doubt be given counselling.

Mr Herris, a teacher filmed the incident and put the footage on Youtube. (I have no idea whether it's legal or not to post footage of people without their consent).

The moral seems to be- if you are ever involved in an incident, get on Facebook and form a support group, call a press conference and get a mark on your face, then you should be ok.

STOP PRESS: The Facebook page that supports the prosecution of Alan Pollock has about 35 members. The one that is against it has 963. I can't help but think that using the membership of Facebook pages to decide appropriate punishments rather than expensive judges and barristers would save the taxpayer a considerable amount.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Scandals etc

In order to increase viewing figures in the pre-Christmas book buying season, I have been advised to 'spice things up a bit' and run a few more racy articles. So here's what you can look forward to:

"My Booze Hell!" in which Frank battles the traffic on a desperate trip to Waitrose, hoping to snap up a box of six bottles of Prosecco that are on special offer. Roadworks, lack of parking and the self-service checkout compound his inner turmoil. In the follow-up article, provisionally entitled "My Drugs Shame", Frank describes his feelings of intense disappointment when, after walking through the wind and rain with a runny nose and a chesty cough, the local chemist has run out of Paracetamol.

"Chalk out of the closet!" The first in a series of DIY articles, where I demonstrate how to construct a built in wardrobe.

"Red Hot Action in Frank's Garage!" Basic soldering techniques explained.

Feel free to offer your own suggestions.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hotmail Recovered

Those of you who were up all night worrying about my Hotmail can now rest easy. After a process so tedious and convoluted that only a large faceless organisation could come up with it, I have managed to get my account back.

The poster who pointed out that if you aren't paying then you are not really a customer in their eyes had it about right. (Although I don't know if their service is any better if you are paying). It is very easy to enthusiastically sign up for something, use it so much that it becomes essential and then when it crashes you are stuffed because you never asked yourself- "What happens when it goes wrong?"

I had a similar problem with Orange Broadband recently. I happily signed up to their cheap deal but the router didn't work properly and kept dropping the connection. When I tried to contact Orange, they put me through to technical support in Bombay (why do they call it Mumbai nowadays?) An Indian man who could only understand very basic English followed a script and drove me slowly up the wall. He cannot put you through to anybody in the UK and cannot help you either. Why should he care though- he is in Mumbai, he has told you that his name is "Kevin" and he knows that you will never get to speak to him again.

To cut a long and tedious story short, I was sent two more identical routers that dropped the connection equally regularly and reached about half of my house. I told them I wanted to move and was informed that I would have to pay a fee. I ignored this along with their subsequent demands and moved to Yorkshire based Plusnet. When I told their sales lady about my problems with Orange, she responded with "By 'eck!" and a couple of "tha"s, which I found most reassuring. I have been promised that I will never have to speak to anyone who does not know how to keep pigeons or make a strong cup of tea. Based on my experiences so far, I urge you to join me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hotmail Nightmare

My apologies to anyone who may have been sent spam from my hotmail account. This morning, when I tried to sign in, I was told that my account had been blocked and I needed to give my mobile phone number to receive a text message to reactivate it.

Now I'm not completely daft, so I smelt a scam. However after a bit of checking, it does appear to be a genuine request from Microsoft. Unfortunately several hours have now passed and no magic text message has arrived. I have repeated the process a couple of times but to no avail.

There is no email or phone number for Hotmail support. I selected the option to send a question to customer support, but when I tried to do this I was informed that I needed to login first. Hmm...

I was also invited to reset my password, but because I cannot remember which childhood friend I selected as 'best' or how I spelled their name, that option is now closed to me.

If anyone can help me, I would be grateful. I've had a good look on the internet for a solution, but there doesn't appear to be one. I seem to be one of about 20 million people locked out of their Hotmail account, so perhaps we should set up a Facebook group.

STOP PRESS I have now successfully changed my password. However it hasn't done me any good at all as my account is still blocked! I am beginning to suspect that 'Microsoft' and 'customer service' are words that are rarely uttered in the same sentence unless accompanied by other, less printable ones.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Exam Markers

Why on Earth anybody should be surprised at the recent news that the exam markers are telling the teachers what will be on the test along with the answers, is a mystery to me.

Ask yourself  "Why would they not do so."

The whole exam system is crazy. Exam boards need to sell their courses and therefore compete to have the easiest questions. Teachers are in turn put under pressure by their schools to give the kids ridiculous amounts of help in their 'controlled assessments' which were brought in a few years back to try and stop all the blatant cheating that went on with coursework.

It is in everybody's interest to cheat as much as possible and preferably more than the school next door. (Who said that competition has been removed from modern state schooling?) The Government can claim that exam results have gone up again, as can the Local Authority or Academy bosses. The Senior Management Team in each school are happy and of course the more a teacher cheats, the better their results become, which is hardly bad for them either. This is not news, it has been going on for ten years at least.

So who is supposed to be putting a stop to this? The watchdog Ofqual, a joke organisation who spent £3000 in 2008 paying consultants to look for alternatives to the word "error" because it was not considered positive enough.

Now you could argue that if everyone is cheating by roughly the same amount then it all evens out in the end and that nobody trusts GCSEs anyway, but I'm not sure if this is really the best principle to base our exam system on.

Jeremy Clarkson

With Christmas just around the corner, could somebody please accuse me of being "Worse than Jeremy Clarkson" as this always does wonders for book sales.

Thanks in advance

Exam Boards

Having more than one exam board results in competition, which is a good thing if you are buying computers, washing up liquid, or waterproof gloves; but a bad thing if you are buying GCSE courses because the only way the they can compete is by being easier than the opposition. This obviously results in a race to the bottom thus:

Salesman A:

"Our Science course is quite demanding and gets the kids a GCSE"

Salesman B:

"Our Science course is so easy that a performing chimp would scoff at its simplicity. In fact, last year one of the carrots from my garden achieved a GCSE grade "C" and would have gone on to take our 'A' Level had it not accidentally been eaten by Harry, our pet Labrador.


"Great Salesman B, your course sounds ideal for our students. We'll take it."

This is why nobody outside schools has any faith whatsoever in the exam system any more.

Monday, December 12, 2011

European Union

So Nick Clegg thinks that we are in danger of being 'Isolated and marginalised' from the European Union. Well thank God for that. It's a bit like being told that you can't spend all your money on Woolworths gift vouchers.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Madness of King George

You can now download a chapter from 'Education My Part in its Downfall' for a mere 86p here

As you might expect from the likes of me, it is a cheap Christmas gimmick to try and entice you into buying a copy of the full book, which is here. In case you didn't know, it's the sequel to the best seller 'It's Your Time You're Wasting'. (Which you may purchase here)

I have been asked by a few people (ok- one) about a paperback release date, but the truth is that I've no plans to do so, as Kindle sales for the first book are vastly outstripping those for the print edition now. I guess that's just the way things are going.

By the way, I would have given the chapter away for free, but Amazon will only allow large publishers to do that, presumably to avoid being overwhelmed by tat. It is therefore at the lowest price they will allow and probably delivers more amusement than 86p usually does.

'Buy it now, it's really good.'   F. Chalk

Internal Email

Thierry Breton who is boss of the large European IT company Atos, announced earlier this year that he planned to stop using internal emails in his company.

He realised that the young people he was recruiting had moved on to using social networking sites and instant messaging. When asked, they thought that only 15% of the email they received was of any use, but had to check it all for fear of missing something.

I think he's on to something here. Email has become a monster, enabling people to bombard you with rubbish that is rarely of relevance. Too often it is a replacement for action, where sending someone an email is considered a solution in itself, rather than actually fixing a problem. It is a permanent record and easily forwarded to others, so you have to watch what you say, which for people like me is a nightmare.

It will be very interesting to see what system they come up with to use instead.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

1 in 3 Children Without Books

The National Literacy Trust has done a survey of 18000 schoolchildren and discovered that 1 in 3 do not have any books of their own.

No doubt some will blame this on poverty, but I suspect that if the survey had also asked whether they owned any DVDs or computer games, it would have made an even better headline.

Now I can't find the comparable rates for other countries, but it's still pretty shocking stuff.

Monday, December 05, 2011

After watching 'Landlords from Hell' tonight on Channel 4, I'm sure I can't have been the only one to think:

"That looks just like the house I lived in when I was a student!"


Panorama reveals tonight how supermarkets take advantage of shoppers who can't do simple sums. My favourite is the offer of two bottles of juice for £2. You can probably guess how much one costs.

The moral- primary schools should teach mental arithmetic properly, with the same regular tests that I had as a kid. Oh hang on, that's not allowed any more because of the danger that a child's self esteem might be lowered, or they might not feel 'positively empowered' or some other equally awful scenario might occur.

Feel free to post your photos of such 'special offers'

Friday, December 02, 2011

More Ranting at The Times

This week's Sunday Times Page 5 has an article about an attempt to break the unpowered water speed record.

"Carbon fibre wing sail amplifies wind, making boat travel faster than the wind speed".

If anybody can be bothered to write to the Times explaining how boats with sails made out of my old tee shirts can also travel faster than the wind, then feel free to do so. (Why not ask them if they would pay you to review their Science Articles as well?)

Accommodation in Sheffield

Students across the land are busy looking for houses for the next academic year. In every University town you can see groups of 3 and 4 wandering round looking at door numbers.

It seems to get earlier and earlier each year (I remember we didn't start looking until April). If you happen to be studying at Sheffield University and wish to avoid old fashioned, damp and mouldy houses then contact this guy who comes highly recommended from a friend