Review Thoughts

John Lewis gives good customer service

Customer service is king. Everyone has experienced at least one nightmare situation where you have a problem with something you’ve bought, and the company you purchased it from couldn’t care less. They ignore you, try to palm you off, or give a half-arsed excuse of customer service while doing the absolute minimum to adhere to the basic legal rights of the consumer.

While I am greatly predisposed towards complaining on this website (and there is a lot to complain about), never let it be said that I don’t acknowledge good customer service where I find it, and I found it this week at John Lewis.

In November 2010 I bought a cheap electric heater from John Lewis. It worked capably well for two years, and then this happened:

It suddenly died and the plug socket set itself on fire. If you’re wondering this was a De’Longhi brand heater.

Anyway, I happened to still have the original box and receipt, and posted on John Lewis’ Facebook to explain the problem. They replied pretty fast and asked me to email their customer services. Their customer services replied to me promptly to explain my email had been sent to my local branch. My local branch then emailed me to say they had my email, and would reply to me again shortly. They then emailed me again to ask for my phone number. I gave it to them and they rang me within the next couple of hours to ask me to bring the broken heater into the local store.

The next day I did so. They took one look at it and said they’d be sending it back to the manufacturer for examination and an explanation. In the meantime they offered me a free replacement of any heater in my local store’s range. I was conscious that I’d only spent £20 on the original heater, and not wanting to take too much advantage of them I picked a mid-range model that was £35. They rang this through the till (at no cost to me), and gave me a receipt and warranty for my new heater.

They then rang me 2 days later to inform me that the old heater had been sent back to the manufacturer and they’d let me know as soon as they heard back.

Now, obviously a heater spontaneously setting itself on fire is something of a safety hazard. John Lewis had good cause to worry that I might go into their store, guns blazing and full of righteous anger. Unusually in this situation I was vaguely aware that John Lewis were supposed to be quite good at customer service, but I’d never experienced it myself. I was content to sit and wait to see what they’d do after I reported the problem.

From start to finish my broken heater was replaced and sent to tbe manufacturer within 3 days. Pretty good work.

De’Longhi is another matter, and I will update this post as soon as I hear from them. Some form of compensation would seem to be in order, but insofar as John Lewis goes, I’m not sure what more I could have expected of them. Decent customer service really makes a change, although I’m just glad I’d kept my receipt!

One final note: I bought my heater on the 29th November 2010. It decided to melt down on 29th November 2012. 2 years TO THE DAY after I bought it. Freaky.


Review Thoughts

Dominos vs. Pizza Hut – Voucher Codes make the difference

When deciding which vendor to buy pizza from, taste is invariably the most important factor. Today I will not argue against what I consider to be common knowledge: Dominos tastes nicer. They just do. For some reason I’ve always found Pizza Hut much more bland, with rubbery cheese that doesn’t sit well either on the base or in your stomach.

But taste is not the only factor – price plays a major part in deciding where to buy. Buying pizza from either is pretty expensive – usually around £15.00 for a large, with an extra £2 for a different crust or additional toppings. When even a really fancy store-bought pizza costs no more than £5-6, they really need to be offering something more than just delivering to your door.

I won’t buy a Dominos without a voucher code (or discount code, coupon, whatever you want to call it), and this is where I really struggle. Dominos issue so many voucher codes, which are time-limited and very often regional such that you can only use it in a few local outlets. When the savvy consumer is searching the internet for a discount, it’s always a struggle to find one that works properly.

Not so with Pizza Hut – the codes for them I’ve seen have very long viability (usually around 3 months), they work nation-wide, but more critically, they abide by proper ‘minimum spend’ rules. What do I mean by that?

You have not reached the required minimum spend of £25.00

is what I always see when trying to use a Dominos code. This is confusing as I always have £25 of stuff in my basket. The critical factor is, when Dominos say ‘minimum spend’, they mean PIZZA ONLY. Drinks, sides, and desserts don’t count. This is a big problem. If I’m feeling fat, I could buy a large, with a drink, a side, and an ice cream pot for just over £26. The voucher I’m most likely to use is one that is £10 off £25, or possibly £10 off £30 spend, but when Dominos wants me to buy £30 of pizza, I just can’t do it! I have no use for two large pizzas in one go and then to get my discount I’d have to spend around £40 – far too much for a meal to myself and not good value for money.

I have turned away and closed the Dominos site so many times because I couldn’t find a voucher code that played ball. But Pizza Hut DOES count EVERYTHING in your basket towards the minimum spend, so recently I got a large pizza, nacho starter, and tub of ice cream for £26, and then had £10 knocked off with a very easy to find voucher, making the total spend £16. I’d say the pizza was only two-thirds as tasty, but it was still good, and I got my starter and dessert for the price I wanted – and for me that will be the winner over any competitor.

Sort it out, Dominos.


Facebook Review Wordpress

Official Facebook for WordPress Plugin – Review

On June 12th 2012, Facebook finally released an official plugin for WordPress, allowing for the simplistic integration of Facebook’s social features into any WordPress blog. Well, that was the theory, anyway.

As of today’s date, a week after release, the official plugin is rating at an abysmal 3 out of 5 stars from 49 ratings and 29,000 downloads. Considering WordPress is installed on nearly 75 million sites, and Facebook is used by more than 901 million users, this is an extremely luke-warm utilisation. But why?

Well for one, Facebook has been extremely slow off the mark on this. ‘Facebook for WordPress’ apps, integrating functionality of the like button and comments box, have been around for a long time already. Most sites are entirely comfortable with their set-up and without a compelling reason, they won’t bother to change things around just for the sake of the app being ‘official’. The code to embed the social sharing aspects of Facebook is a very straightforward implementation, so an ‘official’ app is unlikely to be doing it differently.

The one thing that might make you think about changing is the fact the official app has features not usually seen together in one place:

  • Social Publisher – “allows you to publish to an Author’s Facebook Timeline and Fan Page. Authors can also mention Facebook friends and pages.”
  • Subscribe Button – ” lets a user subscribe to your public updates on Facebook. Each WordPress author must authenticate with Facebook in order for the Subscribe button to appear on their Posts.”
  • Send Button – “allows users to easily send content to their friends. People will have the option to send your URL in a message to their Facebook friends, to the group wall of one of their Facebook groups, and as an email to any email address.”
  • Comments Box – “a social plugin that enables user commenting on your site. Features include moderation tools and distribution.”
  • Recommendations Bar – “allows users to click to start getting recommendations, Like content, and add what they’re reading to Timeline as they go.”

Sounds promising, but is it any good?

Not really. Version 1.0 is so utterly bug-filled it’s embarrassing to have it available as a live download. Let me give you three of the worst (tested in Firefox):

  1. Non-optionally replaces WordPress comments. Historically plugins which offer Facebook comments have been implemented in addition to WordPress’s own comment functionality. This gives site admins the choice of using both in tandem, or turning off the WordPress comments either for individual articles or the whole site. Personally I replace WP comments and so my settings have everything set to ‘Comments disabled’ with my 3rd party comment plugin loading at the bottom of articles regardless. The trouble is, with the official plugin this causes the Facebook comments not to appear as they’re sitting in the same area normally reserved for WP comments. I thought this feature was broken entirely until I turned comments back on for one article and the comment box then loaded. This isn’t obvious, and the plugin offers no options to change this.
  2. Like button broken on homepage. Some credit to the Like button – it seems to load quite quickly on page posts, but is entirely broken on the homepage posts. Normally a plugin puts a Like button at the bottom/top of each article, and a ‘Like’ will like the URL of that post. On the official app, while it displays Like buttons against each of the articles listed on the homepage, the URL which is liked is that of the homepage itself, and not the article. Really basic flaw and appallingly overlooked.
  3. Social Publisher doesn’t work. This asks for integration with your Facebook account in order to publish to your desired feeds. I obligingly clicked the link, authorised the app, and…. nothing happened. The box to enable to publisher unchecks itself, and provides no options for customising feed output. I couldn’t get this to work at all. Useless.

Additionally enabling the plugin also breaks several of my other plugins, causing their content not to appear. I assume this is because the Facebook plugin is too aggressively taking control of the WordPress publishing areas, giving no consideration to other plugins that might be running already. That in itself is very annoying and enough of a reason to have me turn it off.

I also found it strange that the ‘Send’ button was given as a separate feature, despite it already existing as an optional component within the Like button options. Only useful I suppose if you want people to share your pages, but not like them, which would be an unusual set-up.

We should try to be forgiving, as this is after all version 1.0, and the plugin is only a week old. But the evident lack of testing is extremely poor and makes this a bug-ridden mess that should be avoided until several fixes are issued. I will update this article to report once the initial offering is updated.

Update 21st June 2012

Version 1.01 of the plugin has been released today, with a variety of bugfixes. I can confirm the following fixes:

  1. Social Publisher now works. I was able to finally authenticate with my Facebook account and given options to publish WordPress stories to one of my Facebook Pages. I tested this and also simultaneous posting to the author’s timeline, and both now work.
  2. Like buttons on the homepage have been fixed – now properly Likes the individual article.
  3. No longer appears to interfere with the publication of other plugin content (increasing the odds of me using this considerably!).

So this is a very welcome and corrective update, dare I say halfway usable. My original bugbear of it replacing WP comments still exists, and the option to have this in addition to, rather than instead of, is something that needs to make its way into future updates. For the meantime I’ll be keeping this option disabled.

Google Internet Review Thoughts

Google Translate vs. Bing Translate. Which is better?

You may have noticed recently that Facebook has started offering the option to ‘See Translation’, if one of your friends has a status message or comment written in another language. These translation services are provided by Bing (i.e. Microsoft), in one of a multitude of copycat services first provided to the internet by Google. I have always used Google Translate, but which is better?

Here is a common example. One of my friends is French, and currently looking to buy a house. She’s been having trouble finding one that suits, and starts by saying in English, “Why do houses always look better on adverts than in reality?”

This is a exchange between her and a friend, so we’ll just refer to them individually as A and B.

B replies: vous avez visite une maison?
Bing Translation: you visit a House?
Google Translation: you visit a House?

A says: Oui, mais c’est pas pour nous – trop à faire. Je desespère un peu…
Bing Translation: Yes, but it’s not for us – too much to do. I desespère a little…
Google Translation: Yes, but it’s not for us – too much to do. I despair a little …

B says: oh bien alors ma poulette. Si tu as besoin de quoi que ce soit, n’hesite pas.
Bing Translation: oh good then my pullets. If you need what anyone, not hesitate step
Google Translation: oh well then my chick. If you need anything, do not hesitate

My friend’s husband then chips into the conversation and says: On a besoin d’une maison.
Bing Translation: There is a need of a House.
Google Translation: We need a home.

Now, I don’t speak French, but that is rather the point. The purpose of translation services is to help me make sense of what people are saying. Just from this little anecdote we can see that Bing seems OK with short, simple sentence structures, but quickly becomes erratic when handling anything more complex.

Google easily wins here – its translations make the most sense, gramatically and conversationally. Bing’s inability to translate a word as evident as ‘poulette’ is very poor. One wonders at Facebook’s motivation in choosing Bing as their partner in this endeavour as clearly it’s very easy for monkey to see, but harder for monkey to do.

Review Thoughts

The ‘new’ Star Trek

I  seem to be strangely alone in my intense dislike for the new Star Trek film. The critics have bafflingly given it an enthusiastic bumming, but I really can’t see why.

The most important thing to realise is that this is not supposed to be Star Trek canon. While it is set in the time between ‘Enterprise’ and ‘The Original Series’, it features time travel and irrevocable changes to critical elements of the established trek universe, and so everything that happens must be considered an alternative reality, where all the events contained therein have no bearing on the integrity and continuety of the star trek we’ve always known. This is just as well – to attempt to rewrite nearly 50 years of established canon, where everything that’s ever been written suddenly becomes non-applicable, would never be accepted by the fans.

That being the case, this isn’t really Star Trek then, is it? It’s a reimagining (or ‘reboot’ as the tedious nerds call it) of Star Trek from square one, that merely diverges into an alternate reality where everything happens differently. It has the advantage of being able to create a new and diverse plot without having to establish the underlying principles of the universe in which it is set, but conversely isn’t something in which you can really invest yourself. Plenty of episodes of TNG dealt with alternate realities (‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ was particularly good), as well as the ‘alternative universe’ referenced in TOS and DS9.

Kelvin, both a USS starship and an angsty teen.
Kelvin, both a USS starship and an angsty teen.

Those were good episodes that added a little spice now and then, but they were nothing more than an occasional curiousity that didn’t really affect the overall core of the series.

So why do we care about an alternate reality where Kirk starts life as a bit of a reckless arsehole? Where is this going? Are we going to have a series of new films that go down this alternate path? When the producers tire of reinvented ‘original series’ cast, are we going to have some kind of absurd alternate TNG later on?

We’ll ignore that for the moment and have a look at a few basic elements of the film itself. While a modernisation of the original design was a given, the Enterprise looks like it was made by Apple Mac. It’s not technologically gritty (which, for all its failings, ‘Enterprise’ was), everything is a little too crystallic and clean, and in me doesn’t engender a lot of familiary with the original. I could get used to it, I suppose, but as a long time and moderately faithful fan, I wasn’t immediately drawn in by it.

Let’s have a look at the characters. Kirk has gone from being a serious consideration to a rebellious dick with a superiority complex. The transition just doesn’t fit – Kirk is a temeritous cadet and a late starter, but for some reason gets promoted to acting first officer by a captain that just happened to like his dad. That wouldn’t happen, for fucks sake. Picard was breaking the mould when he made Weasily crusher an acting ensign in TNG, so the idea of making a cadet an acting, ranking officer is just not credible.

The United Federation of Planets has a fairly well established hierarchy of command that rewards performance and experience over the course of many years, so suddenly bumping someone up to a high rank is just absurd. Moreso the fact that this cadet somehow manages to wangle becoming the acting captain by pissing Spock off momentarily, and the biggest objection we get is from Uhura; “I hope you know what you’re doing”.

It just doesn’t work, and in that vein Bones the cadet is suddenly Chief Medical Officer after the other one gets killed. Do these people have no hierarchical redundancy? Isn’t there a Second Officer, a Deputy Medical Chief, someone slightly more senior than mere third year cadets?

The new Enterprise uses fast-moving swarms of fireflies to transport matter across space.
The new Enterprise uses fast-moving swarms of fireflies to transport matter across space.

As I watched the film, hoping and trying to like it, a growing sense of bullshit came over me. Nothing I was seeing was believable, even if you take into account the alternate reality wonkiness of it all. I mean, Spock is banging Uhura.

I say again, Spock is banging Uhura. Where on earth (or Vulcan, for that matter) did this come from? It’s like JJ Abrams was sitting around with dolls of all the major characters, idly musing about how he could shake things up for the purposes of the movie, and casually picks up the Spock and Uhura doll and pushes them together, making kissy-kissy noises. I can’t fathom any other basis for these two characters suddenly being in a relationship.

I understand the crop of available characters was small, with very few female roles to choose from, but to create this utterly unlikely partnership just heaps another shoval of shit on my perception of this film. It’s doing something for the sake of it, and it certainly doesn’t add any value. Spock banging Uhura, by god.

I appreciated the attempts at interlinking previously established trek history with the emergent parts of the film. Sulu fencing made me chuckle, and Christopher Pike being the original captain, with his experience on the Romulan ship being the cause of the paraplegia seen in his appearance in TOS. Still, it doesn’t feel natural. It smacks of a writer trying to link together things that were never intended to be linked. Explicitly shoe-horning in explanations of classic trek lore, because you happen to have the opportunity in a prequel film, detracts from their worth.

Take the Kobayashi Maru test that Kirk ‘cheats’ on. This is a well-referenced piece from what remains the best film of all time, The Wrath of Khan. Kirk cheating to win the unwinnable test was believable with Shatner, but seeing the new upstart eating an apple and chatting casually really ruins my original impression of what it was ‘really’ like.


We must remember this is an alternate reality, and so I have to hope that the original Kirk whose father didn’t die was much less of an insufferable twat, and my precious ideals will be preserved.

Let me just skim over a summary of the plot before I finish up this piece, which is dragging on already.

In the future, at a point a few years after our last ‘known’ experience of the Trek univerise, Spock attempts to save Romulus from the supernova of a nearby star. To do this he uses a never-before-seen element called ‘Red Matter’, the physics behind which are not explained, except that it creates a singularity in order to absorb the energy.

Spock cocks up and the Sun goes Nova early, and destroys Romulus. For some reason a singularity is created anyway, and is now a convenient time-travel device that ships can travel through without being destroyed by the gravitational forces. Spock goes through along with a pissed off Romulan miner, whose ship is, for some reason, enormous beyond the scale of anything previously seen in your average alpha-quandrant species, along with powerful fragmentary weapons that beat the shit out of anything it feels like.

For some reason, this miner is entirely clued up on both Red Matter and how to use it, and despite the fact his passage through the singularity was accidental, is unpeturbed by the knowledge that he has gone back in time, and contentedly waits around somewhere in space for 25 years, awaiting the eventual appearance of Spock. Why he’d have any reason to think Spock would appear at all isn’t explained, but suffice to say that 25 years later he’s still just as motivated by anger and angst as he was before, and plans revenge.

To this end, when Spock appears, he captures him, and instead of killing or imprisoning him, merely chucks him on an ice planet so he can see the destruction of Vulcan (via another singularity, c/o the captured Red Matter) from a great distance.

Christ, this explanation is taking too long. Blahblahblah, Kirk and young Spock make another singularity and the miner ship goes in it and presumably explodes, THE END. Kirk, despite only being a cadet, is promoted to full captain of the Enterprise and Spock is perfectly content to sit under him as first officer.

The whole thing is just ridiculous, a million miles away from the realms of possibility. The writers have made up a load of non-sensical shit and thrown it together into a claptrap of plot macguffins and needless exposition in order to create a film that is essentially a lot of standard bang-bang explosion action. Phasers now apparently shoot in pulses instead of beams, by the way. Funny that.

Roddenberry, hopefully spinning fast enough in his grave to create a singularity that'll suck this bag of shite out of existance
Roddenberry, hopefully spinning fast enough in his grave to create a singularity that'll suck this bag of shite out of existance

One of the things that has always run through Star Trek like lifeblood is its awesome and instantly recognisable music (‘Enterprise’ as the major exception). James Horner and particularly the Star Trek II soundtrack is a feat of sheer brilliance. In that film when the Enterprise clears moorings (and has a theme track of the same name), my hair stands on end and I’m completely entranced in the majesty of the scene. It’s just fucking awesome.

However, in the new film (and who thought to call it ‘Star Trek’ anyway? It’s stupidly indistinct), the music just ran right off me. It was immemorable and insignificant, and fuck me if I didn’t think I’d wandered into a repeat of Spiderman, so similar that it sounded. Throughout the entire film there was not one faithful melody to the original music, save for the end credits where they play a re-styled TOS theme, except by that point I’m already on my way out of the cinema cursing the film as a fucking joke.

The Romulans aren’t well represented here, because to look at them they don’t look like any kind of Romulan that’s ever been seen in Star Trek before. Why they all needed to look like bald-headed, tattoed white guys was lost on me. Throughout the film I had trouble identifying captain Nero (famous on Romulus for his CD-burning skills) from any of his other cloned crew members. As a character he’s badly explained, and to use the word again, not believable. The whole combination of the random plot elements is just stupid.

So there we go, my ‘review’, which its really not, sounds like a bit of a rant, but so confused as I am as to why this film has received almost universal critical acclaim has compelled me to set the record straight, at least in one tiny corner of the web. I can’t see anything in the film that I’d want to see again in an alternate-reality sequel, and if you’re the kind of drone who is impressed by fluffy nonsense like the new transporter effects, or the standard staple of ‘special effects’, then you’re welcome to it, but I hope to christ I’m not the only fan who regards this as another trek installment that has flown far wide of the mark.

To my mind there are only two trek films worth watching. Wrath of Khan, obviously, and First Contact, although if the two were in a footrace, the latter would be far behind.