Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sod’s Law in Action

Recently, I experienced such a classic dose of Sod’s Law that I thought I’d share it with you as a means of differentiating it from Murphy’s Law.

My American friends will only be familiar with Murphy’s Law, as Sod’s Law has no jurisdiction in the US – or at least it didn’t when I lived there. Murphy’s Law, despite its misuse, is a simple design principle observing the fact that if something can go wrong then, eventually, it will.

For example: you take your new yacht on an extended voyage (or, for you people of lesser means, take your old yacht). If it is possible for the rudder to fall off, at some point, if you take enough trips, it will. That’s Murphy’s Law; Sod’s Law is more like my experience with the pedometers.

My wife and I carry pedometers. This is something you will just have to accept. We have been doing this for so long that I cannot recall a time I did not have a pedometer with me. In the early days of this experiment, we gave several varieties of pedometer a try and found most of them to be rubbish.

Cheap but not very good.
After a number of tries, we hit upon the Omron-III, available at our local Argos. We each bought one, and they are brilliant.

Expensive, but good.
The Omron-III counts your steps, your distance, the (theoretical) number of calories burned and stores seven days’ worth of data, all in a conveniently pocket-sized gadget. And the batteries last a very long time, which is a definite advantage but also means that I have to read the instructions every time I replace one because I can’t remember how I did it the last time.

As it happened, the battery in mine ran out last autumn. I replaced the battery but the device began shorting out, showing erratic numbers and then going blank. I tried resetting it but nothing worked.

I was going to buy a new one, but then I remembered I had a spiffy new Smart Phone that did, gosh, everything, so I did a quick search for pedometers and, sure enough, there were a plethora of them.

Just a sampling of all the pedometer apps available.
After some research, I settled on one that was a pedometerphile’s (make sure you read that correctly!) dream: it recorded steps, calculated distance, allowed you to write notes about your daily walks (for what reason, it never said) and stored data – not for a mere seven days – but forever. It was magic! The only problem was, it didn’t actually record all my steps.

On my own, I would never have known this, but I often had someone walking next to me with an Omron-III and, at the end of our walks, I would find myself shorted by several hundred steps. Even so, this wouldn’t have bothered a normal person, but my wife and I have a sort of competition over our daily steps—with 10,000 steps a day being the desired goal—and my dodgy phone pedometer dropping steps (but c’mon, it was free, what do you expect?) didn’t help my cause any.

Still, I persevered; through The Move, through the Holidays and into the New Year, but it finally got the better of me and yesterday I became Officially Fed Up and proposed to Do Something About It.

First, I spent some time searching for the old Omron-III on the off-chance that I might be able to fix it. I recalled bringing it with us from the old flat but its current whereabouts remained a mystery, even though I poked through all the likely hiding places and peered into things that were cunningly stored inside of other things.

So, impatient to get an accurate count of my daily steps, I went out and bought a new one. Or, at least, I tried. Argos, where we bought the old ones, now sold a different model of the same brand. I bought it, thinking it would be an updated version with even more bells and whistles but it turned out to be the Omron-I, which did nothing but count steps—no storage, no daily steps or calories burned. Again, this would not have bothered a normal person, but going back to basic pedometry after experiencing the Omron-III would be like reverting to a dial-up modem after enjoying WiFi. (you older folks, explain “dial-up modem” to the youngsters).
Your basic model -- no bells, no whistles.

Of course I didn’t find out my new Omron was not as good as my old Omron until I got it home. And so, with mounting impatience, I ordered a proper Omron-III from the internet vendor everyone loves to hate, and even paid seven pounds and 21 pence for next day delivery.

As soon as I pressed the BUY button, I looked up at my In-Out tray, where I keep a lot of miscellaneous items, and there was my old Omron-III sitting right in plain sight. (This is Sod’s Law.) A quick check confirmed the problem—I had put in the wrong battery. (This is Murphy’s Law.)

So now I have access to a perfectly functioning Omron-III, a brand new Omron-III (thanks to my £7.21 it is already sitting on my shelf), an adequate Omron-I and more free, but suspect, Smart Phone pedometers than you can shake a BT WiFi Hub at.

I think, with all this at my disposal, I should be able to accurately record my steps to the pub, where I am heading now because I certainly need a drink.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not sure if I am legally supposed to do this, but it's probably a good idea anyway. Omron, in no way, influenced my review of their product by giving me any compensation or free pedometers or anything. (But if they want to, I'd really appreciate it.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Getting in Touch With My Inner Geezer

I have a birthday coming up shortly and, despite the obvious fact that it beats the alternative, I am not at all happy about it.

It’s one of those milestone birthdays, you see, the round kind, ending in zero. Modern convention holds that this particular age is “the new forty” but, assuming that is so, it is, nonetheless, a dodgy knee, stiff back and "can’t remember where I left the car keys" sort of forty.

Knowing this was in the offing, I began, some months ago, casting about for something new to do, something age-appropriate that I could aspire to, something I have not yet tried, that was not too taxing (or expensive) and—in keeping with my persona—a bit on the quirky side. So I decided to take up smoking the pipe.

J R R Tolkien -- he looks good with a pipe, so why not me?
As I mention here all too frequently, I smoke cigars. I find it a relaxing and enjoyable hobby. I am not someone with a nicotine addiction – in league with those unfortunates huddled under an awning in the pouring rain, sucking down the last half inch of their cigarettes – I am a tobacco aficionado. My postprandial cigar provides a comforting ritual, a time to pause and reflect. And this being so, I reflected one evening, while enjoying a Henry Clay, then how much more ritual and reflection would a pipe provide? Past observations of pipe-smokers led me to believe you could faff about endlessly with a pipe. (“Pipe smokers will rule the world,” a pipe-smoking friend told me many years ago, then added, “If we don’t run out of matches.”)

And so, as a man on the cusp of ssss…ssssiii…that age, I proposed to take to the pipe.

Is that Gandalf or Dumbledore?
Unlike other hobbies I have embarked upon, I did not leap into this one. Instead, I pondered, I studied, I calculated (and, yeah, it is much cheaper than cigars) and finally decided I would buy my inaugural pipe at my favourite smoke shop, Edleeze, in Albany, New York. That this smoke shop lay on the other side of a fairly large ocean presented only a minor problem, as our yearly pilgrimage to the States was only six weeks away.

In short, I went, I bought, I loved it. I loved the ritual, I loved the aroma (my wife likes the smell better than cigars, too, so that’s a bonus) and I loved the fiddling about with the matches and the tamper and the pipe cleaners. (Oh, the pipe cleaners! What a wonder to use them for what they are actually meant for. And the satisfaction one gets from cleaning out a pipe! It’s magic.) It felt natural, it felt right, it felt like something a man entering his “new” forties should be doing.

Another famous pipe smoker.
Upon my return to Britain I began alternating between cigars and the pipe (you didn’t think I gave up cigars, did you?) and with every bowl discovered I liked the pipe more and more.

But then I began to run low on tobacco, and I was down to my last few pipe cleaners, so I set about looking for replacements. That’s when things got ugly.

Have you ever tried to find pipe tobacco in a town that doesn’t have a tobacconist? Have you ever tried to find a town that has a tobacconist? Horsham used to have one but, like most of the others, it closed down years ago. Tobacco now is sold mainly by super markets, but pipe tobacco is such a rarity that some of the people I tried to buy it from didn’t even know what I was talking about.

At one super market, the woman minding the Cabinet Of Death told me they did, indeed, sell pipe tobacco and sold me a pouch. I hurried home gleefully, only to discover it was actually cigarette rolling tobacco. So I gave it to the kid next door and went out to try again. This time, I did some research and found a super market that did sell pipe tobacco and found the name of a brand I could ask for. So I went and asked and the woman minding that particular Cabinet Of Death sold me a pouch and I hurried home gleefully only to discover it was actually cigarette rolling tobacco. So I gave it to the kid next door and ordered some on line.

That solved the supply problem, but the next day I scoured the town in vain for pipe cleaners and ended up ordering them on line, as well (those 300 pipe cleaners I spoke of in my previous post). I had to be very careful with my order because almost all of the pipe cleaners I viewed were for arts and crafts and, as delightful as red, blue and purple pipe cleaners are for constructing dubious furry animals, they are rubbish at cleaning a pipe.

Now I need more pipes!
Thankfully, I am now fully stocked, and today my son sent me a nifty pipe-rack for my birthday; the first, I suspect, of many pipe-accoutrements. When my birthday arrives, I will already be an inveterate pipe-smoker, and this pleases me because, if I have to be a “man of a certain age,” I at least want to look the part.

I'm thinking of getting my hair done like this, too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Dear Credit Card Company,

I would like to thank you for denying my card yesterday while I was trying to make a purchase. I realize this was done for my convenience and I want you to know how grateful I am for making my convenience such a priority.

Would you like me to tell you how convenient it was? Too bad, I’m going to do it anyway.

Yesterday was the day I decided to book our annual excursion to the States. This is always a stressful event because it involves a lot of jockeying for position on the Holiday List (my wife that is; she is still lumbered with a job, which makes scheduling lengthy absences a trial). It is also something I do only once a year so I am not that good at it and, last but I assure you not least, it involves parting with a great deal of money.

And so, after spending the better part of an hour on a popular travel site searching for flights and making comparisons and checking dates and double-checking dates and mulling over vehicle options, I eventually found myself at the virtual checkout. Gritting my teeth, I carefully entered the requisite numbers and clicked PURCHASE.

Anticipating, as I was, a satisfactory conclusion to the many minutes of stress I had just undergone, you may imagine my disappointment when I was greeted instead by a message—in bold red letters—informing me that there was a problem.

This unwelcome news left me with two equally unsavory options: shut it all down and try again another day, or call customer service. Twenty-five minutes later, I was talking to a customer service representative.

After running through the whole transaction again, we made it to the virtual check-out. The customer service rep took my credit card numbers, punched them in, submitted them and…

“Um…,” the rep said after a protracted period of uncomfortable silence. “It appears your bank has denied your card.”

Fortunately, my wife arrived home just then, which not only kept me from gong ballistic, but offered us a backup option, as well. I took her card, we did the number dance again and then he asked the permission of the cardholder so I had to go pull my wife away from the Real Housewives of Bayonne, New Jersey so she could tell the guy it was okay to charge her card.

“Yes,” she said, “by all means, charge my card before my husband explodes.”

And thus our holiday was secured.

So this morning, before I even had a chance to call you, you called me. Or, to be more exact, you had a robot-voice call me, to explain what had happened. To be fair, the robot was polite and knowledgeable and deftly guided me through a series of multiple-choice questions designed to verify—to the robot’s satisfaction—that I was, indeed, who I was. (How is that for irony: a robot quizzing me to see if I am a real person?)

Once the robot was assured, it confirmed what I had assumed—but hoped was not—true: that you saw I was poised to make a purchase and, not wanting me to be inconvenienced by someone who wasn’t me making a purchase on my card, you denied the charge.

Ms Robot then offered these two option “Press 1 if you wish to approve this purchase, or Press 2 if this was an unauthorized purchase attempt.”

But…but… it was NOT unauthorized, and I do NOT want to approve it. I have already completed that purchase and if I confirm it are you going to put the charge through so I am double-billed and double-booked?

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Press 1 if…”

So I pressed “1” hoping I would then be allowed to speak to a live human but, after accepting my answer, Ms Robot thanked me and abruptly hung up.

I suppose I could call you back, but I really don’t fancy another chat with Ms Robot. So I want to put this down on paper in the laughable hope that a pair of actual, human eyes will eventually read it:

I have a credit card so I can buy things. Does that surprise you? Apparently, it does.

I understand the need for security and all that, but is there a limit to what I can buy? Plane tickets are too much, but the 300 pipe cleaners I bought from Amazon last week, that was okay. So, presumably, the cut-off point is somewhere between pipe-cleaners and two trans-Atlantic flights.

Could I have bought one ticket? Did you want me to go on holiday without my wife? Or her to go without me? If so, why are you trying to force us to take separate vacations? Is there something I should know?

So how about letting me in on my invisible charge limit? That way, I’d feel comfortable buying things (those things you think I should be allowed to buy, at any rate) and you won’t have to keep such a close eye on me. Or would that, itself, be a breach of security, allowing me to circumvent the limit by purchasing, say, an entire set of patio furniture one chair, table and umbrella at a time? What would your minders say to that? “Hey, your boy has a £2,457.87 set of patio furniture! How did you let that happen? You know he’s not allowed to spend more than –“ “SHHHHHH!!!”

Well, I’ve said my bit, and—despite your heroic efforts to stop me—I have purchased the tickets for our trip. I suppose now it’s best to just let it all go and put the credit card in a safe place where it can’t do any mischief.

Or at least until I need more pipe cleaners.