When a service goes wrong…

It seemed a simple task. Send two parcels via a shipping company. But it went wrong and got worse from there. The moral, for the company concerned is, or should be anyway if you sell a service make sure you can actually carry that service out. Otherwise people get cross.

Monday. Two parcels packed but too late to go to the post office. News is that we will be advised to stay home and only make trips that cannot be avoided. Thank goodness there is Hermes that can collect parcels from the house. Ordered collection for both, paid and printed the labels. Collection was due on Tuesday.

Tuesday. No collection. Ok. Try customer services and find a rather hopeless chatbot which ended up allegedly sending an email to customer services to be answered within 24 hours. Never mind though because if they miss a collection the automatically try the next day, up to three times.

Wednesday. As above, including a second email via the chatbot. No reply to the first and it’s been 24 hours.

Thursday. As above! So we phoned them to be told the item (books!) was not suitable for collection. This is interesting as, well, how did they know as they never came to the house? They employ psychics? They assured us the collection would be re-booked for the next day (i.e. Friday).

Friday. Yup, no collection. I even put them outside with a note on the door indicating this as we had to dash to the supermarket.

Friday night. Booked a collection with DHL but as it is Friday they won’t collect until Monday. But it is a next-day service so hopefully all will go to plan.

Now, this part is for the future… Saturday (still tomorrow as I write), phone company ‘H’ and strongly demand a full refund without having to wait and that refund to be paid to my card, not as a token or whatever, on pain of them being reported to my credit card company. Advise company ‘H’ that I will never use their services again as this is now the third time they messed me about and given I don’t send much this is a very high failure rate. I will edit this as past-tense once done!

Update: Tried to phone Hermes. Their automated system is awkward because it is voice activated with you saying yes or no. There must have been a noise the first time through as it thanked me and hung up. The second I got into a queue and hung up after the fifth run through the music. However, later I got a reply to my email (the one sent by the chatbot) to which I replied that I need them to cancel both parcels and refund the total amount.

Update (Monday): DHL collected the parcel so it is on the way and should arrive tomorrow. As to Hermes, well I now have an email that they have refunded one of the two parcels. I will copy my email back to them as it clearly mentions both parcels and gives the amount I expect to be refunded. Good grief.

Further adventures in DCC

So I now have two DCC locos, the Class 37 as before and now a Class 03 shunter. I am still looking for a Class 08 / 09 but less so now I have the 03.

I also got a tiny Lenovo PC which is only about 7″ square and an inch high yet has a Core i5 at 2.9GHz, 8GB RAM and a 500GB disk. I loaded Ubuntu 18.04 on (because it’s what I use elsewhere so it is familiar) in order to run the JMRI software. All went well except…

First off, the Sprog comes up as /dev/ttyACM0 as expected but the device is not world accessible. One needs to ‘chmod 666 /dev/ttyACM0’ (as root of course) before loading JMRI. A more permanent (and more proper!) solution is to add your userid to the dialout group in /etc/group. Ok, first hurdle passed.

But worse, although DecoderPro can see the Sprog and the config was all set up correctly, when adding a loco it goes mad. The USB LED on the Sprog goes out and the Sprog console shows a continual stream of data being sent. It all works fine on the Mac so this is something I need to sort out.

And here is the 03… needs a bit of running in yet but seems to work fine…

Update: There was a difference in the two configurations. On the Mac I had selected ‘Sprog’ as the controller but on the Linux box I selected ‘Sprog command station’. Setting it to ‘Sprog’ on the Linux box has cured that issue. The annoying thing is this is mentioned in the setup guide provided with the Sprog and I had read this before using the Mac for the initial tests and then forgotten it all when I set up the Linux box! But now it’s time to stop fiddling and actually do some reading up on this stuff!

For sale – the whole collection!

I have been collecting valves since I was a child and have been running my valves website since 1999. Now it is time for a change of direction for a variety of reasons.

So, with regret the collection, the valvecollector.uk website and domain and all associated images and other intellectual property are for sale as a whole. Serious offers please. The collection has a lot of items of historic importance including some so rare that only one or two are known to exist.

The collection is to be sold in its entirety and the buyer will need to arrange their own transport. Almost everything is in boxes though and those go complete. There are also various data books and other such stuff and a couple of valve testers, plus several hundred valves that are not a part of the collection.

30m FT8

Just recently I’ve been dwelling on 30m rather than the usual 6. It’s generally quieter than 20 and I’ve made some really good contacts via FT8, surprising as the aerial is cut for 20 and 6. pskreporter shows I am getting out all over and I’ve had contacts as far as Kazakhstan and Oman, neither of which I ever managed on 20 or higher up the bands. Oman, in particular is right off the end of the dipole, although it does slope a bit at the ends as it is loft mounted. Not only that but I’ve received signals from much further than on 20. A lot could be down to them simply being swamped in the generally busy nature of the band but if it works it works.

I realise of course that I do need to get back to speech… but FT8 is just so convenient!

Adventures in DCC

So, I decided after some 50 years or so of, er, deciding, to cobble together a small model railway. Early days yet but I always wanted to set up something with DCC. I recently got a Sprog 3 DCC controller and now have a Bachmann Class 37 loco that came with a DCC decoder fitted. And here it is in all it’s glory on one whole metre of track!

I have an area in the workshop to build a (very) small layout, probably modelled on a yard or something similar. It won’t be complex as I don’t have enough space, but I hope to have at least a couple of points and working GPLs, sufficient space for some trucks and carriages, the Class 37 and hopefully a Class 08.

For control I’ve downloaded the JMRI software onto the Mac and this works well, albeit for the 20 minutes or so I spent setting it up as a test. It also works with the WiThrottle app on the iPhone which is neat.

Hotel booking websites

We recently had a short break on another continent and used a well-known booking website in order to book a hotel. Our booking was based on the information provided on, or rather through that website. There was no other source of information on the hotel in question and it seemed to suit our needs according to what information was available to us. So we were a little surprised to find that the hotel was very basic and did not compare well to the advertisement. We have since taken this up with the booking website and the advertised facilities have been changed. Of course, the website itself disclaims everything under the sun, not their fault, etc.

This leads me though to the question of trust. The web has become a rather tenuous place, what with search results generally useless unless you are very clever with search terms. Results are filled with hopeless information that is generally light years from what you want. It seems, then, that hotel booking websites are going the same way. Rely as they may on their disclaimers, where there is no other source of information regarding a hotel one must ‘trust’ what is published on these portals and lay the blame for any unforeseen issues at their door. Or are we destined to only use them for an introduction and after this communicate directly with each hotel? If so, what use are they?

Someone simply looking to book a hotel and find the best deal is going to base their decisions on what is set out before them by the booking website. Surely these websites need to take a lot more care over their advertisements. If a hotel states that it has a continental breakfast one should not expect just a bit of toast. If it says the room has a coffee maker then a coffee maker should be in the room.

To my mind these companies cannot hide behind the same kind of ‘mere conduit’ ideas that protect Internet providers because they are themselves a service. You go to them so they can help you make a choice. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has already investigated the sector and carried out enforcement actions against some of these websites. Their angle is to do with competition so is not relevant in the case I outline here but I do wonder if the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) may take an interest. I have yet to fully digest the findings as it is not an area of law in which I have practiced. However, the law is not a mystery to me and this is one of those niggling issues that I tend not to drop…

There’s something in your ear!

I almost fell for this scam in India. Two guys approached us and seemingly helpfully told me that he saw something fly in my ear and wanted to help. Before I could say anything he had grabbed my ear lobe and produced a metal instrument to which my wife shouted ‘stop’. I pulled away and adopted a somewhat defensive stance which made the guy step back but continue to say he wanted to help. After this we ignored them and carried on. I searched for this and it is a well known scam that I missed when doing my pre-trip research – typical! If you fall for it the magically produce something that was apparently in your ear and expect a tip.

Indian train ticket scammers

We came across an interesting scam while in New Delhi. The scammer approached me and told me first that our train as delayed by 6 hours – it wasn’t – and next that our tickets were invalid ad we had to go to the tourist office on the second floor. I played along here but there was no second floor. Another scammer, I’m guessing they worked in pairs, then told me that we had to go to the railway’s central office in town and get the ticket changed for a later train. At this stage I got my mobile out and told him I would ring our driver and he could explain to our driver why. Unsurprisingly we were told that the tickets were fine!

But I don’t understand the scam. All that they would have achieved is that we would miss our train, and given ticket sell out days or even weeks in advance we would not be able to buy replacements. So what do they gain personally? Strange people.

Since we returned I have searched and found other scams at railway stations too, including people standing by the x-ray desks and pretending to be railway workers. From memory we did not see anyone around that looked like a genuine railway worker other than the guards on the trains themselves so I would not readily be able to tell if someone was official or not. Some uniforms and IDs would be useful.

Anyway, just be careful. My mistake was I was holding our tickets and that made me a target.

Surgical masks

I do laugh sometimes at eBay adverts. I found one today for surgical masks with a large ‘UK stock’ banner on the main photo. So I had a look in more detail…

And it’s clearly bogus.

The item location is given as China. The listing says that it is a free (postage) service from outside the UK. The seller name is given in English but the address is all given in Chinese. The email (hotmail) account does not match the stated English name in any way. And, of course, the stated address is indeed in China with a full Chinese company trading name to boot.

And the expected date of arrival of these UK stocked masks given today is the 29th January? “Estimated between Tue. 24 Mar. and Thu. 2 Apr.” Oh, right, UK then!


I attended an introductory shunting course recently which was great fun but left me with a lot to ponder. Not had a go with the real thing yet – that comes later in part 2. Moving stock around a model layout was both entertaining and quite an eye opener in that the logistics can go horribly wrong with far too many moves being made. It’s one thing to move models, quite another to make the poor shunter run miles round the stock being moved.

I can imagine on part 2 there will be wagons and coaches scattered all over the place, and for real! One thing I do know for sure, I really need more upper body strength!!

Buckeye coupler