Thursday, 21 June 2018

The No-Reply Email Customer Service Runaround!

A common big company website problem is their general reluctance to engage in dialogue with their customers - whilst still doing the best and most polite job they can of appearing to care. Their no-reply, extra-polite, emails are an example, and are experts at this. You fill out a form, get their stock but unsatisfactory generic answer, are unable to reply to it to maintain any continuity, and then you have to go all round the same loop again.

I had an interesting variation on this today with Accors Hotels, the parent company of countless hotel chains. Having experience of dealing with their global customer services based somewhere in Africa, I seem to remember, I tried their contact form instead. Clearly there is no email address to use. Now the form specified an Attachment field as Mandatory, meaning you MUST use the field or else the form will not work. Surprise, surprise, I didn't need an attachment. But there was no way round it. So I created a little text document telling them how stupid it was to always demand an attachment, then I tried to attach that file. And guess what. It would NOT attach! So it was a Catch-22 situation. Attach a file if you want to send the form, but there is no way to attach the file.

How about that for an elegant solution to avoiding customer contact? It brings a whole new meaning to Trial and Error!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Companies Need to Realise Email Addresses Actually Change!

Companies need to realise email addresses actually change. Yes, really! After a couple of decades using an email address tied to a website that I ran I sold the website and had to  cope with changing my email address with numerous company websites. Fortunately I had them all listed on a spreadsheet, together with usernames and passwords, etc. Even if it had been a straightforward matter of going to each website, locating the contact information, changing it, logging out, then logging back in again to make sure it had really changed, this alone would have been a mammoth task. Trust me, the number of sites I'm talking about is well into three figures! But that would have been easy - IF the websiste owners actually catered for someone trying to do something so dastardly and inconsiderate as changing their email address. 'How dare they!' seemed to be the general attitude.

Here are SOME of the problems I encountered, and this is not even an exhaustive list!
  • Some sites used email addresses as usernames as well. This means that even if you manage to change the email address for communications, you are forced to use the old email address to logon. (Never  good idea for organisations to have the same information in more than one location. Asking for trouble - ie a human interface. This is what databases are for: one location for one piece of information so it only needs changing once!)
  • Some sites allowed you to change the contact information except, when you logged out and back in again - it was stuck on the old information. (Waiting a week or so to see if a human was involved never seemed to bear fruit!)
  • Some sites had NO PROVISION to change the email address at all! (Data protection, folks! Are you going going to send data to the wrong people because you cannot be bothered to sort the problem out?  Couple this with the tendency to avoid giving any contact information and you reall run ito problems. Both the user and the data protection defaulting website owner.)
  • There are sites which actually name your account after your email address. For example, Microsoft, no less, do this and, although I successfully changed my email address and deleted my old email address in my profile, the account name is still named after my old email address! (How weird is that for one of the world's biggest companies?) 
  • Travelodge already knew my new email address and their alternative one. So that prevented me adding it as my primary one. But it is not possible to delete the primary one - or make it the same as the alternative one. So this is a Catch 22 situation. No way to change it without personal contact - and past experience at doing this is that it is not worth the hassle. Easier to open a new account! You see? Even the big players make changing your email a nightmare!
  • Some sites asked you to contact them to change things - then did not respond (or maybe responded you an old and invalid email address.
  • Some sites manage to  communicate with the new email address but still also sent copies (or ALL communications)  to the old email address - and a new owner of the domain, hence going against new data protection requirements be disclosing private data. (Data protection, folks)
Given that some of the sites involved intensive security measures to be undertaken it felt like the Krypton Factor to undertake a few hours of this work.

I'm not just talking about the little guys here. I've had troubles with Amazon, Npower, Accor Hotels, Autotrader, and other big names.

Are website owners aware of the huge fines they can face for infringing data protection requirements now. So: HELLO! EMAIL ADDRESS CAN CHANGE!

So, bottom line. WEBSITE OWNERS: PLEASE ALLOW USERS OR CLIENTS TO CHANGE THEIR EMAIL ADDRESS ONLINE. OK, sure, there are security issues. But knowing the security answers should allow users to prove themselves. The hurdles are generally quite high already where it matters.

Guys, get your acts together!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

UK Retirement Standards

It's said that when you get to your wit's end, you'll find God lives there. I'm starting out with a joke, because what follows may bring tears to your eyes in you're British. And, if you're at your wit's end about money, maybe take this as a GREAT INCENTIVE to SAVE REGULARLY from an early age... to protect yourself in retirement.

I'm going to to give you a few worldwide stats about pensions and retirement - always a tricky issue. But it's SO good to think the UK's not a Third World country when it comes to things like this, isn't it? Or is it?

I've got some shocking facts for you, of which younger folks should take note. Believe it or not, there are some countries where pensions actually EXCEED earnings! ... Yes! The Netherlands, for example, typically get 101% of earnings. I'm here to give you the shocking fact that in a table of 45 countries before me, we come NEXT TO BOTTOM at 29%. ONLY South Africa, is worse, at 17%. Can you BELIEVE it? Turkey gets 102%, and Croatia - the HIGHEST - gets - wait for it - 129%! So they get more in Croatia by retiring than working. Here are a few more figures: Poland 39%, Ireland 42%, Switzerland 45%, US 49%, Germany 51%, Estonia and Slovenia 57%, Lithuania 71%, Brazil 76%, Cyprus& China 83%, Bulgaria 89%, Italy 93%, and India 99%. BELIEVE it or NOT!

So, still think we're NOT a Third World economy? THIS, a country in which many in their late sixties and seventies, find the need to work on. So what is going on? And, you know what? It gets worse. Those countries with the highest pensions also have the highest percentage of home ownership. Here are some examples: Romania, 96%, Croatia and China 90%, India 87%, Poland 84%, running down to US and UK both at 64%.

So, I repeat. What is going on? How do we improve our world sensibility rankings? I'm guessing that the people in countries with higher pensions and home ownership focus more on acquiring what they can actually afford to BUY, as opposed what they can afford to RENT. Prior to the financial crash, the banks were inviting us weekly to borrow more and live for the day.The result is repenting in the morrow.

Do you remember a radio show where the farmer's phrase "I think the answer lies in the soil," was famous? Somehow, I don't think that's the answer to this problem. I think the answer lies in avoidance of debt, rather than collective heads in the sand. And, maybe, no longer thinking our country is responsible for policing the rest of the world. Those top rankers only focus on their OWN country. Time to think about our FUTURE standard of living, I think, rather than just our PRESENT one.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Go[o]d v. Evil

This post is about good and evil... and God and evil.

How can God allow evil people and organisations achieve such powers of destruction? Whether we're talking Hitler or ISIL, it is hard for people to contemplate the juxtaposition of such things and a loving God. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury recently admitted to struggling with his faith over such matters. (Not sure that helps a lot, Justin.)

Things like this are responsible for many people NOT believing in a loving God - or any God, for that matter. Take the tragic death of a spouse or relative. The murder of a child. Bad things done by members of the Church. How can God allow such things?

Well here's my view on the matter, in case it helps anyone. The world is as we see it. That's pretty much the way scientists see it - except in matters of fine detail where their 'beliefs' tend to change with time. And that word 'belief' is an important one. Science, you see, 'believes' what it has theorised or thinks it has proven so far, but frequently new theories come along and those beliefs have to change. Given this, a scientist should look more kindly on those whose less complex belief is in God. A scientist can prove little of what he believes, and he cannot disprove what a Christian believes - except perhaps a few of the fine details like the method of creation.

The world is as it is. As we see it. And that is the way God created it. In a masterpiece of creativity, his thought became our universe, our realm of creation, and that is where we exist. Clever stuff? Yes, but hang on. You create worlds which seem just as real to your perceptions on a regular basis: in dreams!

Yes, evolution has played an enormous part in our physical selves, and that was all part of the natural development of the world God created. There are different levels of 'good' within it, no matter how we define the term, and another term used to describe the negative extreme of good is 'evil'. Through the graduations of behaviour we label as good or evil, it is inevitable there will be evil. That is all part of the free-flowing nature of creation.

God created a system which appears to follow rules or theories. But almost anything can appear to have rules if you go to extremes of modelling it (like weather forecasting). The fact we have weather forecasting models that boil down to rules does not mean the weather actually follows any rules. God does not chose to interfere with this realm of existence, although he has given us guidelines, which religions document: as guidelines or 'rules'. God is, no doubt, entertained by the evolving nature of this creation but, like a human father, he prefers to let his children - us - make our own way in the world. Why would he want to control everything? What would be the value of a creation where he had to control the movement of every grain of sand, the path of every falling leaf... or the actions of ever-interacting human beings? He prefers to give us freedom and to delight in those individuals who follow paths of good. Good will ultimately prevail, for evil would be self-destructive, and what creator wants to destruct his creation? So evil people and organisations can exist. It is up to the powers of good in the world to destroy them. How do we know what is good and what is evil? That is where true and trusted religions come in: such as Christianity; in their case they have the Holy Bible - which the believe to have been 'God-inspired'. (But since human beings wrote it, and had a cap on their levels of understanding, there is scope for some misinterpretation and human error here and there. (Not to mention the fact that powers have changed its wording through the centuries.)

If you believe there is a devil as the ultimate essence of evil then such an entity would most delight in fooling people who start out believing in God and then turn their behaviour into the opposite of what should be their true aims. What a laugh for the devil - and what an achievement. ISIL is an example of this: religion gone wrong to the extreme. And nations all over the world can see it is wrong.

There are different ways to accept a God, and it it wrong for a particular religion to disparage another if it also believes in one God.

Christians believe there is an afterlife - Heaven - and that, of course, is another realm of existence. Jesus told a repenting criminal on an adjacent cross to him at his crucifixion that he would be together with him in Heaven that very day. And if there is an alternative existence for believers who die, one we are led to believe is a better one than the physical world, that puts a whole new complexion on people dying; they can move on to a better world. Our point of view is restricted to this life, but God's is not. He can see his other creations. He can see the better lives that exist for those souls who had a bad deal in this world. And so must you. Think about the wider picture, think about the freedom God gives us in this creation, think about the promises he makes about a better life after death if we believe in him, and just understand this world is a world of freedom. It is up to use to identify and eliminate evil using the uncorrupted word of God. And that is where things go wrong: when activists believe in a corrupted idea about the word of God. And that is why God and evil coexist. 

It is up to each and everyone of us to determine the right path. Deep within our selves God provides the means for us to judge between right and wrong.

When you 'get it' and add 'oh' to your understanding of God... you will see the Good.

Allergies - Modern Living and Me

I watched the BBC Horizon programme called Allergies - Modern Living and Me. Its interesting conclusion was that in order for a human being to be healthy it needs to be subject to to the right bacteria from birth in order that it can educate our bodies. We need the right amount - and diversity - of good bacteria if we are to be healthy. Amazingly, normal birth through the vagina envelops a baby in important bacteria right from the start. So those born by Caesarean
section immediately get off to a bad start - especially since they are often then exposed to a less beneficial bacteria in intensive care wards. And if infants - especially those younger than 1-year old - are given antibiotic courses, while these might be necessary to kill off bad bacteria, the collateral damage they do of also killing off good bacteria can lead to life-long allergies.  It also explains why we should try to avoid antibiotics at any time, if we can. We need those health-giving mini-beasties, and antibiotics work like a sledge-hammer to squash them all.

It appears that modern living in sanitised surroundings, often far removed from the bacteria of the great outdoors, is also a factor, especially for growing children. So getting them out there in the open air and that outdoor bacteria that our ancestors knew and loved will help to programme their bodies to live a happier and healthier life. This lack of engagement with the great outdoors is almost certainly responsible for less healthy individuals, so if you love your children, get them outdoors poking around for beasties. Horizon showed that this outdoor bacteria is easily brought inside, and then spread around, and that the family dog is a great ambassador in doing just that. So get out to the park, in the garden, follow the lead of that dog!

This is all particularly interesting to me because it helps prove just how intimately we interact with the rest of creation. The billions of bacteria we have on us - and especially within our gut - are not just beneficial for our health: they are actually essential to life. And, apparently, what is most important in all this is diversity. One good bacterium is not enough; we need a variety. So while a  given probiotic might be great, a diversity of them is 'greater'. And fruit - a 'pre-biotic' - can help us to acquire them. It all begins to add up, doesn't it, including that call for 'five a day'?

So how diverse is your life?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

SLS - a nasty chemical to know more about since you encounter it every day!

'SLS for short' - or SodiumLauryl Sulfate for long. If you have the suspicion washing your face is making your skin dry, or that shampooing is giving you an itchy scalp or making your eyes sting, or that cleaning your teeth is giving you mouth ulcers, SLS is the likely cause. Read this article on the ten top reasons to avoid using it and you will find it a bit scary. The most scary reason is that, whatever it's in, it helps other chemicals to penetrate your tissue; SLS is a penetration enhancer, meaning that its molecules are so small they’re able to cross the membranes of your body’s cells. Once cells are compromised, they become more vulnerable to other toxic chemicals that may be with the SLS.
Are you using it? Well not unless you use soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, detergents, mascara, mouthwash... the lists goes on.
Why am I bothering to write up on it? Because this knowledge might help YOU as it did ME! For many decades I have frequently had bad ulcers on the sides of my tongue. Even when they were not making it painful to eat they were sitting there dormant, waitint to pounce. Then I read an article, did some reasearch, read the article I linked above, and then went down to Tesco to look at all their toothpaste and shampoos for the dreaded ingredient. I had come to the conclusion I wanted to try a toothpaste without SLS in case that was the cause of my tongue (and mouth) ulcers. The results of that were amazing. The only toothpaste I found without SLS was a range from Sensodyne; I now use their ProNamel. And guess what! Within a week my dormant tongue ulcers had gone! After decades of haunting me! Gone! Point proven?
And if you would like to use a shampoo without it in (given it can permeate eyes, brain, heart and liver), then you might want to change from the usual ranges. Go for a kid's shampoo? Good try, but after checking every shampoo in the store I found it was in them all but one: yes products for adults AND children AND babies. The ONLY one I found without SLS was in a brown, pear-shaped bottle, callled Macadamia Oil by OGX Beauty Ltd (UK). (And it's nice  to use!)
So that's why I am going off-piste to tell you about SLS. Maybe, just maybe, this knowledge will help turn around someone else's health for the better.

Friday, 6 May 2016

If you can make your reader know how a character might react in a sitatuation they're real!

 Jennifer Lloyd - known as 'Jen' to her special friends, is the lead character in my new novel: 'The Grave Concerns of Jennifer Lloyd'.

Readers will really be able to get into her head because she is both protagonist and first-person narrator. And she's a very strong 25 year-old with fierce ambitions to set aside a troubled past - which included sexual abuse in a children's home - and make a name for herself in her new career as a television presenter.

Jen takes risks, and one of them was to say she had a Masters Degree in Ecology on a CV seen by her primary source of income: the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). She fears that if they discover this her career will be over. So she has a plan. Make herself famous and they won't want to lose her. And that plan? To unmask a murderer: LIVE on-camera!

Jen is just one of a number of very real characters, and this image is one I use on Twitter to introduce them - and to take people to the page on my website which gives you far more detail.

I believe in strong characterisation, and I will tell you more about Jen herself in a future post. But here is a brief rundown on those you can see in this picture.

Ami is Jen's best friend and confidant. She is Chinese and shared a room with Jen in the children's home. They've always been there for each other.

Digby is owner of the Dorset house and gardens attraction called Solent House and Gardens. His wife died under suspicious circumstances with the police believing he was her killer. But lack of evidence got him off. Yet his handman disappeared the same night - and a pet do there also died. Far too many coincidences, and the reason why Jen feels there is a huge story to uncover: one that will make her famous.

Susie is Jen's adored little poodle, Robin is Digby's son, Eric is Jen's boss, and Vera is Digby's housekeeper: very aggressive towards Jen's intrusion in the 'big house'. To find out more about them click here. It will show you how real these characters really are.

Strong characters are needed to engage a reader

 My latest mystery thriller is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Waterstones. Select your favourite online store here. It is mainly set in the real UK location of Christchurch, near Bournemouth. I've published a couple of walks in the area so you can walk in the footsteps of its protagonist and narrator, Jennifer Lloyd.

It's getting some great reviews so far, so that's a relief - after at least 18 month's work.

BookViral said it is: 'a fine melding of mystery thriller and contemporary fiction'. I agree it is a cross-over in that it offers far more character-depth than an ordinary thriller. That was my aim: to make it a really interesting read. I believe that while plot is the driver of a novel,  strong characterisation is needed to engage a reader - and hence make a novel memorable. The same review also stated it was 'exceptionally entertaining'. Again the aim!

So please check it out on my website to discover why it is already on the 'To Read' lists of over 500 people on Goodreads.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

'The Grave Concerns of Jennifer Lloyd' can now be pre-ordered from Amazon

An exciting day today. My upcoming mystery thriller, 'The Grave Concerns of Jennifer Lloyd, has just appeared on Amazon. Fullest details are on but it is also visible on most other sites including So it shouldn't be many days before you see stock available. The Amazon sites allow you to pre-order. They email you when it is available and only take your cash then. So if you want a copy, get your order in now: and that will expedite them getting in the stock and will mean a quicker delivery.

I can't wait for you to meet Jennifer Lloyd. She's been my preserve for far too long now. A constant companion.

To find out more about this novel, read pre-pub reviews, etc, vist my website at:

If you enjoy reading this novel - and I've put a lot of effort into trying to deliver something entertaining and unusual - then please post an Amazon review afterwards. That would not only be very kind - it would be very helpful! I don't have a big publisher behind me - just an Indie - so your endorsement is the best kind of promotion I can hope for. Thank you so much!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

When A Character Takes Over!

My third novel, a mystery thriller called The Grave Concerns of Jennifer Lloyd, was the most unusual writing experience I have ever had, and that's after decades of writing one thing or another - and of making a living out of writing. Why?

Firstly, it is first-person, from a woman's pont-of-view (POV). Yes, I have always been comfortable with scenes having female POV - although male is first choice, where this works best. But I have never before had the notion of using a female narrator for an entire book. (Thankfully, a female reviewer of 'Grave Concerns' said I created a 'charming young woman'. So that was a relief. Although, I should say, she is far from charming when push comes to shove!)

But even that wasn't the reason this was my most unusual writing experience. The reason is that Jen -  yes the titular Jennifer Lloyd - came into my mind fully-formed right from the  outset of the story idea. More than that, she virtually dictated the direct manner she wanted to be presented on the page. She comes from a broken background and is short of friends, and she wanted the reader to be her friend: a confidant to whom she can relate, speak, joke.

I could have tamed her, stood back and controlled her, pushed her around via third-person, but it is a real gift when a character comes to the fore like this, so I went with it. It proved to be a delightful experience, and it led to a great depth of  character.

Normally a novelist gets to know their characters gradually, as a novel progresses, so this really was unusual. My first (failed) attempts at writing novels when I was a teenager were beset by cardboard characters. I was plagued by not knowing how to make them seem real. In those days it seemed as if Sherlock Holmes' style observations - characteristations of a man with a limp, poor eyesight, and worse - were the things which distinguished character, but how wrong I was. I now know that it is their psyche which characterises them: how they think, what the want, what has moulded them...

I now like to allow my readers to peep into their heads to understand what makes them tick - or, at least, figure it out from their behaviour and dialogue. I believe each novel has taught me a little more about achieving this, and 'Grave Concerns', and the deep knowledge I had of its protagonist, feels like an achievement because of the intimiate involvement I had with its lead character.

When you boil it all down, you could say its all due to experience. But I think it's something more than that. It is a case of understanding how to understand (your characters)!