Surrounded by water but there’s still a drought

Friday 25 May 2012 @ 11:34 am

After the wettest April on record, water companies have still imposed a drought order on large swathes of South England. Only in pathetic third-world Britain, an island surrounded by water, would there be a drought order after a whole month of torrential rain. The answer as to why is depressingly familiar for long-term residents well versed in the ways of rip-off UK and yet another example of privatisating key utilities to serve up vast profits for shareholders at the expense of clobbering the electorate.

Since water was privatised in 1989 by the Thatcher government, these greedy water companies have enjoyed massive profits whilst investing less and less in building reservoirs, reducing waste, fixing leaks and replacing the old Victorian sewers. Of course, they would have you believe that investment has shot up but the reality is very different. In London alone for example, the number of reservoirs to store and retain rainfall has dropped significantly resulting in water shortages and drought orders almost every year. Meanwhile, sections of the plumbing system are being replaced at a labour rate slower than a Spaniard during the siesta.

Land that could have been used for reservoirs has been sold off for profit, usually to spiv property developers, whilst the water companies bleat on about fitting every home with a meter to “monitor” usage and reduce waste. They could save millions more by fixing the bloody leaks in the pipes but that would be too expensive for the shareholders. The same goes for desalination depots, of which there is only 1 serving the London area which doesn’t even work.

And don’t think the watchdog Ofwat will do anything about it either, it’s as toothless as a old crone with gingivitis and has no real interest in serving the public trust. Like virtually all other utility watchdogs, Ofwat is a quango stuffed full of jobsworths who are only too happy to issue the odd punitive fine and then sit back the rest of the year and collect their fat 6-figure salaries. It makes me sick and the Government is wholly to blame.

Unlike the other utilities, which should at least have been ringfenced for privatisation in the national rather than foregin interest, the water companies hold a monopoly in that the public do not have a choice. You are stuck with whichever greedy water board operates in your area so they are able to charge whatever they like.

Rather than spend millions fixing leaks, the water companies prefer setting up hotlines to shop your neighbours and imposing hundred pound fines for using a hosepipe. Other than re-nationalisation, the solution of course would be to pipe water from the rain sodden North to the South because the problem is not so much there’s no water, it’s that the distribution is poor and the wastage immense. The Government would do well to scrap the stupid bloody High Speed link that will cost billions to knock a mere 20 minutes off the journey time between Birmingham and London and use that money instead to improve the water distribution network. However, that would be too sensible and save far too much money for a Parliament obsessed with wasting taxpayer cash.

That such an essential utility as water has been privatised is scandalous. That it still remains privatised more than 20 years later instead of passing back into public ownership is even more outrageous. The fact that nothing has been done in those 20 years to improve the water network is enough to take to the bottle. But don’t worry, when the very last drop of water has been expended and the peasants are all reduced to standpipes accompanied by water rationing, the Government will be only too happy to plug the plug and flush us all down the sewers.

You can be sure there’ll be plenty of water left for that.

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Random Annoyances: BlackBerry App World Uninstall List

Wednesday 16 May 2012 @ 12:12 pm

I’m no big fan of any app store no matter how well it’s stocked. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all a big scam to make you spend money on crap you don’t really need and I hate being forced to use an online delivery channel or some cloud rubbish to put apps on my own phone (I’m looking at you Apple).

Besides, if my mobile doesn’t do what I want it to do out of the box, then I have the wrong handset. As for the argument about how useful it is to have a choice selection of a gazillion different apps available, each slightly different than its neighbour, well I have better things to do with my mobile than sit there downloading a gazillion different apps, each slightly different than its neighbour. Things like making a call for example which people used to do back in ancient times.

Which leads me nicely onto the BlackBerry App World. On the very rare occasional where I’ve actually bothered to download something, it’s nearly always been deleted after 5 minutes of me snorting in derision and being thoroughly unimpressed. Only that it isn’t removed because RIM thinks it’s necessary to keep a history of everything you’ve uninstalled.

Yes, you read that correctly, a BlackBerry device will remember what you uninstalled just on the off-chance that you want to re-install whatever rubbish you decided to remove in the first place.

Why? Why?? I mean in the name of All That’s Holy, for God’s sake WHY?? What possible useful reason could there be to retain a list of everything you’ve uninstalled complete with re-install button just in case I change my mind. Does RIM think its users are all muppet’s who can’t make that decision themselves? You think I inadvertently loaded the App World, pressed the uninstall button, clicked through several prompts to confirm removal, watched the progress bar, and then responded to a further prompt to reboot the handset by mistake?

I don’t want to see a list of every trial app, beta version, 2-bit gaming title, whip crack, Angry Bird knock-off or other feeble stocking filler that I’ve tried over the course of my BlackBerry ownership, I bloody well KNOW what I tried and I damn well also know why I uninstalled it in the first place.

I’m a stickler for keeping a well ordered and tidy minimalist environment. I don’t like clutter or unnecessary crap lying around the place. And I sure as hell don’t want lists of useless information littering my handset either so message to RIM; please get rid of this useless App World uninstall list that remembers everything I DON’T want on my BlackBerry because if not, you can be sure I’ll remember to check other handsets when it comes to changing my moby.


Unfair Mario Kart Wii a supreme test of blood pressure

Tuesday 15 May 2012 @ 5:49 pm

After an exhaustive 2-year study during which my blood pressure has been sorely tested, I have come to the conclusion that Mario Kart Wii is the most unfair version of the game yet. Time after time, I’ve been leading the final lap only for the ridiculously biased Wii opponents to fling a blue shell in my direction that pushes me back to 8th position when the same action on the Wii players would only make them lose a couple of places. Worse still, this is immediately followed by a Bullet Bill, armada of shells or some other rubbish to dump me back even further to 12th.

One of the worst scams is when you’re coasting in the lead by a comfortable margin and carrying a shell or banana. If you get hit by lightning or a POW block, which inevitably happens sooner rather than later, the Wii spins you out but drops your banana/shell right in front of you making it impossible to avoid when you restart. In other words, you spin out from a computer offensive and then immediately spin out again by being dropped right in front of your own damn weapon. Un-bloody-believable!

And when you do end up at the back of the pack, which will happen on the 150cc cups, don’t think for one moment that the Wii is gonna hand you any decent weapons. I’ve lost count of all the instances where I’ve been trailing the race and item boxes consistently offer me either a golden mushroom or green shell. No sign of the mega mushroom or blue shell when you need it, yet when you’re in the lead, the Wii can’t hand enough of them to the computer racers. It’s not uncommon to be hit by 2 blue shells in as many laps! And a special mention for the items and weapons that are rammed up your tailpipe by the Wii opponents when you’re leading a race that all miraculously hit you either seconds away from the finish line on the final lap whilst in pole position or at the most strategically placed moment to cause maximum disruption by spinning you off the track or plunging you into a ravine. Don’t expect the Wii controlled racers to receive anywhere near the same level of aggression or hits from other Wii opponents, races are srictly designed to be as unfair as possible for you and you alone.

Then there’s the measly combination of characters and karts. Unlike with Mario Kart DS, the Wii characters and karts are all split up into 3 groups with combinations only allowed within that group. This drastically reduces the number of permutations available with little variation between the drivers in a group.

It’s not just the limited driver roster or hideous rubber band AI though, the new courses are so littered with obstacles that the game has become less of a race that tests skill and accuracy and more of a pot luck affair where your chances of winning are largely determined by how quickly the Wii scams your position by ensuring your lap has as many strategically placed impediments as possible. No surprise that these same impediments are nowhere to be seen when the AI controlled karts are leading.

Here’s what to expect:

NEW COURSES

Mushroom Cup
Luigi Circuit
A nice simple course with a wide track and enough bends to get used to the kart/bike dynamics. There’s a shortcut to test your tricks off the ramp and a banked corner to boost ahead of the pack.

Moo Moo Meadows
Set in a grassy meadow complete with wandering cows and authentic cowbell sounds, this is a charming track with a number of good shortcuts and plenty of opportunity to overtake.

Mushroom Gorge
The nonsense starts with this course albeit in a manageable way. No obstacles but watch out for the cheating scamming Wii players to shoot a blue shell your way or knock you off when jumping across the mushrooms.

Toad’s Factory
A varied track with an industrial setting, the main feature here is a bunch of multiple conveyor belts each going the opposite way. However, the bit I find more tricky is right at the end where you must drive over the speed pads to ensure the mud doesn’t slow you down. The shifting banks on either side don’t help!

Flower Cup
Mario Circuit
An easy figure-of-eight track with a single Chain Chomp that can be avoided by either going offroad behind the chain to use the speed ramp or keeping to the outside lane of the track whilst going round the corner.

Coconut Mall
The first of the tracks where the obstacles really begin to grate, particularly at the end where the cars do their utmost best to get in your way whilst ignoring the Wii opponents. Keep a close eye on the mall escalators and use the ones that are going up.

DK Snowboard Cross
A fast track that, despite the name, isn’t at all slippery. In fact, the snow drifts are fiendishly placed to slow you down. Despite that, I like this course lots and the fabulous soundtrack spurs you on to victory whilst the annoying snowboarders at the end are not too hard to avoid.

Wario’s Gold Mine
Set in the old West, this pain-in-the-ass course has a couple of blind rollercoaster sections with sheer drops and a railroad complete with trucks to bump you off the track. A yee-haa soundtrack suits it perfectly but it’s a rubbish course overall which, inexplicably, is far too popular online.

Star Cup
Daisy Circuit
One of my favourite tracks, this breezy seaside course has a couple of roundabouts but otherwise is a very pleasant drive with wide corners and plenty of cones to knock over. The accompanying summery tune suits it perfectly.

Koopa Cape
An exciting fast flowing course with an underwater section that explores the tranquility of the cape depths, the key here is to ensure you stay in the current as much as possible to get ahead. The soundtrack changes nicely when you dive into the water and then later emerge on ground.

Maple Treeway
Set in the windy treetops, this is another exciting course complete with two giant Wigglers. Another stellar soundtrack suits the autumnal themed track perfectly whilst the speed ramps ensure you’ll be kept busy tricking out.

Grumble Volcano
Far too much going on here with subsiding ground, fire bombs, moveable platforms and a load of other bullshit to ensure you’ll rarely play this track other than to unlock the hidden content. Damn those bloody fire bombs!

Special Cup
Dry Dry Ruins
Similar to Desert Hills, Dry Dry Ruins has some tight corners and plenty of sand to plug through and slow you down. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse though and for a Special Cup track, it’s not at all as bad as it could have been.

Moonview Highway
A very exciting course set at night along a highway with oncoming traffic that must be avoided. There’s a toll booth that gives way to a very fast wide open section of the track with multiple speed pads that can be strung together to race ahead of the pack towards the finish line.

Bowser’s Castle
Along with Grumble Volcano, this is my least favourite track on Mario Kart Wii and a total cack-fest with simply too much going on. Visually impressive and inventive but forget any notion of actually racing, you’ll spend half of your time cursing the horrid track design and the other half desperately avoiding all the rubbish littering the course.

Rainbow Road
I used to hate this circuit and haven’t found many who disagree. However, it’s grown on me over the years simply because the one thing about Rainbow Road is that, despite the difficulty, it’s generally a fair track that punishes you for your own lack of skill. As with most other Rainbow Road’s, this one has a lovely uplifting soundtrack.

 

RETRO COURSE
All of these courses have appeared in previous Mario Kart games and I generally prefer them far more than the new tracks.

Shell Cup
GCN Peach Beach
Simple enough course with some rather tiresome duck type opponents who chase after you and chuck you into the air if you’re not (hehe!) quack enough. Watch out for the deep water and boost across the shallow bits for shortcuts.

DS Yoshi Falls
One of the most boring and shortest tracks in the Mario Kart world, this one is just a basic oval. Acceptable in the DS version but just cheap for the Wii.

SNES Ghost Valley 2
A creaky old house setting complete with cackling Boo ghost’s and a soundtrack straight from Scooby Doo, this course is just too short and the gloomy darkness with right angled corners make it somewhat annoying.

N64 Mario Raceway
This has everything a good track should have; long straights, some challenging corners, a few obstacles, but not so many as to put you off, and some devious shortcuts to annoy your mates with.

Banana Cup
N64 Sherbet Land
A total bullshit ice track, this one is arranged in a star shape with slippery tight corners and a horrible cave section with marauding penguins. Good job it’s the first course in the cup as it’s one of those nasty ones where the Wii opponents waste no time in cheating.

GBA Shy Guy Beach
Never played the original but I already know I’d hate it, this is yet another rubbish track where the obstacles, in the form of scuttling crabs and bombs, are placed in front of you at every opportunity whilst neatly avoiding the Wii opponents.

DS Delfino Square
Everyone’s favourite, this is a nice lengthy course with long straights and a winding narrow alley. It almost makes up for having to play through the previous two awful tracks.

GCN Waluigi Stadium
If you’ve ever seen a monster truck show at a stadium, this is basically the same. Lots of ramps to trick off and a cheeky soundtrack to boot, the thing to watch out for here are the muddy areas that slow you to a crawl.

Leaf Cup
DS Desert Hills
One of two desert courses, they all tend to have the same characteristics; avoid the sand and take any shortcut with a speed boost where possible. This one has some very tight corners to bank that will test your drifting skills.

GBA Bowser Castle 3
A long course with fast straights, Thwomps and right angled corners. I’ve always liked the Bowser Castle tracks and this one’s no exception. The frantic doom-ridden music makes it seem quicker than it has any right to be.

N64 DK’s Jungle Parkway
This is a lush, tropical course complete with a steamboat, rickety old bridge and cave section. The final bend is surprisingly tricky to tackle but otherwise, this is a really nice track packed with plenty to see.

GCN Mario Circuit
Not the best Mario Circuit and the piranha plants on either side mean you have to try and stay in the middle of the track. The Monty Moles don’t help either because you can bet that the Wii will stick them right in your path.

Lightning Cup
SNES Mario Circuit 3
The early Mario Circuit’s are fairly boring and this one is like most that fall into the bucket; rubbish music, far too short and ample opportunity for the Wii opponents to kick your ass with cheap shots.

DS Peach Gardens
My favourite track, I love this on the DS and it’s even better here with a beautifully animated palace garden complete with maze and lurking Chain Chomps.

GCN DK Mountain
The other retro DK track here and just as lush but set on a mountain top. This one is trickier than Jungle Parkway comprising hairpin bends and much faster when barrelling down the hills but it has similar elements otherwise. And like all DK tracks, I enjoy it lots!

N64 Bowser’s Castle
A storming track which winds it way through both the inside and outside of Bowser’s Castle. This has mainly Thwomps as obstacles but never so much in a tiresome way that makes it seem unfair. Plenty of fast straights and an ingenious indoor section where the Thwomps sail over your head and try to crash down right in front of you.


Random Annoyances: Patronising TV Ads

Monday 14 May 2012 @ 7:35 pm

Watching a pointless TV ad earlier this evening about Colgate toothpaste, it struck me just how patronising most companies are towards consumers. I mean really, they treat us like idiots and expect us to slavishly lap up whatever drivel they’re peddling on TV.

Take the Colgate ad for example, it has some annoyingly breezy brunette with a handheld camcorder claiming that she’s gonna use Colgate that evening to see how long it keeps her teeth clean. Cut to the morning after the night before and said brunette has just “woken” up, looking of course like she’s about to sashay down the catwalk in her PJ’s. Turning to the camcorder, she rubs her teeth so the audience can hear the fabricated squeaky noise and then finishes with a smirk declaring that it must be true, Colgate does indeed keep your teeth squeaky clean.

Does the manufacturer honestly think the audience are stupid and will believe this nonsense? Are hoards of eager tooth jockeys about to plunder the shelves of their local chemist just to stock up on toothpaste purely on the remit of a half-assed patronising TV ad that treats the audience as if they eat soup with a fork?

With the advent of the Internet and social media, consumers are more savvy and demanding so these types of brainless ads no longer cut the mustard. In Colgate’s case, never mind squeaky teeth or a giggling airhead brunette who looks about as genuine as a three dollar bill, it would have been far more accurate to run an ad highlighting just how expensive the damn stuff is.


The ultimate food

Saturday 12 May 2012 @ 2:20 pm

Question: What’s low in fat, low in salt, low in sugar, low in cholesterol and tastes great?

Answer: Nothing!


Random Annoyances: Adobe Software

Friday 11 May 2012 @ 2:48 pm

What is it with Adobe that compels it to produce such rubbish software that’s always needlessly bloated? And why does Adobe think it’s some big shot company that deems it necessary to dump its shortcuts on the start menu without first creating a program group?

I’ve always hated Adobe for doing this; there are very, very few products that are actually useful enough to deserve a place on the start menu and Acrobat in any form sure as hell isn’t one of them. Even worse, whenever you install any of Adobe’s sub-optimal products, which is all of them, the ubiquitous Adobe ARM Manager is also installed that adds itself to your startup registry to check for updates.

Fortunately, this piece of crap is easily removed by editing the registry at [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run] and also deleting the entire contents of the C:\Program Files\Common Files\Adobe\ARM\1.0\ directory. For good measure, you might also want to switch off auto updates in any Adobe app to chop off its interfering bloaty fingers from meddling with your install.

The nonsense doesn’t stop just there though, take a look at the latest Adobe Reader X download, it’s over 50MB just for a PDF reader FFS! And when you do eventually download this grossly over engineered bloatware, don’t expect any seamless integration with your non-Chrome (which has built-in PDF support) browser. Opening any kind of PDF from a Web link frequently locks up the session meaning you have to kill the whole browser whilst if it does manage to struggle on, the download speeds are nearly always much slower than if you just downloaded the PDF offline in the first place.

As for Flash (is crap), I’ve grumbled over this plenty in the blog so let’s just say that it took Adobe far too long to wake up and admit that their own product has no future but that still didn’t stop them from coming up with their own sub-optimal (of course) HTML5 replacement.

So there you have it; Adobe, an arrogant useless software company full of itself, experts at writing sub-optimal software and who, all things considered, would do everyone a favour if they’d just sod off and die.


What to expect on a Deloitte assessment day

Thursday 10 May 2012 @ 2:55 pm

Attended one of these assessment days recently and passed so I thought I’d share the experience to help other candidates who might be called.

It’s a whole day affair (lunch is provided) that starts with a short 30 minute presentation about Deloitte and what distinguishes it from its competitors. You’re then given individual timetables that tell you who you will be meeting and when and what you need to do to prepare. Everyone’s timetable is different so some will immediately begin with their interviews whilst others will be scheduled to start the other exercises. However, there’s absolutely no need to stick to the schedule for preparation, as long as you are ready for the interviews you’re free to manage your own time however you see fit. Everyone stays in the same room with materials provided but the individual interviews and presentations are done privately.

There are four areas of assessment that each carries equal weight although Deloitte claim it’s vital you do well at the group exercise. The four assessments are a written essay, partner interview, presentation followed by a further competency based interview and finally the group discussion.

You’re given 1 hour for the written assessment which involves a case study about a pharmaceuticals firm called Medicare who are implementing an ERP system (called Project 2) as part of a business transformation project in the USA. Deloitte have been hired to evaluate Project 2 and advise Medicare on the rollout of a similar ERP system across Europe. The material consists of a presentation given to the senior management at Medicare by Deloitte and the written assessment is to summarise this succinctly using full sentences and narrative for distribution to the Medicare managers. You need to pull in all the salient info whilst ensuring sensitive data is not revealed and you’re limited by ensuring it all fits into two pages.

The partner interview is straightforward enough and allocated 45 minutes. You will have already been interviewed previously and made a good impression which is why you were invited back for the assessment day. As long as you show enthusiasm and know the obvious stuff such as what Deloitte is all about along with the business area you want to join and the role specifics with relevant examples of your own experience, this should pose no problem.

A lot of people worry about presentations but I actually enjoyed this one the most. Candidates may be given different case studies depending upon the role and seniority of the job they’re being assessed for but I think the main theme is consistent which is how Deloitte is able to help the organisation. You’re allocated 1 hour to prepare a 10 minute presentation (no more than 6 slides) and then a further 45 minutes for the actual presentation followed by a Q&A session.

My case study was for a soft drinks company facing a myriad of problems such as increased competition from more agile competitors, poor data quality, distributed production centres and legacy systems that hindered the supply chain. The objective is to come up with a short presentation (using flipcharts) describing how Deloitte can tackle these problems and the opportunities it presents. It’s an individual exercise so your audience is another partner, different from the other interview, and the aim here is to test how well you communicate and structure your ideas as well as your business acumen. The presentation and Q&A session is followed by a further competency based interview where you will be questioned about your skills and experience.

The final exercise lasts around 45 minutes and is a group discussion which is by far and away the most stupid, pointless and self defeating part of the whole day. It’s not hard to see why either. The case study is a fictitious community led by a group of “Elders” who are trying to find ways to save money. They’ve come up with a list of initiatives, each of which saves the same amount of money, but each of which has very different repercussions (e.g. ban drinking, cut health care, kill all pets). Candidates are given 10 minutes to individually prioritise the initiatives beforehand by writing them down and then use the remainder of the time to discuss, as a group, how they would rank the same initiatives. The actual assessment starts when the group discussion begins and the aim is to ensure that at least 3 of your top 5 rankings are somewhere in the groups collective top 5 rankings.

However, with the Deloitte assessors watching, the whole thing rapidly falls apart as candidates quickly realise that the group exercise is actually competitive and the only thing that counts is who can make their voice heard, irrespective of whether or not a valid point is being made and whether or not their rankings are in the top 5. If you’ve ever watched The Apprentice, it’s like that only much worse because you actually have to take part in this cringeworthy nonsense. The group exercise proves absolutely nothing useful because when you have several people all trying to make their point and talking over each other, the only thing that can be assessed is quantity not quality. And further proof of how futile this absurd group exercise is comes at the end when the Deloitte assessors merely ask for a show of hands to gauge how many people successfully got their rankings in the top 5 without bothering to collect the actual recorded answers.

So in short then, enjoy the day, it’s worth attending for practice even if the Deloitte job on offer isn’t what you want but definitely watch out for the stupid bloody group exercise which is an utterly pointless albeit necessary sideshow.