Monday, April 30, 2012

Royal Mail misses pricing opportunity

The price of stamps increases from today, roughly 30% for first class stamps from 46p to 60p, however they've slipped up when it comes to large letters.

Previously a large letter under 100g cost 76p. If you only had a selection of first and second class stamps that meant having to use one old first (46p) and one old second (36p) giving 82p or 6p wasted. just over 100g and it was £1.09. That meant one old first and two old seconds giving £1.18 or 9p wasted.

Now they've managed well with the under 100g change by charging 90p two new seconds (50p) means a whole 10p wasted; but what a mess on the just over. They've made it £1.20! That's exactly two new first class stamps - no wastage at all.

I think words should be had with whoever set the prices and an instant increase to £1.21 is in order :-)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

setInterval, the CPU and Firefox

In past and current times I've noticed the fan kicking in whenever I've visited the Kidderminster Shuttle website using Firefox; something is kicking up the CPU and thus engaging the fan, but what?

The best bet is some code constantly running and the site has two candidates for that position.

The first is a news ticker running horizontally just under the banner and the second a job posting ticker running vertically in the right-hand side bar. The news ticker runs with its own javascript writing one character at a time every 50ms before wiping out and being replaced by the next headline; that's not a problem.

The job listing uses jQuery and digging through uses the setInterval function to shift an entire ul element block upwards. Beyond shifting to three decimal places (a pixel is a pixel is a pixel) it does so using the default interval of 13ms.

To put that in perspective if you wanted to screen a movie using a function called getFrame() and thus wanted to call it every time a frame was required setInterval would need a timing of 42ms. A UK TV show would require 40ms; a US show 33ms; a video game running at 60Hz 17ms; there is very little need to ever run anything at 13ms intervals.

The odd thing is that it's only Firefox that busts the CPU. Both Chrome and IE7 handle it smoothly; Opera renders it with a jerkiness, but doesn't ratchet up the CPU. Either the former are better optimised (and who would suggest that of IE?) or it's ignoring the value and substituting something more reasonable. It's possible only Firefox is trying to do exactly what it has been told to do with the subsequent punishment being meted out on the CPU.

Okay other factors may come into play - the entire ul block is being shifted and some browsers may handle that better than others, but still if you ever need to use setInterval  for animation a timing of 30-40ms should be sufficient.

As a test I duplicated the block and created my own code to move it and found moving 1 pixel per 40ms produced a scroll effect nearly identical to the original, but without the burn.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Jak and Daxter Trilogy

Ah Jak and Daxter. I have fond memories of the first instalment of this series and mixed memories of the subsequent episodes; but are they rose tinted? With the re-release in HD for the Playstation 3 it's time to find out.

Despite sales most likely to be those of a similar weal to myself I'll review them as new comparing them to modern innovations for those who did not get the chance to play them the first time around and want to take the advantage of a bargain of three games for the price of one.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why everyone on the internet should be aware of Section 127

I've touched on charges brought under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 before, but I think it well worth the time to point out how this (sadly like so many pieces of legislation) is being misapplied. In part the passage states that:

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or
(b)causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

Seems okay at first; crank callers; heavy breathers etc all covered however the devil is in the details - firstly "message or other matter". What is an "other matter". Well this very blog is using a public electronic communications network (the internet) and thus qualifies as an "other matter" so does a tweet; so would a facebook message; any comments you make here would also fall under this meaning.

In essence anything published on the internet falls under this section of the Communications Act and that leads to the catch - "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing nature". And the definition of all those terms are... determined by case law and judges.

Call me a nasty name in the comments and you may well be charged for being grossly offensive. All that pornography on the internet could be deemed "indecent" or "obscene"? Better still as the internet is international; in theory someone in say the USA who posted something rude on my blog could be charged; in fact anyone anywhere could be charged with such an offence simply because they are causing such a message to appear on my UK blog.

Heck even the exceptions only apply to broadcast media so heads-up to journalists whose papers add their columns online - said something nasty about a person? Don't expect a civil suit, expect the police to knock on your door waving this bit of legislation at you.

None of us are safe.

Static Caravan Tax our MP

Via the Wyre Forest Labour Blog  - In the Shuttle's MP section  on the afternoon of the 18th April 2012 19th April 2012 our MP Mark Garnier states that -

Caravan Tax is one where VAT is being proposed to be levied on new caravans. There is a consultation under way (as with many of the others), but with 27 caravan parks in Wyre Forest and tourism being a very significant engine of the local economy, increasing the cost of caravans can only decrease the demand for them and this could have a detrimental effect on our local tourist economy.
One would think this a clear-cut position - more tax = less sales = less tourists in this area.

But this hit the house later that day the day before on the 18th where many MPs spoke out against it both Labour and Conservative... but not our MP; perhaps he thought his Conservative colleagues made all the relevant points leaving him with nothing? The motion was that:
‘No new Order shall be made under section 30(4) or 31(2) of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 which amends the Act to apply to holiday caravans that are currently zero rated.’
In other words vote Yes to prevent the amendment of VAT on caravans; vote No so the government can change the VAT on caravans if it wants to.

So how did our MP, who the very next day stated that he thought this would be "detrimental" to the region, actually vote? He voted No, thus preventing the order and allowing the amendment of VAT on caravans.

Perhaps he thought that we'd best wait for the consultation's conclusions before adding an Order preventing any changes. Seems sensible to me; but then if I were in that position I wouldn't vote to prevent changes and then publicly announce that I thought any changes made would be a bad thing without at least explaining the contradiction.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Physicist uses math to get out of a traffic ticket

One wonders if he was let off because they agreed with him or because they didn't want to acknowledge they couldn't understand his paper.

It's well worth reading though the mathematics may be a little too high-level for some. So just for fun I'll simplify it a little (or more accurately a lot). There are three conditions that need to apply - the position of the officer; the deceleration and acceleration of the vehicle and a point where the car is no longer visible.

Julian Assange and The World Tomorrow

So I take it everyone tuned in for Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange's new political chat show "The World Tomorrow"; no? Big surprise. I only knew about it because I've gotten into the habit of switching over to Russia Today.... sorry RT as they've restyled themselves as, in a morning simply because they seem to make a habit of reporting items not covered by the mainstream channels of the BBC and ITV. Also because it can be as funny as Fox News at times in how desperately they pretend they have no bias while at the same time producing obviously biased shows.

In the case of this show Assange interviewed Hassan Nasrallah head of Hezbollah classified by the UK and USA (as well as others) as a terrorist organisation despite being a part of the official Lebanese government. Regardless of your views as to whether such a person should have their views given media coverage RT's coverage the next day of the other media's response was highly amusing.

The biggest performing seal was good old Fox news and RT showed clips of presenters and guests stating that Assange was a traitor; had committed treason and had broken numerous US laws. This made a double whammy of hilarity as Assange is Australian (and therefore doesn't fall under US jurisdiction) and they were discussing the Wikileaks 'scandal' rather than this show.

What would be fun is for both channels to set aside a dedicated show pointing out all the flaws and out of context 'news' displayed by the other. Maybe then we'd get an balanced and unbiased news report :-)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Can I have the actual graphic please?

The bane of a web developer - you ask the client to send you their logo or whatever and in return you get a Word Document with an embedded picture.

Worse yet the person I asked is a graphics professional - I suppose he's just used to sending them out like that to accommodate his clients.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Original Source no more shampoo

As mentioned earlier I couldn't find any of the shampoo I use in any store; I've discovered why. The entire Original Source range of shampoos and conditioners have been discontinued.

Great now I have to try and find another product that doesn't mess with my hair or skin.

More poor signage

Coming back from Kidderminster at the weekend I was surprised to learn that according to the sign placed at its entrance "this road" being Gilgal was going to be closed for the nights of the 16th, 17th and 18th. Um no that'll be Mitton Street which starts much further down. It will still be possible to use Gilgal in order to get to the island and onwards to Hartlebury etc.

To emphasise this the sign at the other entrance was in fact at the actual entrance where Worcester Road meets Mitton Street. So why wasn't the other sign placed slightly back on the splitter triangle?

Kidderminster's poor road layout

I had a forced reminder this weekend about how poorly Kidderminster's roads are laid out in terms of getting to shops. Firstly somebody in the wrong lane to turn to Crossley Retail Park because both indicate a right turn without differentiating that one leads to the Park proper and the other to the supermarket. Secondly because of shampoo. I couldn't find the type I liked in town so I tried Sainsbury's with no success. As I was heading back that way anyway I thought to try Morrisions likewise with no success.

I doubted the Aldi would stock it but it might be worth a try; then Asda. I got back into my car and at that point realised I couldn't drive to the Aldi despite it being directly in front of me due to the split one-way junction of which I was on the wrong side.

Oh well I'll try the Asda. At which point I realised the only way to get to it would be to queue to get onto the ringroad and do a near 360 because the entrance is again on the wrong side of a one-way junction.

Next time I'll remember Asda, Aldi and Morrisons is the only order they can be visited by car.

Friday, April 13, 2012

£100k for Kidderminster

It seems our Conservative dominated council are for some reason proud that Kidderminster has been awarded a grant of £100,000 for being home to one of the country's 11 most empty towns - yay?

So what can be done with this money? As part of a different topic the notion of Stourport Market came up - to be precise the absolute lack of one. It used to be on Bridge Street; then shifted to the corner of Lombard Street and now we have none except on 'special' occasions. So what?

Well it struck me that the lack of dedicated market structure knocks out one of the rungs on the ladder necessary for start-ups. In the past a person who wanted to sell something might rent on a short term basis a small area to set up a stall to gauge trade. They may then advance to a more permanent location. Today that would be met with "sell it on the internet". Except that demands postage and packing; card transactions; hosting; domain registration; advertising etc. A stall on a larger market requires little advertising to start and provides a ready-made medium for passing trade something that doesn't exist on the 'net.

Sure Kidderminster has the Thursday and Saturday outdoor markets organised by the unfortunately named LSD Promotions, but there's no all-week indoor area. Hell even Merry Hill has a section put aside for stalls - so why not Kidderminster? Woolwooths is big enough; if the rumours are true Hooty's would also make a good site while at the same time returning some of the trade to the top end of the town from the snatch and grab of Weavers Wharf.

So how about using some of that money for a permanent market place?

Internet down

Came in this morning to see the VoIP phone light lit - "Oh DaBoss' internet is down again" I thought. Then I noted a rebooted computer and realised we'd had a power failure. Was it the server at our end causing the light... yes we had no internet connection.

Checked the settings; checked the line; rebooted the router soft; rebooted hard. No joy. Contacted our provider; no problems with the system at their end - they'd call me back.

A nice guy called back and he informed me the diagnostics had returned an incorrect password. Huh odd. He gave me the new one and without giving it away we both realised at the same time that it must have only recently been reset and at their end.

He's going to find out who authorised a password change.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Basic PAYE Tools End of Year

I'm still trying out the HMRC's own tax calculator programme and it's the End of the Year. Now I need to print off forms to send to the accountants to check over. The programme doesn't want me to do this and insists that I get ready to submit all the forms as is online. I don't want to do this.

I try to answer the questions truthfully and it throws up an error message asking me to select either Yes or No to a question it hasn't asked me.

One 15 minute wait on the telephone later and a helpful gentleman steps me through 'tricking' the programme into thinking I'm going to submit the forms online, but bottle out at the last minute just so it'll tick over into the new tax year.

Basically I'm lying to the programme that "Hey yeah I'm going to submit the forms" and then telling it not to at the last minute.

Anyway forms filled out; new year started and I check the details. It hasn't changed the tax codes.

What it does say is that I should check my tax codes using form P9X; what it doesn't do is help me in any way to find this form

I then dig around on the HMRC site I find it and it tells me to add 63 to any L codes. Back to the programme and the help bubble over "Change Tax Codes" tells me I should select this if I've received a P6; which I haven't. Choose it anyway however and the option for a P9X now appears. Helpfully it just allows me to make a global change to all L employees by asking what to add... no of course it doesn't it doesn't even show me the existing code to change I have to back out, check the code; add 63 myself, and then fill it in.

Said reminder also states "Please make sure you use the new Taxable Pay and National Insurance rates from 6 April 2012" Okay but shouldn't the software be using those already? How do I check it is? Ah the P9X tells me "the calculator has been updated to include these rates" so why is the calculator (that has been updated) exhorting me to check that it's been updated?

Seriously who tested this software?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Silent Hill bonus

Just had my copy of Silent Hill HD delivered and thought "This is a larger package than normal" opened the envelope and reached in "Oh they've wrapped the game up in bubble wrap; how odd". Pulled it out and found my game wrapped in a medium-sized yellow T-Shirt with "Welcome to Toluca Lake" printed on it.

Didn't order it; wasn't expecting it; welcome surprise. Yay!

Mental arithmetic

This should be a simple problem - purchase four books at £7.99 each. These books are all in a 'Buy one get one half price offer'. An extra 20% off is available via a card. How much should it cost?

In quick terms it's £8 times 4, but with two at half price (equating to one full price book) it's really £8 times 3 or £24. Shift the decimal place for 10% to make £2.40. Times by 2 to make 20% £4.80. £24-£4.80 = £20-£0.80= £19.20 roughly speaking.

I thought £22.38 was a bit off. I paid the money walked away doing the sums in my head and coming to the answer above. Went back in and pointed this out. Taps on a calculator later and I was right. It turns out the till  had only halved the price of one book.

Can't trust tills.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Stourport Shop Changes

A few changes in Stourport. The vacant Threshers appears to be being renovated (another charity shop?).

[Update - if this article applies it is indeed a new charity shop. The fact I have to stop to count how many that now makes in High Street should indicate their proliferation]

The Dibbiebugs in York Street has moved to the old Cycles and Skates store in Bridge Street; and the Santander which hasn't been open that long seems to be changing to something called Stuarts.

[Update - Although the painted sign says Stuarts a hand-written sign in the window states it's going to be a Worley's Strings n Things a musical store currently in Lombard Street and definitely a place to look at if you want a guitar. If you're interested in hurting your eyes feel free to check out their website and then also try not to wince at the erratic use of the apostrophe in the store name.]

Hosepipe ban

A hosepipe ban is in place across several authorities, but why? If you answered 'Because the water levels are low' fine except why a hosepipe ban? In theory if water stocks are low than a blanket restriction on water should be in force, but it's not it's just hosepipes. If you answered 'Because hosepipes are wasteful of water' are they? Who told you that? That would be the water companies. Let's take a closer look.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Rights of Way

Another boring legal posting I'm afraid due to the minor kerfuffle over the blocking of an alleged bridle path in Kidderminster. It seems people still don't know the distinctions so let's try and solve that.

Firstly Right of Way. Sadly this can easily be conflated with 'Who gets to go first' as such I'll refer to it as 'Right of Use' instead. What a 'Right of Use' means is that whoever possesses such cannot be prevented from using that route except on a temporary basis (Roadworks, Scene of Crime, etc.) what it doesn't mean is that only they can use that route. So dealing with the main types:

Highway:  In this case the Public Highway which is a Carriageway possibly with an accompanying Footway. (This is why you can't beat a parking fine by using the 'pavement')
Carriageway: A 'right of use' for carriages.
Footway: A 'right of use' for pedestrians. A general restriction for carriages excepting for access (bicycles and horses count as carriages).
Footpath: A 'right of use' for pedestrians. General restriction on motor carriages except on lawful authority. (This is why groundskeepers can drive in parks)
Bridle path: A 'right of use' for pedestrians and horses. General restriction on motor carriages.

This means that horses and cyclists can ride on footpaths but not footways; but the council can choose (by application of a TRO) to prevent that. The council cannot prevent a pedestrian from using a footway, footpath or bridle path; nor a horse from using a bridle path or carriageway.

In theory we can add:

Cycleway:  A 'right of use' for cyclists. General restriction on motor carriages.

Which means a pedestrian or a horse can use such, unless a local TRO prevents it.

That's the simplified version. It can get complicated for example pushing a bike doesn't count as a carriage, but leading a horse does. Do skateboards, roller skates, push scooters or wheelchairs count as carriages. How about motorised wheelchairs? Still lots of fun for lawyers to chew over.

Bank security or lack thereof.

Not getting into details, but imagine a firm with three directors Adam, Brian, and Charlie they're all listed on Companies House and they all have access to the firm's bank account.

For various reasons Brian and Charlie have now left and been replaced by David and Eric; they're now listed on Companies house and Brian and Charlie removed. The next step is to give them access to the bank account.

The form to fill out is generally something called a Mandate Change form and allows the addition of signatories to the account; simple enough. However consider who needs to sign and authorise this particular form.

If you thought that it would need to be done by the only extant signatory on file, Adam, congratulations you have a basic grasp of security; if you thought that it could be signed by any director listed on Companies House then congratulations you probably work for a bank.

Remember the bank don't have signature samples of either David or Eric yet amazingly enough it would only take the unknown signatures of these two to provide complete access to the firm's accounts. Oh sure the person being added needs to fill in their own form and provide proof of their identity, but that doesn't need to be signed by Adam either.

Secret justice

All this fuss about secret courts and digital surveillance where's the problem? All the Conservative government want to be able to do is allow the authorities to search through your personal online effects without having to worry about justifying it to some third party and then use the 'evidence' they've collected to convict you without giving you the chance to hear or refute it.

It's odd, but looking at current policies on tax and the death by a thousand cuts they're trying to inflict on the NHS (something we in Wyre Forest have already experienced) I get the impression they're trying to turn back the clock. Not to the heady days of Thatcherism but even further back to the halcyon days of Conservatism - the reign of Queen Victoria.

Seriously. Take Conservative policy and ask yourself "If enacted would this have the effect of returning the situation back to how it was during the Victorian period?"

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Don't stop me now - Osbourne video spoof

Not as good as Common People in my opinion but still fun. Again via Liberal Conspiracy. Contains swearing


Bradford West by-election 2012

A lot of crowing from the Conservative Party about Labour losing their 'safe' seat to George Galloway with a massive 55% drop in votes from the previous election. (18,401 to 8,201)

Keeping oddly quiet though about their own 78% drop (12,638 to 2,746) or the LibDems 68% drop (4,732 to 1,505)

I wonder why?

Path widening, Road Narrowing on Mitton Street

One of the reasons I've been complaining about trying to link to documents is, of course, the Tesco works. In this instance the path widening that I can't find mentioned on any of the planning applications. Oh sure there's work listed for the other side that leads from the new pedestrian crossings, but not on the Hollybush side of the road.

Well at least they're not widening the path by much.
Path widening
Bloody hell! That expanse they've filled in is two-feet wide. According to Tesco's own road report Mitton Street varies between 7.4m to 5.5m in width and checking on Google Earth this is one of those 5.5m stretches.

Take off 60cm and that leaves 4.9m. An Audi A3 is 1.995m in width; two of those side-by-side leaves 90cm or just over a normal door width between them and that's if both drive with their wheels scraping the kerb. If you don't want to drive over the drains then two vehicles cannot drive side-by-side along this road. Given the queues that form here due to both Vale Road and York Street/town traffic that means a blockage in one lane will also block the other.

Now firstly I can't measure these so my measurements may be wrong and certainly if you judge the widths using the oncoming car it appears there's room for two vehicles albeit a little tighter than before. However I still can't find any record of work for this side of the road.

Linking documents from Wyre Forest

Taking the time to rummage through planning applications so you don't have to means having the ability to link to them; except I can't.

Oh sure I can link directly to an application such as the 08/1053/EIA. I can tangentially link to the plans and documents page like so. However I cannot link directly to the list because the address is:

That is it uses a session identity to return the correct details. However within that result the documents are listed by the following address type:

or even:

Using a unique identifier for the document beyond the planning regulation number. Except I can't link to either of them try the first or the second and you'll get a 404 Page not found unless you've a session identifier still in place.

But hey that's what that tick box is for - you have to confirm you've read the terms and conditions before viewing the documents. If I could link directly I'd bypass that system. Except how silly - why not check for a valid session on request and if not available produce the terms and conditions page before continuing to the page I linked to? It seems they don't know how to programme that in.

Given that I can't link directly to a document why should I complain; why not just link to the application and then refer to document 67589 or by its title?

That's why. Can you see document 67589 from this list? Hover over them and you'll receive the useful information of "Site Plan", "05/12/2008 00:00:00" or "08/1053/EIA" In this case 67589 is the third one from the bottom of the second block of "Additional/Other Plans" or just the eighth from the bottom of the first page. Is it any wonder that different people can end up looking at different plans and documents?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Stourport's Italian Food Market

I said I'd go and so I did evidence in photo form :-) Sad to say bookended by two bright sunny gorgeous days was this miserable Saturday that always seemed threatening to rain. Had the weather been nicer I'd have expected  throngs to the riverside who would by necessity be driving straight past this market. As it was... I don't know perhaps the Easter weekend would have proven better; but then I'm sure the organisers had a bigger pitch for such a big occasion.

As it was the market was fine and the storeholders cheerful and friendly; the food looked great and tastes great too if [intake of breath] a little pricey. Treats most certainly; everyday food? Not on my budget.

I hope it picked up around lunch-time as I understand that would be the pasta making etc.

Kudos to the Civic Centre for getting this off the ground, but [sigh] I really only found out about this by accident and then did the word-of-mouth thing to get it around. If the weather had shifted to being better I'd have had some signs dropped into both of these towns to try and encourage them to pop-in. Of course if we can get this as a regular thing, last Saturday in March say, then that's worth some pushing to get Stourport known on that date to be the place to be for the Food Market.