Buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters

The doors of Darkplace were open. Not the literal doors of the building, most of which were closed. But evil doors. Dark doors. Doors to the beyond. Doors that were hard to shut, because they were abstract, and didn’t have handles. They were more like portals really. From this day on I’d have to fight these forces of darkness, and deal with the burden of day-to-day admin.”
— Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

Firstly Amazon. It is amazing that a web site can get to be the world’s No.1 online shopping brand (can you even think of a No.2?) and still be so hard to use. Even seasoned internet freaks like me still have the occasional hiccup, while my Dad who is highly intelligent and knows about advanced physicks, struggled and struggled just to put his credit card number in to buy me a Christmas present, and eventually gave up in disgust.

I happened to be having a curry with the former head of Amazon’s data warehouse division recently (yes, it’s a glamorous life in IT) and I told him about this. He said he wasn’t surprised. The web site (this is me speaking now not him) is enormous, complicated, visually confusing, and there are several different ways to do the same thing, except in some cases where you have to do things in a set order and if you do not it all goes wrong.

I just went to order a book, something I do not do very often as you know being a patron of local bookshops, but this was from a second-hand seller (it is Most Secret War by R.V. Jones, head of the Air Ministry scientific intelligence division and the man behind the excellent TV series The Secret War.) Anyway I entered my credit card number, tappety tappety tap tap tap, expiry date, start date, tappety tappety, confirm, enter, continue, click here to be absolutely SURE you want to confirm this page. It showed me the confirm order page, including the delivery address, which I realised I needed to change. So I clicked on ‘Change’ and entered the correct address, and clicked ‘Continue’… and it took me straight back to the ‘enter your credit card number’ page.

But I already entered it! So I clicked ‘Continue’, and it said ‘There is a slight problem with your order. You have not entered a credit card number’! So I was forced to go through the whole rigmarole again! Bad Amazon! (Aren’t they supposed to have patented one-click ordering? They don’t mention that it is one click and 1,600 keystrokes.)

Second gripe of the day is the UK Passport Service. I have had an amusing and lengthy struggle to get a new passport issued after I lost my old one (or it was pinched). The first application was rejected because there was no counter-signatory for the photos (you don’t need this for a new passport application, but you do for a replacement - which isn’t clear from the application form). The photos were the only copies I had, and they weren’t returned, so I had to get some more taken. This application was rejected because the counter-signatory (Matt) did not meet the required conditions (unspecified). I got more photos and this time got to sign them. This whole process took many, many weeks of letters back and forth, and filling out a complete new multi-page application each time (why couldn’t they just remember?).

Finally a letter arrived and I ripped it open in excitemint, expecting a shiny new passport. Instead it said “We are sorry but there is another £15 to pay as application fees went up in October.” But it is only because of the lengthy and tedious bureaucratic correspondence they’ve insisted on that it’s taken this long in the first place! My first application was submitted well before October so really they should pay me!

Incidentally, spending some time on telephone hold to the UKPS this morning, I noticed that their hold music is the Brandenburg Concertos (Bach) and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Mozart). Shouldn’t the UK Passport Service have British music? Elgar, perhaps, or Oasis.

(Picture by atariboy2600.)

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