Fighting the phone frauds, again

Back in January I suggested that you should make a formal complaint about telephone scammers. Naturally I followed my own advice, and I’ve just received this email from the communications watchdog ICSTIS:

* The call that you received was made by using Automated Calling Equipment known as ACE. This is actually an offence under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which is an EC Directive. It was therefore considered that the use of this equipment was illegal.

* The promotional call had suggested that recipients of the call had previously taken part in the competition service, but evidence demonstrated that this was not the case. This was considered to be misleading.

* The premium rate service itself asked callers to enter their telephone number in order for the service to verify that the callers were genuine winners. Monitoring of the service demonstrated this process was entirely fictitious and that it accepted any telephone number input into the system. This was also considered to be misleading.

* Despite the promotional telephone call stating that there were a number of prizes that could be claimed, it appeared that all callers were allocated the same prize (the Spanish cruise). Again, this was considered misleading.

* The promotional call suggested that recipients were required to complete the claim and call the premium rate number as a matter of urgency. ICSTIS considered that this prevented consumers from being able to make an informed decision about taking part in the premium rate service, as they would have felt under pressure to call.

* Call costs were only provided once callers had already spent £7.50 on the premium rate service. ICSTIS considered that this would give consumers no option but to complete the premium rate call, as otherwise they would be left with significant charges without being in a position to claim the listed prize. ICSTIS considered that this took advantage of consumers.

* The promotional message did not inform potential callers of the cost of taking part of the service. This is a requirement under the Code of Practice.

* The promotional message did not inform potential callers of the identity or alternative contact details of the promoter. This is a requirement under the Code of Practice.

* The promotional call was inappropriate because it was not specifically targeted at individuals within the home and therefore could have been received by children or by people who do not have permission to use premium rate services.

* The promotion used Automated Calling Equipment (ACE) despite the entire premium rate industry being warned that it was not permitted to do so.

* The promotional failed to inform recipients of the total cost of taking part in the service, which a requirement of prize line promotions under the Code of Practice.

* The promotional failed to supply sufficient information about the prizes and any terms and conditions that may have applied to claiming any of those prizes.

World Travel, the firm behind the calls, didn’t dispute any of these findings, but argued that they didn’t realise they were being naughty. The result?

World Travel were fined £75,000 and they were barred from operating any prize line or competition service (using premium rate) for a period of 12 months.


Waiting lists

There’s an interesting letter in today’s Herald from a consultant neurologist at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary:

Today, the lady sitting in front of me makes a 185-mile round trip for a consultation which lasts little more than 10 minutes. Her referral letter is dated August 2004 (seven months). She leaves less than happy because I propose a diagnosis which requires technical investigation for confirmation and waiting time is estimated at one year.

If my diagnosis is confirmed, surgery will be required. There will be a third queue (six months) awaiting assessment by the surgeon, and then a fourth queue (one year) awaiting surgery. Four queues: two actual, two potential, three years plus. Politicians who take a high-profile interest in the duration of queue one are invited to take an interest in queues two to four. If queue one shortens (more patients seen), queues two to four are liable to lengthen.

Forget the funeral – bury my Powerbook

Squander Two talks about living wills, but while the prospect of being kept alive by machines is rather horrible, there’s an even more worrying issue here. If something bad happens to me, who’s going to cremate my computer?

It’s something Penn – of Penn & Teller fame – started thinking about when one of his friends died.

He had been in L.A. temporarily, and I was part of the team of sobbing friends who boxed his stuff to send back East. We puzzled over his laptop. Would there be flames that might be inappropriate for his family to read? Would he have wanted his girlfriend to go through all of his saved e-mail?

We didn’t worry too much. He was a brilliant, kind, sweet, thoughtful man, and although we didn’t look, I’m sure his computer contains no surprise pain for his loved ones.

But what about you? And if that doesn’t freak you out enough — what about me? Man, oh, man. Do you want everyone cursoring through your files when your alibi days are over? What about those last couple of gifs you downloaded? And if you don’t die as clean as my buddy, how would your “Favorites” list look on CourtTV?


[Warning, contains swearing]

If you’re a news junkie like I am, you’ll spend a lot of time reading stories from around the world (and their related discussions on message boards), and you’ll read every column inch of anything printed. And if you do that, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the world is full of bullshit – and that a lot of people are taken in by that bullshit.

Sometimes, it amuses me – so the news that US “let’s not tell the kids about sex” abstinence programmes have caused an explosion of bum sex and blow jobs had me laughing like a drain, even though I know it’s a serious issue – and other times it depresses me, such as when I read about religious nutballs (of whatever creed) shouting down the grown-ups or when I see respectable magazines flogging premium rate psychic hotlines to the depressed and desperate.

A good example of the tide of bullshit is the Daily Mail newspaper, whose womens’ pages are often filled with new age nonsense and whose covers – particularly at weekends – pose provocative questions based on whichever book the paper is currently serialising. Mail readers could save themselves a great deal of time and effort by using the word “no” when they read these cover lines and then buying something else. For example:

“Does a secret bible code predict the future?”


“Did a race of advanced aliens build the Pyramids?”


“Are angels watching over us?”


And so on. And it’s not just the Mail, either. We have TV programmes on nutrition whose “expert” got their qualifications from a mail order university. We have endless alternative health sections in papers and magazines whose advice is bollocks at best and dangerous at worst. We have endless programmes about alien abductions, strange mysteries, conspiracy theories… and then, we have Penn & Teller.

I don’t know much about Penn & Teller, other than seeing their occasional magic trick on the telly. But I was channel-hopping last night and discovered Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, which is arguably the greatest television programme ever made.

Last night’s episode (it’s currently airing on satellite channel FX289) was about getting the perfect body, and featured the usual array of ab-rollers, body building supplements and so on. Cleverly, P&T let the people hawking these products hoist themselves by their own petards: the fitness expert explained that due to genetics, very few people could reasonably expect to become magazine cover models; P&T then cut to the expert’s book, You Too Can Be A Magazine Cover Model. They filmed supplement sellers explaining that Glucosamine helps build muscle (it doesn’t, it’s for tendons and ligaments) and offering potentially lethal nutritional advice, they took the piss out of abdominal exercise machines, and they hammered the point home that while exercise and good diet are good things, the fitness industry is selling an impossible ideal – and making stacks of money from it.

What makes P&T’s programme so great is that this is all done through the medium of swearing. Penn doesn’t exactly mince his words: I lost track of the number of times he referred to people as “fucks”, “fuckers” or “motherfuckers”, along with some lesser expletives. This is apparently for legal reasons: if Penn were to say “this man is a fraudster”, he – and the TV network – could be sued into oblivion. If on the other hand he calls someone a “motherfucker” who’s spouting “bullshit”, he’s legally in the clear. I’m not a lawyer so I can’t really comment, but the sheer novelty of seeing a TV presenter on the verge of a coronary as he gets into a righteous rage is hard to beat.

Of course, it’s flawed – reviews suggest that P&T can be as blinkered as the people they criticise, and of course it’s utterly biased. But that’s missing the point: it’s entertainment, after all.

Penn & Teller: Bullshit! is apparently into its third season, and while it doesn’t seem to be on DVD over here you could always import the first two seasons from the US. In season one they go after creationists, anti-smokers, mediums, feng shui, alien abductees, penis enlargement pills, vegetarians and extreme environmentalists; in season two, their targets include PETA, people who hate swearing (heh), recycling, hypnotists and the war on drugs.

Microsoft spanks Sony, says SPOnG

There’s a fascinating conspiracy theory over at games site SPOnG. The site describes it as:

A conspiracy that sees a Microsoft masterstroke which cripples its key opponent, sees it take the moral high-ground and net around $15 million profit in the process.

The story centres on the current patent lawsuit against Sony, which came this >In doing this, Microsoft effectively made its settlement with Immersion a test case, a case that would then be used against Sony. What’s more, it put itself in a position to demand payments from Sony on all PlayStation hardware, peripherals and software sold, on an ongoing basis.

…Immersion, backed by Microsoft, will have the right to demand royalties from Sony on every single PlayStation product that makes use of DualShock, an astoundingly astute move resulting in a case that Sony simply must win.

Back, again

A quick update on the back situation: the neurosurgeon reckons a microdiscectomy is the way to solve my (worsening) back problems, so I’ll have my buttocks hanging out the back of a hospital gown in 3-4 weeks time.

The book meme

I’m not a fan of “forward this” questionnaires – for several years my email address was printed in various national magazines and as a result, I seem to be on every email forwarding list in Britain – but I’ll make an exception for this one, partly because Squander Two asked me to do it, and partly because I liked it.

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?

Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handey. It’s a collection of surreal one- or two-liners and makes me laugh like a drain. Plus, it’s short – which is handy given that I’d have to memorise it.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Not in books, no. But if TV counts, then… Dr Susan Lewis from ER. Smart, funny, attracted to – yes! – tall baldy speccy blokes. And she was in NYPD Blue too. Woo-hoo! And she’s in this advert!

*mind wanders*

*remembers that my wife reads this*

Of course, that was a very long time ago. Yes.

The last book you bought:

For myself? Er… The Promise of Happiness, by Justin Cartwright. Haven’t read it yet but I can tell you that it’s £3.60 in Asda.

The last book you read:

The Time Traveler’s Wife. Can’t remember who wrote it and can’t be bothered Googling. It was good quirky fun and had my wife in floods of tears at the end. This year’s Lovely Bones, apparently.

What are you currently reading?

In The Time of our Singing by Richard Powers. An epic novel that traces the lives of three mixed-race kids in America. Fantastic stuff but it’s taken me forever to get through.

Five books you would take to a desert island

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, because if i’m trapped on a desert island I might be able to finish the damn thing.

Does “everything Kurt Vonnegut has ever written” count as one selection? It should.

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. Only kidding.

James Ellroy’s LA Quartet (LA Confidential, etc). Vicious, hypnotic and utterly addictive.

Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole novels, because they make me laugh.

And something by Tim Dorsey, for the same reason.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

I’m not going to pass it to anyone, because of my antipathy towards such things. But if I was the sort of person who did forward such things, I’d mail it to Gusto, Ms.Mac and Prof. Batty.

Hold your breath

Hold your breath is a site about Glasgow’s Clyde Tunnel (it takes its name from the popular kids’ game of trying to hold your breath from the beginning to the end of the tunnel). As the tunnel begins a year’s worth of refitting, the site is asking people for their ideas on transforming one of Glasgow’s ugliest landmarks.

I reckon we should go with this design for the tunnel’s interior, which was created by Raymond (11).

Things I love about Scotland

Prompted by Ms Mac’s Things I Love about Switzerland, I thought I’d do the same thing about Scotland.

1. Space.

We’ve got lots of leg room in Scotland: we’ve around half the population of London, and an entire country to spread out in. As a result we tend to have fairly roomy towns and streets, and while there are certainly a few ugly bits we don’t really suffer from the urban sprawl you find elsewhere. I tend to feel quite claustrophobic when I’m in some bits of England, and I’ve noticed that the places in the UK and Ireland I tend to like are the ones with Georgian architecture – which is all about space and status, rather than the industrial revolution “let’s cram a thousand people into a few terraces” red-brick that to me typifies a lot of English towns.

2. Scale

We call them cities, but the rest of the world would call them towns.

3. Architecture

Not all of Scots architecture is attractive, but almost all of it’s interesting. A quick wander round Glasgow demonstrates that: impossibly detailed Victorian buildings, giant sandstone mansions, 1930s housing with strong art deco influences, some brutal tower blocks and identikit glass and chrome office blocks. In the space of two or three streets you can explore two centuries of styles, and while it’s a cliche if you’re ever in the centre of Glasgow you should look up: you’ll see all kinds of mad things, from gargoyles to ridiculous flourishes. Thanks to rising house prices there are a lot more indentikit commuter boxes springing up in gap sites (and the waterfront is starting to resemble any other city’s riverside), but there’s still plenty to feast your eyes on.

4. Scenery

It’s something we tend to take for granted, but no matter where you live in Scotland you’re never more than half an hour away from some jaw-dropping scenery, whether it’s the rolling hills of the borders or the alien landscapes of parts of the highlands.

5. Tourists

Well, tourists unless they’re in front of me when I’m driving somewhere in a hurry. Although this also ties in with one of the things I hate about Scotland: our tendency to screw tourists out of as much cash as possible, whether it’s excessive admission prices to tatty tourist attractions or silly money for a cup of tea in a nearby cafe.

6. Attitude

We’re funny buggers in Scotland: there’s a definite dour, fatalistic side to us, but it’s laced with the sort of dark humour that means everyone’s a comedian. Which ties in with…

7. William McGonagall

McGonagall was a poet, although I use the term loosely: he was rubbish – do a google for his Tay Bridge Disaster poem for some terrifying proof. Naturally, his very rubbishness made him something of a national hero. “Fans” used to organise readings for the sheer pleasure of taking the piss out of him, and as Billy Connolly points out, he was deeply eccentric: for example, he hated publicans on the grounds that “the first man to hit me in the face with a plate of peas was a publican”. Not “a publican hit me in the face with a plate of peas”, but a publican was the first to do it. Which of course suggests that hitting McGonagall in the face with a plate of peas was a pastime for many Scots.

8. Cost of living

It’s a cheap place to live. Even the bits of Scotland that seem desperately expensive – bits of Glasgow, most of Edinburgh – pale into insignificance when you look at the price of a house or the price of a pint in southern England.

9. The Tom Morton show

Tom Morton broadcasts weekday afternoons on BBC Radio Scotland, and he’s a national treasure: his show plays anything and everything, whether it’s musty old rock or electro-pop from up-and-coming Scots bands. Imagine a Scots John Peel with a less abrasive taste in music and you’ll get the idea. He’s all the more remarkable when you flick through the dial and realise that Scots commercial radio stations (with the honourable exception of Beat 106 when Jim Gellatly’s on) are even worse than their English counterparts.

10. Folk music

Good folk music, that is: there’s plenty of maudlin crap and jiggy nonsense. But decent Scots traditional music is fantastic stuff, especially when it’s performed by a bunch of drunks to an audience consisting of a bunch of drunks.

Let’s bomb Germany

From today’s press release pile:

German club meisters ‘Bass Bumpers’ have taken the Jamster Crazy Frog ringtone and merged it seamlessly with Axel F – the tune that uniquely represents 80s movies, the Hollywood dream and Eddie Murphy. Axel F, Harold Faltermeyer’s theme tune from Beverley Hills Cop, provides the perfect foil for the ‘annoying thing’ and is set to have fans hopping on dance floors across Europe.

Crazy Frog ‘Axel F’ is the spawn of Reinhard Raith and Wolfgang Boss. Reinhard is one part of the ‘Bass Bumpers’ – who also produced Angel City, Despina Vandi, VooDoo & Serano, CJ Stone and Resource. They are the hottest dance production team in Germany.

Reinhard: “The Crazy Frog ringtone was huge in Germany and I believed it would make a great dance record. It needed a melody, something to get the hands in the air, and Wolfgang suggested the Axel F record which is one of the best “hands up” tunes ever made.”

The result is Axel F like you’ve never heard it before!

Crazy Frog uses the original vocals and image from the Jamster ringtone advert It will be supported by a full length animation video starring the crazy amphibian himself.