Professional Geek
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  • PC Rising from the dead

    I haven’t used my PC at home since before my holiday so it’s been a few weeks now since I last fired it up

    Bryony went out to visit a friend so I thought I’d get a bit of work done so squeezed myself into my broom cupboard office (that’s literally what it is!) and switched it on

    I logged in as usual and started opening applications

    Suddenly the whole thing went off and on the screen I got a “no signal” message

    I looked down and the lights were still on so I turned it off and restarted

    The lights all came back on and I heard the hard disk spinning up but then it stopped and the PC just sat there. Nothing on screen and all I could hear were the fans going round. No POST beeps, nothing

    Since I’d heard the hard disks spin up and then stop I decided to start there so unplugged them but no joy

    I tried a couple of restarts and eventually it came up

    On screen I had the following message

    Warning!!! The previous performance of overclocking is failed and the system is restored to the defaults setting

    Press any key expect DEL to enter setup

    Overclocking?? The only thing I’ve every changed in the BIOS setup on this system was to enable virtualisation extensions on the processer (so i could run Hyper-V!)

    I pressed the space bar and was then presented with a message asking me if I wanted to keep the settings or revert to defaults. I decided to keep the settings and take a look once it entered setup

    I started to browse around the BIOS settings. The setup program allows you to create a backup so I thought the best course of action would be to do the backup then switch to defaults.

    This wasn’t happening though as just as i changed to the backup options the whole thing locked up

    I turned it off and back on again and I was back to square one – nothing on screen, lights and fans but nothing else

    A tried a couple of restarts again to see if i could get the same message as earlier but no luck

    I was very suspicious of the motherboard by now so started taking components out to ensure I got the same problem.

    All that I had left in was the CPU and I still wasn’t even getting POST beeps

    I put it all back together and still had the same problem

    I was about to give up for the night when I did one last reboot and it came on!

    The same error message I saw earlier was on screen so this time I chose to switch to defaults and it  only went and booted!

    I got into Windows and did a couple of reboots with no problems

    It’s Sunday morning now and it came on fine this morning. I’m typing this blog post on it!

    A little investigation found lots of instances of the error I saw but all sorts of “solutions” offered

    I’ll be taking a backup today as I’m still not entirely confident this is the end of it

    As is always the way I’m just passed the warranty period!

  • EasyJet Speedy Boarding Madness

    As I mentioned in my last post I wasn’t impressed with the way EasyJet board their flights

    EasyJey don’t allocate seats. They let everyone choose seats as they get onto the airplane

    Their boarding procedure works in groups in this order

    Group SB: Passengers who have purchased Speedy Boarding/Speedy Boarding Plus

    Group SA: Passengers requiring special assistance and families (maximum 2 adults) where at least one child is aged 5 years or under.

    Group A: (reserved for passengers who have checked in online, and the first 30 people who check in at the airport)

    Group B: (Everyone else)

    On paper this looks like a good idea

    People who pay more get on first and get to pick the “best seats”

    People with children or wheelchairs are kept separate

    Online check-in gets a priority which I see as a nice incentive (and it’s less people the check-in staff to deal with) but in practise is of little use on main holiday as you can only use it if you only have hand luggage

    Everyone else just has to queue and pick from what is left

    My experience went like this

    When we knew which gate to go to we made our way over. Luckily we were waiting quite close to the gate so started the short walk. We then noticed a large family rushing to get to the front of the queue

    Once we made it to the gate we were quite near to the front. I figured about 25 groups in front of us and I looked behind to see the queue starting to stretch through the airport

    The flight was slightly delayed so people were getting hot and bothered. Especially when staff appeared near the gate but the gate remained closed (presumably they were waiting for the all clear from the plane)

    Finally one of the members of staff came forward and asked for the Speedy Boarding group

    She wasn’t letting people on but checking passports against boarding passes to save time when the gate actually opened which seemed like a nice gesture but the problem was the queue

    The speedy boarding passengers started to come forward but the people who already had a place in the queue didn’t want to move. There was also only one lady checking tickets so everyone surged toward her thinking they were boarding so wanted to be seen first

    She gave up and escaped and there was then some mumbled announcement which only came once and I never heard it properly

    Since Bryony I had a 3 year old and 5 month old, hand luggage and a pushchair we started to move forward but stepped out of the surge as I was worried about losing Alice. We’d taken Evie out of the pushchair as she’d started to get upset during the wait.

    The queue now lost all shape and when they finally started to board the Speedy Boarding group our place near the front had disappeared. Again the other boarding groups didn’t want to move so there was a lot of pushing and shoving as people tried to get on and I actually saw one group who weren’t in the Speedy Boarding group (the large family I mentioned earlier) trying to get through at the same time so they’d be at the front of the queue for the second boarding group!

    Eventually I interrupted one of people trying to push past my wife (she was holding a baby! and they still pushed!) and he looked me straight in the eye with a look of contempt and said

    “Are you a Speedy Boarder??”

    It would have been really easy to be rude at this point and get into an argument but I replied with a simple

    “Yes, yes we are”

    Which seemed to take him by surprise and he stopped and let Bryony though

    We managed to squeeze through only to see people rushing down the boarding ramp. While Speedy Boarders get on ahead of everyone else it’s still very much first come first serve on the plane. We were trying to fold up the pushchair in the middle of all this and no-one really cared about the fact we had two small children with us

    While this happened Alice did actually get separated from us. I managed to grab her before she went onto the plane on her own. The door down the steps and onto the tarmac was slightly ajar but thankfully I managed to keep her away from that

    Under other circumstances there was potential for the kids safety to be under threat. When Alice got pulled away from us she could very easily have been trampled and during the all the pushing and shoved in the queue Evie could have been hurt by arms, elbows or hand luggage on people’s shoulders or worse if Bryony had been pushed over.

    I also have no idea what Bryony would have done if she’d stayed on her own as originally planned. She wouldn’t have heard the mumbled announcement and wouldn’t have heard the lady at the front trying to check tickets (though in my opinion airports, train stations and bus stations make very poor arrangements for the deaf anyway)

    So what could have made it better?

    Some ideas…

    1) Organisation – Before announcing the gate put up some “posts & ropes” to clearly indicate where each boarding group should queue. The main problem I think started as there was one long queue of mixed boarding groups – However this wouldn’t stop people rushing down the boarding ramp

    2) Clearer information – the lady who tried to save time by checking tickets either;

    Shouldn’t have done it,

    Made everyone aware of what was happening

    and / or asked everyone to stay where they were in the queue and she could have walked along checking them as she passed

    The token mumbled tannoy announcement was a waste of time too. It ideally would have come before she called people forward

    3) Allocated seats – nobody rushes for a seat that is already theirs

    4) Limited Speedy Boarding numbers – there seemed to be quite a few people in the first boarding group which is possibly why they were rushing down the boarding ramp. What if everyone on the plane paid for Speedy Boarding? Where is the benefit then?

    I think allocated seats would have been the answer myself but EasyJet seem to see it as a benefit to choose your own seat

    I don’t quite agree with this as there are only one to two “good seats” on a plane and the rest are all the same after that. The odds of getting the exact seat you want are quite slim. As we had Evie and Alice we ideally would have liked something with a little more legroom (especially as Bryony is breast feeding) but as soon as the pushing and shoving started I realised we had now chance of this. As we got on the place we thought about asking the people in the front seats if they’d let us sit there but I thought if they’d fought and pushed to be in a position to get those seats they wouldn’t give it up for a baby!

    My theory was proved correct when almost everyone was sat down. The cabin crew announced that there was a mother with two children. They must have been at the back and were unable to find seats for them to sit together. The crew announced safety regulations meant they couldn’t sit apart and if there were any adults that could sit apart or if a couple were taking up two seats in a three seat row could they give up their seats. We couldn’t take off until this was sorted but they had to ask three times!

    It would also mean they wouldn’t be able to charge for Speedy Boarding

    A did a couple of searches and found similar experiences to my own – which sound even worse when there is a bus involved. Everyone bussed out at the same time but Speedy Boarders allowed out first. Madness (two from the Times website here and here – they are both worth a read)

    When i was reading the in-flight magazine I spotted an email address that welcomes customer feedback so I’ll be sending a link to this post

    There is a also a twitter account (@easyJetCare) so I’d be interested to hear any comments they have

    I’ll definitely be thinking twice about using EasyJet in the future

  • Back in the UK

    I briefly mentioned in my last post I was off for a holiday

    I got back yesterday, a few days later than originally planned

    We went to Puerto Rico in Gran Canaria and had a great time

    Halfway through the holiday we noticed our youngest daughter Evie, had a couple of spots on her body. Having already been through chickenpox with our other daughter Alice, we took her straight to the doctors

    They confirmed what we thought and promptly cancelled our flight back (which should have been on the Saturday)

    After various discussions with the insurance company their original plan was to fly myself and Alice back and leave Bryony and Evie there. I pleaded exceptional circumstances as Bryony’s deafness means she can’t understand English speaking Spanish people (it’s the accents and it’s sometimes hard enough for me!) and they kindly agreed to let us all stay.

    What originally sounds like a free extended holiday isn’t quite what it seems. Evie obviously couldn’t be in contact with anyone who hadn’t already had chicken pox (mainly children) so she was effectively confined to the hotel room. No swimming pool, beach, taxis, buses, etc, etc. We also were only expecting to stay for a week so had only taken enough clothes, money, etc to last that amount of time

    Once we finally got the all clear on the Wednesday we got flights back to Gatwick (instead of Birmingham where we originally flew from) and were then driven back home. Our flight landed just after midnight and we opened our front door around 4:30am

    I popped into the office yesterday afternoon and today is my first full day back. I’ve got a lot to catch up on!

    We had a great holiday and tried not to let it ruin things but at the end we were just hanging around and all wanted to come home. My geek cold turkey was in full effect since my mobile phone was the only bit of tech I took with me and I’m dreading my next bill!

    Never one to miss an opportunity though I made several observations while I was away that I may be able to apply to the business!

    You can stop reading now if you were just interested about my holiday 😉

    Sales

    Qualifying your prospects is important.

    I saw lots of guys trying to get people into their restaurants and the most common opening line was

    “Hello, have you had breakfast (lunch/dinner) yet?”

    They then didn’t waste any more time on people who had eaten

    Obviously they didn’t give up that easily so the next line usually was to ask if they were thirsty!

    Pestering people will just piss them off

    I don’t like to name and shame (much!) but this is a classic example.

    On our first day we walked into the village and were immediately stopped by someone promising us free event tickets, drinks, etc, etc as long as we had a look at their facilities. He told us the idea was that we’d take a look and if we liked when if came back next we’d book with them.

    It was quite a hard sell but I declined explaining it was just our first day.

    We were stopped several times other people doing the same thing and on one day we walked from our hotel to the beach and were stopped nine times and they really don’t take no for an answer. It’s hard to be polite after a while

    The company they were representing was Anfi (I’m not linking to them!)  and we were told by our holiday rep it’s a timeshare thing. The guys actually stopping people claim it isn’t which they are technically correct on. The website says it’s “membership”

    Why is ‘Vacation Membership’ different to ‘Timeshare’?

    Genuine timeshare is a potentially fantastic concept because it offers flexibility and affordability. However, Vacation Membership goes beyond this by filling in the gaps, expanding on the overall concept, and setting new standards you deserve and that only Anfi can achieve. Vacation Membership is what, in an ideal world, timeshare should have been.

     

    That’s still time share in my book but even if it’s not the constant pressing just got on my nerves in the end and even if they were giving away free money I wouldn’t listen to them

    If you are lucky enough to have a captive market you can charge what you like

    Once you have checked into the airport and moved into the departure longue you HAVE to buy from their shops. Obviously their are security aspects to this but is it really an excuse to pick a prices out of the air?

    I paid for 3 soft drinks, and 3 sandwiches and it cost £20. I wouldn’t mind if the food was high quality but it really wasn’t.

    Service Delivery

    Our insurance company fell down pretty hard in this area. While I agree they fulfilled their obligations to us the way they did it wasn’t great from our perspective.

    Communicate

    Several times I called and was told someone would call back. That’s fine as long as you actually do it. There were lots of times we were waiting for news that never came and I had to chase it down.

    We were scheduled to check out of the hotel on Saturday morning yet when we were eating dinner on Friday night I had no idea if the insurance company had arranged for us to stay in the same hotel or if we needed to go elsewhere.

    Empower your staff with good systems

    The insurance company obviously run a 24 hour operation in case of emergencies so I understand that I’m unlikely to be able to speak to the same person every time. If this is the case you need to give them the tools that anyone deal with issues. I called lots of times and had to wait while our file was hunted down. It was obviously a paper file sitting on the desk of whoever had it last!

    Communicate better!

    It was arranged that a car would pick us up from Gatwick airport and take us home. I made it clear we’d need a car seat for Evie as she’s only five months old. Our car seat was several hundred miles away in my parents car as they were originally picking us up from Birmingham

    When the driver arrived he had a booster cushion and a child booster seat. Evie can’t even sit up on her own yet so how was she expected to sit in a booster seat for the three hour trip back? Legally in a private hire vehicle she could sit unrestrained – on Bryony’s lap, but from a parents perspective we didn’t want that. Especially when it could have been easily communicated to the hire company

    Go the extra mile

    The places went to eat got our repeat business when they went that extra mile. In one place Alice got a free ice cream as encouragement to eat her main meal. A lot of the staff were extra friendly and helpful and made a fuss of the kids. All these people got our repeat business

    Our hotel came under this too. The staff were great with us even after news broke of Evie’s chickenpox. I lost count of the amount of times someone asked me

    “Is the baby ok?”

    If I ever go back to Puerto Rico I’d more than likely use the same hotel

    The insurance company did get some plus points too. They could have been insistent and made myself and Alice fly back so I was very appreciative of that. They also paid extra for EasyJet’s “speedy boarding” on our flight back which brings me onto our next point

    Being organised is key to a smooth running operation

    Our boarding experience was what can only be described as shambolic and at one point I actually worried for my children’s safety. I’ll post about this separately though as I think it deserves a post all of it’s own but at this point in time if i need to fly anywhere EasyJet won’t be the first name on my list

    I’ll stop there as I’ve wittered on long enough

    I’ve enjoyed my time off but I did miss my tech, though it did give me lots of time to reflect on where I am from a personal and professional perspective and I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead

  • UK TV Licensing

    I was going to post about this a while back didn’t think it was that interesting but I haven’t posted for a while and I’m having a well deserved break next week so what better way to sign off than with a rant 😉

    If your not from the UK you may not know that in order for us to use a TV and receive broadcasts we need a TV License. The money from the license goes to the BBC who use it provide their range of services

    Previously the rules were simple. If you had a TV and used it to watch programmes you needed a license

    Nowadays there a lots of ways in which in you can consume TV programming via satellite, mobile phone, and over the Internet

    The rules are still simple but the wording has changed

    Do I need a TV Licence?

    You will need a TV Licence if you watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on TV. It doesn’t matter what channel you are watching, what device you are using (for example TV, computer or laptop, mobile phone or any other device) or how you are receiving them (for example via terrestrial, satellite, cable, the Internet or any other method).

     

    Technology such as BBC’s own BBC iPlayer   has made people ask the question “do i still need a TV license?”

    The answer is still actually pretty simple as the quote above states

    If you are watching a program online that is being broadcast at the same time as on TV

    This means you’re well within your rights to use BBC iPlayer to watch programmes shown last week and not need a license

    This does raise some interesting questions though.

    If i have a TV license and watch TV on my laptop and then go around to a friends house who doesn’t have a license. What is the situation there?

    I couldn’t find anything on the TV licensing website about this. I’ve been told by one or two people that your own license would cover you until you plugged the laptop in. This sounds a bit odd in my opinion. Plug what in? Do you mean power? An Internet connection? What if i’m using wireless and a long life battery?

    So why am I interested in this?

    We had a letter come to the office several months ago telling us we had been watching live TV online and if we persisted we’d need to buy a TV license for the business

    As far as I’m aware we’re not sitting around watching TV but did our best to make everyone aware

    We had another letter this week saying the same thing so we called them

    They wouldn’t tell us how they knew we were watching TV (which i still maintain we’re not) and i can’t see ISPs giving up their log information to be honest without upfront legal proof/warrant (which is a whole chicken and egg situation!)

    We were told that they would stop sending the letters but they may send an officer round to confirm we don’t need a license

    How are they going to check exactly?

    As i said above i can legitimately use services such as BBC iPlayer without a TV license

    It then also raises the question of control as a business

    Using various control mechanisms we can stop users doing lots of things but how do you control something such as the BBC news site which shows both live news broadcasts as well as old clips?

    We can use technology to block specific IPs, domain names, even specific content such as flash video but can how we tell the difference between live content and old content?

    Is it fair to just ban any site that has anything to do with BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky, etc, etc when a large chunk of the content is fine?

    As always opinions welcome!

    Other links

    http://www.televisionlicence.info/

    Do I need a TV Licence if I only watch programmes online?

    Will I need a TV Licence to watch programmes on BBC iPlayer?

    There are a LOT of sites out there with information and opinions on the TV license!