The Sledgehammer of Technology

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by DaleCooper, 26 Apr 2015.

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  1. DaleCooper

    DaleCooper Established Member

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    And now for some controversy.

    I was reading this thread about a new design of ticket gates:

    http://www.railforums.co.uk/showthread.php?t=114918

    and it got me thinking about how we seem to think that just because a technological sledgehammer is available we should use it to crack every nut we come across, some of which don't even need cracking.

    If you a ask people how to deal with something like railway ticketing and its associated problems 999,999 out of a million will say "smartphones, smartcards, wifi, internet or similar, what we really need is that one person in a million who can come up with a really off the wall, out of the box, blue sky idea which is simple cheap and reliable.

    I know people will say "Well what is that idea?" and of course I wish I knew as then I'd be rich and famous, it brings to mind an old saying which goes something like "An engineer is someone who, for a penny, can do what any fool can do for a pound"

    This isn't a railway issue it appears everywhere these days, do we really need wifi baby alarms, fridges and lightbulbs, driverless cars etc.

    So much of this technological effort is aimed at helping us save time in our busy lives, none of it seems to do anything to make our lives less busy, more relaxed and, dare I say, happier.

    Don't think I'm a Luddite, technology has achieved great things and I was a very early adopter in many cases (for instance, I've been using computers and mobile phones since before many younger members of this forum were born) it's just that I feel it has become a crutch rather than a pair of roller skates.

    What seems to be ignored with every advance are the foreseeable problems, network failures, sabotage, hacking, malicious and criminal use and has anyone noticed that we are always being told that the latest encryption method is totally secure, even more so than than the last "uncrackable" code.

    For further reading try "The Machine Stops" by E M Forster
     
    Last edited: 26 Apr 2015
  2. AM9

    AM9 Established Member

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    I might add that so much of the effort is aimed at making a profit. Then what so often occurs is:
    a) a lot of people spend their money and within a short time realise that it doesn't do anything to improve their lives and the technology is quietly abandoned, the profit is already in the pockets of the supplier(s)
    or
    b) the technology does address some aspect of life and it catches on only to be beset with unforseen problems that a vendor profits from selling us expecting us to see them as a saviour.
    Cynical - me?
     
  3. Busaholic

    Busaholic Established Member

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    Yes, solutions to non-existent 'problems' and, conversely, no solutions to our ever-present ones. Surely all scientific efforts should now be being devoted to the increasing uselessness of antibiotics? I can't be the only person for whom they've never worked, any more than penicillin ever did. I was just lucky in that childhood sicknesses, of which I had many, haven't translated into much over my adult life, probably because I avoid doctors like the plague!
     
  4. TheKnightWho

    TheKnightWho Established Member

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    The reason they sometimes don't work is because people don't take their full course, which leads to the development of antibacterial-resistant strains.

    Plus you'll find that it's very difficult to get funding for your science project if it's useless. Stuff that seems useless is almost always a proof of concept, which leads to further developments down the line.
     
  5. AM9

    AM9 Established Member

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    I might add that so much of the effort is aimed at making a profit. Then what so often occurs is:
    a) a lot of people spend their money and within a short time realise that it doesn't do anything to improve their lives and the technology is quietly abandoned
    or
    b) the technology does address some aspect of life and it catches on only to be beset with unforseen problems that a vendor profits from selling us expecting us to see them as a saviour.
    Cynical - me?
     
  6. DaleCooper

    DaleCooper Established Member

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    I knew I missed something and software developers (no names but you only have to look out of the windows) are some of the biggest culprits along with those who decided it was time to turn the HiFi clock back and give us DAB and MP3.

    I agree, you'll note that my opening post is aimed at the (mis)application of scientific advances.
     
  7. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    Reading something just now about the phases of technology adoption, also known as Gartner's Hype Cycle:

    (1) Innovation Trigger - something new appears
    (2) Peak of Inflated Expectations - it's claimed to be the answer to everything and the best thing since sliced bread.
    (3) Trough of Disillusionment - people realise it isn't.
    (4) Slope of Enlightenment - a start of understanding what it might actually be useful for.
    (5) Plateau of Productivity - it's actually being used for the right sort of things.

    Quite a few technologies don't make it beyond (3).
     
  8. Bevan Price

    Bevan Price Established Member

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    I am not opposed to new technology, but "keep it simple" is often the best decision. For example, is there a comparison between the failure rates / maintenance costs of "pre-computer" & "post-computer" era of the various classes of locomotives and multiple units ? I was once told that, on some classes, more "failures" could be ascribed to "dodgy sensor" problems, etc., than to serious mechanical problems.
     
  9. DaleCooper

    DaleCooper Established Member

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    Like my car, there was nothing wrong with the engine, electrics or fuel system but a fault with the engine management system just kept immobilising it.
     
  10. me123

    me123 Established Member

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    Well, on that thread I actively advocated for mobile ticketing, and of course still think that it's potentially very useful.

    The technology is available that would allow us to use mobile ticketing in a meaningful way. Tickets could be bought on your phone, and (hopefully soon) paid for by use of mobile payment technology. The NFC chip on the phone and/or a barcode would allow the mobile ticket to operate a barrier, and allow the ticket to be checked and validated on the train. No need for queuing at a ticket office and no worries about losing/forgetting your ticket (mobile phones being ubiquitous and probably more readily recognised as being "lost"). For us "digital natives", it would be a natural process. Whilst there are of course problems with it (tech outages and so on), the current system is not perfect. It may also be liable to tech problems.

    I think that mobile ticketing is a natural progression of technology that we already have. However, I agree that technology for technology's sake is a stupid aim, and is perhaps parodied by the USB pet rock.
     
  11. Pigeon

    Pigeon Member

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    No, we don't need any of those things. A baby alarm need use no technology more complicated than a telephone - ie. late Victorian level - and the idea of connecting a fridge to the internet is just overcomplication to the point of idiocy, and totally useless. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop people doing it, because they know that enough people are idiots that they will buy internet fridges without consideration for the idea being totally useless, just because they can.

    Encryption is an intellectual arms race, with both sides developing new mathematical techniques to try and stay ahead. Actually, though, most encryption currently in use is secure, and this is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. That attacks on systems nevertheless succeed is because the encryption is only one part of the system, and the attacks are directed at the other, more vulnerable, parts, in particular the human parts which are usually by far the weakest.

    Well, it's interesting that you mention the Luddites there, because the Luddite episode shows that incorrect thinking was already well entrenched a very long time ago. The purpose of "work" is not to make money, it is to get something done that needs to be done. Unfortunately the two have been conflated for such a long time that people have not only long ago lost sight of the distinction but have turned the whole thing the wrong way round and consider that work is a necessary prerequisite to obtaining money regardless of whether it actually does anything useful.

    The reason your conundrum arises is that it is based on a false assumption. Technological effort is not aimed at making our lives easier. It is aimed at making a small number of very rich people even richer. This would not be possible if our lives were too easy; indeed "rich" could even lose a lot of its meaning if things are taken far enough. Technological effort is more and more aimed at making us think it's making our lives easier so that we keep on buying it, and whether it actually does make our lives easier is becoming less and less relevant.

    The error of the Luddites was that they saw the situation as a choice between only two alternatives, and both of those alternatives were wrong. What should have happened when machinery was introduced was that the machinery did the work while the Luddites still got the money, but no longer needed to work to get it. In other words, technological innovation making people's lives easier. And that should then have spread to other areas of endeavour as machines became capable of doing a wider variety of tasks, with people doing less and less work as machines did it instead. What actually happened, and always has happened, is that the technological innovation had the purpose of making a small number of people much richer, and making a lot of people's lives easier was never in it. So although machines are doing more and more work, people are not doing less and less; instead they are doing about the same amount but it is less and less useful, and is only done at all because people think (or just assume without thinking) that the idea of having to do work to get money is a universal constant, rather than being contingent on circumstances which only apply because we refuse to contemplate changing them and instead devote ever more effort to maintaining the illusion that they are necessary.

    Compare the science fiction worlds of Iain M Banks's "Culture", where intelligent machines indeed do do all the work and people do not have to do any, and Isaac Asimov's Robots, where intelligent machines capable of doing all the work do exist, but it never actually happens except on a small minority of worlds because people refuse to drop the fallacy of having to work for money and insist on continuing to make rods for their own backs. The Culture is by far the more attractive to live in were it possible, but Asimov's scenario is on historical evidence much more realistic, which is extremely depressing.

    The occasional academic in the Sixties was moved to comment on the ridiculousness of the situation - why do Americans now work all the time so they can all have a new car every year, when if they kept the same car for twenty or thirty years they would still be just as well provided with transport but not have to do anything like as much work? Even back then it was estimated that 80 or 90 percent of all work existed merely to perpetuate the illusion of the necessity of continuous work. And that was before computing technology vastly increased the range of tasks that machines were, or potentially were, capable of. The figures are even worse now. If technology genuinely was applied to make people's lives easier, and work restricted to only those tasks which are both genuinely necessary and beyond the capabilities of machines, a 4-hour week could have been the norm long ago, but since neither of these things have happened we're still stuck with 40 odd, and what is worse is that so many people fail to see the iniquity of the situation.

    This being one reason why I have a car that is 40 years old, and a motorbike that is 30 years old, both of which have no electronics at all - apart from stuff I have built myself and can therefore repair myself if it goes wrong without difficulty.

    And it certainly does apply to trains as well - eg. Voyagers conking out at Dawlish because the braking resistances got splashed. Someone commented on this forum the other day that older rolling stock is more reliable because "it has bugger all in it", whereas modern stock has added several points of failure which never used to exist and still has all the same points of failure as older stock as well. And we have not gained anything worthwhile from it, or very little, certainly not enough to be worth the hassle.

    Of course the one big difference between cars and trains in this respect is that railway workshops have full information available to diagnose and repair failed gadgetry, and staff that know what they're doing, whereas car manufacturers refuse to release this information and car mechanics lack the understanding to make use of it if they did. It should be a legal requirement that all such gadgetry should be fully open source, both software and hardware, and so constructed as to be repairable down to component level. Which brings us back to the point above about stuff being done to make money instead of to be useful.

    The reason modern cars and trains can validly be considered to be "better" than older ones is in the advances in mechanical engineering - better suspension designs giving a more comfortable ride or better handling, better combustion chamber and injector designs giving more complete combustion, better materials and manufacturing precision giving more durable engines and other components, and so on. With some limited exception for engine management systems, which do provide significant gains in efficiency, the changes in modern electrical systems cannot be called an "advance". None of them are necessary, hardly any of them are even useful, but all of them add expense, complication and multiple possible points of failure - failure which is usually no more than a bad connection or a 5p component packing up, but cannot be localised to that level and which instead requires replacement of a complete assembly at a cost of hundreds of pounds despite it containing less complexity than a digital watch.

    What you describe sounds like an absolute nightmare. Of course if it is merely an addition to paper ticket systems it doesn't matter, but the very real danger is that it will end up replacing them and we will lose a system which is simple, easy to use and independent, in favour of something which is hard to use, can go wrong in many ways which are not possible with paper tickets, and is not only dependent on multiple external systems but even requires us to pay extra for parts of those systems.

    "Tickets could be bought on your phone"

    What phone?

    "paid for by use of mobile payment technology"

    "Payment technology" = notes and coins. "Mobile payment technology" = carrying notes and coins. So we have that already, it's dead simple, it works by itself, and there isn't anything to go wrong. "Electronic mobile payment technology" requires converting notes and coins to electronic form, access to and authorisation to use a system capable of handling that electronic form, and that system or the other systems which interface to it not to be down when you want to use them; it introduces multiple extra steps, all of which either do or potentially could incur extra costs; and it doesn't actually make anything any easier, it just creates sufficient illusion of being easier to make people think it might be a good idea.

    "The NFC chip on the phone and/or a barcode would allow the mobile ticket to operate a barrier"

    So does the magnetic strip on the back of a paper ticket.

    "allow the ticket to be checked and validated on the train"

    So does the printing on the front of a paper ticket.

    "No need for queuing at a ticket office"

    Incorrect solution to a different problem which not only fails to solve it but by pushing it under the carpet encourages its perpetuation. Instead, massively simplify the outrageous overcomplication of the ticketing system as it stands, which is what really needs doing, and provide plenty of ticket machines so there is always a very high chance that one will be free.

    "no worries about losing/forgetting your ticket (mobile phones being ubiquitous and probably more readily recognised as being "lost")"

    ...mobile phones not being "ubiquitous" and the absence of one in my pocket being a matter of no concern whatsoever since it represents the expected state of affairs.

    If what you advocate comes to replace paper tickets - which as I said is a very real danger; we already have lost normal tickets on London buses - then I would simply stop considering the train as a possible journey option. Your system would require me to pay for a mobile phone; to pay for the use of a mobile phone network; to pay to obtain authorisation to use a system which would make money accessible via a phone; to pay, and make an extra trip, to convert money into the form used by such a system... and then if the system decides to revoke my authorisation, or the phone battery runs out, or lightning hits the mast, or this, or that, I'm screwed. There is nothing remotely "easy" about it; instead it's a whole lot more messing about doing stuff I don't currently have to bother about, and paying more to do it. It would change the train vs. car balance from one which may come down on one side or the other depending on route, destination, timing etc, to one which always comes down on the car side without having to bother thinking about it because buying the train ticket has been made ridiculously difficult, expensive and complicated whereas buying petrol is as easy as buying milk.
     
  12. Clip

    Clip Established Member

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    Well as I have said before you can then wave goodbye to ticket offices across the land. And you are happy for thousands oe people to lose their jobs along with the knowledge that most of them have just so you can have a ticket on your mobile phone.

    The biggest thing about mobiles, in the whole context of this thread, is that they have been sold to you to make you think they are invaluable to you when they really add nothing more but just make you more contactable than ever.

    No one needs a mobile. Yet silly people have been brainwashed into thinking they are the solution to all lifes problems. And selfies.
     
  13. NSEFAN

    NSEFAN Established Member

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    With cars, I would suggest that some on-board electronic control is required to ensure the engine is being run optimally. Whilst mechanical control does the job okay, the efficiency is poorer because it's not possible to fire the pistons at the exact moment. An electronic controller meanwhile can adjust its timings to get everything exact, accounting for variation due to temperature or mechanical wear and tear.

    Of course, the real problem is certain manufacturers deliberately obfuscating their debug systems so that you have to buy their expensive proprietary kit!
     
  14. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    They should work, though many are allergic to them. Is it perhaps more likely you were prescribed them for what was actually a viral infection? Too many doctors still waste them by doing that.
     
  15. DaleCooper

    DaleCooper Established Member

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    Pigeon

    I must confess that I didn't read every word of your long and well argued post but I think I got the gist and totally agree with you, if my original post missed some of those points it was for brevity (and forgetfulness, ignorance or laziness).
     
  16. TheKnightWho

    TheKnightWho Established Member

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    You don't need a lot of things - including a lot of things you probably consider you do, no doubt. That doesn't mean that when someone is used to having a mobile that they should somehow put up without it just because you personally don't use yours a lot.

    And you really miss the point here - big business is not this homogeneous block conspiring against us poor consumers, where they've sneakily sold us mobiles so they can fire all the people in ticket offices. Mobile ticketing works because lots of us have deemed mobiles a valuable thing to have and therefore it's easier, on balance, for large numbers of people to use tickets on their phone. It's as simple as that.
     
  17. Clip

    Clip Established Member

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    I never said I don't use mine a lot did I? Or were you just inferring that from my post?

    And no I haven't missed the point - in fact my point was rather a pertinent one to the poster who I quoted who says mobile ticketing would make their life easier - though the downsides of such are well documented and was such you would be left in the same place if your paper ticket got lost/stolen but you can add an extra downside in that of battery running out of power.

    Ive made no accusation of any collusion between parties to ensure we got to mobile ticketing - I was pointing out that they have created the idea that you can not live without your mobile. Which you can
     
  18. me123

    me123 Established Member

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    The phone that 91% of us have, and the smartphone that 61% of us have according to the latest statistics (which were gathered at the start of 2014, so I suspect that the numbers have only risen further).

    Here's one of many websites that gives a definition for "mobile payment".

    Congratulations on those excellent observations, however if you'd actually read them properly you'd realise that I was suggesting these in an effort to overcome some of the more immediate issues with mobile ticketing.

    At my local ticket office in Aberdeen, for example, I'd need to turn up about 20 minutes early to be able to reliably purchase my ticket because people using the ticket office are often purchasing complicated itineraries (advance tickets, season tickets, multiple reservations etc) meaning that those of us buying a walk up fare are generally disadvantaged by a long wait. The reality is that I very rarely purchase tickets at the station, and I'm going online anyway (collecting the tickets at a TVM). So for those of us who already do this (and judging by the queues a the TVM - I'm not alone!) it removes a step in our journey.

    The TVMs are technology that is often liable to issues in and of itself. Interestingly, you don't seem to view them as a replacement to ticket office staff nor do you consider them to be worthy of chastisement.

    The complicated fares are probably much less likely to go mobile, so the offices will still be busy.

    I'm not advocating the replacement of paper ticketing at this time. I'm advocating giving an option to purchase and produce your tickets on your mobile telephone, an option which is acceptable to many, and would be beneficial to many.

    I don't see how offering people the option of displaying their ticket on their mobile phone is going to lead to a surge in car use, that's a bit of a leap of logic.
    --- old post above --- --- new post below ---
    Here's another massive leap of logic. "I want to have the option of buying and displaying a train ticket on my mobile phone" becomes "I want to see thousands of people and their families suffer". What a load of nonsense. See what I've said above about 1) mobile ticketing not replacing paper tickets, 2) the large number of people who still use ticket offices to buy more complicated products/itineraries that are not readily/easily available online.

    I'm perfectly aware that mobile telephones are not essential. They are however valuable tools that aid us in our daily lives, whether you like it or not. I could quite easily forgo my telephone, however why should I? It allows me to keep in touch and up to date on the go.

    PS - I've only ever once taken a "selfie", for a situation where I needed a passport-style photo to be uploaded to an online
     
    Last edited: 5 May 2015
  19. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Ticket offices are not a job creation scheme. If they are no longer required because of technological advance, then that's a shame but so be it. Technology has created its own industry, which offers a vast array of jobs that didn't exist 50 years ago - what goes around comes around.

    Er, what? I find mine quite useful. And I actually quite like being contactable - it has all sorts of benefits.

    No-one needs very much, really, other than basic food, shelter and clothing, and possibly medical treatment if they have a medical condition. Beyond that, it's all about enhancing quality of life, which to me they very much do do.
     
  20. DaleCooper

    DaleCooper Established Member

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    As I started this thread I must say that the argument about mobile phones rather misses my original point which was that what we need are new, revolutionary ideas which might or might not involve the use of such technology.

    I realise I may not have made myself clear so perhaps the following example gives a taste of what I mean:

    In the automotive and many other manufacturing industries the past 30 or 40 years have seen enormous improvements in the quality, reliability and in real terms lower or stagnant prices of products. Although this is partly because of technological advances a real revolution was the introduction of Statistical Process Control which requires little more than a pencil and paper.
     
  21. TheKnightWho

    TheKnightWho Established Member

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    And a hefty computer to do all the calculations.
     
  22. DaleCooper

    DaleCooper Established Member

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    No, a pencil and paper will do, and that's the point. When I was first introduced to SPC you'd be lucky to get a pocket calculator.
     
  23. TheKnightWho

    TheKnightWho Established Member

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    I wasn't referring to SPC, but everything needed to improve reliability and performance in the first place ;)
     
  24. DaleCooper

    DaleCooper Established Member

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    I can only assume you didn't read my post. SPC was one of the ways that reliabilty and performance were improved, or perhaps you can explain what "everything needed to improve reliability and performance in the first place" was.
     
  25. TheKnightWho

    TheKnightWho Established Member

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    It was a flippant point that wasn't supposed to be taken too seriously. I was saying that massive improvements in reliability and performance would not be possible without the computing power to create that sort of technology in the first place.

    Moving on.
     
    Last edited: 5 May 2015
  26. DaleCooper

    DaleCooper Established Member

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    If it wasn't to be taken seriously why repeat it? I don't know how old you are but back in the 1980s there wasn't much computing power and SPC isn't a technology it's a method.
     
  27. BlythPower

    BlythPower Member

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    Coming next: Medical scientists reveal that smartphones - the answer to everything, apparently - are set to replace suppositories.
     
  28. TheKnightWho

    TheKnightWho Established Member

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    Because you completely misunderstood what I was getting at.

    Look, complaining about technology because it has its own problems completely fails to take into account weighing up whether these new problems are worth the old ones. Ultimately people complain about people losing jobs, and yes it's important that we keep people in work, but as Neil has pointed out technology itself creates jobs. The rubbish about the Luddites having the wrong answer and not realising they should have been paid for doing no work really, really misses the point: new jobs are always created, and unemployment has hardly been slowly creeping up since the 1820s. Technology will nearly always need people to watch over it, and even aside from that there are thousands of new industries that have only become possible due to technological developments.

    No-one thinks mobiles are the answer to literally everything, but having everything in one place or on one device is a convenience a lot of people want - it's why mobile phones do as much as they do these days. Moaning about that because you personally don't do that - when it's literally just giving people the choice - seems ridiculous.
     
    Last edited: 5 May 2015
  29. PHILIPE

    PHILIPE Established Member

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    I think that Call Centres are the scourge of technology. It was far easier, quick and efficient when you were able to contact a person with knowledge of whatever function you required and who could probably give you an answer straight away. Now sometimes via India and people reading from a script.
    An example is our local Health Board when an appointment used to be made for your next visit within the Department concerned, but now appointments are made through an Appointments Centre by people who don't understand implications involved like the people in the Department. My wife is a Type 2 Diabetic, one of a group of people who should have an ANNUAL review, but Annual has now become 16 months whereas in the Department days you would receive your next appointment date there and then and on time. It was the insistence of the Welsh Government that this Central Appointment system was adopted.
    You hear of cases galore, especially with the Energy Companies, when people with a query, such as a billing problem, feel that they are banging their heads against a brick wall trying to get the matter rectified despite promises. In the old days you would contact a person who could deal with any problem and it was done.
     
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