On mild Internet addiction

sparkling flashes! huge excitement! rushing cables! neon lights! dazzling screens! blue glow! futuristic highway! SUPERFAST BROADBAND

Since I’ve hooked the superfast broadband directly to my house I no longer needed to wait for YouTube videos to buffer, and so have since squandered my leisure time on frivolity and nonsense (and reading all that civilised political discourse out there).

When I lived in South Africa the agony of waiting for online multimedia content to load over the crippled Internet infrastructure of the time was so unbearable that I actually spent my time writing and posting things on this blog. I mean, I was still using a dial-up modem in 2006! The screechy tweeting staccato of a 56k modem. Urgh. Continue reading “On mild Internet addiction”


I started reading my grandmother’s diary, written in Kenya in 1958. It’s providing a fascinating insight into the life my father lived working on a farm, and has certainly shed light on aspects of his behaviour and our relationship. I’m enjoying it very much.

It’s written in quite a terse style, but still manages to convey a rich narrative of the difficulties of life running a farm in Kenya. {A brief digression: WordPress is recommending I tag this post with both “Barack Obama” and “Vampire Diaries.” I think they need their suggestion algorithm checked} Presumably my writing verbosity is inherited from my mother’s genetic stock.

Feeling inspired, I’ve decided to do some diary writing of my own — on the Internets!

Dismayed with the instantaneous gratification of all things digital these days, intrigued by looking back into the past of my grandmother’s diary-world, and just to be generally difficult, I’m introducing a twist. Time-delayed publication! It will be just like I’m not doing anything at all for 5 years.

Enough with the Analogies

Where the country road led
Perranporth Beach

I’ve found that there isn’t really time (or more accurately — energy) to write these Internet logs when one is fully employed.  Thus the the numerous internet fields I sowed sowed in the past have been left untended and barren.  I bit like the communist remnants of Statue Park in Budapest.

If you’ve been following Waffle Group closely, I left you on a bit of a cliff-hanger with the last post. What a long time to dangle out there? Your arm must be aching terribly! So sorry.

I did, in the end, make it to the top.  There is a lovely view from up here.  Beautiful country roads that tunnel through overhanging tree branches, leading past rolling farmlands to the coast. It’s windy down there on the beaches, but I’m told the air calms down in the summer months making the beach perfect for an influx of tourists.

Seaside walks along craggy cliffs are an option. ‘Rambling’ is what they call it around here.  Bean Dog has certainly been impressed with the potential of the place.  We took her to Perranporth beach and she couldn’t decide whether to dig a hole, manically run in a circle, or chase a tennis ball — so she opted to cycle between the three, switching from one activity to the next every 30 seconds.

A fair summary is that I think Cornwall is a kickass place to live.  It has less temperamental weather than Scotland has, and it generally warmer.  There are similarities too.  The Scots rather enjoy waving about their blue and white flag, and beating the drum of Scottish pride and nationalism. The Cornish have a black and white flag to wave about and appear to be similarly keen on their unique identity.

The best thing about Cornwall is that I have a professional job here.  The rest of the UK misses that key ingredient to self-sufficiency, and so Cornwall could be an environmental wasteland devastated by years of unrehabilitated mining activities and tailings dams, and I’d still think it was the most magical place on Earth.

My new employer has offices in the with a breath-taking view of a mine tailings facility used to store precipitated acid rock drainage from historic underground mine workings.  A fitting location for a mining engineering and environmental consultancy.  I don’t intend to say too much about work here, except that I am extremely happy and really enjoying the company, the people I work with, and the job itself.  If you do want to know more about my work-related things (environmental management, environmental science, mining practice and stuff along those lines), such writing may appear at Pragmatic Hippie.  There is not much there now, so no surging ahead in your effort for dull soothing reading.  (As an aside — if you cannot contain your need for tedium, the Dull Men’s Club might be just what you need).

Cornwall would be less lovely if I only had a job here, but my family were elsewhere.  This was kind of the case when I first arrived here.  I rushed off to Cornwall to get stuck into the job, while Angie packed up our old place in Scotland, arranged for the move, looked after Jethro, looked after Bean, performed circus tricks and generally displayed superhuman characteristics.

I eventually managed to find a place for us to live. Angie travelled down by train with Jethro and Bean. A ten hour journey. Miraculous no-one was thrown from the train in frustration during the trip.  No sure how Angie managed it. Then our stuff arrived at the house.  It would never have made it on to the truck had our magnificent friends Jude and Andy not been there to coordinate things in Scotland.  You guys rock!

The dust of the move has mostly settled, but we are still left with no cupboards in the house (or at least very few), although we did buy a lawnmower. It’s about keeping up appearances. As long as we keep people out of the house, they can’t really see how the clothes are all piled in stacks.  Long grass at the front of the house is less easy to hide without blinding all of the neighbours. And although a recently blinded neighbour is unlikely to complain about an unkempt garden, they will probably call the police which will just attract more attention and more people requiring blinding. In the end it just seemed like less work to cut the damn grass.

We have the essentials, but we still lack friends, and this is something that is hitting Angie particularly hard.  I have people to interact with at work, but she would really like a little more conversation with other adults.  We’re working on it and know we’ll get there eventually — it just takes time.

Jethro starts school this year in September.  Due to the awkward timing, it’s a little pointless signing him up at a nursery, so Angie has been trying to find interesting extra-mural activities to keep him busy and herself sane.  Swimming and French lessons have commenced.  I can say that I’ve learned more French from Jethro’s age 3-4 French than I ever did during my disastrous attempt to study French at university.

And here ends the lengthy general update thing. The next one might be a long time coming, so if you want Internet update-type things from me it might be best to find me on Google+. The Book with the Faces is not to my liking.  I don’t really get the Short Shrill Bird Noise, although I do occasionally make sub-140 character droppings.  Frankly, there are so many of these damned social network things that it makes my brain rattle inside my skull, and my eyeballs pulsate.  I decided I have to choose one of these things, and I’m choosing the one that almost no-one I know uses.  How very anti-social-network of me. I’m certain some of my readers understand.

Crazy Hat Children’s Book Reviews and 100 Word Stories

The Crazy Hat blog has been going for a little while now, and I’ve got enough content there now to confidently let the readership here know about it.

It gets updated every Tuesday and Thursday, with surprising consistency for the most part. Posts alternate between 100 word stories and children’s book reviews. An odd combination, but at the same time not so strange. Children’s stories are odd, the 100 word stories are odd, and crazy hats are odd.

Crazy Hat has fluidised poodles, homeless yetis, organised crime, and more.

So visit Crazy Hat now!

Encouraging Writing News

"We are thinking . . so we are rhizoming !"
I hear pictures add interest

I’ve persuaded Edinburgh Napier University to admit me to their MA Journalism programme.

This is a very encouraging step on my journey to a career in writing, as rambled on about at the beginning of the year. It may even morph into a career in radio or television — who knows? Looks like it’s going to be a wild ride in any event.

I’ve also taken to writing in a little A5 notebook. I’m finding it much easier to actually create something when I don’t have the time-wasting lure of felis LOLcatus and other assorted Internet fauna. Just me, the pen, and the paper. There is something very organic in writing that way. It is as if the writing is imbued with unique qualities. Each letter is subtly different. The loops and curves of my handwritten glyphs. The change in the tempo of the text as I become more engrossed in what I transcribe from mind to hand to pen to ink to paper. The words drift to illegibility as my pace of writing increases — but I can still read it even though no-one else probably can.

I don’t get that with typing into a computer. When this goes live on the Internet, you can only see the errors I missed. You can’t tell what I scratched out, or what I added with a ^. You can’t see the squashed words that had to contort themselves between the already-written lines.

With this approach I’m producing many more first drafts than I previously did. When I have enough, I’ll start publishing them. When I start publishing them, I’ll let you know about it on Waffle Group.

Open Letter to Standard Bank: Moving Forward or Treading Water in Shark-Infested Seas?

[Update: 17 February 2011] After some aggressive petitioning Standard Bank’s twitter persons with cross-references to this post and other disgruntled customers, I got a phone call on the 10th to discuss my problem. A possible solution seems to exist. I’ve posted the documentation they asked for (a written request to reverse the stop on my card, which suggests it was lucky that my wallet turned up in the bus service’s lost property office) via registered mail. Whether I get access to internet banking without returning to South Africa remains to be seen.

Dear Standard Bank,

Perhaps the title of my letter is a little unfair. Perhaps you really are moving forward, but you’ve left your customers behind in the bloody water with the chum to fend for themselves. My experience with you has been a case study in client service failure. This case will be to Customer Relations 101 that Deep Horizon will be to Risk Management 101. That’s right Standard Bank—the disaster, that is your level of customer service, is on par with the “largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry” in my opinion.

Unfortunate failings in service provision

For customer service: Insert human sacrifice here

Back in October 2010 I decided to take my son on an excursion to a Petting Farm in Edinburgh. On the way there the bus became very crowded, I become flustered with juggling a 2-year-old and all his associated paraphernalia, and I dropped my wallet.

Relief of getting off the bus soon turned to panic at the realisation that my wallet was no longer in my possession. I headed home and reported the card lost. The friendly call centre person (and to your credit, the overwhelming majority of your staff are friendly—that is not my gripe) duely cancelled it. I imagined that there would be some pain in getting access to my bank account again, but didn’t expect insurmountable problems.

Following a number of telephone conversations it become apparent that I wouldn’t be able to carry out any further transactions on my account, and that the call-centre people weren’t sure how to help me. I put my request for help in writing, certain that the email would get routed through the correct channels of your bureaucratic labyrinth. Eventual it would arrive on the desk of a wise being who knew what to do and had the power to do it.

Whahahahaha! What an idiot I was.

This was the email I sent:

I’m currently living in Scotland and lost my debit card.

I cancelled the card, but as a result can no longer carry out internet banking. For obvious reasons, I cannot just stroll into a local branch and pick up a new card.

My expensive international phone calls first led me to believe that I could send someone else into the branch with my power of attorney, but further enquiries reveal that since the person will be issued with my pin number, that probably won’t be allowed.

Right — so solve my problem. I want to be able to do internet banking from Scotland, without first returning to South Africa to collect a new debit card.

What must I do, written in clear, easy to follow steps? And I really hope that Sacrifice a virgin to Baal isn’t one of the steps.

I haven’t carried out any human sacrifices. Should I have? I suppose you can’t explicitly tell me to do that. The human-sacrifice aspect of your business is something you don’t talk openly about. Makes the investors nervous, hmm? Can’t see how throwing your customers to the sharks will make them any happier though. Or do you only feed the sharks with the customers who refuse to partake in cult behaviour? It’s all very confusing. Perhaps a FAQ on your website dealing with this might help.

Your email response was unsurprisingly bland, repeated everything I’d already told you (but blandly), failed to make any mention of Baal, and welcomed me to contact you again “should [I] require any further assistance.”

Looking back now, I think your reference to Baal was right there staring me in the face. “Should [I] require further assistance” was clearly a suggestion to ask for guidance on carrying out the required sacrificial rites. The rites needed to get Internet Banking reactivated without going to a branch.

What went wrong and what needs to be fixed

In simple terms, this is how you’ve failed me and what you need to do to redeem yourself.

  1. My problem is: I want to do internet banking, but I had to cancel my bank card, and Internet Banking is linked to an active bank card
  2. Your Solution 1: Collect a new card and pin at your nearest branch, link Internet Banking to this new card.
  3. My problem is: I cannot collect card at nearest branch as nearest branch is over 9000km away from my current location.
  4. Your Solution 2: While customer has no card, repeat Solution 1.

That’s it. I’m stuck in this infinite bureaucratic loop and I cannot find anyone with higher enough privileges to break it. It’s not even a complicated algorithm where this problem is deeply nested within the possibilities of customer difficulties, and could not have been foreseen.

What you need to do:

BREAK THE LOOP! Change point 4. to something like

  1. Your Solution 2: Escalate client request until it reaches person with authority to override standard procedure and MAKE AN EXCEPTION

I can accept that through some oversight in planning a simple potential issue like this might be overlooked, and as a result no procedure was drawn up to deal with it. This left the poor disempowered call-centre and email customer support employees unable to fix the problem.

What I can’t accept is that given this situation, where the support decision is locked in an infinite loop, is there is no procedure for breaking the loop by escalating the problem to a higher support level. If such a procedure exists, then every person who has dealt with my enquiries is either completely ignorant of the procedure, or completely incapable of abstract thought. The lack of abstract thought possibility does lend some weight to my Standard Bank is a Murderous Cult theory.

Resolving my problem may not be trivial within the constraints of your internal systems but, assuming you are not in fact a violently murderous cult populated with mindless drones, how can there be no manual overrides for any of your procedures?

Please, before I am forced to carry out some arcane ritual in a fit of desperation, sort this out.


Neil Robinson


  1. This is not the full extent of the pain and grief Standard Bank have put me through. More on Standard Bank’s ineptitude.
  2. ProTip™ for other Standard Bank customers in my predicament.
  3. A careful look at the first step in the infinite loop I’m condemned to shows that the problem should never have arisen in the first place. The “Internet banking is linked to an active bank card” clause is completely unnecessary. Other banks don’t do this. Why does Standard Bank have to?

Crazy Hat Photography Failed Endeavour

It maybe of interest to regular Waffle Group readers what I was originally trying to do with Crazy Hat (which has something up, by the way).

I wouldn't pay £45 either

My marketing effort didn’t yield great results, but to be honest my heart just wasn’t in it.

The source image is decent though. It ought to be because I bought a sod-off expensive fast lens to take the picture.

The source image with better colour correction

Crazy Hat continues to evolve. I mentioned before that Crazy Hat would involve photography. That’s been scratched as I whittled it down to something more focused. The photos are staying here on Waffle Group.

I settled on Environment, Society, and Technology. Three interlinked concepts, in my view, but Serious Topics under a Crazy Hat.

But I also want to write Crazy Reviews and do Crazy Experiments and be generally Crazy. It’s not going to mix too well.

Another persona is required—Serious Writing Neil. Serious Writing Neil is the one most likely to pay the bills. Not to say that Crazy Hat Neil can’t, he’s just going to struggle more.

Ah bugger. I feel like I have a multiple personality disorder.


Introducing Crazy Hat: Photography and Musings

Crazy HatThere is a new place where I will be throwing out content into the internet. I can hear Quinn groaning in anguish. Possibly my other friends could be grumbling too, but with Quinn I am certain of this because he has moaned before.

The site is not yet alive. I am still attaching the bolts, clamps, and sourcing sufficiently powerful batteries to ramp up the voltage required to jolt the beast into life. I’ll let you know when I switch on the juice.

That’s not to say it’s going to be a monster. I’m no Dr Frankenstein.

The site is called Crazy Hat — Photography & Musings, and will feature photography and musings.

Hey Neil! Isn’t that what you already do at Waffle Group?

Um… well… Well, yes.

So, what’s the point?

Quiet you! I spent a whole lot of time working on the site and logo for my aborted photography business, and I didn’t want to completely waste the effort. I made pretty designs that I refuse to allow to go to waste.

Seriously though, writing at Crazy Hat will be more focused and of an editorial nature. Only content that meets a certain level of quality will be allowed, and everything will be edited before going online. Things will be published to a schedule. There are fewer, better considered categories available. This is not the case here at Waffle Group. Things are out of hand here. Things are confused, chaotic, random, inconsistent, and not particularly professional. Crazy Hat will strive for professionalism.

What will become of Waffle Group?

Do not fear for Waffle Group. It will trundle along as it always has. Long rambling waffle will appear from time to time, giving you an account of my day-to-day ongoings. Snapshots will materialise. Rants about cellular service providers, banks, and other evil corporate entities (stay tuned for one about Standard Bank — they have raised my ire). Editorial writing hasn’t been happening here much any way, so you can hardly claim you’ve missed it.

So, in summary — business as usual at Waffle Group. A whole bunch of extra, wonderful stuff over at crazyhat.co.uk ! Score!

Hold tight. Crazy Hat coming — end January 2011

Lengthy Internal Dialogue Externalised, Whereby Decisions are Eventually Made

Puzzled (Photo by Marco Belluci via Flickr)

When I was first trying to figure out what to do with my life, I was very concerned about money. No money equated to death, in my mind. Considering that, perhaps I should have become an investment banker. They seem to make a lot of money even when they are actually losing it. That’s a sure bet if there ever was one. I guess I’m just not enough of a socio-path to feel no guilt at that sort of behaviour.

Instead I pursued a career in engineering. It seemed the pragmatic approach to going about things. It was a vocation useful to society, and one which would eventually yield high economic returns guilt-free (well my 17 year old self imagined it to be free of difficult ethical decisions). I remember researching average income for engineers and found the results to be comforting.

Another consideration was the need to acquire a bursary to support my studies. I sensed some pressure from my father in this respect (not blaming you Dad). There weren’t a lot of bursaries on offer for Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, but bursaries from industrial and mining companies in South Africa were literally growing on trees (the trees are rather odd in South Africa — also, lions prowl in the streets of Johannesburg which is the real reason for the high murder rate). Both my brothers had been awarded bursaries for their academic results, and my academic results were of a similar standard, so it seemed the bursary was mine for the picking. But the political climate in the country had changed, and those bursary trees in the white sand were looking a little withered. Their bursary leaves curling up and falling from the branches, all crackly and brittle.

The ANC had been unbanned and Nelson Mandela had been elected president of South Africa. My pale male skin was no longer a particular advantage to me, and may even have counted against me. There was great pressure on companies to support and train young black talent. My numerous bursary applications yielded a number of interviews, but no financing for my studies. Realising this, and sensing the pushing he may have made for me to pursue a bursary, my father told me to study whatever I wanted to. “You like writing. Study English, or journalism. Study whatever you enjoy.”

It was too late though. I heard what he told me, but I wasn’t going to let it interfere with the way I’d predefined what my future would hold. I had conclusive proof in my mind that pursuing any career other than engineering would leave me destitute on the street. I’d beg for small change and scraps of stale bread. I’d dig in dustbins to survive. I’d be bad at that. Then I’d die.

My parents weren’t the only ones I chose to ignore. I ignored everyone that told me that a career in writing was the thing I should be doing.
On the last day of high school my English teacher wished me well and said, “Look forward to seeing you in print.”
Every year I won the English prize at school.
I was rejected by AECI for a bursary in Chemical Engineering, and the reason they gave was “Neil wants to be a writer.”

People working at a chemical factory had a better idea about what I should be doing than I did. I look back at it now, and I want to go and smack my 17-year-old self about the back of his head, and shout, “Look! Look! It’s staring you in the face you bleeding idiot!”

I also created a myth. The myth of doing something one really enjoys to earn money would ruin the love and enjoyment of the activity. Thus writing for a living is something I could never really contemplate, because that would destroy my ability to gain any satisfaction from the activity itself. Broken logic to protect myself from disappointment. I saw myself as a writer, but if I tested this hypothesis and failed to make a living from writing, what would I be?

It’s time to test the hypothesis.

It’s been a long arduous journey to break down the fear that paralysed me. Quitting work in South Africa during a recession, and moving to the haemorrhaging UK economy can hardly be described as “wise.” It has shaken the risk and fear perceptions I’ve held. It’s teaching me to fight.

What I'm going to be doing, although probably not with a pen like that (Photo by Joel Montes via Flickr)

It’s stupid to fight for something one doesn’t want. For a short while here in the UK I tried to make a professional photographer of myself. This would have been a great idea had I been taking photographs for pleasure all my life, but I haven’t. I felt I could monetise it faster than I could writing, and maybe that’s true, but so what? It will be a fight to get a photography business going. A war even. I’m not going to fight a war I don’t believe in.

Short fiction, longer fiction (Commitmentman? That would be hilarious if I were to make my fortune off that!) freelance article writer. I’m researching journalism courses in Scotland, and have a couple of prospects that I’ll apply to. I’ll also apply for unpaid internships or whatever I can get at publications in the area, in order to get some journalism experience.

However this works out, there is one thing I’m certain of. I’ll be writing about it.