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Friday, 5 October 2012

ET- Extra Terrestrial

I'm beginning to start to worry.

It began when I woke up to learn that our Department for Transport had cocked up the calculations in the West Coast Main Line Rail bidding process.

Just before the Department and its expensive briefs were to chug into the sidings at the Courts of Justice to defend their contract awarding process, some oik in the Department had discovered a major howler in the complicated calculations. Apparently they were trying to use clinker coke in the boilers.

The howler was so huge that it was visible from the surface of the Moon; yet highly paid, extremely clever senior civil servants weren't able to ask the right sort of questions that should have brought this to light. One obvious question - which Virgin Train's Richard Branson asked - was how could the difference between their bid and the winning bid be possible - it was too large. But no, everyone was certain that the computer programme worked correctly. The result was right.

This brought out another concern of mine. The computer programme and its sub-routines etc are extremely complicated. It sounds like the old black box problem. No one really understands what does on the innards of the mechanical brain, and accepts, with a child like faith, the mysteries intoned by the consultants and economists. Sounds a bit like the model used for CDS swaps - no one, especially those in charge of the banks, knew how the bloody things worked!

Today we're told we might run out of electricity mid winter 2015. I frankly don't know how long this great country of ours has professed to an effective energy policy - must be all of one day. Nuclear, non nuclear, green, non green, no coal, clean coal, less gas, more gas, more wind, no wind, wave, no wave, power possibly. And the prospect of further price increases so that only the Russian oligarchs can afford to keep the lights on.

It's reminiscent of that infamous Sun headline "Would the last person that leaves the country turn off the lights". On that occasion it was to do with the unaccountable power and influence of the unions. Now it's more worrying. The inability of the Government and their servants to  supply enough candles to illuminate a priest's hole.

My personal  descent into Hell began when I stepped out of the house and headed for the shopping Mall. My mobile phone contract ends shortly. That is not something to fear, rather it's a cause for a great celebration. 19 months of constant frustration will come to an end. My contract provides me with 200 minutes, 300 texts, unlimited calls to land lines and 500 Mbts of data. On average I use 80 mins, 40 texts, 9 mins and 200 Mbts. Each month I waste/pay for capacity I don't use.

In the first circle of Hell I was helped by a very nice young man at Virgin Media. The first thing you immediately notice about Virgin is they don't hold the latest phones, they don't do the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy 3 or the Nokia 900. But that didn't matter because I have decided to buy the phone outright and go SIM free. Except for some reason Virgin's SIM card don't work in an iPhone. But he was very helpful and I left with a free PAYG SIM card ( I started to talk about going PAYG since it appeared to be the only way to pay exactly for what you used).

The third circle was occupied by Carphone Warehouse. Again a very nice young man, explaining in a teetering on a patronising manner, how a phone works and why you can't have what you want, just what the cartel of phone operators are prepared to offer.  A SIM only monthly was not that expensive and I thought I might put some business his way.

The Devil shared the innermost circle of Hell with Phones 4u.

My adviser was a child just out of school or borstal whose idea of gaining my confidence was to stare unblinkingly at his desk. Having told him how many texts I sent a month he tried to tell me that all the networks offered 5,000 texts a month except one which offered unlimited texts. Except unlimited was less  5,000 a month since it was 3,000.The operator's  " Fair use" policy kicked in. Over 3,000 texts on an unlimited tariff would abuse the system!

I said I didn't want a contract so he showed 24 months contracts only. I said I appreciated that they wouldn't make much money from me but I was looking for a SIM only deal. At this point his eyes dimmed. When I said I was interested in an  iPhone 5, he sighed. "We don't sell  iPhones Sim free. Well we say we do - £700 - but we don't." I said I'm not surprised at that price, but why say you do when you don't. "Don't know". He then spent a few moments trying to tell me that a 24 month contract with a phone would be cheaper than buying the phone outright and going SIM free. I repeated that I didn't want a contract especially tied in to two years. So he offered me a 2 year contract which allowed me to change my phone every six months.

On pointing out that it was the contract length not the phone that was the problem he shrugged his shoulders. At that point we agreed to cease hostilities and I left to buy a book from Waterstones.

As I browsed amongst the books I thought no wonder so few people change their carrier or tariff, the operators deliberately make it almost impossible, the process being such a bloody hassle.

Where's a regulator when they're needed?


Anonymous said...

The algorithims used to calculate the rail franchise bids are less complicated than some phone deals.15 year contract and we give you mega cashback.

Marginalia said...

Dear Anon, how clever of you! You haven't been suspended have you?

Steve said...

2 plastic cups and a peice of string work for me. Every call is free though I am limited to only making calls within my local area.

Anonymous said...

With my lawyers Sue, Grabitt and Run. I will not settle for less than £1m payoff.

Nota Bene said...

Mobile phone contracts are the universe's last unsolved mystery.

I can tell you with my insider knowledge, it's not just rail franchise algorithms that have been balls-ed up by the bureaucrats