Archive for April, 2007

Blog Apocalypse

Monday, April 30th, 2007

I was just reading this post on Gameproducer.net which is about a “Blog Apocalypse”. The idea is that bloggers have to write a blog post and pretend that it’s the last blog post that they will ever write and then link back to the author that started it all. He will donate $1 to charity for every link that he gets, so with that in mind I thought that I’d write my last blog post now … sniff…

At first I hadn’t read the instructions so I was wondering what the “reason” for the last blog post was supposed to be e.g. I’m going to die (or loose my ability to type/dictate) and so this is my last post, or there is going to be a nuclear war and this is my last post, or I’m fed up with blogging and this is my last post, or I’m moving to a monastery and thus won’t be blogging any more, or the Internet is shutting down and no one will read my posts any more so I’d better go out with a bang etc. Actually the instructions say pretend that the Internet is still working but “The blogosphere is ending. No more blogs. Blog apocalypse”. OK fine (well not fine, but it’s not real, so it’s fine)

The instructions mattered because if I was gonna die, then I may have written something like “I look foward to seeing you on the other side”. So anyway, assuming that I’m not going to write something like “It’s outrageous that the blogosphere is ending, bring it back, sob”, what am I going to write? Especially as I’m pretty darn busy today…

A story

OK, so here’s a little story (hmm, it turned out to be a BIG Story). A while back I got one of those “can you do a quick survey” phonecalls. Normally I say no but they promised me that it would be very quick and I was relaxing on the sofa so I did it anyway. It was about holidays. A couple of weeks later I got another phone call telling me that I had been “selected” to have a free holiday for my family in one of several countries which included places like Spain, Portugal, The Canaries etc. Normally I’d be pretty sceptical but recently I’ve been opening myself up to more gifts and free offers and just exploring them to see if they are any good. So when I heard this, I thought I’d follow it through.

Anyway, I let the women explain a bit and discovered that flights and accomodation were free, but that there was an admin fee of £49 per person. So for Helen and I, and the two kids, that would be around £200. Still, not bad for a week in a foreign holiday resort.

The Catch

The small catch was that to claim our holiday we had to attend a “holiday presentation” by the firm that was giving away the free holiday (Buena Viva). She explained that the holiday company would benefit because we would take our free holiday and then tell everyone what a great time we had and hopefully they would gain more word of mouth business and maybe more business from us too. She said that the presentation was in Exeter, which is about an hour’s drive away, and was to be about two and half hours long. This was a bit of a bummer as it effectively meant Helen and I writing off 5 hours of a work day to go. However, we had both been thinking about holidays in Spain and Portugal and we imagined some kind of presentation to a small group in which we would be shown various lovely holiday destinations, and we thought that this would give us some inspiration for our own holidays.

A few days later a letter arrived with some more details. It also explained that we would get some vouchers from a choice of retailers when we attended – this seemed cool and I chose M&S vouchers so that I could get some new clothes. The letter was badly written and didn’t really explain very well what the presentation was about and it also said “this is not timeshare” on it, which made us a little wary, but no major alarm bells went off yet…

The Presentation

We drove to Exeter and found the venue on a trading estate. It was large building with lots of posh cars parked outside. We were taken upstairs to a large room with lots of tables and chairs spread out like in a restaurant. Then we were ushered to a table where a women was sitting, and a smart looking sales guy began to explain what the presentation was about. It was immediately clear that we were to be subjected to a high pressure sales pitch and not some kind of group presentation.

The guy left after a basic intro which didn’t tell us much except that we had to make decision today to buy their product because they would never offer it to us again. This sort of tactic is used by Internet Marketers to get you to buy their ebooks or courses. I’m a bit dubious of it because it means that you can’t go away and consider the offer – and I’m the sort of person (and so is Helen) who likes to go over the details and make an informed decision instead of a snap decision.

Then the women began to start talking. It was quite hard to hear her because there was this loud Spanish style music playing, presumably to cover up what the other people were discussing at the other tables – and also perhaps to bambuzal (spelling?) us a little. Apart from some weird little tales she kept telling us, she was showing us these brochures full of nice 5 star places and saying that we could stay there for £115 for a week, no matter where it was, and some of them would normally cost £25,000 for a week. Anyway this went on for a while and didn’t seem to have a clear direction or point. We had been told about some kind of “points” system but when I asked questions about it, it wasn’t explained very well. I was getting quite bored and Helen had her polite “journalist” face on.

The Low Down

So eventually I asked a question which she wasn’t able to answer and she called over the guy. He was her manager and he explained things pretty clearly and kept making little diagrams. Finally we got to the bottom of it, and it was this:

- Their firm sells you say 60 VIP (Vacation International Points) points. These points renew each year for 40 years. Basically you are joining a Holiday Club for 40 years to get fantasic deals.
- These points will get your family 1 week in a 5 star location (flights not included), or 2 weeks if you book last minute. Or the points can be spread over a couple of different locations depending on the venue and season.
- They had their own booklet of 5 star locations and were affiliated with another firm called RCI, that had nearly 4000 locations. If you wanted to stay in an RCI location you had to pay £115 per person for the week, but that was nothing for a 5 star location.
- Also, if we bought the points and became part of the “club” we would get access to trade price flights (no commission) and very cheap car hire, and also be sent lots of really good value special offer holidays like weekends away at great venues etc.
- There was some kind of annual maintenance charge to pay to the company which was a bit over £300 if I recall correctly.
- The points can be sold at any time, and they can do that for you via a third party. The points can even be rented. Also you can let your family and friends use them and benefit from the cheap flights, car hire and special offers. They were even saying that you could tell your friends and family that the holiday cost more, and then pocket the profit.
- The price of points will increase around 3 times a year, so buying now before they go up is wise. (This is another Internet Marketing technique that I’ve come across before).

OK I think that’s pretty much it. Sounds pretty good right?

The Price

OK so what do 60 points cost? Basically just over £10,000. So over 40 years that’s about £250 per year, not bad value. I’ve no idea if that price is fixed or was specially tailored to us (lots of sales people tailor the price depending on what they think you’ll pay).

They explained to us how we didn’t have to pay it all in one go because they had this very good finance deal where we wouldn’t pay anything for 13 months and then we would pay £100 per month for another 12 months at which point we would have had 2 years worth of holidays from them. Then they would ask us to make a decision to see if we want to stay on with them. If we didn’t want to stay, they would sell our points at no profit and we would get back our whole £10000. If we did stay with them, we would just need to refinance or pay off the £10000, and we could still sell the points in the future if we wanted to. Oh I forgot to mention that they said that some of the older couples even bequeathed their points to their children if they died.

The Sign Up

So Helen and I were left to discuss this. I had a few doubts like:

- What if we want out and can’t sell the points for some reason?
- Are they really going to be going in 40 years time, seems unlikely? So we said let’s assume we get 10 years worth at around £1000 per year. Is it still good value? If you added on the £300 maintenance charge this was around £1300 per year for minimum one week holiday for 4 in a 5 star location. This seemed OK value actually, plus if we didn’t like it after 2 years, we could get out.
- What if we can just book similar holidays by searching the Internet for deals.
- What if the locations are always booked and we can’t get a holiday?
- What if, over time, the number of points that you need for a week away changes and we have to buy more points?
- Do I really want to be “locked” into something like this?
- Are the holiday venues really my type of thing? I always prefered the idea of self-catering and choosing more off the beaten path venues.
- What if the whole thing is a massive scam of some sort? hehe.

Anyway, I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to this, but Helen was keen that we commit to having more holidays as a family and as we were going to spend the money each year anyway, why not spend it with them to get top quality holidays at a great price (this is pretty much what the sales guy said)? So did we sign up? I can hear some of you groaning and saying “no, no, don’t do it”. Yes we did, but only after I ascertained that they had a cooling off period of 21 days in which we could cancel. We decided that we would look into the firm and the whole concept on the Internet when we got back home and cancel if anything was dodgy.

So they popped open some Sainsbury’s Bucks Fizz and made us sign a load of forms and fill out a finance deal and then we went on our merry way back home.

The Internet Research

One of the first things that Helen found was a page on the Trading Standards website talking about Holiday Clubs and the methods that they use to entice you into signing up. Many of the things that we had experienced were on the list. A subtle distinction is that we were buying VIP points (which I found out are basically Timeshare Points) instead of joining a Holiday Club. This was getting us a bit worried.

I read a whole bunch of similar material which pretty much suggested that these sort of things were, on the whole, a) either very dodgy scams, or b) just bad value deals where the marketeer pockets loads of cash and you can hardly ever book the locations that you choose because they are already booked, plus it was suggested that you can get just as good deals by shopping around on the Internet. A lot of the people at the venue were older couples who perhaps don’t use the Internet for shopping (unless they are Silver Surfers) and are used to using agents who sell them insurance and holidays etc.

This company could have been bona fide, so I’ll looked them up on google and, apart from their own website (which has limited information by the way), there was only one other mention on a forum containing negative posts about timeshare problems. So I did a Whois on their domain and found that it was registered in the last month or two, and I looked at the associated site which they said could sell our points if we ever wanted out, and that was brand new as well. We also looked up the assocated marketing company, St Frances Marketing, but didn’t get much info.

The Cancellation

Even if they are above board, I didn’t want to take that chance, so I had decided in my mind to cancel. Anyway, whilst I was looking them up on the Internet, I received a phone call from them because our rep had accidentally let us take on the finance form with our signatures on it. I told the rep that we were cancelling and would write them a letter to confirm this. The rep came by the next day to pick up our information pack so he could process our free holiday more quickly (not sure about this as a valid reason), but I retained everything with signatures on. To his credit, he didn’t really try to reconvert us and I wouldn’t have even let him try.

He asked why we cancelled and I didn’t mention the Internet research but said that it just wasn’t for us, plus I said that the small print had a few inconsistencies. One was that they only paid the membership to RCI for 3 years (not 40), I didn’t even know there was a membership to RCI – it wasn’t mentioned in the presentation. The rep said this is only £50-something pounds a year, OK but over 40 years that’s another £2000. Also, they told me the cooling off period was 21 days but on the paperwork it was 14 – salesmen should have these sort of figures absolutely correct in their minds.

The Conclusion

So today I have written the cancellation letter, and next week I’ll check with the finance company that nothing has gone through and I’ll be keeping a close eye on my bank account in case any funny (well, not so funny) business occurs. Meanwhile, if they call us, they won’t get much air time.

We’ll see if the free holiday (which is with Thomsons) and the M&S vouchers come through, but I’m not too bothered about that to be honest. Meanwhile let’s hope that they *are* above board and that our cancellation is respected and dealt with properly. I’m sure it will be. The problem is that because this is my last blog post, I can’t keep you informed of progress ;-)

The Moral of Story

I’m not sure that I have a clear moral for you but we found it to be an interesting growth experience. It’s funny to see how we were hooked into going to the presentation with a good use of a “freebie”. We also had open minds anyway and thought that we’d go along to find out what it was all about. Then seeing how they marketed the product to us on the day with the persuasive arguments, the information hiding and then the “buy today only” deal was interesting. On the way back we actually talked about how they could improve their presentation and also the environment that it was given in, down to the fact that the folder we were given at the end was plastic but it should have been some leather bound thing to make us feel “VIP”.

We also felt good when filling out the finance form to say what our house was worth and what we currently earned, and they seemed surprised. One of the reasons we signed up is that we didn’t particularly consider the £10000 a huge sum of money when we thought about our future finances. It’s nice to realise that you are affluent and to reinforce that feeling.

We would have never signed if there wasn’t a cooling off period and so when we got back and did the research, we felt fine about cancelling. There was a moment of “fear” when we read all the negative information out there that somehow the cancellation wouldn’t be accepted or that our money would get taken somehow anyway – but that soon subsided as it was clearly just a non-rational fear. Also, Helen and I are getting pretty good at letting things go so that we can just return to a nice happy mellow state. In fact that night we got a nice Chinese takeaway, had some wine and watched Columbo – perfect.

Helen even said that she enjoyed the trip out with me and thanked me for looking into the holiday thing with her because she is very keen on holidays. This has given us a few more holiday ideas and probably catalysed us into getting some great holidays later in the year after I finish my current game and get back from my 2 week Aikido vacation in the Ukraine.

Also now I’ve decided never to take part in any telephone surveys again, and never to attend presentations like that again. If by some chance I do find myself in one again, I’ll recognise the signs and will leave.

One other thing it’s taught us is to be more specific in our Intention Manifestion requests (if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry) because the Universe delivered but not in a way that we were expecting. We kind of shut off our “paranoia” sensors and went along with the whole thing thinking that it was the Universe giving us the opportunity to visit some places that we want to investigate more with a view to renting or buying over there in the future. Well the Universe did deliver, but did we sour the deal with some residual paranoia? Perhaps if we had signed up and the company delivered what they promised it would have been fine, but we let our fears get in the way and thus we cancelled – who knows? But we’ll get to go to these places in our own way soon anyway. Just because one thing didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean the Universe will stop delivering us new opportunities – it’s infinite after all.

Another benefit is that I was able to explain this event on my blog so that others can learn from it and not make the same mistake. Plus google will show up the company’s name on a search now in case anyone else wants to investigate.

OK, thus concludes my last blog post. I hope that you enjoyed it (and sorry it’s so long)!

What is my coding style?

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Someone on the Blitz forum start this thread about coding style and getting things done. I replied and thought that I’d post my reply here:

What is you coding style?

Mine, I guess. I’m not sure how to answer this. I’ll tell you what, my coding style isn’t complicated or “clever”, I make it simple so that I can understand it a month later if need be.

Do you comment your code or do you feel that code should be easily readable if you have done things properly in the first place?

Yeah all the time. I think the “easily readable” argument doesn’t hold much water if someone who doesn’t know the language has to overview your code, and also a single comment before a largish chunk of easily readable code means that you don’t have to figure out what the chunk does when browsing, you can just look at the comment.

Do you use include files or do you have everything in one source file.

Yeah, a couple, but it turns out that my projects don’t have as many sub files as some other people seem to use.

Do you plan thoroughly before even typing a line of code or do you play it by ear?

Most things I plan in overview and then I just get on with it. Some more complex things I plan in more detail, either on paper, on a spreadsheet, or in my head. Sometimes the “get on with it” approach fails and requires a rewrite due to something that you didn’t account for.

Finally, do you use a todo list?

You bet! I actually have an overview to do list so that I can see major progress and then my main to do list is broken down into all sorts of sections and each item has a Prioritisation column next to it which includes High, Med, Low and I change it to DONE or NO (if I don’t do it). I put all the “cool things” I think of in a polish list instead of coding them straight away. Also I have a “Cosmetics” section in which I log things that aren’t perfect but are good enough for now. I could go on about to do lists for a while because I’ve been developing them for over 10 years and I think that I have a pretty good system now.

Please feel free to add anything else that you may think is relevent.

Maybe I’ll add something about motivation. Sometimes I don’t want to code something for whatever reason like I think it may be complicated or boring or I’m just in a procrastinating mood. Anyway, I find that the best cure is simply to start work on it (and put on some uplifting trance music (or whatever works for you)), and after say 10 minutes I find that I’m well into it and enjoying myself.

Fixed my Blog for IE7

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Yay, I finally fixed my blog for IE 7. I should have done this ages ago but I don’t have IE7 installed on my PC. Then a while back I realised that it was on my partner’s laptop but I still didn’t get round to fixing it …

Then today I finally decided to do it. I reduced the header, footer and index page down to the bare minimum until the problem went away, then I added back in code until the problem reappeared. Finally I found the problem. I started a Div outside of a Table and then I closed it within the Table.

IE6, Firefox and Safari all didn’t mind this bug but it seems that IE7 reacted badly to it. Anyway it’s fixed now, woo! This was a bit of major loose end that I’m glad to have wrapped up.