Archive for June, 2009

iplayer volume control goes up to 11

June 28, 2009

The volume control in iplayer goes up to 11. LOL!

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Waking the dead – the best thing on TV

June 28, 2009

Waking The Dead has to be the best thing on TV these days. Not only is it the only thing on TV worth watching, it’s absolutely bloody fantastic.

Just watched the first two episodes of “series 7” on iplayer – “sins part 1” and “sins part 2”. O.M.G. Totally didn’t expect those twists and turns.

Newspapers – savouring them

June 27, 2009

Whenever I go into one of the two shops in Dromara nowadays, I savour the incredible range of newspapers on offer. I know that before my boys are grown up, all the newspapers’ll be gone.

There are all the English newspapers, all the Irish ones, and all the local ones – and there are a staggering number of local ones – and then there are all the farming ones, not to mention the racing ones.

It’s bloody amazing, actually.

But based on the theory that all trends in the US make their way over here sooner or later, usually sooner, they’re all doomed. It’s a crying shame.

Sure, many of them will linger on. Partly because the people who work in them all don’t know what else to do; partly because folk hereabouts are a bit … luddite … and don’t really get this whole internet thing, and won’t for a while. (This isn’t a criticism!) And partly because they still really do fill a need more than they’re a business – especially the local ones.

Anyway, it almost brings a tear to my eye. At least it would if a random newspaper didn’t cost £2. Two quid? Feck off. I can read it on the internet for nowt. I’ll buy the times occasionally for the crossword, and the irish times occasionally for its weirdness. (And its crossword.) And the local newspapers out of curiosity, and the irish news just because it actually does journalism. But that’s it.

Ireland locks people up for non payment of debt???!!!!!

June 27, 2009

It turns out that the Republic of Ireland locks people up for non-payment of debts.

Of course, this is a law applied against the poor. Ireland isn’t the sort of country where people who went to the right school, or who know the right people, get locked up for non-payment of debt.

But I’m staggered to learn that the notion of a Victorian debtors’ prison is alive and well and living in Ireland.

And it gets worse: there was a court ruling very, very recently that somebody can’t be locked up for non-payment of a debt if they can’t pay, only if they won’t pay. So they’re updating the law to codify this.

They’re not updating the law to bring it into, like, the twentieth century or anything. They’re just refining their nineteenth century law on locking people up who don’t pay their debts. Wow.

(pause for effect)

Fuck, I sound like somebody I would hate.  Fuck.

Driving in Lisburn vs driving in Belfast

June 27, 2009

I’ve found that drives in Belfast are extraordinarly courteous. If you indicate and act decisively, folk will let you in. Folk will anticipate that you’re probably going to want to move into their lane and fall back to let you in.

In other cultures, other countries, this sixth sense that somebody is going to move into your lane is used to quite opposite effect: to block them. Driving is less an experience you share with your co-drivers than a competition for valuable space.

If you drive in, say, south Dublin, you probably know what I mean. Drivers there hate other drivers. I mean, they really hate them. If you have a “foreign” registration number (e.g. from up north), they might be a little nice to you, but by and large driving down there, especially in rush hour, is an experience.

(Cycling in Dublin, on the other hand, is wonderful fun. Exhilarating!)

Anyway, Lisburn: drivers in Lisburn are, if anything, more laid back than drivers in Belfast, but folk just don’t let you out in Lisburn. My theory is that Belfast has just the right amount of city stress to driving that folk feel your pain, but not so much that they regard you as a competitor.

Lisburn is busy enough that driving can be stressful (try turning right coming out of the hospital, or from any of the side roads along there) … but I reckon people think that “Hey, it’s Lisburn. It’s just a wee town. I don’t need to let you out because it’s so small here that there’s basically no traffic, and there’ll be a gap along any second now. Sheesh.”

S’funny. The net effect is that driving in Lisburn is kinda unpleasant.

SSDs – my only worry

June 27, 2009

While I’m really excited about the future of computing in an SSD-based world, there’s one thing that scares me: as SSDs start to become ubiquitous, software developers will start to use them all the time.

Which means that applications for users running machines with old-fashioned spinning drives will get slower and slower.

I have a g4 powerbook. It was perfectly fine in its day. It’s still usable, but … it’s getting slower. It’s just a matter of perception. Every now and again software gets updated. A new version of firefox, apple updates, whatever. But the changes more and more assume a faster pc with more memory. The overall effect is that the pc slows down.

It’ll be much more pronounced with SSDs: as developers stop viscerally feeling the cost of each I/O, they’ll use more. I wonder if this effect mightn’t slaughter spinning drives very quickly, quicker than you’d otherwise think.

It’s a shame: hard drive manufacturers have done so much for us. But they’re doomed. As doomed as tape makers and floppy disk makers. There’ll still be a niche, but it’ll go from mainstream to niche in maybe as little as a year.

By 2011, it might not even be possible to buy a laptop with a spinning drive. Not even at the bargain basement.

MOTs – owning a car in the UK

June 18, 2009

In the UK, cars older than four years have to have a valid MOT certificate. Basically, this means you have to get an MOT round about your car’s fourth birthday, and every year thereafter.

In Britain (ie. the UK excluding Northern Ireland), MOT centres are mostly all private, run by garages and whatnot. And getting an MOT isn’t a big deal. In Northern Ireland, MOTs are run by a government agency. They’re not bad, as govt agencies go.

You apply – it costs about £30 – you turn up, you wait, you pass or fail. If you fail, you apply for a re-test (costs about £10), turn up, they check just the bits you failed on last time.

You can always take your car to Scotland (or England, or Wales) and get yur car MOT-ed there. A UK MOT cert is a UK MOT cert is a UK MOT cert.

In a recent change to the law, cars in Northern Ireland that have an MOT in Northern Ireland are required to display a wee disc that says so. It’s a completely pointless piece of muscle-flexing by the NI Assembly, if you ask me. You can take your car to Britain and get it MOT-ed there … then you don’t have to display a disc. But I guess if it keeps the politicians out of mischief, I guess it’s pretty harmless.

MOT tests are pretty thorough. Some folk don’t get work done to their cars unless something obviously breaks, or the MOT folk tell them to.

I don’t think they’re actually called MOT tests any more. (MOT stands for Ministry Of Transport, I believe.) But that’s what everybody calls ’em.

Taxing your car – owning a car in the UK

June 18, 2009

Every year in the UK, you have to tax your car. In return for some money, you get a tax disc, which you are required to display in your windscreen. (Cars in the UK without tax discs look odd, they look like there’s something missing, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.)

Tax discs change colour every year. They say the month and year on them. My car tax is up at the end of December every year. My tax disk costs (I think) £160 per year.

Renewing your tax can be a bit of a pain. You have to go to a certain kind of post office or a tax office, show them your filled-in tax application form, your insurance certificate and your MOT certificate, and give them some money. And they give you a tax disc.

I believe you can do it by post. If you car is less than four years old, you don’t need an MOT certificate.

Brand new cars typically come pre-taxed, I believe. BUT they won’t let you drive away your new car unless you can prove you have insurance.

When you buy a second-hand car, of course, nobody cares whether you’re insured or not.  Many second-hand cars that you might buy are “out of tax”, and it’s not like you can go tax it straight away: you need an insurance certificate first.  Which is annoying. You typically end up driving a car with no tax for a week or two. And hoping that it doesn’t get towed away and impounded. (It’s theoretically possible, but pretty unlikely!) I reckon it’s down to the motoring lobby wanting you to buy a brand new car.

Owning a car in the UK

June 18, 2009

I wonder what the various hassles are of owning a car in different countries.

Here in the UK, you have to:

  • tax your car every year. Most cars’ tax is about £150 per year. Some can be as much as £400. Some can be free. It depends on their CO2 number (g/km). (Although cars born before … I don’t know, 1999 or so … don’t have a CO2 rating, and have a different tax structure. Typicall between £100 and £200 a year)
  • insure your car. Varies wildly. Mine is £277 this year. (It’s a 2004 1.4L Petrol Fiat Stilo, about the size of an Astra/Golf/Focus). Wife’s is about £400 this year (2002 1.9 Turbo Diesel Seat Alhambra 105bhp).
  • MOT your car. From a car’s fourth birthday, you have to get it tested every year.
  • Fix things that break. Nuff said.

You don’t have to carry identification when driving in the UK. (I’ve always considered this a fundamental human right, not having to carry ID. Indeed, not even having to have ID, but that’s another story.)

But you may be required to produce documentation at a police station of your choosing within seven days. I’ve never actually experienced this, only heard about it.

Your cost of insurance varies with: your age; your car’s “insurance group”, a rough proxy for its top speed, acceleration and desirability to thieves; and whether you’ve had an accident or made a claim in the past few years.

Typically, insurance in the UK insures you to drive a particular, named car. You’re usually insured to drive other cars that don’t belong to you, but only “third party”. (If you crash your friend’s car, you have to pay to fix the car, but your insurance company will pay for the wall you knocked down.)

My insurance cert lists me and my wife as named drivers for my car, for example. I’m insured to drive other folks’ cars, but not other cars that belong to me!

When you tax your car, you have to prove that it’s insured (produce a “certificate of insurance”, typically with the car’s reg number on it) and that it has a current, valid MOT cert.

I’ve heard that in some states in the US, when you buy a car, you have to pay sales tax – either to the vendor, or when you tell the car tax people that it’s yours, not his.  Sounds like a lot of friction on a private sale. There is no such equivalent here in the UK; there is not VAT on cars, and anyway, private sellers don’t have to charge VAT. There is enough friction on cars changing hands without something like that.

I think that as the “registered keeper” of a car, you have to know who is driving it, or who drove it at any point in the past. For when speeding/parking tickets arrive. Speeding tickets put “points” on your licence (and carry a fine). Typically four speeding tickets within two years mean you lose your licence for a year: a harsh penalty.

Oh, most insurance companies will be reluctant to insure you & your car if you don’t actually *own* the car, and/or if you aren’t the “registered keeper”.

Being slightly carless

June 18, 2009

As well as having a new baby, we’re temporarily down to one car. (The big car is getting its clutch replaced. A long story. Here and now are not the time & place.)

Thankfully, though, our friends lent us their second car – actually their good car! They don’t quite need two cars right now. It’s amazingly sweet of them.