My first time volunteering at a job club

It’s a good job I like being thrown into the deep end, because that’s what happened today when I made good on a New Year pledge to volunteer for a good cause by spending a couple of hours helping the jobless folk in my local area with their CV, covering letters, applying for jobs, and associated activities.

It was a busy session at the public library, and though everyone was as nice as they could be it was a case of needing to roll up sleeves and get stuck in – too many people needing help and too few volunteers.

My first session was with a Turkish immigrant who had been in the UK for over 12 years, quite legally and properly. They had completed studies here, worked here for some time, and eventually got to the position of running a company. It was a small shop set in older buildings. One day the mutual who owns the land and buildings decided to build a nice new shopping centre there instead. They duly invited the existing shop owners to move in when it was ready – at SEVEN times the rate they were paying before. That put the shop out of business, and so life became tough for the person sitting in front of me. They were bright, articulate, motivated and had a very good set of skills and work experience, but was just not able to get companies to call them back and through to the interview stage. I offered some layout, grammar and punctuation suggestions for their CV and suggested we talk again next week.

My second session was with someone who was looking for part-time low-skilled work to fit around childcare commitments. I searched the database for jobs and found one. But before you think this is a happy ending, sadly it wasn’t appropriate – not because the client was being fussy, it just wasn’t offering the right shift pattern. That was it. One inappropriate job in the whole database for an area stretching 10 miles. We looked for other types of work with similar skills. Nothing. It was at this point they asked me to write down in their benefits book about our activities, so I had a flick through the previous pages. It was stuffed with week upon week of job searching activity, meticulously detailing the job title, area and/or company that had been applied to. They were certainly not suffering from a lack of effort. The only silver lining for this client was another library user nearby overhead us and suggested she try a charity down the road who might be able to offer short-term work on an adhoc basis. That was very kind, and a heartwarming moment of one stranger helping another in an act of simple kindness.

My third and final session was with someone who was also after low-skilled labour, but had managed to find a vacancy and was in need of some computer assistance to complete the process. This experience really hammered home to me how some people really struggle with the IT equipment I take for granted. I mean really struggle. Then, they come up against systems that don’t work – as readers of this blog will know, that’s a pet hate of mine. It’s not so much that they’re broken because of a fault; it’s because their broken by design and implementation. Here was someone whose typing speed was around 1 letter every 5 seconds being confronted with numerous login screens, security processes, dialog boxes, inputs and controls. It’s annoying for me, but for him it was an intimidating torture for which there was no other way around.

I left the experience with mixed feelings. It felt good to help, and I enjoyed it. But it also felt so frustrating at the same time.

Eventbrite Mobile Login Screen Doesn’t Load

EventBrite Login

Use Case

Get up in the morning and make your porridge. Notice an email has come in from the boss with a question that means you need to check an exact amount for a sale on EventBrite. Observe that laptop is shut down and hope to be able to check quickly on the phone instead.

Reproduction

Access www.eventbrite.com in Safari on iPhone (iOS 10.1.1). Expand menu and hit ‘login’. Modal popup loads, but login form doesn’t appears. Persists after refresh.

Workaround

After nearly burning porridge having wasted time trying to get form to work give up on the idea of having a quick win and therefore reducing all the stuff you’ve got to do later, and have to get the data later after starting up the laptop.

Sarcasm aside, you could try clearing the browser’s cache or try accessing the page using private browsing mode. You shouldn’t have to of course.

Fix

The developers could write a check to ensure any modal dialogs have fully opened by detecting the state of various DOM features; or they could limit the amount of time the spinning circle is shown for – making the assumption that if the circle has been active for more than 35 seconds then clearly the UI has failed to load. At this point, redirect the user to a different mechanism for logging in, such as a static login page. Failing that, at least give a simple alert() dialog to tell the user about the failure and prompt them to clear their cache and try again.

Beachbody On Demand UK: A warning about customer service…

Like almost everyone else in the world at New Year I signed up to a new fitness programme – or rather I tried.

I happen to like the P90X system and would happily pay a monthly subscription to access streaming videos for it. Even better that Beachbody On Demand offered a 30-day free trial.

So I handed over my data, ready to accept future charges too – I’m in this for the long haul.

Got the confirmation email. But no login details. I noticed the bit in the email that said: “You will receive your login credentials within four hours of your order confirmation email.”

But seriously, what kind of system takes FOUR HOURS. I decided to push my luck on the online chat. My daughter was pestering me to start playing the videos, so being the dutiful father I didn’t want to disappoint her.

So I got onto the chat system. After all, it does say to do that on the login form:

Here’s what transpired:

Mike Rouse: My order confirmation email doesn’t contain any login details – how do I access the Beachbody On Demand service from the UK?
Ashish Acharya: Hi, my name is Ashish Acharya. Let me take a quick look at your question, and we’ll get started.
Ashish Acharya: Mike, I will resolve your concern.
Ashish Acharya: In this case please contact our voice support team at 0121-620-8111. Available Monday – Friday 8am to 8pm GMT (12am to 12pm PT).
Ashish Acharya: Saturday 9am to 4pm GMT (1am to 8am PT)
Mike Rouse: Seriously?
Ashish Acharya: They will assist you with further queries.
Ashish Acharya: Apart from this, is there anything else I could assist you with today?
Mike Rouse: Well, I was hoping it was a second email that would contain my username or something. I mean, it does advertise itself as an “anytime, anywhere” service, not a “after you call us” service. Is the office at that number open today as it is a public holiday here in the UK?
Mike Rouse: I mean, it even says on the bottom of the Sign In form that “UK Residents: please contact us via Live Chat”, which is what I’ve done.
Ashish Acharya: You can call after public holiday .
Mike Rouse: Wow. OK. So, not much help then, and not really fair to be misleading in your advertising. Are you OK if I post a transcript of this chat on my blog and on Twitter as a warning to other potential UK users? I mean, it seems fair to warn them that they’ll have to call an office to get their login details, right?
Ashish Acharya: You are most welcome.
Ashish Acharya: Thank you for chatting. In the future, if you have any questions, feel free to reach us through our help page. You can find answers to common questions or contact us via email or Live Chat. Please visit us at: https://faq.beachbody.com/app/home/lob/beach
Ashish Acharya has disconnected.

Yep, that’s right. You have to call a number to get your login details before you can access the service that has advertised itself as “access anytime, anywhere”.

So I did some Twitter digging to see who else has encountered this. Maybe it was just me. This conversation is enlightening:

https://twitter.com/CPLauthor/status/802941436454981632

And this tweet also demonstrates that UK users are treated less favourably than their US counterparts:

I have tweeted at the Beachbody account(s) to see what’s going on, but have had no response at the time of pressing publish.

I did indeed get my login details after waiting. It seems someone needs to have a word with the live chat guys. The correct response to me would have been:

  1. “We see you signed up x hours ago. Please wait 2 hours for your details to arrive. Sorry it takes so long, but please bear with us”
  2. “We see you signed up x hours ago. We normally ask you to wait for your details, but if you give me a second I’ll generate them manually for you right now.”

Either would have done. Not fob me off to a phone number. That’s why you’ve got this blog post.

 

Security issues when logging into EE online serviving

Why am I posting this? I’m making an effort to start recording *all* of my tech-related problems, because I seem to have a rather lot of them! It feels like every site I visit, every service I try to use. Today alone I’ve had 3 problems and this is now the 4th. I get it’s Bank Holiday and all, but y’know, the whole deal with the web was how it never took a day off.

The latest example is when I try to log in to my EE account online (which, by the way I’ve only turned to because productivity has been blocked by other failures in other systems). It looks like this all of a sudden:

Click to enlarge.

Furthermore, the address bar and dev tools throws up some interesting data:

I tweeted EE about it. They were very good to respond very quickly.

It appears to me like they’re doing some updates on what they probably think is a quiet bank holiday and a good time to be doing it. Not sure making changes in the live environment for a major provider like this is wise, but hey-ho, I guess I’ll try and do something else for my business – that is if there’s a single system out there that’s working today.

 

When using Chrome, Office 365 says “Error: The message can’t be closed for the following reason: The message can’t be saved right now. Please try again later.”

I’m writing this blog post because it’s just too much to put into a tweet, and because when the nice people at Microsoft have engaged with me over Twitter they’ve just sent me a link to a website that doesn’t seem to do anything.  So here it is, along with a work-around.

Variations of Message

  • “The message can’t be saved right now. Please try again later.”

 

Problem

Whilst using the features of Office 365 inside the Google Chrome browser (Version 55.0.2883.87 m (64-bit)) the user suddenly loses the ability to send messages, save messages, or open messages in a new window.

Areas Affected

Office 365 Browser-based Email App
Office 365 Browser-based Tasks App

Additional Factors

User is unable to use Outlook Desktop app because said app suddenly refuses to open. It hangs on the “Opening” splash screen with the message “Processing”. App will remain in this state for hours until closed manually.

Reproduction

  1. Open Google Chrome and go to https://portal.office.com/
  2. Log in with your Office 365 Organisational Credentials
  3. Click the “Mail” app
  4. Start a reply to a message
  5. Spend ages writing out your reply
  6. Hit send. Get message “Error: The message can’t be closed for the following reason: The message can’t be saved right now. Please try again later.”

Alternatively, at step 3 open the “Tasks” app instead, and then:

  1. Click into a task and hit reply-all
  2. Spend ages writing a reply
  3. Hit send. Get message “Error: The message can’t be closed for the following reason: The message can’t be saved right now. Please try again later.”

Additionally:

  1. Attempt to save a draft of the message. Get error message: “Error: The message can’t be saved right now. Please try again later.”

Failed Workarounds

  1. Attempt to open Outlook and use the Desktop app instead. Failed. App fails to open.
  2. Copy and paste the text of your reply to Notepad or another location to keep it safe. Close browser, clear cache and cookies, log out of Office 365, log back in to a fresh session, and then try to send message again. Fails. Error persists.
  3. As per 2, but disable ALL Chrome extensions. Fails. Error persists.
  4. As per 2+3, but use a Private Browsing session. Fails. Error persists.
  5. As per Cory in the comments, wiping and reinstalling the whole Chrome profile also fails to fix.

Successful Workarounds

  1. Open Microsoft Edge browser and send your message from a session within there.
  2. Open Outlook using the “outlook.exe /safe” command. This seems to cause regular nags for credentials, but can be used to send/receive messages. (Fixes for this may be found here)

Speculations/Observations

  • Everything seems OK when logging in to do something quickly. Problem only seems to arise when trying to operate a longer productivity session inside Chrome.
  • I speculate the problem can be replicated and is fixable by Microsoft.
  • When Outlook finally starts (in safe mode) it constantly nags for credentials and seems to “lose” the credentials given frequently. However, in safe mode, emails can be sent/received.
  • Suddenly, from 10 January 2017 I have been able to use Outlook with no problems – despite me not changing anything.

Conclusion

Success rate of operating Office 365 inside Google Chrome is around 50%.

Most of my clients are in a position where they have not been able to upgrade to Windows 10 and gain access to Edge. It is also not desirable to have Office 365 in one browser and other apps (which have compatibility issues inside of IE & Edge) running in Chrome. This causes confusion and consternation amongst users.

Furthermore, the web-based experience provides features and services that are not properly covered in the Desktop App – when working properly it provides a greater level of productivity.

It’s the end of 2016…

I’ve never really gone in for New Years Resolutions, but I do get reflective at the end of a year and I would like to think about what I’d like to do and where I want to be (as a person) in 2017.
2016 has been a great year. I’m sorry if you’re a big follower of celebrities, pro-EU and anti-Trump. For you things must look pretty grim. But for the rest of us things went pretty well in 2016. 
Personally, it was a good year. I got to go to Florida for the first time in my life and attended some kick-ass events, always in my favourite capacity as a helper rather than guest.  I have some great people in my life who encourage me and support me a lot.
My weight has also been stable for most of 2016 thanks to the intervention and support of some very good friends and family. I have a lot more to do in 2017, and will be writing about the adventure more on my blog. But, on the whole it was a step in the right direction. At least I’ve ended yo-yo’ing and actually that was a major goal for 2016.
2016 is probably the first year in a very long time where I actually started to look forward and see the point of life. I ended my run on anti-depressants and started counselling. I’ve come through the worst of it and can finally plan ahead for 2017. That’s why I wanted to write this post. 
For me, there’s a few things I want to see happen in 2017:
  1. I want to get more organised in my work life. Work smart, not hard. I want to focus on what I love and delegate the rest, becoming very good at fewer things rather than trying to be good at too many thing and failing miserably.  To that end, I have taken the very big step of investing in a virtual assistant to help me.  With help at the back-end of my business life I am hoping to get out more – meet more people and take up more consulting and sales work. Ultimately, I want to stop being the geek in the corner stuck on a computer at all hours of the day and night.
  2. I want to sort out my health and weight. Sorting out my working life will allow me to focus on me a bit more. Get the gym, write a diet plan for a few days ahead, track my calories and get some exercise. It has to be the year I sort myself out. 
  3. 2017 has to be the year we get on the property ladder as a family. We are fed up of this draughty horrible house and want to start pulling together a home we can call our own. 
  4. Finally, 2017 has to be a year of giving. I have signed up to volunteer my time to a group supporting the unemployed and that should start in early 2017. I also want to get involved with helping homeless people and have made enquiries about that.
I am grateful to everyone in my life who has made 2016 a good year for me. You know who you are. You mean a lot to me. 
I hope I can make 2017 an even better year, not just for me, but for all those around me too, especially my second child due in April. 

Thursday 22 December 2016

Dear Evelyn,

It was back to nursery today for you after a 2 day break. You were supposed to go to a Christmas Party there yesterday, but I had to pinch the car so I could drive to Canterbury and back for a meeting. I did suggest you and your mum take a taxi, but we won’t dwell on that. Instead, the nursery was kind enough to throw a mini party again today. You even won at ‘musical bumps’. Well done!

For me, there was less partying and plenty of working, but first I had to go to see a specialist dietician at the big hospital – the one in Worcester where your brother or sister will be born in April. It’s about a 30-40 minute drive, and then you have to allow around 30 minutes to get parked on the site. That’s because the car parking system has no idea when the car park is full or not, so it just keeps letting people in. So you drive through the barrier, and then have to just keep driving around until someone leaves and you can take their space. I hope your future sibling will be able to wait to be born whilst we mess around trying to get parked.

But I got there, that’s the main thing. The appointment went well. I was weighed and then sat down for a chat with the specialist who took me through various options and gave me a lot of paperwork to go through later. I have to fill out lots of forms and answer lots of questions to help them put together a plan to help me.

The first thing we agreed to work on is slowing down the rate at which I eat. I’ve got to work hard to notice how quickly I am eating and then slow it right down. This will help me to recognise when I am full and help me feel satisfied with less food. So if I look a bit silly whilst I’m eating over the next few weeks it’s because I’m trying hard to concentrate on what I am doing.

After the hospital I went back to my office and did my work at the computer. I had lots to do, especially as I hope to take some time off over Christmas. But because I’m self-employed it basically means I have to cram all the work I would normally be doing into fewer days.  You’ll understand what I mean if you ever become self-employed.

After doing my work I came to collect you from nursery at around 5:30pm. It felt like I didn’t see you much this evening. You were in bed by 7pm, though you kicked up a fuss about going. Just a few more sleeps and it’ll be Christmas… which reminds me, I need to get some last minute things ordered from Amazon. Thank heavens for Prime.

Monday 19 through Wednesday 21 December 2016

Note:
I have decided to change style and do these posts in the form of a letter to my children for them to read when they’re older and/or I’m dead.

Dear Evelyn,

Your mum is really starting to look pregnant now. It won’t be long until your brother or sister joins our family and I’ll have to start writing to two kids. The thought still scares me a little. Two kids is a big deal, mentally and physically. That’s why I’m trying to sort myself out – lose some weight, so I can help out more.

You’ve already complained that I don’t play with you enough. I’m hoping that you put it down to the fact I’m always working. The truth is, I rarely make the time because I know I am too big to fit into your play area without destroying half the things in there, much to my great shame. I can’t sit on the floor for long without getting pins and needles or other physical complaints, such as backache. This is why it’s easier for me to sit at my computer and do my work than it is to take 10 minutes out of my day to play with you on the very infrequent days that we are at home together.  I know this puts a lot of pressure on your mum too.

Come the New Year I will be going back on to my previous diet of food packs. These are the ones where I just eat soups, shakes and bars. I’ll do that for a full four weeks to detox and kick-start the new me. Afterwards, I’ll revert to the more standard methods. That should mean I lose enough weight to make me more physically capable to enjoy spending time with you. I am sorry I have let myself get in this way.

We went shopping yesterday over the lunch break. We enjoyed a meal at Druckers, which was overpriced and not very tasty as always, but the choice at the Kingfisher Centre is a bit weak. They have Nandos, Prezzo, a chinese buffet, and then the usual Subway, Burger King and McDonalds. Your mum and I prefer a nice little cafe, a simple sandwich and a cup of tea. I suppose we’re a couple of old farts really.

pokemonWhen we got to the cafe you and your mum went to find a table and we left you sitting there alone for a moment whilst your mum went to grab something. In that time, an old man had shuffled his way over to the table, almost spilling his entire cup of coffee over the sides as he went, he placed the cup down and joined you at the table. Your mum just moved you away from this four-seater table and set us up at a two-seater table instead. I’m afraid I was furious, at least initially. I wasn’t going to stand for this, so I went over to the old man. But, as I tapped him on the shoulder and talked to him I could see he was very old indeed, and somewhat frail, which would explain his spilling of his coffee. At that moment, I couldn’t be cross with him any more. I would have been wrong of me to kick him off the table. But, equally, I didn’t handle it well. I regretted not asking about his welfare, and think I should have just had us all sit with him. Perhaps he would have appreciated the company at this time of year.

A photograph of a recently assembled flat-packed sideboardBefore long, and after you insisted on having your photo taken inside a Pokemon cut-out, it was time for me to return to my office. We had to take the lift down because you were in your pushchair. Although you’re 4 it’s just easier in a busy shopping centre to have you in your pushchair and calm. We waited at the lift with some teenage girls. The escalators were nearby and had they used those they would have been one floor down in no time. Instead they crammed into the lift with us and another family. Don’t be like those girls. Remember that the lifts are there for people with pushchairs, wheelchairs or other mobility needs. Please be the type of person who is considerate enough to take the escalator or stairs when you can.

After doing yet more work it was bedtime for you, but time for me to put up our new sideboard. It was an absolute bargain off eBay and your mum and me have wanted a sideboard for ages. You didn’t know what a sideboard was and kept asking at bedtime, so you were quite excited to see it in the morning.

Sunday 18 December 2016

In contemporary society it is difficult to decide to put out a diary-style of blog, but that is what I am going to do. This first post of the new style explains my motivations, plans, and understanding of the risks.

The biggest risk, as I see it, is around security. I have to be careful what I write so that the material cannot be used for social engineering. If the names of peoples and places are changed it is for this reason. Similarly, a risk exists around me breaking the security and confidentiality of others by unintentionally revealing things. So there will be things I just cannot talk about or touch upon in any way, and there may be times when I am deliberately vague. I may even mark some posts as private or locked behind a password depending on their content.

There are two motivations for this blog right now. The first is to record my new journey in the area of weight loss, something I have been struggling with all of my adult life.  Lifestyle change is something I need to embrace, and I find writing is a helpful tool for expression of my own thoughts and feelings about the experience. They say once you write something down you’re more likely to do it.

The second is around professional development and to record my musings on technology and the wider world. For instance, I called the 2015 UK General Election for the Tories, the EU Referendum for Leave, and the 2016 US Election for Donald Trump. But I didn’t write it down somewhere like this blog.

And so my plan is to write a diary-style blog in the traditional format. Initially it will focus on my weight loss/lifestyle change journey.

I would be delighted to see an audience grow around my content – I would consider it an honour to have you along for the journey, engaging in the comments and sharing your own thoughts and experiences. Though I am not motivated by this or expecting it to happen.

Today’s Entry

After last night’s events with my friends in Coventry I was naturally tired this morning, but thanks to our 4-year-old a traditional Sunday lie-in was not an option.

Breakfast was a combination of honey nut corn flakes and some Grape Nuts. It was not what we have come to know as a ‘Mikey Portion’. After a few cups of tea, and once my wife and daughter had left the house, I decided to eat 2 large crumpets topped with butter and cheese.

This is my problem. Binge eating at any opportunity I get to be alone – and that’s a lot.

In addition to being a ‘sugar addict’ I am also a ‘technology addict’. This video probably describes it best, as well as what I am trying to break away from:

I know that if I can build a better relationship with technology that a better relationship with food will go hand-in-hand. It’s a wholesale lifestyle change – starting with getting off my backside and getting out there into the bigger world.

The problem – as I see it – with all of this. I need technology for my work. I am paid to be a technical person. But I recognise that I can develop a healthy relationship with technology, that I don’t need to use the excuse that ‘it’s my job’ to prevent change. I just don’t know how – yet.

Posthumous Honour for Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper
Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USN (covered).

I am delighted to see that The White House has announced a posthumous honour for Rear Admiral Grace Hopper as part of outgoing President Obama’s list of individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the USA’s highest civilian honour. It also covers contributions to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours. Fairly wide ranging then. The awards will be presented at the White House on November 22nd.

The White House notes:

Grace Hopper (posthumous)

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as “Amazing Grace” and “the first lady of software,” was at the forefront of computers and programming development from the 1940s through the 1980s. Hopper’s work helped make coding languages more practical and accessible, and she created the first compiler, which translates source code from one language into another.  She taught mathematics as an associate professor at Vassar College before joining the United States Naval Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade) during World War II, where she became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and began her lifelong leadership role in the field of computer science.

If it wasn’t for Grace Hopper, I would not have my current career, and my company Beagle Proactive would not exist. Operations like TheGymChef would not be selling online, and nurseries like Little Swanswell Nursery would not be able to attract new bookings online. Law firms like Griffin Law would not be able to offer the range of services they do. The bar would have been too high for these businesses – and for me – and countless others. Computers would have still been in the preserve of super-geeks if not for Grace Hopper. What she gave humanity is nothing short of epoch-defining.