Category Archives: Observation

Amex ruining ApplePay in the UK

Amex and ApplePay

A few days ago, the good folk at American Express kindly sent word of an offer: Spend £3 in Starbucks and get £1 back – up to a maximum of £5. Not the most Earth shattering offer, perhaps, but given how much I spend in SBs each month, it represents free money (well, ignoring the occasional extra muffin to take my purchase over £3, of course). Thank you very much.

If only it was so simple.

I invariably use my Starbucks card on my phone – quick & easy (usually), and I get one in 16 drinks free. This offer therefore forces me to break my habit a little by using Amex. However, that shouldn’t be a problem as their’s was the first card I added to ApplePay the day it launched in the UK. As I tend to double-tap my phone’s home button to launch Wallet rather than the Starbucks app, it is actually one less swipe to use ApplePay. All good.

Except that my experience is that Amex rarely works contactless in the UK. Card or ApplePay. Turns out, it certainly doesn’t in Starbucks.

A quick search of Google and Twitter suggest I am far from alone on this – though to be fair, a lot of the results I saw were from 2015. Even accepting that things may be getting better; American Express’s flawed roll-out of contactless in the UK must have damaged confidence in using what should be a simple way of carrying out a transaction. It is bad enough that the £30 limit virtually cripples ApplePay. Yes, I know that “real” ApplePay merchants aren’t subject to that restriction. However, given that anyone can – and do – display Apple Pay logos, regardless of whether they are formally part of the system, that distinction is moot.

In the case of my recent experience in Starbucks (a “real” ApplePay partner?), the barista apologised and said Amex contactless has never worked for them, so I reverted to my Starbucks card. Yes, I could have used my Amex card in chip & pin mode… but for a £3ish transaction, that seems to be overkill, as well as being a huge metaphorical step backwards.

I honestly look forward to the day when contactless terminals are ubiquitous: Imagine getting served in a pub where they are plentiful and easily accessible at the bar… no messing with change or getting soggy banknotes back from the server whose hands are still wet from the overspill! Beep and they are on the next customer.

Contactless payment using devices rather than cards is obviously still in its infancy and while I have no wish to see Apple dominate the market to the exclusion of all else, I do genuinely hope we reach a stage where we, as consumers, don’t need to worry whether “our” particular system will work at any given venue. At the very least, is it too hard to ask that we be given some sort of clue up front? The official Amex page is woefully unhelpful. Who in the UK knows that the £30 contactless limit doesn’t (shouldn’t) apply to “real” ApplePay merchants?

Thanks to Amex, we are still a long way short of that. Their card hasn’t been the default on my phone for a long time and the way things are going, I may as well remove it all together. While I’m at it, why don’t I go to another card provider … one that works all the time?

 

With a hat tip to Duncan Stevenson and his Contactless Life blog, who has tried to get a grip of this situation, but has clearly been busy in his real life recently.

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Social commentary

One sentence which encapsulates why Britain will forever run a huge trade deficit. BBC news reporting on the local response to the Bangladesh sweat shop building collapse….

Garment industry workers across the country were given the weekend off, in the hope that the anger would fade.

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Risk & Reward

Financial Planning
Just had a meeting with my “financial advisor”.

This is an area I have never really been involved in – not having been in a position to do so before. Nevertheless, I felt that what he was saying chimed with my take on the world. I liked the point that as a long term customer of a mutual building society, the starting point in any assessment of risk in investment is likely to be zero.

It was certainly interesting: Gilts. Bonds. Equities. Risk. Always that word. After endowment mortgages and similar hiccups in the past, the financial people appear at pains to tell you – Risk. (And Reward – you hope).

Main point of the appointment was to get my mortgage paid-off — in itself something of a momentous moment.

I’ve come away with plenty of food for thought about my future financial plan — as well as having my life sketched out for me as a kind of A4 cartoon.

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All I want for Christmas

… is a new Starbucks in Derby!

Derby's one and only Starbucks - on a good day

Email to Starbucks Customer Services – copied for the Blog in the spirit of venting/ranting

Hi,

I’m writing this from Derby’s one and only, solitary, unique, isolated, orphaned, stand-alone and — above all — over-capacity ‘real’ Starbucks.

Don’t get me wrong, Lara and her team do a great job, but they simply don’t have the tools (i.e. the right sized store) to cope with the demand for large periods of time. The recent refit has helped, but only a little. As I type, the queue is out the door and this is not peculiar to the Christmas period. How many potential customers see that and are immediately put off. It isn’t as though there aren’t enough Costa’s in close proximity for them to turn to instead.

Similarly, the ‘licensed’ Starbucks at Pride Park has reinvented itself in the last twelve months. It has gone from a potential gold mine spoiled by indifferent staff to a real treasure of a place – the staff (the same people!) are now welcoming and evidently proud of the brand. There is nothing to be critical of in respect of Pride Park – except the perennial issue of licensee branches not being able to accept Starbucks Card and its Rewards.

Returning to the issues with the Westfield Centre Starbucks. I realise that much of the problem is right there — Westfield. They are, I guess, for that reason that there is no BT Openzone free WiFi? This is something of a deal breaker for me, combined with being completely unable to get comfortable and work, sitting out in the mall as I am. I also get that, given the huge amount of footfall here, not making customers comfortable, and so having them settle for an extended period, is likely deliberate? This is an awful long way from “The Third Place” concept that Starbucks used to promote.

I have said it before, and I will continue to wish for it, but can we PLEASE have East Street back!? It is still vacant and itself will benefit from the significant upturn of pedestrian traffic there now the bus station has reopened. In its glory days (i.e. right up to the moment it suddenly closed) it was everything I would expect of a Starbucks, having sampled the brand around the world. It was the epitome of the Third Place.

Thank you.

 

Update 12DEC2012…

Well, I got a reply:-

Thank you for contacting Starbucks.

I apologise for your recent experiences with your local stores in the area. We recently announced our intent to create 5,000 new jobs in the UK over the next five years. To support our jobs creation plan, our intention is to build 200 new drive-thrus across the country over the next five years.

I appreciate your request for a Starbucks store in your area and have shared it with our Store Development Team for their consideration.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us and we look forward to welcoming you back to your local store soon.

Is it just me, or have they completely missed the point? I really wasn’t looking for an apology, but that is clearly the default position these days.

The original text of the email was in different fonts, confirming the obvious that the reply was simply two stock answers pasted into the message.

Oh well.

 

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Poppy Fever

George and his Poppy

Every year when the clocks go back, two things happen. Firstly, Chappers will text me with some banal comment about how it’s getting dark early as he knows that winds me up – it has happened every year for the last 48 years to my certain knowledge, so why is it remarkable!? The other thing is, like a starting gun has been fired, every talking head on the television and every corporate representative sprouts a poppy.

Please don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against the Royal British Legion. I maybe question their pre-eminence  in this age of Help For Heroes et al and, in an ideal world, there would be no need for such charities. Wars will always happen, it is inherent in human nature, but having sent the fittest and most physically productive tranche of the population off to fight for the country’s security and interest, then it is incumbent on the State to adequately care for those who are injured along the way. Instead we rely on the haphazard tactic of  well meaning veterans rattling collecting tins on street corners. Just a thought.

All of that is an aside, however to my current rant. Why is it, unlike absolutely any other charity appeal, no matter how worthy, that it is evidently compulsory for public figures to show that they have dropped a pound coin in a tin? I well recall Michael Foot’s donkey jacket at the Cenotaph, and recognise the bear trap which is lying in wait for a politician who steps out of line on this point. Yet is it really such a charged subject for, say, newsreaders and sit-on-a-couch-and-waffle-inanely television presenters (yes One Show, J’accuse) that they HAVE to wear one WITHOUT  FAIL from the last Sunday of October?

As I sit here typing this in Starbucks, the Nottingham trams are passing by, each with a large poppy in both driving cabs. What does that mean? Presumably that NET have made a sizeable donation to the Poppy appeal, which is entirely worthy but does it need to be shouted about? I hope this isn’t the only charitable donation which that company makes, but it is the only one which results in all its vehicles being adorned. Are they intended to serve as mobile war memorials? Again, a highly worthy aspiration but I somehow doubt that is the intended message.

By Remembrance Day (three weeks away when the poppies began to sprout) I may or may not have made a donation to the Royal British Legion. If I do, it will be on line and I will give my personal details allowing them to claim back tax on my (theoretical) donation as Gift Aid, thereby making it more valuable than coins in a tin. What I will not be doing, however, is shouting about it what I may (or may not) have done.

In short, the poppy seems to be no longer about honouring the memory of those who gave their life, or paid in other ways, in defence of this country. Now it is simply a shield to be worn to ward off criticism. I think that is shameful.

Lest We Forget

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Well, How About That – Steve Jobs Was Right After All

Screen capture of the BBC iPlayer Radio web app

BBC iPlayer Radio

As you may have noticed if you’re a regular listener to BBC Radio, the Beeb have hived-off the radio element of their iPlayer into a standalone entity. Currently it is  available as a web site and an iOS app for iPhone. Notably, there isn’t an Android version yet – for which the on air talent are forced to apologise for in an vague and roundabout sort of way when promoting it. Understandably,  a vocally significant number of Android users are miffed about this but I’m not quite sure why the majority of commenters on this BBC blog post see this a BBC conspiracy to promote Apple over their platform.

The truth is much more mundane and is explained on the BBC News web site  thusly:

The BBC’s Daniel Danker, general manager for programmes and on-demand, blamed complications with Flash for the delay in the Android app, but added that discussions are ongoing to resolve the problems

Oh, wait a cotton pickin’  minute there buckeroo. “Complications with Flash” you say? Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs.  Just one more of Old Jobsy’s prophesies  coming home to roost.

The bigger question here, however, is what the flying-flip the BBC need to use Flash for at all. I know diddly-squat about programming for Android, but are the BBC saying there is no way to use an HTML5 solution – the same one they’ve implemented on the iPhone perhaps.

Meanwhile, even though it fills a need which really didn’t previously exist (another lesson from Apple’!?) I have downloaded and installed the iPhone app. Seems well designed and ‘snappy’. The wake-up-to-a-BBC-radio-station-alarm may come in useful. Might  finally be time to dispense with my bedside Bug in favour of a dock for my iPhone?

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Dazed and Confused – a movie as well as a state of mind

There is a movie that I have a love/hate relationship with. Dazed & Confused is set in small town Texas in 1976 and recounts a single day – the end of school when the Seniors get to “haze” the incoming Juniors. It is set in a world where kids know everything and adults are morons, dead set on disrupting the kids’ fun. So far so bad, yet the abiding theme of this piece is that anyone who is anyone is “cool” – i.e. they smoke pot and get wasted. None of which should be a shock, given that the clue is in the title. OK, from here I get to paint myself as the ultimate stuck-up square, a mantle I can easily live with. I’ll also live with the hypocrisy of happily getting pissed whilst clinging dearly to the idea that mari-ju-wana is the serum which will ultimately destroy civilisation. I exaggerate of course, but the bottom line of what I’m saying is potheads are – in my humble opinion – twats. So, back to the story: Here we’re talking about a group of 16 year olds in 1976 (i.e. pretty much the same age as my elder brother). The narrative tells of seniors openly hunting freshmen around the town in order to beat them as part of this hazing ritual. This is accepted and condoned by all, to the point that the seniors manufacture the paddles to administer the beatings in “shop class” (along with bongs!) with the teachers’ tacit approval. But here’s the thing – as much as I hate what these kids all do and stand for, absolute credit to the writers in that the characters are all sympathetic, even likeable for the most part. That’s what makes the film enjoyable – moral prejudices aside. Nevertheless, the kids are so far removed from the sort of people I remember from school, albeit maybe five years or so after this movie is set, and even further from those of the 1970’s whom most Brits experienced (and 1980’ & 1990’s for that matter). What astonishes me about this is that within the reviews on IMDB there are countless Americans lining up to tell us how accurate a portrayal of 1970’s High School life this movie is, particularly – but not exclusively – to Texas. If this is so (and I say this with a great deal of love and respect for the United States of America), given the USA’s role as the global superpower, it goes a long way to explaining what a fucked up world it is we all now inhabit. As I type this, clicking on the User Reviews tab of IMDB for Dazed and Confused singles out a piece by a guy called Mike Wells as the lead item. It’s a well written article by a clearly well educated guy, yet the point he makes is that he lived the life portrayed in D&C, and was a complete stoner in his teens. If everyone in the fictional world of the movie turned out as well as Mike seems to have done (I still don’t subscribe to his politics though), then – hey – maybe wacky-baccy ain’t all that bad? I’m just not sure that’s the entire truth of the matter though. What really made me want to write this diatribe, however, is one the supporting characters – Julie Simms. The role is pretty much incidental in that she “falls” for one of the male protagonists. I don’t intend to be sexist (the film pretty much is, and I know I almost certainly am being too) but she is one of several “eye candy” characters. The part is plated by Catherine Averill Morris. This is what IMDB says about this actor:-

Catherine Avril Morris fell into her short-lived movie career completely by accident. She worked on the documentary film ‘An Ordinary Rape’ (dir. Isabelle Coulet) in 1991, casting the high school discussion panel as well as speaking on it. In 1992 she worked for six months as the Assistant Casting Director for ‘Dazed and Confused’ and then landed a supporting role in the film. She went on to act in various friends’ short films while she herself studied Creative Writing. She is now a writer of screenplays, political articles, fiction and romance novels

“Her short-lived movie career” –  Damned by faint praise, indeed.

Catherine Avrill Morris - from Dazed and Confused

Catherine Avrill Morris – from Dazed and Confused

I should confess, perhaps perpetuating the hypocrisy, that alcohol is involved here. Having re-watched the film on a Saturday evening otherwise bereft of entertainment, and been intrigued by the “short-lived movie career” remark above, I Googled Ms. Morris. What I learnt was both heart-breaking and inspiring. I shall paraphrase here as I can’t come close to the account of events which are available on line, written by Ms. Morris herself, but in a nutshell, she suffered the terrible loss of her first child being stillborn. Google is both a blessing and a curse, and I’m not sure which is the case here as – admittedly almost in ‘stalker mode’ – I came across a blog site Catherine wrote about that terrible experience. Powerful stuff. Today, again so Google eagerly informs me, Mrs. Morris is a teacher of creative writing in Austin, Texas. Not only that but she has a blog – almost an occupational necessity for a creative writer? That, of course, is really none of my business. After all, I’m just someone who watched a DVD of a movie made in 1993 and was struck by the performance of a young lady, ‘preserved in celluloid’. However, the “wonders” of the digital world now allow me to track her down to her personal blog site, which is both amazing and slightly disturbing. As creepy as it sounds, everything considered, on being presented with the opportunity I felt compelled to say “Hi”, and duly left a message, explaining myself — not withstanding the fact that my original impetus may have had slightly murky origins . So it is I am both delighted and slightly ashamed to receive a near-instant and very kind acknowledgement of my message. I have little experience (*) of interactions with celebs (sorry, Catherine, you were in a movie, even if nearly 20 years ago, so for the purposes of this tale you remain a celeb!) so I’m touched just to get a reply. That’s it now though, stalking over. 🙂 (* – ask me about my Steve Davis, the snooker player, story one day)

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Sunday as it should be

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17:40 Sunday afternoon in Tenko – no rushing to get some before closing. This one is open 24 hours! Not sure I’d want to be here at 04:00 though!

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Some observations from Derby Beer Festival

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It’s that time of the year again – my 28th consecutive Derby summer beer festival. Thursday afternoon is suitably chilled for my tastes; no crowds (but still quite busy with folk), no crush, no hassle.

Even so, I’ve already witnessed the depressing modern face of Camra beer festivals in “action”: The Orange Shirts. This is a phenomenon which first manifested itself last year and, I gather, is now national Camra policy. A group of licenced “bouncers” patrol the beer festival to keep order, dressed in various shades of the titular garment. As an aside, in 28 years I have never seen anything approaching a fight here, but I guess times change. These guys and girls are clearly not local, being shipped in from somewhere by Camra. I mean it in the most positive way when I say that in every way they are typical Camra people.

I ensconced myself in a quiet corner of the Assembly Rooms to enjoy my second half (Big Lamp Bitter 3.9%, if you’re interested, the first being Hexhamshire Shire Bitter at 3.8%) and to read Private Eye. A short but discrete distance away, the guy who runs the sound desk for the bands (and who has being doing so here and at the Flower Pot for as long as I can remember) was also taking advantage of the quiet spell. In front of him is a mug of tea or coffee and he has his feet up, taking a bit of a nap. This, apparently, is against the Orange Shirt rules. One of them wandered by and proceeded to wake him up, telling him it’s against the law to sleep in public (eh?). Duly woken, sound guy replied that he works here which seemed to satisfy the Orange Shirt who then wandered off in my direction. I took it upon myself to explain who the the guy is and that he would be busily working until midnight – no wonder he was having 40 winks. The Orange Shirt replied that he looked drunk (though admitted he wasn’t) and that it would encourage more people to get drunk. Not sure how he expects to enforce his Don’t Get Drunk at a Beer Festival rule? Unlike the Orange Shirts, I contend that being drunk isn’t a binary state. Offensive/violent/incapable drunk is obviously out of order, but merry (sleepy?) drunk is surely part of the beer festival experience?

Meanwhile, a young girl with a clipboard has wandered by, inviting all and sundry to “sign the e-petiton”. Evidently this is one of Camra’s campaigns and they see the captive audience of a beer festival as a way of boosting support for whichever cause it may be. I politely declined and the girl moved on to an old boy seated a little way away. He cheerfully said yes and proceeded to sign – without asking or otherwise having explained what the particular cause was. To my mind that kind of undermines the worth of the petition – they may as well simply reproduce the membership list and call that a petition?

The aforementioned old boy soon got up and left, but not without asking me where I got the Wallace & Gromit T shirt I was wearing – apparently his grandchildren would love it. As it’s probably 15 – 20 years old, I haven’t a clue! He then showed me his Wallace & Gromit sound clip app in his iPhone (he didn’t look like an average iPhone user!) which his grandchildren “made” him put on it. Only at a beer festival.

More beer.

later…

After a relatively exciting first half an hour or so, things have settled into a more routine pattern. The crowd is slowly swelling as the Main Hall has reopened (closed during the afternoon “to preserve the quality of the beer”?). Highlight of the People Watching thus far is a group of Japanese (?) lads, about six of them, who are sampling the best of what British culture has to offer. More power to them as they’re evidently having a go at all sorts of real ales and look to be enjoying the experience. I’m tempted to go and ask them what they make of it all, but I doubt “coherent” would be the best description of the ensuing conversation.

The choice of beers is up to Derby Camra’s usual high standards, with some notable new appearances. Townes of Chesterfield are represented by their Stavely Cross (4.3%) and despite their relative proximity to Derby, I’m pretty sure I’ve not seen them here before. Even more notable is the appearance of three beers from the Isle of Purbeck brewery, all the way from the Bankes Arms at Studland. As Kay said when I texted that snippet to her, “it’s a sign”. (We’ve stopped there a number of times on our semi-regular short break to Dorset).

I’ve now been asked three times to sign the e-petition. Apparently Camra want to prompt a Parliamentary debate about escalating tax on beer. Fair enough, but maybe drinkers should pay a proportionately higher contribution to the NHS to subsidise potential long term health issues than the general tax paying populace? Not sure I’ll express that view outwardly, however. My point is that even though this is a Camra event and they are, as the first three letters in their title subtly indicates, a campaigning organisation, it is becoming something of an imposition. Again, I fear the general point of a beer festival may be being missed somewhat?

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And finally for today…

Bumped into Martin R (ex dog man for those who know him) and had a chat. He’s one of the cellar team for the festival, so the beer is in good hands. Apparently they had a bit of a blip last night,about which there’ll be recriminations, but no one went home thirsty and no one had a bad pint – what more could you ask of a cellar man?

A very pleasant, if deliberately light, session. I’ll be back tomorrow to try more of the heavier beers. Today was about chilling and “me time” which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was exactly what a well run beer festival should be. Checked in with Rog & Marie by text to see if they were coming tomorrow. Turns out they’re in a castle in Devon celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. OK, it’s an excuse for missing the Derby Beer Festival 🙂 Congrats.

Stuck with my plan for the evening to get the 20:10 V3 home; first time I’ve used this service for a long time, for reasons I can’t adequately explain. If I’m getting off the bus outside the Green Man, it woud be rude not to go in? So I’d texted Chappers and a convivial evening ensued.

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The Big Bed Company

The above company operates just one of the seemingly endless procession of delivery vans passing my house…

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… But none of them are UKMail (actually, if I saw a UKMail van passing my house I think that would be the final straw.

I am close to hallucinating. The distant sound of any diesel engine, or any vehicle at all entering the close has me twitching at the curtain. Who needs Neighbourhood Watch. I nearly had a laundry moment while gazing out the upstairs window when a Tesco van hove into view. The white, blue & red livery quickly formed into the wrong combination and my heart sank.

The excitement and anticipation of my new toy arriving is now completely lost in the feeling I have completely lost a day and a half (so far). Had I known this would have been the situation I would have driven to High Cross or Meadowhell. This is unbelievably frustrating.

If there’s still no sign by 13:00 I have to go out as I have a life. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick it up from their depot in Derby tomorrow – though being a Saturday that’s not guaranteed. Otherwise it’ll be returned to sender and the last 48 hours will really count for nothing.

The Next Day

Well, it all worked out in the end. 13:45 rolled around, the news was over, and I really, really had to go. All the way out of the village I was scanning oncoming vehicles in case one was a UKMail van. Not sure how it would have worked out if I’d spotted one, but the situation never arose.

Turned out it was 14:50 when the inevitable card was pushed through my letter box as I discovered later when I returned home later. I hotfooted it to UKMail’s depot at Kingsway. To be fair to them, something was happening on the A38 Northbound through Derby resulting in tailbacks to Toyota (I’d picked a circuitous route via back lanes to avoid it). So it was no surprise when the helpful and understanding receptionist at the depot saids the van was still out – suggesting I come back later.

This indeed what I did, noting they were open until 20:30, so I had a fair bit of time to play with. On my return, having formed an orderly queue with three kindred souls, eventually (EVENTUALLY!) me and my new toy were united. The rest, as they say, is history….

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