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.

Disney continues to throw money at their live-action adaptations of all their classic animated films, and Aladdin is the latest. Unfortunately, judging from this special preview, they might have mucked things up a little.

Now, it’s important to note just how terrible trailers and “special previews” can be. It’s really difficult to gauge how good a film is going to be unless you actually go and see it. Having worked in VFX where it was often all hands to the pumps during trailer time to get work completed so it can be used, I can wholeheartedly sympathise with those working on this film. But alas, Will Smith’s genie just feels .. dead. And blue. Like a dead smurf.

As an example of deceptive trailers, back in 2014, the live action version of Paddington suffered horribly when he first made an appearance on the internet. He looked terrible. He looked.. creepy. Memes were generated in abundance. But people (including myself) absolutely loved the film. I’d even go and say that it’s some of Framestore’s finest work. The second film too is wonderful. I’d never thought I’d say that, but it’s true. Go see Paddington and Paddington 2 (available on Prime Video).

Blue people in film & TV #10323 – Tobias Funké, Arrested Development

For those of us that remember, ILM did a marvellous job with The Mask, taking Jim Carrey’s character and bending and twisting him into all sorts of madcap characters. Then “Son of the Mask” came along, and it is, without doubt, the worst visual effects I have ever seen in a movie. One can only hope that with Aladdin, ILM have erred on the side of Jim Carrey rather than the sequel.

Blue people in film & TV #23213 – Papa Smurf

The rest of the VFX in the Aladdin special preview feels “meh”, like it could have been done by any vendor. Jafarr seems strangely far less malevolent than he was in the original animated film too. Nothing to me in this special preview or the trailer before that makes me think they have done anything special with this other than to plonk live action people amongst animation of a different type. Seems a massive waste of money to me.

The only two live-action Disney remakes that I have been impressed with so far have been:

In the end, however, does it make any difference? This is just a family film aimed at younger kids. And younger kids will watch anything. In fact, Disney could have saved substantial amounts of money and have had the entire film shot with glove puppets, or brightly covered twigs. The kids don’t care. As long as it’s bright, moves around a lot and makes noise, they’re entertained. They’re the ones not going to write up reviews of the film.