Friday, February 29, 2008

Stupidly suicidal

It's raining. I'm in the right-hand 'lane' of High Street, I'm forced into the left-hand lane by the car parked by the cash-point; I turn the corner into the left-hand lane and jink hard to the right to avoid the car parked there and I judder over the poor road surface.

I turn left into lane 1 of Vale Road with one car before me and a gap behind, one car is coming up from Mitton Street and seems to be staying in lane 3. I signal and shift to lane 2 which is clear of traffic, I watch as the Mitton Street car shifts into lane 2 and I prepare to shift to lane 3; which happens much more violently then I expect when I swerve to avoid the stupid young women standing in the middle of lane 2 trying to continue to cross the road.

From turning the corner to swerving it all took place in less then 10 seconds, but she was this close to becoming a dented stain on my car and all because she couldn't be bothered to walk the 30 yards to the crossing point.


I'd hoped to start a piece on a 'down and dirty' guide to fixing the road layout on Stourport today in the cheapest way possible, but I think I'm coming down with a bit of a chill. My brain's claggy, I'm trying to stay awake, and I'm feeling a bit cold and nauseous. Managed to cast a quick eye over Tav's latest entry on the WFA regarding Weavers Wharf, the site is still not being used to its full potential and that's not just because it's still under development, but really due to some brain-dead decisions in layout. The same argument can be levelled at Crossley in similar ways and I'll go in to more details when my brain starts to function in its (ab)normal way.

Still playing dodgems with the potholes in Stourport, the one on the crossroad island getting worse. Parts of my road are going to be resurfaced soon; they hope to maintain access and are asking for people not to park there, which is fair enough - shouldn't be for too long anyway.

Fun with Outlook 2000 and I'm guessing Sony sync with regard to contact's email addresses. Seeing Mr Foo Bar with an address of, but clicking on the address properties shows it as "f". Good news is that they're still going out correctly they're just not automatically matching up addresses to names, which isn't a major hassle but still needs sorting out though.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ditch those plastic bags and make us more profit.

So Marks & Spencers are doing their bit for the environment and starting to charge for plastic bags; how decent of them, how noble of them, how blah blah blah. Okay let's look at this in a little more detail.

As it stands the big stores don't charge for the cheapo bags so the cost of purchasing them has to be absorbed by the company as part of the profit it makes on the goods it sells. This isn't too bad as they're pathetically cheap to buy in bulk and spreading the cost is probably less then a thousandth of a penny across the range. Still it is a loss, but what can you do? Well you could start charging for them, but you stand the risk of alienating your customers. So let's call it an environmental action, charge 5p per bag and give the profits to some eco-charity; who could complain about that?

Well note the bit about giving the profits to charity, so instead of the costs being absorbed indirectly they're now being paid for directly. This means the company makes more money. It gets better when you consider how people re-use these bags for various jobs; bin-liners, storage, keeping your muddy boots separate from other things. What are people going to use instead? the answer is bin-liners and a quick Google shows an increase in sales by around 70% in those areas now charging for carrier bags. So instead of getting plastic bags for free we're paying for them instead and while it can be argued that overall less will be used, it's still more then the pious companies would have us believe is being saved.

To put it simply Marks and Spencers will be making a profit by no longer absorbing the cost of carrier bags and from the increase in sales of binbags by inconveniencing their customers while at the same time making them feel happy about it all. Someone deserves a bonus.

For those who ask 'Why don't we use paper bags' the answer is 1) they're more expensive and 2) they take up a greater volume. However now we're paying directly for them and use is likely to go down expect them to be brought in after a year or two.

[Additional - Good old target="_blank">Daily Mash]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Tesco report

I know fourth entry today, but the DCC meeting PDF here is well worth reading. It's 46 pages long, but surprisingly chock-full of goodness despite some repetition.

I enjoy the fact it points out that under the current links to town the development would be out of centre unless the Mitton Street pavements were widened and traffic control points put in at Severn Road/Mitton and Lion Hill/Vale Road. We're getting jams simply by extending the timing on the lights in Bridge Street what the hell will this do?

I also like the fact that it suggests both High Street and Co-op are robust enough not to be significantly harmed by the development, well yeah they are at the moment.

A balanced view must be taken with regard to the retail issue. On one hand it is clear that the pedestrian links between the town centre and the store are not ideal, essentially due to the physical constraints in Mitton Street. These have always been evident and in land use terms the site has nevertheless been earmarked for a retail store in the Local Plan and the Development Brief.
and that's the sound of me beating my head against a wall.
It should also be re-emphasised that at present, according to the retail analyses, a significant number of trips are made from the Stourport on Severn catchment area to other foodstores elsewhere, generating unnecessary trips by car. This proposal will clearly reduce much of that car mileage, a significant benefit in terms of sustainability.
Yeah 'cos everyone who travelled to Kiddy by car is now going to walk or take the bus to the new development; as if. As it stands now anyone on the 'wrong' side of the bridge travels through town and up the main drag and returns the same way via Gilgal. Anyone in Mitton is likely to take Wilden Lane both ways. Anyone in Lickhill can take the main drag there and back.

So the new development opens and those on the wrong side of the bridge are still using Gilgal, but now so are those from Lickhill and Mitton. Oh great you've reduced car mileage at the expense of having everyone trying to use the same roads and thus sitting in queues; beautiful.

I look at all the things that are being proposed and think "It can't just be me seeing all these flaws" sometimes it's just silly little simple things like the new route from Discovery Road means that any traffic trying to enter the supermarket from there has to turn right against the traffic from Mitton Street so why use that route when the other is just as easy? The cycle lane provision is a joke, are we going to get ones as per Lickhill Road and Lombard Street i.e. painted cycle signs on the road whoop-de-doo that'll help. The proposed traffic system on Severn Road and Lion Hill is bizarre, if it's sole purpose is for pedestrians then it won't assist anyone trying to leave Severn Road and if it's set up as a vehicle control point then you're going to have so may accidents or jams it's untrue as people turn the corner and crunch to a halt.

I'm sorry this just resonates so wrongly to me on so many levels I just can't get a handle on it; it just has the same tone to me as a proposed nuclear power plant in the middle of Birmingham and everyone arguing about how the fuel is going to be delivered.

It's all about timing

The Labour Party leaflet mentioned the Town council meeting being held on Monday at 6pm (brought forward from 7pm) at the Civic Centre and both it and the WFA mentions the Development Control Committee the day after at 6pm at Stourport High School (instead of Lickhill Community Centre). Members of the public are, of course, able to attend.

Now is it just me or is it noticeable that when the 'community' get together to organise something on a normal weekday it tends to start around the 8pm mark, but the council always seem to hold their meetings around the 7pm mark?

8pm no problem I'm there; 7pm is a little more tricky and depends on where the meetings are being held; 6pm not a chance unless I leave work early. I'm fortunate enough to work locally, but a lot of people don't so just out of curiosity how the hell are they supposed to be able to attend these meetings and exercise their democratic rights?


1am in the morning and what the hell was that? Has something fallen over? All is quiet, was it a dream, wait it isn't quiet - a jammed clock I'm going to take apart is ticking; something must have shaken it. I get up and prowl around the house, nothing's fallen over and a tree hasn't fallen over out front or back. Humph go back to sleep.

So yep we had an earthquake 5.2 or 5.3 depending on who you listen to, all the breakfast news teams rushed out to the epicentre, or at least a few miles off for some strange reason. Up pops a map of Britain showing the location and where reports of it being felt are coming in from, oh and look there's a blob representing London just in case we didn't know where it was.

Next in calls and texts and emails from people talking about their houses shaking, some closer then I to the epicentre and oddly some further away.

Shaking? All I got was fa-dumph as if someone had picked the house up by a quarter-of-an-inch and then let go; sorry it was hardly exciting.

[Update- from the Daily Mash ties in nicely with our local news and its "Quake 08" slot - "there is no evidence these things are getting worse" said the reporter looking gutted]

Labour and Tesco

Had the local Labour Party leaflet through the door with a full page spread on the Tesco fun. Here's some snippets of joy:

[the site] was identified for possible supermarket development in the district council's 2004 Local Plan
Yep note the "possible" as it was really designated for B1 as I've been <sigh> banging on about.
The retail designation was confirmed in 2006 […] under new planning procedures
Except I've looked and can't find any record of this. Ah though here we go…
The 2004 zoning was subject to a retail survey
That would be this and this(both PDF)

I'll quote some key passages from the Retail Study (huzzah I can as well because it's not locked)

[with regard to larger stores] Smaller shopping centres in particular (including small town centres such as Stourport) might be susceptible to this trend, with effects manifest through increasing vacancies caused by relocation or the closure of independent retail outlets.
if allowance is made for the collective overtrading of Stourport's stores, there is latent expenditure capacity in the order of £6.9m, equivalent to an immediate need for 490-1,380sqm net floorspace. Thereafter, expenditure capacity is in the order of an additional £0.7m to 2011, and £1.5m to 2016, meaning that there is capacity for up to an additional 600-1,680sqm net floorspace over the next ten years.
except according to the 2001 report -
In Stourport-on-Severn, the study indicates that there is capacity to support one to two discount stores […] by 2006. Only if none of the identified capacity is absorbed by discount retailers between 2001 and 2011 will there be sufficient capacity to support one supermarket […] operated by one of the big five grocery retailers
Here's the killer
Foodstores in Stourport account for 67% of the main food shopping trips made by residents within Zone 2 [Stourport]. The Tesco and Co-op stores at Lombard Street are the most popular, having a combined market share of around 60%. Most of the expenditure leaking from the Stourport area is directed to the Sainsbury's at Crossley Park.
and suddenly the reason for Tesco to want to build here becomes even more transparent. Here's a big one
Severn Road - Carpets of Worth Site (STC.2)
The Carpets of Worth site is the largest of the three sites covered by the Severn Road
Development Brief. The Local Plan identifies that the area is suitable for a mix of uses, including business (B1), residential (C3) and should there be a demonstrable need during the Plan period to 2011, a possible new food supermarket (A1). Development on this site should provide:
  • A mix of land uses including B1 Business and C3 residential. Retail uses may be acceptable subject to the retail policies;
  • Retain and use the important buildings identified in the development brief;
  • Preserve or enhance the Conservation Area;
  • Safeguard/enhance the natural assets of the site provided by the River Stour and the design of the scheme;
  • Take account of the flood risk and contamination;
  • Be accessible via a new road to be provided as part of the redevelopment, linking the site with Discovery Road.

So does that sound like the go ahead for putting a supermarket there? Also note the subtle equating of A1 with supermarket. Back to the Labour leaflet
A short fall in supermarket capacity in Stourport was established
Well would you look at that another equating of A1 with supermarket and by the way no short fall has been found we're just below the national average in some respects and above it in others. Onward
[…] the proposed new store would be restricted primarily to food. Planning conditions could ensure that this would always remain the case
Note "primarily" and "could" I'd also like to mention the petrol station wouldn't be food and I'd also like to point out supermarkets' track record for following planning conditions to the letter.

The final paragraph details access and that it would need to be looked at carefully.

The back of the leaflet mentions the road closures that I posted about on the 18th and some improvements going on at Riverside Meadows.

So sorry guys not overly impressed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

So the drugs don't work

Waking up this morning you're likely to find the headlines screaming that anti-depressants don't work. However as 5cc has often pointed out headline and story don't always tally.

I'll add in the missing word to all the headlines - New. So altered headlines (as online) as follows

[New] Depression drugs don't work, finds data review - Times Online
[New] Antidepressant drugs don't work - official study - Independent
Study doubts effectiveness of [new] antidepressant drugs - Guardian Unlimited
[New] Anti-depressants 'of little use' - BBC online

In the reports that follow the headlines the Times mentions, "the new generation of antidepressant drugs" in the second paragraph.

The Independent calls them "modern antidepressant drugs" in the second paragraph.

The Guardian doesn't mention these are new at all.

The BBC comes tops with "New generation anti-depressants" being the first line of the first paragraph.

This is an important result in so many ways, why did a drug that only had a 1.8 scale improvement get so overly prescribed when the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has defined a drug-placebo difference of 3 being significant?

What doesn't help is blatantly misleading headlines. How many people who are benefiting will just stop taking their medication as a result of seeing these headlines?

The press release is available here and the actual report here because only the BBC provides any links at all and those only indirectly.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ben Fogle's Extreme Dreams.

For some reason I was exhorted by Invisible to watch Ben Fogle's Extreme Dreams on BBC2; being the doormat I am I complied :-)

I don't normally watch this type of thing, it used to be that such shows at least attempted to educate and inform the viewers now they've become a platform for C-list 'celebs' to go on a paid vacation and spout inanities.

So who is Ben Fogle? From his bio we get this

Ben Fogle was born in 1973, the son of actress Julia Foster and broadcast vet Bruce Fogle. Educated at Bryanston School in Dorset Ben went on to study Latin American Studies at the University of Costa Rica and University of Portsmouth, where Ben enrolled as an Officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, as a Midshipman.

Ben spent several years in Latin America, working on a turtle conservation project on the Mosquito coast of Honduras and working in an orphanage in Ecuador.
So someone who's pretty much never had a 'real' job, I'm regretting this already, and now the show has started -
I've climbed mountains, crossed jungles and trekked across the planet's toughest terrains.
But nothing prepared him for his quest to cross London by Tube in the rush hour, well no, anyway here's the man himself bounding up the hill with the raw enthusiasm of a puppy dog and my first thought is 'Who let Prince William out without any minders?' an impression that's reinforced every time he says anything. I just wanted to add a 'Gosh' or 'Golly' on to the end of every sentence and it was also not helped by his constant repetition of certain adjectives.

Anyway he's preparing for an "ultimate" personal trek up "mysterious Mount Raraima" the [mysterious] setting for The [mysterious] Lost World that sparked his imagination as a [mysterious] child, but "I can't do this alone, I need a team" and a camera and a fat budget. Now something that needs to by noted here is that it's his childhood quest, his team, and his route; except when the going gets tough and may "shatter our summit dreams"; just watch for the switch in pronouns in quotes.

Onto the team selection and to make this more exciting the screen switches from 16:9 widescreen to 2.35:1 moviescreen oooo! All this to show a montage of clips from previous treks and, confusingly, the one we're about to watch.

First up we have [brave] widow Sarah who trekked with him in Papua New Guinea "bravely battling" the loss of her husband and who has "bravely accepted" this all-expenses paid vacation, sorry trek.

Next a Cockney cabbie "Darren's dug deep" to quit his unhealthy fags and booze lifestyle in order to live longer for his kids. And if there's a better way to live longer then signing up to jump into rivers and climb mountains then I don't know it. Amusingly his montage featured him sitting on a mountain telling the camera that he's "the first black cabbie" to sit here, amusing as he's white [Yes I know what he meant]

Up next is "Feisty model and mum" Lindsey, we know she's feisty because the montage shows her laughing and getting everyone to dunk their heads into a river. Sadly the montage doesn't show one of the team having their heads bitten off by a crocodile. Apparently her son has/had cancer and has/had chemo; sorry about the ambiguity, but it wasn't explained very well. Anyway she's trying to "rediscover herself" yeah who wants to hang around with a sick kid anyway.

Finally to round out the group we get Lupus sufferer Yona... and I can't say anything bad about her, partially because she's the only one I think should really be there and mostly because the programme seemed to keep picking on her. I'll explain later, but first…

Coming up in this entry - How tall is this mountain, Ben's worst fears, and picking on Yona. Yep less then ten minutes in of a half-hour programme and we get a 'coming next' and no this isn't to keep you hooked over the adverts as there aren't any.

So how tall is this [mysterious] mountain, well it's 3000m, except this bit is 1000m, then they reach the [treacherous] halfway point of 2400m with either 500 or 300m to go. It is possible to work out exactly what is meant, but should we really be having to?

They've reached [ultimate] base camp, we seem to have skipped over around 2000m of this trek, perhaps because it was boring, nevertheless the question must be asked -

Ben: "Did you believe in yourself that you'd get this far?"
Yona: "Not really"

With that inspiring conversation it's time to set up camp for the night where Ben tells us his dreams will be filled with "dinosaurs and pterodactyls". Come morning and Ben's worst fears have been realised - "fog and driving rain shroud the menacing peaks" and this may hinder "our dreams" which I thought were about dinosaurs?

Now forgive me, but having woken up on the side of a mountain I don't think my "worst fears" would involve fog and rain, a landslide careering down and taking out the tents of "my team" to leave them dead at the bottom would probably rank higher. It's just that with this statement I could imagine Ben coming out to find his teammates killed in such a manner and turn to the camera to tell us that it'll make the trek more difficult; completely unfair on him, but still.

Ah well time for the "snake-infested" forest where they "risk exposure" on a "treacherous route", but "the stakes are so high... I hope my team is ready... our summit dream will end" anyway "We're entering the forest so this is where you have to be so careful of snakes... and also slipping".

Yes the deadly slipping compounded by the rain and the fact the [treacherous] route, as determined by Ben, crosses several streams something that Ben is at pains to point out. As he leads the team they head across one stream and once he reaches the other side he stops to talk to the camera "Rivers can rise in a matter of minutes" he says pointing back at the rushing water. Yeah nice point now would you awfully mind moving out of the bloody way to let your teammates cross it. He does this twice by-the-way pointing out how dangerous or "treacherous" something is while blocking the route for anyone to continue past said danger.

Anyway they're doing well and have got out of the forest Ben warns his teammates about hypothermia. Now two of the team have constantly worn hats, two have had the hoods of their jackets up, so who do you think is the only member of this team who seems to appear before the camera bare-headed all the time? Yep it's Ben; we do get some quick shots of him hooded, but most of the time he lets us appreciate his boyish good-looks in full.

Oops time for another break. Still to come - Yona's confidence, and a moral boost.

They're closing in on "The Ramp" the main entry point to the summit, but Yona's suffering, Ben tells us in VO that "her confidence crashes"; cue shots of the other members all standing around looking bored and then down to Yona talking to camera "I'm absolutely exhausted". Yeah see confidence, exhaustion same thing really, amazingly she manages to get her 'confidence' back after a short rest stop and it's on to "The Ramp". It looks bad, everyone's tired and it's time for our fearless leader Ben to step up and deliver a much-needed boost to everyone.
"Now this is where many of the early explorers went wrong, this is where many of them perished, this is where many of them fell off the edge"
Go Team Fogle! Yay?

For such a dangerous and exciting bit we don't really see much of them climbing "The Ramp" and instead meet them at the top.
"I can't believe I'm finally here and best of all my team has made it too and can take a moment to reflect on what this intensely physical and emotional journey has taught them"
Cue lots of shots of the team all standing by themselves on the edge of the plateau. It's nice that Ben acknowledges the team; though again note the shifts.

Now time for them to make the descent… ha; no I'm betting a helicopter came to pick them up. So why bother with the climb in the first place? Ah well see it's not the destination that matters it's the journey; hmm odd that saying only seems to get used when you're climbing mountains or crossing deserts and never when you're stuck on a motorway heading to Alton Towers with two bored kids in the back?

Ah well I laughed myself silly so it wasn't a complete waste of time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Northern Rock - who's to blame?

I've finally managed to catch the Dispatches programme regarding Northern Rock. It seems the fault lies with everyone, except the presenter who'd warned everyone about what was about to happen. We were greedy wanting low interest loans, the financial institutes wanted big profits, and not one of the three regulatory bodies knew which one was in charge of all this.

Other then the repeated "I told you so"'s from the presenter the programme was quite informative. Rather then tell you to watch its hour-long length I'll break it down into a Q&A session.

What's this sub-prime thing?

Easy-peasy you lend money (particularly mortgages) to people who are unlikely to be able to pay it back. Yep sounds stupid, but because they can't get loans elsewhere you can charge a hefty wad of interest, those that do manage to pay offset those who default with a little bit extra as profit. Better yet on mortgages you get to keep the amount already paid, and sell the property to make up the shortfall - it's foolproof; so long as you don't mind loaning money to people who can't afford it.

So what's sub-prime got to do with pension schemes and investments?

Well Wall Street devised a neatly acronymed product that meant you could 'buy' mortgages in a lump and suck the profit out of them. The best profit margins occurred in the sub-prime market so that's what everyone 'bought' except they didn't real buy them they themselves took a loan out to buy them.

How do these loans work?

Well an investment firm might borrow $1bn at 5.4% annual interest; that means they're paying $54m a year, then buy sub-prime 'chunk' that was making $80m a year. So an instant $26m a year profit on a perpetual loan. Everyone was making money, so everyone was happy.

But what happens if you get a lot of the sub-prime market defaulting at the same time?

Won't happen. In fact we know it won't happen because the sub-prime market got marked by the Credit Assurance companies as triple-A which is the same as the Bank of England would get. Don't worry that these assurance companies work for the people selling the investments, and don't worry that they've only dealt with company investments and never even examined domestic investments before. Triple-A rating means they're safe.

But the market did start to fail didn't it?

Yep, then the profit started to become less then the interest required to pay off the loans and everyone started to lose money in a big way. The big financial institutes saw this coming and started to prepare big cash cushions to soften the blow, in order to do this they had to cut back on lending out money.
So what's this got to do with Northern Rock?

Well Northern Rock's business plan was based upon the ability to constantly borrow money, a bit like how the sub-prime mortgages were 'bought' just in greater quantities and smaller lumps. So when all the major finance houses started cutting back on lending their source went dry.

Didn't anyone spot the flaws in the plan?

Yep the Bank of England did except they no longer handled that side of things, that was down to the FSA who though it was all hunky-dory. Nor did the Treasury, who formed the third part of the triumvirate regulatory system, see any problems or possibly even look for any.

So then the Bank of England loaned out some cash to them.

Yes, because no-one else was doing it, the Bank of England under regulation had to loan the money out; then again apparently under regulation let everyone know.


Yeah the media got a hold of it, then blew it all up, and pretty much started a run on the bank.

So what lessons have we learned?

Well an investigation is being carried out as to why the FSA failed to spot the flaws in the business plan, said investigation being carried out by… the FSA. We also have legislation being devised to prevent reports of emergency loans starting runs on banks by allowing the BoE to make covert loans i.e. not tell anyone what they're doing.

We are also waiting for the next big shockwave in the sales of guarantees as companies heavily invested in the sub-prime market were underwriting said guarantees. Well I say we're waiting, I mean you, me, the people who watched (and understood) the programme, and the finance houses are waiting; as far as anyone knows the FSA, BoE and Treasury still haven't got a clue what's happening.

No really what lessons have we learned?

Greed is good, for the investment bankers and their big bonuses. The invisible hand of self-regulation didn't work. Our underpowered regulatory bodies are woefully behind the times. And finally if you can't stop the next one, just make sure you can hide who's to blame easier. Oh and make sure to blame the Americans for starting it and not our own firms for latching on to the idea like lampreys.

Highway code what highway code?

Well it seems the letter regarding Gilgal that caught my attention here has attracted a response; sadly an inaccurate one.

However, strictly speaking, the traffic moving from Minster Road into Gilgal should always take precedence. The reason is that at the end of Vale Road there are clear give way' markings on the road.
This bald statement actually gave me pause for thought, was Mr Tromans correct? I mean I've only been driving over this area a minimum of twice a day, five days a week, for the last ten years; was there really a set of give way markings at the connection between Vale Road and Gilgal I'd been missing? I therefore resolved to carefully check the next time I travelled that way.

There are two sets of road markings as you approach this area, running alongside the divider are a set of diagonal white stripes which as per Rule 130 of the Highway Code are there to separate traffic lanes or to protect traffic turning right; and would be unnecessary if a Give Way system was in place. The second set of road markings are the standard lane markings the rules for which are covered by the high way code here.

[Update - Mr Tromans has answered my comment and graciously retracted his statement]

So first we get a story that seems to imply that the Dial-a-ride bus has (or needs) some special dispensation to pick-up/drop-off passengers on a set of double yellow lines when according to the Highway Code PDF file
Waiting restrictions indicated by yellow lines apply to the carriageway, pavement and verge. You may stop to load or unload (unless there are also loading restrictions as described below) or while passengers board or alight.
Notice the lack of any of the provisos about the driver leaving or if the vehicle is causing an obstruction, which Mr Hart seems to believe exists.

So as well as that we then get a letter stating that something exists that clearly doesn't... so does the Shuttle perform any type of, you know, journalistic fact checking of what they print at all in terms of letters or quotes?

For any Shuttle writers here's a helping hand for checking the Gilgal story.

In other news the wonderful parking cameras in place in parts of London may be spreading to other parts of the country. In an interview a detractor of the scheme mentioned someone getting a fine for stopping in a box junction; which he had done in order to avoid running over the two people who'd run out in front of him both of whom were clearly visible in the evidence photo. If you want to laugh (or cry) read Rule 174 of the Highway Code.

I expect at any time to be pulled over by the police while driving through the town for not having my headlights on (Rule 113)

I suggest that all drivers refresh their memories as to the Rules in the Highway Code (or at least the bits I've linked to) that way you'll be one up on all the people supposedly enforcing them; because they clearly haven't bothered.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What a load of Rubbish

At times I wonder if our MPs actually live in the real world, then with the recent talk about rubbish allowances I get my answer – nope they're living in La-La land sitting on mushrooms and drinking mint-tea with the King and Queen of all the Fairies.

For those of you not paying attention to the latest craziness to hit the corridors of Whitehall, talk is once again rearing its ugly head about setting allowances for household rubbish and either enforcing penalties for those exceeding those limits or rewarding those who stay under them. To counteract the crazy here's why it won't work.

The first problem is that I don't believe the MPs realise that due to the councils fortnightly or alternate collections the third-party refuse collection industry has made enormous gains in the household market, so how does that affect things?

Plucking figures from the air imagine I'm paying £10 a week to have my rubbish collected by a non-council third-party. Now let's say the penalties and rewards are greater then this at £15. If I leave my rubbish for the council to pick up then I pay £15 a week, so it's better to stick with the third-party; even better because from the council's point of view I'm below limit then I can claim my £15 reward. I'm up a fiver.

Now what if it wasn't £15 but £5, well it now becomes cheaper for me to have my rubbish collected like everyone else and pay the penalty. If for some reason I decide to stick with my third-party then again my bin's empty and I get a fiver back. So I save a fiver.

Notice that in both cases I either gain £5 or save £5 regardless whether only penalties or rewards are in play; and that in both cases the amount of rubbish has not changed.

Let me continue.

People are people, if you've got a big pile of rubbish that'll put you over your limit and inflict you with a fine then you'll dump it in your neighbour's bin. Sorry that's just the way it is. So all the bins will need locks and presumably a master key for the collectors to open them all. Do that and I guarantee the locks will be non-functional in a fortnight, either from someone smashing them open to dump some rubbish or someone just stuffing the lock with chewing gum; or just as likely broken by the legitimate owner having lost their key.

If the system is somehow made 'foolproof' then I predict an increase in fly-tipping

Need more?

I'm guessing limits will be set as to adult and child (under-16) this means that the council need to know who's living in your house and need to keep track of it. So that's a whole new layer of bureaucracy waiting to happen and needing funding. If you have a guest staying can you fill in a temporary resident form to increase your limit? Someone needs to monitor that to prevent abuse and so the bureaucracy increases in size.

And finally the greatest indignity of all

It is businesses and not households that produce the majority of waste in this country. That's businesses who already have to pay extra for their rubbish to be picked up and who are offered no incentives or disincentives to even recycle let alone reduce the amount they chuck out.

So here's a thank-you to all the MPs who are trying to promote this, you've done your country a great service by sticking your head above the parapet and proclaiming in a loud voice "I haven't got a clue how the real world works; make sure you don't vote for me in the next election".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Orange Box for Playstation 3 review

Ah my long awaited (well okay not awaited at all) review of The Orange Box for the PlayStation 3 several months after it was released in Europe and a long longer since it was released for everything else. There is one small bonus to this late review – I’ve played it more then once. Sounds daft, but I think you can’t measure a game until at least its second run through.

Much is made of the plot and story of Half-Life and so I present…

The Story So Far.

For the uninitiated who haven’t played the original Half-Life (still available for PS2 and backwards compatible PS3s) here’s a recap of that game. You play Dr Gordon Freeman who, despite the PhD in Theoretical Physics from M.I.T., is employed at the private scientific research establishment of Black Mesa to push unknown, but potentially hazardous materials around a test chamber oh and you’re late for work and wishing this train/transit system would hurry up. Don’t worry about the blown computer, ignore the fact that they’re pushing the test beam to levels higher then ever, and those fluctuations are well within parameters so just push that lump of ‘stuff’ into the beam would you Gordon.

At which point all hell breaks loose and it looks like you've opened up portals into another dimension that spews forth nasty alien beasties seemingly intent on snacking on your corpse; time to leave.

Up through the levels of Black Mesa fighting of the aliens, dodging the soldiers sent to ‘clean-up’ the place and onto your destiny, namely heading through into the alien dimension and putting the kibosh on whatever’s keeping the portals open.

Job done and you’re mysteriously left in the carriage of the same train you started in this morning, except you’re not travelling through Black Mesa you’re surrounded by stars

Point Insertion.

It is at this point that Half-Life 2 begins with you now still in a train carriage, but pulling into City 17. You arrive to the blinding flash of a hovering camera-bot as it takes your picture, walk past the masked ‘police’ as they gently harass the passengers and enter the waiting room containing previous passengers too scared to step through to the examination hall; nice!

Okay enough with the moody atmosphere – it’s 20 years from when you worked at Black Mesa, and you succeeded in closing the portals to the alien dimension; shame all that fuss attracted the attention of another set of aliens who decide to take over. Well at least the Earth managed to fight them off for about 7 hours; talk about over-matched. So now the Earth is a police-state run by your former boss at Black Mesa and controlled by the Combine armed forces under the guidance of your ‘benefactors’

So you’re back and it seems you’re something of a legend even, dare say it, a potential saviour? Time to link-up with the Resistance and single-handedly (well almost) save the world.


It’s a first person shooter what do you want to know? You’ve got your standard primary and secondary attacks and your jump and crouch. Weapon selection is easy using the d-pad with weapon types being grouped along the axes. As per usual how you manage to carry a rocket launcher, shotgun, automatic rifle, etc. is not answered

As well as running around on foot Half-Life also allows you to drive vehicles, that is to say specifically designated vehicles, at this point the controls start to work against you. In order to allow an independent targeting system they’ve mapped targeting to the right analogue stick with steering mapped to the left stick. Unfortunately the left stick also controls acceleration.

It sounds logical, move the stick forward and to the left and you accelerate off to the left, pull it back and to the left and you reverse to your left, and if this was Jet Ski Fun that would be fine except it’s Jet Ski Fun with helicopters shooting at you as you careen down winding tunnels. So every time you try to execute a quick handbrake turn by throwing the stick to the left you risk entering the deceleration zone and simply stopping dead, before very slowly moving backwards.

Unsurprisingly this is not fun when being shot at, mix that up with a front firing gun that is the only weapon you can use while driving and it becomes downright unamusing.

If driving only played a small part in the game this wouldn’t be too much of a hassle, except in a effort to show just how big everything is you’ll have entire sections of it to contend with.


Not That Bright, otherwise known as the Stand Next to Explosive Barrel syndrome. Attempting to mask this you get the standard mix of Make Them Fast, Make Them Tough, Make Them Hidden, and Make Them in Large Quantities. Like the Truman Show everyone has a start position and a set course of actions which never changes, those guys will always climb down on ropes and take this route to get to you – yawn.


Yes yes very swish, but hey this is the 3rd (7th) generation of gaming this is what we expect. The water is very nice, the grass is very nice, everything has texture it’s all most pleasing. There have been some complaints about a smearing filter, but I play on an SD set not an HD so I’m not expecting pixel perfection.

Polygon pop-up was quite obtrusive. Perhaps the simplest example is of the socket in the teleport chamber - step back and it’s square, step closer and it becomes smoother; it happens to any complex surface and, as light reflections are recalculated, keeps catching your eye.


This was the sticking point for many a reviewer. At certain points, well at a certain point, the game turns into a slideshow. Yep I can testify this is the case, or at least it was for my first run-through, for my second I noted no problems with frame rate beyond the odd hitch during the auto-save. I do however suffer the odd slow-down at the end of Episode 2 followed occasionally by a system halt. Save often is the rule.


Yep the crowbar is back, so is the ubiquitous pistol, magnum, shotgun and automatic rifle. You also get a one-shot kill crossbow, RPG, machine gun, pulse rifle, pheropod Ant Lion controller, and the Zero-point Energy field manipulator AKA Gravity Gun.

Ah the grav-gun a result of Valve’s physics engine, simply ‘suck’ any object onto the gun then fling it away with you at lethal force, the ammo-less weapon of choice in debris filled rooms; well it should be if it worked the way you wanted it to.

See the problem is the grav-gun will pick up exactly what you’re pointing at; well it should shouldn’t it? Well no, not when you think you’re pointing at that buzz-saw blade of death and you pick up that tiny barely visible splinter of wood that’s lying on top of it. The second problem occurs whenever you pick anything above briefcase size, you now have that object dominating your viewpoint. So having picked up that large barrel to fling at the enemies coming towards you, you can no longer see said enemies.

While not too great a hardship in either Half-Life 2 or Episode 1, this becomes increasingly annoying in the final stages of Episode 2 where pin-point chucking of objects becomes paramount.


Valve has done much boasting of its physics engine. What this means is that things react the way they should do, so see-saws can have bricks dropping them down so you can stand on the other end, barrels float, and objects can be stacked on top of others etc. To be honest past the few ‘puzzles’ that need to be solved this way you just aren’t likely to notice anything overly different from every other FPS. This is a good thing, you expect things to behave correctly, this will bounce, that will slide; the fact it becomes taken for granted shows how well it works.

On the other hand Half-Life 2 is showing its age, indestructible buildings, inoperable doors, blocked passages, and scripted events. Scripts are fun the first time around, expected the second time, then just dull. Throw this switch and it’ll unleash zombies, step just their and something will happen, you reach the point where you know what will happen and prepare a nice surprise for it. To be fair this fault can be levelled at a lot of games, but the story driven plot of this one in particular highlights these faults and makes you feel like you’re on rails.

And this is where the main game doesn’t stack up against its predecessor. Sure you were still heading through a linear path, but it had multiple routes occasionally, you could head down a dead end, and you also felt like you could take it at the pace you wanted to. Half-Life 2 feels like a race, your options are limited and you’re directed to go here then here then here. Okay there are some small diversions on the road, but not many.

You’re also artificially restricted in other odd ways; in the original game you’d just come out of the test chamber unsurprisingly without any weapons. As you progress you find some in security sections and from dead soldiers – it all made a kind of sense.

In Half-Life 2 you again start with no weapons before being jolted around fleeing from guards before making to a Resistance cell and being summarily dumped outside and being told that the Combine are massing like never before and you’re to get yourself over to the next cell. Don’t worry though your good buddy wouldn’t let you tackle these streets unarmed so here’s a crowbar... a crowbar! A flippin’ crowbar, gee thanks a damn lot. Don’t worry you’ll get your hand on some juicy weaponry later, but still - a crowbar!

Likewise near the end of Half-Life 2 you have your weapons taken away from, don’t worry though you’re left with a super-weapon yay! Except at times you wish you had something a little more spray-happy to deal with groups or at a distance, perhaps one of those pulse rifles the Combine are using to attack you – nope you don’t seem inclined to pick any of those up.

Loading between levels is finger tapping slow, as is re-loading from death.

For the PS3 they’ve included a Quick Save ability so you don’t have to run to the menu each time. It’s a welcome addition, but it doesn’t always quite register your intent and, as it involves holding down the start key that’s also mapped to the menu, becomes almost pointless.


Okay it’s Half-Life you should be looking at the story and the plot elements and indeed they’re fine; it’s just the way they’re being told is starting to show its age. There’s little incentive to play the game more then once as you have few choices to make beyond what weapon shall I use to kill the enemy with and in what order.

The PC brigade can fiddle with the code and maps, the Xboxer’s have the achievements and the PS3er’s have… well nothing. All I can say is if you haven’t got an Xbox360, haven’t got the specs for your PC then this would be a fine addition for your PS3 game collection on it’s own; except it’s not on it’s own it comes with a couple of bonuses.

Team Fortress

This’ll be a quick review as it’s online multiplayer only, which is not mentioned on the box and I don’t have my PS3 online yet. So I can’t play it. Nope no single player mode, no bots to play against; all I can do is imagine a bunch of newbies running around and shouting “How do I do X with Y” with no-body able to tell them to sod off and play the single-player version first.


Oh Portal can I compare thee to a summer day?

In case you hadn’t guessed I like Portal, just to emphasize this not only has Portal earned the most playtime from me of all the games in this compilation, but it’s almost worth buying the Orange Box just for this; ah hell it is worth buying the Orange Box just for this.

The Story

Not much to say, you wake up in a sealed cube to a computerised voice giving you instructions, some of which gets a bit garbled. A blue ringed door appears as well as an orange one outside your cube. Stepping through the blue door you find yourself stepping out of the orange one. You are then led through a series of trials, on the way you get to pick up the Portal gun that allows you to control the placement of one half of the portals, later you get a second component that means you can place both an entrance and exit portal. Make your way through all the test labs with the promise of cake at the end.


Standard FPS layout


Perfect in every detail. Sure there are no ‘real’ enemies so it’s hardly complex, but it works - so perfect.


Non-descript, nothing technically advanced; but then it doesn’t need to be.

[Update - As Dan points out in the comments the graphics involving the portals themselves is really quite advanced, and I have to agree. My original thoughts were with regard to natural items such as trees, grass, water, etc. Portal is mostly grey rooms]


The Portal gun, that’s it just a primary and secondary mode for each of the portals.


Smooth as silk, stepping through a portal is instantaneous with no hitches. Everything works exactly as it should. The only problem I’ve had is the occasional delay between trigger and gun firing and then only during an auto-save at the beginning of a level. The same complaints about loading times being a little long.


Too short, oh too short; except it’s not. Once you’ve finished the game you can go select a test chamber and play a quickest time challenge, or minimum steps, or least portals. Odd to think this ‘filler’ has more repeatability then the main star. It’s hard not to enjoy. Oh and at times I still find myself singing the end sequence song. What more need be said?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Foggy Bottom

Really didn't want to get up this morning, stuck a toe out and went "Bruuuh!"

I could just about see the houses across the street this morning. Going over the bridge was a sea of white I couldn't even see the town and yet despite this there were still vehicles driving along with no lights on; heck even I turned my lights from low to full a couple of times.

Vale Road was blocked amusingly by the first lane rather then the third lane which was relatively clear that is if you could get to it.

In other news, as mentioned in the comments of my previous entry, Lickhill Road is still closed they'd just moved the signs about so you couldn't see them as clearly. Here's how they were originally.

Lickhill Road Closed

Now the Swan Garage sign has moved next to the Diversion Sign, the Lickhill Road Closed sign has moved back to replace it and a Roadworks Left sign put a couple of yards in front of it.

The works in York Street that had taken over two lanes have decamped over to the right-hand lane, in a shock they've updated the sign on the entrance from Lion Hill telling you this.

They have indeed filled the potholes as shown originally here they don't seem to have done any others though not even the nearby ones they drove over to get there.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Road closure advisory

When answering a comment from Don about the fun in Lickhill Road I went through the list of upcoming Road Closures, normally I don't do this too often as the Roadworks Schedule tends to keep me appraised, and although bookmarked I chafe at the fact that it's kept in an entirely different section to the other

Location: Home » Transport » Roadworks » Find Planned Roadworks and
Home » Transport » Highways and Transportation » Temporary Traffic Light application » Disruptions To The Road Network

Anyway I spotted this

From Arley Common to Redhouse Road - Abberley Avenue [Red]
Entire length from Hermitage Way - Layamon Walk [Green]
Barnfield Road to Hermitage Way - Redstone Lane [Blue]
Hermitage Way to Arley Common - Redstone Lane [Violet]

All dated from 25th Feb until the 7th March

It's hardly a major road network like Lickhill, but still it looks like a fun time will be had by all.

Stourport town and road update.

Just a quick update on the state of the town

The old indoor market is now fully boarded up so I'm expecting renovations from M & Co to start soon.

The Road Closed signs on Lickhill Road from High Street were gone though the roadworks were still present, so may have been a glitch at their end.

The Severn Trent works in York Street appears to be expanding. The main set are still in place on the left-hand lane apparently next to the work they did last year, the parking bays behind it are still reserved by cones, but now they've dug up something opposite those bays and cordoned it off. So now, paying attention to the road sign telling you the left-hand lane is blocked, you stay in the right-hand lane (as you should anyway) then have to jink to the left between the new works and the parked vehicles before switching back to the right to squeeze past the original works. Someone should point out that longer vehicles don't exactly have this flexibility of motion.

And finally I watched a Worcestershire County Council van start to patch some holes. From the small part I saw this consisted of a man, a spade, and a bucket tipping hot-fill into the holes whenever the traffic allowed him to step out into the road. They may have set up a coned section later, but I was not present to observe this.

Interesting encounter

A quiet weekend a bit o'shopping in Kidderminster as there were some specific Kiddy only stores I wanted to visit. Picked up both the two-disc Shrek 3 and two-disc Transformers for £20 from Impulse, seeing as other stores were selling the one-disc editions for over a tenner each I'll count that as a bargain. Interesting encounter in Woolworths as a young, reasonable attractive women stops me

"Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?" she asked
"Nooo?" I reply
"I do" she said with scary conviction in her voice, "and I'm going to catch it"
"Ookay" I say wondering how to get away from the crazy "Are you going to use a really big net?"
"No I'm going to stand at one end of the loch and my friend, who's as crazy as me [laughs], will stand at the other and we'll stun everything we see"
"So what are you going to use as bait?" I ask
"In order for it to appear?"
"It'll just materialise then we'll stun it and be famous. What do you suggest as bait?"
"Well if you hold to the possibility that it's a dinosaur then a cow might be a good starter"
"So we'll just drop steaks into the loch?"
"Or a cow"
"Oh... are you interested in getting Sky?"

Yup it was a Sky ploy using a known technique, instead of "Do you want Sky?", "Do you want to join the RAC?", "Do you believe in Jesus?" ask a question that doesn't prompt a reflex answer then draw them in. Ah well it was enjoyable to play.

"You won't be able to see me catch the Loch Ness Monster" she cried as I repeated my no's

and if this is the sort of thing Sky is funding I'm glad that's the case.

Popped into the Polish shop in Blackwell Street for a mootch came out with a packet of apple/gingerbread biscuits and an addition to my vocabulary - jin-queer which I've confirmed online means thank-you; I'm sure my pronunciation is laughable though.

More stores and in one I was served by an animated, attractive, and funny (ha-ha rather then loch-ness) young women; sadly though by the way she had to catch the eye of another member of staff when dealing with a bottle of alcohol she's under 18 <sigh>.

Some small dealings with the Bratii who are running their parents to distraction; come the good weather I'll take them of their hands every so often and try to lose them in the woods [Mental Note - check for breadcrumbs].

Sunday I forgot to record the BBCs "The Last Enemy", no problem I'll catch the repeat on.... um no-day. Damnit BBC you've got 4 major channels for this type of thing and you're supposed to be cutting back by showing more repeats, can't you get anything right? At least I remembered to set the box this morning for Channel 4's Dispatches.

Northern Rock - return of the government

So Northern Rock is to be nationalised, briefly, before being handed back to the private sector. The newspapers seem to be divided on this issue with some calling it a bad idea, whilst others call it a really bad idea. In a double interview on both the BBC and ITV this morning Chancellor Darling defended the proposal by stating that it was in the best interests of the tax-payers and that independent advisers had come to the same conclusion. He stated that this would be a brief period of management as the government does not and should not run a bank; I'll discuss this further a little later.

But what of the other two proposals still on the table? One was from Northern Rock themselves, yeah let's have the people who got the bank into this crisis take it over again. The other was from Virgin and poor old Richard Branson always seems to get the dirty end of the stick when dealing with the government. On the face of it this would seem the offer to take, but we're not privy to the details so it's impossible to comment with any degree of certitude.

The only alternative, it seems, was to nationalise the bank and bring it under government control... well no another alternative was to have let it collapse; except this is why the 'should not run a bank' government stepped in to prevent in the first place. Okay here's a ponderable - prior to all this fuss I'd never even heard of Northern Rock, it's not a name I'd consider to be 'High Street' and yet according to the government its collapse could affect other banks in a chain reaction; how exactly? How did we build this house of cards up to the point where one jolt might send the entire edifice crumbling down around our ears?

The government is claiming that this is the best for the tax-payers and if such a collapse could spread then they're right; except as I've pointed out elsewhere what sort of example does this set? Northern Rock apparently collapsed because it took high risk/high return investments; it gambled and failed. As a penalty for its failure it's being propped up by the government, nationalised and having its shareholders compensated; as the majority stakeholders are likely to be the ones who caused this mess it's difficult to see this as the correct course of action.

The reason you don't have a government running a bank is because it's underwritten by the taxpayer, it becomes a safe long term investment and unbalances the competition with other banks; but that's exactly what we've got happening here even before talk of nationalisation. Much as I decry the Free Market System if you're going to have one it has to apply to everyone and if you can't do so because everything has become so interconnected then what we should all be really looking at is how to untangle this entire mess.

In an act of total synchronicity Channel 4 is showing a Dispatches tonight about banks - their greed and myopia, and how they risk your money.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Shuttle hits a double

Quite astonishing that our local paper has managed to shoot out two stories that I've been talking about for ages, no wait they're actually letters from readers they've just published.

The first is complaining about the potholes in Kidderminster oh no wait Stourport does get a brief mention too, though I've no idea why it's not as if we have any potholes here.

My favourite quote is from Mr Shrimpton who blames the fast deterioration on rains and snap freezes… no I think the blame can be laid on simple shovelling in a bit of fill and slapping some tarmac on the top before calling it a day. Okay a little unfair the weather does have some influence, but when some of these holes aren't even sealed then what do you expect?

The second letter highlights the problems with Gilgal, but really has some bearing on the entire road layout of Stourport. I've commented there, but I'll reiterate and reorder my thoughts here.

As has been mentioned several times before Stourport is one big one-way system that feeds back into itself; this means a block at one point can screw-up the entire system. Sadly the roads were simply not designed to take the volumes of traffic they normally see and hold-ups become a way of life for those of us using them.

View Larger Map

Let's start with Bridge Street. This should be trouble-free it's just a standard two-lane bi-directional flow, except now due to the parking bays and the position of the lane divider those heading up into town must give-way to those coming from town. While this problem, in theory, existed prior to the painting of the parking bays it has now been made explicit; combine that with a pedestrian crossing with a mind-numbing long wait period and traffic will start to slow down and build up.

It gets little better when you hit the junction at the top, which was turned into a mini-island quite some time ago. Due to this traffic from York Street has right-of way over traffic from Bridge Street when crossing over to New Street. As this option is barely made noticeable such traffic treats this junction as a simple left-turn and fails to indicate; the Bridge Street traffic stutters at this point.

New Street is again a simple two-lane bi-directional set-up with the added burden of a set of traffic bays in the left-hand lane approaching the island. Thus anyone turning into here from that side runs the possibility of meeting another vehicle driving up the middle of the road. Like those in Bridge Street drivers in New Street are presented with the same problem of traffic from York Street not indicating, thus they may think they can exit because the Bridge Street traffic will be halted by the crossing York Street vehicle only to find it isn't and hasn't.

High Street a two-lane one-way system, except it's not two-lanes; or it might be? The lane divider peters out past the island and only re-starts at the other end of the street. No signs indicate the lack of road markings, thus strictly speaking this is one big merger lane with the priority going to whoever gets in first. The traffic wardens have done a good job in keeping the right-hand 'lane' clear, which was the main bone of contention, yet the majority of traffic sticks to the middle of the road just in case (besides as mentioned it is really one lane). Problems can arise with the indented bus-stop that doesn't allow the longer buses to fully pull into it, or allow more then one short bus to use it at the same time. These buses then 'park' outside the stop thus blocking the left-hand 'lane'.

Into Vale Road a three-lane one-way system. Heading from High Street you can travel straight into the first lane, the other feed road (Mitton Street) has priority over the other two lanes. Because of this it is impossible to know whether a vehicle entering Vale Road from Mitton Street will move into lane 2 or lane 3 (they're not changing lanes so no requirement to indicate) for any vehicle trying to change from lane 1 into lane 3 this makes life difficult with a large flow of traffic.

Just for fun add in two petrol stations off lane 1, oh and a non-indented bus stop before all that.

Onto Gilgal, which is a two-lane one-way system. Zoom in on the above map in satellite mode without labels and you'll see the problem. Traffic flowing from the Minster Road traffic lights has an easy ride of this, a simple downhill curve to the left, it's also exceedingly easy to switch from the left-hand lane to the right-hand lane as it's on the same curve. Compare to the curve if you head from Vale Road and it's not as simple - a tight corner on the brow of a hill and an easier corner to take if you move directly to the left-hand lane.

So one feed that allows easy access to both lanes and another that's easier if you pick the lane you're don't have priority for - predictions anyone?

Moving downhill it's also noticeable that this road isn't straight, it is also quite narrow and gets narrower, then splits into two directions. Now note that the left-hand lane goes round a 90° degree corner over a narrow bridge before screeching to a halt at another poorly designed island. If I now mention that the majority of morning traffic is heading in this direction predict the actions of those heading from Vale Road to use this lane.

Onto Mitton Street, which is another two-lane one-way system that shares many of its flaws with Gilgal. Traffic feeding in from Worcester Road into the left-hand lane faces another tight corner while those feeding from Gilgal have a simple curve. The road is again narrow with yet another tight corner in the middle of it. Add in that this road has businesses on it and thus parked vehicles and you may wonder how this can function as a merger system at all.

Into Lion Hill and here we do have a two-lane one-way system that should work. Both feeds from Mitton Street and High Street have the same 90° corner, the road is reasonably straight and runs for a moderate distance; note I said should.

Gradient plays its part - traffic from Mitton Street is heading uphill, High Street downhill. The likelihood of finding a parked car in the left-hand lane is much higher then for the right-hand lane and no you can't see until you've turned the corner and committed yourself. Like Gilgal the majority of traffic wants to use the same lane in this case the right-hand one and queues build up down York Street and feed into this lane.

York Street, like High Street a possible two-lane one-way system though in this case the missing lane divider is due to simply not re-painting it, flecks still exist. This should be the easiest road in the town, the only other feeder is from the low-volume Lichfield Street which can't use its priority in the left-hand lane due to the recent moving of a set of parking bays directly in its path; nevertheless it still has that priority and thus traffic flowing from Lion Hill should remain in the right-hand 'lane'.

The road is wide enough to accommodate a set of parking bays down its left-hand side, unfortunately it has vehicles legally (semi-legally) parking down the right-hand side too. So again like High Street all traffic heads down the middle of the road until it reaches the island. Here the left-hand lane gets blocked by the bus stop and the right-hand lane gets blocked because of the vehicles parking opposite the bus stop.

Those vehicles who've managed to remain in the right-hand lane can now turn sharply into the right-hand 'lane' of High Street. Those in the left-hand lane cannot see what the traffic coming up Bridge Street is doing and thus has to assume then whenever a vehicle is trying to turn right out of New Street has right-of-way over them before they can make a sharp turn left. Those heading into New Street will find that most local Bridge Street traffic will ignore the fact they aren't signalling to turn left, because no-body does.

I won't even begin on the fun to be had when you get a longer vehicle trying to turn in either direction out of York Street.

So that's Stourport a small mix of bad driving on a road system not designed for the load it's carrying. Come and visit why don't you, just um don't drive here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's the 14th of February

It's Valentine's Day. Well no really it's Saint Valentine's Day; we just dropped the 'Saint' bit because it had, you know, religious overtones and may detract from what this day really means - paying twice the normal price for something because it's been wrapped in shiny red paper.

Anyway today's the day you do something romantic and special for your loved one. Though I find it difficult to reconcile romantic with 'just for today' nor special with 'like everyone else is'. What does it say for our culture that we have a day where we're supposed to remind out loved ones of how much we love them; shouldn't we be doing that 24/7?

'Oh of course I do such things on other days too' might be the reply, except what happens if you don't do it on this one day?

Tell them you love them because you do and not because the calendar tells you that you should. And on that note I would remind everyone that tomorrow is St Flip's Day when it's traditional to send anyone with that name money.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Phoo Action

Time for a new series on BBC3, London 2012 Japanese kung-foo cop Terry Phoo joins up with Budha's pants-wearing teenager Whitey Action to foil the plans of the mutant Freebie gang. Yeah seriously.

Based on a comic strip that ran in the now defunct The Face magazine it's difficult to determine what demographic this show is aimed at. The opening sequence with the obvious Power-Ranger style make-up of the mutants, and the obvious 'plot' seems to place this firmly in the children bracket, but it's on too late at 9pm. Mix that though with the loud music, quick cut-shots, and 'street-talk' it gets pushed into the teenage stumbling home drunk category except now it's on too early. In either case I'm obviously not a part of the targeted audience

It felt odd too, like they'd screwed up the budget somehow. Blown the money on Phoo's car and some of the sets then had to film part of it using their mate's camcorder in the first empty warehouse they could find. The acting was... overblown - hi I'm a Big Black American Cop, I'm an Angsty Teenager and I'm a Quiet Japanese Guy; all rented from Stereotypes Am We. Sure it matched the comic book style with the lack of depth, and indeed any form of explanation of anything, but that just emphasized the feeling that you'd just jumped into the series half-way.

It may get better, but so far it has the feel of a one-trick pony that doesn't know which way to stagger home.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

You're invited?

"I'm invited" says the women holding her invitation high.
"We're invited" says the women clutching her daughter
"We're invited" chorus the group of women in the office.

Yep it's Cancer Research's Race for Life advert

Walk, jog or run 5k in the UK's largest women-only fundraising event.
"You're invited" says the women in comforting tone.

No, no I'm not - I'm male.

'Are you man enough to run this race?
Man enough to raise money for Cancer Research?
Then enter the Men-only Race for Life.
Race for Life - it's for men'

Somehow I just don't see that advert ever getting broadcast

Monday, February 11, 2008

A photo filled weekend

A relatively busy weekend I spent most of Saturday morning snapping pictures of the pot-holes in Stourport. To be honest I don't know why I bother, I could just repeat the same ones I've already taken as the majority are all in exactly the same places. The patches seem to last around a month (or less) before they start to sink or break up taking more of the surrounding area with them and we're left with an even bigger hole.

[Update pictures start here]

Same old, same old; Dunley Road opposite Harold Davies Drive, Areley Common turn and as an added bonus on Areley Common at the Hermitage Way turn though those have all been thoughtfully pointed out with orange spray-painted arrows. The road edge for the drain on the corner of Lion Hill and York Street is really starting to fail a real pain for those of us who at least attempt to pretend York Street is two lanes. Oh and we have a new one on the Bridge Street island, again only really noticeable for those of us who drive around the white circle rather then over it like everyone else.

The covers on the newly resurfaced Bridge Street are still recessed so I'm expecting those to start to fall in with repeated use as we've already got one large cover clonk-clonking as it's driven over. Again am I stupid or something - "Hey the best place to put these covers is just off-centre of the lane rather then in the centre of the lane or even the centre of the road"

Speaking of which I didn't manage to get a shot of the collapsing cover in the middle of the road close to Cook's on the Worcester Road. But, you say, if it's in the middle of the road how is it collapsing? Because it's next to a row of houses that often have cars parked in the road so it takes a hit every time they're overtaken.

Heh and speaking of that type of thing the pavement markings next to the bays in Bridge Street finally caught my attention (I'm trying to decipher what they mean). These are the ones where instead of veering the lane divider out to allow both streams to pass it was 'decided' to keep the lane marker where it was so everyone coming up Bridge Street has to overtake the parking bays. Understandable if the road was narrow except...

Oh and we had a traffic warden out doing his job in Hight Street. I took a snap and he walked up to ask what I was doing -

"Just taking a photo; you know you doing your job, hard at work"
"I'm sorry that's a breach of my Human Rights"
"Ookay there we go deleted"

I could have argued that he was in a public place and therefore could hardly be expecting privacy, I could have pointed to the numerous CCTV cameras around, but I'm fundamentally a nice guy and if someone objects to their photo being taken I can relate. My only annoyance is that in my criss-crossing through town he seemed to make a special note of me as if I'd try to get a sneaky shot of him.

Popped into the Sweet Jar for my fix and a chat. Again the major plug all the sweets you remember as a kid and Sugar-Free ones too. So for me my Jelly Beans, Mint Imperials, Rum Truffles, and a new addition Mint Crumbles (very nice too). Anyway the owner mentioned the dings he had to take out of the skirting of his new mini-van going over speed-bumps, the leaking suspension something (hey for me car equals thing with four wheel) from the pot-holes and the £300+ bill for the broken spring going up to Shrawley after he missed avoiding a Dr Foster style hole. I mentioned my father having to have something knocked out when he went through a water filled pot-hole. I'd also like to blame the number of times my clutch cable's gone on them too, but I'd don't think I legitimately can.

Missed seeing my cousin, his wife, and Devil Child on their visit; though apparently he was the worse for wear having dragged himself in from a pub-crawl at 5am and Devil Child spent most of the time asleep. So little to miss.

Sunday was some more shopping in a forlorn quest for Beef Jerky which I couldn't find on Saturday. I swear it was sold everywhere until someone asks me if I can find some for them, ah well.

I then tried out a demo of Drake's Fortune on the PS3 which left me underwhelmed, which I'll blog about later (no doubt before I get to a full review of HalfLife2, it's coming I promise).

Found yet another bug in Killzone (PS2) which led to me restarting a level about 10 times, which gets recorded on my profile.

Blast from the past with Devil May Cry (PS2). Were the camera angles and controls this frustrating when it first came out?

Tried to stay away from Oblivion. Succeeding so far, but may lose the fight when they finally release the expansion disc in Europe.

Oh and I wake up this morning to the breakfast news still going on about what the Archbishop didn't say.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Archbishop calls for Sharia Law

Ah you've got to love the tabloids (and worryingly the broadsheets) they're so good at making a mountain out of a molehill. If you stick to reading their side of things you're most likely to come away with the impression that the Archbishop has either called for British law to be replaced or for there to be two legal systems set up with one specifically for Muslims. If, on the other hand, you actually read what he said rather then quoted snippets or 'summaries' you'd come away with a whole other story. Go ahead it's not really that long an interview for all the fuss that's been made of it.

[Update - Oops it appears I've linked to an interview about the lecture and not the lecture itself which runs for around 5,500 words and after reading it suddenly becomes apparent why no-body else has

[...]the reluctance of a dominant rights-based philosophy to acknowledge the liberty of conscientious opting-out from collaboration in procedures or practices that are in tension with the demands of particular religious groups[...]
Huh? I'd stick with the first link if I were you]

Okay first of all the difference between criminal and civil matters need to be pointed out, criminal matters are always judged under English law. Civil matters however are a whole other ball game because under English law people may devise their own way to settle a dispute before an agreed third party.

Everyone got that? Everyone noted the "agreed third party" bit. If only one party wants to have their case heard by a religious court and the other party doesn't then that doesn't happen.

For all those saying that we'll end up with people's hands chopped off etc. the legislation that governs the third-party rule does not insist that settlements are based on English law, only that they are reasonable and both parties agree to the process. So these courts can't force an action that would be against English law.

So if this is the case why do we need religious courts at all, actually why do we need religion at all? Well let's take a simple case of divorce, a [religious] women married to a [religious] man in a [religious] ceremony gets divorced under English law. Under [religious] law they're still married so neither can marry in a [religious] ceremony. The reverse is also true getting a divorce under [religious] law is not recognised under English law and it is exactly this type of situation the Archbishop was discussing as bringing into English law.

So how many more days of this and how many politicians beating their chests at this nonsense do we have to endure?

Women get the vote

Two days ago was the eightieth anniversary of women getting the vote in the UK - an obvious cause of celebration.. or is it? Let's look at the factoids.

Pre-women voting
1) Britain is an industrial juggernaut shipping its goods all around the world
2) Britain is an economic giant making other countries currencies' look like monopoly money
3) Britain has a military the fear and envy of every other country
4) Britain rules an empire on which the sun never sets.

Post-women voting
1) "Made in China"
2) Getting excited about two dollars to the pound
3) Budget cuts
4) The Falkland Islands

I think we can all draw the same conclusion here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Horizon - What's wrong with gravity

I actually had some free time to watch something I recorded on my PVR namely BBC's Horizon subtitled "What's wrong with gravity" now bear in mind this is a 50 minute programme.

We learned -

Gravity has been examined by the Ancient Greeks, Gallileo, Newton and Einstein.
Newton had an apple fall on his head and realised that the force got stronger when the masses got larger and weaker if they were further apart.
He then wrote F=(Gm1m2)/r2 this didn't tell us what gravity was just how it operated. The how he left to God.
We used this Law to get to the Moon and put down some snazzy mirrors
Then using said snazzy mirrors we could accurately measure the distance from the Earth to the Moon over a long period of time.
Plotting this orbit we find that using Newton's Law the Moon is in the wrong place by several metres compared to the observations.
Luckily Einstein (greatest physicist ever) did a neat trick and combined space and time. 'Gravity' he said 'was a result of the warping of space-time'.
Knowing this we should be able to detect gravity waves from spinning pairs of neutron stars (very dense) and this is why we have a two really long tubes set in an L shape with lasers shining down them.
Gravity waves will stretch us one way, but not another.
They haven't found any yet.
Gravity also messes up time so all the GPS satellites 'tick' faster then the ones on Earth and require adjusting.
Einstein's equations don't work with very small things. This is bad.
To get them to work we need to find something called a Graviton.
To do this we send a proton down one tube really fast and hit it with an anti-proton going the other way.
They haven't found one yet.
Not to worry they'll try and find it by not finding it. The amount of energy before the collision should equal the amount of energy after the collision if there's some missing it indicates something they can't detect which could be a graviton.
They still haven't found anything (or not found anything?) it may be that the graviton 'escapes' into a different dimension.

And that's it folks. Now how long did it take to read all that? 5 minutes, 10 minutes tops. Programme length equals 50 minutes. So how did they do that; easy.

A good percentage of the programme was of the James Blunt look-alike particle physicist driving around in USA. We see him driving to Newton's orchard (not in America) where he then gets the story wrong and 'spontaneously' asks for a piece of paper to write down the famous equation. There follows a neat clockwork olde-style representation of the planets in their orbits.

We then see him driving across the US to get to the observatory used to shine a laser onto the Moon mirrors, interspersed with shots of the Moon landing and Bluntathon's reminiscing (he was aged one at the time). Then we have a chat to someone about the mirrors used, followed by an exciting look at the telescope and the occasional flash of green laser light and some numbers and fuzzy images of the Moon.

Then we have some graphics of the Moon's orbit and are told it just doesn't add up. To highlight this they flicker the Moon around to different positions.

Then we get good old Einstein and lot's of archive footage of the great man himself, we also get what are surprising good graphical representations of the warping of space-time. Totally serious here damn good graphics.

Off to the great big L-shaped tube in crocodile country. We get to admire the tube and see screens showing us the inside of the tube we're just not told exactly how the tube works. It measures gravity waves. We then get three attempts to explain what a gravity wave is with only partial success; and we're still not told how the tube works.

Now for some reason we're off to GPS headquarters, using ironically a sat-nav guidance system that takes him to a field. We're told that because of this space-time warping clocks 'tick' differently; if they're not adjusted it can lead to errors of several kilometres. We then watch the military in charge demonstrate why the EU is funding their own GPS system "We don't really think about civilians", call a Tom-Tom a Sam-Sam, then have six people shout orders to each other in order for one of them to press a button to adjust the time. Then the Bluntathon appears to insult them -

'I was using a sat-nav system and it directed me to a field'
'All I can say is the satellites work'
'So what you're saying is 'You're an idiot'!' (i.e. the soldier is saying that Bluntathon's an idiot)
VO: 'and on that note I left'

More driving to Fermilab and the best bit of the whole programme candid clips of Bluntahon in the car -
'It's not enough to just tell them the facts oh no they have to feel them'
'Let's have lot's of footage of me driving around'

Fermilab home of the big ring and where Bluntathon used to work apparently. Things spin around, hit other things, turn into lots of smaller things, the end; oh and they're all moving to Geneva where they've a much better ring.

So what's wrong with Gravity? Ummm.

See that's how to make a blog entry programme last.

Monday, February 04, 2008

MP denied rights just like everyone else.

Odd that there's no mention of this some of the more political blogs I list to the right, but anyway according to the Guardian a 'bug' was fitted to a table at which an MP spoke to one his constituents, seeing as this person is in jail I'm guessing this was a prison table. Seeing as this person is also a terror suspect you might assume that they were bugging them and not the MP.

Of course that's not enough, you can't bug MPs, especially Muslim ones, it says so quite explicitly in the Wilson doctrine, a gentleman's agreement first put forth in 1966 and which I think in itself has no force in law.

So presuming that it was the accused and not the MP who was being 'bugged' the intelligence services should have turned off the devices? Hmm perhaps, and if that's the case then let me put forward a new business proposal...

Are you a crook or possible terrorist? Worried that your home or place of work may be 'bugged' by the police or intelligence services? Then call Hire-An-MP. We have many under-used MPs on notice to be shipped to the UK destination of your choice. Supplied with food, liquid, and an iPod all Hire-An-MPs can be safely ensconced into the corner of any room where you wish to hold a worry-free conversation.

Hire-An-MP using the rights they've given themselves for your own benefit.

*Hire-An-MP does not endorse crooked or terrorist plots, use of an Hire-an-MP is at hirer's own risk, consult the Wilson doctrine and your lawyer for more details.

Hey the skatepark couldn't be used.

Via Tav on the WFA, and the Express and Star, and I note not the Shuttle; we get the non-news that the skate-park was recently flooded and thus closed. No shit Sherlock.

What is of interest is the E&S's reiteration of "many people claimed would be in the wrong place". As Tav implies it would be childish to use this as a Neh Neh we told you so we told you so neh neh, so I won't <cough>. The E&S also states that

Councillors chose the site after lengthy talks and meetings with young people who were asked about the design and layout.
which those with long memories may notice as being slightly misleading 'After lengthy talks and meetings with young people, who were asked about the design and layout, Councillors chose the site'; may be deemed a little more accurate.

Something new in the implication that this entire project was because of bored youths on the Walshes Estate, so um we'll put this on the other side of the river then; hey makes sense to me. No really it does.

We get the reiteration of 'We think it'd be better on the car-park next to the leisure centre' ignoring all the reasons that it couldn't go there, which I can't be arsed to repeat and which the people spouting this already know. We do however get my favourite person in the whole wide world, Cllr Campion, answering that remark with "...but that is where the toilets, swings, pitch-and-putt and children’s play equipment is sited." a statement that applies just as equally if not more so to the other side closer to the Civic Centre, which is less susceptible to flooding and is where I and others had been pointing to with some small measure of exasperation (Oops was that another neh neh told you so?).

Ah well don't worry I'm sure we can take the annual (or more) cleaning bill in our stride unless the BMXers will do it for us.

So how was your weekend?

Ah such fun, on Tuesday my computer went phut; these things happen. Except I happen to know an identical model went phut just before Xmas, hmmm.

One call to the computer tech support line later and a nice chap told me that indeed early revisions of this particular motherboard lasted 3-4 years then die for no apparent reason. Obviously I'd missed the memo they hadn't bothered to send their customers. Ah well it's an old motherboard I might be able to scrounge one on eBay or something; upgrading would mean a new processor, memory..., but wait this company had the identical (but newer) motherboard in stock. Didn't have my credit card to hand so I called back later on their sales line.

"I'm after a [motherboard], talking to your tech staff they said you had some in stock"
"Yes we do"
"Great can I have one please"
"You want it delivered?"
"Um yes"

A couple of days later it turned up. As practice I had a look at the other defunct model. Located all the screw points that aren't shown in the manual; checked how the CPU and heatsink detached, then swore loudly at the designer of said motherboard.

For those unfamiliar with the process the heatsink clamps onto the top of the CPU with a bendy metal strip. The strip slots around a protrusion on the CPU base and you push the other end of the strip down to slot over an opposite protrusion. As you might guess you need to keep on end slotted over while you push the other one down and this requires fingers.

It is at this point you realise that on one side of the slot you have some upright capacitors and on the other another heatsink sticking up and thus you cannot actually fit your fingers down the sides to hold the metal strip in place. You might also note that on the other two clampless sides there is nothing on the motherboard that would have gotten in your way. Thus swearage.

Anyway onto the real thing, making a note of where the connectors joined up I pulled them out and realised that instead of twin connections they were all singles and as such I now had no idea which went where. Swearage! Luckily I still had the other to use as an exemplar and copied that, broke part of the heatsink strip, but nothing essential. Yee ha one fully booting computer.

Yet another 10 minute job that took an hour.

Sunday was much more relaxing a meal out to celebrate a birthday. It's amazing how you can tell when you're driving in Worcestershire then Shropshire, then back to Worcestershire... rumble, rumble, thud, crunk-thud, splash, rumble, clunk, ................................................., rumble, rumble, thud, lurch, crump; it's spooky!

The Bratii had got there before me and decided to play run-around inside; then, to the relief of the staff, in the cold breezy outside. Bratus Major had bought some books to occupy him during the long minutes between courses. I noted that two sisters of around the same respective ages managed not only to do without such stimuli, but also managed to suppress the desire to get up and play between longer pauses when the book's appeal had obviously palled. >sigh<.

Okay is there something I haven't been told, is there some universal rule about this, some regulation that states "Of the serving staff all members will wear trousers except one female who will wear a skirt short enough to be defined as a belt"? Don't get me wrong she was reasonably attractive, the redhead was more so, but it does seem to be a standard template everywhere I go.

Being adventurous I opted, as a starter, for a Haggis pattie and black pudding. This arrived and was delicious despite the rest of my family asking me if I knew exactly what it was I was eating, which I did, then describing such in detail. The rest of the meal was fine; not brilliant, but by no ways the worst I've ever had.

Bratus Minor had managed to find a scrap of paper and folded a crude aeroplane, this was then confiscated when their father discovered Major holding it out over the fire to burn. This may seem unfair on Minor, but Major would have just snatched it off him as soon as he got out of sight. I made a compromise that Minor could use the plane, but only aimed at this corner of the room where we were and it didn't leave my sight. Major kept insisting that he hadn't done anything

"You were holding it out over the fire"
"No I wasn't"
"I saw you"
"No you didn't you're lying"
"It's gone black one of the corners"
"That wasn't me"

I've left out the multiple sulks that occurred between both Bratii.

What a wonderful weekend I've had :-)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Shell and £13.8bn profit

I was going to do this yesterday, but I felt the meeting report deserved to stand-alone.

As you may or may not have heard Shell have announced profits of £13.8 billion pounds the most any British company have ever done. This of course made the news and likewise of course prompted the usual rounds of 'excess profit' mumblings. So, odd as it may seem, here I am to defend them.

First off we don't like show-offs, the Harry Enfield "Loads'a'money" character demonstrated this, so Shell shoving its wad in our faces irks. Except they're not doing that the media are, Shell have an obligation to announce their profits it's the media who made a big deal of this they're the ones metaphorical standing in front of the company and shouting "I could buy you, I could buy you, I could buy two of you". so blame the media.

Secondly is the accusation of 'excessive profit' or more unflattering terms. They're a company, their one mantra is "Make money" so there's no such thing as excessive profit, only profit. Not trying to be sidetracked, but this tends to lead to the question posed by Michael Moore "Why don't GM sell crack-cocaine?" it's a highly profitable business after all and if all they're interested in is making money it's a good business. Except it's not, the chances of getting caught and the penalties attached outweigh the amount of money they could make and you can't follow The One Mantra very easily from prison or with a disincorporated company. If on the other hand they can get away with and/or the penalties are light then companies have been seen to break the law, from dumping toxic waste to cooking the books.

Thirdly we hit the real grievance, this is a petrol company and petrol is currently over £1/litre (about $3.78/gallon for my USA friends). See, see how much money they're making from us and (as per point one) they're just rubbing our faces in it; except they're not. Of that £1 approximately £0.70 goes straight to the Treasury in tax; the companies are making pennies out of the pound. Sure they add up, but the majority is being made elsewhere in ways we don't even see.

There are plenty of reasons to bash Shell (and every other oil firm) this just isn't one of them.