Tag Archives: computer

How I got ripped-off and my iMac was messed-up by a computer repair man

This is a longer-than-normal blog. Only embark on it if you want to share my trauma… Though I do think the piece builds to a fairly strong climax – not written by me but by one remarkably plain-speaking Alan Evans… At the start, though, this is me…


It is embarrassing to admit, but, one day couple of weeks ago…

I found I could not access WiFi on my Apple iMac although, on the same desk in the same room, my iPad and iPhone COULD access the WiFi. So it was not a WiFi signal problem; it was an iMac problem. The iMac was working perfectly well otherwise; there was just a problem getting online via WiFi. I could not solve the problem – I tried all the normal things – so I succumbed to getting a repair man in via what seemed to be a safe website – bidvine.com

Via them, I was approached by a guy called Jon Draper of Ace Computer Services who, again, sounded plausible. He quoted £55 as an estimate.

A simple problem. He sounded plausible. My big mistake.

On arrival, he said he had meant to quote his normal £80 but would do it for the £55. 

Without telling me in advance and without asking my permission, while I was out of the room, he added four programs to my computer which he claimed would stabilise my computer and which cost £95 – so total price £150. 

They were CleanMyMac, IDFrag and Onyx. Plus MalwareBytes – which he only told me about after I queried it. He also told me the inbuilt Apple Disk Utility was “useless”.

As far as I am aware, none of the four non-Apple programs he installed are designed to specifically and solely target a WiFi problem. They are designed to mess around with the internal workings of the Operating System.

The WiFi, of course, now worked, he told me. I paid him by credit card. He was very plausible. And then he tried to show me the computer working.

It took forever to even start. He tried to solve the problem – “I don’t know why it’s doing that,” he said. It took perhaps 6-9 minutes to get it going. Getting online took similar minutes. “I don’t know why it’s doing that,” he said. I began to think this was his mantra. The picture was unstable. It rolled. “I don’t know why it’s doing that,” he said for a third time after Googling on his phone to see how to sort the problem. None of these problems had happened before.

He talked about wiping the hard drive and reinstalling everything from my back-up. I said, “No.” I was not letting him anywhere near my previously working hard drive.

After maybe half an hour, he left because he had to go to another appointment saying, as he went through the door, that to solve the problem, he could sell me a £150 hard drive for £100. I said No… Obviously.

He claims he has a “No Fix – No Fee” policy so I suppose, pedantically, that is true. The WiFi problem had been fixed. But he had buggered up the computer by – without my permission – installing four programs for which he charge £95.

After he left, I removed (as I told him I would) two of the four rogue programs – CleanMyMac and IDFrag – and got the computer working perfectly well again – except that I cannot now access my Network Preferences panel and the hard disc icon on my desktop has been replaced with a Network icon. The third program – MalwareBytes – I removed, but an icon for it remained in the MenuBar.

I sent a message asking Jon Draper how to remove this and asking where the fourth program he installed – Onyx – was. He said he would find out and get back to me. I had to find a MalwareBytes uninstaller on the internet which I downloaded and got rid of the rogue MalwareBytes icon.

I still have been unable to find the Onyx program he charged me for (it is Freeware). I also sent a message asking for a refund for the cost of him supplying and (without my foreknowledge or permission) installing software which collectively buggered-up my previously working computer. I got no reply.

He left the computer in an unusable state, installed software I did not ask for without my foreknowledge or permission and charged £95 extra to make a working computer slow and, in practical effect, unusable. Appalling. I got the computer working again myself.

I complained to Bidvine who, basically, said, “Not our problem, mate.” They put people who require service in touch with people who provide service and it is nothing to do with them if the service is shit.

“At Bidvine, our goal is to successfully connect you to professionals and we aim for everyone to have a positive experience in using the platform. We value your feedback as this serves to inform us.”

Interestingly, Bidvine’s website showed Jon Draper had been hired only 4 times via Bidvine, but had received 6 reviews for jobs done on different dates.

I looked more into Jon Draper (which, of course, I should have done earlier).

I noticed that, on his website, it claims he is part of an organisation with multiple technicians covering six counties. Yet, when I looked at the different counties’ details they all seemed to have his own telephone numbers. And the only name in alleged testimonials from satisfied ‘members of the public’ in different areas was his name.

The company “HQ” – that’s what it said – is an unremarkable suburban house in Woodstock Avenue, Golders Green, NW11 9SG, if you want to Google Streetview it.

The ‘company’ is said to be managed by a mysterious Tony Hawkins who “has been involved in the computer repair business for many years” and is “well trained to oversee the company, having previously worked for computer data services… We can GUARANTEE your business first page of Google!… So, for example, type in ‘pc repairs’ followed by any town in London, Surrey or Hertfordshire, and you’ll see our website on the first page.”

Obviously I tried this and it is a load of bollocks.

I enjoyed cowboys when I was a young boy watching movies. I do not appreciate them as much as an adult.

I also found that Jon Draper trades on Facebook as Any Distance Computer Services, on Twitter as PC & Mac Repairs and as 24 Hour PC and Apple Mac Repairs on BidVine’s competitor website freeindex.co.uk (although this 24-hour business confusingly claims that business hours are 0700-2300).

Never let it be said I fail to give credit where due.

He has done the same scam before, though not, it seems, with such disastrous consequences. The latest two 2018 reviews on freeindex.co.uk were both 1-star and the latest also mentioned in detail dodgy installation by him of unnecessary programs. (BELOW)

Suspiciously, all previous reviews (5-star) were posted before July 2017. 

Here are two reviews of “Jon Draper” on FreeIndex:


From: ALAN EVANS, Horley. Posted 26 Jul 2018

Jon rudely hung up on me during our call, but I will here summarise my complaint(s) with the nature of his service provision. The originating issue and reason for calling Jon was, and is, with regard to a slow iMac which often shows the spinning wheel for long periods. Since Jon came to address the problem, the spinning wheel persists so nothing has changed.

Very soon after Jon arrived he suggested that High Sierra was the problem. He suggested this before conducting any diagnostics but I assumed he knew what he was doing – being the ‘expert’ and all. Then the task was, apparently, to revert back to the previous software. While the computer reverted back to its previous software which takes time, Jon suggested looking at 2 other computers in my home; another iMac and a Dell laptop, to see if anything could be done there too. At the time I thought he was being helpful and service-oriented by making good use of the time I was already paying for @ £40 per 30 minutes. He had said over the phone “I charge £80 per hour but most problems can be fixed within this time”. As it turned he took 90 minutes and charged me £120. I wouldn’t have an issue with this charge. But, in fact, I do because: 

He spent the extra half hour loading ‘helpful’ apps onto all the computers. I assumed this was part of the service because he never asked if I wished to purchase any apps. He then casually announced before leaving and by pointing at each computer, that the software for that one is £45, that one £35 etc to the tune of £215 bringing the total cost to £335. I was shocked and told him that one of the computers was my wife’s work based computer and I did not want to be charged for fixing the computer of a corporation. He removed the apps from this computer and £125 from the fee but I was becoming increasingly irritated and my trust in him dropped dramatically as a consequence of his approach. 

Still reeling, I paid £210 online under duress and without having had a chance to review the outcome. Which of course I now have. Jon advertises a ‘No Fix – No Fee Policy’ but at the same time rushed me, the customer, to pay online before he had left and before I had a chance to check if anything had in fact been fixed. It hadn’t. 

The apps he mis-sold me, I have since discovered, were free and gratis anyway. He appears to have provided a month subscription and these ‘subscriptions’ then run out. They were MalwareBytes, IDFrag (I can buy memory defrag for 99p on the App Store if I wish to) Onyx, ClamXav (also free but only £19.99 to buy the full version) and CleanMyMac 1.5. CleanMyMac is now on version 3 and I am unable to upgrade to this from the software he loaded which is very old. 

I believe Jon is using customers who are experiencing computer issues as opportunities for selling old software that he happens to have on a memory stick. These unsuspecting customers do not know any better and so put their trust in him. Worse, he knowingly abuses this trust for personal gain. Jon is a highly immoral predator. 

When I eventually got hold of Jon on the phone (he failed to return my calls several times) I attempted to calmly put my thoughts to him, making the assumption that perhaps he has unknowingly made an error and just doesn’t realise how he is coming across either. Rather than listen he continuously interrupted and stated several times ‘that’s your opinion’. He rejected any attempt at providing feedback designed to help him see how his service appears to us customers. 

I used an analogy to suggest that a car garage doesn’t charge a customer for works on a car until they have explained the options to allow the customer to decide what they are and are not willing to pay for. They don’t just customise your car then tell the customer ‘You owe us £X’. Jon countered this with “Well then I want the number of your garage because mine does and all garages do…” In effect telling me I am wrong and he is right and demonstrating an inability to listen, learn and change. 

After our call I checked the reviews of his company on some review sites and such and noted that other complainers attempting to share their views are similarly attacked by Jon with attempts to discredit them and their criticisms. An open reply to one person says; ‘This customer was visiting dodgy websites’. Another customer implores us to contact them first so they can warn us of what to expect and to avoid Jon. Jon’s approach disgusts me. 

His operation represents bad customer service at best. But it is cruel, rude, bullying, damaging to both home and business and lacking in any kind of ethical business practice at worst. Jon is self-serving and money-oriented at whatever the cost. And the cost is the appropriate level of care toward the customers. Jon should serve time in prison as his activities are criminal.

I want a full refund. But I expect nothing from these sharks other than more name calling, denials and lies (see Jon’s response below!)

To state the obvious: avoid Jon and his company like the plague.


From: AARON, Amersham. Posted 22 Jan 2018 

Very disappointed with the service from Jon. The initial contact was ok, but it took me following up on 3 separate occasions for him to come out to pick up my hard drive for data recovery. Post pick up I had to follow up with him on a number of occasions before he did the work I had asked him to do. I would respond to his questions within minutes but then he wouldn’t communicate back for days.

When he completed the work he sent me my data but kept my hard drive, which we had never discussed and which I had never given him permission to do. After following up with him about it he told he had destroyed it to get the data, which he had also not communicated to me before doing it. 

I requested he send it back to me, destroyed or not, as the SSD hard drive of a MacBook is worth more than his service. He said he would, but has since avoided my calls and text messages. I can only imagine he is trying to reuse the part to sell to someone else. I would take the old adage that you get what you pay for, but he wasn’t that much cheaper than a corporate level data retrieval service in the end. Use at your own peril. 


From: DEREK EMBLEM, Royston. Posted 12 Jul 2017

Jon came to my house to repair two faults on my pc, one he did cure, the other one is a dropdown advert which is still doing the same, he sold me a anti-malware package which expired one day after he left and charged me a lot of money, yet his advert states “no fix no fee”. I am a very elderly person and don’t fully understand how these machines work that’s why I contacted this person.


Meanwhile, back at bidvine.com, they appear to be harbouring rogue traders rather than rooting them out. Obviously this is unacceptable.

Bidvine’s current directors appear to include Ghaith Yafi of Bdd 1082, Beirut Digital District, Bechara El Khoury, Beirut, Lebanon. But they are unwilling to confirm this,

For those with a steely determination, a masochistic love of rough rides and a love of people who openly claim to  be certified, never let it be said I don’t promote improvisational comedy performers. Jon Draper advertises thus…

… THERE IS A RESPONSE TO THIS BLOG HERE

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Business v Comedy rules. This comic got sacked after his Edinburgh Fringe show

Giacinto talked to me at Soho Theatre Bar

Giacinto talked to me at Soho Theatre

What happens after you perform at the Edinburgh Fringe?

One answer is: You get sacked.

London-based Italian comedian Giacinto Palmieri used to work in IT for a well-known property company. Then he went to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe with his show about Wagner.

“The big boss of my company,” he told me in Soho Theatre at the weekend, “came to see my show at the Edinburgh Fringe and, the first day after I came back, I was sacked.

“It would just be coincidence, though. He is so high up in the hierarchy that he would not have been involved in the decision. Probably my being away for three weeks just gave people the chance to plot against me.”

“Different worlds,” I said.

“Perhaps,” suggested Giacinto, “what makes it difficult to be a comedian AND have a day job at the same time is not any difficulty of fitting them into the time available, but the difference in attitudes.

“Comedy helps you develop an attitude which consists in always saying whatever you think and to develop zero tolerance for bullshit. Unfortunately, that is not always appreciated in the business world.”

“”Yes,” I sympathised, “It is probably unwise to say what you think in business.”

“It is such a pity,” said Giacinto. “I think every group needs a trouble-maker like a court jester in order to stop getting stuck in its own rules and ideology. Everything can be found in Wagner, of course.”

“Mmmm…?” I said.

“In Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,” Giacinto told me, there is:

Understand me aright! What a fuss!
You’ll admit I know the rules as well;
and to see that the guild preserves the rules
I have busied myself this many a year.
But once a year I should find it wise
to test the rules themselves,
to see whether in the dull course of habit
their strength and life doesn’t get lost:
and whether you are still
on the right track of Nature
will only be told you by someone
who knows nothing of the table of rules.

Giacinto’s Brighton Fringe poster artwork

Giacinto’s Wagnerian tendencies were given free rein

“Mmmm…” I said.

“The organisation I worked for…” said Giacinto, “…it used to be a start-up and it has kept some of the elasticity of a start-up but, unfortunately, it is losing its soul.

“The IT world used to be very anarchic, very informal but now there are these ‘process gurus’ who always have rules that will solve problems forever and stop software having bugs. They preach the importance of following a process. So we have more and more rules and they create more and more complex processes and people get stuck into systems that are not going to solve problems. If a process could solve problems, we would just be able to write a program which writes programs.

“There are only two types of people who like rules. Those who set them: because there are no rules about setting rules, so they are still enjoying their creative freedom. And people who are so scared of taking responsibility and of making mistakes that they use rules to hide behind them.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I remember when ITV brought in experts – because people in ITV were trying to cover their own asses in case they made a wrong decision – they had an outside company which advised you on how to maximise the ratings in programmes by ‘scientifically’ analysing the content.

“There was a two-hour movie with Richard Dreyfuss in it. He was very popular at the time. So they said Promote Richard Dreyfuss heavily. But, in this film, he was about 18-years-old, in a bit part as a call boy and all he said for maybe two seconds was something like We’re ready! That was the only time you ever saw him in the film. They had analysed the data but had not watched the film.”

Rules. Don’t talk to me about rules.

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Forget the Apple iTV – Could the next Apple product be the iGlass or the iCar?

My newly-installed iGlass super- sound system

A couple of weeks ago I went with Greenwich vintage clothing Emporium’s entrepreneurial owners Jacki Cook and Jon Hale to their second home in Whitstable. OK, it’s a beach hut; but it’s a very nice beach hut.

There, John Hale has created a new sound amplification system at a mere fraction of the cost of a top-of-the-range Bang & Olufsen or Sony sound system.

He puts Jacki’s iPhone into a glass. The sound is amplified by the shape of the glass and, depending on the shape, it delivers different sound qualities: bass, tinny, rich-and-golden, whatever.

It was such an impressive piece of lateral thinking that I went home and bought my own new sound system in a local charity shop. My product testing – putting my iPhone in the glass and playing music on it in the shop – did not go un-noticed but was not frowned-on, as the charity shop got £1.99p for the glass.

I laughed in Whitstable that the sound quality was so good and the lateral thinking by Jon & Jacki so impressive that it could almost be a new product from Apple… the iGlass.

This got me thinking about Apple’s rumoured new iTV (although, of course, they could never call it that in the UK because of the existing ITV television network).

At least twice, when they have been developing new products, Apple have created false rumours that they were working on a wind-up computer which would require no battery or, at least, mean you could re-charge the battery without plugging into an electricity socket.

I cannot see what the new Apple iTV would be… there is already an Apple TV box to screen computer output on a TV screen; other companies make devices which are voice-controlled or which react to hand movements. The thing about Apple is that they will suddenly release a new product which is utterly different.

I read last December that they were working on light hydrogen batteries which could last for weeks without re-charging.

This could be a smoke-and-mirrors re-hash of the wind-up computer stories. But creating a new, light, efficient, climate-friendly battery is a very Apple thing to do and it also made me think that large, inefficient batteries have always been one of the drawbacks with electric cars.

What if Apple were working on an electric iCar?

One suggested design for an Apple iCar: part car, part mouse

Powered by electricity not petrol, using a ‘green’ hydrogen battery, controlled by computers and with Siri voice-commanded hands-free links to every piece of information you could possibly want via the internet and iCloud, it would be just the sort of product Apple might suddenly release. No-one foresaw they would start making telephones or become a major music retailer.

Oh, I thought, there’s something I can blog about. If it ever happens, I’ll claim brilliant foresight. If it doesn’t, people will forget I ever mentioned it.

So yesterday, a slow day for anything I could blog about, I thought Oh, I’ll do the Apple blog tomorrow and so I Googled Apple iCar.

And, bugger me, articles have been appearing in the last couple of months guessing that Apple might or might not be working on a iCar. Only yesterday, an article was published on an Emirates website.

Way back in 2007, the late Steve Jobs had meetings with Volkswagen about an unknown project – rumoured only to be the integration of Apple computers into car dashboards. No more was ever heard of this.

But, in February this year, Apple (China) advertised in the LinkedIn automotive section for a “new Product Integration supervisor” with experience in CNC machines and die casting/stamping. Informed online opinion said: “if the job listing is legitimate, the company is once again working on deeper vehicle console/dashboard integration… We wouldn’t be surprised to see the company partner up with auto-makers in the near future to take in-car integration to new heights. Of course, with nearly $100 billion dollars in the bank, Apple could totally be building its own car.”

Apple are not a company known to co-design products. They did not integrate their technology into an existing telephone manufacturer’s telephone; they created their own, new type of telephone.

An iCar now or in the future would make philosophical and economic sense for Apple.

Remember – even if you did not – that you read it here first.

Or maybe the articles which have suddenly appeared about an Apple iCar are an updated equivalent of the Apple are working on a wind-up computer stories of old.

I hope not.

But, then, I always thought the wind-up computer was a good idea.

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Filed under Audio, Automobiles, Computers, Humor, Humour, Technology, Television

KIS KIC Apple computers can teach you how to be a good writer and comedian

Who says you cannot lick a new Apple product ???

I have never bothered with a smartphone before, but I got an Apple iPhone 4s yesterday because I think it might help me understand how to use Twitter (which I never have) and because it means I do not have to buy a new iPad to get 3G coverage – I can just tether my iPhone to my old non-3G, WiFi original Apple iPad.

You will gather I like Apple products. I also have an iMac and a MacBook Pro.

I first bought a computer in 1989. It was an Amstrad. I bought my first Apple Mac in 1993. I have never bought a Windows PC.

A prime example of why is what happened to me in Ireland.

It was my first day working on a contract at the late Tara TV in Dublin; they had PCs using the then-new Windows 98 operating system. I was the last and only person in the office in the evening. When I had finished, I tried to shut down my computer. I could not find any way to do it. There was no on-screen button anywhere. Eventually, I had to phone a friend in England and ask how to switch off the system.

“You click the Start button,” she told me.

This seemed to me to epitomise Microsoft products.

In order to shut down the computer, you had to click the Start button.

Why?

It was the only way to do it.

You had to know the rules and follow them.

I once heard a Microsoft executive proudly say they had done market research into what people wanted in their computers and found that most of what people wanted but said they did not have was already in the Windows operating system.

He took this as an example of how good the system was. I took it as an example of how Byzantine the system was. People had no idea how to find or do anything.

The difference between Apple and Microsoft Windows products has always seemed to be that Windows works in a certain way and you have to follow the rules to do anything. Apple  computers really are intuitive. If you want to do something, you think, “How would I do that?” and you can probably do it the way you think you can. But there may be five other ways to do the same thing, because different people think differently. Apple designs with the user in mind.

Setting up my new iPhone yesterday was simplicity itself, because everything appeared on screen logically, simply and in plain English, not in nerd-speak.

I think, when Apple design ‘ways to do things’, they do not think “We are creating a system here and then have to tell the user how to use it”… They seem to think, “If I were a user, what would I want to do to use the thing I am using?”

In that way, I think it is like writing.

People who sit down to write thinking “I want to say something. I have an empty page. What am I going to write on it?” may tend to write badly.

The trick is not to think “I am a writer writing this.” The trick is to think “I am a reader reading this as it appears word-by-word on the page.”

I think the best way to communicate (which is all writing is – or should be) is to think “If I read these words appearing on the page as I type, what are they telling me as the reader (not as the writer) and what will I need to know next?”

It is like writing an autobiography or a book on any subject. If you tell the reader absolutely everything you know in total detail you will clutter everything up with thoughts and facts, like Mr Casaubon in George Eliot’s brilliant Middlemarch. (Something I did not need to mention.)

KIS KIC

Keep it simple. Keep it clear.

There used to be a television ad for a tinned fish supplier which had the selling line: IT’S THE FISH JOHN WEST REJECT THAT MAKE JOHN WEST THE BEST.

It is keeping an eye on what you exclude – even more than what you include – that makes a difference to the end product.

Good writing is created by a writer who looks at it from the viewpoint of the reader not the viewpoint of the author.

Good comedy is created by a comedian who looks at it from the viewpoint of the audience not the viewpoint of the comic.

Good computer operating systems and programs are created by nerds who look at them from the viewpoint of the user not the viewpoint of the nerd.

That is why I buy Apple computers.

They KIS KIC.

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Filed under Comedy, Computers, Technology, Telecoms, Writing

Computer game storytelling and the man who wants it to be a force for good

This morning, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme had a strange report on ‘Bibliotherapy’ and the psychologically-positive healing power of reading books. It sounded to me like Californian inmates had taken over the asylum and managed to confuse someone at the BBC into giving them an advertising slot.

Apparently there is also something called Writing Therapy.

I am all for reading and writing, of course, but I am not convinced it is a branch of medical science. Stroking furry animals is apparently psychologically comforting for hospital patients (if they don’t give you fleas or eat you). That sounds sensible, but it ain’t a new branch of medical science.

I recently blogged about being on the panel at a Storywarp event in which telling “Other People’s Stories” was discussed. Afterwards, I got an e-mail from Simon Fox, who was in the audience.

“We’re working on this collaborative storywriting game called The Written World,” the e-mail said, “and it’s currently out to tender on Kickstarter.”

I know nothing about online games. When I bought an ancient Apple Mac at some point near the Dawn of Time it came with a demo version of Prince of Persia and I thought I’m not interested. I have better things to do with my life than try to achieve Level 53 in some virtual game.

I may have been wrong about the course my life would take.

But I went to have a chat with Simon Fox on a freezing cold day this week, in an attempt to upgrade myself to v2.0.1.1 in our brave new 21st century world where publishers and bookshops equate to passengers and the Titanic. His idea was far more interesting than Bibliotherapy, though it perhaps sounded a bit overly altruistic at first.

“We started developing The Written World about five years ago,” Simon told me, “and, in the meantime, I’ve become involved in Playlab London which is a company that focuses on games which do ‘good things’. That’s maybe a lofty flag, but we try to find games which involve some sort of action which can be objectively defined as good or which encourages people to behave in that way.”

But, I asked him, aren’t computer games just a trivial, mostly shoot-em-up way to waste time?

“Well, what excites me,” he says, “is that, if you play a game, you absolutely cannot avoid learning something. So, for someone like me who is interested in producing games that can concretely be shown to be doing good things…”

How can you angle it so it is ‘good’, though?

“Here in the UK,” says Simon, “one in six people have a literacy level lower than that expected of an 11-year-old. To me, that figure is shocking. Anything that gets people interacting with writing in a new way is good. It’s the experience that’s important.

“I think there’s something really interesting about what a game is. It’s the only piece of media that tries to make you achieve something by intentionally putting obstacles in your way. Games are as old as the human race.

“Games mostly used to be a thing where a group of people communed together over a set of rules. Then, with computers, they became one person dealing with a machine that handled the rules. Now we have come back to people getting together online and dealing with, essentially, a set of data.”

But all this involves developing the Written World idea further.

“That’s why we are running a Kickstarter campaign,” Simon told me. “We are a really small, young company which needs to put together enough cash to develop it more. Kickstarter is a way of getting your audience to pledge a little money to help you bring them better product.

“A big game like Battlefield is like the Hollywood of games. We’re just a small group of people. It’s a labour of love as much as anything and our costs are comparatively very low. We are looking to raise just $17,500 in total, which is about £12,000. It will cover our coding costs, our hosting costs. It will cover us to the point of getting the product to a group of people on the internet so they can use it for free and then we can develop it further.

“We are big believers in ‘agile development’ – you get your product to your audience and then you work with them to make it better. We have a set of tools for writers so they can create a story. Readers can then put a character together for themselves and come and experience someone else’s story. We boil the story down into a set of assets – characters, locations, story arcs and the beats of the story.

“We would love to see really prolific writers in our system getting to a point where they can package together stuff they’ve made and sell it to other users for a really small amount of money – 50p or whatever – just as a way to make cash back from helping other people have a really cool experience. We are both a game and a writing tool.

“We also want to see established properties entering our system in the same way – our huge dream would be for something like the Discworld series to live inside The Written World. At the moment, we are talking with publishers and directly with authors about ways that we might bring existing stories into it.”

So what about copyright in a finished product perhaps created by 714 or 500,000 people – a story which someone might want to make into a movie or novel in its own right?

“Our approach to this is to be as open as possible,” says Simon. “We want everything created by anyone to be available to the community to use and re-use and re-mix through the Creative Commons.”

So where would the company profits come from?

“For me, what’s exciting is not the money but seeing something get done. I would love it if this developed into a real platform for people to write collaboratively. In my mind’s eye I can see, in five years’ time, The Written World being somewhere that millions of stories have taken place and it has grown into this huge living thing just slowly built over time from all the stories people have been telling and there are different genres of stories intermingling with each other in a beautiful repository of collective literary achievement.

“And it would be fantastic if people were able to make some money for themselves by writing stories for and with each other. For me, that would be wonderful.

“We are using Kickstarter to get finance because, right now, it’s a tough landscape for funding out there. You set your target – for us, $17,500 – and you either reach it in the given time and get the money or you don’t reach it and get no money. Obviously, on top of that, there is our own time and money going into this as well. We just want extra money to get us to definitely the next milestone – definitely producing something that gets to people.”

A worthy idea and Kickstarter funding may be their breakthrough. Stranger things have happened.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, since 1991 I have been able to write books but have been unable to read printed books. Books on computer screens are another matter. So Simon Fox’s The Written World is for me. Bibliotherapy is clearly not.

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Are Pipex/TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media in a contest to be the most incompetent UK telecoms company?

Right… Standby for a pointless complaint about an insanely incompetent British company. Indeed, companies. No enlightening information. No message for Mankind.  Just a rant… You have been warned… What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a rant?

Is there actually no competent telecoms company anywhere in Britain?

Really.

A serious question.

BT treats its customers with much the same care and respect as the Libyan and Syrian governments treat its people.

But Pipex/TalkTalk appears to be in some sort of heavy-handed contest with BT and Virgin Media to win a prize as the most PR-stupid and professionally incompetent telecoms company in the UK. They seem to manage to be devious, deaf and incompetent simultaneously. At least Virgin Media is not devious, it’s just plain incompetent.

Virgin Media claims to have the fastest broadband in Britain but, in my first-hand experience, its broadband does not work for 60% of the time and constantly drops. Someone else I know reckoned, for her, Virgin Media’s broadband was perhaps 10% the speed of her former BT line for 90% of the time. Perhaps it has the fastest broadband in Britain over a measured two second spurt. Try to get any customer service, of course, and you might as well be trying to play football underwater.

As for Pipex/TalkTalk…

In the last five weeks, I have had five cold calls from them using an 0161 (Manchester) telephone number but actually phoning from abroad to avoid the restrictions on cold calling within the UK. When I asked the man with the Indian accent where he was phoning from, he said South Africa.

At least Pipex/TalkTalk’s people are comprehensible, if unwelcome. BT, in my limited experience, have ‘help centres’ in ‘proper’ India staffed by unfortunate people with accents more incomprehensible than drunken Glaswegians wearing gas masks. That’s not racism, it’s a rant against BT’s stupidity in having foreign help centres. They might as well have their help centres staffed by deaf mutes in Guatemala for all the good they do. When will BT realise that saving money on help centres costs them more in lost customers and disastrous damage to their already low image?

I used to be with Pipex. I left because they were generally incompetent, they couldn’t actually supply me with VAT bills and two separate Pipex people told me I had to make phone calls to them not use the internet because the Pipex online service was “insecure”. Not reassuring in a telecoms company. What I didn’t know then but do know now is that apparently Pipex routinely cut off customers who left them before the changeover date for a new supplier so that customers were left without a line.

Now they are trying to tell me they are part of Pipex/TalkTalk and are a brand sparkling new company and offer sparkling service.

I think Colonel Gaddafi’s spokesman has been saying much the same thing about the Libyan regime every few weeks over the last few months. I can’t say I’m convinced.

I work on the principle of three strikes and you’re out.

If I get cold calls, I ask to be removed from the list of the company. After trying this twice – or, if they’re lucky, three times – the phrase “Fuck off, you cunt,” tends to get used in the hope they put me on a list of people who perhaps don’t altogether want to be cold called and might just hurl random verbal abuse at anyone who calls me.

If I forced my way into the home of the chairman of Pipex/TalkTalk five times in five weeks, I somehow think the sentence “Fuck off, you cunt,” might be very justifiably used by him to me. If someone forces their way into my home, uninvited, via my telephone line, I feel much the same applies. If you come into my home uninvited, you can’t complain I am being unreasonably impolite if I tell you to fuck off out of it again.

I find “Fuck off, you cunt,” is often an effective deterrent to unwanted calls and far less hassle than complaining to any alleged regulatory body. With luck, the company has some list of abusive potential customers. Pipex/TalkTalk seem not to understand the words – simple enough to understand, I would have thought.

Like I say, five calls in five weeks.

Clearly they think it is good PR to circumvent the UK restrictions on cold calling by phoning from foreign soil. And clearly they think it is good PR to keep calling an ex-customer who is not a current subscriber and who had zero interest in re-joining them even before these annoying phone calls.

They’re not alone, of course.

I had much the same trouble with BT. I eventually left them when they would not stop making marketing calls to me despite the fact I was on the Telephone Preference Service list to receive no calls.

“We can’t stop marketing calls,” I was told by two separate BT Helpline people. “It’s another department… No, I don’t know which department. It must be one of our marketing departments.”

A friend of mine tells me the tale of BT harassing her dying mother with marketing calls which could not be stopped. It added to the distress of her mother in the months before she died. This same friend has had  a worse time than me – she herself had hassle from BT marketing calls for months and now has had computer-generated calls from Barclaycard for six months (using an array of different originating numbers and still continuing) because their computer got her confused with someone else. The calls say – “Please call this number”.

Can she get the calls stopped by calling the number(s) given? No she can’t. Can she get the calls stopped by writing to Barclaycard? No she can’t.

I am currently with the very efficient Sky TV, though their lines are supplied by the appalling BT and occasionally drop in two of my rooms. But, unlike the utterly unspeakable Virgin Media lines, at least they work almost all the time.

Sky seem to be the only British telecoms company that has anything like a customer-friendly policy – or a broadband service that works – or any corporate ideology that values PR.

So Rupert Murdoch is OK with me.

But perhaps I am tempting fate…

(There was a later mention about this in my blog on 22nd May)

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Filed under Ad industry, PR, Telecoms

All good comedians are barking mad and, when alone, howl at the moon and eat their own egos.

(This blog appeared on Chortlethe UK comedy industry website)

Yesterday I had lunch with a comedian in her twenties – not inexperienced but not yet fully supporting herself on her comedy performing. She is having an early career crisis. She’s no fool. Very sensible of her.

She thinks maybe she may be wrong giving up pretty-much everything in her private life to pursue her might-never-happen career.

She has little social life outside the one-night-stand Open Spot comedy circuit and (as she is from North West England) she is away from all the people she really knows and loves; she is alone on Planet Transient; she no longer has a boyfriend and she is struggling to make ends meet, working in a day job that bores and frustrates her. She does well, is playing lots of gigs but gets to bed late after her comedy work and has to get up very early to commute to her busy day job which allows no time to think about or arrange anything in her more-important-to-her comedy world.

This is the reality of one of the most glamorous jobs in Britain: being a comedian in your twenties.

“Perhaps I’m just wasting my time,” she said to me over lunch. (Obviously I was paying). “What if I never succeed and don’t get anywhere within sight of success? I’ll have wasted years of my life for no reason. I don’t even like London. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be. Maybe I should just go back up North, get a job where I can have a life, find someone to marry and settle down and have children and I know I’d be happy watching them grow up.”

I told her, if she did that, life would be less stressful but she would never know if she might have succeeded.

“If you try and fail, at least you will know what the outcome is.” I told her. “If you go home and have a happy life in tranquility with a husband and children – and that’s assuming you can find a good relationship – it will always be gnawing away inside you What would have happened if… You WANT to do comedy. It’s a vocation, an urge inside you…

“More than being a nurse or anything else. If you don’t play it out as far as you can, you will never know for certain what might have happened. On your deathbed, in sixty years, you will still be looking back on your life thinking What might have happened if… If you do not try, you have the certainty of not succeeding. If you do try, you risk failure – but you could succeed. It’s a toss-up between the certainty of failure and the possibility of success.”

If there is a safe option with an almost certain outcome and a riskier option, my advice is always to take the riskier option. Not knowing if you might have succeeded is infinitely worse than having failed. Taking the risk will at least bring closure.

Mind you, this may not be good advice because it is what I have done throughout my life. Once, in a rare job interview (I have usually not gone through application processes), the prospective employer sitting across the desk from me said:

“John, you seem to have an unfocussed CV.”

He took this as a negative factor; I have always taken it as a positive factor.

There is a Charles Dickens book (I can’t remember which – possibly David Copperfield) in which the central character, as a young man, stands outside a building and the narrative goes:

“I looked at the premises which, for the next 50 years, would be my work place.”

Times have changed, of course. But the ‘safe option’ can drive a truly creative person potty with frustration. You’ll end up walking through Tesco shooting random people with an AK-47. Figuratively if not in reality – and don’t be too sure it won’t be in reality. Uncertainty and adrenaline are attractive, provided you can eat and (in rainy Britain) have a roof over your head.

“But when will I know for certain if I have failed and when to give up?” my twenty-something chum asked me.

“Ah,” I said, “I haven’t got the foggiest. I am making this up as I go along.”

There are no right decisions.

When nerds in the mists of time first tried to program a computer which could play chess, they found it was impossible because the computer was unable to make the first move. The number of potential ramifications of the first move were and are virtually limitless. The computer would have sat there calculating potential first moves for longer than Ken Dodd’s career.

You can’t tell the outcome of any move early-on in chess. Nor in showbusiness. Nor in life. The butterfly theory comes into play.

No choice is simply between Path A and Path B because each of those paths then has literally hundreds of potential avenues which may lead off them. And every one of those hundreds of avenues each has itself hundreds of other sidetracks leading off them which may lead to a dead end or to a sparkling idyllic end result. It’s not a single path you choose; it’s a spider’s web spanning the rest of your life.

The way they eventually programmed computers to play chess was to limit the number of moves ahead which the computer took into consideration. In effect, the computer makes the best bet it can on the limited evidence available.

Choosing a ‘safe’ option may lead unexpectedly to awful consequences. Choosing a ‘risky’ option may lead unexpectedly to unforeseen opportunities which then lead on to a sparkling idyllic outcome which you had never thought of aiming for.

Comedy and successful creative careers generally have a terrifyingly high percentage of luck about them; they are about being in the right place at the right time. You can’t know where/when that place/time might be. So keeping as many options as possible open is the wisest move. Being in as many places at as many times as possible is the best option.

“Put yourself about a lot, love” is the best – indeed, only sensible – advice.

A risky proposition with an uncertain outcome may turn out to be a good idea further down the spider’s web of life.

So, if you are a girl in her twenties and I make a dodgy-sounding proposition to you, look on me kindly.

If you are an aspiring comedian, take my experienced opinion into consideration. You are almost certainly not as funny as you and your friends think you are. You will probably screw up your personal life and your mind by attempting to do comedy. And you will make no money out of it.

But I could be wrong.

To quote the often-misunderstood mantra of the great Hollywood scriptwriter William Goldman in his essential-to-read book Adventures in the Screen Trade:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING

He does not mean that people are equally ignorant. He means that no-one, however experienced, can know for certain the outcome of a creative work – or, for that matter, a creative career. Because movies, writing – and, yes, comedy – are creative arts, not a science.

The other factor I think you have to take into consideration is that, if you want to be a successful comedian, your mind is probably screwed-up anyway. One of the dullest of all mainstream quotes is:

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MAD TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS

To be a stand-up comedian, madness does not help.

It is essential.

All good comedians are barking mad and, when alone, howl at the moon and eat their own egos.

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Filed under Comedy, Mental illness