Jez Higgins

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You live where? : Yr glygfa o Hescwm Uchaf, rhif 4

Something over six months ago, Virgin Mobile started the process of transferring me over to O2 as part of their Virgin-O2 merger/takeover/whatever-it-is. For most of the time between then and now, I was in some kind of liminal space, coexisting in both Virgin and O2 customer account systems without being entirely in either.

It’s been a bit of trek. Sometime in May, for example, I got a text from Virgin saying they were sorry I was leaving, which was a little alarming as, you know, I wasn’t.

After that, every month there was text saying I would be fully switched over to O2, that I didn’t need to do anything, it would all happen by magic. A few days later, there would be another text saying actually no they didn’t, but they’d have another go next month. This culminated in a letter in post saying they’d have one more go but if that didn’t work they’d have to close my account. Again, a little alarming, and not a little irritating especially as it was worded to imply this was somehow my fault.

Remarkably though, the letter actually did the trick, and I was finally fully dumped over into O2-land. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, my phone not only continued to work the service actually got a bit better [1].

Between the start of this tedious little saga and now, we moved house. Virgin gave O2 our address then and, because of the account interregnum, I wasn’t able to correct it until now.

It takes a little while to find the right bit of the O2 website, but once you’re there it’s a pretty normal house name or number + post code affair.

change address form

Perfect, right?

tada its wrong

Erm, no.

Our address back when was
34 Forest Road,
Moseley,
Birmingham,
West Midlands,
B13 9DH

Our address now is
Hescwm Uchaf
Dinas Cross,
Newport,
Dyfed,
SA42 0XL

Why do O2 think differently? No matter how many times I go through their change of address form, I just can’t shift the rogue FOREST ROAD.

How?

There’s a lot here that confuses me.

O2 have not done the simple and obvious thing - delete the old address, store the new one - to change the address in their database. I don’t think they have a versioning scheme with effective dates or anything sophisticated like that. Instead, we have some peculiar piece by piece update, giving us this weird merged outcome.

Let’s annotate those addresses a little:[2]

Old

New

Result

Hescwm Uchaf

House name

Hescwm Uchaf

34

House number

Forest Road

Street name

Forest Road

Moseley

Dinas Cross

Area

Dinas Cross

Birmingham

Newport

Post town

Newport

West Midlands

Dyfed [3]

County

Dyfed

B13 9DH

SA42 0XL

Post code

SA42 0XL

Some houses have names, some have numbers, some have both. Whoever wrote this wacky address update code knew to account for those various permutations. We need to know the difference between a name and number for example, if only to be able to format the address properly.

The new address has no house number, so the existing one was deleted. The new house name was written in. All looks good. Well done them.

On the other hand, they’ve completely fumbled the fact that the new address has no street name Well, maybe not completely fumbled. The address did change to include all the new bits. It didn’t complain or just plain break. That’s something.

But the choice, and this is a choice people actively made, of if there’s no street name then leave the street name unchanged I find very curious. It’s so obviously wrong. We’re changing the address - everything’s in play, we’ve paid attention the name/number thing - and yet we’re chosing to not change part of it. I wonder if the same applies if a new address lacks an area name, for instance[4].

Somehow though, someone, somewhere, wrote this behaviour into the code. Nobody else in the organisation noticed it, or if they did it wasn’t challenged, and it made it out into public view. It must affect hundreds of their customers, but there it is. Very obvious, very wrong, and yet probably very easy to correct[5].

The Spaces In Between

I am now a fully enrolled O2 customer. I can log into the website, see my bills, change my plan, all that good stuff. But for all that, I’m still in that liminal space, hanging between Birmingham and Pembrokeshire.


1. I knew it had worked because I got up in the morning to find my phone now offered WiFi calling. Our hefty stone walls are pretty radio-opaque so this is great! I mean I’m still not going to answer it, but my phone now rings so I actively ignore calls.
2. There’s more, loads more, to UK addresses than just these fields (number suffixes, dependent streets, double dependent localities) but they’re not relevant here, and lets not worry about the fact that my new address has both English and Welsh language versions…​
3. Not wrong, but mostly people use Pembrokeshire
4. Almost any part of a postal address can be missing. My bank’s postal address, for instance, has only company name, post town, post code. At this point, I think I’m obliged to link to Falsehoods programmers believe about addresses
5. And I don’t use a word like easy lightly



Jez Higgins

Freelance software grandad
software created
extended or repaired

Follow me on Mastodon
Applications, Libraries, Code
Talks & Presentations

Hire me
Contact

Older posts are available in the archive or through tags.

Feed