Friday, September 28, 2012

Reregistering Microsoft Office file associations

Had a hardware fault on the laptop and while running through some tests accidentally activated the copy of Office 2007 that came installed with it and it changed all the file associations over. Theoretically this should be easy to change back - locate a Office file, right-click and chose "open with" then locate the excel executable I want to use and set this as the default. Yeah right.

Despite changing the icon and appearing to change it in the registry it still insisted on running the new version.

In the end in took opening up a command prompt changing to the correct Office directory and running each executable with "/unregserver" at the end and then "/regserver" to set them all back to default.

The Invincible Iron Man, and Doctor Strange DVD reviews

Wondering through Morrisons I was surprised to see copies of The Invincible Iron Man, and Doctor Strange animated DVDs I guess all the Avengers Assemble has warranted stock. At £3 apiece they've been something sitting in my Wish List for a while so I picked them up. Always handy for the Bratii if we're that bored, not that I've any interest in these films myself ;-)

Let the Wookie win

I took the Bratii down to the riverside a couple of weekends ago (before the deluge) and we ended up on one of the crazy golf courses. I won as usual, but they drew with each other and more importantly were only 2 points behind me - damn close. Why bother to mention this? Well they were both quite chuffed at getting that close and I think some might consider this a bit odd; surely they'd only be happy if they'd won?

I look around at the other adult/child relationships with games and I watch children's strokes ignored, I watch the adults 'accidentally' fluff easy shots and I see the kids winning a lot more than they should and I just don't understand it. I don't do that - with board games, cards and the fairground type things I play to win.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ex-Sun editor sues police over Hillsborough

It's a piece of news you'd think to read on the Onion or the Daily Mash... oh wait. Kelvin McKenzie editor of the Sun during it's "The Truth" (which wasn't) Sun headline regarding the disaster at Hillsborough is allegedly suing the South Yorkshire Police over the "vilification" he suffered for using the information they gave him.

Apparently it seems McKenzie was unable to wait to independently confirm the police story, unlike every other newspaper; and was also incapable of believing that the police may give erroneous information, unlike every other newspaper, and is thus blaming the police for his own credulity.

So out of interest how does this play with the "profuse apologies" he gave regarding the headline? I mean - 'Hey I'm really sorry for what I did, but it turns out it wasn't my fault.' is hardly an apology is it?

Class act this one.

The Casual Vacancy - JK Rowlings new book

JK Rowling's first post-Potter book is being released today and judging by the reviews and descriptions of the content it's not one I'll be purchasing.

This is being described as her first 'adult' book except how would that be enforced? Sure it's not going to be included in the children's section, but it is going to be displayed prominently in the leader sections and if her name is prominent enough (which it is) how many young readers of the HP series are going to nag parents into buying it for them?

Will shop assistants point out it that it's written for adults, that it contains a rape scene?

Oddly enough books don't come with age-certification excepting some comics that (like some music albums) declare they're for mature readers only. So how would this adult book be sold?

I suppose it's a burden on any pegged children's author, but I am curious as to how it's resolved.

You can't spend your way out of a recession!

The reason we're currently in austerity mode is due to the current mantra of "You can't spend your way out of a recession". On the face of it this seems logical - you can't clear debt by borrowing more and that would normally be correct, except why are we currently in recession?

The flow of currency has stalled. Businesses can't get loans; they can't increase wages, people stop spending money. Businesses have to cut back or increase prices; people have less money to spend so they spend less. It's a viscous circle.

Should the government be spending money? Normally this is the time they add infrastructure etc. However this time around it's the weary argument that "Hey if simply spending money on things like buildings would jump-start the economy than the government could just build something then knock it down then build it again" then the people saying this laugh and leave it at that.

However again the reason we're in this mess is due to the stalled currency, paying to build superfluous buildings and then paying for someone to knock them down would in fact put money back into the system; of course it would be better to build something we need and not knock it down.

Our government has decided to go with the austerity route instead, reducing the amount of money the government spends. Surprisingly this could be a better long-term solution. In theory if the government is spending less then it needs to collect less in taxes from the populace. This leaves them with more money, which they'll spend; thus pulling us out of recession.

Except we don't seem to have got to that last bit yet. There's been some minor tinkering with the personal allowances, but VAT is still at 20%; council tax is supposed to go up; and the exemption rates for businesses are still set at a miserly low. At the same time food prices are increasing due to various economic and meteorological occurrences; and energy prices are also on the rise  So we still have less money to spend while at the same time the government is spending less money than normal to compensate.

Hopefully this might just be short-term pain for long-term gain, but if we're not careful we may fall too far to pull ourselves back up.

Fluffing the Englishness test

So David Cameron appeared on the David Letterman show in the US and failed to get the questions right. I mean how many people can name the author of "Rule Britannia" or even the person who set it to music? But being unable to translate "Magna Carta"?

Seriously this is someone who was educated at Eton and then got a first at Brasenose, Oxford in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and the Magna Carta didn't come up in any of that? It's not even hard Latin if you stop and think about it we use magna in such words as magnitude or magnanimous at the least a guess of 'big' would be close rather than the correct 'great'. Carta... perhaps slightly more difficult until you remember what it is - a charter.

Just embarrassing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

100 missions Android game review

Having come to the current end of 100 rooms (room 42) the game advertised its own 100 Missions. Difficult to believe but the interface is even worse particularly on a mobile screen. Now when you jab at something that doesn't do anything it pops up with a message box stating nothing can be done here; in theory a good thing, but due to the smaller movement arrows it kept popping up as I tried to move overlaying the arrow so I had to deliberately jab elsewhere to clear it.

That said they've altered some of the game mechanics for the better. Combining items means dragging them onto each other and this new drag mechanic allows picture puzzles to be integrated into the game.

Sadly the logic still seems Monkey Island click everywhere, combine everything and despite the 'can't do anything here' messages it can still be difficult to determine if something is accessible. In this case consistency is a problem, jabbing the down movement arrow takes you out of a zoomed in view... except on occasion when it will take you a zoomed in view of the lower part of the object.

I'm also guessing English isn't the first language of the programmer; the description of objects are a little stilted and need some polish so for example describing a locked dresser as "ornate" and then finding a "fancy key" would tie the two together better than simply describing it as a dresser and a key obviously not for a door.  Oh and the intro screen speech bubbles are arranged top to bottom.

Despite being essentially the same game at times I want to say it's better than 100 rooms; other times it's worse. As with the previous it might simply be better on a tablet.

I think kudos does need to be made that it catered for the deaf/hard-of hearing by having a Morse code message blink as well as bleep; however that's countered by a red/green colour puzzle which will stimmy the colour-blind.

Keep the new dragging mechanic, make the direction keys a little larger; and ditch the pop-up 'nothing to do here', but keep the 'I can't do anything with that' pop-ups so at least there's an indication that something could be done there.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

100 Rooms Android Game review

I'll start with a warning - this is not a walkthrough, but believe me I can understand why you'd need one.

100 rooms is a free ad-supported game that is available on the Android Marketplace; the basic premise is simple - you are trapped in a room and need to use the items around you to open the door and leave.

You use the arrows at the edges of the screen to move around a room (or even two at times) and then jab to put something in the 16 slot inventory that sits at the bottom of the screen. Jab an inventory item to select it so it can be used with another on-screen item; or jab twice to get a larger view of the item which you can then combine with other items in your inventory.

As a small brain-straining/teasing game this would be quite fun; sadly after a few rooms it devolves into Monkey Island style item collection, and trial and error. You simply end up poking at everything on screen and trying to combine everything with everything else due to the contrived logic that applies. Oft-times I was left stranded because I was missing one component tucked somewhere I hadn't specifically targeted.

The interface isn't brilliant either. The initial hub room has an arcade machine that gives you points to spend on hints. There's a map next to that that allows you to replay any room. But nothing tells you this, you have to discover them for yourself. Oh and cleverly the FaceBook icon on the hub page is in exactly the same place as the "Return to Hub button" in each room so clicking to leave will trigger a "do you want to visit Facebook dialogue" box every time.

In all fairness this may be a better game on a tablet with a larger screen so you can spot the minor clues that indicate an actionable item. On a 4" HD screen - it's trying. Needs more polish.

Student loans are NOT DEBTS!

A little late given the start of the university year in September, but the worry of the large loans having to be taken out to attend university is still cropping up in some circles. None of this is helped by the constant refrain that this is a loan and therefore a debt you will be burdened with.

This is not true.

The best way to think about this is as a "Best Friend's loan" or a "Family loan" the money is not expected back, but if you suddenly find yourself plush it would be nice to repay it. That's how the student loans work. If you don't earn more than £21,000/year - you'll won't be paying anything back. If you do it will automatically be deducted from your wages. No affect on credit rating, no nasty calls demanding money.

Ah but how much do they start to take out once you do start earning money? Take your annual wage subtract £21,000 from it and take 9% of that. Earn £25k a year and that's a repayment of £360 a year. That only changes if your salary changes

Should you pay it back early - no. Remember although the loan increases with an interest variable to your earnings the amount you pay back per month is fixed at that 9% so even if you find yourself earning a lot and eager to pay it all off; firstly don't assume your financial situation will remain as is; secondly the 'debt' is wiped after 25 years anyway.

[Okay - perhaps not so out of date as this morning (26/9) BBC Breakfast were discussing Student Loans and if such students starting university were ready to deal with their own finances]

Monday, September 24, 2012

Car etiquette in the wet

Flooded roads this morning; drizzle to rain; dark, and cold. Yet the number of vehicles driving along with no form of side-lights (at the least) was shocking. I mean I'm in a bright red car, but try to spot a grey/silver or black car through the side-window when turning or worse yet through a side-window at the side-mirror when changing lane with both are spattered with rain-droplets.

All you can hope for is to catch movement as any sign that a vehicle is there and, as one is supposed to, slow down and take things a little easier.

In the same vein - the number of cars that think that just because their side of the road is washed out they have right-of-way in yours and, from the other perspective, the number of cars that hug the middle line despite the lack of puddles on their side when you're trying to skirt a puddle while staying on your own side of the road.

Mandatory re-testing every ten years? I'd say yes.

The need for an army in the modern age

During my thoughts regarding the Territorial Army, and when I took my head out of my hands, I started on another train of thought - the first part was "Why do we need a standing army?". This can be easily answered by the need for full-time trainers - someone has to train the TA; except the second thought creeps in "Why do we need an army at all?".

From first principles what is the need for an army?  We need an army to defend ourselves from attack; we need an army to attack another ourselves. Given our supposed 'civility' we're unlikely to chose to attack, but instead defend. Against what or whom though?

Terrorists seem to be the only ones attacking so we send in the army to attack them. More specifically we send them into the country that is supporting them, remove that country's leaders, and have the populace elect a new set. Which is great provided they also don't support the terrorists; the large flaw in democracy.

In theory having an army descend on you and tear your country apart to kick out a bunch of terrorist-lovin' leaders is unlikely to make a populace elect an exact same set lest they just get more of the same.

So an army is necessary in that sense; more so than a police force.

Circling back to the issue of a standing army though leads me to the current US Presidential race in particular the Republicans and their despising of the welfare state and their insistence on adhering to the will of the "Founding Fathers".

One of the points of the second amendment regarding the right to bear arms was the dislike for the need for a standing army; it also accounted for $683.7 billion in 2010.

So given their stated policies why haven't we heard the Republicans decrying these 'moochers'? I'm sure it's got nothing to do with the military's tendency to vote for them.

One less Conservative on the council

It seems that Stephen Clee, who is the Conservative councillor for Bewdley and Arley and is currently chairman of Wyre Forest District Council as well as being the Worcestershire County Councillor for Chaddesley, is no longer a member of the Conservative Party. The exact phrase used here being "expelled".

So this is from the local Labour Party site; nothing on the Conservatives site, the Liberals, the Independent Health, or the Liberal Democrats. Neither the Wyre Forest District nor Worcestershire County council websites have updated the listing to reflect his new independent status. The Shuttle also has yet to produce a story on this.

I wonder if the peoples of Chaddesley, Bewdley and Arley know they're no longer being represented by a Conservative?

[Update - it seems the Shuttle has reported the story]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

XKCD - Click and Drag

The latest XKCD comic requires you to do as the title says "click and drag" the statement made regarding the world is "I just didn't expect it be so big". So how big is this world?

Stepping behind the 'magic' each scene is made of a tile 2048x2048 pixels; a person appears to be about 30 pixels in height. I'll assume that's equal to 6ft to make things easier.

There appears to be 8 tiles up and 19 tiles down; 48 East of the start and 33 West; there is no zero tile. Add Up&Down and E&W then multiply by 2048; divide by 30 and multiply by 6 to get feet and the world extends about half a mile up; one and a half miles down and is about six miles long.

Hardly any distance at all, but scroll through it and you'll probably be sharing the sentiments of the two westmost characters.

The Territorial Army

On occasion I catch a piece of news that just wants makes me want to put my head in my hands and weep over the sheer WTF being displayed.

In this instance it was regarding the attempt to boost the number of recruits to the Territorial Army in the West Midlands. An employer quite rightly pointed out the difficulty in replacing a skilled team member while they're on manoeuvres with someone who knows that they'll be replaced as soon as that member returns.

The considered response - making it illegal for employers to discriminate against members of the TA.

I... just... I... no. I'd ask if these people inhabited the real world, but that's a silly question. They're members of the armed forces and politicians; of course they don't.

We have a situation in which the armed forces are being cut back with their places being filled by, what we should jokingly now call, the reservists.; meaning they're going to be away more often and possibly for longer. The response to employers worried about key members of staff not being available, particularly during these tough economic straits is - tough, suck it up.

Much as I despise physical violence some people really do just need a quick slap to connect them to the real world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Republican position

Despite not having any say in the matter it's difficult to avoid what's going on in terms of the run-up to the American Presidential Election. Listening to some of the stuff that the Republican nominee Mitt Romney; his running mate Paul Ryan; and various speakers have been saying, particularly with regard to the current tantrums being demonstrated by a minority of Muslims, I have built up a rough picture of their position:

Democratic nation-building under Bush = Good
Democratic nation-building under Obama =Bad;

Violence while nation-building under Bush = Good
Violence while nation-building under Obama = Bad;

Using Air Force One for personal and electioneering purposes by Bush = Good
Using Air Force One for personal and electioneering purposes by Obama = Bad;

Publicity stunt using low-flying plane in New York by Bush = Good
Publicity stunt using low-flying plane in New York by Obama = Bad

Changes to Medical Insurance proposed by Romney = Good
Exact same changes to Medical Insurance proposed by Obama = Bad;

Electing Harvard graduated lawyer Romney as President = Good
Electing Harvard graduated lawyer Obama as President = Bad;

Failing businesses under Bush = your fault
Failing businesses under Obama = government's fault

Succeeding businesses under Bush = government responsible
Succeeding businesses under Obama = you're responsible;

Almost makes our political parties look mature... almost.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New EU political funding rules

After much lobbying from "Hope not Hate" the Vice-President of the European Commission announced that funding would only be provided to political parties that observed the values of the European Union. As this includes respecting the rights of minorities "Hope not Hate" believes this should stop groups such as the BNP from receiving EU funding.

On the face of it this seems perfectly reasonable, however there is a downside. It is a generally agreed observation that the candidate that spends more money than their opponent has a greater chance of winning. By changing the rules such that funding only goes to parties that uphold the values of the EU a minor bias is put into place that such parties are more likely to win.

Now while I agree with the values named such as "human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities" what happens if a value such as 'supporting the Euro' or 'supporting the EU' creep in certainly these are values held by the majority EU members.

If such a change were to occur we will indeed have a case in which the only parties funded by the EU are ones that support the EU.

But doesn't that make sense though; why would the EU fund a group that didn't support it that wanted the country they represented to leave? If the EU were a business that would be fine; it hands over money to those it thinks will improve things for itself. But the EU is not a business it's supposedly a democratic organisation funded by the taxpayers of its member states.

So this becomes the EU deciding that it will use our money to only fund groups that support its values.

Rather than set a bunch of rules as to who or what gets such funding for me this raises the larger question of why the EU is providing any funding at all?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ryanair - One pilot newspaper advert

I caught the bright blue advert in my paper with a cartoon pilot standing next to the words

One pilot flights will save you money
Trains don't need 2 drivers! so why do planes?
If we cut 1 pilot all fares will fall by up to £10.
Wow, I mean wow seriously. Okay it's posed as a question so here's the answer that popped into my head the moment I read it: -

Because if something happens to the driver of a train it will slow down and stop

Oddly enough the same can't be said regarding a plane. Gee though if it will save me a tenner [sigh]. Fortunately it seems this is just a publicity stunt and a strange one at that. Either Ryanair are highlighting the need for two pilots (unlike trains) inadvertently pointing out why they need two pilots due to the risk; or they're stating that they're prepared to risk your lives in order to save you some dosh.


Yet another attempt to apply old laws to new situations

On Friday Azhar Ahmed was convicted of posting an offensive Facebook message regarding the deaths British soldiers. According to the judge his remarks were

"derogatory, disrespectful and inflammatory"
Ah yes it's my old favourite good old section 127 of the Communications Act.

Okay so saying we should rise up and kill all the soldiers is a bit... oh wait he didn't; he said:
"All soldiers should DIE & go to HELL!"
So that's expressing an opinion and not a wish, okay but it was still inflammatory to post that on the families Facebook pages... oh wait he didn't, he posted it on his own page and it was seen by one of the families and it was then subsequently copied around the internet.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The new unemployment rules - classic misdirection

For a while now news has been blaring that the government was set to allow employers to fire employees "at the drop of a hat" or for no cause; this has been widely vilified. Oh but wait Saint Cable to the rescue - no they're not doing that....  instead they're going to reduce the paperwork needed to fire someone oh and make it a lower punishment for unfairly dismissing someone. All in the name of helping the economy.

So they're going to reduce unemployment by making it easier to add to those ranks? Gee makes sense to me.

But hey they could have made it worse so we should be thanking them right?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nadine Dorries "Kill Cameron" statement - one rule for us, one rule for them.

A 'threat' to "blow up" Robin Hood airport on Twitter resulted in an arrest, charges and conviction (now over-ruled); threats made to Tom Daley on the same medium resulted in an arrest.

However if an MP states that we need a "Kill Cameron strategy" to a new political campaign group called Conservative Voice oddly enough there's no investigation or altered security arrangements at No. 10; because of course she only meant it "metaphorically".

I wonder if anyone else has stated that the only way to have a voice was to "Kill Cameron" they'd be treated in such a lax manner?

Kidderminster underpass artwork - the other side

I've already posted photos of the excellent artwork on the underpass between Crossley and Kidderminster, but they've now done the other side too.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The new 2012 Doctor Who opening sequence

I was told to watch out during the new opening credits for Doctor Who for some sort of surprise. The only thing I noted was the the "Doctor Who" logo had Dalek 'bumps'. Hmm okay.

This week's episode "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"... same logo, but with reptile skin. Ah subtle; I like it.

I'm sorry but you're not allowed science any more.

An excellent piece from Nature. Best part when the doctor explains why the parent isn't allowed science any more:

“This is outrageous!” snarled Sacha. “How can this happen?”
“Oh, that's easy,” said James. “Magic.”
“Magic?” said Sacha, her eyes suddenly shining. “You mean there's really such a thing?”
“Of course not. But I can't explain to you how it's really done because you're not allowed science any more.”
Heh - I'm sorry I can't explain why you're not allowed science any more because that involves science. "If only..." indeed.

We can help you with your mis-sold PPI

Plenty of automated calls coming into the office about mis-sold PPI and despite pressing 9 to unsubscribe they keep coming. However this is the first one I've had on my personal mobile number and an actual person instead of a recording. The conversation went something like this:

"Hi I'm [Person] from [Company]. Have you had your money back from your mis-sold PPI?"
"I don't have any PPIs"
"Oh are you sure, because you may not have noticed."
"Yes I'd have noticed unexplained payments from my account"
"Ah well you may not have because they bundle them in with other charges"
"No I have no charges"
"Well the banks put them on any loans or you mortgage you've taken out or on credit cards"
"I don't have any loans or a mortgage I only have a credit card and I'd have noticed if anything was going out"
"Ah well you wouldn't know until it's been investigated they'll have added it to the interest they charge you"
"They don't charge me interest as I pay off the full amount each time."
"... I don't think there's anything we can do to help you then"

The corporate face of academies

A brief glimpse on the news this morning had me nodding my head over mine own words:

The theory not presented to the public is that these will be run by organisations
It was the Brownhills school in Stoke-on -Trent renamed The co-operative academy of Stoke-on-Trent. Beyond the wonderful example of capitalisation inherent in the name plastered on the front (within the text it's referred to with both a capital C and A) what next?

Shall we welcome the Burger King Academy of Stourport complete with "Branded Tracksuit"?

Friday, September 07, 2012

Confusing food prices?

I caught a story on the BBC the other day regarding confusing food prices - main thrust was that the "price per" section that retailers are obliged to provide may use difference units. As such food should be measured by litres (volume) or weight (kilograms) the reporter than showed how this would in no way be helpful by picking up two squeezy jars of mayonnaise and showing one marked by volume and the other by weight.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Why the proposed changes to the exam system are wrong.

Education Secretary Michael Grove appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning to discuss the opening of 55 Free Schools and how wonderful this is. Firstly it's important to note that Free Schools are different to Academies. Free Schools are state-funded and free from Local Authority control whereas Academies are state-funded and free from Local Authority control. I jest; the big difference is that Academies were created by the previous Labour government whereas these 'much better' Free Schools were created by the Coalition government.

Exam grading - a simple one point change to solve much of the problem

I was close with my entry regarding grading on a curve, but like the politicians I was still stuck in the Victorian mind-set of grades to differentiate between students. It took a conversation with my family to suddenly click as to what should be done and how simple it a change it would be. So an big thanks to my mother for allowing me to explain it to her and a big thanks to my father who started me down this path.

The simplest method for removing the problems with grades and year-on-year comparisons is... remove the grades. Rather than create an arbitrary A-Fail set of boundaries mark as a percentage for that exam. If you score in the top 5% of your year then your 'grade' is "5.25% June 2012" if we want big numbers to be better we can switch to "94.75% June 2012"; but I think the former is a simpler concept.