Friday 28 June 2013

An Astonishingly Wonderful Thing

"I have written to the Governor General asking her to commission Rudd as Prime Minister of Australia." 
From Julia Gillard's resignation speech
I don't know anything about this situation, but ... 

... peaceful replacement of one leader by another is an astonishingly wonderful thing, and one of the great inventions of democracy. Or if not an invention then at least highly polished by democracy. 

Just since 1945 in the UK: Churchill, Attlee, Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Brown. Whatever you think of these people, they all lost an election (Thatcher's a party one like Gillard) and handed over power to somebody else because that's the way democracy works.

There is PLENTY to complain about in democracies and the way politicians work. But sometimes let's pause and celebrate this fact. Let's not forget that engineering a peaceful takeover by his political opponents won F W De Klerk the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Sky TV Nuisance Calls

Sky TV, stop the nuisance calls to my home!

This happened because I had the cheek to try to get out of a relationship with you.   Now you are making nuisance calls,  inquiring into my relationship with my wife, and then accused me of impersonating myself.   Then you refused to note in the account that we did not wish to receive any more phone calls from you.

When I said I was 100% confident that the account holder (my wife) would not wish to discuss this further with you, you refused to take my word for it.

At about that point you asked about my relationship with the account holder.  To be precise you said "Who are you to Ms Underwood?"

Yes, as a private company with a business relationship, you started asking me personal questions about my relationship with my wife.    (Ok you don't know she's my wife, I've now let that slip.  But it's still none of your business.)

When I said that my wife had empowered me to deal with you on this account, which is all you needed to know, you told me that you didn't know that.  I said you did, because you called our home address, which I knew, and I also knew the account password which you had asked for.

At this point you said that you didn't know who it was you were speaking to.

So yep, you asked about my relationship with my wife, then accused me (after passing all your security checks) of not being me.

All this because I told you I did not want to tell you why I want to stop getting Sky TV.

I will write it simply.


For others not in an abusive relationship with Sky, let me go back a few steps in the process so you can understand how this happened.

The other day we cancelled Sky TV.  This was an incredibly painful process, marred for example by the fact that the Sky website said we could cancel by email ...

... then when I finally gave in and phoned to cancel, I was told that not only was it impossible to cancel by email, but that I had to pay for the three days I had spent waiting to hear back.

Incidentally, this is still what the web page says as I write this (25 June 2013).  If the agent is right that cancellation by email is impossible, they are (at the very best) misleading customers by stating this.   I say at the very best, because in fact this results in more money being paid by customers to Sky.  One waits a few days to find out it's impossible - having given clear notice in writing that one wishes to cancel - Sky then tells you the method they themselves provided is invalid and you have to pay for those extra days.  If this is legal, there's something wrong with the law.

Anyway in the end we managed to cancel over the phone.  Not being happy campers, we did not see fit to give our reasons.  Well to be honest, we did say that we were not watching Sky at the minute, which is completely true.  But we kept being probed further - on what should have been a simple phone call.  I.e. the call should go:

Us: We wish to cancel.

Sky: Ooh, sorry to hear that, can we interest you in maybe an offer to keep you?

Us: No, thanks very much.

Sky: Oh well, ok, let me just tap these buttons... well thanks very much for your custom. Oh and sorry for the email thing, we'll backdate the cancellation three days.

But no.  Not only was there abject refusal to backdate the cancellation (I was told her manager couldn't do it and her manager's manager would not come to the phone), but my simple wish to cancel the account and get on with my life was not respected with incessant questions about what other service I was going to use etc.  It's not so much that I mind being asked these questions - they are obviously useful market research for Sky.  But I minded very much indeed when my polite refusal to answer them was not respected.  In the end the phone rep did give me two days money back - not three days because she said they would have had to call back the next day.  That doesn't seem reasonable to me but at that point I gave in.

Oh I haven't mentioned the bit where several times the rep told me things that were not true. E.g.  that I had been informed that cancellation by email would require a phone call and I was told it might take 72 hours to hear back from my email.   Neither is true.

Today I was at home and received several calls asking for my wife.  The last time I asked who it was to be told it was Sky TV.  I said I could speak for the account holder so the guy said it was about our cancellation and some extra details they needed.  The extra details were ... the reasons for cancelling Sky TV.  I told him I wasn't going to tell him, so he said he would call back for the account holder...

So I said that she would not want to give reasons either, and he said he would call back, and I asked him not to.   Which obviously is an unreasonable request, as he refused even to enter into their system that we did not wish to be called on this.


Obviously, Sky, if you have a genuine reason you need to call us (maybe the bank refusing to stop the direct debit or something), that's fine.   The fact that your system requires a reason for cancellation when we don't wish to give you one is NOT a good enough reason to call us.  Oh, and by the way, remember that we did give you a reason anyway?  In our email to you, and on the phone the first time, when we said we just weren't watching much Sky TV?

I am posting this online because I complained the other day about not hearing anything from my email request.   I was told I would hear back within 24 hours about my complaint.  So far I have heard nothing.  That was five days ago (three working days.)  

Obviously Sky TV ignores complaints using their online system.  So I have written this blog post.

Friday 14 June 2013

Mansplaining the Mansplainer

This is a fantastic story my wife Judith Underwood told me many years ago, posted here with her permission.

Before I go on, let's just clear up the definition of mansplaining:
"The tendency of some men to mistakenly believe that they automatically know more about any given topic than does a woman and who, consequently, proceed to explain to her- correctly or not- things that she already knows."  Urban Dictionary
I was pointed to the "Mansplained" tumblr today by Mikael.  It's fantastic, though wear fire retardant clothes if you are a woman or have ever liked a woman.

By wife once scored a wonderful triumph by mansplaining to a mansplainer.  Here's the story.

When she did her degree in maths and computer science at Oberlin College in the late 80s, they had a computer lab full of terminals.  (In those days terminals would be "dumb terminals", probably a green on black screen with no fancy graphics, but I just mention that for nostalgia.)

One of the terminals in this particular lab had the habit that once in a while it would freeze up.   It would freeze for maybe 15 minutes.  The only fix was to not touch any keys.  Every time you touched a key, it would be frozen for 15 minutes. You had to walk away and use another terminal, and 15 minutes later it would come back to life. All the CS students knew this, but other occasional visitors would get caught.

One day Judith was in the lab and a man came in and started using this terminal.  It froze up.

The guy started expressing exasperation.  Judith told him he had to leave it for fifteen minutes. The guy started banging keys.  Judith told him he had to leave it for fifteen minutes. The guy started mansplaining to Judith that there were various things he could try.  Judith told him he had to leave it for fifteen minutes. The guy started banging various other keys.

Judith just said to him: "Just leave it for fifteen minutes, and don't worry your pretty little head about it."

She walked away and he looked dumbfounded.  He'd been mansplained.

I love my wife.

As a coda, purely for fun, here is a picture of me and my wife, a few years after this story happened but so long ago that a digital camera was super cool, in black and white only, and in research labs like at Cornell where she did her PhD.  She still has the same great hair, and I don't.

Monday 3 June 2013

Dr Who, The Master, the Captain of the Starship Enterprise, and Uncle Claudius

Is this the most ridiculous coincidence involving the most famous science fiction TV characters ever?

In 2009's BBC Hamlet, Dr Who played Hamlet, while the Captain of the Starship Enterprise played his Uncle Claudius.

In 2007's Utopia, the same Dr Who faced off against the Master.

In 1980's BBC Hamlet, the same Master played Hamlet, while the same Captain of the Starship Enterprise played his Uncle Claudius. 

In 1976's I Claudius, the same Master played Dr Who's Uncle Claudius.

At least the last one was a different Doctor.


Links go to IMDB pages for the actors and characters.

2009, David Tennant as Hamlet, Patrick Stewart as Claudius
2007, Derek Jacobi played the Master against David Tennant's The Doctor in "Utopia"
1980, Derek Jacobi as Hamlet, Patrick Stewart as Claudius
1976, Derek Jacobi as Claudius, uncle of Caligula played by John Hurt.
2013, John Hurt played The Doctor in "The Name Of The Doctor"