Revised Final Statement – Reader Feedback Please!

I recently changed mobile phone networks, from T-Mobile to Vodafone. Nothing to do with T-Mobile’s service or anything – just that Martin was moving to Vodafone (as part of getting a company phone from his new employers), and it’s cheaper for us both to be on the same network.

Now, Martin’s move was easy. He simply stopped using the old phone, cancelled one contract and signed another. But I wanted to port my number, because it’s fairly memorable, and I don’t want to have to tell everyone that it’s changed.

So I got a “Final Statement” from T-Mobile a little while ago, and the amount on it was automatically debited from my bank account. All well and good.

But today I get a letter from T-Mobile, with a “Revised final statement”. Apparently they charged me £12.80, but the last bill was £11.41. The front page contains the following text (all text formatting original and not my fault):

Revised final statement    cr £1.39


Call charges £0.00
Subtotal £0.00
Credit amount cr £1.39 <- from last bill
Total we will carry forward    cr £1.39 to your next bill

This is your revised final bill. If you do not pay by Direct Debit, please pay any outstanding amount as soon as possible.

So, since I pay by direct debit, if I owe money, they’ll take it from my account. But if I am owed money, they’ll carry it foward to my next bill. Except that was my final bill. Ah, bureaurocracy!

Gentle readers, I want your input. Do I:

  1. Ring them up and request that it be deposited in my account, or
  2. Leave it, or
  3. Something else (you suggest what)

If this is on the up and up, neither option profits anyone.

If I ring them, I have to do it on their “local rate number” and thread my way through their hold queue. Assuming I can get to a real person, I’ll be out the time and phone bill money. Meanwhile, they’ll be paying the person on the other end of the phone, plus bank transfer charges. What do you want to bet that exceeds £1.39?

If I leave it, they get £1.39 of my money, plus any interest it may earn over time, as a free gift. If it’s a snafu, then they’ll quickly spend more than £1.39 keeping me on the books and printing and posting monthly statements saying I have this credit.

On the other hand, maybe it’s more sinister. £1.39 may not look like much, but if they’re doing this systematically, and if they then don’t send any more bills out to customers they do it to, it could add up. Is this the trailing thread of a massive fraud?

Email me or leave me comments…tell me what I should do! I’ll report any results on this blog as they happen.

Where’s the Black Squad when we need them?

Q: What do weapons of mass destruction have to do with cot death?

A: In both areas, the “experts” evaluating the evidence and acting on their conclusions have caused enormous devastation. Then, after the fact, that evaluation has proven wrong.

Why? I have an insight that may be useful.

I’ve held a number of jobs in my working life. The three that I’ve spent the longest at, though, are paralegal (2 years), financial auditor (3 years) and software tester (7 years and counting). Though they seem quite varied, they have one common factor: they’re all about the evaluation of evidence.

Lawyers and paralegals, of course, work with evidence all the time: gathering it, presenting it, writing about it. There’s no pretense of neutrality. A trial lawyer’s job (aided by paralegals) is to find evidence that supports one particular view, and to discount evidence that doesn’t.

Financial auditors are, on the surface of it, very different from lawyers. They go into companies at the year end and check the financial accounts those companies produce. Each stage of the audit is made up of tests on certain aspects of the accounts, whether it be a stock count to ensure that the inventory numbers are correct, or a check of reconciliation procedures to allow the auditors to rely on internal financial systems. And for each stage of the audit, we used to state the specific object of the test. I still remember the format.

Object of Test
To accumulate audit evidence that stock valuations are materially accurate and correctly stated in the year end accounts.

The public used to percieve auditors as unbiased and neutral (possibly even stringent and difficult to satisfy), but of course the scandals of recent years (the Maxwell empire, Baring’s, Enron) changed all that. Everyone knows the subtle, unstated pressure that the auditors are under when they go into a company, particularly one which pays the firm’s consultancy arm large fees. It’s almost unheard of for a Big Five firm to refuse to sign off a set of accounts.

Learning about software testing allowed me to see consciously what I knew unconsciously already. The audit process is biased in favour of approval, and any such bias makes an enormous difference to the results obtained. This is a phenomenon that testers are painfully aware of – it’s the reason that software has to be independently tested.

To quote one of the foundational books on software testing (The Art of Software Testing, by Glenford J Myers1):

“Since human beings tend to be highly goal-oriented, establishing the proper goal has an important psychological effect. If our goal is to demonstrate that a program has no errors, then we shall tend to select test data that have a low probability of finding errors. On the other hand, if our goal is to demonstrate that a program has errors, our test data will have a higher probability of finding errors.”

Reread the sample “object of test” above in the light of that quote. What is the goal of the test? Is it to find “bugs” in the accounts, or to establish that they aren’t there? How likely does that make it that we would find errors?

The most successful software testing teams are the ones who take a skeptical, or even hostile, attitude toward code quality. IBM’s infamous “Black Team” took this to extremes, dressing in sinister clothes, cheering when they found bugs, and deliberately striking fear into the hearts of the programmers whose code they tested. The reliability of mainframe operating code is their legacy – we wouldn’t have a hope of achieving “six nines” (99.9999%) availaibility had they not found the bugs they did.

So if bias affects results, how then do we view Professor Meadows and his eponymous Law (“One cot death is a tragedy, two is a coincidence, and three is murder unless proven otherwise.”)? His testimony has jailed women since acquitted of the deaths of their children, and caused authorities to remove babies from their parents, sometimes permanently. Yet statisticians claim that he took a “stamp collecting” attitude toward evidence, including the cases that supported his views and overlooking the others. And given the above axiom, how did he approach the deaths of children, when asked to testify at their mothers’ trials?

How a similar bias could affect the officials of two governments, when considering whether to send in the tanks, is left as an exercise for the student. But it begs the question: will any enquiry that focuses on the evidence, rather than the objectives of the people evaluating that evidence, really explain the conclusions that led to war?

  1. This is listed at $150.00 on Amazon at the moment. That’s pretty expensive, even for a computer book, but this one’s worth it. It’s 177 pages long and has been indispensible since its publication in 1979…quite a contrast to Martin’s Microsoft exam books, which can run to over a thousand pages and are obsolete before the ink dries.

On a Roll

Well, it’s started.

I left Fiona lying on her back on the changing mat (on the living room floor) while I went upstairs for a minute. Came back and…

It’s not true rolling – she’s thicker than she is wide, it’s easy for her to wriggle till she turns over. She has learned this at night, since she prefers to sleep on her side. And the downslope of the changing mat will have helped. Still, it’s already time to be careful about leaving her unattended on table tops. At 20 days.

Weight Watching

Maureen, our midwife, has just been by again to check my stitches (things are not healing very well, but that’s another story). I took the opportunity to ask her to weigh Fiona.

Fi was asleep, so we didn’t want to strip her to the skin and wake her up. Maureen suggested we put another bodysuit and nappy in the scales, then subtract that weight from the weight of the fully clothed baby. I pointed out that if we zeroed the scales with the clothing and nappy in there, then we’d get the right weight for the girl. We did this, and stared at the reading. It was too high to believe.

So we stripped Fi down and put her in the scales naked (and complaining), and the weight was confirmed.

4.74 kilos (For those of you who think in Imperial, that’s 10 lb 7 oz.)

She was last weighed at 6 days of age, and was unusual enough then for having gained 50 grams rather than losing weight, as most babies do in the first week. That put her at 4.1 kg/ 9 lb 1 oz. So she’s gained 640 g / 1 lb 6 oz in the last 10 days. That’s a lot of weight..

I had noticed that her clothing was getting a little tight in the tummy, and a little short from shoulder to crotch. And she does seem to be eating all the time. My mother was once told that her milk had a “high butterfat content”, and such things are hereditary. So some weight gain is to be expected, even with anaemia. But 15% in 10 days?

The health visitor is coming on Monday with a different set of scales. I wonder what they’ll say?

One Flu over the Rooster’s Nest

So I woke up yesterday morning feeling a bit warm. Pleasantly warm, like my old “heat vampire” days when I used to snuggle under the duvet until I was red-hot. And I was feeling a bit sore, (I thought) because I had been putting shelves up in our new shed the day before. I was maybe a bit tired, but you can’t really tell that until you’re up, and of course I often wake with a headache.

It wasn’t until Alex touched me and said “Ow!” that I realised that I was maybe a bit on the excessively warm side. And it wasn’t until I got up and started shivering uncontrollably that I realised that I was sick.

Great, I thought. Just great.. Martin’s been doing so much for me and for the household since Fiona was born. So when I’m finally getting over all the various aftereffects of the birth, from hospitalisation to anaemia to the baby blues, I suddenly fall ill.

My in-laws were over to see Fi and Alex. I came downstairs for their visit, but I can’t swear to the coherence of my conversation. Apart from that, I spent the day in fevered reverie, drifting in and out of sleep. Martin did everything, from hoovering to cooking a magnificent Sunday roast to keeping Alex going, while I lay upstairs in some alternate universe.

Fortunately, the symptoms only lasted a day or so. I’m still feeing pretty weak, and Fi seems to have caught some snuffliness from me, but it seems to have been a brief illness. Dramatic, but brief.

Now can I get back to feeling normal?

Baby Time II – In the Zone

It is a truth universally acknowledged that newborn babies don’t sleep through the night. Indeed, their schedules bear only the remotest resemblance to the way most of us live. It’s all dictated by stomach size and blood sugar levels. A newborn’s stomach is about the size of a walnut, and it can’t maintain its own blood sugar for more than a few hours at a stretch.

So it needs feeding. Over and over again. Most newborns run to a 3 or 4 hour cycle of eating and sleeping, punctuated by bouts of crying. Fiona is no different – she’s slept for as long as 5 hours in a stretch, but most of the time she needs a good feed every three or four hours, day and night.

Naturally, this schedule is totally incompatible with adult life, and indeed drives some people into a state of mild psychosis. With Alex, I tried to live normal hours, and really suffered for it. But with Fi, at least for the first week and a half, I’ve given that up. Every night, at about 10 or 11, I leave Grenwich Mean Time and move into her world: Baby Time (there is no “standard” or “mean” to it).

We’ve been sleeping in the master bedroom, while Martin has been crashing in the guest room (he runs on Martin Standard Time, which seems to involve staying up really late at night, getting up with Alex at 7 or 8, and miraculously being OK). I turn my dimmable bedside lamp down low and lie Fi down on the bed beside me. Then, when she wakes, I turn the light up and feed her, usually while reading a book. She falls asleep at the breast, but wakes up when laid down on the bed. So I turn her on her side, lie on mine, and give her another drink, which sends her off again. I’ve turned the light down when laying her down, so when she goes to sleep so do I (usually – this instantaneous dropping off was easier before my blood transfusion reduced my anaemia and upped my energy levels).

Three or four hours later, we do it all again.

It takes 10 or 12 hours’ sack time to get a liveable night’s sleep in Baby Time, leading to something like jet lag when I try to mesh with GMT again. And Martin wants to move back into his own room before he starts his new job. So this pattern is going to have to be modified, starting tonight (when she goes into the Moses basket and falls asleep on her own rather than being nursed down – expect crying baby and tired parents). In the end, she is going to have to move out of her own time zone and into ours.

But I’ve lived ten nights in Baby Time, watching her sleep, lying on her side facing me, with me on my side curled around her, in the dim light of my nightlight. That time will be with me always.

Baby Time – and about time, too!

Martin has described Fiona’s birth from his point of view. Mine may or may not match his – I was present, and conscious, for different portions of it than he was.

Tuesday, January 27 had been a bad day. I was worried that I would have to have another Caesarean section (not that I mind C-sections) if Chenoweth didn’t emerge soon. They don’t induce labour if you’ve had a section previously, but by the time they were done waiting for spontaneous labour, they’d be scheduling me for a section the week before Martin started his new contract. If you can’t tell, I was beginning to doubt whether Chen would be born normally at all. I hate waiting. It makes me pessimistic.

That evening, I was doing a jigsaw puzzle, which always soothes my emotions. I felt an intermittent crampiness from about 11:00, but didn’t mention anything to Martin at first. No sense giving him false hopes or false alarms. By midnight, I decided they weren’t just my imagination and told Martin, then started timing them. For me, the rest of the labour seemed to have been timed and measured. Like a timetable:

All times are approximate, most are deduced rather than based on checking the clock, and recall of many is influenced by drugs and/or altered states of conciousness.

23:00 – 0:00 Vague crampy feelings, on an off. Didn’t pay too much attention to them lest they prove imaginary.
0:00 – 1:00 Painful, but bearable, cramping feelings every 5 minutes
1:00 Called hospital materinity triage. Told that I should wait longer to ensure labour was established. Call back if contractions were still coming every 5 minutes in a few more hours, or if waters broke.
1:00 – 2:00 Timed contractions – they backed off to every 10 minutes, but remained painful.
2:00 Went to bed to try to get some rest.
2:00 – 4:00 Contractions got stronger, more painful, but still only once every 7 or 8 minutes.
4:00 Threw up from the pain. Called the hospital, told to take paracetomal and a hot bath, and call back when contractions every 5 minutes or waters broke. I don’t think they felt labour was well enough established. Asked Martin to call his parents to come down from their home (about an hour away, plus getting-up time). Whatever the hospital thought, I knew this was it.
4:00 – 8:45 Intermittent pain is an odd thing. The pains came every 7 – 8 minutes, lasting a little less than a minute each. I drifted in and out of dreams for the off times, then was intensely aware during the contractions themselves. It was like living at seven-times speed, really paying attention for less than 10 minutes each hour. Unable to keep any fluids down, starting to vomit bile from the pain. Never knew digestive juices could be so colourful.
8:45 Waters broke. Called hospital – they were still being off-putting. I wasn’t taking any more hints to stay at home though, because I knew there was pain relief there and I wanted it.
8:45 – 9:15 It’s amazing how long it can take to get out of the house when you’re in labour. Contractions sped up drastically – one every three or four minutes – meaning I had to get up, get dressed, get the necessary paperwork together, etc, in short bursts, then sit down and whine for a while, then throw up more bile, then go on with preparations.
9:30 Martin dropped me off (contraction in dropoff bay – not very reassuring for pregnant women in for antenatal checks) Found my way to labour triage and was taken to an examination room, where they hooked me up to foetal monitors. They clearly thought I was being too dramatic when I was howling during the contractions (and demanding pain relief). Then an internal exam showed that I was 5 cm dialated, and they started to take me more seriously. They gave me something for the nausea (still vomiting bile, to the consternation of a medical student observing). Still took them ages to get me up to the labour suite.
10:00 – 11:15 The options for pain relief are generally entonox (“gas and air”), a variety of opiates, and an epidural. I had already decided not to use opiates, since they cross the placental barrier. I had high hopes for entonox, but was also intending to use an epidural to get me through the end of labour. As it turned out, gas and air would have been fabulous earlier on, but despite giving me a quick high every contraction, it didn’t really take the edge off of the pain. They started an epidural fairly early, but even after two top-ups it wasn’t covering the peaks of the contractions.
11:15 I didn’t realise how much the signals that your body sends you in labour vary. They asked at the triage room if I had an urge to push, and I didn’t. But when the urge to push comes, there is no mistaking the sensation. I’d been feeling the desire to push downward since before 11, mentioning it every contraction, and getting very little reaction. An internal exam showed that I was fully dialated, at which point they let me begin pushing (try to stop me…)
11:30ish The doctors noted that the amniotic fluid contained a lot of meconium (baby poo), and that the baby’s heartbeat was getting faint during contractions. They decided to try a ventouse extraction, which is basically putting a suction cup to the baby’s head and pulling it out. (Sounds awful, but better than the alternative of forceps.) They made an episiotomy cut for ease of access and started assembling the equipment.
11:30 – 11:56 The midwives and doctors seemed to be in a race. With every contraction, I could feel the baby moving down, and I was certainly doing my best to push it along. Meanwhile, the doctors were assembling the ventouse as fast as they could, in case the baby got stuck again.
11:56 The midwives won. Fiona Chenoweth Sutherland was born while the ventouse was still half-assembled. They gave her to me, still covered in blood.
11:56 – 13:00 It can take a long time to stitch an episiotomy. ‘Nuff said.
13:00 – 13:30 Once the embroidery session is over, tea and toast are served. I was feeding Fiona, so Martin had to help feed me. The hospital provides enough for the labour partner (Martin) as well as the mother, which is (a) a good touch, and (b) a violation of one of the longest-running stereoptypes of the NHS. Meanwhile, everyone comments on the vast amount of blood on the floor under the bed.
13:30 Martin goes away to make a lot of phone calls and buy a pink hat.
14:00 I get offered a shower. All I need to do is walk into the shower room with Lynn, one of the hospital staff.
14:01 I faint dead away in the shower room. Lynn catches me, despite her bad back. Lynsey, the midwife, hits the emergency alarm, and every available member of medical staff races to my room.
14:02 I regain consciousness to the sight of four midwives and one doctor standing in the doorway to the shower room, all saying, “Abi! Are you all right?”. I am sitting on a stool, looking at a pool of blood at my feet, and listening to the ringing in my ears.

At this point, things melt into a kind of timelessness for me (can’t think why…)

I remember spending a lot of time sitting on the stool in the shower room, supported by Lynsey, while she took my blood pressure and pulse every 10 minutes. After a couple of tries on each arm, we concluded that the automatically-inflating blood pressure machine can’t register low enough and Lynsey switched to the manual system (pressure of 78/53, well out of normal range, even for me).

The fluid drip they set up for me after delivery wasn’t getting fluids into my arm, and my veins collapsed enough that it took four tries to get enough blood to check my haemoglobin levels. All I wanted to do was to lie down, but the medical staff didn’t want to move me yet.

Finally, I convinced Lynsey to let me lie on the bathroom floor, despite her horror at the unsanitariness of it all. She spread a sheet from the bed on the tiles, then I engineered a slow collapse into blessed horizontality. They were still not sure about moving me to a bed, so I stayed where I was for some time, presenting an alarming picture to anyone coming into the room. At this point, I was well past caring about either sanitation or alarm.

Fiona was asleep in the cot the whole time, which made me care a lot less about what happened to me.

Finally, an orderly came and helped me into bed again, and the doctor came to give me another stitch to close a leaking blood vessel. Martin came back to find me in bed, looking pale, much as I had been when he left. They took me up to the postnatal ward then, rolling on a bed with Fiona in the crook of my arm.

I spent one night in hospital, then made such a pest of myself that they discharged me home. (Considering how well Martin takes care of me, the daily midwife visits that are standard on the NHS, and how close I am to the hospital, this was not a foolish decision. Even for someone whose haemoglobin count was at about 70% of normal.)

So here I am home now, with Fiona, Alex, Martin, and a severe case of anaemia. I look like a Goth without the makeup, and despite taking iron tablets three times a day, my haemoglobin has dropped to 67% of normal. According to the midwife, I should be having trouble breastfeeding, though the fact that I’ve already frozen 200ml of breastmilk as well as feeding Fi kind of flies in the face of that. I am, however, utterly exhausted and frequently faint.

We discussed my medical situation with the midwife this afternoon, and agreed that this can’t go on. It’ll take weeks and weeks for me to feel better, and I need to be able to cope with both Alex and Fiona a lot sooner than that. So sometime over the next couple of days, I will be going back into the hospital to get a transfusion. Three units of blood should get me back on my feet again.

On the one hand, I’m looking forward to having the energy to climb the stairs more than twice in a row, and to being able to give Alex the attention and reassurance he needs. On the other, I feel selfish, using up blood that could save someone’s life, purely for my own convenience. This is particularly selfish because I haven’t given blood for some time. (The last time I did so, I fainted in a bus stop an hour later. Kind of put me off.)