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.