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Decking Seren (part 2)

Amazon is amazing. It appears to stock everything under the sun, but fails to deliver (see https://pthane.co.uk/amazon-azing for details of previous cock up). Now the decking I ordered is overdue and the Amazon website just says ‘contact Dino decking’. I have but I’m not hopeful.

The problem is most decking suppliers are not prepared to sell small quantities, they price by metres squared and most won’t go less than 10. Dino price by the piece but a minimum order of 5 pieces. So 4 pieces of decking plus 2 pieces of composite joist should be OK. But is it? We’ll see what they reply. If they reply.

Decking Seren (part 1)

Decking Seren (part 1)

It appears that the Trentcraft 25 was available with outboard or inboard engines. The outboard version just has a well at the stern and a door for access to the engine only. Seren has an inboard engine (in the front cockpit with a long propshaft in the keel). In this version the well is decked over (in GRP) and the deck extended beyond the hull making it easier to get on and off the boat, especially on canals where the towpath is normally about 150mm above the water.

Seren with deck removed

I think Seren has at sometime been shunted from behind because the deck was damaged and bodged with wood and car body filler. As you’d expect the filler cracked and the wood rotted so I’ve removed it all. The photo shows Seren without her rear deck. The lump in the middle is concrete ballast intended, I assume, to compensate for the lack of an outboard on the transom and the presence of a Perkins diesel up front.

You can also see that the original central door has been replaced with a double door which is quite a good idea but not well done. A job for next year. What you can’t see is that the roof has been cut away above the door to enable a sliding hatch, but then someone changed their mind and bodged that with more ply and filler. So add that to the list for next year too.

Meanwhile, the next task is to replace the deck. Having pondered wood (it rots) and GRP (expensive and difficult) I had a brainwave. Make the deck from ‘decking’. Composite decking planks and joists are made from a blend of wood fibre and recycled plastic. They are water resistant and don’t need maintenance beyond an occasional wash.

Got to get on with it because the rear deck is the only BSS-legal place to put a gas locker and I’m off to Llangollen in June…

Amazon-azing

I try not to deal with multi-national tech giants if I can help it, but sometimes Amazon seems to be the obvious choice. Until it all goes wrong.
My boat, Seren, was built in the UK about the time UK industry was shifting to the metric system, but the design predates that and so do many of the components used. The propshaft for example is 1″ in diameter. I’ve replaced the propshaft bearings and was able to buy them locally with no trouble, but the couplings that join sections of the shaft together were loose and I couldn’t find replacements anywhere in the UK. Plenty of metric ones but none with a 1″ bore. Even Ebay couldn’t help.
Eventually I found them on Amazon UK, though they were listed by Amazon US where of course they still use inches.
I ordered them in December. Delivery was estimated at 3 weeks or so. I waited, then around the time they were due I got a delivery.
Not a box with two heavy couplings in, just a lightweight padded envelope. Which was split down one side and empty. The label (from Yodel) looked odd and said it was a reprint. Under it was another label, presumably the original, obviously cut from a carton. I’m guessing someone opened the box, or it was damaged in transit, so they put the items in a ‘Jiffy’ bag and sent them on. But the bag was nothing like strong enough for the items so they fell out.
After explaining all this to Amazon customer services they gave me a refund and suggested I re-order. They gave me a cock and bull story about how they couldn’t replace them because they, ie Amazon UK, didn’t stock them. So I reordered.
And followed the ‘Track your delivery’ page for three weeks until they too were declared lost.
This time I got very cross with customer services and was transferred to a guy with a soothing voice and calm manner. He too refused to replace the items but once again arranged a refund. He also suggested that if I re-ordered immediately while he was watching my account I could opt for fast delivery and he would refund that too. I went to order and noticed the price had increased (Brexit, exchange rate, who knows?) so he made another refund to cover that.
So it all ended happily? No they just got lost quicker. This time I just took the money.
Fortunately someone in the US is now offering similar items at a lower price. If they get lost I might find an engineering company to bore out a pair of Ø25 couplings to 1″. Or buy a lathe and make my own.

Getting right the name

My name is Phil Thane, if you want the whole thing it’s Philip Alan Thane. I’m a freelance writer and editor of a small magazine. In the last few weeks I’ve had emails addressed:

  • Dear Editor, Phil
  • Hi Phil Thane
  • Hi phil@pthane.co.uk
  • Dear philthane (my username on some websites)
  • Hi @pthane (Twitter handle)
  • Hi Thane!

Sometime way back in the last century marketing departments discovered an unholy alliance between databases and wordprocessors and started sending mail-merged letters. For a while we fell for it and really thought someone had written to us. Then we wised-up but for a few years were impressed that we were dealing with a company so advanced that it could do this, with computers.

50 years later marketing departments are still doing it. These days with email, SMS and a host of social media systems, but they are doing it worse.

In the early days of mail-merge companies had their own lists of customers and suppliers built up over years of trading. Some poor soul had to type the lot into Lotus 123 or Excel which was a lot of overtime but if the lists were accurate and you employed a decent touch typist the data would be accurate and in the format the company wanted.

Then we got Big Data and everyone wants more. More raw data, more tags, more categories, subdivisions, links to other data points, more ways of extracting value. The simplest way of accumulating data is to buy it. Or swap it or merge all the data belonging to companies you have acquired. That data was collected over years by different companies for different purposes and stored in different formats. It is difficult to merge nicely and errors creep in. Then it is passed on to another company, merged again, separated when a division is spun-off, re-merged following a takeover and so on. A lot of Big Data is a mess and because it’s such a Big mess no human ever tries to put it right.

The naming thing is just an indicator of how bad it is, but it’s important because if you get someone’s name wrong they realise immediately they are dealing with a company that has poor data and doesn’t care who knows it. Not a good way to win friends and customers.

My own name is fairly unusual but most British people would realise Thane is a surname even if it’s not one they are familiar with because Phil is obviously an abbreviated first name. But of course no humans are involved in data any more and some of the transformations this data has been through may well have been held in the form NAME, First name. My contacts in France do that all the time. At some point in all the data manipulation something hasn’t matched up properly and first and last names of some people have got muddled. You might try to write an automatic data processing routine to sort that out by comparing with lists of first and last names, but in a connected multi-cultural world that’s not going to help much. Even in the Anglosphere Thane can be a first name, especially in the US. In India it’s a city.

Some names would baffle even human native speakers. James Alexander, or JAMES, Alexander? Gender too is a minefield, Mr Robert Lesley or Ms ROBERT, Lesley?

There is a simple solution. Stop using the conventions of an earlier age in modern business practice. No-one is impressed by ‘mail merge’ these days. When it’s right it’s unnoticeable when it’s wrong, as it often is, it’s an irritant. Make your business communication impersonal like flyers or posters, don’t try to emulate the letter form, most of your contacts are too young to remember it anyway.

Marketing, data and forgetting the human

We (or more specifically, my wife) changed our energy supplier yesterday. This morning she got a text message from our former supplier, ‘ We are sorry to lose you…’. She snorted and moved on. It happens all the time, change a supplier, unsubscribe from something and moments later your phone pings with a personalised message. But why?

No-one in the developed world who has used any IT in the last few years still believes that these messages come from an actual person who actually cares that you’ve cancelled. We know the message comes from the cloud-based IT system of a multinational corporation that is foreign owned and has its HQ somewhere sunny and tax efficient. The code was probably written by a contractor concerned only that it worked, passed the scrutiny of his/her peers and was a step up on to the next contract. So why do it?

Do you think we’ll be so touched by your concern we’ll reconsider? Or is it a long-term investment, leaving on good terms so that one day when we once again face up to the hassle of finding another supplier we’ll remember your kind message and give you another try? Really? You think your customers that sentimental?

Or maybe it’s just because everyone else in your industry, every industry, does it, it costs little and requires no thought, so you do it too. Thus demonstrating to your customers, or to those that think about it rather than just ignoring you, that you are just as much an unthinking corporate behemoth as all the others. Well done marketing department, have a bonus.

Trip to Crick

The semi-literate blog posts I wrote during my trip to the Crick Boat Show have morphed into a piece for Waterways World. I’ve just seen the proofs, press day is Friday and it’ll hit the shops soon.

I think next year we’ll take Seren to the Llangollen International Eisteddfod – three weeks each way!

Off to Print

GOBA News Summer 2018

My first foray into editing – GOBA News – has just gone to print. The Great Ouse Boating Association represents boat owners on the Great Ouse and it’s tributaries, Cam, Lark, Little Ouse and Wissey. The news is an A4 glossy published three times a year and distributed free to members.

Needless to say editing it is voluntary. I now have a lot more sympathy for professional editors than I used to have, it’s not as easy as I thought when I rashly volunteered.

 

Day 10, nearly there

Two consecutive days without disasters. I set off a  bit late this morning because it was grey and drizzly. It cleared about 08.30 but by the time I’d opened the roof started the engine and cast off, it was raining again. Not too bad though. As I set off a narrowboat passed me and I followed hoping we could go through the locks together. Then on a long straight I realized he was following another boat, so they’d probably double up and I’d be solo again. Then just as we approached the first lock,  the lead boat pulled over to a wharf to refuel.

The other boat was a hire boat returning to Napton with two young couples, one with a toddler and one with a dog and an older couple who were somebodies’ parents. With so many crew they did all the lock work and we’d finished the flight by 11.00. I stooped for a break then put in another hour, stopping for lunch before the final set of locks.

I set off again an hour or so later and after about 100m joined the end of the lock queue! There are two single locks with very short pounds between then a staircase of 3 then two more singles. Fortunately CRT volunteers were there in force orhanising batchea in each direction and doi g the bulk of the lock work for solo boaters. Queuing wasn’t really a problem for me, I’m not booked into Crick until tomorrow morning anyway, I just drank tea and read a book.

There were a lot of boats ahead of me also heading to Crick, including a pair or trad narrowboats (motor and butty). Fewer coming down, but one amazed me. A seventy foot boat crewed by a young couple. The woman was steering with a baby in a sling. The pound where I was waiting was only slightly longer than her boat but the locks were not in line so she had to shuffle to and fro to line up with the next lock. I made some complimentary remark and she replied, ‘We used to have a 45 footer which was easier, it’s only our second day with this, but we want another baby…’

Out of the top lock about 5.00  but stopped at the CRT lock keepers’ hut to top up water and empty the loo. Neither really needed doing but Crick organisers have warned visitors to arrive with full tanks and empty loos as facilities will be limited.

Moorings open at 08.00 tomorrow so I’ll set off early to beat the rush. Then spend the day making old Seren look a bit more presentable.

 

Day 9

Nothing went wrong today so this will a short post. Also just got low battery warning! Did remaining 9 Rothersthorpe locks without incident by mid morning then stopped at Gayton Marina for fuel and water, and to empty the loo.

Carried on to Br 41 had lunch then walked to town for bread milk etc.

The leisure battery hasn’t been holding charge very well right since the start, the inverter and fridge are putting a liitle more load on it that usual but not enough to account for the loss. The wiring looks OK and it charges up from the solar panel and the engine but each evening it falls to 10.x volts by bedtime. I checked the fluid level, and it is a bit low so I looked for deionised water in Bugbrooke, even trekking across town to the pharmacy, but they hadn’t any. Still, walking is good. Though maybe not so good when you’ve just done 9 locks.

Tonight I’m by Bridge 19 on the GU main line,  between M1 and railway. Both are sheilded by trees though so the noise is bearable. Not far from Buckby locks so will do those in the morning. After that is Norton Junction where I have to take the Leicester line, then the Watford locks, Watford as in Gap not in N London. I might save them for Friday morning.