Monday, January 31, 2011

Utilitarian Incompetence

I'm sure everyone has these sorts of horror stories regarding utility companies, especially when moving, but that doesn't make me feel better. What makes me feel better is ranting. What makes the below worse is the fact that all of them only have 0800, or more commonly, 0845 numbers and I do not have a land line.


I chose npower because uswitch said they'd be the cheapest for us. Perhaps that should have been a warning rather than a recommendation. Our first problem was that they could not accept either of our meter serial numbers, they were apparently wrong, even though I was looking straight at them. Ironically British Gas were very helpful, despite the fact that we were leaving them. (Note that British Gas have raised my ire in the past too.)

We then received a letter from npower saying that the gas had been cancelled and that they were sorry to see us go. I called them and was told it was probably due to the confusion over the meter numbers and not to worry, the gas was going ahead. I thought I better check the electric too while I was on the phone. Oh no, I was told, the electric has been cancelled, due to them not being able to find the address, and that they would have sent a letter out. There is some paradox in there somewhere.

Unfortunately by this time the tariff that I had requested was no longer available. Not to worry, I was assured that they would connect us on Standard and move us over to Sign Online 20 once we were connected. Having heard horror stories about npower's abilities to sign you up for the most expensive tariff I asked for this to be confirmed in writing. A few days later we received a standard letter thanking me for my call and hoping that I was happy. No mention of tariffs. So I called them again and explained that I wanted it in writing. A few days later we received a standard letter thanking me for my call and hoping that I was happy. I called them again and explained the situation. After a few minutes on hold the complaints department picked up, which was a surprise as I hadn't requested the complaints department, but what the hell. I explained the situation and we now have a letter confirming the complaint, but still nothing confirming the tariff switch.


A few days after I'd moved I printed out and filled in Barclays' change of address form, including the date on which I moved. They then sent a letter to my old address saying that my signature did not match the one they have on file. Yes, they posted a letter to the address which I had just told them that I had already moved out of. It was only by chance (see below) that I discovered that the change of address had not gone through.


I was very impressed with Virgin's service in moving my connection, we only had a matter of hours downtime. My first bill came and all seemed well. But then the second bill came. It should have been £25, but was £80. Eventually it transpired that they somehow had the wrong account number, despite the fact that they'd been charging the same account for the previous 12 months. They had then charged me extra for their inconvenience. I was assured I would have been sent a letter informing me of this. Happily it was rectified quite quickly and they refunded the extra charges made.

UPDATE: Virgin now seem to be doing a 30meg service for less than I am paying for the 20meg service! What's more, new customers are offered free installation, whereas I would have to pay £30 for the upgrade!


Why oh why do 0800 numbers not get included in my monthly minutes? If only I'd known about 0800 Buster a month ago.

British Gas

British Gas have managed to charge me twice for the same, final bill. Not a small amount either.

TV Licensing

When we moved in we found a lot of unopened mail from TV Licensing. We didn't have a TV so I rang them and spoke to a very helpful guy who promised that we wouldn't receive any more mail from them. He was wrong. Not only did we continue to receive their demands and threats, but they got worse. I really object to being spoken to as if my guilt is assumed until I prove my innocence. In fact they weren't even giving us that chance, many of the letters included a leaflet that "might be helpful to you in court." Having got a TV we bought a TV Licence and continue to receive demands to a slightly different address. I am not going to bother replying if they cannot be bothered to check their records, hopefully they will go to the expense of sending someone round.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Installing Windows 7 From a USB Key

Avoid all the stupidly complex instructions out there and download Microsoft's USB tool. Note that if you are trying to create 64bit install media on a 32bit machine you might need to run the 32bit bootsect.exe against your installation media.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Flashing OCZ Vertex 2 Firmware in Linux

OCZ Vertex 2
  • You cannot flash the firmware through USB, the drive has to be connected to a SATA port.
  • I believe it is necessary to set the SATA mode to AHCI in your BIOS.
  • Unsurprisingly you cannot flash the firmware of a mounted drive, so you will probably need to boot from a live CD or USB drive. (If you try you do not get a helpful error message.)
  • The firmware update utility needs an internet connection to download the latest firmware, so keep that in mind when choosing/preparing your boot media.
  • The first big hurdle is to stop the drive from being "frozen". Apparently most computers set all SATA drives connected at boot to this state as a security measure. Run "hdparm -I" against your drive and have a look at the Security section, you need to get your drive into the "not frozen" state. There are at least two possible ways of doing this. If possible unplug your drive, while the computer is still running, and then plug it back in again. As long as the drive isn't mounted this shouldn't be harmful. Replacing a Dell M101z Hard DriveI found this crashed my Dell M101z which wasn't so surprising as the drive obviously isn't designed to be removed while the computer is running (it's underneath the keyboard). However, my old Dell M1330 was fine with hot-plugging the drive and this got it into the unfrozen state. The other way I've heard to unfreeze your drive is to suspend your machine. However this also crashed my M101z when booted from USB.
  • Download and run the firmware tool. There is a thread or directory that you can download from. These might become out of date, but I think that it should always download the most recent firmware regardless.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Recipes: Steak and Chips

GrrrYou may be thinking "What sort of idiot needs a recipe for steak and chips?" Well I may be that idiot, it's amazing, even to me, how long it has taken me to perfect it.

The Potatoes

Other people, so called "professionals", recommend "waxy" potatoes. To be honest I've never quite understood what that refers to, the insides? Shiny potatoes might look waxy, ie, shiny, but they don't feel waxy. Anyway, more specifically, pink skinned potatoes are recommended, such as the desiree. However I think the most important thing about the potato is not so much the type but the quality and freshness of it, make sure it is firm, and you can mix it up a bit. Baking potatoes are good because you can make very long chips and be economical with the cutting. New potatoes are very tasty and if you use small whole ones they look like mini baked potatoes, which is fun. I also love sweet potato chips and often do half sweet and half other.

Cutting The Chips

You can cut the chips as thin as you can, but I wouldn't make them overly thick. Don't use whole large new potatoes. Rinse the cut chips in cold water.

The Oil

I'm afraid I haven't experimented with oil, whatever I've used has been satisfactory, 100% sunflower, Flora blended, etc. You don't need a lot of oil, the pan should only be about a third to a half full to allow for space for the chips and bubbling. I reuse my oil, sieving it back into the container. Remember to let it cool though, I once forgot and the plastic bottle collapsed in front of my eyes.

Cooking The Chips

Home Cooked ChipsWhen I first started cooking my own chips I thought the idea was to get the oil as hot as possible and cook the chips as quickly as possible, but I was wrong. My professional chef brother explained to me that the way to do it was to double cook them, blanched in cooler oil first and then quick and hot afterwards. Larry and I tried double and even triple cooking chips several times but decided that it just wasn't worth the effort. There is a happy medium though, start the chips off fairly cool, don't worry too much about drying them before you put them into the oil and don't bother with a lid, then after about twenty minutes turn the heat up. Note that sweet potatoes don't need quite as long, so if you're doing both in the same pan put them in a little later. You also have to be careful not to get sweet potato chips too hot as the sugar can caramelise and eventually burn, turning everything black. This has only happened once to us.

UPDATE: We now have a deep fat fryer, which is very useful. Cook the chips at about 130C for 10 minutes, take them out, turn the heat right up and then finish the chips off for a few minutes until golden. Cooking this way makes it very easy to do batches, cook each batch cool first and then finish them off when you are ready.

The Meat

Three Steak DinnerWell matured rib eye is my personal favourite. The butcher I frequent is the Ginger Pig at Greensmith's on Lower Marsh. My favoured way of serving steak to a few people is to buy various cuts, cut them into small chunks once cooked and serve all together on a chopping board in the middle of the table (see below).

Cooking The Steak

Three Steaks ServedDon't start the steaks too early, you don't want to over cook them or have to let them go cold while you're waiting for your chips to cook. Remember that if needs be you can cook steaks in no time at all. On the other hand I have recently discovered that you can leave steaks to stand in a cool oven and if anything they improve. In this vein turn your oven on to about 120C and put your plates in to warm. Pepper the steaks (I recommend Fiddes Payne Rainbow peppercorns). Heat your frying pan as hot as possible (within reason) add some butter and then the steaks. Fry for a minute or two until brown and preferably slightly crispy on each side. If necessary wrap in foil and put in the oven.

Pepper Sauce

In the same pan brown a shallot or two, add a lot of pepper corns (Fiddes Payne again) and then some red wine. Once the alcohol has boiled off add some cream and warm through. Take the steaks out of the oven and stir the steak juice into the sauce.

Other Sauces

ServedVariations on blue cheese, mushrooms (Greensmith's do nice jars of dried wild or woodland variates) and spinach go down well, and Antony Worrall Thompson does a good recipe of baby beetroot in balsamic vinegar and horseradish cream thing.

UPDATE: Famous last words.