Friday, December 21, 2012

How the new Tesco road fails

For the first time since the new bridge for Tesco opened we've had a confluence of events that resulted in traffic being commensurate with that which can be expected with a new housing development and a superstore.

If, in simplistic terms, one considers Stourport as a crossroads last night one 'arm' was closed and another slowed down by traffic lights leaving traffic building up through town and beyond. I decided to slip off down the new route and see how it would stand up. What I discovered was some major flaws in its layout

Coping with the end of the end of the world

It's now 11:12 GMT one minute past the end of the world and for all those believers still standing there's only one thought passing through their minds "How do I explain this in a way that won't make me look like an idiot?". Here's hoping I can help you out:

Tip #1. Go for the metaphysical. The world has ended, but not the physical world is was never going to be that; instead it's the dawning of a new spiritual world.

Bonus. Your claim can never be refuted.

Tip #2. Mistranslation. The Mayan calendar really started later so the end of the world is still yet to come.

Bonus. You can do this all over again.

Tip #3. "Hah fooled you" not as good as the first two in that this makes you look like a jerk rather than an idiot, but hey go with it if you've nothing else

Bonus. You can do this with any other idiotic thing you say in the future

Tip #4. Realise that this was all a crock of shit; go back into education; and learn about science.

Bonus. Actually learning something... yeah whom I kidding if you've gone this far you'd best stick with one of the first three options.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's the end of the world as we know it; or not.

Has everyone ticked off the last item on the bucket list? Bid your family and friends farewell? Why not; don't you know the world ends tomorrow?

Yes the 21st day of the 12th month of the year 2012 is the end of time... according to the Mayans. Well actually not according to the Mayans, but according to all the kooks who happily misinterpreted Mayan inscriptions.

In essence:

from BizarroBlog (was BizarroComic)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Loading the question - bias what bias?

The Conservatives are interested in how fair you think their benefit reforms are and to get as much input as possible have, allegedly, launched an online ad:

Currently this ad doesn't feature on the Conservative's own site but has been picked up by a few others. There is a leaflet using the same imagery and featuring the Conservative logo and printing details; so it might well be genuine. Seriously though how can anyone coming to a survey from this advert give a fair opinion - "Oh yes I think the government should give more money to people who won't work than to hardworking families" How about to people who get assessed like this? Or this?

Oh but of course if you're in genuine need that's okay they're only targeting those to lazy to work who treat the benefit system as a right. I mean how else can you explain a 40% rise in convictions for benefit fraud? Have you been paying attention to my posts regarding statistics? That's a rise from 7,040 to almost 10,000. How many people on benefits in this country? Including all types of benefits - 30,000,000. So that's 0.03% convictions. So either there's a lot of genuine cases out there or those work-shy are damn good at not being caught.

But hey when have facts ever got in the way of good old political rabble rousing? Locate your supporters, find a group they don't like, and charrrrrrge!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Starbucks in Kidderminster

I had been reliably informed that a Starbucks had opened its doors in Kidderminster; heh what perfect timing. So where did the branch think was the best site for those wanting to down one of their beverages?

Was it the Swan Centre which has the Gourmet Cooks up top and the Baker's Oven and the Penny Black down below? How about the Rowland Hill centre with the Clock cafe? Don't be silly how could they compete with places selling both food and drink? Nothing small enough on High, Worcester, or Vicar Street that I can think of.

Oh wait silly me I know the ideal position for a Starbucks - just on the other side of the short Husum pedestrian bridge on the opposite corner from Caffe Nero; you know that other place that sells coffee.

I'd like to stress that I am, of course, sure this wasn't done with the intention of attempting to poach customers from Nero who have been there for a long while (since the area was re-built I think) and is all to do with how coffee is so much better when its purchase is confined to a small geographical area.

Local politics - 5-year olds in a playground

It's the single site again - our district council spending around £10m on new premises, in these economic times, in order to save £500k a year (savings which only seem to top renovation savings over a 25-year period). For some reason people are still whining about it despite the fact it's been built and now occupied; it's done, nothing more can be done, and it can't be undone so why can't they let it rest?

I don't know, perhaps it's because it appears the majority of the district didn't want it. Perhaps because despite having a town known world-over as a carpet manufacturer the site's carpet tiles came from a out of district supplier. Or perhaps it's because Mr Martin (Labour) claims the savings may only be £80k? (with a fuller 'letter' here).

Early Santandar Debit Card

I was a little shocked Friday night to come home to find my new debit card had arrived in the post, shocked because my current one doesn't expire until March next year. Was someone ordering a new card in my name, was something wrong with the old one? I phoned the Customer Service team and beeped in 20 numbers plus numerous menu choices before I got to speak to someone.

Turns out so many people's cards are renewed in March they've decided to send some out early and i happened to be near the front of the queue. I explained how this might seem concerning to some and the nice lady apologised that there was nothing with the card to explain why this had been done.

Annoyingly that meant having to visit town so as to unlock it, which I wasn't planning on doing.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Xmas driving

So is it xmas that creates bad drivers or is just the same percentage with more traffic?

Entered the Crossley car park to find a driver coming round the corner on the wrong side. Managed to stop for the car indicating left as they turned right around the island. Watched a car speed past before cutting in to turn left. Got stuck as a van blocked the road trying to turn right from a side road onto the main. Pulled up behind the car that had sped past me and was now waiting to turn right.

And that was just this morning.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The joy of property rates

I've mentioned in the past how much councils charge business in rates (for services they don't receive) how this can be lowered thanks to Small Business Rate Relief which was set to be cancelled next year. What I can't seem to find is remarks regarding empty properties. I'll rectify that now.

Keeping it simple empty industrial properties were exempt from paying council tax rates. Some thought this unfair and some thought that it allowed landlords to keep rents high as they lacked incentive to rent out the building (such people being idiots as landlords are still required to pay utility bills from a zero-income building) as such the Labour government introduced a cap. If the Rateable value of your building was over £15,000 rates would need to be paid; the next year they raised the threshold to £18,000. In 2011 the Conservatives lowered it to £2,600.

Currently the council tax multiplier is set to 45.8p that means a property valued at £12,000 RV that stands empty and paid nothing now accrues a charge of £5,496 a year just as if someone was renting it. Recall that this is on something that is generating zero income. How would that translate to domestic property?

Take a property worth £100,000 rent per month is set to 1% or £1,000 which is an RV of £12,000 per annum. If it were a business it would pay that £5,496. In Stourport it's a Band E property and thus is charged £1,848.22 or almost a third the amount; oh and they'd have their bins emptied too.

Logic says that companies make more money. Except companies also have to pay tax - company, NI etc. which a household doesn't. So why are businesses charged in a different way to domestic premises? Isn't doing so a disincentive to all these home-start businesses?

I'm being serious if you start a business at home then you're supposed to notify the council as the room you call your 'office' is now subject to business levels of rates if used primarily for that function. So that's the full whack of domestic council tax plus the RV of that room multiplied by 45.8p. Assuming, of course, that you have permission anyway as your work may constitute a change of use and require planning permission.

It's a bit of a joke, but this distinction is not helping the economy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Guido's tax claims

What's this Ed's claiming that the Conservatives are hurting the poor. Not according to Guido who has published a handy chart showing Income Tax rates from 2009-2010 and 2012-2013. Un-huh let's try this in full.

First off that's not all the tax, National Insurance has to be calculated too. So take an annual salary of £10,000 in 2009-2010 and subtract income tax of £705 and NI of £471.35 leaving £8,823.65. Let's do the same for 2012-2013 Income Tax of £379 and NI of £333 leaves £9,288. OMG Guido is right under the Conservatives the poor are better off. Um no because these are using absolute figures and there's the little matter of inflation to deal with.

Let me convert everything into Oct 2013 money (the latest CPI figures available) the calculation is quite simple take the CPI figure for the period you want to convert to subtract the CPI rate from the period you're converting from divide the lot by that last CPI figure and out pops inflation. Within a formula add 1 and then multiply. IOW:

(("CPI of Oct 2012" - "CPI of Mar 2010")/"CPI of Mar 2010")+1
(124.2 - 113.5) / 113.5) +1

So our 2009-2010 figure becomes £9,655.48 in Oct2012 money. Which is more than our 2012 figure of £9,288. So yes in absolute terms the poor have more money, but because that money now buys less than it did in 2010 they're worse off in relative terms.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

North Korea launchs Twinkie hunting satellite

News just in that North Korea have launched their Twinkie hunting satellite ahead of schedule. The official broadcaster had this to say:

As was reported yesterday the first step of our great and glorious Twinkie hunt suffered some technical difficulties that would have prevented the launch. This was a ruse designed by our great and glorious leader to catch the perfidious Westerners off-guard. Who could consider that our technologically supreme country could suffer such? Only the jealous foreigners.

It is therefore with pride that I announce the launch of the world's first satellite. Hand-crafted by our glorious leader with super-advanced sensors to detect the elusive Twinkie.

As all our countrymen know the Twinkie recipe was formulated by our great leader in a moment of introspection as to be the perfect fuel source for a being such as himself that functions at such an elevated level. The formula was stolen by traitors and sold to a foreign company called Hostess, who in a fit of remorse and recognising the genius beyond the creation, regularly shipped crates of the fuel to our glorious leader's modest home.

However in shocking news the company is being shut down due to, as one spokesperson stated,"the pressures placed upon us by our decadent government and the traitorous leaders of the Southern areas of Korea who are jealous of Kim Jong Un's proficiency and genius all in the misguided hopes that this will slow down such a towering intellect".

Instantly our great and glorious leader put his genius to work developing a system that would detect Twinkies using state-of-the-art obesity sensors that would highlight the results of Twinkie abuse by those not blessed with his magnificent constitution. The launch has shown rampant abuse of this fuel source fit for the gods in decadent America indicating stock piles of his most worthy creation and our glorious leader has demanded that the tribute be reinstated.

Until our demands are met citizens are asked to contribute any and all food stuffs to meet our great leader's requirements and soldiers have already rounded up many volunteers who have been placed on a hunger strike until the situation is resolved.

Glory to our Leader.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Electronic Big Brother

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the government doesn't understand the internet. Back in 2009 there was an attempt to make Internet Service Providers keep tabs on all their users activities; in 2011 they wanted ISPs to block pornography. Now they want to revive that old 2009 attempt with a thin lick of paint.

The old bogeymen of paedophiles and terrorists are being trotted out to explain why the government wants to be able to see exactly where you visit online, who you talk to etc.and yet exactly the same reasons why this wouldn't work for censorship applies to this 'new' law.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Xmas lunch as the Dog at Dunley review

I got roped in to a Christmas lunch; my family and I had an elsewhere to be afterwards and rather than travel separately or run a pick-up trip it made sense for me to go along. Glad I did.

Friday, December 07, 2012

A look at UK debt.

I've mentioned the current belt tightening (for some at least) and how in theory this could be a long-term good thing. We've just had the news regarding the tax threshold increase which by itself is a good thing and about time too, of course it's not by itself and comes with a whole raft of benefit cuts. That means the salary 'bonus' that we would be spending within the economy will simply be recirculating within the same systems. Stepping away from that micro-economic situation I want to turn to UK debt.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Only in Russia? Nope pretty much anywhere

Driving back to work I headed up Vale Road towards the infamous filter/merge Gilgal. A stream of traffic heading into the left-hand lane, but I noted that if I slowed slightly I'd reach the junction at a point I'd be able to slip into the large gap after a white van at the end of the line. Well I would have, if a red car hadn't accelerated sharply to catch up with the end of said line.

I reached the junction as planned and slipped slowly and carefully into the right-hand lane putting me at a point behind the white van and just ahead of the red car both on the left. They were obviously travelling faster than I as they didn't have a sharp corner to negotiate and so both pulled ahead. The red car indicated and pulled in front of me. I indicated and switched to the right.

The red car then wavered and switched back in front of me, put on more acceleration to overtake another red car in front of them (who must have pulled over some time ago from the original stream) and then indicated and slammed themselves between the white van (on the left) and the other red car (on the right).

What a pillock

I like this, so they've stopped selling it

Long-time readers may recall that some time ago I suddenly started putting on weight and inches around my waist; ironically this was due to an attempt to change my eating habits to something healthier. A few modifications later and I'm back to where I was and all the new trousers I had to buy now require a belt.

One of the modifications made was a snack during mid-morning; I wanted something that was healthy (ish), light, and easy to eat. Cereal bars seemed like the ideal choice, but I found they were either full of sugar and fat or taste-wise far too intense for my palate. They also had the problem in that they were far too crumb-ridden not something to be eaten at a desk or near a computer unless you've got a handheld vac nearby. Going through various types I discovered something that seemed ideal - Fruit Bowl's School Bars.

Camera drone panic!

Watching BBC Breakfast this morning you'd think cameras were some new and scary bit of technology. They were talking about camera drones, essentially model helicopters slung with a still or video camera. Imagine these flitting about with someone hovering over your back-garden watching you the law has to be set to deal with this.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Sales pressure

Just had a phone call from my parents - they've had someone in to do a quote for some work done to the property. I'd already looked up this company and they've had no negative reviews, so no obvious problem there. What got me was the following - the quote is £Xk, but if you agree now, agree that we can use photos of our work and put up a board it'll only cost £(55%X)k.

So here's the thing why would agreeing now make a difference?

Okay so they may be working in the area, so in theory it should be possible to stagger workers, which is a cost saving. However agreeing to be a showroom is not a time limited thing. Taking before and after photos work now, but they also work six months from now. Again okay, if they get a lot of showroom agreements then they don't need any more, but the property in question sits on a main road (prime location) it's a semi-detached where the neighbours won't be having this work done (equivalent before and after always on display) so it's a perfect showcase for their work - they're not going to want to lose it.

I've just had another call they've dropped to (42%X)k, but only if they agree now, right now!

I really hate pressure sales of this type.

I've told them to ask for a 24 hour quote. If the company isn't prepared to go along with that f**k them.
They've given a 24 hour quote.

It's the dawning of the age of Austerity

age of Austerity, Austerity! Austerity!

Well okay not for the government who are spending less yet claiming more tax; or for the larger companies with their tax havens; or the energy and fuel companies raising prices beyond inflation; just, you know, for everybody else.

Perhaps someone should tell George that one of the signs of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. For anyone on the 'ground floor' the current situation isn't difficult to comprehend - the banks are scared to loan out money; energy and fuel cost us more and in turn raise the prices of goods; and more money is being removed in tax and having to be spent by individuals on cut services. Oddly enough that means that people have less money. Now when people have less money, they spend less. If they spend less that means businesses don't get as much money unless they're providing some essential need or can use the threat of imprisonment to claim it.

That means growth slows, and when growth slows banks are even less likely to want to loan money, and people are even less inclined to spend money; which means growth slows even more.

And George's solution to this - spend less money.


Growth needs to be encouraged and the banks certainly aren't going to do anything; so it's up to the government, but the message from them is - hoard.

Here's an adage for George- You've got to spend money to make money. Yeah I know with a personal fortune of around £4m and a trust fund in daddy's company, money just seems to throw itself at you with little effort, but perhaps you can put that Modern History degree from Oxford to use and consider how recession was dealt with in the past what worked and what didn't. Historically your current plan has never worked.

Yet this is the Conservative rhetoric and who are we to ask they place results above policy?

A stray email

My email programme was stating I had one email unread; yet no recent ones remained as such. Switching views I discovered an unread email from my provider stating that my mailbox was getting full. That's odd for several reasons.

1. I'm using around 11% of my limit
2. The email is dated 2/12/2011
3. I've archived off all the 2011 emails

So somehow an email has moved from my 2011 folder into my main folder, and marked itself as unread. How bizarre.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Dishonored endings - how they could have been

I'll be discussing the endings of Dishonored here and how they could have been better woven into the gameplay; therefore spoilers duh!

Dishonored PS3 review

I'll start give Dishonored the highest praise I can offer - it reminds me of Thief. Sadly though it's not as good, but then again what is?

You play Corvo another mute protagonist from a long line of mute protagonists, wrongly convicted of the murder of the empress, imprisoned, escaped, and seeking to restore the rightful heir to the throne. All set against a steampunkish victoriana industrial setting with magic. It's a little Thief 2 ish with camera-type  sentries and roving guards some encased in stilt-walkers all the while sneaking around to get to the goal; knocking out guards, hiding bodies, and picking up loot. That's if you want to, nothing wrong per se in killing all the guards and charging through. Well nothing overtly wrong but doing so will result in the 'bad' chaos ending.

The influences are clear mostly Thief 2, a dash of Bioshock 2 and a light brush with Assassin's Creed. So inevitably I'm going to be comparing this to Thief 2 so if you haven't played this game - what the hell is wrong with you! Go, buy it now it's dirt cheap and play it, then play it again on the hardest setting now come back after the week it's taken you.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Game Over 'bug' in Dishonored - the Pendletons

So after Doom 3 I've been playing Dishonored, definitely a Thief vibe to it, but still not as good. Anyway I was on the second main mission to kill two brothers and was offered a non-lethal method to do so - acquire a safe combination for Slackjaw the Gang Chief and he'll take care of them quietly.

One combination retrieved and I hand it over to him; up pops the 'targets eliminated' info and I head back to my pickup point. I get halfway across the yard when it jumps to a game over screen informing me that apparently I have "made an enemy of the one person who can eliminate the Pendletons" and offering to load up the last save.

This is bad for two reasons - firstly how have I made an enemy here? Secondly the game autosaves when I enter a new district  and then when I've 'completed' the quest which means I don't have a save that will take me back to the location where I can kill them myself.

Roaming around after my quest 'completed' autosave some of his gang attacked were attacked by members of his own gang who had the plague; what's that got to do with me? Turns out you make that enemy if one of the gang gets killed and when the two groups attacked each other I got the blame for the outcome.

This is seriously bad as after I first acquired the non-lethal option the gate where the plague victims are being kept opens by itself so someone is likely to get killed while you're present. So in theory it's possible to get a game open when I first returned to the district with the combination before even reaching the leader.

Through total skill (okay with some major luck) I managed to circumvent this bug. Using the Blink ability I can travel long distances. Blinking multiple times back to the district entrance I exited before anyone died. As this freezes and resets the district no-one got killed so no game over.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Mad Twitterer

I've taken the plunge and got a Twitter account, this news won't be a surprise to at least two readers who somehow managed to follow me before I'd even made an announcement or my first tweet I suspect magic on their part, either or its just that my name and footprint appear on it and it showed up in a search :-)

Of course my first picks had already gone so I have the_mad_ranter which has underscores that may not be apparent. I'm still not sure what (if anything) I'm going to do with it, but then again I wasn't sure exactly what I'd be doing here and yet here I still am 6 years on (yeesh) with 2,701 posts and 218,808 page views and 37 (listed) followers.

Oh well I'll come back to it in six years time and see.

Wyre Forest Politics in full view

With the new Single Site (officially named Wyre Forest House though Tenko Towers, Campion Towers, or various less flattering names have been offered) comes a bonus - council web casting. The first full council meeting was cast on the 21st and all 2 hours is available to view here. Amazingly the option to view the webcast can be found on the council's front page though it is tucked away near the bottom on a tab.

I've been slowly plodding through it with the quick links on the side making life so much more helpful; as I've yet to finish at this time I'll constrain myself to technical commentary.

I'll start in a highly technical manner by pointing out that this uses Adobe Flash rather than the newer HTML5 video element; I suspect this is done for comparability reasons. In theory there's no reason not to have both but that would generally require encoding the video in two different ways.

Secondly the fullscreen icon does not display the video fullscreen, rather it displays a clickable item on the video which them needs to be selected.

Rather nicely the timeline to the left updates as the video is played with the person currently speaking being displayed both to the left and above the video. The left hand timeline also acts as a shortcut jump.

Likewise choosing any of the tabs above to access additional information moves the video off to the right and continues playing. As an aside it would therefore be nice if the PDF'ed Agenda could be displayed in frame rather than as a separate tab or programme. Feedback seems to be offline; whether that only works during a live broadcast I don't know. Live Chat on the other hand seems to be a Twitter feed. Sadly the polling for that doesn't seem to work correctly as it will constantly repeat the same one and only tweet tagged #wfdclive

Minor tweaks - volume is set far too loudly on my system; it's a system thing, so difficult to get right, but with system volume set to 100 I have to drop the volume down to the single dot for it not to be too loud. It would also be nice if alongside the speaker timeline/heading their affiliation was displayed, possibly even their represented ward. I know that in theory it shouldn't matter, but given the general disinterest in politics the option to be able to jump to when 'your' representative is speaking may aid the casual viewer.

On the whole a promising start. Given the time frame in which most meetings seem to operate this is a welcome opportunity for anyone to at least see what their council is doing and no excuses not to get the tiniest bit involved.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Consequences of the Living Wage

I posted a entry about how the people who determined the current minimum wage really didn't know what they were doing, however at the last district council meeting an agenda item was raised regarding the "living wage" currently set to £7.44 an hour. Disregarding at the moment the full breakdown of exactly how this is determined what the definitions of "reasonable" are etc. I'll approach this as I did before.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Doom 3 BFG review PS3

Doom 3 was released some time ago for the XBox and PC, but this is the first time for the PS3 and is part of a wider re-mastered anniversary collection that adds in the the new game along with the two expansions and, nicely enough, the original Doom and Doom II campaigns. Is it any good though?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Votes for prisoners

I have to say I'm confused about all the fuss regarding prisoner's "human rights" when it comes to voting as it seems a rather simple solution exists.

As it stands prisoners don't get to vote. The logic being that as they've decided not to adhere to the tenets of society they should have no say in how that society forms; I can see that and I can agree with it. The converse is that they are still people and as voting is a right of people they should be able to vote; expect people also have a right to free trade and movement and no-one's giving them that.

A Tesco in Stouport?

Far too many conflicting whispers flitting about that Tesco are pulling out/have pulled out of building on the Carpets of Worth site; that building is all set to start in the middle of next year; the latest sliver to reach my ears is that a supermarket will be built, but it'll be a Morrisons instead.

My bet is that Tenbury will have their (far better positioned) Tesco before construction even starts in Stourport.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

New planned Marina Quays in Stourport

Ah good the plans for the new marina complex down on Sandy Lane has gone public. This is something I've known about in general for over two months now but I was asked not to comment until things firmed up. Nicely the information I have is a match for the information made public for the initial public consultation so I don't have to scan in my sheets.

This post is classified.

I pointed out how I don't like the current use of the word "Tragedy" and Dan kindly pointed out that the OED has had the (IMO) wrong definition since the beginning; so I suppose I  can't blame people for using it to simply describe an unpleasant event even though I still hate it. I also mentioned "alternate" being used for "alternative", but hopefully the error in doing that is obvious to readers. This all got me thinking along these lines and I have another peeve - classified.

Twitter, Libel, and how to think of new media as old media

Various legal quakes are hitting Twitter as of late; there has of been the use of section 127 for malicious communications, but the mainstay seems to be forming around libel. To take a hypothetical case imagine a rumour spreading about the actions or character of a person given the current Saville situation let's say that they're a paedophile. Some publication alludes to "a person in power" as being one and Twitter becomes abuzz with people asking who they could mean.

Twitter A: Does anyone know who [publication] is talking about?
Twitter B: Yeah it's [person]!

Then everyone starts retweeting and spreading [person]'s name about with little thought to consequence. But what if this wasn't Twitter. Consider that Twitter B was a person wearing a Sandwich Board stating "[Person] is the paedophile that [publication] was talking about!" pretty easy to see that would be libel. The retweets - more people making their own sandwich boards. Still libel. People grabbing their friends and pointing out the sandwich boards to them - distribution of libel.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Family Fluxx review

I watched a recent episode of Tabletop in which they played a game of Star Fluxx. It seemed an easy and fun game so I checked out the price on Amazon. It seems there are many different 'flavours' available and after checking reviews I decided that the Family version with its bright cards, 6-Adult age-range and quick play would probably best suit my needs. I ended up playing it with the Bratii - Minor (10) and Major (16) and that's all we ended up playing.

The Police and Crime Commissioner election demonstrates the falsehoods of No2AV.

Remember we had a referendum some time ago about changing our election method? Remember how those who wanted to keep the First Past the Post system bombarded the electorate with various negative claims about the the Alternative Vote system? It was too complicated so no-one would understand it; it would take to long to count the votes so millions would have to be spent on specialist counting machines; that the person who came last might end up winning.

So how did the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections that used the AV system turn out? With no problems reported whatsoever.

Okay it took longer to count with some areas taking several days rather than the normal overnight process, but then again this was an area not just a district. In West Mercia we had a 134,850 votes that's over 2.5x the number who voted in our General Election; it was also a new process. No machines required.

Who won in our area; did the loser end up winning?

Adrian Blackshaw (Conservative) - 49,298
Bill Longmore (Independent) - 50,900
Simon Murphy (Labour) - 34,652

In First Past the Post Mr Longmore would have won, but only with 38% of the vote. But with AV Mr Murphy name was dropped and the Alternative Vote counted. Surprisingly 5,201 of the Labour voters voted for Mr Blackshaw bringing his total to 54,499, but 21,055 did so for Mr Longmore bringing his total to 71,995 and a win with 56.9% of the vote.

In other words had the choice been between just Adrian and Bill; Bill would have won.

Okay before anyone says anything this wasn't really a true Alternative Voting system in practice it was Supplementary Voting regardless of the number of candidates only one 'extra' vote was allowed. Still it showed that the principle was fine and all the doom-mongering of those clinging to the FPtP system sound hollow.

We now have a Police and Crime Commissioner who was actually voted for by the majority of those who chose to vote. Okay so turnout was half that of a normal election so it was to an extent a total waste of time in that respect, but still an actual win.

Friday, November 16, 2012


The results for the elections of Police and Crime Commissioners are trickling in and so far turnout has been very low. This isn't a surprise, however this outcome has resulted in some amusement for me in terms of talking heads trying to encourage people to vote.

The first inevitable point is due to the closeness of Remembrance Sunday - people fought and died so you would have the freedom to vote and you should honour their sacrifice. How often does this get thrown down as a challenge at every low-turnout? It's a bad point.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Via my news feed from the Shuttle

AS Wyre Forest prepares to remember its road accident victims this weekend, drivers are being urged to take extra care on dark nights and cold mornings to avoid further tragedies
Okay disclaimer yes I'm a pedant at  times, but I try to keep a lid on it as much as I can. This however just gets me annoyed* because of what it really means and how it is being used almost constantly to describe any unfortunate event.

The word "tragedy" is of Greek derivation used to describe a genre of play in which a mistake of the protagonist sets them down the path of misfortune. The mistake is supposed to be easily seen by the audience, but remain unknown to the protagonist. Moreover the audience is supposed to enjoy the play based on this premise. It's a form of schadenfreude; the taking of pleasure from the misfortunes of others.

What that means is if someone describes the death of someone as a tragedy or simple being tragic what they're saying is that they saw this death coming and did nothing to stop it because they gained more pleasure from being able to say "I told you that was going to happen" after the death.

Except they're not because tragedy now simply means "really bad thing" due to linguistic drift and evolution. We just seem to be losing the depth to our language due to simplistic definitions of words.

*Oh and don't get me started on the Americans' use of the word alternate instead of alternative in the SF genre. "Oh it's an "alternate universe" does that mean it changes back from one to another?"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Google Play Music UK launch

Huzzah the Music section has finally arrived to these shores; not only do we now have the ability to purchase music from Google directly, but we now have access to Google's Music cloud. Upload your music and be able to download and play from any device you can log in to.

Given this has been around in the States for quite some time I was surprised to discover a couple of oddities though.

Firstly it doesn't seem to be able to handle .m4a music files despite these being natively recognised in Google's own Android operating system. Annoying, but work-aroundable. However the biggest oddity was sorting by Artist.

I have quite a few compilation albums and the Album Artist is set to either "Various Artists" or "Soundtrack"; a method that follows Google's own policy. If I were to examine the very first album of such a type in my collection it would be "Anthems Electronic 80s 2" the first track would be "Don't You Want Me?" by "The Human League" all present and correct.

If I were then to examine my list by Artist and scrolled to the H section I would expect to find "Human League, The" and I don't. Oh no they're not using the "The" are they? Well yes they are - crap; "The Beatles", "The Kingsmen", "The Rolling Stones" all under T. Wait though no "The Human League"; oh of course silly me it's filed under V for "Various Artists"

So not only do they not ignore the "The" prefix but they're using the Album Artist field to sort rather than the, actual, Artist field.

Ah but that's the web interface, the actual Android App might be better. And it is in that it ignores the "The"'s, but still uses the Album Artist field to sort by. Oh and introduces a new error in that it can't recognise accented characters in the Artist field, but oddly enough can in song titles. So "Motörhead" which displays correctly under M in the browser interface is now an "Unknown Artist" in the Android App, but "The Dark of the Matinée" by "Franz Ferdinand" displays correctly.

[Update - It appears the artist character error was from the tracks already on my phone; those from Play displayed and sorted correctly]

Given how long this has been active for... those are kind of stupid mistakes not to have been picked up.

A problem with the Samsung GT-S5690

Just had someone pop-in asking for help regarding a bit of kit that something needed to be downloaded from. It's been a while since I've used it and I mentioned that rather than use a CD-R it could be done with a USB Flash Stick "Hell if it and your phone supports it you might be able to download it to that"

At this point he mentions problems with his phone not connecting to his Windows Vista computer to download pictures; it needs a driver. This is where it got strange. He whips out a Samsung Galaxy Xcover GTS-5690 clearly running Android.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Traffic lights start to fail.

They came on line sometime Friday afternoon and as of yesterday the uppermost red light has failed. In terms of usage they are definitely weighted towards the Mitton Road side. I sat at the Severn Road exit watching nothing driving up that side until finally they registered that fact just in time to stop the traffic.

So far I've driven through the main Mitton-side set 19 times and on all but two occasions they've either been red or switching from red with queues forming in the right-hand lane back to the Chinese takeaway. So not bad but that's with only the normal levels of traffic and without the addition of both a superstore and a new housing estate being added next year.

On the plus side the new bridge is indeed open and is a pleasant enough short-cut with the wait at the lights not being far too dissimilar to waiting at the island. Of course one has to sit in the queue to reach the turn-off in the first place and once this new route becomes established as an alternative no doubt queues will start to form up from here too. Likewise in theory this provides an alternative to Vale Road and the dreaded Gilgal, with the only downside being trying to get out of Discovery Road at the other end.

Will the planned rise in fuel duty be scrapped?

With a planned rise in fuel duty of 3p set to come in the vote against it has been defeated after heavy hints that the government will cancel it. What I'm sure won't be cancelled though is the government's spin about 'thinking of the people' and all the hard work they're doing for us.

Yep once again I'm sure they'll be expecting us to thank them for not deciding to take more money of us. Once again they're the guys holding the big club and stating "Well we could have beaten you over the head and taken your wallet, but we've decided not to; isn't that nice of us!"

As an aside this wouldn't be a 3p rise. Taking my local's unleaded price of 135.9p what would the price be if fuel duty was increased by 3p? If you answered 138.9p congratulations you're wrong; VAT needs to be added too. That would be 3p in fuel duty and 0.6p in VAT so the price would be...? If you answered 139.5p congratulations you're still wrong; when was the last time you saw a price that didn't end in 0.9p? The price would have become 139.9p with the government making an extra 3.6p per litre and the petrol companies an extra 0.4p.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Burning poppys

It's our good friend Section 127 of the Communications Act rearing its very ugly head again, this time aided and abetted by Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act. This time it's someone posting a photo of a burning poppy on twitter who's been arrested by Kent police on suspicion of "malicious telecommunications". But why has the Malicious Communications Act been brought into play?

Well under the 127 CA the communication can be classed as offensive if it is so deemed by other people; under 1 MCA it's whether it was intended to cause distress to the recipient. In both cases it doesn't matter whether or not it was actually received it's the sending that counts as an offense.

Except there's a problem here with using MCA. There's no intended recipient so it's impossible that the message was sent with intent to cause distress to a non-existent person. Simple use of the CA would have (sadly) been enough, but that would leave the decision up to a group of peers. Using MCA anyone who received who found it caused distress could be enough of a case under that Act.

Now this is where it turns good - this application of MCA opens up a whole can o'fun because it covers "sending to another of any article which is indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false" Just read that last bit again "which is false". How many newspapers now have an online version; how many 'send out' their articles via newsfeeds etc.? Any newspaper that exaggerates a story or just sends the first (and most eye-catching) parts via a feed may now face charges under the MCA for sending a "false" article.

Now, of course, one may argue that there was no intent involved as they send these things out to anybody who asks for them including their subscribers so it's not a targeted article... oh hey that's just like Facebook and Twitter; oh forget that then - get them arrested as quickly as possible.

On a completely unrelated topic I have a sudden urge to browse the Daily Mail website; can't think why.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Irrelevant person appointed to irrelevant position

Today some person you've never heard of has been appointed to a position you didn't know was vacant and will be now be instrumental in telling everyone exactly what his invisible friend says we should all be doing.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Could asteroid belts help us spot extra-terrestrial life?

A story had popped up for no apparent reason in a few places including the Daily Mail, but I'm not going to link to them so instead here's the RAS page.

Upon reading the title I thought "Hmm I wonder if they meant looking for a depleted asteroid belt (compared to mathematical models) that might indicate extensive mining of it for resources indicating, at the least, a intra-system space-faring race?" Nope it's a having just the right type of asteroid belt could evolve intelligent life.

Okay really? We're still getting this. For a more in-depth look at my take on these stories check my posts on Reporting not parroting - Earth type planet; Theoretical physicist plus biology equals?; and Goldilocks planet.

In this instance we have Dr. Rebecca Martin with her PhD in "Theoretical Astrophysics, Warped and Twisted DIscs" and BA in Mathematics and Dr Mario Livio with his PhD in theoretical astrophysics M.S. in theoretical particle physics and B.S. in Mathematics and Physics both interpreting Punctuated Equilibrium, an evolutionary biology theory, and extending it into the realm of the xenobiologist.

While I could hold that the odd asteroid hit might have aided the rise of intelligent life on this planet the assumption that this would hold true for others is hilarious. I mean it's not been that long since the presence of our gas giants was supposedly crucial in deflecting asteroid hits along with our own satellite; so is 'life creation' being narrowed down so much to exactly the right type of asteroid field with exactly the right type of deflection hitting a planet that is just the right distance from the sun?

Again sure if you're looking for life that's evolved via pretty much exactly the same process we did than oddly enough looking for pretty much the same conditions would be a given. Assuming that's the only way intelligent life could evolve... I'll stick with hilarious.

Monday, November 05, 2012

When is an incentive not an incentive?

A post from the local Labour Party about ATOS led me to have a look around. In an attempt to avoid legal matters I'm going to present a hypothetical situation that in theory could be applied to multiple situations.

Consider a government department that pays out money to claimants who present specific conditions. To determine if their claims are true the department outsources the checking to a private firm who employ experts to assess the claimants.

Both the department and private company state that there are no quotas involved regarding payment or bonuses. In theory therefore the company is free to assess fairly and honestly and not expect to be penalised if the results do not match the department's expectations.

That's the theory. Now I'll throw an extra into the mix - the very reason that the department outsourced these checks is because they believed that the previous system allowed too many "scroungers" in that is claimants falsely presenting the conditions that would allow them to gain monetary assistance from that department.

Given that extra consider a hypothetical situation in which the department's assumption was wrong.

The private company performs their task honestly and reports back that although there were a few scroungers (and there always will be) by far the previous assessments were accurate. The department now has two options

1. Accept the results.
2. Deny the results.

In the first instance the question is likely to be raised about how much money was spent on a private company to confirm the in-house results. The checks are likely to be returned in-house and the company not retained after the expiry of their contract.

In the second instance the government is assuming the company has failed in their checks and a new company will be brought in to do a 'proper' job'

Therefore if the company wishes to retain its contract there is an implied incentive for the results they present to adhere to the departments stated assumptions.

But wait it's not the company who do the reports they simply employ experts and compile their results. However as above so below. If the company, whom I've already ascertained wishes to retain its contract, hires two experts one who passes most claimants and one who fails most claimants which of the two is most likely to remain employed?

There is therefore an implied incentive on the experts to keep both themselves employed with the company and with the company being contracted by the department and therefore for them to adhere to the government's assumptions.

Considering it in reverse there is an incentive for the company not to check the experts' work provided it matches expectations and there is an incentive for the department not to check the company's work provided it matches expectations.

Worse yet even if independent experts were brought in to check they'd still be employed by the department and therefore they'd be exactly the same incentives on them to sign off on the work of the company.

So how can this be avoided? The flaw lies in the department's announcement of why it's outsourcing this work and what it expects the results to be. This is why I've tagged this with "Science" because that's one of the fundamental points of work carried out - you don't start it by stating what you expect the results to be because it's far too easy to nudge or cherry-picker the data to match your expectations.

The start of the traffic jams

At some point on Friday afternoon the traffic lights at the junction of Severn Road and Mitton Street were switched on; about time to. Now we can all get an idea of how much of a problem this is causing without the added traffic from a housing estate and a supermarket.

I will say the change from amber to red seems far too quick given their positions. I approached the corner on green, started to turn it on amber and came to a halt on red. In this case the red light was to allow a vehicle out from Severn Road... except they weren't exiting they were parked outside a house. I can see that being a problem.

On the other hand in a spot of good news the lights that block Mitton Street and the lights that block the entrance to Severn Road seem to be linked so their hopefully won't be a case when the lights on Mitton are red and the lights to Severn are green; on the downside if they're also linked the other way it means all of Mitton being blocked when someone wants to cross Severn Road. If they're not linked in that way it'll block off the left-hand side of Mitton should someone be wanting to turn.

Well now they're up and running we'll see how they fare.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The EU budget

With the news just in of a government rebellion over the proposed increase to our contribution to the EU budget perhaps a summation of the current budget situation as derived from the information contained within the "EU budget at glance" [sic].

Contained here is the contribution of each member and how much is essentially returned to the country. Plugging the fields into a spreadsheet what's the outcome.

The country that gets the most back is... Lithuania. They contribute 257.4m Euros and receives 1,652.8m Euros; that's 642%. They are closely followed by Hungary who contributes 836.4m Euros and receives 5,330.9m Euros; 637%

The country that gets the least back is... The Netherlands who contribute 3,933.3m Euros and receives 2,064.3m Euros or 52%. In second place is the UK contributing 11,273.4m Euros and receiving 6,570m Euros or 58%.

But we get a rebate; if we didn't we'd be contributing 14,869.3m Euros which would mean a return of 44% putting us in last place.

If that wasn't enough if all the contributions and spends are added up the EU has a 14% overspend equal to 14,120.1m Euros. So how much more is being spent on the EU functions themselves?

And they want a 5% increase.

Also of interest is the report regarding this from the BBC that states we are "one of 12 EU members which makes a net contribution to the EU budget" except using the EU's own figures we're one of 9 and that the "UK's net contribution was 7.25bn euros" except, again using their own figures, it's 4.7034bn Euros.

So whose figures do we believe; the EU's or the EU's?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cancel the TV licence

At work we've have a TV aerial and in the past it's been used to watch live broadcasts so of course we had a licence. Except we don't do that now so time to cancel it. Four menu options through the phone queue and I'm asked for either the reference number or the licence number.

The reference number is only 4 characters long so it's not that.
"Is there a ten digit number?" I'm asked by the operator
"Yes the licence number which is difficult to read due to the perforation running through it"

Yep the change of details tear off slip at the bottom of the form runs right through the licence number on the other side. Anyway we run through the totally pointless security questions as the answers are printed at the top of the form and cancel the licence. However first I have to listen to what we can't do.

We can't watch or receive any live broadcasts on a television, mobile, computer, console or any device...
"Yes we can't watch any live broadcasts" I interject before she names every possible thing that could receive them.
An enforcement officer might call to check on this and if they discover that we are watching television we could be fined up to £1000
"No we can be fined if we watch live broadcasts; we can use a television to watch something than live broadcasts; that's rather badly phrased" I reply

Hey I'm just saying there's nothing stopping me from watching a bought disc or catch-up on a television. The act of watching a television is and of itself not denied me; likewise "television" and "live broadcast" are not synonymous.

Crappy software assumptions

Gods I hate hardware companies that make crappy software. DaBoss has bought some bit of kit that can plug into his computer. He installs the software that allows him to record data and it keeps CLR failing which I assume is down to the NET framework.

I check the installation; I check the requirements I check the version of NET that's running using IE [javascript:alert(navigator.userAgent)] and everything should work.

I locate the executable and pull up the properties; check comparability and set it to "Run as administrator" lo and behold the software now works. Yep the software assumes you're running it with full administrator privileges something that isn't mentioned anywhere in the documentation.

It's a crappy Visual Studio templated thing anyway.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Birmingham Road Kidderminster Road Plans

Just a quicky as per this article in the Shuttle regarding the roadworks currently ongoing at the Birmingham Road the plans are not available online. To that end here they are :-)

So it seems these "traffic islands" are in fact concrete pads. Oh and love the "For reference purposes only. No further copies may be made" despite the fact this is supposedly a public document by our council.

For dating purposes the original document in PDF form was created on the 1st of October.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Nasty Norton

Installed a Wi-Fi printer for someone on Saturday because they were essentially scared of botching it up (it was an HP Photosmart 6510; dead easy to install on a Mac, but very grindy noise-wise in terms of operation) and then on Sunday I took a look at someone else's computer. It had failed due to decreasing disk space, someone else had taken a look at it and essentially done the equivalent of a factory reset whilst maintaining user data. I'd already taken a look after this because although the data was retained it wasn't moved over to the new user that had been created.

Anyhow yet more problems with disappearing disk space, yet when I took a look at it before it seemed fine. I took at look at it this time and it had about 1.2Gb free; decidedly less than I recall. I deleted 2.5Gb worth of junk and that left me with 0.5Gb free. Er what?

I pulled up the Task Manager and watched Symantec's LiveUpdate for the virus checker eating away at everything. So I deleted all ~0.6Gb worth. Amount of free space remaining now - 9.5Gb of a 43Gb HD.

Gotta love these things.

Two child limit policy

The government has proposed a two-child limit on child payments for the UK. This may surprise some but I'm in favour of this; some aren't so I'm going to look at arguments I'm seen against.

1. This is just like China's one-child limit. We don't want to be like China do we? Beyond the (well-deserved) attack on China's governance this doesn't equate. Does our government propose fining parents that have more than two children? No. Does out government propose sending them to prison or sterilising parents who have more than two children? No. Our government isn't going to punish parents who have more than two children they're simply not going to reward them.

2. How dare the government get involved in this; setting arbitrary limits on natural processes. Except as soon as a decision was made to provide parents with funds when they have children the government did get involved. Complaining about them setting limits is like complaining about them setting the pensionable age or the voting age.

3. But what if someone has triplets? Seriously I've seen this as an argument and while it is indeed something that needs to be dealt with it's hardly a deal-breaker. Triplets and more don't occur that often and should it happen to someone (except by artificially induced methods) parents should receive funds for all three (or more) children. They just won't receive any more should they have any more children.

So what are the arguments in favour?

1. Population reduction. Our population are living longer and this is putting a strain on various services. A slow, managed reduction will result in a better quality of life for most.

2. The welfare managers. Okay it's very Dale Mailey; but people who constantly have children and aren't working (because they have children) are being supported solely by the government and morally I personally think this is wrong.

3. This doesn't stop people having more than two children it just places the burden of responsibility back on to them and not onto the government. In this instance I think this is morally right.

Your thoughts, arguments?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Police and Crime Commissioner - The race is on

It's the 26th of October and that means the official list of candidates running for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner have been released along with a brief blurb about why we should vote for them.

Voting for the West Mercia we have a fine choice between three candidates Adrian Blackshaw (Conservative), Bill Longmore (Independent) and Simon Murphy (Labour). If we were voting for the West Midlands election (which ironically we're a part of geographically speaking) we'd have a choice of seven candidates including three Independents. But hey double the population double the choice I suppose.

So it's all up to us to chose someone to represent a population of 1.19 million spread over 2,868 square miles so as you can imagine your vote counts [snort]. Ah democracy in action has never been left so bare in this country. One person representing that many people; over that large an area, of that level of urban/rural diversity - oh yes representative and accountable to the people indeed.

Total rubbish - if we wanted someone who was going to listen to us in this locality we should have elections at the division level; this is just a joke.

Wyre Forest Car-parking profits

Heated exchanges at the Shuttle over the revelation that the council is making a profit of £429,875 on its car-parks and the excuse given as to why it needs to make a profit:

The surplus made from car parking is used to help deliver services. To not make a surplus, would mean services elsewhere would have to be cut.
Normally I wouldn't have a problem with that as this is pretty much how government works, however given the slow growth and recession we've had price-increases and an entire car-park that was formerly free being made pay-and-display. As a result this smacks to me of raising prices on one service simply to fund other services. That's where I have a problem.

On another note let's add up the figures:

£   72,613 Parking fines
£   94,726 Enforcement fines
£   72,420 Staff passes
£    9,067 Senior concession
£  120,853 Season passes
£      600 Rents
£  117,605 Management fees
£  947,591 Parking meters

£1,435,475 Total

Remove the profit and that's an operating cost of  £1,005,600.

Now where this gets interesting is that I have to guess that the Staff passes, Management fees, Rents, and Senior concessions are being paid for by Wyre Forest District Council to... Wyre Forest District Council. So that's simply taking money out of the bucket and putting it back in the bucket.

Strip out the dosey-do'ing and they're really pulling in £1,235,783; remove the operating cost and the profit gained from car-park patrons is really £230,183 a year.

So if this were removed, exactly which other services would need to be cut?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Licence to walk

And we thought our council was bad. Just read yesterday in the "i" about the council that's trying to charge some residents £122 a year to access the rear oft their houses with a vehicle; £16 for pedestrian access and advised them to take out £2m public liability insurance.

It's appears to be a neat scam - Canterbury Council compulsory purchases land behind some residences in 1995 and then 17 years later inform the owners they need to pay to use their land as an access route. Given that it's probably been used for at least 3 years prior to this then it could class as a public right of way and they'd be unable to charge anyway.

It was, however, the response that particularly resonated with me.

"We are sorry residents in Cromwell Road are unhappy. Our intention was to regularise existing access to the rear of their properties by granting access licences across the residents’ car park. However, concerns have been expressed about the proposal so we are going to pause and take time to discuss the situation with them to allow us to find a way forward that meets the needs of all parties. We will be contacting the affected residents in the near future."

Because discussing these proposals with the affected residents before trying to put them into practice is just stupid. Gosh that sounds familiar.

Consistency error in the Horus Heresy books

Okay this isn't anything of a big deal; only of interest to the nerds who like the Warhammer 40k universe and the Horus Heresy books in particular, so if that doesn't include you you might as well stop reading now.

GDP when growth isn't growth

The latest GDP figures are expected to be announced soon and it's expected to show growth. Whoo hoo we're out of recession - happy times are hear again. Let's spend lots of money (to paraphrase the Pet Shop Boys). Except what all the experts are whittering on about are percentage changes month on month (or quarter on quarter) and that makes a large difference in two connected ways.

Firstly let's say a person makes £100 a day and their salary is cut by 10%. 10% of 100 is 10 so it drops to £90. Now let's raise their salary by 10%. 10% of 90 is 9 so it increases to £99; they're still a pound worse off.

Secondly consider that £100. On Monday it's £10 less; on Tuesday it's only £5; on Wednesday it's £2.50 less; on Thursday nothing is removed and on Friday that person gains £2.50 and the boss tells them "Hey now you can afford to splurge". Um no I'm still £15 down on the week

It's still good that we have growth, but don't release the cheerleaders quite yet.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Stourport Tesco bypass

Writing about the never-ending works that seem to be bodging up our town in the name of Tesco the totally complete and utterly finished link that by-passes the OGL/Chain Wyre island still isn't open. Nor the lights at the mouth of Severn Road that's supposed to control it.

Of course if the lights were currently operational it would be a wonderful display of just how truly $#!%^*%-up everything could get if someone were to, say, shut-down part of the road network by blocking an exit.

As an aside due to everything being in place the current Stop marker at the exit of Severn Road is supposedly acting as a Give Way; however due to its placement the only way traffic can see if they don't have to Give Way is to not Give Way drive over it and stop at the point where the original Give Way markings used to be.

Yet more Tesco roadworks

Yes I knew about the prohibition on turning right from Mitton Street into Vale Road, it just completely slipped my mind until I got caught up in all the damn traffic. Big surprise diverting a big chunk of traffic directly through the town causes problems.

I could point out that this is the first time they've done so since they've unofficially confirmed York Street into a single lane by creating a parking bay opposite all the other parking bays, but given everyone ignored the restrictions anyway that's made no difference.

I could get annoyed that despite closing down the right-hand lane into which the traffic from Gilgal flows traffic from Worcester Road is still stopping to let them cross the lanes; particularly as I've noted that more and more traffic aren't stopping any more; although they are obviously slowing down due to the the speeding traffic and the truly stupid tight turn imposed on them.

I could scratch my head over the "yet another set of Tesco roadworks" given that this set of lights have been operational for several months now and I have no idea why they'd need to dig up the road again.

But I won't do that ;-) However yesterday we did have a clear "Seriously?" moment.

As mentioned they've shut down the right-hand lane of Mitton Street to stop the idiots charging up round the corner and slamming to a halt. So all traffic proceeds along the left-hand lane... except yesterday. Yesterday everyone was channelled into the left-hand lane as expected until they rounded the corner at which point they were all channelled into the right-hand lane and then back into the left. Why? Because they'd parked a construction vehicle on the left.

Now this wasn't a case of parking it there so they could access the traffic lights on that side of the road further from where they were working because the cones didn't extend far enough to allow it to drive against the flow. At some point someone would have to stop the traffic to let it out. So why not park it on the right and still stop the traffic to let it across? I'm guessing because it was working on the left and that's SOP.

But still seriously?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Merlin - The Death Song of Uther Pendragon

As a series Merlin has to me always been a little switch-brain-off and enjoy, but there's always been enough depth to hold my interest. With the latest run I wondered if it had jumped the shark?

A two-parter to start a new season is fine and can act as a hook to get someone to watch the second part and then onwards; in this instance I really didn't care what happened.

As a story the core elements needed to be told, we needed Mordred re-introduced, but the way this was told was execrable. By the middle of the two-parter we were jumping between five locations in a frenetic "meanwhile" which sacrificed the character depth that has been a mark of this series. There was also the over-reliance on computer imagery.

It's always been a little cheap, but it's gotten away with it by cuts. So for example we get to see Merlin call the Dragon and we get a long-shot of the landing, we get the odd close-up of the Dragon's face for expressions and switch between Merlin's and the Dragon's point of view same continuous scene but never long enough to note how bad the imagery is.

In this episode (spoilers) we get a little too much of the baby dragon, but far too much of the "Key". That was just dire work. Bad animation, terrible lip-syncing and the big joke being that this manifestation was necessary. Hell have the Key be a Druidic prophecy carved into a wall and buried in an earthquake; have Merlin accidentally deflect the fire breath of the dragon onto the wall and melt it away before he had a chance to read it. But no we got a blue glowing elf.

But wait the title of this entry is "The Death Song of Uther Pendragon" and that's because this one episode undid all the harm the previous two had caused me. Character-driven storyline, tightly focused directing; simple effects - this is how it should be done. My one minor niggle is this would have been best suited for next week closer to Halloween. I simply couldn't fault this episode.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Racing Post app Advert

Just flicking through channels and caught the stupid snake charming advert for the Racing Post app that "makes choosing a horse and being on it a doddle". So what? Well something nagged at me so I rewound it and paid closer attention. It's missing the site or logo.

But wait aren't "All licensed gambling operators are required by the industry’s code of practice to carry the Gamble Aware website address in advertising."? So does this mean the Racing Post aren't a gambling operator? It does seem they're just facilitating gambling without actually being the operators so they wouldn't need to display the logo, but it does seem rather against the spirit of the regulations.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Police Commissioner more politicking

I dealt with the puff-piece from the Conservatives regarding their candidate for the post of Police Commissioner for the West Midlands last week; they did a second piece which astonishingly was almost manifesto-like in that a promise was made that

a priority will be to make it easier and less intimidating for victims – especially women – to report [domestic violence and abuse] incidents to the Police
presumably by signing up to Victim Support's "Five Promises to/for Victims and Witnesses". Of course that doesn't mean anything will get done, but if it doesn't we have the ability to call him out on it.

Local Labour (who allegedly were trying to keep Party politics out of the race) seem to have decided that they're going to have to counter their opponents publicity, but sadly echo the Conservatives "lite" styling of 'I too think bad things are bad and will try to do good'.

The big joke about all this is that officially we the electorate have yet to discover who the candidates standing actually are and won't until next Friday when the list will be published here. (Kudos to Labour for publishing the link)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hartlebury Waste Incinerator

The controversial incinerator that has been planned to be built at the Hartlebury Trading Estate is kicking up letters in the Shuttle. This PFI initiative has been in the planning stages since 2008 and ended up having to be approved by Eric Pickles MP. Let's not forget though that the original plan was for a waste disposal site at the old Sugar Beet site in Kidderminster until it was quite rightly pointed out (by the public) that there were insufficient road linkages and the hypocrisy of claiming that this was a central location for waste when the hospital was added to Worcester's outskirts due to Worcester's "central location". So this has been a pet project for Worcestershire council for quite some time and just because the public aren't in favour of it is no reason to stop now.

The latest letter from Louise Brooks of HWAG (not to be confused with WAIL) contends that the price would increase possibly to £1bn. How ridiculous! There's no evidence that the cost of this £35m incinerator will ever increase. Indeed this £120m incinerator is set to be brought in at exactly the cost as originally outlined and the council will never have to subsidise the cost of waste processed as their 28-year forecast will be shown to be as highly accurate as all their other forecasts.

Seriously even Communist Russia never tried to go beyond a 5-year plan. 28 years of 'prediction' is a joke.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

District Consultations

I did notice the Local Mineral Plan consultation but as I've said in a comment on the Shuttle site I missed the one on the Council Tax Benefit scheme which finished two days ago. How come?

Well let's see what consultations are currently up and running for my district.

First off a visit to the home page not to be confused with the planning portal home page where the domain loses the "dc" suffix. So "News and Alerts"? Nope scroll down to "Get Involved" and then click on "Consultation".

The first link takes us to all the "consultations across Worcestershire" helpfully listed as "Sexual Health Services" and "Stourport-on-Severn Library" with a topic description that seems to just describe the title and not what they're consulting about (unless that is all they're consulting about; hmm a library - what is it, what does it do?).

Going back a page we can now look at the rest, but hey why do we need to we've just visited the page that should show all the consultations going on right? Wrong! We can now look at the "Draft Tenancy Strategy Consultation", the just ended "Consultation on Council Tax Benefit  Scheme" and the "Consultation on Review of Polling places" which takes us back to the first page because it too has ended - at the end of August. Oh and of course the current consultation on the Local Mineral Plan that started last week... darn silly me that's not listed.

Ah wait this is a county consultation I should be looking at our very our Worcestershire Hub page. I spy with my little eye something beginning with... oh no wait it's not there. Must be under Council... nope... wait yes it appears under Popular Services. Huzzah and the current consultations are... "Sexual Health Services" and "Stourport-on-Severn Library".


Local Mineral Policy

Yesterday a story appeared in my Shuttle newsfeed "Wyre Forest residents urged to have say on minerals policy". This snagged my attention for a couple of reasons.

Firstly this is a county policy not a district one; so as per usual one can expect county needs to overrule district ones.

Secondly this was launched last Wednesday, but we're finding out about it from our paper a week later.

Thirdly - why do we need this? Gosh it can't be anything to do with the changes in Planning legislation that mean the need for minerals can trump standard planning issues such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, can it? Not that anyone would want to dig up such areas... except as reported in a recent Private Eye article regarding open-cast mining at part of an AoNB (IIRC issue sadly donated to other members of the family).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Notice of Delivery email from BT Business Direct

Important Update - As per the comments this email comes with an attachment that should NOT be opened; mine got automatically quarantined hence me missing it apparently it is a Trojan i.e. something nasty.

Just had an interesting email from BT Business Direct telling me they've accepted and dispatched my order that I made yesterday. Which would be great if I'd made an order.

A quick look at their website and a phone number (which isn't on their email) 0870 4293010 a press of "2" twice and a "high volume of calls" later and I'm talking to someone.

They're currently running around "like headless chickens" the computers have sent out a bunch of emails of this nature to email addresses they don't even have registered with them detailing orders that aren't on their system.

So there's no delivery and I'm not going to be suddenly charged for something. Oh and incidentally these are generated from their system [or perhaps not despite what they themselves said] and the links etc. are genuine so it's not even a phishing attempt. Has someone been hacked?

[Updates as per the comments below (thank-you) - the sent path is; the return path is Coming from server however I also have a which is Slovenia.

It appears someone's mimicking a BT order form complete with correct links and attaching a crudely hidden Trojan to it.

As per usual I've never known a larger business send a PDF in a zip file so always treat such as very suspicious]

Monday, October 15, 2012

Close-mouthed Conservatives

It was the local Labour Party who broke the story with the Shuttle trailing behind, but it seems they've caught up and asking (im)pertinent questions.

One could argue that this in an internal Party matter and that should Cllr. Clee have been expelled, appealed and been successful in such that this information plays no part in matters outside the Party. Except this isn't a Golf Club this is an elected official allegedly being kicked out of his own Party.

So why the silence? Tit for tat? Quid pro quo? I won't say anything if you don't say anything? Hell if it was something like that I would have expected a "irreconcilable differences" statement by now. Is the silence simply down to the standard operating procedures of the Conservative Party to keep everything in-house until a decision has been made and presented to the public in a complete form?

Given their attitudes on the various councils that would certainly fit the bill. But the longer the silence the more people will wonder and concoct their own reasonings most of which aren't likely to be favourable to Cllr. Clee... except maybe that in itself is the entire point of the silence?

Secrecy breeds lies.

The Bratii and music

Post game session I chatted to the Bratii and the topic of the new BBC series of Merlin came up. Major was catching up with the previous so he hadn't seen the latest, but he'd seen the adverts.

"Oh in that case do you recognise this?" I asked and plugged my phone into an external speaker and checked my Deezer playlist for "Knights of Cydonia" by Muse.
"I know this" he said "but I don't know why or who it is?"
"How can you know you know it but not know it?" asked Minor
"He recognises it, but his brain isn't making the full connection as to what it is who who it's by" I replied
I took pity on him and told him it was Muse
"I knew that" he said

I flicked through to "Uprising" also by Muse.
"'Uprising' by Muse" he said within the first 5 seconds.
"Yeah I heard it during the Olympic opening ceremony and it caught my fancy" I said
"I thought it would make a good song for the Olympics"
"So Muse, how about 'Supermassive Black Hole'?"
"I've not heard of that one just those other two"
So I played him that and then worked my way through other music; which is where I started to feel my age.

Neither had heard of Jefferson Airplane, they'd not heard Alex Winston's "Velvet Elvis" as made famous by the Google Chrome advert. Minor knew "Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny" by Lemon Demon and happily started singing with The Beatles "Yellow Submarine" which Major didn't identify though at least he recognised it as The Beatles.

Minor enjoys "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath, but Major finds it repetitive. Neither had heard of Gorillaz or any of the songs I had by them. Major had heard of Blur, but couldn't name any specific songs he knew as being by them. Major knew, and Minor enjoyed, "Firestarter" by The Prodigy. Kudos though as Major instantly identified "Paradise City" by Guns 'n' Roses.

Spotting a theme with Major he's not that big on repetition, "Iron Man" Utah Saints, "Jump in the Line" by Harry Belafontane. He also needs an instant grab; anything that starts of with simple melody he'd have turned off before it builds. Minor seems more willing to listen to see if he likes it rather than make a snap decision. Between a 16-year old and a 10-year old I'd have thought it to have been the other way around.

The Bratii and a new game

I've been designing my own board game and yesterday the Bratii came over so I got to playtest it with them. I knew testing was important, having worked in QA in the past, but I've never been in the position of designer before and I can now look back and appreciate their reactions more. My urge to simply dismiss criticisms of the "How will the user/player know to do this" type were barely suppressed, but I just shut-up and made mental notes.

I won't deal with specifics, but an entire mechanism simply did not get used (except once by myself) and a loophole was quickly discovered and exploited by Major to boost his holdings. In terms of the way it was played it ended up with little competition between the players and more between the individual and the game. So that's how I'm going to redesign it. Remove the loophole and the unused mechanic, make it co-operative and tighten up a few of the other rules.

Gosh this is fun!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Unforeseen consequences of the new Minimum Wage

I mentioned how the new minimum wage was devised by people who obviously didn't understand how it would be used, but what other effects does it have?

The previous wage per hour was set at £6.08. Assume a person is on a salaried income working 9-5 with a half hour lunch break. That's 37.5 hours per week and exactly £228 per week in wages. Assuming a standard 810L tax code that breaks down as follows:

£228 Gross Salary
£9.84 NI
£14.40 PAYE.

Except the employer also has to pay NI and that comes to £11.60. The government gets £35.84, the employee gets £203.76 and the employer has to pay out £239.60 total.

With the increase to £6.19 an hour at 37.5 hours the employee gets £232.125 (because it's stupid). To keep it simple let's round that to £233 (can't round down or it's below the limit).

£233 Gross Salary
£10.44 NI
£15.40 PAYE.

Again the employer pays NI this time it's £12.29. The government gets £38.13, the employee gets £207.16 and the employer has to pay out £245.29 total.

So the government gains £2.29 a week or £119.08 a year, the employee gains £3.40 a week or £176.80 a year and the employer loses £5.69 a week or £295.88 a year.

Given that in 2007 the number of workers on minimum wage was 1.7m and assuming they all work a 37.5 week that's an extra £202,436,000 a year going straight to the government and an extra £502,996,000 a year out of businesses.

I'm not saying the minimum wage shouldn't increase only that it should be done in line with tax threshold changes too.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Local Police politicking

Oh dear with the run up to the elections for a Police and Crime Commissioner and the shunting of Party members into the candidacy this type of puff-piece was inevitable

Strip it down and it states:

Conservative candidate for Commissioner says burglaries are a bad thing and that the police trying to reduce the number of burglaries is a good thing.

Awesome, thanks for that. Next up - Conservative candidate states that, if elected, he will try to do good things and not bad things.

Political news shuffle

On Monday BBC's Breakfast interviewed the Chancellor George Osbourne live from Birmingham, when they switched to the weather I switched channels and after a moment watched ITV's Daybreak interviewing the Chancellor George Osbourne live from Birmingham.

On Tuesday BBC's Breakfast interviewed the Prime Minister David Cameron live from Birmingham, when they switched to the weather I switched channels and after a moment watched ITV's Daybreak interviewing the Prime Minister David Cameron live from Birmingham.

This morning BBC's Breakfast interviewed the  Foreign Secretary William Hague live from Birmingham, when they switched to the weather I switched channels and after a moment watched ITV's Daybreak interviewing Charlotte Church live from Birmingham.

Poor William.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Mansion tax kiboshed?

A snippet from David Cameron on BBC Breakfast this morning:

"I think the Mansion tax is a bad idea because people who work hard, who save, who put money into their home, they shouldn't have the government coming after them every year in respect of that."
So what about that yearly mandatory government collection based on the price of your home known as council tax? What about the money the government takes out of saving accounts in respect of tax?

Well those don't count of course, because a) MPs can claim back their council tax and b) how many of Cameron's mates keep their savings abroad and out of the government's reach?

Monday, October 08, 2012

B4025 Cat's Eyes

I don't know what's going on with the B4025 Worcester Road running out of Stourport but as you approach the Sandy Lane Industrial Estate turn off all the cat's eyes embedded in the road surface seem to have raised up. They're not newly fitted ones as the metal surrounds are rusted, but they're all sitting proud of the road by about an inch with right-angled metal brackets.

Turn off and it's like driving over cobbles.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Pink ribbon for April?

In  my newsfeed the following appeared: "Missing April: Pink Ribbon Campaign Launched". Okay first of all - why? Ribbon wearing is for a cause, either for a remembrance or to raise awareness (or both) and to raise money for that cause. Given that this sad story has dominated the news for the past week remembering or awareness isn't a problem. I also can't see the need to raise money - what for? A search that is already being undertaken by police and a large numbers of volunteers?

Secondly a pink ribbon is already 'assigned' to breast cancer. So do the parents want to use the very sad abduction of their daughter to raise awareness of breast cancer?

I'm just not getting it? It's a terrible thing to happen, but I just don't get the ribbons.

First group's bus drivers in Stouport

Via their contact form:

To Whom it may concern.

Could you please remind those drivers who pass through Stourport that both Gilgal and Mitton Street are filter and merge systems and as such the multiple entrances to either have no Give Way signs.

To that end your vehicles travelling from Minster Road into Gilgal only have right of way in the left-hand lane; and from Gilgal to Mitton Street in the right-hand lane. Should other traffic from Vale Road or Worcester Road respectively be attempting to use the other lane they have right-of way within that lane.

If your vehicles cannot enter without encroaching on the other side it is they who should be stopping not the other vehicle.
I'm just getting fed-up of the buses charging down from either Minster Road or Gilgal ans sweeping straight into the other lane as if they had right-of way. Hell I'm fed-up of all the traffic sweeping down as if they had right of way, but bus-drivers should have had better training.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Why the minimum wage increase is wrong

As of the 1st October the minimum wage per hour increased, I have no problem with that what I do have a problem with is what they've raised it to.

From October last year the minimum hourly wages were £6.08, £4.98, £3.68,  and £2.60 for the various different age-groups etc. They've increased to £6.19, £4.98, £3.68, and £2.65 i.e. only two have really altered, the £6.19 and £2.65. So what do I find a problem?

Those are hourly rates, but at the minimum wage level 'hours' can be determined by the half or even quarter hour. Divide £6.19 and £2.65 by two or four. They don't divide into whole pennies. So someone who works shifts and work a week resulting in 10.25 hours should receive a minimum of £63.44 and ¾ of a penny so that should be rounded up to £63.45. Seems easy, but both of these figures are exactly one penny away from a number that divides evenly by both two and four. £6.20 becomes £3.10 or £1.55; £2.64 becomes £1.32 or £0.66.

This doesn't even make sense if they're increasing by a fixed percentage of 2% as £6.08 *1.02 = £6.2016. So someone seems to have specifically chosen these figures. It seems, big surprise, that the department calculating them have absolutely no idea how they're applied.

Romney - "why don't horse come with ladders?"

At a recent party US Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney apparently asked "Why don't horse come with ladders?" prompting a large internet response.  The full transcript is apparently as follows:

"So I was out for a quick chukka and at the end of play all my staff rushed out to kneel down so my team and I could all dismount. As I wondered how I could fire them all I thought 'horses should have ladders!'. Why don't horses come with ladders?"

Aides to Mr Romney were quick to point out that this was a joke and that Mr Romney did indeed understand why horses didn't come with ladders. "It's because Adam and Eve were much taller than we are today, so God didn't have to add them to horses to help them mount"

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Gamer film review

A film based on making a real-life first-person shooter how could I resist? Well given the poor reviews quite easily, but hey what do the critics know so many seem to be snobby about 'video-game' films and sometimes they can still be entertaining even if they're not 'good'.

Either way I held off watching this, but Channel 5 gave it a network première on Sunday so I thought to record it and give it a go.

The premise is simple - technology has developed that allows remote control of other people; these people essentially get paid to rent their bodies out to strangers. This develops into pitting death-row convicts against each other in a real-life first person shooter video game. The story follows one of these convicts who is approaching the 30-game threshold that would mean they would be set free.

It should be an easy switch-your-brain-off-and-enjoy-it film. It's not. Disjointed direction and a plot that staggers from one action sequence to another with plot points appearing and disappearing as soon as they've been actioned. An attempt at character development has been crudely shoe-horned in along with a moral message about giving up power and control to others. Acting is phoned in and the script isn't even bad enough to be interesting and not cheesy enough to be placed in the "so bad it's good" category. Even the action sequences aren't that good; explosions and fast-paced shooting, but the poor direction and editing leaves it a sodden mess.

There is however one good point about this film... it's only 95 minutes long. So if for some reason you do decide to watch it you've only wasted an hour and a half of your life. Just a really bad movie.