Friday, December 21, 2007

Bit of a break

A Merry Christmas
Happy Hanukkah
Sacred Sharaf
Powerful Tohji-taisai
Memorable Anniversary of Zarathustra's Death
Joyous Kwanzaa
Fun Las Posadas
Belated Eid al-adha
Belated Maunajiyaras

Depending on which of the one true religions you may practice.

For the rest of us enjoy the Winter Solstice.

Television questions

At times I'm not sure if the presenters on the breakfast 'news' programmes ask questions because they're looking for depth for their viewers or if they really don't know the answers?

Talking about the railway works going on over Christmas on GMTV, the representative pointed out (quite rightly) that overall the traffic is lower over these times. Instantly disputed by the presenters who said it's busier during peak times, well yes during peak times. People have more flexibility when travelling at this time

"What do you mean flexibility?" interrupted Kate Garroway

What do you think he means? If you have to get in for work at 9am you ain't exactly got much choice over when you can set off, if on the other hand you're going over to see the family the timetable you set is your own creation; in theory you can leave at anytime you want.

"We need this period." said the representative, "We're taking down a bridge, a huge bridge that needs a the full 10 days to remove"
"Can't you work at night?" asked Ben Shepherd who obviously wasn't listening
"What and put everything back ready for the next day...?"
"No, no I meant for other work?"
Well yes and they do and then they get the equivalent of this

On the BBC they were debunked some myths, including 'going out with wet hair leads to a cold'. Unless cold germs are somehow attracted to wet hair I'm guessing that's false (which I've always known as soon as I was old enough to know what a cold actually was caused by). Most interesting however was a comment by the doctor that 'if you already have a cold then wet hair brings it out'. At this I say up straighter and asked "Why?" I wasn't the only one and a full discussion then took place... no I'm joking the next remark was about turkey making you sleepy.

Ah adverts, apparently some singer "is back" wow and I hadn't even realised he'd been and gone. Katie Melua has a new warble album out "If you were a sail boat I would sail you to the shore" then tie me up and leave presumably, then again if she'd been singing all the time it would probably come as some relief.

Of course her new album is stunning, or sensational, or possibly stunningly sensational; I think they need to invest in some new adjectives. Then again I've just seen an advert for a spray that helps stop snoring, it's called - "Helps Stop Snoring". Next in the line no doubt is "Helps Stop Headaches", Helps Stop Colds", and "Helps Stop Sweat"; bloody hell just don't bother any more.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Footfall

As we all know this is a special time of year, a time of giving and receiving when shops strongly resist the urge to simply hoick us by the ankles and shake us 'til the money comes out.

As gets passed around as 'common knowledge' the amount stores make over this period can equal the amount they make for the rest of the year. So any downward trend in what they delightfully term 'footfall', and we would call 'shoppers', may cause distress.

And yes once again the shops are bemoaning the lack of footfall this Christmas - poor babies, issu not getting customers, issu competing with online retailers selling the same goods at half the price issu having to start sales at a time when people want to buy things instead of afterwards, issu, issu, ahhh poor babies.

As you may have gathered I'm slightly indifferent to their plight, yes yes wider economic implications etc., but it's hard to feel sympathy for a group that are whining that people who are still paying off last year's debt aren't putting themselves into more debt by buying stuff off them.

The attitude of people that were interviewed on one news programme broke down into two camps - 1) We can't afford it, 2) We're waiting for the sales.

Selfish people don't they know the economic well-being of this country is based on debt and shopping. Spare a thought for those poor CEO's unable to get a brand-new car in April to replace their old and tired car bought way back in September.

Anyway they should hate me and mine, we've all decided this year - presents for the kids and that's it, it's getting stupid trying to either second-guess what someone wants or to bluntly ask them. It makes shopping so less stressful a tip I'd pass on to this gentleman. We're doing the same for birthdays and it's something I've always practised for Mother's day etc.

Before the cries of Scrooge let me make this clear - I don't feel the need to buy someone something just because the calendar tells me to, if I see something that I know someone will like (and I can afford it) I'll buy it them there and then; that's it, end of story.

Bitii

Found the Dunley Road closed to traffic last night, now I found out why; well sort of - "being in collision with a lorry" what does that mean? Was he in a car, was he a pedestrian. I also find it interesting that this is reported as a "in Worcestershire" suggesting this report was 'lifted' from elsewhere. Anyway a police car was parked across the Dunley Road directing traffic up Areley Common for it to become hopelessly lost.

I got a nice response from broadband.co.uk's MD with regard to the spam comment in "A relaxing weekend" apparently they were using a link-building programme (possibly a third-party) and have stopped it as soon as they found out what it/they were doing. However I was interested in the following line

"We aren't even sure why links were made in all these blogs as they are nofollowed [sic] and therefore provide us no SEO benefit."
Which implies if they were followed and provided SEO benefit that that would be alright. Well it was an apology and you don't always get those so I'm happy.

Fiona Phillips on GMTV a couple of days ago interrupting Penny Smith on the news. Penny had just read out the last item about Britney Spears [however you spell it I don't care] sister's pregnancy when an un-microphoned voice shouted out "She can't be mumble mumble", which also goes to show how loud Fiona can be as well as rude. Penny the professional looked slightly dazed for a second before the cameras switched to Fiona who repeated that the women can't be pregnant as she's Zoe 101 [?], "don't you watch the Cartoon Network?" back to Penny looking a little blank before she rounds up and hands back. Yes I'm sure the childless Ms. Smith is glued to the non-terrestrially broadcast channel for children. I don't know if Fiona's getting more annoying or if I'm just tolerating her less?

In the interests of fairness GMTV (yesterday I believe) after having the PM on they got Cameron to do a few words. Trouble is as soon as he opens his mouth I now substitute in words from Armstrong and Miller's airman -

'Cameron here, it is like Christmas you know and shit and I got three rug-rats who are all like 'It is Christmas and stuff' and like really excited and shit you know. They are like really excited to go to the local panto which is like phat and is the bomb and shit you know. You should come, it is well fun'

At which point I tuned him out.

A bit late now, but after playing "Fairytale of New York" uncensored for 20-odd years with no complaints Radio 1 decided for some reason to bleep out "faggot" and "slut" prompting a full of day of complaints and the instant reversal of said policy. Ah our money well-spent. As has been mentioned in several places elsewhere we hope this publicity prompts people to go out and buy the single to prevent that 12 year-old X-Factor winner from reaching No.1 (No I don't know old he really is, but that was my first impression after seeing him).

As a joyous evening I got to hear my father practice reading out a little (thankfully very short) Christmas tale about 10 times; sorry love him to bits, but he couldn't tell a story if his life depended on it. In self-defence I think my brain shut-down around attempt 5.

Oh and I caught Kate Nash with an acoustic rendition on Freshly Squeezed this morning, I don't care much for her songs (vaguely catchy), but she can play a guitar so if her career falls through she can take up busking. Most amazing fact was that she actually looked attractive. Someone should tell the media that naturally pale redheads do not look good under strong light, and in no way should she ever wear that bright red-lipstick again. Her mouth just shouted red emphasising her lower jaw and thus made her eyes look smaller and closer-set.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Orange Box - Half-Life 2 and Portal mini-review

As some may have picked up on I purchased the Orange Box when it came out, this is Half-Life2 plus Episodes 1 &2, Portal, and Team Fortress. It's been out on PC and XBox360 for what seems like ages, but has now finally turned up on the PS3. That's the good news, the bad news is the creators Valve didn't have a hand in it. Instead it got handed over to EA for porting, sadly EA have a (deserved or not) reputation for doing lousy ports so everyone was in some trepidation about the quality of it. Unfortunately some of these fears have come true.

I'm only about half way through the main game and completed Portal so I can't comment on Ep1 or 2, or TF, but the complaints voiced by other reviewers regarding the frame drop in some levels is quite true. All of them discuss one part of the Water Hazard section where the action becomes almost like a slideshow. I will note however that it appears that a least one PC user is having the same problem so it may be that it's a source code fault that is being enhanced by the PS3 port to unplayable levels; either way this must have been a known problem when the game was released.

There may be light at the end of the tunnel however, firstly I had some synching problems with Ratchet and Clank (a PS3 exclusive) that vanished on the second playthrough; secondly the stutter disappeared after I did a quick save. So on the next playthrough I'll check for stutter, not move and see if it disappears by itself, and if not do a quick save.

That's not quite the end of the technical problems, one other annoyed me - texture pop-up. It's a common tecnique to use a low-resolution texture for objects at a distance then switch them for higher-resolutions as you get closer, the trick is judging the distances to switch. Sadly Half-Life2 at times does this well within noticeable distance. The last time I saw texture pop-up this bad was on Killzone (PS2) when stepping closer to a dead Helgast popped up a gas-mask and webbing; step back and they vanish, step forward and they reappear.

So technical problems aside the game is...good, not excellent. Almost zero hand-holding, the only bit you get is a "Press and hold start to quick-save" in the bottom right hand corner when you might be about to enter a dangerous situation. Annoying as a) I couldn't see a way of turning it off, b) it ruins the tension and surprise, and c) it appears even if you've just done a quicksave or a quicksave is currently in progress. Oh and no I'm not playing at Easy I'm on the default Normal.

Weapon selection is better then the first game, they're still grouped by type but are mapped to the four direction keys instead - one press up gets the pistol, two the magnum, three the crossbow; right is the automatic, shotgun etc.; down is the 'tools' crowbar etc, left is the heavy weapons, rocket launcher, grenades etc. Very easy to pick except it would be nice if you didn't automatically switch to a new weapon you've just picked up for the first time, and if you could select empty weapons knowing that you're about to pick up some ammo for it.

I ended up remapping the keys, which at least I could do, is there some sort of attempt to get everyone to use the tier 2 triggers for main weaponry? Never mind. Oh and I turned the music down (not off), to paraphrase an old review who complained about the default loud music on another game - 'You don't see James Bond wandering around with earphones and iPod blaring away' personally I like to hear that nasty awaiting me behind that corner before I turn it.

The graphics are good, the enemy sadly not too bright so far though they do at least respond when I snipe a colleague standing next to them and aren't psychic in knowing exactly where I've hidden myself, so points there.

The pace can jar a little, you go through a standard platform-type shoot to a looong water course on a jet-ski-boat that looks like something from the Florida Everglades. Fun in that for the first half it's not armed. Back to some more shooting, then on to long beach run on a dune buggy (that is armed). I'll say it again I'm not a racing fan, so I didn't enjoy these bits that much; what didn't help was what appeared to be very loose controls - from a standing start push up and to the right, yes that's it turn left. Not fun in the middle of a fire fight. Talking about looseness, when manning a turret gun ignore where the gun is actually pointing and trust your cursor instead 'cos they don't necessarily match up.

As I said good, not excellent.


Onto Portal of which I've got to try and avoid spoilers. Simply put you're a test subject given a device that can shoot the eponymous portals, basically movable doors. Fire one there and another on the other side of that big gap and just walk through - simple at first. Later you get walls you can't attach a portal to and have to use portals in 'strange' ways that you might not think of. The game leads you through the actions and consequences of portal manipulation then pretty much leaves you to it to work out how to combine these actions to finish the level.

It's fun, about nine-parts fun to one-part frustration a much better balance then almost every other game out there. It's actually worth buying The Orange Box just for this game alone.


Eps1 & 2 and Team Fortress I'll talk about after playing them


Oh and one last thing, for the PS3 at least, both the disc (not playing) and the game info slot have their own theme. A nice orange background while on the game info block the three main game's symbols rotating each coming to the fore and some really good music playing. I actually left the disc in and not starting just to listen to the theme music.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Planning Consultation

Just a quickie from Jim who had a letter through his door yesterday about a planning application in his area. Application went in on the 12th, consultation starts on the 14th, consultation ends on the 4th. Any objections in writing please. The chances that said written objections getting through over this period before the 4th...?

Oh and one small thing from the Mitton ward, they had a Conservative leaflet through nothing about Millfields/Mitton Park apparently, all about Tesco's instead. So kudos still to the IHC for a) noticing, and b) caring.

Monday, December 17, 2007

FlashEarth

Big thanks to Tav for this link FlashEarth. The same navigation method as Google Earth, but in a web browser and with the ability to switch maps with Microsoft VE, Yahoo, Ask and some others.

What with Google's coverage of the UK getting a) grainier and b) out-of date; it's interesting to see that VE has to be about two years old.

Digital tuners in an HD world

This should be the third and final part of the whole television saga.
Part 1: HD/SD what's it all about
Part 2: LCDs vs Plasmas (vs CRTs)

So I've covered what HD actually is and how it differs from SD, I've discussed the merits of LCD and Plasmas, so what's left? Well the bit that everyone really doesn't think about, but surprisingly makes a TV a TV - the tuner.

A TV tuner is simply described as a bit of kit that takes the hodge-podge of broadcast signals and filters them all out except the one you're interested in. For the old TVs this is an analogue tuner for analogue signals, but now we're entering a digital world you need a digital tuner.

For the early-birds the easiest way of getting this was using a separate set-top box, basically this was a digital tuner that took the signal and just pumped it out to your analogue telly. You could hook this up to your normal aerial input, but I'm sure most just connected via SCART leads.

So how does that affect HD broadcasts? Well if you're getting your programmes via cable or satellite (or internet) it doesn't, you can stop reading now unless you want to have a good laugh at your poor terrestrial cousins.

Starting simply digital broadcasts need two things to work - an agreed method of broadcasting and how it's actually broadcast. Think of it as writing a postcard, the postcard is the 'means' and you writing on it in English is the 'how'; the broadcaster sends you the 'postcard' and you read it in 'English'. For digital transmissions the means is called DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting - Terrestrial) and the how is a compression technique called mpeg2 (you probably already know about mp3 or more formally mpeg1-layer3). So far all terrestrial tuners can understand DVB-T and mpeg2 and all SD (and some HD) broadcasts use this; so far.

Progress ever progress, see HD needs more information and the compression of mpeg2 just doesn't cut it a new 'how' is needed - welcome to mpeg4. OFCOM are looking to whip out one of the digital groups and replace it with HD broadcasts in mpeg4 as early as 2009 and rolling on to 2012, after that... well might as well switch all the groups over.

So the 'postcard' you'll receive will now be 'written' in Klingon, which you don't understand. Wait it gets better in conjunction with this OFCOM is pushing the switch to DVB-T2; so now you'll be getting an email in Klingon, when you've haven't got an email address.

What all this means is that the TV or set-top box you buy now, won't receive the Freeview HD channels unless it can be updated not only to mpeg4 but to DVB-T2. The good news is that OFCOM announced that such equipment will be availible to buy... from 2009...when they start to switch everything over... and after (and during) the time they're turning off the analogue signals.

Suddenly the reason they're starting at the top of the country and working down to London makes sense, by the time the analogue is turned off in London the DVB-T2/mpeg4 TVs and boxes will have been available for a while and will be cheaper. For everyone else cough up now and later.


Addendum - as a service to my readers (all five of them) I poked my head into our local Currys and Comets, which I'm guessing would be the first stop for most people. I can only shake my head in disbelief - all the TVs on the floor display in Currys are being fed by an aerial input, that's a non-HD source, so the TVs are upscaling an SD broadcast. I was told that the TVs on the back wall were HDMI fed, but I don't what they were using as source material because it was blocky and awful (and had Vince Vaugn in it)

Grabbing a shirt I asked about DVB-T2/mpeg4, as far as he knew none of the TVs or set-top boxes were compatible and he had no knowledge as to the possibilities of an upgrade in the future. I left for Comet.

Slightly better this time, the ones on the right were being fed by an aerial, the ones in the middle by component (still not HD), and the ones on the left by HDMI (praise the HD gods). The big ones on the wall were sealed off, but looked HD. The big Phillips LCD TV was showing their own demo video, bikini-clad girls lying down, chopping up lemons and limes, things moving about in slow-motion; remember what I said about fast-moving objects on LCD screens - not the best video to judge such qualities by.

I grabbed a jacket this time and hit him with the same question - "Not a problem, all the TVs with 1080 on them can handle that" Which would be clever as at the time I write this DVB-T2 as a standard doesn't exist yet.

[Addendum - link from Charles on p.o.t. on a coincident thread. Yep in the US they're getting $40 off the purchase of a set-top box, while we pay full price and pay a licence fee to the BBC who are part of the Freeview consortium - neat]

A free weekend

It was meant to be a busy weekend. On Saturday my father needed some help putting some shelves up; yes yet another 'just for a morning' job though in theory this should only taken an hour, measure, measure, drill, fix, job done.

Now you may think if this is such a simple job why am I helping (read doing it); that can be answered in two parts - firstly the parts were bought prior to The Slabbing and my father has been promising to fix them since then (fair enough he has been busy) and quite frankly my mother was getting fed-up of tripping over them. Secondly, well we'll get to that.

So imagine my surprise when I'm told that my father put them up Friday afternoon; great. I take a look at them Saturday morning.

"Um is there any reason they're not level? They're sloping down to the left"
"According to the spirit level they are level, it's the tiles underneath that aren't" [a whole other story]
"No I wasn't using those as a guide"
"Oh well the heater cord next to them doesn't hang level" [this is the freely hanging string with a plastic weight on the end, which suggests either gravity isn't working or there's a large mass present - which actually would explain a lot]
"No I wasn't using that either" [I was using my powers again - in this case the power of eyesight]
"Oh well the spirit level says it's level"
"Have you got the level?"
...
"Here you go, they were only a bit out"
the level is placed
"See!"
Yeah the bubble is split in half by the right-hand line
"Well they were level when I measured them and when I put them up, they must have altered when I was tightening them up.

And there folks is the second reason I 'help' with these things.

So that was a planned day now free, which was nice. Oh and like Tav I got caught in the diversion around the Stourport/Kidderminster Road due to the carpet fire; the only bright spot is that they think it was accidental and not deliberate.

Sunday was Bratus Minor family birthday party, he's now 6. Everyone's heading up to Tenbury, but we get a call - his parents aren't well. They still want everyone to come, but not for long. Basically a cup of coffee, a slice of cake, then please leave.

I tease Minor over his presents "Well they can't be birthday presents as you've had your birthday already; you'll have to wait until your next one to open them"
He takes it well with a big grin, Major's trying not to laugh himself to death.
"I suppose they could be non-birthday presents, which means you can open them after all"
even bigger grin. Much shaking and squeezing of presents commences, before the paper is ripped apart.

The Bratii attempt to drag me off to play games, I put my foot down as no-one is staying long and if we start a long game I'll be leaving in the middle of it prompting much tantrums. A short game is agreed, but I end up talking Sega Mega Drive games with Major.

Anyway that was another free day gifted to me; so I wasted it completely on Half-Life2 and Portal.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Gadget Show

Last Monday's on Channel 5, so a bit late in talking about it. For those who don't know the programme is about Gadgets, reviews, previews, latest, coolest, etc. Now it depends on how you define gadget; for me an electronic cork-opener that's also an MP3 player is a gadget, a mobile phone isn't. Yet The Gadget Show also does reviews in mobile phones, cameras and televisions.

The upside is they examine everything in the way you're going to be using it, or occasionally in extreme versions of how you're going to use it (such as texting a message while dangling from a bungee cord), the downside is they examine everything in the way you're going to use it; huh? Well it can leave the reviews a little hollow, now I'm not saying you should be telling us the exact chipset, voltage etc., but a little more depth can sometimes be useful, how well did the Nokia sync with your computer, how long does it take to charge, what was it like when you left a high coverage signal area?

Last Monday they ran a gadget 'competition', best gadget for kids, women, and men and best gadget of the year.

For the kids, Suzi went for the SmartCycle (£79.99) and Jason for a Pleo (£249.99).

The SmartCycle's neat you plug it into the TV (we're not told how) and it displays a racing/educational game that is controlled by the kid sitting on the bike pedalling and steering; trick them into getting exercise. Nice bright vivid colours and graphics that would make a Sega MegaDrive look embarrassed at producing.

The Pleo is an animatronic baby dinosaur, looks cute and you can imagine the stereotypical Japanese businessman rushing back to his single 6' square roomed mansion to play with it. English kids maybe half-an-hour tops before they get bored with it.

SmartCycle unsurprisingly won.

Women next, and Suzi goes for an eStarling 2.0 Wifi Photoframe (£199.00) and Jason for a Perfect Skin Analyser (£14.95)

The WiFi Photoframe is obviously wireless, but has it's own email address so you (or your friends as Suzi mentions) can email you photos directly to it. Great for Aunty Polly's shot's of New Zealand, not so good for those spam stock tips or a v1aGra before and after shot. Something not mentioned was that it's main powered, so not something you could easily pick up and take around to a friends house to show them your holiday snaps.

The Skin Analyser, is simple as befits its price, poke it at your face and it'll tell you what skin type you are right there and then. Why did Jason pick this to push over the Pocket Surfer 2? Who knows.

Yes Suzi won that round too.

Men's gadgets. Suzi goes for the bizarre My Sky (£299) whereas Jason intelligently plumps for the PicoZ Sky Challenger Battle Pack (£49.95) which even sounds the Male Grunt thing.

My Sky is simple, point it at the sky and it'll tell you what star you're looking at. Perfect for those romantic dates under the clear dark skies this country is famous for whereby you can attempt to woo and impress the woman of your dreams by pointing a gun-like object at the sky and whispering "That's Canus Major" to her. That is of course if you haven't already been shot by the Police SWAT team for carrying around something shaped like a gun.

The PicoZ Sky Challenger Battle Pack is more like it, a pair of small helicopters that you can fly around and attempt to shoot each other out of the sky with infra-red lasers. No we don't know how long they'll fly for on their rechargeable batteries or what happens if you hit someone in the face with one.

Despite obviously preferring the helicopters the rugby team judges voted for Suzi's My Sky - I've no idea why that would be.

Finally it was the Gadget of the Year; Suzi with the EasyGlider (£699) and Jason championing the iPhone (£269 +contract).

The iPhone was up first. So this is the phone with the poor camera, and no movie mode. The phone with no hard keyboard buttons or stylus. The phone that you can only use with one provider on contract. Yep that phone, but it's so pretty and cool; gee I'll have two.

Amazingly Suzi's choice was even more pointless, the EasyGlider is basically a powered scooter. So can you legally use it on the roads - no; can you legally use it on the pavements - no. Will it work on rough ground or grass - well with those small wheels I'd say no. So it's a product that you can't use instead of your car, bicycle or walking, and you can't take to the park, unless you want to use it (possibly illegally) on the paths. So um err I'll take three.

I don't care which one won they were both useless.

So after all that you might think why did I bother watching (other then for Suzi that is) and this would be the answer - the TV awards.

Essentially Jon pointed out the same things I did; motion on LCDs, black levels on Plasma, the requirement for HDMI inputs, what he also mentioned was what my next topic would be Freeview digital tuners. Sadly he didn't go into any depth here or in the extended review, it was put simply that the TV should have a digital tuner. That's not quite the case as I'll be discussing in my next entry.

Anyway from the size ranges he picked an LCD, an LCD, and a Plasma. a Sony 20" 1366 x 768 at £350 an Hitachi 37" 1920x1080 at £1,000 and a Pioneer 42" 1024x768 at £1,800. Yep check out that last item's resolution a 42" that not only doesn't have 1080 lines, but has elongated pixels to fit the SD ratio lines into an HD ratio screen. Boo hiss!

Anyway my Digital TV entry will be up next, just in time for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Video game abuse take two

Two extra takes on ITN's whole 'New video games can lead to abuse, racism, obscenity and cake [oh wait not cake*audio alert*] from Devil's Kitchen and John Trenchard. Kindly ITN have put the report online for us to view .

Both DK and JT points out the inherent stupidity of complaining about verbal abuse on a game that allows you to turn your opponent into a exploding pile of viscera; perhaps it's because the media have long lost that fight over on-screen violence leading to real-life violence, or they're just worried they'll sound like The Scum or Daily Wail.

Having read the ITN article I'll reiterate a point I made about how they seem to be targeting one particular console. Just look at the keywords - are they video, games, bullying, racism, abuse? Nope they're Playstation, and Sony.

Now read the article

Gamers on Sony's Playstation 3 can be subjected to abuse when they play online.
Yep no argument here, but I think you'll find it's a little more widespread then that. Seriously have the owners of a certain other console got ties to ITN? Perhaps it's because, according to ITN, it's a new phenomenon. Yep no abuse on the XBox Live service no sirree.

So the question that has to be asked is this "What was this report in aid of?"

As I've pointed out nothing about this is new, there's already an age-restriction on joining, chat can be turned off, and there's an easy process for reporting abuse. So the only people this report is aimed at are the parents who don't monitor what their children are doing and need to be warned (though why they think this'll make them take any notice I dont' know), the few remaining members of the 'video-games are the work of Satan' crowd, and people who don't know anything about it but can get all worked up and start writing letters to newspapers and MPs demanding something is done.

This isn't news.

Someone's going to be popular this Christmas

I got a note through the door telling me that someone had sent me 'something' that was underpaid by 16p. If I wanted whatever it was I'd have to either phone/web form to arrange another delivery, return the card with the appropriate stamp value, or turn up at the sorting office to pick it up; oh and bring the £1.16 needed. Yep £1 charge for handling underpaid mail.

Turned out of course to be a Christmas card that was just over size, and when I say just I mean 10mm too wide. Now I know that the person who sent this has probably sent out roughly another 30 or so identically sized and stamped cards. So that's £30 she's made for the Post Office.

What interests me the most though is the extra bits on the envelope. That big yellow sticker with "Revenue Protection" on it, what's that all about? Have the Post Office contracted out underpaid items to another company, is it supposed to be some sort of reminder of how the Post Office needs every penny to run? I just don't know.

The other thing is the postmark. I'd seen the same on another card, but couldn't make it out this one is much clearer. "Revenue Protection [again] North West Midlands [Date] Mail Centre WV1 1AA" That's Wolverhampton. Now this letter came from Stourport just over there [points] it's then travelled to Wolverhampton, is sorted, then sent to Kidderminster, then Stourport, to my house, then back to holding in Stourport. Talking to someone who works in the sorting office in Kidderminster he said that any post put in the box close by the office is collected and sent to Wolverhampton first before the local stuff is returned.

No wonder they're chasing the pennies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

FangleMork, the god of blue tomatoes

inspired by the name used in a religious thread in p.o.t. that just tickled me (credit to Darren)

FangleMork, the god of blue tomatoes

1. Tomatoes are a fruit and thou shalt hold no other fruit before them.
2. All tomatoes are blue before the Lord, especially the red ones.
3. Thou shalt partake of the sacred fruit with every meal.
4. Thou shalt keep a piece of ground sacred for the growing of the fruit.
5. Thou shalt never throw the fruit in anger.
6 Catsup is an affront unto the Lord, for ketchup is the righteous sauce.
7. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours' tomatoes, nor his ground, nor his gardening tools.
8. The seventh day is sacred unto me and shalt be a time to tend ones garden before having a nice cuppa and a bit of a sit down.
9. Thou shalt not create anything in the form of a tomato for it is a sacred form.
10. Thou shalt not have a tenth commandment as that's simply too derivative.

Of course you get the schisms where the Blue Tomatoists (left fork) believe the "cuppa" of the eight commandment should be tea and the Blue Tomatoists (right fork) who believe it to be coffee, not to mention the Blue Tomatoists (strange fork) who believe it should be both together.

Then you've the Church of the Fundamental Blue Tomato who pelt sinners with the sacred fruit with the understanding that is done "without anger, but love".

The Church of the Paradoxical Blue Tomato meditate on the the second commandment and form opinions on how red tomatoes are really blue.

The Holy Ketchup worshippers ensure that television and film productions feature at least one tomato or one bottle of ketchup, but never catsup. The militant-wing have been known to invade food shops and smash any catsup bottles they find, but have been disavowed by the Church.

For those interested in joining simply locate the tomato section of your food store (standing near ketchup will also suffice) and stare intently at the sacred fruit repeating the mantra "mmmmm blue"; you will soon be noticed by the correct people.

New gaming fad leads to racism, bullying, and obscenity

Well that's according to last night's ITV news - the teaser in the local news stated

"Racism, bullying, and obscenity. An ITV news investigation uncovers alarming abuse on Playstation's online gaming system"
What just the Playstation online system, what about the XBox system, or the Wii?

The teaser at the beginning of the programme altered its tone somewhat
"Abuse online - the games that leave your children open to horrific insults"
Well a little more general except the systems they're talking about are
"Some of the newest ones"
Hmm "newest ones"? A mistake surely, perhaps not with them saying
"The new frontier of gaming competing against strangers via the internet and an audio voice link"
as opposed to a non-audio voice link? Then we have an MP saying
"This new development which is online multi-player gaming"
Sorry where have these people been for the last 10 years? Multi-player gaming with "audio voice-link" against strangers has been around for ages, so why the fuss? Ah silly me that was all on computers and this is on consoles. Consoles are of course for children, PCs are for adults and belongs in the same mindset that bleats incessantly about an 18-certificate blood-and-gore console game, while blissfully unaware of a similiar PC-only release. Oh and of course consoles can often be found in a shared family area and thus intrude more on the conciousness.

That's what this is all about - consoles are for kids and we (journos) have just noticed that they can do what PCs have been doing for years and it has to stop now; won't someone please think of the children? I enjoyed the lambasting the Sony exec got when he told the ITV 'journalist' that games were monitored and that such abuse was against their terms and conditions and in turn received the demand that they should stop this - what monitor every online game constantly, ask GCHQ to loan them their word-recognition software reprogrammed for abuse? No such interviews with Microsoft staff, no interviews with Blizzard about World of Warcraft; but of course Sony don't have age-verification checks and that makes all the difference because we know that only the over 18's swear.
"A new generation of gaming has been born"
Yep we've got these brand new multi-player games like World of Warcraft, Everquest, Second Life, EVE Online, Ultima online....

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bitus et Bobus

Good old Fiona on GMTV pushing her life and views into a discussion about role-models for children, and once more complaining about this project she has to do on the Tudors prompting the almost unheard comment from Andrew Castle to "Just get on with it"; right-on Andrew I think we've heard enough from her about the subject.

A couple of nice meals out in a row with the Bratii attending the latter. Very good behaviour with them only managing to knock over two glasses. Admittedly the table was a bit overcrowded - glass for white, glass for red, glass for water; knives, forks, spoons; side-plates for bread; serving plates with butter, apple sauce, and cranberry sauce; and a big Christmas decoration in the middle. For a small oval table seating eight it was a little cramped.

The crackers produced two two-part spinning tops (a cone and a circular top with petal-like semi-circles around it) for each of the Brats who soon found that the small silver painted seeds that fell off the table decoration would neatly be contained there-in.

So Minor had an unadulterated top whereas Major loaded his and set them a-spinning. At which point I grabbed them off the table, made a show of shaking them before returning them to their rightful owners. More spinning, more grabbing though this time I kept them tightly closed in my unmoving fists, staring deeply at them before declaring which was which. "How do you know?" they asked, "I have powers" I reminded them.

Repeat performances with a 100% success rate, they would spin I'd grab them, or I'd wait until they stopped before simply pointing out their owners. Major started studying the two with great care, while I held my breath, nope no difference he declared

Another repeat performances with anotehr 100% success rate, Major declares that I'm cheating. I point out you can't say that unless you know how I'm cheating; not quite correct, but I'm proud that neither even considered the 'I have powers' as true. Their father who's been following this reaches for both tops and studies them.

"Ah see the label on this one is slightly off compared to this one, it's got a tiny wrinkle in it" he proclaimed
"Has it?" I asked "I hadn't noticed that"
"Oh" he said "Then I suppose it's the pencil mark there"
Big smile from me.
"What!" exclaimed Major, "Lemme see"
"When they came out of the cracker you took your pencil and scored a line on that one there [between the main circle and one of the petals]" I said.
"You cheat!"
"Hey I didn't mark it"
"But you had your hands closed?"
Yup I did, but one of the petals was visible sticking out from my beneath the knuckle of my first finger. I then covered this with my thumb and gently rotated the top in each hand around until I saw the mark. One demonstration later left Minor with an open amazed mouth and Major still calling me a cheat.

Ah good fun.


In a kind-off related note (as the Bratii were going to inherit my PS2) I note that "Jak and Daxter" doesn't play at all on my PS3 and that my old copy of Half-Life that my PS2 wouldn't play now does on my PS3. This suggests my PS2 is failing, which doesn't come as too great a shock what with it being a first-generation version. Anyway the new version on Amazon is about £80 so they're looking at that and I'll throw them a couple of old games I don't play, a second controller and a memory card to get them started. All-in-all though I'm glad I picked up a b/c version of the PS3 while they were still around. Still righteously miffed at the shafting Europe got though.

Causes of climate change?

I've already had a go a while back at the water companies for flushing all the nice clean rain into the rivers then complaining when they run out of water, but driving about over the last couple of days made me contemplate the sheer amount of surface water that seems to be left all over our roads, pavements, and pedestrian areas - where does it go?

As I've said a lot of it goes straight into the drains and out again, but some must be evaporating off. So how much more (or less) is evaporating back into the atmosphere compared to a pre-industrial pre-urban period? We all keep hearing about climate change and all the finger-pointing at cars and industrial processes pumping out nasty gases, but hand-in-hand with that is the switch from a rural to an urban landscape.

So what distortions do large urban areas have, do they alter the thermal patterns, do they cause a greater degree of water to evaporate back into the system over a period of time. flicking around the web I see a lot along the lines of 'climate change has an affect on humidity', but it's all attributed to global warming (hot air holds more water), but remember water vapour is considered a 'greenhouse gas' too so we get a feedback loop; more water in the air retains heat which allows more water in the air.

I'm not saying this is the case I'm just speculating out-loud, if anyone can say 'Nope they've looked at that and the effect is negligible' then fine I'll shut-up.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Supermarket does not equal sandwich bar

A petition, a petition! Tav over on the WFA has suggested an update to the outdated 1987 Planning Classes. As it stands Class A1 covers

Shops, retail warehouses, hairdressers, undertakers, travel and ticket agencies, post offices, pet shops, sandwich bars, showrooms, domestic hire shops, dry cleaners and funeral directors.
In other words the classification doesn't take into account size - that little takeaway sandwich bar is the same class as that giant hypermarket.

So what you might ask? Well if a good-natured council designated a site for Class A1 use intending to promote small locally run stores to boost the area, then in theory a large chain could appear and apply for permission to build their behemoth without needed to apply for a change of use.

And so Tav has created a petition on the Number 10 website for the creation of a Class A0 category to differentiate the small to medium businesses from the large ones. If you think it's worthwhile pop over and sign it.

Stourport and the proposed Tesco supermarket

More on Tesco for another push at Google ;-)

janutd said:

Why didn't they do it on the friday of the 3 Kings Parade when the town was crowded.
I agree Friday would have been a much better time, perhaps there were constraints in getting forms printed. I of course missed them on Saturday (See Slabbing) but it would be odd if they didn't canvas the shopkeepers whom I sure could be relied on to sign; I'm sure they'd have got more then 600 signatures oh and I wish they'd stop refering to it as "Anti-Tesco". I wonder if they're going out again this Saturday?

At least HJ Beard's (Eutronics) isn't staying empty and we're getting a Subway - yay more people walking around stuffing their faces and dropping litter; though at least it's some way into town and not parked by the riverside.

We know the problem in Bridge Street with the old market and what looks like the small amusement arcade being sold (having blipped past the sign), but hopefully the Basin Link will rejuvenate that part of town and encourage people over to the 'dead' side of Bridge Street - hell we might even get a decent market on it rather than the tatty thing we had tucked down Raven Street. None of that will help though if a supermarket is built on the CoW site.

I've mentioned the local plan a few times, but here's the pertinent quote regarding the Carpets of Worth site
provide for a mix of land uses to include B1 business and C3 residential. Other uses including retail (A1 and A3) may be acceptable, subject to the provisions of the Retail Strategy and the policies of the retail section of this Plan;
Hopefully you see the emphasis is on B1 and C3 with A1 (which covers the proposed supermarket) being acceptable only within certain terms.

For those unfamiliar with the class structure here's the general outline -

A1 - Shops
A2 - Financial and Professional Services
A3 - Restaurants and Cafes
A4 - Drinking Establishments
A5 - Hot Food Takeaway
B1 - Business
B2 - General Industry
B8 - Storage or Distribution
C1 - Hotels
C2 - Residential Institutions
C3 - Dwelling Houses
D1 - Non-Residential Institutions
D2 - Assembly and Leisure

So Tesco are looking at a a Class A1 with D2 petrol station whereas the plan favours B1 general business (think Anglo House etc.) and C3 houses and doesn't even mention D2 filling stations. Well we're getting the C3 houses, but wouldn't one B1 business be better then one A1 shop? That's where the fight is - no Class A1 buildings on the site(especially one that size), build them up in town and on the new Basin Link instead. Oh and no D2 either.

[Update: - My error petrol stations are Sui Generis not D2, in other words unique structures.]

Anonymous said:
Council members should go out and mingle a bit more,
If you think that's a problem now think what'll be like when they build their new offices in Kidderminster.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

LCDs vs Plasmas (vs CRTS)

The last line in HD/SD what's it all about was really a throw-away joke, but it seems that it might be useful for another basic differentiation guide*.

First off some background info. Televisions display their pictures using pixels, if you've read my previous entry linked above you'll recall me talking about lines 720 or 1080; each of these lines are made up of pixels. So for a 1920x1080 television they'll be 2, 073,600 pixels that's the same number for a 32" screen or a 40" or a 72" or... well you get the point. Hopefully you'll see that a pixel has no size by itself; if televisions of different sizes have the same number of pixels then each pixel will be a different size. It's important to note this as they might even have a different aspect ratio to the telly.

Each pixel is made up of three sub-pixels Red, Green, and Blue controlling how these sub-pixels are lit determines the colour you see. What makes the types different is how those sub-pixels are controlled.

Refresh rate gets banded about so here we go cinema movies are normally filmed at 24 frames per second (fps), UK TV programmes at 25fps, and US TV programmes at 30fps. Most modern televisions can run at 50 or 60Hz so each frame is drawn twice for a progressive scan or half the frame followed by the other half for interlaced; in HD terms 1080p/50 1080p/60 or 1080i/25 1080i/30. Sometimes you'll see 100Hz televisions advertised these can seem smoother to some people, but remember the input source is still 24/25/30 fps so you're not really getting any additional frames.

CRTs or Cathode Ray Tubes are the old big bulky televisions, they have a tube (hence the name) shaped a little like a cone. At one end is an electron gun and at the other the pixel/sub-pixels made up of phosphor. The gun scans along each line of pixels firing off an electron at some of their sub-pixels; when the electron hits the phosphor it glows.

Plasmas work in a similar way, but instead of an electron gun there's a small fluorescent light behind each sub-pixel, the light flicks on and stimulates the phosphor to glow.

LCDs have one large light shining behind all the pixels all the time and have the equivalent of semaphore gates behind each sub-pixel opening or closing that allows the light to shine through the coloured filter.


Enough tech talk onto what you need to know.

They're getting better but LCDs still have a smaller contrast ratio then plasmas, blacks can appear grey in a darkened room. They tend to have a smaller colour range then plasmas, but again are getting better, and they used to have problems with fast moving images when the pixels couldn't refresh at the speed of the picture. The angle of viewing can be a problem, if you've ever tried looking at a phone or camera display from the side you'll know what I mean. They're also limited size-wise plasmas are much easier to make with larger dimensions so the price per inch can be more expensive.

Plasmas on the other can still suffer from burn-in when displaying a constant image that will leave a ghost image on the screen when you change channels, though they're getting better. They're also heavier then LCDs, not as bright, and use more power. Plasma screens also have a fixed resolution meaning whatever input source you're using will be altered to fit the screen so any 4:3 will be stretched out to 16:9.

So saying all that which is best? Um depends what you want to do with it.

if you want to hook it up to your computer, not after something in the 50" range, are going to be watching it in a reasonably well-lit room, aren't trying to watch it from wide-angles, might be moving it about a bit, or putting it somewhere with poor ventilation -then go for an LCD.

If you're in the dark, putting it in a fixed position with the necessary clearance, want the largest display possible with the largest angle to watch it at, and don't mind that presenters on 4:3 broadcasts appear to have gained weight - then go for a plasma.

Why haven't I discussed CRTs - because despite having the best qualities of both LCDs and plasmas (and some of the faults too) you simply can't buy them any more.

However you may want to wait for the next exciting installment - "Digital tuners in an HD world"

*Basic being the word, don't shoot me if I miss out some technical bits or simplify things.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

All questions solved

At last the answer to every dilemma, simply meditate on your question then click the button below for guidance.


The answer is -

Bita et Boba

One of the search terms used to find this site asked what the oldest building in Wyre Forest was; Don's come back saying that currently the oldest building listed on Wyfopedia is Tickenhill Manor dating back to 1066.

Adverts for the Essential Music 2008 album... 2008? Last time I looked it was still 2007 so how can you have 2008 music in 2007 why would anyone consider music from 2007 "essential" in 2008?

Making me feel old an ad for "Now that's what I call music 68" gods I remember when it was single digits; and came on cassette, and you could buy it for a shilling, and still have enough left over for a bag of chips.

GMTV and the role-model that is Fiona Phillips, do recall this is the women that has been supposedly offered places in government. Cutting back from the news she was crossing something out on a piece of paper
"Are you filling something in?" asked Andrew Castle
"No I've got this bloomin' report on the Tudors to do over Christmas" she replied, "They've given my son this to hand in the week after Christmas"
"So you're doing it"
"Well I'll end up with it, I did the last one on the Romans"
much laughter
Laughter? Sorry just what is Fiona doing, the only help I received from my parents regarding homework was pointing out useful books and making comments on my work; they certainly didn't "do" it for me. Perhaps Fiona's son should stop going to school and just send his mom instead?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Suspected arson attack

Someone driving in from Kiddy asked me if I knew why there were police cars all around the High School. Well here we go. Wonderful.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Reply to the Tesco in Stourport comment redux

Another comment requiring a longer entry from Anonymous

I posted in the other thread and im glad you are taking what i said into a bigger article.
My pleasure, it can be a pain trying to reply solely in comments at times. Besides each new entry with the words Tesco and Stourport in it bumps me up Google to compete with the WFA ;-)
If they get their way (tescos) they will not only kill the centre of town because people will NOT walk to and throw from their supermarket into town,i mean why should they if they can get everything under one roof.
Unfortunately they're trying to show that a large supermarket will keep people in Stourport, as I say this may be true except where in Stourport will they be kept? Hence my interest in some sort of survey carried out at the main Kidderminster Tesco site as to how many people shopping there have come from or intend to go into town and the walker/cycler/bus/car percentages. I wonder how many people in Castle Road and that area just go back and forth between house and supermarket?
The plans show a petrol station as well for the site something that has a lot of Severn Road residents incredably worried about,[...]
The petrol station is of interest, some are pointing out we have three already. Except of course we may be losing the Shell to a block of sheltered flats; so may go down to two. While those in Severn Road may be personally concerned with the station I'm interested in how it might affect the Stour. On the plus side it will cut fuel costs, on the down-side it will cut fuel costs (more people using it solely as a station)
[...]hence the item for a road over the Stour to attempt to put in access for the hgvs and petrol lorries to at least keep away from Mitton Street ( the road for that would have come in over the Stour further down closer to where the new houses will be most likely put up)But tescos representives said they couldnt afford (what a sick joke) to put up a traffic bridge.
Hmm I was under the impression that both the pedestrian bridge and road bridge across the Stour were 'sweeteners' from Tesco which, once built, would be adopted by the council; in much the same way Millfields/Mitton Park roads were supposed to be. It might be a throw-in by the owners/developers themselves, but in either case it won't be funded by us - well at least not directly.
We dont NEED a tescos in Stourport,theres nothing really stopping people from going to Kidderminster or just doing thier shopping in Stourport.Hell they can even use the internet and order online.
Bad, bad, bad. I'm not getting personal with you really I'm not, but this is important
  1. We already have a Tesco in Stourport so you can't say we don't need one.
  2. You can't single out Tesco itself. It makes it sound like you'd be happy for a large Sainsbury's or Morrisons or Asda or whatever, but not a Tesco and thus bringing in prejudice
  3. You're making the point that people are leaving Stourport to shop in Kiddy when we want people to shop here
  4. If people order online then the goods need to be stored and then delivered, which is what some suspect that the Stourport Tesco is being lined up to service or at least facilitate.
In other words you're kind of making the case for Tesco.
Thing is that the councils want tescos to foot a large proportion of the bill for the so called relief road which will go no-where for another 20 years.To a non-exsistant bridge.
To an extent I've got to side with the council here, as I've said they can only throw out the application for strict planning reasons. So if they find they can't they might as well get something out of the deal. That said such deals tend to be of benefit to the supplicant as well. You won't get Tesco (or any other large chain) footing the bill for the Millfields Road/Stourport Road hook-up as it's nothing to do with them.
The Conservatives already sold the people out in Lichfield Street with a monstrous development behind them,what the hell do they care about the people of Severn Road or Discovery either.
Not naming names myself, but I do agree the Lichfield Basin development is funky and smells of wealthy holiday homes.
They dont,im sorry but this is how i feel with regards to them.As many in the town feel, tottally let down and frustrated when they go on about asking ppl for input,whats the bloody point they only ignore the people.
Because they have to ask for input on such projects and then report it, they just don't have to listen to or act upon it
If they really support the people then give it to a PUBLIC vote.Im sure for the sake of a 4 mile trip to the BIGGER tesco store, total town gridlock is a thing WORTH AVOIDING.
Again Bad, see you're sending people out of town and we don't want that. As for the public vote see "input" above.
This town already has suffered the worst summer and now winter for a long long time.With the bridge works and all the roads constantly being dug up shop keepers are down a LOT from last year.Dont make it any worse on them by taking even more trade away from the centre of town.
I agree on last year's down-turn. Though as I doubt the bridge has had any serious work done to it since it was built then it probably won't require any more work of that nature for about 100 more years so that was a one-off. Likewise with all the water works going on (if they do it right...) these are all short term losses for a long term gain, and will be finished just in time for a large supermarket to move in and displace all the custom.

Okay so what with meetings and all I think there's a fair few people who are against a Class A supermarket being built on the CoW site, so what should be put there instead; we can't leave it a bare wasteland (well we could, be kinda neat). Come on people give me suggestions.

Slabbing

My father was having some slabbing done on Saturday morning and asked for some help, talking to him Friday night I checked the time with him to start - 8am. "No 8:30" Okay just for the morning, I've heard that before.

8:15 ready and willing. A big bag of sand out front with the cement mixer; the work is being done out the back.

"Shouldn't we put the cement mixer out the back?" I ask,
"How will we get the sand there? No we'll wheelbarrow the cement out to the back", replied my father
"Um why can't we move the sand in the wheelbarrow? I'd much prefer to have an accident moving the sand then the cement"
"No it'll be better out front"
and that was that.

8:35 and all is quiet
"Is there anything we can do in the meantime, get something ready?", I ask
"Nope 'cos if he doesn't show we'd have to put it all back"
"Can't you ring him?"
"Haven't got his number"
"Well if there's a problem he'll ring us"
"He hasn't got our number either"
Yee ha.

Nevertheless my father manages to contact him, he's just running a touch late; so we can start moving stuff like the temporary slabs that are currently in position. So my father and I move a slab, then my father hurries out to the front to see if he's arrived, then back for another slab.
"He knows where we are doesn't he?"
"Yep he's been down before"
So big bag of sand on the front, a cement mixer, garage door wide open I think we're pretty unmissable, still popping back and forth.
"He's here"
moves slab, heads to front
"Hey" I call "We've still got two slabs to go, I don't think he needs an escort in"
"Hmmph"

"We want it sloping away from the house if possible" says my father
"Well that'll involve a lot of digging as the ground slopes the other way" replies the slabber
"How about level then"
"Yep take some soil from there and move it there"
Soil is a euphemistic word, sandstone country mixed with water and then frozen equals solidness. Out came the forks and a tri-pronged back-hoe. Up went the hoe, down went the hoe penetrating at least half a centimetre, the fork was better managing almost a full centimetre. Combine that with the fact that the original builders of the house used the gardens as refuse tips and you're hitting all sorts of goodness. If you think I'm exaggerating when part of the garden was taken out several years ago we found an old tin bath filled with rubbish buried there this time though it was just cracked bricks.

One level area later
"Okay now you know that you won't be able to step on the slabs when they're down..."
well that puts paid to the wheelbarrow idea
"... or for three days afterwards."
"Um does Mum know this as she wanted to do some laundry this morning?" I asked.
"No" replied my father and went off to tell her

Their conversation concluded that wasn't a problem, but the bins would be.
"Why?" asked my father "It'll be fine by Wednesday [when the bins are collected]"
"But I won't be able to get to them" said my mother
"Is that a problem?"
"Well yes I won't be able to empty any of the bins in the house"
penny dropped and bins moved.

Setting up the cement mixer and I'm out back still levelling the 'clay' when my father appears wanting one of the old slabs out front. It turns out that the stand for the mixer is made up of three parts, two of which don't belong to the same set and so one set of legs is higher then the other. Two moved slabs later and we find the mixer doesn't fit on anyway, two slabs put back.

All the other sand is in smaller bags out the back and so needs moving too, back and forth. I'm wondering where the cement is when I spot another bag in the laundry room
"Do you want that other bag of sand from the laundry room?" I ask
"It's cement" answers my father
"No it's sand"
"Is it?" replies my father in a 'you're wrong' tone
"Well it's got the word sand written across the front in big letters"
"... oh yeah I thought we were one missing"
yeah right.

Ratios sorted we load up the mixer. Without the stand and using the tools here it feels like I'm a giant, all the tools are just the wrong length or height. Anyway I'm checking with the slabber as to consistency 'Too wet, too dry' then we get a right mix
"Ah so we want a homogeneous non-glistening mass" I say and turn to see two glazed expressions
"Yeeeah"
No seriously that's what I thought and said. Looking back I can see the reason for glazing, but I was comparing the previous dry non-clumping particulate, with the latter wet homogeneous very shiny mass. Say what you see, so I did.

Mixing, loading buckets, moving buckets. The odd respite when cutting. My father disappearing off at odd times in the middle of a load to do gods know what. Fun with a new hosepipe connector that got me soaked, standing at the front of the garage with both doors open so it acted like a wind-tunnel, and a low bright sun in the sky right in my sightline. All good fun anyway.


Nearing the finish line "How are we going to do this path" asked my father, "we could have one row of slabs starting from the middle of those and heading up"
"Sure" I said, "If you want it to look shite. Do it properly with two rows extending off the other two rows"

I worked it out in the end 32 slabs, 1 and a half buckets of cement per slab, 3 buckets in a load 15 shovels in, 15 shovels out for a load (ish). 480 shovels all together, most of which was me. I had no feeling left in my fingers, my back is still a tad sore and I've still got a bit of a headache from the sun and chill. My fingers have just finished peeling off a new layer.

Oh and the 'morning' thing - we finished around half two, not counting cleaning up.

Friday, November 30, 2007

HD/SD what's it all about

Been talking about new tellys what with the HD/ digital buzz and Xmas, trouble is some people still don't understand a) what HD is and b) what size the screen is. I'll start with the second problem first.

Televisions are sold by size, that size being their diagonal length. This is great when comparing two otherwise identical televisions, not so great when comparing standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) because they use different screen ratios.

For an SD set the ratio is 4:3 that means for every 4 inches (or centimetres, or feet, or microns, or...) of horizontal length you get 3 inches (or...) vertically. For HD the ratio is normally 16:9 and no that's not the same as 4:3 remember you need to divide each side by the same number.

So let's take a 32" television and determine the screen height and width for both SD and HD. Using good old Pythagoras a2+b2=c2 this is easy (for a given value of easy).

For an SD set it turns out to be the square root of the diagonal squared divided by 25, that is then multiplied by either 4 or 3 depending on whether you want horizontal or vertical length. For HD it's the square root of the diagonal squared divided by 337, that is then multiplied by either 16 or 9

For Excel users that's =SQRT(POWER(diagonal,2)/number))*height or width. So to find the width of our 32" SD telly =SQRT(POWER(32,2)/25))*4 for HD =SQRT(POWER(32,2)/337))*16 for heights substitute 3 and 9 for 4 and 16.

So a 32" television screen will be 25.6" wide by 19.2" high or 27.9" wide by 15.7" high for SD and HD respectively. If you wanted an HD screen with the same height as your old 32" SD you'd need to buy a 40".

It's important to note that's the raw screen size it doesn't include the bevel around it.

Next problem - what is this HD anyway? High definition by itself refers to the number of display lines on the television, just to confuse matters each 'size' also comes in one of two different types.

Like the diagonal size of the television the display lines is sold using one value, that being the number of horizontal lines the screen can display. The minimum allowed to be called HD is 720, the maximum currently broadcast is 1080*. Again, like the diagonal, knowing this number allows to calculate how many vertical lines we should have. Using our 16:9 ratio we divide the number by 9 and multiply by 16 (Excel =(lines/9)*16).

So for a 720 HD set we should have 1280 vertical lines, in the technical bumpf this will show as 1280x720, for a 1080 HD set it's 1920. If the number is less then this then you won't get a pixel-to-pixel match and the television will essentially have to guess which pixel to show - this is normally bad. If you have more then you may reap the benefit of something called over-scanning - this is normally good.

After the number you'll see a letter either an "i" or a "p" they stand for interlaced and progressive. Interlaced means the television draws every other line in one 'beat' then goes back and fills in the others in another 'beat'. For progressive all lines are filled in at once and normally results in a smoother moving picture. In other words "p" is better then "i".

Anything you display will be scaled up or down according to the televisions abilities, a 1080p broadcast will display on a 720i television although obviously not as well as on a 1080p television. This is just like the current widescreen (16:9) broadcasts on an SD (4:3) television but without the black borders

[Update - It's been pointed out to me that this isn't necessarily true a pure 1080i/p signal may not be downscaled to a 720i/p screen it's up to whatever's broadcasting the signal to downscale it]

Finally we get to the connector. Due to various copyright and blah you'll only get HD signals through an HDMI connector. If you've got an HD broadcast unit (Blu-ray player HD-DVD player etc.) and you're hooked up to an HD television with a SCART lead you are not getting an HD picture and you should go and buy a cable immediately.

An HD-Ready television has to have a minimum of 720i (but watch those vertical lines) and an HDMI connector, there also appears to be a spec around called Full-HD which is the same but with a minimum of 1080i (again watch those verticals).

In next week's issue LCDs vs Plasmas (vs CRTs) :-P

*in techie-talk seven-twenty and ten-eighty

Reply to the comment on Reply to Tesco comment

Again another comment that requires greater space this time from Don (heh title going in circles)

If there is not a Pelican crossing no pedestrian will be able to get across Mitton Street at all.
They can cross at either of the two dedicated points at each end of Mitton Street, traffic permitting. From the Tesco point of view it's not their problem. They've provided a link from Pinta Drive and for people to get across Severn Road safely, that's all they have to do.
If there is no air quality assessment report for Mitton Street and the effect of the additional traffic on Gilgal and Mitton Street I would say that Tescos Environmental Report has not addressed a major issue and therefore the submission is still defective and should be rejected by the planning committee on those grounds alone.
The AQA for the previous application did deal with Mitton Street and I've just checked they're using the same report for the new proposal here

"The predicted concentrations indicate that the effect of the development on local air quality is negligible and therefore a low priority consideration."

The environmental report is here oh and their numbering system is wrong add 4 for absolute pages or 3 to their own page numbers.

The Noise section is on page 92 (really 96 or 95) no measurements were taken on Mitton Street at all so you may be on to something here after all there are houses on Mitton Street too though they have 'estimated' levels.

With regard to Discovery Way "In these circumstances the superstore delivery vehicles would constitute a new noise source and represent a significant change in the noise climate. However, delivery vehicles to the proposed superstore are expected to constitute a relatively small proportion of the total HGV traffic along this road." and regarding customer cars for the same location "As in the case of HGV movements only a small proportion of these additional vehicles will be visiting the development, most are the result of the presence of the link road."

In other words they're saying there will be a change in noise, but we're not expecting many of our HGV's to be using it, likewise we're not expecting a large amount of our cars to be using it. If other cars use the link for purposes other then visiting our "development" that's not our concern. In case that wasn't clear "The vast majority of additional traffic on both Severn Road and Discovery Way is not attributable to customers visiting the new superstore." Nothing to do with us guv' 'sup to the council to stop other people using it.

The overall assessment on traffic was that in the already noisy areas you wouldn't notice much difference, but in the currently quieter areas you probably would. Makes you wonder how much they paid for this report.

Just to make this clear all the data here is identical to the data presented in the previous application down to the car-park noise assessment carried out in Hampshire.

Oh and just for fun the AQA is repeated in this document too.

I'm still ploughing through it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jericho PS3 Demo review

I could get all tedious with the back-story, but as it's never brought up in the demo I'll take my cue from that.

So let's start with key mappings, your weapons are on the second tier R2 and L2 buttons while 'powers' are on the first tier R1/L1. Now seeing as the first tier buttons are the ones you instinctively go for suggests that you should be using powers more then weapons; this would be great if said powers didn't conk out and need time to recharge each time they're used. As it is I ended up seeing an enemy and using a completely pointless power rather then shoot them in the head.

The O button is melee and annoyingly I got a on-screen prompt to use it every time an enemy came into that range until I did or they step away (which they do). Sadly melee effects are great when they connect - most of the time they didn't seem to.

More troubling is the multi-mapped X button. In your first body (It'll make sense in a minute) pressing X heals anyone next to you that needs healing, except if they don't need healing. Then its function is to switch you to that person's body. So trying to use a skill could just mean switching players - not good in the heat of battle.

Anyway once you've tried to get used to the annoying key mappings you can try and enjoy the game. Graphically it's pretty (in a Clive Barker goreish sort of way), but the demo was very linear funnelling you through a cave/tunnel complex while throwing enemies at you. At one point facing a door you're prompted to switch to and use another character's climbing skill splitting the party. For the duration of the climb this also takes away in-game control away from you, something a game should never do

Later on with this same character you fall down a shaft with something unpleasant coming down after you, great a press the keys as they appear game. Okay like Sly Cooper at least the keys appear in their correct relative positions on the screen so you won't mistake a red square for a slightly-not-red circle, but the speed is scary and in the demo unannounced. In this instance you finish only to wonder what just happened, yep just like every other on-screen follow the buttons extravaganza you're too busy watching for the keys to be able to pay attention to what the result of them is.

[Additional - I forgot to mention the in-game chatting between the characters got annoying too and this was just with the short demo]

With the manual, with extra non-linear levels, with a better key map and without the follow-my-lead this game might be worth getting; on the basis of the demo though - no way

Verdict - Pretty, linear, annoying.

Reply to Tesco comment

An anonymous comment on my Look Mom we're on the telly entry requires a lengthier reply then I'd want to put in the comment section.

If this does go ahead no shopping will be done in the centre of town,because dispite the councillers saying ppl will go to the new tescos then walk to the town thats just bullshit tbh.They wont at all they will do one lot of shopping at tesco get in their car and go home.
Supposedly this is what the links are supposed to assist in. It'll provide a better pedestrian route into town for the two new housing developments to encourage them to shop in town. Pointing out the length of said walk and that they've a one-stop Tesco on their doorstep doesn't seem to make an impression on some people.
Gigal/Mitton Street/Severn road will all have pedestrian crossings on yes sur they will,but ppl wnt be using them.The biggest problem will be the traffic lights that will be put on Mitton Street and Severn Road,these will not help the flow of traffic,they will just continue to hinder the already overflowing horse and cart roads.Lichfield Street will be one way ONLY and that will mean that EVERY single peice of traffic will have to go Mitton Street.
Okay there's been mixed speculation about what is actually happening here, the plans show a split crossing at the mouth of Severn Road, and a single crossing at the other (Lichfield Street) side. The nature of these crossings is indeterminate, they may be similar to the current Gilgal/Mitton Street crossing points. (I'm ignoring speculation about a Pelican on Vale Road here)

The difficulty arises under two circumstances - Firstly the only crossing points on Mitton Street are at either end, whereas the Tesco main entrance is half-way along it. Try to walk on the 'correct' side of Mitton Street from Gilgal and the pavement vanishes as you get to Stour Lane. So either you're walking on the road with your back to the traffic or you're trying to cross the road there (or back at the crossing) with the intention of crossing back over a little later on (or walk up to the other crossing then all the way back down).

The second problem is the nature of the pavements themselves on Mitton Street, the best and widest pavement is the one opposite the Tesco site. It's been commented elsewhere about Tesco's naive idea to widen the pavement by narrowing Mitton Street which prompted much laughter.

This means the two main pedestrian routes (ignoring the long-winded river walk) are Lichfield Street and the Pinta Way Stour crossing, with only one of those actually leading into town.

So naff pedestrian routes into town mean everyone either stopping at the Tesco or driving to it and then turning around and going home.

Oh and yes there has been talk about turning Lichfield Street one-way (which let's face it, it is too damn narrow) except no-one seems to know which way to set it.
Oh and the clever asses at district council that turned down our idea to have a separate road for tescos lorries and petrol tankers to at least attempt to take some of the extra HGvs off our roads should be ashamed of themselves.
Hmm where would this road go? IIRC Tesco have already said they weren't going to use the extended Discovery Road for their lorries so that leaves Severn Road, which used to cope with the carpet factory deliveries before.
Once again they dont give a damn about residents are saying,they only care how much they can make for themselves in taxes and ahem other deals....
Well you might say that I couldn't possibly comment. I will point out that the residents' meeting did have at least one council member, though due to the rules he wouldn't have been able to comment directly either.

Another one tonight at 8pm Old Rose and Crown, Worcester Road; handy for the locals.
And the new Lichfield basin when we are here,what a joke,this is suppost to help tourism,...how exactly ? Can Stourport forward kindly explain how 140+ houses will bring ppl to Stourport ?
I don't think it's a tourism thing more a new home thing, the Midlands is supposed to provide X amount of new homes under the government's initiative and it's better then building on a green belt. Haven't seen any prices yet so locals may well find themselves priced out and the houses being bought as holiday homes.
Local and district council are showing themselves to be just as useless as Mr Brown and his muppets in goverment...
In some respects their hands are tied. As I've said they can only turn them down for official planning reasons "We (the people) don't want it here" isn't a reason they can use.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Look Mom we're on the telly

Stouport on the TV last night. Central Tonight had a feature as part of the destruction of the generic High Street. I actually got a heads-up on this from a source I won't name at this moment.

The direct link is here though it doesn't want to work in my copy of Firefox. You'll get an advert followed by the news, the report starts at 04:00-06:45 with a teaser at 00:45

There's a few interviews Cllr Jim Perry standing next to the Swan (05:00) and Cllr. Stephen Clee (05:54) outside Kiddy town hall.

As Cllr Clee states there is an overall plan, which is good especially compared to the mess that is Weavers Wharf; except it doesn't quite add up.

We get the Basin Link from Bridge Street across to the new development. Except it's really a link from the Houses behind York Street to Bridge Street, you've still got the basin in the way. So down to Engine Lane (or up to York Street which is just cutting off the corner) and along that, then down the already existing path along the river to Mart Lane or you carry on along the river to Severnside and on to the Severn Road you then walk back up that way to get to the proposed supermarket.
Green shows the existing stores, blue the new/proposed houses, yellow the proposed Tesco, and red a possible route from Bridge Street down. The top block in green is the Co-op, Lidl and existing Tesco, for anyone pointing out that the distance from this point to the proposed Tesco isn't that great I'll counter with "You've never walked down Mitton Street have you?"

It's a trek, moreover from the town it's a trek with only a single destination in mind; there are no shops along the river-side path or basin so you're only purpose in using it would be to get to Tesco. From the other side with the housing developments it does indeed provide a nice link into Bridge Street, but why bother when you've a Tesco on your doorstep?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Yippee more roadworks

Oh joy Balfour Beatty presumably on behalf of Severn Trent have set up signs on the Dunley Road next to the Walshes Meadow warning of traffic lights.Warning signs also seem to have been put up down The Rough and Arley Lane suggesting extent (no signs coming into Stourport yet though).

Now we've had no warning notices about lights on the main road, and it doesn't feature on the weekly roadwork list, the lane closures list nor the road closures list. There is however one entry on the traffic light application sheet (which you'll note is under a completely different tree to the first list) here we have Arley Lane on the Dunley Road from today (27th) until tomorrow.

So it appears to just be Arley Lane... so why signs on The Rough?

Well I'll see this afternoon.

[Update - And then there was nothing. All the signs and vans have gone - which is nice]

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tesco quickie

Jim's just pointed this to me. here at the Worcester News.

Stourport Christmas Lights switch on.

As per usual with my impeccable timing I got to the bridge just as the Police stopped the traffic, thus the walkers had just started off by the time I reached the other end. Again as per usual there was one car at rest sitting on the bridge, the police still have to learn that when one end is reported as shut-off this is not the cue to start the procession as there are still some cars coming over.

Looks like we had the Monday Night Group out, a kids procession, the illuminated train and Santa, oh yeah and the dignitaries. Up Bridge Street, Up High Street turn into Lion Hill where they stopped and waited for the held-up traffic to go through. Again look you've got people blocking the entrance to Lion Hill and the Lichfield street exit, just stop the traffic there. Sure it'll build up, but does letting the traffic build up there and in York Street really ease anything; especially with crowded pavements? Just clear the entire route prior to the procession instead of this piecemeal rubbish.

Okay enough bad-mouthing; the lights looked the same as last year, but I don't know somehow seemed nicer, all the kiddies were wearing silver stars and looked adorable. The younger ones were on the train, which is nice until you realise that their parents were walking alongside in standard bodyguard manner meaning no-one could see the train (and presumably the kids couldn't see out); doubly -annoying when you realise the Queen etc. were at the front of said train obscured by the crowd. Saying that though the Princess spotted me (or at least my camera) said something to the Queen who turned and gave me a grin and a wave.

York Street, New Street onto the Civic Centre where everyone fussed about a bit as all the important people went inside to get warm. The fair on Raven Street car-park was the same as last year although I think the grill-walled trampoline was new.

Everyone was exhorted to gather in the car-park, which looked about the same numbers as last year so pretty good. I, knowing better, headed for higher ground at the back passing behind what appeared to be an OB unit who had stole the best position. I managed to get between a low stone wall and the metal fencing, which gave me steady perch for the camera.

See this is the problem, I can get nearer, but you're peering up at the balcony getting up-nose shots. Step back and most of the flash concentrates on all the people standing and walking in-front of you. Go back and the flash doesn't reach and you need a zoom and steady position. so the only real option is to go even further back and gain height as well as stability. The wall turned out to be no use showing up in the shot, but the metal posts were ideal despite the odd protracted thumping as someone got bored. Amazingly I got some good blur-free shots (uploading as per).

[Update - Photos on Flickr in the Three Kings Set starting with this one and videos should be up here]

Our celebrity host Mike George of, what I've been told, radio fame was good if not spectacular and at least this year when the lights went on you could actually tell.

A shout-out to Tony who, after the crowds starting to fade, I spotted packing a camera with a gigant of a lens so I strolled over as I slung mine and asked if he'd got any good shots. He found, as I had done, the lights levels didn't help and we got chatting about this that and the other. Hopefully he'll be looking up Flickr and may be posting some of his shots there and letting me know here oh and for him if he's reading Suzie's site with the mushrooms is here.

Fireworks at half-eight and to be blunt I couldn't be bothered, besides it was really damn cold, so I headed back.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Curry's taking the WEEE

Yep Curry's are at it again with their adverts - for goods over some price they're offering delivery and they'll pick up your old appliance and packaging and recycle all for free. Wow how damn magnanimous of them.

As I've mentioned here this isn't the first time they've tried to pull this one. So once again I'd like to point out that I don't know of any major (heck even minor) electrical store that doesn't delivery large goods for free and once again that the recycling bit is something they have to finance by law.

Curry's - offering you what everyone else does and what they're obligated to do by law.

Sweet Dreams are made of this

Good old Simpsons always good, sometimes great. Last night's season 13 episode on Channel 4 still has me chuckling. Marge is having problems with Homer's snoring and via various routes this leads her to her original prom date Artie Ziff now a millionaire.

Anyway the bit that has me chuckling occurs at the end Homer is trying out Artie's new invention a snore translator, which resembles a gas mask. He starts to snore and Marge reaches over and flips the switch to on and music starts to play. The camera cuts to a shot of a Ziff logo emblazoned tube lying on Homer's stomach while Marge sleeps contentedly in the background to the electronic styles of Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics when Artie breaks in over the top -

"Dump him Marge he's a loser [starts singing] I've travelled the world and the seven seas, I am watching you through a camera"

At which point her eyes snap open. Sheer genius.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

High School level?

A slight bruise to the ego when I checked out The Blog Readability Level* and came out as High School; especially when Obsolete pegs at Genius. Ah well I'll just hang out with genius and hope some of it rubs off.

Fun to go through my list on the left though.

*Nod to What Ever It Is I'm Against It

Government dinosaurs of IT

Just to prove we haven't all contracted football-blindness we (the country) have had some more information regarding the misplacing of data by the HMRC.

First off the data was being sent to the National Audit Office, doing so physically rather then electronically suggests a) the systems are set up so that they won't talk to each other, or b) nobody knew how to do that. So either we have government departments who can't talk to each other or don't know how to; though I'm more along the lines of thinking both.

The NAO didn't want all the information that was sent, but it would have been "difficult" to extract only that information from the full database and therefore "expensive". So instead they gave them the lot. So we have a) a possible breach of the Data Protection Act and b) a database that can't export selective data or c) staff that don't know how to extract selective data. Again show of hands for a combination of all three.

Next we appear to have a junior minister (member, official; oh now I'm confused) with full access and full export capabilities. Now it may well have been said minister (member, official, work experience guy) merely instructed someone else to do it. Though that would just leave someone with full access control not questioning the need to export the full database, no way an IT professional; so that just pushes the question down a level. No-one needs full access to the database except under exceptional conditions.

We're now told that the decision to use the unregistered unmonitored post was made by a senior minister (member, official, visiting space alien). Do senior ministers (members, officials, immigrant cleaners) normally deal with these matters? Was it an off-cuff answer to "I've got the NAO data shall I stick it in the post?"

We still don't know what the data was exported to, as already mentioned by myself accounts data is normally internally encrypted except when you export it to another program; then you have to rely on that programs security. As septicisle states in a comment we also don't know at what level it was protected at.

All-in-all not good. We're supposed to be an information-savvy country leaving behind our industrial roots and heading into digital pastures and yet it appears we have a government that runs the same level of security as the average home user and doesn't even realise it - until something goes wrong.

Keeping things in perspective

A deflated England football on the front page of the Sun and how this marks the end of England as a world power. They're right all across the world people are turning to one another and saying "You know I used to think of England as a world power, but since they failed to qualify in the European League I don't know anymore". Reports are in that Iraqis are calling our troops losers and newspapers headlines read "How can you bring stability here when you can't even win a football match?" and the Falkland Islands are in talks with Argentina about switching nationality out of sheer embarrassment.

Talks about trying the manager for treason are afoot, with one person mentioning that he shouldn't get a trial just be put up against a wall and shot - the people have spoken. The Express wonders if we lost as the players were thinking about Madeleine too much, and the Mail produces a nice graph showing football losses plotted against house prices.*

In fact the only celebrations going on are in Number 10 where Brown and Darling are raising a glass to "New headlines".

You know a cynic might wonder if the news of HMRC misplacing the personal data of millions of people was timed to coincide with the qualifying match. After all if we'd won the papers would be full of praise for our boys, if (when) we lost they'd be full of bile. In either case data loss would not be on the front page not today, not tomorrow and I doubt over the weekend; by which time it might have all be forgotten.

It's football, in the greater scheme of things it doesn't even register. But no dump the scandal of a government department failing in basic security measures and plaster pictures of overpaid 'stars' on the front page (and inside pages) instead. Gods we get what we deserve don't we?

*For the humour impaired I'm joking (apart from the Sun), as was the 'put against a wall" person; sadly I'm sure there are those out there who wouldn't be.