Monday, March 27, 2006

Detox Claims Under fire

"The marketing of detox products is to be investigated by the government after the BBC drew its attention to some of their medical claims."

The page has a picture of a man covered in mud with cucumber slices on his eyes.

It isn't me.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Supply Chain Nightmares

This is actually a copy of a complaint I've sent today to one of my suppliers - but I thought it worth airing publicly.

Right here goes the woeful tale of UPS...

Last Tuesday I called UPS to find out the most likely delivery day of the goods - I`m well aware that they try three times in sucession to deliver, and the become even more difficult than usual. Their reputation for returning the goods to sender after three "attempts" at delivery is strong - frequently, I`ve waited for them to deliver, only to find that an "attempt" is recorded as being made even though I never saw or heard anyone and no card is put through the door.

So I telephone them to see how helpful they can be.


First hurdle is getting past the voice recognition program that demands you say your 600 digit tracking number slowly and clearly. Needless to say, this voice recognition is slow, simply doesn`t work (try it out for yourself...) and you have to suffer 2 attempts at the thing before you get to speak to a "live" operator.

Second hurdle - getting the "live" operator, who sounds like he/she has been miserable his/her entire life, to actually deviate from the script and say something useful.

"Thursday" she tells me. My delivery is going to arrive on Thursday.


So when Thursday comes, I spend a day in the house waiting for my delivery. Meanwhile, I'm fielding emails from frustrated customers all demanding to know where their goods are.

Needless to say, nothing arrives.

So, Friday morning I call UPS - here is my position - I have meetings to attend on Friday. I can be in on Saturday if need be (my plans were only to involve meeting friends, socialising, you know the kind of thing), but the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I have to be elsewhere. So, I'm thinking, if they try to deliver on Monday, I've got a signifiant problem in that they`ll send the goods back to sender after three failed attempts.

So, I telephone UPS - what i`m thinking is that it shouldn`t be difficult to either arrange an alternative delivery address, or arrange to collect it myself (which in actual fact is the last thing I want to do, as it will involve a 2 hour round trip to the depot and means I have to cancel an appointment with a client which will cost me considerably).

First hurdle - the bloody voice recognition program - despite my finest English accent the damned thing gives me the same predictable response, "I'm sorry, that is not a valid tracking number, please try again" and off we go again, only to be met with the same frustrating message before I eventually get put through to a "live" operator.

I say "live" cautiously because the guy I get to speak to sounds like his soul left the building some considerable time previously.

I explain in detail my position and ask him if he can help me out.

Maybe I was being naive.

Here is what I learn:

1. UPS don't actually have my package. Weather conditions overseas meant it hasn't arrived in the UK yet.

2. No chance it is going to arrive on Saturday.

3. Expect delivery on Monday.

Ok, so Monday is looking likely. Now, is there any chance I can arrange to have it delivered to another address?

No. They cannot do that until they have made one "attempt" at the address specified.

But, I say, I`m telling you now that your driver will be wasting his time. I'm not going to be in on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, so he`ll be making three 2 hour round trips and I can save you and him the bother and make my customers very happy people.

"No," I`m told, "there is nothing physically I can do about that"

Im stonewalled every which way I try to turn. So I hang up.

Next - on Monday, I go ahead and cancel the evening client - I'm hedging my bets here, and keep open the opportunity to make the journey to collect it myself.

Monday lunchtime I telephone UPS to make sure - afterall, I don`t want to make the journey unnecessarily.

I have to go through the same damned voice recognition program, needless to say it clearly still doesn`t understand English and I eventually get through another participant from the Night of the Living Dead.

But this one is marvellous.

He`s got "attitude" - a bad one.

He's monosyllabic at best and getting information from him is a bit like plucking teeth.

Here is what I learn:

1. The package isn't with UPS yet. Customs have it.
2. He cannot give me any idea of when I should expect delivery.
3. No, I cannot arrange for another delivery address until the first attempt at delivery is made.
4. I am of course welcome to drive up to the depot when they have received it in order to collect it myself.

I hang up in exasperation.

So, now I'm getting desperate - customers are calling me and leaving unhappy messages. Essentially all they want to know is when they are going to receive their goods.

So, now it's Tuesday. I'm now fairly certain that the delivery will be made today, even though UPS have now been advised twice and at length that no one will be there to receive it. I cancel my Tuesday evening client and organise my work so that I can drive to the depot to collect my goods.

I leave the office early and rush home - sure enough there is a delivery note on the doormat.


I call UPS - same voice recognition program - now, I`ve taking to swearing at it, and I eventually get to speak to a girl who actually sounds as though she is in possession of a soul!

"I just want to check that my package is indeed in Southampton before I go and collect it." I say after she`s taken all the details.

Yes it is, she tells me, my package is indeed at the Southampton depot.

But... and wait for it ......

"You have to telephone before 430pm in order to arrange for a collection." I could hear the life-force leave her voice as she automatic zombie mode engaged.

Here is what I learn:

1. Unless you telephone them before 430pm, they "cannot physically" (there`s that same line again) deviate from the plan and the parcel will be put out again for delivery to the same address for another attempt.
2. No, they "cannot physically" change the delivery address at this stage, they have to wait until the second attempt is made before changing it or arranging customer pickup.

I ask if I can call the depot direct - after all, its only a little after 5pm, or maybe, just maybe she`s actually like to try and help me rather than reading from the zombie script.

No chance.

I try my best to shift her, but no, I'm obviously an annoyance to her now and she's gone too far into the twilight zone and isn't coming back until long after I've hung up.

So, now the second attempt is going to be made on Wednesday - I'm consulting all day at the office, it's my birthday and I have my family arriving as soon as i get home, so I cannot go and collect. My office is minutes walk from my house, but no, I cannot arrange to have it delivered there, I must arrange this before 430pm.

So, scrolling forward to today - Today is Thursday, third delivery "attempt" day - today it ends one way or another. I've cancelled my appointments and I'm eagerly awaiting the third and final delivery attempt.

I don't hold out high hopes.

The lesson I have learned from this is simply this - never do any form of business that involves replying on UPS in any capacity. An internet search suggests I am not alone in this.

Rant ends.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Adventures in Acupuncture

I've always been a good placebo responder. Give me a sugar pill, tell me that it has side effects and I can produce them on command.

So I am playing with acupuncture needles - I ordered them from China via Ebay.

Placing a few needles in fairly random places, I've found that I can make my entire hand go totally numb. I was quite surprised, as I wasn't expecting that to happen - not consciously at least. I'm going to test it later and see if Ican do the same with an entire leg and, if successful, then do it without the needles.

I must confess that I'm quite a coward when it comes to needles - I was never very good at sticking them into other people either - I always loathed giving injection to patients. So the acupuncture needles I've put into my hand hardly even break the skin. Now, I'm not so sure about chi and meridians and stuff as these aren't things I've ever really studied. So I've either struck it lucky or I'll have to put my numbness down to my skills at producing a decent placebo response.

I used to see it a lot of placebo response (and its inverse, "nocebo") in my brief time as a research assistant on drug trials. The trials were "double-blind" which meant neither we, nor the human guinea-pigs, knew what they were receiving - i.e. they could get the real drug or a dummy pill and none of us would be any wiser.

As part of "informed consent" we'd have to list out to the guinea pig the expected and known side effects of the drug. Only if there was some serious adverse reaction could we open the sealed plastic thing that had a code on it and then call through to the research H.Q. to find out what exactly we'd given the unfortunate patient.

Expectation is a powerful thing and it was amazing to see just how many patients suffered insomnia, dry mouths, urinary incontinence and skin rashes from what turned out to be a sugar pill.

I found it strange that we only ever told them what negative effects the drug might have on them; we rarely mentioned the beneficial effects that might happen.

On the peanut anaphylaxis trials, we'd open a packet of "peanut extract" - it could either be a placebo or the real thing and see what happened.

It was the "smell test" to see if it was the smell of the nuts or the particles in the smell of the nuts that caused the problem for a fortunately tiny few.

Remember that thing you learned at school about farts and the reason why they smell? It's because of the natural smell of the gasses themselves and also because of the countless micro-particles of brown matter that end up lining your nasal membranes.

A hideous thought indeed yet I distinctly remember how after learning about this, producing farts at school somehow became even funnier than before.

We had the "silent but deadly" variety that were always amusing ("he who smelt it, dealt it" which was always countered with, "he who denied it, supplied it") and the "thundercrackers" that would usually trigger a brief farting competition - much to the teacher's disgust.

It is strange, but people do tend to laugh at some bad smells.

Bad smells fall into two categories: there are funny bad smells and there are bad smells that make you feel ill.

Go to a joke shop and buy some stink bombs - these are always good for alaugh - Go into town and drop a couple in the shopping mall. Hang around and watch how people respond.

People just love a good smell like that and they'll talk about it to their friends later in the day.

Meanwhile, the smell of children's vomit is a smell to make you ill. I had to handle a lot of vomit during my time spent as a hospital nurse and children's vomit has that special quality to it that tends to promote vomiting in everyone else.

It promotes weird reactions in people - such as when a kid is sick in school, rather than clearing it up, some adult always comes along and covers it in sawdust.

I've never been quite sure why they do that.

Nor was I entirely sure why, knowing that the human guinea pig was seriously allergic to peanuts, we would open a packet (or pretend packet) of peanuts just inches from their nose. But that is what the research criteria stated we must do, so that is what us faithful researchers did.

Just following orders, guv'nor.

Thankfully, I was only on that particular trial for one day (I was helping out to cover sickness). The unfortunate subject in my trial, having successfully survived all our previous allergy tests that day, took one brief gasp and immediately fainted. The heart monitor showed asystole (the "flat line" you see on the hospital TV dramas that comes with that beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep sound) for about 15 seconds. Whilst the subjects heart had ceased operating at any great speed, mine accelerated to about a gazillion beats per minute.

Naturally our actions were heroic and the patient was saved and went home later that day.

"They often do that," said my medical colleague, "and those packets have never turned out to be real yet."


Addendum: News story in the news today - clinical trial subjects admitted to intensive care following adverse reaction:

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Turning Blue

Someone emailed me during my bout of man-flu to suggest that I try colloidal silver. Apparently this "ancient holistic healing remedy" will cure me of any disease and let me live for 1000 years.

Yeah right!

It might also turn me blue.

Just take a look at the lady in the above picture.

Turning blue hit the headlines when the unfortunate Stan Jones, Montana's Libertarian candidate for Senate turned blue from drinking silver solution. You never know - body piercing caught on in a big you could help kick start a new fashion statement.

Here's a good page on how to celebrate every day like it is halloween:

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A phone call....

"Hi there...fancy meeting up for a drink later?"

"Sorry, no, can`t do tonight - meeting friends later - maybe another time?"


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Google Kombucha

Trivia: Apparently, the staff at Google HQ can all drink Kombucha in the staff canteen:

Not a lot of people know that...