Yes, South Western Railways and smartcards again. But before I start there, I popped into Woking station’s platform 1 waiting room to check up on the lending library there:

They’ve expanded to VHS and DVDs now?!

Quite surprised to see the entire series eight of Inspector Morse there, along with a VHS copy of Carry on Up the Khyber. Good luck to the person whoever manages to find a portable VHS player (a joke I shamefully nicked off a work colleague).

Smart card. Fart card. Whatever.

My replacement SWR smart card has faired as well as the card it was replacing. Bought another single day return ticket to Wimbledon from Woking and went to check that it was valid on the same machine that issued it at Woking station.

The ticket machine managed to do its job properly this time! Give it a biscuit!

ALAS!

The Computer Says No

Went up to the barriers at Woking and the dreaded “Seek Assistance” popped up. Several attempts. No joy. Went back to the ticket machine to verify – yep, it was readable and the ticket was found. So I showed the image above to the ticket inspector who advised that I tap in on a yellow contactless terminal on the platform. That should do it, he said. So I did. Green tick.

Merry-go-round broken down

Then the train I was to get down had developed a fault and I had to make my way to platform three and endure a delay of stopping at every single stop to Wimbledon – but at least I didn’t have to change at Surbiton.

Got to the barriers at Wimbledon:

SWR’s ticketing systems are a useless pile of toss

So more explaining to the guards at the barriers and I was let out. The same will happen again this evening. I am so utterly fed up with the hassle South Western Railway’s smart card system has brought. It should not go wrong this often. I fully blame their IT department for this. It’s as if the ticketing system cannot communicate with the barriers properly to validate tickets.

Hard to believe it’s the 21st century

I’ll probably end up using paper tickets again. But I find these wasteful and a pain in the arse to have to take out of one’s wallet every time they need to go through a barrier or inspected by a train guard/inspector. Furthermore, by the time I’ve got home, the barriers at Woking are unmanned, leaving me with a useless paper ticket. They tend to build up in my wallet. If I remember, they’re discarded in the bin – but I’m sure that somebody will delve in there and try and find a way of reusing it.

I sincerely hope that with all these problems, the franchise owners, The First Group and MTR Corporation, lose the franchise at the earliest opportunity. Since they took over, the service (at least the suburban service) has been bloody dreadful. The ticket system is still stuck in the 20th century and is unreliable as hell.

Hand-written ticket!

On Monday I tried to buy a ticket on the smartcard at Woking station. Paid for it via contactless, and put my ticket on the reader to update it. Uh-oh, the machine had trouble updating my ticket. Tried again. Still problems. So I went to the counter and ask them what to do. They got a notebook which contains special tickets that are handwritten. So I traveled on that for the day – but encountered some resistance at Wimbledon as the guard was not familiar with the SWR smart card system and insisted that I had to get a return ticket from the ticket office. Nope, the ticket office said, the paper I had was sufficient as they couldn’t deal with SWR smart cards. And indeed, within the London zone, none of the ticket machines can handle smart cards. And none of ticket offices, regardless of location, can deal with smart cards either.

Learn. Improve. Maybe unite?

It’s about time that we started to go down the route of TFL and use contactless credit/debit cards. Whether they be physical cards, or virtual cards stored on our phones or smart watches. I’d much prefer to use my phone to act as my ticket than the current system. Travelling with TFL is almost effortless. It’s not without a few problems, but considerably less than that of SWR.

There are days I want to reprogram South Western Railways’ IT systems with a fire axe (metaphorically speaking), because the level of screw-upage is extraordinary. How can a contactless system be such a pain in the arse? This is supposed to make buying train tickets easier, right?

Bought a ticket at Woking today. Added it to my “smartcard” (or as I like to call it “farcecard“) and tapped the ticket machine card reader again to verify it had the right ticket on it. It did.

ALAS!

Woking’s barriers refused to open with “Error 57: Seek Assistance” displaying the barrier screen and beeping at me like a pre-watershed swearfest.

On the train itself (the barrier guard told me that it may be because I’m using the old South West Trains card – but the tech shouldn’t have changed, and I have asked in the past if this would be a problem and was told it would not), the train guard swiped the card which returned a card error. Taking it out of my TfL wallet (which only contains my National Rail photocard and the SWR farcecard) and putting it against the machine allowed it to be read, and validated the ticket.

At Wimbledon, I got the beeping and error code 57 again. And around this time there was a Twitter conversation with a customer service representative with SWR:

SWR are bloody great at social media. I just wish their train service was as good.

So at lunch time at work, I tried giving their smartcard team a call. Kept getting cut off. Tried logging into my SWR account. No options whatsoever to order a replacement. The history of the tickets on the account is terrible – none of the tickets had a purchase date next to them.

As for SWR’s suggestion that the barcode (there isn’t one – there’s a long number across the back of the card), I just don’t think that could be an error unless there is something seriously wrong with their database. How does TfL cope with their systems (with greatly increased numbers travelling on their network)? Yes, occasionally glitches occur with TfL, but usually re-presenting the card works.

It’d be absolutely lovely if I could use my phone as my ticket – whether TfL-style contactless travel which is capped, or as a ticket within my Apple (or if I were to use Android, Android) Pay wallet. I doubt anything like that is going to happen for a substantial amount of time. And in the meantime I have a farcecard that I cannot easily predict whether it will work or not.

Paper tickets it has to be (which is also a PITA because I buy per travel as it works out cheaper for me than a weekly ticket – thanks to working from home one or two days a week).

UPDATE: The barriers at Wimbledon and Woking once again refused me entry. So as soon as I arrived back at Woking, I got the ticket machine to read my ticket. All good. *Screams silently*

The ticket was hiding – too afraid to show itself to the barriers.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, Sky wanted to charge an early termination fee for my broadband despite Ofcom’s ruling stating that one can move provider during the contract if they raise prices.

Then I re-read the subject line of their email again (while I was on the phone to them, causing me to laugh at the most awkward of moments):

Which Earl did they kill? Who knows? But they charged me for it.

Turns out they did charge me, but it was a mistake which has now been rectified. Not helped when Sky go out their way to hide their phone number on their web site. I’m all for self-help and everything, but sometimes – just sometimes – it’s quicker to do things over the phone.

Yesterday, Hive Home suffered a major outage which prevented control of Hive systems remotely (from the app or the web site). Symptoms included being unable to log into the Hive web site and the app being able to control individual products.

Update: information on the recent outage can be found at The Register. I never received the apology email. No, it did not get sent to Spam. Checked G Suite’s email log. Nothing except the semi-regular updates which had been flowing normally since 14th March.

As you can see the Hive Home status page (which took them a while to update), it has been a rough ride. But thankfully the thermostat and the receiver continued to work manually. The lights? Not so much. Even now, the group of lights which I’ve allocated to my living room doesn’t appear in the circle view (yet they do in the list view) – but then again, I had to recreate the group because whatever is causing this problem nuked my groups.

Given the number of problems I’ve experienced with Hive Home over the past month or so, I am increasingly concerned that my decision to swap out my thermostat with the Hive system (which cost me £50 more than the quoted repair from British Gas) was a bad one.

Speaking of Centrica’s muck-ups, did I mention that I should have HomeCare with my boiler? I don’t appear to because:

  • No documentation was ever sent in the post, with the exception of confirming of cancellation of another HomeCare account which was created in error due to the circumstances of the thermostat being broken and they had to charge £99 for the call out first. It took Centrica THREE months to get that cancellation confirmation out.
  • No direct debits have been taken in respect to any HomeCare subscription, and never has any Direct Debit been established.
  • No options within my British Gas account as to any options relating to HomeCare.

The irony of all of this is that I’ve switched to a British Gas product with basic boiler and pipe protection and having had all this confirmed in emails, would suggest that HomeCare was never truly established on my account in the first place. Even worse – when the tarrif change was confirmed, the emails neglect to publish my address properly – having had previous British Gas correspondence sent to the wrong address in the not too distant past, this worries me.

In short: Centrica – sort your systems and processes out. They’re buggy, inconsistent, and horribly unstable.

In other news: I shall be shortly shouting big time at Sky who have charged me an early termination fee for Sky Broadband despite telling me by phone that I would not be charged an early termination fee for cancellation because (a) I was out of the minimum contract term and (b) I was eligible to cancel without penalty anyway because they announced price rises for their broadband.

Is it just me? As technology marches on, it gets buggier, less reliable and ultimately becomes a burden. It’s like a stupid SkyNet. Terminator 27: Stupid Day.

All of the following apply to MacOS Mojave 10.14.4, iOS 12.2 and mid-2018 MacBook Pro and late 2018 iPad Pro.

  • Facetime on the MacBook Pro. On my work Mac Mini, if I open Facetime to make a phone call via my iPhone, I can type the number directly into the Facetime app and it’ll dial it. On my MacBook Pro which I primarily use with the lid closed, I can’t – since Facetime expects the camera to be active and will stubbornly refuse to show the entry field. I have to use Contacts app instead. Additionally, Facetime tends to get the audio devices wrong, leaving me with the person I’ve called unable to hear me.
  • I have 150Gb worth of 4G data with EE across my iPhone XS Max and iPad Pro devices. If I want to download an app on the iOS app store that’s over 150Mb in size, iOS stupidly insists I connect to Wi-Fi. Let me use 4G if I want to. Don’t nanny me.
  • Wi-Fi performance needs some serious tweaking under both MacOS and iOS for modern devices. Performance is seriously underwhelming in 2018/2019.
  • Time Machine backups under MacOS when using an encrypted USB 3 disk is unbearably slow. If you backup weekly or monthly, the time it takes for Time Machine to complete backups is stupidly slow. 11 hours to backup 99Gb worth of data? Even if the throttle limit has been removed (via sysctl).
  • Remove user selection when using FileVault – stick with a username and password prompt because this has the ability to leak user info before the Mac has even booted. I understand the reason behind this, but it’s time to change things up a bit.