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.

Day 8 and another screw loose

Yesterday’s dose of ATF in the gearbox didn’t seem to make a lot of difference so before setting off I checked the oil. There wasn’t any, it was all in the drip tray under the engine and gear box. After a bit of a panic I looked at it logically and found that the drainplug under the geear box had unscrewed it self and was also in the drip tray. Screwed it back in with some ‘plastic gasket’ gunk and set off again to buy more ATF. Fortunately thw mooring is about a 15 min walk from a retail park with a Halfords.

The river through the wash lands is wide. Therefore shallow and weedy. Halfway to Northants city centre and the prop is fouled again. As before there’s no where to moor so I crept on until I saw a guy on a residential boat moored in a little backwater. He let me tie up alongside while I untangled the prop. Then in to town and stopped for lunch at the embankment.

Just one more river lock before the narrow canal so took off the fat fenders and fitted some skinny ones.

The canal locks seem tiny after the Gt Ouse and Nene and need a whole different technique, especially being single handed. The first one has CRT padlocks on one side that don’t work, fortunately the paddles on the other side were unlocked. Quite a few more after that had broken locks, but also broken locking mechanisms so they can be used without a key. After #13 the first of the Rothersthorpe flight there are no locks on the locks.

They are still hard work though, I gave up for the day between 10 and 9.

End of week 1

Well I have another tip to add to my piece on solo boating, carry more oil. But we’ll come to that.

Another bright sunny morning so I was awake at 06.00 and set off just after 07.00 thinking that if it was really hot again I’d have a nice long siesta after lunch.

I’d moored just below Woolaston lock so I was through there by 07.40. Then ran into weed that wrapped itself round the prop and brought me to a stop. I cleared it three times between Woolaston and Doddington locks. It doesn’t help that there’s nowhere to moor, both banks are lined with weed so approaching them is asking for trouble. I tried letting the boat drift while I got down in the weed hatch, but by the time I’d finished we’d drifted into the weeds anyway. So at Doddington I stopped on the lock landing stage to deweed for the third time and have a coffee break.

Above Doddington things improved and I got to White Mills marina about 10.00. Took on fuel and water and emptied the toilet. And picked up more weed just a few metres after rejoining the river.

It had been getting harder and harder to select a gear on Seren and then the whine from the gearbox got noticeably louder. I added what ATF I had and pressed on but it was obvious I needed more. My waterways sat nav suggested there were boat supplies to be had at the next lock, Coggenhoe. But it’s wrong, there’s just a mobile home site. Abloke in the sales office gave me directions to a garage, 40mins walk away.

Coggenhoe is closw to the river but on a small hill. Good for flood protection, not so good when you have to walk up the hill and down the other side at midday on a sunny day. When I got there it was by the next bridge over the river, but of course there’s no towpath alongside the river so I walked back up and down again. Then had a siesta.

Pretty uneventful after that, just one more case of weed then moored for the night on an EA mooring on the Northants Washlands.

At this rate I could be 2 days early but I’ll take the 17 lock flight on the N’hants Arm very slowly. I remember it was hard work last year and I had Linda working the locks then!

Day 6, quite relaxing

I talked to Linda (wife) last night and she suggested we meet up for lunch at the Watermill Tea Rooms at Woodford Mill. I reckoned it would be 2 hours so I pottered about and left at 08.30 intending to have 11’ses at the tea room then clean the boat and change into more presentable clothes. Actually I was there by 10.00 so I had a breakfast bap instead. Did a small amount of cleaning, washed a couple of shirts and sat about reading for an hour. Lunch was paninis, and pretty good. Then tea on the boat before pottering on my way so relaxed I didn’t log the time, or the time taken lock to lock.

Checking back it looks like I did 2 locks before lunch and 7 after making it a very sucessful day despite the leisurely start and long lunch.

Approaching Woodford Mill I’d had a boatowner working on his boat abouthe availibilty of diesel and sanitary stations. Another guy chipped in with advice about Wellington embankment but I didn’t think I’d get that far today. Turns out I did, but when I got there there was no diesel and the sanitary station wouldn’t open with my EA key. Fortunately neither is urgent, there’s a marina near Billing I should make tomorrow.

Wellingborough embankment would be a good place to stop during the day, handy for the town centre and shops, but there’s a busy road next to it and a Whitworths factory opposite that’s very noisy. So I pressed on almost to the next lock, Woolaston Mill, and moored up by a meadow.

Can’t believe the weather. 4 nights ago I was in my sleeping bag by this time 8.30pm trying to keep warm. Tonight I’m still in shorts and t shirt and wondering if it’s time to close the door.

Day 5 and a photo-op

Another chilly but beautiful morning.  Eldest daughter and family planned to catch up with me somewhere between Oundle and Thrapston. By lunchtime we’d agreed Titchmarsh Lock would be good. My print out from EA says there will be great welcome for visitors. What it doesn’t say is that visitors arriving by car can’t get past the locked gate because the site belongs to Middle Nene Boat Club. After some negotiations with members they agreed to let Sarah in.

Apart from the joy of seeing family after 4 days away,  I had an ulterior motive. I’m writing a piece for Waterways World about solo boating and need photos to illustrate it. Sarah’s husband Nick has a good camera and knows howto use it so he took some pics of me mooring and locking singlehanded. Much to the bewilderment of Milly ( eldest grandchild) who couldn’t understand why  anyone would want a photo without her in it.

Stopped at Thrapston bridge for the night. The old bridge is pretty quiet these days but there’s a muted roar in the bacground from the A14 bridge upstream.  Don’t suppose it will stop me sleeping.