Friday, June 30, 2017

The System

It has been a while since I made my last post but I have just been a bit lazy. So apologies to any readers that follow my meanderings. I'll try to do better in future, as Warren Buffet says after he's made a bit of a horlicks about something -- not that he makes many of those.  Witness just today when he exercised his Bank of America options and made $12 billion!  He deserves the afternoon off on a day like that.

But this post isn't about any of that, it is about the mindlessness of how business has become when it touches the small person, that is you and I, or in tech speak 'the user'.  Time was (and I know I sound like my parents now but then again I am grey so what do you expect?) when you wanted something like a bank loan, for example, you went into your local branch and asked to see the bank manager. You'd meet him (most likely in those days) and discuss what you needed and he'd make a decision on whether you were a fair risk or not.  Scroll forward to the times of the robo-lenders and there's no human touch involved at all. Just credit scores and a few computer chips with an embedded algorithm that give you an answer in a nano second. It is called 'efficient' and the world is striving for 'efficiency' so that we may increase our 'productivity', another quite innocent word that has taken on horrible connotations in recent times.

Now if you want a loan from a bank you cannot go into a branch and see a manager because there isn't one, a manager that is, and quite often there isn't a branch either. I went into a branch of my bank in England in a city high street and lined up dutifully for a 'customer services assistant' who it turned out could not assist me at all even though I was there in the bank. I had to call their call centre (which I did from a bank of phones from the bank branch) for this type of thing which was in another city (and could have well been in another country for all I know) and speak to another but this time disembodied 'customer service assistant'.  These days I don't bother going into banks but simply make the call to the call centre instead. Its not that it saves much time (it doesn't) rather I just skip the first bit where someone tells me in person that they cannot help and suggest that I speak to someone in the call centre.

Almost always you are met with "Good day, this is XXX customer service centre where your call is very important to us. Unfortunately there are other customers on the phone and the waiting time will be ..." or some such variation. I tried British Airways for some insane reason the day after their recent computer crash and the wait time even at night was a day and a half!  But if you're lucky the line goes click and somebody picks up.

At that point you encounter the first stage which immediately follows the pleasantries which are "How can I help you?" and then immediately jump into the remote identification process which starts off with invariably the same: "what is your date of birth?" and "what is your mother's maiden name?"

So on the one occasion recently that made me write this blog piece (it was a bank but could easily have been a phone company or almost anyone else) upon providing the details, I was met with the answer: "that's wrong". "What do you mean that's wrong?" I said back. "The system says its wrong" comes back the answer.

So there you have it, the 'System' knows everything about everything and everyone and that 'System' knows my date of birth and mother's maiden name... and I don't!  But here's the wrinkle, I have had that account since 1980 or 1981, don't remember which, and that... wait for it... predates computers and goes back to the time of branches and bank managers. At no point in between then and now have they ever asked for my mother's maiden name (they update passport details every so often) so how does it know?

We have a friend who is more nomadic than we are and she is part of the global data entry team that enters masses of data on people for a website that specialises in genealogy. She is provided with reams of paper with various bits of information and simply enters data from that paper into a 'System' and gets paid something for it.  So human interference gets involved right at the beginning.  One thing I remember from my college classes in DP (Data Processing as it was called back in the 1970's!) is garbage in, garbage out. Fat fingers is another way of putting it. Or human error. Not saying it is, not saying it isn't. Just saying.

Going back to my call centre conversation, I realise that its not that person's fault.  All they do is react to prompts provided by 'The System'. They don't know me or my details, they have common sense probably but 'The System' does not. They just respond to queries from 'The System' -- by the way I thought this is what computers should do for us, not the other way around -- and 'The System' asks them random questions for which the first two always seem to be the same. Once through them there are of course many others to choose from as well before you can actually start to do whatever it is you want to do.

In the past month or so I have had many such conversations with call centres on various matters and all of them last an hour or thereabouts. Just this week I tried to close a bank account and went through two call centre levels; the first was the low level person who didn't know a thing and at the first sign of anything complex immediately referred me to someone else who knew a bit more with the upshot being that the lady suggested that I should go into my local branch. Fortunately for this account at least I was in the same place so did just that, met a lovely lady named Ms. Bell and she resolved things in less than 5 minutes leaving me with a warm glow.

Now isn't that what customer service should be?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Spirit of Bermuda


Hello Facebook friends, this is me – Melv.  In an unguarded moment I agreed to help in a fund raising event for a Bermuda charity that potentially involves me willingly or unwillingly ending up in Hamilton harbour in March – which is practically the middle of winter now global warming is changing weather patterns even here.

Really, can you see this amiable buffer dunked into the oily, smelly and …. Very chilly waters of Hamilton harbour?  I am sure that your better natures will come out with a resounding ‘No’ and that you will contribute big time to my ultimate safety and comfort.

Actually I think that’s how it works anyway.  Pay a lot and he skips a dunking, pay a little and in he goes.  Don’t pay and I think there was talk of being sold to the galleys if they have them any more… but I know that that’s not what you really want.  Is it?

The following is the official bit, logo + some vital information on the why’s and wherefore’s and in particular the how of actually ponying up the big bucks to help me miss out on that soggy and decidedly unhappy ending. So do please read it as opposed to skipping it and moving onto the more interesting bit at the end.
  

The Pirates of Bermuda have named me, MARK MELVIN, as a person of value and are conspiring to take me hostage!  My ‘Wanted’ poster is all over the Island and the pirates are demanding that I walk the plank.  I need your help to raise my ransom!  On Sunday, March 5th, my fate will be determined at # One Car Park and Dock between 2:00pm - 4:00pm, so please come and show your support.

AS A DONOR, YOU HAVE A CHOICE!

Donate towards me walking the plank (SINK) into the chilly waters of Hamilton Harbour L
or
Donate towards my ransom (SAVE) so I am safely escorted off Spirit of Bermuda….dry!  J



When you visit ptix.bm/pirates, you are not actually buying tickets, you are donating to SINK or SAVE (as many hostages as you like- it’s like a shopping cart).  Choose the hostage, enter the amount you wish to contribute, and click on SINK or SAVE, then hit the back button to go back to another hostage.  It’s easy, and it’s all in good spirit for a very worthwhile youth programme.  When you are done, proceed to checkout.  You will get a “ticket” as a receipt emailed to you.

PLEASE, Spread the word!
               Bermuda Sloop Foundation is the organisation that runs Spirit of Bermuda and the learning expeditions on board Spirit of Bermuda at no charge to Bermuda’s public school students, taking an entire class of middle school students out on 5-day voyages throughout the school year, where the trainees learn the value of being healthy and the power of taking responsibility for oneself.  These and other character development  opportunities are in addition to the STEM based experiential activities that connect to the middle school curriculum. 
               Their programme and the Foundation recently received the highest award from Sail Training International at the Tall Ships International Conference in Quebec, Canada:  for “Vessel Operator of the Year”, awarded to a sail training organisation, operating smaller vessels, that demonstrates excellence in ‘innovation’ and ‘best practice’ in sail training for young people.
               Through vigilant fund raising, grant applications, corporate and private charters, and special Foundation events such as PIRATES OF BERMUDA, BSF is able to offer their programmes to Bermuda’s public school youth at no charge to the students, who may not otherwise be able to benefit from such an experience.  As many as 400 Middle School youth per year benefit from this programme.
               Donations help to fund student voyage bursaries for school voyages and summer learning expeditions on Spirit.
               Your participation and contributions are greatly appreciated by all involved with Spirit of Bermuda and the Foundation!  

The official stuff was pretty dull beside my preamble, wasn’t it? What it didn’t cover is some other interesting things.

First, a did you know.  Did you know that the Bermuda Sloop takes passengers on its trips overseas?  As in paying passengers.  There’s some particularly nice sounding ones this spring (after the March ending to this promotion) in the West Indies as it’s the 400th anniversary of Antigua. Check out the website.

And the other thing is of course the America’s Cup this summer.  The sloop actually has received a bye into the play off final between Team Oracle and the winner of the Challenger Series so the final races will be between 3 vessels not the usual 2.  This is a Bermuda first for the America’s Cup (and OK I may have made it up, but it does sound fun!).

That’s it then.  I do hope you find it in yourselves to make a contribution no matter how small (although I hope its not too small) for this is a great charity and the sloop itself is a masterpiece of old engineering that showcases how we all used to get around before cars, buses, aeroplanes and space craft.  Much slower, so plenty of time to smell the roses and just kick back (if you’re a paying passenger anyway otherwise there was always the risk of a keel hauling).



Melv

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Outtakes


Its been a little while now since Desert Trip.  Back home in Bermuda we had 2 hurricanes that knocked out power temporarily but most annoyingly the internet which is why I hadn't posted the photos before now -- apologies for that.  However the time has provided perspective.

It isn't very likely that three of the greatest bands of all time (Macca, Stones, Who) will ever play on the same bill again.  Macca is 75 like Dylan whose set I panned but whom I really did want to see just in case.  For who will take the place of these guys in the future?  I just don't see it.  Likely my parents said the same thing as I did but I just don't see Katy Perry or Justin Bieber in the same frame as these guys much in the same way as there wasn't much of anyone to compete with Mozart and Beethoven, genii of a different era.

Viv and I had a blast, no question about that and for that thanks do go to Stu who emailed me when we were in Amalfi in May about the tickets.  

Biggest thrill was being there and seeing these legends.  Biggest annoyance was... really well nothing.  OK Dylan was a pain in the ass but whatever, he's deserved it.  His songs and back catalogue are some of the best ever.  I was listening to the Eagles Greatest Hits in the car today and thought realistically their first 3 albums was just about all they did.  The rest was top 10 singles and Hotel California.  How can that compete with Dylan's 50 year career?  OK his voice was terrible as was his attitude but he rearranged everything whilst towards the end the Eagles just replicated the studio albums.  

At the time I thought The Who were the best act of the six and I still haven't changed my mind on that. What I like the most is the way all of them continuously keep doing something different, even Macca.  Their back catalogues in each case are beyond formidable.  None need the money or prestige.  I really hope they are doing this because they like it and they want to give pleasure to the fans that have supported them for 50 years.  Thing is of all of them I don't believe Roger Waters is in that category even though I and many others like me have paid him really well over the years for the privilege of getting his political views rammed down my throat.  Why isn't it that entertainers just realise we love what you do, just don't give us your opinions.  They probably aren't the same as mine.  I made the choice with your music but not your opinions. I just don't care what you think.

Trouble with this is that people like me are gullible and predictable.  I met a guy years ago that managed a British band called Tears for Fears.  I asked him why he and people like him didn't canvass people like me for my opinions.  He told me that I was a given.  I loved music and would do whatever I needed to to get it, listen to it and own it.  It was was to people who didn't love music that he was appealing to.  That really annoyed me but from his perspective, he's right.  Why waste time on someone like me who will always buy the records and go to the concerts?  It's the guys that don't are the ones he wants to convert.

Aaaagghh!  Isn't that irritating?

At times like this I tend to listen to music to solve my problems and make me understand.  This is 'Careful with that axe, Eugene'.  Once you listen to it, you'll understand.


 


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Desert and dust

Even though it was a few days over a weekend, our trip to Palm Springs was really nice.  It was good that we had a car not just for the concerts but also because this area is massive.  No walking possible at all.  And my goodness was it dusty too?  I had a dry throat pretty much the entire time but I suppose it is a desert and it hasn't rained probably for 100 years.

We stayed at the Hilton in Palm Springs, just short of downtown which turned out to be an inspired choice.  For sure it was pretty much at the other end of the valley (if that's what you call it) to Indio where the polo fields were so a 40 minute drive at the best of times, but at least in downtown we could walk out from the hotel into an area of bars and restaurants.  Some pretty nice ones too.

Really affluent too.  We met a couple of Stu's friends who had a second home in the area -- not Palm Springs, but in one of the communities whose name has escaped me for the moment.  They bought their place at the depths of the recession in 2009 and where it is is near to some of the ultra swankiest resorts around.  Some are so swanky that their gated community has no name -- well it does but it is not shown on the entry/exit so as to maintain its privacy.  The billionaires that live there visit by helicopter or other private means not involving anything to do with the public.  Bill Gates, for example, is in one community whose entrance is within 1/2 mile of Stu's friends place -- of course one never knows how far back it extends as this is a BIG area.

The house itself is really nice too, good and modern.  It was part of Bing Crosby's old ranch which has now been developed.  History has it that it was there that JFK met Marilyn Monroe for specific assignations as their originally proposed meeting place at Frank Sinatra's had apparently been compromised to the paparazzi of the time.  We of course saw no evidence of this but it is nice to know that there is at least some sort of story about the place.

I liked the area.  It feels clean... I know it isn't but pretty well nothing grows there other than cacti and as it is so hot in much of the year apparently, nobody dares to go outside during the day so the trash is manageable.

Palm Springs is not an area for full time residents.  Apparently the entire area of cities has a standing population of 300,000 which triples during the winter when the weather becomes more amenable -- when we visited it was in the 90's during the daytime falling to the high 70's at night.  It falls further to a comfortable 80 in the winter when of course the evenings become a lot cooler too.  So during the summer, nobody goes out much after 9 am as it is simply too hot.  Certainly no golf or tennis, etc.  That would be a killer.  When it is dark or just about dawn are the going out times to do things.

Nice but certainly a curiosity!

Pigs Can Fly

The final show of the Desert Trip spectacular was Roger Waters' new Pink Floyd tribute band delving deep into the repertoire and bringing out a monster show... spiced of course with plenty of political angst.

RW was effectively kicked out of the Pink Floyd because he became overbearingly focused on war and alienation from his audience.  His dad had been killed at Anzio in WWII and he forever dug it up from about Wish You Were Here onwards.  The madness and alienation bit came I suppose from PF founder member Syd Barrett and was taken onwards to the point where RW combined the two in The Wall -- building a wall between the band and audience.  I'd seen RW's production of The Wall in 2011 on a couple of occasions and the political posturing and nonsense almost overturned the terrific show and one thing I do have to say is that his shows were/are/will be terrific.

As a random choice, here is the original band doing Green is the Colour, a lovely tune from More.



I'd seen the PF for the first time in I think 1972 or 1973 at the Empire Pool Wembley, a concert the music reviewers of the time really had little positive to say other than talk about Dave Gilmour's split ends ("for goodness sake, he could have washed his hair at least") but like so many others I didn't care about any of that, I just thought the music was fantastic -- this show was Dark Side and earlier tunes finishing with an immense version of Echoes.  Later shows I went to showcased the 3 core tunes that made up Wish You Were Here and Animals and of course all the later shows too up to and including The Wall when really annoyingly I lost by damn ticket a couple of days before the show at Earls Court and found it 2 days later!!  Aaagh!  Cost me 3 quid as well.

So all this said, I am a big fan.  I don't much care that they all fell out and went their own separate ways.  I also don't much care if they subsequently said they thought Atom Heart Mother and Umma Gumma were terrible albums too -- I loved them both as most likely did their army of fans many of whom were at Desert Trip tonight.  It was the music I was there for and not the other nonsense and I think that was what all real fans felt.

I was reading an article the other day that related that at the Live8 show when the originals reunited briefly that the PF were the only band to not be specifically announced.  The pulsing sound of 'Speak to Me' was all that was needed.  So it was here at Desert Trip although it was accompanied by a light and sound show...
The big question was what would the setlist look like?  How much attention would be paid to Rick Wright, the keyboard player, who RW fired for not pulling his weight given that it was very much Rick Wright's keyboard noodlings that started it all off back in the late 1960's?

Homage to the original Fab 5 -- including Syd, briefly
The answer was in the setlist and what a setlist it was.

1. Speak to me
2. Breathe
3. Set the controls for the heart of the sun
4. Time
5. Great gig in the sky
6. Money
7. Us and them
8. Fearless (Whoa!)
9. Shine on you crazy diamond
10. Welcome to the machine
11. Have a cigar
12. Wish you were here
13. Pigs on the wing
14. Dogs
15. Pigs
16. The happiest days of our lives
17. Another brick in the wall
18. Mother
19. Run like hell
20. Brain Damage
21. Eclipse
22. Poem by RW (that didn’t rhyme)
23. Vera
24. Bring the boys back home
25. Comfortably numb

Essentially 3/4 of the set was laced with keyboard intense stuff that Rick Wright was so good at which was very nice to see and hear.  I was really happy to hear Set the Controls played live and also surprised to see Fearless -- not one I expected at all.  This setlist was copied from Setlist.com but I don't think it is completely correct as I am pretty sure they also played One of These Days I'm Going to Cut You Into Little Pieces, an instrumental off Meddle.  But maybe that was my faulty memory.



For the Animals section, the backdrop was an awesome version of Battersea Power Station and the famous pig flew that night too (not the next week apparently as it was too windy) with a happy little honorific for Donald Trump painted on the side.  From this part on the politics stuff started.

The image of Battersea Power Station was fantastic.  One of the reviews didn't know what that industrial building was and had to be informed by a PF nerd... such is the quality of journalism these days.

Here comes the pig!

As I said before I'm not a fan of all that nonsense.  Why stuff your views down other people's throats... particularly when you are not a citizen of that country too?  Why should I care what you do and don't believe?  Why should you take this forum when the audience have paid a total fortune for their tickets to drone on and on and on about something that bugs you... particularly since in return you want to build a wall between yourself and your audience and thereby prevent them from reciprocating?  That's incredibly arrogant and presumptuous, but having said that the pig was pretty cool! And the music was great.  Not too much improvisation though. 




It was a long show and given that the Who started earlier than expected around 6.15 pm, this was another late one!  

I did say 'Cool Pig' earlier, didn't I?  Great show though.

As a footnote, since returning home all I have been listening to is The Who and PF in all their various incarnations!

How could they open?

I don't think its possible to say you have a soft spot for The Who as they aren't that kind of band.  They are an in your face, 'Yer What?' kind of band.  As soft and cuddly as a crocodile really doesn't cut it but whatever expression it is, I do like them.  I like them a lot.  I'd bought tickets for their New York show last year at Madison Square Garden which they cancelled as Roger Daltrey had meningitis as given that he represents 50% of the remaining original members above ground, that particular show could not go on.  However they had taken the $7 million on offer to appear at Desert Trip and were placed on the final day -- so far so good -- but they were to open for Roger Waters and his Pink Floyd wannabes!!

The Who don't open for anyone!

Really?  These guys opening for someone else...???
Back in 1968, the Rolling Stones invited a bunch of different musicians and bands to their great Rock and Roll Circus.  Nobody wanted to follow The Who.  Same with Hendrix at Monterey in 1967 who supposedly tossed a coin with the Who to see who would go on first.  The Who went on first and the performance that followed included the famous stage destruction during "My Generation" which prompted Jimi to use lighter fluid on his favourite Fender Stratocaster later on.  (Take a look at the boys and Jimi in action below.  It's the disbelieving faces of the love children in the audience that get me!).


Amazing what you can do in 3 minutes!



Now that's pyrotechnics!

However I suppose that Roger Waters' show would be heavy on the lighting and effects so would be more likely to need darkness than the Who.... which was the case.

Pete said in between tunes that this was one of the most amazingly beautiful sights he'd seen on stage... and he wasn't talking about us old codgers but the lovely sunset
1. I can’t explain
2. The Seeker
3. Who are you?
4. The kids are alright
5. I can see for miles
6. My g-g-g-generation
7. Behind blue eyes
8. Bargain
9. Join together
10. You better, you bet
11. 5.15
12. I’m one
13. The rock
14. Love, reign o’er me
15. Eminence front
16. Amazing journey
17. Sparks
18. The acid queen
19. Pinball wizard
20. I’m Free with segue into the usual ending bits
21. Baba O’Riley
22. Won’t get fooled again


The setlist was of course a cracker!  All the big ones.  Lots of Who's Next, Quadrophenia and Tommy which was nice.  Rog's voice hung in well and Pete was his usual engaging self.  The reviews of the night were big on the political commentary during the evening, but that wasn't the Who.  It was Roger Waters later on.  All Pete said was "Interesting election campaign you're having".  Scarcely deep political commentary.  In England this is called irony!



Love the Quadrophenia film at the back.  Viv and I had walked along the top of Beachy Head last year.  Great view, wonderful music, terrific movie too. OK you need to be a Who fan ...
What a show though!  The Stones, Neil Young and Macca all had segments during which they improvised and improvised beautifully.  Pete did the same in this set showing that you don't have to faithfully reproduce what happens on the album to make a show great.  It has been a few years since I've seen the Who and I think that it is either my memory playing tricks or that they have held up remarkably well and in my book take #1 spot for performance of the week (I know I haven't written my blog yet on RW's set but whilst it was terrific, it wasn't as good as this one).


Backdrops for Behind Blue Eyes and Love Reign O'er Me
And of course they didn't do an encore.  They never do.  At least this audience wasn't as disappointed as the Charlton audience in 1974 when after 10 minutes of screaming, every can and bottle consumed that day by the 90,000+ attendees was thrown on stage.  Different time and place of course.

The team.  One old guy, one popsie and a young gun!  The Who were THE BEST!! Don't believe anyone else.



Monday, October 24, 2016

All you need is ...

Now I have an endlessly soft spot for the mop tops and don't care that Macca was supposedly the nice one who actually wasn't that nice but wrote all the singalong tunes.  I was looking forward to this set and the man really did not disappoint!

Hard Days Night as the opener!!
Here's the setlist:




This guy has 50 years of 3 minute songs to choose from, many to all of which are singalongable to the nth degree -- I sang along a lot!



I liked the way that Macca chatted to the audience in between.  There were some great stories.



Apparently he in the guise of Wings was the first western band to play in Red Square.  At the concert beforehand backstage were endless VIPs many soldiers in uniform.  One told him that he learned to speak English from Beatles records. 



The story before 'Something' changed though since when Viv and I saw him in Halifax a few years back.  This time Macca said he was round at George's Aunty Flo's house for tea when he pulled out his ukulele and started strumming.  Macca did the same then stopped half way through and said that it was out of tune, got a new one, said "Well that proves this is a live show" and started again, this time perfectly.

For the Benefit of Mr Kite!!! What!!!!! Really?  Fantastic.

The first attempt at Yesterday with ukulele #1


When Neil Young came out to join him for 'Day in the Life', Macca asked him to stay on for the next one and play his usual solo in the middle.  Neil showed him and it was the same one that he uses for all his tunes, whichever tunes they may be.  I recognized it from a couple of his songs earlier in the night!  "That's the one" said Macca.  So he did.




First song for the encore was a response to the Stones last night who'd done 'Come Together' as a cover.  Macca said he'd like to do a version of their 1st number one in England... which just happened to be written by Lennon/MacCartney! 

It wasn't just me on my feet tonight!
Stu said he thought the band was the same as when he saw them 20 years ago.  They certainly were the same that Viv and I saw more recently than that, albeit more wrinkly too.  Macca wasn't though.  Black hair and wrinkle free.  Lucky devil!


He didn't stop playing until way past the midnight hour curfew and I am pretty sure that nobody was going to stop him playing if he wanted to carry on.  That meant that it was nearly light by the time we got back to our hotel in Palm Springs... these late nights were killing me!