I’m quite convinced that the NHS vaccine online booking service was designed for car drivers. Those people with easy access to cars. I’m trying like mad to get an appointment, but there are none available in less than a 15-mile radius at a place which makes it near impossible to get to with public transport. When a location does turn up that’s closer – you MUST arrange the second appointment at the same time and often – in fact 99% of the time – you can’t go back to the same place as the first appointment and you have to travel even further away to get there.

Don’t think I’m ungrateful for getting a free vaccine, but it’s no bloody good to me if I have to go considerably out of my way to get it. I’d be happy to pay £100 to get the damn thing locally (with an option of which vaccine, if possible). But there doesn’t appear to be a way of doing this.

And what also gets me is that the UK government wants to get things as close to normal as possible in June when there are still many people trying to get their first vaccine. Transmission rates will, hopefully, be down because there will be many people who have had the vaccine, but the risk remains – especially with regards to some of the different mutant strains. I have a strong feeling that without further controls, things are going to escalate out of control again – complacency is going to bugger things up.

I’ll keep checking the online booking system daily, as I do, to try and find something reasonably suitable that I can either take public transport to, or an taxi/Uber. But the availability of vaccination centres appears to be incredibly slim.

The one thing that drives me completely nuts about the whole raft of current legislation against Apple from the likes of Spotify and Epic Games, who accuse Apple of market dominance is that it’s simply not true. Take for example the other day – my company organised a Zoom-based yoga session (which went very well) and the teacher provided a Spotify playlist of music. Spotify. Not Apple Music, not Deezer, not Tidal, not Napster. Spotify.

At Christmas, we were all invited to add our own recommended Christmas tunes to a shared Spotify playlist. Not Apple Music. And it should be pointed out that Apple Music’s does have a presence on Windows and Android devices, so it’s not exclusive to Macs and iPhones. Spotify’s big advantage over Apple Music is that it has a free tier versus a three month Apple Music trial. Plus, ultimately, Spotify has been established far longer than any of the other premium music streaming services.

So until shared Apple Music playlists take over from Spotify’s, I can’t see how Spotify can claim that Apple is being unfair to them. When I used to use their Premium service, I paid for it via the Spotify web site because that makes sense to me – my contract (and account) is with them. Would I like the choice of doing so through Apple? Yes, it’d be nice (and would save time – e.g. it’d be convenient), but ultimately my contract for those subscriptions are with Spotify, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and I pay for them directly with the video streaming provider. Interestingly, I found that a macOS software subscription to BBEdit to be .. troublesome. Apple’s system kept prompting me every so often to verify the subscription despite auto-renewal being enabled that it annoyed me so much, I just bought the version directly from the software developer.

This leads me to Epic Games. I fail to understand their reasoning for a third party store on iOS. Firstly they say 30% fee per transaction is too much. Yet Epic and other whinging developers who claim Apple is being unfair to them fee-wise don’t contest the likes of the 30% Microsoft and Sony console store fees. These are not open platforms either and strictly controlled by both Sony and Microsoft. If I wanted a fully open platform (or as open as it can be), I’d pick Linux, Windows and Android. As it stands, I’ve found the Apple ecosystem to work for me very well at a consumer and professional level. A lot of developers I work with say the same – practically everybody I know uses a Mac (with Windows being the exception).

While the iOS App Store is not perfect, it still does a pretty decent job of weeding out bad actors, though there are a few prominent cases right now which make Apple look bad – though these are few and far between and potentially a lot of stuff we don’t know about – Apple usually comes to their senses in these matters (listen, I never said Apple were perfect). What makes people think that a third-party store is going to be any better? The case against Apple is strictly a developers’ issue and not that of consumers. Do you think I like having to pay a subscription fee for Adobe Photoshop that ties me into subscribing for a full year? There is no choice of buying it outright. So don’t kid me about consumer choice.

People pick Apple for security and privacy over the likes of Google, a company that ultimately deals with advertising and sharing of personal data (although their Workspace product obviously doesn’t do that otherwise I would have got rid of it a decade or so ago). Having a third-party app store on iOS would make security a living nightmare, and possibly introduce more issues than I care to think about. Assuming for the moment that Epic Games get to put its own store on iOS and there’s a massive vulnerability in their code which could affect data stored on the iPhone/iPad. Or even worse, a piece of code in Epic’s store that, combined with a new vulnerability found in iOS, could cause a major security breach in iOS? And what if it was exploited? Who would you sue (if you’re lucky enough to be able afford to sue)? Apple? Epic? Both?

Then there’s exclusivity. Epic complains about the exclusivity and terms of Apple’s own App Store, but Epic already exerts extensive control over the in-game currency of Fortnite (to the point of compensating people in their own in-game currency after losing a lawsuit over loot boxes – remember, Epic control the value of that currency), the billing methods used to pay for it, and having sole exclusive of any sales of games and products through its own digital shop. Epic (and others) wants to dictate its own terms on a platform that’s been created, managed and supported by Apple, and from whom they have benefited considerably over the years with the macOS and iOS app stores. I firmly believe these companies do not have any entitlement to the iOS or even macOS platforms whatsoever. Epic Games’ behaviour over Fortnite has been appalling, and that’s why I’ve closed my account with them. And I’ve just done the same with Spotify too.

I find companies like Epic and Spotify to be hypocrites. They should be investing in innovation – improving their products and coming up with new ones rather than spending silly sums of money on lawyers across the world. Lawyers are the only ones who going to make any money out of all this nonsense, and I can think of much better things to spend that money on.

Whenever I read something like this – MPs and Peers say protests should be allowed during lockdown – my blood boils. It seems to me that in the past two decades, maybe more, we’ve put the onus on our rights and needs. Yet how many people are actually thinking about their obligations to the community as a whole rather than their own needs?

The coronavirus spread decrease is slowing in the UK and increasing in the EU. It won’t be too long before cases begin to rise in the UK again – despite the vaccine rollout programme which is now likely to see delays in my age group getting it due to delivery issues. With the government apparently promising no more lockdowns, this is – I think – somewhat likely to lead to another lockdown. Or the government just won’t care and let it overwhelm the NHS again. That 21st June deadline for all social measures being lifted is looking increasingly likely as if it could slip. And don’t get me started about winter and the flu.

Let us as a species not muck this up any more than necessary. Wear a mask. Be careful. Be sensible. Don’t mix with large crowds. Don’t take the piss. Having spent the past year almost entirely indoors, I would dearly love to get out and about and it keeps being spoilt by stupid, selfish people who think other people don’t matter. This is particularly apparent when the virus infection rate rises again after the easing of previous lockdowns (motto: One for one and one for one.)

Yes, we need and require the right to protest as well as many other things. But for goodness sake, let’s be sensible about it. And make sure it’s the right time to do so. We also have a plethora of online social media and communications tools that can do the job just as well. However, one cannot protest if one becomes seriously ill (or dies) after catching this blasted virus at a rally. A virus that’s still very much alive and well and doing much better than us humans.

This little slice of the web is now proudly hosted on an AMD-powered server in Frankfurt. Although if my hosting provider was ever to provide ARM64 servers, I’d move to that. I’ll never host with AWS, Google Computer Engine or Microsoft’s Azure platform because they’re just too expensive for a little blog like this.

I used a WordPress plugin called UpDraftPlus Premium to backup and restore this blog to the new server. I used my own scripts to install and configure Nginx, PHP and MariaDB, then all I needed to do is drop in a basic install of WordPress. From there, it was just a case of installing the UpDraftPlus Premium plugin and activate it (for the Premium features), then connect it to one of the cloud storage services (in this case, Google Drive), rescan the backup store, pick a date, and then restore everything (though I’d avoid reinstalling WordPress core if you’ve already just installed the latest version).

Many years ago, I came across a small local company producing online gift boxes that contained a wide variety of gifts based around various themes. The company name was Pamper Parcels. As Christmas was fast approaching, I wanted to get my stepmother a gift and this was the perfect solution as I’m not a natural shopper and despite knowing what my family likes and doesn’t like, I still struggle to buy anything suitable. So having somebody pack and present gifts nicely is a massive bonus in my view. My step mum was delighted with it.

Based on the feedback, when they produced a men’s pamper gift pack, I thought I’d give that a go. The box and packaging were excellent, and the contents were a perfect mix of edibles and smellies. Alas, Pamper Parcels doesn’t appear to be with us anymore, but while they were operating, they were a very good option for those looking for gifts.

That was 2014. Fast forward to 2020 and we’re in a pandemic. The company I now work for usually do something at Christmas time for us, but given that I and most of my fellow colleagues have been working from home for nearly a full year now, that wasn’t going to happen. So they kindly gave us all a very generous allowance to spend at Bookblock.com, another company that specialises in gift boxes, along with personalised stationery and cards.

I’m a big sucker for stationery, but I can barely read my own handwriting these days, so it’s wasted on me. But I’ve only just gotten around to picking and choosing my own gift box (Christmas was a busy time of the year, not much time to stop and think about things.)

I decided to stray from the curated boxes and go for some of the crafted beers and wines – along with a mug (you can never have enough mugs). The whole lot was paid for by my employers and the thing was delivered by DPD in under 24 hours.

I look forward to celebrating Christmas 2: Electric Boogaloo over the next few weeks – when I’m not on-call. I’m certainly very impressed with Bookblock’s presentation and speedy turnaround. And I’ve bookmarked them as I’m sure I’ll use them again in the future – either for family, friends, or myself again.

I’ve been quite busy of late – hence the lack of new posts – but you’re about to see why.

I’ve always found online dating to be a massive pain in the arse. It really is a massive, massive pain in the rear end. It’s incredibly expensive, it’s potentially dodgy as hell, and the level of satisfaction is incredibly low.

These sites are rarely well managed by the site owners, who will be more than happy to take your money but provide a substandard service in return. You’re likely to be scammed left, right and centre, and you’ll encounter many, many, many, many time wasters. And when you do encounter somebody, their messaging skills are dire or they just don’t want to be bothered to respond even with a simple, “thanks, but no thanks”.

My main advice would be to check out rating services such as Trustpilot and Money Saving Expert before you even think of handing over any money for a subscription since almost all of these services will force you into a contract and will make you pay some or all of that contract in the form value compensation even if you cancel for ANY reason within 14 days. Yet, these sites make the free tier almost impossible to use without a subscription. There’s no point in it being free. You can’t do anything. I got caught out by eHarmony (as have many, many, many others) – but the other sites were very reasonable all things considered. Check those terms and conditions like a hawk.

Online dating is not the faint of heart. But I have tried many of the UK’s most popular brands over a three week period to find out which one would likely to attract a long term subscription from me. The answer to that is none of them. These are my notes:

Match.com

Given how prolific this service is, it probably hosts the most comprehensive number of profiles of any service (with the exception of Plenty of Fish), but it’s definitely not without a good number of scammers either.  Within hours, had to report at least one possible scammer.  Can’t stop people outside the UK looking at your profile.  Honoured 14-day refund period.  Problems include uploading photos.  

One thing to note: they really do want you to upload recent photographs, and one way they will check and enforce this is by scanning the EXIF metadata of any photo being uploaded.  They do this to make sure that the creation date of the photograph falls within a one or two year period of whatever today’s date is.  As I don’t take too many selfies and my appearance tends to remain the same, I tend to use a photo I had taken at work a while back which is a couple of years old,.  So when the photo was initially rejected, I manipulated the EXIF data and fixed the date so that it appeared to have been taken the same day as the upload.  I re-uploaded and it was accepted.  I’m not suggesting everybody should do this, but it’s one way of getting around the automated moderation if you really, really want to use a particular photo.

Tinder

Super expensive, especially when “boosting” your profile.  More catered for the younger crowd – too many “pouting” pictures alongside boob shots and women in their underwear – something that wouldn’t be allowed on other services.  User interface is a pain in the arse and unfriendly.  Apple honoured refund.

Plenty of Fish

A very comprehensive number of profiles – possibly more so than Match.com.  But it’s super expensive, especially when you have to pay extra for profile boosts.  But even worse is the user interface which is extremely buggy on the web version, with messages being mixed up with Plenty of Fish’s own mailbox at times – refreshing the page fixes it.  A lot more scamming going on.  Twice I encountered (quite possible the same scammer) with a profile containing photos of a nice lady – except the profile claims to be a 49-year-old man who is blonde (the lady in the pictures was dark-haired).  Plenty of Fish honoured the refund request.

eHarmony

Can’t stop people from outside the UK looking at your profile (though you can stop them contacting you).  Attempted to fix grammar mistake with profile (apostrophes out of place) which was rejected by “customer service” (no additional content was added, and previous edit was absolutely fine.  Absolutely bloody useless customer service as a result.  That said, they have the most stable and better designed UI than the other dating sites.  One doesn’t “boost” the profile to as far and wide, rather you use their algorithm for match compatibility which seems to work pretty well and gets a decent number of views.  Messaging is relatively straight forward – and well designed.  However,  giving “compliments” on parts of a profile are a lot more complex than it seems – what generally should start conversations usually is a massive non-starter.  

The 14-day statutory right to a refund is essentially negated if you pay for Premium Membership which pretty much the only thing you can do to make ANY sense or use of the service (which applies to pretty much any dating service – the free membership is useless).  Even then, they will deduct a further fee for “value compensation” (which is mentioned in the terms and conditions) due to your use of the Premium Membership – essentially charging £130 for the “scientific” match report.  But, at the goodness of their hearts. they will half the fee and deduct the first month’s fee from that.  I ended up paying £65 for a service which did not live up to expectations.  On the other hand, I am no longer tied to the contract.  

The report fee is not mentioned in the terms and conditions which is publicly available on the site and is sent as a PDF to you after you placed the order (which brings down your subscription costs too).  They claim the £130 *is* mentioned prior to placing the order, but I do not recall this, and when pushed to prove that it’s there, I got no response.  I’ve filed a complaint with the CMA (Competition Markets Authority) over eHarmony’s lack of transparency.  Visiting Trustpilot will show many, many, many people have been caught out by this fee, and even eHarmony’s very own Facebook page has scores of people following up their own posts complaining about the value compensation fee.  This suggests to me either the company is deliberately hiding behind it, or are completely bloody useless and doesn’t give a toss.  eHarmony were forced to pay a $1.2 million fee and $1 million in restitution after a variety of renewal related chaos:

https://mynewsla.com/business/2018/01/09/dating-site-slapped-with-big-fine-for-automatic-renewals-denied-refunds/

and here in the UK, eHarmony got in a lot of trouble with the UK Advertising Standards Agency for their adverts:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/03/online-dating-ad-banned-scientific-claims-dismissed-fake-news/

Encounters Dating

This one is very much up front about refunds – you pay and use the service immediately, you remain in contract.  No refunds.  So I signed up for one month only to get a feel, then can let the thing run out.  I feel it’s fine to compensate a dating site for at least one month’s of service if they really insist on it.  

Problems included one “fan”‘s subscription running out and not being able to contact me, but would write when she renewed her subscription – either it was a scheme for me to “gift” a subscription to her, or just to tell me to bugger off (which would have been simpler).  Another fan, I’m sure, was merely a mistake.   Then there was another that had locked her profile down so much there were too many non-negotiable elements that it made it impossible for me to contact her.  All pictures were hidden and you’d have to ask.  So she was immediately blocked – why waste somebody’s time like that?  There’s no method of boosting a profile, but they seem more relaxed with photographs and profile statements versus others.  

I  noticed that Encounters Dating seem to cater for the more mature side – given its association with the Telegraph you can expect plenty of people 45 years and up and with a more conservative view.

Overall / Conclusion

Each site needs to introduce stricter verification processes to deter fraud and scamming.  If this means a credit check against the account owner, alongside manual verification of ID, so be it.  A few of these sites offer a phone verification which is displayed alongside a user’s profile, but not everybody does this – it’s entirely optional.

The cost of subscriptions is pretty damn outrageous with the likes of Tinder. Match and Plenty of Fish charging eye popping fees to pimp (maybe the wrong choice of word there) your profile to everybody.  To give some context, I pay Google £15.30 a month to access their *Enterprise* email and workspace (Docs, Drive and Presentation) product.  I have 24/7 round the clock support for business critical outages or problems.  I also pay £11.99/month for YouTube Premium which does away with adverts and provides downloads via the YouTube app for offline viewing.

£15.30 + £11.99 = £27.29

This is still CONSIDERABLY cheaper than any of the monthly (or even of the many other quarterly, bi-annually or annual) subscription costs for dating sites.  The support will be considerably worse off.  You’ll more than likely get scammers.  And if you don’t like it – especially after 14 days – you’ll either to pay off the remainder of your subscription or a hefty value compensation fee.

My general thinking is maybe we need to stop with all this algorithm nonsense and go back to the old fashioned match making systems of old – e.g. humans behind the matching process.  I was amazed when watching an unlikely dating show, The Undateables, just how *nice* it would be to have that human contact when setting up a profile and throughout the whole process.   Plus it gives a sense of security and verification to the proceedings.  But this would come with even high costs than what is on offer now (I estimate around £600+ a year) – and, of course, trying to deal with hundreds of thousands of profiles would be impossible.  

Another issue I have with these online dating services is that most of the women I have some conversation with just can’t go beyond the length of simple text messaging.  I’m fine with talking of course, but I need to engage and get a sense of the person through their writing first.  I was complimented once, long in the distant past, by somebody who said that I had at least taken the time to compose my messages which weren’t along the lines of “ugg, urgh, yes, or no.” I understand people want to talk, but I’d like to initially see some form of literacy in a date that goes beyond three or four words.  Is it too much to ask?

If there is one thing that can be said about the modern internet is that it’s really reduced people’s tolerance levels. Once, long ago, these people had the patience of saints. Now? “Offence, offence, offence! Cancel this, cancel that! I am truly offended by what you say!” Or, “I want this thing yesterday, and I want you to tell me exactly where it is at all times, down to the microsecond, or I’ll cancel the order and will go elsewhere! You’re a bunch of useless bastards, I hate all of you, you incompetent Schweinehunds!” (Said person subsequently orders elsewhere and the same problem occurs – repeats outrage until they get a heart attack or achieve spontaneous human combustion).

WHERE’S MY GADGET? WHERE IS IT? GIVE IT TO ME, YOU BUGGERS!
GLOBAL PANDEMIC? LOCKDOWNS? JOB LOSSES? WHAT ARE THEY THEN?

To put it simply – people have about as much tolerance as a poodle has for a cement mixer.

The latest outrage is people buying iPhone 12 (Pro)s. Given that we’re still in a global pandemic and that manufacturing has been affected as a result – it’s not any great surprise to anyone that there are maybe fewer units available at launch day/week/month than usual. A supply constraint. Add to that fewer stores open, add to that fewer employees working (both online and in-store), and add to that we’re about to enter a second national lockdown.

And yet people are raging about delivery times, orders going wrong and being sent back to the DPD/EE warehouse and having to wait again as their phone is allocated to somebody else.

There’s me, trying to arrange a delivery slot with a major supermarket for basics such as food and toiletries, and finding practically all the slots full for the coming week.

I too have ordered an iPhone 12 Pro from EE, but unlike most people, I am waiting patiently – occasionally checking the order, but otherwise willing to wait however long it takes to receive the phone ( a week, two weeks, a month – whatever). I already have a terrifically decent phone to be getting on with until it does. If I find it gets sent back – no problem, mistakes are made – just you try working out logistics at this scale in this challenging environment – and we can resolve it and carry on. Patiently.

If we’re going to have any more World Wars (or more even deadlier global pandemics), it’ll be thanks to the internet, social media companies and the press that gets people killed. Maybe it’s about time that we disconnect a little more and spend more time looking at what’s more important than TikToks, YouTubes and what Kayne West is saying now on Twitter.

Introducing the iPhone 12.5 – a brick. It’s quite literally a brick (but in multiple colours). Can be used with other iPhone 12.5’s to make a house, or any other kind of building. Can’t be used to make calls, take photographs or video, connect to the internet or even play music or video. It’s a brick. Environmentally friendly because it doesn’t need charging. (Cue 20,000 YouTube videos covering the iPhone 12.5, determining how strong a brick actually is – and building houses with it.)

When doing my weekly shop, I discovered the following:

I remember Marathon. And I also remember when the family went on holiday to Italy and it was called Snickers – and boy, did I find that name super silly. They’d never call it that in the UK, hahaha…

Then they renamed Marathon to Snickers in the UK to align the brand internationally.

Now there’s a big “retro” movement. TV, music, fashion – you name it, it’s becoming popular again. And it seems that the food industry in particular is playing into it as well (as evidenced above).

Of course it all tastes the same – except the size of the bars are not in anyway “retro” (either I remember them as being massive, or I was a little lad) and certainly not priced “retro” either.

.. with another blog reset.

I’ve moved away from WordPress.com hosting, not because they were bad (on the contrary, they were pretty good), but rather I was itching to do the sysadmin work myself. Especially after my employers launched their brand new site (with my help, of course).

I really cannot be bothered importing several gigabytes of media and posts from the old blog again – plus so much of it is out of date anyway. This is the problem I have with the likes of Google, Bing and other search engines – you’re trying to find something useful to help you with a particular problem, and 95% of the time the advice is several years out of date.

Anyway, my tinkerings will continue in the background and hope to have some more posts soon.

Update (25th October): Back to using Disqus for comments system.