Completing 2016

This has been one truly terrible year. One of the very few even vaguely redeeming bits has been the music, so therefore there is a final playlist of the year above.

We’ll see how 2017 goes.

Here’s what I’m watching, listening to, reading etc. at the moment, in an article which I plan on posting at least once every few weeks:

  • Health’s “Death Magic” is still brilliant after however many listens: a massive improvement over much of the rest of their career (as they have discovered tunes). Recommended.
  • Tangentially related: Alice Glass has released a solo single called “Stillbirth”, produced with the aid of Health’s Jupiter Keyes. It’s industrial, angry, wrenching, emotionally draining and yet compulsively listenable – a real shout along. It bodes well for more, especially when compared with the unmemorable post-Glass Crystal Castles material.
  • The John Grant single, “Disappointing”, isn’t. Has a lovely duet with Tracey Thorn too.
  • Looking forward to the New Order album, and the ability to still frame Fury Road. (Article about Fury Road is coming up, along with one contrasting the Nolan Batman films with the Arkham games.)
  • I have Netflix at the moment, and by far the best original show I’ve seen so far is Bojack Horseman. A brilliant study of celebrity ennui, as handled by anthropomorphic animals. Fans of Venture Bros and Archer should look in. (Also, the Comic Sans-O-Matic tie in web site is nothing short of genius.)
  • The Great British Bake Off. Because. Plus University Challenge and Only Connect.

Let’s start again

I started The Hard Sell as a way of trying to write more often, and it was a success for a while. Like so many other things, it fell away when I went into full time employment; but also out of ennui at my own and at the general British political situation.

I have kept up tweeting, mostly, but Twitter isn’t really conducive to long form discussion. And I feel that’s been hurting the writing that I do in my spare time.

This blog has been defunct for a surprisingly long time. I feel that it’s probably time to bring it back, but with some differences: mainly, the new version of the blog has a distinct purpose. I intend to post media reviews, discussion of things that I find interesting, pieces about writing, and probably some more of what worked best on the old blog.

I want to have a way I can get used to writing again, and I feel that this may well be it.

The revamped blog is called Flickering Frame. A restyle focused around the new name will be forthcoming; I will not be removing or editing any old articles, but the new ethos should be happening from now on. I intend to post at least once per week and should post more often. It’s time to start again, and see what may happen – and I hope that those who read me will find it worthwhile.

Let’s start again, and do it right.

A dilemma.

Am I wrong for wanting to see Star Trek as soon as possible? The trailers and the interviews have been encouraging, the new Enterprise is plain cool, I like the idea of Simon Pegg as Scotty and Sylar as Spock and then I think about it and realise that, from the information I know…

  • It’s time travel, again
  • The gimmick this time is that it’s destroying the entire Star Trek universe as we know it, except for Enterprise. I repeat: Enterprise is apparently valid continuity for the new Trek movie. If you’re going to retcon out a series, why couldn’t it be that one?
  • And this means that retcons Picard out of the universe as well.
  • And DS9 too, and even the first few series of Voyager.
  • It’s written by the people who ruined Transformers (excepting Michael Bay).
  • It’s at least partially a variant on the age-old ‘Starfleet Academy’ idea, which was repeatedly rejected during the Berman era as a lame idea.
  • And how can the tech difference…

…and so on, goes the reasoning side of my mind. But the geek side just goes “new Star Trek, cool spaceship, MUST SEE.” It feels wrong, somehow, but I’ll still go – eager in the hope it won’t suck as much as it sounds. And when I find out, I’ll get back to you…

For your convenience

A little frustrated right now: not only have my Radiohead tickets been held by Special Mail Service (the people who posted my passport to the wrong address a few years back) with the reference number I need to arrange redelivery spoken once by an automated voice over my mobile with no pen handy and no physical evidence they’ve been, but I’ve got a parcel from an online vendor sent through Initial Citylink which they failed to deliver.

I didn’t get carded, but a check on the tracking system told me that the parcel had attempted delivery; I call Citylink and they tell me that they don’t card in “secure” doorways (although mine isn’t very secure, and neither FedEx or Royal Mail have a problem carding me at all). This wouldn’t be a problem normally because Citylink open their depots quite late and I expected to be able to quickly go to the one at South Gyle (a number 22 bus away) and pick it up.

But there isn’t a South Gyle depot; it closed two months ago. They’ve moved to Livingston. As if that’s efficient for the Edinburgh area; it makes it inaccessible to anyone without a car or a tolerance for long, roundabout journeys on First Bus. And since I’m at work all day and since Citylink won’t change my address over the phone to my workplace my best hopes of getting the parcel are leaving it with my neighbours, which I’ve gone for as the least worst option.

There was an article in the Guardian business section yesterday about Citylink making large losses and dealing with it by… closing depots. Which will make people hate them more and try even harder to avoid them. I certainly won’t make the mistake of buying computer kit from a Citylink-only vendor again; and that without a bad experience before.

(And Radiohead, why SMS? You know they suck from the discbox experience; mine took way over a week to get here. Why continue with them? Why?)

Later tonight

I will be Twittering liveblog coverage of the Eurovision selection, assuming Twitter’s up (and if it isn’t, I’ll be updating it on wordpress.com.) As a preview: I’m not hopeful.

An open letter to Virgin Media

A complaint letter I sent recently, posted without comment.

I have been a Telewest customer since August 2003. I’ve had pretty much the same package ever since then – now branded TV L/broadband L/phone M. I was very happy with Telewest’s service quality and the breadth of the service.

Since the takeover by ntl and the rebranding as Virgin Media, I have been experiencing a number of issues:

1. The complete inability to supply what was a previously excellent 4Mbit broadband connection between January and April 2007. This was apparently due to an overloaded UBR, causing slowing even at off-peak times to 300Kbit/s and below – making sites such as youtube completely unusable. Upload speed, on the other hand, was perfectly fine (and exceeded download speed a lot of the time).

The fact that there seemed to be a complete lack of updates on this major fault internally – your helpful newsgroup support were continually only able to tell me that the repair was in “planning” and couldn’t find out any more than that – was the largest annoyance here. My broadband connection is very important to me, much more than any of the other services I take from VM, and it was simply not worthy of the £25/month I paid for it – especially since in my area competition from local loop unbundled services (eg. Be Unlimited or Sky) is just a call to BT away.

2. The reorganisation of the TV packages. I am not someone who complained about the loss of Sky One; as a matter of fact, the way VM dealt with the loss of Sky One had my full support and may well have prevented me from cancelling due to the broadband fault. However, I have been irritated by the recent, unheralded and unwarned of change to the TV L package that has seen the removal of MTV Hits, The Box and VH1 Classic and their replacement with MTV UK and VH1. I accept that these are “better” brand names for a TV package, but this brings the number of channels that show music videos without filling half the screen with opaque junk or relying on useless celebrity programming to zero (from one: VH1 Classic). With the price rise in TV L, the gain of just one channel (Bloomberg, which doesn’t interest me) and the fact that certain channels which are free to air on satellite are only on the XL package on VM (Zone Horror, for example) I’m finding this very hard to take.

3. While I do appreciate the free weekend calls on basic telephone line rental, per-minute billing is intrinsically unfair. Switching back from the fairer per-second billing has been another annoyance, especially since it was hidden on the small print of the flyer.

4. The introduction of bandwidth shaping on broadband services: I don’t disagree with the need for curbing heavy users on what is after all a shared connection, I just disagree with the fact that no-one has actually been told about it. Sure, the newsgroups know and it’s all over the user support websites, but I haven’t received any email telling me about this major change in my broadband service’s provision from unlimited 4Mbit to unlimited 4Mbit between midnight and 4pm, and I feel that it is entirely unacceptable that only those who read the newsgroups or support forums know about it.

5. The special deals being given to customers who complain about the loss of Sky One are particularly irritating right now. This is it in a nutshell: there are forum threads pretty much everywhere on the net right now encouraging people to call into VM, complain about the loss of Sky One (which, of course, they don’t really care about, otherwise they’d already have Sky) and get a better deal.

There are people getting L broadband/XL TV/L phone for £35/mo – this apparently exists as an internal designation called “package 9”. I’m paying £47.50/mo for L/L/M, and £12.50/mo is a considerable amount of money for me to be paying more for an inferior service. If you’re going to give deals to people, don’t hide them – give them to everyone. Personally I would be very happy with this, but I’m not sure how long I’m going to be in a VM area (my university course is finishing soon) and do not want to be tied down to a 12-month contract that I might not be able to keep to.

6. Your email support web form (at http://help2.virginmedia.com/assets/html/
customer_feedback/customer_feedback_querytype_2.html
) only accepts a certain number of characters in a message. This of course is mentioned nowhere on the web form itself and the textbox accepts many more; thus when trying to send this letter electronically I received an autoreply telling me that “due to a technical issue we only received part of your email”. Since you do not provide a real email address for receiving customer messages, this has forced me into sending this by postal mail. Providing an actual email address read by people would be the best option here, but please at least fix this problem.

(From the two days late auto-responses I’ve been getting to my cut off complaints it appears to strip line spaces from the text as well, which would have made this letter unreadable in any case.)

7. The most recent irritation, however, has been the emailed announcement about the change to broadband technical support services from free (through 150) to a 25p/minute premium rate number. Even considering that you will not be allowed to put people on hold, the various calls I made to you over issues that were entirely your fault in the early part of this year would have made about £10+ in extra income if they were charged for in this way – the time taken up by various computer rebooting, etc., despite the fact that it was the equipment provided by Telewest that obviously was not working.

Your competition in my area and in most other cable areas, Be Unlimited ADSL2+, has a freephone support service. Sky has an 0870 number. Premium rate support is simply unacceptable ethically; I am not going to pay 25p/minute for issues which are your fault. If this policy stays I am afraid that, despite everything, I will have to cancel service.

8. In a sense then the main problem I am having with VM that I didn’t have with Telewest is the lack of information. Faults are in planning for months, TV packages are changed without any warning, broadband packages are changed without warning, “package 9” only is known about through hearsay, the entire way my phone is charged was changed in the small print, and then when you try to complain the email web form silently cuts off most of your message. When Telewest did things like that they sent letters or emails, or at least gave slightly more information than “it’s in planning” when you asked them why. I’ve never had a fault that lasted more than 24 hours before the takeover. And support for their products was always free.

What I would like, therefore is for my service to improve back to the level it was for my first three and a half years as a customer. If you can’t do that, then I and others like me will be forced into alternatives, and I really don’t want to have to do that; while I’ve got too much of an ethical conviction to go to Sky (or lie to you that I want to go there), these don’t apply to BT and ADSL2+ LLU. I know how good my service can be. Can you get it back?

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