Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tesco's

I know three postings in one day, sorry.

As locals know, or perhaps in some cases don't, Tesco are planning to build on the old Bond Worth site in Stourport and they're really pushing for it. With various thoughts whizzing through my head I ended up at a simple question - why?

Let's start by saying this is all speculation, no hard facts on the planning or thoughts that go on behind the scenes are available to me, this is just my brain running away with itself.

So why Stourport, Tesco already have a supermarket in Kidderminster, does a town with a population of 20,000 need it's own supermarket? We already have a Lidl and a Co-op, can this town support a third major chain? Actually yes, because they all have different market segments

Lidl and Aldi, Co-op and Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's, Waitrose and M&S may be considered to compete with the other with some overlap to the next nearest set.

So what's this got to do with Tesco? Well the Tesco in Kidderminster was built in conjunction with the Weavers Wharf development, at the time that made sense, but delays for that allowed Sainsbury's to get an edge by building on Crossley Retail Park (an estate that shouldn't be there). Why the edge, well there is no direct access from the Wharf to the Tesco except by foot, to drive there you have to go all the way around town, Sainsbury's on the other hand is directly opposite the Wharf and is a short car-hop away. Tesco has it's own free car-park, but shot themselves in the foot by putting ticket barriers up (now gone); Sainsbury's has their own free car-park, plus the large free car-park as part of the park. To put it bluntly Sainsbury's wins.

Still what about Stourport? Well it's easy. Tesco build their site and Sainsbury's look to build one here too, and they build it where... exactly. Not only are there no more free sites of the correct size within town, they'd also have to prepare their case that the town can support yet another large supermarket; unlikely.

So Tesco have no competition within their market segment, are unlikely to have any anywhere in the near to long-term future, and are liable to draw in people from Bewdley and ironically Kidderminster. Win-win

So for those looking to oppose the building of the new Tesco, expect a fight. For those looking to get them to build, gouge them for all they're worth.

School's out

Long ago mutters and rumours spread that the Town/District/County Council were going to commission a report on why road conditions in Stourport seem to fluctuate. In case it's true here's some help - the school's have closed. It really does make that much of a difference; one morning you're stuck in a queue, the next it's clear as far as the eye can see. There are exceptions of course notably Bank Holidays; and afternoon traffic picks up the slack, but for mornings and evenings the formula is simple - school's closed equals clear roads.

Oh the weather outside is frightful (refrain)

London: The fog has now blanketed the South of England in its clammy embrace for an entire two days running causing chaos in Britain. Roads are reaching saturation, aeroplanes are being grounded, and train companies are being accused of operating like businesses by charging more for last-minute tickets. Our national newspapers are taking a measured and reasoned approach to the situation - the front page of the Daily Wail asks "Fog: How it affects your house price", The Daily Hexpress leads with "Did fog kill Diana?", The Gordonian states "Global warming causes fog", the Bun holds a "Miss Fog" competition and the Daily Cavort claims "Elvis seen in fog bank!".

Under this media onslaught the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Tony Blair MP, today appointed a Fog Czar whose £300,000 annual wage will be earned "Examining areas of potential fog creation" and "proposing measures to deal with outbreaks of fog across the nation". The intelligence services have been roped in to assist and have already produced a detailed report "Fog and essential services" "Fog and its links to Al-Qaeda", which will be forwarded to our American allies to aid in the fight against terror.

Unable to cope police have asked for the assistance of the armed forces in areas of high density, and already highly trained squads of armed young men are standing in formation and huffing fiercely at particularly stubborn patches of fog. Already reports of dissatisfaction amongst the troops is being reported and questions have been asked by the Leader of the Opposition regarding if this is really a good use for our troops and whether they are being supplied with the correct equipment to tackle this menace. Mr David Cameron MP has also pledged that should the Conservatives regain power that they will reduce fog levels by up to 50% by provided forces with large solar-powered fans and that these fog levels have only occurred during the governance of the Labour Party obviously due to the mismanagement of the economy.

Normal service will resume once the fog lifts and everyone forgets about until next year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Oh the weather outside is frightful

Well not really; it's a bit cold and misty with some patches of fog, but that seems to be enough for drivers. Still my pet peeve, can you see out when you get into your car - Yes? Then you don't need your headlights on. Some people actually had their fog lights on. Umm I can see further at the moment then I can at night with my headlights on, you don't really need fog lights.

I blame a couple of things, both connected to the fact that the extremes of this type of weather are not common to this country. Firstly new drivers rarely get taught in these conditions; sure you might get told what to do, but that's different from experiencing it. So as a result we over-react when conditions do alter from the norm "Do I need my lights on?" Hey better switch them on just to be on the safe side.

The odd thing is that we do get these mild events at roughly the same time each year, but as a nation we seem to experience collective amnesia and so it seems to catch us unawares every time. "Who'd expect mist and fog in December?" Umm everyone who's lived here for more then 5 years "Snow in February!" Your point being? This is probably the only country where an inch of snow falling during the snowy season can bring the transport system to a grinding halt - cars, buses, trains, and planes all seize up out of indignant shock that it's actually snowing at a time when it's expected to.

And so we mutter and mumble, groan and grumble; why weren't we warned? Why haven't the councils done something? Then the summer comes and the memories slumber and fade, until the same time next year comes around and we greet the morning with the rallying cry "Snow in February! Who'd have expected that?"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Damn printers

Just printing off a 40-page legal document and up pops a "Warning - low ink" message. Oh no the black is running out, I must fit a new one right now. Yeah in HP's dreams. Popped the lid to take a look, the carriage moves and the arrow stops at the 'black low' symbol, the cartridge itself has a small gauge on it, green is full; black is empty, there's a sliver of black pushing at the large expanse of green.

Uh-huh oh yeah that is sooo empty.
Of course this is guesswork, the HP cartridges are opaque, unlike my Canon ones which are transparent; so to an extent I'm relying on the software to tell me when they're approaching the end of their life.

Except that it's not accurate, I'm nowhere near running out of ink. If I wasn't standing next to the printer at the time I might have been tempted to pick the "Cancel print job" and gone to check the quality of the print. If I were a novice I might have just taken the report as gospel and simply replaced the cartridge, at £15-£20 a pop that'd soon add up.

Of course that's the point, the manufacturers tend to make next-to-nothing on the actual sale of the printers, instead reaping the profits on the sale of specially formulated inks; it's in their own best interests that you change the cartridges as often as possible.

I know someone who never buys cartridges, he buys a new printer instead - costs him about the same, he gets better technology, and it comes with a starter pack of ink. No doubt the manufacturers hate him.

Monday, December 18, 2006

More wandering

A quick trip into town this Saturday, trying to locate these mysterious sensors in the road; interesting. Two are obvious, the 40m diamond has even been chalked out to make it more obvious, the first one however seems too close to the traffic lights. On the town side you can see where the traffic lights were originally placed. As you can see here the cars are pulling out to get past the lights well before the sensors, this action is also duplicated on the other side.

A couple of shots for Jim, the odd pattern you see on the tar here is because they failed to cut back the hedge prior to the resurfacing. Ironically a couple of weeks after all the work was done they did just that.

Nipped down the steps opposite the town, slippery when wet, to satisfy my curiosity over a point. Yep it is still possible to get from one side of the bridge to the other through the arch, so long as you don't mind either clambering past overgrown trees or construction site barriers. Neither of which are exactly inviting.

Moseyed on down to the flooded putting course, then up to the Civic Centre. After photographing Crown House in Kidderminster you appreciate how they built the Civic Centre, the brickwork and fa├žade overlooking the river are fantastic.

Cut through Raven Street in order to take a shot of the nasty pothole. It feels rough going over it, standing over it I can see why.

Then I headed up High Street. The areas of brickwork dug up by the water board has now been replaced with one exception, as I suspected they've done the same as was done in Kidderminster. The original pavement is a mixture of different colour bricks, red and dark colours, the replacements appear to be a uniform red colour and a different texture. I wonder what the point of spending money on such a nice effect is, if whenever it's dug up they just plonk down whatever they feel is the closest (and presumably cheapest) approximation?

Now down to the Co-op. I've wanted to take a picture of this for a while now; now am I the only one asking "Why no bench?" That inset is practically screaming for a bench or at the least a trough of flowers. Instead just the plain bollards protecting the store. I should have taken some photos of the pavement running between the side of the store and the car-park too, a finer example of stupidity in action I've rarely seen.

For those who've been looking at my slides on Flickr, the hiatus will be stop once I treat myself to a new scanner for Christmas, in the meantime here is the present view of Lombard Street looking at Foundry Street and Bewdley Road, boy was this a difficult photo to take. I walked down towards the spot - no traffic, I get there and a dozen cars turn up and just get jammed. I wait, more cars turn up, so I give up and poke my head into Tesco. I get out and no cars! I reach the spot and another dozen cars turn up and jam. Finally the traffic cleared and I managed to stand in the middle of the road to take the shot.

Nipped down Parkes Passage, it's been a while since I've gone down here. Took a picture of the church and the covers. Plus the 'Australian' sign that is a popular snap.

Back down to the river and more flooding had brought the ducks and swans into the car-park, so took some snaps of them.

Under the bridge arch and then took my life into my hands to take some snaps under the bridge.

And that my friends was Saturday morning.

Business as usual

The post's just arrived. Not bad only an hour later then normal, hey it is Christmas. I picked up the rubber-banded wad and looked at the top letter. Not a name I recognise, not our business, not our building, not even our postcode; all the rest is for us though. Now I can understand the odd letter getting mixed up in the middle of the pile, but the first letter on the very top?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Behind the script

Okay I've just altered my template and checked out the result and it seems to work. I'll try and stay non-technical, but this is how it works.

Firstly you need to store the information somewhere, the easiest way for something this small would be a small XML document organised like so:

<book>
<title>My Current book</title>
<author>The author</author>
</book>

However you can't add your own files to blogger, so that's out. So the next best thing is to add this to an existing blog entry. That would work great if the pages were formatted correctly - they're not.

So what I've had to do is read in the entire blog entry, hold it in memory as text, then search it for special key phrases. I can then extract the text between them and just poink it onto the sidebar.

Here's the code for the side bar entry:

<div class="sidebar">
<div class="box"><div class="box2"><div class="box3">
<h2 class="sidebar-title">Current Reading</h2>
<span id="xhead"<</span>
</div></div></div></div>

This has been formatted as per my template, if anyone wants to copy it they'd best look at their own template code for names. I've put it just under my profile, but it can go anywhere you like.

So here's the script, which can be placed just above the body tag in the template

<script type="text/javascript">
function GetCurrent()
{
var xmlhttp=false;
var xdoc="";
var MyCurrentBook="";
var MyCurrentAuthor="";
/*@cc_on @*/
/*@if (@_jscript_version >= 5)
// JScript gives us Conditional compilation, we can cope with old IE versions.
// and security blocked creation of the objects.
try {
xmlhttp = new ActiveXObject("Msxml2.XMLHTTP");
} catch (e) {
try {
xmlhttp = new ActiveXObject("Microsoft.XMLHTTP");
} catch (E) {
xmlhttp = false;
}
}
@end @*/
if (!xmlhttp && typeof XMLHttpRequest!='undefined') {
try {
xmlhttp = new XMLHttpRequest();
} catch (e) {
xmlhttp=false;
}
}
if (!xmlhttp && window.createRequest) {
try {
xmlhttp = window.createRequest();
} catch (e) {
xmlhttp=false;
}
}

xmlhttp.open("GET", "/2006/12/current-stuff.html",true);
xmlhttp.onreadystatechange=function() {
if (xmlhttp.readyState==4) {
xdoc=xmlhttp.responseText;
MyCurrentBook = String(xdoc.slice(xdoc.indexOf("<currentbook>")+13, xdoc.indexOf("</currentbook>")));
MyCurrentAuthor = String(xdoc.slice(xdoc.indexOf("<currentauthor>")+15, xdoc.indexOf("</currentauthor>")));

aCurrentBook = "<a href='http://www.blogger.com/profile-find.g?t=b&q=" + MyCurrentBook.replace(/ /g,"+") + "'>" + MyCurrentBook + "</a>" + " by " + MyCurrentAuthor;

document.getElementById("xhead").innerHTML=aCurrentBook;

}
}
xmlhttp.send(null);
xmlhttp.close();
}

</script>

Most of that you don't need to worry about, the bits you do need to look at are:

xmlhttp.open("GET", "/2006/12/current-stuff.html",true);

This obviously needs to be replaced with the entry you're storing your information and

MyCurrentBook = String(xdoc.slice(xdoc.indexOf("<currentbook>")+13, xdoc.indexOf("</currentbook>")));
MyCurrentAuthor = String(xdoc.slice(xdoc.indexOf("<currentauthor>")+15, xdoc.indexOf("</currentauthor>")));

this contains the tags that you're looking for; in this case currentbook and currentauthor. To add in your own stuff just alter the names, remembering to add var MyName="" next to the others at the top of the function, and to count the number of letters in it (add 2 for the < and > signs). Then add it as you wish to the end of aCurrentBook and that should be it.

Finally to get the code running add onload="GetFunction()" to the <body> tag

Republish your blog and that should be it.

Now to update your current stuff you just need to edit that one entry and not mess with the sidebar any more.

Current Stuff

Okay in my previous entry I mentioned trying to create a Current Reading section in the sidebar that wouldn't require me republishing the index every time. To kick the process off I need to write this entry and see what blogger names it.

Here's the information my script will be looking for

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Descent-Angels-Loyalty-Honour-Heresy/dp/1844165086/
Descent of Angels
by Mitchel Scanlon

This at first glance appears to be nothing special, however if you look at the code behind the entry you'll note that they've been enclosed by special tags I've created.

Previously:
Descent of Angels by Mitchel Scanlon
Dawn of the Dumb: Dispatches from the Idiotic Frontline by Charlie Brooker
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Ciaphas Cain, Hero of the Imperium by Sandy Mitchell
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
The Character of Physical Law by Richard P. Feynman
Abhorsen by Garth Nix
Lirael by Garth Nix
Sabriel by Garth Nix
The Illuminatus!: Trilogy by by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku
The High Lord by Trudi Canavan
The Novice by Trudi Canavan
The Magicians' Guild by Trudi Canavan
Making Money by Terry Pratchett
The Hunter's Blade Trilogy by RA Salvatore
Space Wolf, the First Omnibus by William King
Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Talk to the Snail by Stephen Clarke
The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
Gotrek and Felix The Second Omnibus by William King
Fulgrim by Graham McNeill
The Saint by Dan Abnett
The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton
Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton
Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton
Merde Actually by Stephen Clarke
First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde
Engine City by Ken MacLeod
Dark Light by Ken MacLeod
Cosmonaut Keep by Ken MacLeod
Across Realtime by Vincent Vinge
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
Starworld by Harry Harrison
Wheelworld by Harry Harrison
Homeworld by Harry Harrison
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling
Fat by Rob Grant
Voice of the Gods by Trudi Canavan
Ravenor Returned by Dan Abnett
Ravenor by Dan Abnett
Fables: Wolves by Bill Willingham
The Soul Drinker's Omnibus by Ben Counter
Gotrek and Felix The First Omnibus" by William King
Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain by George Monbiot
Grey Knights by Ben Counter
The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow
Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter
False Gods by Graham McNeill
Horus Rising by Dan Abnett
Eternals by Neil Gaiman
The Founding by Dan Abnett
The Invisibles: Say you Want a Revolution by Grant Morrison
300 by Frank Miller
The Dark Side of the Sun by Terry Pratchett
Strata by Terry Pratchett
Market Forces by Richard Morgan
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Ultramarines by Graham McNeil
Woken Furies by Richard Morgan
Broken Angels by Richard Morgan
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
Tescopoly by Andrew Simms
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
The Vampire Genevieve by Jack Yeovil
The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett
The Truth (with Jokes) by Al Franken
Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them) by Al Franken
Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Thud! by Terry Pratchett
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
A Storm of Swords II by George R.R. Martin
A Storm of Swords I by George R.R. Martin
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast
Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert
Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert
God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert
Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
Dune by Frank Herbert
House Corrino by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
House Harkonnen by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
The Battle of Corrin by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
The Machine Crusade by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Watching the English by Kate Fox.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Back into the groove

I'm slowly getting back into reading. I've finally finished re-reading "Watching the English" by Kate Fox for the umpteenth time; it's only 400-odd pages, but it's taken me nearly a fortnight to finish - for me that's bad. It's interesting (at least to me) how this love of books developed. Fads for how you educate your children come and go, each promising that this is the best way for your child to be reading at an early age, doing maths, science and all that jazz; at the time I was born it appears the fancy was that you left it to the professionals. My parents were both into reading; my father liked the odd historical novel as did my mother, she also went for the detective and SF stuff. If I'd shown any interest in it they'd have taught me regardless of current thought, but I didn't. As a result I never learned to read until I went to school, at that point I exploded.

The standard set of books were divided into colours I vaguely recall red, and green; the higher levels were bronze, silver, and gold. Some of the other kids had been taught by their parents, they started on the lower-level books and quickly moved on. I, of course, was stuck at the lower-levels; at least for a while. Once I'd gotten the hang of reading I flew through them. I caught up to the others and sped past, I hit the bottom tier of the higher-level books when most were still in the middle of the lower-level; it got to the point where the teachers started to worry - was I actually reading the books or just skimming them?

Normal procedure was that once you'd read a book you had to ask the teacher if you could get another, she'd normally ask a couple of questions about it and upon getting the right responses let you pick up another; I, on the other hand, got the spotlight-in-the-face treatment for every book. That got annoying, especially once I got to the book-a-day stage. Looking back I can understand why they did it, at the time though I wondered why I was getting singled-out for special treatment. After a while though they stopped asking me about the books at all, I'd get up wave the book in the general direction of the teacher and she'd just let me get another. This was getting difficult as they were running out of books. That was easy solved, I started reading ones from home and the library. Ah Enid Blyton, Franklin W. Dixon, and the like. Testing came around and they found I was ungradable; their charts only went up to a reading age of 16.

Middle school hit and I had access to their small library, cleaned that out quite quickly and went back to reading outside books, this time Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov etc. Switched schools halfway through and during the move came across books like 1990 and I Claudius in my parents stash, didn't actually understand a lot of what was in them; I'm sure that they influenced my thinking and political leanings though.

High school was difficult; I'd read the textbooks, write an essay and pretty much recite back the book. That got me the same close scrutiny I got in First School, was I understanding what I wrote? The answer soon came back as a yes, and I in turn learned to write things in a different way to the book. Very annoying as the books are written by professionals to explain things and they wanted me to do the exactly the same sort of thing, but amateurishly. Disheartened me to the whole school process as I couldn't just flow, but had to second-guess everything I wrote. Again looking back it was a good thing that they made me do that, but I think it soured things too much, I was put on the defensive again.

Anyway enough about school, re-reading this I can see how it might appear to be bragging, I'm not, the whole point is that I read, I read a lot. My default state tends to be reading. At last count I own about 500 books, with perhaps 3 I haven't read and 1 or 2 I've given up on. I read like others breathe, I get through books like some people get through packets of crisps and annoyingly I retain vast chunks of it. As a result when I come to choose something to read that I've read before I simply place my finger on the book and think - if I can recall the plot in detail, the characters names (very hard for me), quotes, the bits that made me laugh or think; then I take my finger off it and pick another book. This not only results in a relatively good rotation, but means I can pick up a book as 'comfort food' one which I can almost recite from memory and means I don't have to actually concentrate on; it's just something to occupy my mind for a short period of time.

So why am I going on about all this? Well for starters I don't tend to write much about myself if I can help it, and I don't like writing about my friends except in generalities; so I thought I'd offer some small insight into who I am and the way I think. Also I thought I'd plug the book, that's "Watching the English" seriously worth checking out. Finally Blogger doesn't offer an easy way to update stuff in the sidebar on a regular basis and I'd really like a "Currently reading" section whereby I can just edit an entry and it'll automatically update without me having to mess with the Template continuously, on that note I'll be trying some scripts out off-line and then uploading them; so if things go awry that'll be why.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bewdley; water under the bridge

Sue has put some photos up of the rising river in Bewdley. The sky colour is down to the large hallucinogen cloud formed by the collective toking of the residents of Wyre Forest, it tends to settle in the dip and adds to the rich atmosphere that helps keep the tourists coming back; also explains the large number of cafes and other snack shops in the area. Locals have, of course, built up a strong resistance to it, but it can result in some very odd decisions when strangers come around. Rumour has it that after it was built the staff of the Inland Revenue all sat around it and exchanged comments along the lines of "Woah it's moving..." "...and melting"; residents just went "Yeuuch!"

A few updates

Been away from the computer for a while, it was my Nan's cremation yesterday. Everything was running late, you can guess why. Over the past couple of days I've been pretty much exhausting myself unto the wee hours so I'll fall into bed and just drop into unconsciousness. The trouble is going out with friends didn't exhaust me (I don't drink, which would have probably helped) so I ended up going through DVDs, managed to get through the entire first season of CSI and a couple of video game, my poor DVD player and PlayStation2 are still recovering from the overload, did the trick nicely. Okay still a bit emotional about this so I'll stop this train of thought.

The computer that went down I've now had a chance to fiddle with, started in Safe mode and noted what services were running, started normally and did the same, went back and disabled all the differences and hey look at that it starts fine. Slowly re-enabling services and I'm placing my bets on the Print Server as one of the first I re-set and re-booted and things going flat. Oddly it still works, I start it after boot and can print happily either locally or remotely. Puzzled? So far though as long as I don't reboot it, it's a happy bunny. Oh and yes I have backups of all data, although so far (touch wood) that's been unaffected

Finally I noted that the pothole in York Street got filled in last week same sort of job done, I'll see how long it lasts. Ironically another has opened up in Bridge Street, went over it and it felt like it was trying to take my tyre off, this is just off the bridge going into town on the left-hand side so watch out for it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

All our fault, and damn!

Apparently the delays in the morning on the Dunley Road are the fault of the drivers. There are three (not two) sensors on the approach road, and what the cause of the delays may be is that drivers are pulling out into the right-hand lane too soon and not driving over either the first or second sensor. This makes it think there's no traffic (despite the third sensor pinging away merrily) so it changes the lights. Simple really, and as with so many traffic problems assumes that everyone drives exactly as they should rather then take into account the way that they do.

On a fun note, one of the XP boxes here has just had a fit, for some strange reason it can't assign the logged in user or local system user to threads, as a side effect it can start them but not stop them. It also won't allow any administrator tasks to be performed (because it doesn't know who I am). Fortunately it still works in safe mode, so I suspect some service or driver. Nothing shows up as odd though. It did just perform a Windows Media Update and System Restore shows something called Software Distribution Service 2.0 then things went bad. Not even a system restore to a point before the update solves anything. I've got a few other things to try, but this is bloody annoying.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

More fun and frolics

I made a little bet with myself sitting in the traffic on the way home last night that the traffic this morning would be clear. I've mentioned that in the mornings the lights aren't biased enough towards the non-town side, what I might not have mentioned is that the lights are also slightly too biased towards the town side in the evening. So much so that I've been pretty much sailing through the town without stopping; normally a rare occurrence, whilst traffic on the other side is building up; normally a blue moon occurrence. Not last night though, sat in the slightly-worse-then-normal level of traffic. "Typical" I thought, "I bet they've reset the lights to either a 50/50 approach or just swung the biases the other way"

I would have lost the bet, turned out the build-up was caused by an incident/accident on the bridge. When I came through a car was sitting facing the town, half on the road half on the pavement, with a police van in the same position behind it. Now of course all the traffic coming into town was trying to get past them and slowing down, which meant the lights on the town side wouldn't switch until it was clear and thus holding everything up.

Now as I've said before accidents happen, and it doesn't take long for the traffic to start to build-up in this town. They might have pushed the car up the bridge on to the wider part of the road to help relieve the traffic, but hey it's probably only just happened right? Wrong; I happened to be speaking to my father and mentioned the traffic.

But that was like that when I came through.
When did he come through - about 4:30, when did I come through - about 6:00. So both the car and police van were sitting there for at least an hour and a half apparently doing nothing.

Right I'll start by saying that the police have a dirty and sadly thankless job, and I admire them for it. I don't blame them for how things are handled, I think they should get more local training about it and more resources to deal with it. So here's a general rant.

First up police should have still cameras, there are already some forces experimenting with head-mounted video cameras - about bloody time too; get both.

Police should have writeable road signs in their vehicles so they can write pertinent information and put them up on the roads where people can see them and take action that will actually help the police keep things clear, please, pretty please. It would be nice to know what's going on. The radio's all well and good, but traffic reports tend to be at set times and my signal has a tendency to fade out around here at times, besides the news is normally phoned in by someone stuck in the queue who themselves doesn't know what's happened, perhaps the police themselves could phone in and tell the local stations, do they do that already?

Finally and this has been mentioned over and over again by so many sources, put a local policeman whose job it is to do a set round and to get to know what the area is like, note not as part of their job, but their whole job. Something happens then they're the person who can say "We need to get this sorted as a ton of traffic is about to try and come through the town"

Okay that was just my tuppence-worth.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Damn

The FAU is definitely better then the HP adaptor, I've just tried it with some dark 50mm slides and the faces with the HP are unrecognisable, whilst the FAU is great. However

Dear Customer,

Thank you for your recent enquiry regarding your Canon product

In response to your query please be advised that the CanoScan 3200F will scan only 35mm negatives and slides, unfortunately it is not possible to turn the film lapmp manually.

Thank you in advance


Yours sincerely,
Canon Support Centre
Which, seeing as the built-in light is 6x8cm, is a bit of a blow. I'm going to have a go at stitching them together and see how that works. The trouble is the physical containers for the slides are the same size as 35mm ones so I they're having to be fitted at a slope, unless I use some markers on the glass. That means two scans per image plus stitching.

Gah and it still screws up the sizes.

One of the problems is that it's doing a lot of post-processing on its own as part of the 'film' mode that I don't have access to, so I can't even go out and buy a flat light because either I'll still be limited to the size of the scan, or not get the same effect.

I wonder how much a proper slide scanner costs?

Busy doing nothing

I phoned the Traffic-light division yesterday to complain, they said they'd look at. Apparently they can monitor the lights from there, wherever there is? What they meant to say was that they can see how the lights are changing and what the sensors are recording. As there are about four sensors on the town side and only a couple for the other; fat lot of good that would do. They might be able to get some information from the 'cameras' monitoring the roadworks, but all that'll do is tell you whether you have a unbroken flow; not much use when the traffic gets broken up and squashed together by the pedestrian crossing on the town side Unless you've got cameras up pointing at the waiting cars you can't really tell squat, never try to bluff someone who used to work where they made these things.

Below shows the situation this morning. I started at the green dot at about 8:40 and hit the red dot 20 minutes later. The red line shows where the traffic was


Now I can understand some of the delays are down to traffic; the M5 had closed off in part, due to an overturned lorry, but it's the queues on the town side that get to me. When I finally got through there was one car waiting at the other end and I counted five widely spaced cars driving down to join the queue, and they seem to be getting as much priority as the non-town side. In the evenings yes this is great and the way it should be, in the mornings... no way in hell.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Opinions required

As mentioned I've had to use an HP slide adaptor to scan in some 50mm slides, I have now however come across some 35mm slides. So do I continue as before or use the correct equipment and scanning settings? I've just uploaded two scans here using the FAU and here using the HP. Now I prefer the colours in the HP, the FAU is too blue, but the HP is a lot noisier. However the FAU seems to be setting the softness level high to compensate for the noise. Zoom in on the writing on the truck to see what I mean. In terms of time spent they're about even, slightly longer for the FAU, but that's because of the 2400dpi. I'm in two minds about it.

Images - a beginners guide

It's appears to be a regular feature of my life that I have to explain, and occasionally re-explain, certain fundamental features of images stored on computers, especially when it comes to printing. Well now I've got this blog I can post it all here and just tell people to read it. Firstly this is written with a certain practicality in mind, most people don't care how something works, but more why they should be doing this. With this in mind I'll skip large chunks of technical information, no complaints please.

How we see things

Sorry, but I have to start here as this is the basis of pretty much everything. We have colour sensors in our eyes called cones, these react to red, green, and blue light shining through our eyes. Now if you take a really close look at your monitor you'll see that it's made up of tiny red, green, and blue dots. Altering how much light each of these dots emit we can make up every other colour, emit equal parts red, green, and blue and we see things on a scale of black to white, lower the red and things start to turn cyan. This is known the RGB colour scheme, on occasion as emittive colours.

However, most objects don't emit light, they reflect it. You can read a monitor in the dark, but you can't read a book. So what do you do when you want to print something, like for instance a photo? Well you could use the RGB model described above, mix up some red ink, some green ink, and some blue ink and create the colours that way. Trouble is it doesn't work, at least not well. It turns out that what works great when you're emitting light doesn't work that well when you're trying to reflect it.

What to do? If you've got a colour printer you already know the answer to this, you don't buy red, green, and blue cartridges; you buy cyan, magenta, and yellow ones. These work great for reflective colours. Oops we're one missing, you need a black cartridge too. Why's that, simple black is not a colour I need to make that clear, black is the absence of colour. For the emittive colours this is easy, don't send any light out. How do you do it for reflective colours, you can't print nothing? So you need a separate black tank for printing, now you can't just mix up some colours to create black, so most of the cartridges you'll buy aren't really black; they're very dark green, or blue, or occasionally red. If you've ever smudged some black ink and wondered why it changes colour now you know.

So with the inclusion of the black for printing purposes only we now have a new scheme - the CMYK or reflective colours.

As an aside here's the colour wheel


Miss out a colour and the one opposite will predominate, very handy when your printer decides to print let's say a green cast on things, you know it's your magenta causing a problem.

Image formats

Pretty much everyone today is familiar with JPG, some with GIF and a few with PNG. These are all examples of raster (or bitmap) images. What does that mean? Well a bit like your monitor screen these images are made up of tiny dots called pixels, each pixel stores information about what colour it is either in RGB or CMYK format. The most common method is using RGB and storing 256 levels of detail for red, green, and blue. To cut a long story short in most methods each pixel requires 3bytes of information. So one of my photos at 3072 x 2304 pixels would take up 20.25 Megabytes each! That's a hefty size, so how come they're smaller?

In order to make the images a more manageable size different formats can compress them. There are two ways of compressing information - lossless and lossy. PNGs are lossless, what does that mean? Well let's say you were ordering some ink cartridges over the phone, without compression you'd phone up and say "I'd like one black cartridge please", put the phone down, redial and say "I'd like one black cartridge please", put the phone down again, redial and say "I'd like one black cartridge please". Daft, you'd just phone up once and say "I'd like three black cartridges please". This is the essence of lossless, the information at the end of the compression is still the same.

So what about lossy formats like JPG? Well again let's say you wanted three cartridges this time two black and one off-black, for lossless you'd order two blacks and an off-black, but for lossy you'd order three black cartridges. Lossy loses information. What you start with is not what you'll end with. It works by comparing colours with its neighbours, if it appears close enough to be mistaken for another more predominant colour it'll be set to that. The levels at which it decides is adjusted using the compression settings. Less compression, less changes; more compression, more changes. This is why you can get 'artifacts' the compressor decides that an entire block can be safely set to the same colour so you get some odd effects

So that's raster, the other format is vector images. Unlike rasters vector images don't store pixel by pixel information, they store equations. Draw a line between two points and a raster image would have to store every point along that line separately, a vector image would store the start point, the end point and how the line is drawn. This results in two things; firstly vector images are useless for photographs, too much change; secondly you can enlarge a vector image without any loss of detail, no blurry bits.

So rasters are best used for photographs and other highly changeable images, vectors for line art such as comics or logos.

As most of the file formats are designed for viewing on a screen, they tend to store information in RGB format, this of course needs to be translated into CMYK for the printer. If you start dealing with images at the raw end of things you'll get to the point where you create and store them in CMYK format, for high-end printing this results in total control over the output colours.

Size matters

This is the biggie (no pun intended). Why does that photo filling up your screen want to print out at the size of a postage stamp? There are three 'sizes' associated with photos - screen size, print size, storage size. Screen size is fairly obvious, my photos are 3072 x 2304 pixels; on a screen with a resolution of 1024x768 my photo will appear three times larger then I can see in one go.

Storage size we've already dealt with to a large extent - it's the amount of space your photo is actually taking up on your hard-drive. Wondering why your apparently tiny photo is taking so long to email? This is the property that you're concerned with.

Print size is an awkward one, you need one extra bit of information - dpi. Despite metrication we still use inches for this. What does it mean? Well instead of 'dots per inch' think of it as 'pixels per inch'. So for my photos at 72dpi the native print size is (3072/72)x(2304/72) inches or about 42"x32".

Occasionally when you go to a professional printer they'll ask for something at least 300dpi, most people will open their 72dpi photos fiddle with the settings and re-save it at 300dpi. Let's deal with that. Firstly you're not adding any extra information to the image, where's do you think it's going to come from? All that happens is you're shrinking the native print size from (in my case) 42"x32" to 10"x7" if you print both images out on an A4 sheet of paper they'll appear exactly the same. Want to know what the equivalent dpi you'll be printing at for a given size? Simply divide the pixel size by the print size in inches. A result of below 300dpi will start to look a bit blocky close-up.

Okay that's it, I might come back and amend some bits and bobs, but if you read this you'll end up knowing more about images then the majority of people out there.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Scanning update

This should have been a piece of cake, the Canon 3200F has its own light-source in the lid to shine through the slide, the Film Unit to hold slides however is designed for 35mm film not the 50mm square slides I've got. No problem both the lamp and platen are large enough, I'll position it manually and scan the whole thing. Ha! With the lamp on the maximum size I can scan is 3.75x2.3cm; I can scan up to A4 with the lamp off, but I can't override the lamp settings. Okay manually dexterity is needed, I'll manually position the slide using some guides and then move it about and stitch it together. Double ha! The bloody software keeps altering the scanning size, generally lower then the highest setting, and won't allow you to maintain a set size for stitching. <sigh>

I've emailed Canon asking if there's a way to solve this problem, otherwise I either need to find my own flat light source, find someone who'll scan them in, or ding ding ding, we had an old HP scanner with a slide scanner attachment which was just a fixed set of mirrors, I wonder if we've still got it somewhere. Yep and <giggles like a schoolgirl> it works fine. Damn! I've not got the ones of Stourport Road being built, must of picked up the wrong case.

Just a quickie

I think it's the sensors, there was less queueing this morning and over the weekend; not 'Wow there's much less queueing', but certainly 'I think there's a bit less queueing'. I tried to get the number to call them about it, but like most signage put up for this purpose it's designed for pedestrians and not drivers; besides half of it is in a hedge. I'll see how if it stays this way.

I really meant to get up to Bewdley this weekend as it promised to be fun. Sadly I had to slip my car in for some work in the morning, spent longer then I anticipated in Kiddy looking for a birthday present for my little cousin, and then had family obligations for the rest of the day. That's just the way it goes sometimes.

I did however find time on Sunday to dig out some old slides of one-half of Stourport Road being built and the falling over of the old Stourport Town Hall, hopefully these will go up today or tomorrow whenever I can get some free time at the slide scanner at work.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Newspaper coverage of the lights

Odd is the way I'd put it. As both Stourport and Kidderminster had the ceremony sequentially they'd both appear in next week's paper at the same time, this normally means two-and-a-half pages of Kiddy photos and the remaining half-a-page for whatever Stourport's managed to drag out. This time however the balance was fairly equal, in fact almost biased towards the Stourport event. Here's the report for Kidderminster and here for Stourport,

Crowds packed into Vicar Street
compared to
THOUSANDS of people [packing] the streets of Stourport.
Could it be that more people turned up in Stourport then Kidderminster? Sadly it's difficult to know here's a crowd shot from Kidderminster, here's one from Stourport. Looking through the photo gallery we find 14 shots for Kidderminster and 17 for Stourport! Considering that there's 3:1 population in favour of Kidderminster that's just... interesting. The children's' procession is mentioned, but no obvious shots; fun is had in the Swan Centre, but no obvious shots. I mean I'm not a professional, but a choir singing around the Christmas tree surrounded by a crowd seems like good material to me.

If someone attended, preferably both events, I'd be interested to know.

More traffic, the Police Open day, a little tickle, and always too late.

30 minutes this morning, the traffic was backed up along the Dunley Road, Areley Common, and Hermitage Way. On the other hand the traffic in town hadn't even got backed up to York Street. So is it just SVOT, are the sensors acting up, or something else? Well it is rubbish collection day for the town centre today and they do seem to have a nasty habit of parking at the end of High Street where it splits into two lanes thus preventing the wider, longer vehicles from getting past easily. Boots also had a delivery, with their truck parked opposite the bus stop, you know the one that's not quite wide and long enough for a bus to actually fit into it unless it can move sideways. A policeman turned up, great the loading restrictions were for 8:30-9am and it was just turned 9, the guy had finished and was just packing up.

I must admit I just don't know. I note that traffic is building up at night on the Dunley Road quite a bit, and this is unusual despite the roadworks; there's normally just not enough traffic going that way to build-up. So I guess either the sensors are out of kilter or it's SVOT from somewhere else.

Just off- topic this has probably already done the rounds, still amusing though.

In a comment on my Kidderminster report Tavis Pitt, he of the excellent WFA, stated that it was front-page news for the "Kidderminster Chronicle" as usual he is perfectly correct, here's the page in question.

Sorry, picture of a policeman with a dog. I thought it was standard Chronicle fodder of "New police-dog", or "Police-dog retires" especially with the white on blue headline swamped by the "Talks on Late Night Opening". Sadly my 'ignore' filter kicked in.

It also got mentioned in the Stourport Times/Kidderminster Shuttle on page 10 like so

Uh-huh inside left-hand page near the crease starting with the words "Pup Idol"; filtered. My fault - accepted, I should read the whole articles and not just glance at the pictures and headlines. Am I wrong though in expecting a headline to actually convey some meaning about the story, surely I can't be considered naive to expect a story about an open day at the Magistrates court to be headlined "Open day at Magistrates court", "Police to hold open day" or even "Police event" if you can't cope with more then two words. Ironically here's the opposite page.

See they can do it if they try.

On a secondary note here was the map of events for Kiddy. The cluster of three arrows are the big bird, stalls, and merry-go-round. The one just below those is the Blues Brothers tribute singers who are also next to the Town Hall, and waaay down to the bottom right is the Magistrates Court.

This weeks Computing magazine had a small article tucked away that tickled me

[Company] dresses up its web sites
Leisure equipment and clothing chain [company] has implemented browse, search and merchandising functions on its web sites to encourage more visitors to purchase online.
So presumably actually allowing people to buy stuff online from your site might actually encourage them to do so, wow I'd never have thought of that. They're also allowing people to search and browse their sites, amazing. I hope places like Amazon are taking note of this new and startling use of the internet.

Bloody typical, I buy some ink cartridges last weekend and what do I get through the door this morning? A £10 off for purchases over £10 card and a 20% off ink and toner voucher from Staples. The good news is that although the card expires on 24 December, the voucher is left open.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Traffic, whispers, and roads

20 minutes to get through Stourport this morning that's from the queue to get to the bridge up to Vale Road. I'm glad I left early due to it being a bit nasty yesterday too, but I expected that then - the sun was shining. No seriously it's the low sun; turn a corner in town and chances are the sun will be there to greet you, add that together with roads that could be more reflective only if they actually buffed them up and you find you're trying to see through a 6-inch sliver of windscreen topped and tailed by gleaming whiteness. Amazingly cars have a tendency to slow down when it's like that. This time however no sun; no morons parked next to the cashpoint, despite the vacant parking bays slightly further up the road; no police; no ambulances; no fire-engines; no roadworks, other then the ones we already know about; just what I like to call SVOT - Sheer Volume Of Traffic. No doubt something somewhere was causing a hold-up and people were using the town as a giant rat-run to points elsewhere as they always do.

On sort of the same topic, I've heard whispers that representations have been made to remove the pedestrian crossing in Bridge Street whilst the bridge works are ongoing. I can understand why people would want this as they're a PITA, but I'm going to have to side against it. Not just for the fact that it would make crossing Bridge Street more dangerous then it already is, but for the simple fact that it should have been unnecessary to even have to consider this move to start with.

Firstly someone fiddled with the lights last year, now it stays red for longer and the time between allowed reds has been shortened. Anecdote - I came over the bridge and pulled up to the queue that had stopped because of the pedestrian lights, the lights turned green, we moved off, by the time I'd got to the lights they were red again; I hadn't even got to the front of the queue.

Secondly if you stick two sets of lights close to each other it doesn't take a giant intellect to realise you should link them together. Picture this - traffic from the town flows over the bridge past the roadworks, the lights turn red, at the same time the pedestrian lights turn red (if activated). Now the traffic in town trying to reach the bridge is stopped, but who cares? They can't get anywhere anyway as the roadwork lights are also red. Meanwhile the traffic is clearing past the roadworks, the other side switches to green and they start to flow. By the time they've got to the pedestrian crossing it's switched back to green, and the town side traffic just trundles down to wait at the bridge. Damn how hard is that to work out?

Finally if someone got their finger out and put a bloody underpass under the bridge closer to the town, rather then next to the river, then stuck a ramp on both sides, nobody would have to use the pedestrian crossing at all. I bet that's not part of the 'Bridge Refurbishment Plan'.

Okay I mentioned that the road crew appeared to be replacing the decorative bricks, I'm not 100% sure now though. They're still working on the same spot they started at and seem to be digging deeper then I thought would be necessary to just replace the top layer of bricks. Might be they're just being thorough, which would be nice. I'll wait and see though.

One last point - potholes. The pothole at the top of York Street at the Lion Hill junction has reappeared, I'm surprised as when they last filled it in they took their time, did it at a low traffic point, square cut the hole, refilled it, tarred it, and pounded it all down. Anyone reading that with a growing sense of incredulity are right, they shoveled something down it poured some hot tar over the top and then probably just jumped up and down on it for a bit. The surface has now gone and whatever they filled it with has washed out along with excess material making it larger and deeper then it started at.

Next if you have cause to turn right from Areley Common onto the Dunley Road watch out for the nice string of holes along the give way point, they've only completely renovated this area not that long ago, even closing one section down so they could cut out a corner of grass verge and surface it. Of course nobody gave a thought that they might look to the rest of the road while they were at it, not even the bit they'd already closed off. "Weren't on the quote was it mate."

Little point in mentioning the top of Bridge Street, anyway that'll all be sorted come next Spring as part of the bridge refurbishment, though as someone said to me "I wouldn't be surprised if they just stopped short of that point"

Ah well watch your tyres folks.

PS Worth a mention, a sudden strange dearth of delivery vans outside Ye Olde Crown Inn at peak times.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Exhaustive sorting for Kidderminster report, and more work in town perhaps?

Just uploaded the Kidderminster pictures from last Saturday, comments, cross-linking and even a tiny and completely unexciting pop quiz.

I knew that the fancy dress and all that was starting around the 2:30 mark, but fun and frolics were supposed to be present from noon. As I was passing back through town at roughly that time I thought I'd see if I could park and poke my head in. Parking was not a problem, something that should have given me fair warning, the town was way too quiet.

Frolics were the normal weekend stalls with the addition of a merry-go-round The Wyre 107.2FM were the only ones who really put on a show with not one, but two lots of singers; both of whom were pretty good.

Both the town hall and new meeting hall had bazaars on. I always have a poke through for any out-of-print books, but sadly nothing of interest in that area. Getting bored now, but things were enlivened by a police helicopter hovering around overhead; according to one of the shop staff who came out clutching a walkie-talkie they'd been a robbery on a building site. Now either someone had stolen something and tried to make a getaway in an excavator, or someone had stolen an excavator, either way not the sort of thing to speed away from the cops in. In any case the helicopter hovered around and moved from point to point, that is until I started taking a movie of it at which point it turned its back on me and steadfastly refused to move. After a while seeing as it wasn't going to rain missiles down on the town or have a squad of marines rappelling from it I got bored and carried on shopping.

Well not exactly exciting, I thought they'd be either more people or more entertainment around. Obviously things might have livened up later, but I couldn't envision anyone setting up any more stalls; the shops staying open; or, to put it bluntly, more people showing up. No signs around detailing events or timings thereof, and those people I spoke to seemed completely in the dark about the day's events. I might be completely wrong and the local newspaper will be dedicating four pages to the exciting events and throngs of people who turned up. I'll find out on Thursday.

Sheesh almost forgot- a few weeks ago I had in a word in someone's shell-like about the fact that Balfour Beatty, on behalf of Severn Trent Water, had yet to replace the decorative paving bricks they'd dug up in the course of repairwork this September. This afternoon I spied a workcrew next to one of these very areas with a neat stack of bricks to their side. Now let's see if they've actually matched them up with the existing ones, or will do as someone's done in Kidderminster and plonked down a set of bricks of almost the same colour, and with a completely different texture.

Rotating videos the Virtual Dub way

As mentioned I need to rotate some videos, neither the software provided by Microsoft or Canon seem to want to do this. I suspect they're still caught up with the old model - cameras that take movies are designed to be held in only one way so it's not a problem. Of course with smaller cameras and even camera phones now able to take movies, more and more people will be finding out just how difficult it is to rotate a movie, but here's a solution.

It's called VirtualDub, it's free and it works. It is however not that user friendly, especially to the pampered Windows crowd, who upon visiting the page will no doubt try to download the source code and wonder why it doesn't work. Four pages later and you'll find a zip file which you can simply decompress (ie open and copy) into a new folder you'll need to create. Then run "virtualdub" yep no installer, no creation of little icons into the Program Menu, this is old-school stuff.

Once you've got it running Use File|Open video file and find the video you want to rotate

You'll be looking at two screens showing apparently identical still images, the one on your left is the input (or source) the one on the right the output. First things first we want to rotate them. Select Video|Filters and you'll get a blank pop-up box, it's blank because you haven't added anything yet. So select Add and you'll get another pop-up box with a list of filters,the one you want is rotate, click that and select OK pick which way you want to rotate it and select OK again. You now have one filter showing up. Select OK don't worry if it looks all stretched, click the Play icon with the O for Output and the video will start playing and should snap the correct way round. If you've got the rotation wrong, go back to Video|Filters pick the filter and then Configure and change it.

Now it gets tricky. By default the output video will be uncompressed this is bad filesize-wise nobody wants to turn a 100Mb file into a 1000Mb file for uploading, so you need to pick how you want to compress it.

Compression is separated into two parts video and audio, audio is normally a piece of cake, most of the time you don't want to change it so you can leave it as Audio|Source Audio and Audio|Direct stream copy, this will leave it exactly as is.

Now for video compression, which is trickier. To do this you use what is known as a codec, think of them in the same way as fonts, if someone else doesn't have it then they can't see what you can see, however there are some standard ones around. If you're doing this just for yourself then of course you can pick any of the ones you've got, if you want to send it to others or upload it then your get a shorter list of choices.

Okay let's go for it Select Video|Compression and look at the list, by default you'll have the top one selected - that's the uncompressed version, advantages - it'll work anywhere; disadvantages it'll output a huge file. The two that are most likely to appear are Intel Indeo(R) Video R3.2 and Microsoft Video 1, as to which is best that's a matter of experimentation.

Pick one and you'll get some extra compression options, ignore them for the time being just select OK. Almost time to output your video, select File|Run video pass analysis. This'll tell you how large the output file is going to be without actually dumping a huge file onto your hard drive; what you're looking at is Projected file size, sadly this box will disappear when finished so you need to keep an eye on it. If that looks okay then we'll go to the next step, otherwise go back and alter the compression settings (higher compression = smaller size = lower quality). I'm currently uploading one done with 75% Microsoft Video 1, which increased the original video from 50Mb to 70Mb without any noticeable deterioration.

Final step File|Output to AVI select a name (I normally add "a" to the original filename) make sure you're not about to overwrite the original and select OK... now wait.

Use My Computer to find the folder you saved to and you should now have a new movie file, open it up and take a gander, if the quality is poor then you can change the compression or pick another codec as detailed above and try again. Once you've got something at a size and quality you like select File|Save processing settings pick a location you can find again and hit OK, if you need to do this rotation again in future select File|Load processing settings pick the file you've saved and you won't need to do all this fiddling around again.

Done and dusted.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Uploading video - oh the joy

I wanted to upload the video I took of the switching on of the Christmas lights. As I have a Flickr account it seemed to make sense that I use the Yahoo Video service, no need to sign up again. I log in with my YahooID and password as I do for Flickr and head for the video uploading page. Uh-huh okay how do I stop it from saying 'this is a video from [YahooID]' and substitute 'this is a video from FlipC'? I'm not keen on saying

Hello here's half of my login details can you guess the rest?
No options, none. I can create a secondary profile, but that's still a login name and amusingly videos still show up with "Source [main YahooID]" Nasty security risk. I tried anyway and to check switched to another, unlogged in, computer to see how it displays, yep there's my login name for all to see. Oh and no sound either.

So I've looked at Google Video, yippee at first glance it appears that the display name is not the same as the login details. It demands both a first and last name, easily solved, but it won't let me upload anything until I confirm my email address. <taps fingers> I'm waiting...

In the meantime I need to think about another couple of movies I took, this time in Kidderminster, they're portrait format (that is 480x640) so of course all the video players show them turned 90° from true. Canon's own viewer won't turn them, so I'm left with only two options - VirtualDub, which is not exactly user friendly and means re-encoding them; or putting them back onto the SD card and seeing if the camera itself has a 'rotate movie' function. I'm not setting many hopes on the latter. It seems ridiculous with this amount of software and hardware about that neither Canon's software nor Microsoft's Movie Maker will do this. I can't be the first to meet this particular problem.

Microsoft's function is indeed useless for movies, turn a 640x480 tilted movie into a 640x480 correctly orientated one, fine if you don't mind everyone looking like obese dwarfs. Honestly "Hey this movie is now 480x640, I can only use 640x480. I'll proportionally resize it and add black borders to bring it up to spec" how hard is that if televisions can do similar with the various formats shown on their screens?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stourport Procession

I arrived fashionably late, but hadn't missed much as I was greeted by the plaintive cries of cars penned beyond their reason. They'd stopped the traffic on the town side of the bridge causing it to trail through the roadworks gumming them up, at last a copper came down to quieten things down. The procession was hitting High Street by the time I got there so I made my way through the throng and nipped down York Street to head it off. Traffic was backed up along here too and this meant Lion Hill was also stalled, people had tried to cut off the corner and were themselves now trapped.

The procession made its way down Lion Hill past the stalled traffic and got stuck rounding the corner. It got past the junction with everyone trailing behind and set up camp at the Civic Centre. I headed that way and took a couple of snaps of the funfair before my rechargable batteries conked out on me. One purchase later and I got back in time for the end of the carols.

Oh and on the way to the buy I noticed a laminated A4 piece of paper attached to a lamppost in New Street detailing when the roads would be closed, so that would be the pedestrians notified; personally I think it would have been better to tell the drivers instead.

So anyway back to the service. I switched to movie mode and panned the crowd, quite a few had turned out, surprising as it had been raining before the procession had started and had only trailed off just as it was beginning. Aiming for a better vantage point I switched sides and took another film. Halfway through, after some movement alerted me, I realised I was focused on the wrong thing. I was looking at the brightly lit people at the ground floor when I should have been paying attention to the dim black blobs on the balcony above.

After whipping up the crowd for the countdown the two Christmas trees were turned on, I panned around; nope that was it. After that people crossed over the road, dodging the leaving traffic in St. Martins Way, to the funfair; or just left. I didn't stay long after that and heading back just as it was starting to rain again.

Okay a lot of people turned up, the procession was good, the traffic could have been handled better. A bit of organisation on the balcony would have been in order and some lights in the car-park. Some temporary barriers put up across the side of the funfair would have directed people to the safe entrance (as opposed to sliding down the short but steep bank) and preventing parking in the top smaller car-park next to the steps (if possible) as people were getting jammed up there making their way down. As was foretold the cafes were open, but of course they were all on the other side of the funfair next to the main road. All in all it was pretty good, just a little more forward planning needed.

Update Turning on of the lights video now with sound :)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Traffic accident and the Parsons Chain island

Traffic was at a standstill on the Worcester Road last night, I got out of my turn (thanks to the kind soul who let me out) and joined the queue. There was very few vehicles travelling back the other way and a few were sounding their horns, was the road blocked, were we in for a repeat of when a lorry turned over on Gilgal and the police simply blocked the left turn at the Parsons Chain island and watched the traffic build-up along both roads? Sort of, when we finally reached the beginning of the queue we were greeted by two police cars and an ambulance parked outside of OGL facing away from the island.

As I approached they appeared to be putting someone into the back of the ambulance, between this and the northerly police car was a downed motorcycle with a cop taking notes. Nothing else present, so a single accident or hit-and-run? I don't know. We might or might not find out what happened, nothing on the Shuttle, the Express & Star nor The Birmingham Mail's site yet.

Okay damn this is going to seem callous, but it's a pet peeve of mine, car headlights. Here's how it goes - sit in your car, can you see? If the answer's yes you don't need your headlights on, however if the conditions are bad then you might want your sidelights on; headlights are for seeing, sidelights for being seen; it's not difficult people. This is actually emphasized in law, if you're driving down a lighted street at night then as a minimum you need your sidelights on; minimum! This is particularly aimed at those who switch their full headlights on when it's raining or when it's getting dark, to be honest if you can't see where you're going in these conditions without your full lights on then I don't think you should be driving.
Okay so why the potential callousness, because both of the northerly emergency vehicles were parked with both their headlights and dome lights on. Now I don't know about you, but I find it damn difficult to make out much background detail when I've a light shining in my face particularly a strobing one too, taking into account that traffic from the island will be attempting to overtake using the right-hand turn lane it would be nice to be able to see what they're trying to do.

While I'm on the subject, and I've the picture up, take a look at the road markings as you approach the island, the road was resurfaced and the lines repainted some time ago. Now originally it went one lane-width out; cross over, then one lane-width out again. This meant that the middle right-turn lane was slightly narrower. Not a problem it's barely used, however when they repainted them it appears they went one lane out then one lane out again, this means the road heading from the island is narrower; not good when you're coming out of a turn.

Now it's not really wide enough for three lanes anyway so the solution is simple, not have three lanes. The justification for them is non-existent, the theory goes that if (more like when) the left-turn traffic is blocked up then the right-turn is still free. Great except that when it gets blocked up, in 90% of the cases it extends beyond the lane split; this then encourages cars to overtake the queue along the wrong side of the road in order to turn. If the queue doesn't extend that far then the wait would be a petty amount of time.

It also has a knock-on effect on the Mitton Street entrance to the west, cars in the left or right-hand turn only lanes don't indicate, there's no straight on so they must be turning, but the only means of determining whether they have right-of way is by their position. When you have a larger vehicle turning left it obscures the view of the right-turn lane, forcing the Mitton Street side to slow or stop regardless of whether they have to or not. This in turn tails back up Gilgal, Vale Road/Minister Road, High Street and Bridge Street. As you can imagine it's also fun at night.

This is the only entrance to the island that has a split lane despite heavy traffic down the Hartlebury Road, why?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Count-down for procession.

As related in Perfect Timing and Lines, maps, plots and charidee the procession is on for tomorrow night. Last week the local rag newspaper ran a three page piece on it (mostly adverts), and we've got a story this week too. Okay so two articles and at no point has anyone stated what roads if any are going to closed off or for what period of time. Now as we're expecting

More than 5,000 people
that's around a quarter of our entire town population, and
a host of cafes staying opening late for the event
most of which are on Bridge Street; it's going to play merry hell with any traffic trying to get through town. It's not as if this is the carnival, which winds itself along much the same path before retiring to a field next to the river off the town site and is held on a Saturday, this is a weekday event being held adjacent to the rush-hour in the very same streets that the traffic uses.

Let's compare this state of affairs to this (sound alert!) article.

[PostScript. In a delightful mark of irony this story was printed below the Stourport story on page 20]

If we're lucky we might get some signs up on the roads, to be any use of course they'd need to put up by at least 5pm tonight. Let's wait and see.

[Nope - nada and nothing this morning]

Just got back from a minor crisis with an aged relative, tip for all reading - don't try to 'top up' a chip pan with boiling water. Thankfully nobody injured.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Statistics

Caught two minutes of Tonight with Trevor McDonald last night, talking about one year on from the change in licensing laws, one statement talking about ambulance responses grabbed my attention

Between the hours of [x] and [y] incidents have decreased by 2%, but between [y] and [z] have increased by 40%
I thought about knocking out a quick quip, but upon thinking about it I believe it requires a longer explanation.

We all know the quote
Lies, damned lies, and statistics
It's good, it keeps us on our toes, and it's wrong; statistics can't lie they're just numbers. If the data is collected without bias and the formulas applied to it then it simply can't lie, but how we interpret it and how it's presented can certainly mislead.

Imagine two people - one against the licensing laws, and one for them. The person against would use the 2% and 40% saying
Ah yes it might have decreased by 2% then, but it's increased by 40% there
and smile, smugly satisfied that he's proven his case. However let's look at his figures -

We're not given any more information, although later comments suggest that the x-y hourly incidents were greater then the y-z ones, so we're going to have to make them up. Watch carefully, I've nothing up my sleeves and my hands never leave my wrists.

Let's assume that there were 100 incidents between the hours of x and y. These have decreased by 2% to 98, a difference of -2. Let's then assume that there were 5 incidents between y and z. These have increased by 40% to 7, a difference of +2

Well will you look at that, overall there's been no difference at all. Now you might think - "That's unfair, you started off with two widely differing amounts" Okay, but think about it. You haven't been told what the real figures are, so why couldn't they be like this?

Okay in the interests of 'fairness' let's start with 100 for both incidents.
x-y: 100+2%=102
y-z: 100+40%=140
Overall increase of 38

So what about the person who's for the laws, what can they say? Well instead of splitting up the figures x-y and y-z let's look at the entire x-z range instead
Initial x-z figures = 100+100 = 200
Current x-z figures = 98+140=238
Percentage increase = 19%
So he can say
Ah but overall the increase has only been 19%, which is not huge and was expected in the first year.
Confused? We have two different people saying two apparently different things which are really both exactly the same.

Try this common tool used in presenting accounting figures - you earn £100/day and get a 10% pay increase, shortly after the firm gets into trouble and you're asked to take a 10% pay cut. Fine you'll just be back to where you started from; won't you?

£100+10%=£110
£110-10%=£99

Oops!

It's not just percentages; it works with figures too. I might say that youth related incidents have increased by 250 in only a year. Terrible until you're told that you started off with 5000; a petty increase of just 5%

So next time you hear someone, or you read a big shocking headline, quoting percentages or figures; remember to look at the data behind those quotes, if it's not presented there's probably a good reason why not.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Coventry Xmas lights

As just featured on Central Tonight with Peter Andre and Katie (Jordan) Price performing, switching from a pre-recorded interview with them the reporter asked a member of the crowd what she thought

They're brighter then I expected
Charitably one assumes she was talking about the lights

Scam warning?

Maybe too late for some, but had an interesting message on the machine at work from "James at the Information Team" apparently it was the second time they'd tried to contact us, though if they were trying at 6pm on a Saturday they couldn't really have wanted to get us. A message had been left "simple to collect" just dial 0871 2089407. Uh-huh up to 10p/minute to sit in a queue listening to bad music, a quick google later shows other people with exactly the same message with numbers starting at 9000. 0871 comes under the jurisdiction of Ofcom and not the premium rate regulator ICSTIS so complaints go through them, try their site and see how it works.

  1. I'd like to make a complaint - Click "Complain to Ofcom"
  2. Select an option - Hmm "Problems with your landline phone" is perhaps the closest
  3. Another option - "Privacy issues-nuisance and sales calls" perhaps?
  4. Another option - "Unwanted sales and marketing calls"?
  5. Solution - Register with the TPS oh joy.
Let's go back a couple of stages
  1. "Unexplained premium rate numbers on bill"
  2. "I don't have internet access at home "
  3. Solution - Contact ICSTIS - who don't handle 0871 numbers.
Let's try calling them shall we?

Options - 1? No not really, I'll hold; ringing; 'disclaimer about phone company complaints'; ringing; 'still in a queue, you might be able to dial 150 to call your phone company directly', ringing, 'website, sorry you're still in a queue'; ringing, 'we don't investigate individual complaints about general issues although we do track volume of complaints, we may consider investigation if the number for a particular company is high'; ringing; first repeat of messages; second repeat of messages; third repeat of messages - interrupts after website message.

"I've had a call from James at the information team", I hear a sigh "You've had this before?"
Ah yes, we've had a few of these.
They've logged it and given me the number for the Information Commissioner's Office, which does cover this sort of thing, though more along the lines of advising you to sign up to TPS again. Ah well at least it's logged.