Saturday, December 31, 2011

Almost ran me off the road

I haven't done a name and shame in a while, simply due to the fact if I listed everyone who changed lanes or used an island without indicating; or who cut me off that's all this blog would turn into. However this is a little different.

I'd just done some shopping in Kidderminster and was on my way home I'd proceeded down the right-hand lane of the dual-track towards the bus-station island which as indicated multiple times during the approach is the straight to Stourport rather than the left-turn to Worcester.

I pulled up at the junction alongside another car; then pulled forward; the car next to me did the same a moment later. I started to pass the Worcester exit when that car which was still next to me, but slightly further back, starting indicating to turn right into my lane. As there was nothing behind me I expected them to slow down and pull in behind me. They didn't. They decided to try occupy the same space as me and expect me to slow down to let them in. They finally realised they were running out of room and pulled in behind me; just as they should have done in the first place.

They flashed their lights at me and I gave a non-committal wave to which I received a two fingered salute. They they tail-gated me all the way through to the dual-carriageway and then just before it switches to 70mph  pulled out and pulled alongside me; then ahead of me and then almost into me. Seriously this wasn't a case of cutting me up or not seeing me they were running parallel to me and purposefully swerved into my path; back out and then did it again.

So if you see car registration Y598 JFM being driven by some old guy treat them as a psychotic menace on the road.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Stourport still doesn't need a by-pass

6 minutes to get from the Kidderminster end of Stourport to over the bridge to drop something off - 30 minutes to get back.

The difference between Santa Claus and Father Christmas

As a festive offering I thought I'd post a little information on the Big Guys in Red given that I'd happened to mention this to my father and he responded with "I never knew that".

Santa Claus and Father Christmas are not the same person. Santa is an American derivative of the Dutch figure; Father Christmas is more English/German/pagan. In attitude Santa is the gift-giver while Father Christmas is the merry maker - Santa brings the booze; Father Christmas encourages you to enjoy it ;-)

In appearance Santa Claus wears a short jacket and a hat; Father Christmas wears a robe with a hood. Locally the Three Kings Parade features Father Christmas - the hoodie you do want to hug.

A 'fact' that does need to be scotched is that they both wear red and white due to the Coca Cola adverts - they both wore red but also green or brown prior to Coca Cola; however it could be said that red is now the predominant shade due this public perception.

On an atheistic note if you wish someone Happy Holidays and they get snotty about you not using the C word ask them why they don't consider this time to be a Holy Day which is where the word derives its meaning :-)

And on that note I wish everyone a happy,pleasant and fun holiday. See you in the New Year.

A new Stourport restaurant

The signs are up and it seems we have a replacement at the High Street end of Parkes Passage AD Gundum. I only glimpsed it as I drove past so not sure what they do in the way of food or even if I've spelt the name correctly, but at least it's a new business in Stourport that's not a charity.

[Update - Yes it has been that long. The name is A.D. Gustum and they deserve a plug simply for embracing the Italia theme so wholeheartedly. From their menu the cheapest 3-course meal would be £22.30, the most expensive £31.30 a head] 

Monday, December 19, 2011

DC Universe online messes up again

As before I happened to be awake early on Sunday morning and thought I'd give the game a quick try once again. Started the game and... yet another patch. 126Mb so okay not too long to wait. Patched and back and would you look at that it's alternating between exhorting me to visit the DCUO site and to buy the latest add-on. Hah yeah not likely let's just play; but first time to download the game assets.

I'm sorry you want to download how much? Over 1Gb? Gee this hasn't got to do with this new add-on does it - I'm not downloading the entire thing am I? Looks like I am.

Okay sure I need the skins and powers etc. but skins are about 100Kb each and this is over 1Gb.

Now the really annoying thing is that even if I forked out to be a Playstation Plus member my PS3 wouldn't wake up at night to download this because it's not a update - that 126Mb was an update. These are in-game assets that require the game to be running. Well I say running I mean displaying a single backdrop while asking you to visit their site or buy the add-on.

Sorry DCUO you've lost a potential customer because I'm not going to sit around for an hour to download the game and then sit in a queue for another hour just to play it.

But the rules don't apply to me!

Sharing a road on Saturday morning with an ambulance one of the Land Rover types rather than a van; no emergency or anything just travelling along.

Between the end of High Street and the railway bridge they - twice changed lanes without indicating with one time barging their way into a stream of traffic; exceeded the speed limit four times and halfway through turning left deemed it the right time to indicate they were turning left.

At least it wasn't a police car, but yeesh.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Assassin's Creed: Revelations - review

Have you played Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood? If so then congratulations you've played Revelations. There has been some gameplay tweaks and some minor additions, but nothing as major as the shifts between the other games.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lowering business rates - small business rate relief

One of the larger expenditures for any business is the amount of money handed over to the government in the form of rates a figure that, in the Wyre Forest at least, can amount to 40% of the amount that they may pay in actual rent. For a small business this can be a huge overhead. There are ways to lower this amount and the simplest is provided directly from the government in the form of Small Business Rate Relief.

The catch is that the government have no requirement to inform you of it or set it automatically if you qualify - it's something you have to apply for. Dig your way through the Business Link site and you'll hopefully reach the page goes into detail about how SBRR works. The key bits apply to this year Apr-11-Apr12 and part of next year Apr-12-Sep12. Keeping it simple if you are a business occupying a single site you probably qualify for relief.

As an example of the type of savings available consider if a property has a Rateable Value (RV) of £12,000. Without any relief in the Wyre Forest this would be multiplied by the Standard Rating Multiplier of 43.3p and the rates bill would be £5,196. With the SBRR it would be multiplied by the Small Business Multiplier of 42.6p and the rates bill would be £5,112 a saving of £84 per annum; which sounds petty. However if the property has a lower rateable value a sliding scale is introduced.

If the RV is less than £6,000 a relief of 100% is applied - there is no rates bill! Between £6,000 and £11,999 a sliding scale is introduced from 100% to 0%. If the scale is linear (surprisingly there's no information on this) then a RV of £10,000 rather than be the full rates bill of £4,330 would be the small rates bill of £4,260 with perhaps a third off resulting in a rates bill of £2,840.

That's a saving from the full amount of £1,490 per annum! All it takes is filling out one sheet of A4 paper that you can apply for from your local council or possibly even download and fill out.

Better yet although the relief starts from the date of application it can be retrospectively applied  to the last six months meaning you could get money back. In the above case paying the full bill monthly over ten months starting Apr11 and having paid the December amount that could be a rebate of £894. Wouldn't that be a nice present :-)

If you're a business owner find your last rates bill and check which multiplier you're on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Warhammer and painting - why use a RYB colour model?

As I've mentioned I did some Christmas shopping for Bratus Minor and I did end up buying him a "How to Paint" book. Prior to wrapping I had a flick through it and found they were using the Red Yellow Blue (RYB) colour model on how to mix paints. This is a popular model that painters use; but why?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Another trip to Merry Hill

A trip out early Saturday morning to Merry Hill to pick up presents for the Bratii to take in on Sunday - left just past 9am and arrived around 9:40 and the car-parks were packed. The counter on the multi-storey was down or switched off and the top open level was blocked off with no warnings. Ended up near the back of the cinema.

Oddly though once in it didn't seem that busy. I hate to think what it's going to be like next weekend.

Friday, December 09, 2011

That EU treaty decision

From what I understand the situation ran something like this - the Eurozone countries want to enact tougher fiscal responsibility upon themselves, but want to enact it under the wider EU framework. Which would seem to mean that the EU as a whole would become responsible for monitoring it etc.

As in so much it comes down to differences in emphasis - Although the Euro meltdown is a problem for the EU; it is not the EU's problem. But that is what France and Germany appear to be trying to turn it into while complaining that the UK is interfering with things that aren't its concern.

Yep that's right according to Sarkozy trying to dump the problem from the current Eurozone only ECB system to the wider EU had nothing to do with the other EU members and they should all stay out of it.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Exam cheats

It seems to be the week for "well duh!" revelations. Lobbyists boasting about their political connections and showing no scruples over who they work for! Say it ain't so. Then we get to exam cheating - can I call it that? Let's say extreme exam guidance wherein some who work for the private companies that create exams brief the teachers of those subjects on the topics that will arise.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A new office telephone system

We were moving offices and as such had a new phone system installed that unlike our current ancient beast would integrate into the computers systems. Long story short we never moved in so we decided to have it moved over.

They came out checked the lines pronounced them okay and scheduled someone to come over and switch them over. This duly happened and as I was looking over the new system asked
"So where does it plug into the network?"
"It doesn't"

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A new Warhammer hobbyist

As previously mentioned I inadvertently introduced Bratus Minor to Games Workshop, in particular the painting side, with the result of him purchasing a starter set of Warhammer 40k marines and paints. From a phone call last night this has gone down very well with him spending around 4 hours (of being quiet) on them so far and all from a 10 minute lesson at the store. It's so engrossed him that he's shut up about Lego Star Wars which has knocked his upcoming birthday gift list a little askew.

Bratus Pater's initial reaction of thinking of his wallet has subsided since he's been able to compare the prices of this previous interest with this current one. It's cheaper quite a bit cheaper. It's amusing as the two are quite alike - they're both kit pieces that you assemble and then never take apart (yes you can use the themed Lego pieces in other things, but they're designed for one set build). Warhammer models require more work; but they have the advantage that they are far smaller; and you're less likely to lose the bits up the Hoover. Ironically I consider them to be more customisable then the Lego themed kits too.

As I mentioned in the other entry there are some initial costs that can be incurred - a set of 10 paintbrushes or a base set of paints etc. will cost around £35, but brushes last a while and paints need only be topped up when required at  the pocket-money friendly price of around £3 a pot. It is really one of those hobbies where the requirements can stack up as high or as low as you want. Sure you can buy the Citadel Paint Station, but you can just use some newspaper and a jam jar of water. You can buy the Citadel Realm of Battle Gameboard; or just drop an old blanket over odd piles of books and use that as terrain with a shoe box as the fortress just like I used to do.Heck you don't even have to paint the models if you don't want to.

So now the question is what do I get him? My parents and I are able to pool monies so we can get something a little meatier, but what would be best? A paint brush set is no use unless he has the paints and vice versa; the black spray is handy but seems miserly despite the £9 price tag. Given what I know he's getting a particular set of paints would be worthwhile perhaps with a couple of brushes.

Hmm a Basecoat Brush for £3.60; a Wash Brush for £4.10; a Medium Dry Brush for £3.10. Some Goblin Green and some Thraka Green at £2.30 each as he'll need those. The Chaos Black Spray for £9.10 would save his proper black paint. Hmm some PVA Glue at £5.10 and some Static Grass at £5.10 for the bases. Possibly some Plastic Glue at £4.10 I'm not sure what he's using at the moment to fix the models.

Possibly drop the base's for some additional and duplicated paints... I'll have a word with his father to see how much he has left of the starter set. Maybe the How to Paint book instead or perhaps for Christmas

Monday, December 05, 2011

DC Universe online quick review

As mentioned I managed to download the loader for DC Universe; then the patch; then the entire 15Gb game. I then managed to create a super-villain and finally conked out when I saw the queue to start standing at over 2000. Well I happened to be awake early on Sunday morning and thought "Hey let's give it a whirl".

First things first - amusingly the opening sequence of  'adverts' are all in 1080p resolution; however the game itself switches down to 720p. Oh and it needed yet another 125Mb patch.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Christmas alcohol sales pricing

An email popped up from Saimsbury's about the great savings they're offering for lager and cider; hmmm cider okay I'll bite and take a look.

This cider is reduced in price; this you can buy two of for this price; this you can buy three of for this price and this comes in three different sizes with different prices. So yeah easy to sort out or at least it would be if they displayed the saving and the price per litre. Beyond the extra information why would this be useful?

Consider the Stella Artois offers at the bottom of the page. Buy one 568ml bottle for £1.61 instead of £2.15 they even state it's 25% off. However I could buy eight 568ml for £10 instead of £11.95. Which is the better deal?

1.61/2.15=0.75 That is £1.61 is 75% of £2.15 and therefore is a 25% (1-0.75) saving just as they say.
10/11.98=0.83 That is £10 is 83% of £11.98 and therefore is a 17% (1-0.83) saving.

The single bottle is the largest percentage difference and therefore the better deal... or is it. How much do I actually get?

568ml = 0.568 litres 1.61/0.568 = 2.83. Therefore for the single bottle I would be paying £2.83 per litre. For the eight bottles that would be 10/(0.568*8) = 2.20 or £2.20 per litre.

So despite the single bottle offering the greater percentage off the eight bottle set is the better deal as a price per litre which is really the important thing. The full results are as follows:

[Update - I've altered this since WalkerNo5's comment and then re-altered it since mine own. The columns are as follows - Product; Number of products per unit; Percentage saving from normal price to sales price; Sales price per litre; Percentage of alcohol per product; Sales price per alcohol in litres; Amount of sales price per litre that contributes towards actual alcohol content]

NumbersavingSale/l ABVprice/l alcSale/ml alc
Aspall Dry421%£2.80 7.00%£39.94 £0.20
Aspall Perronelle120%£4.10 5.40%£75.93 £0.22
Babycham447%£2.50 6.00%£41.67 £0.15
Bulmers Crisp122%£2.93 4.50%£65.21 £0.13
Bulmers No17122%£2.93 4.00%£73.36 £0.12
Bulmers Original432%£1.99 4.50%£44.19£0.09
Friels Pure17%£2.93 4.90%£59.88 £0.14
Frome Valley116%£3.33 6.00%£55.56£0.20
Henney's Vintage116%£3.33 6.50%£51.28 £0.22
Kopparberg420%£2.25 4.50%£50.00 £0.10
Magners Irish118%£2.93 4.50%£65.21£0.13
Magners Irish839%£1.76 4.50%£39.12£0.08
Magners Original42%£3.03 4.50%£67.34£0.14
Magners Pear118%£2.93 4.50%£65.21£0.13
Magners Pear412%£3.03 4.50%£67.34£0.14
Magners Pear839%£1.76 4.50%£39.12£0.08
Sainsbury's Vintage118%£3.33 6.00%£55.56£0.20
Savanna Dry116%£3.33 5.50%£60.61£0.18
Stella Artois125%£2.83 4.50%£62.99£0.13
Stella Artois817%£2.20 4.50%£48.90£0.10

Biggest 'bang for your buck' Magners Irish or Pear eight-packs.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

This is how planning decisions are made.

One of the recent decisions that got made in the November 8th Planning meeting was regarding a temporary change of use on a parcel of land from industrial to residential. The full decision can be found covering pages 27 to 59 in this document.

I'll summarise:

Stourport Town Council - Recommend Refusal
Highway Agency - no comment
Environment Agency - Recommend Refusal
Severn Trent Water - no comment
Planning Policy - Recommend Refusal
Worcestershire Regulatory Services:
(Contaminated land) - it's industrial and as the change is to residential it needs a certificate.
(Noise) - "probably the most environmentally hostile sites within the District"  Recommend Refusal.
West Mercia Police - "The area in which this application is proposed has one of the highest rates of burglary in the District." Recommend Refusal
Health and Safety Executive - No hazards
Strategic Housing Services Manager - failed to answer
Worcestershire County Council Gypsy Liaison Officer - The people already living without approval on the site seem fine. Recommend Approval.
Watercourse Officer - Recommend Refusal.
Neighbours: Nine Objections. Recommend Refusal;
Seven signatures Recommend Approval
Officer comments: Recommend Refusal.

So casting your eyes over all the expert opinions the result should be quite obvious - the committee approved it. How did they come to this decision:

However, at the last Planning Committee, Members indicated that they were minded to approve the application on the basis that:
  1. there is an identified need for pitches;
  2. the site is located adjacent to Nunns Corner, a tolerated travellers site within the same floodzone;
  3. there is sufficient early warning of the flooding of the River Severn to allow occupiers to evacuate; and
  4. there are a lack of alternative sites.
Or to rephrase
  1. The pitches are required
  2. Two wrongs make a right
  3. They've got time to pack up and move
  4. For some reason none of the other 15 sites listed by the Baker report count
Seriously read these pages and see how many times this application is recommended for refusal with some arse-grab reason being found to cancel it out which amounts to 'But we really need more pitches'. It's pathetic.


So it's only taken a year, but I note that the entrance to York Street now sports a cross- hatch and lane divider. Sadly it doesn't extend all the way down York Street as it should, but it's a start.

My problem with sandbox games

For those who don't know I'll begin with a quick definition of a sand-box game. It is in essence an open-world game one in which the player is free to wander about and perform tasks that have little to nothing to do with the main story-line.

From the point of view of developers a sand-box game is what we the players are constantly demanding - we want choice (or at least the illusion of it). Rather than being dumped at Point A and herded along to Point B so as to be further herded along to Point C we want to stretch, spread out and do something different. One way to look at it is if you consider such types of games as books or films . After all in the majority of such we don't have a say in the actions of the protagonists - we're taken on a journey by the writer. Given that we like these things why shouldn't we like games that emulate that style?

Because games are designed to be interactive; they're designed to be played. As such playing a game that obviously limits the player's choice can be as frustrating as watching a film that requires you to pick up the remote control every five minutes to pick which scene you want to see next. Given that, it seems to make sense to go in the opposite direction and give the players total freedom to do what they want and indeed some games were produced that had no story and just allowed free wandering. In almost all cases they were disasters - in most cases the players simply got bored. In turns out most of us like story and most of us like progression.

At which point we reach the current crop of sand-box games - they have a main storyline, but allow the player to roam off track and perform other actions. With games like Fallout 3 and Red Dead Redemption these should be the ideal games; so why do I have a problem with them?

I think the easiest way to illustrate this is to demonstrate the differences between a game like the latest Assassin's Creed and Red Dead Redemption. They both feature a large area; they both have main story lines to follow and they both allow the player to veer off and just run around and do other things. So why do I prefer the former to the latter?

Because Assassin's Creed tells me what those wanderings can produce whereas the extras in Red Dead Redemption have to be discovered.

It sounds silly, but in AC I know there are shops I can buy and where they are; I know there are viewpoints I've yet to climb and where they are located. Triggered quests appear on my map so I can find them. I don't have to do them in any particular order; I don't have to do them at all, but I know they are there and so if I choose I can plot my own path through the game that takes in as many or as little as these side-quests as I want.

In Red Dead Redemption I don't get that. Sure some quests pop-up; but there's so much going on that doesn't appear until it's found that to an extent I as a player am back to wandering around aimlessly if I want to experience them. Oh sure I don't have to do that I could just stick with the main story line; but how does that make the game any different from the linear herding style ones? Okay it would be my choice to do that; just as it would be my choice to go wandering. But only the former truly produces in me a sense of purpose. Rather than in AC where I'm heading to a location because I know there's a tower to climb; in RDR I'm heading out into the desert to see if there's anything to 'climb' and if there isn't it just seems I've wasted my time.

It's that not knowing that frustrates me. I've played such open world games many times over and often I would stumble on a side-quest and think "Damn I wish I'd known about this before as the reward given makes the other quests much more bearable" I'm not displaying frustration with myself for not finding this quest earlier I'm displaying frustration with the game for not telling me this quest existed in the first place.

Now I'm sure some people just love that sense of discovery and sure so much unknown territory allows each game to be different every time; I understand and accept that. It's just for me I can't get the same sense of completion out of these games as I can out of the others. I would like to be able to choose not to do a quest rather than not do it because I never knew it even existed. For me that's the real level of choice that games should be offering, but that may just be me.