Archive for May, 2013

Matt Parker – The Number Ninja

Posted in General, Shows with tags , , , , on May 26, 2013 by thecognitivekey

On the face of it a whole show dedicated to numbers and mathematics night not sound great entertainment, unless you are interested in numbers and mathematics that is. Oddly enough, I am interested which is why I was at Matt Parker’s show on Friday evening.

Matt Parker is the self-styled Number Ninja, and he is one of the people on The Infinite Monkey Cage. That should place him in the scientific spectrum…he is a mathematics nerd, and proud of it, he revels in it. Such enthusiasm for numbers and maths. It’s highly infectious.

I went with my friend Janie who probably wouldn’t describe herself as a number nerd, but the show was pitched so precisely that there was an enormous amount of maths entertainment for the whole range of the audience, both Janie and I enjoyed the show immensely despite our different numerical backgrounds.

Matt did some quick number tricks, introduced us to barcode and check digits, showed off his new scarf which has a binary pattern, but which also contains a message when converted, and is good enough to recover from a knitting error where one of the 1s has been knitted as a 0, because the pattern repeats and so it’s a self-correcting binary scarf. How cool is that.

Non-transitive dice, huge numbers leading up to the Graham number, lots of jokes about meta data…very nerdy at times yet oddly inclusive. Some members of the audience had brought calculators…it was that sort of crowd.

Matt is a great entertainer. He has such enthusiasm for the subject it’s infectious. He could have gone on for hours I am sure. With luck he’ll be back in the area on tour again soon.

Oh, and he has a website which sells some of the toys he demonstrated. The non-transitive dice and a must-have and I shall be looking out for the binary scarf…patterns are already on the internet, just need a knitter to make one…


Nationwide Building Society – Redeemed (for me anyway)

Posted in Customer Service, General with tags , , , on May 20, 2013 by thecognitivekey

It obviously does pay to be persistent and to complain.

My last call to customer services today was answered by a chap who recognised there was something wrong with my account, listened to my explanation of what appeared to have happened, checked it out and then told me I was right and that the penalty deduction they had made would be refunded.

After the fiasco of last Friday’s complaint to them, I raised a formal complaint on their website, explaining everything that had happened. This afternoon the chap from complaints phoned me. He accepted that I had been given a mass of confusing information and offered me £50. I accepted it. He’s also going to ensure I get the refund of the deduction, if I don’t get it then he’ll refund it. Interestingly he’d spoken to the account team this morning and they had told him it was an early redemption repayment. But he’s going to refund that even if they don’t.

So the Nationwide have come good in the end. But what a palaver to get everything resolved. Just as well I recognised it and wasn’t prepared to let things go when they told me I was wrong.

Nationwide Building Society – Fit For Service?

Posted in Customer Service, General with tags , , , on May 20, 2013 by thecognitivekey

Ah, we all love Building Societies don’t we? A throw-back to the past when the customer’s needs were paramount, and the happy, smiling faces behind the counter recognised you. A time when the banks didn’t really deal in mortgages so the Building Society was the only place to go when you wanted to buy a house, but they were expecting you because you’d been saving for years with them to get your deposit. Gosh, money was hard to get in those days. Jolly adverts on TV telling us just how safe and reliable Building Societies were.

Since then there has been a major shift. Banks and other institutions have dipped into the mortgage market. Most Building Societies have de-mutualised and many have subsequently been taken over by banks. Service has deteriorated in these ‘new’ Building Societies as the pressure was applied to get more out of the customer.

But, out there still, like a shining light, there was always the Nationwide Building Society. A traditional Building Society, caring for its customers in the traditional way. Hurrah, a light to lead us. Or so I have always thought.

Back in 2008 I bought a house and needed a mortgage. My broker suggested the Nationwide, a 19 year mortgage (sorry sir, we don’t lend beyond your 70th birthday), with the first 10 years fixed at 6.04%, market rate after that. An overpayment of £500 maximum per month was allowed throughout the life of the mortgage. Anything overpayment over £500 in any month would incur a 3% penalty charge. Seemed a good deal. The rate was competitive at the time and fixing for 10 years meant I knew the outgoings wouldn’t go up for a while. The overpayment of £500 would allow me to have the mortgage repaid within 10 years thus avoiding the market rates at the end. It’s also a Building Society, not a bank. I’ll take it.

A couple of months later the banking system collapsed along with mortgage rates. Bank of England rate at 0.5%, people with trackers laughing their heads off. But I was happy enough. My outgoings on the mortgage were constant, about £1500 a month including overpayment.

I took redundancy from work, ploughed that into my mortgage. Took the penalty on the chin and paid that so it wasn’t added to the mortgage. Sold all my shares and put that into the mortgage with my savings, again paid the penalty. I made several overpayments larger than £500 during this period. It was odd but the Nationwide seemed to have two distinct methods of dealing with the penalty. Sometimes they would calculate the penalty of the whole overpayment that month (including my regular £500), sometimes it was only the overpayment over £500 that they charged for. I queried this several times and sometimes got one answer and sometimes the other. No-one really knew.

The Nationwide are very good at taking the money from the direct debit every month. I cannot fault them in their ability to extract the mortgage payment without fail. I had opted to have the term reduce on my mortgage so the base repayment was the same every month and it was great to get a letter from them every month to let me know that the term had been reduced.

As I got closer to the mortgage end I started to wonder what would happen. Would I have to get them removed from the deeds? How would the monthly overpayment work, would they refund the excess? Was there a penalty for early repayment of the mortgage, within the first 10 years there appeared to be?

A quick phone call to the Nationwide Building Society Customer Service Team…I spoke to a chap there, no penalty for early redemption he said because I had been reducing the term and it was now only month’s not years. Their mortgage team would contact the Land Registry and remove the charge against the property. He was a good source of information but the line was chopped suddenly. Oh well. I had some answers.

A week or so later another question popped into my head. Another call to the team. Another chap, and he reassured me about the overpayment, anything overpaid would be repaid into my account, best not to close the direct debit just yet though. No, there wouldn’t be a penalty for early redemption. Great!

I watched the account balance tumble. Just one more payment to go, the regular monthly payment left my account, a few days later the £500 overpayment and my mortgage account was in credit. Hurrah! £69.46 in credit. Ah, but I bet they don’t pay interest on that. Another phone call confirmed that. It’d take 10 working days for them to make the refund. Blast.

I lost access to my Nationwide on-line account. I phoned up. It was because the account was now closed. But the credit was still on the account and would be refunded.

I got a letter from the Land Registry to say the charge on the property was now removed. Later a letter from the Building Society to say my mortgage was closed and excess monies refunded. No figures, just words.

I checked my bank. No payment so I phoned up again. A different person. Ah, yes, they hadn’t started looking at this until 7 days after the mortgage had been paid off. I should get the money within 10 working days. Oh yes, and how will that be paid. Oh, we’ll send a cheque to you solicitor. What solicitor is that I asked. The one who you used to buy the house. The hell you will I said. I was promised a payment into my account and if you send a cheque of mine to any solicitor there will be trouble. Rapid back-tracking I was assured the payment would be to my bank.

A payment did appear. Not for the full amount. £12.91 short. Now that is a small amount I know, but the mortgage calculation is by a mathematical formula and can have only one result, so it seemed odd that suddenly my credit balance had reduced. I phoned again. A nice chap. I explained the problem. He said there shouldn’t be an early redemption charge, so it was odd. Ah, but he could see that my £500 overpayment had been presented twice, the first time it was rejected. He said that what had happened was that the double presentation of the overpayment had caused the system to think I’d paid over the £500 limit for the month…and so the penalty of 3% was charged on the outstanding balance at that time. And the 3% works out at £12.91 and it does. He said he’d send a note to the relevant people. It’d take 10 working days.

Haha, after another 10 working days and no repayment I phone again. A woman this time. Ah yes she said they had made a decision on this 8 days earlier and the penalty payment was correct. Why hadn’t you told me then? We are sorry about that. But I was told that it was a mistake on your part, no mistake, he was wrong and he will be informed of that. How come I get a different answer from the Nationwide each time I call? Don’t you have education so every one knows the products. Seems pretty rubbish to me. But no shifting her, she was adamant the system was right. Is there anything I can do you you? she said. Go jump in the lake I thought, but didn’t say it. Politely I said Yes, loads, but we’ll talk about that another day. Not sure who rang off first.

So, the Nationwide are great at running your mortgage so long as you don’t do anything like make more that the allowed overpayment or pay it off before the term. Once they start having to think for themselves instead of relying on the system you can get any result. I was lucky just briefly when I spoke to one chap, but he has been overruled by some fool elsewhere relying on the system. In fact the silly girl I spoke to last said it was due to early repayment of the mortgage, but a charge of £12.91 on a mortgage in excess of £130,000 being repaid inside 5 years. That can’t be right.

I shall try to call them again now…

Persistence has paid off…Through to someone who understands the problem and has spoken to the redemptions team. We are all seeing the same numbers now…and I hope to have a payment of £12.91 coming back to me.

I do wonder though just what happens to people who aren’t financially savvy or persistent…

What’s In A Name?

Posted in General, The Big Society on May 15, 2013 by thecognitivekey

A local company has regular redundancy purges on its staff. Each ‘project’ is given a unique name.

The latest has been announced and is called Jura.

Jura is a department in France. One of its arrondissements is Dole.

Dole via Jura. I’m sure there’ll be no end of volunteers.

Maybe someone in the company has a sense of humour, but I doubt it.

Killing Floor – Lee Child

Posted in Books on May 9, 2013 by thecognitivekey

Les Miserables is taking a while to read so I have slipped this one in as a light relief. It’s the first in the Jack Reacher series by the British author Jim Grant. I hadn’t heard of either the series or the author before this book.

It is set in the US and is in the first person throughout, Jack Reacher being the hero. The plot is a little far-fetched concerning a counterfeit dollar operation which Reacher gets involved with by chance. He is pretty much indestructible  whoever takes him on is certain to lose and be dead within a short while. Numbers are no object, in this book he takes on 5 very heavily armed men and kills them all with just a knife and a blackjack. Impressive. He has superb mental capacities too, capable of reading complex banking articles easily and assimilating the information in a trice. Impressive or what.

I think all of the baddies who were killed in this book were killed by Reacher. He works alongside the non-corrupt police he finds but they have no objection to the murderous mayhem he causes. It seems that anything, including murder, is acceptable in the fight against crime. Even murder by a civilian who happens to be passing. An odd place America.

Apparently there is a film associated with the character, not sure which book it’s based on. I can imagine it would be very popular amongst a certain subset of society, almost compulsory viewing for NRA supporters in the US. For me, while the pace of the book was good too often a miracle happened and Reacher got out of a difficult situation either by his, what seemed superhuman, abilities or just by complete luck or a mistake on the part of the other side. Very implausible. He overcame his enemies far too easily, I think he could have blown on them and they’d have fallen. The psychopath who been part of Reacher’s brother’s killing was drowned in just half a page, such a build up and then pow! all over. A long build up, then a premature climax when we expected more. A description which applies to the whole book.

It was a rest from the heavy writing of Hugo, but I wouldn’t buy another, and I am not sure I’d read another even if free.