Amy Guy

Raw Blog

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

OKFN Glasgow #2

I ventured to Glasgow for the second Open Knowledge Foundation meetup on Monday 18th. It was well attended, and there were six short talks:

Lorna Campbell from Cetis talked about Open Scotland. I understood this to be a collaboration between Cetis, the SQA, JISC and the ALT Scotland, to do with the opening up of education, and influencing policy and practicein this area. Here's a blog.

Grianne Hamilton from JISC talked about Mozilla's Open Badges. You can use them to reward learning, skills and achievements in all sorts of areas, and any organisaiton can create and issue badge packs to people who have earned them. Recievers can then show them off anywhere they can put HTML.

Graeme Arnott talked about a collaboration between Glasgow Womens' Library and Wikimedia, which resulted in the Scottish Women on Wikipedia event. This was a group of Scottish women getting together to edit Wikipedia articles about Scottish Women, and there was very positive feedback. They have more events planned. Graeme also reminded us about Wikimania, which is taking place next August in London.

Jennifer Jones told us about the Digital Common Wealth project. She pointed out that with media-saturated global events like the Olympics, the official story is already decided before the event even starts. An alternative to relying on what is broadcast by the mainstream media is to turn the camera on the crowd, and get the 'real' version of what is going on. The Digital Common Wealth project will encourage citizen journalists to work together to craft the story of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games from their perspective. Jennifer also raised the point that although free tools like YouTube, AudioBoo and Twitter are great for spreading stories, the data is still held by third parties - what happens if they disappear? How should initiatives like this safely archive their stories, and keep them in context?

Pippa Gardner talked about Glasgow's Future Cities project, for which they have £24 million to develop. It's about "people and data", but she was here to talk about data. There's the Data Innovation Engagement (which apparently needs a better acronym) and Glasgow's data portal which has already launched. Not all of the data on their is 'properly' open, but it's more open than it was before. There's a maps portal coming soon. Follow @openglasgow to keep up to date. Someone asked how they can avoid inadvertantly widening the digital divide by making all this data available - as it will only improve things for people who already have understanding and access. Pippa said there's a dedicate group in the Council working on widening digital participation, so they're involved.

Duncan Bain, and MPhil student at the University of Edinburgh, talked about Open Architecture. He says it's hard to define 'knowledge' and 'data' in architecture; architects create drawings/representations, not buildings. There are efforts towards opening certain aspects of this, like and the Open Architecture Network, but the culture of the architecture world, and where the money is, seems to be preventing things from going in the same direction as software development any time soon.

Here are livestreams of the talks by Jennifer Jones: one and two and a twitter timeline by Sheila Macneill.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Prewired 3

Our third Prewired event went smoothly, with 20 young people (about 4 new) and 7 or so parents attending, plus 8 mentors. So lower signups than usual (a few cancellations due to school commitments), but we decided not to do a big publicity push and see how it ran with a smaller group. I didn't notice much difference, since they organise themselves into smaller groups anyway to work on different things. I think next time we'll try to reach our capacity of 40.

We had a big group working on a variety of Python projects (games, basics, algorithms, I'm not sure what else..), a small group doing front-end web, and quite a few doing amazing things with Scratch.

Every week I discover new things these super-talented young people are doing with their time, and it won't be long before many of them are spending a lot of time mentoring their peers as well as working on their own projects.

Nantas came by to talk about what he does with the University's Robotics lab, including the challenges of making humanoid robots play football, and the state of the art, two-million-pounds, full sized humanoid robot that is moving to Edinburgh in the near future. Definitely stuff to get young people excited about learning to code.

We've been trying to encourage them to code between Prewired sessions, too, and about half of them said they had. I hope by the next time all of them have, and I'm really excited to see what they're capable of making in a few months time!


Some of the young people attending are disadvantaged by not being able to bring their own laptop, or having only really old laptops which can't support modern browsers and therefore have trouble even executing the JavaScript their writing (true story).

We'd love to be able to pay for a set of simple but up-to-date laptops that we could lend to the attendees who don't have their own during sessions.  This at least will put them on a level playing field with the others during the sessions, and I suspect that many of them have adequate desktop machines or family laptops at home.

Prewired runs on a budget of volunteer blood, sweat and tears, and zero pounds.  We're lucky enough to be able to use space in the University Informatics building for free, and there are no shortage of keen mentors and helpers willing to chip in their time (and in some cases cash for snacks).

So if you work for a company who might be able to support the purchase of resources for our young coders, or know someone who does, then please get in touch!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Nanowrimo: It begins

I've committed to Nanowrimo for the seventh year.  I almost didn't.  It's distressing and frustrating and sucks at my self-confidence like nothing else.  It makes me feel like a failure in a way that nothing else can.

But it makes me write.

If I don't commit to it, I don't write a lot of fiction.  Maybe a burst every six months.

But every November for the last few years, I've written literally thousands of words.  I've brought vague, lingering ideas to life; I've fleshed out characters; I've explored worlds.

Every November for the last few years, I've bashed out incoherent paragraphs figuring I'll fit them in properly later. I've exhausted ideas that I now never want to hear of again.  I've killed my love for characters, and tired of worlds.

I've doubted my writing abilities, my imagination, my creativity, my storytelling.  I've convinced myself that I'm incapable of finishing anything.

The one year I hit 50,000 words? (50,299 to be precise).  I was maybe a chapter away from finishing the actual story.  The third quarter needed totally replacing and didn't really fit with the main story.  Four or five years later, I still haven't written that final chapter, even though I know what the outcomes are to be.  I haven't even typed it all up, let alone re-written part three.  I didn't fall out of love with the characters or the world, and I think about it a lot, and it breaks my heart.

Every November I've made a few new friends, and reconnected with old ones.  Bonding with someone over Nanowrimo is an experience that stands alone.  I've had one more conversation-starter than usual.  I've discovered some new cafes and new writing software.  My productivity has increased as a result of using The Work I'm Supposed To Be Doing as a distraction from writing.

Every year I tell myself I'm doing it to make myself write.  The 50,000 is irrelevant.  I just need to write some words.  More than none.  Then I'm a winner.  But not hitting 1,667 per day still feels like a gut-wrenching failure.  Finding out someone else is further on than me brings me down a notch.  Even with my inner-editor firmly silenced (she crawls into the cupboard of her own accord on the 1st of November these days) the inability to just sit down and churn out words right off the bat is crushing.

But it does make me write.

Writing fiction is my first love.  What I wanted to be when I grew up was "author".  It was a complicated word I knew when I was quite little.  Along with "aspidistra", but that's another story.

Imagine if I'd gone on to study it?  If I was writing because someone told me to write?  If I had to write to move forward in life?  I'd probably have burnt out well before now.

I guess it hurts so much because it means so much.

And that's why I have to get over myself and just get on with it.  If... when?... if I succeed, where success is writing a story I'm happy with, regardless of length, the boost will be indescribable.  I'll get a new lease on life.  I'll be sure I can do anything.

I'm going to the Edinburgh NanoBeans launch party tomorrow.  It's at 2pm in Forest Cafe.  I'm going to add loads of new people (People Who Understand) on various social networks to increase the chances of being asked how it's going.  Mostly I'll just have to shrug and say slowly, and feel guilty about that movie I watched or that extra batch of brownies I baked.  But maybe... just maybe there will be a time this year when I can say "it's going great! I'm ahead of target."

And just for some encouragement, here's are some pictures from 2008:

Thanks Nano.  I need you.  Never leave.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Sky stole £50 from me

Here is my tale of trying to get it back.

£50 isn't a large amount of money to a massive organisation like Sky. But for me, it's two to three weeks food, or a train ticket to visit my mother, or about half of my Christmas shopping (yeah alright, I'm not very extravagant with that sort of thing).
Following is an account of how a relatively small mistake on their part, which I thought was resolved well and quickly, then led to an agonising four month back-and-forth of:
a) Lies

b) Broken promises

c) Incompetencies

d) All of the above.

May: Attempted cancellation

I messaged through Help & Support to cancel my broadband and phone line, because I was going away a lot over the summer and it wasn't worth keeping it on. I was told it was sorted. I went to Australia for a month.

June: Apparently failed cancellation

I got back to Edinburgh and discovered I'd been billed. I turned on my router to see if I'd managed to mess up the cancellation myself, and saw no sign of broadband. So the services were cancelled, just not the billing.

18 July: Good customer service

I finally got round to contacting Sky about my bill; by this point I'd been billed for July as well.
I spoke to a couple of people on the phone who made me feel like it was my fault, then finally to the lovely Rachael who dug deeper, discovered a human error had occurred as a result of (we think) the two ways of writing the first line my address: 2F2 35 or 35/5. As a result, I had two account numbers... one had the services I guess, and one had the bills. It was very confusing, but once we found the two numbers Rachael properly cancelled my mysterious second account, and very kindly applied £50 credit to make up for the overbilling. I was told to contact again in a few weeks to initiate the refund process.

16-26 Sept: Being blown off

I tried several times to contact customer services via help tickets to ask for the refund but got told (by a human, not an automated error message) there 'system error' with my bill, or something totally unhelpful (telling me something I didn't ask about) in response.

29 Sept: Actually, no

I'm told the £50 credit can only be spent on Sky services, not refunded directly to a bank account.

29 Sept: I damn well disagree!

I protested the unfairness of this, since I have moved somewhere with an existing broadband provider and actually probably wouldn't be going back to Sky after all this even if I had a choice...
I was told that actually they can refund it after all, and I should expect it in 48 hours. I pointed out that I'd heard this before. I was told not to worry, it'll be fine! I relaxed.
48 hours later... no refund.

Social media

Throughout September and October I started tweeting about the problems. I liked to do things like compare Sky's customer service to that of Virgin Mobile (who have done wonderful things for me from time to time). I hoped 'public shaming' might speed up a resolution. I got encouraging responses from the social media team at Sky, who actually seemed to care (which is their job, I suppose) but really I only ended up opening more tickets and talking to other advisors in the end.

21 Oct: A change of tune

Following another help ticket chase up, I'm told credit was incorrectly applied in the first place, and has been removed. I'm not exaggerating (just paraphrasing) when I say this was done "for reasons".

21 Oct: You what?!

Oh, hey guys, how about... no? I didn't just suffer through months of torment for you try to tell me the only competant member of staff I have spoken to was actually incompetant after all!
So I had a very long live chat to William (I think; I've named him, because he didn't leave a follow-up note like he was supposed to) who "carefully reviewed my account" and agreed with the verdict that the credit was incorrectly applied. I protested. He "carefully reviewed my account" some more, and then said he could see that an explicit reason was left for the application of the credit to my account in the first place... so it should have been there after all! Yay.
He said it would be refunded to my bank account in 78 hours. I told him I'd heard this before. He said not to worry, it'll definitely be fine this time.
Guess what.

31 October: It wasn't.

So far, no refund, no re-application of credit to my bill, and not even an update to my help ticket about the conversation. It was like it never happened. I stupidly didn't think to copy the chat as evidence, although I assume they have a transcript of it somewhere.

1 November: Hope

I DMed the social media team a bit, and scheduled a time to live chat with one of them, directly. While I waited, I typed out a timeline of everything that happened so far so I could paste it straight to them.
Three quarters of an hour later, I have hope once more following a chat with the most human member of Sky customer services I have spoken to so far.
He found actual reasons for things that had been done for "reasons". For example, my initial refund was never successfully issued because goodwill credit must be issued as a cheque, not a bank account transfer, so Finance just rejected it. A silly rule, but that's the way of it. (In my case the response was just to not issue it though, so Finance can't even follow their own silly rules).
I'm still not entirely sure why the credit was totally removed though, or why on my bill its removal shows up as a charge for Sky TV.
He treated me like a person by not making vague promises, or holding back particularities of how the organisation works. He told me he believed I should be receiving a refund based on what he knew so far, but he'd have to talk to his manager. He talked to his manager, who agreed. But he didn't then just tell me everything would be fine. He told me it still might get rejected by Finance (for "reasons", I presume).
What he is doing is speaking directly to someone in Finance to get a cheque sent out. He's manually changing my address to make sure the cheque goes to the right place, and he's going to get in touch with me again on Wednesday night to let me know what the progress has been.
I asked him what the next step is if Finance reject the refund request, and he implied threats of violence. (NOTE to Sky managers who might read this: I don't believe he meant he would really commit violence on the Finance team. He was doing his job well and using humour to relieve me whilst promising he would make an effor to follow up).
He also gave me permission to verbally abuse him if he doesn't get in touch on Wednesday night. I appreciate this sentiment, though it's unlikely I'll get into capslock territory with this guy any time soon. I would tweet a gentle a reminder of course.

6 November: The Wednesday follow-up

I got a Twitter DM with a link to a live chat... After just under an hour of waiting in a 'queue' for the live chat I had to leave, and DMed @SkyHelpTeam back to ask if they'd let me know when there was someone there, so I wasn't waisting my time refreshing a page.  They responded and sent the details to my MySky help tickets instead.  And the result?

A cheque is in the post!

Please allow 28 days for it to arrive.

I sure hope that's true.  And that it's coming to the right address.  I might send a letter to my old flat, just in case.  So I guess I'll update in 28 days whether or not it actually arrived.  I'm hopeful, but they've promised me that money is on its way in x amount of time before...


If your problems aren't fixed immediately, pester the social media team (@SkyHelpTeam).  Get everything in writing, record every conversation, keep track of dates, names of customer service people, and what you were promised.  Don't give up.  For every semi-competant and sympathetic customer service person, there are four or five lazy/useless/uncaring or possibly even malicious ones.  Just keep trying, and you'll get through eventually...

Recommendations for Sky

Following my unfortunately extensive experience with Sky help ticketing, I'd like to make a few suggestions for its improvement.
  1. Tickets should be marked as resolved by the customer. I have so many tickets that I don't consider to be resolved, sitting in my 'resolved' tickets column.
  2. I should be able to reply to tickets. I post a request, I get a response that is marked as resolved that I don't agree with. I then have to follow up by opening a new ticket, which inevitably goes to a different person, and I end up going around in circles.
  3. If I'm taking the time to type out messages to you, it probably means I don't want to talk to you on the phone. It doesn't matter why. Take the time to write messages back. (Related: telling me it's free to call customer service on a Sky line is really unhelpful when I'm trying to contact you about a recently cancelled Sky line. The fact that I never physically had a landline phone, line or no, is irrelevant here).