Monday, September 24, 2007

Two weeks in the UK

It's a strange time coming back to the UK and doing talks and things telling people about my work. I had just over two weeks in the UK doing this. In some ways I love it and in other ways I hate it.

I do enjoy telling people about what I do, because it shows what God is doing in the area. I often tell people how we are just almost running alongside while God is doing things. Because we are working with other people who speak the languages, we are doing primarily technical, production and guidance on content. The actual content is written, recorded etc by others. So we cannot evaluate fully what it is like. We partly evaluate through the popularity or otherwise of the material we produce, and the response to the material. Those are both encouraging.

We have also recently evaluated, by getting ours and other people's material evaluated content-wise on a system that we developed to score how different materials hit their target audience. That too was encouraging.

So if all that's encouraging when I tell people about what we are doing, why do I hate it? The reason is that I feel I am telling only half the story, yes, I tell some of the struggles too, but not the long term emotional struggles.

Quite a bit of the time I feel that I am creatively stunted in what we are doing and in what I see others doing. Because I feel that we are not really being as creative as we should be I feel that I am not telling the whole story. Some of what we do is creative, but lots is not. Lots is boring.

And that overlaps with the talks that I give to people about what we do. Often I fall asleep in sermons because they are pretty boring. When the vicar from one of the churches in the UK we come from came out to Cyprus a while back, he came to church with me and over lunch admitted to the family he wasn't sure if he should wake me in the sermon as I was sleeping so peacefully.

Most talks, most radio programmes, most TV programmes seem to be 'the Bible says this...' But when Jesus was on earth much of the time he didn't do talks along the lines of 'the Bible says this...'. He told stories. Interesting stores. Creative stories. Sometimes he took existing stories and added creative new ends to them.

So why is so much of our communication boring as Christians? We justify what we do by counting the effects... so many people heard, so many people responded. Yes, that's important. We do the same, but I have the increasing nagging feeling that we are missing out on our calling to be creative, to seek interesting ways of telling people about Jesus and to do in a a style that is good.

After all, when God created the earth He said it was good, and we are created in the image of God with the same inbuilt nature to be creative.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Banks... we love 'em... NOT!

Well, I went to the bank this morning, picked up the user id and pin for both directors and one digipass... yes, you did read that right ONE Digipass. They didn't send two! Oh well, at least we can start using the internet banking. Back to the office, phone the bank [yes, because you cannot do this at the bank] and then the tedious security questions... and at last my internet banking is working.

Go to my trusty mac notebook, open Firefox, go yo the website and type in userid and pin [having verified that what at first sight appears to be a unsecure login is in fact a secure login left appearing to be unsecure to catch the unwary]. And... it doesn't work! No, Firefox is not supported on the mac.

So I tried Safari. Got further, and if I looked it at 'view source' and copied the URL from the Refresh meta-tag... hey presto it worked. Since more and more people are abandoning Microsoft Internet Explorer, I have no idea why there are so many badly written websites around that use the 'features' that make IE dangerous to use. Oh well...

Next, phone HSBC. The company credit card didn't work last week. First time I was trying to use it. Got the interminable press * for this, press 1 for that and... yes a wonderful option 'Please enter your date of birth...' I did. The disembodied voice said 'This is not the date of birth we have on record, please enter you date of birth...' I did the same again. I got the same reponse. Am I in an endless loop, can I get out? Ahhh... suddenly I get a 'If you are a business customer, please press 1 to continue'. I do that. I wait. I listen to boring tinny music. I wait. I listen some more.

Eventually a human being comes on the phone. Ah, I will try to find out why it is blocked, please hold while I talk to the relevant department. I wait. listen to boring tinny music. I wait. I listen some more. Thank you for holding, I will now transfer you to the Credit Card Department. I wait. I listen to boring tinny music. Somebody on a distant line [are they in India or Timbuktu?] says that Yes, your company credit card is blocked. [I knew that, that's why I was phoning!] Eventually he finds that because I hadn't used it the bank had blocked it [so that when I did want to use it it would not work]. Great. Please can you unblock it? No, you have to do that at the bank. I can't do that, I'm in Cyprus and the bank is in Wales. OK, can I FAX a request to unblock it. Yes, that might work, I will find the FAX number for you.

Now, there's one more thing. The card I have runs out at the end of October [even though its blocked] and I would like a new one now, not in two months time as I am traveling. No problem sir, but you have to do this at the bank. I can't do that, I'm in Cyprus and the bank is in Wales. OK, can I FAX a request for a new card? Yes, that might work, you could try that.

So now I have to type a FAX, sign a FAX and send it to the bank... but wait a moment. Excuse me sir, but did you know that there was also a deposit account attached to your bank account and that since you have quite a bit of money in current account you are actually losing interest? No, I didn't know that. What is the account number? Yes, I can tell you the account number no problem... Can you transfer some from the current to the deposit account for me? Yes, no problem, sir. [Hmmm... why was the thing I hadn't thought about easy and what I really wanted to do impossible?]

One final thing, I want internet banking set up please. You have to do that at the branch, sir.
I can't do that, I'm in Cyprus and the bank is in Wales. You can download the forms and send them to us. The url is You only need to send us the first five pages when you have printed it.

The form reminds me of the new e-tickets for aeroplanes... you know, the ones to save paper. If you've not had an e-ticket, it works like this: The old tickets used NCR paper, approx the equivalent of 1 or at most 2 pieces of very thin A4 paper cut into approx 1/4 size of A4. The new tickets you have to print out yourself and printed on 4 pages of 100 gsm printer paper. I estimate we are now using 4-6 times as many trees for the new e-tickets than the old paper ones.

Anyhow the HSBC form is 10 sides of A4, of which actually I only need to return two pages not five pages. So I have completed the form and then scanned it and sent a scan copy to my co-director in the UK for him tom complete and take to the bank. Aieee... no, for some oddball reason the files I sent print out 4 times size and won't fit onto an A4 page [they did here!]. So... I have to take them over with me at the end of the week and hand them over to him on Saturday... yes, that means another week is lost.

I wonder how much cheaper a pair of shoes, a motor car or my weekly shopping bill would be if banks were actually efficient and I didn't waste so much time trying to get them to do simple stuff. I think I may have spent approx 1 man month on these extra banking things over the last year-and-a-half... that would be a net extra cost of approx 2000-3000 in a commercial company, maybe more... multiplied by [say] 1000 companies in Cyprus with similar problems that makes 2-3 million pounds lost to bank inefficiency. I dread to think what the costs are worldwide.