Friday, October 31, 2008

Making the law up part 2

Flicking through various blogs I spotted a link on one to Cheam schoolboy 'terrorist' stopped outside Wimbledon station to quote

told Fabian to sign forms under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which allows police to stop and search at random anyone they suspect of terrorism.
Okay I'm really getting fed-up of this from both the police and media alike. So for the protection of my readers (all 6 of you) here are the condensed details of the infamous Section 44 of the Terrorism Act:

Point 1: The act does indeed give police the power to stop and search both pedestrians and vehicles, however only within an area as specified in the authorisation.
Point 2: Said authorisation has to originate from an officer in that area of rank Assistant Chief Constable or higher (Commander for London).
Point 3: Said authorisation has to be approved by the Secretary of State.
[If it's not approved within 48 hours of being submitted it automatically ends however anything done between submission and failure is not unlawful... nasty loophole as submission is "as soon as is reasonably practicable"]
Point 4: Said authorisation has a maximum limit of 28 days.

Everyone got that - it is not a blanket stop and search power. I'm tagging this with Name and Shame as both police and media damn well should be.

[Update - just to be precise about this section 43 allows the police to stop and search anyone without authorisation; it does however have that annoying (from the police point of view) bit about requiring reasonable suspicion]

Fallout 3

It's the release of the video game Fallout 3 today. The Artist asked me I opinion of it and whether I was going to purchase it.

The answer is yes, just maybe not right now. Firstly no demo has appeared on the PSN (even Mercenaries 2, another sand-box game, provided one), secondly the majority of multi-platform online reviewers have played the Xbox version and obviously based their opinions on that, and thirdly I'm not happy about the way it's being sold.

Allow me to elaborate. There is of course the default option of game on it's own available on PC, Xbox360, and PS3. Using Amazon's prices they're set at £26.98, £39.98, and £39.98 respectively... except I can understand the added costs of the Playstation Blu-ray version, but the PC and Xbox versions both use DVD media so why the discrepancy? Ah well it seems this is always the case and isn't my main beef.

As I was saying before I interrupted myself, there's the game on it's own, then there's the Collector's Edition which is the game (obviously) plus a 'making of' DVD, an art-book and a Vault-Boy bobble head figure all contained within a Vault-tec lunchbox. If you're in the USA you can get a Survival Edition which is identical to the Collector's with the edition of a PIP-Boy alarm clock. If you're in the UK Game are doing their own version which is the game plus a Power-Armour figurine.

So if you're in the UK and want the Power-Armour figurine you have to forego the bobble-head etc., if you want the bobble-head you can't have the figurine; unless you buy both editions and get two copies of the game. Now in theory I cold buy both editions and then sell the bare game to The Artist if he wanted it, just stupid that I would have too.

Now as I said I wasn't going to get this game right now, but the fact that the figurine edition is a UK-only option means in theory it's going to be rarer and thus possibly more e-bayable in the future; and as it's only £5 more then the bare game it's damn tempting I'll have to take a look at it this weekend.

I'm in two minds about this, the game is essentially Oblivion with baseball bats and guns set in a post-apocalyptic state rather then swords, bows, and forests and I haven't finished that yet as it's so damn big. I also don't have the same 'I must get this' vibe as I did with Bioshock which admittedly has a few problems, but nothing that's made me regret my 'impulse' decision (even Amazon's recent dropping of the price by a tenner) and I'm still happily sneaking around in that and really want to replay it in Survivor Mode which apparently is a whole new ball-game. So my majority game time is split between these two with the odd Orange Box run or even PS2 Silent Hill'ing; throwing in Fallout 3 which due to the lack of a demo is a unknown quality... hmmm. No I'll see how the mood takes me on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Road behaviour

I'm not keeping a special eye out I swear, but here's the run-down of my short lunch-time run back to work about 3 miles.

1. I'm at a junction waiting to turn right. Traffic in the lane I want to enter is clear, but there are five cars coming in my cross lane. Four of them are indicating to turn left into my junction the second car isn't indicating. I assess that if I apply more acceleration then normal I could make it out of the junction as the first car turns and clear the lane before the second crosses; however this is not something I do so I stay put. Good job I did as when the first car turned left the second car overtook it. Overtaking a car turning at a junction, overtaking a car turning at a junction when you can see another car at said junction waiting to turn right, overtaking a car turning at a junction when you can see another car at said junction waiting to turn right when there is an unbroken 'no overtaking' line running alongside your lane.

2. A car turns out of York Street into High Street and tries to stay in lane and can't because of another car parked on that corner (no parking full stop, no loading at that time) instead of stopping they muscle into my lane.

3. Approaching the middle of High Street my attention is caught by the young lad cycling down it towards me (High Street is one-way) before hopping up onto the pavement.

4. The same car as before approaches the Parkes Passage access road and starts to indicate to turn right, I slow down but stay in lane; car then parks in front of me. Thank you very much.

5. A women and two young children are standing in Vale Road next to the car-park toilets (not at the Mitton Gardens road) waiting to cross the three lanes of traffic. They're 100 yards from the uncontrolled crossing point and the only thing opposite them is the closed petrol station and the furniture showroom (which has its own car-parking) the only reason anyone is there is that they've either just been to the toilets or parked there; anyone trying to cross the road is doing so to walk towards the crossing and not the Lidl/high bridge.

I don't get it I really don't, it just seems so more prevalent now.

Brand and Ross

No I don't care about them, Ross occasionally comes out with something interesting at about the same rate that Brand comes out with something funny i.e. increasingly rarely; however the fact is they're popular so the BBC will continue to employ them.

What is worrying is the 'news' that Ofcom could fine the BBC £250,000, big whoop. From their annual statement (PDF) the BBC had a profit for 07/08 of £118m from an income of £4,689.4m of which the licence fee income totalled £3,368.8m. To put it another way £250,000 wouldn't even cover a year's wages for all 10 Executive Directors whose total remuneration for the year 07/08 including bonuses was £4,960,000. In fact it wouldn't cover the annual wages of just one of the Executive Directors where the lowest base pay is £314,000. Oh and as I'm assuming both Brand and Ross have signed contracts I doubt any of the fine would come out of their wage packets.

This reminds me of the recent story regarding John Carew of Aston Villa who received a "hefty" fine of £100,000 for breaking the team's curfew arrangements. Very hefty when the story I heard started with "fined two weeks wages" in other words his weekly take-home pay is greater then the yearly median gross wage in this country. Oh I'm sure he's as devastated as the BBC would be were they to be fined.

[Using my psychic powers I foresee Brand and Ross removed from the BBC, receiving fat pay-offs for the breaking of contracts (which the Daily Wail will shout about) before Brand is snapped up by Sky and Ross becomes a regular columnist for the Daily Wail]

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Roadworks in Stourport

The public notices appeared in the Shuttle last week, kept trying to remind myself to look at the commencement dates kept failing and oh big surprise they don't feature in the weekly or monthly reports and only tangentially in the schedule of works.

Currently they're digging up the pavement outside of Worcester Street Motors and have a set of lights there, not too bad with a reasonable turn around and sensor operated. I could check the traffic light application forms to see if it's there, but who am I kidding.

[Update 29/10 - No it isn't on the application list, and it was bad both last night and this morning. Last night as traffic wasn't clearing the island before the next lot went through and this morning it seems we had a lot of traffic. Unfair to blame the lights as it was snowing last night so everyone's slowed down.]

[However it does show up on the weekly report and is supposedly finishing today spotted while looking for the work in Caines (which is being advertised on the road) on the A449 Oct08-Aug-09 construction of a new canal bridge]

And a 10mph speed restriction has been imposed on Dunley Road between the cabalistic markings I've mentioned before to allow resurfacing, oh wait no it hasn't. It was supposed to start yesterday and last for four weeks, no sign of any restrictions and there has been no signs at all warning people of the delays.

As for allusion to the schedule of works as I've mentioned before large numbers of roads are up for resurfacing with all of them having the same start and end dates Sept-May big frickin' use there.

A fair trial

Flicking between channels I caught both the BBC Breakfast and ITV Local discussing the trial today of four Birmingham men who are charged with "engaging in conduct with the intention of assisting in the commission of acts of terrorism" except one who's charged with "failing to disclose information relating to an act of terrorism". While I'm unsure how the latter applies unless it's regarding an act that's happened that's not what caught my attention.

These men were arrested from their homes in Birmingham by the West Midlands Counter Terrorist Unit. They were then held at Coventry's Chace Avenue station because "it has modern high-security facilities" and now they're being tried in a Magistrates Court, Westminster Magistrates Court to be exact. Perhaps it's just me but why aren't they appearing in Birmingham Magistrates Court?

So why have they been taken down to London, now all their families, friends, supporters, witnesses, legal representatives all have to make a trip down there.

Now I can understand this in some circumstances - if it is alleged that you committed a crime in London then head home to Birmingham then West Midlands Police can arrest you on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, you will then be tried in London where the crime took place; this makes sense. Except the 'crime' in this case appears to have been committed in Birmingham in that the "engaging in conduct..." happened there despite the target possibly being London so how does this work jurisdictionally?

Imagine I'm in Birmingham laying out plans to rob a bank in London, is it a Birmingham or London jurisdiction? Well despite the fact that the crime would have taken place in London, the crime for which I would be charged with was committed in Birmingham so the ball should be in Birmingham's Court (har-har)... so again why have these men been moved to London?

This may seem like nit-picking, but in terms of jurisdiction - shouldn't the accused appear in a court in the same area where the crime for which they are being charged was committed?

[Update - The CPS has the following:

Generally, an offence will only be triable in the jurisdiction in which the offence takes place, unless there is a specific provision to ground jurisdiction, for instance where specific statutes enable the UK to exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction:
* terrorism (ss. 59, 62-63 of the Terrorism Act 2000)
For a list of particular offences with an extra-territorial reach see Archbold 2-36a-2-83
Note that last bit about referring to Archbold, they mean this at £245+VAT yeah I'll just grab my copy. The actual law they quote for the Terrorist Act ss 59 62-62 all start with, to paraphrase, 'If a person does anything outside the United Kingdom'; so doesn't apply in this case. Further down on the CPS page we get
There should be a preliminary presumption that, if possible, a prosecution should take place in the jurisdiction where the majority of the criminality occurred or where the majority of the loss was sustained.
That would presumably be Birmingham as no loss has been sustained; so once again why London?]

[Update 2 - Bystander of The Magistrates Blog got back to me with the fact that Westminster is where the Chief Magistrate sits and that it has special jurisdiction over terrorism and extradition matters which few other District Judges are authorised to deal with armed with a better search term I dig out a PDF from HM Courts detailing a protocol issued by the president of the Queen's bench division:

In order to comply with section 46 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, if a defendant in a terrorism case is charged at a police station within the local justice area in which Westminster Magistrates’ Court is situated the defendant must be brought before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is practicable and in any event not later than the first sitting after he is charged with the offence. If a defendant in a terrorism case is charged in a police station outside the local justice area in which Westminster Magistrates’ Court is situated, unless the Chief Magistrate or other designated judge directs otherwise, the defendant must be removed to that area as soon as is practicable. He must then be brought before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is practicable after his arrival in the area and in any event not later than the first sitting of Westminster Magistrates’ Court after his arrival in that area.

Now digging around I can see some courts have jurisdiction to act in certain matters as designated by the Lord Chancellor, to be precise the normal jurisdiction was removed unless granted, but I can find nothing that removes the normal jurisdiction of courts over terrorism. Everything simply states that the Chief Magistrate (at Westminster) "is one of the Judges dealing with the special jurisdiction of Extradition and Terrorism Act cases", but nothing seems to suggest why just him]

Monday, October 27, 2008


With the nights drawing in GMTV this morning featured an report on girls walking around at night. We started off on a street corner where a girl had been stabbed and then an (ex?) police officer stalked some girls. We watched a girl taking a short-cut along a badly lit park path and he stopped a girl who was walking along talking on her mobile and listening to music through her headphones "Were you aware of me?" he asked.

That's right girls 'Be Vigilant", be aware of your surroundings and don't cripple your senses with phones and music. I found what the entire report really emphasised was "Be afraid"; strain your senses to the utmost, what was that noise, is that man following you, is that man coming towards you about to pull a knife? Be afraid, fear everyone as they all might be out to get you, don't you know that someone was stabbed here only last week, what are you doing out here, why didn't you stay at home? What the hell are you doing walking along that path when there's a brightly lit on that serves the same purpose it's a short-cut that could leave you dead!

Sorry I'm fed-up of it. Yes don't walk along cocooned in your own little world of music, don't head off down unlit paths if you can help it (incidentally all these things apply as much to men as to women), but is there really such a need to scare anyone?

Details from Apr07-Mar08 using population of 96,981; 5,263,708; and 49,138,831 respectively the table as a percentage appears as follows:

Type of OffenceWyre ForestWest MidlandsEngland
Violence Against the Person1.450%1.831%1.824%
Wounding or Other Act Endangering Life0.013%0.032% 0.028%
Other Wounding0.838%1.013%0.836%
Harassment Including Penalty Notices for Disorder0.203%0.383%0.437%
Common Assault0.313%0.261%0.389%
Theft from the Person0.119%0.101%0.181%
Criminal Damage Including Arson1.800%1.806%1.966%
Burglary in a Dwelling0.387%0.538%0.548%
Burglary Other than a Dwelling0.636%0.631%0.584%
Theft of a Motor Vehicle0.319%0.330%0.326%
Theft from a Motor Vehicle0.519%0.761%0.829%
Now I can't mine this data, but I'd be interested to discover the percentages for daytime/night-time incidents, as well as circumstances of location. To put in another way how many of the "Violence Against the Person" occurred outside a pub etc. As it stands in England you have an 2 in 25 chance of being involved in one of these incidents per year. If you take into account that some places and people feature more then once that alters your odds for the better.

Everyone still afraid?

Cleaning my car

As mentioned last week I pointed the hose at the car for a quick sluice, this got rid of a lot of surface dirt but without getting out soap and a bucket didn't shift everything.

Now my neighbour has a power washer that he's offered to lend me anytime, but he's getting backflow into the soap dispenser and it's overflowing. At this point my brain ticked over - "I have a hosepipe with a standard hose-lock system, I have a trigger gun that varies the spray by the degree of pressure on the trigger and that delivers a nice powerful jet. So why not get exactly the same thing, but with a soap dispenser attached?"

Hello internet and disappointment. I found a couple of models listed in the US of A and in the UK an attachment designed to be used with brushes which was just a feed bottle with a water/soap toggle. So I headed out to the garden centres and had a hunt - nothing. I explained what I wanted to the store assistants who gave me blank looks and asked why I didn't want to use a pressure washer to which I answered a) That's not what they're for b) they use too much water and electricity, c) they're £50 and upwards and while I might use it for other things once possessed I deem it unlikely.

Finally one person told me something interesting which was that it's the pressure, you don't get enough out to make it worthwhile (tell the Americans that then) , I replied that I had plenty of pressure. Still hunting around and finally found exactly what I was looking for - a hand held hose attachment with a rotatable multi-spray and a bottle on the back; it was for dispensing lawn feed Liquafeed to be exact. Nevertheless it seemed ideal except that the controls were a top-mounted toggle - Water, Water/Feed, Off and I don't like having to turn things off using a toggle; I want a trigger.

Looking at things in a different light I now discovered what appeared to be the previous model to the Liquafeed dispenser. Under-slung bottle with a toggle for water or water/feed with a trigger and a lock; it was also half the price at about £6

On Sunday I tried it out, took out the sachet of feed and poured in some soap, added some water to bring it to the fill line and gave it a whirl. Well I can understand what the guy meant about pressure as it jetted out an arced spray for a distance of about 3-4 feet, but I think that had more to do with the internal design then anything else after all this was designed for feeding flowerbeds and you don't want a jet trammelling your flowers.

The main thing is it worked. Rather then sloshing about in a bucket I sprayed suds onto my car and got a sponge to give it a wipe, then switched connectors to the more powerful trigger attachment and sprayed it off before going over it with a chamois. I can see where I've missed some bits, but that's my fault and not my tools.

Compared to previous cleans I think I used more water, but less soap. I stayed drier and got it done in half the time. So Flip's tip o'the week - feed dispenser as car-washer ;-)

That blind corner

Again just want to thank the Black Star for parking a lorry in the left hand lane at the end of High Street (actually the top of Mitton Street) and the butchers for having a delivery at the same time and parking on the right hand side. Remember this is a 90 degree right-hand bend.

As a continuation I'd like to remind people that the No Parking and loading restrictions in High Street aren't a Monday to Friday rule they're an everyday rule.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Energy prices

Watching GMTV this morning (I know, but it seems it's the only show our masters will appear on) and they had an OFGEN representative on to talk about why price cuts in oil haven't been passed on to us the consumers. The rep claimed that they'd put their hobnail boots on and given the energy companies a kicking. Ben asked "So when are the prices going to come down Spring? December?". "Oh I hope they'll be a lot sooner then that", replied the rep. Hope! How does that equate with a good kicking; picture the scene - a bloke built like a brick sh*t house in big boots is standing over a prone figure and kicking him repeatedly

"Right you greedy bastards you're going to drop your prices aren't you?"
"Yes yes whatever you say! We'll do it right away!"
"Hey wait don't exert yourselves, drop them whenever it's convenient for you to do so."

I still like the suggestion that there are "plenty of packages out there" yeah if you're dual-fuel and if you can get on the internet for paperless billing. Oh and if you can translate their tariffs - £a for the first n units followed by £b for the rest, or £c for m units followed by £d for the rest except for those units during off-peak or you're using o units of gas for a dual-fuel providing your paying by fixed direct debit and not variable DD. Damnit I had to pull up a spreadsheet to work it all out and was still scratching my head. Unless you can predict what your power consumption will be for the year, know exactly how you going to pay and are willing to sign a two-year (or more) contract you're stuffed.

Johnny Ball was on yesterday pimping nuclear power stations. Uh-huh and they'll be built where exactly? "You can't build it in the middle of that open countryside it's a beauty spot/site of special scientific interest/part of our natural heritage. No of course you can't build it there on that industrial site next to that populated area are you mad?"

I say build them off-shore, firm up those oil-rigs and fit them there and slap on some wind turbines and tidal generators while you're at it. Someone else suggested underwater, so why not combine the two? Sling the reactor under the rig. Worse case scenario open the sluices and drown the reactor in sea-water.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sony messes it all up again.

As a prelude to the aborted launch of Little Big Planet Sony altered its Terms and Conditions to use their Playstation Network (PSN) service regarding user created material. This makes sense when you consider the game that was about to launch allows its users to create and share their own levels. Trouble is like so many things a broad brush has been drawn across everything.

Specifically I'm looking at section 10 which is where things get funky. What can be posted, streamed or transmitted include "pictures, photographs, game-related materials, music, home video content or other information" this is legally bundled up into the phrase "User Material". Now logically Sony point out that they might provide you with content to use in the creation of your User Material and that such content remains their property. Likewise they assure everyone that "User Material created by you will belong to you". So where's the harm?

You authorise us, our affiliated companies and other PSN users, to use, distribute, copy, modify, display, and publish your User Material throughout PSN and other associated services.
Now hold on there you've bundled up the content into one phrase and now you're trying to separate it out by prefixing it with "your".
You also authorise us and our affiliated companies, without payment to you, to license, sell and otherwise commercially exploit your User Material (for example, selling subscriptions to access User Material and/or receiving advertising revenue related to User Material), and to use your User Material in the promotion of PlayStation products and services.
Notice the switch from "your User Material" to "User Material" and back again
You must not commercially exploit User Material without our consent. You waive any moral rights you may have in your User Material.
Again note the switch from "User Material" to "your User Material". So here's the scenario imagine you're a budding film director using the Sony's new PSN driven Home. You invite some people from your friends list into your virtual pad, turn on the virtual TV and show them your latest creation; they enjoy it and you then try to sell it to a studio.

At which point Sony drops a lawsuit on your head because you're trying to commercially exploit material that was streamed through PSN and which according to them is therefore classed as "User Material". To pour salt into the wound Sony then provide 'your' video on their store to download for a price with all proceeds going to um Sony.

Now let's re-read the agreement substituting "Provided Material" and "User Material" to substitute for that which is provided by Sony or the game and that by the user.

'You authorise us, our affiliated companies and other PSN users, to use, distribute, copy, modify, display, and publish User Material throughout PSN and other associated services.'

'You also authorise us and our affiliated companies, without payment to you, to license, sell and otherwise commercially exploit User Material (for example, selling subscriptions to access Provided Material and/or receiving advertising revenue related to Provided Material), and to use User Material in the promotion of PlayStation products and services.'

'You must not commercially exploit Provided Material without our consent. You waive any moral rights you may have in your User Material.'

Schizophrenic, badly phrased, meaningless gibberish. As I said at the start I can understand what they're trying to do; with the ability to drop in your own photos into a level of Little Big Planet they want to be able to grab all the content contained therein and shout "Ours!" without getting tied down in copyright cases. They've just applied it everything in PSN such that in theory if I want to use the service I'm agreeing that if I send a photo to my cousin via the console email system and thus via PSN it means said photo now belongs to Sony to do with as they wish.

PSN users in the USA seem to have picked this up and are being verbal about it so a change may be on its way, but still once again Sony have fumbled when it comes to the people they should be trying to keep on-side - their user base.

Don't park there

A nod to the car parked outside Lloyds TSB next to Parkes Passage in High Street for once somebody not standing at the cash point. To be fair it's not as if there were any spaces free in the car-bays opposite... oh wait silly me they were 90% empty all along the road. I did stick the licence plate in my head and got CU04 before I rounded the corner and it was jolted out of me.

Here's a big tip for the Black Star - It's a blind corner, moreover it's a blind corner facing ESE. As such it's not a good idea to park a delivery truck in one lane, and it's especially not a good idea to have another car parked behind it. When you consider that there's normally a queue here and that you're driving into the sun coming round the corner into the left hand lane results in a slow-down to join the queue with parked cars there then follows by a sharp realisation that you need to get into the other lane to overtake them or you're going to be trapped in the wrong lane.

The relevant passages from the Highway Code:

242 You MUST NOT leave your vehicle or trailer in a dangerous position or where it causes any unnecessary obstruction of the road.

243 DO NOT stop or park
  • opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction, except in an authorised parking space
  • on a bend
246 Goods vehicles. Vehicles with a maximum laden weight of over 7.5 tonnes (including any trailer) MUST NOT be parked on a verge, pavement or any land situated between carriageways, without police permission. The only exception is when parking is essential for loading and unloading, in which case the vehicle MUST NOT be left unattended.
I'm sure our traffic attendants would pick up on this if, you know, they were working at that time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Armed robbery

From the Shuttle we now have CCTV footage of a robbery which took place in Kidderminster on Friday night.

Judging from the pictures here the police are looking for three very wide white and black blobs.

Just to demonstrate the uselessness of these images here are the three again, but this time resized to something approximating the correct ratio

Having helped battle with a cheapish security camera recently I know how they can be. The model in question offering still photos at what turns out to be a decent 1600x1200, but video at only 320x240. I'm guessing the CCTV here didn't offer anything above 'TV resolution' that is 768x576 or worse 560x420. Still if you're going to publish photos at least publish the full shots at the full resolution otherwise what's the point? They're not a deterrent if there's no chance of being identified from it.

I want it now!

I've blogged about too impatient drivers, pedestrians crossing right there, and various other demonstrations of current culture; and now I want to go a little more in-depth if I can.

There's a desire to slap on the rose-tinted glasses and say "It wasn't like this when I was young" or to point at various other cultures to compare, but that really is just nostalgia - there's always been an element of 'anti-social' behaviour the current difference is that there are more ways of spreading it.

The recent story of the speeding motorcyclist on YouTube, the obsession of the tabloids for celebrity scandal these things have always taken place we just didn't have a YouTube and the agents kept the press docile. this spread however has become part of the 'tribal' background a judgement of our peers - a teenager finds acclaim doing some stunt in Newcastle and another teen in Plymouth copies it.

But why would you copy something that could be dangerous to yourself or others? For the fame, and again here is where the spread of newspapers and television have recently poured this notion into the collective psyche. It doesn't matter if you're supermarket stacker working minimum wage with no qualifications you too could appear in Pop-Factor's got Talent and bid that life farewell. You don't even need a talent just apply for Big 1984 and demonstrate how 'wacky' and entertaining you can be.

No need to work hard, no point in working hard; how useful will that English GCSE be when you're earning £ks per week punting a football around? Read about the rock stars' battle with drugs and the, comparatively, meagre fines they receive for breaking minor, or even major laws and wish that were you; though you'd do it differently of course.

Society seems to be developing a split personality with one half telling you that you can achieve everything that you want and even that you deserve everything you want; while the other half is decrying this very concept. At the same time we tell the 'youth' that they have the ability to do anything they want then take away anything that allows them to exercise that ability.

Mix this in with an undercurrent of impatience and what's the outcome, well everything I've been writing about. Why use the crossing when the store I want to go to is directly opposite; why should I wait in a queue when I'm in a hurry. The world is here to entertain me, to perform to my will and everyone and everything has to comply with that.

So solutions? The press could stop glamourising the habits of celebrities, except it sells newspapers so that's not going to happen. The television shows could go into more detail about how hard the winners of talent shows put in and how little financial reward many of them get, except such reality is a total buzz-kill and may jeopardise the ultra-cheap format. Sports could stop paying their players such large multiples of standard wages, except they need to attract players to attract fans etc. Politicians could stop inviting 'celebrities' to parties.

Ah hell none of that's going to happen, the promise of quick and easy has always won out over slow and difficult; it's just now the former makes much better news then the latter.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The joys of shopping in the physical realm.

Pretty much the entirety of Saturday morning and afternoon was spent on a quest for a penguin; not the swimming kind nor the chocolate-coated kind, but the hand-held steam-cleaning version.

They swarm in profusion over a variety of websites, Amazon included, but I needed to see one physically. It wasn't for me you understand it was for someone else, someone who's not allowed to lift too heavy a weight for a prolonged time and has small hands.

It should be a simple task to find a store that stocks them and whom I could then repay by buying it cheaper online... no actually I probably would buy it in store I believe in reward. Nothing, nada, zip; our local B&Q stock a whopping one model of cleaner a Vax, reviews of which were highly disapproving off. I worked my way around various electrical outlets and if I wanted a upright or cylinder steam cleaner I'd have been spoilt for choice. If I'd wanted handheld vacuum cleaners I could have picked from a plethora, but combine the two and the consistent answer was "Have you tried Argos?".

In the end I gave up and indeed tried Argos, I'd looked before in Kiddy, but hadn't seen any in their catalogue, but the Merry Hill branch actually had them as their own heading in the index. A choice of two whoohoo! An Argos exclusive, which reminds me to much of the Currys/PC World etc. own brand of cheap, cheerful, and cr*p (besides it looks like the bastard offspring of a watering can and a kettle); or an Electrolux for a tenner more which looked much better and had better specs including a much longer power cord.

So despite traipsing around for most of the day I ended up picking up a product I could have ordered from their website simply because not one single store had one available.

On another note had a Samsung LE32A556P 32" 1080p LCD digital tuner television for ~£460, £100 cheaper then elsewhere and I was seriously tempted. A little voice, however, is telling me that with this credit crunch, nay recession even, the number of television buyers will drop and so too will prices; especially just before the Christmas period.

Oh and Sunday I managed to point a hose at me car before taking it up to see the Bratii.

Spam avalanche

The past couple of weeks have been kind in terms of crud coming through to my inbox; for once it seemed Orange's spam filters were working. That was until I logged in Sunday night to prune the errant weeds that had pushed through and found 925 unread messages sitting there since Friday evening. Of these 12 were non-spam.

I'll wait to see if this is a one-off or if I'm to be deluged again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wyre Forest and that £9m

Just in from the BBC's Midlands Today special auditors have been/are being sent to assist two councils in the Midlands - Tamworth and Wyre Forest.

Our illustrious leader was featured in a pre-recorded interview, not saying much as you might expect; but this is too early for it to hit the web so no transcript as yet.

From 24dash published at 8:45 today:

Wyre Forest District Council in Worcestershire confirmed that it has been told it will be one of the first three authorities to receive help from an emergency team.

But council leader John Campion said that it had not actually received a visit from the team or been told when it would arrive.

Cllr Campion said: "In response to the letter sent to the Prime Minister last week, we understand that Wyre Forest will be one of the first councils to receive advice if required. The council is always receptive to any advice which will help in recovering the £9 million investment in the banks affected."
From the Express and Star posted at 11:33:
Leader of Wyre Forest District Council Councillor John Campion said although the help was appreciated he would prefer a guarantee from the Government that the investments would be recovered.

"We want a guarantee from the Government that the money will be returned.

"Private investors have been told their investments are safe but not councils.

"If we don’t get some or all of the money back we would like the Government to look at topping up the shortfall.

"It does seem as though the Government is struggling to understand the issues of local government."
From Local Government Chronicle updated 12:19 today:
Cllr John Campion (Con), leader of Wyre Forest, said: "The government has established a 'rapid response' unit to assist councils by providing external financial experts. In response to the letter sent to the Prime Minister last week, we understand that Wyre Forest will be one of the first councils to receive advice if required.

"The Council is always receptive to any advice which will help in recovering the £9m investment in the banks affected."
As you can no doubt tell they're all quoting from the same page and you can even piece together some part of the original from where one overlaps a quote with another.

[Update - Damn it Tav beat me to it linking to the WFDC]

Myers-Briggs Meme

Just for a laugh I took the the online Myers-Briggs test as mentioned by DK. As a rule I dislike such tests as they tend to deal in absolutes and for so many answers I would prefer a 'sometimes' or seek clarification of a point.

Ah well I came out as a INTJ and just to prevent the Astrological bias I also read DK's INTP profile which as you might expect having three types in common I had some connection with, however the INTJ description is kind of spooky.

This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age [...] INTJs are perfectionists, with a seemingly endless capacity for improving upon anything that takes their interest. [...] Whatever the outer circumstances, INTJs are ever perceiving inner pattern-forms and using real-world materials to operationalize them.
So nothing like me then :-P

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Never learn

This morning I saw the same women and child coming out of Mitton Close on their bicycles, dismount, and scurry across the three lanes of Vale Road dodging the busy traffic, mount their bikes and ride along the pavement up to the traffic lights. If I ever find myself next to them I swear I'll wind down the window and ask why she doesn't use the crossing further up.

I still find that some people are under the impression that when a pedestrian crossing turns red further up the road the cars next to them will instantly halt and thus it's quite safe to step into the road and then look to see what's coming (and look annoyed when they find traffic still moving).

Some still enjoy trying to cross the road on blind corners, the top of Bridge Street and next to the Black Star to name two main areas.

Likewise a reminder to people not using the crossings in York Street and High Street that these road have two lanes and the fact that the traffic may have stopped in one is no guarantee that traffic will have stopped in the other.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Indian Visa

I'm helping a friend sort out a couple of visas online to get to India; they did try to do it in person but after waiting in a long queue they were told that the forms they'd downloaded from the Consulate were out of date and that they'd be a processing fee for hand-written applications anyway.

So they turned to me. The Indian consulates in their wisdom have outsourced their visa service to one company; meh you might think except that said company has a service charge for using them.

Ah well we delved in anyway. Where do you want to go to get your visa London, Edinburgh or Birmingham? Not exactly a choice and checking their Jurisdiction page West Midlands is handled by the Brummies.

Onto the forms, and what a PITA, full family details including birthplace, having to repeat information, filling in large amounts of "NA"s into mandatory fields such as Sponsor Details - "It's a [beep]ing Tourist Visa for [beep]s sake you've already asked me that [beep]ing question you piece of [beep]" and asking for a residential address twice on two different pages . As you can imagine I got a little bit frustrated by this along with the fact that once you start filling in the form you can't save it and return to complete it later; it's all or nothing.

So we finally fill in the pair and it saves them. Now as they're applying by post it means stuffing the paperwork in an envelope and sending it off. One of the first questions was how you wanted to get everything back. You can pick things up in person or have them posted back for a fee of £7.40. Except you can also add in pre-paid envelopes, but it doesn't tell you if the charge is for the postage or to pay for someone to stuff them in said envelopes.

The number they give to contact them on is a premium 09 number which tells the caller to call during office hours - except of course this was office hours. Heading up the chain the next day no-one was in London as it was a holiday.

Finally managed to get through to someone only to find that Worcestershire isn't in the West Midlands as they use the police area designations.

Back online and try to change the form for application to London and you can't change it. Application Centre, telephone number, email address none of these things can be altered if you made a mistake. [Beep]ing [beep]ers; just fired off an email asking how we can proceed and await a response. The only upside of this is that we didn't add any payment information so no money has been lost, which it would have been for an invalid application.

[Update - 15/10: Automated reply thanking me for the query they'll "revert within 24 hrs"]


Checking out Lego Batman on Saturday I decided against purchasing it until the price drops (from £14.99 means £30), I did notice that Woolworths were selling Burnout Paradise for £25. This was understandable given that you can now download it from PSN for that same price. Gamestation has it at £20 and Amazon £18. Game is selling it for £35! Still, not as bad as the electrical retailers who are trying to get £40 for it.

The weekend

Saturday wasn't expected to be that nice so I made no plans for the day, setting them aside for Sunday.

So on Sunday I managed to go through most of the Sudeley Castle splitting them up into two sets Sudeley Castle and Battle. Oh and Phil Lench has created a Stouport Group which I've bunged my allotment of six photos onto. Continued some of my argu... discussions on the Shuttle Blog and then ate.

I was set to head into town and then wash my car, or vice-versa, when Bratii Famile invited themselves over; always pleasant, but sucked the time away. Ah well it gives Buftons more time to paint the front and so long as I can see out the windscreen my car isn't defined as dirty :-P

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A new traffic sign

Heading back from Kidderminster down the Minster Road towards Gilgal I was confronted by a huge black on yellow sign informing me that traffic is merging ahead; well done! Now all we need is the same at the junctions of Gilgal and Mitton Street, Mitton Street and Lion Hill and Vale Road, Lion Hill and York Street, and Vale Road and Gilgal.

One note - I haven't travelled back the other way yet so it'll be interesting to see if this new sign obstructs the view of traffic wanting to enter Gilgal from Vale Road.

[Update 13/10 - It doesn't block the view being set reasonably high and I also note that a SLOW has been painted across the lane too]

Friday, October 10, 2008

A convert to the PS3

My cousin, the Artist, has been asking me about the 80Gb Playstation 3 and the differences (if any) between it and the 40Gb version (answer - none bar the HD size). His original XBox360, which he was very happy with, RRODed and for some bizarre reason he never sent it back and instead picked up another. Now Devil Child has managed to break the drive door so it won't open.

Rather then pay to have it fixed he's looking at the PS3 because, in his own words, "It'll be nice to able to go online for free". In the interests of fair disclosure I did point out that the PSN was still pretty sparse, but would be getting better and you can pick up some of the demos off it.

This switch isn't wholly prompted by the free access, but by the ability to play Killzone 2 when it comes out. Bioshock is also coming out with a truck-load of downloadable content so if he picks it up he might actually finish it this time before he sells it on.

Anyway as some might recall he's really into racing games so I pointed out that Burnout Paradise was now available to download for £25 gotta remember to mention Wipeout HD next time I speak to him. Oh and knowing him he'll get a buzz out of the PSP connectivity particularly the ability to stream the Play TV broadcasts.

[Update 13/10 - he's picked up one from Gamestation with GT Prologue and Brothers in Arms: Hells Highway. He's most impressed by the graphics in the former and the latter is "bloody good". Some minor hassle to dig out his wireless encryption key due to an odd setting on his router, Sony really do need to add some better instructions in how to locate it given the 'bung the CD in' approach nowadays]

Minimum amount of information

I get some phone calls at time, just had one from one of the directors who no doubt had been talking to someone down the pub who had been boasting about how much they'd saved by changing energy providers.

"Can you run another electricity comparison"
"Another one?"
"Yeah, I think there's a Which report on my desk about them"
"Okay I need to know who you're with, what plan you're on and how much you're using"
"I don't know"
"Well I kind of need this information to run a comparison"
"I'll get back to you"

Oh for the love of Fanglemork. Incidentally last time we ran one switching would have saved about £10 a year with most of the saving being lost in purely in the time and effort taken to switch.

[Update - best saving was paying an extra £10 a quarter]

WFDC and £9m

Our illustrious leader of the council made a televisual appearance on Central Tonight with regard to the £9 million we have invested in Icelandic banks. For those who missed it here's a transcript, I've refrained from adding in the few errs, ums, and minor repetitions.

04:50 - 07:12m
GO - Gareth Owen
JC - John Campion
JM - Joanne Malin

GO: We're in Stourport now. Joining us from the council offices is John Campion from Wyre Forest District Council. Now Mr Campion nine million pounds are you going to have to write this money off or will you try to get it back somehow?

JC: Absolutely not the first thing to say is that this money is not lost it's currently at risk following problems associated with three Icelandic banks so the money is not lost it's currently just at risk and we will be doing everything within our power lobbying the local government association and indeed the government to make sure we get that money back for our taxpayers.

JM: Okay, but it is a lot of money nine million. If you didn't get it back Mr Campion how much of the dent would that make in your budget?

JC: Well the investment represents about one third of our ongoing investment portfolio, but it is very simple to say we don't except [as per Don probably should be 'accept'] not getting it back as an option. We want to make sure that the government sticks by its pledge to protect UK investors and you have to look at it in the fact that we've got a hundred thousand people in Wyre Forest and nine million is their money.

GO: Okay it's obviously lots of worrying news today for taxpayers in your area, across the Midlands as well, they'll want to know tonight will they suffer if the worst happens and will we be left to pick up the bill?

JC: Wyre Forest is very much business as usual. We'll be making sure we continue to deliver the high quality services to our residents there will be no impact to our taxpayers and it will be business as usual and we will make sure that we manage this process to make sure that happens.

JM: Now I know out of the eight councils affected here in the Midlands Wyre Forest invested the most. Three times as much as say Solihull I know hindsight is a wonderful thing but why did you put so much in to Iceland?

JC: It's important to remember that this problem is associated with a quarter of the local authorities across the country taking advise to invest into gold plated organisations that these banks were. Obviously time has passed since then and their situation has dramatically worsened so today that situation is very different, but when we made the investment they were very much low risk they very much were organisations of good standing and they were seen by the country as a good investment. But of course hindsight's a fantastic thing and we've got to deal with it now

GO: Mr Campion we're out of time now thank you very much indeed for joining us from Stourport-on-Severn...

Let's fisk that. First off note the repetition that the money is not "lost" just "at risk", to put it another way the money isn't lost yet, but may or may not be at a future time. Next is the "we don't except not getting it back as an option" but one assumes that, as a responsible council, some contingency plans are in place should everything fall apart? There then follows the bit about expecting the government to sort it out - um and they'd be getting the money from where exactly?

"there will be no impact to our taxpayers" remember that when the council tax is increased, oh wait the increase will be due to a myriad of other reasons.

Okay first off I don't blame the Cllr Campion, I don't blame WFDC, I also find it difficult to blame the financial experts who recommended the banks. To be precise I can't blame them directly however I will query as to why British taxpayers money was being invested outside this country and outside the jurisdiction of our government. I can understand the need to spread the risk, but if every bank in the UK collapsed I think the last thing we'd be worried about is council services.

The second query which is cropping up a lot is the sheer amount of money that is being saved, however I think such people are being blinded by the noughts. Here Cllr. Campion states that £9m is only a third of the amount of the invested amount and taking the official 2007 population figure of 98.6k that means that full investment only represent approximately £273 per person.

The obvious thing is that this is a contingency fund, except the point of such a fund is that if a time arises that you need to access this money chances are you'll need to get at it rather quickly. Yet we hear that the reasons some councils (not necessarily WFDC) couldn't pull the money was that it was invested in long-term accounts.

I'm not one of those idiots who claim that all this palaver is a good thing, but I will say it will, or at least should, lead to a shake-up in procedures and conceptions.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Too impatient

First a thank-you to Y425 VOJ for coming to an abrupt halt at the approach to Vale Road from High Street to allow some pedestrians to cross. This wasn't a 'Well I wasn't moving anyway' halt this was a 'I'll move forward in the suddenly jumped forward queue as there's been a break in the traffic from Mitton Street, but then slam on my brakes to let someone cross the road" I feel more sorry for the car directly behind her who had even less notice. From my point of view I'd turned the blind corner seen the traffic moving forward into a large empty space before it came to a halt for no apparent reason.

Ah well onto the main attraction last night coming down the Worcester Road. The queue was, of course, backing up from the OGL island and was halting just before the turn to Discovery Road. I pulled up behind a red van CP53 AAU who then mounted the pavement drove along it before bumping down into this turn. First point was that he wasn't indicating to let the driver in front know that he wanted to turn (although I always leave a space for right-turning cars if there's enough wiggle room I'll move forward if the vehicle behind is trying to turn) and secondly 5 seconds after he'd done this the queue moved forward.

Approaching the OGL island just before the lane divides into two (and once again - why?) and the van behind me is drifting to the right ready to switch lanes when another car overtakes them on the wrong side of the road blats down the second lane; swerves out to avoid the rear-end of a car, that had turned out of OGL into the first lane; causing an oncoming car to swerve out of their way (and the lane is stupidly narrow for them at this point) before reaching the island and doing a 450. Sadly angle and speed precluded me from getting a licence plate.

I'd also like to make a shout out to the two vans guarding Parkes Passage this morning, one presumably for delivering to the butchers and the other whose driver was using the Lloyds cash-machine. That would be on High Street the road with the double yellow lines and the single yellow stripes down the side that indicate no parking or loading at this time.

On a final note would the users of the Minster Road traffic lights please read rule 176 of the Highway Code

[...]Only go forward when the traffic lights are green if there is room for you to clear the junction safely or you are taking up a position to turn right.[...]
Oh and just to please Tav, although they didn't indicate in succession I did find myself behind one car on the approach to a roundabout in the right-hand lane who was signalling left to go straight on.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Lucky Day?

Today would have been the first Lucky Day as per my post here. Tav wanted the 7th though and that won't come around until January; ah tough I wrote it on my calendar - Happy Lucky Day, perhaps the greeting card industry will start to print cards?

Anyway remember anything fortunate that happens during these 24 hours is because it's Wednesday the Eighth. So to all those who cower at home on Friday the Thirteenth you should go out and enjoy yourselves in the safe and sure knowledge that nothing bad will happen today, or that if it does it's just bad karma, or some spike in the universal consciousness, or the alien overlords got distracted; certainly nothing worth re-evaluating or changing your belief over.

More Amazon suggestions

Though this time more of a broad spectrum suggestion as they're having a sale on a load of anime titles with some worthwhile titles available.
For £5 each - Appleseed, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Read or Die, Kai Doh Maru, Blood the Last Vampire. At £8 - Grave of the Fireflies, Spirited Away.

Also Ghost in the Shell SAC The Laughing Man and The Individual Eleven for £10 each, which are SAC 1 and 2 condensed into movie form.

On a similar note when did the Impulse in the Rowland Hill Centre close? Dammit another one goes down.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Reprobate students

Students Debauchery
(transcript of the BCB News report)


SB: "Good evening I'm Some Bloke. Universities, our highest institutes of learning or pits of alcoholic debauchery? We sent Our Cameraman out on to the streets to see what he could find"

[Town scene]

OC: "I stand here on the streets of Gloucester site during one of the busiest months of the university calendar with no-one in sight. No male students roam these streets singing off-key or wearing traffic cones. No female student can be encouraged to 'show us your tits'. It is as if no university existed."

[shot changes to university]

OC: "A different pictures emerges once we enter the student accommodation area a little light music plays laughter can be heard, and students walk rather then stagger around the area. We headed up to one of the dorms and found students engaged in karaoke sessions, Quiz games and video game sports. Attempting to find the wild parties and scenes of drug abuse I engaged in conversation with some of those around."

Student 1: "Oh yeah I'd heard all the stories off the news, but just look around there's some alcohol around but everyone just wants to relax"

Student 2: "I'm here to learn. Sure I'm going to want to have some fun too, but you've got to get your priorities straight."

Student 3: "Yeah you get some who think it's their mission to cause a country wide shortage of alcohol, I think most of us find that a bit sad really"

OC: "There you have it students today are in fact a bit boring, now back to Some Bloke in the studio"


SB: "Thank you Our, I have with me now Lord Huffington-Pipesmoker. Lord Pipesmoker what do you make of this report"

LHP: "I'm shocked, shocked and disappointed. Where were the students throwing up in the street, urinating in corners and singing at the tops of their voices? Where were the scantily clad girls baring their bottoms? It's disgusting. I remember on my first day we were rounded up by the seniors and forced to drink whisky shots until we couldn't stand up; ah good old days.

SB: "Would you say that action needs to be taken to curb these impulses?"

LHP: "Indeed I would. By acting in this manner they deprive both the older generation and news agencies such as your good selves vital moaning material about today's youth. It must be remembered also that these young men and women represent the future of this country, without regular orgies and drug taking how are they to work off their exuberances and be fit for the monotonous grind that is daily life?"

SB: "Do you think they'll be maladjusted then?"

LHP: "Indubitably. Without those experiences I expect few, if any, will attempt in their later years to recapture those moments by sneaking out of the house and visiting a lady of ill-repute who's dressed only in oiled leather... pierced with shiny, hard studs... whipping their bare buttocks with a soft whip while telling me that I'm a bad, bad boy... ah that they're bad, bad boys... or girls. Anyway I think the government should set up breathalysers at the entrances to every lecture hall and set a minimum blood alcohol limit for admittance, that'd set things straight no question about it."

SB: "Thank you Lord Huffington-Pipesmoker I'm afraid that's all the time we have left. Next week Media Hysteria, are news agencies getting desperate for stories and hyping up any old rubbish in an effort to attract viewers and pander to their preconceptions? I've been Some Bloke and this has been Pointless"

[A post inspired by "A wee tipple"]

Ban everything

Video games contain violence unsuitable for young ages - ban these games. People are being knifed in our street - ban knives. Youths are shining laser pointers at cars and aircraft - ban laser pointers.

All we need now is a story of someone being seriously injured by being hit by a pair of spiked running shoes and those will go on the 'Ban it' bandwagon too.

Brilliant - deprive legitimate users of tools, because a tiny minority abuse them. Oh sure some items are designed to be used in this way, but that means they're not being abused; they're fulfilling their primary function and yes those can be banned.

When will the media or government learn that clamping down on these things is as much a cure for aberrant behaviour as stuffing two tissues up your nose is a cure for the common cold? Ban knives, okay I'll carry a screwdriver instead. Ban laser pointers, okay I'll kick in that fence instead.

Why do people stab strangers in the street, why do parents let their children play 18 certificate games, why do 'youths' shine laser pointers in the sky?

Because they're bored, frustrated, ignorant? I don't know, but finding out might solve a heck of a lot of problems. Ah wait studies cost money and you particularly don't want to fund a study that would give results that you had to act on by spending yet more money.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Bioshock demo review for PS3

So after the demo that was Monster Madness I turned to Bioshock. As the game is the story I don't want to give anything anyway - you're in a plane, it crashed next to what appears to be an underwater city, you head in to find it's in a state of social collapse. There you go.

The game menus set the scene of a 1940's/50's American Art-Deco style, pre-silicon cyberpunk with the tone set by the first screen asking you to set the brightness level - yep expect things lurking in shadows.

The demo starts right at the beginning with a first-person perspective as you sit as a passenger aboard a plane. This can't be in-game rendering can it? Woah! The screen goes black you find yourself under water and manage to get to the surface where you find yourself surrounded by fire with only one escape route. Your controls kick in and you left stick your way forward while right-sticking to look around, standard stuff. You find a structure, head up from the dock and make your way in.

Ah hell I'm going to leave it there, the sheer sense that the game is only nudging you, that you can take your time and look around, and that you're meant to look around reveals this game's origins as a spiritual successor to System Shock 1 and 2 (and those two games can be found at the top of the gaming pantheon).

The controls are intuitively simple the left buttons control your plasmids (you'll find out) the right buttons your weapons. Square reloads, Triangle Jumps and Circle is dedicated to first aid which should give you an idea of how vulnerable you are.

Just in this demo alone I flambéed an enemy, electrocuted another before smacking them with a wrench, electrocuted another two who standing in a pool of water, hacked security turrets and drones to work for me, sloshed my way through a leaking corridor listened to recordings left by inhabitants, saw a ghost, and watched a Big Daddy called Mr Bubbles smack one of my erstwhile enemies repeatedly into then through a reinforced glass window.

As this was the demo existing on my hard drive alone, load times between levels was very quick, but that didn't seem like it could be a problem even if the Blu-ray loading is worse - from the crash to entering the underwater city was seamless, then one load and through various other large locales until the demo ended. Graphically the water wasn't perfect with one leak spraying across you having zero thickness, and one dead enemy ragdolled insanely as her hand was caught up in a pram until the game caught on and kicked it out. That was it though everything else was just beautiful, the detailed textures, the homicidal lunatics charging at you, everything played out silky smooth with no jarring or vertical tearing to be seen.

Atmospherically superb I expect to purchase this immediately on its release, no quibbling, no hesitation.

As an aside this game uses the same underlying engine as Monster Madness - Unreal 3; what a difference.

Monster Madness: Grave Danger demo review for the PS3

I picked up the demo for Monster Madness from the PSN on Friday and gave it a whirl. Its concept is a simple mash-up of those two classics Zombies and Gauntlet - four characters roam around an isometric town killing the zombies who pop-up out of the ground.

The opening menu screen sets the tone with bright cartoony shots that reminded me of the box art for Day of the Tentacle while a zombie lurched its way across the bottom of the screen. With the options presented of Adventure, Challenge, or Online I picked the single-player Adventure. The humour is now made clear in your choice of 'hero', The Geek, The Goth, The Skater, and The Cheerleader, who all make a stereotypical response to your selecting and deselecting them - Up and Atom/Rejected again, Oh Boy/As if I care, Dude/Oo burn, It's about time/Wait until my daddy hears about this. There's enough of these to make it amusing to try and cycle through them all before you pick a character to start. Yes I chose Carrie the Goth girl, big surprise.

When you do you have the standard difficulties - Child's Play, Thriller, Horror, [Locked] though each selection once again produces its own sound effect. The default is Thriller so I stuck with that.

You're beamed onto a standard street scene with the camera set at a 45 degree angle, the controls are a Robotron setup with the left stick controlling movement and right controlling the direction of fire. You're equipped with three rough types of weapon - melee, guns, bombs, you have one permanent melee weapon swung using the Circle key, but you can also temporarily pick up other weapons or items by pressing the Square key they in turn can also be thrown. As mentioned guns are aimed and fired using the right stick with the R1 button choosing the exact weapon you want to use. Bombs are selected using the L1 button and thrown using the L2; annoyingly Dodge is mapped to R2 so you don't want to get those two mixed up. Oh and jump is Cross or Triangle I forget which exactly.

So off you roam hitting zombies, shooting zombies, picking up bins and throwing them at zombies etc. all so Gauntletesque with the occasional run in with a bigger boss type zombie. As the astute might have noticed I didn't mention camera controls in the preceding paragraph, this is because you have none. The camera is automatic and as any gamer knows an uncontrollable camera can lead to serious frustration; fortunately this seems to be largely averted here. The first possible problem - losing track of your player in scenery, is dealt with by making any object between the camera and the character semi-transparent; the second possible problem - camera angle switch, has been averted by rarely moving the camera.

Saying that though I did notice some delay between my character heading into cover and the object becoming transparent and during one boss fight I got a nasty hit when the camera did a 180. I did only say largely averted though, the big bugbear of a fixed camera does rear its ugly head in that you can lose track of your enemies. The transparency that kicks in for you doesn't for them so you can stand next to a tree thinking your'e safe when the zombie standing behind it takes a swipe at you. Likewise during your first boss battle it's possible for the big bad to vanish off-screen, as he has a rush/sprint attack keeping track of him would be useful.

But here's the strange thing - in two later battles, where you have to kill a set number of enemies, little boxes with arrows appear around the edge of the screen to tell you where they are. So it shows they can do it, but they just didn't in this instance.

Onto graphics. This is a seventh generation game and is using the Unreal Engine, so what went wrong? The zombies are great, the houses and cars are fine, as are your characters; you just can't admire this (except in cut-scenes) because you can't zoom-in. But then you get the niggles, the car you can't jump onto (when you can with other similar looking ones), getting stuck on scenery, the horrific vertical tearing at times when there's not even anything on screen except yourself; oh and finally the serious slowdown when too many zombies appear. Just for fun in the Park of the second stage I tripped the appearance of the zombies in the car-park and the football field and watched the game trying to cope. If you can't handle that many AIs then have some burrow back into the ground once the distance between them and the player increases too much.

Gameplay itself. Each character has a different favourite melee weapon, which are located in different places in each stage, although they all act the same except during their 'special move'. Each character uses the same gun set, and the same bomb set; the quips they make differ though as do the names of the upgrades, although the way they affects the character are the same.

The screen information is clear, although I'd have liked to be able to see the number of each type of bombs I had displayed at the same time rather then just the selected one that's only a minor niggle. Your health is easy to keep track of via your portrait that fills in as red and turns into a skull and crossbones. Your weapon ammo is also very easy to track as every weapon uses the same 'bullets' just varying quantities per shot for each; that in itself deserves a huge round of applause, as it kills both the habit of hoarding better weapons and being frustrated at the wrong ammo type pick-ups.

Although there's no map your destination is indicated by an American style yellow road sign that flits around the screen as you move, though I did get lost at one point as it had disappeared behind my portrait.

I did dislike the tutorial hints that popped-up and covered the top third of the screen in a semi-transparent way until they timed out, but they can be turned off. Oh and the AI isn't that bright with zombies getting piled up behind benches and trees, then again they are zombies.

Health and ammo can be replenished at vending machines for dollars or at Larry's truck where you can get upgrades and buy bombs; and they're well positioned game-wise.

Okay it's fun, the cut-scenes are well-done for both the comic-book type and the sepia game-engined ones, the demo levels are really straight-line alleys, but with enough cul-de-sacs to give you some space to roam. Sure the AI isn't brilliant, but that just plays into the concept. It's a little repetitive at times, but in a good Gauntlet way. Most importantly you might get killed, but you have to concede that most of the time it's your fault rather then the game 'cheating'.

So as one of these downloadable games like Bionic Commander or R&C Quest for Booty at a cost of £10-£15 it's well worth it... shame then that it is in fact being sold as a full game at an RRP of £49.99. Heck even Amazon has dropped it straight to £27.98 on the day of release. [my error - a month after release it's just taken them this long to get a demo out]

My apologies to the developers as I really want to say "Buy this game" as it really is fun, but there are issues here that would disgrace a PS2 release and while something like The Force Unleashed suffers in similar ways it gets away with it because of its sheer scope. If this had indeed been released at the download price point I'd say that the niggles are something you accept for this price and go get it, but full game price; nope sorry.

[Update - 12/10. Just to demonstrate how good this game is neither Game, Gamestation, Woolworths, WHSmith, Comet, Currys, or PC World have it on their shelves despite it being released on the 5th of September]

[Update - 13/10. It is in fact worse playing as non-online multiplayer. It's difficult to pick out your own character on the screen if you take your eyes off them to see where the other is, and the camera changes are worse as you suddenly find yourself in a different relative position. Oddly although tearing was still ascendant slow-down didn't appear]

Friday, October 03, 2008

A barrier for The Rough

A minor flurry of letters in the Shuttle with regards to Betty Dawes hill (the name which no-one here uses) has prompted the future installation of a barrier at the bottom of the hill where it meets the The Rough.

The first letter here is interestingly penned by Cllr. Gittins of Bewdley (presumably because it was his friends car that was hit). Two faults become apparent - first he talks about a footpath from the Walshes estate when there are in fact two, one going down the hill and one running around its base. However it can be assumed that he is referring to the downhill one by the remark "steep footpath". Except we then face problem two which is where he states "there are no cycling signs"; again in fact one exists at each end of this footpath, but not the other.

The second letter was in reply and can be found here and takes the position that Cllr Gittins wants the barrier to aid the poor cyclists; they quite rightly point out both the existence of a set of steep steps and the No Cycling signs. As an aside they also state that this road is obviously not meant to carry the level of traffic it does and most certainly not the level of effluent being produced (I too have noticed and commented on the smell).

The third letter was a reply to that from Cllr Gittins. He clarifies his original letter in that his motive was to protect the motorist and not the cyclist. He then contradicts his original letter by stating that he knows that No Cycling signs are present, but that they are "no deterrent to cyclists on mountain bikes". He also pulls the "Won't someone please think of the children" card on the chances of children running down the hill into the road.

Okay here are my thoughts, but first a confession - I too have contemplated the requirement for a staggered barrier at this particular junction and have done so for over 10 years. So saying that why haven't I mentioned anything? Well first off all as one of my friends pointed out "They shouldn't be cycling down it anyway" Cllr Gittins states that the signs are no deterrent but fails to ask why.

I would now like to point out once again that the sign at the bottom of the hill is a red-bordered white circle with the words "No Cycling" whereas at the top of the hill it's a red-bordered white circle with an icon of a bicycle. A wholly unscientific test conducted on the Bratii reveals that they continue to believe the latter means you can cycle down the hill (despite me contradicting them on every occasion).

My second point is a natural distrust in any 'safety' measure implemented by the council in that said staggered barrier will be impassable for anyone with a pushchair. A case in point being that directional sign which meets every guideline and yet common-sense states it's in the way. My faith is not high in that the paving stones here have already had to be broken to allow a drop kerb for such appliances as it seems no-one thought of this during re-laying.

Point three is that such a barrier will in fact become a 'hanging-out' ground with 'youths' sitting on it or jumping off it, plus the vandalisation that is sadly bound to occur. Witness the state of the bench on said hill for an idea.

Point four is the more esoteric one in that if cyclists do not use the down-hill path they'll use the round-hill one instead. This is a long curving bend at which some cyclists already travel around at speed (and given the state of the road at this point I cannot remonstrate with them for not using it) on a personal note my mother was almost run over by a cyclist careening around this bend at high speed. For such cyclists they too will ride straight out into The Rough so to be effective any staggered barrier would need to cover both footpaths.

Conclusions? Why are the cyclists using the footpath, do they not realise that they can't due to the poor signage, is the law being applied? What is the speed limit on The Rough? As far as I know as it's an unlit street with no repeater signs so it's derestricted and therefore 60mph. What signs warn drivers/pedestrians/cyclists about the oncoming junction?

I found against the idea as it has the potential to cause more problems then solve and that it is once again an attack on a symptom rather then a cause.

[Addendum - Would it be considered rude to note that in the third letter Cllr Gittins mentions "messages of support from Stourport residents" while at the same time I point out that it is only now that the highways authority are looking into it?

On the same heading perhaps Cllr. Gittins could make mention of the acts I saw not one hour ago - Firstly a gentleman supported by two canes forced to walk in the road around the York Street bus-shelter; and secondly a lady standing on the grass attempting to cross Dunley Road having just been dropped off at the bus-stop nearby; oh and that would be the same unsheltered bus-stop situated in a broad stretch of nothingness, while the Bridge Street, York Street and Windmill Bank stops, all sheltered by either walls or landscaping, enjoy the protection of perspex.

No doubt if a councillor brought these topics up some form of solution would be presented]

Thursday, October 02, 2008

This isn't a cold call

"Well it is sort of", said the man from Global Telecoms and Technology. Apparently BT are changing their entire system to "IP Technology" (which they are) and as a result the current equipment we have won't work. What we need is a DMIcP box, which fortunately this company can supply.

"But we're not with BT", I state.
"Doesn't matter; everyone runs through the BT system", came the reply.
"But this upgrade is predominately exchange to exchange"
"Ah but they're upgraded the ISDN lines and it won't work"
"We don't have ISDN"
"What do you have?"
"Normal PSTN plus copper wiring"
"Ah no it won't work with that either"
"Yes it will"
"Well would it be alright to send a Business Manager over"
"Um no"
"Oh okay then bye"

Okay to be fair some positively ancient equipment might not work and you almost certainly need new equipment to access the new services, but can you imagine BT telling every single telephone user in the country that they need a new telephone because their old one will stop working shortly? But hey don't take my word for it

"BT expects the vast majority of customer premises equipment (CPE) used to access services today will work normally on 21CN"
Ah-hah here's a graphic representation. What this doesn't show and what I failed to mention is this doesn't affect LLU's that is if you're not paying your line rental to BT.

Skip the importing

Just offered as an aside as I found myself side-tracked into the topic of grey imports I decided to look at the cost of importing Lego Batman for the PS3 from Amazon USA. Cost from there $49.99 plus $3.99 for shipping and $3.99 per item (can you spell rip-off?) for a total of $57.97. Import duty of 17.5% and a carriers fee of say 2.5% to make it a round 20% puts the price up to $69.56 which converts to £39.15 so say $70 and £40.

Current price on Amazon UK... £29.98. So hey look at that the prices for each country are actually comparable for their respective inhabitants.

Oddly I can't see this game on Amazon Japan, and unless I'm reading this incorrectly GTA4 doesn't officially go on sale there until the end of October and Fallout 3 doesn't reach Nippon until the end of December; poor sods.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The PSN Playstation Network niggles

I mentioned some time ago that I'd finally managed to hook up my Playstation 3 to the internet and was happily chunking through it with some few niggles on Sony's own Playstation Network site. The release of Wipeout HD and Megaman 9 tempted me to go back to the store and this has prompted me to elucidate on my previous statement.

The basic interface is simple as befits use by a console controller and I can't fault it. The home screen has the main sections buttonised along the right hand side with graphic splashes to the left highlighting whatever Sony wants to hawk today.

To navigate simply use the d-pad to move around between the sections or splashes and press X to confirm. For most of the topics you'll be taken to a sub-screen with yet another set of sections and a graphic splash, yet mirrored with the splash on the left and the buttons on the right. Due to the number of sub-sections possible the buttons have been shrunk, arranged into 5 column rows, and now use icons to distinguish them. Fortunately if you don't want to memorise the pretty pictures the splash changes to provide more information as to the currently highlighted item.

This pattern is repeated throughout each subsection - so for example from the Home page you can choose "All Games" and move to the sub-screen, then the icon representing "Shooters" (a bullseye) and then to "Resistance: FOM" and then pick some extra downloadable maps all using the same visual format. However it is in these first sub-screens that the first niggle lies.

As I mentioned the icons are now columnised and where possible appear in alphabetical order, so the first row may be A, B, C, D, E and the second row F, G, H, I, J. As this order is kept new items can appear amongst the old ones and thus it pays to step through them sequentially to see what's available. Using the d-pad you can thus move left off the splash graphic to A, then continue through to E, at this point you find you cannot move left to jump down a row to F, instead you have to simply move down to J and then work back. Seriously people this isn't hard to do, when I get to the end of a row I want the movement key I've been using to take me to the beginning of the next row and not just halt.

The next very minor niggle occurs when you're looking at a big list. The currently displayed list may only show items from A-F, to get to S you need to click down through every row. Yes there's an A-Z option on the previous screen so you can jump to S, but you would then have to scroll down through every S game to get to "Sw". A page up/down perhaps mapped to L2/R2 would be nice.

Okay on to the biggest niggle of them all the product display screen. Once you've chosen an item you're taken to yet another type of screen. On the left hand side you have a column giving you the title of the item, who it's by, how much it costs and two buttons Download or Add to Cart. On the right you get the bigger screen which tells you what the item actually is, that it runs in 720p/1080p/whatever and the full blarney of legal crud.

If you click on Download Now then depending on what it is it'll ask you where you want to save it; to help it shows the storage options available with the amount of free space they have. Choose one and you then may have the option of downloading it in the background so you can carry on browsing or even head out and play a game. The screen behind this option is your shopping trolley showing the item in question, its size, and price.

So have you spotted the problem? Until you state that you want to download or add the item to your shopping cart you have no idea what size the item is; none, zip, zero, nada. This of course makes a mockery of asking where you want to store the item "Hmm 3Gb free is that enough?"

For some completely inexplicable reason the actual size of the file is missing from any of the information presented on the item information screen. I've scoured the screen to make sure I'm not missing something I've tried various buttons to see if some hidden information will appear with no success.

Okay if you're someone who just leaves their Playstation on all the time running Folding@Home then the amount of time might not seem a hassle until I point out that the downloads are sequential. That means if you've picked a few items to download you won't get to see that 32Mb video until that 600Mb demo has downloaded unless you manually head into the Download manager and stop it then restart it. For those of us who switch it on and off, sometimes as a quickie before heading out elsewhere, finding out that the demo you've set to download weighs in at over 1Gb can be a little annoying.

The store itself is fine and has expanded with items in even the short time I've been on it, but it's just... gah I just can't believe that anyone could produce a store front that sells and give things away electronically wouldn't have this information as a standard part of the description; especially when it's something that's known and easily slottable into the existing template.

This is just going to get highlighted even more when they start streaming movies and television shows through it here in the EU.

Where's the money gone?

This was the question posed to me by someone regarded the current economic slump. His argument was that the money had to have gone somewhere. My response was simple -

"It's gone back to the place it came from - nowhere"

Well I thought it was easy to understand, but it required more explanation.

Imagine a company worth £1m who decides to go public with 1m shares, logically each share is worth £1. Later on rumours start up that the company is about to launch a new product that will increase its worth; traders try to buy its shares and offer £2 a share. The company is now worth £2m, but where did the extra £1m come from? Not all the shares have been traded, in fact no shares at all need to be traded the price is derived simply from what someone is prepared to pay. Later on more rumours say this new product has failed and share prices drop to £1; so where's the £1m gone? Same place it came from.

Where things get complicated is that the company might have borrowed some money against its share price of £2, it borrowed it from the bank who in turn borrowed it from the money market. So where did that money come from? It came from the potential realisation of the share price.

In other words if the company sold all its shares it would get £2m, but it doesn't have that cash to hand so it borrows, say, £1m from the bank. The bank instead of using its own assets uses the money that it would get if it sold shares it owned, possibly even in the same company its loaning too. So once again - where did that money come from?

Okay I'm simplifying this a lot, but the crux is that the money was fictitious. It was all potential money, but sadly none of the debt was.

My friend's response was that the money was in property - that the houses were worth money.

"Who decides on how much they're worth?", I asked. "If this house was bought using money borrowed two years ago is it still worth that same amount now?"
"No, less"
"So where's the shortfall come from, where's the money gone?"

Same place it came from - nowhere.