Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Flailing at ghosts - Tesco

Both Fran and Tavis have mentioned the apparent lack-lustre support for a Stop-Tesco campaign in Stourport. I have to ask what are we fighting against? With no outline planning permission we have no true picture of what's being planned. It's hard to even fight on the grounds of it being new as it's not, it's a move from the site on Lombard Street. If the store they have planned is comparable to the current one it's difficult even to make the case of increased traffic around that area. The key word being "if". I've previously posted a scan of the public presentation of the site, using my dark digital arts I've produced this and outlined the current Tesco, plus car-park, with my favourite colour.

Okay that's a tad larger then the current store. About four times the size at my estimate, and about twice the size of the Co-op (the box below the red outline) So how does it all compare to the one in Kidderminster? Take a look, just to prove I've not cheated with the zoom levels I've enabled the grid and added in the current Stourport store.

Maybe it's just me, but those last two look awfully similar. One quick rotate later and...

Inequality for women now! Some more adverts, my neighbour's scare., and the train crash

Apparently women with young children face discrimination at work, they're less likely to be hired then men or <shock horror> the disabled and ethnic minorities. So once again time to battle the symptoms and ignore the causes. Oh fine you've already introduced new rights

"These include extended and better paid maternity leave, new paternity rights and the right to request flexible working."
and after you've demanded all your rights, the company will downsize to pay for it all and hey look it's your job that's been cut.

The simple fact is that for parents with young children it's still perceived that any problems will be handled by the women if both work. For employers this is a hardship, multiple calls of "Oh I can't come in little Francis has mumps", and "The nanny can't make it", or "The day-care centre's closed". You can't get rid of them, you still have to pay them, and then get someone to cover their work; so from the employer's point of view why should they get hired in the first place? By promoting all these 'rights' all the government does is encourage employers to really start discriminating against mothers. Stop looking to business to solve all your woes; to switch problems it's like stating that businesses should be going out and gritting the roads when it snows in order to facilitate their employees travel.

What's the solution? I don't know, better free day-care with provision for those ill perhaps?

So just after I watch the positive discrimination channel up pops an advert for Sunsilk shampoo. Tells all those 'girls' out there exactly which colour (type) of shampoo they should be using. 'Frizzy hair - orange!' screeches the American accented voice-over. Yep that's right we men don't suffer from frizzy/flat/lack-lustre hair we just find the nearest stream and soak our heads; shampoo's for girls. Except of course for dandruff and grey hairs at which point men used to dominate the advertising. Though not any more - obviously we just don't suffer from hair problems anymore (or just don't care).

To emphasize the discrimination there then followed another advert featuring babies, in which all the shoppers are female. The professor studying them is, of course, male.

Not discriminatory just strange, the Costcutters advert. The one that starts with "I wish I had some biscuits" then the Costcutters man appears from under the car with a plate of them. Why strange? Because throughout the advert everyone does the equivalent of 'Damn I've not got a..." and up pops Costcutter man with the item, but the message is that Costcutter aren't just there for the last-minute things; huh? They do great deals on everyday items too, like a six-pack of crisps and Pot Noodles. Okay who are they targeting that treat packs of crisps and Pot Noodles as 'everyday' items. Silly me it's Connor's family of course.

Leaving the house this morning I was stopped by my neighbour "Have you seen my window?" "?" "The back window of my car". She'd parked under a street light elsewhere and the head had fallen off straight through the rear windscreen and down onto the back seats. Fortunately she wasn't in the car, more fortunately neither were any of her children who'd have been sitting there. Completely shaken up her insurance company made her drive her car home as she "didn't have breakdown cover" Lovely people.

So checking the paper last night and the news this morning about the train crash we find, once again, it's the fault of the track; better yet an inspection train went over it not long before. Why wasn't it picked up? Well the train only looks for defects in the metal. Because of this inability a manual visual inspection takes place every week; like the one that apparently didn't happen on the 18th. Looking at the silver lining I was impressed by how well the carriages withstood the crash, it seems at least someone can build and maintain things well. I'm waiting for the company responsible for the rails to try and blame vandals, not doubt youths wearing hoodies.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mobile phones, drink driving, Shuttle comments

So from today the penalties for using a mobile phone will increase from a fixed £30 fine to £60 plus three points. Elsewhere I've pointed out the folly of introducing a SI to this effect simply for the fact that the main act already allowed for the provision of stopping someone on a mobile phone, even the DoT's own Mobile phone FAQ states:

Q5. Why are you not banning the use of hands-free mobile phones while driving?
Using any type of phone while driving is distracting.

Drivers should remember that the police can still use existing legislation (for failure to have proper control) if a driver is distracted by a call on a hands-free phone. If there is an incident and the driver is using any phone (hand-held or hands-free) or similar device, then there is a risk of prosecution for careless or dangerous driving.
So the police can still stop you for using a hands-free phone if they think you don't have proper control. Just as they could have stopped you previously for using a non-hands free phone for the same reason. Just as they could stop you for eating or drinking whilst driving; just as they could stop you for smoking or lighting a cigarette whilst driving. I didn't see any SI's and fixed fines for that appearing from Parliament.

It gets better, now it's rumoured they want to perform random breathalyser tests as apparently already carried out in the EU. What a good idea perhaps we can extend the scope...
Knock Knock
Who's there
The police
The police who
The police who want to perform a random search of your house for anything illegal.
I wake up expecting the door to be kicked in by Judge Dredd. Hey it's one small step.

Skate-park I know yawn it's still going on over at the Kidderminster Shuttle comments page keeping tongue firmly in check between teeth I added the following.
As perhaps one of the original participants in this little scuffle ( - Nov 06) I thought it time I commented here.

For those who state that we should be thankful that Stourport is getting a skate-park I agree, though officially we're getting one on the basis we're the only one of the three major towns without such an area.

For those who wish that we'd stop talking about things we know nothing about, I expect you to use the same arguments when it comes to the proposed Tesco site.

So with that out of the way I'd like to reiterate Tavis's point - we want a skate-park. What we're looking at is where it's being placed, the decision making process that led to it being sited there, and the manner it which it is being planned.

Officially from the minutes only two sites were listed for consideration; next to the paddling pool and behind the Old Beams. The Old Beams site was rejected thus leaving only the paddling pool area. Sadly one of my many failings is that when presented with two choices I invariably look for a third.

Many people keep stating that the 'riverside' is the only viable site, I agree; just not the part of the riverside they're pointing at. My original thoughts were to keep it next to the river, yet place it on the other side of the putting green area. Tavis has since pointed out that moving it closer to the car-park would perhaps be better; a point I conceded.

Since proposing this site I expected the councillors to defend their choice, pointing out the reasons why this particular area is not suitable and why it was rejected. Instead all I hear is that the site they've chosen is the most viable, repeated ad nauseum.

Now we hear from Councillor Desmond that, due to the concerns of councillors as to its siting next to the paddling pool, it will have railings and be smaller then was originally proposed. So perhaps a different site might be the preferred option then?
I could have been much nastier in places; I chose not to be.

Monday, February 26, 2007

8 years old going on 14, Kiddy, and a scanner/printer review.

8 years old going on 14 stone that is - a 14 stone 8 year old. To put that into perspective that's heavier then me. Don't worry though GMTV to the rescue. "The trouble is he's 8 he can just go to the fridge and get what he wants" said Fiona; foolish women Mr Expert has the solution "I know some families who lock the fridge". Astounding, such an elegant solution, so refined, so easy; here I was about to suggest not filling the fridge with crappy food, but that just shows why I'm not being interviewed on the sofa. Of course by day seven the family will be so fed up of unlocking the fridge everytime they want some milk etc. they'll just give up, but that's a matter of willpower and the family's fault; not the expert's.

"You can't make children eat vegetables" whitters Fiona. Yes, yes you can; it's called not buying crappy food, but buying vegetables instead. If you've only got a choice of one food-type in your house, oddly enough that's what they'll eat when they get hungry. If you serve vegetables with a meal you don't let the kids down until they've eaten them, unless they claim they're full in which case they don't get anything else now or later.

Have I woken up in a strange parallel universe or something?

Connor's family say he eats "chips with everything", loves curry and snacks on sausage sandwiches, burgers, chocolate biscuits and "junk food all day long while sitting at the computer".
Okay then stop buying chips, stop buying snacks, stop buying junk food. He wants something to chew give him a carrot, give him a banana. What is the matter with you people?
"It seems that it has all turned around and I'm getting blamed for it all but I would like to say, 'cope with a hungry child 24/7 and constantly hassling and nagging you'"
Wow and yet so many other people manage to cope with demanding 8-year old's without them reaching almost twice their age in weight.

As mentioned in an earlier comment I poked my head into Kidderminster on Saturday. I forgot how bad the state of the pavements are, cracked slabs, loose bricks almost all notably at the top end of town away from the snazzy development that is Weavers Wharf. Heading through the Roland Hill Centre I noted that the Café Pacifico was now open for business and, heading to the elevators, I spotted a new music and film store had just opened to the right. No I'm lying it hadn't just opened, when I asked the young lady she told me it had opened a couple of weeks before Christmas. Apparently I wasn't the only one who'd queried that.

It did get a inch in the Shuttle at the end of November and a couple of one-line mentions in other articles (not that they show up using their own search engine), so I've only myself to blame. Damn good range they've got too, I picked up the Blues Brothers collection on DVD (I've had them on tape for too long) and a copy of Eerie Indiana basically a kid's version of the X-Files, but with enough sly references to appeal to adults. They've also got a decent range of animé something sadly lacking in this town. I hope they do well and they'll be on my regular browse rota.

I've taken some shots of phase 5 of Weavers Wharf next to the canal. I've no idea what's moving in there, if anything, I'll upload them shortly (for a given value of shortly ;-) ) heading around them it did take me to 'the area that people forgot' officially titled "The Circus". Other then myself there two guys hanging around and a young lady sitting on the bench, that's busy. If they're reading - hi!

At last I've finally picked up a scanner, went for an Epson RX640 all-in-one in the end. Normally I shy away from all-in-one's as when one component goes you're generally stuffed. In the end though size constraints pushed me towards it. Even so at the moment it's still too large to fit next to my computer until I get another desk and clear everything up a bit. Fortunately it'll work stand-alone too. So, after pulling away a small amount of polystyrene and enough sticky tape to wrap a mummy, I tried scanning and printing some old slides. It suffers from the same problem as with the other scanner in that the automatic settings only work with 35mm film, but looking at the software there's an option to pick a scan size, if that fails I'll try VueScan, and if that fails... ah well such is life.

As it was I used the built-in zoom and crop to pick out the posing people and not the large amounts of hedge/house/half-a-car that my family seem to have an inclination to add to every shot. That was surprisingly easy and intuitive, pick the photo, pick the centre of the crop area, then enlarge it. Get the centre wrong and just go back a step and move it... it remembers the zoom level too and displays it on screen. Sounds silly, but for so many pieces of bad software you'd have to keep going back and forth all the time resetting where you were each time.

The scan is excellent, and using the sample sheets of glossy 6x4 the print was fantastic. One thing I had worried about was the noise, a previous Epson I worked with was a noisy bugger from warm-up to print; this baby purred. Sitting away from it watching the TV I could barely tell when it had started printing nor when it had finished. Warm-up was quick, scan was quick (relative for a slide at high resolution), print was quick. The finished product was slightly tacky to the touch, but not smeary; certainly handleable.

It'll plug directly to my PowerShot and print from there, or from a variety of memory cards. Sadly I ran out of time before I got around to testing shots from my camera, I'll see if I can give it a whirl tonight. Then at some point I'll hook it up to the computer and get those slides in, don't hold your breathe though.

One thing that did bother me (other then the till's attempt to overcharge me by £200), when I bought it I was asked if I had a USB cable to connect it. Fortunately the answer's were a)yes and b)I'm not connecting it; why fortunately? Because it came with one already plugged-in ready.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Not again - skate-board park

Tav over at the WFA has been busy with regards to the proposed skate-board park even writing a letter to Councillor Desmond. He got a reply which I devoured eagerly. I'll quote my choicest morsels.

There was a cross party task and finish group, [...] They deliberated for months and concluded that the riverside was the best location as all the other locations were not appropriate.
That's odd when I went through everything the Task and Finish Group didn't put a proposal in their report to the Leisure Panel it first showed up in the Leisure Panel minutes not on the T&F report.

What about the lack of consultation with Stourport Town Council?
It was debated at the Leisure Panel in March of 06 and the Service Policy Panel in June 06 where 6 WFDC Stourport councillors were present and no one spoke against and all voted in favour
Service Panel, why didn't I spot those minutes when I went through everything? See for yourself Only one meeting held in June listed on-line Ah here we go
The Cabinet Member for Community and Leisure Services was in attendance to present the Cabinet Member Response Form for the Skateboarding review.
silly me I was looking for details about a skate-park Oh well let's see the form for the skateboarding review... it's not there. I've got the Cabinet responses for
But nowt for Skateboarding, the closest I've got is the Update on Youth Provision Scrutiny Review which doesn't mention a location at all, it does however reference "background documents", which include the Cabinet minutes I've already gone through. Now I know that those include a location. So did they vote on a location contained within background documents listed in a scrutiny review?
The Cabinet Member Response forms for the Kidderminster Street Market, public conveniences, memorial stones and skateboarding, be noted.
Sorry which cabinet response form was that again? Has it been left of? Was it the Scrutiny review? Again check my working, here's the Service Policy Panel complete list of minutes

Let's go with the next joy
The skate park is smaller than first thought to enable approximately 10mtr gap between paddling pool and skate park, as some councillors had concerns the skate park would be build on the edge of the pool.
Oh now that makes sense - where we want to build it is too small, so we'll make the park smaller and not e.g. look for a larger site. (presumably councillors agreed to the original size park, has the new and 'improved' smaller park gone to a vote?)
I have listened to opponents and have taken steps to reduce their concerns but as Cabinet Member I believe the riverside is the best option available and will go ahead and hopefully will be open in May.
I note "reduce" rather then eliminate "their concerns". Oh and I agree the riverside is the best option just not that part of the riverside.

Okay I'm tired and need sustenance, I'll leave it there.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Interesting letter

This morning my father received a letter from HM Revenue & Customs with details of a new tax code. Starts with "having been informed that you are currently between jobs". Hmm my father still works, my mother does part-time at a charity shop. They checked the name; ah my father had my grandmother's official mail (pension lit. etc.) redirected care of himself. So this tax code change was for my grandmother, my 82-year old grandmother, my deceased 82-year old grandmother. At least she won't have to worry about keeping the documentation or "informing her new employers about her [new] tax code"; well I hope not anyway.

Except heated discourse from my father.

Quickie on Kidderminster Tesco

Don's comment on the WFA has prompted me to take a slightly more detailed look at the planning for the Tesco site in Kidderminster.

Now if you take a look at its location you'd say it was on Corporation Street and you'd be right... sort of. Do a search for that location on the Planning site and you'll find nothing, nada, zip, zero. Take it out and try applicant "Tesco" in the Parish of "Town of Kidderminster" - nothing. Silly me it should be "Kidderminster Foreign" oh wait that produces nothing either. So applicant "Tesco" Locality "Kidderminster" - 23 results; go figure.

Scroll down and the first one you'll hit is WF/1043/00 "Land bounded by Ringway Pitts Lane,Exchange St,Corporation St,New Rd,Castle Rd,Staff's & Worc's Canal, Kidderminster. " Why didn't it show on my first search - Corporation Street isn't the first line of the address. Brilliant.

"Erection of Class A1 foodstore and petrol filling station and associated car parking, access, landscaping and engineering works, including realignment of the River Stour"
That's our puppy, any more? Okay ignoring the several 'permission to demolish' we've got two for the 'foodstore' WF/1043/00 - 30/11/2000; and WF/0663/99 - 20/08/1999, wait a second
"Alteration/modification of condition 1(b) of Planning Permission WF.450/96 to extend period for submission of reserved matters to 5 years"
Where the hell's Wf.450/96? "WF.450/96", no results; "WF/450/96", no results; "WF/0450/96", ah there you are. Why didn't you show you up on the main search - because you're missing the magic term "Kidderminster". Dated 28 June 1996 this is the Outline. Looks like they dropped the Bus Interchange from the full plans.

The joy is I can't see any of these plans at this moment as they're not on-line. Neither can I see the minutes of the Planning and Development Committee for the same reason. That seems to only have started from 2006 and 2004 respectively. So if I want to take a gander at them I need to head on over to Duke House. Their opening times? Well here's the Wyre Forest District Council site you tell me. No that's cruel of me it's not there you'll find it on the Worcestershire Hub site instead (thank google).
Monday-Friday 9.00am - 4.30pm
Beautiful, just beautiful.

Location of repair works

for Tav. Maps from

Oh and it's raining - hah!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The man from the council, and my head.

My meeting was this morning, I gently wandered into town. I left myself some lee-way I wanted to check on the work as I went; the minor paranoid in me was convinced that since I'd complained they'd visited in the night and replaced all the work correctly. Nope all still present and incorrect.

Walking from Bridge Street I passed section 5 between the pub and the old post office; continued up to section 4 on the last car parking bay, some people taking a note of me snapping pics. I stopped someone "Can you see any difference?" "Yeah those are new" pointing at the new blocks. Good it's not just me then.

Onto section 3 on the pedestrian crossing; then section 1 where the slabs switch to the slippery grey ones; woah 3 to 1 where's 2. Standing on 1 I checked my notes and looked up; 2's on the opposite side of the road. I then carried on to the new bit they've dug up and replaced which I'll dub section 0.

Standing outside the Swan just before half nine I spy a fluorescent jacket heading up High Street, I'll call him M. We were now just waiting for a rep from Balfour Beatty.

While we waited we walked through from 0, it turns out sections 1 and 2 are where bollards have been knocked over, that's WCC work and explains why they've only been tarmacked and not slabbed.

Section 3 also covers the tactile slabs. "Those are different too" said M. Onto 4 "Yep" and then, as no sign of the BB rep, down to 5. "It doesn't help that it's a bit damp" I said as we walked down then, as we reached the road, "Actually it has helped, see". Facing the sun and catching the reflections of the blocks there was a huge matt patch in the middle of the sheen. M stomped on a couple of the new ones, they moved. "That'll all need replacing" he said.

Headed back to see another fluorescent jacket, I'll call him J, who was on the mobile; no doubt wondering where we were.

Section 0, looks like a switch from a square cover to a round one. They've obviously re-used the blocks they'd removed, but they haven't filled in around the cover. "We'll grout that in" says J before walking over to another nearby round cover "That's not been done right". He's right the grout is cracking away, I hadn't even noticed it's such a common sight.

Onto 1 & 2 which we wave past as WCC work. Forward to 3 on the pedestrian crossing "Hmm yeah" muses J. "Can you get these blocks anymore?" asks M (I'd already told him that you could). "They're a standard brick" answers J.

Onto 4 same again. "Did anyone liaise with you?"J asks of M. "Nope" replies M "Looks like they used whatever they had to hand". "Yeah this'll do" says J miming a brick in his hand.

Onto 5, I point out the different surface as we approach, M pointedly stomps on the blocks again. "The trouble is" I say "this is a relatively high traffic area". This is emphasized as we have to move out of the way four times to let vehicles through.

J sighes "Any more down there?"indicating Bridge Street. "You haven't done anything down there have you?" I ask. "Oh yeah tons" replies J. "Oh!" said I "Well then again it's just a tarmac surface, you wouldn't really notice" (anyone prove me wrong by all means).

As a final point I mentioned the ironwork on the corner of Mitton Street, the square blocks at an angle and sticking out of the ground. Luckily it's facing the 'correct' way on the one-way street so you're not hitting the angle straight on "It got re-done when they had the leak" said I. J groans "Just before the bank holiday Monday" he recalls; they'll take a look.

So the result is the pavement's going to be re-done, with the correct blocks. Yay!

See it pays to be fussy and apparently there's a five year guarantee so you've got that much time in which to complain. Why didn't anyone do the same for Vicar Street in Kidderminster, can anyone recall how long ago it was that they dug up the pavement outside of the Roland Hill Centre on the Woolworth side? I mentioned it to M "Even looks like they used the same blocks there as they did here"

My head aches, my neck aches, I'm falling asleep. Is something going on with the air-pressure? It's been like this for a couple of days now, and I've found that normally means movement either toward big rain or big sun. I'm predicting a downpour in the next day or so. You heard it here first :-)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Taking the WEEE, and more banks

So 4 years past its proposition, 2 and a bit years after it was supposed to happen, and 18 months past the EU deadline the new WEEE directive is finally upon us. For those not familiar with this unfortunate acronym it stands for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment and acts as an amendment to the Environment Act. What's it for? Well to quote the DTI

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) aims to minimise the impact of electrical and electronic goods on the environment, by increasing re-use and recycling and reducing the amount of WEEE going to landfill.
What a good idea how do you do that?
It seeks to achieve this by making producers responsible for financing the collection, treatment, and recovery of waste electrical equipment, and by obliging distributors to allow consumers to return their waste equipment free of charge.
Well that's what the DTI say what does the actual SI state? Okay this is worded well, I like reading this sort of stuff and I'm finding it heavy going.

First of not all of the regulations have come into force, some started on the 2nd January, some will start on 1st April, and some on 1st July.

Differing rules for private and non-private households (businesses) for producers of (W)EEE- private households are financed by the producers, businesses are only funded if the product was bought on or after 13th August 2005, or if not that they're buying a new product to replace it from the supplier. Unless the producer and user come to a separate agreement (p14). But there's yet more differences for distributors of EEE (that's the stores whom most of us actually purchase from) for Take-back (p24):
A distributor who supplies new EEE to a person shall ensure that WEEE from private households can be returned to him free of charge [I like it so far] and on a one-to-one basis by that person [that is direct to the distributor], provided that any such WEEE—
(a) is of equivalent type to, and
(b) has fulfilled the same function as,
the supplied equipment.
Woah there nellie, they'll take it back provided you buy the equivalent product from them. But what about the distributors?
A distributor may return WEEE from private households free of charge to the system
So private households and distributors have the same rights in returning items to the producers, with (other) businesses getting the short end of the stick and private households getting a poke in the eye if they try to return goods to where they most likely bought them from.

So what about stuff that businesses bought before the August cut-off? Simple they've got to fund the cost.

Right at the end you get the Explanatory Notes that propose to make sense of the gibberish you've just read try this (p66):
(Distributor obligations and rights) provides that a distributor shall be responsible for providing an in-store take back service for customers in relation to specified WEEE
Yeah provided they buy something from the distributor; missed that bit out didn't you!

Banks are in the news again, after bumper profits they've decided to get greedy(-er) If you want a bank account you might have to pay for the privilege.

Let me get this straight; we give you money; you take that money and use it to invest in various markets; you make money; you lose money, obviously more make then lose; you pay us peanuts as a reward for allowing you to do this, and penalise us heavily when we want to take a loan; and now you want us to pay you for the right just to keep our money with you? Are you nuts? Fantastic, just bloody fantastic! We've enough people socking money away in mattresses because they don't trust the banks, let's add some more to the list and watch their life savings disappear in one robbery or fire.

They've already encouraged us to depend on their services; pay by direct debit, have your wages paid directly to your account, transfer money electronically; and now they've got us all doing that they want to charge us for it. Trouble is I can see this as a cartel, you won't be able to move your money from a fee-charging bank to a non fee-charging bank because their won't be one. All for one and one for all.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Blocks, Tesco, adverts, and banks.

Well that was a surprise I've just had a call from Worcestershire County Council. You might recall that whilst attempting to find out what was happening on the Stour Bridge I complained about the slabs in High Street
Repair work High Street 1Repair work High Street 2
as being a different colour and different texture to the originals. the gentleman I spoke to thought I meant the tactile slabs, no those are fine, what about the ones next to them. Well they're not sure who laid them the infamous BB or WCC's own department.

"You can't get those slabs anymore"
"I spoke to Blockelys they say you can"
"Ah well see they make thousands of batches and they don't always come out the same colour"
"Well are they the same type, freeze resistant and slip resistant to the same degree?"
"Ah well that's the question"
So 'you can't get them' to 'they're not the same' in one short hop, hmm. Take a closer look at the second picture, they've had to use small spacers to make them fit the same gap. Now digging up and filling up a hole isn't going to leave it exactly the same I'll admit, but still it's poor. Ah well I'm meeting them later this week, as to results well don't hold your breath.

I've had this a while, but it hid down the side of a briefcase. A little birdie dropped this to me.

It's the plan, no not the official one, of the new Tesco in Stourport. What caught my eye when I first saw it was items B and D (and to a lesser extent E and G) detailing the trees and shrubs to be planted alongside the development. "That sounds familiar" I thought, "Weren't the Tesco in Kidderminster supposed to be doing exactly the same thing along Corporation Street?"

Kidderminster Tesco 1

That worked out well didn't it. I could of course check the plans they submitted, except they're not available on-line. It appears that no plans are available pre-06, damn. Maybe everyone at the college and the library (who are to my left) demanded that they be able to view the store in all it's neon wonder "If you don't study hard, that's where you'll end up working"?

Has anyone caught the new Kia advert? When I first caught it I thought it a TV promo for something along the lines of "Primeval". Thanks to my PVR I could rewind it multiple times and thus present it here verbatim.
"How? Where? When? Why? How? Why?
How? When? Why? Where? How?
Why? Why? When? Why? Where?
When? Where? How? Why?
The new Kia Cee'd with 7 year warranty."
What? All shown with interspersed clips off, well frankly odd things; the car only appears for the last sentence. First thing I thought off was the ill-famed Dunlop ad with Velvet Undergrounds "Venus in furs" ("Shiny shiny, shiny boots of leather"; that one), but despite everyone not remembering who the ad was for and thinking it was for a car manufacturer, at least it did show the tyres through the ad and kind of make sense in context. This one is just bizarre.

Okay banks up next, my father is a member of an local organisation I'll not name. To safeguard against illicit use of money all cheques need two signatures (a fairly common occurrence in these sorts of situation) there are currently three named signatories. As this is a democratic organisation people get elected to positions and some people just retire and need to be replaced.

This happened recently to a signatory, the new one needed to be authorised. The bank sent through a form to fill in. Name, signature, DOB, address - no problem. Financial dealings? What? Yep this is the new crack-down on money laundering and terrorism, the banks want to probe you mercilessly. As the bank doesn't have an easily accessible local branch, the new signatory also has to send proof of identity in the post, along with the exemplar of their signature and personal details. Through the post! My father queried if they couldn't spot something wrong with this request; they couldn't, can you?

Friday, February 16, 2007

It's raining, it's pouring,

the roads are getting flooded. Oh wait that's not how the song goes. I've mentioned heating elements for roads when the ice appears, but oh what to do with the run-off. Our drains couldn't cope with the snow, heck watching now they can't cope with rain. This is something I've noted since I started driving oo way back when and over the years to friends I occasionally popped up with a "Why aren't roads porous?" This would normally be after someone's complained that they've got drenched by a passing car, or that it was almost impossible to see due to the glare on the road. It came up again discussing the water boards ineffectiveness towards all that water that falls from the sky

"Over the last year, much of the rain that has fallen has made the surface wet then either run off where the rain has been particularly heavy, or evaporated."
this from an official spokesman during the drought and hosepipe bans.

Well for various reasons I've been prompted to have a look into it. Googling porous roads comes up with several results in Singapore and a link in the UK yay that mentions SUDS wow it even states
"Traditional drainage practice is designed to move rainwater as rapidly as possible from the point at which it has fallen to a discharge point, either a watercourse or soakaway. This approach has a number of adverse impacts:"
Been saying that for years.

So why didn't SUDS appear in my search. Foolish me I searched for porous roads and I should have searched for permeable surfaces. That hopefully would have led me to CITA page on Permeable surfaces and filter drains Things are looking up
Porous paving blocks with a system of voids within the unit [and]
Continuous surfaces with an inherent system of voids
Sounds like roads to me. So seeing as we've got 375,000km of road in the UK and assuming an average width of 7m makes 2,625km2. That's an area larger then Greater London all discharging its water straight into the sewers or letting it evaporate. Presumably the Highways Department are making a big deal of this. Well they've got a whole section on "Respecting the Environment" in their Knowledge Centre. Headings are
  • Noise
  • Air Quality
  • Litter
  • Ragwort
But wait under "Other" we have Building Better Roads: Towards Sustainable Construction, 2003 Hmm four years old, but still
Nope the only comment about water is about using more in construction (as it's reusable) and about pollution from run-off.

Okay how about using their search box "permeable surface" produces 7 results. Bridges; bridges; oo
"They include that the material should be highly permeable"
Ah no that's any waste from a road building project; limestone; existing soil; problems with spillage; existing surface again. Maybe I'm looking under the wrong search term?

Porous surfaces leads to "Porous Asphalt" Yep this is the stuff I want. The gist is it was recommended to be used "where appropriate" in 1994. So is it being used anywhere? Good old Google
"Since 1993 porous asphalt has been specified in various construction and maintenance contracts, but the tender values received have been higher than expected. The relatively high cost of porous asphalt in comparison with other wearing course materials has been a deterrent to its use, particularly when its justification is primarily aimed at noise suppression. This has lead to porous asphalt only being used where its benefits clearly outweigh the increased initial costs, reduced service life and increased winter maintenance requirements"
So we should use it, but it's a bit expensive so we haven't; well not much. 11km of the M25 in 2000 were doen in porous asphalt; initial costs were £14m, moving up to £34m once they'd actually looked at it properly. The telling phrase is "noise suppression" go through the HA reports and that's what crops up again and again despite one report even stating that porous asphalt reduced spray by "more then 90%". I think HA need to get off the noise-mobile and start looking at the other implications.

Greg Palast - immigrants and statistics

I'm still reading "The Best Democracy Money can Buy" by Greg Palast I've just got to the point regarding immigration and how he can't believe the fuss we made/make in the UK about it. When the book was written he says that America let in 2.5 million immigrants, the UK 129,000 how pathetic we seem.

Okay hopefully you know me enough by now to know that I don't take figures like that lying down. Even though these are old figures it's still a relevant argument today. We're back to the good old statistics shuffle.

Wow 2.5m compared to 129k that's about 5%. We only let in 5% of people compared to the US aren't we terrible. Right lets start with the obvious - UK population: 60,609,153, US population: 298,444,215. So percentages per population UK: 0.2%, US 0.8%. Oh dear still not good, but much better then the apparent 20x difference first stated.

Let's try again, that's the beauty of statistics if you don't like the results you get to do something else with them. Provided you don't change the raw data you're fine and dandy.

This time I'll go for population density, this is actually a much more meaningful methodology for this topic.

I'll use land area, some land of course is impossible or difficult to live on, but as no-one seems to have done a proper study of that (or at least made it available to the public) I'll pretend that we have a flat surface of the same area and are distributing the population on that.

UK land area: 241,590km2 US land area: 9,161,923km2. So density for the is UK: 251 people/km2; US: 33 people/km2 Wow that's a big difference. What happens when we add in our immigrants? Well the UK density increase by 0.5 people/km2 and the US by 0.3 people/km2

So we taking less, but we've got to pack them in more tightly. It's like having someone complain that they're taking an extra six passengers in their people carrier while you're only taking three in your Mini. In fact for the US to match our increase in population density they'd have to take in approximately 4.9m immigrants, that's almost double the amount mentioned.

How about our European brethren? To increase their population density by the same amount as the UK with 129k extra people they'd need to take in

France: 341,764
Germany: 186,472
Italy: 156,995
Spain: 266,736

Now if that's what they're taking in then fine; if they're taking in more, we need to do something. If they're taking in less... well next time you hear an EU official on the TV quoting raw figures at you remember what you've read here.

All figures taken from The CIA World Fact Book

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Skate board park

I got pinged back from the WFA on the skateboard park issue basically the proposed site for it. According to Fran "Stourport Town Council did NOT object to the siting when the scrutiny exercise was held" So it's their fault they had their chance and blew it.

So I decided to look into the decision procession; this was fun, multiple tabs with PDF documents, having to use Adobe Reader's own search facility, then falling back on Google just to locate the Community and Leisure Services Policy and Scrutiny Panel minutes. For most people this is going to be boring, sorry just skip this entire entry.

Right, on 23rd September 2004 it was decided to form a Task and Finish Group to look into the prospects of a skate board park for the district.

A Member advised the Group that Stourport-on-Severn Town Centre Forum had undertaken some exploratory work into skateboarding within the area and that the Chairman of the Forum, Derek Fradgley, might like to attend a future meeting to give his views.
Recommendation: Members of the Task and Finish Group meet with the Cultural Services Manager, the Cabinet Member for Community and Leisure Services and representatives from relevant outside organisations.
23rd November 2004: Group reports back are mentioned
That, as Stourport remains the only strategic location without any funding allocated to the project, the Panel recommend that a service option be put forward for the Stourport project for £5,000 which could be allocated to Stourport Forward as ‘pump priming’ funding. [and] That consultation takes place with young people regarding any potential projects and that young people be involved in fundraising for skateboarding schemes.
16th December 2004: The findings were reported to the Cabinet and reviewed
It was suggested that further consultation should take place with the Chair of the Youth Strategy Group, the Skateboarding Group, the Fun Box Committee, and residents and users in Offmore and Comberton. It was felt that a lot more of the people actively involved in skateboarding should be asked to give evidence for the scrutiny exercise.
and was kicked back to the Group via the Scrutiny committee.

26th January 2005: The Cabinet Scrutiny Committee kicks it back to the Task and Finish group.

Okay here's where things get interesting (well relatively)

10th March 2005: The Community and Leisure Services Policy & Scrutiny Panel discuses the Task Group report
It was mentioned that Stourport Riverside would make a good site for a skate-park as it was in the town centre with easy access for all. It was noted that the half-pipe on the Walshes Estate in Areley Kings was underused. When questioned about using the site behind the Old Beams Pub in Stourport, the Panel was told that it was used as the over-spill for the car park at the leisure centre and therefore, could not be used.
This is the first time the Riverside is mentioned, and the Old Beams site dismissed.

No specific site is mentioned in the briefing paper.

8th September 2005: Another Task group is set up, one to continue the skate-board park the other to consider Youth Provision in the District.

The attached report shows who they consider to include in the deliberations. Remember the Riverside was mentioned back in March and nothing is mentioned here.

17th November 2005: Short and sweet they reported that the Brinton Park skate-park had opened, they'd watched a DVD, discussed the temporary skate-park and that
There would be meetings with the police, Wyre Forest Community Housing and Stourport Forward and the Group was also due to meet young skateboarders at a
future meeting.
Still no mention of location, nor Stourport Town Council.

5th January 2006: Lists people that the Task and Finish Group had met:
  • Councillor Fran Oborski, Chairman of the Wyre Forest Youth Strategy Group.
  • Liz Durnell, Programme Manager, Stourport Forward.
  • Peter Banford, The Community Housing Group
  • PC Andrew Brookes-Davis, Stourport.
  • PC Nigel Barter, Bewdley.
Hmm nobody from Stourport Town Council?

9th March 2006: The scrutiny review
It was acknowledged that the Riverside would be an ideal place for a skatepark, but that it would be likely to cause some controversy with local residents who might oppose it.
Any more discussion on other sites? Hmm appears not, but what about those pesky residents?
The Cultural Services Manager advised that the Council would have to consult with local residents but did not feel that there would be many objections as the skate park would be further away from residents than, for example, the trampoline. She explained that the suggested area adjacent to the paddling pool was bigger than that at Brinton Park.
Out of sight..., and where did the size quote suddenly appear from?

Okay final meeting 27th April 2006: The final shove from the Cabinet
1. A skate park be provided at Stourport Riverside to be located near the paddling pool, subject to the Cabinet Member for Community and Leisure Services agreeing funding for the project.
Stourport Town Council now get a mention too in that
3. Officers approach Stourport Town Council for additional funding.
It's going to be next to the paddling pool; now give us some money?

Okay I'll state for the record these are taking from the reports and minutes of meetings. I acknowledge that Minutes are not verbatim records, they list the decisions and the processes leading up to them.

Right having said that it appears that the only discussion as to siting of the skate-park was on the 10th March 2005 with only one alternative mentioned, from that point onwards it seems to be taken as a fixed decision. Stourport Town Council are mentioned only in the final report, and that simply to ask for funds. Am I making accusations - no. I've linked to all the documentation in chronological order read them for yourself and make up your own mind.

Child Welfare, Shootings, The Brits, and childish

As you might have seen I took a slight exception to the reports that the UK ranked bottom of the table on child welfare, so much so I decided to check out the BBC's own reporting on this. I located the relevant "Have Your Say" and registered to comment ("No you can't have my real name, I don't care that it may make reports seem more serious") My comment below made it onto the system at 16:21

How amazing. Of the 819 comments only 12 state that they've actually *read* the report, that's the full 52-pager that was only released to the web at 10am this morning. If anyone had read it they'd release what a speculative load of old nonsense it is.

Affluence -"Does your family own a car, van or truck?" Um no I live in London and use the public transport system. Oh dear you're not affluent.
Behaviour and risk-taking -"Do you eat breakfast?" Yes sugar-coated flakes swimming in a chocolate milkshake. Well done 1 point for good behaviour.

The report's own findings state the problems with such data and warn that the it only gives an "impression of precision"
Recommended by 10 people, as the most recommended comment was 339 I won't celebrate yet. What did interest me was whilst checking to see my comment was posted I came across an article entitled Methodology behind Unicef report posted at 16:16 the reporter states
"In their conclusion, the report's authors draw attention to the imprecise nature of the report"
That sounds familiar. Mostly the article points out the age of the data something the politicos have been making heavy use of, but despite the article heading doesn't really examine the rest of the report's methodology. No-one, it seems, has even bothered to ask what the definition of a "child" is. Anyway that was yesterday quick quick bring on the next story before we loose viewers/readers.

As I'm sure we're all aware there was a shooting in Salt Lake City a couple of days ago, this perked my interest as I know someone who lives there; fortunately they're fine. Normally I wouldn't bring it up, but we have our our contrast here down in South London where Shooting prompts urgent meeting Three teenagers have been fatally shot. Not, might I add, in one incident; but over a period of less then a fortnight. For any Americans reading that's 3 in just under 2 weeks in a population of 2,835,200; and that's prompted emergency meetings. Would the same occur where you live?

So as we know Robbie the King of the Brits is in rehab, how ironic then that they had both Take That singing Patience and, even better, Amy Winehouse singing <chuckle> Rehab "
They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.
Someone's got a wicked sense of humour. Speaking of Amy I vaguely recall a quote where she said she didn't get asked out by guys a lot because they're intimidated by her. Yep that's must be it, can't be the skanky tattoos, Hair by Hedge, the drinking, or the manic depression; nope they just find you intimidating.

Okay time to be childish from the weather report this morning
"No snow, but a lot of wind from the South"
That'll be those chilli beans you had last night love. Sorry I was just in that sort of mood. Hah on the topic of wind The Belching Defence" High readings, must have belched your honour.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Blocks on High Street, more adverts, and where's the rain?

Thanks to Tav's comment on Quick traffic Update I now know that the High Street was done in Blockley's Castleyard Chamfered Paviors. Having no shame and being terribly cheeky I gave them a call, told them I was doing a story on Stourport High Street and needed an expert eye. I then pointed them to the picture on Flickr "Repair Work High Street 2" The conversation went along the lines of -

Blockley's: "Hmmm yeah those certainly look like ours"
Me: "The Castleyard's?"
B: "Yeah"
Me: "Can you see where they repaired it?"
B: "Yeah the red ones, those aren't the same"
Me: "Same texture?"
B: "No clearly not"

So are the Castleyard's still available? You tell me. So what were the ones that the repair company put down. I could give them a ring, but I suspect they won't be as nice to me as Blockley's.

Okay a couple more adverts, not lack of consistency one just amusing and the other personal. Barclay's have been pushing their expertise in buying property abroad and is being fronted by some TV programme property women who's name I can't recall. Apparently 1 in 5 people plan to buy a house abroad, how do they know this? They have a source - the Alliance & Leicester; sorry that just cracked me up.

Next advert is to visit Western Australia the real Australia, trouble is I keep wanting to change the lines to- "Visit the Real Australia, spend your money, then bugger off home" Why the ire, my godparents are English teachers and have been working their way around Asia. They got to Brunei or Borneo (or both) visited Australia, really liked it and applied to stay. They're teachers, financially independent, and they were turned down. Ah well never mind New Zealand took them instead.

Apparently today we were going to be hit by a torrent of rain, in fact as much rain in one day as we'd normally get all month. So of course the skies are a brilliant blue with not a cloud in sight.

Child Welfare (damn this is a long one)

The UNICEF report has come out ranking the UK 21st out of 21 industrialised countries with regards to child welfare. Apparently child poverty accounts for 16% of children in this country. It's all true, barely a day goes by when I don't hear some under-16 child complaining about the rent, mortgage re-payments, or the cost of food-shopping. There just aren't enough jobs in the chimney sweeping and loom operators industries any more, and those still about pay very little.

Okay children by themselves are not in a state of poverty; their entire family is, but wait that shouldn't be. With tax credits (Ha!) and all sorts of benefits no family should be living below the poverty line anymore, therefore no child could even be deemed as being in poverty by whatever definition you use.

Now if mum and dad are using said benefits to buy booze and cigarettes then there's a problem, that would be called neglect. What's the difference between child poverty and child neglect? Well with the first you can promise more benefits (by cutting other services; a zero-sum game) appoint a minister in charge of Child Poverty (which we've got) and make lots of speeches about how you're tackling it; all without actual having to do anything. With child neglect you need to get social services involved, possibly split the family up and end up paying even more money then is claimed in benefits, and get a ton of bad publicity about "breaking up the family home". It's not just tomato, toMAHto; the right choice of words makes all the difference.

Hold on one chimney-sweeping minute read the press release regarding the UNICEF report. Poverty only gets mentioned under the heading "Children's material well-being" is that to do with their health? Well the very next heading is in fact "Children's health and safety" so I doubt it, they can't be talking about material possessions can they? Oh no little Johann in Norway's got an Xbox360, but little John in the UK hasn't. Can't be that; can it?

So as I've always advocated check the source, in this case that'd be the Innocenti Research Centre site; ah not available to the public until 10am. So have the press been getting advance copies or just been reading the press release. I'm sure journalists of such integrity have been looking at the source and not just regurgitating what UNICEF have high-lighted. I'll find out in half-an-hour.

Right 52-pages later.

Material well-being (p6) is defined as percentage living in homes with incomes below the national median. Percentage of children living in a home without a employed adult, and finally

  • percentage of children reporting low family affluence
  • percentage of children reporting few educational resources
  • percentage of children reporting fewer than 10 books in the home
Okay lets start with the median bit, for those without the statistical background median is the middle of the group, you arrange everyone's income lowest to highest and draw a line so that half the group fall on each side. That means from the start you have 50% of the population below or at the median, so this shows how many of them have kids?

It's meaningless, if I took a group of millionaires all of whom had children and did the same then by that measurement 50% would be in the relative income poverty group. If the 'poorer' millionaires didn't have any children then the results would be zero.

The report even points this out stating that although the USA has a higher relative income poverty then Hungary, you get $24,000 in the US compared to $7,000 in Hungary. Pointless measurement when used to compare with other countries.

Let's take that last point they measure I'd point out the key word "reporting", but that's also pointless. What they did was ask four questions for the affluence test
  1. Does your family own a car, van or truck?
  2. Do you have your own bedroom for yourself?
  3. During the past 12 months, how many times did you travel away on holiday with your family?
  4. How many computers does your family own?
Brilliant. So believe in using public transport; share a computer and a bedroom; and have regular family days out rather then go away for a long period of time; you're deemed non-affluent. Yet again the report highlights the problems, got a car - nope I live in London and don't need one.

Educational resources - at home do you have:
  • a desk for study
  • a quiet place to work
  • a computer for schoolwork
  • educational software
  • an internet connection
  • a calculator
  • a dictionary
  • school textbooks.
Okay what's with the middle three computer, software and internet connection? Apart from the fact it muddles with the previous "How many computers..." question the answer is none, I use the excellent facilities available at our public library.

The only question asked that can't be twisted is 'do you have more then 10 books?', and to be blunt if you've only got 15 or so have the children even noticed or realised that.

Yet again the report clearly indicates
"The available data fall short of capturing all the complexities of child poverty"
Okay my main point was showing up the whole "child-poverty" nonsense, but it gets better. Health and Safety (p14) looks at infant mortality rate and low birth weight, fine; immunisation, still fine; and deaths from accident and injuries aged 0-19, sorry 19! What definition of child are you using? Who knows. Despite using the term child and children throughout the report at no point do they actual tell you want they think is a child. Better yet going through the data the age range seems to shrink and grow (how many infants did they question about their parents vehicles?) So it's not even consistent in that way.

Educational well-being's up next (p20). Apart from once again getting muddled with the education resources indicator, this assesses the following:
  • At age 15 -
    • average achievement in reading literacy
    • average achievement in mathematical literacy
    • average achievement in science literacy

  • percentage aged 15-19 remaining in education
  • percentage aged 15-19 not in education, training or employment
  • percentage of 15 year-olds expecting to find low-skilled work
So the three R's despite the fact our country is moving towards a service industry; university take up, again discounting the fact that some countries charge whilst others don't; the left-school who are unemployed and how many 15 year old's need low-skilled work (which would be none you can't employ 15 year old's here)

So a 2-hour exam for the first criteria, great as we're pushing continual assessment. Simple questions for the rest with the only note-worthy one being for the last point
"what kind of job do you expect to have when you are about 30 years old?"
Those talking about low-skill jobs obviously weight the results or are just being honest given the current working climate. Yep another disguised question about the unemployment rate of the country.

Do I want to look at "Relationships" (p24)? Do you think your peers are "kind and helpful"? Do you eat and talk with your families, do you live in a single parent home or live in a stepfamily? All bollocks. Even though I believe in family unity, eating and talking together, I wouldn't use it as a criteria of child welfare. Can you prove that this is better then the alternative - no, well then why are you using it?

Ah "Behaviour and risk-taking" (p28)
"Do you eat breakfast?"
What! What the hell are you on about? Yes I have three bowls of sugar-coated cereal with extra sugar sprinkled on top all swimming in a chocolate milkshake. Oo tick in the good behaviour column there. Bilge! The rest of the questions I'll agree with - amount of fruit you eat, smoking etc. Overweight? By whose measure? Nope not telling you, just that from height and weight (of the low number who responded) we can tell you if you're overweight or not. Note nobody asks the opposite "How many are underweight?"

I'm not even going to bother with "Subjective well-being" (p36) because yeah the best person to assess their own welfare is a teenage kid. Pfft!

So conclusions. Despite my lambasting there are concerns, some things do need to be looked at; on the whole though of no real use in a comparative sense. Final quote:
Findings that have been recorded and averaged may create an impression of precision but are in reality the equivalent of trying to reproduce a vast and complex mountain range in relatively simple geometric shapes. In addition, the process of international comparison can never be freed from questions of translation, culture, and custom.
Remember that next time the media bleat on about us coming 21st.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Quick traffic update

For those wondering what is happening in Stourport at the moment, they've closed off one lane of the Stour Bridge, that's the one at the end of Mitton Street and Gilgal leading to the Hartlebury Road and Worcester Road. Traffic lights are in place, fat load of good they are. Fixed timings, no sensors; the result:
The green traffic heads past the red obstruction and tries to turn right, but can't as the blue traffic is in the way. Now the blue traffic can't move as the green traffic is in the way. Meanwhile the poor old magenta traffic, which is often sat there unmoving anyway, has even less chance of getting out. Of course if everyone did what they're supposed to do and not enter the island unless their exit is clear we wouldn't be having this problem. Ha might as well try to get people to indicate left out of York Street.

All made much more fun by the fact they'd also closed the pavement and you can't cross anywhere near the red obstruction so pedestrians were walking around it in the road.

No idea what they're doing, bugger all when I first went past and sweeping the road when I went past again. I've just phoned WFDC who didn't know, and couldn't get through to Highways who deal with it. Said to call again in 15 minutes, that's be about now then. 12th-14th - what! What the hell are they doing? They weren't there yesterday, they weren't there this morning.

I'm trying to find out what's happening as I type. WFDC don't know what they're doing they've just got the schedule and are going to call me back, whose bright idea was this? If that is still there tonight nothing is moving along either Hartlebury Road, or Worcester Road. If it's still there in the morning then nothing will be moving in the town.

Ah someone's just come in and said they've cleared it away, they were replaced two of the tank-buster kerb stones (obviously scheduled for some time between the 12th and the 14th). From his trips he said they must have started around 10am.

Ah hah updates, good old Balfour Beatty were scheduled to start work this morning (bravo), but didn't turn up on time; the lights however did. So the Highways Agency told them they had to reapply, then took advantage and replaced two kerb stones. Well done to them for showing initiative, shame they're probably just going to be dug back up again.

On a lighter note yet another hole in the High Street pavement from Balfour Beatty, whilst on the telephone to WFDC I made a complaint about the replacement brickwork they'd put down.
Repair work High Street 1
Can you see where they've repaired it? Different colour, different texture. If it no-one complains within two years, they're off scott-free.

Iraq and Tax credits? Various government plans, ha!

Catching up on some Daily Show videos yesterday I caught 12 billion lost in Iraq which Paul Brenner seemed to ascribe to the fact that Iraq had a very poor payroll system. So on GMTV this morning we have a lady who was receiving £170 a month in tax credits before they informed her that she'd be wrongly assessed and was reduced to £12 a month to reclaim the difference. The link? My gods our tax service and Iraq must be using the same computer system.

All joking aside apparently yet another fubar situation for the combined Revenue and Customs department. So according to GMTV did this women provide false information - no. Did her circumstances change and she failed to inform the department - no. It appears they assessed her incorrectly and now want their money back. Now this isn't a similar case of the bank accidentally crediting your account with an overpayment, you've got a chance to spot that. How does anybody find out the criteria by which they're being assessed? It's a black box, forms go in decisions come out; if you make an error then sorry, but you've got to swallow it.

The best laid plans. The BBC report that the government will remove unemployment benefits from people who can't speak English unless they can show they're learning the language. What, you can't do that! Next thing you know you'll be expecting them to assimilate into English culture and abide by our laws and customs rather then try to force their old countries mores onto us. Isn't that a breach of their Human Rights?

What's even better is that for those who've managed to find work despite their poor English are now going to have to pay, at least in part, for their lessons. So stay unemployed and get taught English for free, or find a job and have to pay for lessons... I'll think I'll stay unemployed thanks.

It seems to be the week for schemes, now we've got a twist on the old Thacherite own your council home scheme. Buy as little as 10% of your home and then buy some more throughout your lifetime - brilliant. So your flat is worth say £80k you plump down a 10% of £8k - only £72k to go, but wait next year house prices have increased (an apparent constant at the moment) and your flat is now worth £82k.

£80,000 - £8,000
£82,000 - £8,200
£84,000 - £8,400
£86,000 - £8,600
£88,000 - £8,800
£90,000 - £9,000
£92,000 - £9,200
£94,000 - £9,400
£96,000 - £9,600
£98,000 - £9,800

After 10 years you'd have paid £89k for a flat that's estimated to be worth £98k, hmm that sounds too good to be true. For those who don't know there's also a first-time buyers scheme called Shared Ownership as you can see you buy a share in the property, normally on a mortgage, and then pay rent. So instead of just having to pay off your mortgage you've also got to pay the rent too, what a clever idea. Nearby Brindley Court has this offer in place, the apartment is valued at a snip under £123k so shared ownership means just getting a mortgage for £61k, for the average annual wage of £23.5 that could mean a 2x mortgage rather then a 5x mortgage, which is much better except for one tiny detail - how much is the rent and service charges? Once again it's a case of not asking the basic question - why are house prices so expensive in this country?

To end on a high note the building costs for the Olympics in 2012 is set to increase from the original £2.4bn estimate to between £8bn and £10bn. Wow a government estimate that's not going to stay within budget, you could knock me down with a feather. Originally the break-down was as follows:

£1.50bn from the National Lottery,
£0.63bn from London council taxpayers
£0.25bn from the London Development Agency.
£1.04bn to be funded by taxpayers, to develop the Lower Lea Valley area.

Okay a bit of a sting on London council tax payers, but why is the rest of the nation paying to develop the Lower Lea Valley. What does the London Development Agency say about it.

"The Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will leave behind great sporting facilities, including swimming pools, cycling facilities and new tennis courts. These will be open for all Londoners to enjoy, and could help to foster the Olympic champions of the future."
So is it just Londoners who can use these facilities or can anyone drop in? Ah but it'll benefit the entire country by promoting such diverse jobs as
"tourism and hospitality; food and media - and the construction industry."
Or as I'll put it 5-star hotels, fast-food vending, and selling copies of the big issue. As for construction that's a no-brainer, they'll be building the bloody lot.
"The Games will focus attention on London and draw visitors from around the globe."
Who, no doubt, will stay in London and won't venture outside the M25. Why are the words Wembley Stadium forming so prominently in my mind?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Not again?

Which I'm sure you're all saying, yep the traffic lights on the Bridge were playing up again again. Damn this is getting a tired old refrain. I was coming up Mitton Street and joined the queue. Being a local I nipped up Severn Road and down Lichfield Street to get to York Street that way. Now here's something that may shock some locals especially newcomers, but (whisper it) York Street is two lanes. I can hear some gasps from here (along with "well yes of course it is"'s). It gets better - York Street is a merger system. Two lanes merge, one from Lion Hill and the other from Lichfield Street. That means if you're coming from Lichfield Street and want to stay in the left hand-lane you can just pull out into York Street.

So why am I making a fuss? Here's why (from

To the bottom right we have Lichfield Street, top right Lion Hill; both feeding into York Street which extends off to the left. From the tiny red cross we have a lane divider, oh wait no we don't. In fact there are no road markings at all until we get to the end of the street. Better yet if you pretend to drive in from the left you suddenly get stopped by the new car-parking bay painted there. Here's a telling picture from Google Maps:

What you're looking for is the two side-by-side cars on the left, one is in the right-hand lane of York Street, the other is parked quite legitimately in the bay, does anyone believe you could fit another car between them?

So no lane divider and a new parking bay, why the sudden appearance of the parking bay? Because further up they built a road to service some new flats and therefore lost two spaces, so it was moved up the road, after all York Street's only one lane isn't it. If it wasn't it'd have a lane divider wouldn't it?

Anyway back to the lights, it's difficult to know the problem. My best guess would be that a bus stopped next to Harold Davies Drive to let someone on/off/on-and-off; this would cause the traffic to build up behind it as you can't overtake it (there's a queue waiting on the other side to cross the bridge), this stops the traffic on the town side and the lights go "Hey everything's stopped moving I'll change." The Areley side gets a green light but can't move because the traffic is still coming over the bridge, so the traffic lights go "Hey nobody's moving I'll change" and a new stream of traffic comes over to join the tail-end of what's already passing through.

Of course it could have been the reverse because, as already mentioned, the lights aren't linked up to the pedestrian crossing in Bridge Street and, even better, the amount of traffic let through is long enough to both reach these lights and extend back over the bridge blocking that up.

This could of course all be solved by putting up some sort of camera detection system to monitor whether the way is actually clear before switching, oh wait there's one already there... I think.

Let's make a phone call to the department in charge. Long wait before a young lady picks up, ah of the two people in the department one's on a site-visit the other's not at his desk. I'll make this clear I've called the Traffic Signal Faults division for the entire county (population: 550,900, area: 1,741 square kilometres) how many lights do they have to look after? If they're all as faulty as these they've got one heck of a job on their hands.


Link from Warp via a programming forum posting clips from YouTube. The phrase "Bloody Hell!" does not do this justice.

The guy's name is Satoshi Kamiya, a full start to finish of making an origami phoenix is available on YouTube and you can see some still photos of some of his creations on his own site.

Current Reading, and general stuff

For those keeping watch, I've finally finished the Dune Universe set of books that's

  • Dune: The Butlerian Jihad
  • Dune: The Machine Crusade
  • Dune: The Battle of Corrin
  • Dune: House Atreides
  • Dune: House Harkonnen
  • Dune: House Corrino
  • Dune
  • Dune Messiah
  • Children of Dune
  • God Emporer of Dune
  • Heretics of Dune
  • Chapter House Dune
  • Hunters of Dune
Phew! Interesting to go through in one sitting as it were, highlights the inconsistencies. Not only between the new and original series, but even between some of the Frank Herbert books too.

As is my habit I've now switched to non-fiction with The Best Democracy Money can buy" by Greg Palast (there is a revised edition also available) I was going to go for another of his books "Armed Madhouse", but as I've got both I thought I might as well go chronologically.

Only started re-reading it this morning, I got in half-an-hour, so I'm only up to page 60 or so. Favourite line so far is from DBT discussing the American 2000 presidential election where, apparently, manually checking records on the telephone doesn't have to include using the telephone. Beautiful.

I ventured warily out on Saturday morning into town. I decided to walk as it's not far, I need the exercise, you can't take pictures easily from a moving car, and I couldn't be bothered to get the car out. The snow was still present, but melting, and I came upon that fundamental perversion of health and safety. The simple fact that they'd gritted the roads, but once again had failed to do anything with the paths. Compacted snow had essentially turned the path to ice, and I resorted to walking on the still snowy verge closer to the traffic.

The town was far better, but judging by the condition of paths on the bridge I'd say that was more due to the heavy foot traffic then by planning. No wonder we shut down when it snows, we close roads to vehicular traffic and yet provide no other safe means of transport. Oh yes it's different in a car then it is on foot, a car skidding into another or onto the pavement has different consequences to someone slipping and falling arse over tit, but who's going to risk that? Better to stay at home in the warm.

The town was fairly busy considering, both the Co-op and Tesco Express had a fair few people bustling about. According to one cashier it was "packed yesterday [Friday]" that's the old siege mentality at work "Oh my god snow! Quick get in three hundred cans of spam to last it out"

We (well Kidderminster) get a mention on the BBC website due to the gritters getting stuck in traffic and Jack Straw appears to put his foot in it when he states that people should be "better prepared to defy the weather" Yep that's right it's all our fault, we're all a bunch of soft southern jessies. When I were a lad my grandfather thought nothing of making the twenty-mile trip to work through 6 foot of snow and raging blizzards, up-hill, carrying sack o' coal on his back to stoke furnace of t' mill with nothing but pork drippings sarnies to keep his strength up.

<sigh> I do agree in part though, we do seem to take any old excuse to take the day of work, it's therefore up to the government to remove those excuses. I'm not talking carrot or stick here I'm talking a reappraisal of our entire traffic infrastructure. Why can't our roads cope with snow, hell why can't they cope with rain? Why do leaves perpetually cause trains to cancel services, why can't airports keep runways clear? I'm not saying they can stay functioning whatever the weather, some conditions are quite clearly dangerous, but everything falls apart for conditions other countries would consider normal. Someone needs to ask these questions and, better yet, get some answers.

Soft drugs lead to hard drugs (except for me of course)

So we have the big furore over did David Cameron smoke cannabis does this make him hypocritical in his stand against drug abuse - no. In fact he's been described as "relaxed" about legalising cannabis if it had any health benefits. Not the same of course as legalising because it doesn't have any heath deficits, but still a start.

So what's the big deal anyway, why is cannabis (also known as marijuana) illegal, but tobacco and alcohol available for sale at your nearest shop. Why should this drug need to prove its 'healthy' connections when known killers are perfectly legal?

Perhaps it's the frame of mind it puts you in according to Wikipedia

"if the user does nothing they will feel relaxed and sleepy"
ah-hah we'd have a bunch of stoned workers and the economy would collapse. Hold on though alcohol hardly puts you in a workable state of mind, especially in the quantities we Brits normally drink it. That's one of the reasons restricted times for on-licences were introduced during the war, to stop workers drinking themselves insensible. So why not ban alcohol? Well we saw how perfectly that worked in America, you simply can't ban something that anyone can brew up in their garden shed, or even create by accident. Yet the widespread use of cannabis indicates that it's hardly difficult to grow. Besides Wikipedia goes on to state
"if they engage in intense physical or mental activity they will feel energised"
oops that can't be it.

Health problems, of course that must be it. Even a report on drug use commissioned by the House of Commons stated that
"real and significant" effects on mental health, [but that] "the consumption of cannabis is neither a necessary, nor a sufficient, cause for the development of schizophrenia"
Ah-hah it's bad for um tobacco. So we should reclassify tobacco? It's not as if it grows natively in this country so you wouldn't have the same level of trouble as you do with alcohol and cannabis. That would be the logical outcome if it wasn't for the awful spectre of...

Gateway drug. Dum dum dah. Yes that's right take cannabis and you're on the slippery slope to cocaine and heroin, you don't get that with tobacco do you, no sirree. Except the same report as above clarifies this point quite neatly
"we have found no conclusive evidence to support the gateway theory"
difficult to spin that one. So why is there any link at all, well the answer is obvious to anyone who cares to look. Cannabis is currently illegal, therefore to obtain it you must deal with a criminal. Criminals don't stick to one thing so they deal other things. They also would much prefer you to be heavily addicted and dependant on them so they'll push 'harder' drugs. You don't get the local newsagents pushing crack cocaine on you when you buy a pack of Benson & Hedges (well okay you might depending on where you are)

So why is cannabis illegal and tobacco legal - easy. As mentioned tobacco doesn't grow in this country so all of it has to be imported and that's pretty controllable and therefore taxable. "Money makes the world go around"

Friday, February 09, 2007

Snow 4: A New Fall

The snow I mentioned previously has continued, in fact it's got worse; some photos are on their way to Flickr, problems uploading video to Google so here's a still:

The driveway that was so clear this morning the neighbour's kids have now just started sledging down and what was the cast-off from this endeavour is sinking softly into an amorphous lump on the front lawn.

Update: Video uploaded whilst having snowball fun with kids, processing as we speak title is "Let it snow"

Traffic that was hurtling past the house on the main road have turned into creaky pensioners edging forward one foot at a time.

Update 2: Cars are grinding to a halt, accident at corner; snow is falling just as heavily thank-gods for the weekend

The house opposite with the poor insulation is sporting a fresh white coat atop its roof.

Flickr's taking a while (I'm on dial-up here) So here's a cut-down I've just taken

Hah typical I just put this in place and Flickr's finished the previous ones. Ah well I'll upload the big version of this I like zooming in on the branches.

Snow - take err three?

I'd have liked to take some more photos, luckily Suzie has taken a couple around the river. I was at work all morning, nipped home for some lunch and decided to park in front of the house instead of on the drive as the drive is sloped, actually the road is sloped too just not as much. My neighbour had left a large black hole in the snow a few feet in front of me where their 4x4 was parked.

I had some lunch, then decided it would be a good idea to at least give the drive a quick clear. I know there's a shovel, I've seen a shovel, can I find it? Yeah right of course not. I've got a spade; not the best, but a workable substitute for such a small area. My back still aches slightly.

While straining my back it started to rain/drizzle, at this temperature that's not good. I decided to head back into work, make sure everything's sorted out in case I can't make it in tomorrow and head back. With that in mind I got in my car and found myself stuck. I moved forward and slid sideways to the left. No more forward motion available. Pulled back slightly and tried again, slid sideways to the right. Oh dear.

If I could just make it to the bare patch I'd be fine. Went and got the spade, dug away some of the compacted snow. Put the spade back got in. My neighbour turns up and pulls into the bare patch; aargh! Even he has trouble and bounces off the kerb before finally coming to rest.

Still getting no purchase uphill. So I enlist my neighbour's help and reverse back onto the main road. Not something I could have done on my own due to the fact it's on a blind bend.

After that life was easy the main roads were still free of excess traffic, felt like a school holiday (which it sort of was). Still a touch of rain, not so much snow now though what was left had been compacted down.

Noted that yet again the drains couldn't cope with the excess water from the slush and some of the nominally clear roads had a sheen of surface water - let's watch that freeze.

Sorted out work and left, got back around half-three. Stopped on a flat area, walked up to the house, opened the garage door, went back and drove straight in without stopping.

Cleared more of the driveway and then decided to have a rest. So sadly no time for photos.

Today was fine, my drive was clear and ice-free. The main roads seemed fine; a couple of dodgy patches, but the drains had finally taken the surface water off so there were none of the ice sheets I'd been expecting. Traffic was still non-existent, I think I stopped only at the bridge lights.

The news was moaning about the schools this morning "The police, the health, the fire service all have to turn up, why can't the schools?" Damn right too, the only mitigating factor I can think of is a) We don't get much snow so let the kids have some fun and b) For most next week is half-term so where's the harm for two extra days. On the bad side working parents suddenly find themselves with the kids to look after.

Trains are back running on an amended timetable, airports should be back open. Again woah two to three inches of snow and we shut-down. Does this happen in Canada, Finland, Russia? Not as if it was an unexpected occurance, we just don't seem to cope with anything outside the 'normal' mediocre pattern of weather. Perhaps we could de-clog our drains on a regular basis, perhaps lay down heating wires in the road powered by a solar-powered central heating type system. All reports indicate this type of weather will become the norm, something needs to be done now.

Oo it's just started snowing again and I appear to be hearing thunder, might just be somebody moving things around in one of the factories though.