Jailed Cells – Is It The End For Mobile Phones At Gigs?

Phones At A GigIt’s nothing new that people like to take photos and videos at gigs to remind them of the good times they’ve had. Often it’s simply an “I was there” willy wave but for some bands it’s a way of getting far cheaper publicity, promo shots and footage they can use to get themselves out to a wider audience. But is all that about to change? It’s been a rising trend in recent months, but as the debate has now reached these shores, it’s interesting to look at the increase in mobile phone bans at gigs.

Chris Rock and Jack White are proponents of the Yondr system for their shows in the UK this year. For those unaware, this sees punters give their phones over on the door to pouch-toting staff who gleefully pop your device in a lockable sleeve. Said sheath will only unlock after the show unless you take your device to a designated “phone zone” during the show. Obviously these artists are doing this to protect their material as well as everyone else’s experience but is this really the right way to go about ensuring a show is as enjoyable as possible?

I’ve posted a fair amount on Twitter about gig etiquette over the years; I’ve asked people to pipe down at acoustic shows a few times, much to their displeasure, for the crowd and the artists’ benefit and I’ve been stuck behind people who insist on filming pretty much a whole gig on their clapped out Nokia so they can be the first to put their fuzz-o-vision on YouTube afterwards. But really, locking a person’s phone away? I’m in no way a human rights activist but has it really come to this, that people need their phone to be physically prohibited for them to enjoy an outing? On the flip side, those protesting the ban by saying ‘what if there’s an emergency’ need to remember the early 90s when there weren’t any mobiles to take to gigs. And let’s face it, how many ACTUAL emergencies do you get on your mobile anyway? It’s like when people drop their phone down the khazi and go straight on Facebook to tell EVERYONE they can reach them on there if they need to. Anyone ever bothered? Nope. But I digress…

Yondr sleeve
The Yondr ‘solution’

I go to a fair few gigs by myself and I review them too. During the show I’ll take notes on my phone, always out of anyone’s line of distraction and always with brightness down to its lowest setting. No offence promoters, but if you start deciding I can’t take my phone in with me, and you want me to keep that much info in my brain after 39 years of muddlement, my reviews probably won’t be that thorough. I guess I could take a pen and notebook in but presumably ‘sharp’ objects would be frowned upon too. Also, in an age where we’re trying to reduce “drink culture” in the UK, is removing a slightly less harmful distraction between bands really going to help? Again, if you’re flying solo at a gig, what do you do with yourself in the 30-40 minutes in between sets other than a quick check of Twitter here, a move on Words With Friends there; probably better for you in the long run than a couple of extra pints.

So what is the solution? As ever it appears to be education. Schools and parents need to teach people from an early age that technology is a tool to take advantage of but also to respect. Encourage people to look up from their screens, and enjoy life through their own eyes and consider those around them, just like you would if puffing on an e-snout or dropping your litter in the street; there are much wider issues here around respect, dignity and common decency than just locking away a mobile for a couple of hours at a time. It might be slightly rose-tinted, but before the current boom, this worked for those who carried ‘compact’ cameras to shows with them; in typically British fashion a sign stage left or right simply stating “No Flash Photography” would be enough to put off even the most ardent of proto-David Baileys out of respect for the artists and fellow concert-goers.

To be fair, the current Yondr phase seems to mainly involve American acts and comedy ones at that and I’d say that theatre audiences in the UK are largely well-behaved when it comes to not recording shows. I saw staff at The Lowry Theatre tap a front row patron on the shoulder to remind them of the rules at a recent Bruce Dickinson spoken word show and that acted as enough of a deterrent to stop others following suit, but for how long will this be enough? And what about Smartwatches? I can do all my texting through that if I I like, do I need to take that off too? What if someone simply states they don’t have a mobile phone upon their person, will searches now class an iPhone in the same contraband category as booze and weaponry?

Needless to say, there are plenty of questions left unanswered around this topic, and we probably won’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. If I’ve got one thing to say to artists and gig promoters though, it’s to maybe focus on the real issues around rip off ticket resellers and snide merch hawkers before targeting actual fans who have paid with their hard-earned cash to do, within reason, whatever they see fit to do once they enter a live arena.

My My My… My Get Me There – A Travel Ticketing Travesty

There have been a few blogs and articles written in the past year or so regarding Manchester’s erstwhile attempt at Smartcard travel but having now battled with it for around six months, I thought it was high time to share my thoughts. If nothing else I need to for my own sanity…

Firstly, a bit of background. Back in 2007, yes over 10 years ago, trials of the Bolton Citizen Card were apparently that successful that Transport for Greater Manchester thought it would be worth rolling out a Smartcard system to the already-complex Greater Manchester public transport network. In fairness, it actually seemed like a good idea with so many companies operating across the network, both Victoria and Piccadillly Station began to install more and more barriers and ticket prices rose year on year, so getting the most cost effective ticket quickly and easily seemed like a plan.

Unfortunately we should have all seen the signs when the sack-the-marketing-agency levels of clunky “My Get Me There” name for the system was revealed in 2013. There was still a grand plan though, a way to shorten horrendous Travelshop queues and also a way to combat the variety of different companies, all with their own individual ticketing systems and prices that it was possible to encounter on a single, relatively short commute. A case in point, my 425 bus was run at one time by FirstBus during the day and Stagecoach in the evening, meaning I couldn’t get a cheaper First-only ticket, just in case. Anyway, we digress.

Fast forward to 2015 and disaster strikes! It turns out that Atos, the company charged with designing and managing the system are next to useless and can no longer do their job for the money TfGM were giving them. Having already installed smart readers at tram stops, TfGM pressed ahead with using concessionary pass holders as guinea pigs whilst quickly knocking together an app that allowed stop to stop, weekly and monthly tram tickets to be purchased; this might have also been a reaction to Metrolink ticketing machines located at tram stops being notoriously temperamental, but that’s pure speculation, of course.

The app was and is actually pretty good. Although you still officially needed to buy a ticket before boarding, you were now able to jump aboard an approaching tram rather than miss it and quickly buy a stop-to-stop ticket there and then rather than being stuck in a queue on the platform behind doddering dullards fishing through their purses for the right change as numerous trams come and go. Obviously people grumbled when caught by inspectors that they didn’t have any battery left and so couldn’t show their ticket, but that’s the general public, not Metrolink’s fault.

Get Me There Website
ttps://affs69.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/my-my-my-my-get-me-there-a-travel-ticketing-travesty/get-me-there-website/” rel=”attachment wp-att-1216″> What the Get Me There website professes the system can do.

[/caption]The only downside to all this was that you could only get tram tickets on the app so for me, it wasn’t that useful for my regular bus and tram combi-commute. Fast forward again to 2017. The My Get Me There card is unveiled and upon visiting a Travelshop to buy my normal bus and tram combination monthly pass for £112.50 I was informed I could get a whole Metrolink network card along with my bus pass for only £3 a month more rather than the named stop to named stop one I had currently. This sounded good on non-paper; I took the odd journey to Chorlton or on another tram line so this would save me the extra money in one trip. I could also renew it online each month so I wouldn’t have to visit a Travelshop ever again. Bonus! There must be a catch. Well, yes of course there was. In fact there’s more than one as I’m about to explain.

Firstly, despite my card having full network validity, I am still required to tap onto and off my tram. Not a huge hassle I suppose, but something I didn’t have to do with my paper ticket and an utterly pointless task when I’m not having money taken off me depending on the journey I’ve taken a la Oyster.

Secondly, what happens if the card or a reader fails? I soon found out when a bus driver told me my card was “empty” despite it having another two weeks or so to run. I phoned the Get Me There helpline after this embarrassing incident to be told the best thing to do was to keep my paper receipt with me at all times to prove the card’s validity. Yes, that’s right, keep a piece of paper with a new shiny paperless transport ticket. The mind boggles.

Thirdly, picture the scene. It’s January. The month when you’ve eked out the most cost-effective tickets in December to get you through the odd days you’re working. Remember kids, for no good reason you need to buy your new My Get Me There pass the day before you need it! Okay Dad, I’ll go online and buy it on the 2nd so I can use it on the 3rd. But wait! I’ve bought it, and now it says it will only be valid once tapped on a Metrolink card reader? But I use my card to get the bus to the tram stop where the readers are? What am I to do? Onto customer services again, “that’s something we’re looking at in the future”. How about looking into such a fundamental flaw before launching such an inept system?

Lastly, what happens when it ALL breaks down? Having had my card for about three months, it started being a bit temperamental when tapping in and out at Metrolink card readers. I spoke to customer services again and they could find nothing wrong with the card. I took it to a Travelshop (remember I thought I’d never have to do THAT again) and the woman scanned it and said it was fine. It may well have worked for her on that single occasion but there was no getting through to her that it only worked on about 50% of scans for me. Taking the hit, I asked to transfer my pass to a new card in case the physical item was the issue, and here’s the good bit; to do so would take a week. So, for that week, I’d not be able to use the pass I’d already paid for and would have to buy a separate weekly ticket. What on Earth is “smart” about that? Where do they send these cards to transfer an ELECTRONIC balance, Gibraltar?!?!?!? Obviously, an easy way for Get Me There to get around this would be to keep it all electronic, right? Then I could tap my phone or watch on a reader instead. The apps already live and working after all. No, that would be too easy – the app and the physical card are on two separate systems. You cannot see your card in the app, and you even need a completely separate account to use the app and the card’s top up/renewal website. Whoever dreamt that one up honestly needs taking out the back and putting out of their misery.

App hoverer
A Get Me There app hoverer in action.

And these are just my issues, believe me there are plenty of others. Take the exploiters. I’ve now lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people cue up a ticket on the Get Me There app, getting it all the way into their basket before hovering over “buy” in case of inspectors. Judging by my experiences too, inspectors have no way to scan a physical My Get Me There card for validity either so in theory you could just carry an empty one and wave it in their faces and get away with it time and time again. Oh and did I mention you can’t use it at all on trains? Yeah, that…

To be fair to the staff of the Get Me There/My Get Me There helplines and social media accounts, they are responsive and they do their best, but you can’t help but think they’re battling in similar ways to us commuters. As for the Travelshop staff, they seem so bitter that someone’s taken away their 1980s inkpads, they’ve reverted to computer-says-no levels of idiocy and denial just to make things even worse.

So, what are we left with? A system that doesn’t make sense. A system that was designed in 2007 FOR 2007. A system that leaves Greater Manchester public transport even more disjointed than before, and in a similar state of underfunding and complexity that the card was meant to eliminate. Hopefully there will be improvements, or it might be an idea to scrap it and start again, accepting contactless payments at readers instead. After all that seems to work okay for London, right? Either way, Manchester is a bit of a laughing stock over the whole thing and with 2018 price rises again, it seems only more and more frustrating to those of us having to deal with it day in, day out.

Army Of Two: The Devil’s Cartel (Spoiler-free Xbox 360 Review)


Back in 2008, the video game landscape was changing. No longer was a decent single player experience good enough for the gamer holding the purse strings, instead the demand was high for as good a multiplayer element as it was for any solo campaign, setting developers a tough task.

One idea many developers utilised was to make the campaign itself multiplayer by introducing co-op. Gears Of War was already setting the standard for such a social gameplay element, and Halo was soon to follow suit so Electronic Arts chose to jump on the bandwagon, the result of which was Army Of Two. Telling the tale of mercenaries Salem and Rios, the game saw you undertake objectives which relied entirely on your ability to co-operate, celebrating each boss take down with ridiculous amounts of air-guitaring and high-fiving. A wise-cracking macho load of old posturing nonsense with mildly flawed AI if playing solo, the game was, nevertheless, huge fun and sold enough to warrant a sequel.

The 40th Day built on the successful formula, making everything bigger and louder, adding morality moments to choose between and a greater sense of scenic destructibility. Moving away from the Afghanistan conflict, the game took in the sights and sounds of Shanghai but still kept with the terrorism theme. The cover system was improved (hiding behind a dead rhino in the zoo level being a particular highlight) and the game delivered a decent story which expanded the AOT universe, leading us nicely to today and the third game in the series, The Devil’s Cartel.

Perhaps concerned that doing the ‘global terror nutjob’ thing was stepping on Call Of Duty’s toes a little too much, this third game in the series is a far more localised effort. Taking place in Mexico, the game moves away from Salem and Rios and focuses on two Trans World Operations (see what they did there?) agents, Alpha and Bravo as they attempt to take down the deadly drug cartel La Guadana.

The original characters do still feature in the game, and the crazy masks are all present and correct, but there is a lot less of the over-the-top machismo, preferring to leave the banter to a few post-firefight wise-cracks. It seems a shame to have the original characters sidelined in this way, especially in the first three quarters of the game, and to not build up any sort of back story for the new playable heroes (other than one has ‘a girl’ back home, yawn) is a touch odd, but at the end of the day this is a game about destruction on an epic scale and that’s one way in which it truly delivers.

Despite the reliance on cover-based shooting, you never feel 100% safe behind your crumbling position and coupled with your enemy’s unerring accuracy with grenades, this adds a huge amount of tension to proceedings. You’re aided throughout by the returning Overkill system which turns you invincible and increases the power of your bullets for a short time, but with both yourself and your partner able to trigger this ability, it does make things a little too easy at times, even if it is fun to destroy reams of scenery in one ridiculously fiery 30 second burst.

The scoring system will also probably divide people, as the game splits itself into 50-odd sections, interspersed with brief ‘how many kills did you get’ calculations. Personally, I preferred these short interludes as an opportunity to reset my weaponry and buy new gear, and they do a good job of getting rid of chunky loading times completely, but it’s never abundantly clear how to get the big, big points or how you will be rewarded for obtaining them.

As for the setting, Mexico is really pretty in all its HD glory but it also seems to be a heck of a desolate place. You don’t come across any locals other than those who want to shoot your brains out (and even they all look pretty similar) and although the game looks very good graphically, it does all feel a bit done to death in the shooter genre, with the traditional quarries, mansions, churches and inner city slums all playing a part in the story.

The third game in the AOT series also feels a lot more stripped down than previous instalments. On my play through I didn’t control any vehicles, instead I only had the option to man helicopter machine guns or occasionally jump on the back of a truck to decimate small armies. These sections were still enjoyable, if mindless, but the lack of variety and linearity to the levels will challenge those used to choosing your own way through a game.

It’s probably in this mindlessness that The Devil’s Cartel lets itself down the most. I’m not a huge fan of strategy titles but the first two games in the series did at least make you use simple decisioning to get through most levels. This time out, it’s generally enough just to shoot everything in sight with little consideration for how to flank shielded foes or use your ally intelligently. The ability to team up behind a single shield is still there, but I only realised this right at the end in a set-piece that gave me no other choice.

There were also a couple of major glitches which required either a complete Xbox reboot or at least a trip back to the not-that-recent previous checkpoint, all of which should really have been patched a couple of months as it is after release. Moving from cover to cover is also frustrating on occasion, with the complete lack of ability for your character to roll or jump almost heresy in this day and age.

Yes, it is possible to rattle through The Devil’s Cartel in a day or two, but after the initial realisation that you’re just going to be shooting bandana man and cowboy hat man (oh, and the odd bulletproof vest man) for a few hours, the game is actually fun. The story is a little cliched but still takes the franchise further and there is more to it than just taking down a generic Mexican drug lord, but I’ll leave it spoiler-free for now. The shooting itself is solid, despite the customisable weaponry being a little soulless, and the explosions can be absolutely joyful to witness. Plus let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the franchise, you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for.

Army Of Two: The Devil’s Cartel may set its own universe on fire frequently but it wont do the same to the real world. Nevertheless, this is still a solid enough addition to the franchise, staying just about fun and brash enough to stand toe-to-toe with its rivals. Next time out though, EA are going to have to come up with something a bit more special or it’ll be over and out from the masked marauders once and for all.

BioShock Infinite: Sky High Delight Or Underwater Menace? SPOILER-FREE

BioShock Infinite
Columbia: There’s a better home a-waiting.

I don’t usually review video games for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I never have the time these days to really plough through a game straight after release and then cobble together something that is both timely and reflective of the full experience.

There is, however, one exception to this rule. Back in 2007, 2K Games released an intriguing little shooter called BioShock. A spiritual successor to the System Shock games, the sinister underwater setting and core production values instantly installed the game as one of my all-time favourites, and I would go to bed at night with the Circus of Values chimes running over and over in my head. Finally a game had harnessed modern console power to produce a stunningly immersive experience and a storyline in which you actually gave two hoots about the main characters.

Six years on and after the not-quite-as-good BioShock 2, we finally get the game we’ve been waiting for; BioShock Infinite. Early trailers and screens had given away the theme, with 2K taking the setting from fathoms below the Earth to miles above it in the floating city of Columbia, its gleaming spires hiding something sinister within.

The story is pretty simple in theory, even going so far as to mirror the earliest of Donkey Kong games; rescue the girl. But that is where the simplicities end. As lead protagonist Booker DeWitt, you are charged with not only finding the girl in question, Elizabeth, but also uncovering exactly what debts you will be repaying by doing so, and exploring the majestic flying city as you do.

To cover off the full plot would take another 2000 words, and as the game really needs to be experienced I’m not going to go into too much detail here. It doesn’t give too much away to say that Columbia is governed by Father Zachary Comstock, leader of a group called the Founders who strive to keep Columbia orderly against the rising discontent of revolutionaries the Vox Populi. A self-proclaimed ‘Prophet’, Comstock spends his time warning his people against the coming of the False Shepherd who is said to be responsible for bringing about Columbia’s downfall.

The city is a brilliant dystopia, rivalling Rapture as a morally ambiguous haven for saints and sinners. Throughout the game, you’ll come across various other characters from businessmen and scientists to shopkeepers and slaves who you can choose to treat either with respect or disdain, depending on your reading of the game’s society and of your character’s motivation.

Weaponry comes in the form of the usual line-up of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles and RPGs, all of which can be upgraded to the hilt, whilst kit parcels hidden amongst Columbia’s buildings give you special abilities which can be swapped in and out depending on the enemy you’re fighting at the time.

Of course, you can’t have a BioShock game without some supernatural special powers and just as the original had plasmids, here we have vigors which provide you with magical, mystical abilities. Powered by salts, the vigors feature amongst their number the ability to unleash a quite literal murder of ravens upon your foes, the power to shoot Sith-like crackles of electricity at all and sundry, or a talent for possessing machines and humans to do your bidding. All of the vigors have a secondary ability too in the form of traps which can be laid in the path of on-rushing foes, adding a nice tactical element to proceedings.

The combination of weaponry (right trigger) and vigors (left) works exceptionally well, and you’ll quickly be raining bullets down on enemies before finishing them off with an electrical burst or bull in a china shop charge.

The other part of your arsenal is the Sky-Hook. Created for attaching yourself to the monorail system that coils around Columbia, the wrist-based hook can not only be used for speeding around the city, but also as a melee weapon with which to batter your opponents.

An integral part of the game is Elizabeth herself and again it isn’t really a spoiler to say that you will travel with her for some of your journey. Elizabeth serves a few purposes and most importantly, she looks after herself. The game would have been severely hampered if 2K had focused on you having to constantly watch her back, so it’s pleasing to see the young lady intelligently taking cover and even going so far as to search the surroundings, lobbing you salts, ammo or money when required. She can also pick locks and open tears in space and time, allowing you to ask her to bring through assistance such as turrets, drones or cover during some of the trickier battles.

Graphically, there is little that surpasses this game on modern consoles. The environments are varied enough without ever being jarring and seeing the city both sparkling in sunlight and shrouded in darkness are equally satisfying. Enemies are insanely designed enough for you to know that you’re in a BioShock game and despite Infinite being set a fair few years before the first two in the franchise, similar stylistic themes prevail.

A special mention should also go to the soundtrack. Not only are the voice actors involved all on top form (including veteran Troy Baker as Booker) the music throughout is everything from haunting to jolly to maniacal, topped off by a brilliant cover of Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’.

So, is this game better than the first Bioshock? Possibly. It does look even better than its forebear, whilst the mechanics have been tweaked just enough so that it is familiar but also as tight as a gnat’s chuff.

There are a couple of minor quibbles, however. Medium difficulty generally gives you plenty of opportunity and cash to restock with ammo, but a random section suddenly provided me with zero ammunition for an extended length of time. Fortunately, this only served to make me more resourceful with my vigors and Sky-Hook. There are also a couple of ‘stuck in the scenery’ moments when the area you’re in becomes particularly dark (warning kids – don’t knock your brightness right down at the start) and the game also glitched once, refusing to let me past without a reboot, but presumably that will get fixed with a patch.

All in all, BioShock Infinite is a stunning game. As soon as I completed it I had to sit in awe, watching the credits and taking some deep breaths, trying to digest all that had been presented to me over a pretty mammoth 15+ hour journey through Columbia and beyond. 2K Games have delivered an astonishing, thinking person’s shooter that sucks you so far into its world, you’ll wonder if you or Booker will ever escape.

Sony – The End of a 20 Year Love Affair

Sony logo
Sony and The Affs – the end of an era.

Those who know me will be aware that I’ve always been a massive proponent of Sony technology, so you may be surprised to hear that myself and Sony could well be over.

My relationship with the brand began when I inherited my mum’s stereo. It was a turntable-topped, double tape deck, CD drive-based beast. I used it constantly, stunned by the sound from those great speakers, and forever showing off its monolithic appearance to my circle of friends.

It wasn’t long before everyone started getting Walkmans (Walkmen?) so I just HAD to seek one out (with a radio on it too) to keep me occupied on those long car journeys to far flung parts of England on the annual family holiday. A massive supply of tape-recorded albums and mix-ups courtesy of my friends would be a god-send, along with cassettes of some gigs recorded directly from the radio (swearing usually included due to sluggish broadcast-delay editing).

A Sony Discman soon entered into my Sony-stash, a good £100’s worth of prime tech, pumping pristine shiny disc music into my ears wherever I went. It may have been bulky and it certainly skipped every time you moved too quickly, but it was still a revelation in portable music technology.

When the offer of a new stereo came with my 18th Birthday, I had no hesitation in picking out a magical neon-lit five-CD changing behemoth from the company I knew I could rely on for quality and for design spectacle.

Mini-disc arrived next, and I bought a little silver Sony machine with great build quality and an (admittedly now misplaced) view that I was staring at the future of portable music.

When I went off to University I took my Sony kit with me and added a Sony dictaphone to my stash. A staple requirement on any journalism course, I was once again unconcerned with paying that little bit extra for a trusted bit of tech.

After finishing University, I treated myself to the hugely impressive PlayStation 2, finally getting a DVD player in my life along with a whole world of possibilities. I’d skipped the original PlayStation as I’d previously been a Sega fanboy, but as they slipped away from the video game hardware world, I defected to the new Japanese pretenders.

When portable music took a new turn, this time towards a digital future, I bought one of the first Sony MP3 players that saw the light of day. I wrestled with the god-awful Sonicstage software, insisting to people that the sound quality and reliability made it better than any grey-screened iTunes-locked down iPod or web developer friendly Creative Zen box of tricks.

I then bought a house, and used the opportunity to kit it out with the latest and greatest from the Sony Corporation. Trinitron TVs both upstairs and down, with matching VCRs and DVD players. Even the bedside clock radio was a Sony device, preferring that to cheaper models, despite it largely being a glorified timepiece. The PSP soon followed, seeing me again fighting against early reports of a a clunky, non-ergonomic design and Game Gear-like battery life. I even bought the PS3 on launch day for a mammoth £425, and more recently the PS Vita, a new HD Sony Bravia TV and a bedside iPod/iPhone dock radio.

I’ve also owned Sony earphones for a good three or four years now. This was a no-brainer compared to Apple’s own shockingly bad buds, but I still turned down Sennheisers and other top-name brands in order to go with safety and security from a brand that I trusted.

Even last year when it was time to spend my hard earned cash on a new laptop, I turned a deaf ear to those insisting I should go with a MacBook Pro, purchasing instead my second Vaio, along with a netbook for on-the-go scribbling. But now I can’t help but think I should have listened all these years.

Back in October, my then 15 month old Vaio would not turn on. Initially thinking it was a charging or battery issue, I plugged it in, charged it overnight, all to no avail. Quickly searching the Internet, the main reasons people had reported were with the motherboard itself. I was initially shocked that the main board of such a new machine could die so quickly, but knowing it to still be in warranty (I got a free two-year extended warranty when I bought the laptop) I went about getting it looked at.

My first port of call was the Sony Centre from where I had originally bought the product…until I realised it had shut down. With no other Sony store nearby I went online and followed the process to log the fault electronically. I soon received correspondence back saying I would receive packaging via DHL in which I should place the laptop and send it away for them to look at. So far, so good.

I got the DHL man to come to my place of work, expecting him to hang around whilst I popped the unit into the box, but oh no that would be far too easy. The box arrived but the courier was “not allowed” to hang around. Instead I had to package my laptop up and call DHL to get them to come back again and pick it up. Painful, but not the end of the world.

Again, service was quick and I soon had a voicemail from Sony saying the engineer had looked at it and it would cost £320.08 to repair. Knowing this to be a mistake as it was still under warranty, I called back the offshore call centre who had left the message.

They stated that the engineer in the UK had found the fault to be caused by liquid damage and this was something not covered by the warranty therefore it had to be paid for. I vehemently protested this diagnosis, as the laptop had never even left my house, let alone ever had anything spilled on it., but there was no arguing with the operator who only seemed capable of reading from scripts and so I had no other option than to request they returned it to me, unrepaired.

Looking at my other options, things appeared bleak. I knew of a few people who were handy enough to replace a motherboard, but getting the appropriate part for such a new model looked like costing the same as it would via Sony. I wondered how the machine could have got such damage and as it was certainly not caused by myself, I could only assume that the fault was present at purchase and corroded over time, so I sent Sony UK Customer Services a letter stating that I wished to get the machine repaired free of charge under the Sale of Goods Act.

Eventually I received a call from Sony’s complaints/customer services department in this country. They explained that my first port of call should be with the shop from which I bought it as they, as the retailer, would be responsible under the Sale of Goods Act. Explaining to them that the store was no longer open, they admitted that they’d had a similar problem with other customers as many Sony Centres had closed down. They then admitted that Sony Centres were in fact unrelated to Sony themselves and weren’t even franchises. They advised that I should look for head office details on my receipt to try and find who may now be able to help, and after taking an email address for Sony’s department in case I needed them again I grudgingly began to explore this route.

Unfortunately there were no head office details on the receipt, so I started digging around on the Internet for contact information for the administrators. I received no response from them, and so I emailed Sony customer services again to explore my next options and to express my concern that I and many others buy Sony products from Sony Centres as we expect to get suitably preferential after-sales care from a seemingly affiliated outlet. The next email from Customer Services did admit that although they were un-affiliated, the level of service they offer does impact on the Sony brand. Nevertheless, there was nothing more that they could do to help.

After running through my options, I decided that my only choice was to pay to get the machine repaired, get all my data and information from it and then sell it in order to part fund an Apple MacBook Pro.

I emailed Sony again, simply to enquire whether I needed to log this repair as a new job or if I could just package it up in the box I still had and get a collection arranged. A few weeks passed and on chasing my request again, I was eventually told to phone an 0870 number.

I did so, and was promptly on hold for over half an hour, before being put through to an offshore operator who could not help and would need to arrange for me to receive a callback from the team who could deal with pick ups and charge any pre-pick up fees. I strongly informed the operator that I had already received a quote for the repair and had been charged no fees previously and after trying to pull him away from his script, he eventually admitted that I would pay no more than was originally quoted, £320.08.

When I received my callback, the latest operator I spoke to told me that I would need to pay a £60 “logistics fee” as in my reporting of the repair, I had told them it was due to liquid damage which was not covered by warranty and so the DHL costs were also exempt from Sony picking up the tab.

Outraged, I suggested to the operator that I could, in theory, simply telephone back and report the laptop as being faulty, without suggesting a reason, thus avoiding this charge and she admitted that I “could do”. I decided to pick the issue up with the UK-based Sony team again to see if I could get some rationality and common sense and again after an extended wait I then received a call, during which I again expressed my disappointment with the time taken to resolve my issue and also with the inconsistent messages coming from the company’s various departments. The customer service agent did eventually agree to waive the logistics cost and arranged for me to receive a call back from the collections team once more.

A day or so later, I received the call, and again I enquired whether to save everyone’s time and effort I could just package up my laptop in the same box as last time. I was told that I couldn’t as I needed a new address label (the possibility of sticking this over the top of the previous one appeared alien).

I then asked whether the DHL courier could wait whilst I packaged up the laptop, but again the only scripted response I received was that he would need to leave and I would need to phone to arrange a new pick up. With no alternative I had to again follow this ridiculous process, phoning DHL to arrange pick up almost immediately after the original driver had left the building.

Two more days passed, before I received the call from offshore advising of the cost…it had gone up, and was now going to cost me £343.26.

I again had to call Sony, to ask why on Earth this cost had risen and they confirmed that a logistics charge applied. After checking with their supervisor, they agreed to remove it, bringing the cost down to the previously quoted amount.

I now await delivery of the repaired laptop so I can go about the process of getting everything off it,  restoring it to factory settings (if it isn’t already in that state) and then getting shot of one arm of Sony’s hideously admin-heavy, customer-unfriendly corporation from my life.

So that’s it then. One of the biggest companies across the globe has finally lost my business. And do they care? Doesn’t look that way. The majority of responses have been hugely scripted with no research into an individual’s issue and zero personal service.

I don’t necessarily expect Sony to be be less than faceless due to their size but there ARE plenty of companies out there these days that deliver a personal touch. Take Virgin, O2 or Tesco for example to see a classy, modern online customer service strategy in action. Instead, Sony make the customer jump through hoops, forever implying that they are in the wrong and charging hideous fees for anything that doesn’t suit their approach to warranty-related repairs.

All I can say is thank you Sony. Thanks for the previous 20 years, but no thank you to the next 20. I’ve spent a lot of money with you over the years and recommended others do the same, but that isn’t going to happen any more.

Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse – 2.8 Hours Later Style

When I think about the zombie apocalypse, I don’t tend to think of it as starting in Manchester and involving more orienteering than the average cub camp. But when the opportunity arose to play kiss chase with the undead on a dark Thursday night, I jumped at the chance.

Let me rewind a little. A while ago, some of us at work were discussing horror films, tv shows, and video games, as per usual, when the subject of survival tactics in the event of a zombie holocaust arose. After discussing how to defend deserted castles and the best way to make supplies last, we stumbled upon a company running something called 2.8 Hours Later. Being big fans of the namesake films, we explored it a bit more.

It turned out that it was in fact a city-wide zombie chase game, the objective being very simple, get from checkpoint to checkpoint without succumbing to the ‘infection’. The game takes place on specific dates in selected cities around the country and begins in a secret location. From there you are given co-ordinates, and using a map you move from one place to the next chatting to the odd survivor and obtaining important information along the way.

As part of a colleague’s 21 years of service at our company, we bought him four tickets to the Manchester one and left it up to him who to invite, knowing that we could snaffle some more tickets if he had a few interested parties.

As they day of the event drew near, we started to research what we could expect. We didn’t want spoilers as such, just a bit of a head’s up as to what may occur and how the whole thing worked. We saw videos on YouTube of zombie hen parties, car park horror and mad sprints to the safety of the finish line. All of which seemed pretty ruddy TERRIFYING.

On the day itself, it’s fair to say that a fair few nerves were jangling. We prepped by buying torches, expecting a few pitch black haunted house style moments. Other than that we didn’t really have much else other than ourselves to rely on when we hit the first location in a slightly less than salubrious locale in darkest Ancoats. After a briefing and a bit of a queue, the four of us were released along with our two additional team mates with the simple job of heading left and then right, and it wasn’t long before we encountered a lady in a dressing gown, out in the street.

Not too uncommon a sight in the area, we soon realised she was actually our first zombie apocalypse survivor. She told us that she was looking for her paramedic husband and gave us the co-ordinates of where she heard there may be more survivors. Following the road around, we had our first undead episode. Feeling cocky, and seeing the slow pace of the zombie in question, we decided to sprint nearby rather than taking a wider berth. It wasn’t until halfway down the street that we realised there were three and that their taste for human flesh gave them a decent lick of pace.

Arriving at the next location, we waited outside a small housing showroom. One slight problem with the game appeared to be that the sheer amount of players meant there was some bunching at key locations, but it did thin out later on. After a bit of a queue our group was let in by the salesman. As the situation turned nasty, we were ordered out directly past two zombies, our legs a blur as we pegged it clear.

Heading towards town we entered a church. The vicar was sat near the altar, deep in prayer. Knowing we needed information, we accepted her offer of helping to pray for the missing, only for her to lash at the nearest of a group as it became apparent she was chained up and infected.

Next up, we encountered an office block and were let in and told to follow a stairwell up. After a fair few flights, we emerged onto an empty, but brightly lit office space…with a zombie in the middle. Needless to say we wasted little time in hurtling to the door, and up another flight, only to encounter another member of the undead. Another quick trot and we came to the office boss who gave us further co-ordinates.

As we headed towards central Manchester it started to dawn on us how odd it probably seemed to the Thursday drinkers and shoppers that loads of luminous-arm banded people were navigating around the city. But it wasn’t until we got to the main shopping stretch, Market Street that things got even stranger. Realising we had to get from one end to the other, we soon noted that to do so, we’d have to run through a group of three or four zombies.

As they shuffled around they appeared harmless enough, so I chose a pretty direct route, only to find that they were quick. Very quick. I didn’t look back as I was very much in flight mode, but by all accounts they were on my shoulder for much of the dash. We lost a team member in this section, discovering she’d been tagged as she ran through. The tagging took the form of the zombie touching you, which meant you had to stop and be marked by said zombie, and at the end of the game, everyone was scanned for signs of having been caught.

At the bottom of Market Street we encountered the paramedic we had seen in the picture earlier. After telling him we’d seen his wife previously, he gave us a map reference for St Anne’s square, another prime, busy, city centre location. The task here was to help a diabetic lady by getting her some of her sweets from outside a shop on nearby King Street. This truly was a challenge considering the road was relatively narrow, and filled with shoppers. Oh and three prime zombies.

This was our first real attempt at tactics as we tried a few times to draw them from the bag and allow another runner to go for the target. After a few attempts we succeeded and headed back to receive our reward.

Our next location was outside Urbis, where a scientist was claiming to have found a way to tame the zombies. She encouraged us to get closer and even pet them, before once again, the inevitable happened and they ran directly for us. Another brilliantly jumpy moment, which we laughed about as we went on our way. We eventually got to a skate park where a woman was asking for help for her prostrate boyfriend. Not trusting the situation this time we were quick to get our next location and prepare to dash, as sure enough he rose to his feet and chased us out.

Approaching two and a half hours in, we presumed the end was near, and encountered the safety of a pub housing a single lady. Once again though, all was not as it seemed, and in a brilliant nod to Shaun of the Dead, the opening bars of Don’t Stop Me Now struck up on the jukebox and a zombie appeared behind her. Not hanging around we, legged it once more and onto our final location.

We encountered a square, on the other side of which was the solace of the survivor camp. Unfortunately, the narrower of the two routes through had two female zombies lurking, whilst the other was a wider path but had two male zombies present with a couple more tucked around the corner for good measure. After a few test attempts, we all ended up choosing different tactics. I preferred to try the wider route and it was here that I was finally infected, on the home stretch.

We got to the end, pretty exhausted but exhilarated with the reward being a zombie disco full of survivors alongside the infected players who had been made-up to look like the undead.

A few members of the general public along the way did ask what we were doing and we were happy to give out free promotion for something which can only be called a very different way to spend an evening out and about.

Yes it was just a game and we weren’t going to get chomped for real, but I fully admit that I took it all pretty seriously and even succumbed to a few zombie movie cliches in my attempts to survive. Overall, the night turned out to be a brilliant, exhilarating, energetic event that any genre fan should have a go on. Be prepared to run, be prepared to be scared. But most of all, be prepared to be entertained by a great one of a kind night out.

The iPhone 5 – How Apple Continue To Test Brand Loyalty

Last week saw one of the biggest anti-climaxes in the history of Apple, as the iPhone 5 was launched to an audience who already knew exactly what it was going to feature.

Unheard of under the late Steve Jobs’ watch, the already-leaked phone matched the prototypes we’d all seen in height and design, coupled with a ‘no-one will really notice’ faster chipset and iOS6 features which are very tenuously classed as ‘improvements’.

Oh, and there was a slightly better battery and a smaller camera. According to the official tech specs, the advertised improved power cell can be proven by 225 hours of standby, 25 more than the 4S, but this is still way short of the 700+ on rival Android devices. And surely this improved battery is going to be chowed through by the phone’s LTE high speed data capability, so a true improvement won’t be seen? As for advertising the smaller camera as a feature? I’m really not sure how this improves the handset one bit, other than admittedly making the device thinner and lighter than before.

And then there’s the connector. Oh dear. Apple has finally decided to sack off the 30-pin connector of old (you know, the one which features on all four of your docks and five of your chargers) in favour of ‘lightning’, the ridiculously-named replacement. Other than saving Apple space on their device, this new connector does nothing to improve the phone whatsoever, preferring instead to inconvenience millions of dock-wielding punters. Fear not though! Apple have unveiled an adapter that can bridge the 30 pin of old to the new connector. The bad news? A cursory glance around the Apple store shows that the bulky accessory is going to retail at £25 and isn’t available until a month after the phone comes out.

As far as technological bollock dropping goes, Apple could well have really done it this time. They must still be reeling from having to dish out bumper bars due to the notorious iPhone 4 signal issues, and the consumer backlash around the lightning connector can surely only result in these adapters being given away for nothing to satisfy furious fanboys?

Another big let-down has already been talked about by app developers who have been getting hands-on with the iOS6 pre-release. Firstly, the replacement of Google Maps with Apple’s own seems to lack the detail of the old, with the map’s usefulness being glossed over by demonstrations of flashy 3d fly-over functionality. Also due to the Apple/Google fall-out, the old YouTube app has been removed, replaced by a money-making ad-heavy one.

It isn’t just Apple who are getting complacent either. The UK mobile networks have been jumping on the money-making bandwagon, with O2 only offering 24 month contracts with the iPhone 5, knowing full well that customers who HAVE to have the latest tech will still pay and get hooked into long-term deals.

So, overall, what we’ve got is an expensive and not-much-improved-over-two-years device with the inconvenience of having to buy all-new accessories, a loss of operating system features, and some new earphones which surely can’t be of any interest to those who value half-decent sound quality and so invested in decent lug-hole speakers years ago rather than putting up with the awful bundled ones of yore?

When Apple first launched the original iPhone five years ago, it was playing catch up to a grand master in the form of Nokia. Following the vast improvements to its device, the iPhone 4 truly became a leader and almost made Nokia bankrupt, but now it seems as if Apple is on the back foot once again, this time behind the slew of Android devices from the likes of Samsung and HTC.

So, is there light at the end of the tunnel? Of course there is. Apple die-hards have already been pre-ordering in their droves. The guaranteed 5S next year will also up the ante once more, and there is a massive question mark over where mobile phones can actually go next from a technology point of view, with 3D devices not exactly setting the world alight.

One thing’s for sure, those thinking that Jobs’ legacy has been decimated would be wise to look at all the other times when Apple have been written off; they’re sure to not go down without a fight.