Dispatches: Watching The Detectives – Solution

Like anyone else watching Dispatches on Channel 4 tonight, I was absolutely shocked at the ease in which anyone can get hold of my personal and private information. Information such as National Insurance Number, bank account details, itemised phone bills, medical history; details which I would struggle to get access to myself.

I won’t rehash what was covered in the show, as it makes quite shocking viewing, and I wouldn’t do it justice. You should watch it for yourself. What I will offer is a solution.

The Fix

It’s simple really, and should only cost a few pennies to implement:

Send me an e-mail alert whenever my personal data is accessed on a private database. Simple.

An example: I’m on the phone to the bank. As they pull up my info, my phone will ping to let me know my data’s been accessed. If however I’m sat in Starbucks sipping coffee and my phone goes off, I can instantly see who has requested which info, and make my own mind up if I need to look into it.

Here’s some pseudo code for it:

if data requested -> send e-mail alert with date & time of access, recipient of data & details of the data requested

This wouldn’t need to change any current workflow or database access rights, and would simply ping away in the background whenever personal details are requested. I’m sure there would be loads of new job vacancies created, when those getting backhanders for handing out our private data are kicked out or jailed for misconduct.

We could even go one step further, where requests for information would be held back until you give it the all clear, but I can see how that could be more troublesome to legitimate users.

As long as there are databases full of our personal information, there will be people trying to access that information for profit. If we bring that out into the open, then nobody can lose. The data is still accessible when required, but nobody can access it without being tracked and accountable. 

How To Get Ahead? Content Is Not King

Cat Zipped

I work in a niche industry, which has 312 million results in google. We are a small company, and don’t feature prominently amongst those 312 million pages. When researching some of our competition, I have noticed something strange in the results.

Forums & Review Sites

It seems that one tactic these sites are using to generate links is to simply create them for themselves. Some start up industry review sites, with their own sites featuring prominently (read exclusively) in the results, links and adverts. Others create and administer forums which moderate and edit the information, again making sure all roads lead to their own door.

Trading As…

Another strange thing is to have loads of different company names, each with their own websites. These websites are so different that potential customers are likely to be comparing the services of what are essentially loads of the same company. For example, three of the top ten results are the same company using different names, but you wouldn’t necessarily realise that.

Is It Wrong?

I don’t actually know. I’m not sure they are actually doing much wrong here. I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with it myself, but I’m an honest sort of guy. What they are definitely not doing is creating good content. Whenever I write something on our website or blog, I make sure that it is first accurate, and second useful. If there is an opportunity to suggest one of our services, I will do so, but the content needs to stand up alone. I’m sure this means I’m missing out on some hard sell stuff here, but overall I think it keeps us trustworthy, and helps us stand out from the crowd of shouty fear mongers.

By not playing these games we often lurk around near the back of the search results, feeding from long-tail searches, where most people will never find us. Don’t worry, It’s not a problem, just an observation. I already mentioned that we are small so the long tail stuff is plenty. We already have a great service & reputation, so I don’t want to sacrifice it by chasing rankings.

This Time Last Year

So my blog project has now come to an end after 32 days. I have decided to stop now, before I go mad. I will probably finish off writing up the whole trip at some point, but the pressure of writing daily was just too much.

Some of my favourite days:


Local Bus & Annoying British Business Owner

Day 32 – Chumporn  – Saturday 2nd April 2011

View From Our Room In Chumporn
View From Our Room In Chumporn

We have booked a tour of the local national park for tomorrow, which is combined with a snorkelling trip and fresh seafood. In the meantime we are making the most of this good weather and heading for another beach.

Hat Sai Ri (another beach) was also in the guide book, which recommended the local bus service to get there. The local bus is actually a giant wooden pickup truck, which we eventually found after a lot of walking.

Language barrier

The driver said 125B each, which we knew was too much. We went back to Fame Guesthouse and they explained that it was actually 1 x 25B each, not 125B. It was the way the driver said it that made it sound wrong.

After wasting so long, we decided to get a taxi there, and then use the bus to get back. Sai Ri was very different to yesterdays beach. Fish stalls lined the road, with strange looking dried seafood looking like aliens hanging from hooks. There was a short strip of stony sand and then the sea. A beautiful island, Koh Mantra/Maprao, almost felt within walking distance.

Later in the afternoon we waited at the local bus stop, where a bunch of people were already waiting. As we waited, a taxi turned up and offered to take us into town, but he was a lot more expensive than the bus. Luckily a local family helped us, told us we were in the right place, and showed when we reached town. All this without any English spoken. I love the helpful people you find when you need them.

Sitting in Fame restaurant, I was listening to a British woman, who runs a dive school on Koh Tao. She was trying to say that Koh Tao was fine, and that it was business as usual. She had lobbied the Thai met office to remove the weather warning, and talked of some sort of conspiracy theory about the evacuation. It really wound me up that a business owner was more worried about getting people onto the island than their welfare. When we left the island there were food shortages, power failures, no internet, landslides, buildings collapsing and no running water. Not most people’s idea of fine. Bloody British business people.

Looking forward to the National Park and Snorkelling tomorrow. Not looking forward to the seafood so much.

Going South? Not Today!

Day 31 – Chumporn  – Friday 1st April 2011

Nic and I were up early, so we went for a walk to check at the Railway Station and TAT office. We thought it was an April Fools prank when they said no trains south for 4-5 days.

Despite the weather improving where we are, there are still large parts of Southern Thailand underwater. Roads and train tracks have been washed away, there are landslides, and buildings are collapsing due to structural damage. The death toll is still rising, and some areas have been entirely cut off to outside communications for days.

Although shocked by this new revelation, we still had plenty of time on our side. We found a brochure in the TAT office, “Chumphon Tourist’s Attraction,” which lists loads of things to see nearby.

We decided to stay put for a few days and explore this area. First on the list is a beach day to make up for the washout Koh Tao trip.

Finally a beach

We got a Songthaew to Hat Thung Wua Laen beach, which was highly recommended in the brochure. The Wikipedia page for Chumporn says this about the beach:

Hat Thung Wua Laen (??????????????) is perhaps Chumphon’s most popular beach. Both native swimmers and experts will enjoy this beach as its fine white sands slope gently into the sea. Sea fans, marine flowers sponges and a tremendous variety of reef fish make the scenery below the surface of the water every bit as spectacular as the beach itself.

 It didn’t disappoint. 25 minutes from our Guesthouse and we were frolicking gayly in the surf of a white sandy beach. The sun was shining, palm trees swaying, and mountains providing a beautiful backdrop to it all.
I Christened the day “Fuck Koh Tao Day.” I love Chumporn.
Note: Chumporn is frequently spelled differently, like many words in Thai, there are no exact English translations. Some versions we saw were Chumporn, Chumphon and Chumpon. There are probably more, but I chose to standardise on the Lomprayah Catamaran spelling, “Chumporn”.

Leaving Koh Tao?

Day 30 – Koh Tao  – Thursday March 31st 2011

We were up early, to get to Mae Haad pier as soon as possible. Trying to check out, the staff didn’t have the key to the safe, so couldn’t get my passport out. Eventually the key was found and we were trying to escape Koh Tao for a second day.

The pier was pretty quiet when we got there, so we were right at the front to get our tickets re-confirmed. One way or another we would be leaving today!

In the queue we saw the Basingstoke trio again, and also got chatting to a Melbourne couple who seemed pretty chilled out. It’s a shame that we don’t plan to as far as Melbourne. They made it sound like our sort of place.

Sea Legs

Nic and I took some travel sickness tablets and by some amazing fluke we survived the whole return trip without revisiting our breakfast. The journey was loads better, but there was still a load of sick bags being passed around.

The pier rumour may have been correct, as we ended up docked in a fishing village, where waiting TV crews were interviewing people as the loaded off the boat.

There was a free coach into Chumporn Town, so we got that. We found Fame Guesthouse near the Railway Station, and paid £1.50 each for a basic room with no fan and shared bathroom. It was fine by us, and the perfect place to recover from the island.

Fame have a decent restaurant downstairs which serves good cheap food, and even makes their own fresh bread every day.

We went to the Tourism Authority of Thailand office to find out about trains south. Bad news. No trains yet, but there should be one to Hat Yai in the next couple of days.

The Thai Met Office have advised against all non-essential travel to islands in the east or west and also advised caution in Southern Thailand. I am getting worried about missing our flight from Singapore to Bali on April 11th. Bali could be our only chance of getting on the beach.

Hidden Gem

Although not here by choice, Chumporn actually seems quite interesting. We ate some good street food at the night market, and the whole place is not really geared towards tourists. Often people pass straight through here on the way to the islands, but I will be happy to explore around here for a couple of days until the trains are running again.

Koh Tao Navy Evacuation

Day 29 – Koh Tao (Still) – Wednesday March 30th 2011

At 10am we were booking another night’s stay. Frank had heard about a Navy ship evacuating people from the island, but Lotus said they would let us know.

We went for lunch and watched another dodgy movie in a bar.

When we went back to Lotus, the guy told us to pack our things ASAP and get to the Navy boat. We packed our bags in record time, excited at the prospect of finally getting out of here. We even got most of our money back for the room we had booked for the night.

Freedom Beach (-Haha)

When we jumped off the songthaew at Freedom Beach we were told we’d get taken by helicopter to a Navy ship anchored off shore. A plush resort had been taken over to process everyone, so we went into the lobby.

A stern Thai woman was shouting and screaming at us to leave, and said there was no more space. Some English travellers pointed us to the check-in table downstairs so we crept round the corner and joined the huge queue.

We were given coloured stickers and raffle tickets and told to join another queue. We would be boarded by our ticket colour. Or so we thought.

After waiting a while we were told that the Navy boat was now full, and that unless we had an urgent flight to catch, we wouldn’t be going anywhere. Balls.

We got chatting to an English trio from Basingstoke who were planning to cut their trip short as soon as they leave the island. I think we would be considering the same if we hadn’t only just started out.

A sinister story emerged that the reason they had stopped using the helicopter was because a man tried to drag a kid off it and get on the helicopter himself. The remaining evacuees were ferried to the ship on a fleet of long-tail boats, which were overloaded with ten or more people at a time.

Trapped on Freedom Beach

Everyone left on the island was offered catamaran tickets for the next day. Real news wasn’t easy to come by, so we just had to buy tickets and hope for the best. At least they were selling them at face value. The downside was we would be boarded on a first-come first-served process on the jetty at 8am tomorrow.

They must have sold three times more tickets than the catamaran could hold, so I was dreading a boatload of spewing passengers.

Also, if we make it back to solid ground, we then have to contend with the terrible flooding in southern Thailand on our way to Malaysia & Singapore. We have heard a rumour that the pier in Chumporn has been washed away.

Our next destinations of Bali and Australia are also having a bad time with this weather.

Passing Time in the Koh Tao Storm

Day 28 – Koh Tao – Tuesday March 29th 2011

This island is so small that it doesn’t even have roads on google maps. At the moment there are no roads anyway, just a series of rivers. It’s still raining and nobody knows how long it will last. We also heard that Burma has had an earthquake. Not sure how bad it is yet.

Koh Tao Map
Koh Tao Map

When we finally get off this island we are heading straight for the mainland and staying there. None of us wants to spend any more time on an island. I am suitably freaked out.

Spending time stranded on an island wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but I’m out of books. There is a secondhand bookstore here, but they want £6 for a pirate photocopy of a real book.

We are going to a bar tonight to watch a pirate screening of Napoleon Dynamite. Should lighten the mood a bit.

BBC News and google haven’t really got any info about this situation, so we are relying on information from locals and other travellers. This gives the Chinese whispers effect, where it can be hard to determine the real facts.

Koh Tao Floods – Here To Stay

Day 27 – Koh Tao – Monday March 28th 2011

At 8:30 we were woken up by girls shouting in the room next door. We heard every word they said. “The boats have been cancelled. No more boats for at least 2 days.”

So it seems we are stranded here for the time being. Luckily we found somewhere cheap to stay whilst we wait out this storm. We have a couple of weeks until we fly out of Singapore, so hopefully we can get out by then.

The thought of getting on another boat is turning my stomach. At the moment I’m happy to just sit tight and wait.

We had no electricity all day, as the generators were being switched off to conserve fuel. The water was also switched off to avoid contamination from the floods.

Most of the shops were closed, except a small swedish shop, which was selling snacks by candlelight.

Flood spreading

The flood water had now spread from the main road, and there was now 8-10 inches flowing down our road. We had to walk barefoot, to stop our flip-flops being washed away.

We could see that Porto Bello was one of the few restaurants with lights on, so we would be eating there again. Pete went out to take some photos and stopped by Porto Bello to ask about the floods. He said that this weather is worse than they had in the monsoon, and the worse summer rain for over 9 years.

People expect things to start back up in two or three days, but I’m sure they are just making that up. There doesn’t seem to be any real forecast about this.

A local phrase we hear a lot here is, “tomorrow is better….. maybe,” which I suppose is optimistic.


We don’t know if the Japanese Tsunami has played a part in this crazy weather. Some people are convinced it did.

It’s strange to be stranded in something like this. It’s normally the sort of thing that you see on the news.

Local houses are being washed away. We overheard a local talking about a rock that smashed through his house. He was asleep and luckily got out before his house collapsed. He did have a black eye.

We moved our backpacks into the wardrobe as we noticed a damp patch appearing on the ceiling. We later booked an extra two nights, as we can’t really go anywhere. The weather is about 25°C so at least it isn’t cold.

Vomit Comet & Lotus Everything

Day 26 – Chumporn to Koh Tao – Sunday March 27th 2011

Our bus arrived in Chumporn at 5am, but we had to wait on the pontoon until 7am. It had rained all night, and was still raining. We were all huddled under a tarpaulin shelter.

The sea didn’t look too rough, but when the catamaran arrived it nearly smashed the jetty to pieces before they managed to get it secured. They loaded and unloaded supplies before letting us board. We were a bit late setting off.

Welcome to the Vomit Comet

After a minute of intense seas, the staff came round handing out sick bags. Nic and I both took one as a precaution. I wasn’t too worried, as I’ve been on boats before and never been sick.

After twenty to thirty minutes of being thrown from side to side I couldn’t take it any more. Along with most of the boat I was soon throwing up. Frank somehow survived the whole trip without being sick and Chick lasted until right near the end. Frank was almost overcome when he made a brave dash for the toilets, which were located outside, but somehow regained his composure. He’s pure man that fella.

I could barely stand by the time we reached the dock, but almost ran off the boat. I couldn’t get on solid land quick enough. Nic was even worse than me, and I felt bad that I couldn’t help her more. I was in no state to help anyone.

We ignored the row of taxi hawkers outside the building, and walked into Mae Haad. We asked a travel agent about accommodation and she advised us to head towards Sairee. She flagged down a Songthaew and within a couple of minutes we were there.

Lotus Everything

We were dropped at the top of Soi Lotus (Lotus Road). We soon realised where it got its name. Everything was named lotus, from restaurants, guesthouses, massage places and tour offices it was all lotus. Naturally we checked in to Lotus apartments. We paid £3 each for double rooms, which was really good, considering we had been told the whole island was fully booked. We had also been told that rooms start at £8 per person, so even better.

We slept for a while to recover from the trip and then went out to explore. Since Vietnam we had got quite attached to our rain Macs and would be using them a lot.

Ignoring the torrential rain for a minute, this island looks really nice. There are beachside bungalows, restaurants and shops, and it all feels welcoming and laid back. If only this rain would stop.

One negative is the beach nearest to our rooms was strewn with beer bottles. It also seems like everyones sewage runs into the sea. If the weather gets better we will try to find a better beach.

Full English

I had a big breakfast to help regain my strength. Washed down with a sugary coke, it was just what I needed. We went back to our rooms to get changed before going for dinner later.

We were aiming for a big restaurant on the main road called Hippo, but the main road was now a river which we didn’t fancy swimming across. Instead we turned back and went to Porto Bello, a really good Italian restaurant with a lovely atmosphere.

We walked to a bar on the waterfront for a few Changs before trudging back through the knee high water to our rooms.

News from back home is that there is a mini heatwave and everyone is already getting a suntan. We are as white as ghosts.