S h o r t S t o r i e s

// Tales from software development

Posts Tagged ‘Comment

“Forward Planning”

leave a comment »

An email from our project manager titled, “2017 Forward Planning”.

“Forward Planning” ?

As opposed to what ? “Backward Planning” ?

This is such an obvious tautology it’s often used as an example, e.g. http://www.definitions.net/definition/tautology

Recommended: http://writingcenter.tamu.edu/Students/Guides/Handouts-(Get-It-Written)/Writing/Clear-and-Concise-Writing


Written by Sea Monkey

January 12, 2017 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Comment

Tagged with

Flipboard – what’s going on ?

leave a comment »

I’ve been using Flipboard for a couple of years to keep up with several software development blogs and noticed recently that these were showing up in Flipboard as ‘Content unavailable’. As the affected blogs are all hosted by Microsoft MSDN, I guessed that the URLs may have changed and I need to edit the Flipboard entry to point to the updated URL.

This morning I tried to do that on my iPad and discovered that there is no way to edit any property of a Flipboard entry. The Edit functionality consists of one action: X, i.e. Delete. This is poor.

As an alternative to correcting the URL, I thought I’d add a new entry for the new URLs and then delete the old entries. Erm… How do I add a URL for a blog ? It must be possible because I’ve previously done it, obviously, but it isn’t at all obvious now. After trying a number of different ways of searching and adding the blog URL I realised that Flipboard just won’t do this anymore. Or, if it can do it, the functionality is well hidden.

As I wasn’t getting very far with the iPad app I thought I’d try using the web interface on my desktop PC. Bizarrely, the web UI feels even more limited. I don’t think it is as I think it offers exactly the same functionality as the iPad app but there’s an expectation that the browser UI on a desktop PC would offer more. At least on the iPad app I get a message indicating ‘Content unavailable’ but in the desktop browser UI I just get a blank page. This is getting a bit rubbish…

I’m at a loss to understand what Flipboard is trying to achieve. They appear to have removed the ability to follow a blog web site and there is no edit functionality worth mentioning. It’s possible to delete a source but that’s it.

When Apple released its News app on iOS there were suggestions that this would compete directly against apps like Flipboard but rather than build on the existing functionality, Flipboard appears to be removing functionality and dumbing down to ensure that its app fails against News. Weird. Right now, I can’t see any reason not to delete the Flipboard app from my iPad as it’s not providing me with anything that the Apple News app doesn’t do better.

Written by Sea Monkey

April 13, 2016 at 8:30 am

Posted in Comment

Tagged with

There’s only one solution for substandard products and poor customer service – walk away

leave a comment »

This has been a bad month for new purchases and customer service and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only language that companies might understand is losing a customer.


It started with the 10 pin connector on my Nikon D800 failing. This is a widely reported problem with this camera and may be a design or manufacturing fault. I returned the camera to Nikon UK with a letter explaining that the camera had only been used a few times and that the connector had failed after only being used two or three times. I asked that it considered whether this was a manufacturing fault and if so, priced the repair as free of charge or at cost. Nikon ignored the letter and emailed me a quote for over £300 which seemed extraordinarily high and, for no obvious reason, included replacement of the rear LCD screen. There was no contact information that would allow me to discuss the quote. I called Nikon UK’s offices and eventually spoke to someone in the repairs department who agreed to find out why the TFT screen needed to be replaced. Several days later I received a call to say that the screen was ‘impacted’ and needed to be replaced. This camera has hardly been used and has never been dropped or mishandled so I’m very puzzled as to how this has happened and I was not aware of any damage. No consideration was given to the fact that the connector failure might be a manufacturing problem.

I see no sign that Nikon or Nikon UK is particularly interested in retaining me as a customer. I didn’t expect Nikon UK to repair the camera for free but I did expect to be able to have a discussion regarding the problem and what the options were and whether the TFT screen actually needed to be replaced. This just isn’t possible because Nikon UK has designed its systems so that customers cannot interact with it other than in a very limited way dictated by the company. I’ve spent a five figure sum on Nikon equipment in the past 15 years and my current kit adds up to over £7,000. This level of customer support just isn’t acceptable for a premium product.

So, after nearly 20 years of Nikon ownership including two film cameras and four high end DSLRs and around a dozen, or more, high end lenses, I’m selling all my Nikon equipment.


The next problem was with VirginMobile. I have a VirginMobile pay-as-you-go (PAYG) SIM card in a Virgin-locked Nokia 1616 that I use only as an emergency phone. It’s usually left in my motorcycle jacket in case I have a problem and I’ve forgotten my ‘normal’ phone. Virgin’s terms and conditions state that if the SIM is not used for 180 days then it may deactivate the account. I’m aware of this so every few months I switch the phone on and make a call. I can’t remember when I last did this bit I think it was around three months ago. Last weekend I was out on a long mountain bike ride and I had the phone with me. The ride was longer than I’d expected and I thought I’d better warn my wife that I’d be home later than I’d said. I switched the phone on and it immediately displayed a ‘SIM NOT VALID’ message. I tried switching it off and on a few times but got the same error each time.

The following day I called VirginMobile and spoke to someone in their offshore call centre. I asked them to reactivate the phone. I was told that the account had be deactivated because I hadn’t used the phone for more than three months and that it was impossible to reactivate the SIM but a new SIM could be sent out if I wanted it. I asked if my account balance would be transferred to the new SIM and was told that this was not possible as there was no way to see the balance on a deactivated account. I said that this was not acceptable, that the money in the account was mine not Virgin’s, and that I must be refunded or the balance transferred to a new account. Again, I was told that this was not possible. I asked that this issue was looked into and that Virgin got back to me with an acceptable solution.

I was so incensed that Virgin seems to think nothing of taking money from PAYG accounts it has deactivated that I tried speaking to someone in Virgin’s UK operation but after explaining the problem I was routed to the offshore call centre again. I thought it was worth explaining the problem again to see if this employee was able to help but the end result was the same. Except that this employee told me that the account had been deactivated because the phone had not been used for more than two months. So which is it ? The printed terms and conditions state 180 days, but I’ve now been told it’s either three months (90 days) or two months.

So, I now have a useless Virgin-locked mobile phone that I paid Virgin for, and I’m about £20 out of pocket because Virgin has cleared my account balance. And VirginMobile’s help desk are unable to anything about this.

My first action was to write a letter to VirginMobile because there is seemingly no way to make a complaint directly to the company. Depending on the response, assuming that there is one and I’m not holding my breath for one, I may escalate this to a complaint about VirginMobile to Ofcom.

eBay #1

I wanted a set of roof rails and crossbars to carry my mountain bike on my car. I was attending a trail event and needed the rails within the next three weeks. The car manufacturer’s official accessory is priced at around £300 but I found what appeared to be a similar product being sold new on eBay as a Buy It Now listing. The listing claimed that these rails were finished to the same standard as the official product. I ordered it and it arrived five days later.

A couple of days later I tried fitting the rails. It was obvious, as soon as I removed the first rail from the box, that something was very wrong. Each rail has a ‘foot’ at each end with two bolt holes that align with bolt holes in the roof of the car. Except that one of the feet was turned at a slight angle so that only one of the holes in the foot correctly lined up with holes in the roof. After nearly two hours of repeatedly reading the instructions, checking the parts in the box, and trying to fit the rails to the car it was obvious that the rails were never going to fit. Either there was a problem with the rails and they had been damaged during manufacture, packing, or transport, or they were simply the wrong rails for my car.

I was also a little sceptical account the quality of the rails. The satin black metal work was OK but the rubber feet and plastic mouldings that fit over the feet once the rails are fitted did not seem to be up to the quality of the official accessory.

I repacked the rails, started a return procedure on eBay, and arranged a courier to return them at my expense. Two days later I received an email from the seller saying that they had sold plenty of these rails and that they could have probably resolved any issues with fitting but this was stated in a tone that suggested it was my fault for not contacting the company regarding the problem before I returned the rails.

While the company’s email was intended to be helpful, it would have been a lot more helpful to have said it before I attempted to fit the rails and wasted nearly two hours, and before I had already returned the rails by courier. Implying that I was at fault for not contacting the company regarding the problem left me a little annoyed. In effect, the company is saying that it is normal to have a problem fitting the rails. Call me old fashioned, if you like, but when a company sells a set of roof rails for a particular car then it’s not unreasonable to expect that they will fit.

eBay #2

As a follow on to the roof rails, I also purchased what was listed as a ‘deluxe’ cycle carrier. The design is clearly based on the Thule 531 design and in hindsight I should have just bought one of these as they aren’t much more expensive. However, at the time I believed that the Thule 531 would only fit to Thule roof rails.

The crossbars on the roof rails I’d purchased were listed as 56 mm wide so I checked that the cycle carrier would fit to such a wide rail. The listing stated that it would fit crossbars up to 80mm wide.

The listing stated delivery in 3 to 5 days but it took 13 days to arrive. As soon as it arrived I tried to fit it to the cross bars of the roof rack and was surprised to find that the metal clamps barely reached over the cross bar and would not close at all. In spite of the listing stating that the carrier is compatible with bars 80mm wide, it wouldn’t even fit a 56mm wide bar!

I was now running out of time for my cycling event and decided that I’d better just return the item and find another cycle carrier.

The seller’s listing stated “If you are not completely satisfied within 14 days then return the item” but also indicated that buyers should not use the eBay ‘Return Item’ feature as this counted against their seller rating. I suspect that this probably contravenes eBay’s rules and regulations but didn’t want to annoy the seller so I contacted them and advised them that I was returning the item.

A day later I received a message stating that I must provide photographs or a video of the problem and that they would then decide how to remedy it. I responded saying that the listing indicated that they operated a 14 day no quibble returns policy. Another message arrived saying that the company had rules about returns and these must be followed: I must supply photographs of the problem. I sent another message quoting the exact wording of the returns policy and stating that I would be returning the item within the next day or so. The company then offered a discount if I kept the item. This was bizarre, why would I want something that doesn’t fit even if it offered with a discount. Again I responded that I was returning the item as it did not fit. And again, I was offered a discount and a suggestion: Perhaps one of my friends might want it ?

This was one of most unusual customer experiences I’ve had, going from an authoritarian ‘you must follow our made-up rules before we’ll consider a return and refund’ to a desperate almost begging, ‘please ask your friends and family if they want it’. Weird.


Don’t take any nonsense from companies regarding returns. Make sure that they operate a reasonable returns policy and avoid any companies that don’t

Don’t be rude or obnoxious but be firm.

Don’t remain a customer if the company doesn’t value you as a customer. There is plenty of choice and companies that don’t look after their customers don’t deserve to survive.

I’m a big fan of Nikon’s upmarket camera equipment. I like the focus on technical excellence almost to the exclusion of other considerations. But I just don’t feel that they’re interested in me as a customer. Nikon has a very poor record of standing behind it’s products and putting them right when something goes wrong. Look at the D800 focus calibration and D600 shutter lubrication problems. It took Nikon a long time to acknowledge that these were design or manufacturing problems and to agree to fix them. It’s just not good enough.

There are plenty of mobile phone companies in the UK and my new O2 PAYG SIM doesn’t have the same restrictions that VirginMobile places on their SIMs. So, VirginMobile has lost another customer but I’ll still be chasing them to refund my account balance.

March 2016 Update

I’ve sold all my Nikon equipment through Ffordes Photographic who I’ve always found to be a great company to deal with. Having used a series of Panasonic m43 (Micro Four Thirds) cameras (GF1, GX6, GX7) as a more portable alternative to a Nikon full frame DSLR, I’ve upgraded to a 20mp GX8 that does most of what I need. I miss the D800 a little but I don’t miss having to deal with Nikon UK.

I wrote several letters to VirginMobile and each reply ignored most of the core point of my complaint which was that VirginMobile had effectively taken money from me and discontinued the service that I’d paid for. I was told several times that this is stated in the terms and conditions. However, as noted above, I was told variously that the period of inactivity that would cause the account to be closed was two months or three months but the Terms and Conditions document that I received when I opened the account stated 180 days. The bottom line here is that VirginMobile are an awful company to deal with when something goes wrong and don’t seem very interested in retaining their customers. I got the message…

Written by Sea Monkey

September 18, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Comment

Tagged with

A few months coding can save days of planning

leave a comment »

A priceless comment from “Max” on The Workplace regarding weak upstream practices in software development:

“A few months coding can save days of planning.”

Written by Sea Monkey

August 11, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Comment

Tagged with

How to lose customers fast. Really fast…

leave a comment »

Auction Sentry is an ebay bid management tool that I’ve been using for the past eight years. The annual subscription is $10 and although I don’t use it much, it’s been very useful when I have needed to use it. Over the years the product has had its problems, usually caused by ebay making changes, and the developers have sometimes lagged behind in resolving issues. However, I felt loyalty to the company as I’d used its product for years and the support team were helpful and responsive and bugs were usually addressed and resolved quickly.

Last week I went to use the software only to find that it had expired. I was a little surprised as I hadn’t received a subscription renewal reminder email. Even more puzzling, when I tried to renew my $10 annual subscription I found that the only option offered was a monthly renewal for $4.95. Thinking that this was some sort of trial offer, I repeatedly tried to renew my annual subscription but each time only the monthly renewal option was offered.

A quick Google search showed that I am not alone and that many other users have encountered the same problem. It appears that the company has decided to increase its subscription fees by 500% with no concession to its existing subscribers. This seems so ridiculous that I raised it with the company’s support team.

No annual renewal offered

Category:  Renewals

Case Status:  Closed

Last Updated: 6/30/2014 9:01:05 AM

Case Topic:  No annual renewal offered


Posted Thursday, 6/26/2014 3:22 AM

I've been an Auction Sentry user since 2006 and have purchased either annual or 3 year subscriptions renewals when required to continue to use it. I only use Auction Sentry occasionally and when I just tried to use it I received a message indicating that it had expired and that I need to renew my subscription. However, the only option that I'm being offered is for a single month at $4.95. I've received no emails indicating that my subscription was due to expire or that it had expired and I don't understand why I'm not being offered a one year or three year renewal option ?

Best regards.



Posted Thursday, 6/26/2014 3:19 PM


I am sorry to hear that you have encountered difficulty with a renewal.

Unfortunately, we no longer offer subscriptions for durations longer than one month, so the currently monthly subscription you see is the only one we have remaining.

Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

Please let me know if you have other questions or encounter further difficulty.

Auction Sentry Support



Posted Friday, 6/27/2014 12:14 AM

After 8 years as a loyal customer, I'm very disappointed to be treated this way. Clearly your company has no regard for its long term customer base and so I will be joining the many who have deleted your software from their computers and found an alternative product from a company that cares about its customers and doesn't treat them with such contempt. I'd like to be able to wish your company every success but the truth is that I think it deserves to go out of business as a result of losing customers because of the way it is treating them.

Best regards.

Todd K.


Posted Friday, 6/27/2014 11:56 AM


Thanks for following up on this matter. I am sorry to hear of your disappointment. I will pass your comments on to our management team but, my understanding is that our fee structure is permanent and will not be changing.


Todd K.



Posted Monday, 6/30/2014 1:33 AM

Thank you for your follow up. I do strongly feel that Auction Sentry has got this badly wrong and is treating its existing customers with contempt. It's a basic rule of business that you retain existing customers because it's very costly to acquire new ones. I suspect that most existing customers will be as annoyed and disappointed as I am with the new subscription pricing and will take the same action – find an alternative product. For what it's worth, I have uninstalled Auction Sentry and started using Xellsoft's HarvEx. It may be a less polished product but it offers similar functionality and is more than sufficient for my needs at a price that was what I was previously paying for Auction Sentry.
Todd K.


Posted Monday, 6/30/2014 8:59 AM

Hello again,

Thank you for your additional comments.


Todd K.



Posted Monday, 6/30/2014 9:01 AM

Auction Sentry has lost another customer.


Written by Sea Monkey

July 1, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Comment, General

Tagged with ,

What does Adobe know about web programming ?

leave a comment »

What does Adobe know about web programming ? Perhaps not as much as it should…

Adobe wants its customers to purchase subscriptions for its cloud based products so you’d think the company would employ the best talent for its web programming and yet it seems that these guys can’t even correctly determine what browser is accessing their web site. Having just purchased a an upgrade to Lightroom 5 from Adobe’s web site using Internet Explorer 10, I was presented with an error message telling me that my web browser, ‘Internet Explorer 4, or earlier’ was not supported:


Written by Sea Monkey

June 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Comment, General

Tagged with ,

Marco Simoncelli 1987-2011

leave a comment »

Marco Simoncelli, MotoGP rider, died at 16:56 local time on Sunday 23 October 2011 in Sepang, Malaysia, following a crash on lap 2 of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

At times like this we look for meaning in what has happened, to learn, and to improve safety in the sport. But, there’s little, if anything, that can be learned from Simoncelli’s death. This is not a ‘Senna moment’ for MotoGP. Senna’s death highlighted the fact that there were problems with the cars and the tracks that could be quickly and easily improved and they were. By contrast, Simoncelli’s death comes at a time when the bikes and tracks, and the helmets, gloves, boots, and leathers, are safer than ever before.

It’s difficult to accept that there isn’t a reason, some underlying cause, a rider error, or an equipment failure, that can explain what happened. Simoncelli’s death came as the result of a loss of control followed by a collision with other riders. The fact that this fatality occurred at one of the most modern and safe circuits underlines that this type of incident cannot be totally eliminated from the sport. The raw truth is that even in this day and age motorsport is dangerous and potentially lethal and, sooner or later, riders will die.

Any such death is a tragedy but Simoncelli’s is a particularly bitter blow. A likeable, straightforward guy who was his own man on and off the track, on and off camera. His performances at the start of this year’s season were a little erratic but his talent, enthusiasm, and will to win couldn’t be questioned. He was the epitome of the adage that a fast rider can learn to stop crashing but a slow rider can’t learn to be fast. His most recent results, a third place finish at Brno, a string of fourth places, and a second place at Phillip Island, proved that he was learning quickly. It always takes a lot of talent to put a bike on pole position and Simoncelli did it twice this year beating world champions like Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo in the process.

For the past few years MotoGP has been dominated by ‘the aliens’ – the elite handful of riders who are able to ride the current 800cc MotoGP bikes to the limit. This year only Simoncelli has been a regular threat to the aliens and at times has left some of them looking somewhat second rate. This is especially impressive considering that the aliens are all on full factory spec bikes in factory teams while Simoncelli is in a private team albeit on a factory bike and with support from Honda.

Honda’s problem at the moment is that they have too many riders in the factory team (three instead of the usual two) but it still offered Simoncelli a place in the factory team for 2012. Honda obviously saw a promising future for Simoncelli and wanted to bring him into the factory team despite already having a surplus of first rate riders. He turned Honda’s offer down to stay with the Gresini team for one more year but Honda agreed to continue providing a factory bike and support for 2012. The progress that he’d made this year and the continued factory support meant that he was likely to be on the podium regularly from the start of the 2012 season. With a third and a second place already secured he must have been looking towards his first race win. He clearly had the talent to win races and most, if not all, followers of the sport saw him as a likely future MotoGP World Champion.

Like many others I became a Simoncelli fan while watching him in the 250 GP class. I predicted great things for him in his first season in MotoGP and while he definitely made an early impact it wasn’t clear until halfway through the 2010 season that he had made a successful switch to the premier class. It’s worth remembering that even champions of the 125 and 250 (now Moto2) GP classes sometimes fail to make the transition to the premier class as the machines, their performance, and the riding style required, are vastly different. I didn’t fully realise how much of a fan I’d become until I experienced very mixed loyalties when Simoncelli and Cal Crutchlow were battling for seventh place in the closing laps of of a recent race. I was willing Simoncelli on when I suddenly realised that I ought to be supporting Crutchlow, the British rider. After a few seconds of confusion, I went with my heart and continued to shout encouragement for Simoncelli at the television screen.

Simoncelli’s performances on the track this year have provided most of the season’s excitement. His riding has been tough and uncompromising and has delivered some fantastic battles that he usually won. His quick but rough edged style was slowly being honed into something quite sublime. With the current 800cc MotoGP bikes, races are won and lost in the corners and Simoncelli’s ability to carry speed through a corner placed him among the best of the current riders. Not only did he take places by riding into and through a corner faster than his rivals, despite the disadvantage of his weight and size, he sometimes did it by riding the long way around rather than up the inside. His refusal to accept defeat, for example in the closing laps of this years Japanese GP, resulted in some of the most dramatic racing of the past few years.

His performances off the track were often as entertaining. For example, the press conference at Estoril this year where he joked, “Okay… I will be arrested!” when Jorge Lorenzo made an unprompted complaint about Simoncelli’s riding style. Or, his comment to a magazine reporter regarding the riders who complained about his allegedly dangerous riding: “They are not hard men – they are girls…”

To paraphrase a comment one poster made in a motorsport forum in relation to Simoncelli’s death: we are all defined by the date we are born and the date we die; it’s what we do between those two dates is that matters. Or as Simoncelli himself put it, “You live more for five minutes going fast on a bike like that than other people do in all of their life.” Few doubt Simoncelli’s comment that he’d be racing motorbikes even if he wasn’t being paid to do so.

He was a breath of fresh air in MotoGP and it’s difficult to imagine the sport without him. It will be a pale and bland imitation of what it was when we he was with us. We should be thankful to have witnessed a talent and personality such as his in the sport, no matter how briefly.

Written by Sea Monkey

October 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Comment

Tagged with