Hanging around in waiting rooms

I had a hospital appointment this morning for a regular check-up that was scheduled for 8.30am.

I had received a letter about the appointment a few weeks ago. It said that I was to refrain from eating or drinking from midnight. So I skipped breakfast this morning, and headed off to the hospital. I figured, with such an early appointment, that I’d be seen pretty quickly and be on my way and in the office by 9.30am.

Unfortunately, when I arrived they told me that I had a second appointment for another procedure at 11.30am. I hadn’t been told of this second procedure ahead of time, so I hadn’t made any arrangements to have time off work. Thankfully my boss is very understanding, and she said not to worry and take all the time I needed.

However it did mean that I got to spend a lot of time this morning hanging around in the hospital waiting room, which is without doubt one of the dullest places on the planet.

I did consider at one point trying to entertain myself with some music, but I thought that if I had put my headphones on then I would have probably missed the staff calling my name. So I had to content myself with reading every news website from beginning to end on my phone.

How did we ever pass the time before smartphones? I suppose it was with those well-thumbed and out-of-date magazines that you still see in waiting rooms.

Anyway, so instead off finishing up shortly after 9.00am as I had originally thought, I finally got away just after 12.00 noon!

Four weeks without my Ulster Bank debit card

My wife lost her debit card for our joint current account just over 3 weeks ago, and she used the online banking facility to report it lost and request a new one.

New bank cards are meant to take around 4 working days to arrive. However around 10 days later there was no sign of it, and my debit card had also stopped working. It seems that Ulster Bank had cancelled both cards on our joint account.

So my wife phoned Ulster Bank to tell them that she had not received the replacement card, and asks for replacement cards to be sent for both of us. The customer service agent confirmed that cards would be sent out for both of us.

One week later (3 weeks after first reporting the card loss) my wife’s new debit card finally arrived in the post. But there’s no sign of my card, so I rang up Ulster Bank again, and found out that:

  • My debit card should not have been cancelled in the first place
  • There were two active cards on the account – both in my wife’s name – the one ordered online 3 weeks ago and a second one ordered on the phone a week ago
  • There were no active cards in my name listed on the account

So it seems there were some serious failings in process within Ulster Bank:

  1. They wrongly cancelled my debit card – possibly a problem with their online card loss process
  2. They failed to cancel the first replacement card that was reported lost – leaving it active on the account – a problem related to the customer care agent on the phone who order the replacement
  3. They failed to issue a new card to me – leaving me without a card for 3 weeks – they didn’t send a new card when they originally cancelled my card, and again didn’t send a new card when asked 10 days later

I tried to point out these failings to the customer service agent, but she seemed unable or unwilling to capture the feedback. I asked if she could log a complaint or record my comments against our account, and get someone in authority to review them, and she said nobody reviews the account comments.

So it seems that Ulster Bank has no mechanism in place to learn from their mistakes and to correct them in the future. The biggest problem seems to be around the person that my wife spoke to after 10 days, who told her a number of things that turned out not to be true. That person clearly needs some training in order to perform their role correctly, but our feedback about their performance is clearly not going to be followed up.

I guess this is why people get so frustrated with call centres.

Anyway, it seems that a new debit card has eventually been ordered for me, and will arrive in 3-5 working days. So by the time it gets here, I’ll have been without a working card for a total of four weeks! The bank also insists that they need to send me a new PIN for the card, because I’ve been without an active card for so long!

I did ask if there’s any way that they could expedite the issue of the new card – based on the fact that they’ve made so many mistakes – and the answer to that was also no.

See.Sense ACE bike lights

I have a thing for bicycle lights. I’ve got multiple sets, many of which were acquired through various Kickstarter campaigns. The See.Sense ACE lights are one such set.

I joined the See.Sense ACE Kickstarter campaign as soon as it launched back in October 2017, and managed to secure the Super Early Bird price of £40 for the set. If you want to buy them now, they cost £79.99 on the See.Sense website, so I got a good deal. However I did have to wait a year for them to arrive!

These are the second set of See.Sense lights that I’ve bought. I also have the ICON lights (another Kickstarter purchase) so you could say I’m a fan of the brand.

I like the fact that See.Sense push the boundaries of what a bike light can be. Sure you can turn them on and off with a push-button like other bike lights, but they are also bluetooth-connected to an app on your phone for more granular control, and to enable advanced features like crash and theft notifications.

The lights react automatically to changing road conditions, and flash brighter and faster in situations when you need to be more visible.

Personally I like to pair the ACE lights along with another set of bike lights. The first set of lights are set to constant beam, and help me see the road ahead (potholes and other debris), and the ACE lights do their flashing thing to help me be seen by other road users.

I don’t mind having two sets of lights on the go. They’re all USB rechargeable, so it doesn’t cost me anything to use them (especially if I recharge them at work). And I would rather light up my bike like a Christmas tree than dress like a clown in high-vis gear!

See.Sense ACE bike light

I’m still experimenting with the ideal positioning location for the ACE lights. At the moment I have the rear one mounted just about the reflector on my rack.

I’m not sure whether the lights are meant to be vertically or horizontally mounted. The See.Sense website says that they provide 200 degrees of side visibility, but I’m not sure if that’s from all angles. In their promo video they have people using them both ways, so maybe you can use them equally both ways. At the moment the vertical mount seems to work best for me.

The only slight downside is that the flashing of the front light is visible in my peripheral vision, and can be distracting at night. The ICON lights were provided with a black rubber band that you could use to eliminate this distraction – albeit narrowing your visibility to others in the process. There’s no similar band provided with the ACE lights, so I may need to improvise something with a bit of black electrical tape.

I’m also using the lights for day and night cycling. I like the idea that I have highly visible at all times, regardless of the time of day – and these light are certainly bright enough to catch people’s attention even in the middle of the day.

Here’s a short video of the flashing in the bike park at work, to give you an idea of the brightness and speed of flashing.

See.Sense ACE bike light flashing

If there was one improvement I’d like to see, it would be to have a more solid and permanent mounting system. My other bike lights are permanently mounted on the bike and have special proprietary anti-theft bolts to make sure they can’t be stolen. The ACE lights, in comparison are mounted using a rubber band – and I have to remember to remove them from the bike every time to make sure they aren’t stolen!

Using a tablet for choral singing

I recently rejoined the Mornington Singers, a chamber choir based in Dublin that I sang with a few years ago. We perform 4-6 concerts a year, and use choral music scores to sing from. That normally means holding a black folder with a stack of paper inside.

However, I’ve decided to try something a bit different – combining two passions of mine – technology and music! I’m ditching the paper, and singing from a computer tablet.

I’m not exactly breaking new ground here. I’ve seen loads of other singers doing this already, but this is my first serious attempt at singing off a screen.

It helps that there’s an Android app that makes the whole thing easy, called MobileSheets (available as a free and and paid-for ‘Pro’ version). You can import music scores in PDF format, and then adjust them for display on the screen. I like the option to auto-crop the margins from the edge of the page, and the ability to apply a sepia-colour filter to help improve the page contrast.

I originally tried it out using an old Google Nexus 7 tablet, which as the name suggests has a 7 inch screen. It kind-of works, but the screen is a bit too small, and would not suit anyone with less than 20-20 eyesight. So a couple of weeks ago I upgraded to a reconditioned Amazon Fire 10 tablet that was on sale. It has a bigger 10 inch screen, which works a lot better with A4-sized music scores.

The Fire tablet itself is not stunning in terms of performance, but it does have a good quality screen. It’s locked in to the Amazon ecosystem, running an old version of Android that is tightly integrated with Amazon services. Thankfully there’s loads of online tutorials out there that explain how the Google Play Store (and other Google apps) can be loaded. And although the Fire tablet can feel quite sluggish when using some demanding apps, the MobileSheets Pro app works very well, and there’s no noticeable lag loading scores or turning pages.

MobileSheets app running on Amazon Fire 10 tablet

The positives

  • I have access to all my music in one place, and depending on the memory capacity of the tablet, I could store hundreds/thousands of music scores in one place.
  • I can define a “set list” in the app that shows scores in a defined order. This helps keep my music in order. 
  • I can define bookmarks within a score that enabled me to jump quickly between movements of a larger work. I’ve set some hot-spot areas of the screen to jump backwards and forwards between bookmarks.
  • Page turns are very quick, and also silent. Just tap on the right of the screen to go forward, and on the left to go back.  Moving back and forth between pages in a score during rehearsal seems to be easier on a tablet than with paper.
  • I don’t have any problem seeing the notes in a dark room, as my music is back-lit. At a recent concert the rest of the choir were using clip-on lights to illuminate their paper music, but I don’t have that worry. I’ll just have to make sure I turn down the brightness in really dark settings, so that the screen doesn’t illuminate me!

The negatives

  • The tablet is heavier and more awkward to hold than a piece of paper, which makes it less convenient in a rehearsal – although once we get to the concert it’ll be easier to manage than lots of different scores
  • Adding markings to the score is possible with the MobileSheets app, but it takes a bit longer (there are a few taps required) than using a pencil on paper
  • Audiences are not used to seeing performers singing off a tablet, so I’ll need to be discrete to avoid it being a distraction. I plan to mount the tablet somehow inside my normal music folder using velcro strips or similar.
  • I have to source my music in PDF format to load it onto the tablet. If that’s not readily available then I need to find the time to scan the paper score into a PDF document. The CamScanner app seem good at this.

Generally I feel that the positives outweigh the negatives so far. However I’ve only been using tablet for rehearsals and a couple of concerts so far.

I just have to make sure that my music is fully charged!

Hopefully this will be the last Presidential election I can’t vote in

This Friday, 26th October 2018, Irish citizens will go to the polls to vote for their next president and also on the 37th amendment to the constitution.

As a British citizen living in Ireland for the last 11½ years, I’m not eligible to vote in either. I can vote in the Irish general election, I can vote in European elections, and I can vote in local council elections. But only people who are citizens of Ireland (and who are resident in Ireland) are able to vote for the President and in referendums.

Hopefully, however, it’s going to be the last of the elections that I won’t be able to vote in. It’s about 7 months since I applied for my Irish citizenship, and I’m ever-hopeful that I’ll become naturalised and get my Irish passport (and the right to vote) within the coming months.

Since moving to live in Dublin in April 2007 there has been an average of one referendum per year. The one on Friday, about repealing the offence of blasphemy, will be the 12th referendum.  During this time the people have Ireland have voted on such important issues as the rights of children, same-sex marriage, and abortion. But also, they’ve voted on the European Treaty of Lisbon (twice), reducing the minimum age of the president, and judge’s pay.

There’s talk about other referendums possibly taking place next year to address topics such as an archaic reference in the constitution to “women in the home”, allowing Irish citizens living abroad to vote, and maybe even reducing the voting age to 16.

Hopefully, by then, I’ll also be able to have my voice heard in these matters!

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