Direct Debits. How hard can they be?

A little over 3 weeks ago I decided to do some cost cutting by switching all my insurance (car and house) and utilities to the cheapest services available. Most of the changes were fine, but the power company is proving to be a complete nightmare. It seems they are not even capable of setting up a direct debit. It’s been one screw up after another. Each time I have new instruction on my account waiting to be used, but each time they claim the bank has rejected it, which they obviously haven’t, and throw away all details of the direct debit instruction. So I’m left with a perfectly good direct debit instruction on my account, but a piece of crap power company who can’t draw cash from it.

It started to get escalated up the chain in the power company today. This afternoon I had the pleasure of speaking to a customer services representative who felt the need to explain the concept of a direct debit to me. As bored as I was I would have accepted it provided she had actually understood what a direct debit was. When I suggested she was actually describing a standing order I was told in no uncertain terms that they deal with thousands of direct debits and they know what they are doing. I then read out the definition of a direct debit and a standing order over the phone, at which point she back-tracked and tried to suggest she had said the correct thing and I had misunderstood her.

Next stop, her manager. He blamed the bank, then blamed me, then blamed the bank again. It seems the power company, populated by staff that don’t understand the difference between a direct debit and a standing order, can not possibly make a mistake…

I can only assume their cheap rates are possible because they cut costs by hiring complete muppets. Maybe as part of their training they could include a link to the following pages:



iPad. Thoughts so far…

In one of my previous posts I mentioned I bought an iPad whilst at OpenWorld. Well it’s a few days old so I thought I’d write a little something about my thoughts so far.

I was originally very skeptical about the whole iPad thing. I switched from a 17 inch laptop to a 13 inch MacBook Pro to reduce the weight of the bag I was lugging round at conferences. At OpenWorld I got so sick the weight of the MacBook I decided to buy the iPad and I must say, from a weight perspective at least, it is a massive improvement.

Having not been part of the iPhone crowd I was initially very confused by the interface. Reading content was a breeze but editing and typing was truly arduous. Over the last few days I’ve got used to it and for the most part it is OK. I’m typing this blog post now using it. Having said that, without a separate keyboard it is not a good device for content generation. Simple text is fine, but cut & paste is a complete pain. Don’t even get me started on pasting hyperlinks into blog and forum posts. Too much effort.

Where it really comes into it’s own is for reading content. I’ve got Kindle for iPad and the books are really neat and easy to read. I’ve also moved some PDFs of the Oracle docs onto iBooks and they are much easier to read on the iPad than the Kindle. Very impressive. The screen does suffer in bad light compared to the Kindle, so if you are only going to read novels, then save a load of cash and use a Kindle. If on the other hand you want to browse the net, check emails and do some minor content generation, like blogging and twitter, then the iPad is great.

Two other factors that weigh heavily in it’s favour compared to a laptop are the instant on/off and excellent battery life. No more hassle at conferences and on planes. Just switch it on and go.

It’s early days, but I think this will now replace my laptop for everything except presentations with demos.



Saturday Night Peter…

“Saturday Night Peter” is the second part of the autobiography of the comedian Peter Kay. The first book, “The Sound of Laughter”, finishes just as Peter gets his first break into comedy. The second book picks up from that point, documenting his Saturday gigs while he progresses up the ladder into the big time.

The first book was just plain funny. It had me laughing out loud a lot. The second book was not full of belly laughs. It was more amusing than full on funny. Still worth a look if you like the guy.



OpenWorld 2010: Day 4-5

Day 4 & 5 followed pretty much the same pattern for me. Lots of time in The Zone, a few presentations and lots of chatting.

On Wednesday I met up with a former colleague from the UK, now based in Denmark. He’s an Aston Villa fan, but I try not to hold that against him. Last time we met up was in Copenhagen and I blame him for me being very ill the next day. 🙂

Wednesday evening was the Bloggers meet up, which was very busy. It’s good to be able to put a face to blogs you read.

I missed the wrap party on Thursday as I had to fly home. The trip home was not be best because I didn’t have an aisle seat. When I don’t have an aisle seat I get really fidgety because I am nervous about having to ask the person next to me to repeatedly let me out. As a result I usually have to stand for the whole trip. I was forced to sit through three bouts of turbulence, but the rest of the flight I stood at the back of the plane. I guess I was standing for about 8-9 hours. Never mind.

Thanks for everyone at OTN and the ACE program for another great OOW.



OpenWorld Day 1-3…

This years OpenWorld has been a little unusual for a couple of reasons. First, in previous years the OTN Lounge (now The Zone) and the Unconference have been in Moscone West, which meant it was really easy to bounce between those and the database sessions in Moscone. This year The Zone and the Unconference venue are near the Hilton, which make for a lot of walking and clashing sessions for anyone with a database focus. I guess the extra walking will do us all good. 🙂

Second, the wifi this year has been really bad. There are always glitches, and don’t get me started on the schedule builder, but this year the wifi has been unusable for extended periods of time. In fact, I’ve never managed to get on it in Moscone South yet. It makes life very difficult when you are trying to use an online schedule builder. 🙁

Enough of the moaning. Let’s focus on the good…

The best thing about being at OpenWorld is all the cool people you meet. Lots of new faces and lots of old friends. I’ve also really enjoyed The Zone this year. At first the location and layout felt a little odd, but I’m now used to it and it feels even more relaxing than previous years. I’ve been hanging around there a lot, chatting to people rather than trying to attend every conference session on my agenda. Most importantly I won the Google sponsored Lego competition today. I play with Lego a lot with my nephews, so I felt like I had an unfair advantage. 🙂

I’ve been quite selective about the sessions I’ve attended, picking speakers I enjoy listening to more than specific topics. With so many conferences under my belt over the last couple of years it’s getting harder to find sessions with new content, but that’s a nice problem to have. 🙂

The evenings have been as fun as ever. The ACE dinner was on a boat this year. Food, drink and unsteady footing didn’t sound like the best idea. As it turned out it was really good fun. Especially since the water was calm. The OTN party was a food fest. I’m sure other things were happening, but all I can really remember was eating. 🙂 Tonight was a quick trip out with some of the guys, then back to the hotel to catch up with the blogging.



PS. I bought an iPad. More to come on that as I learn how to use it, or not…

OpenWorld 2010: ACE Director’s Meeting – Day 2

Day 2 was full of stuff I can’t speak about again, so I’ll keep this brief. The highlight for me was Wim Coekaerts speaking about Linux and Virtualization. I love listening to Wim speak about technology. It feels like you are chatting with your mate about technology stuff. He’s a real low-temperature guy. There were a few people there who were hearing Wim speak for the first time who are now converts. Perhaps I should start a fanboy club… 🙂

I intended to go to bed early, but ended up chatting until after midnight.

The following day (Saturday) was an off day. I had oringinally intended to do some stuff with a couple of the guys, but was so tired I gassed out. I woke up in the morning, got some food and went back to bed. At about 18:00 I ventured out for some food again, then went straight back to bed. Amazingly, I managed to sleep all night as well.



OpenWorld 2010: ACE Director Meeting – Day 1

Yesterday started by me waking up at silly o’clock. The joys of international travel. At least I can see on twitter that I’m not alone. 🙂

ACE Director Meeting – Day 1

Since we are not allowed to talk about the content of the meeting, I’m only going to mention the opening talk by Thomas Kurian who gave an overview of the big announcements at OpenWorld this year.

Now you people out there know how cynical I am at times and how underwhelmed I’ve been about some of the previous years big announcements. Well this year I’m blown away. I’m genuinely excited about the events this year. I’ve read some of the press speculation and quite frankly they have all underestimated this years OpenWorld by several orders of magnitude. The press are going to be hit by a barrage of new stuff right across the company. I defy anyone who truly understands enterprise computing to not be impressed by the breadth and scale of the announcements this year.

The thing I liked most about Thomas Kurian’s talk was the passion he delivered it with. I’m not talking about that crazy Ballmer on crack football coach fake crap. I’m talking real passion for the products and the direction of the company.

From my own perspective, I think Oracle taking over Sun was the best thing that could ever have happened to Sun. I know a lot of the Sun fanboys would disagree, but let’s be real. Sun was terminally ill. They had lots of good people, lots of good technology, but were incapable of giving it any direction at all. They were a mess. The only way they were going to survive was by getting some vision. Enter uncle Larry. I must admit to not understanding Oracle’s motives for the Sun deal, but this year it’s all starting to make sense to me. I look forward to seeing the press frenzy.

The evening was quite sedate. Just some food in the bar then bed. I woke up again at silly o’clock this morning. Once again, lots of ACEDs on twitter obviously suffering the same timezone issues. The early rise allowed me to get myself up to date and do some Yoga, which was great after a day of travelling and a day of sitting in meetings.

The downside of doing Yoga in a hotel room is they tend to have a lot of mirrors. In my head I know I look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, but there was this fat, hairy guy staring back at me in various contorted positions. Quite off putting. 🙂

Next stop, round 2 of the ACE Directors meeting…



Another Tim Hall…

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I got an email from a guy called Tim Hall who had started working at Oracle and was getting emails he wasn’t expecting. The reason for his problem was people were firing emails to him, thinking I was an Oracle employee.

Tim Hall (from Oracle) was presenting today at the Oracle ACE Director meeting, so I got to meet him for the first time. 🙂

Just to clear up any confusion, if you have questions about AIA, you definitely need to contact the Tim Hall from Oracle, not me. If on the other hand you are trying to get hold of me to talk about DBA and PL/SQL stuff, writing to an “” email address is not going to get you where you want to go. 🙂



Captain Support and the International Printer Incident…

When I was in Frankfurt airport I got an email from my mom telling me that my sister-in-law was having trouble with here printer. This sounds like a job for Captain Support…

Like any self respecting support super hero Captain Support ignored the email. When he woke up this morning Captain Support had an email from his sister-in-law telling him not to worry about it until he got back to the UK. Captain Support posted a couple of suggestions, just in case it was a simple issue.

When Captain Support gets back to the UK he may decide to switch from wireless printing to a good old-fashioned cable…



Update: It looks like the default printer was pointing to the wrong printer. Captain Support triumphs again…