Customer service (again)

More so than ever, I am convinced that we are in the midst of some form of commercial decay. The accountants have had too much say in how businesses are run for far too long. This started in the late 1980’s and is continuing to get worse.
There are many reasons to be in business. The one that is topmost in almost every business these days is profit. Which, of course, is the cornerstone of existence, because without it a business will eventually cease to be and people would lose jobs. But, other reasons, such as being the best at doing something, keeping customers happy, supplying things that customers actually want and general goodwill are no longer reasons on their own merit. They are only valued if they are are profitable enough, and only then if they are profitable in the short term.
Fake Steve Jobs has recently taken
AT&T in the USA to task over this, since they appear to be skimping on investment in their own infrastructure.
Every time you phone a company, and find you have to repeat your complaint multiple times, or can’t understand a word that the offshore call centre operator is saying, or a company fails to deliver something you’ve paid for and it takes many days to get a refund you are seeing another case where profit is valued more highly than something else that is important.
Not a week goes by without seeing a good example of this decay. Last night alone, our Tescos delivery failed to come (maybe, it was the 7 inches of snow), but maybe a phone call explaining their problems, or even an email. Maybe an offer of reattempting delivery today? Afraid not, all our slots are taken until after Christmas - overtime anyone? Extra effort to help customers that have been let down? They can take our money instantly, but the refund takes 3-5 business days, so when we went to buy the shopping today, twice the weekly shop money has been debited from our account until Tesco or Natwest get around to letting us have the first lot back.
Anyway, I wanted to write again about switching Broadband providers. Broadband in this country is going to the dogs. Five years ago, when I had been forced to switch from cable to ADSL by a house move, I did some research and found that Pipex was one of the best - and they were. They gave me exactly what I wanted, a bare wires service - I provided the router and they provided a connection. No proxies, no traffic shaping, no filtering email ports. And it was the speed they advertised - brilliant. I recommended them to several people, and how embarrassed am I by the recent rounds of acquisition. Pipex got bought by Tiscali, one of the broadband providers that had the lower reputations when I did my original research. Almost overnight the quality dived. Now they have merged with TalkTalk.
My father has had no end of trouble since Pipex became Tiscali. Where he lives there are NO unbundled operators, which means that every provider is actually provided by BT.
About a year ago, my parents were constantly irritated by the loud buzzing on their phone. They reported the problem to BT, who weren’t interested since testing showed that the noise was caused by the Broadband. They said it was Pipex’s problem. Pipex did tests and said the broadband was working fine, hence it wasn’t their problem, but it could be my parent’s equipment (router or microfilters), or wiring in the house. Being a gadget freak, I had spares and we could also rule out the wiring. The problem continued despite equipment swaps and running everything off the master socket. My parents jumped through hoops, getting an old wired phone out the loft, making many phone calls to each, getting myself to try another router, other microfilters - moving equipment from the study to the living room for days on end. Buck passing continued, and no-one would come out. In the end, my dad accepted the threats of a £120 callout charge from BT should they find the fault to be his equipment, OR the broadband providers.
What he, and I, couldn’t understand is that the broadband provider subcontracts back to BT anyway, since the local exchange doesn’t have any unbundled providers, so in effect the issue only rested with one entity. Why should my dad give a shit about which department it was?
So, they came out, and it was wet wiring in the street. One month, 20 odd phone calls, many hours of aggravation and it was sorted, by the first company my dad rang who did everything in their power to avoid responsibility. Did anyone care how much goodwill they destroyed? I don’t think so.
This story has a second part, when my dad decided that he should put everything with one company, so that he would only have one company to talk to if there was a repeat of this issue. I’ll post that part in the next couple of days.

Broadband Robbery

My current mood for blogging is to use it for moaning about various things. My last entry was about how web UI designers assume too much knowledge, considering that their demographic is now pretty much the whole population.
This one is about a practice that broadband providers have adopted to bleed an extra months money out of you if you switch to another provider.
Buried in most broadband contracts there is an innocent little phrase basically saying that you have to give notice of termination, typically 30 days. Fair enough, you think. Well, it would be if the notice period started at a reasonable time, like when you told them you were moving.
Unfortunately, they can’t do that.
Apparently, the day you give them notice, they give the cancellation order to BT, who will cancel within 30 days. Which, could be the very next day. So, of you want continuous service you can only give notice on the day your new connection starts.
The bottom line is that you have to pay for one month twice, with both the old and the new providers.
So, the contract is a way of saying someone wants your money for doing fuck all, regardless of your intent to give fair notice.
I told them that their contract was unfair, and would not hold water, but they weren’t going to back down. I then asked to speak to someone about cancelling our 3 iPhone contracts, and they backed down - amazing! Yes, O2 were the culprits this time, but I understand the practice is widespread.

Converting a Dinosaur to the 21st Century

I have been recently taking a much more active interest in user interface usability. In my role as a software contractor, I have been working on websites with 100,000s of users. I have been party to many deeply involved discussions as to the impact of splitting a page into two, or the opposite, combining two pages into one. There are many pro’s and con’s of both and getting a commercial website that doesn’t experience excessive drop-off is an art which I have slowly come to appreciate. There have been studies by Google showing that even a half second additional load time can decrease the number of people staying on the site by a marked percentage.
The other influence has been watching my father come to terms with the 21st century. There isn’t really much choice about whether of not you are going to embrace the world of the internet any longer. Adverts no longer list a phone number, they show web addresses. Big companies don’t want to talk to you, they want you to read FAQs, send emailed enquires, etc.. My father dived in with both feet - on-line banking, national lottery, email, Facebook, the lot.
Watching his struggles has made me realise that the creators of such websites don’t give the slightest consideration for relatively inexperienced users. And the help desks assume knowledge that typical people simply don’t have - have you tried this, have you done that? Loads of jargon ridden gobbledygook - I understand what is being asked, but I think “How the hell is my father supposed to understand that?”
So, lets start with the
National Lottery web site. What an user interface disaster. My dad simply wanted to pop in his regular numbers and wait for the winnings to roll in.
So, he has to create an account, and there are really complicated password complexity rules, and he needs a unique username. So, he takes about a dozen attempts to get a combination it accepts, neither of which is something he really wanted, so not surprisingly he forgot what it accepted within about two seconds - which of the myriad combinations was it again? In my opinion, the email address could have been the username, reducing the complexity by one step, and the password rules could have been a tad less intense.
Once you are in, it is not at all obvious how to put in your numbers - choices abound, menus down the left, menus across the top, and choices in the middle of the page. Eventually, dad stumbled on the direct debit configuration page, and puts in his details, then he goes to put in his numbers and he is prompted for a credit/debit card. Oh, and what is his password again, oh bugger, we forgot that, and we need to reset our account, and we have yet another password.
So, now dad is sat waiting for his winnings to roll in. He has emails galore. Direct debit this, direct debit that. A couple of weeks later, he goes to check whether he has won anything and finds that none of his numbers had been placed. One of those multitude of emails was to tell him his direct debit had been cancelled, but why? No-one knows. He has set it up again, and all seems ok now. But, why are these systems so complicated?
Now, my dad is a keen
Lexulous player, and the version he got addicted to is embedded inside Facebook. So, he is also a Facebook user. He hates Facebook. He gets notification emails when people send him messages, which he can’t reply to. It makes total sense to reply to a message, but it doesn’t work (BTW, it works correctly on LinkedIn). The little notification counter in the bottom right of the screen always reads 99, no matter what he does because every time someone makes a move on Lexulous, every time someone messages him during a game, every time someone sends him a Facebook message, every time someone invites him to join some stupid game he’s not interested in the counter goes up, which is dozens and dozens of times per day. So, playing a nice relaxing game of Lexulous results in never ending stress.
Throwing all this shit in his face constantly isn’t going to make him sign up, join in, buy or anything else, but it is going to stop him from playing, one day. (I know there are ways and means of reducing the noise, but HOW IS HE GOING TO FIND OUT?). A simple notice on each annoying message saying “click here to never see one of these again” would help.
If you’re one of dad’s friends on Facebook, do him a favour, don’t invite him to play Farmville, Social questions, or whatever spam system that is stealing all your social network information this week because he isn’t interested, honest. (But do send him personal messages, we’ve got that bit sussed now).
Now, the banks get quite a thumbs up, mostly. Even the Spanish one has an English version of the site that is mostly understandable. But, quite regularly the HSBC online bank just refuses to let him log in. When he rings the help desk they say it’s because he has the web site in his “Favourites” (Hey, help desk people, not everyone has Internet Explorer, so don’t confuse my dad by mentioning something that isn’t even on his machine). Now, as a web developer I struggle to see how having a bookmark can break the authentication system, but if I found a way, I would make sure I fixed it so my site didn’t behave that way. I mean, why should someone have to always type in the web address? (Oh, and I checked, the bookmark was to the login page, not somewhere deep in the site). Now, that is crap.
My dad has done amazingly well to start using computers in his 67th year, and being able to do email, banking, play games, book flights, and loads of wonderful things, but I suspect he hates it, and all because there are so many bloody lazy developers. If you want to find out how crap your website is, drop me a line and we’ll arrange for my dad to do some web usability consultancy for you.

Brief analysis of my crap tempo run

On Tuesday evening I had my worst training run for weeks. I’ve just got back onto proper training again after pulling my calf muscle, and was really enjoying my runs. Last Saturday was a breeze, 6 miles at a 10m50s pace, and I had loads of energy left in me.
I was supposed to do 4 miles at 10m40s. Which, after Saturday, seemed very achievable. This was not the case, and I only managed 2.8 miles and I had a couple of rests, even then. How could it have all gone so wrong?
Quite simply, I was too keen (or maybe cocky!). The 10 minute warmup jog should be a SLOW jog, I did it 1 minute per mile faster than I had planned - the bloody watch was bleeping and flashing “Slow down”, but I couldn’t. Then, the tempo run part started badly too. I ran the first mile 20 seconds too quickly, now a tempo pace is meant to be pushing your ability so to go off this much too quickly was inviting trouble. At this point I needed a brief walk (45 secs). After that, I nailed the pace, but I was knackered and needed to keep stopping until I gave up.
Hopefully, the next one will be more disciplined and that will be enough to make it doable.

Great Eastern Run 2009

Some of you may know that I ran a half-marathon in October. Here, better late than never, is my race report.
I had been training since the beginning of July, with the goal of merely being able to run the 13.1 miles. Also, so that I was targeting my training, I wanted to complete the race in less than 2 hours 30 minutes. At the outset, I struggled running 6 miles, as my first race at Brentwood proved. So just over three months to build up to a half-marathon was quite a challenge.
Those three months turned me from a reluctant runner, only running while I could stay disciplined with my fitness, to a keen runner. A keen runner that is still a beginner.
I had still been struggling with longer distances and stamina, but was a much stronger runner than I was in July, the previous week I had ran another 10k race at Southend, much faster and I finished strongly. So, full of optimism we made our way to Peterborough for the start.
Supporting Alison and I this time was my dad, with his trusty camera, and my cousin Sue from Australia who had been visiting. We knew that the entrant limit was 7000, so I was a little worried about finding a car park with spaces. I shouldn’t have worried, we found a space in the first car park I went to. The weather seemed ideal for a long run - cool, overcast, and slightly miserable with not much threat of rain. Perfect.
Alison looking ready
We arrived with about 40 minutes to spare before the start, and immediately went in search of the toilets. We found them, along with hundreds of people queueing. There was no prospect that we would get to the front before the race started, and we were just debating options when the tannoy announced that runners should go to the start line. I was getting quite uncomfortable, but after all these months I wasn’t going to allow myself to miss the start, so off we went. I’m glad we missed the hype and circus of the mass warmup though!

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Waiting, waiting, waiting
It was a bit sad splitting up at the start, dad and Sue went off to the car to dump our coats and bags, and Alison moved nearer to the start line. I hang back quite a way, fully aware of where I fitted. In fact, I was feeling a little out of place, surrounded by thousands of athletic looking runners. So, on my own I waited, and waited, and waited.

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Looking a bit lost
This race was by far the largest I had been in, and it was showing. Impossible toilet queues, forming up to start half an hour before the race. I was getting more and more nervous as time crawled on. And I felt more and more out of place.
At last! The start! It was great, I was full of energy and forcing myself to slow down. I had to run 11 minute 20 second miles to hit my self-imposed target, and I was averaging 10m47s until the first water station at around three and a half miles. The atmosphere was fantastic, my pace was keeping me with a bunch of guys and gals dressed in pink tights, wigs and tutus that were collecting money while pushing a chap in a wheelchair. They had loud horns and had a party atmosphere that helped keep me full of energy.
That water station was a relief - not for the water, but for the lone portaloo that had only one person queueing at it. Ahh! A two minute pause, much needed.
The next point of interest was the “motivation mile” around 5 miles in. Loud, motivating music played from a very effective speaker system along the mile, along with some inspirational comments from a presenter pushing us on. I was still maintaining the same pace, and felt I could go all day.
The Course

I was so wrong, and things started to fall apart around mile 9. I started to intersperse my running with some walking, and did that mile in 12m50s - if I could have maintained that pace, I would have still come in ahead of my target, but the running got less and the walking more, and the next three miles were at a consistent 14m00 pace. It was a shame to lose sight of the pink tutus around this time.
I think I would have gone even slower, had I not been rescued. A generous lady saw me struggling about a mile before the end, and stopped to talk. We chatted about running, and I must admit I can’t remember much of the conversation, but we ran and walked together to the finish. The camaraderie and distraction helped me forget my discomfort a bit, and spurred me on to the finish. I discovered her name after reading the race results, so I can say “Thank you, Mim Baczkur”.
The sight of the finish line was even more welcome than the portaloo near the beginning. Everyone was waiting, and I think I managed a strained smile.
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Going strong

I have a medal now! For a half marathon, and 160 more people followed me over that line. I was impressed by the goodie-bag too - Lucozade Hydroactive, Mars Bar, a banana, the medal, a decent tee-shirt and a bottle of water. It didn’t look impressive in the sponsors carrier bag though!
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Crashed out

Southend 10k race 2009

As part of my half-marathon training I scheduled a 10 kilometre race - and the nearest one falling at the right time was the Southend 10k.
Despite the fact our family is going through a very sad time with the tragic loss of my mother last week, Alison and I decided to go ahead with the race. Although Mum was concerned about my health, what with being overweight and running, I think she was proud of what I’ve managed to do over the last year. The half-marathon next week will be the culmination of many months of effort and I think she would be cross if I didn’t complete my program. Next week, I’ll be thinking of her every step of the way.
So, back to Sundays race. The day was bright and sunny. As we left the house just before 9am, this didn’t do much for the temperature and it was still quite chilly, especially around the bare legs. Even arriving at Southend, nearer 10am, there was still a bite in the air - which I actually hoped would remain as a bit of a chill help keep your temperature low as you run.
One common theme to races appears to be the obligatory pre-race visit to the toilet. There were over a dozen port-a-loos each with a queue of some twenty or so people in front of them! So, we joined the ritual, but with some creative queue jumping by visiting the toilets at the adjoining park! I was getting quite nervous about the race even though I knew that I would be toward the rear of the pack. I am at a loss as to why the nerves should start up, as I would have only expected the people aiming to win the race to feel that way.
Before the race
Eventually, it was time to go to the start line. Regions of the road were labelled with the expected finishing times, although these signs were being ignored with obviously slower runners standing in the sub 45 minute area. I decided there was no point being a mobile road block, and moved toward the rear, where I expected to stay!
I had spent a good hour beforehand planning the many potential strategies, before settling on the classic one of setting my goal pace, and trying my damnedest to stick to it. So, I set off at a dogged 10:20 pace, ignoring the fact that at this point it felt like I was plodding gently along. Of course, if I still felt that way an hour later I would have been stunned. Loads of people were passing me, but I stuck to my guns. I knew if I maintained the pace then I would have a good time and that it didn’t matter how many people passed me.
After the first mile or so, the tide was turning. I was passing joggers and walkers and feeling good. The pace was still feeling easy and had identified a number of people running at the same pace, and we were starting to run together. Every now and again, someone I was using as a pacer would speed up and move off, or slow down and fall behind, but there was always someone else I could choose. I think it helped me ignore my GPS watch to do this, and is something I will seriously consider doing again next week.
Another mile and we met the elite runners coming back on the opposite side of the road. I thought that this would have been fairly demoralizing, but it wasn’t. In fact, whenever I saw a Colchester Harriers top, I clapped loudly! I was looking for Alison, hoping she was doing well. We missed each other, as we probably passed in the half-mile section at turnaround where you can’t see the runners coming the other way. By this time the running had settled down, and there wasn’t much passing going on. The marshals were very encouraging, cheering us on. I started to find it tough around here, and the water station was a much anticipated and appreciated landmark.
Another mile or so, and I started passing the first people that were running out of steam, and starting to walk. I felt strong, and thought that the strategy was actually going to work. At this point I had been totally consistent with my pace, only varying by a few seconds. Then the perils of a “out and back” route were starting to tell, and I started recognising landmarks that I knew were quite some distance from the finish, and I was starting to run out of steam myself. I kept seeing the same girl walking, and thought I was hallucinating - same red top, same chunky white music player, and then I realised she would walk at which point I would pass, and a couple of minutes later she would run past, and then I would pass again. This happened quite a few times, so I decided to ease off the pace so as not to start doing the same myself, as it was getting tougher and tougher.
The temperature was starting to rise quite sharply by now, although I wasn’t in a position to tell for sure as by this point I was sweating quite profusely. So much for the cooler air aiding with my run.
I felt I dropped the pace through the floor, but was determined to jog to the finish instead of walking. Analysing by GPS watch later, I was doing quite well by slowing the pace a bit, recovering and speeding up, then slowing, and so on. I only dropped about 20sec/mile off my earlier pace over those last two miles.
Alison cruising to the finish
By this time, Alison had finished, had some water, found Dad and the finish line and was waiting patiently. Dad was taking pictures of random overweigh, bald men hoping that I was considerably faster than I was and that he was getting the right photos.
Going for it…
As I rounded the last corner, I noticed the finish line and was just considering picking up the pace when I heard Alison yelling “Sprint! Go for it!”. At this point, the brain isn’t working at 100%, so I did what I was told, tearing past some poor woman like a mad thing. I almost paid for it as I crossed the line, as I got quite wobbly on my feet.
The result - 6.21 miles (10km) in 1h4m40s. 8 minutes faster than July’s Brentwood 10k, and on target for my half-marathon next week. Here’s an “after” photo, showing (I hope) that I still looked reasonably fit… You may notice Alison’s top being removed between the before and after photos - that’s another story…
After the race

One year of running

I have been running again for a year. It was last September that I decided the only way to lose weight was to start running. With my current lifestyle, gyms were not a real option. Most gyms have lock-in contracts to take advantage of people that start with good intentions and then stop going, and then find out that they can’t get out of the contract! I’ve been there, too. But, with my planned emigration and the fact that my contracting may move me around the country, I couldn’t accept a tie in. I needed something that I could do anywhere, and all you need for running is a pair of trainers and somewhere to clean up after all the sweating!
So, one year ago, I popped on the trainers and started a
couch to 5k program. So, where am I now?
Well, right now I am shirking my running and sitting typing this. I have decided that I need a week off, I even ran 3 times per week while on holiday in Australia, and recently have found it getting more difficult. A short break may help.
I am in training for my first half-marathon in October, and am running around 20 miles per week now. My pace is still low, but not as low as it was. I can do a mile in around 9 minutes, 3 miles in around 30 minutes and for longer distances I can maintain around 11:30 per mile. My stamina was my major issue at the
Brentwood 10k, and that is still my main issue. Although I have built up to about 10 miles, every yard after 6 miles is torture. On the last two long runs, I floundered at around the 7 mile mark. Alison is pacing me this coming weekend to try and get back on target.
Damn! This sounds all very negative! This is what I should be saying….
  • I have lost around 40 pounds in weight.
  • I have gone from being able to run for 1 minute, to being able to run for 120 minutes.
  • I have gone from being able to run for about 100 meters to around 16000 meters.
  • I have increased my speed from 14 minute miles to 9:30 miles (over a short distance, compared from a session in November 2008, to a session in August 2009).
  • When I get to my last mile of a long run, I’m thinking “You can do it, it is only 1 mile to go!”, whereas a year a go I couldn’t imagine running 1 mile non-stop again.
  • I miss running when I can’t do it.

There! Much better!

Horrible echoes of Windows config hell on my Mac

This isn’t the article I intended to write, but after an hour of piddling (substitute for a stronger, more fitting word if you want) around with caches, cookies and plug-ins along with side-by-side tests with Firefox the strong echoes of the world of Windows that I thought I had left behind dominated my thinking.
If you use Windows (you poor, poor people), you will be very familiar with software that buggers up other software. Fortunately, on the Mac this is still quite infrequent. But, it is NOT impossible and I was disappointed that Evernote’s web clipping plugin stopped a perfectly normal javascript driven website from working (the management console for this blog).
Reading Evernote’s forum reveals that the developers are using the Safari plug-in API even though they are aware it is difficult to use due the fact it is not a properly published API. I got the impression they are frustrated with bugs caused by the imperfect understanding of this API. Well, if that’s the case then perhaps they shouldn’t inflict the nastiness on us, the humble users. I don’t even use the bloody thing - it was installed in an update and it broke something else I use.
Please, please, please, Mac developers, don’t ruin our nice Macs with stuff that wreaks havoc across application domains - if you want to publish something that is broken, make it stay in your own app, don’t spread the misery around the place - that’s the sort of thing I expect Adobe (try uninstalling Acrobat for a laugh) or Microsoft (registry hell) to do.

Post race report

The most important thing I need to say is that I made it! It appears that concerns about my possible demise at the hands of the evil hills, by some, were misplaced. My daughter even took the worlds most unflattering photo of me approaching the finish line, which I hesitate to publish… But, as a warning to any of you who think that going from lard arse to runner is easy, I will let you see it…
The look of imminent collapse is priceless, as is the glowing aura I see to have gained - perhaps it was a precursor to a possible out-of-body experience.
The guy in the green vest, looking as fresh as a daisy, is Pete who decided that a gentle recovery jog would fit his training, so offered to keep me company and to offer support and encouragement. Thanks Pete!
The Brentwood 10k is a nasty, nasty initial race. The first hill was long and steep. Well, as I found out later, it was long. The second hill redefined my concept of steep. I was still struggling from the first beauty, and was already wondering about the remaining distance when this ugly monster loomed around the next bend. It’s a killer. Being “brave”, I suggested to Pete that we run/walk and like an idiot attempted to run up it a little, walked for a bit, and tried again. My legs were rubber, after that it was difficult to just walk. I wanted to lean on Pete, but didn’t want to break him!
After that, I started jogging again, but I was done in. Quite a few spells of walking came in over the remaining mile and I missed my goal of 68 minutes by 4 minutes - I think if the second hill wasn’t there I would have made it.
Here’s my GPS plot

Race tomorrow

The unbelievable is happening. Tomorrow, I am taking part in a running race. I’m not sure I believe myself.
For a first race, this one looks like it could be a bit of a bastard. There is a distinctly nasty looking hill around about half way round. As if this wasn’t intimidating enough, there is another smaller (but steeper) hill toward the finish, just to finish off the unwary.
This approximate map gives the idea - the graph at the bottom shows at 3 miles and 5 miles these nice steep inclines. I calculate them as being around 1:10 or 1:12. Evil, and nasty.
Over recent years it has tended to be a more serious race with mostly club runners. Probably, rank amateurs like me take one look at the hills and decide not to partake. Ha. Looking at last years finishers, I am likely to be in the last half dozen. Oh well, it is an important part of my training for the
Great Eastern Run.

Spot updates - racing on Sunday

I promised an update at least once per week, no matter how little I had to say. There are lots of small things going on at the moment, but nothing of “enough significance” to write about. The highlights of the last couple of weeks are:-
  • Getting a puncture almost half way round a 6 mile bike ride with Alison and James, and having to walk the bike most of the way home (before being rescued by Alison in the car).
  • Deciding to start to harden my soles my walking around barefoot for a mile or so on tarmac, concrete and various bits of gravel, and getting really sore feet.
  • Another bout of joggers nipple after my 10k training run on Saturday.
  • Pissing myself off after finding my training logs on from 2 years ago, and realising that I was still quite a bit fitter than I am now (nearly 1 min/mile quicker and 2 stone lighter).
  • Started a blog entry showing my running progress, and realising that I have started to plateau over the last couple of weeks.
  • Lost another 5lb in weight, but still looking forward to another 25lb to lose.
  • People at work have started commenting on the weight loss.
  • Australia immigration is crawling along at a frustratingly slow pace.
  • The latest batch of documentation to Australia has been sent.
The highlight is that I am preparing for my first ever race, running 10k at Brentwood on Sunday! Of course, checking last years results, I am likely to be in the last half dozen finishers - lol.

Migration Update

The fact that you can’t plan around the Australian visa application process was driven home again last week after a couple of emails.
In May, the expected turnaround time for state sponsorship was 8-10 weeks, and the consequent visa was expected to take 4 weeks. This was much reduced from before due to a tightening up over which skills were acceptable. Bloody brilliant, less waiting. Hurrah.
Since May the turnaround time for state sponsorship has risen to 16 weeks (so, I am STILL 10 weeks from having my application processed, strewth), it’s hard to handle all this waiting around. You could say I was a little pissed off. I’m trying to juggle a house sale and contracts for work around a date that is totally out of my control.
The other potential knock-back is that the Queensland have tightened up on the rules around the funds required. They are no longer taking into account anything other than cash assets. The equity in our house, cars and shares is no longer an acceptable source of funds. For a family of four, you are expected to have around $70,000(AUD) in cash, in the bank. How many people have £40,000 sitting aroung doing nothing? This is going to seriously affect quite a lot of people attempting to get to Australia.
The good news is that both of these still leave me in the running, so it isn’t the end of the story. And, it gives me an additional 6 weeks to lose weight before the medical.

Welcome to my new blog

I have started a new blog. This is very exciting for me, and is somewhere that I intend to write about things that interest me. I am aiming to post at least one item per week, but hopefully more than one.
Why blog at all? My old blog ran out of steam. So, I could have let it die. It probably would have been a fitting end - all it seems to be these days is a sort of forum for people discussing issues with the brand of central heating I have (which I daren’t mention here, in case it becomes a surrogate!).
Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr all overlap greatly with the world of blogs - and for the sort of thing I used to post have replaced it - hence my old blog sliding into total abandonment. But, these places are all places for a quick recommendation, comment, or status update - not for long term mini stories. I had a few of those in my blog, but had stopped doing them.
Should it be a blog with a theme? It appears, if I want large readerships or advertising revenue I should have a theme. I should pick something that interests me and write exclusively about that. OK, I have a job already! I’ll write about what interests me, regardless of topic, and sod the audience… This is for me, in 10 years time, so I can wonder what I found interesting when I was young (hah!). If anyone else likes what I write, fine. Forget the advertising.
So? What is likely to end up here?
  • I love my Apple Macbook Pro, so you are likely to find software reviews, or stuff I like about Macs (or iPhones, even).
  • Grumpy old man syndrome (well, I have both hairy ears and a hairy nose, and not much hair where I want it, so I think I qualify). So, general moaning about the crap country we are in will likely make an entrance.
  • Fitness (I dream). I am one of those people that claims that my weight goes up on it’s own, so dieting and fitness are an irregular topic of my life, trying to remove the blubber on irregular cycle to stop myself being moaned at, to avoid buying yet more clothes, to avoid breaking the office chair, etc..
  • Programming. This may get mentioned (although, my work is usually fairly confidential, so I will always think twice).
  • Working as a contractor. This is a big part of my life, and I would love to yap about some aspects of it, but the client confidentiality issues may actually stop me from saying anything (sad, but true).
  • Future tech. I am fascinated with the way technology is going, and concepts such as the Singularity may get mentioned (at the risk of drawing ridicule and scoffing at the mad old geezer).
  • Photography. I love taking pictures, especially of my family. I also like nice cameras, and my skills probably don’t deserve them - if you hang around here you will see the occasional photos or mention of photo kit.
  • Finally (at least until it dies a death, due to things not going my way), I am apt to wax on aimlessly (and most likely boring you all to death) about my progress in emigrating to Australia.

Beginning Running for Lard Arses

I started trying to run again in September last year, it was absolutely insane. I was very overweight at the time. Well, not overweight, not even obese, but obese category 2! I really needed to do something, and in a fit of madness chose running.
“Running” was a very loose description of what I was doing. I started by doing a walk/run program. Walking for a couple of minutes and plodding along for a minute. Surprisingly, it was fucking hard work. After doing this for 20 minutes I would be leaning against a lamp post desperately trying to suck in a lungful of air. If my ticker was ready to give up the ghost, that would have been it. I found the program on
Runner World - it seemed so easy. It wasn’t. Perhaps, they should have an even easier page titled “Going for Goals for Lard Arses” for people that are at least 5 stones overweight.
After about 6 weeks I was on Week 4 of the program and still every run was a form of medieval torture. At this point a colleague from work decided to join me. He’s considerably younger, and I was very worried that I would be lumbering on behind. In fact, we were well matched, and he’s been a great running buddy.
We completed the program by the beginning of December. Every run was still extremely difficult, and for the next couple of months the improvements were more in how I felt at the end of the run, and not at all in speed or distance. The harsh weather stopped play for a while. Stupid, stupid decision. We should have run in the snow and broken a leg, because of course it became an ongoing excuse not to run. For weeks. (Well, months).
April saw us starting again, knocked back, and pissed off that the hard work had been eroded. Within a few weeks we were back “on form”. Plodding away at the same old pace. The really odd thing is, we seemed stuck in a rut. It was easier and easier to run the distance, but our pace was stuck. I mean, 13 minutes per mile isn’t anything to crow about - it’s a slow jog.
Around the end of April we switched tack - no more increasing the distance and seeing the same old pace mile after dead mile. Now it was short runs, 2 miles. And, the first mile as quick as we could manage. Soon, this was showing benefit.
On Tuesday we did a two mile run in 20 minutes - hey, some people call that “running”, not “jogging”! Result.
Today, we ran a new route, not sure of the distance, and chose to run at talking pace. A new idea for us, running no faster than a pace at which you can carry on a conversation. Previously, if we’d tried that it would have degraded into a walk. I am stunned. Not only did we manage it, but we did it at a pace of 10:40 per mile.
Today saw us agreeing to do a half marathon in October. Bring it on…