Monday, August 15, 2005

15 August 2005: Tension

How can people say cricket is boring?

Martyn, Kevin and I are in the living room, shaking with tension. We sit here watching England trying to get the final Australian out, twenty-two balls left to go. If England win, they go two-one up in the series. If it's a draw, Australia have a very good chance to come back. The whole summer could hinge on the next ten minutes.

Twenty balls left. Flintoff beating the bat consistently. Just get one to hit the stumps, Freddie. Another one screams past the outside edge!

"We can't draw this one now!" screams Martyn. He must be tense, he's wondering out loud how much contact lens solution it would take to poison me.

Three overs to go. That's eighteen balls. Steve Harmison snorts another one past McGrath's nose. And the next one he just digs out.

"So tiiiiight!" screams Martyn. I don't think he's talking about his trousers.

Rob returns down the stairs for the finale. He doesn't care for the cricket, he's just waiting for it to finish so he can watch Scrubs on the TV.
"What's the score?" he asks. "A draw's bad, isn't it?"
"Only considering we've dominatined this game," says Kevin.
"We're not going to do it," Rob replies. He sits. Shaking.

Twelve balls to go. Lee pushes out a Flintoff yorker.
"If he doesn't get this person out, he's gay!" declares Rob. Damning stuff indeed.

"How was he?" I scream as the ball thumps Brett Lee's front leg pad.
Not out, says Umpire Steve Bucknor.

Seven balls to go. Lee pushes the ball and it just reaches the boundary. Huge cheer. McGrath on strike for the final over. Steve Harmison to bowl.

"We need contrived quotes," says Rob.
"Left anvil bone of the inner-ear," suggests Kevin.
"Is a yorker a ball that lands close to the cricketer?" asks Martyn.
"Yes, even I know that," says Rob. "Can't we put a decent bowler in?"
"That was leg-side," says Kevin, utilising a cricketing term for the first time in a while. "Lee is on strike."

Three balls to go. Wide down the leg-side, what a waste.
"Rubbish," says Rob. "England are rubbish."
Next one sails through.

One ball to go.
"One solitary single ball," says Mark Nicholas on the television.
"One solitary single enormous tautology," says Martyn.

Lee digs it out. Australia get the draw.

"Rubbish. If Alex Ferguson was there, he'd be throwing football boots around about now," says Rob.
"Shut up, Rob," proclaims Martyn.

Game over.

Friday, August 12, 2005

12 August 2005: Losing

++++ All the latest from Leaside Way as Bulldog continue their strident efforts to lose another customer ++++

Our phone still doesn't work, of course, and nobody has got back to us within 48 hours. The funny thing is, when I phoned up their support desk, I spoke to the same guy as on Wednesday - he remembered my name too, perhaps meaning there is some small value in having a name you always have to spell out over the phone.

Phone tech support:
"I'll make a new ticket for you. I'll mark it urgent. Someone will get to you within 48 hours."
- If they don't?
"I'll follow it up myself on Monday and check the progress."
- What about wednesday's ticket?
"We don't have access to the database. You'll need to call customer support for that."
- OK.

Customer support:
Got through at 4.23pm, on hold.
Answered at 4.48.
"Just checking... All your tickets are closed, which means the problems have been resolved."
- Really? That's strange, because our phone still doesn't work.
"I'll just have to put you on hold a moment."
"Well, they've closed all the tickets. They may still be working on the problem, to find out you'd have to phone technical support."
- What number is that?
"Same number as you dialed, option two."
- They're the people I called earlier, they said they don't have access to the database.
"Well, their database is more detailed than ours, so they can tell you what's going on."
- They said they can't do that.
"Not my problem."
- OK, thank you.

Although I paraphrase slightly, the man was still quite rude. Glad it's an 0800 number and they're paying for the call.

So, given that we won't go back to Pipex, has anyone got any suggestions for an ADSL company with a decent deal for unmetered 1Mbps access?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

11 August 2005: Cohn

A correspondent points out the news story that can be found at

This concerns Marc Cohn, singer/songwriter who won a Grammy in 1991 for his debut album ('Marc Cohn') which featured the hit 'Walking in Memphis', later covered disastrously by Cher (and apparently renamed by her 'Walking in Mem-pherrrs'). Cohn is a reluctant performer and even more reluctant recorder: his debut was followed by 'The Rainy Season' in 1993, 'Burning The Daze' in 1998 and we're still waiting for the fourth. We were promised last year, then early this year, then definitely later this year, then perhaps early next year. He does have a new live album out ("Live '04-'05") - his first official live effort, although the bootleg 'The American Landscape' from an early Hamburg concert is made from an official recording. You can find the new one here or on iTunes.

The story is that on Sunday night, after doing a concert in Colorado, Cohn and his band were driving along and suffered an attempted car-jacking. The jacker had a gun, and shot at the car, a bullet hitting Cohn in the head. Astoundingly, he's fine and has gone home after being released from hospital - meantime police have apprehended the shooter, so that's good. In a statement Marc said he felt lucky to be alive, but he's understandably cancelled the remaining dates on his sparse summer tour, at least until he recovers.

The official unofficial Marc Cohn fansite, Move Real Easy, has a forum on which I'm an occasional poster, and that's understandably been flooded with best wishes for Marc and his family. I certainly hope he recovers soon. Partly because I think his music is some of the best mix of the singer/songwriter tradition, gospel, blues, soul and straight-up rock, but also because I've yet to see him live: I missed the 1998 Camden concert, his only in the UK during the last eleven years, and am determined not to miss the next. His music is well-written, well-produced and sounds great recorded; live, he is superb, as you'll discover if you get hold of the new live album or any of the myriad (and actually Cohn-endorsed) bootlegs that are out there.

Anyway, I've not much more to say on this, except that I'm glad he's ok. And if you've still no idea what I'm talking about, here's a clip from Amazon. Happy discovering.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

10 August 2005: Support

Well, 48 hours passed and no contact from Bulldog concerning either the phone or the broadband service. Who'd have thought? Time to start phoning their support desks again...

Phone support:
"If a ticket is already open, it's not our problem, you need to speak to customer services."

Customer services:
"Extremely high call volume, please try again later." Click.

Broadband support:
"What's the problem exactly? Has someone been through first line support checks with you?"
- Yes.
"Can I put you on hold?"
"Your line is only capable of holding 1.5 Mbps. You'll get a five pounds discount per month because of that."
Same price as Pipex for the same speed, then.
- Why weren't we told this before?
"No idea."
- OK, thank you.

Customer services:
"Extremely high call volume, please try again later." Click.

Customer services:
Got through and put on hold at 9.19am.

10.14am a helpful lady answered:
"Support problems are not our department, they shouldn't have put you through. It's just a way for them to get themselves off the hook, because we're not technical people. However, I'll just go and check the tickets... all the tickets have been closed. No broadband either?"
- Only 1Mbps.
"I'll check... yes, that's right, you can only get 1Mbps on your phone line. Now, about the phone: you need to call telephone support again and open a new ticket. I'll leave a note for them saying you've called customer support who were unable to help."
- And what if we want to cancel, given that the broadband is no quicker than Pipex and the phone now doesn't work?
"You need to phone BT and request a 'return to donor'. Then call us or email us and request a cancellation. Do it that way round and you can keep your phone number. Good luck!"

So, back to phone support:
"Can I have your BDOL number? Your name? Can you spell that for me please? And your home phone? And your mobile?"
- Hang on, don't you have this stuff already?
"I don't have access to the system, I'm just writing an escalation email to a senior engineer for you."
- OK.
So he won't see the note from the customer services lady then.
"I'm sorry you've had these problems, we're referring it to a senior engineer as a matter of urgency. As a result of this, someone will get back to you within 48 hours."
- And what if they don't?
"They will get back to you within 48 hours."

Somehow I doubt it. But we've pretty much decided to drop them anyway. If they miraculously pull their fingers out and give us a phone service we might stay with them, simply because so far their 1Mbps service has proved more reliable than Pipex's. But the customer service is so bad, and the initial claim of 8Mbps not even close to being matched, it is probably worth going back to a BT-based service just as a way of voting with our feet.

Lessons learned today?
(1) Bulldog do not do line checks to see what your phone line is capable of holding.
(2) Bulldog engineers (if they exist) do not respond to support problems, they just close the tickets.
(3) Bulldog Customer Services are not technical but are actually more helpful than anyone else.
(4) To re-migrate to BT, you need to ask for a 'return to donor' before cancelling with Bulldog.
(5) Don't plan anything else for the morning if you need to call Bulldog Technical Support.

I somehow feel the need to take a bath.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

6 Aug 2005: Bulldog II

Quick update for those following what we're sure will turn into a soap opera worthy of Channel 5.

Yesterday was the day we were promised someone would contact us (but how? Our phone doesn't accept incoming calls!) regarding both our non-working telephone line and our non-properly-working 8Mbps broadband connection. Naturally, there were no calls nor were there emails. So I called them again.

Phone dept first:
'Oh, sorry,' said the nice lady, 'someone should have contacted you within 48 hours of reporting the fault'.
'Well, they didn't.'
'OK, what I'll do is email the fault direct to the management and mark it as priority. Give me your mobile number and you'll get a call within 48 hours.'
'You mean they'll call me over the weekend?'
'Oh. No. 48 working-week hours. So probably Tuesday.'

That'll be almost a week without the phone. But maybe they'll call, who knows? And why was she emailing the management anyway? Surely an engineer would have been more useful.

Next up, the broadband helpdesk:
'Right sir, I've looked at the ticket that was opened and it says that your low connection speed was due to the initialisation of the line not being completed. They completed it this afternoon and closed the ticket. You should have full speed internet now.'
I checked, there and then. Even restarted the modem. 1Mbps every time.
'OK sir, in that case I'll open a new ticket for you, I'll just put you on hold for a second.'
Click. I was cut off.
I called back:
'Hello, I was just speaking to one of your colleagues and was cut off. Here's the situation...'
'OK sir, I'll see what has happened to that ticket he was about to open for you. I'll just put you on hold.'
Click. Cut off again.
I called back again:
'Hello, this is the third time I've called. Please don't cut me off again. Here's the situation...'
'Right sir, well I can see that a ticket has been re-opened for this. I'll just put you on - '
'No, you don't have to put me on hold. Just let me know what happens next.'
'Well, someone will be in touch in the next few days and will be in touch to sort out the problem.'
'OK, but they can't call us because our phone isn't working either. Can you take my mobile number and call me on that?'
'We've already got it I think.'
*Tapping of a keyboard*
*Out-of-tune humming*
'Right sir, can I take your mobile number?'

And that was it. Neither original fault fixed, both our original calls apparently ignored. And so the questions remain...

Will we ever be able to receive phone calls again?
Will our broadband speed ever get above 1Mbps?
Will we give up and go back to using carrier pigeons?

Tune in again next week for more exciting Adventures with Bulldog.

Friday, August 05, 2005

5 August 2005: Broadband

So we're having problems with Bulldog. Who'd have thought?

Despite reading varying reports about their service (including some very bad ones from Blagger), the lure of 8Mbps broadband was too much. Total cost only five pounds a month more than we were paying Pipex for our 1Mbps service, too good to be true?

Well, maybe. Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) means many things, but mainly it means companies other than BT are allowed to have control of your telephone line at the exchange. As a result of this, these companies can offer upgrades that BT as a whole can't (or don't) and thus you can get faster ADSL internet. Bulldog began LLU on our exchange back in June, so after a short period of wavering due to the mixed reports, we decided to go for it.

Bulldog took control of our phone line on Wednesday. Hurrah! And guess what? Our broadband speed is exactly the same as it was before - 1Mbps. The only difference is that now our phone doesn't take incoming calls. You try to call us, you'll get through to 'BT Answer 1571', which I'm sure is a surprise to BT since we have nothing to do with them any more. We can make outgoing calls, but that's it.

So Rob and myself have spent a lot of the last two days on the phone to Bulldog's various technical supports. Apart from a lot of 'our line is very busy, please call later' recorded messages and a number of 'not my department, mate' real people, it does seem that they won't be able to get anyone to talk to us for 48 hours about the phone, and quite possibly never about the broadband.

My instinct is that neither problem will ever be fixed, and we'll leave Bulldog at the end of our initial month. Maybe they'll surprise me, but reading the testimonies on Blagger makes me fear we may have to go via Ofcom or even the small claims courts to get our phone line back. Still, we'll see... only three days in...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

2 August 2005: Steroids

Mike Downey in the Chicago Tribune is a bit angry in yesterday's edition. And rightly so.

Rafael Palmeiro, only the fourth baseball player ever to reach the twin peaks of 500 home runs and 3000 hits (and Viagra's national spokesman in the US), has been suspended after a positive steroid test. He denies intentionally taking drugs, but in this age of frequent testing, stringent rules and public cynicism, how can an athlete of his experience not know what is and isn't going into his body? Major League Baseball said at the beginning of the year they were going to clamp down very hard on drug use this year, and it's not as if Palmeiro wasn't under the spotlight following last year's accusations from Jose Canseco.

A quick reminder: Canseco, former big-hitter with the Oakland A's and half of the infamous 'bash brothers' with Mark McGwire, wrote a book entitled 'Juiced' last year in which he claimed a number of top baseball players, including himself, had all taken steroids at various times. McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, Jason Giambi and Pudge Rodriguez have all had clouds hanging over them this year because of that - and of course Balco's cloud covering Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield et al. But Palmeiro was a little different. Canseco's testimony regarding Palmeiro was that he, Canseco, had personally injected steroids into Palmeiro's body; Palmeiro meantime testified under oath before congress that "I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." And he threatened to sue Canseco.

That was March 17th. We're now in August. Palmeiro has still showed no signs of legal action beyond his initial threats. And now this. It's hard to disagree with Mike Downey when he asks who do you now trust, Canseco or Palmeiro? Palmeiro may now be focusing on the issue of intentional use of steroids but that means two things: (1) he is still gaining physiological advantage from having measurable (and banned) amounts of steroids in his system and (2) it pushes this to a question of trust: the drugs are in his body, the question now is can you trust his word and his word alone that there was no intent? To me, that's less of a question. He should know better, and he should know what's going in and out of his body.

So he's banned for ten days. Pretty much any other sport would have banned him for two years, of course, but baseball is still dancing around the issue - eleven years after the strike, Bud Selig and his merry men are still walking in fear of controversy and any kind of scandal that would damage the game. They're getting there, slowly, but it's still hard not to be cynical about what should be a great game and one I still enjoy immensely. Sammy Sosa's corked bat was carefully spun but frankly was a disgrace to the sport and called into question the great 'Run for 61' home-run chase of 1998 where Sosa was beaten, coincidentally enough, by McGwire. Barry Bonds has been missing from the San Francisco Giants all season, and won't play again until at least next spring. On the year they introduced tougher drug testing, too, who'd have thought it?

Makes me wonder if the only player not taking anything in baseball is Julio Franco. Officially 47 years old this month (ha ha, he's 50 if he's a day), he continues to hit home runs, field athletically and even steal bases. He leads more "oldest player to..." categories than anyone else. His regimen? Raw egg whites and orange juice for breakfast every day ("pro-tee-in, it has lots of pro-tee-in"), a pro-tee-in shake for lunch, lots of carbohydrates before the game and no doughnuts. And lots of gym work too... he did a slot for TBS Xtra last year that can be viewed here. Andy Van Slyke (former Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star) accused Julio of being on drugs last year:

"Julio Franco is 46 years old -- I've got to believe he's on it." -- Andy Van Slyke, on whether or not Braves first baseman Julio Franco is on steroids.

"Tell Andy Van Slyke he's right -- I'm on the best juice there is. I'm juiced up every day, and the name of my juice is Jesus. I'm on His power, His wisdom, His understanding. Andy Van Slyke is right. But the thing he didn't mention was what kind of steroids I'm on. Next time you talk to him, tell him the steroid I'm on is Jesus of Nazareth." -- Julio Franco.

Van Slyke's mistake, of course, was his initial statement. Sportspeople on steroids typically don't live to 46, thereby proving that Julio is the only guaranteed clean player in the entire game.