Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fuel Duty 2

I've mentioned a method of how to cut the cost at the pump, but I didn't go into much details really. I'm going to remedy that here.

From our point of view we see the price at the pump and think "Yeesh!" and then the fuel duty gets dropped by a penny so our price per litre drops by a penny, which isn't right, but what's really going on?

Caveat time I may have this wrong, but from the legislation this seems the process -

The petrol producer has some petrol it wants to sell. A petrol distributor (petrol station) wants to buy some. The producer sets a price and then has to add duty to it; then has to apply VAT. The distributor buys it at that price.

Now the distributor wants to sell it to us. They want to make a profit so add a figure to the purchase price. They now have to add VAT to it. We buy it at that price.

Running with the current petrol price of £1.319 per litre, duty at 57.95p/litre and VAT at 20% I need to make one assumption - the profit the distributor makes is 1p/litre.

Taking that we can work backwards (with rounding)


This is the price per litre the distributor bought the petrol at.


This is the price per litre of raw petrol the producer is selling at.

The duty and VAT go to the government that's:

£0.5795 + £0.1815 from the producer and £0.2198 from the distributor. However the distributor can claim back the VAT on his original purchase. So the producer pays £0.7610 and the distributor £0.0383.

This leaves £0.7993 per litre of the full £1.319 going to the government.

Incidentally this means the distributor would be making no profit at all (£0.01-£0.0383) they'd be losing money.

As an exercise to the reader given a pump price of £1.319 what would be the raw price and the 'profit' added by the retailer such that the profit + VAT reclaimed - VAT paid would equal zero :-)

If you want to show your working out so we're on the same page I use X as the raw fuel price and Y as the profit; you'll need to produce two equations and solve them simultaneous; for those who want to 'cheat' the last part use this excellent little simultaneous equation solver.

Radio 5's AV attempt

Via Guido Faukes just to show once again that without access to the raw data you can say whatever you like - AV is too complicated and it didn't produce a majority. Or the BBC screwed up.

We don't know because the raw data is not yet available to us. To illustrate the problem let's take the result from his blog regarding the Yay! FPTP system. With an electorate of 200 the Conservative Party polled 22.7% of the vote. Numerically that means they received 45.4 votes. So we have 0.4 of a person out there? Well no obviously this means that either some of the ballots were spoilt or not all of the electorate voted.

Advertising that doesn't

Caught a quick advert before I turned the TV off - "This Mother's day introduce yourself to Emin" we then heard about how wonderful this singer was; how his new album had just been released and how we'll "love him".

Well you know I'd like to make my own mind up about that and it's kind of difficult to appreciate a singer when the longest continuous burst of singing we can actually hear only occurs during the intake of breath from the VO announcer between sentences.

Maybe it's just me, but if you're going to advertise a singer perhaps you should allow us to hear them sing?

Car clocking

A quick report on BBC Breakfast this morning about mileage alteration with some MP calling for it to be made illegal. Worrying in terms of the implications if this were to happen.

There are legitimate reasons to alter an odometer and the report mentioned them - a faulty unit, or converting from kilometres to miles.

When they called up various operators advertising such services they mentioned that there was nothing wrong with the unit and that they were looking to sell the vehicle, but the reporter made a point that none told him that to sell the car without disclosing the mileage alteration would be illegal.

Well no because it's not their job to.

Consider a museum takes out a contract with a firm to make replicas of their Saxon gold horde. Are the manufacturers obliged to remind them that they have to sell them as replicas that they're not allowed to sell them as the real thing?

If the museum then does try to sell them as the real thing should the manufacturer be prosecuted for making them?

If someone buys one from the museum as a replica and then tries to sell it as the real thing should both the museum and manufacturer be charged?

No because doing such a thing is not illegal; it's only when you try to pass one thing off as something else does it become a crime. In the original case trying to sell a car as having a certain mileage when it doesn't.

However can't we make it illegal to 'clock' a car unless it's done for a legitimate reason? Except who determines what is and isn't legitimate? It's my car how can someone dictate what I can and can't do with it for my own private use?

This is what is worrying to me. This is what would make breaking the DRM on the PS3 or XBox360 illegal even if you kept that information to yourself and never made it public. This is what would make altering a car to render it non street-legal a crime even if you never drove it on a highway.

This is a precedent as to what you can and can't do with your own property even if it affects no-one beyond yourself.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mass Effect 2 - final review

I've already made some points regarding Mass Effect 2 on the PS3 when I started to play it, but as with so much in life the flaws only really show up in extremis. I started a new game set to Insanity difficulty and imported my original character.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Libya 2

I've already made some points about the UN resolution regarding Libya, however in the wake of President Obama's speech yesterday more needs to be said.

The first is that by default we've sided with the 'rebels'. Remember the resolution was intended to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone. It seems we're classing the anti-Gaddafi forces as civilians and the pro-Gaddafi forces as non-civilian so we're protecting only one side of the fight - we're preventing one side from defending themselves to the limits of their capability. A real test of this is when the anti-G's get their own helicopters etc. to use against the pro-G's will they be stopped from flying?

I say "by default", but  that's not quite true - "assist the opposition". Yep the USA is explicitly on the side of the anti-G's. However this is an application of the old maxim "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" - they want to remove Gaddafi, we want to remove Gadaffi; ergo we're on the same side.

Yeah that worked so well when we were arming Afghan's to fight the evil USSR. The flaw lies in that we don't know what the anti-G's want. It may well be that they want to overthrow this tyranny so they can replace it with a different tyranny; and we're helping them.

Scale models

I read the xkcd comics regularly, but I rarely venture into the forums. For this comic regarding model railways and towns I did. Not because of the comic per se, but the alt text regarding H0. Simply for a laugh I wondered how quickly the thread would degenerate into whether it's H0 or HO; about four comments in :-)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Limitless film, sounds familiar

I caught a trailer for the new film Limitless the other day - guy takes a pill which makes him smarter and uses that to make himself successful.

I thought "That sounds familiar, haven't I read that story somewhere before?"

The film is based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn published in 2001. Which would answer my question except I haven't read that book.

Picking through the memories I finally reach Lest We Remember by Isaac Asimov a short story published in 1982 in which a guy gets an injection that aids his memory recall and which he uses to push his way up through a company to make himself successful.

I'm sure they're two very different stories, just been bugging me.

Postal charges?

As happens on occasion we had a notification through the door that there was insufficient postage for an item. As I say this happens and I'm used to see the differences because a letter, large or otherwise, stamped for 100g weighs 101g on the Royal Mail's scales.

This time the difference was 85p; "Odd" I thought. The method used (from experience) is to take the second class stamp cost for the correct band and subtract postage already paid. So a Large Letter under 100g of 66p turns out to be in the next band, the 2nd class stamp cost is 81p. 15p is owed. The Royal Mail then add a £1 handling fee.

I've got the fees in a spreadsheet already and I checked they were up to date so it was easy to run a calculation on 2nd class minus each price of the previous bands. None produced a figure of 85p.

I put the notice to one side to pick up on Saturday (the office is open 7-12:30; so I'm either leaving early or trying to do it during the peak traffic period) and then forgot about my concern when I picked it up (I was also in a rush and parking was a problem)

It's a Large Letter weighing about 120 grams with a first class 'Large' Stamp worth 66p on it. Price difference, as I said, 15p not 85p.

Not my problem, it's from a company we deal with so I'll invoice them and they can argue with them; but still worth paying attention to these things.

Diana Wynne Jones death

I picked this up from the Devil's Kitchen. As I say there I'm not one to mourn celebrity, but this really is a shock.

When I first moved to Stourport, and thus gained easier access to the public library, my first forays into the fantasy genre was DWJ; If memory serves - Archer's Goon. I've never looked back since.

Here was an author who didn't write down to me, didn't condescend. Her plots were complicated and forced you to pay attention to what you were reading; and her characters were believable; acting and reacting in ways you could understand. She didn't ram home the differences in her worlds she simply worked them into the story in such a way that you would happily accept this situation as just that which was normal.

She took you by the hand and led you into a strange world and let you do the pointing, gaping and staring.

There's few authors who can do that, and now there's one less.

Diana Wynne Jones (16 August 1934 - 26 March 2011)

Those London anti-cut 'riots'

Once again a protest is marred by violence perpetrated by only a minute number of the overall attending; and once again this is what becomes the focus of certain aspects of the media. Ignoring the close-up shots of the violence it's when the picture pulls back that something interesting becomes apparent. We see a small group getting ready to throw or smash ringed by a much larger group bearing cameras.

Did any one of those try to stop the rioters? This group were clearly intent of creating criminal damage, did any of those of the press corps say anything, did they try to stop them, did they call for the police, did they stick around to offer a witness statement? Or was it a case of:

"I'm going to smash this window in!"
"Okay but can you wait until I get into position first to get a clean shot?"

Perhaps the police should scan the media and make a note of those who obviously witnessed the criminal incident; contact them and ask what action they took to prevent this from happening. I mean if they did say anything even remotely such as I suggest that's aiding, abetting, or inciting.

[Update - Good old NewsThump - Media concern as photographers per violent protester ratio falls below thirty]

A re-examination of the UK AV proposal - a possible flaw in my plan

In trying to resolve my Median Rule in mathematical terms I discovered a specialised case whereby it would fail.

Essentially it is possible, despite skimming off the top 50% candidates, for a situation to arise whereby one of the candidates of the discarded/re-assigned votes can replace one of the others in order of priority and thus rise to be a retained candidate.

It requires the combined total of all the lowest votes to be greater than that of the next highest candidate.

Once again I'll use the Wyre Forest results to demonstrate:

Health Concern16,11531.7
Liberal Democrat6,04011.9

If we use the systematic method we'd re-assign the BNP votes. However if we make an assumption that all such votes would be given to UKIP the total would be less than that given to the Liberal Democrats. As such it's possible to reassign the votes for both the BNP and UKIP in one round. However if we assumed that all such were re-assigned to the Liberal Democrat candidate the total would exceed that of the Labour vote. In such an instance the next round would see the Labour votes re-assigned and not those of the Liberal Democrats.

In this instance it makes no odds as if we then added all the Labour, UKIP and BNP votes to the Liberal Democrat it would still be lower than that of the Health Concern; so their votes would be re-distributed anyway; with the same result as if we'd applied the Median Rule. However this cannot be guaranteed.

I can see why the systematic method will be used as it requires little thought; the process can still be shortened though.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A re-examination of the UK AV proposal - a possible flaw

[Update - I'm leaving this here for archive purposes. Having yet another re-examination there is a specialised case where it can fail. I solve this flaw here]

One of the items I've come across in those opposing AV is that it will cost more money to count and give the minority candidates a greater say. I've explained elsewhere why this wouldn't be the case,but an re-examination of the AV proposal has shown me why this view can be held.

Looking at the Wikipedia page describing the method used to determine the winner it states

If after first preferences have been counted, no one candidate has a majority of the votes cast, then the bottom candidate will be eliminated and their next available preference will be redistributed accordingly. The process continues repeatedly until one candidate reaches a majority and wins.
This is logical, systematic, and absurd.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Raise an exponent to an additional power

The tabloids have made small hay over the teaching advert in which the wrong answer to a mathematics question is shown on screen. The creators state that they knew this was wrong and the teacher in question was demonstrating a purposefully incorrect method of solving. The correct method was then shown, but for this advert was snipped out.

So yeah not very good editing, but it got me thinking - how many of the journalists would have spotted this, and how many would know what the answer is and why? If you were searching for an answer how would you even pose the question?

The question posed was (g2)7 or g to the power of 2 to the power of 7. Let's demonstrate a universal proof using standard terminology: (xn)m

Firstly let's examine xn. As hopefully you are aware that means multiply x by itself n times. If n equalled 5 it could be written out in full as:

x∙x∙x∙x∙x (with ∙ meaning multiply)

So what happens when we 'add' another power to that? Well the same thing, we just multiply that by itself m times. Keeping n as 5 if we made m equal 6 we could write that out in full in the following format:


What we see here is x multiplied by itself a large number of times - how many times? Well from our formatting we can see that we will always have n columns and we'll always have m rows and our basic knowledge of algebra tells us that means we have n∙m x's which need to multiplied. Using our already established terminology on how to write that out results in xn∙m or x multiplied by itself (n times m) times

Thus  (xn)m = xn∙m

Returning to the original question is should be now clear that (g2)7 is the same as g2∙7 or g14

Given my proof here it should also be obvious as to why it was squeezed out of a 30-second 'commercial'.

That petrol price cut

Driving through town this morning I noticed that all the petrol prices had decreased by exactly 1p in line with the budget rulings that came into effect. A cynical person could state it was done to prevent customers complaining about why it hadn't decreased by the 1p as promised. Why would a cynical person say that? Because it's a 1p cut in duty and remember the formula goes like this raw fuel+Duty+VAT.

To keep the figures simple - raw fuel at £1.00/litre + duty at 50p/litre add VAT.

Original £1.00 + £0.50 * 1.2 = £1.80
New £1.00+£.049 * 1.2 = £1.788

Given prices are stated to tenths of a penny the price should have decreased by 1.2p not 1p. Just saying.

[Just to push that point home. If the retailers only drop their prices by exactly a penny they're making 1p/5 litres sold more than they did yesterday before the 'cut']

Lidl billboard

Yesterday I noticed them erecting a billboard on the Lidl land adjacent to Vale Road. This morning the poster has gone up. Lidl are renovating and this apologies for any inconvenience. So is this a permanent billboard; will it display various adverts? I mean it's in a prime location given the queue that forms alongside it every morning.

According to the planning 10/0755/Full the answer is no - "This permission does NOT authorise the display of any advertisements on the application site..." except unless "...a separate application for which should be made to the Local Planning Authority in accordance with the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 2007." So maybe in the future.

[Update - given that Lidl have now finished their works and are using the board for advertising I thought a closer look was needed. 10/0755/Full provides no application for a board it is in fact 11/0216/ADVE which was approved. It's a temporary structure that can last only six months from the point that Lidl reopened on the 30th June.]

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to misread a word

The Guardian headline from my feed:

Osborne butler reiterates existing spending plans.

Oh, budget :-)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DTZ Single Site report

Tav over at the WFA has flagged the arrival of the "fabled secret DTZ report". This is the report that supposedly provides the basis for the council's decision to build the single site.

First things first - the date. Yep it's dated 2006 so as some have us have been attempting to ascertain since this has been first mentioned we're running off a five-year old recommendation. Because it's not as if anything major has happened in the intervening period.

This report apparently cost £25k to produce and Tav points out the number of spelling and grammatical errors contained therein. Just saying - there's a grammatical error in the very first paragraph both an incorrect conjugate and a redundancy (consolidating, which by definition will be in "one place"). I'll forego any further errors or we'll be here all day... damnit you can't consolidate staff unless you have multiple staff, there's only one employer so there's only one staff; you centralise them instead. Okay,okay no more; promise :-) Aargh why do they keep dropping articles and conjunctions? Calm thoughts, calm thoughts.


In this instance I'm going to rely on the media and not dig any deeper.

A group in Libya decide they don't like their current government and want to get rid of it; the government cracks down on them.

Let's take that as our starting point. Whether we like it or not Gadaffi is the current head of the legitimate government, he's been recognised as such by other countries and has a voice at the UN. Next point - he's not suddenly attacking a group because they've got different coloured skin; have a different accent; originate from another area; or practice a different religion. He's not systematically wiping out a entire subset of the population. He's responding to a threat to the government in a way they've been doing since he came into power, merely on a more visible scale.

Just at the point where he's almost got things settled down the UN enacts a no-fly zone. At which point UN forces start bombing runs. Sorry how exactly did we jump that quickly to making sure there's no flying to actively taking out military targets?

This has gone beyond "protecting civilians" and is now at 'we agree with the protesters'. The UN has in effect declared against Gadaffi. Now I don't like his regime, I hope the protesters win; but the greater picture needs to be examined.

The UN has taken action against a government it previously recognised and worked with not because it committed genocide, not because it threatened other countries; but because it responded to an internal threat to itself.

We may not like the way it was dealt with, but how is this any different to the way certain other high-standing UN countries deal with 'dissidents'?

As seems to be the case the UN only acts like this against countries it knows can't respond in kind and there's a word for that - bully.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Destroy All Humans:Path of the Furon PS3 review

Another game going cheap. I've played the first two on the PS2 and was curious as to how they'd finish it off for the PS3. The basic premise is that you play an alien; your population is depleting due to errors in your genetic code introduced by widespread cloning. However millennia ago your ancestors tampered with human DNA and that now contains information that could be used to reset your species - go collect it.

The series can be summed up in three words - dumb, but fun. Sadly it seems the ball has been dropped for this version.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Split Second car list

Although there are vehicle lists for this game available online I've yet to see one that features the actual characteristics of them in an easy to view manner. To remedy that here we go.

Split Second - That Ryback Thunder challenge

Because it's quick to get into I often run a race in Split Second when I find myself with some spare time. Sure it means I'm making slow progress, but it's fun all the same. As it stands I've just finished the 5th episode and have gold 1st places on all events... except one. From the title of this piece you can probably guess which.

The fourth race in each episode is a challenge race - are you good enough to deserve the [Insert Name here] car? To prove it just race the track using that vehicle and beat the top time that's been set. To make life easier there's no opponents so no other cars shunting you; to stop life being too easy things will be exploding along the track as you reach them.

Checking on the internet this particular challenge does seem to be the biggest frustration, but why is that? The Ryback Thunder is a truck. It has an only slightly above average top speed, lousy acceleration and is terrible at cornering. As such to get any sort of speed out of it you need some long straight stretches of road. Good job the track features some nice tight corners then isn't it?

The time to beat is 1:54.00. Checking the videos and comments and those who've managed to beat it generally do so by only half-a-second. What this means is that you have to take a damn near perfect line through the entire course; shave every corner without hitting the rails by timing every turn to within an inch. With this sort of closeness it's difficult to even judge your performance. The game has no speedometer so you can't accurately judge where you're losing speed, and there's no phantom car so you can see where you should be. Even trying to use landmarks against the time is difficult. Sure hit the petrol station at anything above 01:00.00 and you might as well hit restart, but with these margins there's a big difference between 0:58.50 and 0:58.30 and if you're looking too closely at the clock it means you're not looking at the big explosion that's just been set off around you.

I'll keep trying, but damn this is a doozy to be hit with halfway through the game. It's almost tempting to let Major have a go... but if he suceeds that means I haven't. I could replay it until I manage to hit the time, but if I don't I'll have a gold icon which I don't deserve and that will nag at me.

[Update I finally managed it at 1:53 and some odd hundredths of a second. The two things that helped

  1. Drive backwards at the start. The timer won't start and the game will eventually kick you in the right direction at the starting line at full speed.
  2. Don't turn or drift. Drive in straight lines and only correct your course minutely. That means aiming wide at corners then gently turning back in so as to clip the corner
 Now be thankful you've won the use of this vehicle that you're never going to use again :-)]

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Travelling behind a bus with an advert plastered on the back for Vitabiotics. This caught my eye as I parsed the word. "Vita" - Latin for life combined with "bio" Greek for life or to precise "biotic" concerning life. So Life with life? Life by life? Live with life?

Pah who cares just ram two words together provided the end result sounds good.

Associative memory

While with the kids at the weekend something came up that resulted in me giving a small 'lecture' on how memory works. Major's old enough to follow and if Minor picks up some of it that's all to the good. Our starting point was Johnny Depp who was in "Alice in Wonderland" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"; but who was the other male lead in PotC?

I demonstrated that I knew they'd also starred in "Lord of the Rings" in which they'd played the elf Legolas, but that the name wasn't there. Some information is there in that PoTC and LotR are linked in my mind and can only be done so via this actor, but the name itself is stored separately to the 'memory entity' of the actor.

However if I start with Orlando Bloom I can jump straight to LotR and PotC, but might have more difficulty dredging up Johnny Depp's name.

I relate this because just this morning for some reason I was thinking of Flash Harry from the St Trinian's series. I knew in the modern films he was played by Russell Brand, but who was the original? Up popped the name of Dennis Waterman because he starred with the same actor in "Minder", the character's name was Arthur Daley and the actor's name was? I got as far as George, which then popped up George Foreman; yeah not him.

I just find it interesting how our minds work; our memory isn't a neat set of filing cabinets more like a three-dimensional spider's web with some strands weaker and some stronger than others.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lose a point for searching

A couple of screen grabs from the GAME website - the first from the home screen the second after I did a search.


Old Stourport Job Centre

You know the one on the corner that was gutted out with apartments on the upper floors and an expectation of a restaurant on the ground floor. Well it's acquired a sign - Lumsdon Solicitors LLP... gosh I wonder what type of food they'll be selling :-)

Ban the Herbs

I knew this was going to happen; the EU passes legislation on herbal products and suddenly it's a ban on all things good and natural.

Except as you might expect it's not. As it stands I can take my lawn cuttings, liquidise them, and sell them as a 'health' drink; I can dilute them 1,000,000 times in water and tell you it will cure your arthritis. I need no qualifications to do this; I require no proof that my product does what I claim.

What this legislation does is change that. If I want to prescribe something that purports to have medicinal benefits I have to be qualified. If I want to sell something that has the same claims it needs to be licensed just like every other medical product out there.

Read the instructions on some 'proper' medicine "Don't take if pregnant"; "Do not give to children"; "Do not use on open wounds"; "Do not operate heavy machinery". Those aren't there to stop people suing the company (well okay they are a little) they're put on these products because the tests run on them show that they can have side-effects if you do these things. They're honest to goodness warnings - don't take if pregnant because we know they can have an adverse effect in a significant number of the pregnant.

Herbal 'remedies' and homoeopathic 'remedies' run no such tests. They have no idea what their product is going to do to you if you're pregnant; if you've a heart condition; if you're young; if you're old; if you're taking other medication; if you're taking other 'remedies'.

So no we aren't going to see a ban on herbal shampoos unless they're claiming the herbs cure something and we won't see a ban on cosmetics unless they're claiming they'll cure that cold sore.

Why would anyone oppose this type of legislation? You know except those who are currently profiting from the current system of course.

Sutton Coldfield Freeview changing channels

Yesterday and this morning I was watching the TV through my Humax box when it suddenly switched to BBC 1 "odd" I thought and changed it back only for it to switch again. Change over and bam. Couldn't stick to that channel at all.

Looking more closely it seems to be that any channels in Mux A (BBC1, 2, BBC3, BBC4 Parliament, News, CBBC) are defaulting to BBC1 after a while. The tell-tale is that once on BBC1 "Please Wait" flashes up top right where the Red Button stuff is.

With Sutton Coldfield getting ready to switch over fully to digital I'm guessing that it's the sub-channel causing this. It's quite possible as if you selected the Red Button and picked Multi-screen News or some such it takes you to channel 301, 302 whatever so it's quite possible for it to receive a signal telling it to switch channels.

Now as I say this only seems to be happening to Mux A and oddly only seems to be happening with the Humax box; the integrated tuner in my TV seems fine. I'm guessing that the Humax is perhaps a little more sensitive or susceptible to this change.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japanese Nuclear Panic - Panic!!!

Run around waving your arms in the air; test all the food coming in from Japan; cower in fear at the thought that the Fukushima nuclear plant will explode and spread radiation over China or across the Western seaboard of the USA; tremble at the thought that the plant will go into meltdown and burrow it's way through the Earth until it pops up off the New York seaboard.

Or you know don't. The highest radiation figure released at a distance of 43 miles is 3,560 nanosieverts before dropping rapidly. What the hell's a Sievert? To put it simply it's a measure of how radiation affects biology.Is this figure high or low? For ease of comparison I'll convert it to millisieverts (mSv) that's 0.00356 mSv; from Wikipedia we're exposed to 0.24 mSv/year from cosmic radiation 0.28 mSv/year from ground radiation.

Ah but doesn't radiation follow an inverse square rule that means at half the distance it's twice as much? So just one mile away it will be 43x43 as large or...wait for it... 6.58244 mSv about as much as a mild chest CT-scan. Except that rule only applies to a point source that is an object pumping out radiation and that's not happening here. It's a one-off dosage that's airborne. To put it another way - someone's lit a fire; put it out and the hot air is dispersing across the area with no more hot air coming in to replace it.

But hey don't take my word for it why not try Fox News instead; yep I'm just about to link to an interview conducted by Hannity. Fox News home of We're all going to die and it's all the Democrats fault with a report on how all this fuss and worry is pretty much unfounded.

In this instance if Fox News can produce this sort of thing what the hell is all our media panicking about?

Bi-directional printing

Just installed a new network printer (a Canon for what it's worth). Set it up with my laptop and I can scan, print, fax etc. Set it up with the other laptop using exactly the same procedure; it can scan, print, fax etc. except it complains every time that it can't communicated with the printer and that I should "enable bi-directional printing" in the printer properties. Which would be great if it wasn't greyed out.

Both Vista machines though different flavours; exactly the same disc; exactly the same drivers. Checked the registry and hoy boo I've got a whole heap of extra settings in mine that are missing from the other one included tell-tales such as CnmLM_BidiSupport and CnmSLM_BiDirectionalPort. Added them in and still nada; this is just friggin' ridiculous.

I'm just wondering if I set it up as a local USB and then just change the port it'll make a difference? Pfft I've searched the interwebs and this seems to be a common problem with a myriad different solutions. I'd say it was the drivers, but I've downloaded and tried the latest set with the same result.

Oh and just to add insult to injury the Fax printer component happily shows up as bi-directional.

AV vs PR

In my last few posts regarding the upcoming referendum I've laid out the points of both First Past the Post (FPTP) and the Alternative Vote (AV) and one of the continuing arguments presented by the anti-AV brigade is that it's not Proportional Representation (PR).

This argument supposes that what we really what is PR and that it should be offered as an option at the referendum and I agree; if only to silence this annoying argument. To put it mildly if PR was given as an option I still wouldn't vote for it. For me PR strikes at some of the fundamental principles of democracy.

Allow me to demonstrate. Hands-up if you know who your MP is, or at least which party they represent. Given that you're obviously intelligent and keep up with the news I'm guessing a fair few hands went up. Now tell me who your MEP is. Hmm far fewer hands there.

Perhaps that's because you don't have a MEP you have many. In the West Midlands we have six and I voted for none of them; in fact no-one voted for them. Using the PR system you can't vote for them you have to vote for the Party List instead which you may have no say over.

That candidate who knocked at your door; whom you had that long and interesting chat to and was really impressed by may well be fourth on that party list and stand pretty much no chance of being elected because the top three places have been taken by someone you've never met.

Did you vote for Rustie Lee in 2009 standing for UKIP? Congratulations that Party won two seats; shame Rustie was fourth on the list.

This is the failure of PR - don't vote for the person, vote for the Party. Quite the reverse of everything I've advocated. PR holds Party over the individual and dilutes the vote to the extent that the people supposedly representing you don't have to represent anyone. So long as they can get their name first on the list that's all they need to do.

If it came down to a flat choice between PR and FPTP I'd choose FPTP, because at least I know who I'm voting for.

Monday, March 14, 2011

No2AV = Yes2PR?

I was reading the opinion column from David Owen in the Independent on Sunday with some amusement. From the title you can guess the subject matter - I support a PR system, but I will be voting ‘no’ in the AV referendum. In it he makes the No2AV crowd dance in joy as he explains why the reader shouldn't vote for AV basically because it's not Proportional Representation.

Split Second Velocity split-screen

After I got back with the Bratii and we'd settled down and had some food we moved onto Split Second the car-racing-explosion game.

The nice things about this game is that it features a split-screen option to allow two people to race against each other locally rather than networked; so many games seem to forego this in favour of online multiplayer. Even nicer playing like this doesn't mess up your statistics. You just have Player 1 and Player 2 and it measures wins until you leave that section.

However we did have one problem - we couldn't seem to choose any of the cars shown other than that which had been pre-chosen. We still had fun and Major is still looking to save up and buy it for the X-Box while Minor's still unchuffed that he can't get it for the PS2, but the races were uneven.

After they left I went back to it; sure there must be a way to do this - the manual was no help at all; I looked online and found no-one asking about split second split screen choose car garage and various other keywords so it must be something I'm not doing.

How it works is you select the Split Screen option; then you choose a race type; then a race-course. At this point you see a car on screen and Player 1 is told to press X. Then press X to continue, Circle to go back, or Triangle to change the colour of the car. Press X and you get a repeat but for Player 2. Meanwhile there's a garage of cars top right all grayed out bar the current one. Much fiddling and it turns out you press X to get to the car and then choose a car rather than trying to choose a car then press X.

Sounds obvious; but from the layout of the screens it does appear that the choice should be made on the first screen; not the second. Ah well now I know and we can have some more even races.

As an aside I killed the laughter when Minor got frustrated and threw the controller down. "You don't ever throw my controllers around like that; ever!". Must have been my tone of voice or expression, but I've never seen either look so scared. Soon went back to the fun, but both Minor and Major passed controllers with no bickering or grabbing after that. Ah the POWER! :-)

Hartlebury Common trek

Had the Bratii over on Sunday and took them out to Hartlebury Common; they've never been there before. It's one of those annoyances I'm going to have with Devil Child and Chewie - once one is old enough to just need a booster seat the other's still in a full seat and it's just a pain to transfer those between cars. In the case of the Bratii, Minor is now on a booster seat and Major needs nothing so it's a piece of cake to transport them around and give their long-suffering parents some peace and quiet.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A reply to Historians against AV

In a letter to the Times (blocked behind a paywall) a group of historians have declared themselves against the proposed AV voting system. Unlike some others commenting on this I link to the full letter which can be read here.

The arguments they present fall into two camps - 1. It's not democratic; and 2. We've rejected it in the past.

I'll deal with the second point first. It was rejected in both 1917 and 1931, but not by the people. It was debated and rejected in Parliament; no-one beyond MPs had any say in the matter. It's worth re-examining their arguments for rejecting it, but the simple statement as presented here has no validity.

Therefore we are left with the first argument that it's undemocratic. A lot is made of universal suffrage and one person, one vote. The argument presented is that under AV one person's vote would be held to be greater than another's. This argument is undermined by the very quote they use for their second point in that such elections would be determined by

"the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates"
except that's not the case. The value of being worthless only occurs under the current FPTP system; under AV every vote gets counted and despite what those opposing the system say only get counted once. In essence the AV system results in the equivalent of a two-candidate race in which you get one vote which you can use or not as is your own choice. No-one gets two votes.

To use an analogy the current system is like choosing a meal of a menu. I'll have the chicken, you have the vegetarian option. Oh sorry we're out of chicken so you don't get a meal "But if chicken's not available I'd eat the vegetarian" "Nope you can't do that you wanted chicken and that's all you're allowed to want".

Rather than being undemocratic the system allows for for one of the main principles of democracy which is election by majority. As it stands under FPTP a person can be elected on 30% of the vote while the remaining 70% wish they'd drop dead. Sure some of that 70% who didn't directly vote for the winner may be happy they got in over their closest rival but we can't know that. Under AV we can.

Hardly undemocratic; hardly a stab at universal suffrage.


Thanks to John Herring MP (LibDem) for using parliamentary privilege to reveal yet another superinjuction that's been called into existence. Superinjunctions - boo, hiss! But why do we have them?

Let's take a simple facet of our current law system to do with rape. The victim's identity is protected; the alleged perpetrator's is not. A newspaper called Sleazy Tabloid heads up the story "[Name] the Rapist" which all the other sleazy tabloids jump on. Note that at this point guilt or innocence has yet to be established; but that due to this press coverage this person is going to be known with the suffix "the Rapist" for the rest of their lives.

So they take out an injunction to stop this from happening. The result - the newspapers report that they can't use "the Rapist" prefix because they've been forced not to; no doubt with a healthy dose of freedom of speech rhetoric tagged on.

Sadly human nature being what it is when you try to stop someone from saying something the assumption is that it's true; after all if it wasn't why go to all the hassle of trying to stop it eh? On another note if it wasn't true why don't they sue the newspapers for libel eh?

[For another example someone who's taken out an injunction against a violent partner may not want it reported in all the newspapers as a breach of their privacy]

So baring a change in human nature; or a real shake-up of our libel/slander laws and proceedings in comes a superinjunction. Now not only can you use "the Rapist" suffix; but you can't insinuate that it's deserved because I tried to stop it.

All fine and logical. Except as we all know when such fine and logical systems come into place someone's bound to wrap it around a different concept. That's what seems to be happening and it's the fault of those judges who allow them. In theory a superinjunction of these types should only be created when they can't be settled in a libel/slander case. In the instance of my example one could be created because an existing court case is being heard with regard to its validity. However once the verdict is in the injunction breaks - if they're guilty if can be used; if they're innocent it's libel/slander to continue.

So is Sir Fred Goodwin in court to prove he's not a banker; is he suing the papers who call him such - no. Nevertheless he managed to get an injunction out to stop anyone calling him such. Of course you can appeal against it, but one has to wonder how it was granted in the first place.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Horizon - Science under Attack

I finally got around to watching the Horizon programme last night; it's been a good series this year. As can be deduced from the title the topic was how science was being treated; how those who work in certain areas seem to be attacked by the media and others.

In this instance I'm going to start with the conclusion our host, Sir Paul Nurse, came to. Scientists need to do more to display their data, communicate the uncertainties, and better explain how they came to develop their theories. I agree with this in its entirety.

There we go end of entry... well no I started with the conclusion because I found it amusing that the first half exhibited some of the exact problems that cause science to be under attack.

Car queue jumping

Regular readers (or just locals) will be aware of the lane switching that occurs on Vale Road and Gilgal. The default rule for driving is, of course, that you stay in lane until told otherwise. On these two roads if you know where you're going most switch lanes earlier if they need to which leads to the halting at the entrances for each of them (that and the fact they you can't merge into a queue). For those who don't know their way it's a case of looking for the signs.

For Vale Road the sign appears half-way along it; so if you're following the signs for Hartlebury from Stourport you'll be tootling along in lane 1 and suddenly be told to get into lane 3... which is a solid queue of traffic. As such you need to 'break' into it. It's not a regular occurrence but it's worth watching people who seem to suddenly start indicating once they reach the half-way point.

Likewise in Gilgal the signs are two-thirds of the way down and again you'll be in lane 2 and find you need to break into lane 1. Have pity on these poor people trying to negotiate this stupid system.

On the other hand you also get those who move up the empty lane and then try to break in; logically they're doing the right thing by using the empty lane, or at least it would be if they did so correctly. What they should do is move into the empty lane, indicate, and then slowly keep moving forward until someone let's them in. What they do instead is charge up the empty lane until they can go no further and then start to indicate - leave them there.

What's prompted this entry is the disparity between two vehicles this morning. Car One seemed to be a non-local; moved over from lane 1 into lane 2 at the sign and then indicated to move into lane 3; likewise did Car Two a little later. What differentiated them was their actions into Gilgal. Car One stopped, Car Two continued around without indicating and then starting indicating once they'd reached the sign.

Car Two most likely a non-local; Car One knew they wanted to be in lane 1 of Gilgal and stopped. Even with GPS the advice would be to merge so Car One gave themselves away by stopping.

Just an observation.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Observations of road covers

Isn't it amazing that covers that are positioned in the road such that traffic passes cleanly over them stay intact whereas those placed to cause traffic to run over them seem to sink?

Yet new roads and pipes get laid that place these covers in just such a manner. Do you think I should let them know?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Well done Hyundai

As mentioned I had a rumbling noise in my car that I thought may be down to my tyre being deflated; that repaired most excellently I still had the rumbling.

Logically as my car is still under warranty I should take it to my authorised Hyundai dealer (AHD). However after all the wait and travel last time I thought I'd get a first opinion from the garage less than five minutes walk away. It may turn out to be something minor.

My exhaust was blowing whatever that means (yes I know now) and a new part was going to cost [choke] how much?

Now the garage did wonder if it was under warranty so I contacted Hyundai directly - exhaust is not covered. Oh well time to bite the bullet. Product ordered, and fitted.

"Can I see the old exhaust please?" I asked.
It was duly brought out and examined. Much discussion and the result was this wasn't a hole, it wasn't corrosion - the seams had blown out. On a car this old with this mileage - no way; this is a manufacturer's defect.

As such had I taken it into the AHD I wouldn't have to pay a penny; yet I'd only taken it in here because I was told it wouldn't be covered.

I contacted Hyundai told gave them the skinny and was told that I'd need to take the old exhaust into the AHD to confirm this. Then I had another call - send us the invoice and we'll reimburse you; no examination necessary.

They could have kicked up a fuss; I could have kicked up a fuss; but nope all neatly settled. How surprisingly mature.

Devil Child's education

Some time at the weekend with The Artist. We admired Devil Child's hand-writing skills (better than mine :-) ); her ability at putting together a jigsaw;  her colouring skills - in the lines and maintaining a consistent colour scheme for striped jumpers.

Then The Artist dropped the bombshell - her teachers were worried because she "lacked confidence". Now this is the 5-year old who grabs me by the hand to drag me off to play with her as soon as I walk into the house and displays frustration that I have to take my shoes and coat off first.

The little girl who insists that you play the way she wants you to going so far as to tell you what move in a game you should perform.

The little girl who walks around singing, talking and basically interrupting any adult conversation you may be trying to have.

Lacks confidence!

Supermarket parking charges

In light of my previous suggestions to solve the Morrison's car-parking situation (fiasco?) I find it important to emphasise them in light of the current rumour mill mutterings - Sainsbury's and Tesco are going to be implementing the same system.

Now I can see Tesco doing that; but to do so at Sainsbury's would be insane - everyone would just park at the free car-park directly next to it and walk across.

However should this insanity come to pass please please please take note of the problems with the Morrison's system and take a look at mine.

Morrison's car-park

This weekend for the first time I've parked at Morrison's when the machines have been functioning. This is a coincidence as a letter appeared in the Shuttle asking patrons not to blame the staff. There is never a need to do this particularly at those who have had no say in the matter... but damnit I can understand the frustration.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Mass Effect 2 - first impression review

Unusually I'm going to start this with my opening of the game case itself. My first thoughts were "They've forgotten to include the manual" but it wasn't a pre-owned copy... hmm? It seems that Mass Effect 2 (ME2) doesn't come with a manual, just the standard boilerplate blurb and in the case of the PS3 version a shiny bit of paper with the download code for the Cerberus pack.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Electricity renewal prices

You have to love the energy companies - our contract is coming up for renewal and the new prices have come in. Working it out for the same energy usage as the previous year our bill will increase by almost £2,000 a year. Yeeps!

A Utility Broker has negotiated a price with the same company for us at an increase of about £50 a year.

Oh yeah utility companies are really working for us aren't they?

The Kidderminster Chronicle

I don't get a Kidderminster Chronicle delivered unlike the Shuttle. This wouldn't be a hardship if they had an online presence, but last time I checked it was so out of date as to be laughable. However a search turned up something interesting. Like the Shuttle the Chronicle now publishes an online edition of their paper here.

iGoogle feed display problems

I use iGoogle to see my comment feed. I've noticed on occasion some problems with the way it displays the comment titles. The common factor is when the first word of a comment is linked. The result is:

Examining the code it seems that the reader takes the comment as both title and content; however when it is itself a link only the title remains and not the content leaving this blank. The answer is not to link on the first word; but this is an odd problem.

That ECJ Insurance ruling in full.

The full decision made by the European Court of Justice on differences between male and female insurance premiums can be found here. The most interesting point being that this isn't a new ruling but a modification of an old one. Unisex premiums were supposed to be enforced from 2009 with a transitional period allowed. However no time limit was given for this 'period' this new ruling gives a cut-off date.

Now I've given my arguments about why this is wrong here. Sadly what this does is open up a whole can of worms. The Directive 2004/113/EC

prohibits all discrimination based on sex in the access to and supply of goods and services.
Okay now how about religion? Well can't discriminate for that; obviously. What about age? Surely the same principle?

So an 18-year old learner driver should be offered the same premium as a 30-year old driver? Anything else would be ageist. How about no-claims bonuses aren't they ageist too? After as you can only start to officially drive at the age of 17/18 it's impossible for such a person of that age to rack up a bonus compared to someone who's been driving for 20 years. Again if someone learns to drive at the age of 25 they should get the same high premium as someone at the age of 18.

In fact if this were extended then everyone regardless of circumstance should be paying exactly the same amount - you're discriminating against me because I'm a new driver, because I'm young, because I have a big car, because I have a history of cancer in the family, because I have a pre-existing condition, because I work in a dangerous profession.

By confirming that the insurance differences are based directly on the sex of the individual rather than simply as a side-effect this allows almost any grouping to be declared as discriminatory. Next up - is it discrimination to put urinals in a men's toilet and not a women's? Is it discriminatory to have two separate facilities at all?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Why the ECJ would be wrong in declaring insurance differences discriminatory

We all await a ruling by the European Court of Justice today on whether charging different rates of insurance between men and women is discriminatory.

On the blunt face of they would be right to do so. If you take my post regarding Homosexual discrimination to a logical conclusion it is discriminatory to differentiate on the basis of something you can't change (or at least not easily).

Therefore doing so between men and women is as equally wrong as between white and black or European and Asian. So as an example it would still be logical to charge a different life insurance premium for a stunt performer as they can change their profession to something less dangerous. It would be logical to charge a different health premium to a smoker as they have the option to quit; and it would therefore also be logical to charge a different health premium to someone with a history of cancer in their family.

Except in the case of the latter that's something that can't be changed. In this instance why could it be called discrimination to alter a premium based on sex; but not if it were based on family circumstances?

The answer is that the differences are not based on these things directly; but indirectly as a consequence of sex; condition; or age. No one would disagree that an infant should receive a different strength of medicine to that given to an adult, but isn't that ageist? No because the dosage is based on biological factors including body mass that are simply a result of being an infant. An adult midget or dwarf might share the same body mass as the majority of children and thus in some respects would be treated identically to them rather than to the majority of adults.

In terms of insurance the underlying basis of what you pay is based on statistics. If the statistics say that women are less likely to be the cause of a vehicular incident compared to a man; then they receive a lower premium because of that and not because they're women.

The extreme of anti-discrimination is pretending that there are no differences between men and women (white and black, European and Asian) when there are. The real question is are you treating them differently because of what they are or because what they are results in actual measurable differences?