Upgrade

July 15th, 2019

I finally got round to upgrading PHP (which was a 2-click operation) and upgrading WordPress on this and PubBlog to 5.2.2. Thankfully I didn’t get hacked in the time I was running a vulnerable version.

Joined-up thinking?

July 15th, 2019

I’ve seen a press release from Transport for West Midlands detailing progress on the “Sprint” buses that I first mentioned back in 2010. Back then they were going to be ready in 5 years; nearly 9 later, they’re still vapourware, and the plans are reduced: the Walsall-Birmingham route has changed to

the A34 Sprint route from Birmingham City Centre to a proposed Park & Ride site at Junction 7 of the M6 by the end of 2021

and that, according to our old friend Adrian Andrew:

“It is important we get the detail and design right and that is why we are taking more time over this section of the route in Walsall.

“This means that when we come to deliver Sprint here we can build the route fully confident it will work for the people and businesses of Walsall.”

Which seems odd. In one way, it’s pragmatic that the bit of the route I wondered about all those years ago is the bit they’re not going to bother with; the rest of the route is well served by bus lanes, and I’d argue that the existing buses, using the bus lanes, have little problem with that section, so arguably the cost and hassle factor for the new ones will be reduced.

On the other hand, of course, not dealing with the biggest problem (M6 J7/Scott Arms-Walsall) is a cop out, and the wisdom of a park and ride anywhere near the already critically congested and insane M6 J7 seems like madness on two counts, one being “where”, and the other being “why”.

Where because of the density in that area, and why, because, quite frankly, if you’ve bothered to get in your car to drive to Great Barr, you’ll probably just stay in it all the way. We’ve seen that before, where a certain Dr Beeching predicted people would drive to the station and get on a train.

The route linking BHX to the city probably has more merit, especially as the bit they’re not doing is BHX to Solihull, keeping the most significant bit.

I don’t want to pour cold water on any scheme that tries to reduce congestion and give us better public transport, but it feels to me that this scheme is taking a very long time (but, of course, things like this do), and isn’t going to deliver a big improvement over existing services. Like I mentioned in 2010, we already have a rail connection to the city centre, and to their credit, National Express provide a decent bus service covering that route too.

The fact remains that for those that can afford to do so, many people will drive, despite the awful traffic and parking: the fact is that going door to door in your own car is more attractive for many, despite disadvantages. Personally, I only drive into the city if I have heavy equipment to take to an office there, but I use buses a lot an would rather give up a bit of time to avoid driving. I think it’s almost certain that providing a slightly quicker and more comfortable bus that you have to get to Great Barr to use isn’t going to change many people’s minds.

Bugger Bognor

May 24th, 2019

we went away, and having not been to that section of coast before (the closest being Worthing one way and Totton the other), and wanting to do some pier-bothering, Bognor, or more precisely Elmer it was.

So,southwards it was: M6T, M42, M40, A34, M3, M27, A27. Not too bad a drive, either, with no significant hold-ups, but Chievely Services was a bit grim- busy, and with a nightmare of a car park that was a tight fit for my not-overly-wide car.

As well as the King George V connection, Bognor Regis is supposedly the sunniest place in Britain, and it certainly seemed like it; we got sunburned and it was bright most of the time.

Elmer was small, but really just a suburb of Middleton-on-Sea, itself now really just a suburb of Bognor, but with a village feel: while the town has expanded and the gaps have closed up, the villages still feel quite villagey. Nearby Felpham was so close to Bognor itself that even I could comfortably walk it with a few rest stops, but it feels like a self-contained place.

Bognor itself is pretty typical British seaside. A few bits a bit run-down, but plenty not. The pier is a bit tired: the boarding notably bouncy in places and generally in need of some TLC (and vastly shorter than it was), but at least it is still there and open. One notable thing was a huge amount of Polish people (and some great shops catering for them): if the Brexit clusterfuck ever happens, I wonder if this will change? I strongly suspect a lot of the local lower-paid jobs might suddenly be harder to fill: this is, after all, the south, so housing isn’t cheap: a house just down form our holiday property (admittedly a large house with direct beach access) was just shy of a million quid.

Notably a bit downmarket compared to Brighton, there was still a good choice of pubs and restaurants, and happily, great public transport from just a few yards from our property. There was a decent museum, and nearby Chichester gave us some sightseeing on the canal and the magnificent cathedral.

Overall, a great place, and not too far either; we drove the entire journey back in one run and 3hr 15 min without taking the piss speed-wise.

….oh yes- the pubs.

Back in the Saddle

May 11th, 2019

I was up early, for a Saturday, and I needed both some exercise and to visit a pharmacy to collect a prescription. A quick Google told me that Tesco Brownhills’ pharmacy was open from 8am, so off up the towpath it was. In days gone by, I might have walked, but that’s hard going for any sort of distance now, so it’s back on the bike. A pleasant morning for a ride, so when the pharmacy said there would be a delay, I continued up the canal a short way (ordinarily, I might have gone for bacon, but my increasing girth means I forewent that today).

Further up the canal, the imperial measurement fuckwits had been about:

Beryl! The EU have been stealing our miles again!

I continued on to Slough Railway Bridge, a brief encounter with NCN5, and then through the industrial estate, down Engine Lane,

and back round to Tesco, with the cycling gods on my side- no stops at the junction or island.

A decent way to get a bit of exercise, avoid a bit of polluting the planet, and sort out an otherwise tedious task.

Easter

April 22nd, 2019

For some years now, I’ve spent the Easter holiday working, but this year, as I’m still recovering from my recent surgery, work that involves more walking and standing than normal (and would involve travel) didn’t seem like a great idea, so unusually I’ve had a long weekend, and it’s been a cracker, weather-wise.

With this time, I’ve got my bike back into working order, and ridden it on a couple of very short trial local journeys, I’ve visited a couple of new pubs, got a very small amount of gardening done, and sat in he garden with my pussy cats. Beats pushing packets 🙂

The pub trip introduced a new experience: heading north out of Walsall Station on the Chase Line to Hednesford. At one time, there was a direct bus service, but that went a number of years ago: given the train is fairly regular and quick, and the station is close to town unlike others on this line, there seems little need: a 25 minute trip saw us in Hednesford, which seems a bit more thriving than I remember, though the sun probably helped.

The end of the free internet?

April 9th, 2019

I’d usually stay a million miles from Spiked Online, being as it is, according to Wikipedia, it was/is

founded in 2001 as a successor to Living Marxism and has been characterised as libertarian “with a moderate right wing bias”

and is generally according to me

A nasty, libertarian, right-wing biased shitrag

(I have little time for libertarian policies, as generally they seem to be adopted by people that hate taxes and rules, right up to the point where they stand to benefit, at which point they’ll gladly use public services, and libertarian right-wing is basically a way of saying “fuck you all, I’m alright”)

I was hugely surprised, therefore to find a very sensible article upon its virtual pages.

It’s been announced in the last few days by our ever-competent government that moves are afoot to start the move towards a British equivalent of the Great Firewall of China to make the UK

to be the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start and grow a digital business.

One of the measures available is quoted as

measures to block non-compliant services.

White paper here

So here we are: another step towards “only the sites we want you to see”. We already have the poorly-implemented porn block on its way, with age verification by Mindgeek; curiously enough the owner of some very popular porn sites, and now there’s more potential for what amounts to censorship.

This is a dangerous way to proceed, and somewhat at odds with the claimed aim of

A free, open and secure internet.

and

Freedom of expression online.

Hive Mind?

April 2nd, 2019

Odd how things synchronise at times: I was listening to Planet Rock today while working, and kept hearing adverts for the new service from Hive (aka British Gas):Hive Link. Checking in on Twatter, I found this fascinating tweet from a good friend who spends a lot of time doing clever shit with Arduino or Raspberry Pi:

Then I looked at the Hive site:

Screen grab from Hive website, 2019-04-02.

I did find the idea of the Hive thing interesting, having done something much simpler with a nasty cheap IP cam for a relative some years ago, and it also rang a bell with this article where someone called Jamie Grant did a similar thing with a Raspberry Pi back in 2012. It’s an interesting idea: you basically put a few sensors on electrical items (kettle & TV, for example), and have motion sensors, temperature sensors, and a contact sensor on the front door. All of these sensors get monitored, and Jamie’s system graphed them; Hive’s system does pattern learning, and plays spot-the-difference, letting nominated people know when the pattern doesn’t match expected.

Jamie did try to market his solution, but it didn’t seem to succeed. I wonder if he patented it, or if he got a job with Hive?

This actually seems pretty good; it’s a nice use of technology to unobtrusively keep an eye on a relative, it could be valuable, and from the site they’ve done a nice job with integration and making it friendly for normal people, but I’m going to have to make my usual comments about buying cloud-based services, and voice the usual concerns about what Hive might do with the data you have to give them

Zero Commute

April 2nd, 2019

I’m spending a few days virtually back at my desk rather than physically, and it makes a nice change; a good hour and a half more in bed, and a walk to the dining table (or indeed the garden) with a laptop, a mobile and my USB headset compares favourably to pumping the air full of hydrocarbons and NOx on the M5. My usual commute is a particularly wasteful exercise in many ways, taking over 2 hours out of my day at least, and costing both cash and the planet, but my employer is mostly OK, my colleagues are great, and the money isn’t bad. I could do a lot worse, basically. My recovery sees me moving better, but not quite ready to drive to work, so I’m at home with VPN, IP Softphone, and a mobile. That means I get to choose Planet Rock (over Internet radio rather than DAB), get pussy cat company, and get a shorter walk to the kettle and toilet. Oh, and my productivity has gone up, at least on the specific tasks I’ve got to do at the moment, due to fewer interruptions. What’s not to like?

Well, some employers are doubtless concerned that if their employees are out of sight, they’ll be fucking about all day watching Homes Under The Hammer, sloping off to the shops, sleeping, wanking, whatever, but then in this post I discussed that happening right under their noses anyway; this is a fairly simple management question: if your employees aren’t producing, you should be able to tell. People who work for themselves have to be organised about this, and it’s perfectly possible for a wage-slave to do the same: I’ve done a full day’s work, just removed the pollution at time-wasting of the commute.

I know I’ve whined about this before, and I also recognised that telecommuting doesn’t work for some people- in fact, at times it won’t work for me.

But as journey times increase and our roads gridlock more and more, just why do we all travel like this all the time?

Charity Begins at Home

March 11th, 2019

So, it is a matter of days after I post a long post defending Walsall council, and having remained uncharacteristically quiet for a long time, Councillor Mike Bird has returned to form and made some… odd comments about charity shops. From the article (referring to the discretion a local council has over 20% of business rates):

Cllr Bird has suggested removing any discretionary exemption from charity shops, potentially forcing landlords to develop the sites into something more profitable.

also:

The charity shops obviously are endemic because once they’re in there then the owner doesn’t have to pay any rates. So therefore there’s no incentive for that individual to develop that site of that shop into something meaningful.

Now, as I said recently, shops are a commercial enterpise, a product of the capitalist system, and on that basis, the market decides what works. The charity shops obviously benefit from low, or none-existent business rates, and are staffed by volunteers at times, so they don’t need to turn over a lot to be viable- their costs are lower.

Does Cllr Bird really think there will be queues of people looking to invest their money in a retail shop in a town centre that is already visibly struggling (and has many empty units already)?

That’s before considering all the factors pointed out by the Charity Retail Association.

I really think that as a responsible authority, and indeed as a landlord of a large shopping centre, they really need to welcome any business they can; we might want nicer, more profitable, classier shops, but this is Walsall, and an occupied shop is better than an empty one, and charity shops have other benefits.

Portable Music

March 5th, 2019

For some time, my portable music needs had been satisfied with a Sansa Zip Clip player and Soundmagic E10 headphones, but the breaking of the Sansa meant I needed to revisit that.

My current phone is a Huawei P-Smart, the previous Motorola having broken, got fixed and then given to my better half, because there was a delay fixing the Motorola (in the end, easy and cheap) and I needed a phone: The Huawei, however is not ideal for a number of reasons:

1) It comes preloaded with too much tat. I’m quite zero-tolerance on un-neccesary apps and add-ons, something I’ve always done with PCs and continued with phones.

2) It can’t take a second SIM and a micro-SD, like the Swift 2 I dunked in the cut.

Still, it was cheap, and the battery lasts well, but:

3) The headphone output is just shockingly bad. Indescribeably bad, it sounds flat and lifeless unless you enable some Huawei proprietary shitty processing software, and when you do that, it seems to have a active dynamic range compression that actively compresses loud(er) sounds down in particularly clumsy way. It’s painful to listen to.

So the obvious choice of giving up on a seperate player and using the phone seemed to be out. I did fancy the award-winning Cowon Plenue D player, but £200 seemed a bit much given a few expenses of late.

The answer presented itself: Soundmagic’s new offering, the E11, comes in a Bluetooth version. That way, the crappy phone just presents a bitsream, someone that is competent can handle the D-A conversion, and I don’t risk tearing the headphone jack off the phone in my pocket, and if I end up with a phone with no 3.5mm jack (unlikely for a while, I’m too tight), no problem.

I’m a convert. I had my doubts, but the headpones are light and comfortable, the battery life seems OK, and the sound is as good as the wired E10s, all for considerably less than half the price of the Plenue D. Hell even the slight background hiss I’d noticed during my recent hospital stay turned out to be from the oxygen pipe I was wearing….