Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

TapSuicides at Foxconn

27 May 2010 13:01 by Rick

This has been in the news a lot recently. Foxconn is a major manufacturing organisation in China which makes a lot of hi-tech consumer products for the west such as iPhones for Apple and stuff for Dell, Intel and HP. Sad though it is, let us get it into perspective. There have been 11 reported cases to date including two that were unsuccessful. Foxconn employs around 500,000 people, 300,000 at that plant. The suicide rate for China is around 14 per 100,000 population per year (although the figures are not very recent) and it is by no means the highest in the world. So on that basis there is no story.

So what is fuelling the stories; well there is nothing like a sensational headline to get readers and there is the Apple angle; and it may have been triggered by one case last year where the circumstances were a little suspicious, though never proven. Yes, western companies need to carefully monitor working conditions when off-shoring contracts but stories like this don’t help.

TapPretty Little Head

20 May 2010 14:04 by Rick

Who said “Don’t worry your pretty little head about…”? I have heard it a few times recently and can’t find a good source for it anywhere. The best I have come across is “The Little Colonel“, a 1935 film but I can’t believe that it is the root, I have never heard of the film before. There is a similar phrase “What could have put such an idea into your pretty little head?” in “The importance of being Ernest” (Oscar Wilde). Perhaps it all came from that but someone must have first uttered one of the most condescending phrases in the language.

TapLegal Tender

19 May 2010 12:43 by Rick

After a story that you can’t buy an iPad with cash in Apple shops, I looked up the rules as I thought that cash in reasonable denominations had to be accepted. It seems that I was wrong.

The Legal Tender rules (in the UK) apply only to the payment of debts and even then there are rules.

  • Strictly it only applies to debts paid into court.
  • No change can be demanded so the exact sum (or over) is required.
  • Bronze coins are only valid up to a total of 20p.
  • 5p and 10p coins are only valid up to a total of £5.
  • 20p, 50p (and 25p) coins are only valid up to a total of £10.
  • £1, £2 (and £5) coins are valid to any sum.
  • In England and Wales, Bank of England notes are valid to any sum. The notes of Scotland and Northern Ireland are not.
  • In Scotland and Northern Ireland, Bank of England notes are not legal tender, but neither are their respective own currency notes because they are issued by private banks and are therefore only promissory.

In practice there is agreement by UK banks to accept all the national notes, but shops do not have to. Bank of England notes are generally accepted across the UK and also in the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and Overseas Territories.

So, you can’t insist on paying for anything in cash and the transaction is by mutual agreement. However you can clear a debt using cash so long as the rules are adhered to—technically , unless by prior agreement, even a restaurant bill is a debt so can be settled in this way, but be prepared to carry a large bucket of coins if you are in Scotland.

TapUsing Stamps

13 May 2010 12:45 by Rick

I find myself sending parcels (strictly packets) fairly often and those receiving them like to have real stamps. They hate the white printed labels you get from the post office if you just pass the item across the counter. So how do you do it.

First you need to know the rules about size, weight and content, and they are quite complex. From that you can work out the cost. Then you have to obtain stamps to the right value and that is the subject of this note.

blue queen's head stampStamps exist in a variety of forms; there are definitives which are the small stamps with just the queen’s head. There are commemoratives, special issues in limited values and generally prettier. Both can be in gummed or self-adhesive varieties. Both can come in sheets or booklets. My correspondents like to get any and all of these.

Uk commemorative stampThe really difficult part comes when making up the required value. There are the basic range of stamps which are always available (though some offices have limited stock), called “make-up values.” These allow you to make any total relatively easily. They are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p & £1 and they are all simple head definitives. The common inland postal rates are served by No value Indicated (NVI) stamps—these retain their function even if the postal rate changes and currently cost 32p (2nd), 41p (1st), 51p (Large 2nd) and 66p (Large 1st). A 9p make-up value exists to change a 2nd into a 1st.

Then there are the special values for other purposes. Currently these are 60p (Europe 20g), 67p (World 10g), 88p (Europe 40g), 97p (World 20g) & £1.46 (World 40g). They exist as definitives but are also commonly issued as commemoratives together with NVI 1sts. As was noted yesterday, 67p, 88p and £1.46 also exist as NVI stamps in booklets. 2nd class commemoratives are only issued at Christmas time. Some values are issued in a form called Regionals with different designs for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There are also four other values—£1.50, £2, £3 & £5—but you won’t find these available for sale at post offices, only by mail order and, except to collectors, only in sheets of 100. That strikes me as ridiculous and rather pointless.

England regional stampThe challenge remains to make up the required packet postal rates with the stamps available, including unusual ones wherever possible. I have noticed, for instance, that £2.24 (1st packet 500g) can be made with 60p+67p+97p which happens to be the values of the special stamps being issued today (Britain Alone, another WWII nostalgia series). Add a Large 2nd and you get £2.75 (1st packet £750g). These are the two values I need most often and it looks like the postal rates have been deliberately designed to allow this, but probably not—just try making £1.72. The counter staff used to be very quick at this but now they just use labels.

Here is a list of the most common postal rates required (apart from the simple ones) if you want to try your hand at making up the sets. Of course it is easy with the make-up values but the challenge is to do only with the NVI and the commemoratives. I think all but two are possible.

81p, 96p, £1.11, £1.14, £1.17, £1.31, £1.32, £1.39, £1.42, £1.51, £1.57, £1.59, £1.70, £1.72, £1.82, £1.87, £1.95, £1.98, £2.10, £2.36, £2.38, & £2.65.

TapLet’s Fleece the Foreigners

12 May 2010 12:58 by Rick

This is a Royal Mail dirty secret.

When foreign visitors come they may well want to send postcards home; I presume it is a tradition in other countries as it is for us. In tourist locations they could be offered stamps to go with them. Royal Mail allows franchise sales of stamp booklets from news-agents etc. The product that they will have available is booklets of four “Postcard” stamps described as “Worldwide postcard rate.” They are apparently Grey, Blue and Red but I have never seen one—you don’t if you live here. The price of this booklet is £2.68 i.e. 4 x 67p stamps. This is correct if you are visiting from America, India or New Zealand but not if you are from Europe, which must be the majority, they only require 60p stamps. I bet the retailers are either not aware or conveniently forget that.

Mind you, it is not as bad as Spain where once we asked for stamps for postcards and were given some; And for America? Just use two.

There is a similar thing going on with Europe Letter stamps (4 x 88p) which is the second weight, 40g and Worldwide Letter (4 x £1.46) which is the third weight, also 40g but I suspect is less of a problem because the booklets are harder to obtain and most people would go to a post office which, I trust, will advise correctly.


28 Apr 2010 12:30 by Rick

When searching for information on the web one thing you need to ensure is the reliability of the information, but once you have combated that you also need to look at its relevance. I came across this problem today when looking at a US report about Apple retailing in Japan. Although the article was factual, many of the comments were ignoring the context and trying to apply the situation to their own experience. When searching the web many of the articles you will find (in English) will have American authors so you need to make sure that what they are saying is applicable here in the UK. I have already addressed the issue of copyright law in some detail, but here is another one.

Resale (or Retail) Price Maintenance (RPM)

Resale price maintenance is the practice where a manufacturer (or wholesaler) and retailers agree that the latter will sell at certain prices or set a minimum or maximum price. If a reseller refuses to maintain prices, the supplier will stop doing business with it. A minimum price is the usual case.

It is illegal in the UK (Resale Prices Act 1964) except where proven to be in the public interest e.g. for books (Net Book Agreement). Suppliers may propose a Recommended Retail Price but cannot legally enforce it. Although the benefit to customers has been seen in much lower prices due to competition, the unexpected effect has been the emergence of large market-powerful retailers such as supermarkets at the expense of smaller local shops and grass-roots suppliers such as farmers.

It is generally permitted in the US (2007 Supreme Court Judgement) and most other places in the world but it is constantly under debate.

A grey market is the trade of a commodity through channels which, while legal, are unofficial, unauthorized, or unintended by the original manufacturer. The main type of grey market is imported manufactured goods that would normally be unavailable or more expensive in a certain country. The measures that manufacturers can use to try to limit grey market supplies are restricted within EU borders by competition law but are mostly legal across other borders. Techniques tried include stop of supply to the source, loss of warranty to the end user, labelling regulations and trademark enforcement. DVD region codes are a technological way used to (try to) restrict grey imports. eBay and other online markets have a reputation of removing listings at the request of manufactures or agents without much investigation sometimes assuming that they are counterfeit goods.

TapPassion Sunday

29 Mar 2010 12:08 by Rick

I must admit to being completely confused by the (Anglican) church calendar. Passion Sunday used to be the fifth Sunday in Lent; Palm Sunday was the sixth Sunday i.e. yesterday. At our own church, I am not aware that we have ever really celebrated Passion Sunday according to the lectionary because it just seemed out of place. It is the story of the arrest, trial and execution of Christ i.e. the period immediately leading up to and including Good Friday. We have always left that to Holy Week. It was also before Palm Sunday, the entry into Jerusalem, which was chronologically inconsistent.

As it happens, last weekend we were away from home so I went to the local church where we were staying. This was a little more traditional than I am used to and they clearly follow the lectionary. I see now that the Passion story has been tacked onto the end of the Palm Sunday service. There is what is called the “Liturgy of the Palms”, the bit we are used to, and we sang “Ride on, ride on in majesty” and a couple more of those good old Palm Sunday hymns—then we did a phase shift and leapt into the “Liturgy of the Word” which was the Passion story for the sermon and communion.

I agree that it is now chronologically correct but are they expecting no one to attend on Good Friday let alone on the other days of Holy Week that they have to make sure they get the whole story in before Easter Sunday.


4 Mar 2010 22:09 by Rick

Seen in St Helier, Jersey

TapLog it

9 Feb 2010 09:39 by Rick

Today is Safer Internet Day 2010 and [one of] the slogan[s] being promoted is “Zip it, Block it, Flag it”; I suppose the principle is ok but this is not the language that kids understand however we are stuck with it. What it means, and I had to look it up, is Zip it—Keep stuff private, Block it—Block nasty people, Flag it—Tell someone if anything bothers you. There is more detail, but that is the gist of it; make it too complex and they won’t remember at all. Seeing as this program was announced back in December by the Prime Minister, it is not exactly prominent!

Anyway, I would like to add another one, not for the kids, except perhaps the older ones, but for the parents—Log it.

Most instant messaging (IM) and chat systems have a mechanism that allows a permanent (private) log to be made of all conversations. Switch it on. That way, if there is any doubt or worry then it can be reviewed and, when it is all in one place, trends and tendencies can be spotted more easily. Of course, for young children it is only a reminder because you are always there with them when they are on line **AREN’T YOU**. Older ones are entitled to a bit of privacy so if there are any concerns then you can discuss it with them and review the log together. Without the log there is no evidence that you can see (there are server chat logs which the police can use if an offence is suspected). But, beware, some chat systems also have public logs available where conversations can be seen by anybody. This is not usually a good idea.

Footnote: these are really rotten web sites, they don’t work properly with all web browsers, some make sounds which you can’t turn off and one feature only works with IE 8, a browser only used by 15% of users. The real web site is but there are bogus ones at and designed to mislead you.

TapGift cards

20 Jan 2010 12:27 by Rick

When I was a child, one of the things I loved to receive at Christmas and birthdays were gift cards. In those days it was book tokens and it meant that I could get something that I wanted rather than chosen by a rarely seen aunt who had forgotten how old I was. Later on it became record tokens but after a while these became a problem because few shops would take them where we lived. However, I think book tokens are still going strong.

In latter years everyone got into it and there was a big growth in store tokens. Everyone from the big department stores to smaller specialist chains had their own gift tokens; even some individual shops did it.

Recently there has been a move away from the denominated slip of paper with banknote like swirls, embossing, holograms and markers to a plastic card that looks like a store discount/loyalty/charge card. With this have come some security problems which are causing many people grief. The victims can be the shop or the customer and the perpetrators can be the staff, the public or third parties. I will concentrate on the problems for the customer because they have no control over the system.

The cards themselves are low security. They have a number which is duplicated by a bar code and sometimes by a magnetic stripe. Some cards also have a PIN which is initially concealed by a scratch-off covering. When the card is purchased it is “loaded” with money but this does not get recorded on the card itself but onto a central computer system. When goods are purchased with the card then the cost is deducted and any balance remains in credit. In order to provide the customer with documentary evidence a receipt is issued every time a card transaction takes place which shows how much is left on the card and this can also be checked at any time, either in a branch of the shop, by telephone or online.

How can you be conned? There are a number of holes in the system from old fashioned deception though to weaknesses in the system.

  • One way is that the card you are given when you buy one is not the card that was loaded with the deposit, it has been switched by the cashier. As this is likely to be a gift this is not discovered until little Johnny tries to buy his new trainers or whatever and then often not followed up because the parents don’t want to trouble the old guy that gave it because perhaps he did something wrong.
  • A similar switch can be pulled when spending a card with the cashier returning a different card with less on it or claiming the one presented has less on it than it does.
  • The other one I have heard of is even more blatant. When you buy the card, you are not given it, just a gift wallet containing the till receipt. When questioned, the cashiers have said that that is the token, there is nothing else. This was observed a few times when they were new and could have been partly down to poor staff training but in many cases they were not reported because it was thought that “aunt Millie had lost it before giving it to little Johnny.”

The cure for all of these is to observe closely everything that happens. When you get the card initially make sure the number on the card matches the one on the receipt and write that number on the inside of the gift wallet. Then when each transaction takes place, make sure the new receipt matches the same number and the card number is still the same. Also demand to have the empty card back, it is yours. If there is a significant amount of money on it then separately check the value using the phone/online system or another cashier.

There is one final scam which is enabled by the poor system design and there is not much that the customer can do about it.

  • The cashier selling the card has already noted the number and/or copied the card—if it is a bar code then a photocopy will do. They then spend the money on it before the legitimate owner. This is quite common around Christmas because they know that the card is unlikely to be redeemed until the January sales. It is very hard to prove that you haven’t spent it yourself because the shop has records that you have.

The flaw in the system here is that there is no interaction with the real card like there is with a Chip-and-Pin credit card. For online transactions they use the scratch-off PIN to verify that you actually have the card but in the shop there is no similar verification if you are on the inside—i.e. staff.

These observations were made on one brand (the M&S store card) but I am not picking on that one in particular because they all have similar problems. Perhaps there are some with real security but I haven’t seen one. These are being treated like real money, they are already as vulnerable as cash because there is no recovery if they are lost, yet the value can be spirited away from you without you even knowing.

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