Jul 18 2012

Life & stuff

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 12:52 am

So, how are we all doing? I know updates here have been pretty non-existent this year, but I’m pretty active elsewhere, and the longer you leave it, the harder it gets (fnarr). Probably safe to say the last 18 months or so haven’t been the easiest for me but I want to get things back on track. My dad’s estate is now sorted out: I finally got a grant of representation, paid off all the bills, got the energy ombudsman to tell EON to go forth and multiply, disposed of most of his guitars (apart from his oldest one that I want to get fixed up so it’s in half decent shape) and even ended up with a small amount of money left over that I split with my brother and put my half towards a new bike. That was particularly satisfying because the bike shop had a sale on and I got a much better bike than the one I had planned, reduced from £1300 to £850. A couple of weeks later it was back at £1300. That’s my kind of sale. Sorting out dad’s estate was hard work but I think it I hadn’t done it none of the bills would have been paid and his money would probably have disappeared into a bank suspense account, or worse, been appropriated by George Osborne as bona vacantia. Urgh.

Looks like I may have also finally ended up with a job at work that isn’t project based so I can spend time on developing in one single area. After nearly 11 years at the same company you do get a lot of experience if you do it properly, but bouncing between projects and being redeployed can be pretty disruptive. It’s become pretty clear that what I’m good at is web based development in front of chunky databases, with a bit of low level systems stuff and ugly maths in the form of stats. Consequently it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that I didn’t get on too well with a support role earlier this year where the bulk of the work involved installing patches and doing basic sysadmin work on Solaris systems. On the project I had before I was getting pretty intimate with the Google Maps API and doing weird and wonderful things with Oracle business analysis functions so it was a bit of a change. Sometimes the best way to find out what you’re good at and enjoy is to try something that you don’t get on so well with. I’m back to doing Oracle web development for now and the new job (still with the same company) starts at the beginning of August. I’m not sure yet exactly what I’ll be doing but it’s in a department that does secure networking stuff. Doing stuff in-house is cheaper and better than buying it in from companies like RSA, but muggins will have the job of creating it.

I tend to react to stress by being susceptible to colds, and over-eating, and it’s probably safe to say I’ve had quite a bit of both. Since 2010 I’ve put on quite a bit of weight but I’ve just started to make the changes to what I eat that I’ve done in the past to bring it back down. I’ve got a fair bit of bulk to get rid of so it won’t be quick, but I’d like to get back to my fighting weight. Wish me luck…

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Apr 20 2011

Shocking Behaviour

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:15 pm

For reasons I’m not going into in a public post, getting probate on my dad’s estate is taking a long time. Most of the organizations owed money were happy to put things on hold and hang in there, but not E.ON Energy. When I notified them of my dad’s death they wanted a copy of the death certificate, which was fair enough, but they also wanted a copy of the tenancy agreement for some unknown reason. A few weeks later they sent me a final bill and then 2 days later sent me an overdue reminder. I wasn’t amused and wrote to their complaints department who told me that it was a mistake and that they were going to put things on hold until probate was granted. In all the letters I’ve written I said that getting probate was taking a long time and that I would let them know when it was granted.

However, on Saturday I got a letter from a “probate specialist” called Philips & Cohen Associates (UK) Ltd which had lots of pictures of flowers and a faux-sympathetic tone about being there “at this difficult time”. What they didn’t say was what they were specialists of. A quick Google found their website which says that “We are proud to be the world’s premier probate recovery specialists combining sophisticated systems and analytical capabilities alongside highly trained and experienced probate recovery professionals.” In other words, they’re a debt collection agency that will try to get as much as possible from an estate, even one that could be insolvent.

I rang Philips & Cohen and had to deal with a pipsqueak who was obviously reading from a script, even the bit about “we would like to offer our sincere condolences”. He was also tying himself in knots trying not to talk about debt collection. I told him that the account was supposed to be on hold and that they should never have contacted me. Working for a big company with its own call centres means I understand how much (or little) autonomy call centre staff have, but my voice was still shaking with anger because I knew his company is about as sincere as a timeshare salesman. On the other hand he did offer 10% off if I paid the bill outside probate. Wow.

I’ve written to E.ON to get them to explain why an account that was supposed to be on hold has been sold on to a debt collection agency. Possibly all this rigmarole is acceptable to a business process designer but like most of them I daresay the person (if there is one) hasn’t experienced it at first hand. Back in January I said in a flocked post that I was the right person to do the probate thing because I’m not scared to take on companies that try to push their luck. This is one example of this. I’m also going to be writing to the Energy Ombudsman over Easter because I think an external review of their procedures would do them some good. Processes like this are usually automated and part of my job involves implementing them so I know they always allow things to be overridden if necessary. Unfortunately for E.ON one of my favourite court cases (Ferguson vs British Gas Trading) found that “[British Gas] also made the point that the correspondence was computer generated and so, for some reason which I do not really follow, Ms Ferguson should not have taken it as seriously as if it had come from an individual, but real people are responsible for programming and entering material into the computer. It is British Gas’s system which, at the very least, allowed the impugned conduct to happen.”

My advice for anyone with E.ON would be to move supplier. If that’s not an option, try not to die while you’re a customer. I’ve gone from being appalled, to surprised, to very disappointed, and back to being appalled with this bunch of shysters. Hopefully a bit of blogging will help to embarrass them as well. This is not a difficult situation for a half competent company to deal with, but I don’t think E.ON is one of those. E.ON used to be Powergen before they got taken over by the Germans, and Bill Bailey got it exactly right:

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Feb 05 2011

Bored, LS18

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 12:34 am

First unflocked post for ages. So what’s been going on in the somewhat diminished house of Houlden? I’m still waiting to get grant of representation that will allow me to get my dad’s affairs sorted out but the intestacy rules have some serious shortcomings about situations that weren’t envisaged in the 1920s when they were drawn up, so it isn’t that easy to sort out. Losing a parent is a big thing to deal with, especially when he was only 62, but I think winding up his estate is a good practical thing I can do for coping with it. It surprises me that organisations still act as if they don’t have processes in place for dealing with deceased customers or clients. As I wrote in a letter to E.ON:

I write with reference to your letter of 12th January 2011 from XXX regarding my late father’s account. Frankly I was appalled by its condescending tone and the discourteous approach that EON has taken in this case so far. Domestic residences have been entitled to electricity supplies since at least the Electric Lighting Act of 1882 and I would hope that by now EON or its predecessors would have developed effective and sensitive procedures for closing the accounts of deceased customers.

There’s a fair bit else going on that I may describe in a flocked post, but not in a public one.

Workwise I’m a redeployee (again) so I’m looking for a new job at the company. There are a couple of developer roles there but I’m also being asked to consider other stuff that I’ve tried before. Job searching doesn’t take a lot of time so things are otherwise pretty quiet. At least I’m still working from home.

Gym-wise, after something of a hiatus over xmas I’m getting back into it. There’s a BJJ seminar this Sunday and then I’ve put my name down to do another Thai interclub a week on Sunday. My weight did go up a bit over xmas and it’s being tricky to shift, but I’ve definitely changed my lifestyle so much that there’s no way I’m going back to the old ways. Now I’m getting back to normal and the weather’s improving I can concentrate a bit more on bringing it down.

Something I’m after now is some kind of challenge. Not probate, or the gym, or work, or computer related, but something else. One idea is writing, but what? I’ve got quite a verbose style with influences from Bill Bryson and Charlie Brooker. My Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets are obviously one form but they’re short and there’s a lot I leave out, partly to avoid too much detail and partly because I don’t like to mention everything about my life. Fiction is one idea: if music can have soundscapes it should be possible to do the same sort of thing with words, and I’m particularly interested in dystopian environments and the feeling of being “outside the system”. Fiction would also give me the chance to describe situations without getting personally involved. If you know it’s fiction you can change all sorts of details because it’s made up.

Another idea is commentary, but on what subject? The minutiae of life can be pretty boring to read. I’m interested in politics and current affairs but I find writing something coherent can take a lot of effort because I want to check facts are correct and more reliable than Wikipedia. Same with covering the rituals and superstitions that infest sport. The other thing is getting people to read what I write. Publishing online is easy but there are zillions of blogs out there with no readers. There’s the notes on Facebook as well but I find my friends list tends to shorten when I go into any sort of detail. For some reason being politically left wing and a sceptic when it comes to things like quack nutritionists and pseudo-scientific ideas doesn’t go down too well in certain circles.

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