Friday, July 29, 2011

America's debt ceiling

At the time of writing the American government still seems to be deadlocked on increasing the amount of money it's borrowing. For the most part the stalemate is being led by one particular faction, which I'm not going to bother naming. They don't want it to rise and hand out a homely little analogy about how if America was a family no-one would think this was sensible - 'Gosh we're in debt, let's apply for another credit card'.

Firstly like so much that comes out of this groups collective mouths it's rubbish and shows that they have no connection to families who actually do this... because it makes sense. A lot of credit card companies promote zero interest on balance transfers for a set period. So rather than have to pay off the capital and interest on your original credit card you transfer it and pay only the capital - you've reduced your debt.

The second point is that it's still rubbish because even their analogy doesn't work - this isn't about buying stuff this is America's mortgage. America's next mortgage payment is due, but are they going to pay it.

Putting it like that should also help with all the financial Armageddon talk that's going around. What happens if a family misses a mortgage payment? It depends on the family. If they're just having a small problem the bank may let it slide this once, they'll get a mark on their credit rating which means any future borrowing will be at a higher interest rate; but by and large they'll survive. Unless the banks are complete bastards or the family are untrustworthy; in which case they get kicked out.

Is America untrustworthy; do the holders of their debt want to 'kick them out'. I don't think so. If America fails in this instance it'll mean higher interest rates on borrowing due to their adverse credit rating and higher interest rates on borrowings that are banked by American debt; which will affect other countries including the UK.

Of course the bad thing will be if they miss a payment, financial collapse doesn't occur and this faction use that to justify their actions - 'Hey we missed last months payment and nothing totally bad happened; we can miss this months too'.

You're speeding!

Yesterday I saw that the flashing sign was back on the downstretch of Gilgal, I wonder how long it will stay up this time? Annoyingly it seems to have little margins of error as it's flashed me for doing ~30mph; that is with the needle hovering on the 30 mark and no-where near the 35 mark.

My worry is that it's a distraction - it's high up on the outside bend; so if it 'catches' the car behind you it will flash in the corner of your eye as you're approaching a bend that narrows, next to an exit for the petrol station, and just before a point where people cross the road. You need to be looking ahead and not jerking your head to the left.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vale Road closure?

A snippet of news from The Wyre that was spotted by Jim in this week's Chronicle (not yet published online) regarding the closure of one lane in Vale Road until February next year to whit:

A451 Vale Road will have the nearside lane closed near Mitton Street from 25th July – 28th February 2012
Where is this, what is this, what the hell is happening? Visit the WCC Weekly Road report and things become a little clearer when it states this is on behalf of "Churchill Retirement Living" for the purposes of "Off loading deliveries". In other words a temporary closure of the part of the first lane that runs alongside the sheltered accommodation being built on the old Shell garage site.

As always context is key.

The joke that is the Millfield Estate

So the last thing heard regarding the Millfields Estate was that each of the three builders would be doing their own work, doffing their cap at completion and handing over to the next contractor in turn. The good news is that the first builder's (Taylor Wimpey) contractor has finished and cleared off site leaving a delightful stretch of finished work on both road and pavement.

Are you waiting for the punchline? Oh good. Turns out that when the builder came to inspect and put their seal of approval on the work they stated that 60-70% of the surface used sub-standard material. So all those areas now have to be dug up again and resurfaced.

Now as none of the contractors are allowed to be on the same site at the same time (perhaps they're time travellers and we can't risk them meeting) this might set back all the other works that have been planned.

Ah but it gets more amusing. Allegedly it turns out the next builder won't start work until they've taken core samples of the road in their 'patch' which will take a week to process and they won't start that until the previous contractors have gone in case their work affects that road. Which could be considered fair if the two areas adjoined or the contractors had to use those roads... apparently they don't, and they don't.

Dungeon Siege III: a look at the attributes

Yes I know another game thing, but Dungeon Siege 3 is really annoying at times. In content it's aimed at the RPG crowd, but one thing that unifies that group is their desire to understand how the game works. For example with the Attack Attribute if I have to choose between a +5 Attack and +8 Attack weapon what's the difference?

For anyone who laughed and said 3 congratulations you could work for Obsidian.
[Update - as this is showing up on my stats presumably by people trying to work out what the hell they mean I've added a summary list to the bottom of this post]

Water pipe ownership

By now property owners should have received a letter from their local water company informing them of the change of ownership in water pipes. A frequently asked questions page for Severn Trent Water has been set up here

In essence what they're saying is that a property owner is currently liable for the entire pipe that connects them to the main sewer pipe regardless of whether it is within their property boundary or not. After October 1st everything outside the property boundary becomes the property of the water company.

On the surface this seems fair enough, however there are some niggles. Take this statement for instance with my emphasis:

you will no longer have to worry about paying to resolve problems yourself on any shared pipes or sewers outside your property boundary. However, drainage pipes within your property boundary which serve just your property will remain your responsibility
So who owns drainage pipes within your property boundary that are shared? At the moment it's the property owner after 1st October it'll be the water company.

Just to make this clear - the water company are taking ownership of pipework within the boundaries of private property and just to add the cherry they'll be charging us for the privilege.

But hey so what it just means less cost for the property owner should anything go wrong. True, except as the water companies now own that pipework they gain the same rights of access to it as they do with the main sewer pipeline. If they decide they want to replace the pipework they can and there's nothing you can do to stop them. They can dig up your garden, your driveway when they please although they will "try to reinstate as it previously was" afterwards, how reassuring.

Said property owner also faces one other small detail - as they're no longer the owners of the pipework they can't build over it without permission.

Now I'm in favour of this transfer, but looking at closely it just seems a wholesale transfer without any examination of the current legislation covering 'public' pipeways. Extra protections for the property owners have to be put in place.

To counter any possible charges of  whining without doing anything I've emailed my MP Mark Garnier with these queries; let's see how he responds.

[Update - a response time of 5 hours from Julian, not bad, not bad at all. Just a request for more information though; I'll give them time to look things up]

[Update 29/7 - an impressive return from Julian this morning. He's checking on the exact wording what with the holiday and all, but the basic word is that the water company just keeps the same rights they already possess in that they can gain access to fix things that affected the main pipeline. As they do need to give the owner sufficient notice in that instance that will continue once they own the pipework as well.]

[Update 5/8 - Julian posted the full wording, but that's made things worse. It appears that as it stands the local authorities have the right of access to private land and private sewers, but the water companies only have the right of access on private land to public sewers. Therefore, again, it seems they are gaining rights of access they didn't possess before.

Another point - when the companies were privatised did the ownership of the pipelines pass to them? If that's the case by what jurisdiction can the government transfer ownership of private pipes to private hands?]

Shutting down discussion

A lengthy 'debate' was going on in the pages of the Shuttle over a letter regarding the actions being taken at Hartlebury Common. I say was because said letter is now apparently closed to comments. Now while I understand the Shuttle doing this - they're not a forum after all (perhaps they should start one) in this instance not only are you unable to add a comment, but even see the comments already posted.

Given that comments have already disappeared off the site in the past and that the email subscription response is merely a bare 'A comment has been added' is there now a need to record these elsewhere?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dungeon Siege III first impressions review

So what happened with Dungeon Siege's 1 and 2? Well they were PC based and I've never played them. Fortunately it appears this game is set after all of them and thus requires no knowledge of past events to play.

So far my over all impression of this game is that it's from the same stable as Sacred 2; oh dear.

Closed shops

Just thinking of all the vacant stores in Kidderminster situated in the town centre. Three in the Roland Hill centre now; the old Woolworths building; the Officers Club on the corner; the Subway seems to be closed now having fluctuated. Just depressing.

Where and why quiz?

Tav over at WFA is continuing with his pub series of "Where is this?" quizes, but I have a non-pub related one that I've noticed as being odd. I've taken it from Google Street View, but may be able to get a better shot at the weekend; this meanwhile will suffice -

The text reads "Arley Cottage". No prizes on offer I'm afraid, but have fun.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Minecraft - redstone basics

Still with the Minecraft and trying to nail down the logic in how redstone circuits work, the wiki's great and all, but at times it's a little disjointed for me. As such I present my experimental results simply so I don't forget them.

The main component of redstone circuits is the power source. As of the date of posting these comprise of five different items - Button, Lever, Pressure Plate, Redstone Torch and Detector Rail. All of these will provide power to any item that requires it, but in specific and slightly different manners.

In terms of providing power a button will provide a surge of power then turn off; a pressure plate will provide power only whilst stood upon; a lever will provide power when turned on; a redstone torch will constantly provide power unless the block to which it is attached is powered*; and a detector rail will provide power only when a minecart passes over it.

All sources will provide power to the block to which they are attached except for a redstone torch*. All sources will also provide power to any block designed to use or transmit power that adjoins it either horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally.

The block to which a source is attached will itself act as a source, again except in the case of redstone torches*, and will thus provide power to any adjoining block designed to use or transmit it.

When connected to a source redstone wire will also act as a source, however it will not provide power to any block directly above itself. If two pieces of redstone wire are placed next to each other they will form a direct path. Power will then only be provided along this path to the block at its end and to the blocks below it.

Redstone wire will also form a path when placed within one block horizontally or vertically to another piece provided an air space exists at the point they would connect. Redstone wire can only carry power for 15 blocks before fading necessitating the use of repeaters for any longer distances.

A repeater is a one-way transmitter of power that can only receive power and send power from opposite directions. When powered it will act as a source in the same manner as a redstone wire path providing power only to the block at its end and the block below it. A repeater will not connect to a wire except when at the same height as it.

Repeaters can be set to delay the transmission of power via setting the spacing between the two 'ends' by repeated right clicking of a placed repeater.

* To screw with the logic a redstone torch is only said to be attached when fixed to the side of a block. When 'free-standing'  it provides power to the same six blocks as the other sources despite being 'attached' to the block below it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

DLC registration coding error

I picked up another game going cheap at the weekend; came with some DLC and an offer to register at the publishers web site. 'Just register and type in the code as shown' the piece of paper stated. So while on the PS3 I opened up their site; registered, acknowledged the email and then found the area in which I was supposed to enter the code.

There are apparently two different code formats. The first is "8 letters + 4 digits", the second "6 letters + 3 digits + 6 letters + 3 digits". Beneath this is the input text box; by default the first option. My code is of the second variety so I toggle the option over and the input boxes stay the same.

Yup the page uses javascript that the crappy Playstation 3 browser won't process to change the options over. So this publisher has produced a code for a console that console-only owners can't use; nice.

Being the sort of person I am I thought they might like to be informed of this so I headed to support; checked the FAQs and, finding nothing, clicked on contact.

Pick the correct category and sub-category for the query and then:

Please enter a brief explanation of the inquiry.
Example: Teach me how the controls work
Okay I can do that except the label for this input box is "Contact Details". Next page and it wants me to tell them my query, but first I need to enter my Log in name you know the one I'm currently logged in under. Then the email associated with that account; then enter it again just to make sure. Then pick and answer the security question I used to create the account. Then enter an alternative email address and re-type that too. Finally I get to type in my query. Oh and try doing all that using the on-screen keyboard.

Anyone might get the impression that they don't want to answer any questions?

Anyway I hit next and it gives me a ticket number "Please be sure to have your ticket number ready when you are contacting the Support Centre for assistance." fair enough but here's a thought - seeing as I typed in two email addresses twice perhaps you could also email it to me?

[Update - They did said me my ticket number in the end though it was mashed up with other text as part of the subject heading, nothing yet on the problem itself  though.]

[Update - A solution came through I'll present it as a hoary old joke-

Patient: Doctor, Doctor I can't register my PS3 game online using a PS3.
Doctor: Well use a computer instead.

Nintendo 3DS

Over the weekend I finally got to try a Nintendo 3DS. Given that I can't see stereograms and that 'proper' 3D with the glasses makes my eyes hurt after less than a few minutes how would the glass-less 3DS stand up?

It worked, but only for a given value of work. I played Pilotwings which should be a good test of 3D-ness. To me it was a bit like those changing flick cards - look at them from two different angles to get two different pictures. It wasn't really 3D to me; depth was there but it was just false; just wrong.

I found I also had to adjust the slide quite often while playing. Any time I moved my head forwards or backwards the depth went strange and I had to move my head back to its original distance which was never quite right. As such this hand-held console can never be held naturally, sit back tilt it or just move it and the 3D fails.

Oh and finally less than a minute in with the slider set and my head fixed, my eyes were starting to hurt.

Yeah not for me.

An almost accident

Just this morning I stopped at the Bridge Street island as a car at the junction with York Street wasn't signalling. Yes 99 times out of a hundred they're turning left, but it would be my fault if the 1 who wasn't hit me. So I always stop.

In this case they were going straight across to New Street, they passed across me, I continued into High Street, and then heard a screech of tyres from that direction.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Euromillion odds

While the jackpot was so high the probability of winning were discussed, however in keeping with we don't have time and maths is boring nothing was really done to explain why the odds were want they are. Let me remedy that.

Game design - a plea to developers

A simple do/don't do list compiled from my many years of playing video games.

The Free market

From my news feeds a US story appeared regarding a bill to repeal the energy efficient light-bulb standards brought in by George W Bush; it had the majority but not enough of one to be passed. But why try to repeal it in the first place -

“The government shouldn’t be taking these kinds of freedoms away from us. ... The market should decide,” Kozak said. “But the politicians tend to ram these things down our throats.”
Ah yes the market should decide that invisible hand that rewards those in public favour and punishes those out of it. Except as all but the most rabid fans know it doesn't work like that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

inFamous 2 competition

The UK Playstation site is currently running a competition  - post your review of inFamous 2 to Facebook and you could win goodies.

The nature of said goodies - A Dualshock 3 controller in red or blue that's been bundled with... a copy of inFamous 2; which would be the game you needed to review.

I suppose they're going after the rental market, but it does seem to be spitting in the faces of those who actually bought the game.

Tav's IPSA Saga

Tav over at the WFA has already given an account of what started his enquiry to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and what a drawn-out process this became. However I felt it necessary to re-emphasise his final main paragraph.

IPSA has requested that he not publish the final conclusion.

This is a public body created in the wake of the MPs expenses scandal to monitor their expense claims and answer Freedom of Information requests made regarding such, but it appears any such information provided by them comes with a 'please don't publish this' addendum.

As it seems that unlike the Press Complaints Commission IPSA doesn't publish the results of any enquiries even in a cursory manner the only way to determine the result is to wait and see if anything changes on the relevant index for Mr Garnier.

Most unsatisfactory.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What is temperature? Part 2

I was cornered the other day by someone who'd taken exception to my stating that convection isn't really a method of heat transfer.

And so to an analogy (feel free to groan I know some hate the ones I produce)

I have a box of tennis balls each marked "HEAT"; you also have a similar box. While moving around we bump into each other and some of each of our tennis balls bounce into the other's box. I end up with less and you end up with more.

Another time I see you standing paying no attention so I take out one of my tennis balls and throw it at you; it lands in your box.

Another time you see me and not wanting to be hit by flung tennis balls you and your box take several steps away from me.

Consider: In the first and second scenarios 'heat' was transferred; you gained it, I lost it. In the third no 'heat' was transferred; it was moved, but it was still attached to you. Conduction, radiation, convection. The question is does the word move and the word transfer have identical meanings? I contend that they don't. I accept that another might and that therefore all three methods do regard heat transfer; however it is still the case that in two of the cases the carriers of heat lose it and one where they don't and for me that continues to stand as a misclassification.

Common cause

With the massive scandals that hit the banks many questions were asked - How did this happen and why weren't there protections in place to prevent this? being perhaps the biggest. Politicians scrabbled in the face of public outcry to do something - more regulation, greater powers to curb behaviour. Not quite as obviously the banks scrabbled to try and prevent any of this happening; throwing out the 'lessons learned' and 'just one bad apple' defences. Presenting sacrificial lambs to try and appease while at the same time sidling up to MPs and whispering in their ears about how bad this would be for the economy if any of these plans were to go through.


With the massive scandals that hit part of the media many questions were asked - How did this happen and why weren't there protections in place to prevent this? being perhaps the biggest. Politicians scrabbled in the face of public outcry to do something - more regulation, greater powers to curb behaviour. Not quite as obviously the media scrabbled to try and prevent any of this happening; throwing out the 'lessons learned' and 'just one bad apple' defences. Presenting sacrificial lambs to try and appease while at the same time sidling up to the public and whispering in their ears about how bad this would be for a free press if any of these plans were to go through.


Funny how the world turns.

The final advertisers

As cropped in the comments in the entry I made regarding the News of the World who exactly did end up advertising in the final edition.

Another new store in Stourport

Another store opened up in Stourport that amazingly isn't a charity - Bumble Bee Bargains next to the Sweet Jar in Bridge Street on the 'wrong' side of the road.

Haven't had chance to visit yet though.

The new and improved Lidl

On Saturday as I was driving past it anyway I poked my head (and the rest of me) into the revamped Lidl. The car-park has been relaid, but could do with some directional arrows. Being small it's not too much of a problem, but it's a bit of a free-for-all.

As before there are no baskets, presumably because they can't be locked down, so if you want anything more than a handful needs must to slot in a pound coin and take a trolley. Is it just me or are they damn heavy? It's like manoeuvring a pallet truck around.

Once inside the differences, though small, shine through. The same number of shelves, but the aisles are much wider so that minor claustrophobic touch is gone; the tills are also new and much less shabby and in a nice touch there's a shelf running along the back wall behind the tills so you can pack there instead of at the till.

The prices, when you can find them, vary with some items being around the same as the Co-op but some being far far less. The question, of course, is one of quality is that 30p pack of Custard Creams as good as the 60p Morrison's own brand. Hmm not quite as flavoursome, but by no means unpleasant. Picked up a jar of Pasta sauce for 17p! That's one that I'll be trying tonight.

The one problem, which affects all such stores, is selection. If you want Beef or Chicken savoury rice that's fine, if you want Golden tough; in the same fashion I didn't pick up the Ice Cream Sundies (as they'd have melted) and when I returned on Sunday they'd sold out.

The advantage though is that this is so close to the Co-op a question of crossing the road and going over the bridge so that price comparison is easy; check the prices in one store then head over and buy everything that's cheaper in the next then return. It means more time shopping and more travel, but even for the terminally lazy or those through age or infirmity that require the use of a vehicle the distance is pitiful.

Well worth a browse.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Unleashing the power of true investigative journalism

Although it could be said they only did it to embarrass their rival the Guardian's work in uncovering the alleged News of the World telephone hacking shows the power of the media.

While the allegations of the hacking of royal and celebrity phones created an aura of distaste against News of World, its parent company and Murdoch it was the story about hacking into a missing possibly dead schoolgirl that turned the tide.

While not condoning any illegal actions it could be said that in the circle of celebrity and royalty they invite us to look at them; sure it can be taken too far, but still it's vaguely understandable. However hacking into the victims of crime; or casualties of war - I'm not sure the word outrage does enough, disgust, loathing? Amusingly the same types of reactions so many of the tabloids try to whip up against artificial enemies has come about quite naturally and aimed at one of their own.

Did this affect circulation of the paper? I don't know, but what it did do was start the pull-out of several major advertisers and that's where the money lay. They no longer wished to be associated with a paper that had these allegations hanging over them.

The public have forced the closure of a 168 year old paper because of the journalistic efforts of another. No blogger would have the time and resources to have pursued this story. In this era of 24-hour rolling news no television executive would have budgeted it. It took a newspaper to bring us this story.

But this isn't the end of the story. The obvious continuation is the pursuing of those actually in charge at the time. The less obvious is, I hope, the public asking itself why the paper supposedly did this and a questioning of how all papers obtain the stories they publish. Because they only do it to please us, so what does that say about ourselves?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Alice: Madness Returns

I enjoyed the original American McGee's Alice back on the PC, but was unsure about this remake particularly with most of the reviews I'd read saying how poor it was.

The good news was that while flicking through the PSN I spotted the original available for download at £7.99; hmm a touch pricey for something you could probably pick up for the PC for a couple of quid. Looking closer however was the caveat "Requires Alice: Madness Returns".

So I need to purchase the sequel in order to purchase the original; thanks. The oddity was that I was sure some reviews mentioned that the original came bundled with the sequel; if that was the case then this caveat made no sense.

I checked in with Amazon £29.07 no bundle; Game £21.99 no bundle; Gamestation £24.99 no bundle; SendIt £21.89 no bundle; Play £26.99 no b... wait a second "(With Bonus "American McGee's Alice" Download)". Adding the cost of the download to the raw price Play is still cheaper huh go figure. Better yet as the code doesn't expire until 2021 if I do decide I want it I can wait for it to drop in price first so long as Play have it stocked.

[Update - now Amazon £34.21, Game £34.99, Gamestation £34.99, SendIt £37.91, and Play £39.99. So a game with meh reviews has now increased in price?]

Duke Nukem Forever Final Boss Fight

As I said before it appears that the developers of Duke Nukem Forever took all the worst aspects of other games and combined them; this is clearly demonstrated in the final Boss battle.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Philosophy of law riddle

Odd how things crop up; this week one particular 'riddle' has been presented to me in various contexts and in slightly different ways. In essence it goes as follows -

Adam, Bill, and Charlie are in the desert. Bill and Charlie want Adam dead. Bill unbeknownst to Charlie poisons Adam's water canteen. Charlie steals Adam's canteen. Who killed Adam?

Supposedly some deep unanswerable question, but I don't see the problem. Take three universes. In Universe Adam both Bill and Charlie act as described; in Universe Bill only Bill acts; in Universe Charlie only Charlie acts. At the end of all actions does the state of any of the Universes correspond?

In Universe Adam, Adam has lost his canteen.
In Universe Bill, Adam has his canteen, but it's been poisoned.
In Universe Charlie, Adam has lost his canteen.

We'd have no problem declaring Charlie the murderer in Universe Charlie so Charlie is also the murderer in Universe Adam. Bill is just guilty of attempted murder. This can be extended further -

Adam, Bill Charlie, and Derek are in the desert. Bill poisons Adam's canteen. Charlie empties the 'water' and replaces it with sand; Derek drills a hole in the base so the 'water' will leak out.

In Universe Adam, Adam has an empty canteen.
In Universe Bill, Adam has his canteen, but it's been poisoned.
In Universe Charlie, Adam has his canteen, but it's full of sand
In Universe Derek, Adam has an empty canteen.

Derek is the murderer.

Road orders

I've already mentioned the speed limit changes on Minster Road, however travelling along it the other day (still noting the incorrect "road narrows on the left" signs) I spotted something new.

As you come off the dual-carriageway it switches to a 30mph zone; due to this major speed change white on green informational signs have been erected at 300, 200, and 100 yard intervals; these aren't new. What has changed is that for some reason the right-hand 300 yard sign has been partially altered. It still features three white ticks on green, but instead of a white 30mph in a white circle on green a standard red circled, black 30mph on white has covered it over.

So what? Well a red circled speed limit is mandatory and applies from the point it is marked. Technically speaking therefore the 30mph zone now starts 300 yards further out than expected.

At times I do wonder if those who fit these signs have any idea what they're doing.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Minecraft - a redstone cart shuttle

On occasion still playing with Minecraft. The downside of losing infinite blocks is balanced by the upside of gaining all sorts of extra blocks - most notably those that can automate stuff.

In my current world I have two areas separated by quite some distance, annoying to walk between. What I need is some sort of transport that can shuttle me between them. Luckily the paid version of Minecraft includes rails and carts. This should be easy.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Major portalling

Major's birthday and I got him The Orange Box which includes Portal. As I've mentioned before he has an XBox360 and it's difficult to get him off it; as such he is very au fait with games and their mechanics; as such I found it interesting to watch him playing this game.

The first rooms he whipped through - put a cube on the button; watch the changing portals and step through them at the right time; fire a portal above the receiver so the emitter ball passes through them. No problems! However once he acquired the second half of the gun and could fire two portals he started to slow down. The multiple step rooms caused him frustration.