Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My happy mother.

After months of filling out the competition quizzes in a magazine (I use the term loosely with story types such as - I married an axe murderer then slept with his son) my mother had finally won something. Gasp could it be a cash prize, money-off vouchers, a holiday, a car... nope it's free entry to a garden show. Oh but at least it's not a choice of one garden show, there are various events held at different dates so you're bound to be able to find one you can attend. Yeah:

My mum's at point A the other markers show the location of the events; hmm bias much? The annoyance is she said it would be quite nice to go down to Poole (point F) for a weekend as they sometimes do; except on the date of the show they'll be up the other end of the country. Nothing stopping them from arranging a weekend elsewhere, but it's hardly a nice day-trip out. As she said it's a shame it didn't include the Malvern Spring show, but it's a different organiser. I wondered if the winner had been in Scotland or Wales they'd have got a set of events from a different organiser... I doubt it.

Battle of the Giants

Ah the long awaited report from the Competition Commission regarding supermarkets is out and the morning news programmes have been doing their normal bang-up job of not really discussing it.

GMTV did a sterling one-sided job by interviewing a spokesperson on behalf of small retailers while the BBC matched them by getting one from the Competition Commission. Oo small thought how about having both on one show?

The GMTV report was the most amusing as it dealt with Bicester (Bis-ter for any foreign readers) and it's six Tesco stores. The locals want choice, they want another supermarket... no they want choice and that doesn't equate to another supermarket; except according to paraphrasing of the report that's what choice means. If you have one supermarket chain 'dominating' the town then the report allegedly suggests that planning restrictions should be relaxed to allow another supermarket in.

GMTV gave the segment the heading of David vs. Goliath so I'll stick with that theme.

Imagine a small town filled with David style shops. The townsfolk grumble that sometimes they can't get what they want, and that prices are more expensive then the Goliath shop in the next town.

So all the townsfolk are happy when Goliath moves in, oh sure some of the Davids are going to leave, but that's the price of competition. But oh the Goliath is spreading and taking over, what can we do? How about getting in another Goliath - Goliath II, we'll even bend the rules so they can build on a site they wouldn't normally have been allowed to. So now with two Goliaths in town everyone's happy right?

Here are the outcomes I see -

  1. Both Goliaths go straight into competition with each other cutting obvious prices to draw townsfolk to them, the Davids can't compete and leave. The townsfolk are happy because they get cheap goods. Except when they want something the Goliaths don't provide because no other town wants it and no David can survive to provide this one specialist item.
  2. Neither Goliath competes with each other, they get together and set prices for staple goods and work out various sectors they'll sell. Goliath I sells food and clothes while Goliath II sells food and electronics. The David stores all close.
  3. Both Goliaths go straight into competition with each other cutting obvious prices to draw townsfolk to them, most of the Davids can't compete and leave except for some who move into speciality ranges then the Goliaths don't sell. This continues until the Goliaths spot the profit in those goods and start to sell them.
This seems to be the essence of the peripheral argument of the Competition Commission - small shops can compete with the giants by not competing with them. They need to find goods to sell that are in demand in their locality, but aren't in enough demand nationally for the giants to consider them worthy of bulk-purchase and distribution (or they need to sell something of profoundly better quality that buyers are willing to pay for). Now that's a damn narrow path to tread.

Now as I've mentioned elsewhere (and the BBC repeated) this report investigated competition between supermarkets and their supply chains everything else was peripheral. This point needed to be rammed home when Declan of the BBC quoted lawyers for the small retailers saying that the Commission "didn't understand the reality of the situation" and the spokesman replied that after an exhaustive two year study of course they knew what was going on. Well no not if that wasn't what you were looking at.

Now before anyone considers me to be anti-supermarket, anti-business, anti-capitalist; I'm all for competition. The problem is there is no competition between a supermarket and a small store, the supermarket wins every time. They can buy in bulk at cheaper rates and absorb losses over a larger scale where their smaller 'competitors' can't.

Likewise battles between supermarkets can actually reduce choice. That seems an odd thing to say when you can just walk down an aisle and you see shelves full of, say, various cooking sauces. Except look closer and you'll see there's really only three brands plus the store-own; go into another 'equivalent-sector' supermarket and you'll spot the same three plus one brands.

Now I had to add in that equivalent-sector bit because if you went to Tesco and Lidl you'd get different brands, thus the cry 'See, so many choices' however this doesn't question the case of mobility.

How many people shop at more then one supermarket? How many pick up items at one store then go to another to pick up other items, then possibly even a third? If I can pick up all my week's shopping at Tesco except one specialist item that only Lidl sells am I going to head there just for that one item? Note that this same argument applies to the little stores; sure our local butcher does much better meat, but am I going to traipse all the way over there to get some when I'm already in a place that sells meat that's only not quite as good?

It's at this point, I think, that the report fails. They seem to expect that people will travel from one store to another to get the 'best' product without taking into account the convenience of settling for what' s in front of you right now. That's what the supermarkets already know and take advantage of and that's what they don't what anyone else to figure out.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What is the pupose of these signs?

When I first saw them I thought they were a mistake. When they remained I thought it an overlooked aberration, but now they've been up for months now and I have to ask why?

I'm talking about the four (yep four) road narrow signs on the Minster Road dual-carriageway travelling from Kidderminster.

I'm travelling in lane 1 of the dual carriageway and approach the tip. The road gains an extra left-hand lane to act as a slip into and out of the site and is then removed a bit further on. During this travel period I have remained in lane 1 following it around the slight diversion where the road expands and contracts. Note that both lane 1 and lane 2 are present at all times until the end of the dual-carriageway further up.

Now put four signs up (two each side) before the tip warning drivers that the road narrows on the left and what are you supposed to think? I'm in the first lane of two and I see a sign telling me that the lane I'm in is merging to the right. Logically I switch lanes drive past the tip and the road expansion and then get back into the lane that never closed.

Seriously I've watched obvious non-locals reach the signs and change into the right-hand lane before finding that past the tip they're expected to turn right in this lane when they want to go straight and then have to pull back into the lane that they had no requirement to leave.

So any officials reading this - what is the purpose of these signs?

Proper roadworks, but more work needs to be done

Some congratulation needed, Ringway on behalf of the council are resurfacing great slabs of road on Areley Common.

They've headed down towards Dunley Road and so far finished at the area below (shown prior to work) before heading up Hermitage Way.
Now providing the work holds (as the previous work clearly didn't) this is indeed much better then all the patch jobs we've been getting and it's possible that once the pavement work on the bridge is done it might extend into town and beyond. Hopefully getting to the Dunley Road entrance and exit on Areley Common too (top right of photo).

So to that end here's the fun bits; ignoring ones I've already photographed. First off what the hell has happened to the cover close to the exit on Areley Lane? The square cut around it seems to have completely lost its surface, it's like switching from tarmac to gravel and back over a tiny stretch.

Next up the bridge. I've already mentioned and photographed the recessed covers, but let's talk about the dip. Drive out of town and just as the brickwork wall switches to stone - fump, down you lurch to the left. This is the new surface and it's just not acceptable because it has pothole precursor written all over it. Who the hell went over and approved this work?

York Street is still breaking up and starting to form pot-strips just as I predicted; in the same vein the Stour Bridge is beginning to have the same problem with the tearing concentrated more on the town approach (oh and yes the inspection cut is still depressed though seems to be stable).

While there, the exit past OGL that got a bit of patching done while the water board were there (hell they're still there) should have been slabbed at the same time.

Finally Vale Road is still unpleasant. The depressed square in the third lane has been there so long I'm autopiloting around it. The new nastiness is on the way out of High Street; staying in lane 1 is lurchy thanks to a pot-strip and tyre-shreddingly noisy if you try to switch lanes. Of course the joy of any work at this point means an official diversion up to Bewdley Road via Lickhill - not fun and not one any of the locals will take instead vanishing down car-choked Vernon Road.

I could continue with Wilden Lane, etc. but we all know how bad it is along there.

Okay enough about the potholes and on to the pavement work. I've already voiced concerns over what's going to happen when the utility companies dig up this nice fancy paving so I'll pass on that. Instead it's been pointed out to me that a) the work applies to the official pavement and only the official pavement and b) it stops at a clear demarcation line at the top corners.

Now "a" is understandable the owners of the premises are responsible for the point at which the building meets the pavement, likewise there's the Basin Link to consider; but I've been told it causes the work to look half-done. "b" on the other hand is a bit stranger, why stop so short? Rumour has it that instead of re-paving they're going to be painting the pavements. Now this might have some connection to the redevelopment plan and talks of decoration on the Basin Link, but to be blunt the answer is - I don't know. When I get some daylight on the weekend I'll have a closer shuftie.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The test drive

Bom bom bah. Depending on traffic it can take around half-an-hour to get to Worcester add in a delay and I left around ten past nine to get at the garage for ten. Pulled up at about half-past nine, annoyed as I'd been told they didn't open until ten and I'd be cooling my heels for half-an-hour. Realised I'd forgotten my camera, damn!

Anyway no waiting, they were open and after a few minutes I was sitting in a Hyundai i10 Classic (lowest model) with over an hour to play around.

Adjusted the mirrors, checked the controls, put on my seatbelt, found the clutch point, moved slowly up to the edge of the forecourt so I could gently test the brakes and almost banged my head on the windscreen as my foot barely brushed the brake pedal. Okay it's a new car but damn those were hard brakes, you barely had to breath on them to come to a complete halt.

Off to Holt Heath a good test run through the outskirts of Worcester with the parked cars a long run up to Hallow and beyond up to Holt Heath. The suspension was a little stiffer and seemed to convey the smaller bumps more noticeably, but smoothed out the bigger ones well. Up to Holt Heath and autopilot kicked in as I made the first turn towards the A449 and right at the island before swearing and pulling into the farm shop to turn around (good turning circle) and heading back for the turn to Shrawley and Stourport. Up down and round the corners, I turned the wheel and the car followed and stayed on the road what more can you ask for?

Into the outskirts of Stourport and up to my garage. Got out and folded in the mirrors, edged with extreme slowness forward. I got in as far as I needed to and opened my door - yep I can get out of that. Edged the car back just as slowly and got waylaid by a neighbour who kindly tested the room in the back - plenty and comfortable. Okay kicked him out and backed down slowly down the drive and back to Worcester.

A fine drive until I got stuck behind someone doing barely 35mph in the 60 zone, good test following them up the hills in forth gear. Occasionally I could tell the car wanted to drop down a gear, but it handled things in forth fine; my Matiz would have needed to drop to third or even possibly second.

It also showed up that the i10 lacked the same kick at its bottom range compared to the Matiz, but made up for it at the higher end. I'd expected that with the engine and ratio differences and it was nothing of overt concern.

Got to Holt Heath still behind the tortoise and swore loudly I'd forgotten the damn camera again. Still trundling into Worcester I got back at 10:30 and we talked turkey.

"Do you want to pay cash or do finance?" I was asked
"Depends on the best deal you can do, okay let's look at finance"

The Hyundai set deal looked crap - lump sum of £1,250, £254 for the first month £99 a month for 35 month, with an optional final sum of £2,993. Sneakily shown as 6.6%APR, but assuming I pay both lump sums I'm only borrowing ~£2,800 and paying ~£3,700 which bumps it to ~21% APR.

"Forget that" I said "what can you do?"
"Well let's say you put a lump sum down and spread the rest"
"Okay make life easy assume £3k down and spread over five years"
"Okay so what figure would you be looking to expect a month?"
"Let's run the figures"
"Yeah, but what would see as reasonable?"
"Let's run the figures"
He vanishes for an age and comes back

Wow a much nastier finance package on offer. £7,095 minus £1,000 for my car (the lower end of my estimate) plus ~£1,000 for some optional insurances and with a £3k lump sum down ~£105 a month for five years. So all in all I'd be paying £2k more for the car at a APR of ~38%.

Heh the Hyundai deal is better except it doesn't seem to include the part-exchange and I'm not happy with having to ensure I've a lump sum at the end to keep the car. So let's look at my bank - £6k over three years means paying back ~£6,700, not bad. A loan from my credit card company over the same period ~£6,900, not so good. Both still better then the set deals.

There's the 0% APR credit cards but the grace period maximum is about 15 months, so if for some reason it's not been paid off I'd need to transfer it to another 0% APR credit card; assuming that a) I can get one and b) there are still any around.

So keep the money in my interest accounts to keep them above the current threshold band for a set period of interest and take out a loan from my bank.

Hmm Okay let's say I stick £9,000 and take out ~£2,200 each year to pay off the loan. Only removing money and never putting any back in what do I end up with after three years?

Year Start
LoanInterestYear End


On the other hand pulling the full £6k leaves £3k in the account at a lower interest rate

Year Start
InterestYear End


So paying the lump sum leaves me with over £3k in the account at the end of 3 years whereas paying off the loan using it leaves me with less then £3k. On a £6k loan I'm not paying the full ~£6,700 only ~£6,100 saving £600, but paying the lump sum leaves me with ~£400 more in my pocket at the end of three years.

Okay assume £6k in the account add in £3k each year and pull out the loan I end up with an extra £3k at the end of three years. Assume I pay off the full loan leaving £3k in the account and not paying in another £3k the first year I end up with just under £7k over the same period.

So either way paying off the full amount in 'cash' leaves me with more money at the end of three years.

Well I'll see what deal I can get, but as several people have pointed out - at the moment Cash is King.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Test-drive tomorrow yay! Did my homework/research my Daewoo is fetching around ~£2k on sale and I can pick up an i10 Style (top-model) for £7k which is list for the next model down (Comfort) that I'm looking at.

Now sure on the test-drive, either they won't trust me (or want someone to prattle at me) so I'll have a passenger, or they'll just say 'here you go, bring it back in about an hour'. As such Google Earth has been helpful in plotting out some test-runs.

Now although I know this looking at everything from on high once again reminds me of Worcester's layout. Seeing as I'm there I thought I might as well stop and have a shop (depending on weather). So from my position at the garage (after a nice straight run for 12-odd miles) here's how it goes -

Approach the bridge and stay in the first of the two right-hand turn lanes. Follow the road to the right and stay in lane (now marked straight) ignore the two right-hand turn lanes. Over the lights into one lane, scope out the first car-park and turn left if empty, if not carry on and turn right at the non-indicated mini-island into the other car-park. Meh that was easy-ish.


Turn right or left depending on which car park I'm in, stay in the first lane (of two right-hand turn lanes). Over the lights and stay in the lane (third lane of four, second of three right-hand turn lanes). Over the lights and stay in right-hand turn lane (second lane of three, first of two right-hand turn lanes). Over the lights and stay in lane (straight, second lane of two) towards bridge. Stay in lane over bridge (now second of two lanes), change lanes to new third lane, continue right until bizarre island set-up and change lanes into new left-hand lane (first of two right-turn lanes). Turn right at island (note not turn right around the island) over the lights and change lanes into new left-hand lane (first of three). Continue until I follow the road to the left and get back onto Hylton Road which is a straight run home for 12 miles with two right-hand turns I need to make.

Now last time I did this run (though acting on auto-pilot) all the 'signs' were still either painted on the road or at the front of the queues next to the traffic lights. Given the levels of traffic this means that unless you already know where you're going you won't have a clue which lane you need to be in and will circle around the one-way system unless you get spat out the wrong side.

I mean seriously people three right-turn lanes which turn into a left, straight and right at another set of lights. Worse then the Crossley three lanes the middle of which is a straight until it changes its mind and becomes a straight/right.

Duck and cover

In the console world nothing rings my alarm bells more then seeing a new release prior to its full review in the Official Magazine of the Console. It strongly suggests that the game is a huge steaming offering to Hruggh and they're throwing it out there in the hopes that some poor young fool will drop forty notes on it without looking at all the State-side reviews warning them away from it. Klaxons really start to add their strident note when you spot that they haven't released an online demo before it hits the shelves.

Okay maybe not. I've been accused elsewhere of being too cynical, so I'll try to think happy thoughts. Perhaps the game's already overdue and now it's ready they want to release it to all those patient people who have pre-ordered it; magazine deadlines go hang this game's great and it doesn't need any reviewers adding extra publicity to its already huge greatness. Besides it got great reviews in the States so why bother with what the yokel locals think. The demo thing is just too difficult, it's an open sandbox/highly complex/insert reason here and we'd have to spend valuable time paring down the game; time that could be better spent on the game itself.

Ulp nope sorry can't do it. While the bit about the demos contains some small truth the marketing drones at video game companies will essentially kill their own mothers if they think that they'll get good free press out of a magazine; and if that means delaying the launch of a title until the rave reviews have come in then that's what they'll do. So the only reason to launch before the printed reviews land is because they know it'll compare their offering to something that should be handled by six-foot tongs and dropped into a lead-lined poop-scoop bag.

So why my post? Well we've had a few games out for the Playstation 3 recently a couple of which I've been looking at, the first "Turning Point Fall of Liberty" and the second "Dark Sector"; both out before an official review.

After the former's review finally made it into print it managed to scrape a feeble 4 out of 10, 'un'official reviews of the latter suggest it starts off okay, improves, then drops like a stone into annoying repetitiveness and as such sounds reminiscent of TimeShift though maybe not as fun or with the vertical sync problem. In either case without a demo they're not getting any money out of me.

What with the US getting these games released several months before us and the many online reviews I have to ask "How dumb do games manufacturers think we are?"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Browned off

No doubt you've seen our Prime Minister make a humiliating U-turn on the 10p tax bracket, oh no wait sorry it was a strategic reassessment of people's needs.

From what I saw the main points were as follows:

Pensioners get a higher Winter Fuel Allowance
Young workers get an increase in minimum pay
Low-earning families get more out of the Working Tax Credit system.

So in order we get a pittance being raised by another pittance, greater unemployment as those employers who decide between getting in a young staffer or making the existing workers do more choose the latter (or get in illegal workers cash in hand), and forcing more people into the barely functioning Tax Credit system where a government department decides whether they can have some of their own money back or not.

What alternatives do we have:

Conservatives - Well we get a synopsis of Cameron's remarks 'This is bad' without a corresponding 'So this is what we'll do'. The closest thing I can find is a speech by George Osbourne that essentially says 'We're going to do something about tax' with some specifics for businesses

Liberal Democrats - From a tax paper dated Autumn 2007. Amusing they also wanted to cut the 10p band except they didn't want to amalgamate the two into one 20% band. There's a few extra policies there, but I've got to be honest there's nothing exciting there. It's all just tinkering with the current system, tweak a band here, alter who controls what; nothing to make me go wow.

Green - Their economy policy paper Okay first off people this looks like something run off a student's 'for-free' printing press... in the 70's. Yes wanting pretty fonts and pictures is really shallow of us, but at least try showing you're a major player in politics and not some student collective. Green stuff, environment blah and finally something about tax about a Basic Income Scheme and Citizen's Income (power to the people) and increasing the Basic rate of tax from 23% to 35% which they claim will give 50% more to the lower decile while not removing much from the top four. I'm kinda scratching my head on that.

Monster Raving Looney Party: A full Manifesto turning inheritance tax into irrelevance tax. Alright it's all a bit of a joke... except I really do like some of their policies [Gods so many more then I originally thought] -

19: Every day the news should tell people an interesting fact in a hope to increase people's knowledge.

26: Homework should be banned as it is bad enough for kids having to go to school let alone bring it home with them [Actually being considered by some experts]

38: It is proposed that Political leaders are banned if they avoid a straight answer "Yes" or "No". As they may still be telling fibbs, any such person found to string out an answer longer than2.8 seconds should be forced to undertake a lie detector test

39: It is proposed that people should have a free go on the national lottery when they go and vote. [Seriously do this now!]

109: Pupils to be allowed to decorate the corridors

112: All pupil records will be abolished, only results from tests will be recorded for future use. This insane policy will help cut the Teachers work load and give them back more free time to teach.

115: Industries will be made to clean themselves up, especially when advertising their products. If an advert claims 'you can't eat three' then this must be backed up by independent scientists, or a disclaimer must be shown stating the lie. The disclaimer must be double the size of the original advert.

116: The Media must print only the truth and publish apologies on the front page. [snipped the rest]

129: Manufacturers will be made to compensate for the "Old and Inferior" goods that they have now replaced with "New and Improved"

141: We will abolish roundabouts, and replace them with friendly Traffic policemen. (assuming there is such a thing)

143: Due to the massive increases which M.P's seem to vote for themselves it is proposed that:
A. All M.P,s should have to sign on at the local Employment Office and provide evidence that they have been doing some work.
B. All M.P's should be paid by the Social Security Office via a giro in the Post. Then we shall see how they like being short changed and paid three weeks late.
[...] It is [also] proposed that it would be illegal to call yourself a Party if it can be proved that you don't. (Having said that could someone check the Trades Description Act).

145: It is proposed that the Government re-instate Student Grants, as their parents have invariably already paid for them via taxes. Bearing in mind that the Students will also be contributing via their taxes in future years. (Probably many times over).

147: It is proposed that parking fees in Public Car Parks are made transferable to others. Why should we not be allowed to give the time remaining to someone else. At the moment Companies and Authority Car Parks are getting paid twice for the same space.

154: The age at which people can stand for election should be reduced to 18 yrs

157: It is proposed that National Insurance is disbanded, as we already pay for the National Health, Pensions, and other benefits from our high indirect Taxes. Added to this the fact that no one ever gets a no claims discount.

164: The Councils and Government spend hundreds of thousands of pounds building Cycle routes and lanes to keep cyclists safe and away from vehicles.
Cyclists then ride on the road causing danger to themselves and other road users. It is proposed that all cyclists must (by law) drive in the cyclists lane if provided. They wouldn't like it if we drove on their bit.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Having too much fun

Now the Shuttle blogs are getting interesting :-)

I'll admit to an error in terms of the size of the roadworks, it seems the Water roadworks extended further out into the road then last I'd seen thus resulting in the three-way lights and the entire cordoning off of one side of Bridge Street.

The leak on the OGL island is still there and appears to be coming from one of the covers. Not a moan that it hasn't been fixed yet as that would really bollox up the town, more a 'Don't think I've forgotten about it'. Likewise unless something's happened really recently the mismatched repair jobs on the pavement in High Street still have had nothing done yet. Bode's well for when the utility companies get around to digging up this nice herringbone pattern they're currently laying in Bridge Street. Remember somebody is still watching.

In an act of synchronicity (a word not in the Firefox dictionary) I got fed-up with waiting to be contacted for a test-drive and rang up my local branch, rang out and switched to answer-phone I couldn't be arsed to leave a message. Half-an-hour later I get a call from the next nearest branch asking me when I wanted a test-drive. Spooky.

Tav over on the WFA is covering our local elections and yes the periodicity of leaflets has increased. Oh and I like the new banner and that's not just for calling my blog "attention gabbing" which I assume means I write too much :-P

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Advert time

Yet more adverts annoying me. I'll try not to give them more advertising here.

In a minor position the pro-biotic crowd whose scientists have proved that it aids the friendly bacteria in your gut; fine except for the Horizon programme where some volunteers showed an increase in decidedly unfriendly bacteria.

Purple grape juice that the nice Mr. Oddie tells us contains twice as many antioxidants as orange juice, demonstrating this nicely with some acrobatic contortions. Hmm so what is an antioxidant and why should I care? This advert doesn't tell me so presumably I'm already supposed to know.

In the same vein we get eggs laid by hens fed an Omega-3 rich diet, again no mention of what Omega-3 is or why I should want to eat it and in this case no mention of what an Omega-3 rich diet does to the hens.

Next up a badly dubbed advert from a certain large amusement attraction close to Mr Eiffel's creation. A choice of two here, but the one I'm picking on features the 'standard' family; two parents, two kids in a lift. Read the small print and we note height restrictions are in place (40" from other sources) so the two kids featured may only just meet those requirements.

Talking about small print we get the excellent new family vehicle advertised by a kids cartoon character. I'm assuming the idea is that the kids who are the only ones who pay attention to the adverts will scream "Look [parent] it's [cartoon character]" thus drawing the adult's attention to the screen and subtlety engaging nag power. Anyway the cartoon characters happily head towards the vehicle [small print] 'American model shown' and show off and enthuse about the car's many wonderful features [small print] 'All features shown are optional extras'. Wonderful I'll get two.

Breaking my stance I'll name Coke Zero next. Okay apparently there is some small difference between it and Diet Coke in that it has the added goodness of acesulfame potassium as well as phenylalanine which is derived from aspartame. So finally realising that men too might want a drink that has less calories etc. and who have been brainwashed by the many, many adverts that anything with the word "diet" in it is for girly girls, we get Coke Zero and an advert to match. Next time guys try something subtle like having a bikini clad supermodel draped over a Ferrari poring a bottle of your product over her near naked body while breathlessly telling the camera how good that feels.

Listen up it's the flight of the Valkyries, look at the people wearing hats with feathers in, drinking beer in steins and driving past fabulous grand architecture; oh yes this car is unmistakably German, ping made in France. Wow that came as a surprise what with the manufacturer originally being French before being being taken over by another French company. You build up these brands and then expect us to conveniently forget everything so you can make a stereotype joke. Nope, no can do.

And finally we get a brand of fromage frais, not the one mangling the word stronger instead one where women oops sorry, mums communicate over strung out knitting wool about this wonderful new range of fromage frais for kids and which contains 100% natural ingredients. I'll gloss over the knitting and mums and point at that 100% claim. Sure it's great that the kids' pots are all natural, but the emphasis this advert makes causes me to ask "Does this mean the adults' versions aren't 100% natural?"

Monday, April 21, 2008

Yet another stupid Vista moment

Boss's laptop runs Windows Vista Ultimate. As his background he has one of his photos; which was as easy as finding the photo he wanted right-clicking and using as background. However, for reasons I won't go into, he decided to flatten and move all his photos into one folder. One log off and on later and his desktop is blank, yep Vista didn't bother updating the movement of the photo; okay previous versions of Windows doesn't either so meh. Now it gets fun though.

Let's open up the now flattened folder containing 700+ photos and find the one that he wants as his desktop background; fun. Wait though this should be easy just go to the Desktop and Personalise then read the location of where it's trying to find the original photo. It's never that easy of course, the photo's location was akin to \Users\[Name]\Pictures\[Camera]\[Date]\[Picture Name]; so what? Well in its infinite wisdom Vista only displays up to the "Da" in [Date] on the selection button.

Can you click on it and scroll to the right, don't be daft; if you hover over it does it display a tool tip with the full address, hah yeah right; the browse doesn't start at that folder because the folder no longer exists, nor do you get any additional information from the drop-down box.

So guess what I did? Yep I called up regedit navigated to the top of the Current User tree and did a search for as much of the location as I could see and there it was. Using the name of the file (which hadn't changed) it was a simple matter to locate the current photo. Now would anyone expect a normal user to do that or hell even want a user to do that?

People really are nice

A quick trip into Kidderminster Saturday morning and I parked easily on the Bromsgrove Street car-park and headed towards the main entrance to the town - Deathtrap Alley, home of the steep, litter-strewn, cracked concrete steps and the light fitting that ominously rattles in a high wind; oops sorry of course I meant the Step Entryway. Anyway a young couple were some few yards ahead of me and as we all approached the downhill trek they saw an elderly lady heading up and resting with one flight to go as she struggled with what appeared to be some shopping bags and a rolled-up rug.

The man at this point instantly moved to assist the lady asking if she needed some help, taking both the rug and bag, waiting for her to ascend the final flight of steps and even asking where she was parked in an offer to continue to carry these items to her car.

Such stories often make the letters page in the Shuttle written by the assisted person to their anonymous helper and I just like the fact that it just goes to show that people really can be very nice, helpful, and unselfish; and that I bore witness to such a kind act.

Welcome back roadworks

Okay I purposefully didn't mention that the three-way set of lights in Stourport were removed on Thursday evening (IIRC) this was for two reasons. Firstly the purely selfish one that with people avoiding Stourport like the plague it would make traffic levels easier for me (hey I'm no Saint), but more importantly secondly was the fact that I knew this was only going to be a temporary situation and if people starting using the town expecting the lights to be gone, then traffic levels will turn chaotic when they're 'suddenly' put back up to do the other side's pavement.

My fears were justified this morning when I pulled out of my drive and joined the queue for the bridge. with no traffic a particular journey takes 5 minutes; with normal levels of traffic 10-15, 20 max. This morning 45 minutes.

First off despite only working on the bottom half of Bridge Street they still had the three-way set of lights up and had cordoned off the entire left (from the Bridge) side of Bridge Street, this resulted in a few problems.

Problem 1: Traffic from Bridge Street had to use the wrong side of the small island utilizing the right-turn lane out of High Street, not too much of a problem until you consider that the traffic light in York Street is only technically controlling its left/straight turn.

Problem 2: Although time-wise it was legal nobody thought of the consequences of allowing a large delivery van to park outside Subway at the left-hand entrance to High Street causing problems for traffic trying to turn left out of New Street, likewise the maintenance van parked before it and the delivery van parked opposite the pair caused some small hassles for larger vehicles.

Problem 3: This one's a matter of timing and length of road. When the traffic is let through from the bridge there's a resultant shuffle moving back through the queue, given the length of the queue this obviously continues long after the traffic has been stopped. Unfortunately the traffic now heading towards the bridge is travelling faster then this shuffle and the timing is such that it reaches the main junction from Areley Common at the same time as the gap. So despite there possibly being space for cars to turn right out of the junction, they can't because of the oncoming traffic. By the time the traffic dies down the gap has passed them by.

We also have the joy that there is still work going on in Hartlebury Road and, judging by the notice and diversion signs, some work going on in the Village too.

Who knows what it's going to be like this evening, a diversion through the Holts may be in order.

Okay moan moan moan, but the fact is that in the long term this is good news. We're finally getting some decent, and level, pavements which will certainly tidy things up ready for the Basin Link. How nice things can look when we still have to put up with the eyesore that is the Old Indoor Market is another matter. The problems stem from the methods being used to do the work, which seem to be tilted in favour of the contractors rather then the people still trying to use the roads.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Coding Logic

This blog entry was prompted by a script used by the Shuttle and my response in the original column pointing to it.

It seems a simple task, click a link and have some information appear above, click another link and have it change. Easy to do if you want one page for every link, but wouldn't it be easier if all the information was loaded up onto one page and you just changed the text?

This is how the Shuttle saw it, provide all the biographies of candidates in <div> containers, hide them, and then display the appropriate one when the link is clicked; but how to do it?

Hiding the biography containers is simplicity itself as CSS provides a style called display which can be set to "none" doing so means that your browser ignores that bit and just pretends it's not there. When you want to see it just set the display style to "block" and it appears as if by magic.

Okay some technical bits, in order to manipulate the right biography (element) you need to give it a unique identity. This is done by using id="somename", then you tell the browser to use that identity by calling document.getElementById("somename"). Once you've done that you can mess with that element to your heart's content.

So to show the element "bio1" you use this scrap of javascript

document.getElementById("bio1").style.display = "block"

Everytime you click on a link it uses that same bit of code but with its own relevant identity; seems easy, but it's never that easy. The problem here is that when you can see "bio1" and then try to see "bio0" the former is sitting on top of the latter; they stack and hide each other. So every time you display one biography you need to hide the other, but because the viewer can click the links in any order they want to you don't know which one to hide.

It is at this point straightforward logic is applied, because I don't know which biography to hide I'll hide all of them each time. First up I need to know the identities of all the biography elements, then I hide them, then I show the one that was clicked. Because I'll be using this code multiple times I'll wrap it up into a function and I'll pass on the identity of which biography I want to display.

So in my link I use onclick="showBio('0')" which calls the function showBio and passes a '0' to it -

function showBio(bionum)

the '0' that was passed on is now stored as a variable called "bionum" the { tells the browser where the function starts

var divSrcArray = new Array('bio0','bio1','bio2')

Here I've created a new variable type, an array, called "divSrcArray". Arrays hold multiple pieces of information in separate 'boxes'; in this case the identies of three biography elements. Due to a computing 'quirk' arrays count from 0 upwards therefore the first 'box' is at position 0.

for (var i=0; i<divSrcArray.length; i++)

A little more complicated here, this is a for loop. What that does is tell the browser to keep doing something until certain conditions change, the something being contained in the { brackets. So first I'm creating another variable called "i" and making it equal to 0, I'm telling the loop to continue while "i" is less then how many pieces of information are in my array, in this case 3, then after the code in the loop has been done I want it to add 1 to "i". The code I want it to do in this loop is

document.getElementById(divSrcArray[i]).style.display = "none";

From above you should know that the "getElementById" is used to 'grab' the right element and that the last part hides it. The bit in the middle refers to one of the 'boxes' in that array I created at the beginning of the function. So the first pass through the loop when "i"=0 it's pulling the information out of 'box' 0, that is the first one and contains "bio0". With the for loop it'll keep doing that for 'box' 1 and 2 before it runs out of 'boxes' and leaves the loop. At which point is does this

document.getElementById("bio" + bionum).style.display = "block";

Again another 'grab' but this time to show the biography. In the middle I'm welding the word bio to the number that got passed to the function when it was called and was stored in the variable "bionum" in this case a 0. Then the final } bracket ends the function and that's it.

To recap - list all the biography identitys in an array called divSrcArray, loop through a bit of code that reads those identities and hides them, then finally show the biography that I wanted to see in the first place. This is the way the Shuttle does it.

On its own that's fine and it works, but imagine that instead of just the three biographys listed here you have three hundred or even three thousand. With this code it has to pull up every biography element and hide it despite the fact that only one of those three hundred is not already hidden. Not only that you have to create an array containing the identities of all three hundred biographies; not fun. To put it in geeky terms the code does not scale well; it works fine with small numbers, but start pushing it and cracks appear. So what can be done?

There are two items we can logically change. First of all as all the information stored in the array is sequential we don't need to store it separately so we can ditch the array and set the for loop with the number of biographies (if we still start at 0) and then use the same trick we did in welding the word "bio" to a number, in this case "i". Secondly we can also read in the current state of each biography and only change those that are being shown. This changes the function to:

function showgal(bionum)
for (var i=0; i<3; i++)
if (document.getElementById("bio"+i).style.display="block")
document.getElementById("bio" + bionum).style.display = "block";

The new bit here is the comparison operator "if", like the for loop it's quite simply - 'grab' the biography element's condition directly and see if it's set to "block", if so change it to "none", if not don't do anything and start the loop again. In terms of differences in time between this and the original function instead of writing to every biography element we're just reading and comparing and then only writing to the one that needs to be changed. So is that the end, no and this is the good bit, instead of modifying our first bit of code let's start again from the beginning.

One of the problems we saw when we first examined the situation was that we couldn't know which biography element to hide, the user could click on the links in any order they liked, however that's not a problem if we use a global variable. I won't get into details but some coders just don't like using global variables, however in this case it's justified. So what we do is create a variable outside the function, this means it only gets created once, and as know that on loading the first displayed biography is bio0 we can set it to 0 like so

var hide="0";

then start our function and use "hide" to manipulate the biography element we know is being displayed and then show the biography that was clicked.

function showBio(bionum)
document.getElementById("bio" + hide).style.display = "none";
document.getElementById("bio" + bionum).style.display = "block";

Finally as we now know which biography is being shown we set "hide" to the value of "bionum" like so and finish the function.


So in this function we're not storing an array of identities and we're not stepping through every biography element, we're just jumping to and changing the only elements we need to.

So why I am I writing this entry? Well it's purely to demonstrate how coders sometimes apply logic. The first function that was written was perfectly fine for the task it was asked to do; and I hope you followed the logic that created it. However when the numbers it was dealing with got to much for it, the first instinct was to 'fix' the code that was already present whittling down non-essentials in an effort to speed things up. The final function, I hope, shows that sometimes it's best to ignore what's already written and go back to the original task and ask "What was I trying to do again?".

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Cameron sneeze boy" becomes a yob.

Via Septicisle on Obsolete the Sun story on the Sneeze and Wipe incident. I'm just waiting for the next story -

A yob pigeon was arrested yesterday for defecating on David Cameron’s back as the Tory leader made a public appearance in a town centre this afternoon.

The 2-year-old bird was given a police caution - complete with a slip which worded the reason for the caution as "Defecating down David Cameron’s back" - in the town centre of Hastings, East Sussex, at around 3pm.

The bird had flown over Cameron then dropped its mess on to the politician’s back.

Mr Cameron was doing a walkabout to rouse support for the Conservatives at the upcoming local elections.

An onlooker said: "It was unbelievably cheeky. The shit went all over Cameron’s smart black suit."

A beat officer who caught the bird was heard telling it: "I don’t care whether he’s Tory leader or what - you go up to him and apologise."

It then gave a red-faced coo to the leader.

These birds are an obvious indictment of Labour's sloppy governing, being allowed to roam where they like and living off the crusts of hard-working taxpayers while cooing derisively at our laws.

The Scum asks "Isn't it time we came down hard on these freeloading yobs Mr Brown?"

Mitton Park Residents' meeting

I'm a bit late with this report from the meeting last Tuesday. A blah report from the Conservation officer, which didn't shock, and a report on the ongoing construction of the Play Area from the design consultant, which caused ripples.

As you may recall at the last meeting there were some residents complaining about how close the allotted area was to their house, plus concerns about nearness of water etc. Well it seems they came out in force to this meeting and were vehemently opposed to its construction there.

Unfortunately they were offered a vote - yays for the current site and nays for somewhere else (i.e. using the money to enhance an already existing site not even on the estate); nays won. Fortunately the point was raised that for the vote to be effective everyone would need to be consulted and not just those present; I would also like to add that as the vote was not on the agenda it also has no force other then perhaps ensuring a place on the table at a future meeting.

At this point the meeting descended into bickering.

Now I hate to bring Tesco's back into it, but this reminds me of some of the arguments used by some of the residents of Discovery Road concerning the excess levels of traffic they'd be getting. Discovery Road was built intentionally as part of the relief road to carry large amounts of traffic, and this was well known. The fact that it hasn't been linked up yet and therefore isn't currently being used to its full potential is not an argument, the buyers of houses knew what it was and knew what it was for.

In exactly the same way the Play Area was always designated for that particular site and the fact that it wasn't there when the nearby houses were sold is neither here nor there and such arguments are null and void; simply put you should have known about it.

In my opinion the complaints about the closeness of the river, though mildly valid*, are a smokescreen for 'we don't want a play area filled with screaming kids next to our houses, just think of the property value declining'.

Sorry folks I think you'll find once the entire estate is consulted you'll be in a majority.

*As children I and my friends used to play in the 'rough', essentially a patch of scrubland, unattended and next to the Stour with no railings, bars, gates, or any adverse consequences. We were told to be careful around the river and that was all that was needed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Basin Link make my day punk

The Shuttle seems to be surpassing itself recently not only keeping the website up to date, but publishing planning applications there too. As such we had a shiny news story slip out entitled Regeneration move for Stourport detailing the serving of a Compulsory Purchase order on Lloyds garage as part of the first stage of the basin link.

I don't think it's been decided yet which of the three design options listed in the appendices in the Bridge Street basins link Development Brief, and as they've scanned all the diagram in glorious craporesolution* it's difficult to make a choice; still... um hopefully they won't be digging up all these nice herringbone pavements that are in the process of being laid down.

*And that some pages just won't parse in Firefox or Opera due to the insertion of an extra character between every letter. sigh yes IE ignores them which is probably why no-one has noticed.

Cometh the Terminator

From Tim on p.o.t. a great article headline

Combat Robot Attempts Rebellion Against Human Masters in Iraq, Army Pulls Plug for 10-20 Years

Ah shame about the article itself, it could have been so much better...

'The army's machine-gun wielding, insurgent-slaying robot SWORDS will soon be ready for deployment in Iraq. "We had some problems with the original software" said a DoD spokesman, "Originally it would only target enemy combatants, but after many months of work the SWORD will now target enemies, civilians, and allied troops as efficiently as any American soldier."

The SWORD has been the subject of years of military research and testing to produce a robot capable of replacing front-line American troops, with the latest addition to the hardware being a pair of front-mounted speakers playing a continuous loop of rap and heavy metal music interspersed by only a few racial insults.

"They're so much like the real thing it's scary" said one developer, "once we've managed to write software that'll allow the robots to force prisoners into naked human pyramids then they'll be ready to roll. It's a culmination of the American Government's Dream, to be able to ride roughshod into a country and shoot all the inhabitants with no possibility of seeing dead American troops appearing on soft liberal news channels"'.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Slightly queasy

Woke up at who knows what time and thought "Why have I woken up? Oh not again" Tried to get back to sleep and semi-dozed for a while before a full bladder forced me out. Back to the semi-doze and approaching the time I normally get up and thought "Hmm".

Paid obesience to the Great Porcelain God Hruggh in the correct ritual manner as laid out in diagram 3.

Switched off and meditated for a short while, thus determining I had a mild chill which hadn't combined well with a couple of cheese and garlic breadstick from the previous night (oh and a very mild pain in my left calf which on inspection revealed a nasty purple/red bruise that I don't recall how I received). Anyway a better result then the 'beats me' I got last week which suggested a virus.

I disdained the morning news for a spot more meditation, divorcing body from mind to allow everything to settle again, and then had a small portion of breakfast.

Then onto sitting in the traffic with the vibrations up the back of the seat not being exactly conducive to my current state. Speaking of which I'm still waiting to hear back on a test drive after Hyundai sent me a brochure last week stating that I'd be getting a call shortly; looks like I'm going to have to chase them 'Hey look someone might want to buy one of our cars, let's ignore them'.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bridge Street work back to square one

Joy of joys the three-way set of lights in Stourport switched over to a two-way and the York Street pedestrian lights re-activated; traffic was much clearer with only one length of time to wait and everybody was happy; well maybe.

See for some reason they've now switched it back to a three-way system, but this time haven't turned off the York Street pedestrian lights. So we have two sets of traffic lights sitting next to each other potentially giving conflicting information and everyone sitting around for two turns.

They're not doing any work on that corner, in fact the work has moved further down Bridge Street; there are some vehicles parked before the actual works themselves, but not works vehicles.

The only reason I can suggest for the switch is that traffic from New Street had right-of-way over York Street (when the Bridge Street traffic is stopped) and that was causing a hold-up, but who knows? The important thing is that Laser Civil Engineering or LUX shouldn't have replaced the lights without disabling the York Street pedestrian crossing and to be blunt I'm fed-up of these sort of actions taking place.

A quick call to the Worcestershire Hub, an explanation of the problem and a short hold while the guy checked with Road Closures that this hadn't been reported already and I'm told that "They didn't know about this problem, but they've got reports of other problems on site so they'll all be dealt with at the same time; should be only a couple of hours" Yep that's right other problems, so these companies are either ignorant, in that they don't know they're doing wrong; or lazy, in that they know it's wrong but the right method is just too much hard-work; either way would you want these people working for you?

Console fun.

A busy Saturday, some quick shopping in the morning. A poke from Invisible about going to London, which I still had to sadly decline (sounds like they had some fun) and then the stuff I had to postpone from last weekend.

Family on Sunday, the Bratii were inclined to play the Simpsons, but I couldn't be arsed so I asked it they would like to try the demo of Burnout Paradise I had installed, two hours later and they were still having fun (yes I did make them take some breaks); Major enjoyed trying to wreck the car in as stylish a manner as possible and even managed to jump the car towards the sea off the 'world' before being reset back on the road in pristine condition. His favourite tactic was hitting boost while driving straight at an oncoming vehicle and then trying to dodge past to one side, which sometime worked; he also started to get the hang of drifting to turn corners.

Minor on the other hand was trying not to get wrecked, with smaller hands he had difficulty using the left analogue stick and the L2 brake so tended to brake in a straight line, amusingly he discovered the e-brake (square) 100+ degree turn by accident as well as the first-person (triangle) view. He had fun boosting up ramps drifting off the edge and slamming into the walls.

Everyone made some ramp jumps and broke some billboards; everybody got in some Super Jumps; everybody found the Auto-Repair, boost-refill Gas Stations and some shortcuts; and everybody got fed-up of listening to DJ Atomica.

Onto the Simpsons, Minor got the first level tutorial with Homer and with some coaxing got through just fine. Major got the Bartman in the museum level, couldn't get the hang of camera control with the right analogue stick and was thus left at times unable to see where he was supposed to be going.

Annoyance set in over some of the hints, the Bartman climbing icon appearing when he's jumped onto some climbing vines, the Homer icon when he's already in position, the camera getting stuck on physical objects when he's turning it; silly little things that should have been ironed out in the testing phase.

A couple of sections really started to frustrate. He missed the pop-up instructions informing him that Robo-Bart could shoot through glass a consequence of having the confirm and jump commands on the same button; couldn't see the enemy Curny (sp?) in the next section and thus didn't realise he had to shoot the targets through the glass next to him to force him through the exhibits. In the space section he managed to climb the wall and jump/glide with the air vents onto the upturned Shuttle, but a lack of depth perception on the screen and the poor camera angle meant he kept missing the jump onto the pole. Four attempts and he finally made it over, which activated/shook the foundation lowering a block that meant you could now both skip the glides and get Homer up to the top. He missed the fact that the block had gone (poor camera again) and when trying to jump off the pole near the top hit Bart's head on a crowning block that just dropped him to the ground; making him think he had to go back through the entire glide/vent system. Whining ensued, so we stopped there.

I decided that we'd spent too much time on the PS3 and instead we went through a load of my old PS2 magazine demo discs, and he loaded up the boot with about 40 of them. He's just come off a two-month PS2 ban so I'm sure he'll OD on these; they're only limited demos so fine for a short attention span and it'll save him money on buying games that turn out to be crap.

Minor seems to have similar tastes to me, and neglected some specially prepared sandwiches for nibbling at plain Crostinis; this prompted talk of supermarkets and the fact they shop at Tesco in Kiddy. Bratii Pater bemoaned the lack of variety in the Tesco curry section - chicken, chicken , or chicken, the lack of variety ready-meals, and that you can't buy just one naan bread or a small pack of poppadoms. I tried to lure him over the dark side of Sainsbury's pointing out the greater variety and the fact that it's next to Maplin; but the simple fact that he perceives Tesco as cheaper is a large setback.

Talk moved onto video games, what with Major's hyperness over the demo discs, and the flaws in the Simpsons game. I mentioned Soul Reaver on the PS1 and its doing away of loading screens, The Darkness and how you could look down and see your own body and cast a shadow, Half-Life2's physics engine and we questioned why some games had these things and others didn't. Why don't you cast a shadow in Half-Life2? Why do we still have loading screens when a PS1 game managed to remove them? As my mother put it "Why don't these games look at the others and do the same thing?", it's a good question.

I gave two answers the first was that they're making their own game engines and concentrating on just one aspect, a seamless experience in Soul Reaver, light and shadow in The Darkness, and physics in HL2 so don't have time to add in the rest. The second answer was akin to the reason we get inundated with First Person Shooters, that's what the audience want, that's what they're used to, and they don't notice the fiddly bits.

When was the last time you read a review and they mentioned the loading screens (unless overly long), the fact that you can't see yourself or cast a shadow in a FPS. I think it's only now we're getting to the point where the games are getting closer to reality and we're starting to notice the discrepancies. Game developers take note, we're catching on to sloppy shortcuts.

Connecting computers

It might be said that the easier computers get to use the dumber the users get;the joy is when the computer tries to do everything for you then there's nothing you can do when something goes wrong.

I got a phone call from Artist late Friday night, he was trying to install a wireless broadband router via his laptop and the installation kept crapping out with an error at the same point. He was physically tethered to the system and the installation was trying to establish a connection between computer and router and failing.

Router is on and the network says there's a connection. I get him to start Internet Explorer and type in the SSID of the router to talk to its configuration; no go but he has internet connectivity. Hmm so why is the installer failing?

I get him to untether and try again, no connection. "Um is the wireless on your laptop on?" I ask. "Ah" he says, "how do I found out?" After some fumbling he locates a switch with wireless labelled above it and turns it on; and the installer suddenly springs to life and finishes.

Yep the installer didn't bother telling him that it was checking the wireless connection, didn't ask if the wireless was on, it just said it was testing the connection and kept failing.

Second important question - "Is your connection encrypted?". The installer hadn't asked for any security settings and typing in the SSID still didn't bring up the configuration screen so I had to try and recall the commands to get bloody Vista to display network settings. Much fiddling and we discover it's using WEP (not great, but better then nothing). Not having a router config was annoying me so I got him to bring up a cmd box "Ah are we pinging?" he asks; I'm impressed he remembers this term from several months back when I was configuring his parents computer, but no we're tracert'ing and yep the router is at (yeah it's default and I could have got mucho kudos for just having him try that first, but it wouldn't have taught him anything). Tapping that into IE and lo a config page. "You probably won't need this, but if someone else sets up a wireless network nearby then you might need to change the channel number and here's where you do it so now you know", "Cool, um is it alright for me to have the router in [position]?" he asks. "Depends on your walls and where you're going to be using your laptop, but from what I recall that should be fine", "Cool".

Sign off and... another call "Is it alright to turn the router off at night?" "Yes it should be fine".

See all these 'silly' little things that should be included in an easy to follow manual/FAQ when all you get is a CD you're supposed to blindly install from.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Income Tax and National Insurance 2008

So having calculated everything purely for Income Tax what happens if I add in National Insurance contributions (Class 1 NICs only).

The first problem lay in the fact that the HMRC publish the bands weekly, and no you can't just multiply by 52, so I had to scrounge up some annual bands, then I made a miscalculation. It's difficult to check as the HMRC's online calculator is still not working for this year so I had to locate another which showed up my error and I corrected it to suit (still disagrees, but the error is insignificant). So here's the new combined Income Tax and NI chart for 2008/09

I believe the correct expression to use is "What the hell happened in the middle?" the answer is quite amusing. At the lowest middle point between £39k and £40k you are paying £466.30 less in Income Tax, but with the change in NI you're paying an extra £474.90 in contributions; so overall you're earning less. Still sucking the money out of the poor (hey just claim it back in Tax Credits thus, as The Devil's Kitchen points out, being dependent on the state deciding if you're eligible for the money you've earned)

Just to make life easier for others trying to work everything out the Income Tax bands for 08/09 are: allowance of £5,435; 20% up to £36,000; 40% over. And the Class 1 NIC's in the same style are: allowance £5,435; 11% up to £40,400; 1% over (although they don't put it like that to just to make it harder to work out).

Last year was: allowance of £5,225; 10% up to £2,230; 22% up to £34,600; 40% over. NICS: allowance £5,225; 11% up to £34,840; 1% over.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stourport name-checked

Stourport got mentioned on the the news twice and for two different reasons. The first was on Central News and was regarding the murder inquiry, no information given out that we didn't already know; and the second was on BBC Breakfast this morning with a reporter in Castle Bromwich talking about the slump in house prices of 5% although prices "in Stourport have risen by 31%". This makes sense as we've had several new housing estates built and a glut of houses being offered on the market, prices are bound to rise... hold on that's not right. I'm joking of course we all know house prices are divorced from reality.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Police on the bridge

I saw one officer this morning on the Areley side standing on the steps who had it cordoned off with blue mesh, and now I've just been told that many more have arrived. Nothing in the Shuttle or the Express and Star yet

[Update: Thanks to Don for the comments. The Shuttle now has some small amount of news in that we've got some type of search going on]

Bridge Street redux

Traffic was back up to Chadwick Bank last night so a 2 mile queue affecting a bunch of people who might not even be heading into town and past the lights. They weren't working on it yesterday when they were set up and they weren't working on it last night so we had a traffic light system up protecting... well nothing.

I travelled the 12-14 miles around (instead of 2-3) and it only took 10 minutes more then my normal travel time, however that will change as everyone decides to go that way instead of sitting in the queue. The sticking points being the turn-off to Ombersley and the turn out of Holt Heath, which just weren't designed with the level of traffic in mind.

The workers were there this morning though and kudos to them they had someone manually setting the traffic lights on Bridge Street and I fairly whizzed through, what the chances that they'll be doing it tonight though I don't know and besides all that'll do is help the traffic from Hartlebury Road out.

Oh and the previous lot of works did patch the holes on the Worcester Road entrance past OGL, well sort of, kind of; it's less likely to take your wheels off now, but it's still bumpy as hell. Best bit is that it's damp, it was damp yesterday and it's damp today and that suggests they've got a leak which means they're going to dig it up again.

[Additional -What fun sitting on the bridge. The traffic came through as normal from the town and cleared our set of lights. They turned green and one car set off around the cones at which point they turned red again; no joke, no exaggeration.

After the standard wait they changed again at which point the learner driver at the front stalled slightly, nevertheless a few cars got out until a big flashing maintenance truck decided to turn into Raven Street and had to take up both lanes to do it, by the time he'd got out of the way we were back to red.

Waiting and the last of the cars cleared our end and then pulled into their left to allow room for the wailing ambulance to get past, our lights turned green and two cars managed to get through before the ambulance got up to them; got a reprieve in that at this point I finally managed to get past the damn things.

Coming back we've got a built-in delay point in York Street as all the traffic is turning left on the wrong-side of the road and the longer vehicles can't turn left without two lanes at normal times, and no-one seems to be enforcing any form of parking restriction opposite the bus-stop so yes once again traffic is queuing in the left-hand lane to drive past the lights and cones blocking it because they can't wait in the right-hand lane and yes once again if a bus dares to stop in the designated bus-stop wider vehicles are stuck regardless of permissions to move.

It's a farce.]

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bridge Street works ahoy

They've just set up the lights on Bridge Street and disabled the pedestrian crossing. The coned area covers the length of road from the crossing up to the corner of York Street on that side. It appears the other controlling set of lights is in York Street, which presumably indicates a three-way with another in New Street I'll know more later.

Anyway the good news is that feedback is already apparent with traffic from York Street leading back to Lion Hill, blocking off Mitton Street in the process, and back into High Street into which the traffic coming up Bridge Street is heading. Enough vehicles or some blockages in High Street and nobody will be able to move.

Of course Mitton Street is naturally jammed and this in turn will foul-up the OGL island and lead to a wonking great queue in Worcester Road. You'll get people from Minster Road trying to shortcut it via Lombard Street/Lickhill Road to Lion Hill or Moorhall Lane to New Street leading to queues down the narrow lane and blocking the relief valve that is Raven Street.

Hmm remind me of the Tesco documentation and the estimates of queue length for a set of lights on the mouth of Severn Road 3, 4, 7? I can't quite recall.

[Update - Yes it's a three-way set of lights, and I've just been asked "What the hell is going on?" it's half-four and the queue is apparently stretching from the OGL island past the Titton Cafe and around the corner. ]

Income Tax backlash

So apparently some MPs have woken up to the fact that these 'wonderful' changes to the income tax bands are going to hit the poorest sections of the wage earners, only taken them a year to spot. It's all okay though as these people have supposedly been getting more and more in benefits over the last few years and it'll all be fine when we get the other 80% of people eligible for tax credits onto the system. Would that be these tax credits; why yes it would.

The figures bandied about in the BBC article are £18,500/annum and a maximum loss of £232/annum. My figures are break-even at £16,504.82/annum and a max loss of £181 at £7,455; so not that different.

The laughable bit is that instead of allowing people to keep earned money at source the government seems to expect them to apply for some of it back; which introduces a whole new level of bureaucracy or stretches the existing system.

Now playing with the figures I've already shown that for the median values the government is losing £1,300 over the range, the bottom earners are loosing money and the top earners gaining over £788. So can we fiddle the values about to give the top earners their dosh and boost the middle range of values?

How about this:
Note no negative axis, everyone gets more the top earners at £718 (so a little off the previous) and the loss to the government is £1,000 over the range (so more money to them). My values are quite simple: An allowance of £5,500, 10% bracket up to £2,200, 22% bracket up to £38,000, and 40% over that. Everyone gets more money, but you don't get that steady rise from £17k to £39k that I think was the whole point of the change.


It is a truth universally upheld that the softest toilet paper in the world becomes as sandpaper if you're going to the loo every 15-30 minutes.

Anyway as you can tell I'm back; yay? The only good(?) thing to come from this is my trousers feel baggier and the lack of sleep has gifted me with two additional gods for the pantheon - Tekneos God of Music "All music is one and we are many"; and Scypian Goddess of Shopping "The correct choice is the one I've just made".

Bad thing is that I obviously had to reschedule some stuff I had planned at the weekend for next weekend and then got a poke from Invisible about a planned p.o.t. meeting next Saturday; bloody typical.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Paying my dues at the moment and I'm expecting big things once I retire to the Big Bathroom in the Sky and kneel before the Great Porcelain God Hruggh what with all the offerings I'm making at the moment; may even get me a larger garden from his brother Fanglemork come judgement day.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Unpleasant night

Feeling a bit punked (more later) I decide to continue my quest to clean my PVR down and watch a film I recorded not long ago. Started up in the middle of my regional news, "huh" I thought and fast forwarded. A couple of minutes in (record time) and I'm thinking "huh" again; at this point I notice the time bar is almost three quarters over. Yep my wonderful box had started to record in the middle of the news and stopped when it received the PDC-type signal at the start of the film I wanted to record. Joy!

Ah well I'll try another, a shorter film this time. Half-an-hour in and I think "How can they wrap this up in the remaining half-hour?" I bookmarked my position and fast-forwarded to the end. Yep good old Five had stuck a news section in the middle and this had obviously split the film into two sections on the EPG and I hadn't noticed.

I'll try an Horizon instead. Now I kind of like Horizon, it's the best science programme on non-satellite TV. Not really that great a recommendation as it's the only science programme on TV, but it holds a small place of honour for me as it has a tendency to think the same way I do. Often the programme makes an assertion, I perk up and say "Yes, but", and then the programme does exactly the same thing - I respect that :-). The only let-down is that despite the question being asked it then does little to try to answer it.

The example from the show I watched sums it up. Examining the claims made by 'organic' food the levels of pesticide were measured in a range of foodstuffs (which the programme failed to specify as to how they're grown) and found only 3% had levels of pesticide above the government limit. "Yeah but how do we know those limits are really safe?" I asked and got echoed.

Well it hasn't been proven that the levels are dangerous, i.e. nobody's knowingly been harmed at the current levels. The organic farmer made the correct point that we've no idea what a combination of pesticides do, and this was mildly backed up by old B&W footage of volunteer test subjects being fed a dilute dose of one pesticide. Sadly Horizon didn't follow up on this and stamped 'organic' foods claims as "unproven".

Still feeling off I had an early night. Woke up at 2:30, thought "urgghh" wondered what woke me up and tried to get back to sleep with no success. Too hot and too thirsty, and probably why I woke up in the first place, I go and get some water. Swill it around, spit it out, sip some of it; repeat and back to bed. Still no sleep and I think "No this isn't right... ah I know what this is". So I get up again and adopt the worshipful position at the loo and make several offerings to the Great Porcelain God Hruggh. One sore throat and a very mild nosebleed later I down some more water and finally get back to sleep feeling a lot better and a lot lighter.

Not got a clue what caused it, but other then a sore throat and the feeling my nasal passages have been scoured I'm feeling fine now.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

This means nothing to me

Oh Vienna; really going to have to get that damn song out of my head. Anyway in my alter ego as the bad news elf I spot two shiny new signs up on either end of Bridge Street warning about work commencing on the 7th April. No indication what this work is, who's doing it, or what it'll affect.

Over to the Worcestershire Hub and as you might expect the Temporary Traffic Light report has nothing in it because it only deals with March, likewise the Road and Lane Closures document and the Weekly Roadworks report. It's also outside the scope of the Quarterly Roadworks report and even the dynamic roadworks search is displaying nothing except the ones that were done last year. Although it does have a lot of "No Info Available"'s the only things displayed on the 'interactive' map are the previous works.

So a big applause to the Worcestershire Hub for keeping everyone so well informed of future events ah big softie that I am I'll try again for the next couple of days it is only the 1st after all.

Now for those outside the area remember this is the nice shiny newly resurfaced road; so presumably this is footpath work and not digging up the road stuff, because if it is... I don't think people will be too happy.

[Update - the board tells us the works are for six weeks, I'm reminded that they knew that Bridge Street was going to be dug up and thus were only supposed to lay down a 'temporary' road surface, and the WHub is still thinking it's March]

[Update 2 - Huzzah the WHub is now in April and we get:
45700125 From Bridge Inn to York St/New St/High St Bridge Street Stourport on Severn 02/04/08 19/05/08 Laser Civil Engineering.

One assumes that someone showed some sense in not having the two sets of work overlap hence the delay to the 7th. Also note not Severn Trent Water so possibly the footpaths?]