Why Apple is still one of the world’s greatest companies.


No one likes technical problems with their kit and in my case when I installed Yosemite onto my iMac it had a pretty devastating effect on my iPhoto libraries, resulting in much duplication and completely trashing my libraries.  My go-to man for tech help was stumped, so I called Apple’s support team.

I got through in under a minute and after stumping Apple’s regular guy I was put through to his superior – an incredible lady called Jennifer Convery who, it turns out, is based in the Newcastle Upon Tyne office.  She’d never come across this problem either, but by a process of elimination we (well, I say we, it was she) were able to crack the problem, completely rebuild my iPhoto library from scratch (nearly 400GB of pictures) and get everything up and running smoothly.

It took the best part of 24 hours and involved four calls (she called me back, not the other way around) but she held my hand throughout the process and the result is that we are back to an iPhoto library that is even better than the one I had before the problem occurred.

Once we’d agreed all was good she said.  “You know what Mark, Apple has caused you a lot of grief over this.  Do you ever use the Apple Store?” to which the answer was, “Occasionally.”

“OK, well as a token of goodwill why don’t you go and choose £70 (or thereabout) of Apple products from the store, email me what you want, and I’ll sort it out for you.”

This was not asked for.

I wasn’t ranting and raving.

It was just a genuine customer service offer that will go a long way to underpin my already excellent opinion of Apple.

Truly outstanding and I hope Jennifer Convery’s boss sees this.

O2.  Are you reading this?

The SNP. Britain’s most succesful political party.
December 9, 2014, 12:11 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

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I’m not a member of the Scottish National Party, and I never have been.

But I was a vociferous supporter of Scottish Independence.  As a result of the campaign I joined Scottish CND to help fund the lobbying of the removal of Trident from Scotland and I completely support removal from the UK resolving the whole austerity issue at a single stroke.  This was a backbone of the SNP manifesto and one I was totally in support of.

(But that’s for another post.)

The effect of the campaign and its impact on party membership interests me.  Far from suffering a backlash the SNP (like Scottish CND) has seen a surge in membership as we gear up for round two.

Published figures show party membership in the UK thus;

Labour                190,000

Conservative     134,000

SNP                     86,000

Lib Dems           44,000

UKIP                  39,000

Green                 20,000

This is remarkable.  Every single major party apart from the SNP(not Greens as Thom points out) is national and yet the SNP sits third in membership and closing in on second.

Now, to put this into perspective, let’s look at this extrapolated to a UK level.

With Scotland having only 8.3% of the UK population this would mean the SNP, were it a UK party, would have 713,800 members – 4 x that of the labour party, 5 x the Tories, 16 x the Lib Dems and a bit more for UKIP.

But get this… if you extrapolate back to Scotland.  i.e. take Labour, Tory etc vote back to the Scottish population this is what you find.

SNP                    86,000

Labour               15,770        SNP 5.4 x bigger

Conservative     11,122        SNP 7.7 x bigger

Lib Dems           3,652         SNP 23.5 x bigger

UKIP                  3,237         SNP 26.6 x bigger

Greens               1,660         SNP 51.8 x bigger

And what’s even more interesting is that these are the published figures.  Unpublished reports suggest SNP has broken 100,000 members in recent weeks.

That makes (again by extrapolation) the SNP 6 x the size of Labour in Scotland.

Now, Labour is probably over-represented in Scotland and the Tories under-represented (but not necessarily in Party membership).

What we are looking at here is therefore a political phenomenon.

I, for one, although not a member, am looking forward, with great enthusiasm, to the SNP massacre of Scottish Labour in May next year. (The Tories and Liberals no longer count here – fringe parties for toffs, bastards, dreamers and the disengaged).

I  fully expect to see the pummelling of the UK establishment in Scotland.  The SNP may even emerge as holding some sort of balance of power in Westminster (a coalition perhaps).

Alex Salmond will finally lay claim to being arguably the greatest UK party leader since Churchill.

But I’m still not joining.



Songs I liked in 2014

This is my eighth year of publishing my best of the year CD.  I think it’s one of the best yet despite reducing my music purchasing in 2014.  Seems what I did buy were high quality (but you can be the judges of that).

It’s an 18 song set (actually the last track is the best Joke ever told) Of the remaining 17 three were published in 2013 and either escaped my attention or I just forgot to put them on last year’s disc.  Best represented country of origin is probably Scotland with 5 contributions.

There are 8 (indie or Alt) rock songs, 5 Pop, 2 dance and 2 electronic/folk.

It’s a misnomer that I favour female singers.  There are only 3 on this year’s release .  and there were only 4 last year.

If you wanna copy you only have to ask. (And I’d be interested in your comments.)

Happy Christmas.

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How O2 rips off its customers through corrupt practices.
December 4, 2014, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

I may or may not have officially cancelled a contract with O2 for one of my kids phones in December 2012.  But I definitely have been paying £32 a month ever since for the privelege of, well, nothing.

Here’s how they dealt with it.

In any other situation this would be regarded as theft.

I hope the team at O2 have nightmares when they read the stonewalling, barriers and sheer appalling nature of their stance is.  Here it is in all its glory.

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This next bit REALLY takes the biscuit….


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This was placed with Fraud over a week ago,  It’s like a Kafka novel…

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Interstellar. A review.


Well, Interstellar has met with a mixed reception from the critics, but not the paying viewers who are currently rating it #13 of all time on IMDB.

I’m with the people.

And I find it hard to understand why the critics have been so lukewarm.

Yes, it’s a movie about the entire human condition and saving the human race (which inevitably brings it into some potentially pretentious territory – it doesn’t escape Scot free in that respect) but Christopher Nolan doesn’t let that get in the way of a good story, carefully handled special effects, some tremendous casting (the young Jessica Chastain as Murphy is just SPECTACULAR and inspired),  great acting (Hathaway and McConaughey really do pull it off – again).

Christopher Nolan seems to be maturing rather well.

I’ve seen most of his films and some tend to overelaborate in the FX department.

Not this.

When he needs a big canvas, like the icy landscape of a potential planet for the human race to inhabit (in a far off galaxy reachable via a galaxian wormhole)  he delivers it in spades.

But it feels beleivable.

I like Sci-fi that has a heart, like The Handmaids Tale, and this sure does, partly because of its big themes – the Earth is about to die because of global warming for a start –  this grounds the movie and it effortlessly cuts between dystopian Earth and not much better alternatives far, far away.

The crop burning and the dust storms that ravage the (earth) screen are biblical in their fury.  The end of the world truly is nigh.  But the alternative seems either worse or sort of non-existent for most of the movie.

What binds it though is the remarkable relationship between McConaughey’s character as the father of  Murphy (Jessica Chastain) and her aforementioned younger self,  played by Mackenzie Foy – the likeness is remarkable.

When Nolan finally goes all Matrix/Inception (as he must) he does it amazingly, in a way that makes the whole movie; theory of relativity, gravity and time continuums, and all come together like a slo-mo implosion.  It’s awesome (sorry for using that word, but it’s appropriate).

Now: a postscript.

This is a peaen to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

We have many nods in deference to the almighty Kubrick in this movie.  Not one of them any more than a doffing of the cap to one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived and I, for one, respect Nolan for that.

This is surely Nolan’s greatest movie and at 2hrs 47 mins it felt like a short.


(A final word.  Hans Zimmer rocks in this movie.  An outstanding soundtrack that will surely pick up yet another Oscar.)

Deary me, it’s snowing on WordPress again.
December 2, 2014, 12:37 am
Filed under: Arts, creativity | Tags: , , , ,

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Come on guys.  That’s, like, so…2008.

The holidays are comin’, the holidays are comin’.

The Goldfinch. A novel by Donna Tartt.

The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides are two of the great American novels of the 21st Century.  Both won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; to that brace you can now add The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  It picked up the prize this year and, oh, how richly deserved it is.

In comparative terms it is closer to Eugenides’ masterpiece than McCarthy’s stripped down telling of The Road.  Like Middlesex this a story that broadly sweeps over time and must be considered one of the ‘Great American Novels’.

Whilst storytelling is at the very core of this magnificent novel, characterisation and profound messaging are vital cogs in its success.

It concerns the first 30 or so years of the life of Theo Decker, a young boy who has his first love, his mother, tragically torn away from him in a terrorist (we assume) bombing of an American Museum (the Met we assume) when he was a kid.  In the process Theo grabs from the ruins a canvas that has been freed from its frame as a result of the explosion.  The canvas (a board actually) is a painting of a captive Goldfinch.  Small, unpretentious, delicate but delightful and considered a true masterpiece by famed (but obscure) 17th Century Dutch painter Carel Fabritius.

His new found ‘ownership’ is to underscore the remainder of Theodore Decker’s life.

What follows is as engrossing a tale as you’ll ever read.  It tells Decker’s life, told throughout in the first person, in a series of extended chapters.  Each one dealing with an episode in his existence that is forever uncertain riding it out, as he does, on an absurdly thin line between happiness and chaos.

Although he has a father, he is estranged and only enters the story a quarter of the way in.  By then we have established a complex character in Theo and his geeky school friend, Andy, Andy’s family who ‘adopt’ him as he has nowhere to go and his, frankly bonkers, Ukranian school mate, Boris, who becomes a central character in the novel.

But aside from Theo and Boris the two main protagonists are his deceased mother (who suffuses everything Theo does in life) and The Goldfinch.   This chained bird is a metaphor for Theo’s life.  As, like the bird, he is imprisoned by fate and can’t ever really find true happiness.

His love life is, to say the least, complicated and utterly unfulfilling.  I won’t spoil it by revealing the complexities of his relationships but suffice it to say they form a key subplot in the tale.

What Donna Tartt does (always does) is craft a fine plot but then weave it together with extraordinary depth of descriptive prose and utterly believable characterisation and dialogue; although huge swathes of the book are dialogue-free, as we get to grips with how Theo is feeling about the latest episode he finds himself in.  Yet the book clips along at a rate of knots that keeps you wanting more and more – that’s some feat for a novel of 864 pages.  (Donna Tartt may not be prolific but each of her novels is two or three of anyone else’s.)

This is a book fundamentally about love and the nature of good and evil.  One might imagine Boris on one shoulder horned and trident-bearing; Polly, Hobie and Theo’s mother on the other festooned in white.

And Theo is torn.

The grief that suffuses his whole being at the loss of his beloved (no, truly adored) mother never leaves the book and it’s only Boris’ honest, frank joie de vivre and adherence to his own highly unorthodox rule book for life that adds sparkle and happiness, of a sort, to the young Theo’s life: the drink and drugs help too, but they are merely a cushion for Theo’s profound grieving.

This novel is a rare and precious thing.  A story that is almost without blemish.  A thing of startling beauty and an absolute must read for anyone who ever enjoyed the art of storytelling; because here it is in all its wonder.

This is a masterclass in writing that stands shoulder to shoulder with the greatest storytelling that America has ever produced.

The movie could, and should, be epic.  My money’s on David Fincher (no pun intended) directing it and sweeping the boards at the Oscars.



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