Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Hereford Cemetery and Crematorium

Hereford Cemetery and Crematorium is perhaps a rather unusual topic for a blog entry but not for people like Claire and I who survey cemeteries as a hobby. It took the two of us 4 hours to check every grave but far less time to realise that, with just one exception, this was a well-run site.

The grounds with neatly mown grass and attractively presented flower beds were a credit to all concerned - but it did leave us wondering about similar facilities in other towns, some of which come across as depressingly shabby. Simple things like providing detailed maps of the site and plenty of benches for visitors to sit on can be provided at negligible cost and it is hard to understand why some large cemeteries are seat and toilet-free zones.

Just about the only area of concern was a certain inconsistency in the treatment of war graves. Almost every cemetery we visit has war graves and most of the time the stones are brilliant white and clearly must have cleaned relatively recently. In the bigger cemeteries such as Hereford the war graves tend to be concentrated in a small area and the grass around the graves is always kept short and well-manicured. Equally well maintained war graves can sometimes be found scattered across the sites we have visited and I can only assume that this is in accordance with the wishes of the respective families.

This overwhelming evidence of the respect shown to our war-dead makes the sad fate of a few of the graves we have seen all the harder to understand. Some of these scattered graves have become dirty and overgrown and are unquestionably not receiving the intended degree of care and attention. This seems to imply that the master list of war graves, sub-divided by location, contains some errors?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Web page design

In the course of a week I look at a lot of different web pages so I thought that it would be an instructive exercise to make a note of any design issues that made me think, "Why on earth did they do that?"

Too many promotional sites have not been updated for months or years. When you see content such as “Our next meeting will be in September 2010” or “I am hoping to publish the next issue of the magazine in January 2011” it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. This problem seems to happen most frequently when the design of the site has been entrusted to an external contractor - who I can only assume wasn’t contracted to do any work other than the initial design and who then left leaving the site owner without the knowledge or access passwords required to do the job themselves?

Hyperlinks that direct the reader to a third-party page that has long since vanished (annoying) or hyperlinks that don’t work at all (very annoying) or hyperlinks that encourage the reader to send an email to an address that it not monitored (keyboard-bitingly annoying) can be found on most sites.

I’m always rather curious why designers, having carefully contrived to get a potential customer to visit the web site, should then provide a quick and easy means for them to leave it again. But that is exactly what external hyperlinks are intended to do. If I have my house decorated by Bloggs Builders I don’t allow them to include an advert for their business on my external wall. So why do so many paying customers allow web site designers to do exactly this?

One final point – external designers don’t always appreciate that authors don’t earn anything when their books are sold second hand through Amazon so always check that they haven’t included a link that encourages clients to do exactly that!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The top five regrets of the dying. (2/5)

I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

I wish I had had the courage to share with my parents, especially my Mother, how hurt I was by how low down her priority list I seemed to have sunk by the time I started secondary school. She stopped paid employment in 1946 when she became pregnant and never started again. By the 1960s her twice weekly coffee-mornings, a “morning” that in practice lasted from 10:30AM to 3:30PM, were sacrosanct and nothing was ever allowed to interfere with her attendance. She used to say, only half in jest, that if she wasn’t there she would become the main topic of conversation. Add to the equation the drama group, the poetry group and the “I’m just slipping out to see Aunty Chris” and her week was comfortably busy. A shame that none of it ever involved me.

I used to devise my own entertainment, sometimes with school friends, sometimes on my own but school holidays always felt rather like living in B&B - with a landlady who wasn’t particularly welcoming and one who rather regretted being in the business at all.

The best example of my Mother’s approach to parenting was when I broke my arm at school. I would have been about 13. The school didn’t help by sending me home rather than taking me to the hospital in St Albans but when I did get home after a 2 mile walk, a train ride and then another 1 mile walk I was not in a very good state of health. Her response was to give me the bus fare to take myself to Luton and Dunstable Hospital (about 6 miles away) on the grounds that she had the poetry group meeting to attend!!

Dad worked up in London leaving the house by 7AM and getting back about 7PM so when I was little I hardly saw him during the week. The highlight of the family weekend was always a visit to the local library so you can see that I’m using highlight in the loosest sense of the word. We had a car and Mum and Dad both drove but we almost never went out anywhere as a family.

It was only once I met Claire’s family that I realised quite how non-existent my family life had been and how liberating going off to university had proved to be.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Why do people put up with it?

I belong to quite a few special interest societies that are based in the USA. The USA where, people would have me believe, standards of customer service are much higher than in the UK. Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky, perhaps the strongly male orientated groups I have joined are not typical of the US as a whole. Perhaps all manner of things – the fact is that over the last couple of years I seem to have more than my fair share of negative experiences.

For me it is seldom the initial problem that really annoys me. It is the over-casual approach of some groups to resolving complaints from subscription paying members that can sour the business relationship between us. Ignoring all complaints seems to be standard practice for some groups and I usually have to repeat the same points several times before any answer is received.

Some of these groups seem to be absolutely and genuinely outraged at what they regard as an unfair criticism and yet they seem totally oblivious to the fairness or otherwise of their response. I can still recall receiving a four page tirade in response to a four line comment I made within a discussion group!

Membership perks that mysteriously are declared to be “unavailable to overseas members” despite being advertised within the promotional material sent out to prospective members is another widespread problem. I remember one occasion where ten perks in theory became three perks in practice - despite overseas members paying a 40% subscription premium. I think this is called “bait and replace”.

Coming back to original question I asked. Why do people put up with it? I think the answer lies in the word special, as in special interest society. When there are no alternative groups around there is nowhere else for an unhappy member to go and I suspect the worst offenders are well aware of this fact.

Friday, 2 March 2012

You read it here first!

In the last few months I have noticed a steady decrease in the number of my Facebook friends who post regularly to the site: with a regular poster defined as one who posts at least once a week or four times within any 30 day period. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of posts made by my friends that don’t generate any comments.

I was wondering if these two trends are linked? Are people not posting so often because they get discouraged by the lack of interest shown in what they write? Are the people who only posted updates that generated no reader interest walking away from Facebook in large numbers? It seems to me that it is only a very small step from deciding to stop posting to Facebook to not bothering to visit the site at all.

You only need to look at the number of blogs that have been launched with a wild burst of enthusiasm only to die within a matter of days. Most of these dead blogs are “comment free zones”. Giving an author some feedback is a way of encouraging them to keep writing.

What is happening is starting to remind me of the way that Google Groups went from being a useful resource to a place almost entirely inhabited by Chinese con-artists, peddlers of pornography and get-rich-quick marketing related posts.

If I extrapolate these Facebook trends into the future – even using an optimistic straight line prediction rather than the more probable exponential decay – it means that the current stock-market valuation of Facebook is as insane as past valuations of Friends Reunited. You have been warned!