Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Kindle capers

Having just got off the phone after spending a good hour talking to a techie at Amazon, I have to say I'm impressed with my experience of their customer service.

A second hand Kindle I'd bought off a friend a while ago for my wife (so I could actually get mine back and do some reading of my own) had decided it didn't want to download books any more. After a few minutes of fruitless Googling I decided to take the plunge and actually call the customer service number, a decision helped by the fact it was a freephone number (toll free in American).

To my pleasant surprise my call was answered within a minute, and although the (clearly basic 1st line support) lady on the other end of the phone wasn;t initially able to help with her suggestions of restarting it several times I was promised a call back within 45 minutes later by a technical support person.

After an admittedly slightly late 50 minutes I did indeed receive my call back. This person (like the first, actually able to speak in fluent English) was clearly using their brain rather than just blindly following a script and within half a hour after trying a software update and variations on the restart theme determined that the software had crashed somewhere during the registration process and rendered the device in need of replacement.

Expecting a charge for this (although after the initial 12 month warranty expires faulty goods are still covered under the Sale of Goods Act for a while but have to bear in mind I wasn't actually the person who originally bought it) I was very surprised when I was informed they would replace it free of charge within a week.

So, although I have now had to temporarily surrender my own beloved Kindle back to my wife so that she can keep up to date with the latest James Patterson novel, I think that's a small price to pay and I've been left wondering if I'm either very lucky or one of many happy customers of Amazon's customer service. Either way quite a positive result I feel.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Spotted in the office - A rare glimpse of a skilled POMPer

Today at work I noticed someone with what could be considered quite an enviable skill within the office environment - the Perambulation Of Major Purpose, or POMP. For this to be performed well needs either raw talent (very rare) or several years of practice.

The aim of the POMP is to travel by foot (usually in an indoor environment although it can be used outdoors on occasion) in such a manner that gives the impression one is on their way to perform a task of some importance, perhaps attending a meeting with an agenda of more than 2 pages in length, or to provide assistance to one or more person of much lesser knowledge and skill than oneself.

There are many elements to the POMP, and each must be done to a sufficiently high standard in order to carry it off well. The practitioner is much likely to be headed to the coffee machine or a secluded stairwell in which to return a phone call from a recruitment company but if performed correctly most observers will assume their journey is for a much more vital purpose and essential to the continued wellbeing of the company. The benefits of this are many, for example not only will the perceived importance of the POMPer rise but they are much less likely to be interrupted in their travels, thus preventing them from having to come up with any explanation as to where they are really headed.

Interesting Fact: Allegedly a very small percentage of POMPers can perform this walk so well that they are actually able to avoid being accosted by people in town centres holding clipboards but I have yet to witness this myself in person.

The POMPer I observed today clearly has natural talent, and has probably also spent many years perfecting the skill as they are a mid level manager with a suitably vague job title, and therefore have a more more vested interest in giving the impression of importance whilst actually achieving very little. Whilst in reality they were probably headed to the coffee machine, to a casual observer they would appear to be on their way to a rather important meeting and would arrive just in time, to sighs of relief from the other attendees that they had managed to make time in their busy schedule to attend and offer much needed contribution to an otherwise pointless two hours spent sitting round a shiny table.

Anyway, on to the actual POMP itself, I managed to observe for a good 15 seconds before said POMPer swept round a corner.

The walk was impressive. The speed was spot on - just fast enough to be going somewhere that arrival time mattered a great deal to the welfare of the company, but not too fast, this would be a fatal error that would just look like they were badly organised and running late. Walking too slowly would be an even worse mistake - giving the impression of apathy and a complete lack of interest in general. The risk of being interrupted and pulled into an impromptu meeting about something they knew nothing about would be very high.
The gait was generally tall and straight, although an almost imperceptible hunch indicated an unwillingness to be approached. By far the most impressive feature though was the facial expression, determined and thoughtful, as if already half way through solving some problem they were on their way to assist with. Again a hard skill to perfect - get it wrong and you either look constipated, scared or confused. Or at worst a combination of all three. Combine this with a slightly higher speed than required and you can see why this should only be practiced in private until the walk can be performed at an acceptable level.

All in all a real treat to see. If you also work in an office environment, or even happen to just be visiting one at some point be sure to keep an eye out, you too may just end up being lucky enough to spot a skilled POMPer performing this rarely seen art.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Back after a long break

So, I'm back after quite a while - have decided to give the whole blogging thing a new attempt.

In an attempt to give this blog a central theme, I've decided to mostly concentrate on sharing useful information for people on consumer and personal finance issues. These are two areas that interest me a lot, and I often find I'm able to help people out with my knowledge of these subjects so it's probably worth sharing online too.

So a bit of background is probably in order.

A few years ago, after doing the whole having a baby, buying a house and getting married thing we realised we'd managed to get into quite a lot of debt. This was due in part to the ease at which debt was available back then (we're talking around the period 2003-2008) and also due ot our complete lack of understanding on how debt works. A few rather stupid decisions later and suddenly we found ourselves in a meeting with the bank manager watching our cash card being cut up in front of us.
NOTE: Not our credit card, but our cash card. The thing we used to pay for things like food and nappies.

Luckily for us my parents helped bail us out to an extent and after managing to sell our small flat at the top of the housing boom just before the prices crashed we ended up in a much better situation - renting but paying less per month than we had been paying on our mortgage (and 2 secured loans) and just about managing to pay all the bills every month. However there were a couple more close calls and it was only after spending time on the rather excellent MoneySavingExpert website that had what is referred to on that site as my 'lightbulb' moment. Hopefully this needs no explanation. Suffice to say since then a healthy paranoia of every getting even close to that situation again has helped keep us out of financial trouble and after a few hard years  we're now at the point where I'm able to put a small amount of my salary into a savings account each month and have even started looking at investing some. We still have debts, but they're manageable and will all be paid off in the next 3 years (most are fixed term loans).

In this time I've learnt a great deal about how debt (and people's attitudes towards it) works, and consumer rights in general. A lot of this information is out there but quite often not easy to find, and certainly not readily promoted. For example how many of you knew that if you wear a uniform to work you may well be able to claim money back form the tax office for cleaning costs?

I noted with great delight recently that finally finance is a topic that will soon be taught in schools as part of the curriculum, I only wish it had been when I was at school.

So anyway, enough about the background and back to my most current update.

I'm currently reading "Be a Free Range Human" (affiliate link here if you don't mind me earning from your click) and dreaming about ditching the whole 9-5 thing for something a bit more interesting. Quite an inspiring book, although of course the real proof will be when I quit my job to bugger off round the world doing what I really love and getting paid handsome quantities of money for it.

Back in the present, have had to find an accountant to cope with the whole child benefit self-assessment thing, whilst I'm usually fairly confident dealing with such matters myself a tax return is something I'd rather pay someone else to do\take responsibility for than risk messing it up.

Since moving counties I lost the allotment so the last year was spent digging up random square feet along the edge of the lawn in our current garden and throwing a few seeds in to see what would grow well. Due to the wetter than average summer not a lot went well, although apathy on my part may have also had something to do with it. Another thing to add to my "will try harder this year" list.

I found it's possible to dent an empty drinks can with a Nurofen syringe (yes the innocent-looking plastic one that comes with the bottle) from a couple of feet if filled with a few drops of water and pushed hard enough - I'm now a bit gentler about how I use them to administer medicine into the kiddies mouths.

I keep promising myself I'll try and make my own cheese this year having bought an ancient food press from a charity shop for £1.50. But Mrs Cornflake needs convincing first that experiments involving dairy products and mould can be performed in the house.

The only person brave enough so far to try the homemade blackberry wine (now approaching 2 year vintage I believe) had already drunk several cans of Stella and therefore their appraisal was considered largely invalid, however complimentary it was. Might be quite good for cooking purposes though...