Monday 28 February 2005

Presence without essence - Internet

Snail mail, no call

I just received mail in the post from a renowned retail and catalogue services concern in the Netherlands with an Internet presence [1]. The contents suggested that I call to arrange when I would be available to receive my order.

Such communication should not be strange; it does have an element of customer service which until quite recently was not to be expected in the Netherlands.

It can only mean that organisations are implicitly working on some other aspect of their business model and fabric that allows for their employees in the customer-facing departments to feel a little more involved as representatives of their organisation and a very interesting touch of shared responsibilities.

However, this mail came about when I was shopping around for some exercise equipment, this time, an exercise bicycle having already acquired the Total Gym XL and the Ab Burner which is usually advertised as the Ab King Pro.

The history of my desires for a perfect body over the laid-back approach of easy-living without the complications and vain-glorious hedonism is not too well documented, but work is apace at getting fitter and looking better. Suffice it to say, the gym on the second floor of my apartment block has been visited thrice, however, not in any attempt to break any sweat, even though aerobics presents an interesting spectacle.

Left in the pre-history of e-Commerce

The issue on view here is the number of companies that have an Internet presence but have not fully inculcated the essence of being on the Internet, having a web present and offering opportunities to transact business with them.

The first observation was months ago when having observed what the Ab King Pro does for working on the abdominal muscles on one of those ubiquitous and at times utterly loathsome shopping channels [2], I went to their web site and placed an order.

Having been an Internet user since 1994, I have been rather confident of Internet transactions since 1996 when I could book flights on the British Midland site then called - it was awfully nice to be able to eliminate completely the middleman and enjoy the convenience of seeing all the options and making your own choices to your particular convenience. The foray into e-commerce in its infancy encouraged my subsequent activities of conveniently preferring the Internet ordering system to the calling the customer service or sales desk.

I had inadvertently mistyped my credit card details, which eventually turned out to be convenient, because having placed the order, it offered no record of the transaction on screen or by email, even though that transaction had successfully registered an email message to their sales department. Basically, on the tip-off of a friend the gym kit was obtained for about a quarter of the price at a retail outlet [3] having done the requisite research on the Internet.

Premium call deterrent

In fact, the charges for calling the premium rate number are outrageous; where the possibility of keeping you connected for over 30 minutes is likely, with 20 of those minutes being on a waiting queue because all sales people are engaged. When you finally get connected to the "friendly" sales person, just hope that you can both agree on a language for your dialogue and that what you are ordering is what is being offered. Once before after waiting over two and a half hours, I was put back in the queue because he spoke Dutch, I spoke English - How is that for communication breakdown?

Unreasonable form options

Anyway, I made this order on the company's web site, only to find out that there was no means of payment, rather someone was going to call me to arrange delivery. There was a restriction of only allowing fixed line phone numbers rather than mobile numbers which offer a sense of contactable ubiquity. Eventually, a letter arrived rather than the call a good seven working days after.

What is most irksome about this is I now take the cost of the phone call they were supposed to make and probably for all their Internet presence; I would have to pay at the doorstep when the goods are delivered. In arranging a window for delivery which at times is based of a 4-hour morning or afternoon, I am prepared to be surprised if they offer evening deliveries at no additional cost.

Aspiring but despairing

The most amusing of these Internet presences without essence firms was a personal computer firm; it took the best part of 2 weeks to adequately shop around for a laptop. What was quite striking about it was the fact that it was nigh on impossible to walk out of over 8 PC shops with a ready-built computer, everything required a waiting period of days in some instances.

I then decided on the convenience of Internet-shopping for a laptop and did get one of the best specifications I could find. As I placed the order I suddenly realised the order had been confirmed without a means of payment. Then I called the firm only to be told I could pay at the door. That was plainly and utterly inconvenient for the risks and circumstances.

With much persuasion we agreed on making a bank transfer, and then the parcel arrived through the regular parcel delivery service. Having gotten the impression that a company courier would deliver the laptop and collect the payment at the doorstep, they used the regular post.

Ideas should fit in your strategy

In conclusion, it is evident that those who have jumped on the e-commerce bandwagon, did so without securing a think-through of what they intend to achieve by having a web presence. The concept of basic web presence is now Internet pre-history, the Ice Age of thawing of innovation just before the dawn of the DotComs.

If a company is interested in engaging customers in an interactive choice-driven environment that allows them to make quality decisions on products of interest, then they should complete the process by offering the full experience of convincingly ordering, knowingly paying and confidently expecting service of those orders or requests.

Just being a supermarket style trolley which never gets to the check-out till is no fun to either the buyer or the seller. The start-up of an e-commerce business could incur large initial costs, but once the audience and marketplace is established, it is still no operation for the faint hearted.


[1] Wehkamp [2] Telsell [3] Perry Sport [4] Computerland 

Thursday 24 February 2005

Clearasil Total Control in Mainz

The Visit
One could not help but watch with amusement the visit of Mr George W. Bush to Europe, starting with meeting the Belgian royals, the government, then the EU Commission, NATO and then off to a city 2000 years old founded by the Romans called Mainz. [1]
The symbolism of the whole event is not lost on keen observers of the event and history.
However, the title is to illustrate the proverbial situation where presumably the leopard - Dubbiyew - has lost his spots in declaring extreme friendship and unity with the European cause as partners in liberty, freedom, justice and that most uniting divisor - Iraq.
Clearasil [2] happens to be most common commercial cosmetic used to deal with spots, acne, blemishes and unseemly colours, but it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that all that had happened was cosmetic, but why are the protesters still out there?
Now, one can understand the master-stroke of genius that informed replacing a dour gentleman of gravitas in the person of Colin Powell; who at times looked so much at odds with the cards he was dealt that you almost felt great sympathy for him.
With Dr Condolezza Rice [3] whose charm offensive hardly 2 weeks ago in her whirlwind tour of the American "friendly" states, especially France had chivalry sweep the continent. Like we had returned to the day Sir Walter Raleigh [4] laid his cloak down for Queen Elizabeth the First to walk over a muddy patch. I submit; Chivalry is not dead in Europe.
There is no doubt that Clearasil and its effects are either obvious or desired as a thing of the mind, just as Regaine [5] allegedly portends to offer hair to those who struggle to come to terms with male pattern baldness, I know of one instance where it put more hair on a person's back than you will find on a sheep in mid-winter in New Zealand.
Borrowing a cliché, gone are the days when the crowds in the streets of Germany would welcome with such fanfare a president of the United States like John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan who both did profound and probably mad-hatter things in Berlin that have become staples of 20th Century history.
Even Bill Clinton did attract an audience at the Brandenburg Gate in July 1994 [6]. That probably was the last time an American president had the world stage looking to Berlin and Germany for something of historical significance. Bill Clinton can call into Berlin with ease, he is a true German and European friend.
How times have changed, a whole city of Mainz is now sealed off [7] for a visiting American president so much so that he will not and cannot come across the gentle folk of the city.
Wonderfully ironic it is that main home page of the City of Mainz suggests that they are eager to host the bi-lateral meetings - that is really pulling the wool over my eyes.
Even that now begins to speak for itself, crowd control, protest control, shops closed, schools closed and the serious vetting of select members of the Young Leaders almost reminds one of the great prospects of the Hilter Jungen - perish the thought! Maybe it is all Pest Control.
Rumour has it that on one of the streets that was to accommodate the presidential motorcade a funereal shop specialising in memorial stones was advised to move the stones out of town, just in case some exuberant youth broke into the shop and picked up a 100-kilogram stone and pelted the motorcade - you can never accuse the Polizei of lacking such vivid imagination even with these carefully weighted words.
In Mainz
This is where the symbolism is complete when contrasted with America, definitely this was a city of Old Europe being over 2000 years old means it evokes history, culture, heritage, values and architecture of mind-boggling proportions.
It also happens to be the city of Johanes Gutenberg [8] who invented the printing press which gave rise to literacy, helped propagate the millennium and has won him the deserving accolade of the man of the Second Millennium.
Then there was sailing down the river Rhein, it makes one wonder if the fish were asked to stay home. [9]
[1] Mainz Online: Home Page
[2] Clearasil Total Control
[3] MSNBC - Rice charms in first diplomatic dance
[4] Sir Walter Raleigh: A Who2 Profile
[5] Hair loss products - Regaine UK
[6] "Berlin is free!" President Clinton Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. July 1994.
[7] News Analysis: Bush sealed off from Germans in Mainz
[8] Mainz Online: Gutenberg
[9] Much Ado About Bush | Germany | Deutsche Welle |

Wednesday 23 February 2005

A full circle of consequence

To the present
I have been ruminating about how to tie up the loose ends that made the year 2004 such an eventful, turbulent, interesting and ground-breaking year.
If you have been a follower of my blogs, the year started on both a cynical and anxious note.
Cynical by reason of the fact my manager exhibited every trait of management except one that included responsibility, integrity and leadership, the event are quite vividly played through the months starting from May to when I finally left the employ of that company at the end of July.
Anxious as a result of what I read out of Tom Peter's book Re-Imagine! [1]. Getting close to 40 and after working 15 years in all manner of Information Technology roles was I up for the COBOL graveyard and ready for a new lease of innovative influence?
The real question being; how do I avoid the former and attain the latter?
My life at work had become a sordid tale exemplified in this major rant by Tom Peters.
My overall rant, in brief: People … in enterprise and government … are by large well intentioned. They’d like to get things done. To be of service to others. But they are thwarted … at every step of the way … by absurd organizational barriers … and by egos of petty tyrants (be they corporate middle managers, or army colonels, or school superintendents).[2]
Even you might begin to nod your head to that.
The youth are coming to make you irrelevant
The realities that present themselves signify that a younger generation is picking up these skills faster, better, snappier and cheaper and it appears that the only thing one can leverage is a wealth of experience and an appreciation of corporate politics in the face of unscrupulous middle management tyrants [2] who have done well to lose every ounce of humanity for the excellence in acquiring filthy lucre and demonic influence at whatever cost.
The first quarter represented a time of serious searching for inspiration especially after it appeared that my vision had been obscured and ambition seriously curtailed by the fact that the section that brought my manager fame was now a minuscule entity in his grand empire.
When I finally decided in the next game plan, my boss would by none of it, not only was he hostile he was consummately against the notion that I had the ability to pursue a Masters of Science degree in Information Technology and recommended vendor certifications the equivalent of doing evening courses in knitting and embroidery rather than dressing up supermodels for catwalks in Paris, Milan and New York. One is not given to hyperbole but this comes close.
From that point it was clear that following that path was a dead-end job.
Get out and look out
Having placed my marketing literature online prospecting for new opportunities, an agent who has handled my affairs came across my resume and was on the phone promising to get me a job, which he did in 4 weeks; however, it took 7 weeks of unnecessary pain, aggravation and outright malice to take up that position.
In that time I had begun my orientation with the Online University curriculum of the University of Liverpool undertaking a self-sponsored Masters in Science degree in Information Technology. [3]
I first heard about this course in November 2003 when a good friend of 17 years asked me to provide him a character reference as part of his assessment for eligibility for the course, it was a short note of just 3 paragraphs, which in some way may the Admissions Officer think that I was just as eligible for the course on the strength of my recommendation.
I am enjoying this
At that time, I was of the view that a Masters degree can only add prestige and nothing else, however, in the 6 months before I finally committed to undertaking the venture, I realised that a masters degree is really a stepping-stone to a research degree and work is apace on attaining that goal.
Having completed 2 modules and reflected on my ability to excel at a programming module at a later time rather than now, my next module includes an exciting read on e-Commerce, an opportunity for prose, philosophy and ideas such that one can get carried away.
A wonderful life
The year ended on a rather poignant note having been battered by a couple of drunk and drugged kids, but I got up and walked away to the poor service of replacement glasses that had an unfitting frame.
Meanwhile, one argues what all the fuss about security is when a crime committed in Amsterdam cannot be reported at just any police station in Amsterdam, especially the one outside the hospital where one received treatment.
But Hey! As long as there is life, there is life, there is love, there is faith, there is hope, there is a future so bright and a healthy dose of cynicism - perfection is accentuated by its flaws.
[3] University of Liverpool Lifelong Learning - Distance learning with Laureate Online Education

Tuesday 22 February 2005

Understanding freedom, responsibility and tact

Needless Protection Scheme
News reaches me that two of the most "fearless" read vociferous, irascible, controversial, irreverent, contentious, offensive and extremely opinionated MPs in the Netherlands are urgently in need of accommodation. [1]
Now, in the UK and the US, there is the Witness Protection Scheme which is supposed to help people in mortal danger when they have offered to testify on behalf of the crown or state in cases of serious and heinous crimes. [2]
This is necessary when the principals being pursued by the crown or state have a web of influence that can easily apprehend detractors with impunity and almost no consequence.
Usually, this involves taking the witness into some protective custody during the trial and after the witness is provided with a new identity, accommodation, life and probably career with some income and hopefully out of the reach of the hoodlum's network.
In the case of these 2 Dutch MPs they live in both a prison and a naval barracks, neither being criminal nor military personnel. Both accommodations offer quite good protection as well as a restriction to their freedom at great cost to the tax payer.
The cost of a soft centre
During the Prime Ministerial tenure of the previous Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mr Wim Kok whose government resigned en masse in April 2002 taking blame for the Bosnian Massacre, we somehow knew that some leadership existed which had been running from 1994.
Unfortunately, that resignation plunged the country in a chaotic political situation that allowed populists to thrive at the expense of moderate, visionary and competent politicians.
In fact, there were no such politicians to take on the mantle that Mr Wim Kok left and we ended up with the sympathy vote for a murdered extremist party leader and a weakly majority party leadership. [3]
This government lasted about 100 days before another election was called because of the intra-party squabbling of an immature party based on the personality cult of Mr Pim Fortuyn. [4]
The electorate then returned the current government whose visionary stance has included tinkering with the heretofore non-taxable perks of the middle-classes, a cack-handed handling of the Foot-and-Mouth Disease crisis, seemingly smart but surreptitious immigration policies, a lack of understanding of multi-cultural nature of the populace compared to the need to integrate and a number of high profile cases of the Prime Minister protesting about being depicted as penny-pinching, an ex-porn star and a toddler.
At one time, I did think my views of this Professor of Christian Sociology lacking genuine appeal and leadership qualities was harsh, but polls have suggested that the feeling is quite widespread. [5]
This was further corroborated in the Economist in the annual periodical for 2005 "The World in 2005" where they asserted that he has failed to stamp his leadership on the government at first and the people at large.
Consequently, a weak government or weak leadership is fertile ground for alternative and sometimes alarming populist views expressed by people who does not necessarily have a strong political base but built one of notoriety through unbridled commentary pandering to the basest instincts of the electorate.
These politicians in a nutshell
Ayaan Hirsi Ali [6] who is popular for having adopted rather radically views against Islam stemming from escaping the tradition in her native Somalia of submitting to the arranged marriage desired by her father and having committed apostasy has not endeared her cause to the liberation of woman of Islam nor fulfilled any worthwhile role-model objective apart from rebellion.
Geert Wilders [7] was once a speech writer, a profession which allows expression of sound bite without responsibility for the consequences, the Axis of Evil [8] speech by President George W. Bush in 2002, is case in point by David Frum [9]. Wilders now seems to have taken on a double anointing as Son of Pim Fortuyn, the last major indigenous voice against everything Islam and their practitioners.
There is no doubt that there are serious issues to be discussed to do with Islam and integration within the nominally Catholic, Protestant and at time Calvinist Dutch society.
More so, one can see the view that Mr Wilders expresses that tolerance is the problem in this society. We have tolerated everything including other people's intolerance leading to the stiffening of attitudes in the general populace.
However, this whole issue of toleration is a multi-dimensional perspective of the Dutch society where tolerating free speech should not be a license to be offensive as Theo van Gogh was, and the toleration of homosexuality, prostitution and soft drugs should not mean that those in that facet of society are either victimised nor should their minority rights be affected by any expression by the various people of influence in society.
Knowing tact
The Dutch are known for being quite direct and straight to the point, whilst the English are known for being rather more reserved and still achieving the same result. Politely rude is probably one of those epithets ascribed to the English.
However, it is really about the rich use of language, effective communication without offence; Yoruba a language spoken by some 40 million or so people in Western Nigeria with derivatives spoken in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil and some parts of Cuba juxtaposes the use of general commentary with proverbs and those are interchanged in ways to allow everything that needs to be said to be said without offence and quite clearly understood.
This is exemplified in this saying "Owe leshin oro, oro leshin owe, bi oro ba sonu, owe la fi nwa a" (A Proverb is the horse of expression and expression is the horse of proverbs, when an expression is lost, the proverb is the means by which the expression is conveyed).
In essence, the good use of expression in the exercise of the freedom of speech, albeit with both moderation and responsibility allows any sensible person to live in peace and at peace with their neighbours and society.
The wanton use of shock populism which attracts hearing and opprobrium in good measure takes the perpetrators into the extreme and makes them ready targets for people of similarly extreme conduct.
One is not apologist for violent conduct and that has been expressed time and again in many of one's previous blogs; but it is the symbiosis of life that allows for a one of extreme views to create the atmosphere for attracting extreme reactions to those views.
Nitwits Protection
These two Dutch MPs are hardly in need of witness protection [10] rather they need therapy in understanding the quality of tact in the expression of views.
Suddenly, that apt quote by Benjamin Franklin begins to make a lot of sense.
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Thankfully, there are a lot smarter people in the Netherlands than these two politicians, for once I even feel that it is mocking the oppressed can be exhilarating.
[1] Expatica - Living in, moving to, or working in the Netherlands, plus Dutch news in English
[2] BBC News | UK | Witness protection: A change for the better?
[3] Right-wing parties unseat social democrats in Dutch elections
[4] Dutch Government collapses as feuding cabinet quits -
[5] Dutch public gives Balkenende a 'lousy' rating
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
[6] The mission of an ex-Muslim
BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Moving stories: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Geert Wilders
[7] In Netherlands, Anti-Islamic Polemic Comes With a Price (
Death threats force controversial Dutch MP underground
[8] President Delivers State of the Union Address - 2002
[9] Rationale behind the Axis of Evil phrase
[10] Witness Protection Scheme Cartoons