Monday, August 28, 2006

D317 TMA04

Not long got this assignment back, and this assignment I struggled with more than any of the others I have done so far on this course. Though with TMA05 to be done by the end of the day today and sent, I fear this one is going to be even harder, it feels it.

The reason why I mention this assignment as opposed to any others so far is that, I scored such a high score, I got the equivalent of a 1st class essay. Now I am not the greatest academic and have always struggled, even though I got a degree at 2nd class honours previously and this being my second degree I am doing.

I was just stunned, even Z knew I had major concerns about the TMA04 and what I handed in, but to my utter surprise and disbelief I was awarded such a high mark. I am not complaining and won’t I am just so happy to be awarded such a mark, it is something I seem to have bordered on this year, but never made the breakthrough and now I have, it is such a good feeling, and I only wish I had more time to savour it.
I know with the upcoming exams in the space of 6 weeks I am going to struggle in the exams, I always have, it isn’t a forte of mine at all, and always brought my overall marks down. I am just hoping this year I can make it different and maybe get the equivalent of a 2:1 for this module, as it would be such a reward for the efforts, but who knows.

Anyway I have to finish my TMA05 and hope that I still get high scores again.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Alton Towers Day Out

Yesterday me and Z went off to Alton Towers. I took a day off work whilst she was lucky enough to have it as a scheduled day off.

It was an early start as we had an 8.25am train to catch from Kings Cross. We were a little concerned about the weather, the reports had suggest heavy rain for the day and as we were travelling up towards Derby to get our connecting coach, we went through the heavy rain and we felt we were going to have a soaking wet day.

Thankfully when we arrived at Derby the rain appeared to stop and the skies weren’t quite so dark. As usual with any trip we were delayed, not this time by an unreliable service, but by a few stragglers who managed to get stuck in the loo, and thus we had to go back for them losing the best part of 30 minutes plus. To anyone who goes on these trips, please for your own sake, ensure that when you are doing these trips not to inconvenience others. These people should be left where they were, it does state clearly what to do, and if you spend time farting around doing who knows what, whilst everyone else boards the coach, then you deserve to be left behind.

When we arrived at Alton Towers, the rain was spitting, and so we were conscious of getting around as fast as possible to enjoy in case of the heavens opening. What I wasn’t aware of and thankfully we spotted it, there is the option to drop all bags at the guest services centre for £3 a day and you can access it as many times as you wish to avoid the risk of losing the bag whilst on the ride, as you can’t carry bags on the rides for the obvious reasons. A very useful service and one I don’t recall being there before. Another useful service which we didn’t know about until too late though is a priority service available where you don’t have to queue for 45 minutes plus, etc, you go to almost the head of the queue and the option only costs £7. They call it short cut, but still. I was surprised more people didn’t use the option, maybe like us they didn’t know about it.

Z wanted to do all the thrill rides, white knuckle in other words. Me, I was more than happy to do so, I tend to like those rides. We walked our way to X-sector and Z spots the first ride she wants to do, Oblivion. Well we queued up and it only took about 25 minutes or so which is pretty quick and I am guessing the lousy weather put people off. Z wasn’t ready for the ride, not at all. By the end of the ride and it is only about 30 seconds or so, she was as white as a sheet. She was so pale and the pictures that are taken, she looked like she had seen a ghost.

I will give Z her dues, later on she was determined to go back again and again and again, in total 4 times we rode that ride and each time she got more and more used to it and more and more into it. I can safely say it was the ride she enjoyed the most.

We did do other rides there including submission, which felt quite tame after Oblivion and then Enterprise which was even tamer. You can guess that we felt in comparison those rides would be. We then went to try Rita ‘Queen of Speed’. This is a monster ride, it basically shoots you forward at a rate of knots from a standing start and you are propelled around the ride so quickly with turns and twists. We waited 45 minutes for that ride and would do so again, sadly there wasn’t to be time in the end. The main reason being that, for the 45 minutes we were able to get 3 rides on the Oblivion because the queues for that were so short, I have no idea why though.

We also went and did Air, Nemesis as well. Air is a ride everyone should try and it does especially because of the way you go around the ride like you are in the air with no bum on a seat, it is a very different and enjoyable experience. Z decided that the picture she wanted was the one from Air where we are both screaming for joy with the ride, so we now have that adorning our living room. Nemesis is an older ride, but still very good.

I did notice a number of rides from when I last went have now gone, including the Thunderlooper and the Black Hole is boarded up, obviously with the intention of replacing it with something else. I have to also admit I haven’t been in probably over 10 years now, so I couldn’t expect anything less.

If you are interested in going yourself and want a deal then have a look, this page is the place to go.

Alton Towers All-Inclusive Day Out

I would recommend to anyone who can afford the £38 each to do it, and if possible pay the extra £7 to go through the quick channel at the queue for each ride. It would probably mean you get to do maybe 15-20 goes on the rides instead of the 9 we managed and we went when it wasn’t that busy, so I leave it to your imagination as to how packed it can be.

Z has in her head the Oblivion ride, I can remember each and every time we went on and how I was screaming with joy and enjoying it so much and the look on her face at the end of each one, each time having more of her natural colour than before. Z made a point to me that on each ride I was always shouting/screaming with joy and that in each picture I really look like I was enjoying myself. To me you can’t go on these white knuckle rides and not pumped the adrenaline, so stoke it up and add to the joy. It makes it a much better day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How did we get here? - Creationism

A story in today’s Guardian has me concerned, really concerned.

How did we get here?

This is supposedly how today’s up and coming graduates feel.

12% of students preferred creationism – which is where god created us within the past 10,000 years. 19% favouring the theory of intelligent design – being that features of living things are due to a supernatural being such as god, and only 56% believed that Darwin is correct.

This isn’t good, how can anyone suggest this is good.

Increasingly creationism is being taught alongside evolution in schools, and the thing that is wrong this is particularly at academies run by Christian Vardy Foundation.

20% of students are being taught creationism at school

This is worse in other countries, notably America, which I have to guess is where the influence for this country has come from, an influence which I personally think shouldn’t be happening

Here is another blog which I agree with, this whole situation with creationism is scary shit.


Next we are going to have them saying that the world is flat.

I am sure there can be many other links provided, and I know the Bill Hicks point of view, which I am beginning to subscribe to simply because how can you dispute the evidence in our hands, all the bones, all the data, for someone to say it is God f**king with our heads. Please come on.

Continuing problems of the CMS system for the Jobcentre Plus

As I have reported a number of times over the past year, the CMS (Customer Management System) for Jobcentre Plus is still suffering problems.

Government fears run benefits

I have always felt this system doesn’t take account of the needs of those who it is supposed to serve, i.e. those wanting and needing to sign on.

It now claims that 94% of calls are dealt with in the day, but that still leaves in excess of 1,000 calls a day missed. That is too much, way too much. One of my main gripes with this system is that by being phone based, it is penalising the deaf.

Citizens Advice Help

As noted by the Citizens Advice, it is a real problem for those unable to use the phone

This is the government view

But none of them answer the question, what happens to those who for whatever reason are simply not able to use the phone. No mention is made of Typetalk, no mention is made for those who struggle to hear on the phone. So basically the idea is to exclude many from the rights that they are entitled to.

I think someone’s head should roll for this, this system hasn’t been thought out and was done with one purpose in mind to remove over 11,000 jobs.

The minister who some of the blame can be laid at Jim Murphy, who is the minister for employment and welfare reform. Although he says they have change the approach since March when the CMS was branded a catastrophic failure, one would guess nothing is any better now than it was then.

Most Expensive city in the world

A recent report has highlighted what probably many of us living in London already know. We are living in the most expensive city in the world. The report in the Evening Standard, listed London as number one in the world for living costs including rent.

The order was

New York
Los Angeles

Back in 2003, London was 3rd, so as you can see things are getting no better at all.

The point made is that everyday living costs are higher in London than anywhere else in the world, even without adding rent, we are only behind Oslo. Of course it is obvious we don’t have the wages to match our living costs.

The figures are based on wages, cost of public services, travel and various other goods and services. Any wonder London tops the lists, given our so so expensive travel – tube, buses, and trains. An example given was that a single second class ticket for a typical 120 mile journey will cost £47.80 in London, the nearest is New York at £27.50, the best part of nearly half the cost. Back in 2003, we were still top by only by £7 instead of the whopping £20+ now.

If you consider the level of personal debt in the UK, you can see the correlation. It hit the trillion pound mark earlier this year when including mortgages, so if you work that out, it was a case that for every man, woman and child in the UK owes over £11K+.

That is an astonishing figure, and with London being the most expensive city, you can certainly expect that figure to rise.

All of this must also put the tourist off coming to London, as it was noted in the survey, other than Tokyo, which beat London by £5, we are the most expensive city to visit. Not exactly a selling point is it.

If anyone else has any figures to show about this, please show them, be happy to add them to the entry and maybe there is a way to combat this, not just for the tourists, but especially for the locals whom just don’t have the wages people assume they do.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Uptight drivers and their bad parking

What ever happened to white van man?
He became white van council man

This is a bugbear for me and I am sure for many many others. So this has come to the point of show and shame now, because this has gotten too much for me, and I am sick of tired of drivers who don’t understand the highway code.

For the last few weeks, I have had for the want of a better word an idiot driver who blocks my drive outside my house, so that I can’t get a vehicle on or off.

Unfortunately I never catch the offending idiot. This idiot doesn’t know the Highway code. Point 217 of the Highway code is “DO NOT PARK in front of an entrance to a property”. As you will see in the pictures, this person clearly doesn’t know what the entrance to a property is, and doesn’t know what a property is either.

Now in my attempts to find out what can be done to ensure this offender doesn’t block my drive in the future, I found out a few things.

Firstly, most councils now have so called out of hours contact lines for those who wish to have people blocking their drives ticketed. My local council does, and so do many councils now it seems. For me that is a bonus.

I wrote to my friendly local council

I am trying to find out the situation with regards to your enforcement of single yellow lines and the blocking people drives. This particular street suffers from a lot of people blocking drives, very poor parking and frankly due to the increase in the number of dwellings due to the changes made by the council, insufficient spaces to park.

In the last few weeks, I have had repeatedly my own drive blocked by others, in particular one person, whom I have never managed to catch at it, but blocks my own drive. I can give you the registration number if that helps. I am assuming that the single yellow line only operates at certain hours, as this person is blocking the drive between around 7pm to around 8am.

Now the highway code clear states

“DO NOT PARK in front of an entrance to a property” - Highway Code point 217

But how can I get yourselves to enforce it, so that my drive is free and not blocked.

My friendly council responded

The council can issue Penalty Charge Notices to vehicles that block drives. In order to do this, you need to call us on 020 8424 1275 between treatment - 5pm or 020 8863 5611 out of these hours.

The Parking Attendant will knock at the property and check that the vehicle is not someone in the property and request for someone to sign a document stating the PA has checked the vehicle does not belong to a friend or family member.

This made me think this is useful and why isn’t this advertised a lot more.

It also got me thinking that as the person blocking my drive is driving a Camden white van, they must be able to ensure that something can be done. Well, this took a little more than I thought. I contact their general enquires and I got an expected response of my area isn’t in their area, so can’t do nothing. Not satisfied with that, I then decided to ring up their parking enforcement department, to be told by the lady on the end of the phone that they can’t help and thus end of the matter, despite it being one of their workers.

Not satisfied with that, I go searching on Camden Council and find a complaints department, now I think I might get somewhere. After speaking to the very apologetic lady on the end of the phone, who promised me to get someone to call me and resolve the matter, I was feeling I was making some headway. Lo and behold, I get a phone call some hours later asking me to explain the situation, and give my side of the story. I also pointed out to the gentleman who called me that I do have photographical evidence, which you can also see below. He was more than interested to see this evidence and this has now been sent to the council staff, whom will deal with this in the way they see fit.

Will this mean that, I will no longer have the idiot driver blocking my drive, possibly, and very hopefully. I may also end up with one irate neighbour, but given he didn’t have any respect for me in the first place, I doubt it is going to make any difference anyway.

And because this annoying neighbour, I have to presume some neighbour because it is parked in this street all night, is flouting the law and causing me an inconvenience, I am more than happy to post the pictures below, so that if any of you suffer this person blocking your drive, call Camden council on their complaints number which can be easily found on their website or if you really want email me and I will send it to you. And then hopefully this person will realise that despite his less than stellar reading of the highway code, someone will ensure he doesn’t get away scott free.

First Example of bad parking

Second Example of bad parking

Third Example of bad parking

Number plate so you can ensure this driver doesn't block your drive

Another shot of the number plate so you can ensure this driver doesn't block your drive

I also know for future reference that if someone is repeatedly blocking my drive, for which I had to pay a premium for when I bought my house, I can ensure they end up with a parking ticket, which doesn’t make me feel in anyway bad at all, and why should I, I am entitled to use my drive and I follow the highway code, so why can’t others.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Housing in London – gone mad

With the news today of a 0.25% increase in the interest rates from the Bank of England, there was a timely, though horrible report released about the state of the housing market in London.

It is now claimed that with the average London salary being supposedly £25,000 the average London house price is now about 10 times the average salary. So of course that means that most people can’t afford to buy in London and there is a dearth of first time buyers. Well it doesn’t take a Sherlock to realise that.

What is interesting from the report though is that apparently parents of first time buyers are now shelling out on average £28,000 to help their offspring buy a place in London. Otherwise the person buying the place needs to earn £80,000 a year to afford it.

Okay, this isn’t good news, but we have known about this for a while, though the figure that parents are giving/lending their offspring surprised me, given that I am sure there are many parents for whom that amount of money is a great deal. I personally was very lucky to buy my house over 5 years ago, with a massive 25% deposit, and sufficient salary to do so. Though now even on the same salary, there is not a chance I could afford to do so, even back then I was stretched as far as one could go.

There are worrying thoughts here.

1) That the house price is so far in excess of the ‘normal’ person, that no one can move because the gaps between different types of housing make it impossible. If I wanted to upgrade to a 4 bed house, I couldn’t if I tried.
2) The continuing call for building more places in London. We don’t have the space, we don’t have the infrastructure, and we don’t have the resources. How many more people are we going to squeeze into a space that doesn’t exist, how much of London’s green space do we need to lose before enough is enough! Look at the current situation with the water crisis, how does putting even more people in London fix that, the problem with the electricity blackouts because of too much demand. It is simple to know that London simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to cope with the amount of people here now, why add more. Too few schools, too few hospitals, the list is endless, London is suffering badly, and these calls for more and more properties just adds to it getting worse. An example in case is where they squeeze more and more into a street and wonder why there is a parking problem. Funny how the council didn’t think about that, but was happy to have the opportunity for more council tax.
3) Fix the issue at hand, which are the extortionate house prices which are far in excess of anything realistic. This is an issue that underpins it all, it isn’t helped by the fact that the inflation target is based against an inflation that doesn’t include the mortgage payments, if it did, and then it would make it clearer as to the problems involved. These prices are fuelled by banks, etc lending money when they shouldn’t be. Lending someone 5+ times their salary and also relying on their parents, or having friends club together just so they can get a place, says that the market is in trouble and extremely unhealthy. Inflation in this country is much higher than people realise, and the ‘official’ figure is tainted and fixed, as it removes so many things it should include when calculating inflation.

Housing in London has gone beyond the sensible; it has gone beyond anything anyone possibly imagined. I know in the late 80s it wasn’t this bad, it was difficult before the crash, but it never reached this level. And even then they were calling for more houses, it doesn’t help matters. We need a more regulated market, one which thanks to Thatcher we don’t have, and now any Tom, Dick and Harry can get a mortgage because the banks aren’t sufficiently ensuring that people can actually afford it. Why do you think that they went from 3 times salary to affordability? Yep, that same affordability means that each and every increase in interest rates means that people get themselves into more and more problems. The buy now, never pay attitude. I know of enough people who have interest only mortgages, with no vehicle to pay the capital off, I guess hoping it will never happen.

As a side point, there is increasing unemployment, increasing debt, which after today is going to get worse not better, and I for one hope I won’t be hit with the downturn, but we are overdue for it, and sadly a lot of people have been spending money to get out of it, and so many are living on credit. The last figure I saw was something like £10K per person, and with 60 million of us in the country, there are so people seriously in debt, and the banks give them more to hang themselves with, wonderful. The banks win either way, they never lose. But if someone is enough of a mug to put themselves so indebt, then to be honest, they don’t deserve my sympathy.

The house market in London is so overdue for a crash, and when it does come, and it is hard to imagine it not, because of the economics surrounding it, it will make the late 80s crash look like a piss in the wind, it really will.

I don’t wish a crash, but we have forced ourselves into it. London is sitting on a time bomb which will go off, and no manner of building more houses will fix it. Building further into the sky won’t help either; it will just bring back the eyesores of the 60s and the associated problems that came with them. London is already at bursting point, it is like trying to push the extra bit of rubbish in the bin because you can’t be bothered to empty it, it won’t go.

Anyone has a better idea please say, I would really like to hear it, because in my opinion, London is up s**t creek without a paddle