Climbing Hurts (sometimes)

I managed to slice half the skin off my finger bouldering yesterday. Thankfully I doesn't really hurt at all :)

TalkTalk, customer service and how to suck at the internet

So this is going to be one of those typical "I have a blog, and so I'm going to complain about things" post right? Well yes, but I'm not normally one to write something like this, however I'm extremely fed up of dealing with it.

TalkTalk provides my parent's internet connection, and to be quite frank they're shockingly bad at it. The connection is often glacially slow (they were unable to use iPlayer until a couple of months ago because TalkTalk had some cap that they'd forgotten about, but thats another story) and once every couple of months the connection will simply die. My parent's home is in a fairly rural area, so I'm not expecting a lighting fast connection, however I do expect at least 100% uptime - it's not the middle of nowhere. Now of course, there'd be no problem if TalkTalk were able to fix this quickly and efficiently but - this is a telecomms company - they can't.

Here's what happened just the other day (and I had a mini Twitter rant about it): The connection is down for an hour or so, so my Dad rings up TalkTalk to get it sorted. He's put on hold for about 30 minutes while they "run some tests". No idea why they can't note down his number, run the tests and call him back - actually that's not true, I do know, TalkTalk is charging something like 30p a minute. Anyway, once he gets put back onto an actual person he's told that there's no problem with the connection at all. We've had no internet connection for about 2 hours by this point - it's definitely NOT WORKING! The call centre then has the cheek to ask for £120 to call out a BT engineer (who they're blaming for the problem) - £120 for a problem with their service, that we're paying for! TalkTalk seem to think that by constantly blaming BT for the problem, they can get away with it. And of course, if you ring BT they'll simply blame TalkTalk...

Anyway, my Dad gives up at this point and phones back later. TalkTalk has no record about the previous phone call... He goes through the whole "running tests" thing for the second time, and is again told that he has to pay for a BT callout (though it costs less this time weirdly). Okay, fine, we'll get a BT engineer out. When can he come? "Oh not until Tuesday" TUESDAY?!? THAT'S 4 DAYS AWAY!

Luckily for my parents the problem fixed itself on Sunday, so my Dad wasn't left high and dry (he runs his business from home). I'm simply amazed that TalkTalk treated us so badly - the total denial that there was any problem, the cheek of charging £120 for a problem with their service, the complete lack of records (they were asking about our router - a router which was provided by TalkTalk only a few months ago), not being able to send an engineer for 4 days. It's quite incredible that they can get away with this, so that's why I decided to call them on it in this blog.

I emailed my Dad about this post and he came up with a few questions for TalkTalk:

  • When phoning to register a fault, why is it necessary to be held on the line for at least 30 minutes each time while they go on and off line for several minutes at a time, "running tests". i.e. why can't they just note down the fault, allow me to hang up and then call back when they have something to say. If an engineer is required then that can be arranged then.
  • Why does it take 4 days to get an engineer to call from first reporting the fault?
  • Do they not have a policy of refunds & compensation while services are discontinued? Their call centres don't seem to know and suggest calling a different number.
  • Their call centre operatives don't seem to care or believe it's TalkTalk's responsibility when a fault occurs. They seem more concerned at getting my agreement to pay BT's engineers call out fee should the fault be caused within the house than accepting that the problem is at their end. My contract is with TalkTalk, not BT, so why do they give the impression that it's not TalkTalk's problem.
  • Why don't they keep a database of previous calls and a record of caller's equipment etc - every time you need to go through a whole series of questions giving the same answer every time. For instance, what router am I using? Well if they looked at their records they would see that it's the one they supplied a few months ago, the last time I had problems with the broadband.

For the record, my parents are probably now going to switch to BT. Good job TalkTalk...

UPDATE (20/09/2011): My dad emailed me an update which I've posted below

"TalkTalk engineer turned up this morning (interestingly he quoted £50 if they found a fault in our house). As I knew all along, there wasn't as we have renewed all the telephone wiring, sockets and router already only for BT to point out that the fault all along was at TalkTalk's end due to the speed being throttled on some computer somewhere.

So having established that there is no fault at our end, the TalkTalk engineer has escalated the fault to a higher level (admitting that the BT engineer should have been called out in the first place!)

This is all despite the broadband coming back on on Sunday!"

A Very SnICE Summer

Cross posted from my Kandersteg blog. For all of my photos, check it out. Ed.'s note: Posterous shut down on 30th April 2013, so this blog was discontinued. I may try to revive it sometime, when I'm finished tidying up this site.

So that's it for another summer, I'm back at home getting bored and wishing I was still in Kandersteg. I loved every moment of it, from working on the glacier to meeting a whole bunch of new friends. I've picked out some of my favourite photos from the whole season

I'm super lucky to have got the opportunity to have done some really fun and rewarding jobs while in this amazing place - working with groups who've never even seen a glacier, getting up to the Frundenjoch, hiking and climbing on my days off, getting a chance to show the other staff how awesome SnICE is, my group 1st Finch visiting and generally just hanging out with some really cool people.

I don't want to sound like an Oscar winner, but a few thanks are in order - firstly to Tom and Matt for giving the job in the first place! To Jemma, Kim and Mick for being the best SnICE team ever, and finally to all the rest of the Summer 2011 Staff for simply being awesome - I'm gonna miss you guys :)

I've got everything crossed hoping that they'll need my help in the winter, for the ski weeks because I loved that so much last winter. And after that, I'm not going back next summer (probably) but I'll be back sometime in the future....

Thanks once again KISC, you've been amazing.

Back to the 'Steg

Cross-posted from my Kandersteg blog. Ed.'s note: Posterous shut down on 30th April 2013, so this blog was discontinued. I may try to revive it sometime, when I'm finished tidying up this site.

I'm super excited to say that in just under a week, I'll be back at KISC :)

I'm gonna be working as a Snow & Ice (SNICE) Guide, which means that I'll be taking groups up onto a couple of glaciers to get geared up with crampons, ice axes and ropes. We'll be teaching some basic glacier techniques - jumping over crevasses, ice axe self-arrest, crevasse rescue - some ice climbing and trekking. I tried it out last summer and I've picked a few of the best photos:

I absolutely loved trying it last year, and can't wait to do some of the expeditions I didn't get a chance to do. I'll be staying overnight in mountain huts a lot, which is great, and I'll be working more with other staff which will be awesome!

I really can't wait to get out there especially as a whole bunch of my friends from last summer have also got jobs, and I'll get to see them for a whole 2 months :D Plus, my scout group is coming to stay for 2 weeks, so I'm getting a few days off to help out with their programme.

As I did last summer (and in the winter), I'll be posting photos here and writing up what I've been doing - hopefully I'll do that more this time! But I won't be online as much as I am now - my tweeting will definitely drop off (relief to some!) - hopefully I'll pick up on @replies and emails.

7 days and counting...

GitHubbing Science and Reputation

XKCD comic

(Image from xkcd.com)

I wrote last month about making science into a open-source software project, which discusses the pros and cons of using forking and "bug-tracking" for academic papers. Much of what I was trying to describe is a GitHub for science, a concept that @marciovm has blogged about recently.

In his I Want a GitHub of Science post he takes a different angle on the idea, in which the git model is used to explore how science could break out of the "old-media" style publishing. He says that scientists are being judged (when applying for jobs) based on their publishing record, the more prestigious journals, the better. However these journals cannot publish every good paper that they come across, which "exposes the system to vulnerabilities common to any decision by committee -- especially semi-secret committee -- such as lack of agility, an aversion to disruptive innovation, and the tendency of committee members (and their friends) to be more equal in their own eyes than anyone else". These editorial decisions are having an effect on people's careers, and on science as a whole.

He goes on to propose an alternative publishing structure, similar to GitHub, where everyone can publish their papers, and alternative metrics are used to sort the wheat from the chaff. He also explains that it would encourage authors to publish more of their data, helping the Open Science efforts.

I like the "long-tail" aspect of this model - by publishing more science, more can be studied and examined. However I think that the article misses some crucial aspects of GitHub. As Marcio points out, the git control system was developed by the Linux community, to help co-ordinate work on the Linux code repository. This collaboration is key to the success of GitHub - anyone can fork the code and contribute to the community. This is where my post about forking science papers comes in - anyone can contribute and collaborate on a science project with GitHub-like software (let's call it ScienceHub). This would also be reflected on their ScienceHub profile and impact graph, the focus of Marcio's post. For me, collaboration is key, and ultimately that's what GitHub is good at.

I do have slight concerns over the single-point-of-failure that something like ScienceHub would become - although these fears are allayed if an open-source solution is found.

Gorgeous sunset in Portsmouth