The death throws of PC World, Currys and Dixons

PC World Expert
PC World, Currys and Dixons (sorry are in serious trouble, bad news for the staff but good news for consumers as this cynical group, which until now had an almost monopolistic grip on the UK high street, is being forced to take a long hard look at themselves with the threat of a new rival, supermarket expansion and the continuing onslaught from Internet companies.

It is refreshing to hear that the new boss of DSG knows the problems with his companies stores, perhaps he actually visited one recently?

The new chief executive of Britain’s biggest electricals retailer yesterday gave a withering assessment of the chain’s problems: it stocks the wrong range of products in badly laid-out stores, and has inadequately trained staff who too often give poor advice.

John Browett, the new boss of DSGi, which includes Currys and PC World, also pledged to turn the company around.

Entering a Dixons, PC World and Currys store is probably one of the most dispiriting experiences any one looking to buy gadgets, consumer electronic or household electrical goods can have. The stores are appallingly shabby, usually smell and are badly laid out with a limited and overpriced range of goods and accessories. Cynical pricing schemes where you can pay significantly more for buying it in the flesh as opposed to buying over the net, or more gallingly reserving it to collect in store! Is it any wonder that consumers are leaving in droves?

Kipper Williams Cartoon

The customer service is appalling, a regular feature on the BBC’s Watchdog I believe.The acne ridden, minimum wage paid staff often give useless and misleading advice, assuming you can actually find one, with no knowledge of what they are trying to sell, unless it is those overpriced and worthless extended guarantees or misleading finance packages!

That is not to say that you can’t pick up the odd bargain in a store, but that is often by pure luck and I often have the desire to have a cleansing shower after visiting one!

Good luck to Mr Browett, but things don’t look good

The turnaround is a much bigger job than the DSGi boss can have expected. Twelve months ago the former management consultant was a high flyer at Tesco. He had set up and was tipped as a potential chief executive. But he jumped ship to lead the DSGi business, which has been spiralling downhill ever since.

The share price has slid so far and so fast that the company is now worth only £1.1bn, barely a third of its stockmarket value when he accepted the job, and it has been dumped out of the FTSE-100 index.

Yesterday City traders were unimpressed with the proposed revamp. Shares rattled down another 9%, wiping £100m off the value of the company.

The Darling Bungs Of May

Mr Bean

What an incompetent, arrogant Government we have. In 1999 the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, brought in a 10% lower tax band in a bid to win votes and then in his last budget in 2007 announced that from April this year that band would be scraped in order to fund a headline grabbing tax cut in the middle income 20% band. But they didn’t do their sums right and hit their hardcore low-paid voters in their pay packets and as a consequence suffered a humiliating defeat in recent local elections.

So what do they do now as they slump in the polls to their worst position in decades? Unbelievably they introduce an unfunded £2.7 billion tax cut by altering the tax allowance thresholds. Do they really think the electorate are so stupid as to not see this as not very cheap election bribe? Haven’t they spent years rubbishing opposition tax plans as being unfunded attempts at winning votes? Hypocrisy has never been so clearly demonstrated.

Then in another blatantly example of the disrespect of the rules of the house they neglected to give the opposition copies of the statement in advance, but it seems the press gallery had been. This made their job of giving a decent response to the announcement difficult.

“The Darling Bungs of May” indeed as The Sun put it.

All this on a day that inflation is reported to be surging. And Caroline Flint exposed the Government’s fears on the state of the housing market. How? by walking into Number 10 carrying a confidential briefing document in a clear plastic wallet in front of camera men!

Stephen Fry and the future of Public Sector Broadcasting

Stephen Fry

Last week Stephen Fry has made a passionate, clever and insightful lecture on the future of Public Sector Broadcasting and the specifically the future of, and dangers faced by the BBC.

broadcasting is a special case, that the rules of the market place don’t apply. As in the armed forces, coastal defence, policing and other fields, capitalism red in tooth and claw cannot be unleashed here. If we stopped husbanding the Yorkshire Moors or the Lake District the result would be weeds, scrub or desertification, not more efficient productive landscapes from Germany or South Korea providing consumer choice and real competition. If innovative, cutting-edge, new and risky programming is not subsidised, the weeds will blow in too.

One of his many anecdotes also hits the point on the head

Private competition meanwhile continued to hammer home its counter-message. ‘Actually the market does work, it only doesn’t work when it’s unfairly dominated by subsidised monoliths like the BBC. Take away their distorting effect on the market and all will be well. Choice and diversity will reign.’ I remember Hugh and I wrote a sketch in which I played a waiter who recognised a diner in my restaurant as a Tory broadcasting minister. I clapped him on the shoulder and told him how much I admired his policies of choice, consumer choice, freedom of choice. I then was horrified to notice that he had only a silver knife and fork for cutlery at his table. ‘No, no, they’re fine,’ said the puzzled politician. But my character the waiter raced off and soon returned with an enormous bin liner which I emptied over his table. It contained thousands and thousands of those white plastic coffee-stirrers. ‘There you are,’ I screamed dementedly at him, virtually rubbing his face in the heap of white plastic, ‘now you’ve got choice. Look at all that choice. They may all be shit, but look at the choice!’ The sketch ends with me trying to strangle him. Heavy handed satire perhaps, but that was how it looked to me we were in danger of going: thirty or forty channels but all filled with drek.

The transcript of the speech is available online along with an audio and video presentation.

Fry also wrote in the Financial Times the day after the presentation.

Bad day for a talentless duo

Talentless morons

Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly are having a bad day and deservedly so, Ofcom have fined ITV a record amount for their blatant theft of viewers money in the premium telephone scam.

Two TV shows featuring the buffoons; Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Gameshow Marathon were highlighted and the report from auditors Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu has highlighted serious editorial issues. Unbelievably the duo have claimed they were not aware of the phone-in scandals, despite being credited as executive producers on both programs!

Further to add to their embarrassment is the revelation that The Catherine Tate Show was robbed of a prize at the 2005 British Comedy Awards. Tate collected more votes for the People’s Choice Award, but Ant and Dec were announced as the winners for their Saturday Night Takeaway programme.

Another talentless crap dancer who can't singt

It is thought that other talentless nobody Robbie Williams, who was presenting the award had been given assurances that Ant and Dec would win. (Alan McGee sums old Robbie up brilliantly)

What amazes me about all this is that nobody has been investigated for committing a criminal act, this is surely a clear case of theft, fraud and obtaining money under false pretences. The fine might seem steep but as broadcasting analyst Steve Hewlett commented to the BBC “For a company that’s delivering to its shareholders £150m – £200m a year of free cash flow, i.e profit, money, this is on the pathetic end of not very much,”

Hillary Clinton: The Psycho Ex-Girlfriend of the Democratic Party

Psycho Hillary Clinton

Wil Wheaton, the actor infamous for the hideous sweaters he was forced to wear as the annoyingly smug Wesley Crusher on the Starship Enterprise (and incidentally his brilliant performance in Stand By Me) has for many years written an excellent blog full of his experiences of life, humour and observations.

One of his recent posts made me smile, here in the UK we are preoccupied with the self destruction of the government under the leadership of Gordon the Moron, but the US is also having it’s own problems deciding who will be their next leader. Whilst am I not convinced by Barack Obama’s particular brand of evangelism it is clear baring divine intervention that he has won the right to stand against John McCain. Hillary Clinton should admit defeat and stand aside. As Wil writes

The thing about all of this is that, with a Clinton victory in the primary about as likely as jumping off the roof of your house and landing on the moon, it’s become clear that this whole thing isn’t about Democrats or beating McCain (who is inexplicably running for Bush’s third term) or saving our country from the catastrophic failure of the Bush years. No, it’s all about her. It’s about her ego. It’s about refusing to admit that she did her best, but voters (except those encouraged by Rush Limbaugh to cross party lines and f**k with our primary) have pretty clearly said “No thanks. You’re a good senator, but we want something different now.”

It’s been crystal clear for weeks, yet she refuses to put party and country over personal ambition and drop out of the race, forcing Barack Obama to not only run against McCain and the Media, but also against her. It’s particularly galling, because she can only win if her campaign can force Democratic superdelegates (one of the worst creations in the history of politics) to tell millions of Democratic voters — many of them first time voters who, like me, finally feel truly inspired by someone — to go f**k themselves.

He also mentions and links to this wonderful parody on which compares Hillary to a psycho ex-girlfriend

It’s 2:31 AM. The Democratic Party is sleeping peacefully when it hears its phone buzz on the night stand. It rolls over and sees “Hillary” on the caller ID. It pauses briefly, considering pushing “END” and not dealing with this shit tonight. The thought is appealing but the Democratic Party knows that if it doesn’t take this call, another one is only minutes away.

DEMS: …Hello?

Hillary: Hey baby.

DEMS: C’mon Hillary. Enough with this.

Hillary: Don’t you get it? You NEED me.

DEMS: No, I don’t. It was fun while it lasted but I’m with Barack now. I made my choice, it’s done.

Hillary: You can’t really mean that. How can you say that after all the good times we had?

DEMS: To be honest, I started hanging out with you because Bill’s pretty awesome.

Hillary: But I’m just like Bill!

DEMS: No, you’re not. Bill is charismatic, inspiring, and gets me really good weed.

Hillary: F**k you. You’re elitist!

DEMS: I’m going back to sleep.

Hillary: No, no, wait. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. Listen… there’s still got to be a chance. Remember when people told George W it was all over. When the numbers were against him?

DEMS: Yeah but…

Hillary: Remember?! And remember how everyone said America didn’t really want to be with George W? But they stuck it out anyway?

DEMS: Yeah and they’re really f**ked up now, Hillary.

Hillary: But WE’LL make it work. Forget Barack, baby. Just take me back and we can forget this ever happened.

DEMS: Look, I think you’re a really good Senator… let’s just keep it that way, OK?

Hillary: …I’ll see you at the convention.

DEMS: No! Hillary I told you…


DEMS: Dammit. Crazy bitch.

Toys of yesteryear – Videomaster Star Chess

My brother has been posting on the YakYak forum in a thread about fondly remembered old computer hardware. He seems to have a much better memory of our childhood than I do as I had completely forgotten about this wonderful toy we had one Christmas.

Videomaster Star Chess

My Dad loved gadgets and was a big chess fan and encouraged me and my brothers to play the game too, I was only ever slight better than competent at the game but was in the school chess club with a bunch of other nerds!

One Christmas we opened a present to be surprised by this futuristic electronic game. First released in 1979 (probably the year we got it) this was an amazing colour TV game called Videomaster Star Chess. It played a game of “Space age” chess for two players, it didn’t have a play against the computer option as that would have been far too complicated (expensive) back in those days.

The game was an interesting variation on Chess, obviously influenced by Star Trek (one piece looked like the Starship Enterprise) with options to move, warp, fire and pieces had shields with damage reports. From what I can remember the sound effects were pretty amazing. For a toy it was the design of the console which I remember the most. The faux brushed aluminium controllers, a Bang Olufsen inspired console, with lift up perspex lid. Even the instructions were amazing, held within a metallic clam case.

I am not sure what happened to it, I suspect it stopped working and being the budding engineer I was at the time it probably got dissected to find out how it all worked. (From memory I seem to remember that getting the controllers back into their ‘docking ports’ was fiddly as the cable had to be tightly wound and I think the strain caused the cable to wear and finally break where it joined the controller pad)

More technical information on the console can be found at the website

Charlie Brooker’s existential angst

Charlie Brooker

I love the writings and work of Charlie Brooker. He writes for the The Guardian newspaper and he covers many diverse subjects in his comment is free column as well as writing reviews and opinions of television. His observations are often incisive and thought provoking as well as being very amusing.

In his latest article he talks about the sudden realisation of self and being alive, or as he puts it “Those late-night moments of lurching fear, of existential nausea, of basic ‘I’m alive!’ horror”

Well worth a read.

A victory for common sense

Money Grabber

We have had a bizarre situation involving one of our saving plans which matures this month.

When we took out the mortage on our home fifteen years ago we were in the process of getting married, so the financial arrangements were sorted out in our individual names and then when we exchanged and completed we were married with the same surname.

Like most home buyers at the time we were told that an endowment mortgage was the way to go, convinced that at the end of the mortgage we would be able to have money to pay off the house and enough left over so we could wipe our bottoms on £5 notes for the rest of our days. Well perhaps that is an exaggeration, but like many people that dream became a nightmare fairly quickly.

The underlying premise with endowment policies being used to repay a mortgage, is that the rate of growth of the investment will exceed the rate of interest charged on the loan. When we took out our mortgage, endowment mortgage selling was at its peak, the anticipated growth rate for endowments policies was high (7-12% per annum). However the change in the economy toward lower inflation made those assumptions look very optimistic (almost fraudulent).

When we reached the fifth year anniversary review of the policy it was clear we would be heading to a substantial short fall (as were many others), and so were advised to take out a second savings plan which would gives us a lump sum payment in 10 years which we could use to top up the endowment if growth hadn’t picked up, if it had we would have money to spare. So we did, the policy being with the same company as our endowment (we were young and naive okay!!)

Well 10 years down the line that savings plan is due to payout (and yes you’ve guess it, it’s growth has been somewhat stunted) During that time we have moved the mortgage to a flexible repayment one with another lender but kept the endowment going as life assurance.

Well this is the problem, the endowment is in our married names, the maturing savings policy was taken out 5 years after we were married so is obviously in our married name but before they will release the funds they need to see our marriage certificate? If we refused to send it to them they would refuse to payout! WTF?

We have refused to send it, we am not in the habit in sending important and personal documents in the post with the inherent risks of damage and/or loss. We would if we could see a valid reason, but in this case we cannot! They have clearly acknowledged that the policy was taken out in our married names, but because of ‘linkage’ to the original endowment which was originally taken out in our maiden names their security systems demands they see the marriage certificate. However as was pointed out the endowment is now in our married names and for that to have happened they must have already seen the appropriate documentation. (A classic Kafkaesque nightmare)

Numerous phone calls and threats of the involving the Financial Ombudsman seem to have done the trick and they have now reluctantly relented and will be releasing the funds at the end of the month. Some of it at the moment is earmarked for a nice new computer!