Speeding up your Mac

My parents have a 21” iMac from 2015.  It was getting sluggish with an ever-increasing number of beachballs.  Ideally they didn’t want to buy another one and given their requirements they didn’t need to.  But the machine was becoming frustrating to use.  As their tech person (it’s their return on putting me through university) I looked at various options.  The obvious one was to install an SSD into their machine.  That version of their Mac uses a laptop drive which is limited to a mere 5,400 RPM.  Add a few years of wear and tear on that mechanism and no wonder it’s starting to be slow.

They asked at their local repair store (nearest Apple store is 80km distant) the cost of installing an SSD.  It came out at $250 but that would mean replacing the existing disk which would reduce their overall storage space.  So I decided on an alternative.  Since we live in different states I needed to test out the process first before I accessed their machine.  I have a 27” Mac – and I thought it was also getting a bit slow.  I write iOS apps and the fusion drive didn’t seem to help that much when compiling in Xcode.  Opening storyboards ground everything to a halt.  Opening Excel could take 15+ bounces in the dock.  It was simply unacceptable.

So I did the following simple process.

The Mac disk disk is 1TB so I headed to Officeworks and picked up a Samsung T5 1TB portable SSD.  That came to $296.  It is powered via a USB port so I plugged it in to the iMac, opened Disk Utility and reformatted it as an APFS volume.  I then opened Carbon Copy Cloner.  

This simply clones one disk to another.  I’ve used it for years to automatically clone my iMac disk to an external drive every night.  When my internal disk died a few years ago it meant I lost nothing more than a couple of hours work - and could continue using the machine.  If it saves you once it has paid for itself many times over.  Even if you never need to recover a disk the cost is worth the peace of mind.

I closed all applications then cloned the internal disk to the SSD drive.  That took a few hours.  When it was done we start getting to the fun bit.  I rebooted the iMac and as soon as the boot chime sounded held down the option key on the keyboard.  That causes the Mac to bring up a simple display asking which disk it should boot from.  A tap of the cursor key and it starts from the SSD.  A lot quicker than from the internal disk.

Once logged in go to the System Preferences, select the Startup Disk item, click on the padlock if necessary, then select the SSD and set it as the boot disk.  If you then restart it should always boot immediately from that disk.

Once that was done I created a new scheduled task in Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the SSD to an external drive every night.  As someone who has worked in IT for over three decades I’m aware that there are only two types of data storage: those which have failed and those which are going to fail.  Hence make automated backups at all times.

Once that had run through I reformatted the internal disk and now use it for my iTunes library.  My Xcode compiles now run far quicker as does almost everything else.  For cost reasons I don’t see Apple making SSD the only disk storage so this is the most cost-effective way I’ve found to improve the performance and lifespan of an older machine.

It means you lose one USB port as the SSD always has to be plugged in.  However, it has the added benefit that if I need to work elsewhere I can simply take the disk, plug it into another iMac, and boot off my SSD.  And in the rare event the SSD does fail I can simply boot off the external disk I clone it to every night and continue working until I get another SSD and clone that external disk back to that.

I did the same process for my parent’s machine (and they could get away with only needing a 500GB SSD).  They think it now runs quicker than when they first bought it.  They’ll get at least another 5 years use from it – all for a bit of simple work and about 12% of what it would have cost for a new machine.

I got asked if I wanted to interview as a developer for Uber

A couple of days ago this email turned up in my inbox.  Obviously it was a mass send-out as I’m nowhere near the cream of the crop that these companies usually target.

I saw who it came from.  My parents brought me up to have good manners so I consider it a basic courtesy to respond civilly.  I couldn’t possibly work for a company like that so I told them why.  Perhaps it will nudge them in the direction of change so they could become a company I’d be comfortable working for.  I remain the eternal optimist so sent them the following response:

Hi, Gerry

Thanks for the offer to connect.  I feel honoured in being one of only a probable few hundred who received this email via LinkedIn.

I’m happy to learn my background is a fit for some of your engineering needs.  As with most developers I suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ and so can’t quite believe that people are actually paying me money to do what I do.  So to be informed I fit “senior engineering needs” does give me some validation that I might actually be vaguely decent at what I do.  Thank you for that.

Then I discover that a large international corporation is possibly interested in my skills. That’s nice for the ego.  I tried doing my own thing for a while – didn’t quite work out because creating a business is very hard.  A job at a big corporation came up recently and thanks to the old girl’s network of which I’m a part they helped me get it.  I’m reasonably happy there.  The work keeps me interested, the people are decent human beings, and they pay me on a regular basis.

So to your offer to request an interview.  Let’s be blunt: Uber doesn’t have good press.  And I say this from a position of experience as someone who has spent a lot of his career working for large banks.  I’m one of the very fortunate people: I’m white; I’m male; I live in a first world country; and I received a free university education (thanks, Gough).  That’s Willy Wonka golden ticket winner.  And all due to factors entirely beyond my control.  I had no say over my sex or skin colour; where I was born (or parents emigrated to); or government decisions about education in my youth.

Having had this knowledge of the sheer luck that informs where I find myself in the world today I have always tried to pay it back in some way.  Or at least feel I can justify to myself that there is some ethical aspect in the jobs I take that do not conflict with my beliefs.  I have ignored jobs with any Rupert Murdoch company for this reason.  I have taken jobs with banks because while there are aspects of their business I disagree with the areas in which I work don’t rub against my beliefs too much.  As with most things in life it’s a balancing act between beliefs and reality.  The reality of needing to pay a mortgage can be balanced against working for a large bank even though I believe a Royal Commission into the banks would be a very good thing.

Then there is Uber.  We’ve all read the Susan Fowler piece.  And that Travis Kalanick resigned over ‘issues’.  And the attempt to screw drivers over pay.  And how surge pricing takes advantage of people when they are most in need.  And the alleged theft of Waymo software.  In short Uber seems somewhat toxic.  Which is a kind way of saying it has a reputation as a misogynistic and abusive culture desperately hoping that will be covered by it promoting itself as something beneficial to the public.  Even the hiring of Bozoma Saint John seems purely tokenistic for marketing reasons rather than a fundamental shift in company culture.

Then there’s the requirement to work in the US.  It does not appear to be a friendly place even though I am male and white.  We have long been aware of the inequality that resides there and which seems to have become even worse since the recent presidential election.  Not that we in Australia can cast too many stones given the increasing level of abuse we exhibit towards refugees, the poor, women, and anyone of colour from Australian governments in the last five years.  Hmmmm, I’m starting to see from where Uber may have got its company culture.

The exceedingly high cost of rents in California for anyone who wishes to live there, the antipathy of the US government to anyone from overseas, the ‘joys’ of dealing with the TSA, the probability you’ll get shot (if Australian by a US police officer), and the knowledge that you’d be working for Uber – the Donald Trump of the tech world – means that this is not an offer I would contemplate.  No doubt some will but I suspect they’ll be saying to friends “don’t tell my mother I work for Uber – she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse”.

Thank you for thinking I may be a suitable candidate but you are not a company in your current form which in all conscience I could ever be associated with.


Fitness First, inept management, and transparent bastardy

In which I discuss a situation at my local gym where FF employs the wrong people, ignores stupid decisions they make, and manages to piss off the people they shouldn’t which ends up being detrimental to their future customers (especially if they read this) and also their brand.  Makes you wonder if they’ve taken note of what’s happening politically in the world over the last few years.

Note: I have a meeting with the FF State manager later today as enough effluent appears to have hit the air circulation device that they’ve become involved.  I’ll post an update to this afterwards.

I have been participating in group fitness for about twenty years.  During that time I’ve learned a lot about how gyms work by watching and asking questions of both instructors and management.  A friend – and GFM at one of my former gyms – has since bought two gyms and turned them into very popular and successful concerns; I’ve learned a huge amount about the inner workings of the fitness industry from her.  Not to mention all the insanely talented people I’ve met and been lucky enough to befriend over the years after we burned a lot of calories in the same studio.  I also spent a dozen years working in the IT departments of large banks.  They are heavily political and you soon learn to read between the lines of what people say compared to what they are actually trying to achieve for themselves.

I also developed a music app which is used by instructors.  I originally built it in order to learn iOS coding and to help resolve a couple of issues I saw during classes.  To keep it up to date I keep a close check on what the programmes are doing and how they should be taught.  Feedback for the app has been generally positive and it must be doing something right as Les Mills now recommend it to their instructors.

When I returned to Fitness First (primarily because of the BODYJAM classes) I had a couple of chats with the incumbent Fitness Manager.  He admitted he knew very little about group fitness; that was probably why he soon departed.  There was an advertisement then placed for a GFM for the club.  My (now gym-owning) friend did look at it but said that the terms were ridiculous given that the relatively low salary included doing five unpaid classes per week.  Whether this was a deliberate attempt to ensure that no properly trained GFM would actually take the job and therefore would mean a generic Fitness Manager would need to be appointed again I am unable to say.

So we ended up with Andrew (all names have been changed in order to protect the innocent).  As with new staff arrivals I like to talk to them to find out their views on certain issues.  They claim to want feedback so I’m more than willing to provide it.  Since the only things I do are the group fitness classes they are my main concern.  I sent a few emails with suggestions about classes and other areas of the gym on how to engage people more.  Small things, mostly free things, requiring only a small amount of time and effort at most.  I suspected things were not going to go well when he told me that “the instructors are only concerned with turning up and getting paid”.  As contemptuous, dismissive, and wildly inaccurate remarks go that one is pretty near the top.  That it was said by the manager to a paying customer is gobsmacking.  I studied psychology at university.  The term ‘projection’ jumped out when he said that.

An experienced instructor was brought in to assist him for a while.  Immediately there were brilliant launches of the new Les Mills releases.  The room was decorated, there was promotional material around the place, class numbers swelled, and everyone had a great time.  It was a bit of effort expended by this ‘assistant’ which had excellent results.  Then she left and so did all of the things she had brought.

Over the years it has struck me that group fitness classes are the best way to keep existing customers.  They use little equipment, they build up their own communities which keeps people coming back, and they don’t make huge demands on the gym.  An instructor, a stereo, and a reasonably clean room is all that’s needed.  And occasionally a bit of effort made for a special launch just to show those members they are not being taken for granted.

There was a set of launches last years in which some effort was expended – but that was due to an instructor who was as sick of the situation as the members and decided voluntarily – and unpaid – take over most of the GFM role.  I’m not sure how the rest of the of management team viewed that but I suspect with the same indifference and lackadaisical attitude as Andrew.  Sadly that instructor then obtained a full-time job which meant he was unable to continue.

At the start of the year we turned up to a class minus an instructor.  It turns out she was in Costa Rica at the time.  A few minutes after the start time I went to the front desk.  A couple of minutes later Andrew walked in.  “Where’s Rochelle?”, he asked.  He was proclaiming to the class that he did not know where the instructor was.  Except he did.  And for at least six hours beforehand.  I have a copy of the email conversation with timestamps.  So rather than admitting there had been a problem and apologising he tried throwing blame on to someone else.  Then he made a show of ringing someone up, talking, and hanging up before informing the class that “Pete was meant to be covering but due to a miscommunication he couldn’t make it tonight”.  So no class.  There are a number of problems and resulting pieces of fallout with Andrew’s ‘performance’ which will be described later on.

Before we left I did ask Andrew why there were posters of Sh’bam up on the walls.  “Because they look good”, was his reply.  Since I’m an annoying sod I asked that since he was advertising that particular programme when we were going to get it in.  He then asked what that programme involved.  Let’s just think about that.  A person ostensibly responsible for group fitness has just asked what is the concept of a programme made by the biggest provider of group fitness products in the world.  I would have thought knowing what products are available would be the very first piece of knowledge needed as a GFM.  Anyway I did explain what the class involved.  Andrew’s somewhat puzzled response was to ask how that class would make people measurably stronger.  At that point you realise that if someone is asking that type of question they are not going to understand the answer.

It seems the fundamental problem with appointing those with a PT background to look after group fitness is that they are unable to see that people do classes for fun – the resulting fitness improvements are an added benefit.  They attend Combat to relieve a bit of stress by throwing punches and kicks and suddenly realise their core has become stronger and their shoulders have some definition.  It’s not because they consciously decided to do 500 boring crunches and to lift some weights; they did the equivalent while doing something enjoyable with people they know while music is blaring out.  I’ve worn heart rate monitors during Jam and Sh’bam and it’s the equivalent of a 30 minute jog.  Without the tedious running bit.  People dance and get benefits of improved coordination, better proprioception, and a decent cardio workout with them realising they have worked so hard.  The other issue with group fitness is the confidence that comes from doing the classes.  I’ve seen many who start out hiding in the back row, struggling with coordination and timing, improving through the months and working their way forward.  Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.  When I was last a member here in 2009 there were two very shy and timid women at the back of the room.  They are both now instructors.  On stage and having fun yelling at me.  Getting fit doesn’t only involve certain muscular and circulatory systems of the body – it has a lot to do with the mind.

Unsurprisingly for a method of fitness that is very social a lot of instructors and participants use social media.  So within 15 minutes of the class being cancelled we had most of the story; 24 hours later all of it.  Which is why I wrote something on the Fitness First Facebook page about what had happened.

I have to give credit to FF for being willing to leave up pretty much all of the criticism they receive on their Facebook page.  I’ve seen other organisations with far thinner skin.

The following Monday arrives and I’m waiting outside the studio for it to open.  Andrew arrives.  He is not happy.  He’s “very disappointed” about what I wrote.  I notice he doesn’t say that I’ve actually written anything untrue.  I ask him who he called on the phone the previous Thursday.  He said it was Pete.  I reply “so if I ask Pete to look at his call history there’ll be one there from you?”.  He asks if I’m an investigator for Fitness First; certainly an unexpected response but one that perhaps betrays his state of mind.  He then goes into a self-aggrandising spiel about all the other equipment he’s bought for the gym (all of which is outside the GF studio – and also completely irrelevant to the issue) before walking away.  He then returns five minutes later saying that he actually called John.  But if he called John why did he say Pete was meant to have been there?  Pete has a class elsewhere at that time on a Thursday.  John was on a flight overseas at that time so he couldn’t have talked to him.  My friend (from an Asian background) who has overheard this conversation notes that Pete and John are both Asian as well and “perhaps Andrew thinks we all look the same”.

The obvious reason is that he already knew the class wouldn’t be on.  There are a number of options that could have been taken:

  1. Put up a sign at the front desk saying the class was not on for tonight.  The best way of dealing with customers is to forewarn them of changes as early as possible so they can plan.  Seeing a class is not on is annoying when arriving.  Changing and then being told ten minutes after it should have started is even worse.
  2. Apologise for it.  My parents always taught me to accept responsibility for your mistakes.  Learning to do so is a necessary skill of life because mistakes will always be made.  The best managers will always accept the public blame for mistakes of their employees.  They will also allocate praise publicly to their employees.  The worst type of managers – and there’s a few of them in the IT world too – will always absolve themselves of any responsibility when anything bad occurs but happily claim the credit for anything good.
  3. Put on another class.  The GFM is usually the last resort to cover a class.  They usually are able to teach a number of programmes.  At worst a freestyle circuit could have been put on instead as I can’t imagine every PT was busy at that time.  That may have taken a quick bit of thought and effort but isn’t that the whole point of management?

Fast forward six months.  There are *still* Pilates machines strewn across the front of the group fitness room.  Not great for classes like BODYATTACK which require a lot of movement.  Two years – yes, twenty-four months – earlier I had raised that issue with Kevin, the Club Manager.  “They will be gone next week”, he proclaimed.  “When I say something will be done it gets done”.  It seems to – but it takes one hundred times longer than he originally stated.

There has always been a tension at the gym that Fitness First are looking to remove the group fitness classes.  This wasn’t helped by Kevin’s previous club being one where all classes were removed.  Whether it was because he was instructed to do so or it happened due to ineptitude doesn’t fill the members of this gym with a great deal of trust or confidence.

But now we reach the main issue that displays a level of cynical cack-handedness and braindead stupidity that makes you wonder just how the implementers of it are able to walk and talk at the same time.  Pete’s class was flagged as being ‘on watch’.  This is something that happens occasionally if the numbers in a class are lower than desired.  Usually the fans of that class will make an attempt to turn up a little more frequently and it stays on the timetable.  In this case a certain number of classes were flagged.  Well, just one.  A single class.  Which wasn’t the lowest attended one.  In fact it had been running with that instructor for about eight years and still pulling in between 20 and 35 at 7:30 on a Wednesday night (his supposed target was to average 20).  But the instructor was Pete.  Remember him from the missed class at the start of the year?  He’d followed up my post on Facebook with one that was mildly critical of Andrew at him being unfairly blamed for something in which he had no involvement.

The proper way to get rid of something in politics is to bury it among a lot of other things.  Want to get rid of a single instructor because of a personal bias?  Flag five classes and announce at the end that 80% of them are staying.  Highlighting only a single one – and a popular one at that – only shines a spotlight on the underlying reasons and makes them apparent to all, despite how many denials you make.

This was exacerbated by being informed there was a six week period in which the class would probably stay if it met the attendance target of 20 participants each week.  It had 24 and 35 (I counted) in the first two weeks – and considering one of them was the night of the opening ‘State of Origin’ game that was pretty impressive.  Yet it was cancelled before week five.  So the numbers weren’t the issue?  It appears not as suddenly this notice appeared:


So a claim of a six week review which was an excuse for a personal vendetta is now classed as something that should be celebrated.  Perhaps Kevin and Andrew are learning politics.  Shame the proles weren’t buying it.  The Fitness First Facebook page copped a battering.  Various examples (locations and names replaced to protect the guilty) are included at the bottom of this page.  All the writers of these posts are women.  Most have been members for years.  They only do group fitness – even if it leaves Andrew wondering how they will ever improve their strength.  The common themes of the posts are that Andrew is inept and that Kevin doesn’t care.  That does sound like a fair bit of middle-management I’ve known over the years.  That’s also given credence by this review left by a former employee (I think I know the person; they were really good at their job and if FF employed more like them they’d be in a far better place).


The responses from FF were as best you could expect. I do feel sorry at times for the people who have to handle the social media accounts as most of the stuff they receive is negative.  I’m the support person for my app so problems tend to dominate – although the responses when you resolve an issue for the person can be wonderful.  Still if I can give a suggestion to the Facebook people it’s that if you are cutting-and-pasting responses it’s best you ensure (a) it’s relevant to the actual question you are meant to be answering and (b) you change the name of the club to the correct one and not leave it as the one in the previous answer you gave (you’ve done that more than once).  Otherwise it hurts credibility.

Some took the approach of emailing the management directly.  It certainly showed the people on the Facebook page seem to have a far better idea of what customer service means.  A number of people have been kind enough to send me a copy of their emails.  The responses do appear generally dismissive.

The first (see section at the end of this page) was an interesting one from Andrew as it said that the instructor was responsible for bringing in new faces.  Today (12th July)  I looked at the club’s FB page (the GFM is supposedly responsible for updating it).  The last mention of Group Fitness was from 20th June and that was was a long piece (neither author nor source provided) which kept pushing small group training (and a very utopian – and thus fictional – story it was as well).  Prior to that was a picture of the notice of the Jam class being put on deathwatch (7th June).  The most recent bit of promotion on there for GF was 31st May for a flouro-themed cycle class.  Scrolling back there were lots of mentions of SGT and weights and PTs but you have to go all the way back to 24th March – four months ago – to see any mention of group fitness – another special cycle class.  But, lo, on the 23rd of March we see a promotional picture for a new BODYSTEP release.  Stealth marketing at its finest.  It seems Andrew is advocating that group fitness instructors (most of whom have full-time jobs elsewhere) do all the promotional work.  In that case we need to question what it is that Andrew – who is responsible for group fitness, remember – is actually meant to do as part of his job.

Firstly, according to his email, they must “have consistent adherence”.  There’s actually a full stop after that.  I’m reasonably familiar with managerial-speak but I have no idea what that phrase means.  “Pete has had no creativities over the past few years in the club creating fun events or  member experience occasions”.  That is a flat out lie.  And hypocritical seeing as Andrew has never been seen inside the GF studio other than to fix the stereo or lie about Rochelle & Pete.  It seems that five instructors turning up for Jam class launches (most are not paid on the day), dressing the place at their own expense, or getting in the rather lovely lighting guy who turns it in to a nightclub for free doesn’t fall under “creativities” (he’s been in twice, Andrew.  Last time on the Sunday just gone.  Go on, tell me his name.  Nope, just another thing you don’t know).  I will admit chuckling at the self-unaware irony of his next line: “Just like any other job if you aren’t performing as an employee then you will be under review“.  Then he goes on about revenue (a slight shock as FF gave me the impression of having successfully moved away from their ‘Finance First’ name in recent years).  The Jam licence – like all Les Mills ones – is based on a venue.  So this class costs nothing extra for that.  The only additional cost is the PPCA and APRA ones.  They are a combined total of about $5 a class.  So his argument on a financial basis is that the 20+ people who normally attend that class are not worth Fitness First paying 25 cents for.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard more specious arguments – and we’ve just been through six weeks of electioneering.

The response from the person who originally sent the email manages to say that and more in a far more economical and scathing manner (see ‘Customer one’ in the email section at the bottom of this page).  Six weeks after replying to his vapid response she has still not received the courtesy of a reply from Andrew.

Someone else sent a complaint to Andrew – (see ‘Customer two’ in the email section at the bottom of this page) – and received exactly the same email as the person above.  As in identical, cut-and-paste, ‘give them any old twaddle so they’ll stop annoying me’ reply.

A later email was sent to Kevin, the club manager (see below).  A template reply and a fortnight later no courtesy of a response from him either.

Another complaint to Kevin – notice how they’re going up the managerial chain because they are not receiving an acceptable response from the person who should be providing one?  When that has to happen it’s a failure of Kevin and those above him in the chain – see emails below.  That was met with an almost identical response to that received by the person above.  The line “Also any Maintenance issue in the club will be passed on to our maintenance team and will be resolved” was replaced “I will do my best to meet your fitness needs“.  Otherwise it was the same brush-off.

At least with the Facebook people they respond within a day.  The club management apparently take a little longer.  Although we’ve already seen the hundred-fold time dilation that seems to exist in Kevin’s world (perhaps he lives near the event horizon of a black hole) so perhaps the last sending of the emails may be graced with a reply from him somewhere around 2019.

Like a lot of the people mentioned in here I go to other Fitness First gyms.  They’re a lot more difficult to get to than my local club, though.  Being there you get to see how the management works at those other places.  And the obvious thing is that it’s a lot better than at my local club.  They seem to care about group fitness.  Probably why they get 70+ people in Saturday morning classes.  I’ve heard a rumour that Andrew is claiming to head office his instructors get 40 people in a Pump class.  Which is impressive given there’s only 31 bars (I counted last week) in the group fitness studio.  For the most part it’s been a brilliantly fun time at FF – the BODYJAM classes for which they pay the original music licence are primarily the reason I came back and Pete’s classes have been one of those joys – but the yin-yang aspect of all things that means that balances having to deal with the malicious, indifferent, incompetence of Andrew and the obvious middle-management PHB stylings of Kevin.

Join Fitness First for the group fitness classes – even this raging cynic knows they are great value and most of the instructors are brilliant (especially Pete) – but avoid my local club until they get rid of the problem dickheads currently squatting in management.


Facebook Posts

Dear Fitness First,

This is extremely disappointing to see that Pete’s Wednesday night class has been cancelled. As you can see by other member’s posts, we are extremely upset to see a great class and instructor go.

The members would like to see the Group Fitness Manager “cancelled”, he doesn’t care about members loving Les Mills classes. I have not seen any improvement, only him target certain classes and get rid of them totally. Also Tuesday’s 6:30pm Body Attack was popular, you then got a bad instructor, numbers dropped, then the class got cancelled – nothing got replaced.

The club has developed a bad vibe and atmosphere with all the egotistic managers, personal trainers and I don’t like it (members can see what’s going on). These managers don’t care about people’s health and fitness one bit; they just care about their big egos.

How did the club “get here” I ask. I ask for your assistance, the club needs Head Office and for you to take in what members are saying.

Thank you

My Wednesday 7.30pm jam class jus got cancelled, was promised a 6 weeks review, but cancelled in less than 3 weeks, HARDLY FAIR!!! been in this class every week for the past 7.5 years, we are devastated! Seems the club does not listen to its members after all. Very disappointed

What is the point of putting posters up and saying ‘ if the numbers improve over 6 weeks’ we might keep this class , if you already cancel Wednesday 7.30pm bodyjam with Pete before the 6 weeks is up ?? Fitness first claims they ‘appreciate your feedback ‘ , I find that hard to believe

Wednesday’s body jam class is my favourite class and I really enjoy it every time after my stressful day at work. Unfortunately , I just heard from my favourite instructor, Pete, that next week will be the last class of body jam and that the centre has decided to change it to another class thereafter. I’m really disappointed about the decision which the centre has made. The class is always packed and I can see all the participants really enjoying Pete’s teaching. I’ve written to hope the centre will reconsider to change the decision and bring my favourite class back!!!!!!

I’m extremely disappointed that the club has decided to take off the Wed night Bodyjam class despite many member feedback opposing this. We were told that the class was under review but the club has decided to cancel the class before the 6 week review period. This class has had high attendance and has been a well liked class for many years and to cancel it without much warning is very poor form from management who have paid little attention to member concerns. The club management has consistently ignored member emails and provided close to no feedback on the reason behind their decision aside from blaming innocent parties for their own incompetence.

I’ve been a member of fitness first for more than 10 years now and am horrified to find out that one of my favourite classes, body jam on Wednesdays at 7.30pm is at risk of being cancelled. I don’t understand why this is the case as the class is mostly well attended and the instructor, Pete is really good at teaching and keeping me motivated in the class and attending regularly. It would be a huge loss to my fitness routine if it was cancelled. And as it is also one of the main reason why I’ve remained being a member at the club despite living a distance away, I feel I would have to reconsider my membership.

I have been attending FF for the past 10 years and I have never felt this unmotivated about a group fitness program ever!!

I’m absolutely shocked that Body Jam on Wednesdays night is at risk – last night we had 35 ppl although not sure how safe that was with all the pilates machines at the front of the room and on the walls… And the floor was full of dustballs…

There are many other classes that have way less participants and less skilled instructors! Pete is a great and motivating instructor who delivers Body Jam with contagious enthusiasm and energy!!

I look forward to receiving a response from you as I have lost faith in the club’s Group Fitness Manager… He is clearly not doing a great job!

Can you please explain why this is the only class being targeted at FF? Pete is an awesome instructor and has been teaching for many years and I see the numbers being higher than other classes.

This sign also bothers me saying “to make room for new or more popular classes”. In the history of the club when a class gets removed it never gets replaced with a new class.

The Group Fitness Manager at the club is so out of touch with Les Mills’s classes at the club – I have never seen him teach one. Normally I see at other FF’s the Group Fitness Manager instructing a Les Mills class.

I would hate to see the timetable reduced to “Freestyle Group Training” classes only, they work out to be a poor 20 minute class. I work in a corporate environment, I love doing a 60 minute class with good music and good choreography – that’s what a Les Mills class provides. A HIT Freestyle Group Training has a rude instructor, in fact walked out half way (this was also the Group Fitness Manager) the and had a new instructor come in without any explanation, no apology, this class also had only three participants.

The main studio still looks like a hannibal lecter cross 50 shades of grey room that’s collecting dust – no wonder new participants don’t want to come back.

Does the Group Fitness Manager at the club really care about people, the studio, or is it just about numbers and revenue for him. I really love coming to this gym to do only Les Mills classes, I would hate to see this disappear into a 24 hour style gym with just machines.

I would really appreciate an answer.

Thank you



Customer one – email received from Andrew:

We understand this may come as a shock to most members and we do apologise for taking something members love away but “at risk” just means that the instructor has 6 weeks to perform better. It’s not a definite removal off the timetable.

In the contract instructors sign when becoming an employee for us there required to prospect members, bring in new faces, hit average attendees and have consistent adherence. Just like any other job they have roles and responsibilities.

Pete needs to show his duties as an instructor which in his job is to average over 20 members in each class.

Pete has had no creativities over the past few years in the club creating fun events or  member experience occasions.

Just like any other job if you aren’t performing as an employee then you will be under review.

I hope this makes sense and you can understand this. As a company we need to look at our revenue line and what’s making money and what’s creating a loss. Just like any other business if a product or service is making a loss then as a business we need to consider making changes to what’s best for the company and for our members making way for newer and more popular in demand classes.

Unfortunately Body Jam is of least demand and it is our most expensive class to run in Fitness First. So you see we need to hit a certain amount of attendances’ and percentage of retention to keep the class running.

Body Jam runs 4 times in our week so cutting one in 6 weeks is something we need to take if the class shows no improvement.

So there will still be 3 other Jam classes you can attend.

I sincerely apologise again and we will be promoting this class via Face book and posters around the gym. From the instructor we need inside promoting, referrals from the regulars and other initiates that will impact and increase the participation. We can offer the members who participate free entry for their friends and family so they have a chance to bring in people they know to train together with.

After the 6 weeks if we don’t see any progress then unfortunately the class will have to go, but that doesn’t mean that in the future or later down the year towards summer in won’t come back. There’s always a chance of having Body Jam being put back on the time table.

Customer one – email response sent to Andrew (no reply received):

Whilst I appreciate your response to this matter, I do not quite understand your reasoning.

It appears you have singled out the Wednesday night Jam instructor Pete for perceived underperformance of their roles and responsibilities as the reason behind the class being put at risk. If the main factor considered for performance is class attendance numbers then what about the other group fitness classes that do not have an average of 20 members per class? The Pump class immediately preceding the Jam class on Wednesday night rarely gets over 20 members. Neither does early morning Pump classes from my understanding. Why are they not put on the list? Singling out one instructor in one program for class attendance numbers seems very discriminatory to me.

In regards to your comments about creativities and promotions as another performance indicator for instructors, the BodyJam instructors have always worked together and promoted the program and upcoming events as a group. Even if one instructor does not create the fun event, it does not mean they have not participated in support of other instructors. BodyJam is the only program I have attended where many instructors band together during launch. What other programs have 4-5 instructors team teach together at launch? Again, it is extrememly unfair to single out one instructor for non-promotion.

In terms of the cost-effectiveness of the class, my understanding is that Les Mills program licences are paid on a per program basis, not a per-class basis. It makes little difference to the costs if you cut a single class. The only cost saving would be the instructor’s remuneration. If you put another more ‘popular’ class on, you effectively have zero cost savings. How does that impact on the club’s revenue line? Cutting classes does not bring the club revenue, nor does disappointing loyal members of the club. I and the fellow loyal members will be putting every effort to ensure the class remains on the timetable.

Lastly, I find it highly inappropriate for you to effectively blame the instructor as the primary reason for the class being put at risk. I, as a member, do not care what your grievances are with the performance of your employees. You, as the Fitness Manager should be putting in the effort of satisfying your members to ensure continued support for the club, not airing out performance issues of your staff to members. That is highly unprofessional and reflects very poorly you and on Fitness First as a company.

Customer one – email received from Kevin:

Thank you for your email and feedback about the Body Jam Class. I understand that changes to class time tables and classes can cause some members disappointment, while others, enjoy the change and diversity.

Every quarter year, we review all the classes and class timetables, taking into consideration a number of factors. Class attendance, member requests, member feedback, timetable allocation, and budget are some of these considerations.

Currently, we are not saying that we will remove the Body Jam class on Wednesday,  but it is under a review, which involves an assessment based on the criteria, amongst other things, mention above.

The review is still underway, and an outcome will be communicated once we decide what changes the timetable will need to undergo. Please, in the meantime, continue to enjoy your Body Jam class on Wednesday evenings. I can assure you that Body Jam will continue to be available on our timetable where possible and viable.

I will do my best to meet your fitness needs.

I am happy to discuss this also if you want to meet up with me at the club.

Customer one – email response sent to Kevin (no reply received):

Thank you for your email response to my feedback. I have been a Fitness First member for many years and fully understand that classes are subject to review following low attendance numbers. There has been many instances when a class has been removed or changed due to low class numbers and generally the removal or change doesn’t come as a surprise to the class attendees. What I am concerned about is that this particular class appears to have been targeted unfairly and that the performance of the actual class in terms of numbers is not the driving force behind the review.

When I queried the reason why only this particular class was under review despite other classes, even other Body Jam classes achieving lower numbers, the email response from your Fitness Manager appear to focus the reason on the performance of the class’ instructor. I have attended this class for a few years now and haven’t seen any performance issues of the instructor. He has conducted his class with professionalism and provides energetic performances that propel the members to keep coming back. I do not agree that there are any performance issues with the instructor. I have attached the email in question for your reference.

I also do not understand why management felt compelled to outline the reason behind the class being put under review in terms of an instructor’s employment contract, their roles and responsibilities as an employee and their performance in creating events and prospect new members. I would’ve thought that performance issues of an instructor would generally be an internal matter between Fitness First and the instructor. Effectively blaming the instructor for a class being put under review is very unprofessional conduct by management and appear very discriminatory to me.

Also, the roles and responsibilities for the instructor seems pretty far-fetched from that email. Creating and promoting fun events and prospecting new members shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of instructors. Isn’t that what management and the sales team should also be doing? The last time there was any fun event involving group fitness at the club was probably back in June 2015 when we had a Jam marathon involving 5 instructors (which included the Wed night instructor). In my view, the instructor’s primary responsibility is to engage members in the class and provide a fun and challenging class which in this case the instructor has repeatedly done. The class attendance numbers have been in line with other classes if not better.

In my view, if a class was getting low attendance (which I don’t believe is the case for this particular BodyJam class), the Fitness Manager should be supporting the class by actively assisting the instructor through promotion of the class in the club or on social media, and communicating these plans to the members, not blaming the review on perceived performance issues of the instructor. Simply putting a poster in the club and a picture of that poster on a Facebook page is not effective. A lot of the members are not even aware that the class is under review. I do not see any effective management support for the instructor or the class.

Lastly, when will the Pilates Reformer equipment in the Group Fitness studio be moved or placed somewhere out of harm’s way? There is equipment strewn on the floor in front and the machines strapped to the sides of the room can cause serious injury to participants. When we had the new release launch on Wednesday 15 June 2016, there were around 35 people in the BodyJam class that night with very little room to move around without being in close proximity to one of these machines. Members risk bumping into them, tripping over them, and there are times when they sound like they’re about to topple to the ground.

Again, thank you for getting in touch and I would appreciate some feedback to my comments via email. The only time I attend the club Fitness First is on the Wednesday night for the BodyJam class, and on the occasional Sunday morning (also for BodyJam). I won’t be able to meet you in person during business hours as I do not work or live near the club.

Customer two – sent to Andrew (identical response to customer one received):

i notice today that bodyjam wednesday nite had a ‘love this class’ next to it. i was wondering why this was the only class highlighted. i attend around 8 of the evening classes in the club per week and i dont feel that the numbers in that particular class have been particularly low. it is my favourite class ive been attending for 6 yrs!?  and pete is an excellent instructor. is there a public facebook page i can comment to give my support and to see if others feel the same to encourage them to come more often?

Customer two – sent to Kevin (almost identical response to customer one received):

following up from my complaint on facebook i have a number of questions , if you could answer each of them

1. why is it i asked twice to GFM where his ‘promoting this class on facebook’ was , and first time didnt answer and second time no reply to my email?
2. who can i speak to at head office fitness first or human resources for the defamatory and untrue comments made about Pete? he is an excellent instructor and im sure if i emailed or posted the below comments on facebook and tagged all his followers/other GFMs they can provide testimonials.
3. three of the ceiling fans in studio one are not working.when will they be fixed?
4. i dont believe the numbers in the classes is a justifiable reason to put this class at risk as i do many of the classes myself and have been jotting down numbers in the past month and in no way is this class low attendance compared to others. if the numbers being reported to your head office is untrue i want to speak to someone there to share my own discrepancies
5. some other members have complained about the pilates reformers at risk of safety and ugly on the walls, when are these to be removed?
thank you and please allow me to share your reply to the rest of the class

The Millennium Series

Every now and again there will be a special offer that pops up offering usually the first book in a series for a very low price in order to entice the reader into purchasing the rest.  So it was that I purchased The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2015.  And promptly left it sitting on my Kindle for over a year.

Once opened it’s a curious beast.  Part cold case mystery and part social polemic it takes a few chapters of ‘tell, not show’ to set up the background situation which eventually starts driving the plot.  A disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, is hired by an old Swedish industrialist to find out who murdered his niece forty years previously in a small isolated town.  The majority of the suspects are the victim’s relatives.  This is an opportunity to meet most of them – and it’s all the more entertaining that the family has multiple factions who dislike the other ones with varying levels of distaste.

The eponymous female in the title, Lisbeth Salander, is one of the more fascinating characters.  Brilliant, uncommunicative, and moralistic (on her own terms) her painful backstory is slowly unveiled throughout the book.

It’s a book about relationships: how they start, become twisted and end.  All relationships here are complex with varying degrees of lying and things left unsaid.  It makes the characters wonderfully and realistically human.  Or inhuman in some cases.

There are times when the authorial voice does come across as a bit heavy handed.  Perhaps it needed another round of editing or a touch more subtlety in the English translation.  There’s a number of codas after the murder mystery comes to an unexpected end that seem slightly at odds with the downbeat tone of the rest of the book.  Then again even Sweden -the country that is much a character as any other in this book – gets short intense warm summers to compensate for the cold of the rest of the year.


Just finished reading. Review coming soon.




Just about to buy.




Stockport (Sunday 6th May 2001)

”It was the best of times it was the worst of times”. When Charles Dickens wrote those words I doubt he was thinking that one day they would probably apply to all Crystal Palace supporters who went to Stockport for this game. There was pain there was joy there was ecstasy there was agony and all of these came within a single 15 minute period.

After the Wolves game of the previous week (from which I had walked out after 47 minutes) the season seemed almost over. With it being obvious that Alan Smith had no idea whatsoever it finally became apparent even to Simon Jordan that he was no where near to being up for the task. In most cases when Palace sack the manager they replace him with someone called Steve.  In this case Coppell was not around and so the job instead fell to Mr Kember. The new caretaker manager introduced a radical system of playing his best players in the positions they are most comfortable in. Because of this and losing the oppressive nature of Nosferatu Smith the team was able to rip apart Portsmouth on a Wednesday. It did set things up for a nail-biting final weekend, however for the first time in five games Palace were out of the relegation places and stood some chance of remaining in Division one.

Due to a mixture of it being the final game of the season and an unwillingness to trust Virgin trains on the Sunday many of us decided to stay in Manchester overnight. This first required us to get out of London. This proved a little more difficult than expected because Virgin managed to outdo even themselves by ensuring that we were sat on the train at Euston station for an hour before they kindly informed us that due to signalling problems on the line there would be no trains running at all that day. This forced us and a few hundred other people to make a quick run for King’s Cross St Pancras station where we were informed that our tickets would be valid for a train up to Sheffield. After sensibly deciding to hit the pub we then had to run (along with half the population of London) to end up on this now massively overcrowded train. Fortunately Gareth and I managed to find seats, opposite one bloke and his girlfriend. It turned out that he was also a Palace fan on his way to the game. She wasn’t very happy about it anyway so when she discovered she was sat opposite a couple more of them she was even less impressed. Despite the train being overcrowded to an extent that even Indian safety officers would blush it finally trundled its way out of the station and we, a mere 90 minutes after we expected to, were on our way to Lancashire (well, Yorkshire actually because we had to get a connection from there through to Manchester).

Once we got to Sheffield (which is starting to seem like a second home because we have been there so often this season) we had to pile on to a small regional train. I used a term small advisedly because the train company, in its infinite wisdom, decided to only attach two carriages. I’ve seen sardines that have had more room than we had in that train. The highlight of that trip was probably the very large person trying to get on while answering his mobile phone with “I am on the train . Well , partly on” . Most people on the train seemed in fairly good spirits considering the condition although the woman who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant did give us a little cause for concern. Mind you, so long had the journey taken she hadn’t even conceived when she got on the train in London. Eventually we crawled into Manchester, a mere three hours after our expected arrival time. A quick taxi ride to the hotel and then we had to decide on the most important issue of the weekend; where were we going out at night.

After a few beers and a meal at a place on the Curry Mile (guess what we had), we ended up in a cafe F.A.B. This was a place that had a science fiction theme. The place contained both a Dalek and an Ice Warrior which although large and lumbering probably would have had more speed and movement that our current back four. Due to a mixture of the smoke, the crap music, and the antibiotics I was on I left at a fairly early time. This got me back to the hotel just in time to catch the end of match of the day and to see the images of the Crying Coventry supporters as their team was relegated. Not the happiest of images on which to go to sleep.

Waking up next morning, I was greeted with a repeat of the crying Coventry supporters. As omens go this one was named Damien and had 666 tattooed on its forehead. After a very hearty breakfast (which was going to be more than needed considering the amount of alcohol I was going to have to imbibe to get me through the game) we booked a taxi to take us to Edgeley Park. We then had to wait an extra half hour because someone else pinched our taxi (for a minute there I thought we were back in Liverpool). We arrived at the ground at eleven- thirty and were amazed to see the official supporters’ coaches pulling up at that time. Usually you expect to see them arrive at least 10 minutes after the kick-off so for them to arrive a mere two hours before was completely amazing. With plenty of time before the game we did it the only sensible thing available, we headed for the nearest pub. If I thought the train journey up was crowded it was nothing compared to the crush from the number of people trying to get into each hostelry. It was such an impossible task that instead we just nipped around the corner to the nearest off-licence grabbed a few bottles of whatever and then returned to stand on the street outside the pub.

The mood of the crowd was fairly upbeat although there were definitely undercurrents of worry. They were quite a few songs being sung and a very large Palace flag which someone attempted to drape over a nearby shed. It quickly fell down (the flag!) so someone decided to jump up on the shed and arrange the flag in all its glory. He achieved this to great applause from the crowd who then laughed as the whole thing slid to the ground as he enjoyed his moment of triumph. But then the happy moments were over because we suddenly became aware that it was almost time for kick off and so, fairly reluctantly, we set off for the turnstiles.

Travelling the whole two minutes caused us to think about what tactics we would use to get the bags full of alcohol into the ground. We settled on the tactically ingenious plan of sticking everything under the previous day’s dirty clothes and hoping no one would notice. I was stopped first and it took the stewards quite a few seconds to search my rather large bag. There was nothing untoward in it. Jane was next and lost her alcopops. They then asked Paul if he had any bottles in his bag. He said “no” so they waved him through. A truthful answer but one that hid the fact that there were two dozen cans instead.

The first thing to notice was that we were on a terrace. The second thing was that the terrace was very full. The third was that there was very little room for our bags. However, we managed to make more than enough by barging our way through. With our hopes piled as high as the bags we all wished for one thing – over with as soon as possible and that the agony of this season would finally end.

I was going to produce a special edition, a 10,000 word epic that would chart the progress of the entire day and highlight the Crystal Palace Phoenix as it rose from the ashes of Division one. However, there was one small problem with this. My voice recorder used for taking notes broke down. On the plus side this allowed me to watch the entire game uninterrupted by needing to speak the action. On the downside this meant I had to watch the entire game uninterrupted without the distraction of being able to speak into my recorder.

The game started in the usual Palace fashion of pushing forward quite early, earning quite a few corners, and then being unable to make anything out of them. We also appeared to lack the fluency that we had at Portsmouth. As a result Stockport weren’t unduly troubled by our attack although, as some form of compensation our defence wasn’t overly troubled by theirs. They did have a couple of half chances early on, a through ball being slightly overhit and being grabbed by Kolinko. Of bigger concern was the only cross that our keeper missed which fell on to the head of an unmarked Stockport player but thankfully he managed to put it wide. Their only other real chance of note came from one of the very few mistakes made by Austin during the game when he allowed the ball to drop behind him and then suddenly discovered that the Stockport player was a lot closer than he originally thought. Kolinko ran forward and punched the ball way and managed to take out both other players as well.

On the Palace attacking side there was a half chance for Clinton from a through ball from Thomson too close to the keeper and he managed to parry it away with his legs quite easily. A long range Berhalter drive at least had the advantage of being on target. The best chance of all fell to Forssell who was fed running in on the left-hand side but dragged the shot across the keeper and beyond the far post. It ended scoreless at half-time with Palace probably just shading the game and having nothing to show for it. The other results had been trickling in and showed that Portsmouth were one up against Barnsley but that Huddersfield were 2-1 down to Birmingham. As things stood Palace were still sitting in the last relegation place.

There was only one way of getting through the second half and that lay in the pile of bags in front of us. With a lot of people on the terrace between us and the watching stewards it was nothing to squat down and have a few surreptitious slurps of beer. This almost came to a premature end when Jane returned to her place and, on being asked if she wanted a can, grabbed one and stood there drinking in full view of the stewards.

The second half started and continued to follow the pattern of the first, Palace trying to get forward but not getting any solid result. On the bright side Stockport weren’t really troubling the defence but that wasn’t much consolation. Neither was the news from the radio or the text messages being received. Portsmouth had extended their lead thanks to Kevin Miller conceding, yet again, a lot of goals when playing a relegation threatened team on the last day of the season. Let’s just use the word ‘coincidence’.

As the game went on the Palace crowd become quieter and more dispirited. At times it was even possible to hear the Stockport crowd although their rendition of “play up Pompey” was slightly less welcome than anything by Celine Dion. Clinton had a chance he possibly should have done more with and Forssell elected to shoot from a tight angle when a pull-back would have found Morrison in plenty of space. But nothing was looking too likely even though a rather rotund Tommy Black, brought on for the last ten minutes, had started causing a few problems by running at players on the right.

In the end the best chance came from the left. After Stockport had managed to hit the stanchion outside Kolinko’s goal Palace worked a nice move that saw Berhalter cleverly hold up the ball on the edge of the area and tap it into Freedman’s path. He struck it low and past the diving keeper. From our vantage point we were already in the air but those behind the goal had the much better view as it skidded past the post and came back off the advertising hoardings. With only four minutes left the spectre of being in the third tier of the league started to solidify. It was at that point that the general feeling in the crowd changed from vain hope to a solemnity that was almost funereal; standing by the grave just waiting for the coffin to be laid to rest.

Down the other end Stockport tried to take advantage by putting in a cross that went to the edge of the area. Hopkin and a Stockport player jumped for but Hopkin led with his hand. Much in the same way as Maradonna’s ‘Hand of God’. This should have been either a free kick on the edge of the area or a penalty to Stockport. Instead we were refereed by officials who turned out to be the only three people in the entire crowd and television viewing audience who couldn’t see that it was a handball. Hopkin had a quick look at the referee after the offence and hoofed the ball upfield. It fell to Morrison and then bounced into the path of Freedman. He ran to the left corner of the area with the defender in between him and the goal. He dummied to go left and then pulled the ball back onto his right foot and got a fortuitous deflection off the heel of the defender. With only the keeper to beat he forced the Stockport custodian to start to go down to cover the near post and then lifted the ball over him into the back of the net. Three seconds later there were 500 Palace supporters partaking in a celebratory pitch invasion while the rest of us were just going absolutely mental, jumping around and hugging everyone and, in my case, falling over the pile of bags in front of us.

The goal commentary

Now all we had to do was hope we could either score again which would have put us ahead of Portsmouth on goal difference or hope that we didn’t let in one and also have fingers crossed that Huddersfield didn’t equalise. This should have been easy as we only had three minutes to go. Which was extended by five minutes time added on thanks, in no small part, to the pitch invasion. As that time disappeared with no change to the score we were still just nudging ahead of Huddersfield in avoiding the last relegation place. With seconds left the Stockport keeper punted the ball upfield. Jamie Smith, out on the touchline in the Palace half went to head the ball forward. It was slightly mis-directed and instead went back in a looping manner to Kolinko. Who would have easily caught it had he been nearer his goal-line. Instead he had to turn, take a few steps backwards and catch it. Which would have been fine had he not slipped when he turned. It seemed like an eternity before he finally got traction and managed to grab the ball scant feet from the line. It would have been so typical of Palace to concede an own-goal in that manner. With Kolinko’s punt to put the ball back into play the final whistle went and we could do no more than wait.

It seems a bit weird but even with five minutes time added on we still had to wait for the Huddersfield game to finish. This was spent gathered around anyone with a radio and listening to them as they relayed a running commentary as if we were priests gathered around the Oracle and waiting for a sign that our earthly suffering would soon be over. After two minutes Gareth announced that it was all over at the other game. So we celebrated. Then he announced that he’d made a mistake and they were still playing. I think it was when I told him that I’d kill him if we were relegated that he started moving away. But he hadn’t travelled far before the official confirmation came through that the Huddersfield score was the final one and that we were safe. At that point I couldn’t do anything apart from feel a sense of relief that one of the most emotionally draining of seasons had come to an end and that we were still in the First Division.

After refusing to leave the ground until the team had made an appearance we finally traipsed out half an hour after the final whistle. A stop in the first pub brought forward quite a few congratulations from the Stockport fans who were not only impressed by the Palace support but also happy that it had given them their biggest crowd for the season. I even got to talk with that rarest of all creatures – a Manchester United fan who lived in Manchester. With the pint supped quickly on police advice that some lads in a nearby pub sometimes get silly we made our way back to the railway station. There we ran into a load of Birmingham fans who we were more than happy to buy drinks for. So once on the train everything was fine until the conductor told us that our sing-a-longs had upset one of the other passengers. And we were singing the clean ones! He said the person in question was demanding a free move to first class. Instead he told us there was a free compartment available and instead of moving a single person to it all the Palace supporters could have it for no extra charge. Top bloke and a top result. So we could sing the not so clean songs to the Watford fan we acquired from somewhere and to any Brighton supporters we could ring up.

The day was enjoyable only for the exhaustive relief that came four minutes after the game had finished. A lot of luck went our way during the game and I don’t think anyone can claim otherwise. But the celebrations came not only from avoiding relegation but from having survived the damage of Alan Smith and regaining our club. And regardless of the result that was so important.

BBC radio end-of-day summary


Not the Alan Smith Interview

Written after the first run of six consecutive losses that (2000-2001) season and inspired by our (then) manager’s ability to provide non-stop soundbites it first appeared in the ‘One More Point’ fanzine.

Rather than go for a career in journalism which seems too much like hard work I went to work for ‘The Sun’. My first assignment was to start at the bottom and gain a World Exclusive interview with the Crystal Palace manager, Alan Smith. Since that would have cut into important drinking time I just cobbled a few phrases together from other interviews, re-arranged all the words into an entirely different order and got my World Exclusive. Watch for my forthcoming World Exclusive interviews with world leaders Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, Anthea Turner, Ghandi and Winston Churchill.

Q: Hello, Alan. You were born in the late 1940’s?
A: Yes. I would’ve liked to have been born a few years later to avoid rationing but my parents obviously couldn’t control themselves. Still, after a start like that in life I think I’ve done quite well.

Q: Can we start with that infamous secretarial incident?
A: Nature has invested a lot of evolutionary time in the mating game. I was just moved by genetic drives imprinted deep upon every living tissue. I hardly think I can be blamed for that.

Q: You first became Palace manager when Steve Coppell resigned.
A: Yes. I was on the coaching staff then and we were doing a blinding job but the players didn’t follow what we wanted and the long ball tactics used by Coppell left a lot to be desired. When things started going wrong Emperor Noades said to me “Brutus, always stand by Steve and support him from this knife’s edge all the way up to the hilt”. Despite my continual protestations that Steve wasn’t responsible for absolutely everything wrong with the club (the ballboys were truly terrible) he was still pushed out.

Q: And that next season saw promotion?
A: That was because the players listened to what I said.

Q: Did it have something to do with still having good players who had been in the Premiership the previous season?
A: Yes. I’d suggested a lot of them to Steve. If he’d listened to me for all of them we wouldn’t have been relegated. It was his bad choices that saw us go down.

Q: That next season saw relegation but two cup semi-finals. Was that due to your inability to motivate the team week in, week out?
A: Not at all. It was obviously the player’s fault. Next question please.

Q: You publicly outed Chris Armstrong for smoking marijuana. Why?
A: I don’t agree with a professional athlete abusing their body like that. It is best to make an example of them so all the children can understand how bad it is to do this to their body. Fortunately others have realised this and I must give special mention to Neil Ruddock who only sticks to alcohol and keeps his body free from performance impairing drugs.

Q: But shouldn’t things like the Armstrong incident remain within the dressing room?
A: Yes, I have learned that now. That’s why I’ll never mention the three punch-ups, the dressing downs I’ve had to give Hayden and Clinton, why Andy punched Simon and why we call him ‘little’ Tommy.

Q: You have changed your tune then. Is this an admission you were wrong about Armstrong?
A: Of course not! It was a different time and what I did then was entirely correct and appropriate.

Q: You had rather a bad spell afterwards at Wycombe.
A: Actually, I had a great spell. The tactics were spot on and the coaching was excellent. I’ve always said there is a lot of value in the long ball game but the players refused to do what was asked of them and started to pass it around on the floor. Of all the stupid things. It was solely their fault what happened in the end.

Q: Surely it can’t have been entirely the fault of the players?
A: You’re right. The supporters weren’t good enough either and must shoulder the rest of the blame. Of course, if new supporters has been brought in like at Fulham then they would’ve done much better.

Q: A question still causing interest is what happened in Spain?
A: We took the players there to get away from all the unfair comments that were being made against them and to understand each other in an open, equal, non-judgemental environment. But the lazy, useless bastards just acted like the idiotic fools they are.

Q: What about Linighan?
A: He criticised the team. That’s disruptive to team spirit so we sacked him.

Q : Why did you appoint Houghton and Cockerill as coaches?
A: Ray has already had experience of a relegation campaign at Palace so I felt we could make great use of him this year. Considering our current position I think this shows once again my qualities for picking the right people for the job. As for Glenn, well, with everyone laughing at someone that old putting highlights in his hair no-one comments on mine anymore (which is hereditary so it’s not my fault).

Q: This season. It’s the end of October. What’s gone wrong.
A: The players. I’ve inherited a lot of them. I didn’t choose them but I have to try and get something useful out of them.

Q: But the starting team consists of at least six of your signings and the ink on the contracts of Ruddock, Black and Gray was barely dry before you came in.
A: The players are young and inexperienced.

Q: Kolinko, Fan, Staunton, Rubins and Forssell are all internationals. Ruddock, Austin and Rodger have all played in the Premiership and are no longer in the first flush of youth, Pollock has been around for years and this is Morrison’s third full year as a first team player. The most inexperienced is Tommy Black and he’s been our best player so far!
A: Yes, but their average age is a good decade below that of Middlesbrough and just look at how well they’re doing.

Q: Thank you for your time, Alan. Any last words.
A: It’s not my fault.
The author would like to point out that his belief system and writing has been shaped by society, his parents, friends and acquaintances. Therefore he cannot in anyway be held responsible for the above text as it is obviously the fault of everyone else.

Scummy in-app purchase practices

I write software for a living.  I also go to the pub.  There’s probably a strong correlation between those two things.  On a recent visit to my local one of the bar staff there spotted the MacBook I was carrying and asked if I ‘knew about computers’.  Anyone with any computer knowledge has suffered this from their family over the years.  I’ve trained mine by writing really detailed manuals so when I say “open the System Preferences” they no longer need to ask ‘what’s the little picture on it?’.  I switched them to Hushmail from Gmail which slashed their support calls.  Teach them a little bit and give them the confidence to be able to go out and find the answers themselves.  In an example of the cycle of life I’m doing for my parents exactly what they did for me as an infant when I was struggling with the ability to stand and place one foot in front of another without crashing to the ground.

It turns out that – we shall call her Phoebe – was playing an iOS game on Tuesday, got asked for her TouchID verification, and suddenly found AUD$160 charge on her credit card.  She asked me about this later that afternoon when I had stopped in.  She showed me the game.  I wasn’t familiar with it as I don’t play computer games (it’s enough that I work all day on them) but it seemed to involve adding clothes to a model and then some form of gamification with other people.  I’m far too old to be a Millennial so wouldn’t understand it anyway.

She went through the process of how it happened and I captured it on video (a whole 17 seconds long):

Note the complete lack of a dialog box asking if she wishes to complete the purchase of an item for AUD$160.  If you are scrolling though and iOS mistakenly treats a scroll flick as a tap and you get a request to verify your security you may well authorise using TouchID.  Especially if you are one of the hundreds of millions who don’t expect app developers to pull scummy tricks which seem very similar to those used by various advertisers including spammers.

Coincidentally the previous week I’d taken a lead out of (indie developer legend) (underscore) David Smith’s book and added a tip jar to my app (in the three subsequent weeks since I’ve earned about AUD$5 – so not a money-earning option to take unless your first name is Marco).  I’d actually needed to read the Apple Developer documentation on StoreKit and best practises for in-app purchase.  The app I was shown did not provide that.

So on Wednesday I wrote an email to the company (click on it to expand):

covet1It pointed out that they had ignored the highlighted part of the Apple requirements.  They hadn’t even provided a verification dialog box to ask the user if they wished to part with over $150 (the phrase “appallingly dangerous UI” may have been used).  There’s a lot of words to describe people who implement those practices: most of those are only four letters long (six with the ‘er’ suffix).

The reply I received on Thursday consisted of this (click on it to expand):


That’s corporate speak for ‘screw you, we already have your money’.  I am actually tempted to email again and ask her what her developers said.

So on Saturday (when Phoebe was again on shift) I wrote a response and sent it to Apple via this which is the best option to use in these cases.

It basically pointed out what had happened and linked to the relevant documents (screenshots, the above video, and PDFs of emails saved to Dropbox and public links added help immensely).  Be warned it has a character limit.

I dropped in to the pub on Sunday afternoon.  Phoebe had received a response from Apple.  A full refund.  That’s something pretty rare for a consumable item on an in-app purchase.  But I think Apple had recognised that the developer had performed a pretty scummy set of actions where they had taken advantage of the ignorance of the user to gain more income.   Phoebe did say she’d emailed her thanks to Apple and had received a somewhat surprised response to that – apparently people expressing gratitude for services rendered doesn’t happen too often.

Send documents to Kindle

Out of all the devices available for reading I find the Kindle Paperwhite the best.  It’s a good size to carry and the non-reflective screen means it can be read in broad sunlight.  The iPad has many benefits but the way it reflects bright light means it’s not really good for long sessions of reading.

The Kindle is excellent if you are getting content from Amazon but sometimes you want to use it so you can read things from other sources.  Sometimes it’s a really long article from the web, an email or other document you wish to keep on the Kindle, or a PDF that contains what you want.  In all cases you should convert them to a PDF as save them to you local storage on your computer.

Then we need to get a piece of software called ‘Send to Kindle’.  Unsurprisingly this is obtained from Amazon.  Download the relevant item for your needs at www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle.  For this article it will use the desktop Mac version.  I find it easiest to drag the application into the Dock so that it’s easily accessible.



Open the application to see the main screen.



Select the ‘Options’ button at the top-right and set the following values:


Then select the ‘Registration’ item from the menu on the left and add your Amazon account details.  That completes the setup.


To add a document select a PDF in the Finder and drag it on to the ‘Send to Kindle’ item.  That will bring up this dialog box (obviously with different names unless you’ve hacked my Amazon account).


Note that it will convert it to Kindle format as it sends.  The less formatting in the PDF the better the conversion will be.  In most cases the resulting output is quite good.  Hit the ‘Send’ button then check your Kindle and the document will have been delivered to it.

Download your data from Facebook

Sometimes you may want a copy of all of the data you have added into Facebook.  This will include all the posts you have made as well as the photos and videos you uploaded.  Below is the easy way of getting a copy of that data.

Step 1:

Open your Facebook account in a desktop web browser.  Click on the down arrow in the top-right and select the ‘Settings’ menu item.


Step 2:

This will take you to the general account settings.  At the bottom of the panel listing your basic details will be a links that states ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’.  Click on it.



Step 3:

This will display the download panel.  Click  on the ‘Start My Archive’ button.


Step 4:

You’ll be asked to re-enter your Facebook password.  Do so then click on the ‘Submit’ button.


Step 5:

A notification will appear.  How long it will take to generate your data will depend on how prolific a poster you have been.  If it takes longer than five minutes then you probably need to get out more.  Click on the ‘Start My Archive’ button.


Step 6:

You’ll get another notification about the email address to which the link from which you can download your data has been sent.



Step 7:

A short while later (ninety seconds in my case) an email will turn up.  Click on the link at the bottom of it and download a ZIP file containing all of your data.


Home-brewed Guinness

My dad has been making home-brewed beer for a number of years.  He’s quite good at now*.  In a lot of cases people tend to prefer his lagers over the commercially available brews.  That no doubt has a lot to do with the fact that he is not only the maker but also the barman and drinking company.  And he’s good at all three roles.

He makes a stout which is about the closest to a Guinness you can make in a kitchen.  My Irish friend Paul spent a week sampling it and afterwards asked how to make his own.  This is how.

I won’t go into the whole process of home brewing as there’s lots of information around on how to do that.  This is only for the additional steps to make this particular brew.

There are five constituent parts to making the brew:

  • The powder base
  • The beer concentrate
  • Liquid malt
  • Liquorice extract
  • Yeast


Step 1:

Mangrove Jack'sTake the powder base – Mangrove Jack’s is a good choice.  The Irish Stout No. 74 as shown in the picture.  Put the 1 kilogram of powder in 3 litres of water and bring to the boil.  Leave boiling for 1 minute then stand for 20 mins.

[fruitful_sep]Step 2:

Sterilise the barrel that will be used for brewing with boiling water.  This will remove any contaminants that may be present.

[fruitful_sep]Step 3:


Pour the water from the barrel into two smaller bowls.  Place the beer concentrate and liquid malt into them.  The heat from the water will help soften them up.

[fruitful_sep]Step 4:

IMG_0820Take 10ml of liquorice extract and put it into the barrel.  This adds a slightly heavier flavour to the final brew.


[fruitful_sep]Step 5:

IMG_0817Pour a kettle’s worth of boiling water into the barrel and then add the liquid malt.  If it looks like dirty dishwater then you’re on the right track.


[fruitful_sep]Step 6:

Open the can of beer concentrate and add it to the barrel.  Add in a litre or so of cold water and stir.


If you’re in a hot climate then add a block of ice into the barrel.  What’s added in the next step will heat it up again but the ice will ensure the yeast (added later) doesn’t get killed from excessive heat.  Since yeast is a live organism it can’t take too much heat otherwise it will die and sour the taste.

[fruitful_sep]Step 7:

Strain the by-now-cooled powder base (from step 1) into the barrel and top it up to a total of 15 litres with cold water.  Most beers recommend you go to 20 litres but here we limit it to 15 litres to help approach the thicker Guinness-like consistency.

IMG_0818 IMG_0823 IMG_0824

[fruitful_sep]Step 8:

After throwing away the residue from the boiled powder base (it makes a good garden fertiliser) add the packet of yeast to the barrel.

IMG_0825 IMG_0826

[fruitful_sep]Step 9:

IMG_0827Put the lid on to the barrel and insert the airlock.  Add water into the airlock.  This will permit the barrel to remain sealed while allowing the gas produced from fermentation to escape.


[fruitful_sep]Step 10:

IMG_0828The most difficult phase.  Leave it for 4-5 days to bubble away and try to ignore its siren call.  Buy a density-checking widget (that’s the technical term) from the local home-brew store and see what values it gives.  If it produces the same density result two days in a row then has finished fermenting and you can get on with bottling it.

[fruitful_sep]Step 11:

Best served with enjoyable company.



[fruitful_sep]* apparently in the early days – 40+ years ago – quite a few of his ‘interesting’ attempts were surreptitiously tipped by guests into a nearby pot plant when he wasn’t looking.