Tag Archives: rant

My Summer Pet Peeve—Car Insurance

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It’s that time of year when my car insurance is up for renewal. Once again I wonder why I play this game every year.

I probably don’t need to add any more here for you to begin vigorously nodding your head in agreement, but bear with me. I want to get this rant out of my system.

Car insurance, unlike home insurance, is a legal requirement in order to tax your car in the UK. You can’t avoid insurance if you wish to own and run a car. There is no get-out clause—unless you are a criminal and have no conscience. 

Now, having held a clean full UK driving licence since 1982, I have had to endure the annual chase-the-best-quote game for three decades. Frankly, I have had enough of it.

I don’t have issue with legally requiring someone to be insured. The idea is sound. What I do have an issue with is the fact that my premiums keep going up every year, even though I haven’t made a claim for nearly 15 years. I’ve even got a bit of paper to prove it.

(I know there’ll be comments from younger drivers who are penalised these days purely on their age and lack of experience behind the wheel. I certainly wouldn’t be driving today if I was 18 and needed to find a four-figure sum from somewhere just so I could be legal in my pimped 206. That’s not my beef, or my problem, frankly, so while I sympathise you must forgive my moment to rant.)

Surely, if I don’t make a claim, I should see flat or lower premiums every year. Why does it go up? Even allowing for inflation, a rise of over £50 on last year’s premium is extortion!

So, having got my latest renewal papers in, I girded my loins, hefted my bootstraps, tightened my belt and headed for the interwebz to do battle with the many-headed monster that is the UK Car Insurance Market. 

I tried the usual suspects. You know who they are, so I won’t name them here. I tend to head for the same one, as experience tells me they all come back with the same figures anyway. That annoying opera singer and the fleabitten residents of the Kalahari don’t figure highly in my quest, which leaves the cartoon woman with the dodgy hair-do.

The best quote came back, and it was a good £60 lower than my renewal quote. It also included breakdown cover, which was a bonus as I’ve just given my usual and long-time provider the elbow because they too got greedy. (Sshh! It’s actually the same company, but don’t tell anyone!)

Armed with this information, I called my current insurer and tried haggling. I named my price. To give them their due, they did their best. They shaved a creditable £45 off my renewal. 

Not good enough, though. It was still £23 too high. I wanted it to be closer to the price I gave them. They couldn’t match it, but they’re sending new documents out with the changed premium on it, which is something I suppose.

Next, I tried a local broker, since they’ve been bombarding me with literature for weeks now. They are currently offering some sort of cash-back, so I went through the routine with them. By some chicanery that I don’t quite follow, the quote (which was £140 more than my renewal) actually ends up being £75 lower, because I would get something north of £200 back in cash. I still don’t understand the maths which, from what I see, would confuse Barclays’ finest.

Next, I tried the big names via their web sites. They claim, after all, to be able to provide competitive quotes because they don’t use the comparison sites. The Big Red Telephone one made me laugh out loud with their figure, which is at least more than their television adverts manage. The other one lived up to their name by again quoting More Than my renewal. Allegedly, this also included a 50 per cent discount for my No Claims Discount, so the original quote must have been over four hundred quid! I don’t believe they intentionally named the company because they quote consistently more than everyone else.

I tweeted my disgust, and to their credit the latter actually asked if they could help. I gave them information. I am still awaiting the results. I don’t hold out any hope.

I have a few days to play this game. My renewal is not for a couple of weeks. I will await various bits of paper with the workings out, and will probably end up going with the lowest quote on the comparison site. Or the next quote down, which didn’t include free breakdown cover. I can get breakdown cover elsewhere anyway.

Oh, and if you inhabit the Twitterverse, I’ve started using a hashtag: #ihatecarinsurance. Keep an eye out. It might start to trend.

Inconsistent

The BBC’s habit of using a certain form to describe a country or the people thereof is annoying at best. What is wrong with using French/Chinese/Polish rather than France/China/Poland?

Then again, if you’re going to be annoying, at least be consistent about it.

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Here we have a fragile-sounding “China woman…” compared to a “Polish village…”. If I was editor-in-chief, it would be a Chinese woman, but going by house style the latter ought to be a Poland village.

There are proper words to describe the things I am writing about, but my brain is being recalcitrant and not letting me find them. I apologise for my poor language. I don’t think it’s contagious.

EDIT: Someone has been subediting and corrected things since I posted—and corrected them against style to boot! Perhaps I have readers who work at the Beeb. 

BBC News – Think-tank calls for all bank holidays to be scrapped

If public holidays were scrapped it would add £19bn to Britain’s annual economic output, a think tank says.

Why not go the whole hog and make the us work 24 hours a day, seven days a week? That would sort out the economy pretty damned quickly!

The Centre for Economics and Business Research is completely wrong on this. Germany has more public holidays than the UK, and has an economy that appears to be recovering nicely.

The CEBR appears to want us to go back to the 19th century. Wage slaves apparently are not entitled to time off, time to relax and be with their families, or to just get away from it all for a short time. As one of the commenters wrote below the article: “Whatever happened to taking pleasure in life?”

EDIT: Simon Price has rightly pointed out the real story here is not the headline from the press release, but who is behind it. 

CEBR is a right wing think tank, run by a friend of George Osborne, the UK’s finance minister. So, no agenda here then. Why does the mainstream media not pick this kind of stuff up, rather than running with the press release alone? They are doing themselves and us a dis-service.

Change is inevitable

The media is currently on tenterhooks as Yang Guang and Tian Tian, a pair of giant pandas currently resident in Edinburgh Zoo, look like they might actually be in the mood for love.

Good news, if you are a fan of that lovable black and white furry thing, notorious for being unable to breed and eating nothing but the wrong kind of grass.

I used to be a person who worried about the fate of the giant panda, the white rhino, various rare tigers and innumerable other species that inhabit the planet with we humans. I used to worry about the fact that animals were in danger of extinction. We had to save them!

Sadly, no matter how hard well-meaning folk try to save the various species, it seems inevitable that many will become extinct—extinct in the wild, at least. There are active captive breeding programmes at zoos and wildlife parks around the globe whose aim is to breed enough of the near-extinct creatures that they can be reintroduced into the wild.

Presumably, once in the wild, they will promptly go extinct again.

As I’ve got older, I’ve come to realise that trying to save cute animals from the inevitable is flawed. Not wishing to poke fun at the panda, let’s look at some facts about them:

  • They live in bamboo forests in China.
  • They eat the bamboo.
  • This is odd because they’re a bear, and bears generally don’t eat grass as their staple diet.
  • Female pandas ovulate once a year, and remain fertile enough to breed for about three days.

On the face of it, the panda should be left for evolution to deal with. It has nothing going for it, save being cute to look at, and being the poster child of all kinds of well-intentioned eco-friendliness.

Take a look at the white rhino. It’s not as cute as a panda, but it’s also endangered. It’s reached this stage because the rhino’s horn is believed to have medicinal properties in certain Asian countries. The poor old white rhino is killed, just so its horn can be hacked off and sold

All kinds of efforts have been made to prevent this pointless and senseless poaching, yet it continues. It seems the white rhino will soon follow its black savannah-mate, and only be seen in captive environments.

All kinds of animals and plants are in serious danger of going extinct. There are various reasons for this, but the main one is humans. Humans are just too resourceful, and outbreed everything except bacteria. Some of these humans, though, want to retain the status quo. They want to see animals in the wild, and want to help protect them.

This argument is flawed. Something like 99% of all species that have ever existed since this planet began to support life have become extinct. It’s what nature does. Things change. Humans, rightly or wrongly, are accelerating the changes, but that doesn’t mean we should be trying to prevent animals dying out. No amount of hand-wringing is going to prevent an inevitable natural outcome of there being too many humans.

Besides, killing an animal just for the flawed belief the tail or horn is some fantastic medical cure-all really just proves to me that humans don’t deserve nice things any more. We should be pragmatic about nature, let things die out, be hunted and poached to extinction in the wild, because once they’re gone the poachers will be out of luck, too.

My attitude is perhaps a depressing one, but I think I’m being realistic. Despite the WWF’s fifty years of campaigning, little seems to be really changing for the better. In that time, the human population on Earth has virtually tripled. With all the will in the world, I can’t see how we can save other species from extinction when we can’t stop our own species from outbreeding the resources available. In fact, by what measure do we think we are even capable of preventing natural extinction due to human greed? We’re as much a part of the biosphere as any other species. 

So, I say we should let species die out in the wild. They may remain captive curiosities, but in many ways perhaps seeing them in zoos may make us realise just what damage we’re continuing to do to our world. Do not ignore the fact that all things will change, and humans too will one day be extinct—especially if we carry on the way we are now.

Rant: I Love Photography

It might sound strange to use the verb “Love” in the title of a rant. But here goes.

I love photography.

Why am I telling you this? Isn’t it self-obvious? Don’t we all love photography? The answer is no. There is a percentage of photographers who hate photography. They do not appreciate photography. They do not consume photography. They don’t look at photo books or photo magazines. They hate the guy with the iPhone taking Instagram shots. They hate the guy who just bought the D4 because they don’t have one. They hate people using digital because film is what real artists use. They hate photographers who embrace social media because images should stand on their own. They hate Getty, Corbis, the AP, day rates, photo editors, assistants, rental houses, camera stores, point-and-shoots, iPads, zoom lenses, padded camera straps, wheeled suitcases, younger photographers, older photographers. The photo of so-and-so on the cover of whatever it’s called sucks. That guy copied the other guy, he sucks. Terry Richardson sucks. Chuck Close sucks. Vincent Laforet hasn’t taken a still in 17 years. Kodak hasn’t been managed well since the 70s. Blah, blah, blah.

I love photography. Let me show you why.

Good post over at PetaPixel.

New Shiny Announced!

World goes bonkers!

Anyone with even just a passing interest in digital photography can’t have failed to spot the rumour mills and industry monitors grinding into life this past few weeks. New DSLRs are very much in the news, if you care about such things.

Canon announced a new professional flagship model, the EOS-1D X, back in October 2011. Aimed at replacing the current top-flight DSLR models they produce, it’s slated for release sometime in 2012. I won’t bore you with the technical details. If they interest you, they’re on the press release and everywhere else!

Nikon, meanwhile, has just unveiled their D3 series replacement, the FX-format D4. I can’t immediately find official release dates, but again, if you are sufficiently interested in the technical stuff, it’s in the press release and everywhere else!

These press releases are timed to hit the CES 2012 shindig in Las Vegas, Nevada, US. The Consumer & Electronics Show is one of the biggest international gadget-fests going, and everyone who is anyone in the technology world will be there. Except Apple, but there you go. That’s an entirely other story.

So why do I bring you this earth-shattering news? Am I being sucked into the technolust vortex? Will Snaptophobic end up as just another technoblog, regurgitating press releases about every new gadget or software without even pausing to breathe?

No. Not a chance.

If I am completely honest I have never been free of the vortex, but I find the effort needed to get incredibly excited about new gear has waned in proportion with my age and bank balance! Yes, I am interested in it, but only in a peripheral kind of way. Being a Canonista, the new EOS-1D X is interesting, but it’s so far beyond my budget that I can effectively ignore it. It’s a camera that may be of interest to me if I were a professional photographer and it was to be my key tool, but as I am not a professional and I already have a camera that’s more than adequate for my needs, I won’t be letting myself be sucked too deeply into the vortex.

With Nikon’s announcement, there will now be an inevitable increase in the Cankon/Niknon fanbois crowing over features that trump their arch nemesis. This is partly why I haven’t bothered you with the technical features of each new camera, because they are really irrelevant to you and me. The kind of people who will find that sort of information at all of real interest are those who are not—in my opinion, I hasten to add—real photographers. 

So, while the baying over megapixel counts, burst frame rates, astronomical ISO levels, focus points and other geeky stuff begins to inexorably grow in volume, remember this: it’s not about the gear.

The camera is just a tool, a means to an end. Some of my best images were taken using a 35mm film camera that cost £20. Learn to use the tool you have, and make great pictures. If you can afford one of the new shinies, or can justify one for your work, go to it with my blessings. If you just want to leave it in idiot mode, slung round your neck as techo-jewellery … words fail me.

No, really, they do. 

Stop the Estuary Airport | Email Boris

Help us to oppose the estuary airport scheme by emailing Boris direct.

BoJo is at it again.

Visit the site linked above, which is supported by Medway Council, Kent County Council and the RSPB, and send an email to the Mayor of London registering your displeasure. I have.

I’ve only just discovered the North Kent Marshes, despite having lived in the area for over two decades. I like the fact there is such a large area of wilderness, sandwiched between the Thames and Medway. I like the fact the unique landscape of marshland is home to all kinds of wildlife, and to hardy souls who live in scattered communities across the Hoo Peninsula. It saddens me that the Mayor of London persists in trying to destroy this place, with some pie-in-the-sky dream of enticing some 75 million Chinese to buy duty free tat as they swap planes for an onward journey to who knows where!

Continual Improvement?

Anyone with even a slightest interest in the tech world will have been unable to avoid a couple of big stories over the past few days. RIM, maker of the Blackberry phone ecosystem, has had a major outage of their service, and Apple has released several new updates as well as a new version of the perennially popular iPhone.

I’m not concerned about RIM. I am not particularly concerned with Apple’s new shiny. I am concerned about steadily having my hand forced to upgrade beyond where I am comfortable. I am talking about system requirements for a couple of the new things emanating from Cupertino.

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Let me set out my table. I am a “creative”. I use a Mac for business and pleasure. My Mac is not in its first blush of youth, but it is still quite capable. I am reliably informed I can install the latest version of the Mac OS, version 10.7 aka Lion, and get some more miles under the belt before I need to seriously consider scraping together cash for a new machine.

All of which is very nice. Lion is available from the App Store for not much more than a round of drinks or a Saturday night takeaway. A couple of clicks and away I go.

The thing is, I still use software that relies on some core technologies of older versions of the Mac OS. Apple were incredibly clever when they transitioned from the PowerPC CPUs to Intel back in the day. They engineered code into the OS so it transparently rewrote the PowerPC code in older applications for Intel chips on the fly. You could continue to use older software until the developer updated for the Intel code. Which was (and is) amazing when you think about it.

In the intervening five or six years, most of the applications I use on a daily basis have been updated, and now run on Intel architecture. All, that is, save one or two. My Canon scanner, for example, will never be updated, and even a third party front end software requires the drivers to be present which—wait for it—are PPC architecture. I can get round this, as I have another scanner now, but I can always run it on an older Mac that is unrepentently a PowerPC powered machine.

The other one, which is a bit bigger in my world, is Macromedia FreeHand. Don’t laugh! I still use it, even though Adobe bought out the company and let FreeHand expire in a dusty corner. I use FreeHand because — oh, let’s not go there. It’s not pertinent to this ranty post anyway.

Okay, the FreeHand thing can also be solved by shifting it to that older PowerPC Mac I’ve already mentioned. That’s not the point, really. My point is Apple have just released updates to Aperture, which I use nearly every day for managing my photo libraries and so on. That’s good, yes?

Yes, if you have updated to the latest version of Lion. Otherwise, you don’t get the update to Aperture. I don’t actually think I need Lion. From what I have seen, it doesn’t offer me anything over what I am running now (OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard). Apple, it seems, are forcing me to upgrade to an OS I don’t really want or need in order to keep up with software I do want and need.

There’s also this thing called iOS5. This is the latest version of the operating system for iPhones, iPods touch and iPads. Lovely shiny things I don’t own. Along with the iOS update is a change from MobileMe, which I use, to a thing called iCloud. Guess what? I can’t migrate to iCloud without running OS X 10.7.2 or iOS5. 

My hand is being forced into making an upgrade to something I don’t really want to upgrade. Yet to maintain levels of software I use, I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter.

Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but is this the Apple that Steve Jobs always meant it to be?

 

**UPDATE**

19 October 2011—Apple quietly rolled out the Aperture 3.2 update on the App Store. The update was “recommended” for all users. In the system requirements, the magic numbers 10.6.8 appeared. I checked all over the Apple web site to confirm the 3.2 update would work for Snow Leopard, and happily it does. The only requirement for me to sidegrade to Lion now is if I want to keep my @mac.com email address, and I have until the end of June 2012 to sort that out. 

British Government? You’re fired!

I think it’s time the British electorate stood up and demanded the Westminster government and parliament be disbanded as not fit for purpose.

It has failed us for too long. 

Why do we even need them? What good do they do?

It strikes me all they ever do is meddle with things, and generally make things worse or break things that weren’t really broken.  They don’t really seem to represent us any more. You only need to look at the disconnect between the electors and the elected to see this.

This country will function quite happily without meddlesome politicians. The Civil Service will continue to run things for a bit, free from constant poking and fiddling from some “here today, gone tomorrow” politician sticking their oar in. While the country is being managed by those who really manage things anyway, we can decide how we want our country to be run and who should be given the responsibility to run it—if anyone.

So, let’s start a campaign to close down the British Parliament and Government. They have failed us too often.

Race to the Bottom?

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Once again it is that time of year. I don’t mean the changing of the seasons, the nights getting longer, the onrush of winter and that Christmas thing. No, I mean it’s X Factor/Strictly Come Dancing time again. Which one will you be watching?

Oh, please. This morning’s BBC Breakfast was full of it. Endless froth about X Factor (ITV, blue corner) and Strictly Come Dancing (BBC, red corner), with added excitement in the form of whether Spooks (BBC) and Downton Abbey (ITV) will also pull in the punters.

My jaw almost hit the floor, which would have been inconvenient since I was eating toast and supping tea at the time. 

Why, I wondered, does the BBC, a publicly-funded broadcaster through the television licence, feel the need to fight for ratings with an advertising-funded network? I fail to see the point in these ratings “wars”. Who wins in the end? 

My contention is no-one wins in the end. Everyone’s a loser.

Let’s leave aside the Spooks vs Downton Abbey thing, because as far as I can tell (I don’t watch either show, I freely admit) they are both well-written, well-made examples of their breed. Pitting them against each other in the same time slot seems pointless, since anyone who cares enough will simply record one of them to watch later, or catch up online—this in itself negates the whole “X million people watched it last night, so our show is bigger than your show, yah boo sucks” shenanigans, but there you go.

No-one wins in the end when two celebrity-obsessed “reality” shows are pitched at each other. Everyone is a net loser, even those of us who don’t watch them. Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor: celebrities making fools of themselves versus members of the public making fools of themselves. The latter I find particularly irksome as it feeds on sad peoples’ need to “be famous”, without needing to do any of the hard work to earn the fame. The goggle-eyed sofa-bound point and laugh. It’s gladiatorial combat, only lacking the blood and gore. In fact, I’m sure there’ll be blood and gore in a future series of X Factor. They need to keep the ratings, after all.

No-one wins because both are really just for those who enjoy air-head television. It’s style over substance. Both shows encourage viewers to phone in and “vote” for a winner, at vast expense mind you. Both are fixed, there is no real competition at all. Why viewers aren’t intelligent enough to see through this manufactured charade is beyond me, but perhaps it’s the chance of seeing a famous person making a fool of themselves, or a fool making themselves momentarily famous. I don’t really know.

All of which still fails to answer my question: why does a publicly-funded broadcaster feel the need to follow another channel down the plughole? 

ITV needs people to watch the shows so they can be advertised at. It’s a commercial broadcaster. X Factor is funded by sponsorship and advertising, aimed at the goggle-eyed and sofa-bound. The entertainment is to keep you watching so you can be advertised at. That’s all it is. You are the product, not the end user.

The BBC, however, doesn’t need to appease advertisers. Who are they trying to fool? Ratings mean nothing to the BBC. They don’t need to compete, so why do they bother? I have no idea.

What I’d like to see is the BBC realising it really doesn’t have to chase ratings. I’d like to see Auntie concentrating on making the best programmes it can, without continually dumbing down to appease the stupid. There are plenty of smart people out there who enjoy a challenge in their entertainment. Stupid people have ITV, Five or anything from Sky to watch if they feel challenged by anything made for intelligent people. Make excellent programmes and smart people will watch them, I can guarantee it. Earn the television licence instead of continually underestimating the intelligence of your viewers. We’re not stupid, so please don’t assume we are.

Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t scrap BBC Four. It’s one of the few places where we smart people can still watch intelligent programming.