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.

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.

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.

Day 3 and it’s going well

Last night was very cold. I went to bed early wearing most of my clothes, with the rest on top of the sleeping bag.  Slept well though and woke early determined to get an early start. Today was bright and clear but still cold. Left Outwell at 06.30 wearing 6 layers of clothes and got to Marmont Priory lock at 07.00. Opened the top slackers (paddles) to fill it. Noticed the bottom ones were padlocked and assumed the EA key would fit. Doesn’t.  Waited ’til 07.30 then rang the lock keeper’s bell. Waited a bit. Rang again. Found phone number.  Voice mail. Left message. Tried again. Called Middle Level Commisioners’ office. Not open ’til 08.30. Keeper arrived 08.20. She’d slept through the ringing. And the phone calls. Left at 08.48.

After that things went surprisingly well. I got to Ashline lock about 12.05 just as a narrow boat was leaving. Better yet there were two more waiting to come down and their crews were happy to work the lock for me to speed things up. I was out in 10 minutes. One of the blokes off one of the boats said Stanground was about an hour and a quarter. He was right. I tied up at 1.30pm, an hour early. Had lunch then hauled the sunlounger out onthe bank for a kip.

Roused by the lock keeper at 2.30 and locked through. Stopped at the sanitary station in Peterborough. Last year when we brought Seren across from Pershore we stopped at the same place.  The sluice for Elsan toilets is part of a public WC, which was surrounded by temporary barriers. Eventually we realised there was access round the side where there was a gap in the barrier. Twelve months later the fence is still there and there was one guy with his head down an access point . I checked the sluice was accessible and found the door open. There’s a new sluice and a new drain and a one metre gap between them. No pipe. I emptied the loo down the pipe.

Went shopping in Peterborough.  Bread and milk almost impossible to find but could have my nails done and hair cut twenty times over.

Not a great place to stay long, but a mile or so upstream is the start of a long riverside park inc Ferry Meadows, Orton Meadows and tbe bit I’m in called Thorpe Wood which has its own arm off the river with a landing stage and pub. According to my itinary from Canal Plan this is where I should stop on the fourth night, so I’m a day ahead. But there’s a lot of locks on the Nene and the N’hants arm, so that’ll slow me down.

Day 1

Long day. I left Kelpie at 09.00 and had one of those days. Every lock set against me except St Ives. Two were even worse than that because a bunch of young lads in a day boat kept leaving the slackers (paddles) open. Then I lost my EA key, probably at Houghton lock.Realised when I gotto Hemingford. Fortunately a couple I’d met at Houghton locked through with me and I got to Jones’ in time to buy a new key. Ten quid!

Still, made it so far. Just the New Bedford tomorrow and only one lock at Salters’ Lode. Time for dinner…

Update after dinner: Hot water system fail. Barrel gets hot but when it cools the water contracts and the barrel is squeezed out of shape. Then the lid’s seal fails and it leaks. I thought the pump would allow water to be drawn in but it doesn’t. A centrifugal pump might be better. And a stronger tank. Version 2…

Heat Exchanger under test

Seren has hot(ish) water

It Works!

It’s been a long saga but I’ll abbreviate. Seren has a small diesel engine with what looked like tapping points on the end of the cylinder head for heater hoses, which I hoped to use to provide hot water.

First snag, on the canals, going slowly the engine never really got hot, 40°C max. Going upstream on a river it would make 70°C. So I suspected either a thermostat jammed open, or not fitted at all. ButI couldn’t find a thermostat housing. On most engines it is on top of the cylinder head where the top hose goes to the rad/heat exchanger. No top hose on a Perkins 100 series as modified by Parama for marine use. Turns out it’s in the side of the head where the exhaust manifold/heat exchanger is bolted on, so that has to come off. It’s on studs so has to slide, but can’t slide enough because the starter motor is in the way…

It seemed OK, but I bought a new one anyway, then spent a while poring over the exploded diagram in the manual trying to figure out how it goes back. Eventually I got it right and the engine now runs hotter, as it should.

Calorifiers for boats are like small domestic hot water cylinders but expensive and mostly too big for Seren so I decided to fit a heat exchanger in a plastic barrel instead. It’s food grade plastic, the sort of thing used for bulk shipping of ingredients in the food industry where they are often filled with hot food then sealed to ship. The heat exchanger came from a domestic boiler and is way too big really but it was cheap and on Ebay.

Heat Exchanger under test
Heat Exchanger under test

I rigged up the heat exchanger with some heater hoses and tested it and it got hot. Good start. But the fittings on it weren’t much help for what I had in mind so I cut them off and got a plumber to solder 15mm pipe stubs on. Fitting it to a barrel with curved sides was ‘fun’ and involved several joints and a bit of flexible hose, but it worked.

Heat Exchanger in Barrel
Heat Exchanger in Barrel

The barrel is fitted under the front deck just in front of the engine, hanging for now on parcel strapping. One day I’ll make a proper cradle for it. I’ve wrapped it in insulation but that too needs doing more neatly.

I’ve got a cheapo Ebay electronic temp guage attached to the hot water outlet with gaffer tape and running the engine up for half an hour or so got the gauge upto 33°C, at that point of course the engine thermostat is nowhere near opening. We’ll see what happens on a long run.

 

Telcoms, Bah Humbug!

Copy of email sent to O2
I live about a mile from the Sandy Heath radio mast and can see it from my bedroom window. Most if not all telecos have gear installed on it, including EE, my current provider, and O2. Despite that the EE signal often goes off, sometimes for a whole day. So I ordered an O2 PAYG SIM which came today.
I inserted it in the phone, switched it on and… no signal. The instructions say to activate I have to top up, by calling 4444 from the phone. But there’s no signal. There’s also the option to activate online, but do I really want to activate a SIM that doesn’t work and waste a minimum of £10?
So I went to the ‘Contact’ page. No phone number. I mean why would a phone company list a phone contact?
I clicked the contact button and got a message, something like Hang on while we check if there’s an agent free… Obviously there wasn’t because the message stayed there for ever.
I went to the Complaints page and there I found contact number I should try first before making a complaint.
I called and got the usual menu options, but none for Pay As You Go. There was Pay’n’go but I ‘d never heard of that so I ignored it. Eventually someone in the Pay Monthly team told me Pay’n’go was the same as Pay As You Go. He offered to put me through. He couldn’t explain why the phone options are different from the website options.
Long Wait.
Then, ‘The Pay’n’go team need your mobile number.’
‘Haven’t got one because I can’t get a signal therefore can’t authorise the SIM.’
Long wait.
‘Can I have the SIM number?’
It’s printed very small in pale grey for some reason but I read it eventually.
Long wait.
Eventually I get through and tell the guy the problem. He asks for the phone number. I explain. He asks for the SIM number. I read it again. Why is it grey and tiny? There’s plenty of room on the surrounding plastic. He tells me to authorise the SIM. I explain it again.
I ask him to check if there is a signal in my area. He checks. There isn’t.
I ask when it will be restored. He tells me tomorrow ‘evening’. After 11pm. So in effect I can’t use the SIM until Friday.
Is this typical O2 service? Does the Sandy mast fail often? Should I look elsewhere?

Phil Thane

Apologies

Some low-life, or more likely some automated script, hacked my website and scattered so many files around I ran out of disk space and hence people trying to contact me on Oct 16 got a ‘Mailbox full’ message. Sanity has now been restored.

For the techies, using Cpanel file manager I got my password changed by the hosting company, deleted all the dodgy looking files and directories from public_html, downloaded the rest of public_html to my desktop and ran ClamAV on the whole directory. Didn’t find anything. Hope that’s all…