Trust

Question: If you feel you have to build relationships with one group of people or community does that indicate that you’ve been treating them differently?

Today the news has been all about the police building relationships with the black community in and around London. The police are often accused of being racist. Interesting statistics such as stop and search figures are banded about and on the face of it they do appear to suggest that race is an issue. It’s said that for every one white person stopped in London 4 black people are stopped. This seems disturbingly unfair. However the police state that they will only stop and search people if they have reasonable suspicion of wrong doing. However as reported by Mark Easton on the BBC yesterday the polices own figures indicate that 27% of stop and searches have no reasonable grounds. Much of his seems to be down to what the police class as “Reasonable grounds”. The term is completely subjective, what is reasonable to someone who wants to catch a criminal is not likely to be reasonable to the person being stopped. The statistics get worse when you look back at the 2010 criminal justice statistics which seem to indicate that not only are the stop and search figures skewed but so are the average custodial sentences. Again the black community seem to have the higher average sentences. That or I’m reading the figures incorrectly.

So is the answer to spend more time building relationships with communities? Alternately would we rather the police focussed solely on solving crime regardless of who is committing it. The path will surely be a combination of the two however the second option totally relies on trust and do we trust these old institutions?

 

 

A fix for childcare costs.

The country is facing some fairly large problems in term of the economy and about benefits payments. The government want more people to work so that the economy picks up and so that benefits payments go down. However the act of going to work for the majority of families means a reduction in income and lifestyle due to childcare costs. Additionally the government also has additional cost in attempting to cover some of this cost if you use a certified child minder. However the cost of childcare varies regionally, families that have friends/family that will help them for a cost miss out because that help may not be registered therefore the government would help with the cost. What’s more any attempt by the government to adjust this system to help people into work is often just absorbed by childcare fees going up further. All this is also pivotal on being able to find and maintain someone who is certified to look after children.
If your childcare provider vanishes and you can’t find another you are left in a very nasty place. You can either look to your peers as a support network however any cost involved will not be supported by the government so it has to come out of your pocket if you can scrape it together OR you can give up work, however if you do this because you can’t afford childcare you can’t claim benefit for the next 3 months as it’s seen that you’ve just jacked in your job. So you are essentially at the mercy of private childcare providers who are essentially the only winners in the governments drive to get parents back to work.
The logical solution to this would be to provide childcare at schools. They have the facilities and often have support staff that would appreciate earning some extra money. If all schools provided access from 6 am to 6 pm for children age 4 – 12 then the majority of companies are flexible enough to provide hours that would fit in with these times. What’s more the government would then be in control of the costs and the payments of such could go directly to the people providing the cover and the rates be set nationally rather than regionally. Additionally the school environment is one of education, low supervision activities such as reading, art, drama or group projects could easily be undertaken with minimum effort therefore providing a chance at an enhanced education. It also instills an ethos and understanding that it’s good and rewarding to work on the children that are bought together because their parents go out to work. Nearly every parent I know would be able to work more hours if this was in place and would therefore be making the economy more vibrant and pay more taxes.
As an example childcare in West Sussex is costing £8k per year for 2 days a week for three kids for one family. Lets assume that it costs the school £16k a year to open longer hours in terms of maintenance and fuel costs. Lets assume we’re going to give a teaching assistant £8k per year extra to cover 6am until schools starts and another £8k to cover school end until 6 or 7pm. You have a total cost of £32k. So if you get more than 4 families using the service it is cost neutral, obviously across a school there are going to be way more than 4 families who are going to want to use the service. It has the potential to also give other families the confidence to look for work that otherwise wouldn’t. What’s more all of these families will be able to work longer and more productive hours as they won’t have to worry about finding and maintaining childcare or the costs fluctuating rapidly.
With the governments push to provide additional support to families by 2015 in terms of childcare costs this is something the government or local councils should seriously be looking into as the chances are that any additional money into the system will simply push up costs.

EA Games, it’s in the service

–Open letter to EA Games.

Dear Someone who gives a damn about your customers,

I’m writing to you to let you know about some fairly major issues I’ve had with your services in the hope that you both improve them and provide compensation for my troubles.

On the 22nd of September you sent me some marketing email offering me a birthday discount via Origin. I used this to purchase Mass Effect 3 and managed to get a fair amount into the game. On the 3rd of October however this game went missing from Origin completely. This is when my trouble really began.

Firstly there appears to be no documented way to contact anyone within your company. Sure you can go through a very convoluted FAQ system to be dumped into a page that only lets you log an issue online but that issue (apart from the obligatory automated email) does nothing. The trouble however stars before this when you attempt to use your Origin credentials to login to the helpdesk. In both Chrome and IE the Ajax spinner just sits there forever on the screen. I presume this is a bug and not an attempt to stop people logging calls. I am presuming this as rather suspiciously you provide no other means to log a complaint. No telephone number, no documented complaints process and no address for when you decide that the only means of recourse is a small claims court decision. Anyway luckily I tried opening another tab in the same browser window and in that one the process had logged me in. However once the call was logged no action was taken on your part at all.

My next attempt at getting some form of response from your company lead me to trawling forums in order to get a telephone number for customer services. After 30 minutes of reading peoples issues with your complete contempt for your customers I actually found a telephone number. This in turn left me with two calls to your company each involved being on hold for up to 40 minutes. The first call finally got picked up by a service team in Ireland. A word of advice on the service desk front. Don’t have other operatives in the background taking the piss out of customers. It doesn’t sound very professional and you would be surprised how much you can hear over headset microphones. Anyway I was told that Paypal had cancelled my transaction and there was nothing that EA could do about it and that I should phone Paypal. So I did this. Amazingly for such a large company I easily found the contact number and when I rang them they picked up the call and dealt with my problem without having to wait on hold for 40 minutes. You might want to aim for that kind of services, I’d advise your head of Customer Support to give it a try. Paypal told me that there was nothing on the system to show any cancellation and that there was no way for them to cancel the transaction anyway. So I rang your company for a second time, I clearly like getting my fingers burnt. This time (after the 40 minute wait) I got through and was then put on hold again while my case was looked into (another 10 minutes) at which point I was told that the license for the game had been revoked because the payment was cancelled. However the people on the service desk had no way of finding out why it was cancelled or who requested it. I certainly had not. They did tell me that usually in this situation me entire account would be locked so really I was lucky. I suspect this too would disable my ability to not login to your help pages which meant I wouldn’t be able to find out why you had taken my money and not supplied the services I had paid for. I asked the member of the services team to contact the finance team and find out why. He said it would do this and they would email be shortly. I also asked that my service ticket be updated to reflect this. So far no contact from your finance team and no update on my ticket. This leads me to the conclusion that nothing has been done. The payment wasn’t cancelled as you still have my money and I have no way of getting the game I paid for back. This to me sounds very much like theft but as I only work for a law firm and am not a judge I will leave this up them to decide unless you can resolve this matter in a timely manner.

Lastly although I understand your desire to drop Origin onto the market place don’t you think it would be a good idea to get it out of Beta first? I mean Ubisoft tried to grab a piece of the Steam pie and failed giving most of its customers details to the world. Your provision is unfortunately worse than theirs, I struggle to find the justification for selling a product online with no shipped media, no physical production costs for more than you can purchase the product in the shop. It seems extremely misguided but that is your choice.

 

Awaiting some form of response,

XCOM: UFO Unknown

Old old old
In 1994 people knew how to make a good computer game. Specifically MicroProse and Mythos Games and there seminal title UFO: Enemy Unknown which this year (like so many film titles) got a reboot. Firaxis and 2K have said that it’s a new game in the theme off (or homage to) the original but to anyone who has played the original it’s a fairly straight copy. The research tree is pretty much the same as are weapon upgrades and mission types. It’s also as frustratingly addictive. Just one more mission always turns into the lose of another hour of your life. Obviously the graphics are vastly superior to the original as well. However there are a few issues. Somehow in 1994 they thought of everything where as in 2012 the games been vastly simplified.

Taking the stock
In the original you had to design you base around your needs. If you hire to many soldiers, engineers and scientist you had to house them all. This meant that you had to prioritise between the three. In the remake your only priority’s are based around finances and the forced choice of location on some missions. Likewise you had to build storage space for your loot. This meant you had to prioritise what artefacts you kept and what weapons you order or build. The new game takes all of this management away and focuses squarely on making money and shooting things.
Missing in action 
The soldiers in the original game could only see the direction they are facing. This meant you had to tactically decide which position they are left in at the end of the turn. If facing the wrong way they’ll not only miss their snap shot but also get killed by the monster lurking just behind them. Although not critical it massively raised the anticipation of entering a building or performing a base attack. Now a focus on cover is pushed but soldiers can always see 360 degrees. Maybe this is an improvement, maybe not. I mean I can certainly look behind me whenever I want but it does seem to dumb down the tactical aspect.
Don’t mess with the dead buddy
The most noticeable omission for me is corpse raiding. Ok so your medics been gunned down, why can’t any other unit go and grab their kit and continue on their Florence Nightingale ways? Predominantly I’m guessing this is to do with the class system but even this seems overly restrictive. The old system let you build up your characters how you wanted them. If you want someone who is good at being a pack horse then weigh them down and force them to run around the map a lot. If you want a crack shot give them a good weapon and have them shot at every target. The new system is much more basic. I like the addition of the skills tree but I also prefer the freedom of the original
You used to be able to rock up to a crash site with as many gun slingers as you could fit into your ship. Now it seems that 6 is your limit. The entire planet is under threat but we are insistent you resolve any problem with a maximum of 6 people. It just don’t seem fair.
Second floor wait it out. The feature I used to like the most in UFO though was getting on a mission where I could get everyone onto the second floor of a building and then shoot out the stairs. Everyone would then grab a window and wait. Classic old school wait and bait. It’s all gone now though due to enemies not moving until discovered.
Don’t get me wrong. I like XCOM : Enemy Unknown. It’s addictive and fun. My main concern is that either developers and games designers have got lazy in copying an old game and missing out on a lot of what made that game complete or they think the people of today are too dumb to want a strategy game with too much strategy in it.

Daft Communications Data Bill

Last chance to be heard.

Has the Home Office made it clear what it hopes to achieve through the draft Bill?

No, there seems to be several high level objectives along the lines of (National security, crime prevention and detection) but none seem to have detailed analysis into how this bill will specifically address these objectives.

Has the Government made a convincing case for the need for the new powers proposed in the draft Bill?

The bill adds a presumption to guilt onto every person in this country. No member of parliament would agree to have all of their physical mail or all of their face to face conversations monitored and recorded as it would be against their civil liberties. The same should be true of every form of communication. If there is suspicion of wrong doing then let the courts decide if monitoring is an adequate response instead of monitoring the majority of people who are doing nothing wrong.

It also presumes that the people who are communicating about things of interested be they criminal or of national importance won’t be encrypting the content or adjusting the details of what is being sent to who. It’s the same mentality as internet providers blocking direct access to piracy sites, this only stops people who wouldn’t be using them accessing them. Anyone who wants to use them knows how to access them via other means. In the same way this is only going to capture information on people who don’t want to be talking via secure means.

How do the proposals in the draft Bill fit within the wider landscape on intrusion into individuals’ privacy?

The bill is clearly highly intrusive. The vast majority of people do nothing wrong and yet you want to capture data on all of them. How can this be posed as a reasonable response to crime or national security.

Are there any alternative proposals with regard to the technique and cost of obtaining communications data that the Government could consider?

Yes, let the courts decide on a case by case basis what can be captured depending on the risk involved in the case.

The Home Office suggests the benefits that could be delivered by the enactment of the draft Bill could be worth between £56bn. Is this figure realistic?

Where is the evidence that supports this? The police can request access to this information at present so how is storing it for longer periods of time going to provide any form of positive financial benefit?

Safeguards:

Given the governments form on keeping data secure it is unlikely any amount of safeguards can make the bill worthwhile. There have also been a number of high profile failures of communication providers to properly secure information much of which has largely been leaked directly onto the internet by hacking groups. Has any analysis been put into the cost to the UK economy of all communication records being potentially publicly available?

Bring back Gordon Freeman

Now I’m not about to list the reasons for a new Half-Life version. I want Gordon back as a good example of why we don’t need to spend half a day customising the face of our game characters.

The amount of time and effort that goes into this customisation in terms of development, research and testing time is amazing. Especially when in some game you don’t actually get to see the efforts of the games developers cunning coding which lets the same smile spread across the tight lipped scrawny crone of a characters that I’ve just spent the last 30 minutes crafting.

Lets look at some examples.

Skyrim : Excellent game which admittedly I did manage to break by wondering away from the original choice between Rome or Viking (or whatever that was about) and instead became what I like to believe was a solder of fortune. Actually I was more like a unfortunate traveller who wonder the land getting dragged into various local problems. Before any of this fun started however I designed the face of my character. The eyes had to be steely, the jaw set just right and the hair colour had to be interesting yet unimposing. My character stayed with this look for approximately 20 minutes until I found some dwarvern helmet was found that completely encased my head. The rest of the game was spent with various tin cans on my head. Not that I’ve finished it. I can’t seem to bring myself to complete the last few side missions because then my character will just have to hang around in various palatial houses getting fat and old with nothing to do.

Fallout New Vegas : The start of the game very cunningly introduces you to your face by allowing you to customise it to ensure that a surgeon got his reconstruction correct. Ok so you have to wonder how you can change the entire colour of someone’s skin while reconstructing their face but lets run with it. So again 10 minutes of playing about just to see if I can create a face that speaks of both intelligence and hobo at the same time. After getting to a point where my character looks like a worried older version of Jonny Depp I give up and role with it. He’s at least going to be popular with the ladies even if they are the older ones. What do you get for your time and effort. You get the occasional view of the back of your characters head.

So I call on games designers across the world to stop and think about if people need the ability to customise their face.Think back to a time when you had a goatee beard and glasses and walked around in a Hazmat suit with nothing but a trusty crowbar. Or when you where a small fat plumber with a slightly obnoxious accent. Or when you where a white triangle on a sea of blackness clearing a path in an asteroid field of 10 penny dreams. Ok so the last two are a little rose tinted but the point still stands. Spend that development time on making the game all it can be rather than attempting to give the customer a 30 minute sub game that has no impact on anything in the game.

 

Killer Elite Review (Well moan)

I have issue with this film for two or three reasons (I’m not sure which yet). Firstly I’d like to point out that I’m in no way one of their people that watch a film simply to find gaffs. I’m usually to engrossed in the plot to see that someone wrist watch changes from left to right hand or the colour of there shoes is a slightly darker shade of tan. So it annoyed me slightly when there were some things that stuck out to me.

These were:

  1. Solar panels all over buildings. The file was set in 1980, I mean maybe they had a few but not that many.
  2. In fight scenes people’s hair colour and length seems to change, maybe this is bought on by rage!
  3. The crash helmet’s in the 80′s were far less refined that the one in the film which has got the air flow ridge at the top. In the 80′s helmets look much more like the current Lego ones (from memory).

Ok so old man moan over. The most annoying thing about the film is that the short film definition provided by the distributers or the producers, I’m not sure which. I am sure however that the person who wrote it didn’t watch the film and didn’t understand the plot. They description written is:

“When his mentor is taken captive, a retired member of Britain’s Elite Special Air Service is forced into action. His mission: kill three assassins dispatched by their cunning leader.”

The actual plot:

“When his mentor is taken captive, a Jason Statham character who’s background is unknown and undisclosed in the film apart from his love of Australian sheep farmers and definitely not from the SAS (this is covered in the film). His mission (which is forced upon him) is to assassinate three members of the Britain’s Elite Special Air Service who were (or suggested to have been) working for a shadow organisation to over throw the ruler of Oman in order to further commercial interest in it’s oil. This shadow organisation sends one of their best to protect them (Owen) who then doesn’t dispatch any of the afore mentioned SAS people.”

Admittedly it’s a little confusing but at least it’s not simply completely wrong. Maybe they should have gone with something like.

“Reluctant assassin (Statham) is forced to take on the might of Britain’s Elite Special Air Service in order to save his mentor (De-Nero) while a shadowy society sends its best man (Owen) to protect them and its own secret agenda.”

Then again, Im not paid to write these, whoever did the actual one was.

The only other thing to annoy me during this film was cat that kept digging it’s claws into me so I couldn’t fall asleep. Other than that it was a solid average film.

Over out until the next moan.

Work

Requirement: What we need you to do for this project is invent a way of doing 365 days of work in the next month with no documentation as to what work you must do.

Business Case: We told important people you would without bothering to ask if it was possible.

Combinations of madness

Recently I moved house. The fallout of such a drastic measure is often that old things are found and discovered anew and over the weekend I found one such thing. My combi lock for my trusty Burton snowboard has travelled around the planet (at least as far as mileage goes). It’s long retirement in a box in an antic (and later a garage) had lead to one critical issue, I’d forgotten the combination. Now you would think that the number would have some meaning to me and I knew somewhere along the line I had reset it so what the hell would it be. I confidently put in the first eight 3 digit combinations that came to mind and had no luck on any of them. Once stumped I sat and distractedly banged through pretty much all of the combinations possible. Eventually, several hours later I give up and just randomly span the number clad wheels. Low and behold it opened eventually which lead to another mystery. Why did I pick the number that was now displaying on my opened lock? More to the point it got me thinking why didn’t I simply use my birthday? This lock has only ever been situated on the side of mountains attaching my snowboard to snowboard stands. The only people who know my birthday are my friends and family (this statement is questionable) and neither groups are the kind that are that interested in stealing snowboards. With this in mind does the fact that I didn’t use my birthday indicate that I simply don’t trust my mates or does it indicate a deeper sense of paranoia?
Obviously in situations like these you need to seek some sense, find a ground, a touchstone, a place of reason and sense. Unfortunately I chose the wrong person. The excuses for not using my birthday were even more paranoid than mine. The passport staff at the airport might know your birthday from your passport? Well yes they might but they are unlikely to follow me from the airport to the ski resort and then be able to judge from the cut of my jib the board inside my bag. Ahh but the hotel people could. Again yes they could but they would have to tail me up and down a mountain or hang around in bars and hope I turn up. Although this second option is appealing on some kind of level I very much doubt it would ever be the case.
So I’ve changed my code, it’s now something I will remember. As I’ll be using it on my bike and anyone on Facebook can and will hang around in pubs waiting for me to show up it’s not my birthday either. Roll on next year when I can do this all again.

Gas

Beware the health and safety demons.

Today we had our scheduled visit from the gas man to replace our really expensive pre-pay gas meter that we inherited from the previous owner. This meter is designed for people that struggle to pay there bills so I’m not really sure why the tariff is so amazingly high but yesterday it chugged through £5 in about as many hours.

Trouble is we inherited a gas meter without it’s protective box and I was informed upon greeting the engineers that they wouldn’t be replacing it because they are not allowed. If it’s not in a box they have to write you up a warning and turn your gas supply off. This was a little bit of a shock to me as it was their service engineer who pointed out the lack of cover and told me it was their responsibility to put something around it. What’s more the gas meter is located in such a position that it can’t have a box put around it. It’s too close to the electricity box and a lip in the wall. There is a clear space it could go but the British Gas engineers won’t move it there because it hasn’t got a box around it. So I’m stuck. They won’t replace the meter because I don’t have a box around it. I can’t put a box around it because they would have to move the meter and they won’t move the meter without a box. Better still I now have no gas supply. It’s obviously been that way since 2008 when they put the meter in with no box in a location where it can not be boxed but somehow I’ve now got to fix the situation.