Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Windows Store is unspeakably bad

Oh – and it’s also riddled with rogue apps.

Hopeless Windows StoreAll and sundry in the tech world have reported that Microsoft is finally doing the honourable thing and having a clean out of their much maligned Windows Store.

Paul Thurrott picks up the story in his inimitable style as part of this week’s WinInfo Short Takes:

Microsoft finally cracks down on deceptive Windows Store apps

Microsoft[…] [has a] policy of "store stuffing," in which for four years now it has approved virtually any app a developer—professional or otherwise—has thrown at the Windows Phone Store or Windows Store, resulting in mountains of crap. […] Microsoft is promoting these stores as safe, safer than downloading desktop applications from unknown sources on the web. But when the supposedly curated Microsoft stores include bogus and even scam apps of all kinds, why would anyone trust these stores, or trust Microsoft when it says it's going to fix things now? Microsoft. This started happening FOUR YEARS AGO. Shame on you.

That’s a good point well made and all that, but it’s kind of assuming that there are at least some decent apps in the Windows Store to begin with. And I’m not sure there are.

I appreciate I might be biased here. I’ve realised for a while now that I’m an old school PC user who will be forever tied to the Windows desktop and I’m proud to eschew modern style (read: Fisher Price) apps that treat you like a five year old in favour of the more conventional, full-featured applications.

I’ve used a Surface 2 for eight months or so now. It’s ‘all-right-to-quite-good’ (yes, that is an adjective) for watching stuff while commuting, comes with a full version of Microsoft Office and, if you pay extra, a physical keyboard which doubles up as a protective cover – perfect for getting that occasional bit of work done when travelling home. (Actually, the cover bit is absolute crap; unless you’re happy to let that thing get battered to death, you’re going to need a dedicated cover or sleeve.)

Actually, while I’m in the mood for engaging in full and frank disclosure, I might as well admit that whenever I have my laptop with me on the train, I’ll always crack that out to get work done, rather than trying to cope with the rather cramped Surface 2 Typecover keyboard.

But I digress.

One thing that has always shocked me with the Surface (and Windows 8 generally) is just how spectacularly full of crap the Windows Store is. Like all Surface users, I inevitably tinkered with the Fresh Paint app on a couple of occasions in the early days, thought ‘well, that’s something I suppose, but I’m not much of an artist’ and then never opened it up again.

I’ve gone back and looked at the Windows Store quite frequently over the last few months, but I’ve never found any remotely tempting apps (free or otherwise) lurking in there. Ultimately, I guess I’d much rather use services through a web browser than downloading a one-trick-pony app.

Even worse, when you need to find something specific in the Windows Store, say a half decent media player which doesn’t screw you over with excessive ads, needless functionality or require a permanent internet connection, you’re out of luck.

(I had to go through this painful experience recently when Microsoft updated their ‘Metro’ Video app such that it will only now play content if you’re connected to the internet. That’s a bit of a pisser when you’re stuck on the train and rely on your Surface to watch videos. After trying a bizarre mixture of media player apps from the Windows Store, which ranged between ridiculous and unusable, I’m using the built-in ‘Photos’ app to play movies now.)

Here’s the clincher. When I got my Surface, it came with a £25 voucher from Microsoft which I could spend on paid apps of my choice in the Windows Store. After eight months of nosing around in there and finding nothing, I finally got sick of seeing that damn voucher kicking about, so I tossed it out with the recycling – unopened and unredeemed.

I think that tells you all you need to know.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Young lawyers’ written communication skills

… aren’t up to much – apparently.

Young lawyer drafting a note of advice
From Young Lawyer 30/07/14:

The number of training contracts available has risen, yet the calibre of candidates is unremarkable [.]

The number of LPC registrations has dropped for a second year running, while the number of training contracts on offer has risen. You may think that candidates can now afford to be more optimistic. However, speaking with law firm recruiters, it seems that many candidates still have a way to go before catching the golden training contract snitch.

I don’t know why I’m so uncomfortable with the word “snitch” but I am. It’s always made me slightly nauseous and involuntarily pull a ‘I’m-eating-raw-lemon’ face. Strange.

One aspect still of great concern to a number of firms during the recruitment process is poor written expression. A recruiter in one City law firm said: “It makes me so sad to read these applications. Their academics are very good, but they use text speak and can’t structure sentences properly.”

That doesn’t surprise me. By no means do I hold myself out as a paragon when it comes to the correct use of English, but even I’m shocked at the sentence structure that some of my younger colleagues trot out. I’ve seen large block paragraphs of text punctuated only by a string of commas presented proudly as ‘finished work’.  Besides being awkward and embarrassing for the reader, it makes the author look downright incompetent.

I remember from my schooldays being taught about good sentence structure and having lessons focused on using different types of punctuation correctly, but I know a lot of others my age who claim their English lessons never strayed into those topics (perhaps they were off sick those days!). 

I think the general standard of English usage in the UK is clear proof that proper sentence structure needs to be actively taught in schools, rather than assuming that pupils will pick it up naturally at some point.

For me, it’s clear the time has arrived to go back to first principles and teach the mechanics of basic English to kids and to only focus on exploring those less-used nuances (iambic pentameter anyone?) once those basics have been mastered.

As Paul Rylance notes in his excellent book, Writing and Drafting in Legal Practice, “good writing is clear thinking on paper”.  If the lawyers of tomorrow aren’t properly equipped to practise that, I dread to think of the standard of written legal advice that’ll be churned out in the years to come.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, a one day elective module on the professional skills course focused on ‘effective written communication’ or whatever won’t cure 15 years’ worth of bad habits, I’m afraid. This stuff should start at the earliest stages of primary school and it needs to get itself firmly back on the curriculum ASAP.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

You can’t get anything done with lawyers around

Bernie Ecclestone provided a wonderful one liner when he spoke about settling his bribery trial in Germany earlier this week:

When you're trying to run businesses it's not easy trying to resolve things when you're dealing with lawyers.

Bloomin’ charming.

Still, we’re not known as the ‘business prevention department’ for nothing.  Eye rolling smile

Bernie - Suitably Smug
Bernie – looking suitably smug having settled his trial

Friday, 25 July 2014

Sweating like a pig

Actually, I’m not.  I like the heat.  I seem to run at a fairly low temperature all year which makes the winters utter misery for me.

But it’s also a curse in the summer – all courtesy of a little piece of hell called air con.

Why is it that offices insist on cranking it up to the highest of high?  Perhaps office managers imagine lawyers do their best work when their icy lairs are kept desperately chilly.

I certainly don’t.  I have to keep taking breaks to run up and down the stairs to get some heat back into my limbs.

Never mind.

Talking of heat, I was amused by an email from PC World Business that plopped into my inbox yesterday.  Anything for a sale, eh?

PC World Business - Fans

But what really did it for me was the selection of fans available when you  clicked ‘view range’.

After the rather predictable array of desk and pedestal fans, including some bizarre and extortionately priced Dyson things, came these couple of brarmers:

Hand fans - are you shittin' me

Hand fans.  Hand fans?!?  Sold by PC World Business?  Are you shitting me?

How many office workers do they think are going to sit at their desks waving a hand fan to and fro in front of them, dicing with death as the rotating blades come perilously close to their lips?

I’ve really seen it all now.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Have Payday Loan Companies Pushed the Law Too Far?

Guest Postclip_image002

Wonga has been receiving bad press recently, after it transpired that it had sent threatening letters to customers from fictitious law firms. As a result, it has paid out £2.6 million in compensation fees and has allegedly fired everyone involved with this illegal practice. This money has gone out to more than 45,000 customers, which works out at roughly £50 per person in damages. We’re not sure how effective this will be for all the people it has jettisoned into deep debt.

Even religious leaders have been getting involved in the payday loan debate. The archbishop of Canterbury has publically denounced payday lenders for pushing vulnerable members of society into what he calls ‘a crippling spiral of debt’. To regulate this industry, The Financial Conduct Authority has decided to impose price caps for those who take out a loan, as well as affordability checks.

If you feel that you have been exploited by a Payday loan company, you may want to consult a trustworthy solicitor, such as Shropshire based solicitor FBC Manby Bowdler

You Might Be Surprised At Your Options
As Wonga allocated more than £10 million a year to their marketing budget, many of the more affordable competitors are unknown. With a demand for £6bn for loans, which are denied by traditional banks, there’s definitely scope to take advantage of those in need of borrowing money.

Credit Unions are one alternative that has its borrowing capped at 3% a month. However, Credit Unions have to be more selective about how they choose who they lend to. Usually, they will only grant you the loan if they are certain you’ll be able to pay it back.

Community development finance institutions (CDFIs) are social enterprises that lend money to those who struggle to acquire a bank loan – they are closer to Wonga in their principles, as they are not as restricted as Credit Unions and can charge higher rates of interest. They still work out a lot cheaper than Wonga, however. Wonga’s average loan is £180 for 17 days, which costs £37. Fair Finance, a London CDFI would charge you £5 for the same loan.

Reviewing Criminal Action
The police had previously ruled out taking criminal action against Wonga, but they have reassessed the case and are now considering further penalisation.

The Law Society has thrown around its weight, stating that Wonga has committed an offence under the Solicitors Act and they say Wonga used deception and blackmail to terrorise their customers. Wonga may yet have to answer to greater restrictions and penalisation, after their exploitative behaviour. Customers should bear in mind that there are alternative options to Wonga, if they find themselves in a tight financial spot. Soliciting Wonga’s help is likely to cause more problems than it solves.

Some thoughts on Sky’s F1 coverage

Sky F1 presentersSky’s F1 presenters are a mixed bag.  But at least they show all races live.

Sky’s F1 presenters.  Is it me, or are their voices starting to get a bit croaky?

Martin Brundle has sounded decidedly hoarse while commentating on various Grands Prix this year.  Then, during last weekend’s German Grand Prix, lead presenter Simon Lazenby sounded like he had a toad, snake and lizard in this throat – along with the obvious frog.

They don’t normally sound like that, do they?

I'm sure Martin wasn’t as croaky when he was at ITV or the Beeb.  Maybe the years of commentating have caught up with him. Or maybe laryngitis is to blame. Sky’s dodgy microphones?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound great.

Croakiness aside, the technical insight Martin provides in his commentary is as brilliant as ever. Still, I can’t help but feel that he and ‘Crofty’ don’t make a great commentating pair; for much of the time they sound more like a couple of middle-aged blokes chatting casually while a motor race is going on in the background. They also have an annoying habit of making statements which are actually questions (you can't move for the "isn't its?" and "aren't theys?" that fly about in that commentary box!) That and Crofty’s overuse of the word “squirrely” really begins to grate.

Martin used to sound much more fired-up alongside his previous sidekicks - be it the great Murray Walker, James Allen, David Coulthard or even Jonathan Leggard (although in the latter case, it was usually just irritation on Martin’s part over his co-commentator).

One thing's for sure - I miss the fire and occasional hard-edge that Martin’s commentary used to have. I hope it comes back. Crofty’s commentary style seems more apt for the pipe and slippers brigade.

As for the rest of the Sky team, it’s a very mixed bag.

Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert are true assets and make some worthwhile contributions. They’re articulate to boot, which is always a bonus for a presenter.

Less so, pint sized Anthony ‘Ant’ Davidson whose best tricks seem to be trite observations at inopportune times and flicking about with that humongous touchscreen TV that Sky love to install in the paddock. If ever there were an illustration of technology for technology’s sake – that’s it.

[The following paragraph has been edited since the original posting. On reflection, I was overly harsh on Ted who, for the most part, does a great job in a very challenging working environment.  I think my ‘thing’ with Ted is that when he needs to think on his feet, his articulateness goes out of the window.  And that’s not great in a pit lane reporter.  My comments concerning Allan ahem McNish stand in their original form.]

Be right back

Ted Kravitz is still doing his ‘bumbling older brother’ routine which is interesting – if only for comedic effect. Say what you like about Ted, he’s still infinitely better than the Beeb’s Allan McNish who seems about as talented at sports punditry as he was driving that damned Toyota in 2002.

For what it’s worth, I’d love to see Martin team back up with James Allen in the commentary box. I really can’t believe I’m saying this, given my early thoughts on their being paired, but they made a great duo.

The reason I've started sampling Sky's coverage of F1 is simply because I’ve got to the point where I can’t tolerate the Beeb’s ‘highlights’ packages any longer (blink and the programme’s over). It’s strange – when the BBC bid for the F1 broadcast rights in 2008 and won them back from ITV, the deal was that they’d show everything. Live.

Eye rolling smile

Still, the Beeb wouldn’t be the Beeb if they didn’t shaft the licence-paying public every now and then, would they?

It’s going to take me a long time to forgive and forget that one.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Words and phrases to make you vomit

office fool

There’s been an interesting discussion going on over at Roll on Friday’s forums – “Words that irrationally irritate you”. They’re not necessarily peculiar to the legal profession, but there are certainly some lawyers who are guilty of uttering them.

Here are some of the good ones:

"at the end of the day" -- I want to smash this phrase up with a big hammer.

"and she turned around to me", "so I turned around to her" – yep - typically used by loud-mouthed morons talking on mobiles when travelling by train.

“I was like...” -- kill all users of this phrase. And make it a slow, painful death.

“People who use itch and scratch / borrow and lend incorrectly.” -- Yep. Utter dickheads.

“People who say "in respect of" instead of "of", "about", or other short words that are presumably too pedestrian for such a clever and important person to use” -- hehe… good one.

“Alot” -- yep. Microsoft Word even autocorrects this now FFS.

“Lush” -- I’ve only ever heard 13 year olds use this. Don’t tell me it’s more commonly used than that.

“myself” and “yourself” -- Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always said I hate abuse of reflexive pronouns.

“Agree “myself and yourself” - drives me mad - particularly popular with call handlers at call centres for some reason. “Generally indicates a lack of confidence, especially a reluctance to address somebody directly as" you -- Good point.

"I'm not being funny..." or “I’m not being rude…” -- which invariably precedes something which is meant to be offensive or rude.

"oh my god!" As in:
"there are free cakes? oh my god!" 
"this report needs to be done by tomorrow? oh my god!" 
"you fell over? oh my god!" 
"your entire family was eaten by rabid tuberculic badgers? oh my god!"

-- Every office up and down the country has at least one person like this.

"turning a document" - what does this involve, rotating it through 180 degrees? -- hehe… I’d not heard of this.

“Literally” and “Basically” – Too painful to even comment on. Probably closely followed by “peruse and revert”.

“Not a problem” (as a ‘filler’ for a phone conversation) – Oh great. Nice to know. I didn’t expect it to be a problem, but still.