Friday, September 30, 2011

A Windows 7 annoyance

Having been inducted into the ranks I can say with regard to Windows 7 that... I don't like it. The quick launch bar that was a part of XP and Vista is now the entire taskbar; thus any open programmes only show up as an icon. Have more than one window for a programme open and it gets grouped under that programme meaning it's two clicks away rather than one. Have a spreadsheet that you use a lot - sorry you can't add it to the toolbar try and it'll add the programme instead. To get to the file itself requires right-clicking the programme icon then selecting the file; that is assuming it's displayed. Oh and as with the switch from XP to Vista they've yet again decided to move/hide things.

Okay the annoyance - Let's say I have a 1.5Gb file on a Win7 machine that is backed up to a 2Gb USB stick. I make some changes to the file on the machine and then plug in the stick to back it up i.e. overwrite the existing file with the new one. I drag the file over and get a message telling me there's not enough space on the drive. Now sure if I was trying to keep the old one and add the new one there's not enough space; but I'm not. I'm trying to overwrite the damn thing and rather than ask it just flat out tells me it can't do it.

Seriously, I have no option to overwrite the file unless there's enough drive space to store it on its own.

Weekly bin collections

In June the Conservatives stated they'd bring back the weekly rubbish collection services. After asking the councils 'Pretty please' they got short shrift so they've decided to bribe them instead.

The councils view is perfectly logical - running a fortnightly or alternate collection saves money. Isn't that the message that the government's been sending out at a constant rate - austerity and cuts? They're essentially being told off for doing what the government wants them to do.

Thus the only option left for the government (beyond making it law) is to bribe them. With that in mind a £250,000,000 fund has "been found" (down the back of the sofa?) to help councils restart or continue a weekly collection. There are some caveats though - councils need to sign up to it for five years, and

demonstrate potential environmental benefits, such as increased recycling or reduced fly-tipping and litter
Which, in theory, they should be working towards anyway.

So why is this happening anyway? If there was an actual need for a weekly service then isn't that what the council's should be providing for anyway. If there isn't then this is money for unrequired services which is what both the government and councils are expected to be cutting.

Thus the only reason this exists is because the Conservatives announced they'd be doing it and got heckled when it didn't happen. It's quite pathetic really.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

More roadworks

Those travelling through Stourport may have spotted the new yellow signs informing them that they'll be major roadworks going on in Mitton Street/Severn Road. As per usual they don't bother to inform anyone of what form they'll take or what they'll cover.

According to the temporary traffic light report such will be implemented for the Tesco S278 work from the 03/10/2011 until 05/04/2012. Now hopefully this is like the lane closure on Vale Road in that they'll only be implemented occasionally because a set of lights there for five months could grind the town to a halt.

Again for those curious the S278 can be defined as

an agreement made between a developer and a Highway Authority to enable works to be carried out on the public highway to facilitate development.
Which still doesn't exactly tell us what's going on there. Is it just work on Severn Road or is the rumoured road narrowing of Mitton Street taking place? Judging by the plans I'd expect this to be work on Severn Road and the construction of a splitter triangle at its entrance., but hey it could be anything.

The Health Lottery

If I used the definition that a lottery is a tax on the poor it would seem that someone else has designs on that small, but widespread purse.

Cue the launch of the Health Lottery by Richard Desmond publisher of such edifying newspapers as the Daily Express and Daily Star, television channels such as Channel 5 and Red Hot TV. Despite the name it's not affiliated with any health related associations, but it can always provide some money to them. Some being the operative word.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dead Island PS3 review

Despite the bad reviews and the bug complaints I watched iJustine playing Dead Island and thought "That looks like fun" and I wasn't wrong. The story line premise is the usual boilerplate insert-the-specifics-here. You're at a resort on an island. Something goes wrong and the majority of the population turn into blood-crazy zombies that will try to infect you. It's 28 Days Later: The Game if produced by Hollywood.

Mechanically it's a four-way collision between Oblivion, Condemmed 2, FarCry 2 and Borderlands with the developers picking through the wreckage, finding bits they like and taping them together to make a new game. Most of the time that doesn't work; in this case it kind of does.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


For those local the current topic is the apparently high-handed manner in which the Cabinet is dealing with the allocation of sites for travellers/gypsies as well as exactly why these are being created in the first place. Sadly as in so much the Contextualization Fairy appears and this becomes an issue of racism and, in the case of some comments, this may be a fair point. What this does demonstrate though is an interesting process.

Group A the majority dislikes/hates Group B. The cause or who's right or wrong is of no consequence at this point simply that this exists and leads to discrimination. Group B find it difficult to be served in some establishments, they may be rejected from jobs and all because of their membership within this group.

However not all of Group A are like this and think it's wrong to discriminate. They either end up in power or gain the ear of those in power and laws are passed to make it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of membership of either or any group.

On the face of it this seems a noble and worthy endeavour however it has certain consequences. Firstly it hasn't changed the fact that some of Group A still dislike/hate Group B it just means they can't be overt in this dislike/hatred; it pushes it underground where it's more difficult to root out.

Secondly it becomes a free-pass to either group when dealing with any other. It's no longer a case that you're not serving me because I'm not wearing a shirt it's because I'm not a member of your group. It's not a case that I didn't get the job because there was a better candidate it's because I'm a member of another group. Now such claims should be taken to court and the frivolous weeded out; except that takes time and money - it's a big hassle. Far simpler just to give in; after all does it matter if they're not wearing a shirt/it's not as if they're much worse than the candidate we were going to hire?

This leads to the third consequence - positive discrimination. This is either through adherence to the 'I don't need the hassle' of the second consequence or some well-meaning legislation on the part of those in power to make-up for the discrimination that was done. However all this does is exasperate both of the previous two consequences. The underground group now has even more reason to hate the minority group and the minority group now has legitimacy/precedent on their side when making complaints.

I'm not saying we shouldn't have anti-discrimination laws or that in some cases there may be a requirement for positive discrimination. What I am saying is it's not racist to ask questions about why such actions exist and to point out any negative consequences.

[update] Due to the continuation of comments at the Shuttle of those who don't quite get what I'm saying I feel the need to add more here. If we again we posit a set of groups again Group A (the haters) and add Group C (those in power) the conversation currently taking place boils down to:

Group A: We don't want members of Group B here because they're Group B.
Group C: The law states we have to accommodate members of Group B because they're Group B

Now those of Group A should be quite rightly castigated for their racist views, but the flaw arises when the subject becomes polarised, or binary. In that instance anyone who criticises the statement by Group C is seen as automatically taking the side of Group A and thus deserving of the same levels of vilification. This is despite the fact that Group C's argument may be seen as being just as racist.]

Monday, September 26, 2011

Still with the OnLive

Given the fun I've had simply trying to login with OnLive that at least seems to have settled down and is consistently identifying me correctly. Shame then that I still can't get in.

"An Error Has Occurred
Unable to contact the OnLive Game Service. Please check for details. a512"

Yeah fat lot of good that is. So why can't it connect? Well it would help if I knew exactly what it was trying to connect to. Neatly enough I can find out using the built-in tools that comes with Windows. First of all I run Task Manager (right-click task bar) and under the Processes tab ensure that View|Select Columns PID (Process Identifier) is ticked. Then I run a command prompt (cmd) and type in netstat -p tcp -o When run this will display all the TCP connections and the PID that initiated them. Finally I run the OnLive launcher. When that tries to connect I hit enter on my netstat command. Switch to Task Manager and check the PID for onlive.exe. Match the PID to the connection and I get the dotted quad TCP address that it's trying to connect to. Now to find the blockage.

While in the command prompt I use tracert which is the number I got from netstat. This will try to connect to that address and show me the routers it passes through to get there. In the end I run the same trace with a slightly different number as OnLive seems to try different connections but the result is roughly the same.

I reach or essentially something with OnLive's name on it and can go no further. It seems OnLive's servers aren't routing traffic onward.

Now they may be down, they may be faulty, or they may simply be swamped. In any case I can't connect.

Oh now I'm connecting and hey the Marketplace is now working. I pick Divinity II as a Free Trial. I get 30 minutes and annoying that includes the the (skippable) cut scene and character creation. Or at least it would if I could read the text. Video quality is atrocious, the mouse jumps about as I try to select things and it's basically unplayable.

Now I am connecting wirelessly and it does throw up a warning box about this; so is this my fault? I'm on a 54Mbit wireless connection and Speedtest gives me a 45ms ping with a 4.7Mbit/sec download so you tell me.

According to the FAQ recommended is a 5Mbit/sec connection so yeah I'm not quite there; but if I check out USwitch's StreetStats and plug in my postcode no-one's getting much above 5Mbits/sec. Beyond those on cable is anyone?

Friday, September 23, 2011

OnLive falling at the first hurdle

As mentioned OnLive now has a UK setup. Hit the Sign Up Free button and you're asked for an email address, a password, a player tag and date of birth. Fill that in and hit Finish and you get to sign in... or not "Your login credentials are not valid".

Did I type my password incorrectly? I go for a password reset, enter my email and the botcheck text and it quite happily emails me a link to a reset page. I try a password and head back to signing in. "Your login credentials are not valid" Okay it's not me then time to check out the support pages.

Nothing there about login failure I'll "Ask a Question" instead. Except I can't as I need to login first. "Live Chat" then. Oh good I don't need to login first. "There are no agents available to chat with you right now. Please try again later." Okay at least I get the option to "Request Email Response"... which asks me to login.


Another Password Reset later and I think I discover the problem - despite stating they're allowed it doesn't like spaces in passwords.*

Huzzah I'm... not in "The OnLive Game Service is currently full. You will be connected as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience"

Ah I'm in. Easy navigation and spectating is simple. Marketplace is currently offline so I can't search for a game, just pick one that's already being played. Hmm I won't do that yet I'll wait until it's settled down a bit first.

*and back out again. It seems there's a login limit and it's being overloaded.

OnLive UK

In my piece on "Do we still need a computer?" I mentioned the OnLive streaming game system. Well guess what? It's now launched with servers in the UK. If I get time over the weekend I may well sign up and check out the free demos to see if it would be worth buying the TV connection pack.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rental Subscriptions

While looking into film/game rental methods it seems they're operating using the same schemes as the telecommunication and energy companies - offer variable plans that differ in slightly non-comparable ways. As such if you know exactly what you want they're great, on the other hand if you just want to be able to rent films or games it's head-scratching time. Oh and of course digging out the small print is a must.

Giving Directions

"I'm trying to find you"
"Okay where are you?"
"I'm at [A] at the end of [Road 1]"
"Okay you've gone too far, turn around and then take the first turn you come to"
"Okay I can see [B]"
"Great take the turn there"
"Is it through some metal gates?"
"No, are you at [C]?"
"I think I'm in [D]'s back yard"

To put this in context there is only one actual road turning on this road everything else involves driving over the pavement and down unmarked alleyways between buildings. Directions normally consist of "Take the road marked [Road 1] then the first turn you come to and keep going"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Last weekend I found myself a little confused date-wise while shopping; I'm not 100% sure why, but it may have something to do with all the Hallowe'en products out for sale. It's the middle of September, Hallowe'en isn't until the end of October. I mean seriously do we really need stock out a month and a half before the actual event? Are there people out there stocking up on skull candy waiting until the end of October? Are they making sure they've got their costumes ready for them or their kids? How much planning time does it take?

Anyway this is my timely note - Hallowe'en 17th September. Let's see if they can start any earlier next year.

The Wyre Forest Traveller site debacle

Tav over at the WFA has provided two worthy reports on the meetings in which the proposal for the travellers' sites required in Wyre Forest was discussed. The first on the initial Overview & Scrutiny meeting and the second on the subsequent Cabinet meeting.

I'm going to attempt to condense this into a single point and remove anything that might be deemed prejudicial to the case. Therefore instead of discussing traveller's gypsies etc. this will simply be a Project.

Wyre Forest is required to complete a Project and to do so needs a minimum of five sites to work. Experts have evaluated the area of Wyre Forest and produced a report identifying a possible 15 sites which are suitable. The O&S committee examined the report and recommended its presentation to Cabinet. The Cabinet then removed 8 of the sites from the list and left the remaining 7 available to public consultation.

At this point anyway might ask the question "What justification did the Cabinet have for removing 8 of the sites?" Hopefully the minutes, when produced, may reveal that. However it is worth noting that in the past the council has 'hidden' behind expert recommendations most notably the Icelandic Bank affair; so what makes these particular expert opinions incorrect?

Bringing context back into line, whether rightly or wrongly there is a negative discrimination against travellers. As such if someone from an area with a proposed site argued against it a question may arise if they are doing so because they genuinely consider the placement to be incorrect or if they're trying to protect their own ward's votes. Ordinarily this wouldn't be an issue as such would be balanced out by the rest of the committee, however in this case of the five members of the Cabinet three are based in the same ward. A ward which did have a site within it and was subsequently pruned out by said committee.

I'm not questioning integrity etc., but when anyone has the final say in a decision that may affect them adversely or otherwise their decision needs to be seen as being cleaner than clean.

Escape Velocity take 2

Currently re-reading "Time Travellers in Einstein's Universe" by J Richard Gott and reached a section on cosmic strings that touched on black holes and thought "That's not right". He was mentioning escape velocity and stated that the astronauts who went to the moon had to achieve this speed. No they didn't.

I have already covered it here, but another take won't hurt.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Same sex marriage

Checking in at Liberal Conspiracy I see yet another attempt to clear up same-sex marriage. At a civil level this is rather simple to deal with. If we define marriage as 'a formal ceremony between a man and a women to demonstrate their level of commitment' we can now apply Occam's Razor of not adding unnecessary entities.

We need to define it as a formal ceremony as this is recognised by law and thus differentiates it from two people standing alone on a lawn and stating that they're now married. We also need to define this as being about commitment - a wedding is not a funeral after all. So that leaves the bit in-between; is it required at all?

Well if we stated that the entirety of law only applied to humans than no; but as it doesn't something needs to be added. We could change it to 'two people' but again why do we need to specify two; is there a particular reason why it has to be and can only be two? No not really. So the definition can be: 'a formal ceremony between people to demonstrate their level of commitment'. It can't be reduced any further.

If applied at a civil level this not only allows same-sex marriage but also polygamy.However should this be applied at a religious level?

Should a religion be allowed to refuse to officiate at a marriage ceremony if it's beliefs clash with those of the participants? Logically yes if we consider a religion to be a private organisation then it's quite correct for a club to refuse to host a party for a group of non-members. In this instance a religion can refuse for the same reason. But what if the club also didn't allow certain people to join in the first place? It's perfectly acceptable for a club to refuse to host a party for homosexuals as they're not members, but what if the club refused to allow them to ever join in the first place because of their sexuality?

Well that would be discrimination. So now the question how is discrimination and religion to be balanced? They shouldn't be - religion is held to the same standards as everyone else. This would be fine except we now have some logical fun - a religion can't refuse a homosexual from becoming a member of that religion, however to become a member requires a profession of faith in the tenets laid down by that religion which may include a prohibition of homosexuality. Ergo all members are heterosexual and as such any member asking that religion to perform a same-sex marriage is therefore not a member (or a member under false pretences) and can be refused

Unlike a private club in which any rules such as "No Homosexuality" would be illegal; religion is protected as a belief and can thus legally contain such rules.

The short answer is to let the religions continue with the logical fun I've stated and just change the civil marriage which should remove the need to differentiate it from a civil partnership.

The Dale Farm injunction

With the bailiffs all set to go in a two-part appeal has had one part accepted. In essence the council failed to adequately inform the residents as to what would happen to each of them individually. It may seem this is legal rubbish, but it makes sense given the nature of the site.

If you own land there is nothing stopping you from allowing tents or caravans on it, up to a maximum (five if I recall), without any need for permission. However start building on it and that's a whole other matter.

So in this case consider three hypothetical plots - a caravan; a caravan on hardcore; a chalet. The caravan is, strictly speaking, legal. The one on the tarmac can be moved in order to demolish the tarmac, but the caravan itself is out of bounds. The chalet can be totally demolished.

What this injunction seems to be saying is that the owners of these three hypothetical plots have not been individually informed as to how this action applies to them and as such the removal/demolition cannot start.

Cafe 54

The charity run Cafe 54 in Bewdley received a quick mention in one of the BBC's local news slots this morning. Essentially a repeat of this.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rogue Trader

Out of sheer interest does anyone think we'd have heard about the alleged 'Rogue Trader' Kweku Adoboli if he'd made £1.3bn from unauthorised transactions?

European release but not in the UK

Once again I try to find something that may or may not have been released in Europe, but most definitely didn't make it to our fair shores. Last time it was the Goodies Yum Yum CD for my father; this time it's the Dead Like Me DVD. Now sure I can pop over to Amazon.DE, but my German is seriously rusty. Yeah I can guess what the buttons mean, but it would be nice if I could see it in English.

And so I return to InAndOut in Austria. English site, priced in Euros with a rough Pound Sterling equivalent; and if you're wary of foreign transactions you can use PayPal. There is a shipping cost and it does tend to end up being slightly more than getting it from whichever Amazon branch actually stocks the same thing, but not by much and hey they've gone to the trouble to produce an English written site that stocks what I can't easily find elsewhere at a comparable price. Personally I think that means they get my business.

New Office computer

Busy setting up a new computer to replace a slow and steadily unreliable one in the office. Went with a provider so it was all tricked out and ready to roll (for the most part). When specifying things I pointed out the DVI monitor we currently had and thus wouldn't require another; I also asked specifically to check that Windows 7 comes with a program that will receive faxes as that's a function of the old machine (saves on paper to receive them that way).

Went to plug everything in and hmm. Phone call - "Where's the DVI output?" "Oh did it not come with one, I'll check on that and get back to you"

Luckily the monitor comes with a VGA input too so I dug out an old cable so at least I could progress. I set things up; copied files across from the old machine swearing as it started to conk out. Then finally thought "I might as well see how the fax programme works on Windows 7" Phone Call - "Where's the modem output?" "Oh it doesn't come with one"
"But I specifically stated that the old machine that we were replacing received faxes"
"Yes so you've a card in the old machine"
"Yes but that's not going to be any use once we remove the old machine (given the change in size and slot types between the two"


Alice: Madness Returns

At times I wonder if developers are scared of challenging their players. And Alice: Madness Returns brings that to mind. Although the combat and jumping system is better the closest game I can match it to is Enslaved.

Jump from point A to point B, bash some enemies, get a non-interactive cut-scene to advance the story; repeat. Like Enslaved there's just the one path through the game with the odd dead-end that leads to collectables; and just like Enslaved it has a tendency to shut off the main path behind you once taken.

However it's almost as if the developers played that and then tweaked it. As a result hints appear when in the proper state indicating which are the main and which the ancillary pathways. Combat is much more fluid to the point where taking on a group of enemies was almost approaching Batman: Arkham Asylum levels of fun.

[Update - that is if you leave the targeting system toggle off i.e. you require the button to be pressed to target. Turn the toggle on, which is much easier on the finger, and the flaw appears. Switching between targets only works with the ones you can currently see. Want to engage one of the targets behind rather than in front and it has to be turned off, the camera turned around and then re-engaged. It's messy]

However repetition strikes further into the game. Once the attack/defence patterns of a particular enemy type is learned that's it. The only challenge arises when they're mixed in with other types, which to be fair happens fairly often.

Still the brain starts to detach and it becomes jump to here, float to there, jump to here, shoot this switch. dodge, attack, block. What it lacks is percussion. There are no mid-game boss fights. As soon as anything looks remotely like one control is removed and a pre-rendered paper cut-out scene is shown instead. Now admittedly I laughed at the first antu-climax; but then another? I just felt a little let-down.

This isn't help by the forced nature of the game saving is disabled and while check-pointing is excellent these don't equate to saves and thus once a level is started there's little choice but to progress until the next auto-save.

Still with the brain gone this is still quite fun, there's plenty of collectables hidden around to replay for, the style is appropriate, as is the story. I wouldn't pay the normal full price for this, but reduced... yeah it's worth a look at.

[Update - Oh and I don't think they expected anyone to actually read all the credits because for me the music stopped about two-thirds through the Spicy Horse lists. Then came the EA list, then the EA regional list, then EA QA, then all the different studios who worked on the art, and then....]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fundamental rule of driving

Speaking to my neighbour about various things and it surprised me that she didn't grasp that a lot of the rules of the road applied to pedestrians too. Now the exact phrasing as I learnt it was "You don't take an action that would cause another road user to have to take action", but in theory that means you should never brake :-). So I'll rephrase it to "The road user has right of way". How does that work?

Well consider I'm driving along and you're coming towards me on the road, but there's an obstacle in your path. The only way for you to continue is is to use the part of the road I'm using. As I'm using it I have right of way. Sure the road may be wide enough for us to both get through if I scoot over a touch, but I'm under no obligation to do so.

For pedestrians if I'm approaching a junction and I'm indicating to turn into and you're waiting to cross it - I have right of way.

But it works the other way too. If you're already overtaking the obstacle when I appear you're the road user and you have right of way. If as a pedestrian you've already started to cross before I appear or indicate that I wish to use the road you have right of way.

How does this apply to those road users who stick their noses out into the middle of queues; that's the second rule - you don't start an action unless you can finish it. So if you're trying to cross the road or switch lanes you don't unless you can complete it in one motion. So no standing in the middle of the road waiting for the other lane to clear.

It sounds daft, but those two rules pretty much cover the basics of road use. Lights and road markings simply act as mediators as to who is and isn't the 'road user'.

Annoyingly though in law most of the offences apply to use of a vehicle, pedestrian road users face little censure. They should.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


So the Smyths in Kidderminster is open and I did poke my head in while I was on Crossley, simply so I knew what was available for the younger members of the family. Essentially it's a Toys R Us - a big clean brightly painted warehouse with open shelves. There are signs hanging from the ceiling that vaguely match-up to what the shelves are displaying and the usual horrifying prices (for anyone over the age of 30 at least). I mean seriously £16.99 for for some paper and a binder so you can log on to a computer and print out a story about Disney's Cinderella alongside a converted photo of your daughter (the boys had Cars)!

Also vaguely scary nostalgia-wise - hey look at the Transformers; oh wait a second they're pose-able action figures that don't transform. Hell no we wouldn't have stood for that type of shit when I was a kid; they're Transformers that's what they do. The Halo toys were amusing given that the games they're based on are all 16 certificates... 16 year olds playing with action figures hmmm? Still don't get all the Themed Lego - congratulations you've spent £130 to build your own toy. Still it did look seriously awesome, but what else can you do with it - it's not as if you get a selection of things that these parts will make. I mean isn't that the point of Lego?

Oh and they also sell video games; so that's another to stand alongside the ranks of Comet, Currys/PC World in selling games at twice the price of Game Gamestation - yay?

Anyway grumpiness aside it's good to have the return of a dedicated toy store to the town. I shall most definitely have to take the Bratii so Major and I can tease Minor with all the things he won't be getting.

Flat Tax

With the talk of corporate tax evasion/avoidance discussions about the introduction of a flat tax seem to inevitably raise their heads. At a glance the system seems logical - everyone pays the same percentage tax of their income regardless of that income. This makes it easier to understand and administer which reduces the costs on the state (and thus the taxpayers). Being simple it's less easy to avoid and if the penalties for such were high enough those who owed money would be more likely to pay it rather than try to avoid it.

Oddly enough I think this could work or at least one variant - Negative Income Tax. A deduction is set to let's say the median wage. This is deducted from earnings and the amount remaining is multiplied by the tax rate. If the amount is positive that's the amount owed to the government. If the amount is negative that's the amount the government owe.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reseting an iPod or iPhone

One would expect when trying to determine the exact sequence needed to reset an iPod Touch that it would be easy to find on Apple's own website - yeah. I finally found the instructions I needed via a forum.

So how to set your iPod or iPhone into Recovery Mode. DaBoss tried it twice and then I gave up and took it from him and did it in 10 seconds. Sadly it's now downloading software with a 25 minute wait - yeesh.

So after lunch I'll have a clean iPod to return; possibly a dirty iPod if this computer can restore the backups.

American McGee's Alice PS3 review

So yes I picked up Alice:Madness Returns cheaply with the code to get me the first game American McGee's Alice; the question is - for those who wouldn't get it free is it worth £6.99? The answer is "um!".

Friday, September 09, 2011

Truancy equals benefits cut

The latest wheeze from our illustrious masters is to cut the benefit of those whose children are constantly truant. I find this interesting coming from the Conservative party when a much simpler and Party philosophically correct answer is more readily available - rescind compulsory education.

Why is it a matter of law that children between the ages of 5-16 be in full-time education?  If it's a case of teaching them the 'three basics' of reading, writing and arithmetic then the majority should be able to leave at age 11 or not be allowed to leave at all. If it's about instilling in them basic societal traits then having a compulsory unpaid 'job' with several months worth of holiday I think cannot be considered a good example.

So what purpose is served by compulsory education? It can be said that it's a benefit to our society as a whole by ensuring our country is filled with people with at least the bare minimum of education; except as I've said that's accomplished by age 11 or under; besides that's wishy-washy socialist nonsense that a Conservative government shouldn't have any truck with. It prevents employing minors as in the bad/good old days (delete as appropriate), but we have other laws in place. It keeps kids off the streets and allows both their parents to work, but with unemployment at the rate it is that's hardly a necessity and besides there are those wonking great breaks which screws eveything up.

Consider if education wasn't necessary beyond the three basics. Provided a child can demonstrate those there is no legal requirement for them to be educated further. So schools would be filled with only those who wanted to be there. Sure a parent could attempt to insist a child attend school, but should the child not want to it would be up to them to try to keep them there.

Now to stop the schools being closed down it can be continued that the state has a duty to provide education for those who wish it.  With a possibility of less pupils the schools can downsize or merge; as I've mentioned elsewhere an opportunity arises for specialist school areas that allow a school to hire any specialised rooms and/or teachers for those lessons that require specialist equipment. Schools would shrink, but we might end up with more of them each competing to stay relevant and funded by the state (which would remove the top-up fees currently being mooted).

For those adults who chose not to take advantage of education as children and now regret it evening classes can also be run in the same manner as they are currently.

Anyone see any flaws or disadvantageous outcomes?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Do we still need a computer?

It sounds like a stupid question, but I'm not asking if we need all the things that a computer allows us to do; just - do we still need a computer? There's some serious blurring of lines as to exactly what a computer is, yet there's still a social perception. A console such as the PS3 isn't a computer; a Smart Phone such as the iPhone isnt a computer. A computer still seems to be defined in a strict form either in laptop or desktop designs. Yet what do those forms do that the others don't?

If all the normal home computer does is access the internet; send emails, IM or use VoIP - smart phones do that; need a bigger screen - tablets have that covered. Graphic heavy games - consoles. So given all that why do any of us need a 'computer'?

Both Google's Android and Apple's iOS allow wireless synching with their respective clouds so there's no longer a need to synchronise calendars, contacts etc with a base computer. As mentioned Apple has it's AirPrint that currently only a few HP printers support.
This is great until someone wants to print out that contract, or burn that home video clip to disc; or heck just want to backup their data - at which point these devices fail.

But aren't these problems user created - a reliance on the physical? Why should I need to print this paper when I can email it? Why should I need to burn this home movie when I can wireless stream it to my TV? Why should I need to backup anything when the cloud has my back? Once everything goes virtual will there be a need for the computer in its traditional form?

There's the legal aspects of conducting all business virtually and with no paper trail; and there are questions over who exactly owns 'your' work when it's sitting on 'their' cloud; and whose responsibility it is if it vanishes in a puff of digital smoke. However, all of those can be solved with the appropriate legislative changes. So do we still need a computer?

No. They're handy and still much faster and easier to type on, but that's a functional characteristic; there's nothing stopping a plug-in keyboard for those long data work. They still have more processing power than phones and consoles; but with server farms and such companies as OnLive streaming games there's no reason such can't act as smart-terminals with the majority of the processing being done off-site.

There's already a ubiquitous connector type in the form of USB; we already have Bluetooth and 802.11 for wireless communication and TCP/IP for routing it around and WPA for encrypting it all. While a much maligned company Microsoft's DirectX acts as an ideal path for a shared functional language to allow a TV and a phone to talk to one another.

So if most of this is already around why are we still using computers? Perhaps it's down to competition. It's sounds wrong after all competition is good, but consider a company such as Nokia - they make phones; but they don't run the big servers to act as a cloud. They could do, but that would be a high expense. They could contract out, but why should they when they can just allow their phones to connect to a computer and get the user to do all the syncing and backups?

Apple on the other hand provide both, but they also sell computers; so do Microsoft via their operating system Windows - they have no interest in removing an entire section of their profitable production Oddly enough Google are perhaps the only one who can lead the way.

They're already got the cloud in place and they have no real investment in the traditional computer format. They've the interfaces in place to communicate with their own products; could this be enlarged to provide universal access in the same manner as DirectX allowing a Google Android phone to talk to a non-Google product? Hell yes a Sky+ App already exists for Android. They also have their equivalent of AirPrint called CloudPrint. For those physical requirements the majority of Android phones use USB ports.

So where are we at - Android Phone; Android Tablet; and OnLive gaming. Add in a CloudPrint printer and an external keyboard and there's no computer in sight.

Retune aftermath

The manual retuning went off without a hitch; although the Guide for BBC1 seems to be much slower at populating now. One annoyance I'd thought I solved was ghost channels. I checked the lists and there they were in the 800 range; what were they doing there? Then it clicked.

All the BBC channels have been moved to a new multiplex (in my case 43 from 41)  however those that weren't on the old one haven't been removed. So those BBC stations on Multiplex B such as BBC4 are on the same old multiplex as well as the new one. Fortunately Multiplex B is on 51 so I tuned 43 in first and they fitted into their correct slots before the others.

Now onwards to the 21st when I have to do this all over again.

[Update - It seems the Humax 9200T (and some others) has difficulty in supporting both 8k and 2k modes simultaneously. As the old system uses 2k and the new 8k and we're halfway between that's an "uh-oh" moment. Though there is a solution - delete all the channels and manually tune them in. Which I found ironic as that's what I did anyway]

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Deus Ex Human Revolution

The first was a masterpiece, the second simply couldn't live up to its predecessor the third... is flawed, but only in small ways. It's like a perfect diamond that has one small crack in the middle of it; if you weren't looking for it you wouldn't notice. That's Human Revolution to me; having played the first game in so many different ways all I can see is where this lets me down.

On its own merits it's a great game and like the first can be said to return the richness of story that normally appears only in the RPG genre to the more action-based games. Oh sure such games try to produce a back-story but they make the mistake of force-feeding it to you; a 'true' game story is one you can uncover for yourself and Deus Ex did that producing a true interactive story in which your actions had a measurable consequence not only in the end seuqence, but throughout the entire game itself. Deus Ex Human Revolution doesn't quite succeed.

Sadly it seems to have been infected with the movie virus; or perhaps the developers got cold feet at the last minute and decided they just had to appeal to the mass demographic. Either way this resulted in two things that stand completely against the primary principle laid down by the first game - the player has control.

Firstly non-interactive cut-scenes. Now memory may be blurring here but I don't recall any scene in the first game when I had zero control (except perhaps at the very beginning and the very end). Even when something was deemed necessary I still had control over my verbal responses and that would shape the progression of the story. Human Revolution takes that away from me and that means it's not 'me' in the game it's him and at times 'he' is quite stupid.

Secondly the forced fights. I've only had to endure one at the moment, but that was bad enough. Penny Arcade sums it up for me nicely. I couldn't sneak around him; I couldn't talk him out of his actions; I could only kill him. Given that he was immune to non-lethal weaponry and that's all I had that would prove difficult. Annoyingly the developers (or at least the play-testers) realised this situation could arise and rather than re-work the concept so as to give the player a choice they chose to cheat. They did this by stashing weapon caches in the locked room. Needless to say after having spent almost the entire first half of the game not even being seen let alone having to take out any enemies forcing me into this style of play did not feel fun; it felt frustrating.

Ignoring those two major flaws I'm enjoying playing it and it's one I will be returning just to play it in different ways and to see what I've missed. It's just a shame really but for those two points this would be a game up there at the top of the gaming tree. Don't get me wrong it's still great, but it could have been spectacular so so easily.

[Update - So now I'm facing off against someone invisible who runs at me and explodes. At least I can use my elite hacking skills to control all the turrets and robo-sentries then use my strength to shift some of the large crates allowing me to use my jump ability to climb up to the ducts. Oh wait no hackables, no crates, no hiding places. Once again it's locked me in a room with a maniac for which the skills I've acquired have no use - thanks for that]

[Update - And now my first glitch with the side-quest Talion A.D. It won't update beyond "Read the Pocket Secretary" despite me picking up the damn thing and reading it. It's still completable though]

Sutton Coldfield digital switchover

Tomorrow is phase one of the Sutton Coldfield switchover. Now the easiest method to retune is to tell the box do it automatically - it'll overwrite all the old channels with the new ones. However if your aerial happens to be able to pick up two different transmitters (like mine) that means getting duplicated ghost channels and for me they come in on a first come first served basis meaning that the strongest signal isn't always the one that gets assigned the right channel number. I therefore chose to do a manual retune and for that I require the new channel numbers.

Do you think I can just find a simple list of them? Hah! A full list of all the channels has been produced by Ofcom.

The current channels are 41, 44, 47, 51, 52, and 55. 34 being HD.

on the 21st they'll be 39, 40, 42, 43, 45, 46,  with 40 being HD

Great so what will they be on the 7th? Well I know the Mux that was 41 will be moving to 43. But SDN will be moving to 41. Excellent which channel is SDN? That would be the current Mux A which is 47. So is that a move or a concurrent run with both 41 and 47 displaying the same channels? Um? Assuming it's a move to keep the number of channels the same then the list for the 7th looks like this:

41, 43, 44, 51, 52, and 55. With 34 staying as HD

In the end I contacted the digital switchover people on 0845 50 50 50 and she gave me the list. Well to be precise she gave me the current list and I had to point that out. Scrolling down some more and I received confirmation that I've got it right. Sheesh what a pain though.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Apple innovations

They're sleek smart and oh so cool are the Apple gadgets it's no wonder so many imitations have arisen and likewise no wonder Apple are fighting back to protect their patents. As I write this Samsung are unable to show off their Galaxy Tabs in Germany due to a ruling regarding patents. Quite right too - Apple created these and it's only right that they should be the ones to profit from them. But did they?

Take a look at the lawdit reading room for another side to this. I'll summarise it here:

Apple's slide to unlock patent - seen on the Neonode N1m (jump to 4:20) allegedly prior to Apple.
Apple's design rights - seen on the Compaq TC1x00 allegedly prior to Apple.
Apple's iPhone outward appearance  - seen in the LG Prada allegedly prior to Apple.
Apple's grid interface menu - seen in Nokia's 7710 allegedly prior to Apple.

To demonstrate some of the fun that can be had with this the latest salvo from Samsung appears to take the view that they can't be copying Apple because Apple copied someone else. None other than Stanley Kubrik. Yep they're bringing in footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey showing the two astronauts watching news footage on their portable flat screens. Sure they may not be real, but the patents are about design and the design of these obviously exists. Someone had to create them; someone had to give them the shape they have, and they did so in 1968.

Consider if the footage was shown to teenagers and they were asked what the two men watching the video were using; how many would state it was an iPad?

Recommended salt?

Shopping at the weekend and the store was broadcasting the radio rather than a looped CD. Up popped a report on salt levels mentioning the story that some take-away foods contained "an entire day of all the salt we're allowed".

Now I've dealt with RDA in the past, but this isn't about that. This is one of my 'on the use of language' posts. Perhaps it's me, but I detect a difference between "allowance" and "allowed" - the first, to me, is what you can get and the second is what you can have.

We're not allowed a certain level of salt we have an allowance recommended to us. No-one is going to stop me eating a packet of crisps because I've already consumed all the salt I'm allowed. It sounds petty, but consider the tone difference between "contains the entire recommended salt allowance for a day" and "contains all the salt we're allowed for a day".

The Code

I finally managed to catch-up with all three episodes of BBC2's "The Code" and I'm kind of wishing I hadn't bothered.

The premise is that underlying nature and its 'laws' is mathematics and a mathematician is drafted as presenter to demonstrate this. So from this start this is difficult for me to accept this as a science programme as the conclusion has already been made and the facts are being found to fit such rather than the correct way around. Also not helped by the phrase "the code" being constantly used.

This failed in other matters too - when discussing prime numbers the presenter, Professor du Sautoy, states that they are the indivisible building blocks of mathematics just as atoms are in physics. To which my verbalised response was "So what are electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks...?" So once again we have a specialist in one field of science interjecting themselves in other branches. Now sure mathematics is the underpinning of pretty much all science, but that doesn't mean a mathematician understands all science.

At another point he demonstrates Pi and shows that the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter is a constant; actually no he doesn't he tells us this before using it in a standard deviation test to estimate the maximum weight of one fish that someone may have caught. 'But what has pi, a number related to circles, got to do with fish?' he asks before uttering "the code" and leaving it there. Hmm I don't know perhaps because standard deviations are a result of curves which you'd already visually demonstrated correspond to circles. Something we all might have answered if instead of showing us this:

He'd shown us something like this:
Mentioning the visuals this leads me to another annoyance - the fact that the producers don't think we the audience possess any form of... um where was I? Roughly every ten minutes we get a two minute rehash of what just happened. Not in the boring old way of the presenter just repeating it oh no we get ghost images of previous scenes with echoey voice snippets that may or may not jibe with the scene. All presented in some sort of cod pseudo-religious fashion as if we should be fascinated and mystified by the code; sorry The Code.

That was just the first episode, the second was about shapes and touched on fractals, bubbles, and hexagonal patterns. It could have been really interesting - I nearly fell asleep watching it. I managed to stay awake for the third episode, but it was just like the first - interjection of facts with no explanation or at least none that would fit into The Code.

The worst kind of science-lite; not gripping enough to intrigue a newcomer, but not heavy enough to interest anyone else.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Dale Farm

Reading about this 'traveller' community I wonder if they listen to what they say.

"I've never lived in a home. I've been a Traveller all my life and that's the way I want to end my life. Where will I go to if they put us on the road?"
I'm sorry what's the definition of traveller? So what if they're not living in "bricks and mortar" look at the pictures of the area and spot the difference between those dwellings and 'normal' bungalows. How can they state they have no fixed abode when some have lived their for years?

I've got no problems with people choosing to live in the way they do, but they have to do so in accordance with the laws that apply to everyone.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Minecraft - door with switches.

Although fun to lay redstone wire down and build your own circuits, sometimes it's a case of why re-invent the wheel. The Minecraft Wiki provides set templates for various logic circuits and sometimes it's just a case of connecting them up the right way.

To provide an example a forum member posed a challenge. He had a piston-activated door. To enter he wanted to press a button, have the door open and stay open until he entered then have pressure plates in the floor close the door behind him; so far so easy. However he always wanted it so that when leaving the internal pressure plates that previously closed the door would now open it and external plates would now close it behind him. That's more challenging.

Outland review

Another PSN game this time a side-scrolling platformer that reminds me of the classic 2D Prince of Persia in that a lot of acrobatics are involved. The story is pretty understated and doesn't really matter - two sisters, light and dark, created the world then intended to destroy it. They were defeated by a hero and trapped, but are now returning and it's up to you to take on the hero's mantle and prevent it.

All in all it's pretty much a bog-standard affair, however the twist comes some way in when the character acquires the power of light (blue) and later the power of dark (red) and has to remain in one of those two states. Switching between these two states at the right time becomes the key to the game. While in one state energy projectiles of that same colour cannot harm the character, however neither can the player harm any enemies of that colour. So in that instance consider attacking a red enemy while an emitter above sends out a pulse of red energy orbs; or an emitter that alternates between them. It's not just that, the state also affects what platforms are or aren't substantial. At times this means hopping between blue and red platforms and having to change state mid-leap.

It is this mechanic along with the fluidity and ease of switching that makes the game different from other platformers. It's tied well into the entire game and doesn't feel like a gimmick or a simple way to restrict movement.

It does have some minor flaws though. Although it saves between each level transition save points within a section can be a little scarce or hard to reach. It's not possible to look or down so some faith jumping or falling can be required; although there is a map it's a separate screen. Although state changes are quick and fluid being hit adds a delay to this and can leave one confused as to which state is currently active. Finally the boss fights rely on memorising set patterns of behaviour which is not possible when first facing them.

As a downloadable game only this comes at the normal price of around a tenner; for that you get a game that will compare in play time to a lot of first person shooter's single-player campaigns