Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Discussing my long hair

"You should cut it, it'll grow back thicker"
"Really, why?"
... "Because it does"
"But your hair grows because the follicle creates more hair and pushes it along. At that point the hair is dead, so how does the follicle know to create more hair? By what mechanism does this information get passed along?"
"Well everyone knows that if you cut your hair it comes back thicker"

Sigh you know at some point in our species timeline we'll stop passing on 'truths' that we have no rational basis for; knowing how the universe likes to play that point will shortly be followed by some apocalyptic event that wipes us out.

Okay longer hair is thinner at the ends than shorter hair because it wears down after time. So someone with long hair has been growing it for longer than someone with shorter hair, therefore one has thicker hair than the other because their hair is younger than the other's. If Mr. Short Hair keeps his cropped than his hair will always seem thicker than Mr. Long Hair's because it will always be younger at the tips.

The amount of hair you have is determined by the number of follicles and that isn't altered by the number of times you have your hair cut.

Gotta love the Post Office

"Unfortunately we can't deliver your item because there's a fee to pay" in this instance "There's a Customs charge". First off it's not our item as we don't have it, until delivery (which you can't do) it's the property of the sender; if this weren't the case I could get anyone arrested by posting them illegal drugs and charging them with possession.

So what's this item - not telling you; who's it from - not telling you; where's it from - not telling you... give us £18 and you'll find out. And there I was thinking the Post Office was a private business fighting to give what the customer wants :-P

Digital Camera Guide Part 1

Following the rousing success that was my guide to HD televisions I now turn to the world of digital cameras. This was prompted by the frustrations of DaBoss who is looking to replace his ultra-slim cool camera for something that will take decent photos. Not wanting to say told you so, but I told him so. The first time he showed me the camera I told him he was going to have problems with it in the normal situations he found himself, but it was soooo cool. To be fair none of the family were operating it quite right, but even so problems existed. To prevent anyone suffering the same type of misbuy herein lies the guide.

Digital Cameras

I don't think it's an exaggeration to state that digital cameras have changed the entire nature of amateur photography. No longer having to mess with film and deal with developers who print and charge you for the entire reel including that photo you took of your thumb; amateur photographers can take pictures of what they want, where they want, and when they want without care or worry. Instantly able to preview shots and delete and retake in an instant means you have a greater chance of getting the shot you want. Add in the internet to share your photos, home photo printers to print them yourself, and the rise in computing power and photographic software to tweak the images just so the amateur has never been closer to the professional in the images they can take.

But still a gap remains and to an extent it's down to both the specialist jargon of that world and the new jargon that has been built around digital cameras in particular.

DSLR, Compact, Sub-compact.

Even before you start looking for a camera you have to make a decision of what type you want. At first glance this is simply a case of size - the Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras are the bulky ones you see professionals carrying, the compacts something a little more handy, and the ultra-compacts something you can slip into a shirt pocket. However each also has their own strengths and weaknesses. I'll go into details under each section but a quick summation is as follows:

DSLRs are big bulky and tend to be aimed at the professional and thus generally do little to hide the complexity of their use; they normally have a separate body and lens which allows greater versatility in your shots but that can bump up the price.

Compacts are the general workhorse, not as big as a DSLR but something that would still be noticeable if stuffed into a pocket. With a fixed lens you lose the versatility of the DSLR, but aimed at the general public the interface is normally toned down. Normally the cheapest of the lot.

Ultra-compacts. Great for sticking in your pocket for an outing. Like the compact the fixed lens lacks versatility and cramming the electronics in a smaller case can bump up the price.

Time to get into specifics.


This is pretty much the first thing that's thrust into your face if you're looking at cameras and like so much in marketing it is both misleading and almost useless without extra information generally not provided at the same time.

The megapixel count is simply the number of pixels, in millions, that exist on the sensor. Each pixel is normally made up of three subpixels (some cameras use layered subpixels) that each sense one of the three primary colours - red, green, and blue. The more pixels the greater the detail you can retain when you print out large images or crop and zoom in on a particular section.

So as a marketing tool it's great - the higher the number the more detailed your image, end of story; not quite. Because the factor that isn't mentioned is the sensor size.

Image Sensor

In a digital camera the film is replaced by an image sensor made up of pixels. For the old film the generally used standard was 35mm which had a ratio of 3:2; in a feat of abject stupidity image sensors use a ratio of 4:3. Some DSLRs use the old 3:2, but everything else 4:3.

This should be a bonus for digital cameras as they gain more height for the same width as the old film cameras. This would indeed be great if any photo developer or photo printer manfacturer produced 4:3 ratio prints; this means your photo will either be cropped top and bottom or be bordered by an unprinted area.

This alteration also proves a problem with the traditional method of measuring the sensor size. Keeping it simple back in ye old days of photography the image formed on a glass tube which was specified by its diameter. It was soon found that only a portion of the tube was suitable for forming a good image - approximately two-thirds of the diameter. Everyone knew what size tube produced what size image so the measuring system stuck. Now we hit the 21st Century and we're still stuck with it.

So digging up the specifications for a camera (and you will need to dig at least a little) may well tell you that the image sensor size is 1/1.6" in modern terms about 15.875mm; this represents the diameter. Except of course it doesn't, it represents the diameter of the old tube on which a smaller image is formed. Dig deeper and you will find the actual sensor size; in this instance 7.78mm by 5.83mm with a diagonal of about 9.7mm.

So why bother, what's so important about this? Well the size of the image sensor is, in reality, the key to the camera, but it's complicated and not so easy a point to sell and thus gets pushed aside.

Pixel Density

This is somewhere you need to combine the proudly stated Megapixel count with your dug up information on the sensor size. I'll compare two unnamed cameras a 7.1 MP and a 12 MP, as per above the 12 MP is obviously the better of the two; but let's add in sensor sizes.

7.1MP 7.18 x 5.32mm
12MP 7.78 x 5.83mm

Divide the pixel count by the area of the sensor and we get back two figures

7.1MP - 185, 876 pixels per mm2
12MP - 264, 565 pixels per mm2

In order to increase its megapixel count the 12MP camera has had to cram more pixels into the same space. So what? Well that leads to the next bit.

ISO sensitivity

Again back in the old days you had a choice of what type of film you loaded depending on what you were shooting. If you were shooting in bright light you needed a film that was less sensitive to light so you wouldn't get patches of burn where the light levels overloaded the film. In dim light you need a film that was sensitive to light so you could maintain a high shutter speed and eliminate blurring while still capturing enough of the light to create an image.

These different types of film were differentiated by an ISO number. The less sensitive the film the lower the number, say ISO 50; the more sensitive the higher the number, again say ISO 200. The film itself was made more or less sensitive by adjusting it's chemical properties, to keep things simple think of them as grains in the film. Less sensitive ISO 50 had smaller grains then high sensitive ISO 200; this in turn meant that ISO 50 film captured smaller details then ISO 200 film and was thus less grainy.

All well and good but how does this apply to digital cameras, you can't change the size of the pixels. No you can't what you can change is their threshold value, that is the amount of light that has to hit them in order to be triggered.

This is where the pixel density comes into play. Electronics at this small level can be highly susceptible to interference (also known as noise). Now if we imagine a single pixel on its own with light coming at it, it'll trigger if the light level is above its threshold; for bright images we increase the threshold value; for dim light we lower it.

So if we have an arbitrary value of 50% light hitting a sensor and the threshold is set at 51% it won't trigger and that pixel stays dark. So far so good in isolation; but put another pixel next to it and feed it 52% light, it'll trigger and create a small electronic current, this in turn could induce current in the pixels surrounding it and push our original pixel's value above 50% and cause it to trigger.

Essentially the smaller the pixels and the closer they are the more likely you are to experience this 'noise'. Cameras do try to eliminate it sometimes by clumping pixels together and pretending to be larger 'grains', but as with film that results in a loss of detail.

It's important to note that in nice bright condition you're unlikely to ever see any problems at all, but if you're inside or at a party your pictures may well start getting blurry and/or noisy. This is where the ultra-compacts can fall down, sure they may be easy to slip into a pocket for a party, but unless you use a bright flash everything's going to be dim and noisy.

Sensor size also plays another part with yet another old measurement that played by the lens.

Camera lens

If you look at the lens of a camera you can be forgiven for being confused, you will often be presented with a bald summation of 5x f=6.4-32mm 1:3.3-5.1. The first bit is easy it's the optical zoom, more on that later, the second part I'll deal with here.

the part that begins "f=" represents the actual physical distance from the lens to the sensor; except sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it represents a theoretical distance - if the sensor was in fact a 35mm piece of film, what distance would the lens be to represent the same field of view.

Yeah complicated so diagram time.

The lens is represented by the blue oval and the 35mm film by the green rectangle (36mm in width). At the distance of the white object with a simple straight through lens the full length will be captured on the 35mm film as represented by the red lines. With a smaller sensor (orange) it needs to be positioned closer to the lens in order to capture the same image. So in this instance the film is set 28mm away from the lens and the smaller sensor at 6.4mm, as they'd capture the same image for this camera the f=6.4 is the equivalent to a 35mm f=28.

Of course it's never that simple. For the camera specifications I'm using the sensor width is 7.78mm, as per the diagram above to be a 28mm equivalent at 6.4mm the sensor requires a width of 8.23mm or needs to be at a distance of 6.05mm. It might not sound much, but at this scale that's a huge difference ~5% out.

To reconcile this requires a choice - either the manufacturer is lying when they claim that 6.4mm is the same as 28mm or it really does capture the same width. Assuming they're not lying the only way to get the same image is by using a shaped lens, one that bends the light inwards like so.

Using a wireframe to show the difference, the rectangle on the left represents the 7.78mm lens at a distance of 6.4mm from the lens on the right. The lines that continue past the sensor represent the path of light for a straight-through lens, the lines connected to the sensor represent how much the light has to be bent in order to deliver the 'same' image as a 35mm/28mm combination.

Again it doesn't look much, but again at these scales it's significant and means that, as the lens is circular, the only item that appears at it's true height and width is anything in the centre. As you get closer to the edge most noticeably on each side things will get slightly squished.

Of course all of this is pointless if your photos are so dim you can't make anything out and that leads me to the final and shortest section of this part of my guide.

Lens Size

This is where DSLRs rule as they're both bigger and have interchangable lenses. In this case the maxim is simple - the bigger the better. A bigger lens means more light getting to the sensor, means a faster shutter speed and less blur, and a lower ISO and more detail and less noise.

As I mentioned before this is where the ultra-compacts can start to fall down; to make them that small the lens has to be smaller too. So to get an image where you're most likely to take an ultra-compact (a party) you need to use the flash a lot, which bleaches the scene and drains the batteries; use a low shutter speed and introduce blur; use a high ISO 'threshold' and introduce noise and grain; or a combination of all three.


If you're taking quick shots outdoors and don't mind the lousier qualities of indoor shots then an ultra-compact is a good bet

If you've got the money, the patience to learn what all the buttons mean, and the strength to lug it about you're looking at a DSLR.

For something the equivalent of your old bog-standard film camera a simple compact will do fine.

In all instances though don't get blinded by the big numbers go through the steps I've outlined here and if at all possible try the camera before you buy it.

In the next part I'll detail using the digital camera, the various settings and how to get the most out of it.

Henry VIII - Exploding the myth

As part of a report on the exhibition on Henry VIII the BBC reporter declaimed "Overweight womaniser or Action Hero?" later he stated that from a 21st Century perception Henry had an "image problem" and that they'd be exploding the myth about him.

What myth? Where have the BBC been for the last couple of decades? What is this either/or choice between overweight or not? Why this pathetic attempt to create controversy? I mean don't we all know by now that the young Henry was a fit young man who in later years grew overweight; hell the BBC itself screened two seasons of a sexed-up young Henry only recently.

I'm surprised they didn't try to drag out a couple of historians to duel it out as to the 'true' Henry; actually I'm willing to bet they tried but even with the dingbats out there couldn't find any that disagreed.

Stay tuned in 50 years time, with another anniversary, the BBC will still be talking about the 'myth' of Henry.

Monday, March 30, 2009

BT 1571

A panic from my mother. She'd been wondering why for some missed calls the callers hadn't left a message using the free BT 1571 service; finally rather than rely on the line tone telling her about messages she rang 1571 directly and was told that the service wasn't on her phone. Cue panic - was it something she'd done, was it this, was it that?

Three times I had to tell her that the service was at the BT end and had nothing to do with anything she might have done; I've just got the service reinstated (24 hours). They have no idea why it got turned off, but I'm guessing it might have something to do with all the BT Openreach vans that had been congregating around the main junction box.

So just as an advisory - if you use 1571 and haven't been getting any messages, it might be worth checking it still works.

A pleasant evening

Skittling on Saturday with the family and others. The Artist and family attended but sadly (?) Bratii Familie didn't. Never mind, I'm baby-sitting next Saturday for them anyway - oh joy.

Anyway I was much taken by the behaviour of Devil Child who when I arrived turned around and happily shouted out my name before showing me, and babbling on about, her current interest. She was also happy to sit by the side of the lane out of everyone's way and would squeal as the bowl came down and showed no inclination to run around and annoy anyone. Once the skittles had finished and the older kids had a go, DC took a turn.

By an astute feat of observation she was happy not only to put the skittles up, but ensured they were positioned over the marks made for that purpose all without prompting and shooing away any attempt to aid. Her bowling skills were as good as you'd expect a 3-year old's to be, but moved halfway down the lane she was able to knock over several skittles with little help.

I took some photos as she bowled and later took some family shots and some singles. Every time I raised the camera the little cutie would naturally pose for the camera. I postulated a future career modelling, and was joined by calls that she could, in fact, start now.

All in contrast to the Bratii with the first words I expect to hear on greeting to be either "Can we play on the Playstation?" or no acknowledgement at all as they continue some form of argument between the pair of them that had started on the drive over.

Crossley Park Road Junction

Good old Nigel Knowles has prompted a story about the damn stupid junction at Crossley Park. This is obviously designed as a local junction for local people to overuse a phrase. To put it simply unless you know the layout already you can't negotiate it. Don't take my word for it relative newcomer Jim has mentioned that his wife requires a reminder as to which lane to be in whenever they drive down there. Even I have to engage my brain to work out which lane I should be in dependant on where I'm heading.

Here's the junction in question. Let me guide you through it.

Heading clockwise from St Mary's Ringway (NE down to SW) If you want to visit Weaver's Wharf you stay in lane 1, until you reach the bottom when you split off left before the lights and wait at a Give Way. If you want to go to Bewdley or that area, you want lane 1 which goes straight on, same for Matalan except past the lights you split off to the left. If you want Franche you take lane 2 which also goes straight on but places you in the right hand only lane at the next island. If you want Crossley Retail park you want either lanes 3 or 4, which both turn right; except lane 3 is for the park itself because lane 4 puts you in the right-hand only lane at the island past the lights so as to turn into the supermarket.

Coming out of Weavers Wharf if you want to go to Bewdley, Franche or Matalan, you require lane 1 which splits into two lanes labelled straight and left except the second lane then tells you to get back into the first lane despite leading to two lanes past the lights. To get to Crossley Retail Park you require lane 2; to head back into town you require the right-hand turn lane 3; unless you're turning left at the next island in which case you want to stay in lane 2 and turn right from that one.

Coming from Bewdley, if you want to get to Crossley Retail Park you stay in lane 1 and split off left before the lights to a Give Way. If you want to go up to town you stay in lanes 1 or 2 depending on which way you're turning at the next island and go straight with a slight left bend. To get to Weavers Wharf you stay in lane 2 and split off into lane 3 and go straight across at the right-only labelled lane.

From Crossley Retail Park to get to town you split off from the main lanes into lane 1 which is left-hand turn only. To head to Weavers Wharf you use lane 2 and go straight ahead. To get to Bewdley or Matalan, you also use lane 2, but turn right; unless you want to get to Franche in which case you use lane 3 and also turn right.

See how can that in any way be called complicated?

Road fun in Kidderminster

They've removed the road surface around one of the islands and cones seem to have been let loose to breed prolifically. A three-way traffic light at the top of Coventry street certainly isn't helping due to both the bus services heading through to the bus stop (no place to turn around so no other option) and the traffic wanting to use the Bromsgrove Street car-park (no other entrance, despite there being two exits).

The Crossley Retail Park down the bottom wasn't fairing any better due to work continuing on Weavers Wharf opposite that blocked the middle lane, thus in turn blocking the left hand lane due to the bridge only being two lanes wide rather than three. This led to a queue stretching back from the island all the way back to the Range.

And on a personal note I still find both the Crossley car-park and the Sainsbury's car-park layouts to be moronic. Trawling around the Sainsbury's one looking for a space I ended up back at the exit/entrance island releasing that I couldn't 'officially' get back in unless I headed down to the main island and did a 360. As there was no traffic coming up, due to the island being blocked, I cut across two lanes to head back in. Coming out I had to use the island as I wanted to head further in and the alternative exit from the supermarket only allows you to turn left towards the same island, when I want to turn right.

Heading through the other car-park myself and other cars played dodge the traffic as all the queues were blocking up the main throughfares of the car-park. Fair enough it was unusual, but it does highlight poor design.

Chewing Gum

The same story as last year, or was it the year before - biodegradable chewing gum. To be honest I didn't pay much attention to the story due to mentally stopping at the introduction.

"Chewing Gum costs 3p, but the council spends 10p to clean it up. wouldn't it be nice if it just washed away?"

No what would be nice is if a) people weren't inconsiderate enough to drop it on the pavement, and b) the existing litter laws were enforced.

Biodegradable chewing gum is simply throwing up your hands in defeat and proclaiming that you can't enforce the law.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Newswipe by Charlie Brooker

Last night I managed to get to see the first of a new series by Charlie Brooker of Screenwipe fame called Newswipe (BBC4 Wed 10pm), instead of dealing with the trivia of everyday television in this he deals with the trivia of everyday news.

The opening title sequence is quite serious and newsworthy and I wondered if this was going to be something boring, it wasn't. Brooker takes the news apart with the same non-glee as he does every other thing he sees and holds it up for us to inspect the dissected corpse.

First up was, of course, the economy which he quite rightly points out is something the news agencies are loving, especially to pad out any other news story - just tie it in to the Great Economic Doom that has befallen us and job's a good 'un.

Shown up expertly with clips from Dermot's Economic Cycle in which Dermot cycles (har-de-har) around Britain to show the hardships we're facing. Cue Dermot's attempts to prize out tales of woe with Brooker acting as the inner-voice of Dermot growing ever bored as everyone tells him that 'well things aren't too bad really'.

Next was the non-event that was the tiny protest against the parade of soldiers that got blown up into a media frenzy, and the big event that was the thousands of peaceful protesters in Ireland that barely got a mention as it wasn't as 'sexy' as a school shooting in Germany.

The most perfectly, if obvious, edit came at the end of a piece on that same school shooting. Having a forensic psychologist psychiatrist being interviewed by a news station stating matter of factly what we can do to prevent these terrible events, he starts off with blaming the media... (I'm paraphrasing what he said here) [additional thanks to the video (see end) I can make these quotes now]

"Don't start the story with sirens".
"Don't start the story with sirens blaring".
Cue clip of news story with racing ambulances sirens blaring.
"Don' t show pictures of the killer".
"Don' t have photographs of the killer".
Cue clip of news desk with wall sized photograph behind it.
"Don't make this 24/7 hour coverage".
Cue news story shot of empty podium at which we're told the German Chancellor will be speaking.
"Don't lead on the number of deaths".
"Do anything you can not to make the body count the lead story"
Cue news clip with voice over of "A massacre here today". "Carnage in the classroom".
"Not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero".
cue news desk "Dressed in black combat gear the gunman opened fire at random"

"Don't make it a 24-hour rolling story".
Cue news story shot of empty podium at which we're told someone at some point might stand to talk about the shooting.

When he finished speaking we cut back to the news studio in which the anchor clearly stunned stutters "B...But" before we leave them there.

Perfect and just what we needed.

[Additional - Much as I dislike linking to possible unlicensed copyrighted material you can now see the clip in question on Youtube link found via Tabloid Watch]

The Charlatan's Act Part Two

Being the second part of the Book of the Four Gods.

And so the universe was full of order;
And it did form structure.
Under the Beat,
With the Need,
Being Blue.

Structure grew and the stars did shine,
And the planets were formed.
Under the Beat,
With the Need,
Being Blue.

And from structure came life,
And it did multiply.
Under the Beat,
With the Need,
Rather Squishy.

And life was simple,
And held to the four tenets of the universe.

Then life did think,
and things got complicated.

Here endeth the first book of life.

Part Three of the Charlatan's Act is now available.

Kidderminster Shuttle email comments

At long last the Kidderminster Shuttle now offers the ability to email you when comment threads are updated. Yay! Shame that, as yet, I've nothing to add that would allow me to use this service.

Far Cry 2 follow-up review

Having explored the Northern map to a much larger extent certain points have arisen that require a follow-up to my original review of Far Cry 2.

First off is weapon choice, although the Flame Thrower is by far a seriously cool weapon it rapidly shows itself to be a poorer choice than others taking up your special weapon slot with a short range weapon that only causes damage when on target or to set fires only in the dry, grass covered areas. As you have a default stock of three Molotov cocktails that have a further range and accomplish much the same thing I find myself sticking to a Missile Launcher which had an obviously much longer range and the benefits of being able to take out vehicles; a target which crops up in some missions.

With enough currency I also quickly ditched the Assault Rifles and picked up a Sniper Rifle, less ammunition, but requires less to take down an enemy. For close-up frantic action I ditched the default 'pop-gun' for a sub-machine gun which happily sprays bullets with abandon.

As a result I've seen less requirement to purchase or upgrade any other weaponry. Likewise I haven't seen the need to upgrade my ability to repair vehicles being happy to drive for a distance then ditch it to go in on foot.

Talking about vehicles I need to mention two in particular - the glider and the boat. My reason for this is simply that, unlike the first jeep you get in to, you get no tutorial as to controls. In theory this shouldn't be a problem, surely all the vehicles use the same controls? Well no they don't, not quite.

The controls for the boat certainly match the jeep except in one regard - in the jeep pressing the X key will switch you from the driver's seat to the turret gun or vice versa; this isn't available on the boat despite it also possessing a fixed forward pintel. On the boat you have to press the Triangle key, that is get out of the driving seat, move forward to the gun then press Triangle again to use the gun; this is painful, decidedly so as you cannot distinguish between the press Triangle to drive prompt and press Triangle to shoot prompt. I've lost count of the number of times I've jumped from my seat to get to the gun, then promptly sat back down again whilst the enemy happily pumps me full of bullets.

Also as a result of this double key press, the Triangle key doesn't make you leave the boat, you have to do that under your own power. Simple if it wasn't for two things - firstly the drivers seat has a surrounding cover and secondly the boat will drift along. So you get out of the seat and have to move forward to clear the awning then jump over the side, which you fail to do as the boat has drifted in the middle of your jump and you're stuck under the awning. Again doing this under fire rapidly becomes annoying.

Next up is the glider. Perform a search for Far Cry 2 and glider and you'll see a rash of posts along the lines of "How do I control the glider"; the simply answer is you don't.

The only control available is the left analogue stick to tilt down or turn; oh and the tilt is reversed which is why so many crash instantly. What is worse is that a single injury sustained during a flight will cause you to let go of the glider and normally fall to your death. So why use the glider at all? Because certain collectable items can only be reached using the glider which, my oh my, happens to be close at hand. That's it - the sole purpose of the annoying glider is to reach collectables that with better level design shouldn't be there in the first place.

This leads me to the placement of said collectables. Now I like scouring around looking for them, and with the short-range tracking device it adds a nice touch to remember to use it at odd intervals to see if anything is around. Likewise once you've picked up a signal it's fun to discover that little path winding through the rocks that you might normally have missed. If that were the extent of it I'd be happy, but of course it's not. As already mentioned some collectables can only be reached by glider; but others have to be reached by one of two strange methods.

First method is the bunny hopping - the collectable is sitting on top of the roof of a train car, now despite the fact this car has ladders on all four corners you can't use them, oh no that'd be easy. Instead you have to use the stairs to climb the silo next to it, then you have to jump up onto the railing, ensuring you don't overjump and plummet to your death. Then you have to back up along the railing so you're facing the car then run and jump to land on the roof. Oh and don't twist in mid air or it's a swoosh thump ending. It's not just carriage roofs, it's shack roofs too. Hopping onto sandbags and trying to find the one point you can hop onto the roof, which amusing has occasionally been home to a sniper; so don't ask how he got up their unless - shock horror they used their hands like some sort of barbarian. Of course being civilised you don't use your hands at all except in pre-scripted occurrences.

Anyhoo the second method is the leap of faith. For one collectable it was high up on a rock face with no handy glider around. Scouting around I found a tilted angle of rock that would put me at a level higher than needed, except it meant jumping from said rock onto a knobby outcrop with smooth edges that practically screamed unclimbable. Turned out if you landed just right you wouldn't slide off the sides and could clamber down. Now seeing as there is no instant save in this game would you take the risk? I did simply out of frustration at finding no other method up there. A game shouldn't feature such out-of-place elements.

Final point and that's the respawning of enemies at check-points, I swear the game uses something similar to the old Soul Reaver method of level streaming in that once you've left an area it gets reloaded back up with everything back to default positions. Taking out snipers on a fort (at that collectable) I head back down the road and round an outcropping and head to my primary objective at which point I get shot by the snipers I'd just taken out. Really needs a better mechanism there.

Okay all said and done I'm still playing it; it's interesting to find the limitations and I can still see a variety of ways to accomplish the tasks I've been set so I still judge it as replayable.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Google Street View Take 2

After the BBC comes GMTV and I can't believe this is still rumbling on. Switched on to hear some guy complaining it was an invasion of privacy; seriously what is that - the catchphrase for the 21st Century?

So how is Street View and invasion of privacy? Because it takes a photo of your house and pops it on the internet with an exact location? Are Google doing anything that a random passer-by couldn't do? No they aren't. Let's be blunt about this - Google aren't doing anything illegal - heck they're even blanking out faces and car licence plates which they don't have to do. If you're in public you're fair game to have your picture taken; if your house fronts to a public area it's fair game to have its picture taken.

It's interesting to note that when you have a camera crew on a news story standing at the top of your street no-one complains that their house is in shot and thus an invasion of their privacy.

Okay yes the photos can be scrutinised closely more so than news footage and they are a higher resolution then stills in a newspaper, but still no-one can see anything that a normal passer-by couln't see.

Talking about this someone piped in with "But what's the point of it?" I pointed out that it gives a real-eye view of directions, but mostly that she was asking the wrong question - this is a case of "We can do this so let's and see what people can do with it" it's emergent technology. I'm betting people looking to move house are already using this to case the surrounding neighbourhood; I'm also betting that lots of people will be using this in ways that the authors would never have thought of.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Javascript fun - animation slowdown

Again with the charity page and the animation. Happy in Firefox, happy in IE6 and 7, but Opera runs it like a dog with no legs.

Perhaps it's the fact I have three setIntervals running; well I concatenate two together and then edit them out and nope it's definitely the animation.

To recap the animation simply takes a div via its id and moves it every 10 milliseconds to the left when it leaves the screen the name inside is changed and it's shoved to the end of the queue. This has the benefit of not having to create enough containers for each name, just requires enough to fill the screen plus one extra for overlapping.

So why is Opera running at 100% CPU for this animation and running it so slowly compared to the other browsers?

I try changing the setInterval timing with no effect; I cut the number of div containers on the screen with no effect; I take a look around the net and spot some talk in various places about positioning. Let's try that.

So I switch out the divs for spans set position to absolute rather than relative and whoosh Opera is moving them along quite nicely it's still a 50-80% CPU strain, but that's better than a constant 100%. It's also had the benefit of halving the usage for the other browsers too

I can only surmise that with every movement the browser has to recalculate the position of every element and that Opera is particular inefficient at doing so. I'm therefore guessing it was the position absolute that changed things as it took those containers out of the flow, however changing div to span, and setting good old inline-block also meant I could ditch some extra positional styling too; so yay!

Hmm odd it still seems to be running at 100% in Opera after I've posted it, but it's still running faster and not interfering so much with the other programs so I'll still give it a pass.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stour bridge

Wow big non-surprise the areas in orange have been filled to create a bump with what appears to be the 'bit of tar and a shovel' approach. The cover on the exit from Worcester Road has unsurprisingly been left though it does have both an orange and blue painted outline.

Just for information this is the cover set in a position that means every single vehicle will drive over it unless they purposefully avoid it by edging closer to the kerb; oh and no you can't edge the other way as this is the point the road is split two-one and they fouled up the measurements when they repainted it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Location is all important

Now we turn to Kate in Mauritius about how to enter our competition. Oo is it a holiday in Mauritius? Nope it's for £25k. So GMTV, why is she in Mauritius?

Sure back in the day an Outside Broadcast was a big deal, but nowadays? Yet we still get political reports with a back-drop of St. James Palace or Number 10; news stories with the business, school, hospital showing up in the background. Does it add to the story, yes you're working with a visual medium, but do you really need to send a reporter out to stand there for five minutes to do a piece to camera? Wouldn't they be better utilised checking and finding stories?

Best this morning was the £20m for encouraging skills training. For this slot they'd gone for Yoga, and far be it for me to discourage a report featuring attractive young women flexing about in tight clothing, but do you think doing this on the middle of the Millennium Bridge truly highlights what this story is about? Worse yet this wasn't GMTV, it was BBC Breakfast.

Minor updates

Finally got around to adding some more photos to Flickr, mostly because my father borrowed the camera for a Severn Valley Railway day and thus took some shots of the Oliver Cromwell.

The others are basically the snow we had.

I didn't have a chance to use my 'proper' computer so threw them on using the basic windows tools which happily renames them in numerical order if anyone had noticed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Google Street View

Google's Street View had an airing on Breakfast this morning with the old privacy concerns being cited. I had a quick tour around Birmingham and near the Bull Ring found an unblurred face. This was a profile of a driver so easy to miss; so I hit the "Report a Concern" link bottom left of the image and a new tab opened up with a mini-version of what I was viewing so as to pinpoint a concern.

Here's the best bit. "Why are you reporting this street view?" Select one of the options and get an option list of items to; I picked Privacy Concerns - A face - I am reporting an image of a face that has not been blurred.

Next field "Please describe the problem:" um didn't I just do that? Obviously not as this is a required field. Now sure if I'd picked Other then you're going to need some extra information, but for this what else do you need to know? My response - "As already described above. Why after already asking me this are you forcing me to fill in this field?"

Orange paint

Someone has been on Stour bridge and circled some of the worst areas in orange paint, presumably this means something will get done. This should be a yay moment, except as I could have guessed these markings only ring the areas that are actually subsiding and can be fixed by the old method of 'a bit of tar and the back of a shovel to tamp it down'. All the areas further up which are tearing, but haven't yet fallen, have been ignored.

So fill these areas that I pointed out were tearing back in August 08 and ignore those areas which are going to become exactly what you're repairing now. This isn't maintenance, this is patching.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obesity Oxford findings

As per my previous entry on GMTV a blip passed through about research that being overweight was as harmful as smoking. A quick look at the BBC and I decided to look at the sources. In this instance the Press Association which is where so many papers dredge their 'facts' that they regurgitate with padding.

So in pure terms what can we see - well the study dealt with individuals predominately from Western Europe and North America average age 46 average BMI 25.

Let's stop there for a second, the "ideal" (their quote marks too) BMI is between 22.5 and 25 so we're already dealing with the top end of the index. Secondly geographically we're looking at people who may well eat the same types of food. Okay continue.

Each additional five BMI units corresponded with a 40% increase in deaths from heart and artery disease and strokes, an increase of 60% to 120% from diabetes and liver or kidney disease, a 10% increase from cancer, and a 20% increase from lung disease.
Note the use of percentages rather than absolutes, I've commented on this several times, but to reiterate if the chances of something occurring are 1 in 10,000 and you do something that increases these odds to 2 in 10,000 that's a 100% increase. Saying that would you change your lifestyle to drop a 2 in 10,000 chance to 1 in 10,000?

Just on a quick Google I find the Odds on Dying this gives the chance of heart disease as 1 in 5 and stroke as 1 in 23. For both this is 140 in 575, from this report that increases to 196 in 575. For cancer it's 10 in 70 which increases to 11 in 70.

Anyway let's take these facts apart and connect them the way that the news media have.

BMI is a measure of ideal weight
If your BMI is above the ideal weight you are more likely to have health problems
Therefore being overweight gives you health problems.

Anyone nodding at that? Now let's connect it up a different way.

BMI is a measure of ideal weight
Eating certain foods can increase your BMI index
If you increase your BMI index you are more likely to have health problems
Therefore eating certain foods gives you health problems.

Same results different conclusion. In other words it may not be the 'fact' that you're overweight that causes health problems it may be that the food that you eat that coincidently makes you overweight causes health problems.

To quote XKCD "Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'." So am I saying weight isn't a factor? No I'm not, but by the same token I can make an educated stab that those who showed up as more likely to have health problems ate more fatty foods, or even performed less exercise none of which is linked by the media.

But what about the headline of the BBC story
Obesity danger 'rivals smoking'
With quotes no less, in the PA story we get
as dangerous as smoking
So hey let's do something radical and look at the Press Release (DOC format) from CTSU the ones who, you know, did the actual research. In bold right at the top
Moderate obesity takes years off life expectancy, though not as many as smoking
Um? Ah but wait further on
severe obesity, which is still uncommon, can shorten a person’s life by 10 years. This 10 year loss is equal to the effects of lifelong smoking.
See the media were right after all, well if you ignore the bit about it only applying to the uncommon severe obesity and that it's equivalent to lifelong smoking.

Oh and applause for
Though not perfect, BMI is useful for assessing the extent to which fatty tissue causes ill health
which is more than the media indicate who seem to suggest that BMI is the accurate method of calculating obesity. Okay the next bits confirm the whole 'overweight be bad' thing, but then we get to something not just glossed over, but non-existent in the media reporting.
There was also a higher death rate among those who had a BMI well below 23 to 24. This hazard was much greater for smokers than for non-smokers. The exact reason for this remains unknown.
So people who are overweight have a higher death rate than those of ideal weight, but also in those who are underweight. But whereas we know the causes of ill-health in the 'fatties' we're flummoxed as to the cause for the 'sticks'; Um again diet anyone?

Also worth noting that mention of 23 to 24 because that's where the lowest mortality rate was found despite this being the top end of the ideal 22.5 to 25 range. Oh wait if you check out the abstract from The Lancet
mortality was lowest at about 22·5—25
BMI was associated inversely with overall mortality, mainly because of strong inverse associations with respiratory disease and lung cancer
So the lowest mortality rate was between 23 and 24, which can be accurately said to be between 22.5 and 25; and we don't know why the underweight have higher mortality rates, except we do.

So to sum up - selective reporting of facts leading to a story that suggests information that isn't supported by the very study they're reporting. Think of this next time you get an ' X leads to Y' story in the news.


I know, I know; it's like a car-crash you just can't get over the horror of it yet must still watch. Watching the four recycled headlines scrolling across the bottom of the screen - Farryl is appearing with her all-time fastest selling classical album; Natasha Richardson still critical; Mortgages might be capped; Weather. Slow news day is it?

They did do a nice piece on over 50's who aren't comfortable with computers, yet dragged in Dr Hilary for the piece which was slightly bizarre as in their news blip they mentioned research from Oxford into obesity and you'd have thought it would be a nice piece to follow-up on seeing as they've got a doctor there with them.

Visiting their website briefly to find out more about this Oxford story I remember that they don't actually have a section devoted to news, the headlines at the time being Vote for the Top Model, Adult Learners, Jade Goody, Penny's hairstyles, and Weather - woo solid gritty hard-hitting stuff.

Trying the Today tab produced nothing extra so I thought I'd check the forum boards to see if it got mentioned there; oh they're down - marvellous.

Surely it would show up under Health nah don't be daft.

So I use Google and end up on the BBC news site which is perhaps where I should have started in the first place.

GMTV, feeding the nation what it's prepared to digest.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Charlatan's Act

In the beginning was Chaos and the Great God Hruggh beheld it and was unpleased.
For the Chaos was wild and untamed.
So thus did the Great God take the Chaos and pass it through His own body.
And Order was created and the Great God pleased.

Upon the Order came Tekneos who beheld it and was unpleased.
For the Order was sterile and without life.
So thus did Tekneos impress upon Order the Beat.
And Order did dance and Tekneos pleased.

Upon the Order came Scypian who beheld it and was unpleased.
For though the Order danced it was without meaning.
So thus did Scypian impose the Need
And Order did strive and Scypian pleased.

Upon the Order came Fanglemork who beheld it and was unpleased.
For though the Order danced,
For though the Order strived; it did need colour,
And perhaps something squishy.
So thus did Fanglemork add the Blue.
So thus did Fanglemork add the Tomato.
And Order did gain and Fanglemork pleased.

Here endeth the beginning.

Part Two of the Charlatan's Act is now available.

St. Patrick's Day

Faith 'n' begorrah 'tis St. Patrick's Day today and as usual the biggest celebrants are those who don't even live in Ireland - the Americans. Yep today towns and cities across the USA will be bedecked in the traditional colour associated with the Saint; a deep blue.

Blue bunting will be hung across the streets, people dressed in blue will parade under them, rivers will be turned blue, and beer will be dyed to match.

Hmm my colour sense must be going wonky, it seems everything has turned green. Oh of course silly me the Americans aren't celebrating St. Patrick's Day they're celebrating Irish Pride Day the green now makes sense. Oh and I've just heard that as a special treat just for this year the New York parade will feature some fine, proud, upstanding Irishmen dressed in balaclavas who will 'pretend' to shoot some of the cops stationed alongside them - ah what jolly japes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Yes yes roadworks

A sign went up last week that New Street would be closed off for the week-end, not a major hassle as there are other ways of getting down there. As it turned out not a major hassle at all as work started in the morning and was winding down by 11am on Saturday.

Then today they'd blocked the road off again, by this afternoon it was cleared but workmen were out coning off the left-hand side of Gilgal. No notice and no signs on approach other than a default roadworks sign. Not got a clue who's working there unless it's part of this 'emergency' gas leak from last week that screwed up Vale Road. Will prove interesting if they're still there come the morrow.

Perhaps it's just me, but I kind of like to know what's going on before it happens.

[Update - Nope they've gone now, but we've a Highways Maintenance lorry parked in Bridge Street so I'm expecting New Street to be blocked off again]


From over on DK we get the continuing tale of seasteads, that is sea-based communities. Now this may seem odd, but I'm all in favour of this both on the level of 'I hope it works' and 'I wonder how quickly it'll implode?'.

To have little microcosms of society all trying something different appeals to me, the trouble is the people who seem intent on setting these things up seem to be romantics. Oh yes some are more or less starry-eyed than others, but the ones DK point to seem to be sporadic in their grasp of reality.

The obvious similarity is to the videogame Bioshock, so obvious that The Seasteading Institute have a whole page to why their version of Seasteading is not like Bioshock, it's flimsy with only two arguments - it won't be a closed economy, and that fiction is "often a poor mirror for the real world" so don't get hung up on the "superficial similarities".

So why do I say they're flimsy arguments? To deal with the later first to declare some fiction as a poor mirror to reality is fine, but the slight of hand to equate it to this particular fiction is unfair, they've dismissed it rather than challenged it. Next the sea-stead won't be a closed economy, fair enough. Except who's going to ship in goods? How easy will it be to pop over to another seastead that may specialise in something you want? It's not enough to simply declare an open-economy the transport links need to be there to accommodate it.

An answer to the latter is simple if people want something that desperately they'll either pay for it to be shipped, or if there's a high enough demand, someone else will have it shipped in bulk and start to sell it; no prohibition thus an open-economy and with no smuggling they'll be no black-market.

Okay onto the nitty-gritty. First off let's ditch this whole Wild West vibe, the premise isn't going to be your own little boat floating on the high seas that you can keep patched up by yourself it's a wonking great city-state and oddly enough someone's going to have to keep it working. So how do they get paid? Rent might as well call it tax, will it be a flat tax, or dependant on the size of your living/working space?

It's all down to the type of social system you want implemented, but something has to be in place just to get anything off the ground (or into the sea that is) unlike the frontier of America you can't just turn up at a bare patch of sea with some building materials and build yourself a home.

Ah but the best bit is that if this takes off, you can flit from stead to stead to maximise your best interests, if you're good at your job you may well be head-hunted by another stead. Everyone wins. Well no, the old adage of you gets what you've paid for applies. Why is rent cheaper on this stead; is it because they're more efficient or just because they hire unskilled workers at cheap wages?

And here's where we meet the same divide that was kicked off during the Industrial Revolution - skilled vs. unskilled. The skilled will be the ones who can flit between steads, the ones head-hunted; the unskilled will be stuck where they are unable to pay for the education that would increase their skills or that of their dependants they'll be sat at the bottom rung of whatever society evolves. The skilled, on the other hand, will also stay exactly where they are on the top, able to pay to get their child educated moving in the right circles to make the right deals and be in the know of what's going on.

Good old competition at two different levels. A recruiter pays for transport from a 'lower-class' seastead to an 'upper-class' stead and because rents are lower (and risks higher) can undercut the wage of any unskilled trying to live on the other stead; they can't compete and move of, heck even the recruiter probably lives on the 'upper-class' stead. And the steads mirror the ground dwellers as they decentralise and ghettocise.

Shall we tackle crime next? Do we have a stead-wide police force patrolling the corridors (who is paid for by whom) or private firms that citizens can hire. Do we reach the point where the rich can afford better protection and thus might equals right and said rich can go around beating up poor people simply because they can?

Okay I'm being negative for a reason here, and that's because to me the view of all this is sitting in a large apartment with a clear sea-view sipping that delightful little vintage you've just picked up; it's designed by people with money, who for the majority have always had money and who have sailed through life with every grubby thing taken care of and hidden away; who don't understand that food doesn't magically appear in the fridge; that we don't have self-cleaning carpets, or intelligent plumbing systems.

Someone's got to do this, and the assumption seems to be that if you put a bunch of rich people together others will magically appear to do what they want and they may well be right, but me I'd prefer to get the base down first and not build the top floor first and hope someone will come in to hold it up later.

[Additional - I didn't even tackle the currency problem, but to be fair neither did they. It seems the underlying assumption is that you'll be using US Dollars, in other words have a sovereign nation depend on another for the issue of its currency.]

Business masterclass

Weekend post a shiny silver see-through envelope "When it comes to business, we could all learn a thing or two from Frank"; on the back "Frank's business masterclass"

The envelope is folded over the top with a resealable strip, so I simple peel it open. I can't get the contents out. They're pushed right down to the bottom of the envelope so I've nothing to grip; said contents are also the same width as the envelope so I can't pinch it open. The envelope is also too tough to tear and scissors might damage the contents.

In the end I manage to get a nail at the bottom and slowly push the contents up so I grip the envelope and yank them out.

It's a booklet from a company called Vecta Sales Solutions Ltd with pithy comments from "Frank" and a sales translation from Vecta. Okay business masterclass 101 check your recipients can get your sales literature out of its envelope.

Detective TV

Detective TV shows seem to fall into one of two brackets - either everyone's racing around in fast cars with exciting camera angles and popping off a cap or two, or they're sitting back and commenting on how it's obvious who the villain is due to their preference for green wool and DNA on a cigarette butt; sometimes they combine the two.

So that's why I enjoyed The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, no fast cars, no minute forensics or classically trained detectives just a gentle stroll through a mystery. In these times of programme cutbacks it's nice to see that the BBC can still hold its head up high.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Libel laws

So with the McCanns and Mosley given statements about the damage the media have done to them, the media strike back by attacking England's 'harsh' libel laws. So what's the big deal?

I'm going to simplify the process here, but here's how it currently stands:

Person A prints something nasty about you; you sue them; Person A now has to show that what he said about you was justified.

Okay, now hopefully you've just read that, nodded, and said "Well that makes sense". So try this instead:

Person A prints something nasty about you; you sue them; You now have to show that what he said about you was unjustified.

Again you might well be nodding and thinking that makes sense too, so let's put it into context:

Newspaper A prints that Celeb B goes out for midnight frolics where he molests sheep. Celeb B sues the newspaper.

Okay now apply each of the two endings to this. For ending one, our current law, Newspaper A has to prove that what it said about Celeb B was justified, presumably with evidence. For ending two, what the newspapers want, Celeb B has to prove that he doesn't go out at night and molest sheep. Uh-huh, just out of curiosity can anyone reading this prove that they don't do the same; damn difficult eh?

So why do the media whine, well first off they're trying to confuse the matter by claiming that England is now the place to sue people and that foreigners drag other foreign writers into our courts on the flimsy pretext that some of the stuff they've written has been seen here. Yep see suing in our country rather than their own because they think they'll win here Boo Hiss. Note at no point does the media mention whether what the foreign writer said was true, because if it was than surely the writer would win? Likewise no comment on the possibility that our country is being used like this because we're the only ones who've got things the right way around.

"Ah no", cry the papers. "It's possible to have a story that everyone knows is true, but won't print because they don't have the evidence to back it up" Uh-huh want to try that in a criminal trial - bang up someone because the police 'know' he did it, but just can't get the evidence? Oddly enough I think not.

"Hey we knew the banks were in trouble, but we couldn't say anything because we didn't have any hard evidence. We could have prevented all this" um yeah or started something by printing rumours from 'chaps' in the city fed to you for their own benefit, have they heard of short-selling?

What this is all about is that the media want a free rein on printing tittle-tattle and speculation without having to do all that boring journalistic stuff like being able to back up their stories with evidence. Seriously just look at all the crap they're printing now what the hell would it be like if they were essentially immune to being sued.

Are our libel laws perfect? Nope, then again what is, but at least they put the burden of proof on the correct side.

Cars and Flash

DaBoss is looking for a new car, he's been looking at his costs in fuel and wants something more efficient for a runaround.

What this has led to is serious frustration with every car manufacturer's web site. See they use Flash, worse yet they seem to want to use Flash exclusively. Now don't get me wrong, Flash can be used well and meaningfully, sadly this isn't the case and it's treated as a way to beam an advert at you.

Music blares out at you, shapes swoop around the screen and finally The Car appears. Lovely but which of your range has a Petrol option, which have Bluetooth built-in or as an option, what's the fuel efficiency, the emission ratings?

Don't bother, oh sure the information is there but the navigation is woeful. Sometimes you can use the browser's back button sometimes it's all embedded in the Flash; sometimes you can search, but the option is tucked away somewhere; sometimes you can compare models, sometimes you can only compare between the options for that model. Most of the time I give up on the navigation and head straight for Download Brochure, because at least then I can turn to the techhy last page and see it all in black and white.

They're adverts that's it plain and simple, the deal is to hook you in to contact a dealer who can sell you the car. For anyone trying to get some information out them it's a tad frustrating, particularly the ones that force you to sit through their ads before you even get a menu option.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Feeding the F.E.A.R.

Along with Killzone 2 I picked up a pre-owned copy of F.E.A.R., "But" I hear you cry, "Isn't F.E.A.R2 out? Why would you buy the version with the inferior graphics and no trophies?" Because from all accounts F2 is the same as F1 with F1 actually being a scarier and more interesting story than F2.

Why would I want scary, because I like scary and something's got to distract me from Silent Hill:Homecoming a series which peaked at 2 and has been in freefall since.

So is FEAR (I can't be bothered with the full stops now) scary. Well for the half-hour I played it the phrase tense popped into my head several times; some strange stuff was certainly going on. The enemy were quite ruthless and were happy to use cover to prevent me shooting them, though they were a little deaf and allowed me to run up behind them several times. I never ran out of ammo, but I was certainly aware of what I was carrying and instinctively switched to the 'approach each corner at optimum view and cover angle' paranoia that any FPS game should instil (something neither Resistance's managed) and I maintained that throughout play.

The prompting was a little odd at times, press and hold [] to pick up a medkit, except if I ran into it I'd automatically pick it up, this made a disconnect when I ran over a weapon as the prompt to pick it up would appear before vanishing as I picked it up automatically. Also strangely enough pressing the select key for current objectives is not a toggle, press and hold it and the game pauses and the objectives appear, release it and the game continues and they disappear. I say strangely as quite clearly at the bottom right is a "O Back" option, which obviously has no function except if you do press and hold select then press O it's as if you've released the button. Stupid little thing.

Another annoyance is that leaning is mapped to the directional keys rather than the shoulder buttons. That may seem obvious, but as there's no snap-to-cover system in place you reach a doorway, lean around and find you can't see anything then have to release the lean button to use the analogue stick to reposition yourself, before releasing that to put your fingers back on the d-pad to lean around again rather than leaning and moving around. This would have been a perfect situation to use the six-axis motion sensor ah well.

The loading times between sets is also quite long, but so far the sets have been quite long so they don't occur as much as they might have, but it does reduce the previous tension watching a white bar slowly increase across the bottom of the screen.

Meh I'll keep playing it, it has a good scare potential, but knowing when the scares are coming might hinder it's replayabilty, something that the original Silent Hill's still managed to cope with.

Betty Dawes Hill

Over on Jamie's blog he's been dealing with the footpath down Betty Dawes Hill. He's got better lighting put up (about time), but as a true 'ranter' finds he can't stop there.

He complains about the litter - hmm well there's a bin at the bottom of the steps, but I don't recall one either at the top or middle close by the bench (but not too close mind) which Jamie also quite rightly points out you can't use anyway as the seat's been ripped up.

He also mentions the uneven surface; well duh. See the original footpath was made up of slabs and funnily enough the slabs on the steep side of the hill started to separate from the ones on the flatter side. The solution was obvious - tarmac over the lot of it. Now amazingly enough this hasn't stopped the underlying slabs from moving and pulling the tarmac with it and around it.

As for the garages and walls of Ryvere Close are those council property or private property? If council yep they need cleaning up, if private then it's up to the owners.

Anyhoo it's nice that someone's looking at these things even if he hasn't mentioned the pointless cycle bollards, which I saw someone happily cycle through without pause oh and one's lost its reflective band already.

Lying about reading books

From Charlie Brooker I pick up on impressing people by lying about the books you've read. Sadly neither him nor the Guardian deign to give us the full list of the top ten lies and I turn to the Telegraph instead. Interesting.

  1. 1984 - Yep read it and also Brave New World, which I preferred.
  2. War and Peace, nope and never wanted to as the synopsis makes it sound duller than ditchwater.
  3. Ulysses. Sounded depressing. Stick to the 80's animated cartoon.
  4. The Bible. Yep in a variety of versions add the Koran and Torah too.
  5. Madame Bovary. Nope, heard of it but it's never really blipped on my radar screen.
  6. A Brief History of Time. Yep though I wished he'd used the more concise equations rather then try to turn them into paragraphs.
  7. Midnight's Children. Sounded like a story with a political bias whacking you in the head repeatedly over its parallels.
  8. In Remembrance of Things Past. Nope, like Bovary zero blips.
  9. Dreams from My Father. Even the title makes me want to throw up. Nope.
  10. The Selfish Gene. Yep and dare I say even understood it, which seems to be more than some.
I'll add Lord of the Rings, I preferred The Hobbit; Animal Farm, about as subtle as 1984; Plato's Republic; Machiavelli's Discourses; Spinoza's Ethics; and both The Iliad and Odyssey.

Onto the authors we apparently do like reading
  1. JK Rowling. Yeah alright about as well written as Dan Brown, but still something you can curl up with.
  2. John Grisham. Nope just never have.
  3. Sophie Kinsella. Never heard of her.
  4. Jilly Cooper. Gods no.
  5. Mills & Boon. As above.
  6. Dick Francis. Nope
  7. Robert Harris. Yep I enjoyed Fatherland.
  8. Jeffrey Archer. Nope, but my mother used to.
  9. Frederick Forsyth. Nope.
  10. James Herbert. Yep still enjoy the Rats trilogy.
I'll add the obvious Terry Pratchett; Iain M. Banks; Jasper Fforde; Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov. I'll throw in Greg Bear; Harry Harrison; and Diana Wynne Jones for good measure too.

There does that establish/refute my high-brow credentials :-P

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jury Duty

Not me, but my father who's being called up to Worcester at some point in May. So I'm trying to get a route plan for him. See they'll refund expenses incurred by public transport, but not car-parking fees; those have to be applied for separately.

So here's the deal - going by car according to Google Maps will take around 25 mins, as he needs to be there around 9am he should be able to leave at 8 with time to spare.

Now for public transport, via DirectGov I am presented with four options

1) Take a bus over the river to the Brindley Arms, then another bus from there back into town towards Worcester, then another bus from Chatley to Worcester.

2) Take a bus to Worcester Crown Gate, then catch another to get to the Court. Though with the distance from the latter he might as well walk.

3) Take a bus to Kidderminster Rail Station, Catch a train to Foregate Street, walk.

4) Bus to Kidderminster, Bus to Worcester, walk.

Okay now remember the car would take 25 minutes? The shortest time for any of these four options is 56 minutes (option 2) and would mean leaving at 7:33 to arrive at 8:29. The latest he could leave is option 1 (7:38), but would mean arriving at 8:47, yep 5 minutes later than option 2 and arriving 18 minutes later.

The train option (3) which is technically the best and least problematic on connections means leaving at 6:49 and arriving at 8:01. I'm not going to even suggest looking at option 4 which means leaving at 5:37 and arriving at 6:56.

The dumb thing is that a train from Kidderminster to Foregate Street leaves at 8:03 and arrives at 8:30, but according to DirectGov he can't get a bus to Kidderminster in time to catch it. and if he misses that the next one doesn't leave until 9:49. There are basically four trains running - 7, 7:35, 8:03, and 8:31 taking just over 20 minutes to get to Worcester. For those who start work at 9 and use public transport I'm kinda guessing the 8:01 will be pretty darn crowded.

I think I may be called upon for ferrying duties, in one direction at least.

Web developing a:hover and IE6

Good old Internet Explorer 6 still finding ways to foul things up. In this instance a simple image switch using CSS.

This should be cake and in fact it is for Firefox, Opera and, surprisingly, IE7. You set up some simple code like -

<img class="top" src="topimage.jpg" />
<img class="bottom" src="bottomimage.jpg" />

and then style it so that the a:hover .top disappears and a:hover .bottom appears. As I say cake. Except IE6 won't allow classes to appear after hover. Now of course it's possible to do a.top:hover etc. but that means duplicating all the links which is inelegant.

So wrap the top image in a div and the bottom image in a span then you can use a: hover div and a:hover span. Yay!

Except it still doesn't work in IE6 and IE7 loses the link.

IE7 was an easy fix - style the a element as a block. IE6 was more tricky. First off IE6 doesn't recognise display:none, and visibility: hidden keeps the space where the image is. So I use _z-index with the IE6 only modifier. Also Ie6 doesn't even recognise a:hover unless it calls a hasLayout element so I add in a quick border: 0px. Lo and behold it switches over, but doesn't switch back.

Turns out it's all to do with position. If you set a position on an element within the a element that is also postioned IE6 refuses to rescind the a:hover state, so remove that, check evrything stays where it is and there we go.

with some extra containers the HTML looks like this

<div id="menu">
<a href="./">
<img class="imgmenu" src="donate.jpg" alt="Make a Donation"/>
<img class="imgbgmenu" src="donatebgtab.jpg" alt="Make a Donation"/>

with CSS of

#menu {margin: auto; height: 2.4em; width: 49em; background-color: #EEE}
#menu a {display: inline-block; width: 6.25em; height: 2.2em; text-align: center; line-height: 2.2em; zoom:1; *display: inline; _height: 2.2em; text-decoration: none; color: #1FB25A; zoom: 1;}
.imgmenu {width: 6.25em; *top: 0em; zoom: 1;}
.imgbgmenu {width: 6.25em; *top: 0.05em; zoom: 1;}
#menu a:hover {border: 0px;}
#menu a span {display: none; _z-index: -1;}
#menu a:hover div {display: none; _z-index: -1;}
#menu a:hover span {display: block; _z-index: 0;}

Happily switches between the two in IE6/7 FF and Opera while keeping the link.

[Additional - Oh and yes I know I have a block element (div) inside an inline element (a), which is a no-no, but to blunt I just don't bloody care anymore]

Killzone 2

Although from the demo I wasn't overly impressed The Artist was and enthused so much I succumbed and picked it up. Last night I managed to give it a quick test drive; first things first a 16Mb update to v1.20 and then into the game. No waiting for the game to dump data onto the hard drive so perhaps they're finally learning.

Okay what I will say is that the demo did a disservice to the game, I played through the same section and beyond and it was much better in places. The scripting was certainly less obtrusive although the pauses as it stream-loaded the next area were more obvious. No pop-up or texture switch that I could see though I was pretty enclosed (not that that stopped Half-Life2 from suffering) and no jerky stop frame animation during big fire fights.

Still annoyed at the handicap of only being able to carry one weapon which results in the 'fortuitous' placement of the one weapon that'll defeat this particular enemy where you're standing or heading. This came to a particular head when rejoining my squad and being chased by a tank "Only an RPG can hurt it" I'm told - great I had one of those and ditched it for a rifle so I could, you know, shoot the bad guys without blowing myself up. Calling up my directional 'where to go' sent me to a small open spot whereupon I got blown up by said tank. Back from a checkpoint I spot an RPG I'd missed prior to the tank appearing. Why would I pick up this clumsy weapon unless I knew a tank was about to appear? There is another one near to the spot I end up, but it's not as obvious as you might think.

Then I got to drive a tank with an unlimited machine gun and rockets, although the rockets had a delay between firing one from each side, and it wasn't fully explained where they'd end up.

A fair proportion of the game was being told to do things without being told how to do them, once you got where you were supposed to be it turned out to be logical, but there was this slight panic at first.

It's also very easy to die, and as with the RPG incident sometimes it seems to be a Lara Croft learn-by-dying experience. Dying three times when strafing a building with fire and being hit with RPGs I finally discover you can take out the supports and bring the entire building down.

Okay the graphics are good, the AI is better than the demo suggests and the scripting is not so obvious, the stream-load is a little jarring but only occurs during a checkpoint save with normally zero enemies about so not a hardship. The directional 'where to go' needs fine-tuning though with it either being dainty steps that are so obvious or leading you to apparently nowhere when you then have to figure out what to do from the imprecations of your team-mates. "blow the doors, what doors? Oh those doors why couldn't you point at them?"

I'll have to see what the multiplayer is like, but so far it's been a reasonable purchase if so far lacking a little in replayabilty due its linear nature.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vale Road The Continuing

Yep just as I thought. Because all the traffic is funnelled up lane 3 towards Gilgal and as the traffic comes to a halt there it's blocking off the opening to allow traffic back into lane 1. This is turn leads to the normal queue in lane 3 with the addition of all the traffic that want to use lane 1 and with the traffic from Mitton Street having priority in that lane.

So a queue stretching from Gilgal down Vale Road, High Street, Bridge Street, over the Bridge and down Dunley Road up to the Common. At the end of the queue I saw it stretching before me, at the beginning of the queue I saw it stretching behind me.

And just to add insult to injury there wasn't even anyone working there.

Just a future FMI the number to call is 0845 607 2005 which puts you through to the Worcestershire hub.

Apparently there's an emergency gas leak and they may have to work down that side of the road (typical as it's only just been resurfaced) on the other hand they may not. Hmm emergency eh - oh yes they were very busy on site this morning.

They advised me to call National Grid - which I've done on 0845 0700203 - they're raising an enquiry.

[Update - phone call from WCC apparently it was a gas leak; which I knew. There was supposed to be some resurfacing going on at the splitter but she didn't know if the cones had been placed for the gas leak or the resurfacing and thus whether they'd be returning shortly. However they are being (or have been) removed. I'm not going to take credit for this, but I do wonder if they might have just sat there if someone hadn't complained?

Oh best bit was finding out the person I spoke to was from Stourport and thus knew Vale Road, although until I prodded her memory she did think it was only two lanes]

Monday, March 09, 2009

Continuing Vale Road Works

So they've finished at the bottom of Vale Road and are now starting up at the top; logically to give themselves a bit of space to work in they need to block off the end of lane 2. Of course when has logic ever decided anything? Oh they have indeed blocked off lane 2 at the end next to the splitter, but they've also blocked it off further down and for good measure blocked off lane 1 as well.

So instead of traffic coming from the town moving into lane 1, or switching to 2 then 3; and instead of traffic coming in from Mitton Street and staying in lane 3 or staying in lane 2 then having to switch to lane 1 further up - everyone has to get into lane 3, then those who are carrying on cut across a gap in the cones over lane 2 into lane 1. For those wishing to use the petrol station or Lidl gaps have also been provided across both lanes.

Even if they were doing work in lane 2 they still can't head downwards as that's where they've left the gap in the cones so what's the flipping point of blocking off the lanes further down? It's not as if it's even directing traffic better as everyone still has to swing across the lanes at the end to carry on straight up to the lights so they can't even use that as an excuse. There's no need for it, yet sadly it's all in the hands of County Council and their staff of around two to check it out.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Far Cry 2 for the PS3

Finally managed to get around to starting FarCry 2 which I'd bought cheap from Woolies. Oh my does it like it's initial loading - loading for the intro credits, loading for the menu, then finally a load for the game; however once that's done it's pretty smooth sailing from then on.

The start of the game is pretty non-interactive, I suppose it's to get you in the mood for the country you'll be playing in as you bounce around in the back of a taxi passing armed checkpoints and watchig the locals have 'fun' burning down shacks; however it does smack a little of 'hey look at how pretty our graphics are'. As per usual no manual reading is required, the tutorial will nag you into doing things and, again, as per usual won't tell you why you're doing this. Press X to jump ah that'll be over that board, and O to duck - um why oh I see I have to climb up here and duck under the gap; now press L1 to aim and R1 to fire; um at what - nothing.

You get a simple mission to start with to liberate a safe house, rescue a buddy, find some diamonds, head to the weapons dealer and buy something. Realism seems to be a key point here. You can only carry four weapons one of each of a set type which are mapped to your d-pad; you've got a five bar health system that'll only regenerate up to a partially filled bar when you're out of direct fire, but if you head into critical will keep going down until you yank out the bullet or heal yourself with a syringe of which you carry five.

Again realism; you've limited ammo, you can die really easily (although if you've found a buddy they can come in and rescue you provided they haven't died) and enemies don't glow in the dark or come with arrows pointing out where they are. Although a red splat on the screen will give an indication of where you're being shot from you can still end up spinning around trying to find out exactly who's shooting at you and I spent a good time sprinting like hell for the cover of some rocks to recuperate and play spot the bad guy. Oh and boy do they not like you, unless you're in a no-shooting zone everyone will shoot first and not bother with questions later; this makes life really fun when the missions are so spread out around the map and enemy sites respawn on the roads; you end up just putting your foot down and driving through them as fast as possible; or, in a seriously weird moment, catch the bus.

Yep forget that there's a war going on the buses must run and even better those drivers must be some seriously hard-arsed dudes because the guards won't bother with them and you can metaphorically thumb your nose at them as you drive past the five checkpoints and six random patrols to get to your mission. Sure it's not stylish, but you're alive.

As for your missions well no floating compass or pointing arrows here, driving along the road markers will be coloured to indicate the quickest route, but that's not always the safest; and of course you have your clever map that will show where you are some of the important features around you. Oh but the game doesn't pause when you're reading it and you can't use a weapon at the same time and although every car comes with it's own GPS system It doesn't give you a big view. Best shock of the game was driving along and pulling out my map to check my position and finding that you not only lay it on your lap but you have to look down to read it which means not looking at the road so I would find myself automatically slowing down, looking down, then back up to accelerate, before checking it again, before putting it away.

The weapon limitation actually works, do you ditch the flame-thrower (best weapon ever), that'll set the grass alight around things and flush out the enemy, and rely on Molotov's so as to be able to carry the Missile Launcher which has a lot less ammo, but packs a serious whallop; decisions decisions. However one small thing does bug me in that weapons aren't named for pickup. Kill an enemy and stand next to the weapon they've dropped and you'll be prompted to change one silhouetted outline for another, unless you've memorised what each and every weapon looks like or are a gun nut it's a blind guess and no they don't appear in the manual either; okay some are obvious, but AK47 or GL39 (?) can make a difference.

Finally saving - we've been spolit by the ability to save when and where you like - heading into danger, or just turning a corner in a corridor; save. Nope not here, you can only save at certain special points or when you've just completed a mission and a lot of the time you can only have got to said points by clearing out a bunch of enemies first.

Okay so far it's been fun, I can see why they've done what they've done and can't negatively criticise the majority of it. In my mind I'm comparing it to Fallout3 with the mission structure set-up, but they've ditched the fiddly stats and the inventory shuffling and it's actually quite exhilarating for everything (okay bar the main menu) to have no pausing. Even the saving, though at first frustrating, works; you play the game and not the system. One mission I snuck in and took out the objective, on another I drove straight in on the back of a jeep, switched to the weapon mount and blew everyone away because that was the best option from where I was and what I had.

[Update 9/3 - from more play a couple more niggles appear. The first is graphical and real only shows up when you're speeding along the river in a boat - pop-up. It's a lot more noticeable on the long stretches you get on the water when you travel at speed. It's a blink and you miss it affair, but it does make you blink when a set of trees suddenly populate a bank as you round a corner.

The second is that dread of all 'sandbox' games - invisible walls. Liberating one of the Underground's bases set on a small inlet with rock cliffs on either side I decided to sneak around. I pulled up at a sandbank close to a cliff and hopped over the rocks to a flat one that led to a gentle grass slope that would give me a commanding view over the base when bop I hit a wall. Now I don't object overly to the 'too steep to climb' slopes but this was a flat rock leading to a gentle slope and I couldn't even get to the join. I could actually follow this wall around and it went all around the cliff and prevented me from reaching areas that I should have game mechanic-wise been able to access. Very annoying, I ended up going around the whole cliff to the land-side, which proved fortuitous when I stopped off at a weapon dealer to save the game.]

The game not only works and merits long-term play, but due to the open system has high replayablilty.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Getting your priorities straight

A quick flick over to the BBC news site and here are the top four most read news stories

# Footballer Ashley Cole arrested
# Madonna's banned advert
# Mother guilty of home alone death
# UK interest rates lowered to 0.5%

Well at least the continuously tolling bell of the British economy managed to make number 4 on the list; cos you know it's not as if it's important or affects anyone.

So yeah anyway the BoE has cut interest rates to 0.5% thus precipitating yet another screwy measure to 'kick-start' the economy while at the same time kicking savers in quite a different area.

Seriously they all live in cloud-cuckoo land this is yet another attempt to get banks to start loaning out money okay here's the analogy -

Once upon a time all the banks went out to lie on the beach, they stayed there an awful long time and got all sunburnt; in they rushed to their plush hotel in a real panic all screaming in pain. Then Mr. Government came along and grabbed up bottles of some after-sun from other people outside and rubbed it all over them and asked them if that was better.
"No", shouted the banks. "I'm never going out into the sun again".
"But it's nice out there and no-one else can use the beach properly if you're not using it", said Mr Government.
"No", shouted the banks "We're all staying here".
"Some people outside had nice big floppy hats, I've taken those from them and given them to you to wear" said Mr Government.
"No", shouted the banks "We're all staying here".
"What about a nice big poncho I've taken from them, that'll keep you all covered" tried Mr Government.
"No", shouted the banks "We're all staying here".
"They had this really big golf umbrella, I'll hold it up over you" tried Mr Government again.
"No", shouted the banks "We're all staying here".
At which point any sensible person would have given up and returned all the stuff they'd taken from everyone else.

See oddly enough the people outside were trying to use their after-sun and those big floppy hats, ponchos and huge umbrellas so they too could sit on the beach in the sun, but as Mr Government kept taking them away to give to the bankers they also retreated inside their various hotels and decided not to come out. And so the beach emptied and everyone wondered why it was Mr Government kept exhorting the people to enjoy the beach when all they did was snatch away the things they used to give to the bankers.

The End (of the economy)

Apple TV contradictions

"What's this AppleTV?" I get asked and so I delve onto the Apple site to find out. Here's the front page usefully titled What is Apple TV? though sadly not as useful as telling you how it works - see you plug it into the TV and you can rent movies and sync up with your computer... presumably by magic?

Next page What's on Apple TV and here we go

All you need is Apple TV, your widescreen TV and a comfortable sofa. No computer required.
so um it is magic then? Oh and just for fun
sync the films you buy on Apple TV with iTunes, so you can transfer them to your iPod or iPhone
Okay one last try with Tech Specs - system requirements (at last) "Mac or PC" sorry did I misunderstand that "no computer required" bit oh and "Wi-Fi 802.11b, 802.11g or 802.11n wireless network6 (wireless video streaming requires 802.11g or 802.11n) or 10/100BASE-T Ethernet network" so not magic then and obviously dependant on your broadband connection yet another thing for the ISPs to blame and demand money from.

Okay if in doubt head to the support page and how to rent a movie for AppleTV or from iTunes.

Computer and iTunes first and
You can rent movies from iTunes and watch them with your Mac or Windows computer, iPhone, or a supported video-enabled iPod*, or on your TV using your Apple TV.
Yay! Now for AppleTV
Movies rented on your Apple TV are not transferable to any other device and can only be viewed on your Apple TV.
Que? But you said on the other page I can transfer them. I'm kinda following the gist here and it's not helped by what seems to be two versions of AppleTV new and old, with one allowing downloads directly and the older one not.

And I thought Apple were supposed to be the company for simple, intuitive, pick up and use devices? Then again the fact you can't wirelessly connect an iPhone to a PC should have told me something about spin versus reality.


V566 DHR who thinks that the correct procedure for the disposal of a cigarette is throwing it out the window onto the car behind you. I don't get it I really don't, would such people also throw out sweet wrappers or fast food containers in the same manner?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ape's Tesco dissertation

For those who missed the comment from Ape they have been in touch and provided me with a link to a nice and neat online questionnaire regarding the CoW site and Tesco. I've also pointed out that Tav might have some interest and at the least may provide a link to the questionnaire on his site.

Duh me I forgot I had my own site and thus forgot to ask Ape if they wanted me to do the same. If the answer's yes I may also mention it in one of my many comments to DaTa or Hugh over on the Shuttle site I'm sure they'd also be interested in expressing their views.

Annoying adverts again

First up the Gillette one whose many years of shaving study have determined the best way of shaving - surprisingly enough it involves buying probably three times as many products from them as than you would normally. The other small annoyance is one of the actors who having just shaved still looks like he's got 5 o'clock shadow.

I'll ignore the many shampoo adverts who still only feature women and attack those who feature celebrity women who claim their shiny lustrous hair as a result of using Brand X shampoo and conditioner and not from having on-call hair stylists and a ton of cash to spend on said hair. Oh and Head & Shoulders flake-free 'guarantee' based on visual appearance of flakes from a foot away, oh hell very scientific.

My ire has been saved for a disgusting one from the Food Standards Agency on behalf of the water board about not pouring fat and grease down the sink; oh wait sorry it's on behalf of the FSA about not eating too much fat with said sink acting by way as illustration. Hmm now perhaps I'm odd but I'm not for mainlining grease, I don't fill syringes and shoot up with pure Columbian fat; so this illustration is a little simplistic; ah hell no it's a lot simplistic.

Okay quick and dirty biology lesson here - fats enter your blood stream in the form of lipoproteins, think of them as transport agents carrying fat around to where it's needed.

So what's this got to do with clogged arteries, well fat contains the Dreaded Cholesterol and as we all know cholesterol is evil, eeeevil. Well no like so much we're being told is bad for us our body requires cholesterol to function, the 'bad' stuff comes in a particular type of lipoprotein called a Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and is what is thought to contribute to atherosclerosis, of course it's not bad cholesterol it's exactly the same stuff as 'good' cholesterol found in High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) it all depends on where it's travelling and how. Heck it gets even more complicated than that because some of these LDLs aren't as bad as others, in this instance the bigger the better so having a large number of small LDLs may be considered unhealthy, but a large number of large LDLs is better.

Okay I'm getting a little technical, but the essence is that eating fatty foods doesn't automatically clog up your 'sink'. Sure I won't deny the links between fatty food ingestion and atherosclerosis, but it ain't as simple as so many would have you think and slapping a red traffic light FAT warning on food doesn't give you any information about what types of fat it contains.

Fat, salt, sugar all the stuff we're being told is bad for us, is a required part of our diet; again yes too much of the stuff could be bad for you, but the same can be said for every substance in the known universe it's the dosage that counts along with your own unique metabolism and scare 'scams' such as this aren't useful in informing the public.