Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu take 2

As updated in my first entry the DoH have, after a year of campaigning, produced a TV advert about the prevention of spreading germs, wow I call that good timing.

The big news is that this is OFFICIALLY A PANDEMIC, so PANIC. Sorry about the caps, but that seems to be what the media are doing. No doubt the WHO are enjoying the attention in a strange sort of way, but I'm sure they're professional enough not to dicking with the scale just for the attention unlike that stupid colour code terrorist warning thing no-one bothers about any more.

Of course what everyone seems to be repeating is the upgrade from 4 to 5 without, you know, explaining the difference just PANIC will you, sorry.

For those who don't know here's the WHO themselves telling you about the stages of a pandemic.

Basically a stage 4 is human to human infection in a community, so confined to one area or country. Stage 5 means the same but spread to at least two countries that share the same WHO region designation

Just to prepare for the media shouting themselves hoarse when it reaches a stage 6 GLOBAL PANDEMIC, damn got to stop doing that, the definition for that is the same as for 5 but with h-h infection in another WHO region as well.

To condense - 4 means one country, 5 means at least two countries in the same region and 6 means at least three countries with one outside the region shared by the other two.

Scary, not really; serious, but not scary.

Just to get everything straight according to the latest WHO report there are 148 confirmed cases in 9 countries with 8 deaths.

Stourport Parking

So yesterday in High Street we get a car parked outside Natwest so someone can get their money out of the cashpoint, likewise outside of TSB down the bottom. This morning we get a Brothwell & Miles Builders van parked on the left facing the bridge and sitting atop the zig-zag lines that form part of the pedestrian crossing.

I also note that since the opening of the Drinker's World we're often getting a van parked outside it up the kerb - perfectly legal as there are no restrictions there, just annoying as this is directly opposite the parking bays that have already squashed their lane in half forcing them into the other.

Likewise the Crown Pub still has its delivery wagon parked across the (applause) lane end marking that stretches from Engine Lane across the Riverside Amusement access to the bridge parapet, pretty certain that's illegal.

Road closures

Featuring on both the BBC and ITV local news that Spennells Valley Road in Kidderminster is closed due to a "serious police incident" nothing in the Shuttle as you might expect.

[Update - from other sources apparently a body was found there last night] [Oh for crying out loud]

And just for fun Bert via Jim tells me that the Holt Fleet bridge is going to closed for 10 weeks. According to the report "Entire length of river bridge 7.5 tonne weight limit" from 27/4/09 to 15/9/10 which I'm hoping is either a misprint or that it's just going to be closed to anything over 7.5 tonnes.

Ah yes thank you Worcester News it is indeed a weight limit, confusing that it also suggests a full road closure for 10 weeks in June. So it's a weight limit and a closure that coincide? [Yes appears so the limit is for bridge work and the closure for Severn Trent Water work]

The article quite rightly points out that some advance notice signs would be helpful to prevent any 7.5+ vehicles starting off down that route, apparently they're in the process of going up. [And apparently have appeared near Ombersley now.]

1006th post

Yeah didn't notice the 1000th - yay!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Paint programme upgrade?

As I mentioned in a comment I was looking at possibly upgrading one of the paint packages on my computer, I currently have Paint Shop Pro v7 and Photoshop Elements v6.

As PSP is now up to version X2 or 12 as we normal folk like to call it I thought I'd stop by there first.

Just to be annoying they have two different versions of X2 - vanilla or Ultimate. Ultimate comes with some extra plugins and a 2Gb USB flash stick, woo a whole 2Gb, and on Amazon costs a whopping £2 extra so a no-brainer as to which version to go for.

I could download a trial, but first I thought I'd check out the video tutorials and let them wow me with just what this baby can do.

The answer is much the same as version 7, but with a much more 'modern' interface that seems oddly reminiscent of Elements. Okay it has some new tools, a background remover, an object remover, a DoF filter and a HDR merger. Though it's basically stuff I can already do in v7 just buttonised in a one-step solution.

How about Photoshop Elements? Well the latest version is 7 so I'm not expecting major changes - the biggest addition appears to be a much fancier version of PSPX2's object remover. Take several shots of the same subject and then just have Elements automatically switch them out and align them. But it doesn't have the basic object removal that PSPX2 has nor, for bizarre reasons, does it have a HDR merge ability.

I say bizarre as HDR is the latest 'thing', but of course Elements' bigger older brother the almighty Photoshop has it. So why don't I just pick up Photoshop? Full version of PSPX2 Ultimate cost £50, Photoshop Elements - £50; Photoshop - £540.

I'll think I'll stick with what I've got thanks very much.

20's plenty

A follow on from my entry about 20mph statistics came in the form of an email from Jamie Shaw informing me as to where the figures came from. Sadly as I had to point out as another comment, this just refers me to more people quoting the results of data without presenting the data itself.

To illustrate why this is important consider one way the data could have been arrived at.

I could examine all pedestrian-vehicle incidents and filter out all those where excessive speed was a contributing factor, then take the subset of fatalities and create a report showing the ratio according to the speed limit at the point the incident occurred. Would this be enough? No.

Firstly you are assuming that anyone not travelling at 'excessive speed' will be travelling at the speed limit.

Secondly excessive speed includes that which is below the speed limit, but not suitable for the conditions.

Thirdly you're not taking into consideration the make and model of the vehicle - consider being hit at 20mph by a scooter compared to a articulated lorry.

Fourthly even though percentages are 'neutral' what's the proportion of both length of road and traffic capacity between 20 and 40 zones, the number of incidents, and as per the third point the type of traffic it carries.

Using ½mv² an average car weighs 1500kg, a heavy-goods vehicle is anything over 3500kg. So at 20mph (8.9408m/s) we get 59,953 joules and 139,891 joules. At 40mph (17.8816m/s) we get 239,813 joules and 559,565 joules - ouch.

Oddly enough if 20mph zones are highly populated with cars and 40mph with both cars and heavy-goods vehicles I would expect more fatalities in the 40 zones.

Fifthly if I use the figures in this PDF regarding terminal velocity that states that a fall with 5,725 joules is "much more than enough to kill a person" then by rights every collision above should be fatal except "it depends on how he or she lands", which of course is another factor that doesn't get shown in my report.

So if in my hypothetical study I quoted figures I could say that in an collision you have a 2.5% chance of dying while in a 20mph zone, but a 90% chance in a 40mph.

Would my study prove that travelling at 20mph is better than 40mph, I hope you're saying no because all this would show is that being in a 20mph zone is safer than a 40mph zone and that's it.

For anyone asking "Well so what if it's not a direct link it still shows 20 is better than 40" the point is that without knowing the cause simply slapping a 20mph on a 40mph won't necessarily do anything in the same way that giving wasps big pretty wings won't turn them into butterflies; they're still going to sting you.

Swine Flu

So with the potential cases in Scotland of Swine Flu the government is set to deliver a leaflet to every household in the UK informing them about symptoms and what to do. And this is going to cost us how much?

Here's a thought issue a press release to the media who will slavishly reprint it, as they will the leaflet anyway. Anyone who doesn't receive the information is this form is unlikely to bother reading the leaflet anyway.

Oh of course silly me the media tends towards English and the leaflets no doubt will also be available in 20 different languages.

[Update 30/4 - Oh yay now we're getting an advert of behalf of UK tissue manufacturers called Catch it, Bin it, Kill it... hold on a second these were created in November last year for the cold and flu season and the campaign itself started in 2007. Wow they really did a good job on informing the public if it's taken just over a year to get a TV ad done.

Also am I the only one who in these uncertain economic times thinks that this catchphrase would also apply to many contemplating food preparation?]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Good concept, needs follow-through

Just released minutes from the White House

Janelle: Good morning everyone. The American people are worried and we need to do something about it.
Todd: How about catching Bin Laden?
Janelle: Shut-up Todd I was talking about the economy.
Brad: We could set up another Press Conference and explain our economic stimulus package again?
Janelle: I was thinking about a photo-shoot. Something big and bold and patriotic that says "America you're the best".
Cynthia: How about a series of posters with "America you're the best"?
Janelle: I think we'll save those for Texas.
Brad: How about a Presidential photo op?
Janelle: I think the President's over-exposed at the moment, we need something else.
Cynthia: Shots of the White House?
Janelle: Too staid, something a little more dynamic.
Todd: Air Force One in flight, always good.
Janelle: Yes, needs more though.
Brad: Air Force One flying past iconic landmarks?
Janelle: Perfect. Set it up; start with the Statue of Liberty or something.

And that folks is probably how on Monday New York ended up having a large plane flying over it very slowly, very low, and very close to buildings with a fighter plane trailing it. Panic why would anyone panic about that?

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Saw a trailer for the this movie I don't know why they don't just give up and call it "Yes we have no ideas of our own".

For those yet to catch it the film is about a womaniser who's is visited by three ghosts who represent girlfriends past, present, and future and is given the chance to redeem himself. Gee I've no idea how the ending of that's going to turn out, do ya think he'll see the error of his ways, stop womanising and end up with the woman of his dreams; do ya, do ya think?

Next from Warner Bros. a new and original tale about a group of amateur actors accidentally booked to perform before the crowned heads of Europe with one of the actors gets stuck in a donkey head with hilarious results [sigh].

Depth of Field Part 2

Okay this should be my final word on the matter and be warned this contains some mathematics, but nothing that advanced.

Right I've dealt with the hyperfocal distance (HFD) to recap this is the point of focus whereby everything is nominally sharp from infinity to a point halfway between the camera and that point. It's calculated, using full terms, as focal length x focal length then divide by aperture and divide again by circle of confusion then finally add the focal length. (f^2/Ac)+f

By default the measurements are in millimetres so divide again by 1000 to get a result in metres. The focal length is the actual distance between the sensor and lens, not necessarily the 35mm equivalent this should be recorded (though only to an accuracy of the nearest millimetre) in the EXIF data of the photo. Any decent photo package will allow you to see this as will XP and Vista from the file properties.

The only hang-up is finding your circle of confusion measurement, Google is your friend.

First consideration now you have the HFD is that focussing at or beyond that point will mean everything from that point will be sharp; however the 'fuzzy' point before it will move closer to the hyperfocal distance but it will never go beyond it.

That's if you focus at or after the HFD what if you focus in front of it? That's where more mathematics comes into play.

To determine the closest point of sharpness you do the following - multiply the HFD by the distance you're focusing at then divide by the HFD plus the distance minus the focal length Hd/(H+(d-f))

For the farthest point you change one sign so that the equation reads Hd/(H-(d-f)); for those of that bent the full equation obviously being Hd/(H±(d-f)).

Is there an easier way of estimating these two points? Well DSLR's lenses can feature a DoF gauge otherwise there's a few things that you can keep in mind.

  1. The closer the focus the shorter the DoF.
  2. Focusing before the HFD will mean that the closest point of sharpness will never go beyond half the HFD.
  3. Focusing at or beyond the HFD will mean that the closest point of sharpness will never go beyond the HFD.
  4. Focusing at the closest point of sharpness for a different focus will mean the farthest point of sharpness will be roughly at that focus.
Enough words here's some figures to give examples. or skip down to the practicalities.

My A620 has a f/2.8 and a focal length of 7mm (really 7.3mm but the EXIF chops the decimals so I'll go with what it says) and a circle of confusion of 0.006mm

So 7*7 is 49, 2.8*0.006 is 0.0168, so 49/0.0168 and add the 7 again gives 2924mm or about 3m.

So focusing with f/2.8 at 7mm at a point 3m away will give me sharpness from 1.5m to infinity; let's check.

Hd/(H±(d-f)) gives 3000*3000/(3000±(3000-7) which results in roughly 1.5m and 1285m which I think for our purposes we can consider infinity.

What if I focus at 1.5m, that is the closest point of sharpness for the HFD? 3000*1500/(3000±(1500-7) I get 1m and 3m (distance of 2m). Note the farthest point of sharpness is at the HFD

Now if I focus at that closest point of sharpness - 1m. 3000*1000/(3000±(1000-7) results in 0.7m and 1.5m (distance of 0.8m). See how the farthest point of sharpness is at our previous focus point.

Going the other way for a focus of 2m? 3000*2000/(3000±(2000-7) results in 1.2m and 6m (distance of 4.8m). Notice the closest point is edging nearer to the halfway point of the HFD and the farthest point is starting to grow further from the camera.

So in Real World applications for taking a photograph. If my HFD is 3m and my subject is at 1.5m.

If I focus on the subject at 1.5m I know that everything from 3m beyond will be fuzzy.
If I want some, but not all, background sharpness I know to focus between 1.5m and 3m.
If I want only the subject and all the background I focus at 3m.
If I don't want anything beyond the subject I need to focus at roughly two-thirds the subject distance.

If the subject is further away the DoF gets bigger and the closest point further away, if the subject is closer the DoF gets smaller and the closest point closer. The closest point of focus will never go beyond the HFD if I focus after it and will never go beyond half the HFD if I focus before it.

[Additional. You don't need to memorise the HFD for every aperture at every focal length, just roughly the ones at the smallest aperture setting. So in my case for f/8 that's 1m, 1.5m, 2m, 2.5m, 3.5m, 5m, 6m, 10m, and 18m. If I have an aperture of f/4 I just double those figures at f/2.8 I triple them. All the other apertures fall between those two points.]

I'll try to sort some examples out for posting.

Traffic light crunch

Spotted the pedestrian crossing traffic light on Dunley Road had been dented slightly; I say slightly it's keeled over at a 45 degree angle and the metal has been ripped away at the base. At least it shows that the foundation was secure. Meant to get a photo at the weekend on the way back from taking some photos down on Weaver's Wharf, but time ran away and I didn't get another chance.

Nothing in the paper about a crash and it must have been something either heavy or going rather fast.

[Update - Too efficient it's been fixed.]

Speaking of going fast I got a rebuke from someone for pulling out in front of them at one of the islands in Kidderminster. I was in the right-hand lane going straight and a car had just passed in front of me, there was a gap as the driver at the exit before me hesitated and I took it. I was out and moving in the lane before he even left the exit. How was I to know said driver was attempting to beat the land-speed record and thus ended up rather close behind me?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gosh you want to take my picture.

Am I the only one getting fed-up about our lords and masters being photographed with briefing documents clearly visible. Secret or otherwise what is the matter with them? Do they have some sort of weird blindspot in their brains that means they still get shocked whenever a photographer starts snapping pictures of them? Are they in a time-warp and thinking that at that range they'll never get anything legible?

Or are they just not thinking?

Okay we all make mistakes and if you've been reading the papers in the chauffeured car ferrying you to a meeting you might just get up and out without thinking. But damnit they should be thinking. You're getting close to your destination it should be second-nature to put the papers back in the folders from which they came before you get out. This should be drilled into every single official regardless of situation.

I mean for crying out loud you've got a phalanx of photographers waiting outside what do you think they are there for?

You might think I'm being harsh, but this is simply the same attitude that sees memory sticks and laptops (laptops!) being left on trains and buses with our personal data on it.

Shape up or ship out.

One more stab at 20mph

Just from the Areley Kings blog regarding the wonderful news about 20mph zones. [Sigh] my points are made in the comment, but it just irks me when anyone does a 'it's great we've got this as it means this' when it doesn't. I'm talking about the switchback between Stourport and Bewdley - it's a derestricted road; except I shouldn't be calling it that, it's a National Speed Limit Applies road.

What that means is that as it is a single unlit lane the maximum speed for most vehicles is 60mph. On the blog we get a 'great now it can be a 50mph' except there was no reason it couldn't have been anyway.

See a restricted road has a maximum speed of 30mph. To keep things simply a restricted road is a lit road, that's why you don't need 30mph repeater markers if you see lampposts, you have to assume it's a 30; everywhere else is a National Speed Limit Applies.

Yet it's possible to see lit roads at 40mph and unlit roads at 50mph or even 40mph; so why is that the switchback can 'suddenly' become a 50mph when this has been possible for quite some time?

Why do we stop at Gilgal?

Coming into Gilgal from Vale Road I watch a long bus coming towards me, I decide to slow down; a wise decision as it happily swept around the corner and moved straight into my lane then proceeded to straddle both. Following it was a white saloon (?) van with nothing behind it. I continue forward into my lane so as to pull in behind it as it passes. It doesn't pass, like the bus it pulls straight over into my lane almost taking my nose off.

Why do we all stop at Gilgal and Mitton Street, gee I've no idea.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

20mph statistics

Yeah still on this and what keeps getting quoted is the DoT's - for pedestrians being hit at 20mph 2.5% of accidents are fatal, at 30mph 20% are fatal, at 40mph 90% are fatal.

What I can't seem to find is anyone who actually links to this research by the DoT rather than just quote it. Digging through their site I can find that the number of accidents caused by inattention/distraction are double those caused by excessive speed/dangerous driving (p36) and remember that "excessive speed" includes those that are within the limit, but conditions would suggest a lower speed being used.

I can also find the Ashton and Mackay (1979) study being quoted a lot. But surely they can't be using a study from 1979 as the basis for these statistics.

I can find the statistics for car driver deaths as factored by speed.

What I can't find is those figures all the media are using. Oh silly me I should be looking through the Press Releases. Has to appear under Making Britain's roads the safest in the world mustn't it - nope. Transport statistics - nope.

Ah-hah the February Transport statistics has Road Casualties in Great Britain got to be there - ye...nope. It has the casualty rates, just doesn't show any speed factors

It's odd that I can find casualties by road class and condition and for those in the vehicle, but not for pedestrians. Perhaps I'm just not looking in the right places, but you'd kind of expect a statistic being quoted so prominently to feature in an easy to find place, like um a Press Release?

I've even tried the National Statistics site with a keyword search of "death speed road" and got nothing useful.

[Update 24/4 - Ah hah I've finally found an official quote stating that at 40mph the fatality rate is 85%, at 30mph 20%, and 20mph 5%; which isn't what's being quoted. Oh goody "Government research has shown:" precedes it; with no link to said research. Oh well as it's the government telling us this it's got to be true and accurate; not as if they ever make a mistake or 'accidentally' misinterpret the raw data.]

Power failure

A literal power failure. Called up E.On/Central Networks and the recorded message said they knew of a fault due to a high-voltage overhead line; affected areas - bloody loads centred roughly on Stourport, so much that the last three were "and surrounding areas". Stourport town itself seemed fine so I was going to say it's just the Areley Kings side of the river; but both Hartlebury and Crossway Green were mentioned so...?

Power back in around 3 hours in some areas supposedly.

Make it 20, ignore everything else

As got dealt with more thoroughly in the comments I mentioned the proposed 20mph speed limit reduction which has been garnering a large amount of talk and support. However what is interesting is one of the other proposals by the Department for Transport that seems to have slipped under the notice of the television media that being a return to Double British Summer Time. The quote from the Torygraph has the paper state that doing so would "would cut the number of road casualties by 1,549 over 20 years." As well as "yield benefits including energy savings from lighter evenings, more opportunities for sport and leisure and a boost to British business from being permanently aligned with other western European nations".

Also a YouGov Poll showed the majority of people were in favour of it.

Wow so full steam ahead to implement this then?

Well no because the same poll showed that although the majority of people in Britain were in favour the majority in Scotland weren't. But hey this is a democracy and we've got the majority of MPs so they should vote the way their constituents want so yay full steam ahead again.

Yeah right, expect this proposal to receive no examination in Parliament. Remember - all people are equal, but the Scottish are more equal than others.

Trouble is this can't be handled at a local level like the 20mph limits, if you have one county using SDST and the one next to it doesn't this screws up everyone so no one county/district/town will do it unless everyone else does.

Okay before anyone starts, yes this might have an affect on agriculture and construction, and for those who might mutter about software patches you just change your time zone to Paris.

Selfish weather

Just had a delivery, I go out to meet the guy and we exchange "Morning's" then he states
"Great morning isn't it?"
"Yeah, but I'm stuck in an office and you're stuck in a van"
"Well yeah, but imagine if it was belting it down and you're in your office"
"Nice and cosy"
"And I'm in and out getting soaked, see you don't give a shit about me"
"Nope" I say grinning

Ah well I just get fed-up by the media and presenters (both weather and not) declaring it to be a "beautiful day" and exhorting us to go out and enjoy it. Um I'm at work, the kids are at school; who exactly is left to 'go out and enjoy it'? Those secure at the top of the tree to bugger off from work for a day, the unemployed, and the retired.


I spotted the story first in the paper, then finally the television media caught up. A girl who had been bullied over her weight has "defied" them by losing it.

Sorry perhaps I have a different definition of defied. Sure if they'd said "You're fat and you'll always be fat" then she would have defied them, but to me this has a double smack to it.

First is the fact that this story wouldn't have got anywhere near the news if she hadn't become a beauty queen.

Second, and most importantly, is the implicit assumption that the bullies were right. Without the bullies teasing her she wouldn't have lost weight and, the assumption continues, wouldn't have become a beauty queen. So going by the story she should be thanking her former bullies, and anyone who is not the 'ideal' weight deserves bullying because it's their own fault.

Yup ignore Christina "You're beautiful no matter what they say" Aguilera what would that skinny ***** know anyway. If you're overweight you're ugly and it's the duty of people to tell you that so you can feel guilty and ashamed and either lose weight or lock yourself away out of sight of decent thin people.

Yeesh I love these 'aspirational' stories the media put out without, you know, explicitly stating that they're supposed to aspirational. Shame for the government she didn't lose the weight after being inspired by the 2012 Olympic message.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Read those sections

So I've already dealt with the infamous section 44 of the Terrorism Act, not once, but twice.

I've looked at the new and scary section 76 of the same Act.

Now in the wake of the G20 protests it seems everyone needs to have a look at section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 which as you can see form part of Part II "Processions and Assemblies" and comes with a 14, 14A and 14B. We can skip the A and B as they apply only to such events that occur on (essentially) private ground for which no permission has been granted.

So that leaves only the vanilla 14 that was quoted to remove journalists from an assembly so let's take a closer look.

14. — (1) If the senior police officer, having regard to the time or place at which and the circumstances in which any public assembly is being held or is intended to be held, reasonably believes that—
(a) it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, or
(b) the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do,

he may give directions imposing on the persons organising or taking part in the assembly such conditions as to the place at which the assembly may be (or continue to be) held, its maximum duration, or the maximum number of persons who may constitute it, as appear to him necessary to prevent such disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation.
Okay read that then just the last paragraph again about what they can do. Can they "[order] 20 members of the media to leave the area for 30 minutes under the threat of arrest" under this section - nope. They could have set a maximum duration for the assembly of say 5 minutes; they could have set a maximum number of people who can be there.

Then under section 14(5) they could have been arrested for failing to comply with the above directions except here's the exact quote
A person who takes part in a public assembly and knowingly fails to comply with a condition imposed under this section is guilty of an offence, but it is a defence for him to prove that the failure arose from circumstances beyond his control.
"A person who takes part". Can the media be said to be "taking part"; unlikely. Yep either the officer was showing their ignorance of the law, or counting on the media's.

So the police are asking for the deletion of photographs under section 76 (which they can't do) searching without cause under section 44 (which they can only do in specific areas as authorised) or basically clearing the media out under section 14 (which they can only do along with everyone else there and only by defining the media as "taking part" in the assembly).

Lovely! That'll stop instances of police abuse ever being made public won't it.

Mercenaries 2 - First Thoughts

So I've played through the tutorial, acquired my base, done some of the weapon courses, and completed a mission; so what do I think so far? Umm yeah.

You get a choice of three player characters - don't bother, seriously don't bother. Fast runner (female of course), fast reload, or fast health regeneration. There's a reason the box art features only one guy; yup fast health. The other two are pointless you can either nick a car or duck out the way; and reload time is short anyway.

The only difference you get is how the other players react to you and the looped witticisms you keep spouting for 'events' such as running over an enemy. Come on people get with the 21st century - sure give me a basic body template to pick but allow me to tweak the three parameters rather than present me with a take it or leave it stereotype.

Graphically it's not excellent. It's not realistic a little cartoony, which can work, but you can see the engine was built with the PS2 in mind as it looks like a high-end PS2 release rather than a next-gen console version. Even with the low-polygon count and woefully blocky vegetation the PS3 still can't cope and some tear was visible.

Controls are standard third-person and respond well enough, but suffer in that you can't move and aim at the same time. Sounds fair enough, but it seems at times simply turning counts as movement and snaps you out of aim mode. Add in the normal flimsiness of stick controls over mouse and weapon accuracy that can see you unloading a non-aimed assault rifle at a guy standing 10ft away and missing every time and fun it's not.

The camera happily floats pointing in the same direction you're facing, but can still get a little screwy if you've got your back to a wall. Try to drive backwards and it'll switch from front to rear view, but it's sluggish at doing so meaning you have to drive back or forward a distance before it switches.

Weapon-wise you're stuck with two, your default assault rifle and a secondary weapon you have to pick up - so far machine gun rules just for the rate of fire. The tutorial kindly tells you how to cook grenades before throwing them, useful in that my selection was placeable remote charges - I wondered why they weren't being thrown very far and not detonating.

Getting around is made easier with the GPS. Simpy pick a location, set a beacon and the GPS will plot a route to it via the roads; and only via the roads. If you pick a location off-road it'll take you to the nearest road point then stop. It's not bad, in fact it's pretty good as it updates in zero-time; miss a turn because of a barricade and the direction line on the map will instantly adjust, better yet because of the way it shows directionality you can even plan a little in advance and purposely skirt around areas.

Enemy-wise the AI is dumb - brickwall level of dumb. Heading to my first proper mission at Universal Petroleum the guards kept talking about the enemy being there and then turning and shooting at their own building at enemies that are circling around the building in jeeps - on the road outside, behind the containing wall that surrounds the building.

It's also difficult to tell factions apart, if the target goes red I shoot, if the target is blue I don't - so can you please tell the blue-targets to stop shooting at me when I tootle up. This reaches stupid levels when asked by the CEO of UP to place some listening devices around the city one of which is at a UP facility. Would they open the door - nope; would the stop shooting at me - nope.

What gets even worse is the respawning centres - these featured in the previous game and should have been killed off then. Basically you get a barracks that keeps popping out an enemy until you blow it up; great unless you haven't got something to blow it up with.

At this point we reach what is for me the major problem of the game - no in-game load and no abort mission ability. Start a mission and you have to go through with it until you're dead, in the above example that means guiding a chopper into an area under heavy fire from a respawning bunker you can't blow up because you've nothing to blow it up with.

This flaw even raised it's ugly head in the weapons training where for fun you make a wager on succeeding or not. Shoot down the 50 statues in the time limit with the emplaced gun; a sign perhaps that they weren't statues they were busts on plinths huh huh he said busts. Anyway taking them down isn't too difficult until I just nicked one slightly and it toppled off behind the plinth - the indestructible plinth. So wait for the time to run out and lose money or abort the mission - oh wait I can't abort; I'll reload instead - oh wait I can't do that either. Yup you have to exit all the way back out to the main menu then reload your way back in again. How could they not have spotted this in testing? Sure it prevents the constant save/reload cycle, but damn it an abort misison without penalty should jsut be there for this type of game.

Heck even the boasting of the character having won was drowned out by the chu-chunk Wager Won graphic coming in; so what's the point of having him/her speak?

So from that you might think I don't like the game, in fact I do it's vaguely cathartic to run around shooting at everything and watching big explosions I just have to ensure I don't take it seriously enough to care about achieving the perfect score so as to avoid the need to constantly abort reload.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Postal Prices

Something that doesn't seem to have made the news is the increase in postal prices that came into force from the beginning of April. In a day and age where so much can be done electronically you'd think that prices would be coming down as they attempt to woo customers, but hey this is a monopoly and they've got to pay the bills and thus require more money not counting the subsidies they already get from us.

So a First Class letter has gone up by a whopping 8% and Second by 11%; in real terms that's an increase from 36p to 39p and 27p to 30p. 3p each, see how percentages can distort things?

A normal Large letter increases from 52p to 61p or 42p to 47p and a packet from £1.14 to £1.28 or £95p to £1.08.

Amusingly we have a stock of first class and second class stamps from 2 years ago that are still valid, so we're making quite a saving.

[Update 24/4 - Hadn't quite sunk in until I tried to send a Large Letter first class and came to work out what combination of first and second class stamps I needed. 61p, you total ******** you absolute total ******** would it have killed you to make it 60p i.e. 2 second class stamps?

Oh no can't do that we want people to buy the Large Letter stamps we print, it doesn't occur to us that if we made the second class Large Letter equal to 2 second class stamps and first class Large Letter equal to two firsts or a first plus second we could save money by not printing those damn things in the first place. We like the confusion that allows us to add a £1.50 charge for under-payment of postage.



Just some musings nothing to take seriously.

Okay we all know what gravity is, it's the force that keeps us on this planet and the planets revolving around the sun etc. Except of course that doesn't actually tell us what gravity is just what it does.

Historically it was simple gravity didn't exist as a concept. From the Ancient Greek perspective things fell to the Earth because things have a natural place in the cosmos; this got amended slightly when it was considered that things fell downwards. This meant that the Earth had to be the centre of the universe, which was a nice-ego boost for the sentient inhabitants who pretty much thought that they were anyway.

Trouble occurred with the heliocentric approach to the solar system (sun-centred), for those thinking of Galileo, wrong; for those thinking smugly of Copernicus also wrong, the first hints of a heliocentric theory were back in Ancient Greece again. However it was dismissed as obviously wrong, it would mean that the Earth was moving, and we couldn't feel that; and that the Earth wasn't the centre of things so contradicted why things fell.

When the theory was presented and proven to be true the force of gravity became that which kept everything in order and a neat order it was too as Newton (or Hooke) discovered with the inverse square law. Still didn't tell us what gravity was though.

The standard conclusion still listed in Wikipedia is that gravity is a force between masses. In the standard model a particle called a graviton was created to act as the mediator between masses. Everyone was happy. Well not quite see when compared to other forces gravity is the odd sibling, it acts over a long distance which none of the others do and it's comparatively weak; very weak; very, very weak; weak to the fifteenth type of weak.

To demonstrate consider that you are probably reading this while seated in a chair. The atomic interactions between your body and the chair are competing against the gravitational pull of the entire mass of the Earth and winning. Heck if you're at least fairly spry your own muscles can beat the entire planet just by jumping in the air.

But hey it works and if it's a bit odd well that's reality for you, you can puzzle over it and try to justify it, but you just have to live with it.

Then a bloke called Einstein turned up and demonstrated that light would be bent around the sun by its gravitational field. So what you might ask, this makes perfect sense everything else gets affected by gravity why should light be special. Well light is special because it's massless.

Remember gravity is the interchange of gravitons that are produced by masses. A massless object shouldn't be affected by gravitons, but it is. Oh dear.

Einstein got around this by saying that gravity is in fact an illusion caused by mass warping space (yes okay space-time but that's getting complicated). Well the equations worked and explained some oddities in Newton's formulas, but it leaves things a little stuck because once again we can happily apply what gravity will do to the umpteenth decimal place but we still can't say what it is.

Trouble also rears its head when you consider that the theory that postulated the graviton works for everything we can test it against, while at the same time Einstein's rules also work for everything we can test them against - and yet the two viewpoints are incompatible.

Okay even more way-out rambling now.

Let's imagine that masses do in fact produce gravitons, but it's not an interaction between masses but between mass and space to be precise the energy field of space. See despite what you might think space isn't empty, at a quantum level it's teeming with energy it's frothy and is known as quantum foam. This is a point where the two gravity theories also fall apart - one has space as being frothy the other has it being flat.

So imagine that the graviton stretches the quantum foam itself. This has multiple consequences.

Firstly stretching the energy matrix makes it 'flatter', evens out the foam.
Secondly it allows for massless objects to be affected as they move through space as it becomes distorted.
Thirdly it means gravity no longer has to appear weak and long-reaching - it isn't it simply pulls on something that disperses the energy over long-distances.

So it reconciles the foam/flat conflict by making the existing foam flatter near masses.
It allows massless objects to be affected and keeps the graviton.
It puts gravity back in the same stable as all the other forces.

In fact if you grant the universe a coefficient of elasticity in that quantum foam resists being 'pulled' you could explain why there appears not to be enough mass in the universe to account for the rate of expansion without needing to create dark matter/energy; or at least giving the same results the same name. Oh and once again doing so would also help answer those who create a negative counterpart to gravity to explain other results.

Just one more aside. As space is being stretched from an objective point of view, light travelling through it at a constant speed has to travel further and thus takes longer. However from our subjective point of view space hasn't changed therefore the 'delay' in light travelling over that point has to be attributed to a change in time itself.

Okay that's it just seriously wild speculation without any equations or proof to back it up. Tear it apart and shred it as much as you can.

Current game playing

I finally finished FarCry 2 on Sunday night, actually a disappointing ending, made more annoying by a couple of 'bugs'. First bug was progressing into the area of no return; hmm perhaps I should take the opportunity to switch out my weapons for new-non-jamming ones? So I head back out and find I can no longer leave the entrance, I can't get back out into the world - oh thanks.

The second 'bug' was not getting credited for a couple of achievements - Utility Man and a tied one that collects all the conflict diamonds. A quick online search reveals others with the same problem - turns out the Antenna/Mobile mast missions can be failed if the target runs away; however you're not told this you just get the standard Mission Completed box asking if you want to save the game. Of course you don't get the diamonds for completing the job, but as those tinkle in either just before or just after the Mission Completed dialogue it's easy to miss.

Damn annoying when I'd spent ages collected all the scattered diamonds from briefcases that there was no achievement for this directly but a blanket ALL diamonds; meaning you have to do absolutely everything.

Anyhow that finished I fired up Mercenaries 2, basically a third person version of FarCry2 with more blowy up things. Graphics are a little torn, and the character's witticisms got repetitive just during the tutorial stage, but nice big explosions so I'll stick with it.

Flicked over to Bioshock and ramped up the difficulty to Survivor mode in preparation for trying out the extra DLC rooms - bloody hell, hard? My first encounter with an enemy left me with a sliver of health. Things picked up once I got my first plasmid, but you only get a couple of shots before you need an injection of EVE to top it back up and this leads to the annoyance that you can't manually 'reload' your EVE supply. You might get one shot out of your remaining level, but it'll take two to disable the enemy so in the meantime you get to watch the injection animation.

The other annoyance is after getting so used to R1 to shoot having it hard-wired to switch weapons means me running up to an enemy to get the first blow in and instead acting like a weapons dealer showing off my wares; I'll acclimatise I hope.

Oh and not having a block move when using a wrench when the enemies you fight do; run away, run away.

Already noted a difference in the way I handle situations from the first playthrough. Having to deal with one wrench-wielding Splicer that when killed would draw out another pistol-wielding one I snuck down off a balcony into a pool of water headed up behind him until he noticed me, then scarpered back to the water and jumped up onto a plinth with a sculpture on it. Down he comes and zap I shock the water. I cower behind the sculpture until his wife appears and she finally heads into the water and takes two zaps. Thus I kept my health and my meagre pistol ammunition.

This should prove to be a challenging task, can't wait to tackle my first Big Daddy.

Don't listen to what you're saying.

A couple of items on the news, a local bit first about a pair of flintlock pistols going up for auction worth thousands that had been hanging up on someone's wall for 50 years, the auctioneer blithely stated that the owner had picked them up from a ruined French château during the war. So that would be looting then? Expect a call from the descendants asking for them back please.

Discussing the proposed reduction in speed limits down to 20mph an instructor mentions that he accepts such limits on "dangerous roads". So if these are dangerous roads why don't they have those limits anyway? It's not as if the speed limits are engraved on stone, the divine wishes of some higher power; though from the emails from some councillors incorrectly stating that 20mph zones aren't legally enforceable you might well think so. Good to know some councils are so on the ball.

Watching the Great British Menu, and boy could I take that programme apart, Jennie Bond in voice-over tells us that one of the chefs hopes to get a dish into the banquet; quick as a flash I quip "The only way he'll get a dish into the banquet is if he becomes a potter".

Monday, April 20, 2009

Orphi's Photos Part 2

To continue this thread I'll deal with Orphi's photo of a fallen tree stump.

As I still can't get on with the Gimp I'll use Paint Shop Pro, everything I do here is transferable except for the adjustment layer which the GIMP does not possess. It can still do it it just has to be added directly to the image rather than floating on top.

Okay first off composition-wise the shot's fine, the angle and position all lead up the tree and it looks good. So why so flat, again overexposed, it's also a little bleached from the exposure; the soil is the same level as the trunk, everything's in focus; and there's also a cyclist just in shot whom I'll ignore. If I had more time I'd clone her out.

Okay first off the overexposure, in this instance I'm going to keep the tree at the same exposure level and just darken the remainder of the shot. Sadly PSP doesn't allow masks on adjustment layers so I need to create a duplicate of this background as another layer.

Having done so I'm going to adjust the exposure in PSP this is Highlight/Midtone/Shadow; if stuck the basic Brightness/Contrast is also available.

By default it's 0/50/100. I want to make it darker so I'll up the first setting to 20, the highlights are still good, but the midtones need a little tweaking I'll drop them to 44. So 20/44/100.

However I want this to apply to everything except the trunk so I need to mask it. Using the select tool I trace out the trunk then create a new mask from this selection hiding it. This punches a hole in my darker layer down to the original over-exposed layer underneath.

Next I'm going to re-set the focus on the tree-trunk by blurring everything else. I've already got a layer that keeps the trunk untouched so just to keep things simple I'll blur that layer; a quick Gaussian Blur does the trick.

Finally I'll remove that colour cast. For this I'll use an Colour Balance adjustment layer I'll drop the blue towards yellow a little -10. Hmm the trunk needs some more red up that to +10; need to drop the blue some more -20.

et voilà

[Looking at it in full again I should blur the left-hand part of the tree-trunk, but I only knocked this out quickly]

As mentioned in a comment just for fun I altered the background using my photo from here

Depth of Field

Orphi's asked me to go over this one more time and to be honest I can't blame him it's a bit screwy. So I'll do a simple and complex explanation:

Simple - The smaller the aperture the more will be in focus, now as the aperture appears to be marked backwards from what would seem logical the way to remember this is that the bigger the number the bigger the field.

Complex - Using the DoF calculator for a 1/2.5" sensor plug in a focal length of 6mm (The default of Orphi's camera) and a focal distance of 2.6m now set the aperture to 2.8 (wide) and you'll see that the camera will focus on everything from 1.259m to infinity; now set the aperture to 8 (narrow) and you'll see it's changed to 0.643m to infinity.

For most of Orphi's landscape shots none of this will show up as nothing appears to be closer than 1.2m so everything remains in focus.

Now as I said with his shot what if he took a few steps (say 1m) back and zoomed in (to 12mm)?

Focusing on the same point which is now 3.6m away and flicking between the two apertures we see that at f/2.8 the DoF is 2.631m to 3.069m at f/8 it's 1.754m to infinity. So suddenly the background will be out of focus and possibly some of the foreground.

This is where the hyperfocal distance I dealt with before is required. If you focus on anything after that point then everything after that point will be focus, everything that's roughly half that distance before that point will also be in focus.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kidderminster today

A couple of BBC Blast vans parked outside the youth centre on Bromsgrove Street. Windows boarded up at the Orange Shop, the RBS, Show Zone and a couple of others down in Vicar Street - I guess someone's had some fun.

Oh and a couple of members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness banging drums.

[Update 21/4 - Looks like the Shuttle's discovered the broken windows although they can't spell Kidderminster]

Friday, April 17, 2009

Orphi's Photos

As per my invitation Orphi has linked through to some of his photos on his blog that he's not happy with.

I pulled his photos into a folder so I could get at the EXIF information. For those wondering cameras store extra information regrading f-stop and shutter speeds inside the images and this is accessible either through a photo programme or by right-clicking the file in Windows and selecting Properties then the Details tab.

The first thing I note is that despite being landscape shots Orphi's Finepix S304 camera (aka S3800) loves a aperture of 2.8 which is the widest that camera can go.

Now you may recall Depth of Field (DoF) the wider the aperture the shorter the DoF this was a simplification as I didn't go into details about hyperfocal distance; time to do so.

Again keeping things simple the hyperfocal distance is the point at which everything from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity is in focus. I recommend reading this article about it for more details. So the hyperfocal distance depends on the focal length the aperture and something called the "Circle of confusion" which differs from camera to camera and lens to lens.

So digging out the manual for the S304 the focal length is 6mm - 36mm it has f-stops of 2.8, 4.8, and 8.2 and I've also dug out a circle of confusion value of 0.005mm

So using the equation H=(f^2/Nc)+f I get these figures

I'll take this image of a stream, this uses f/2.8 and as plenty of light was present the shutter is sped up to 1/180th. So how come everything is in focus?

Well at f/2.8 and a 6mm focal distance I'll guess Orphi's focussed on the centre of the photo which appears to be roughly at the 2.6m range as shown in the table above, that means everything from half that point, i.e. 1.3m, to infinity will be in focus. Which is pretty much everything in the photo.

Okay time to use the excellent DoF calculator found here. Use the 1/2.5" sensor as the closest available match, plug in the f/2.8 6mm and 2.6m and we get what I've already stated. But what if Orphi had taken a step back perhaps the same distance back as our focus point and then zoomed in to get the same shot?

Well aperture stays the same at f/2.8 let's set the zoom so that the focal distance is 12mm and now the focus point is 5.2m away. We know see that only the range between 3.4 and 11m will be in focus. That will keep everything in the foreground clear, but will start to blur the background. If he'd pointed the camera at the point he was orignally standing at 2.6m away, but obviously kept the same zoom level then the range is between 2 and 3.5m that would leave only the very closest objects in focus and blur everything in the background.

So final technical point is why everything seems so bright and over exposed, well that'll be that wide open aperture. We can either knock down the aperture a notch (thus also adjusting our DoF) or speed the shutter up. Sadly on the S304 you can't alter the shutter speed manually, however we can try the next best thing which is the EV or exposure compensation.

In essence this is a short-cut to cutting down or increaseing the brightness without fiddling directly with aperture, shutter speeds or ISO settings. Positive numbers allow more light in, negative keeps it out. According to the manual you can have -2.1 to +1.5 so for this scene with this camera I'd have dialed in a figure of -0.6 and seen how it turned out

Okay we've dealt with focus and exposure let's look at composition.

First off it's a landscape shot, but the stream runs vertically so first off I'd switch orientations. To work with this shot that means cutting out an area 576 by 768 pixels. Using my paint package I create a new layer and colour in a section of that size in red (because it shows up better), I'll add in my Rule of Thirds lines, then set the layer to a 50% transparency so I can see through it. Now I can move the red layer across the picture until I see a composition I like.

Cut that out and paste it as a new image, then add in a gradient blur mask, and adjust the exposure. Then finally tweak the slight blue cast.

et voilà.

Atlas Shrugged Review and Philosophy

Left-wingers and anti-capitalists are all getting their knickers in a twist over the rise in sales of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" a book that preaches no social conscious, the ascendance of free-markets and the morality of greed. Should they be worried though?

The first thing to notice before you even open the book is its length - in my copy 1186 pages long. So to maintain any form of attention it has to be riveting - it isn't. Also note that I refer to it as a "book" rather than as a "novel" the reason for this I hope will become obvious if I try to review it as a novel.

In essence a novel is a work of fiction detailing events, we read it because we want to enjoy it; this is difficult for Rand's book. The characters are two-dimensional and don't talk to one another, they preach, they lecture, but they don't talk and they don't talk a lot. Although possible to understand what the characters are going through, for me the spark of connection just didn't happen; I simply did not care what happened to them, I did not care if they won (as inevitable) or lost.

Events within the novel are repetitive; an event of a type will occur here, then the same event of the same type will occur there. In fact nothing other than talk really happens until the latter part of the novel. It's much like an avalanche a lot of small movements leading to half a mountain coming at you at breakneck speed. It's possible to argue that without the majority of the book the end would not have the same impact, if the majority of the book wasn't so repetitive and the point before the climax sums up all the points already made over and over again in a 60-page 3-hour monologue.

However this isn't a novel, it's a philosophical work which is what's got so many twisted.

So with that we can forgive the two-dimensionality of the characters as they serve as archetypes, we can forgive the lectures as that is their purpose. The repetitiveness is there to underscore the inevitable points before the climax. And so all the arguments that this isn't a good novel fall away. But just because they have doesn't make this a good work.

Removed from the shackles of a novel and bound in philosophical clothing you now have to question the arguments presented and to do so is more than Rand does herself. I mentioned the characters preach and lecture, what I did not say was that they debated.

The reason I didn't becomes obvious when you examine the archetypes used, Rand splits everyone up into two types - those who can, and those who can't. Debate can only occur between those on opposite sides and it is rare that Rand allows "those who can't" to debate "those who can" without telegraphing the point that she herself takes the position of "those who can"; the others gain no chance, their arguments demolished with little examination other than the hammering home of Rand's creed, which is obviously right from her point of view.

So what is Rand's pet cause? Simply that "those who can" be allowed to do whatever they want, to act out of pure selfishness, because it is this selfishness that creates and truly powers society. Some limits are applied regarding ownership in terms of intellectual and physical property, but that's about it.

And in the work this holds to be both true and correct, however we reach a problem because we don't want to apply this philosophy to the world within the book we want to apply it to the world outside and this is where that lack of true debate starts to show.

To illustrate I'll tender my own model - that of a pendulum composed of a pivot, a bar, and a weight. To illustrate its motion I'll use the current increase in food prices; capitalists say these are good because as the prices rise the profits become more tempting, more money will be invested, and to gain more returns new processes will be created that in turn will produce more food. That is a swing to the right of my pendulum.

However once more food is produced competition will start to reduce prices, those who invested will see less profit and reinvest their money elsewhere. This is a swing of my pendulum to the left.

To add one final ingredient to the model the pendulum depends from a length of cord and moves forward with each swing. This is to illustrate that despite the swing from the right (less food more investment, high prices) to the left (more food, less investment, low prices) we are still left with the new processes that swung it back.

So my pendulum swings back and forth and edges forward with each swing, so what? Well all the major characters that Rand deals with directly are those sitting at the pivot point. They are the ones that cry that the swings of the pendulum are perfectly natural consequences of a good economy and again in my model they are correct. However this misses the point that they are at the point of the pendulum that moves the least; they're not the ones hanging on to the bottom for dear life as it whips back and forth so it's much easier for them to say this.

This is not to say that the other characters who want to bring the weight up to the top of the pendulum are right either, to do so will bring a halt to the economy.

The next point Rand glosses over is the rote following of instruction, she deals with it simply by dismissing those who act in this way without taking into account the full realisation of the industrial revolution.

This is illustrated clearly in one of heroes' profession that of Rearden Steel with the eponymous Hank Rearden in charge of his steel mills. The workers are despised by the other mills as they are part of a company rather than trade union; but said workers don't care, they have no dispute as Readen pays the best wages. Hank does this because he wants the most skilled workers to make his steel.

So Rearden pays more than others to keep the most skilled workers, the workers provide their best because Rearden pays more than the others and they want to keep their jobs. An excellent example of Rand's selfishness in action. Until you examine the fast-food industry.

Imagine a small diner gets popular and opens up another branch to deal with the demand, but customers still go to the original one because the food there is better; it has a better chef. Ah says Rand you need to hire a better chef for the other branch, except then people start to go to that one. Back comes Rand telling us we need to hire an even better chef. However at this point we are in actuality competing with ourselves let alone everyone else and that's plainly stupid.

The way out of this dilemma is simple, have the food at Diner A identical to Diner B. You can't accomplish this with individual chefs so what you do is itemise everything the best chef does then repeat it at the other Diner. But now I don't need a chef at the other diner I just need someone who can follow the instructions on the list.

At this point the Rearden example falls apart. No skill is required to follow the list, therefore those who do so have no value to me the owner, the number of unskilled outweigh the number of skilled so each member becomes interchangeable. I don't need to pay them well because I can replace them at any point in time, in return I won't get the best performance out of the workers as they see no need to promote my business.

In my pendulum point of view Rearden at the pivot acknowledges that it is the weight that also keep the pendulum moving; in my fast-food example the owner at the pivot only sees themselves as providing the motive power. Rand provides nothing other than distaste for this view and by doing so does not address it.

Her next problem deals with selfishness, or to precise doesn't; this shows up in another of her businesses d'Anconia Copper. As we're getting used to to Rand doesn't deal with the nitty gritty of business and so we never discover how d'Anconia gets the copper out of the ground; we hear of workers, explosives and machinery, but nothing explicit.

So imagine instead of copper they were extracting gold. One of the methods of extracting gold is through the use of arsenic, however doing so leads to the arsenic seeping into the water table. This poisons the wildlife, the water supply and possibly other people. But taking Rand's viewpoint what do I care if it's lets me get my hands on gold? I'm not into fishing and my skilled workers are protected against the effects of arsenic. If it contaminates an entire town's water supply then they should move or get in clean water for themselves; I'm not forcing them to drink the stuff.

If they want to protest they can do so by not buying my gold, and as they're not my direct customers I don't care. How many people are going to go to the trouble of questioning their retailers as to the origin of the gold in their products. How many under Rand's philosophy would even care about a poisoned town they've never heard of?

The final nail in the coffin is where Rand even contradicts herself. Our protagonist Dagny Taggert retreats from the world to a cabin near a failed town. She looks at how they can barely scrape together a living and how they could have revitalised the area using the orchards and bringing in a railway line. Not once does she consider that the occupants may have no knowledge of skill to tend such things and that by the philosphy she aspires by they should have realised the dead-end nature of where they were and left for better prospects. Of course they haven't which is handy for Dagny otherwise she wouldn't be able to retreat to her cabin unless she carted a lorry full of provisions along for herself too.

So some of the points she makes are well and good, but she's just a bit too zealous about them and doesn't allow herself to deal with anything that could contradict her.

Read it if you want to know what everyone's bleating on about, but as with any such type of work do so with a critical eye.

That letter of apology in full.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Yet more police brutality?

Better than the snippets that are being repeated is the full video of the woman being slapped. Full in the sense that the recording starts unedited 3 minutes prior to the incident and thus one hopes puts paid to all those complaining that we can't see the 'context'.

0:13 A women in a black coat not being able to leave and being gently pushed back.

0:52 she approaches again, but just holds a conversation with an officer

01:12 we catch our first glimpse of the 'villain' of the piece moving forward to talk with another officer and I can catch a glimpse of a minor struggle as someone tries to leave the cordon at that point.

1:19 someone from outside the cordon with a camera walks straight between two officers into the group, the struggle appears to be ongoing and an over the shoulder camera crew has appeared. Our villain has stepped back.

2:14 one camera holding guy bumps into another; looked at first glance as if they were passing something to each other heh. No they weren't.

2:18 we get a close-up of our villain's forearm armour. Very stylish, love the green arrows.

2:42 another gentleman enters from outside the cordon.

2:58 our villain moves forward for another chat with the same officer.

3:11 we hear voice of the guy who could be said to be the catalyst for the event we're about to witness stating that "It's only me though" as the camera pans around we see that he is trying to leave the cordon. He is carrying a rolled up newspaper in his right hand and seems to be talking politely to the police.

3:21 the camera pans across leaving him still talking to the police, and we see yet another person enter the cordon. This is followed by a camera-wielder attempting to leave and being stopped. He lifts his camera to show he's just taking pictures but is still denied the ability to leave.

Meanwhile we can still hear newspaper holder trying to leave "yeah but it's only me" [garble] a female officer is heard to respond "and I'm telling you you're not". We're still looking at the other guy who appears to be trying to hear the response of the officer in front of him. Repetitions of "Yeah but it's only me" can be heard.

3:31 Our villain comes over to stand behind the officers preventing camera guy from leaving. Camera guy appears to give up and moves towards newspaper holder

3:35 Quick camera pan to the right to see newspaper holder being held by the lapels by a male officer and being forced back away from the cordon. He drops his paper. Cries of "Easy Easy" can be heard. He leans forward and down to the right. Another officer moves in from that direction and pushes him upright and backwards. He has been released from any hold and moves back towards the pushing officer and bends down to pick up his paper. He then continues to move forward and takes umbrage at the lapel grabbing officer who then shoves him back.

3:40 At this point the crowd outside the cordon start to jeer and move forward. A camera moves in from the left and our villain starts to order those outside the cordon "Get back, get back"

3:45 The woman appears "What are you doing?" he pushes her back to cries of [garble] F***ing women" She then darts in again with "Your scum".

3:50 Backhanded slap highly audible. Villain "Go away" cries of "Oi". He is then alerted to something on his right (our left) and drops straight into fight/defence posture number one "Get back, get back now"

3:56 He reaches for his baton. Another officer moves in from the left to aid. The women has moved forward and is now standing still before him pointing back to the spot where he hit her. He then whips the baton at her legs and takes her down. This prompts cries of "Scum" and "Man down"

4:17 as other officers move in he heads back to face the cordon. "Shame on you" can be heard.

4:28 another officer moves forward in an apparent attempt to keep back the crowd now formed and does so by talking to them. "Yeah alright...Turn round... there's nothing to see is there"

4:47 Crowd start chanting "Shame on you"

5:01 a Police photographer turns up to film the protesting crowd who now amusingly consist of the ones outside the cordon.

So thoughts. We have a cordon that seems quite happy to allow anyone in, but denies them the ability to leave. Nobody entering appears to be warned that they will be unable to leave. Our cameraman at 3:21 seems almost bemused that he's being lumped in with the protesters.

We see someone who appears to be holding a civilised argument about wanting to get out being manhandled (although as pointed out the camera pans away so we are unsure of his physical actions although no verbal cues seem to be heard until he is grabbed)

This prompts a response from both the people inside and outside the cordon which is handled by an officer attacking a woman.

To put it as I see it from this video the entire incident was prompted by the police over their handling of one person's attempt to leave their cordon.


Sousveillance - remember that word it might be the only thing that provides any form of justice in the UK today.

The word was coined by Steve Mann as an inverse of surveillance switching from being watched from above to being watched by below; in other words instead of the officials watching us we watch them.

So why so important, where have you been?

The police deny any contact with Ian Tomlinson until sousveillance footage is released.

The head of the IPCC states that there was no CCTV cameras were in the area until sousveillance in the form of photographs of CCTV cameras is produced.

Now we have yet another investigation into a women being backhanded and baton hit as shown in footage taken by yet more sousveillists. No doubt we'll also be told no CCTV cameras exist around the incident until sousveillance proves it wrong.

Perhaps we should all start wearing one of these from now on.

The Charlatan's Act Part Four

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

And the Four Gods did watch sentience war amongst itself.
"Can we do anything?", asked Fanglemork.
"By what right?", replied Scypian.
"By what right do we have to change them?"

Said Tekneos "We cannot remove them for they are a part of the universe"
"We cannot force them for then we will become them"
"We cannot leave them for they will destroy it all".

And mighty Hruggh did answer.
"We will show them."
"We will search amongst them for those that might see,"
"For those who might show others,"
"And we will show them the univese."

Here endeth the book of life.

Stolen Car? That'll be £170 please.

Main story from the Shuttle read it and weep, especially at the repeated response that all this was "force policy".

If we take the story at face value Miss Monk reported her car stolen, it was then found not by the police but her sister a short distance away.

The police "insisted" it be taken away for forensic analysis; then when done charged Miss Monk £150 for removing it and £20 for storage during the analysis. As the car was undriveable, to add insult to injury, she then had to cough up £65 to have it returned.

So had the police informed Miss Monk that their analysis would incur a charge would she have arranged for the car to be returned at a cost of just £65; I bet she would. Had she known about this charge prior to the police arriving would she have arranged for this without informing them - perhaps though I'm sure the police would then charge with disturbing the scene of a crime.

Of course "Under force policy she should have been informed beforehand about her obligations in respect of the statutory fees for removal of the vehicle and storage" Obligations? Obligations! Sure I can understand if the police found it, contacted her, told her it had been found and advised her to arrange removal or they'd do it and charge her for it. But it was the police who told her they wanted the vehicle was she allowed to refuse?

So if you ever suffer a burglary and the police investigate should we now expect them to present a bill for time and materials as they leave?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Something happened?

Passed an ITN van heading out of Stourport down the Worcester Road; something film-worthy going on?

The circus is in town

No not a media one a real one; for those who've seen the posters or flyers, or even read the events page on the Stourport Town site this will come as no surprise. Those who expect news of such events from our local newspaper may however be wondering what I'm talking about; I'm guessing they didn't buy any advertising.

Anyhow the circus is called Big Kid Circus and sad to say I did indeed hesitate to provide a link to a site that proclaims "Come On In Your Welcome" but conceded that this is the Circus Schools Of Russia And Bulgaria and therefore I had no right to expect better grammar from them then I would of any English school graduate.

Shame that none of the events featured on the exciting poster feature in the Artistes Gallery, nor do they provide any list of performances. As such nothing there wanted me to go ooh, aah, or shell out a minimum of £11 to go see it.

Dissecting the news

I awoke to my TV tuned to the BBC their main story was of the suspension of another police officer, so of course they blipped through it as quickly as possible; we were told that they would be talking to a civil rights lawyer I looked forward to watching that.

It is of course the anniversary (if that's the right word to use) of the events of the Hillsborough Disaster the BBC had a reporter at Anfield who started her report with something along the lines of "The disaster took place 60 miles away, but it is here that the main memorial service will be held" Um why? If it took place over 'there' why are you holding the service 'here'. No explanation was forthcoming, obviously if you don't know then you're a bit thick and shouldn't be allowed to watch the news.

The constantly repeated story, which I was getting sick of listening to, was the study that home births were no more dangerous than hospital births; this study from the Netherlands. So they were looking at home births in the UK and comparing them to UK hospitals? Who knows, that never gets mentioned yet this seems to provide an excuse for a three-guest interview (plus baby; aaah baby) about the subject.

We get the report on providing teachers with powers to discipline students outside the school gates Kate mentions the provision of using "appropriate force" with concern which Ed Balls waves off. Yes see it's important to teach children that force isn't something they should practice and if they don't learn that we'll use force against them... nothing better than teaching by example is there? Hardly a surprise though what would politicians know about that. Perhaps the best method for the bullies who like to use force is to steer them in a career that will make use of their talents; like becoming a riot officer.

In an odd synchronicity we get a report about the increase in fruit allergies and a report about British apple orchards being undercut by imports. As seems to becoming common with news reports we get large amount of personal detail and low amounts of fact.

Huzzah after 40 minutes we finally get the interview with the civil rights lawyer. She claims she was surprised at the actions as the police were fully aware of all the cameras around. An interesting statement in that she wasn't shocked that the police would do something like this, something that perhaps the majority of the country felt, but that they had done so in such a public and recordable manner. Perhaps they were hoping that section 76 of the CTA would cover them. Kate acting police patsy played the 2a and b card by pointed out that we didn't know what happened just prior to the footage and that things happen in the moment. Sadly the lawyer agreed without argument.

And that was it - pathetic.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Police procedure and the press.

For those members of the police force unlucky enough to have to talk to the press after any sort of incident without the aid of a qualified press officer below are the steps you should follow.

1. Denial - The police had nothing to do with the incident...; there's no CCTV footage available. Denial is the first tool of any officer dealing with the media; if anything about the incident has yet to be confirmed assume it didn't happen or doesn't exist.

2a. Justify - It has only just come to light that...; operating on the best of information. If something you have denied as part of step one is subsequently proved incorrect never admit you got it wrong.

2b. Blame - Tough job in difficult times...; suspect was acting suspiciously. In order to prevent anyone examining your justifications attempt to apportion blame elsewhere. Any victims, random passers-by, unpopular groups, the media, or even society itself can all be used in this way.

3. Shut-up. If you've passed the point of justification and blame the best course of action is to keep your mouth shut and wait for the media to get bored.

Keep these steps in mind whenever you have to deal with the media and you'll find it's never your head on the chopping block.

Slingfield Mill

Not one I've really blogged about before with Tav taking up those reins, but as he seems to be on hiatus at the moment I feel it prudent to point out the latest modification to this building.

The argument against was that the delightful façade of this building was being removed in order to slot in two greenhouses on either side. The argument for was that you couldn't see them originally anyway (until the buildings were removed) and that the glass frontage would still allow you to appreciate the building. Now they want to make it wider and obscure a part of it to put in changing rooms.

Hmm yes this pdf'ed mockup sure demonstrates that everything can still be appreciated.

Favourite quote from the other supporting documentation "The glass extensions will be treated slightly differently to reflect the modern contemporary feel which contrast the original building but still sympathises and blends with the original structure"

Um so it contrasts and blends? It's a miracle!

If you build it, we'll just bring in another.

A bit of a late one, a story was spotted by Jim, but I just plain forgot about until now.

Extreme action in Kidderminster with a mobile skate park coming to town. So um why weren't any of the fixed skate-parks dotted around our area used?

Your First Million

Over the weekend I ended up reading the Express (yes he's still buying it) and came across a two-page spread on high-fliers first million pounds. In these times of economic hardship every tip helps so I read with interest their biographies.

The first was a hairdresser who owned a string of salons. He expanded his father's business.

Next someone selling produce who started off with a little farm shop at her parents farm; said parents having retired and decided to go self-sufficient.

One of the founders of a opticians who followed her father into the business after he was fast-tracked for optician training after the war due to a lack of qualified personnel.

A computer consultant who got a head-start on computers when his parents persuaded the council to give him a laptop after he was diagnosed dyslexic.

A trader, who picked up electronic gadgets in Japan while accompanying his father on trips and sold them on to his friends parents.

The gentleman who was inspired by a seminar on how to make money and took on the franchise to sell those very same tapes in the UK.

Okay no doubt about it they worked to get where they are, but I find it difficult to have any empathy with them; my parents neither owned their own business, went on far-flung trips or had enough money to retire early. As I've said before all these 'tips' and 'advice' does is remind me that I require access to a time-machine and pocket IVF equipment.

Except of course for the last entrant. All he reminded me was that just like the serialised 'Beat the Credit Crunch' books that are coming out the first tip should be - Write a 'Beat the Credit Crunch' book.

Thought Police?

Over one hundred protesters were held today regarding criminal damage inflicted on a coal-burning power station...

Oh sorry I'll try that again.

Over one hundred protesters were held today regarding aggravated trespass at a coal-burning power station...

Damn one more time.

Over one hundred people were held today regarding a planned protest that might possibly have included aggravated trespass and criminal damage at a coal-burning power station.

Well that's according to the Guardian anyway. If you were watching the news all you'd have heard was that after police "swooped" in people were being held and questioned over planning a protest and that "specialist equipment" had been found that suggested this protest was to be held at said power station. Not a single peep about why that story, as they describe it, might be considered a little odd.

Now hey I'm all for crime prevention, but if you simply followed the television news snippets no crime was either committed or even mentioned. It appears said reports were simply taking it as given that the police had a right to hold people who were planning a protest.

If the police can provide evidence a priori to questioning that the planned protest was set to intentionally cause a criminal act then well done to them for preventing it; if they can't then questions have to be asked; just don't expect the television media to do it.

[Update - I love the Daily Mash - Four million people arrested on suspicion of littering "If they weren't planning to commit a crime then why did they buy the crisps?" asks police spokesman]

[Update - From the BBC. The force spokeswoman stated "From the information gathered, police believe that those arrested were planning a period of prolonged disruption to the safe running of Ratcliffe-On-Soar power station" uh-huh and that's illegal for what reason? [Aggravated trespass]

If any form of disruption prevents the safe running of a power station you shut the station down; or is that illegal now?

Weirdly despite the fact they were apparently arrested on "suspicion of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage" they've been bailed. So presumably the police don't believe that they need to be detained in order to prevent them from committing aggravated trespass or criminal damage; which was the reason they were arrested and would be a reason for refusing bail?

Oh and finally we discover that bolt-cutters now carry the cachet of "specialist equipment" damn someone needs to tell B&Q it appears they'll sell them to anyone who walks in to the store.]

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Digital Camera Guide Part 4

So along with knowing what to look for in a camera, you should now hopefully now why your camera insists on focusing on odd things, why the background is sometimes blurry or why your entire photo appears speckly or bleached out.

You've also taken Dan's advice a got a book from the library and now know more than you perhaps ever wanted to know about focal distances etc. but the photos you take still lack pizazz or just aren't that great; what to do?

No Film

The first thing to ram home, especially to those used to film cameras, is the only limit to the number of photos you can take is the size of your memory card. On a 512Mb card I can take around 250 photos before filling it up; a huge magnitude of difference over film. To put that into context I can take a shot roughly every five minutes for an entire day. If get into the habit of keeping spares and I had two 2Gb cards that's 2000 photos that's roughly one a minute for an entire day. And with cards being both cheap and reusable there's no excuse not to have spares.

To put it bluntly don't be scared of taking lots of shots, and thus don't be scared of playing with the settings to take lots of different shots.

Built-in Settings

Almost every camera has an array of different modes - ranging from Portrait to Sport to Underwater or Snow. These settings can be a great time saver, but to use them effectively it's good to know what they're doing.

What they are doing is two things - firstly they're weighting all those settings from Part 3 in particular directions, and secondly they might be affecting the post-processing that the image receives before it's saved.

So let's take Portrait. The base assumption is that you're taking a shot of something that might be moving a little, and that you're only really interested in what the camera's pointing at. So ramp down the multi-point AF so it's not trying to focus over too great a distance which means you can have a larger aperture which in turn allows a fast shutter speed.

For Landscape that'd be reversed - a small aperture to keep everything in focus and a slow shutter speed because nothing should be moving about.

For Sport you need to weight heavily towards a fast shutter speed to freeze the action.

For Snow you need to reset the White Balance (I'll deal with that later) to make the snow appear white and not blue.

Despite the names given to them once you understand what they try to do they can be a quick time-saver if you're taking a shot that simply requires those sort of settings.

Practice with the modes, and of course, if in doubt take more than one shot.


The two defaults are Landscape or Portrait (wider or taller). The names themselves should be a give-away as to when to use them, but put simply if you want to emphasize the width you use landscape; the height, portrait. Oft times you don't have a choice, if you're taking a group shot you want as much detail as possible while keeping everyone in shot; unless they're all climbing a ladder they'll be aligned horizontally so that's the shot to take.

Remember the first point though - if in doubt take at least one of each.

Something's askew

Dan's looked at what he refers to as the horizon problem, but while this shows up more prominently on landscape shots it can be a problem with every shot you might take.

The difficulty is that when looking at a scene with the screen it's easy to adjust the levels of objects to align with the sides of the screen. When you use the viewfinder those guides disappear and, of course, with regard to your own point of view the horizon is always level even if the camera isn't.

If the viewfinder has markings you can try to use these, if the camera allows you might be able to buy different eyepieces with guides inscribed on the glass.

Without these the only advice available is practice and to take a small pause for thought when lining up a shot as to is this level. [Hmm as an aside wouldn't a viewfinder with a couple of small spirit-levels built-in be an excellent idea?]

If in doubt review your shot after you've taken it and if you're not happy take another if possible.

[Additional - I'll add in White Balance too

Weird colours

Sometimes you'll find your photos have what is known as a colour cast, they appear slightly blue, or red. In most cases you'll find this is because the camera can't decide what white is. This may seem a rather stupid thing not to know, but this is because there is normally a colour cast on everything around us depending on the type of light shining on it. Our wonderful brains can usually just compensate for it; cameras can have more difficulty.

If you delve into the menu selection (and you should) you might find an option labelled White Balance. For the most part it's a pick-an-option of various different types of light - Outdoor, Tungsten etc; sometimes you can get a temperature chart up and pick your own colour manually. One of the quickest methods of dealing with colour cast is if you have a semi-manual option - essentially you can pick this, point it at something you know is white and confirm this with the camera; it'll have a little "Oh so that's what white looks like" moment and will compensate for any other shots you take from that point on.

For fun times try picking a white balance that doesn't match the current conditions and see how it affects the colour of the picture you've taken.

Action Shots

As mentioned for the Sports mode to freeze the action requires a fast shutter-speed. This is also where shutter lag really starts to show its hand. Like all things practice. If you know it takes this long between pressing the button and getting a shot anticipate the movement and take the shot when you know the object will be where you want it once the camera fires.

Perhaps you don't want to freeze the action completely and want some motion blur. Well in that case slow the shutter down or pan the camera as you take the shot.

The flash might help, using a slow shutter with a flash may give you a frozen image with motion blur. Check the settings and see if you can have the flash fire just as the shutter is closing it's usually headed Second Curtain. However consider the subject's reaction to having a light flare at them and obey any rules governing flash photography.

[Additional - Another option is to change the drive-motor settings. Normally you click the shutter button and get one shot, however it may be possible to change that such that the camera continues to take shots while the button is depressed. Depending on how quickly it can take shots in succession doing so with a fast subject gives a better chance that at least one will look good]

Once again practice and take plenty of shots

The problem that may arise with action shots is keeping the subject in focus this is where pre-focussing comes into play.


As per Part Three and the bit about focusing, the camera will try to auto focus if you half-press the shutter button. If you keep that pressed at that level you can now move the camera and the focus will remain where it was - this is focus lock.

What that means is that if you're using manual focus or centre AF then the object you're focussing on no longer needs to be at the centre of the frame.

For the astounding bush this means I can centre AF using the bush, keep the shutter button half depressed and re-frame the shot so the bush appears in the top right corner. Provided the distance between it and the camera is still within the depth of field measurement the bush will remain in focus.

So as previously mentioned this can aid keeping focus for taking photos of moving objects. If you know roughly the distance the moving object is going to be away from you when you want your shot then you can pre-focus the shot using something at the same distance that's not moving. When the object appears you can simply depress the shutter fully and the object should be in focus.

I know you're probably getting tired of hearing this, but practice and take plenty of shots.

Going back to the amazing bush why would I want to have it appear top right anyway.


You can find a plethora of information about compositional techniques, I'll deal here with the simplest - The Rule of Thirds. I say Rule, but it should be Guide, doesn't have the same portentous ring to it though.

The Rule of Thirds involves splitting up the view into nine three-by-three equal sections. The majority of cameras allow these guidelines to be displayed on screen, sadly they're unlikely to appear on the viewfinder unless you can buy and change it.

Not only do they help you keep things levelled and avoid skew, but they can aid with basic composition as to where the subjects should be placed.

To make it simple subjects of interest should appear on a line, or better yet at a point the lines cross. So your horizon should fall along the top or bottom vertical lines, in your group shot the people's feet should be on the bottom line while their heads should cross the top one.

So with my bush I focus-lock on it then move it to the top-right junction of the two lines to see if that looks better.

As I've said the Rule is really a Guide it can help, but there's no need to stick slavishly to it.

Yeah yeah practice, take lots of shots; you should know the drill by now.

Funny Angles

Just because you're standing up and facing forward doesn't mean that the photos you take have to correspond to that stance. What would the shot look like if the camera was above your head or sitting at your feet? If you have an adjustable screen taking shots you wouldn't normally be able to judge becomes much easier, but without then the first adage applies - take lots of shots.

Don't be scared of kneeling down or holding the camera up in the air. Use objects around you to stand on, within legal limits and considering safety of course. Don't think that the shot you can see as you stand there is the best one available. This applies to every shot - with a close group everyone takes a shot at the same height, what would it look like if the camera was above the group with them all looking up, how about from lower down and further away?

You may think you might look a prat crouching down in public or putting your camera on the ground, but sometimes it's the only way to get the best angle and to be blunt who cares?

Have fun and don't limit yourself to simply what you can see from your point of view.

Use of objects

As just mentioned you can use your surroundings to get a different view on things, but you should also consider anything around you to be a steadying post. Although we can eliminate shake with shutter speed and image stabilisation [and a tripod] there's no harm in bracing yourself or the camera against something solid when you take your shot. You never know doing so may produce an angle on something you didn't even consider.

[Additional - Again the drive-motor settings may play a part here, that includes setting a time delay so you can put the camera down then have it take a photo so as not to introduce any movement as you press the shutter button]


Unless you're in a studio under controlled conditions you've pretty much got to work with what you're given. But look how shadows fall, what is and isn't being shown, and where the light source is. Sometimes you can work with what's there and sometimes you just get lucky.

Bringing it together

So my imaginary bush. A path runs away from me and passes to the left of the bush before turning away to the right. The skyline is pretty bare and unimpressive and the sky cloudy, but still reasonably bright.

I'm going to take a shot of both the bush and path and try to minimise the skyline. I want to emphasize the length of the path so I'm going to take the shot in the Portrait orientation. I only want the bush in focus so I set a wide-ish aperture to decrease depth of field and keep a fast shutter. As the bush is the main focal point I now focus-lock on that with the centre AF. I want the path in shot so with focus-lock I move the camera so the bush is top right at the junction of the two lines for rule of thirds. I'm not happy about how much path is showing so I kneel down keeping the camera at the same distance from the bush to keep it in focus. Looking at the path I see if I slide sideways slightly one side of the path will appear to start at the bottom right of the frame; crouch down a little further and the other side will intersect a line and the bottom edge. Check that looks fine and snap.

Of course all this may seem fine and good if you've got the time to set things up and check it, but if you keep doing it all these things start to become second nature. You'll already see what settings you want, and the best angle to take it from and from there it's a quick set and only minor shuffling to get the shot you want.

Oh and of course if you do have the time then practice with the settings and take lots of shots; last time I'll say that I promise.