Internet connections and People ready businesses

I’ve been “on Holiday” for a few days. My mother-in-law hasn’t been enjoying the best of health so we took took the family off to visit her over the half term week. To a rented house with Satellite TV – because it is in a DVB deadspot – but no broadband, and no 3G reception. It’s been a lesson in just how much we take connectivity for granted.

The 3G part was interesting: Microsoft provides me with a phone  its due for replacement in a few months (hopefully with one of these), for me the candy bar form factor with slide out qwerty keyboard is perfect, and when I got my current one the only 3G option was a touch screen PDA. I’ve shut up about the iPhone, it doesn’t work for me nor do the Windows-powered touch screen phones. They work for lots of other people. Fine: we’re not all the same.  So I went shopping for a Pay as You go 3G service in Oxford – where half the shops now seem to be phone shops or coffee shops. I asked each provider to check my destination was covered, all of them could check, and had to admit it wasn’t To be fair, Orange’s web site suggest they have coverage but that they don’t offer Pay As You Go 3G. I wanted to check both things, but their Oxford shop was being refurbished, so I thought I’d go to a mobile phone shop when we arrived.  Reading this piece on Mark's blog I realise that this will soon be considered suspicious (The Times reports Everyone who buys a mobile telephone will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance.) . I like the fact that my phone isn’t registered to me: if it was at a crime scene it could be traced to me in 5 minutes flat. The same is true of my (leased) car.With no way to look up my phone or my car, its hard for someone to go on a fishing trip about me. I’m nervous that a computer somewhere in the Home Office would spot my purchase of a 3G dongle far from home and send someone to check things out. As it happens, there was nowhere to buy one anyway; this is a town with no mobile phone shops, no McDonalds with free WiFi, no Starbucks. A single Cafe had internet access – at 5p a minute! Once the home secretary catches up with the notion of VoIP, I guess we’ll have to produce Biometric ID to use cyber-cafes. 

A fair chunk of my expensive internet time was spent arranging my hotel for Tech-ed – I don’t know why I left it so late; usually when I start procrastinating about everything it is a sign something is wrong. The travel coordinator gave me the necessary URL  but my chosen credit card issuer doesn’t participate in the site’s chosen verification scheme. So I mailed the coordinator back, explaining that I’m on holiday, I don’t have proper access, the web site won’t play ball, so here’s my credit card number, please book the room. Back comes a reply “we need a fax for security reasons”.  I reply “You want something with a signature on it … even though you can’t tell if it is really MY signature, that’s no security”. And who takes a fax and printer on Holiday ? Somewhat crossly I went back the next day to try another credit card, this takes me to “Verified by visa”, or “vilified by Visa” because I couldn’t get it to accept my details. What followed was actually rather wonderful. My phone rang, it was the bank’s fraud department, a  computer somewhere had spotted my failed purchase far from home and sent someone to check things out. With the transaction cleared the call got passed to someone in a totally different part of the bank, who knew what was going on, and walked me through the Visa system and hey presto everything worked. I’ve no idea what software they  use at first direct but when we ran commercials about “The people ready business” we meant the sort of thing they have been doing for years. And the Hotel bookers were the target to become people ready. [Side point. I have long had a theory that people get more choosey about where they place their business when the economy is bad “lots of you are chasing my custom, so I’ll go somewhere that I don’t have to put up with X.”. If you’re an IT pro and your projects don’t lead to delivering something better to a customer, what exactly are you doing ?]. 

On the subject of my procrastination leading to find out of companies are people ready or not, I nearly gave this post a risqué title like “Sucking big Julie dry” as I explained a couple of weekends back , “Big Julie” was the identity I floated for my new car from its registration “Sierra Juliet”, though that name just isn’t right. The last 4 Citroëns I’ve had were equipped with a trip computer showing range at about 20 miles the display would change to --- meaning “I can’t guess any more. Fill up right now”. I try to avoid filling up until I absolutely have to, so I quite familiar with that display. With  Trip computer still indicating 22 miles range and a mile from where I planned to fill up something horrible happened. The engine stopped. I expect embedded computers and their sensors to be 100% reliable – which means if they are wrong they fail in the direction of safety. I wouldn’t accept my latop’s battery dying when the display said 10 minutes left: tell me I’m out of fuel with 20 miles left – not the other way round.
I called Citroën assist – “We can get someone to you in about an hour with some fuel” they said, “I can walk and get some in less time” I said “but does the engine need to be re-primed ?”. “No” said the guy at the other end. “Are you sure there’s no special procedure for a dry diesel engine” “Yes”. “OK I’ll walk”. 45 minutes later with 5 litres of diesel in the tank I was back on the phone - “The engine won’t start, the handbook doesn’t cover this engine, only the V6 diesel and there’s nothing about re-priming that”. “OK. We’ll send someone out – it will be about an hour”. Grrr. If I’d known, I’d have got them to send him in the first place. We called a taxi so the rest of the family could get home and I waited. I got a call and a text from the AA (that’s the Automobile Association, if you’re thinking of something else known as AA)to say they were on their way. Now here’s a tip. If you have a Peugeot or Citroën with a 2.2HDI engine (and according to Wikipedia possibly a Ford with the 2.2  TDCi as well)  and you run it dry, open the bonnet and look for a little black bulb with a fuel line coming from it, on the left near the front. The AA man squeezed that a few times, I turned the key and hey presto the engine sprang to life.  One of his easier jobs. On the one hand calling a number and having someone sort the problem out is great, but the computer at Citroën assist knew what model and colour my car is… so why didn’t it give that tip to the person on the phone ? It just didn’t come up to scratch on people –readiness.


Bonus link, Given where I was this story from Jason had me almost crying with laughter