Literal vs Lateral

One thing I’ve found fascinating with people – both where I live now, and previous places – is how literal they are, even when it means they take longer to do things.

For example, where I now live there are several junctions where turning right onto a busy road can mean significant delays for people.  But most of those junctions also have roundabouts a short distance up the road if people instead turned left.

So here, for example – the scenario is that I’m pulling out of the Stephenson industrial estate, wanting to turn right.

If I turn left, it’s 400m to the roundabout. It’s a simple thing, an 800m round-trip, and far faster than the delay when waiting to turn right. But no-one does it. They’re so locked into “I’m turning right” that they somehow don’t even think about turning left instead.

On another regular drive, in the run-up to another roundabout, the left-hand lane gets utterly jammed, waiting for a safe gap in which to get out and turn left.  But if one takes the right-hand lane, it’s all too easy to get up to the front, go all the way round the roundabout and then come off to that same route – well before the equivalent drivers in the left-hand lane have caught up.  Yes, it’s effectively a 450° turn, but it’s *so* much quicker.  And again, people are locked into “I’m turning left” and seem to not see the alternative at all.

It’s all very odd.  I mean, I’m glad I can look at it and see those lateral decisions that make life easier, but I do find it fascinating that so many people simply can’t/don’t do so.

Subscriptions and Stupidity

Interesting to see that subscription things are now the latest target in the Government’s “How can we protect stupid people from being stupid?” process.

Now OK, some of the tactics used by subscription-model companies can be a pain – particularly the “sign up for a free trial and we’ll charge you after that” thing – but also (as that summary hints) they bloody well tell you what they’re going to do!  I assume that people just get as far as “sign up for a free trial” and then stop reading/comprehending, but it really isn’t rocket science.

If you’re wanting to try it, then sign up for the free trial.  But at the same time put a reminder in your phone for 25-ish days away that says “Cancel [x]”. Then when the phone says “Cancel [x]”, do so.  Voila, no charge.

Yes, the model absolutely relies on people being stupid and not bothering to cancel the subscription. Similarly, most gym memberships expect/hope that the majority of people will sign up for the year and only use the place for two or three months. (although that one is a contract, so they can’t easily get out of it)  But a subscription model paid month-to-month is an easy one to cancel – assuming even a vague level of competence, of course.  The first time the payment comes out, if you don’t want it, it’s easy to go “Oh, fuck it. Forgot that – let’s cancel that now so I don’t have to pay again next month!”  and just log in and get it cancelled.

Now OK, I accept that I’m probably not “normal” on this, but I keep a close eye on my money – I know when payments come out, I know what I’m expecting to pay, and I check my bank account every couple of days, minimum.  I know where I stand on all of it on any given day.  So it absolutely gobsmacks me to see things like this (from the story linked above) :

John, for example, told the BBC he had signed up to Amazon Prime video for a 30-day free period and forgot to cancel it when he had to start paying for it.

“I’m just gutted I spent £6.99 a month for 18 months for no reason”.

Now, I’d like to see Amazon’s side of that story, and see whether “John” actually watched Amazon video in that time, and/or whether he got Amazon deliveries in that time. It’s worth noting that Amazon is actually an oddity in this case, in that you pay for Prime delivery and get the video stuff as well – so if he’s paid for Prime to get things delivered next-day and made use of that then it’s not been a waste of money in the first place!

As for cancelling, John comes up with this gem…

“It was such a stressful ordeal and left me with a lot of anxiety. It ridiculous, these companies only care about the money not the person”.

I mean…. A) Welcome to Capitalism.  And B) it’s a simple process. Yes, they’ll say “Are you sure? Here’s what you’ll lose out on” and so on, because they do want to keep your custom/money. Of course they do.  But it’s not a challenging thing to just say “Yep, cancel it”.  Certainly most (if not all) of the online companies make it easy – a couple of clicks and it’s done.  Even the dating sites don’t make a big thing of the people leaving – they know they’ll have plenty of other people signing up or staying on.

All told, if someone says they’re short of money (“Cost of living crisis” etc. etc.) and yet still ‘not knowing’ that they’re paying out for subscriptions, then they’re not actually that short of money. (Or are congenitally and irredeemably stupid)

On the other hand, I can absolutely see that it would be good/ethical for a subscription service to send a check-up message if the person using it hasn’t accessed that service at all in (for example) six months, and have them opt back in (or at least say “Yes, I want to keep going with this”) at that point. And if they don’t respond, then their account gets deactivated. Among other things, that would be useful in scenarios where the person has died or become incapacitated, and reduces the whole nightmare of trying to unsubscribe someone from something where you don’t even know their username/password.

Christmas Debts

This week, the BBC has had a couple of pieces about Christmas Debt – the people who’ve overspent, or put Christmas purchasing entirely on credit cards etc., and now don’t know how it’ll be paid off.

According to that piece, in a poll of people who used credit to help get through Christmas and the holiday season, a third of them said they were not confident about their ability to repay what they’d borrowed.  And that’s pretty scary.

You can open up the Excel Spreadsheet from that survey here : The BBC News Cost of Living Survey, Jan 2023. (It’s not mine, I got it from a link in that feature about Cost of Living and so on, but it’s a useful reference point)

Now I’ll admit that I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people who overspend and/or borrow in order to “have a good Christmas”, but equally I do understand that lots of people feel pressure to do that, to make everything “ideal and perfect and shiny and happy” despite whatever is going on under the surface, and to hell with the cost.  I understand that even more when they have children, and the thought of a bleak Christmas can be too much to handle. (Although it’s entirely beyond me why it’s too much to handle a bleak festival of gifts but OK-ish to have a bleak year as a result of paying off those presents)

But all the same, I don’t quite get that whole thing of “We’re going to buy these things even though we’ve no idea how we’ll actually pay them off“. Even in my own worst times, I wasn’t in that situation – when I bought stuff, I knew how I’d pay things off, and what I was committing to, and I was managing that as best I could until the time when I couldn’t.

It’s a terrifying situation to be in, to see those bills coming in and knowing that they can’t be paid. (Although, as always, it’s better to talk to the lenders and explain the situation, rather than hiding or running away) My own debts were the result of furnishing houses, rather than buying the latest/greatest gadgets, or just “whatever was cool” – I imagine it’s even worse when you’ve actually not even got anything to show for it other than the ephemeral “but everyone had a good Christmas”.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, really. Life’s expensive and complex enough for everyone at the moment, and we all know it – so I just don’t quite get why some people are so willingly throwing themselves even further into the shit for no really good reason.


Romance Fraud

In the new house I’m working from home a lot more, which has also led to me having slightly more TV on during the daytime. (I know, I know)

One of the things I had the misfortune to catch this week was BBC’s “For Love or Money” (that link takes you to the iPlayer page for it) about people falling for “romance fraud” – basically, fraudsters getting contact with lonely people who respond, form online ‘relationships’, and end up sending money to these “partners” for all manner of outlandish reasons.

Actually, it’s not fair to say “misfortune” – I guess that morning daytime TV is a good place for this, as the main demographic for seeing it and going “Oh shit, that’s what I’ve been doing” are likely to have it on. So it’s probably useful and good on that score.

In some ways I have sympathy for the people who fall for this shit – the main group seem to be older people who’ve usually lost a long-term spouse, and suddenly find themselves alone for the first time in decades, are lonely, and will grip onto anything that makes them feel less lonely. I do understand (kinda/sorta) that side at least.

But at the same time, Jesus Fuck, these people are bloody stupid. I don’t understand how they can class the communication as a relationship, or being “in love” with someone they’ve never met. And I really don’t understand the whole thing of giving money to someone they’ve never met. I know it’s a psychological thing, that the scam starts (comparatively) small and then people keep on paying out because they don’t want to be proved to have been scammed/stupid – which boggles my mind in all kinds of different ways – “I don’t want to be seen as stupid for sending them £200, so I’ll send £2,000 to end up proving I was rightWhat?!?

Even more mind-boggling are the ones who get into this trap with one “person” , realise they’ve been scammed, and then get caught again in the same situation. And (in my opinion, blah blah) those particular people are too stupid for words. And then they say *on the programme* “Oh, you must think I’m really stupid” and the presenters say “No, no, you’ve done nothing wrong“.  And I don’t feel that’s right – they didn’t do anything wrong initially, but if they  carry on (and particularly if they fall for the same thing twice) then the presenter should be allowed to say “Yes, you are. What kind of fucking idiot gives money to someone they’ve never even met?!?“.  Shock them into realising how bloody stupid they’ve been, and it just might have a lasting effect.

I don’t know the answer – there’ll always be stupid people in these kind of horrible situations.  But it seems to me like the basic thought process of “I don’t know this person, we’ve talked but I’ve never met them, yet they’re asking me for money – why?” shouldn’t really be that difficult, should it?

Making More Work

As part of my preparation for moving (about which another post sometime soon) this week I ordered some decent moving boxes from SafeStore. Yes, I’m sure there are other sources for them, and so on, but I was happy with the stuff on offer, and they’d deliver it, so *shrug*, it’ll do.

For cost-effectiveness (within the provisos of “I’m sure I could get it better somewhere else, but CBA to hunt”) I got one of their “kits” – 4 each of small, medium and large box sizes for considerably less than individual prices  – and also added in some bubblewrap, tissue paper, and a mattress cover. All well and good.

It got delivered this morning, as expected and on-time. Two boxes – one the ‘kit’ box, and one for the bubblewrap roll etc.  Except… there’s no mattress cover, no tissue paper.  So I called them up to let them know, and the lady went off to check with the despatchers.  And that was where it got weird.

Have you checked in the Kit box?  They say they might’ve put the extra things in there, to keep it all together“.

And it turned out that was exactly what had happened.  But that boggles my mind.

Now, I assume (and I’m aware it’s an assumption and thus could be utterly flawed) that the kit boxes are exactly that – they come as a sealed box with the kit contents in. That makes sense to me.  (Otherwise they’d be assembling the kit from box stocks for every order, which seems… odd)

So, if that’s the case, the despatchers opened a kit box, put the extra bits in, sealed it up, and then put it with the other box that already had bubblewrap etc. in it. Why go to that effort when there’s an unsealed box (with space in it) right there? Why make even more work for oneself?

I despair.

[Note : I actually did better than expected out of this deal – because they didn’t send me the kit box I’d ordered, and instead sent one that’s larger, and should’ve cost about £10 more!]

Getting Stuff (Finally) Done

My local council are, to be polite, utterly fucking useless. Their skills in organisation, communication, professionalism and competence appear to be absolutely zero – in fact, most of the time I doubt they could even spell any of those words, let alone be good at them.

But, after literally years of nagging, they’ve finally done two of the jobs I’ve been nagging them about.

First, we start with The Bridge

Six years ago (I’ve probably written about it before, but can’t be arsed currently to check) we had a mains water line burst near the village – a burst that was so powerful, it destroyed the bridge wall that the pipe was next to. Now, it’s not a main road per se (i.e. it’s not an A-road or motorway) but it is one of the two main roads from my village to Milton Keynes and the motorway. So it’s not short of a fair bit of traffic.

Initially, Anglian Water put up some cones/barriers and traffic lights so that the road was usable (kinda/sorta) but reduced to one lane, on the side that wasn’t missing half a bridge wall. That situation remained for about six months (with regular failures of the traffic lights) until I asked Anglian Water what was actually happening, and had they forgotten about the bloody thing.  Turned out, they had forgotten. And there began the saga of getting it fixed.

Anglian moved things about, put in a temporary fence and barrier, opened the road up, and tried to get a repair done. (Which was fraught with its own issues around who actually owned the fucking thing, who was responsible for what, etc. etc.) The council insisted it should be done by their Highways department, who would do the work properly, and all that happy crap. So after eighteen months, Anglian handed the entire clusterfuck over to Central Bedfordshire Council, as requested, and washed their hands of the problem.

For four years I’ve been asking when it’s going to happen, what’s occurring, and so on. It’s outlasted four admin assistants, and two managers. And every time they’ve said “Oh, it’s all scheduled, we’ll hopefully have it done in about three months time“. I do realise there’ve been a lot of hassles – again, with who owns the bridge and the land underneath it, who’ll be stumping up the money, how it’ll all work and so on.  But it’s been four years where it would’ve been all too possible for someone to come off the road, through the fence, and end up twenty-odd feet down underneath it.  After every decent storm we’ve had, I’ve had to contact the council and suggest that they might want to come and put the fence back up, along with the holders/barrier that’ve fallen over.

But about a month ago, signs went up around the bridge saying that work was going to start, and take about eight weeks. And it actually started, and has been progressing nicely.  (Not that anyone from the council has thought to send a message saying “Hey, just to catch you up, it’s all happening”. That would be expecting far too much from them!

Second – the other bridge.

Back at the start of the pandemic, in the next village to mine, someone went on a graffiti spree, writing/spraying stuff on all the village’s road signs and so on. Nothing monumentally offensive, just stupid shit that no-one needs to see. And in fairness, Central Bedfordshire’s Highways department cleaned most of it off comparatively quickly. (I think it only took them a fortnight to get rid of the stuff that was nasty about Central Beds Council, and then about another two months to get rid of the less offensive but stupid stuff)

And then when Captain Tom hysteria was at its peak (Captain Tom was from the village I live in, so it was all relevant locally) they sprayed a big message about him on one of the other local bridges. You can see some of it below, or go to Google Streetview here for the full experience

Yes, it lasted long enough that it even made it onto Google Streetview.

That’s taken two and a half years to get rid of, but finally got cleaned off last month.  Of course, others who’ve seen how long it takes Central Beds to sort these things, have also taken to graffiti’ing local walls and so on. Fine, it may be an influx of new people, but before the first lot happened (and that person has since moved away) we never saw any happening. Now though, I can easily think of eight or nine sites that have been hit.

Again, allegedly there were problems for the council in gaining permissions/clearances to clean that bridge – it goes over a railway line, and they were saying they couldn’t clean/wash the bridge while things might be running underneath, although that sounds like bullshit. The cleaning job when it finally happened didn’t go over the top of the bridge wall at all, so nothing would’ve been affected.  But there we go.

Purely personally, I suspect that if that graffiti had said “Central Beds council are useless bastards” it would’ve only been there a couple of weeks. But because it was about Captain Tom, I wonder if they thought it would be worse to get rid of it than to leave it.  I don’t know.

Anyway. Both jobs have (finally) been done, and it’s really nice that I won’t have to nag the useless bastards any more.  But things like this shouldn’t take that long to get sorted.  If it had been me in charge of either project I’d have got the work done, and *then* chased whoever needed to pay for it, including court stuff if necessary.  But the general public don’t need to see those delays, regardless of the cause – we just want to see stuff that’s been broken get fixed.

I don’t know what the answers are on all this – but government (both local and national) at the moment just seems like one giant clusterfuck of ineffectiveness and general incompetence. And surely there must be better ways than what we’ve currently got?

Smart Motorways, Dumb Drivers

I see today that the UK has decided to stop any new “Smart Motorway” projects, insisting that they need extra safety precautions.  This is primarily the aftermath of coroner’s reports into certain fatal accidents on these Smart Motorways.

From the article…

  • In 2019, 15 people were killed on “all lane running” and “dynamic hard shoulder” motorways. This is four more deaths than in 2018.
  • The number of people being killed on motorways without hard shoulders increased each year from 2015 to 2019, and totalled 39 deaths.
  • By contrast, on so-called “controlled motorways” – a type of smart motorway which have variable speed limits and a hard shoulder – there were 24 deaths in that period.
  • On conventional motorways, which cover more of the UK than smart motorways, there were 368 fatalities from 2015 to 2019.

The M1 around where I live was one of the first Smart Motorways, and I’ve written a lot about how stupid people can be on those motorways – particularly about the availability of lanes, and a lack of general driving standards (Middle-lane cunts and the like)

From my experience, a lot of drivers seem to be incapable of reading road signs saying whether a lane is open or closed (although also even whether the approaching junction is the one they want or not, until the absolute last minute)  This also seems to be borne out by the latest rash of road-safety adverts telling people that they should ‘go left’ in case of problems on motorways (and fucking hell, in my opinion anyone who needs to be told this shouldn’t be in possession of a driving licence!)

As an example of this, one of the cases the coroners were looking at was one local to me where the person’s vehicle had a problem, showed the ‘engine problem’ warning light, and they pulled in to one of the emergency refuge areas.  Now, when that happened to me, I got out of the car (in a snowy January) and called recovery to get me off the road safely.  But not this twerd, oh no.  They gave it a few minutes, started the car, no light came on, so they pulled out to continue their journey.  (The ‘engine problem’ light doesn’t necessarily immediately light up on starting – for example, if the issue is to do with the turbo, the EGR valve, air filter etc., it’ll only come on when you accelerate over a certain rpm limit, at which point you’re shafted)  And that’s what happened to Twonktacular – the light came back on, the engine performance disappeared, and they got hit by another vehicle.   Yet somehow that’s the fault of the smart motorway, not the dumbass driver.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of motorways without hard-shoulders. And I’m sure there are considerations and gambles that have been taken about how people get to emergency refuge areas, how the road monitoring is managed/staffed and so on. But I also understand how impractical it is, with current traffic levels and so on, to have a quarter of each road surface only available to vehicles in emergencies.

All told, I don’t believe that Smart Motorways are inherently dangerous. I think drivers (and their decisions, or lack thereof) are far more dangerous than roads. You just can’t blame an inanimate road for human stupidity.