Friday, February 27, 2009

Taking the PRS for music

So at work we get a letter from PRS for Music asking if we play any music there, what was interesting was that the assumption was that we were and that if we didn't (which we don't) please contact them. So when did PRS start to take on the mindset of the TV licensing department?

We ignored the letter and got another identical one shortly after, we ignored that; after all once again this does not apply to us. We then got a telephone call asking us if we play any music "No", "Okay I just need to take you through this checklist", "No, no we don't play any music at all full stop"

We've now had one final letter from them confirming that we've said we don't "perform or authorise the performance of music in [our] premises for either the benefit of [our] customers or staff and that [we] were not intending to use the Society's repertoire in this way in the future." Oh that's so nice of you except "Please be advised that PRS for Music do from time to time visit premises in order to assess what, if any, licensing requirements there may be" and PRS can be advised that we in turn can tell them to get the [beep] out of our offices.

Just to illustrate the con-game that this is; a radio station needs to pay PRS for playing music, in turn an office listening to said radio station needs to pay PRS because said broadcast is deemed public. Even better if you've a television in a public area playing a broadcast channel, said broadcaster pays a fee to PRS for use of music, you pay the BBC your licence fee for the privilege of watching said TV, and you also have to pay PRS because you may be broadcasting their copyrighted music in public. Methinks 'tis a licence to print money.

Goodwin's pension

Otherwise known as how to redirect the hate.

Here's the apparent story -

The government want a change of management at RBS.
Sir Goodwin agrees to early retirement and negotiates what he'll receive.
The RBS board 'gives the impression' that the pension is mandatory, contractually obligated.
Sir Goodwin retires and gets pension.
The government discovers that the pension was in fact discretionary and now wants it or some of it to be returned.

Yeah sorry exactly whose fault is this? Easy that'd be the government or in specific the Treasury officials who it seems relied on the RBS board to tell them the terms of the contract rather than read the bloody thing themselves.

Of course this lack of interest in such things comes as no surprise to those of us who watch projects balloon in price as per the allowed terms of government contracts; what is interesting is the way that the government in general is dodging a good percentage of the flak for essentially not doing their jobs.

This is also made highly enjoyable (if that's the right word) by said officials trying to claw back this money on the grounds of 'not rewarding failure' while sitting atop their own gold-plated pensions that they'll still receive regardless of their own actions.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Battle of the Brains

Shunting Eggheads to the 6.30 slot on BBC2 I've been catching the slightly reformatted Battle of the Brains. As a premise I enjoy the show, it's well structured, but true to form there are two minor niggling problems.

The first is the music - it's not bad, just loud; turn the volume up so you can actually hear the host and contestants and you get deafened between each round. Second problem is the presenter himself, Nicky Campbell. Seriously what is it with hosts and pointless exclamations? On a buzzer round to five points one of the contestants answers correctly making the score 1-0 and up pops Nicky with "He's storming ahead now" um what? Likewise in this type of round but more noticeably in a type designated "Identity" he has the unfortunate habit of misplaced pauses.

For this particular type of round you get a serious of clues either contestant can buzz in to guess, but if they get it wrong are frozen out for the next clue. So we're looking, for say, an artist -

NC: This artist was born in Milan.
C1: Michaelangelo?
NC: That's incorrect I can give the full clue to your opponent.

What do you mean full clue, you stopped you came to a complete halt at what everyone assumed was the end of the clue. Worse yet in an attempt to offset this annoying behaviour when he does finally finish the clue he occasionally tries to egg on the contestants to solve it.

Oh and I have to suppress the urge to bellow "Let's Get Ready to Rumble" as the round starts.

Still better than Eggheads though and miles better than the interminable repeats of The Simpsons on Channel 4, which have now reached the giddy heights of season 9 - again, except on Sundays which for some reason plonks down a couple of season 15's.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We were all once learners

Driving last night around some minor corners with the street-lights failing to provide any illumination I noticed my speed was fluctuating due to the car in front of me slowing down and speeding up; I wondered if something was wrong and dropped back a little.

On a more major curve I discovered the 'problem' - the car in second place before me had two large L plates slapped on the back and a student? (it was dark and difficult to see at that angle) driver sign on the back. The driver in question was the one varying their speed and as such I assumed they were both new and unsure of driving in these conditions.

Now colour me crazy, but if you have someone in front of you driving like that (and for good reason) wouldn't you give them a little space, back off a bit; if not just for their own piece of mind, but for your own safety? Tell that to the car in front of me who was pretty much tailgating the poor soul all the way up the road and around corners and junction bends. V002 YFD you have been named and shamed.

120dpi websites

Things used to be easy, everyone used a dpi of 96 except Apples who used 72 and who cared about them at the time. Now since XP and the increase in use of very high definition wide-screens especially on laptops computers can be set to a default of 120dpi. So who cares?

Well anyone who has to design anything with a visual interface and that obviously includes web designers. To put things in a simple context if I create a clickable button with the word "Click" on it I want the button to be large enough for the word "Click" to be visible; sounds obvious doesn't it. However I also want to make the containing button small enough so as I can fit other items on the screen, so what size should the button be? Well it depends on the size of the text for the word "Click". If I use, say, this default size than "Click" try something bigger and "Click" or even "Click". Of course it's up to me what size the text is, well no it isn't. If I set the font to be this size, if you've altered your computer settings or changed the dpi then the OS will over-ride your setting and change it to "this". That ain't good. Heck you can't even set the size in pixels rather than fonts the OS spots this ruse and adjusts them too and percentages are relative to the screen itself and not the text therein. There is thankfully a way around this.

Instead of measuring everything in pixels or points you use ems. It should be easy you create all your text with reference to 1em, as that will be the height of whatever sized font is being used on the target computer. If you want to set out items such that they have heights you use em's again; okay strictly speaking you should use ex's, but as those correspond the height of lower case letters and ems to the full-width of letters switching between the two might give you a headache just go with ems.

So job done you set all your container's widths and heights in em and if someone's using a different font-size the containers all expand or contract while keeping everything in proportion.

Now comes the hardship - let's pretend you want to do something clever, say put an image behind some text - piece of cake just use background-image and you're done. Nope because if the container alters its size because of the font the background image won't change and hey would you look at that you can't set the size of background-images (until CSS3 anyway). So the simple elegant solution is out, instead you have to add another container put the image inside that then position it so it appears behind your text and when you're having to code for all the bugs in IE6&7 relative and absolute positioning can give you more headaches.

Okay you've got your image, positioned it and made it work in that damnawful Internet Explorer, all done?

Nope see now you want a repeating image behind your text, so guess what's easy to do with a background-image that you can't do with a normal image - yup you can't make it repeat. So you create yet another container position it and make your image so it covers the entire height you want. But what if you don't know the height, what if it's changeable; tada you make the image ultra-long and use overflow: hidden and it'll automatically clip off the bottom for you. Unless you use IE6 in which case it probably won't.

All done, nope not quite because it can still go wrong. The prompting for this entry was the fact that I had a div with an img in it centred horizontally on the screen all set out in em. Did you think it expanded - nope; another image further up in the same hierarchical situation did, but not this one. See you have to set the width of the div and the img to make it alter, you can't trust that the container will expand or contract to meet the size of the image. It's dumb, but at least it's working now.

So no pixels or points do everything in em (or ex) and make sure everything is marked up correctly and your design should remain in proportion no matter how much it's shrunk or enlarged.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Northern Rock mortgage lender

I'm really scratching my head here, the initial setup for the big sub-prime crash was the orders of the US government that banks loan out more money. Supposedly this was to allow those unable to buy a house to get on the property ladder and thus (somehow) stimulate the economy. This in turn led to banks lending out money to people who couldn't afford it, creating 100% plus mortgages and property prices increasing at silly rates (as money was being loaned out there was no requirement for property prices to fall to a level that people could maintain, likewise as property prices continued to rise, you were more likely to get a loan even if you looked likely to default as the future price of your property would cover that cost) and then packaging up said mortgages for sale en masse to others.

So what does our Chancellor do? He orders Northern Rock to expand their lending to make up for the fact the other banks have just hoarded our 'loans', to do this they're going to offer out mortgages at higher percentages then the others and all to prevent the fall of house prices and lead to negative equity; and all at a time that nobody wants to stick their moeny in a savings account. Wow these people really do have short memories don't they.

Oh wait of course this time it'll all be different because we've much stronger financial regulations in place and the government has direct control over things... snort.

Damn IE7 and inline-block

Damn you Microsoft damn you to hell you are just seriously ticking me off now. Still working on this charity website and I've set the menu bar up using list elements, this is a neat way of doing things as they lend themselves well to orientation for non-visual browsers as well as being easy to shift around. However by default they line up vertically one atop another, if you want them to line up horizontally you can do one of two things - you can either float them or you can make them inline.

Float seems to be the first option of many coders, but it comes with a price - the element you're floating is removed from the default ordering system it's 'floated' over the top of them. So if you want more than one element side-by-side you have to float them all and to keep them straight enclose them in their own container; not pretty.

The other better method is to use make them inline, inline is simply what you're seeing now as you read, each word naturally follows the other in a horizontal line; however the reason most people use float is because an inline element grows and shrinks according to its contents, fine if that's what you want, not good if you want to create a fixed height/width 'block'.

So the solution is to use a new property called inline-block, this has all the advantages of the inline property while allowing you to apply block properties to it - yay!

Except IE7 doesn't understand inline-block properly.

It's to do with a hidden property called hasLayout the mention of which can cause seasoned web developers to tear their hair out, see you can't set it explicitly no such thing as hasLayout: on; it's set when other properties get applied and surprise surprise it's an IE only creation.

So to call this elusive hasLayout you need to set a property of "zoom:1;" to any element you want to work correctly. It doesn't do anything; if you set it to 2 it'll make things twice as large, but 1 nowt.

So that's that - nope, see if you set hasLayout as above for an element that is by default a block and then try to make it an inline-block IE7 still ignores it. So you need to add in one extra little snippet "*display: inline;" the star is important as every other correct browser will ignore that item, but dumb-old Internet Explorer won't and amusingly despite setting it to plain old inline it'll happily apply block properties to it too.

So is that all - still nope, because although that fixes IE7 it won't fix IE6 which requires a height be set to the element and that's added by "_height: 30px;" yep another funny character in front of the property this time one that IE7 and proper browsers ignore yet IE6 will apply.

So to get inline-block working for any element in Internet Explorer simply add "zoom:1; *display: inline; _height: 30px;" to the end of that elements style oh and yes change the height to whatever you need.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Murder in Stourport

Rumour mill again, word on the street type of thing for those who haven't heard. Okay just to cover myself again this is what allegedly went on at the fatal stabbing on Hartlebury Common, expect the word allegedly a lot.

Allegedly two young lads stole some diesel and one decided to keep it all for themselves. As you might expect this ticked off the other who allegedly challenged his erstwhile companion to a bare-knuckle fist fight on the Common.

Allegedly this took place and one started to get the upper hand over the other, allegedly this led to a knife being drawn by the beatee.

There's also talk that two knives were involved and that someone (not naming names) else has been arrested because it's unknown which knife (or both) was used.

So any residents scared of going out at night for fear of getting stabbed can console themselves that this was allegedly a set-up meeting and not a random event.

WTH Google

Okay trying to get GoogleTalk to work and kept getting the "You are not registered to use please activate it" message. The forums informed me this was because I didn't have a Google Mail account. So I sign up for one and annoyingly I can't have FlipC as the name has to be a certain number of characters long, so I pick something similar. GoogleTalk now works.

However as I'm in the UK this isn't a it's a address and it now has it placed as my default email address. I can still sign in with the old one but it displays the new one, except somehow when I head to Blogger it thinks it's a gmail account. Then all my blog entries didn't show up on my page. They were still there just not showing.

It appears Google hasn't yet caught on to the fact that a) not everyone has a account and b) not everyone who uses GoogleTalk wants one.

So I've deleted my GoogleMail account and amusingly as mentioned in the forums GoogleTalk still works with my original email details.

Okay it's all free and still carries Beta tags in places, but some of this is so obvious you wonder how anyone could miss it?

Path works

I spotted orange paint markers on both splitters at either end of Vale Road on Wednesday. On Thursday we had a yellow-jacket with a survey wand waving it about while standing at the edge of the road (a breach of H&S?). Today we had two y-js standing on the one at the entrance looking around and five at the top congregating on the library side of the bridge.

It's like a joke - how many yellow-jackets does it take to survey a site - five; two to make the measurements, one to write them down, one to point, and one to organise it ;-)

[Update 4/3 - Forgot to mention they'd started work on the lowest one on Monday, vaguely amusing as they've extended the barriers out into Vale Road physically delineating the section between lane 1 and lane 2 with a barrier too high to see over from inside a car (mine at any rate) amazingly this hasn't caused traffic in town to grind to a halt (Gilgal's still managing that on it's own) thus mildly supporting my suggestion that the splitter base be extended out to encourage traffic to stay in their own lane before trying to cross.]

Pedestrian advisory

Just a friendly reminder to all abroad at night in our fair town. The exit from High Street is slightly angled from the horizontal, the exit from Mitton Street is fairly angled from the horizontal. As both exits are opposed to each other and both feature a one-way system that meet this means that headlights on vehicles coming from High Street face directly the vehicles approaching from Mitton Street at an angle that would be consider high-beams i.e. dazzling, as such pedestrians using the splitter triangle to cross to Mitton Street are nigh-on invisible to this traffic in these circumstances.

In other words don't expect traffic to see you as you cross or that vehicles slowing down are doing so because of you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More HD musings

Still looking at John Lewis as my purchaser of choice, although with the doom and gloom the price might drop; probably as soon as I buy it. However one of the little side-quests involved the actual physical size of the television in that a) will it fit where I want it, and b) could I go up to the 37" version? Answers being yes and no respectively it still left one other point - optimal viewing distance or to put it bluntly how far away should I be from the TV?

Okay some reports put it such that the TV occupies an arc of 30° others that the minimum distance should be an arc of 26° with a maximum of 36°, however looking closer all these figures are based on cinema screens which not only don't use pixels but have a different screen ratio too. Besides it seems they can't even make up their minds isn't their something a little more scientific about?

Yes there is and it's called visual acuity, a measure of the smallest thing the human eye can distinguish. It appears that the human eye (20:20) has an acuity of 1/60°, it's measured in degrees for the obvious reason that we can see smaller things close-to that we wouldn't see far away. Let me give an example of what this means.

If I print of a sheet of paper with a black and white chequerboard pattern with each square being 1mm in size and stand a 20:20 sighted person 3.5m away they should be able to see that the page is made up of individual squares; move them 7m away and they'll see a grey sheet of paper as the squares appear to merge together.

So for televisions I want a distance that allows me to perceive each pixel (otherwise what's the point of having HD?) without being so close that each pixel start to dominate the picture. In other words I want a distance where each pixel perfectly fits my 1/60° view (Although of course my vision isn't 20:20 it's still a good estimate).

At this point I knock out a quick calculator that gives me the distance dependant on screen diagonal, however while useful this isn't practical. I can change the size of my television, what I can't do is easily change the size of my room and thus the distance I sit; I need to reverse the calculation.

So just for fun with a 21" SD television the optimum distance is 82", which is amusing as it's pretty much bang on to what I've already got. So what HD television do I need to sit at the same distance. Well if I bought a 720 pixel screen I'd need a 35", for a 1080 I'd need a 53"; why? Because the pixels are smaller on a 35" 1080 than they would be on a 35" 720, so for the pixels to be the same size I need a bigger screen.

So taking into account that when I play games I or those with me can often sit closer, a 32" 1080 with a distance of 50" is about right, If the space was available a 37" might have been better, but it turns out not to be a major difference (8") so that's that.

For those interested the equations needed are as follows:

For a 4:3 screen width is root(diagonal^2/25)*4 each pixel being 1/704th of that which then needs to be divided by two and then tan (1/120) to give the viewing distance

For a 16:9 screen the width is root(diagonal^2/337)*16 each pixel being either 1/1280th or 1/1920th depending on 720 or 1080 screen and then divide by 2 then tan (1/120) to give the viewing distance.

Oh and yes of course it works with height too as the pixels are, or should be, square - just change 4 to 3 or 16 to 9 and divide by 525, 720, or 1080.

Obviously to start with the viewing distance just reverse the equations or you could just post the distance or diagonal here and I'll do it for you :-)

Water rate rises

I don't get why some people are whining about the rise in their water bills, if they don't like their current supplier they should just switch. After all this is a free-market situation and the water companies are just businesses.

Heh yeah as if. The current legal requirements to switch your supplier are as follows:

1) A new supplier replaces your old one, or
2) You use over 50 million litres of water a year.

Neat huh? So basically the water companies have you over a barrel with the only people fighting in our corner being the industry watchdog Ofwat; who are trying to justify the price rises.

They had one on GMTV this morning muttering about how if it wasn't for them prices would be £100 higher; that the prices were comparable to energy rates; that services are better than twenty years ago; and that you might want to have a water meter fitted, after all 'in your film' GMTV showed a family with meter who found they could use this to lower their bills. I'll answer each in turn.

Saying that bills would be higher if it wasn't for you is pointless, I could claim that bills would be £1,000 higher if it wasn't for me. Unless you can point to evidence or demonstrate that other comparable countries pay more then shut-up.

Prices are now comparable to energy bills. Except if my energy company starts trying to charge me more I can move to a different one - it's called competition and is supposedly lowers prices and/or increases quality.

Services are better? Here's what we want - clean water, reliably delivered. Oh sure the water companies have replaced the pipework, except said pipework was lead and the government would make them do that (or would have done that themselves if state owned), but in what way have they improved?

Water meters. Oh yes did you actually watch the video you're praising - the women in question bathed her son in a puddle of water she'd already used to rinse out her toothbrush etc.

So do we use more water than necessary? I suppose we do, and yet this is supposedly a first-world country; moreover this is Britain known and joked about the world over for the quantity of rain we get. We should be able to fill out houses daily with water without a problem, why can't we? Well I've dealt elsewhere with the problems of drainage, about the water sluicing off all the concrete and not seeping into aquifers. Let's face it though it's the water companies responsibility that's whom we are paying, that's what we're paying them to do and they're the ones who aren't doing anything about it.

Sheesh we'd be better off with government and its slow multi-layered committee approach to things; at least they could point at an area and say "We're going to put a reservoir there".

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When did that come out?

A train of thought led me to confirm something on Wikipedia last might regarding Takin' over the Asylum . Fact confirmed something caught my eye "and also on the series BBC DVD" huh, what DVD?

A trip over to Amazon and lo and behold there it was - released in June 2008. You [beeps] you [beeping beeps] do you know how long I've waited for that to be released even on VHS? Not one single physical store I've been in that sells DVD's had this in stock; not one internet store had this in their listings prior to release. It's as if it appeared from nowhere.

So now I've got the complete Blake's Seven, Sapphire and Steel, Dark Season, Tripods, Ultraviolet, Red Dwarf, Spaced, and Neverwhere, as well as this winging its way to me. That's pretty much the best that British television has to offer barring the odd Doctor Who. Pretty much... to complete my collection I just need Angels; a one-off TV movie so obscure it doesn't even get its own page on Wikipedia; won't hold my breath.

More invasion of privacy

Another one that's been brewing comes into force in March - all ISP's will be obligated to keep a record of all emails sent for a year. Not the content mind just the sender, recipient and time, apparently it'll be useful for combating crime. Apparently no-one in government has Googled "anonymous email".

Yup once again a law comes into effect that only affects the law-abiding. Even if they made the use of such remailers illegal here's a little home truth; point one - criminals break the law [shock horror]; point two - criminals will use remailers on sites situated outside your jurisdiction so you can't even threaten the ISP; point three - you really are morons aren't you?

Once again it seems that the Government doesn't possess a single IT worker or at least one that they're prepared to listen to. This could have all been avoided by one example, so perhaps we can provide them with one instead.

Here's the deal - visit enter the email address as "" (seeing as Brown's ain't working); enter the subject as "Law on ISP email records" and as text enter "Making ISPs keep email records? Yeah not as if you can do it anonymously -". Now hit Send Anonymously. Notice that so you can't even link up an email sent with an IP address record the email is delayed by a random amount up to 12 hours. Oh and for anyone worried that the government will seize the site's records, they're based in the Seychelles.

Pathetic isn't it what our 'leaders' know or can be bothered to find out.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Close call

Heading into town past the OGL island and up towards Mitton Street I slowed as I approached the bend and spotted a long bus heading down from Gilgal. "They always have trouble", I thought. "Better slow down and give it the lead".

Damn good job I did. They didn't even slow down - straight down the lane hanging over the edge of my lane, then straight into my lane (indicating though) so as to pull in at the bus stop. If I hadn't have slowed down (which legally I had no need to do) I wouldn't have the front, or at least the side, of my car any more. Seriously, no exaggerating for effect here the best I could have done was swerved up the pavement and hope I didn't hit Anglo House.

Something's really got to be done about that corner.

After that brush with death it was almost a pleasure to get stuck in High Street. I turned the corner from York Street into High Street (again my priority in that lane) and couldn't move thanks to a car half-parked up on the pavement, then a car in front of that, then a security van loading in front of that, then a gap, then a big lorry loading up too. I choose my words carefully - parking and loading as in no occupants and/or rear doors open.

Ahem double yellow lines and single yellow kerb markings - no bloody parking and no bloody loading between 11am and 3pm; what are you illiterate? Of course none of our wardens around surprise, surprise. Okay if the two parked cars had blue badges they're legit, but not the other two. What's the point of having these restrictions if they're just ignored?

Rip-off merchants

Did a quick tour of Merry Hell over the weekend looking in the electrical stores at TV's and Blu-ray players. Now the model I'm particularly interested in is the Panasonic 32LZD85 and to match the Panasonic BD35EB - £650 and £185 respectively from Amazon. John Lewis do the TV at £749 with a 5-year guarantee and the player at £244 with a 2-year guarantee.

So £99 and £59 for the extras isn't that bad. Onto the 'real world' and only one store had both in stock Comet. £750, so the same as John Lewis? Nope - if I want a 5-year guarantee that'll cost me an extra £250; same for the player, same price sans guarantee which'll cost me extra.

Damn, I mean damn how the hell can they get away with this?

Dumb thing was I wouldn't even have considered John Lewis if it wasn't for Orphi as I've always classed them in the 'expensive' bracket, but he mentioned them positively and I thought they'd be no harm in a look-see. Glad I did.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Coding a site

Setting up a charity sponsorship site I needed two time counters one for time elapsed and one for time left. I could write my own, but I was sure someone else would have written an elegant solution better than I. So onto the 'net I did go and browsed.

Pulled one down that allowed a countup and countdown, and took it apart. It's great if you don't mind the fact that you can only have one timer at a time. Two was possible, but not one in each direction. So the lengthy code I started with got slightly lengthier until it worked. Great, not great; it ate memory and slowed down the browser to a grinding halt. I stared at the morass of code and thought "Sod this I'll do it myself". Half the code, with provision for infinite timers running whichever way you want and sans any little script snippets in the HTML itself.

Ego boosted I moved onto the next challenge - a marquee effect, that is a scrolling line of text. I tried two approaches - first off five positioned divs and an array of names, the divs would scroll along and when the first was off the 'screen' it would have its text changed to the next item and be bumped back to the end of the line. This produced a continuous scrolling effect while allowing individual styling of each div. But it required the text to be entered as an array in the script only showed 5 at a time and was thus unsearchable/unindexable.

For the second approach I added the text into the main body in the form of li items set then to inline-block so they appear horizontally rather than vertically then shifted the entire ul container across. This has the advantage that all the text is present and the code is smaller, but once you hit the end of the line you get a blank until the last item scrolls off and the entire ul is shifted back to the beginning. You also can't pick a random position to start from which was possible with the first approach. [Idiot of course you can the li has a fixed width so it's a simple multiple]

So I could go for a third approach combining the two. Use the DOM to count/step through each li and hide/show each as it comes in or falls off the screen.

Hmm I'll have a think about it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Road stuff

20mph sign on Vale Road though nothing going on now, Stour Bridge is getting worse, and glory be they've added Give Way markings road end markings to Power Station Road for the first time in... um ever? Passing by I saw the headlines of the £2.12m for our roads yay!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Another phut

Sunday night I heard the sound of electronics sizzling, it seemed to be coming from the direction of my battery powered clock. I looked at, it was still working hmm. Then it happened again. I picked it up checked it, checked the batteries, all fine. I thought nothing more of it.

It seems the acoustics were playing me false. Last night I decided on a quiet night in; switched on the TV and the DVD player, turned around to find the remote and DVD, turned back and said "Huh?" the TV was on, but the DVD player wasn't. I pressed the on button using the remote - nothing; I pressed the on button on the player - nothing; I pressed the eject button - nothing. Then I noticed the standby light wasn't on.

So I groped behind it to find the power lead, hard-wired in at one end. I traced the plug - seemed fine; so I switched it to another socket - nothing; tried another - nothing. Took the fuse out and tried to find another 3A; switched it and - nothing.

I think it's gone to the great electronic graveyard in the sky. Is it in warranty? Well let's put it this way - I bought it from Dixons, and of the DVD selection I could chose three from I picked The Blair Witch Project, Gattaca, and Mercury Rising. To put it another way three 1999 movies.

So now I'm in the market for a DVD player, except to be precise a Blu-ray player. Now you might be thinking "Haven't you got a Playstation 3?" yes I have and I'd like to keep it working for as long as it can and that means reducing mechanical wear on the drive by not subjecting it to both games and movies.

Now oddly enough I was purusing the electronics section at Sainsbury's just this weekend and I vaguely recall a Sony Blu-ray player for £125, unfortunately I can't check this because the stupid [beeps] don't list these on their website. Of course the main problem is that until I get an HD TV I need it to have a SCART connection and most don't. I can't blame them as the whole point is to play high-definition, but it looks like for the time being I'll be using my PS3

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Killzone2 First impressions

As I've mentioned before my cousin, The Artist, shucked in his Xbox to join the PS3 camp; he had his reasons for doing so however one he did mention was Killzone2 a PS3 exclusive. He'd really liked the Ps2 original (annoying as it won't play on his new model) and was looking forward to the sequel.

On Thursday the demo was dropped onto PSN a hefty download of 1.2Gb. I expected calls, I expected texts - nothing. I picked it up on Friday evening after a sweet Burnout Paradise update. The update came through speedily enough, but the Killzone2... woah 1% per 40 seconds so about an hour - I watched Robot Chicken Star Wars (21mins) then Being Human (45mins) and it was done. However I was tired, and eye-strained so retired for the night.

Saturday morning bright and early I fired it up. Alter the brightness so the symbol is just visible... what symbol [brightness to max] oh that symbol. Onward.

Hmm yeah I can see why some were complaining about the menus - move to a different item or select it and the whole screen does a little hop up and down; kind of neat moving from one item, very annoying trying to scroll from the first item to the last.

Okay check the default control configuration; hmm PS2 layout ignoring the 'new' PS3 second shoulder buttons equals prime actions, fair enough. Keep it on default Trooper difficulty and in we go.

Ah it's an in-game cinematic in which I can't move or do anything, hmm good job the subtitles are on can't understand a word they're saying. Crash and oo I've got control and suddenly discovered I'm armed. Instinct cuts in and I head for cover where my AI buddies are already hunkered down. Ping my first tutorial "Press R1 to fire" okay um at what? Oh at that enemy around the corner that I couldn't see and my team-mates have already perforated. Okay!

Onwards. Um why aren't my team-mates advancing behind me? Oh here they come now.

Onwards. "Press L2 for cover" hmm and hold it too, so L2 to press against something, oh and you automatically duck too that's nice, then move the right-stick to look over the top or around the cover then R1 to fire. Would be nice if I automatically moved to the edge to peer around rather then just looked at concrete. Now what?

"Get the RPG" What RPG? I hit one of the direction keys and an arrow briefly appears on the screen, oh you mean that shiny thing; okay. I remember from the first game that L3 sprints and yep it does the same here so I sprint over the RPG and grab some cover. I'm sitting next to the RPG but have yet to pick it up? Ah "Press [] to pick up the RPG" will do. Now sitting in cover I use the right stick to poke my head over the top, the cursor turns red and I fire. I'm dead because I've just shot the wall I was taking cover against.

Auto reload and just before the collection; I try again trying to stay out of the firing line in cover; cursor goes red and I'm dead again. Hmm I can see why they wanted me to pick this up. One more try this time I ignore cover and stand like a target well away from cover, boom still alive and one busted bridge.

I head around and start to get shot at, I switch to my rifle... where's my rifle gone, where'd this pip-squeak pistol come from. Oh silly me I can't carry more then two weapons and one of them you can't drop. The rifle is back where I picked up the RPG, that sucks sorry but I think I can carry both a rifle, RPG, and pistol without too much hassle.

Onwards. "Press [] to jump" um why? Into cover and a couple of APCs turn up...heh I'm still got the RPG I pop a couple off at them as they unload a wave of enemies and... nothing happens. Excuse me if this is powerful enough to drop a bridge I think it should at least put a dent in both the vehicles and enemies. I scoot back for my rifle oh that works against the soldiers.

Okay they're all dead, but we can't open the door a couple of grunts have been volunteered to go around and open the door; oh I'm one of the grunts. I head towards my partner who's standing next to a wall like a shopfront dummy. Ookay and I'm here, now what? I call up the arrow and find I'm not standing directly on the task spot, I take one step forward and the dummy comes to life and gives a boost up to the wall, I reach back and pull him up.

Up a lift and blink what was that oh an area load, not bad speed-wise, first I'd seen. Onto a catwalk "Press and hold R2 to cook a grenade" well as there are two enemies down there having a chat don't mind if I do. Heh they're dead. Head along the catwalk and reach some stairs into the area the enemies were standing, dummy stands at the bottom. Hmm tell you what you advance and I'll stay up here and use the vantage point.

Nope dummy ain't moving. I clatter down the stairs and he charges off across the room then shouts about an ambush - thicko. I leg it back up the stairs and it's a turkey shoot. I can see how it would be different if I were down there amongst the packing cases, but up here it's a piece of cake.

Enemies down I join the dummy who's doing his thing at a door, I join him and he springs to life and rushes to a control panel. Oo my precog sense is tingling, bet you're going to have to work on that door and I'm going to have to cover you, bet that a bunch of enemies will appear from nowhere too. Damn I'm good "Cover me while I get this door open" oo look a bunch of enemies coming from the same place we'd just come from (obviously past the rest of the troop bunch of lazy good for nothings) bang, bang, grenade, shoot explosive cannisters, and they're all dead. Dummy's still working on the control; hmm odd that not one single enemy tried to lob a grenade at me or try to flank me on the stairs despite the dead-end we'd painted ourselves into. Door open and through. Demo ends.

Okay the graphics are most pleasant, the enemy AI is sporadic at times they'lll chuck a grenade at you, try to go around, or take cover. Sometimes they're as dumb as a post. Your AI compatriots are about the same. You can rely on them to kill the enemy, they can be revived by you if they take too much damage, but they can get in the way; rush to cover and one of them will beat you to it and prevent you from 'sticking'.

The sore point is the scripted events; seriously obvious as I hope you've realised from the Dummy. Until you reach a certain point nothing will happen, running along this isn't too obvious, but in the ambush situation above this is hammered home. Next problem is story co-op - there ain't any. So tie that to the scripting and you get what I described above with a situation I wouldn't walk into without a good smack of the stupid stick, but have to to advance the script.

With apparently only six hours of story play, this is has to be viewed as a multiplayer online game first and foremost and as the demo didnt' allow online play... little difficult to judge.

Oh and as for The Artist he hadn't realised it was out - tcch!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Pikmin on the Wii

Caught the advert with the requisite "Not actual gameplay" warning, but it wasn't that which made me frown. It was the description of the game - you as Captain Olimar must repair your crashed spaceship, fortunately there's the helpful Pikmin who will work for you, fight for you, and basically do all the dirty work. Hmm any patches for it that dresses Olimar in a button wig and makes all the Pikmin a much darker shade? If they kept the same mechanic and made the spaceship a cotton plantation do ya think it would have got made? Lordie, lordie I think not.

Heh from Wikipedia "To help Olimar are indigenous creatures called Pikmin, which are nearly extinct and unable to survive in the environment without his leadership when he arrives."Cometh the white man to save you all.

Roadworks in Kidderminster

Hit some minor roadworks on Saturday coming in the main roads through the islands - up the hill from the bus station I was heading to Crossley Retail Park which is straight, straight, straight with a shift to the rightmost lane. As it's a dual-road system it makes sense just to stay in the right, especially as the number of vehicles turning right is heavily outweighed by those turning left at some point. So reached the crest of the hill and saw the heavy traffic in the left - very heavy traffic. Looked up to the other side of the valley and saw a happy yellow sign telling me that the right-hand lane was closed, thanks for that. I had to do a full circle, which I don't like doing, and try to join the queue stuck over the island. Headed through to the next island where we all discover the straight-on has the left-hand lane closed.

Seems they were digging up the pavement on the second island so had to shut the left-hand lane and in order to stop traffic getting bunched up had closed the right hand lane further up (so that people could still turn left correctly). It all makes sense, but it would have been nice if there had been a single soul working on it. Nothing, not even any machinery left as they headed off for elevenses - nowt.

As a side note - a lot of smoke over Birchen Coppice when I passed it on the way in.

Still cold

Snow fall yesterday started about 4pm and was finished by 6pm, came down quite heavily and covered the drive. It didn't stick to the main roads, which is either a good thing, no snow, or a a bad thing, more ice.

It was a little slippery on the side-roads, but seemed fine on the main ones; the mist didn't help though nor did those who thought a visibility of more than 200 yards meant fog lights are necessary. Travelling slightly slower and more carefully also highlights those who don't use their indicators - I can't anticipate what you're going to do if you don't bloody tell me.

Oh and of course a big lorry decided to park half up the path in High Street, which other than being against the parking/loading restrictions there also became illegal as soon as the driver left the vehicle unattended (Rule 246).

As I haven't mentioned potholes in a while I'll mention once again the Stour Bridge; it might have been the recent changes in weather but the tearing is much more pronounced and becoming full-blown rips. One I haven't mentioned, because it's become such a part of the landscape, is the falling away next to the drain on the Stourport Road/Sutton Park Road traffic lights coming from Kidderminster; it's not a wide road and isn't helped by your left wheel disappearing down a hole; as for cyclists using it... not good.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Michael Phelps

Sadly my drawing skills aren't exceptional (or they are just in the wrong direction) so just imagine a three person talking head line -

1: Heard about Michael Phelps?
2: Bloody disgusting! A man in his position...
3: ...should be able to afford much better drugs [snort].

What a fuss over nothing.

That was a bit close

Hello to the young drivers of the shiny silver car on Hermitage Way, you might know me as the guy blistering paint with swearing as I approached the bend on Layamon Walk to find you coming round it at me on the wrong side of the road. Obviously your high-performance car was unable to slow down it is thus fortunate my smaller and slower vehicle was able to squeeze to my left and allow you to carry on without having to shave a couple of seconds off your trip by performing this manoeuvre yourselves. I would like to do this personally but I didn't manage to see your licence plate due to the excessive speed you were travelling at.

In the same vein I'd like to extend applause to the drivers of the vehicles in High Street who not only managed to park illegally next to the TSB, not only managed to block off half of the entrance to Parkes Passage, but did so while parking opposite two large delivery vans close to the Swan. Bravo I say, bravo. Honestly it's the bank's fault for putting a cashpoint right there without parking bays; seriously it's as if they expect people to use the bays on the other side of the road and then walk like this was the bloody Stone Age or something.

Take a photo of a police officer - that'll be 10 years in prision

Via Devil's Kitchen we get the story that section 76 of the Terrorism Act could be used to prevent anyone taking photographs of police officers. The exact wording is as follows:

(1) A person commits an offence who—

(a) elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been—

(i) a member of Her Majesty’s forces,

(ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or

(iii) a constable,

which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or

(b) publishes or communicates any such information.
So not vague in anyway "likely to be useful" for [beeps] sake.

Fortunately "It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action." Hmm is "I was just taking some pictures" a 'reasonable excuse'; why the hell do I need an excuse in the first place to take pictures in a public place of anyone? All this is made even more amusing by this article regarding police guidelines on photography.

So would this be deemed illegal? Well the ones I didn't publish that featured the officers faces might well be.

Verisign's Free £10 Amazon voucher

In the office post from yesterday one of the regular missives from Verisign "See the latest trends in SSL security" just do the enclosed survey or go online to do it, even better "We'll send you the survey results and a £10® gift card1 for your time."

Oo at least it's hmm might be worth doing oh wait did you spot that supertexted 1? Where does it go to - "1 £10 gift card will be sent via email to the first 200 responders who complete the survey in full. Offer expires 31st March 2009"

So you might be sending me a voucher for my time. Yeah that's a little different from the flat statement at the top of the page isn't it? To paraphrase Orphi 'You can state what you like with authority and then happily contradict yourself with a subtext link'

[Additional - They've fouled up, turned over the page to see the summary and once again saw a "Get a £10® gift card.2 with qualifying subtext; however in the survey itself they've asterisked the Email and Phone with the following (with my notations) -

"*Both fields must be completed, and you must answer every survey question to be eligible to receive an [®] gift card and the survey results. Responders' [well done] answers will remain anonymous. Aggregate survey results will be shared among responders. You may be contacted by a VeriSign representative. Offer expires 31st March 2009. Send in your answers today and see the survey results for yourself. We'll also send you a £10 [®] gift card. Survey complete [What?]. Thank you for your participation."

Likewise below that in main print "Send in your answers today to get your £10 gift card and see the survey results for yourself." No qualifier for either; oops.]

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Taking a Snow day

Or to be precise taking an ice/slush day. The main roads haven't been treated, at least the main roads I need to traverse, and as such the snow has compacted down to slippery slush. I took a walk down to the main roads and it's fortunate I did a young women was wheel spinning in an attempt to get up Areley Common so I gave her a push. If it 's difficult to get up that mild gradient, and if the roads aren't cleared through town I'd hate to try and get up Bridge Street or heaven forfend down Gilgal that would be like a luge run. Apparently it's similar in Kidderminster too at least it was this morning.

Oh and there's a least one car given up and pulled over on the Dunley road on the first big bend up to The Rough. I also think it unlikely we'll be seeing refuse pick-up today.

Ah well at least that's a benefit of a good boss "It's like an ice-rink out there" I called "Stay at home, play games" came the reply. Will do.

[Update - Definitely glad I didn't go out now]

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Snow problem

Because bad news is good news as far as the media is concerned it appears they've been delving deep for snow related injuries - as such we've had reports of two brothers who died and the death of one girl and injury of three others. All this the media attributes to "the conditions". Well the two brothers were climbing Snowdon, and the four girls were sledging and went through a barbed wire fence; now it may be me but I can't seem to blame this on snow.

On doom and gloom the City complain that this snow halt has cost the country £3.8bn whine, moan, whine; as the only people who really see the country in this way what they really mean is that this snow halt has cost them £3.8bn. Hmm how much have we bailed out the City and the banks? When we reach those levels then they can start complaining otherwise they can shut the [beep] up.

On a similar cold note I see a new advert - three footballers stand shivering, a women at a bus stop shivers, as does a women waiting for her car to be repaired. You know what they need don't you? The new whatever it is from McDonalds, cut to two people sitting in the warm enjoying one. How the hell does that help any of the people you showed previously? Can the footballers run around scarfing one down, can the women wait at the bus-stop and pop-in to her local McD's at the same time, the only one who could move was the women at the garage. Pathetic!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Snow one to blame

I feel sorry for the chap on GMTV this morning, called in to sit on the sofa and explain whose fault it is that the country has shut-down and he manages to get about three sentences out before they run out of time. He tried to shift it onto the fact that this is more snow then we've seen in two decades, but let's be blunt about this - everytime it snows the country shuts-down end of story.

Now it's all very well clearing the main roads, but you have to be able to get to them for that to be of any use. You could use public transport... hah hah hah, or you could cycle though I haven't seen many on bikes over the last two days presumably because the cleared roads pushes everything up to the kerb.

Interestingly the town itself is clear and looks like it's just left over snow with both roads and pavements clear. That is clear of snow, clear of ice is a whole other matter. That's the trouble when the temperature rises - snow starts to melt, but doesn't drain away then you hit night-time and it freezes making things even worse. If it wasn't for the fact that I see so much surface water sitting on our roads I would suggest big hot air lorries trundling along melting the snow away, but as it is we'd turn our roads into ice-rinks doing that.

Another problem is other drivers (of course that's other drivers and not myself) on the road. Despite the conditions I was still seeing bonnet to boot driving and people merrily driving along at the maximum speed possible; what is wrong with you people? Sure crawling along a cleared main road at 5mph is an extreme, but doing 20-25mph I had cars trying to crawl up my exhaust pipe; on the 50 I was doing 40mph and keeping a healthy gap between myself and the three bunched vehicles in front and still had cars catching me up and sitting behind me.

For god's sake people the speed limit is the maximum speed that is safe when it's a nice pleasant day with a dry road and perfect visibility - that ain't now so don't think that's what you can or should be doing.

Anyway the sun is out so I'll see what melts ready to freeze this evening.

[Additional - Best quote ever via the BBC "parents are being advised to keep their children at home to avoid weather conditions "likely to severely hamper safe travel for pupils and teachers"." Yeah but if you're just working feel free to travel. Sheesh out of curiosity how many part-time/shift workers won't be able to work today because they have to stay at home and look after the kids? How many full-time workers will decide to stay off work to play with their at-home children? How come everyone else is supposed to struggle into work to keep this country running, but teachers get a pass?]

Monday, February 02, 2009

What a load of bollards.

It seems Cllr. Gittins has found the bollards that had been placed on Betty Dawes Hill at The Rough and moreover has had an explanation as to why a staggered barrier wasn't put up.

In his own words he was told "[cyclists] might run into it as they rode down the footpath" which is a fair consideration until, as he then points out, you realise that no-one is supposed to be cycling down the hill anyway. So to summarise - barriers needed to be put up to protect motorists from cyclists who shouldn't be there, but the barriers that would do that can't be erected as they might cause accidents for the cyclists who shouldn't be there. Oh makes perfect sense to me.

Now as I've said I'm all for dealing with 'what is happening' over 'what should be happening', but in this case you could kill two birds with one stone by putting proper barriers at both ends of the hill path - this would stop cyclists from running into motorists by keeping them off the path they shouldn't be on in the first place.

If they decide to push their bikes through the barrier then chose to ride them down the hill and crash then I declare that their own bloody fault in the same way someone ignoring a "Danger of electrocution" sign gets killed or injured.

As for the existing barriers -

Hill bollards

"as much use as a chocolate fireguard." and still why they extend off to the left beats me.

[Additional - To take the other viewpoint the actual road surface at this point was in serious neglect and a danger to cyclists who didn't use the middle of the road; not good on a long blind corner. Not helped by motorists overtaking cyclists at this point. However the roads have all been done up so the major problem no longer exists.]

I'm Blu-ray Batman

I've always enjoyed the Tim Burton Batman movie, and it even merited repeat viewings at the cinema which is the only time that's happened. As such when it came out of VHS I bought it straight away and when it and I made the transition to DVD I picked it up again. At that point the mistake became clear because for reasons that still confound me they'd stuck the 4:3 full-screen version on the DVD.

Then a deluxe version came out, I was still sans a reliable internet connection at the time, but even then not one of the online stores would inform if it was 4:3 or 16:9; and amazingly I couldn't find a single bricks 'n' mortar store selling it.

So now it's appearing on Blu-ray and at last at least one online place, Play, is letting me know that it's 1.85:1; (Amazon not bothering) huzzah! So should I buy it?

Well no. See it's £13, in fact all four are £13 each making a grand total of £52; not huge money but when you consider that all four are being released in one big "Batman Legacy" pack in the middle of March for £35 brakes need to be applied. Add in the fact I've yet to pick up an HD TV and it's a little pointless.

Now don't get me wrong I'm happy to pay full price for something if I think it'll encourage the producers/distributors to produce more of it (The Doctor Who E-Space trilogy for example, a distribution that's been bouncing around with little rhyme or reason), but I think paying £17 more for the privilege of getting them a bit earlier is a bit much.

That said at least the collection has been announced, nothing worse than buying a bunch of separates only to find a cheaper pack gets released just after the last individual one often with special extras not on the originals; the bar-stewards.


Ah yes the pictures from London showing the heaps of snow, the non-cleared roads and the buses being taking out of service. Let's turn to Claire on GMTV and find out why this is happening - oo wait I know this um is it - 'Because it's Winter'?

Yes once again snow has fallen on this country and everything has seized up; admittedly it's the worst we've had in two decades apparently, but still we can't say it's unexpected as the forecasters have been predicting it since last week.

Kudos to Wyre Forest though as the main roads through Stourport were all cleared, driving down the Worcester Road I left Wyre Forest and entered Wychavon and that section was uncleared.

Snow was trying to fall as I drove, but has stopped now. It's expected later, but as I've mentioned before it's always been a bit odd around here due to the shielding hill ranges.

[Update - Okay it's falling much more rapidly now, by no means blizzard conditions although the wind is pushing it to one side; in the lee it's just big fat flakes gently falling to the ground. It has yet to even fill in the tracks from this morning]

One last amusement from GMTV a reporter in Walsall trying to make out that the teeny amount of snow was something to be worried about had to report on things in Yorkshire and Manchester 'But here in the North we've been used to snow over the last year' only a Londoner could be in Walsall and with a straight-face describe it as 'the North'.