Thursday, November 30, 2006

Traffic, whispers, and roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah well watch your tyres folks.

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rotating videos the Virtual Dub way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Done and dusted.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Uploading video - oh the joy

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stourport Procession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 24, 2006

Traffic accident and the Parsons Chain island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Count-down for procession.

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

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

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

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

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

[Nope - nada and nothing this morning]

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Monday, November 20, 2006

Coventry Xmas lights

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

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

Scam warning?

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

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

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

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

Quick snaps, nostalgia, non-answers, and local buildings

I did manage to nip up to Hartlebury Common Saturday morning, seems I wasn't the only one who had that idea, the first parking point opposite Cook's was full and the second being filled. I managed to squeeze in, the benefit of a small car, and exchanged pleasantries with the gentleman who had just parked before me. They were all off for a walk and managed to pick a nice day for it too. I had a wander took some snaps which I'll have to sort and post, and watched my battery level decline. <sigh> Well at least I've got a benchmark for batteries now, between 250-350 per set of four AA's.

Sunday was my birthday and as such was a family occasion; we got my (deceased) grandfather's projector, a Gnome Supreme, down along with one of the boxes of slides. Amazingly, despite not being switched on for perhaps 20 years, it still works and so we started through the boxes. It's a shame really; my grandfather dragged my father and uncle all around the area taking pictures, but so few of them were of this immediate vicinity. It's also fun in that, for the majority, they're not labelled except for the odd date; prompting such comments as "Where was that taken?" with regard to castles, cathedrals, rivers etc. Some nuggets turned up, the second Stourport Road being constructed; and the old Stourport Town Hall, which had just collapsed down one side burying two cars under rubble. I'll scan them in at some point.

So the electricity story has sparked out, we've sped past drinking, and now we're dealing with debt; if our news media ever manage to lock onto a fundamentally important story for more then a week I think we'd all collapse from shock. GMTV had the shadow chancellor on who mentioned that it was important that terms such as APR and debt management be taught at schools (as always avoid causes and head straight for the symptoms) Andrew Castle quite rightly asked

And where exactly are you going to cram that into the syllabus?
A simple question deserving of a simple answer you might think, of course we're dealing with a politician here so this is what we got
Well at the moment actually very... there's very limited teaching of um financial savvyness. There's only four hours a year and I think there is scope in a curriculum to expand that. It's so important that people come out of school with some of the basics of how to live their life, and if it's not going to be taught at school when are people going to pick it up? They might pick it up from programmes like this, but it's a bit you know, something we can't be sure of.
Or to decipher that - I think it should be taught in schools. Which was what prompted the original question in the first place.

Finally a little bit of localness, the WFA has been talking about Tesco planting one of it's megaliths in town and it seems most people expressing a preference are against it, killing local business, increasing traffic etc. As far as I can tell however no-one has suggested what should be there and more importantly who's going to pay for it. As for the plan itself it seems a duplicate of the one in Kidderminster, right down to the river, and we all know how much of an effort Tesco made for that once the bare minimum for their own needs had been satisfied.

Likewise discussion has been made about the closing of the Stourport Civic Centre, and selling off of the site, which is currently the meeting point of our District Council etc. A new building (actually two) will be built in Kidderminster for 'efficiency reasons', a phrase almost as chilling as "In the interests of customer service". No doubt the idea behind this is similar to why the majority of hospitals (under county jurisdiction) are arrayed close to the county headquarters. It has been mentioned that the meetings were held in Stourport, as it was feared that Kidderminster and Bewdley would dominate the proceedings if it were held in their towns. Although that may have been the end result after some talk with those who were in a position to know, it was perhaps the less grand ideal that Stourport had the building constructed for its own Urban District Council prior to the existence of the over-all District Council and when that was established, rather then create an entire new building, they simply moved in to the already existing structure. The big joke is that it might all turn out to be a waste of time, under new legislation from Parliament; County Councils can abolish District Councils and take over their functions, again under the auspices of 'greater efficiency'. So no doubt the buildings will be constructed at an inflated cost only to be undersold later to a developer.

Final localness, a new skate park for teenagers to hang around, now where would you place it?Next to an empty field with the amusements and mini-golf between it and the bridge, or next to the kiddies paddling pool against the bridge, where the inflatable castles are placed during the summer? Well if you're the local council the answer's obvious - the first choice, however it seems if you're a higher authority you choose the latter. Guess whose 'advice' is generally listened to?

Update: 14 Feb 07 more information on the WFA here

Friday, November 17, 2006

Canon can't, booze, mutual back-slapping, moving lights, and future plans.

Every so often you get some direct mail that makes you go "Huh" followed by a suppressed snort of laughter, I had one such piece of mail today from Canon for the Midlands. They were offering to assist me in improving the visual impact of the business, this was the very paragraph I was drawn to:No scanning tricks or post-processing that's how it came through; sorry if you want to help my visual impact you might want to start with your own first.

Okay so the news presenters have given up on electricity and have turned to drink, I know how they feel. In this case youngsters drinking, deliver up the usual large amounts of hand-wringing and "what can we do"s none of which are liable to solve any of the problems. Let's be honest here we're a nation of drunks, and we've always been a nation of drunks; it's been a well-commented feature of most visiting foreigners throughout history. A few poxy legislations or scary adverts are unlikely to change a thing, it's pretty much embedded in what passes for our national psyche.

One of the problems I think is Labour's continuing delusion that we're all going to be European, that if they allow us to drink whenever we like we're suddenly going to turn into France and be sipping wine and clear lagers at odd intervals rather then belting back the beer and spirits as if they were about to run out. Not going to happen and pretty much nothing that can be done about it bar legislating against under 18s from drinking at all. Nonetheless I'll go out on a limb and predict that some sort of legislation will be passed meaning that the parents of boozy teenagers will be liable to fines and prison in much the same vein as was done for truancy with probably the same level of results.

I've added the Wyre Forest Agenda to the blogroll a site which I must admit is something I've only recently discovered. It shows up a lot of information that often doesn't appear or at least appear prominently in the local paper. I've noted it more of a discussion then a blog as the comment to article ratio is biased heavily in that favour, no offence meant to the writer if he's noted the referral and is reading, just goes to show how widely read it is.

The traffic lights on the bridge have been pushed forward, noted it a couple of days ago when they were working on the town-side hole, but it looks to be permanent now as they've extended the dig in that direction. Not sure what that'll do for the intelligent sensors in the road, but the nice stop white lane they painted for it is now defunct after an entire 24 days. As this entire project is slated to continue until April 07 I believe, this example of forward-planning is a little worrying.

Well everything is started to turn golden brown, so much so that I've started humming California Dreaming as I travel about, hopefully if the weather is reasonable I'll take some more shots of Hartlebury Common this Saturday and maybe hop up to Burlish Top for some there too. Perhaps some more shots of Stourport while I'm passing through; so if you see a chap with a ponytail taking shots of apparently uninteresting things feel free to say hello.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ye Olde Crown Inn

I dislike naming names, far too often a one-off occasion is quoted and the company spited, but this is taking the biscuit. I've mentioned the work a few times now that's going on at the bridge and how supposedly the police are clearing parked vehicles away at the busy periods; so what does this pub do, only has its deliveries between 5 and 6pm on the weekdays and it's been doing this for several weeks since the lights went up.

Now this wouldn't be so bad if it was further up town, but it's at the entrance to the bridge and I mean first-building-as-you-come-off-it next to the bridge and that means it directly affects the traffic building up at the lights. Here we go -

The black line indicates the bridge wall, the white blocks are where "Keep Clear" markings have been recently painted, the pub is the brown building next to them. The problem is the wagon parks directly between the two blocks, offset against the road, but still partially on the road and partially covering the two "Keep Clear" signs. Now prior to the signs being painted this was legal, there are no parking restrictions in force along this small stretch of the road, as it forms part of a junction. Nor for some reason has the council seen fit to add junction markings; the road is bare (and incidentally fun to drive down on a wet and dark night as the markings suddenly vanish and you drive into a brick wall which has no reflector on its end)

So for almost every weekday night a large lorry is parked here, vehicles cannot turn down either of the junctions and stop; and the queuing vehicles are forced slightly over to the other side of the road, making it difficult for larger oncoming vehicles to get past. Oddly I'm not expecting to see it tonight, this was the day that we traditionally had the traffic warden patrolling. It's amazing how few deliveries any of the shops in town have on a Thursday.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Still the story continues, for those who are perhaps not familiar with the shenanigans let me enlighten you.

Farepak were a Christmas savings scheme, you send them money, they save it and then send you a food/wine hamper for Christmas. It is in essence the jar on the shelf, with the benefits that you can't grab the cash for 'emergencies' and one supposes that the bulk buying power means that you get a hamper that would normally be beyond your means.

It seems a safe bet, they'd been trading since 1969 so were obviously not some fly-by-night company, they had celebrity endorsements such as the chef Antony Worrall Thompson back in 2005, and after all they were simply collecting the money and banking it all nice and secure they even said that they

adhere to the HITA Code of Practice to ensure the security of your savings
What could go wrong?

Well they're part of the EHR group and apparently that was having problems, according to their own report to the Stock Exchange on the 30th June they were experiencing cashflow problems, and on the 23rd of August HBOS said they were no longer lending them money as the company was beyond saving. HITA, they of the Code of Practice, contacted EHR to ensure that the Farepak money would be ringfenced ie protected, the reply to HITA
They said they didn't have to
According to records Farepak then made payments totalling £40m to EHR completely legally. Despite all warnings the DTI have been informed that Farepak were still pressing for payments just as the parent company was going into receivership.

Contradictions abound as to the timing of this, some reports indicate that EHR used £35m of Farepak money to buy DMG in 2000 and borrowed the same amount from HBOS to replenish the fund. When DMG toppled and was subsequently sold for £5m the loan could not be repaid and HBOS seized the funds that were held in Farepak's name.

So what's with the big fuss, lots of companies go bankrupt leaving plenty of people out of pocket?
Well for starters there's the question over the way the finances were handled, there's the fact that we're dealing with £40m of individual people's money, but the biggest problem lies in the basis of the operation. People didn't deal with Farepak directly, they dealt with self-employed agents; these signed up and became an agent then persuaded others to start saving up with the company; others like family, friends, neighbours and other social groups.

This collapse hasn't left a group of disassociated individuals in trouble; it's struck at entire familes, entire neighbourhoods, whole collections of people who will no longer be able to look forward to Christmas. As for the people at the top of the company, those who presided over this entire affair, apparently they're doing fine thanks for asking.

Monday, November 13, 2006

More Flickr

Got these out sooner then I expected. I was getting fed-up with being unable to organise all the photos into sets, Flickr only allowing 3 sets per user, so I've taken the plunge and paid for a year membership $29.99 <shakes fist> Damn you Flickr, damn you to hell. Heh seriously though with the current exchange rate it's only about £15 in real money; for a year's membership, I can live with that expense.

As a bonus it maintains the high-res images I've already uploaded, I might have to redo some as I'd scaled them down due to bandwidth limitations, but now I'm up to 20Gb a month I can add one in every so often.

It's interesting the reactions you get when you wander around taking pictures of apparently uninteresting things, as you can see from the two new cycle lane photos there was a queue of traffic building up and yet of all the photos I took most of the vehicles left a nice gap in the direction I was taking them. In town most peoplegave me a curious look and then promptly ignored me.

I've some more of the Autumn set to upload, but these are the best ones. I've been playing with the manual focus and aperture using the Av setting on the camera, one of those things that's almost impossible to tell on the camera screen, but at least with a digital camera I can take multiple shots with no processing costs to worry about.

Electricity suppliers

I note that it's that time of year again when the TV news starts complaining about the price and quality of service of electricity suppliers in this country. Of course almost all the reports you hear about are from domestic arrangements so I thought I'd share a tale from the landlord's perspective. (I've told this tale in one form or another on a certain newsgroup so they can feel free to skip it)

A tenant was leaving a unit at the end of October last year as such they'd informed their electricity supplier, let's call them company X. We get a letter from the metering company asking us to cough up an annual fee and sign a five-year contract for the type of meter installed. We're obviously startled by this and contact the metering company. They say

It's the type of tariff you're on. By law you have to have one of these meters
We contact company X
You can't change the tariff until you show 3 months of use below the threshold
"But it'll be empty" we reply
Think yourself lucky, the law's only just changed and before that you'd have been stuck at that rate
We then contact the metering company and explain the situation, they're very good about it.

Months pass and at the end of January the next year we get a set of invoices from company X for October, November, December, and January. Well for starters we shouldn't have got one for October, next up we spotted a £100 management charge and a £200 distribution charge per month. A phone call is quickly made
The management fee is because you're not in contract with us, the distribution fee is because you're drawing excess electricity
"But you've never offered us a contract, and the unit is empty" we cry.
Not our problem you're in a deemed contract and our terms and conditions state we can charge you £100 per month, the distribution charge is nothing to do with us you'll have to contact your distributors Central Networks.
"How are we supposed to know that?"
Not our problem, here's their number
One phone call to them and they're very surprised to hear from us, they don't deal with end-users, in fact the guy I speak to has never dealt with an end-user and he's been there since before they changed the name. He's very good, deals with us, and drops this distribution.

The next day we get a letter from X, regarding how they're the new suppliers for the premises and that they'd be charging us a £100 fee each month.

Another phone call to them
Not our problem
Several invoices later and they're still charging a distribution fee, after yet another call they credit it back, they still don't want to offer us a contract, they're still charging us £100 a month for a unit which is using 0 units of electricity a month. Total bill being about £200 a month.

We contact Energywatch who say they'll look into it. Time passes, we contact them again. They express surprise they hadn't heard from X or ourselves and therefore assumed it was dealt with. They try again. Time passes. We talk to them again, they try again.

Finally we get a letter from X in response, the summation is
They're not in contract we can charge £100 per month as per our T&Cs, Ofgen say we can nah nah nah nah nah
Energywatch are still on the case, trouble is all the laws and regulations are on the side of X. We should have contacted them to get a contract a month before the tenants left, we should have known about the electricity supply, we should have known about the T&Cs. Sucks huh?

To add insult to injury, another empty unit got a bill with an extra £1,000 slipped on from another electricity supplier Y.
It's nothing to do with us it's the distribution company, who are... Z
"No Z is another supplier, the distributors are Central Networks"
Nope it's Y and here's the number
Dialling number...
Welcome to Central Networks
After diving through a menu system that didn't offer me any choices I needed I gave up and contacted my man on the inside from the previous problem. He confirmed they hadn't asked for this charge. Back to Y
It's nothing to do with us it's the distribution company who are Midla-
"Nope it's Central Networks. I've called them and they say it's nothing to do with them, here's what you're going to do! Call this number, talk to this guy, remove the charges"
The charges vanished off the next invoice without a single word of apology or explanation.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Terror plots, brain drain, mumbling, and the PS3

So the head of MI5 has announced there are terror plots around in the UK, they're investigating upto 200 groups, 1600 individuals, and 30 plots. Woah! Is it budget review time already? You've got to wonder though - 200 groups and 1600 individuals, but only 30 plots. What are these suspects doing? Comparing knitting patterns, holding book discussions, or simply mouthing off about how terrible the UK is. Well if it's so terrible here's a solution - leave.

Seriously, a lawyer is asked to remove her headscarf so that the judge can hear her, she refuses and is now taking it to court in Europe at the taxpayers expense. Okay here's the deal - stop whining. At the last census count just over 70% of the population are Christian, just under 3% are Muslim. Now we're a tolerant nation we'll happily allow you to practice whatever religion you like provided it doesn't hurt anyone, but do stop banging on about your religious rights; you want such rights move to a country where the majority are Muslims.

As in almost all cases it's a small minority of a group who kick up the fuss, the rest just get on with life and presumably are thankful they don't live in a country where the government can chop off your head for speaking out of turn.

The boss picked up a copy of The Brain Game for the DS and brought it in, not wanting to ruin any data he might have I ran through one of the practices. It's quite simply once you understand it, not helped by the instructions being as clear as mud, if the screen shows Red you say blue, see easy... Red "Blue" Wrong "Blue?" Correct, Green "Red" Wrong "Red!" Correct. The resulting fiasco was a brain age of 80. Next time I'll try it with a Welsh accent.

The BBC were discussing film actors mumbling, after Michael Caine had complained, and had the almighty Brian Blessed on to discuss it. Way too short an interview, but it is something I've noticed and I've often had to switch on the subtitles and rewind a bit to find out what the heck they said. Is it old age, are they mumbling, or is it simply that they stick on some voice canceling music over the top to impart the correct mood? Anybody's thoughts on this would be interesting.

Finally, and I mean that in both contexts, the PS3 is heading for a release tomorrow... in Japan, we won't be getting it until March next year at which point the price is supposed to be around £500. Okay I think I'm going to be happy with my PS2 for the time being, after all I've just acquired a new computer and I'm still playing System Shock 2 on it so I'm not exactly in the market for the latest whizz-bang games. It'll still sell by the truck-load when it comes out though and hopefully they'd have ironed out the hardware bugs by then; just think of the Japanese and American markets as beta testers for us.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Big bangs, Autumn and elections

Just a quick post I've added some more photos to my Flickr account, a set I took last Friday at a fireworks party; only just got around to looking through them. I was using a Canon Powershot A620, which I've only recently acquired, and had it set to the special "Firework" mode. This seemed to result in a standard 2 second exposure. Seeing as I was holding this manually and it was bloody cold I was surprised to get anything other then a blurry mess. The first few were a bit hit and miss, but then I learned to press the shutter just before the explosion and well there are the results. The original photos are 3072x2304, but of course the free account only goes up to the 1024 region. If demand is high enough I could port them over to Zazzle ;)

Autumn has finally arrived here this week, in that the trees are actually changing colour. Leaves have been falling for a while now, but for the most part the trees had remained green or simply lost all their leaves. There has been worried talk that the sudden cold would shock the trees, but to paraphrase a friend (whom I hope won't mind me lifting his comment)

Some probably won't make it, yeah. That's the nature of, uh, nature
If we come back in the Spring and they're all dead then we're in trouble, but I doubt that'll happen.

Finally in case you've been living on another planet or under a rock for the past few days the results of the election are in - yep Ortega has been voted back as Nicaragua's president. What, you thought I was going to talk about some other election? Well the BBC news covered that one no problem; long chats, plenty of video footage, two on-the-spot correspondents, and an interview with the US Ambassador. Nicaragua? He's been voted back in, he promises to eliminate poverty, the US say funds will only be forthcoming if democracy is maintained.
There have been hints by the Americans that Mr Ortega could find favour again with his northern neighbour, if he is a transparent democrat and co-operative partner.
In other words - let us in to buy up all your utilities and strip-mine your country and we'll sell you some electronic voting machines for the next election . Ah business as usual.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lines, maps, plots and charidee

Spotted some shiny new double-yellow lines painted down a road near the bridge yesterday afternoon, about time to; I can't even begin to count how many cars I've seen parked there. No, seriously; I can't begin to count them. I've seen cars stopped when they've broken down, cars stopped while the occupants ask for directions, and cars stopped to pick up friends they've seen walking along. What I have never seen is anyone stop and get out of their car and wander off. It's odd, it's a nice straight road of reasonable width, but I don't think it would have even occurred to anyone to park there. There's nothing there to park for, though now they've expressly forbidden it I must admit I'm tempted to.

Here's the map of the lights-on procession I've already mentioned.

Without exception everyone who's seen it has said

Where are they going then?
This isn't some joke about the locals' inability to read maps, the same thing was said by a friend who's just moved into the area. So what's the problem? Easy. It's the same reason you don't recognise your country when they put south at the top. There's one defining characteristic of the town - the bridge. The bridge which is to the south of the town, every map you see of my town regardless of where you're starting from, or it's orientational accuracy, has the bridge below the town. Turn this map 90° clockwise and there's a sudden intake of breath and a "Oh yeah, I see". It doesn't help of course that they've not only got the map the wrong way up, but have also failed to mark the bridge on it.

This story pretty much blipped through the rolling juggernaut that is 24-hour news. To summarise Dhiren Barot has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for plotting to blow up areas of London and the USA. Okay so here's a dumb question - "What has he done that's illegal?"

He was taking video footage of prominent buildings paying close attention to security - Hell I'd do that, although my commentary would be more along the lines of "What a waste of time and money", but if that's illegal we'd better lock up a lot of holidaymakers.

He had books that described how to make explosives - okay is there a list of banned books we need to know about. Oh no wait you mean he actually had made some bombs - no. So he had bomb-making apparatus - no. Oh.

He trained in Kashmir to carry out acts of terrorism against other countries. Okay well that's not illegal here, if it's illegal in Kashmir then they can prosecute him.

He had detailed written instructions about how to carry out acts of terrorism against the US and UK, which just proves his lawyer should have used the defence "He's a novelist! This is research"

So what has he been sentenced for
"conspiracy to commit a public nuisance by the use of radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals and/or explosives."
To put it bluntly we think he was going to do this based on the evidence above. Well he's pleaded guilty, and he probably was going to do something, but damn if you can lock someone away for 40 years on evidence this scanty I think everyone should be worried.

Finally I caught a television ad - Ah babies, lots of babies ahh. It was a nappy/diaper commercial, buy a special pack and the company will give a child a tetanus inoculation. Well that's nice, unfortunately for the company (but fortunately for us) the ASA are a bunch of hard-arses and you can't get away with unqualified statements like that. What the company will do is fund the cost of one tetanus shot, total cost 2.5p. So for every pack of disposable nappies you buy a whopping 2.5p goes to UNICEF. Here's a thought open your purse or wallet, dig out a pound coin, send it to UNICEF, you've just done the equivalent of buying 40 packs of nappies. But hey it's all for charidee.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Strange gifts, queues and a thank-you

Somehow I've got signed up on the Radio Times mailing list; I'm not sure how and I certainly don't recall giving them my address, but still the odd freebie comes through the door. A little while ago it was four money-off vouchers; the first for the previous week, the copy of which I was already using; the second for the current week, which had been published two days before and which I'd already bought; which left two, both of which I put down and promptly forgot about. Anyway this morning I had another gift - a pair of earplugs. Are they commenting on their content perhaps. There was some bumpf with it, but I was heading out the door for work.

I needn't have hurried, I drove out straight into a queue of traffic. The way some people behave in queues fascinates me. We've a lot of cars in this country and a poor infrastructure to support them, you'd think by now that we'd all have learnt how to behave when stuck in a traffic jam; well you'd think we would have.

The first thing to note is that you're not traveling very fast, the speedometer doesn't even register that you're moving at all in most cases, as such you don't need to leave the same amount of space between you and the car in front as you would if you were traveling at say 30mph. The second thing is the gap between you and the car in front only needs to be enough for you to get past if they suddenly freeze-up on you, sure if it's a big van or lorry leave some extra space, but for a normal car a gap of about three car lengths might be considered excessive.

The big problem is junctions, you can almost guarantee that if there's a queue then it'll extend just past the junction you're trying to pull out of. Just as predictable is that if you scan along the queue you'll find a couple of stationary cars with a gap between them large enough to be filled by a double-decker bus. I can almost hear their thoughts

Why bother moving forward, it's a waste of petrol and I'm not really getting anywhere
Meanwhile I'm stuck at a junction I needn't be if they just moved forward a tiny amount. Finally a neuron fires and they start to edge slowly forward or, in the case of boy racers who've been fiddling with their mobiles or stereos, surge ahead. This slowly propagates down the line and at last you can pull out. At which point either a new car appears and joins the queue; traffic starts coming down the lane you're trying to cross; or, as is more likely, both; and you're back to square one.

What caused this jam, well several things; firstly the intelligent traffic light system on the bridge. It has sensors on either side of the roadworks extending for the length of the bridge. This would be great if the roadworks were centrally positioned; they're not. As a result coming from town you have four sensors and going into town you have two. So a queue two sensors long leaving town is equal to a queue two sensors long or greater heading into town, it can't tell the difference. Not a problem if there was more traffic leaving town then going in, but it flows back and forth from morning to evening.

Secondly, the position of the holes they've dug. Heading into town the first hole is behind the traffic lights, you simply switch lanes then pull back in and pass the next set of lights on your right. Now they've dug a second hole. This too is in the same lane as the first, but further down about a car length and a half from the next set of lights. So before you had plenty of time to swing back into the correct lane, or on leaving town plenty of room to swing around the lights, now you've only got a narrow window to slide through. Everyone slows down.

Finally the delivery van further up, parked on the double-yellow lines directly next to the sign telling him that he can't load or unload between the hours of 8 and 9 and directly opposite the disabled bays. Some of the wider vehicles were having a serious job getting through. Police in sight? Ha, as if.

The thank-you goes to Daniel, who pointed out I wasn't allowing anonymous comments. This has now been rectified. Fire away, but if it gets nasty I'll need a hug from someone.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Airline update

Ryanair announce their profits are up, for the same period as BA's went down. Oh yep must be all the security arrangements. Never mind they're relaxing the restrictions now, now you can take more liquid with you. It has to be in a clear plastic bottle and has to be X-rayed separately. Umm X-rayed can anyone tell me why?

All-in-all it's good news for terrorists who might have been worried they'd be unable to splash out for Christmas.

Going shopping; going mad.

My nearest city is Worcester and yet I don't normally shop there, I head out to the shopping mall at Merry Hill instead; it's about the same distance, it's enclosed, all the shops are in one place, and I have this odd antipathy for Worcester though it's been so long I couldn't recall why. Well with one thing or another I popped in at the weekend and now I remember.

Worcester isn't a city, it's a giant spatial awareness test. Council officials hijack unsuspecting visitors, blindfold them, drive them into the middle of the city, then release them and tell them to find their own way out; they then start cackling as the poor visitor is driven insane.

So why is this? Well first a slight diversion - road signs; they're expensive. Firstly they're all one-offs, you can't order a hundred "Worcester next left" signs unless you've a very odd town. They then have to be installed - pavements dug up and posts fitted. Then you have to maintain them as lorries knock them over, people spray-paint witty remarks over them and failing that they just need a clean every so often. Finally if they're in a lit area they themselves need an independent light source, so you're paying every night for electricity to them. Again to put it bluntly - they're expensive.

I don't know where it first started, but I can imagine some poor soul slaving away over a set of city plans marking off where and what all the signs are when inspiration strikes "Why not paint the signs in the road?" Lower installation cost, lower maintenance, and no constant electricity bill. I'm sure they gave themselves a big hug for that one.

Sadly, like most plans that arrive from such desks, once out of the door it comes into direct conflict with what we lovingly refer to as "Reality". If you're reading this then you're obviously intelligent, as well as witty and attractive, so I don't really need to spell out the problems; if you've arrived here by hitting the random button then I'll try to use small words.

The less obvious problem is that drivers don't really pay attention to the road, they're too busy looking at the other vehicles and the pedestrians. When they do look at signs they look up, heck even the headlights on our cars are orientated that way. Signs in this position are facing us, that means we can see them from a distance, we can even slow down a little to read them if need be. Signs painted on the road can only be read at certain angles as you approach, miss this moment of opportunity and, well, too late.

The more obvious problem - cars aren't transparent. Start painting signs on the road next to junctions and inconsiderate souls have an odd tendency to stop on them, remove the other expensive signs and you're in trouble. Couple this with the inability to even make the signs that you do paint in any way useful and you're in serious trouble.

Want an example? I was heading out towards one of the bridges, which is on my left, therefore I want to turn left at some point. The three lanes I could choose from were - straight, straight, right. The two straight lanes turned left over the bridge, then turned left again. One of the straight lanes then carried on whilst the other straight lane turned right. Only painted road markings to help.

Another? The car-park was on my right, I knew that a small roundabout was up ahead where I'd turn. I almost missed the roundabout, stop and think about that for a second; how can you miss a roundabout? Easy; you don't put up any signs warning you that one is coming up, you don't have any signs telling you what happens if you pick any of the exits from it, and finally you offset it to the right of what appears to be straight road.

So finally I've parked, paid the exhorbitant fee the city charges me to leave my car unwatched and unattended, and now I can shop.

Worcester has some enclosed areas, by enclosed I mean alleys 'with roofs'. Some do have doors, though I suspect only as they were getting fed up with the RAF using them to test out their aeronautical designs. They're certainly not there to keep the heat in, it's basically outside temperature minus wind chill. In of itself this would be fine, you just wrap up warm as I did, it's when you step inside a shop that the fun begins. It's hot, compared to where you've just come from it's Saharan; and of course you start unwrapping layers. You browse and get acclimatised to the heat, then you step back outside and it feels like the Arctic. Rinse and repeat; its just not good for a body.

Well at least now I can recall why I don't go shopping there.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pringles website testing

I've just got a code from a packet of Pringles just visit their site to get some freebies. So first off I missed the "s" off Pringles, what a surprise a camper has set up a site at that address, correcting that sent me to the correct site.

Hmm they must have missed the memo about disability testing, it's Flash only. No Flash no site.

Easy to read huh? Ah well Flash re-enabled and a reload later oh gee thanks for the funky music that starts before the main screen appears and I can turn it off. Ah time to pick a country - Union Jack I choose you.

Time to register: First name - check; last name - check; Date of Birth - hmm any particular format, well it accepts dd/mm/yyyy so okay; email address - foo" wha? foo" No I want an @ there not a " what'll happen if I try an " instead oh lookee a @.

Old time game players and programmers can probably guess this, for everyone else it's a US keyboard layout. " and @ reverse places between the UK and US keyboards (along with some other changes). I've got to admit I'm fascinated by how they managed to do this. Both £ and ~ appear as #, but oddly \ appears fine (On an US keyboard it's not next to the Z and is instead covered by the Shift key, programs with a hardcoded US layout therefore tend to fail to recognise that this key even exists).

So what does that tell me - simply that despite having the choice and being able to select the UK, nobody in the UK actually bothered to test it. That they did all the testing in the US with a US keyboard and hey they can use @ with no problem.

Oh well the whole world is American don't you know that, besides - bonus I got a Faithless wallpaper out of it.

With an easily removable Pringles logo heh heh.

BA, fish, and a lardy army

The morning news - BA are announcing how much money they've lost due to the heightened security policy enacted in August, according to the BBC their profits are down 8%, according to GMTV they're down 27%. That's terrible either way, all that money they've lost; all that vanished... wait a minute - profit? Profits are down? So they haven't actually lost any money at all then, it's just that they failed to make as much as they did the same time last year. So if the security alert wasn't in place they'd have made the same or more? Wow I wish I could predict the future like that. So what's the downside

BA Executive 1: "Oh no our profits are down and I'm not going to get my annual bonus, and I promised my daughter I'd buy her a pony for Christmas"
BA Executive 2: "Don't worry it's not our fault, we'll make sure our bonuses are paid. We'll find the money somehow, sack a few hundred staff or something"

The next story is we're losing our fish; quick go out and stock up , fill your freezers, at the rate we're fishing there won't be any about in 50 years time. Well that's not quite right, some species might not be around, in certain areas, perhaps; but it's gosh darn important we do something right now.

A minister being interviewed on the BBC said they're trying to push forward a bill to protect certain areas and are trying to persuade other countries, including the EU, to do the same. Oh yeah I can see what'll happen, we'll all sign up and the only country to actually enforce it will be us. The other EU countries will just carry on as normal as they do with every other EU law in place that doesn't directly benefit them. Our local fish prices will go up and the supermarkets in their eternal quest for more cash will start importing them from abroad leading to the collapse of our fishing industry.

The minister said that this was very important and would be addressed in Parliament. The interviewer, Bill Turnball of the BBC, then stated it couldn't be that important if it wasn't in the Queen's speech. The minister quite rightly stated we couldn't know that as she hasn't given it yet. Bill repeated that it wasn't in the Queen's speech, and again the minister had to remind the seasoned interviewer that, oddly enough, ministers aren't allowed to comment on the Queen's speech until it's been given. Take this with the ITN comments regarding parliamentary procedure I've already noted and one has to ask what is going on with television journalism.

Finally, apparently our army has been under strength by about 5,000 people for about 5 years. People are leaving (one way or another) at a faster rate then are being recruited. Lack of people wanting to be recruited? Nope, they're too fat. One in three fail to meet the minimum requirements. So sticking firmly to their principles, and following in the footsteps of the police force, the army are lowering the minimum requirements. Hopefully training will burn off all that excess blubber or at least give the army medics plenty of practice on heart-attack victims.

Is there a solution to all these problems? Sure is - the government contracts BA to transport the lardy troops to the training camps, with the new recruits being offered a (normally banned) fish-and-chip meal on the flight. Sorted!

HSBC fails to ramp up

In an effort not to watch "SudoQ" or "Deal No Deal" I caught the ITV local news. The teaser prior to the credits stated they were going to talk about an HSBC bank not dealing with its wheelchair bound customers. This piqued my interest as a couple of years ago they'd done the same piece regarding the HSBC bank in the town next to mine, were they going to repeat it? No this was another town.

So why don't the companies build ramps as required by law, well in the case of the HSBC in my neighbouring town they have exactly the same problem as a lot of stores in my town - the buildings are listed. The owners cannot make these changes a permanent feature they have to have temporary ramps that are required to be brought out. This brings Health and Safety into the equation.

My mother works for a charity shop, located in a listed building; the entrance is narrow and comprises of two steps. In order to use the temporary ramp they require a minimum of two people, one to stand at the bottom to prevent non-wheelchair users from attempting to enter, and one at the top to prevent non-wheelchair users from leaving; add in one extra person to watch the till and you need at least three people present every time the ramp is used.

Am I using this to excuse the banks? No, just as an example that there's normally more to a story then is reported.

Anyway from the bank's perspective the solution is easy, close the branch, turn it into a trendy wine-bar, and let the new owners deal with the problem.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

That's why you're paid the big bucks

Not a huge story on last evening's ITN broadcast, though made one by the fact it involved the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Speaker of the House of Commons and some heated (for Parliament) dialogue.

This is Prime Minister's Question Time (strictly speaking the PM's Engagements) when questions regarding the government can be put forth. Mr Cameron asked

I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to talk about the Chancellor he cannot even mention his name —but let us just spend a moment on the subject. Let me put the question that I put to him three weeks ago. In January, the Prime Minister said:

“I'm absolutely happy that Gordon Brown will be my successor.

Does the Prime Minister—
Before being interupted by the Speaker who quite rightly pointed out that
Questions should be about the business of the Government. The issue of who will be the next leader of the Labour party is for the Labour party to talk about and decide
Mr Cameron got testy, but was allowed to ask
Perhaps with my last question I can ask the Prime Minister who he would like to see as the next Prime Minister of this country.
To which he got an answer.

The reporter's response to this was that he couldn't see the difference between the two questions posed by Mr Cameron. Oookay the Speaker actually pointed out the difference; the first question was put as an internal Labour Party question, the second as a question regarding government. The difference is quite apparent to anyone who has any knowledge of parliamentary procedure, something that a reporter covering Parliament should perhaps acquire.

Eggheads or SudoQ?

I've just noticed that the BBC2 show Eggheads has ended. I didn't think they could find a cheesier show to put on, but they have - SudoQ. A mid-morning show that's been promoted to the early evening slot, no doubt due to it's ratings and not the fact they had nothing else to put on, oh no no no.

It's amazing how anything else becomes instantly watchable, Noel Edmonds' "Deal no Deal" a game of zero skill or perhaps the local news. Not that I don't normally watch the news, it's just that "How your food is killing you" or "Bloodbath in Birmingham" is not something particularly entertaining when you've just eaten or are about to. Besides I prefer the evening news, when the presenters have had time to digest the day's events and might actually understand what is actually happening.

Even Eggheads was better then this and that drove me insane. It was cheap, seriously cheap, early Doctor Who cheap. The contestants would applaud their isolated team member for getting the question correct and it would resound hollowly as if in a warehouse. The graphics were boilerplate, it mattered not what they called themselves the contestants would always be referred to as "The Contestants" on the scoreboard. The isolated players were read the question and then given a choice of three answers, but didn't even have a screen in front of them to read it for themselves

Can you spell that for me?
What was the first choice again?
The biggest problem however was the presenter Dermot McMurnahanrahanrahan. He's a news presenter, he can read an autocue and do interviews, he shouldn't be a presenter. Every episode was the same, exactly the same lines, exactly the same forced banter.
So at the end of round one the contestants have lost one brain and the eggheads have lost none.
Gee thanks I couldn't have worked that out, but for every episode of every series exactly the same thing. If he didn't have to ask different questions they could have just recorded all his lines and played them back.

On losing a round
Ah well you chose to go first, they [the egghead] could have had your questions instead
Well duh, seeing as I don't know what the questions are going to be I can't exactly make an informed choice now can I?

The prize structure is ridiculous too. If the eggheads lose then £1,000 is added to the pot, winners get the pot. So if they remain undefeated for a while the next winners pick up some decent cash, but if the next contestants win they only get a £1,000 despite doing exactly the same as the previous group.

The BBC couldn't even show them in order or they missed some out, the prize went up then went back down, did someone win? We never to got to see that did we?

And yet it's still better then SudoQ. Ah well at least I'll be well informed about local events.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Perfect Timing

I've just had a leaflet through the door telling me about the switching on of the Christmas lights in town. They're going to hold a candlelit procession which will lead through all four major roads in town. Although not explicitly stated they're going to need to block these roads off in order to walk down them safely, which means shutting down the entire town centre beforehand to let traffic clear.

So when do they plan on holding this exciting event - 6 o'clock on a Friday evening for half-an-hour

The police are likely to handle it and to be blunt they don't have a clue when it comes to traffic management around here. The only good thing I can say is that it's starting from the town side of the bridge so they won't need to shut down the roads on the other side too, as they have to do for the carnival. That means if push comes to shove I can take the long route round via the other bridge. They'll still be traffic on that side, but it'll be manageable.

Seriously though hold it an hour later at 7pm when a) the traffic will have cleared and b) people have got home from work, eaten, and can flipping attend the thing. If you absolutely positively have to hold it at 6pm then do it on a Sunday.

Abbey takes the plunge and no-one asks the right question

So the Abbey has finally gone official with it's smile and a wink policy of loaning out greater multiples of annual earnings for mortgages over the recommended guidelines. Everyone is shocked that this'll leave borrowers overstretched. Others wonder if the other big mortgage lenders will follow this trend. No-one it seems is asking why Abbey are having to do this.

Why are they having to loan greater and greater amounts to first-time buyers? Let's have a look shall we-

In 1992 the average weekly wage was £328, an annual wage of £17,056. The average house price was £61,400, a multiple of... 3.6.

In 2002 the average weekly wage was £392/week, an annual wage of £20,384. The average house price was £128,300, a multiple of... 6.3.

So why the disparity, has the number of houses decreased? Well no, to quote the National Statistics website

Between 1971 and 2004 the number of dwellings in Great Britain increased by 35 per cent, to 25.3 million
So the number of dwellings has increased, and yet their price still goes up at a rate faster then wage growth. Is it any surprise that people need to borrow more?

So why isn't anyone asking this question? Well it's obvious, if it gets discussed it'll turn out that house prices are overinflated. Prices might go down and we can't have that; can we?

How to travel through town

The town is small, four main roads cross through the town centre; one leads to a bridge, one falls back into the town and two join up after a time apart. Everything feeds into everything else; a hold-up here leads to a stop there. The bridge is now undergoing major structural repair, probably for the first time since it was built in 1870, this would be of no concern if a second bridge existed; it doesn't. The next nearest bridges are 3 miles upstream and 6 miles down, the roads leading through them are convoluted to say the least. We're the main artery, we're getting a by-pass, we've been getting a by-pass for the last 30-odd years. Some of it's in place; the cheap parts, the parts that the authorities can get others to pay for when they plonk down a new housing estate "Sure you can get permission, you just need to add this bit of road in first". The expensive stuff, the new bridge, that we won't see for a while.

So they've started the work, it's been on the books now since last July all scheduled for August this year. Just goes to show how well they know the town, the carnival is held on the first Saturday of September and passes right over the bridge. Some juggling later and signs go up telling us that the work will start on "Sep 06" wonderful is that the 6th of September or just September this year? Doesn't matter anyway according to the local paper, which has actually deigned to notice us, they've yet to get a contractor in.

September passes and the signs are just amusing now, new ones replace them with a fixed date of 24th October, this is what we're told, this is what we know. The week before and they're digging in the road, planting traffic sensors, they place one at a time picking the lunchtime or evening rush hour to work, but still proper sensors our hopes soar.

The lights are put in on the 23rd, temporary ones until they can fix permanent ones, these stand in pairs side-by-side fixed down in concrete buckets awaiting life. The temporary's stand until the evening of the 24th when they're removed and the permanents are lit. They stand incongruously next to each other, a pair at either end; why do we need four? One of each pair has a sensor presumably monitoring the traffic flowing through the works, the other... who knows. Already one light has burnt out.

They seem to be working the traffic is flowing, this is an illusion; it's half-term the children are playing away from school, the flows are half of normal. The police claim to be monitoring the parking, they do; on some days. On others people park, as people now seem to park, wherever they choose. The traffic has built up this week, the police still seem scarce, but the traffic flows seem no different to when the signals were gone, perhaps the signs on the outskirts of town are having an effect, perhaps people aren't using us as a shortcut to other places. Who knows, let's see if it stays like this.

In the beginning

I trust it's not just me, I look around at the world and ask "Where did all the common sense go?". Nobody seems to care about taking the time to check things work before they do them, time is money and money is all. The present is all that matters, the future can take care of itself.

I live in a small town of around 20,000 people. The things that happen there are just like as everywhere else; perhaps better, perhaps worse. It's my town though, so that's what I'll comment on.