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Saturday 31 March 2007

Hit and Run Car Insurance Claim Case [Beej]

Okay, I've got a story to share, so here's what has been happening in the case of a car accident involving my Mum's parked car.

  1. Whilst my Mum was at work at her University, her parked car was hit several times by a student driver having difficulties negotiating a parking space.
  2. There were several independent witnesses who said that the driver of the car hit my Mum's parked car as many as eight times. The driver was asked to leave her details, and she left a telephone number. That number turned out to be a wrong number, but the witnesses had also noted down the registration of the car she was driving.
  3. The Police classified the incident as a Hit and Run because no details were left at the scene, and they used the registration to identify the owner of the car. These details were passed to Tesco, who my Mum uses to insure her car. The witnesses provided statements, either to the Police or the insurer, I'm not sure.
  4. A local garage approved by the insurer inspected the car and said repairs would cost £400. The fully comp policy met this cost, but there's the 200GBP excess on top of that of course. Tesco began procedures to recover their cost from the other driver's insurer.
  5. Tesco discovered that the other driver was uninsured - apparently the daughter of the actual owner of the car. The owner of the car disputed the claim, and contacted the local garage directly to question their quote. He was unsuccesful in getting it changed, but he later wrote to my Mum and in a subsequent phone call that she made to him he asked her to drop the insurance claim - and under pressure she verbally agreed to do so.
  6. Immediately afterwards she felt that she had been pressured into making a verbal agreement that she did not want to make. With the support of her insurer she did not cancel the claim. Tesco has copies of any/all correspondance from the other driver and has been very supportive on the whole.
  7. The owner of the other car continues to dispute the damage, claiming that my Mum's car was already damaged before it was hit by the car driven by his daughter. The garage that quoted the value of the damage has stuck by the £400 quote - which has already been paid by Tecso in any event, to repair the car.
  8. Last week, Tesco begun its paperwork for court proceedings, and have asked my Mum if she will appear as a witness (and this is stressing her out a little, but she believes it is the Right Thing To Do™).
  9. My Mum has lost her no claims bonus because the claim is still in progress, and so Tesco say this can be part of the costs to be claimed in court.

And one final thing. The owner of the car who is disputing the damage caused by his daughter who was driving uninsured - it turns out from Googling his name and address that he is a local councillor of a neighbouring borough council.

Would it be ethically wrong to write to the local paper about his pressure tactics with the local garage and with my Mum?

Knowing that it is hard for me to be unbiased, he still doesn't seem to be too nice a chap.

Tuesday 27 March 2007

Stuff for old pc's [Slim]

Set up a pc for me kids tonight, it's an old one so isn't going to play the lastest stuff. So I spent some time hunting round for older stuff that would run on it, and stone me if there isn't a shitload of great stuff out there!
Here's some highlights:
This is like those old perspex robots you used to see in schools on the bbc micros. It's a little programming language that controls a robot around a map. Dead simple but loads of fun, watch in awe as your kiddy binkles construct code to make a robot write rude words on the screen, ace fun. Good for growed ups that want to learn basic programming structures too I imagine.
For younger kids, just starting at school this is dead simple but really effective. Counting, letter/word matching and stuff, nicely uncluttered with branding or bollocks.
This site is amazing! Abaondonware! Perfect for an older pc, but lots of this stuff still rules, in particular the broderbount stuff like the carmen games, amazing fun stuff like The Incredible Machine and a bunch of superb Sierra and Maxis games. If you've an old pc in your kids room, this site is a goldmine, tap it!
Artrage. Simple paint package that does a good job of actually behaving like paint and charcoal or whatever.
Anyone got any others?

Measuring your power [Lurks]

With the big issue of climate change on the table, more people than ever are thinking about what they can do on their patch. This is just as well because it turns out that the household makes up a large fraction of the carbon footprint of our activities. This fact is all brought all the more home to me recently in getting a bit of a shock electricity bill whereby they're asking we pay a whopping £87 a month to clear the balance.
This situation arises because like most electicity firms in the UK, they send a man around to read the meter once in a blue moon. From that they just extrapolate (I might be giving them credit, perhaps guess is a better word) your usage and give you bills estimated on readings. You can, however, go read the number on your leccy meter and call them up in which case they revise. We did this and found that we owed them a lot of money.
Now, we have a somewhat unusual situation of both working from home. So that means our stuff is on during the day and much of it is necessary business expense. Stuff that normally folks wouldn't have to pay for because they go into work and use their bosses dime, including the leccy for putting the kettle on all the time.
Anyway, I was raised by my parents to be fairly concious of electricity consumption because in the far north of Australia, electricity was very expensive. I instinctively turn lights off when leaving a room and make sure I don't leave the room with a tele on or whatever. The thing is, these days that's not enough and as a pretty extreme example of a technology consumer, I think I have a responsibility to update my practices.
First of all, I wanted a picture on why our bill is so goddamn high. Even after this analysis I'm still not sure I know but I'm on the way and I think these techniques could be useful to you so here they are.
Most houses have an electric meter, here's one here:

I could bore you with the theory but let's cut to the chase. On the dial there is written 166 and 2/3rds revolutions per kW/H of electricity. What's probably easier to work with is if we can work out, right here and now, how much power the house is drawing. Then we can, hopefully, make some changes and go back and measure it.
This is how it's done: Meters sometimes have something called Kh written on them. This stipulates how many watt-hours of power for one revolution. Mine, as you can see from the picture, didn't. it had how many revolutions per kilo watt-hour of power. So we simply take 1000 and divide by the revolutions (166.6666 basically) and you see we get a figure of 6. This is the Kh figure. You might have it written directly on yours. It's typically from 6 to 7.2.
Now what we need to do is time one revolution of the disc. Do that with a stopwatch and just click on it when the leading edge of the black strip hits the little centre marker. Any delay you present in clicking should be the same, roughly, on both ends so you ought to be fairly accurate. If you want a more accurate picture still, feel free to measure several revolutions and just divide the total time by the number of revolutions to get the average. There's a good reason to do a wider average as I'll indicate later but for quick and dirty, one rev will do.
Then we have a formula which is as follows:

Power = 3600 * (Kh / time)

Since I established my meter's Kh to be 6 and I timed a revolution as 24 seconds, this gives me a figure of 900 Watts. Assuming the disc took 24 seconds to do one revolution, that's how much power the entire house is drawing right here and now.
As I indicated before, a spot reading wont be that accurate because there are a few high current devices which switch on and off, most notably fridges and freezers on a scale of minutes and of course things like immersion electric heaters (in particular!), electric kettles, ovens and cookers in the wider time scale. There's no more accurate figure over time than the actual numbers marked on your meter. If you want a real picture you should check this and see if you can lower it.
However, returning to the point in hand - I wanted to see if I could reduce my current 24/7 draw by any amount at all because, I knew, there is likely to be some dead stuff which serves no purpose.
In particular I mean devices on standby, DC power packs shoved in at the mains but not usefully powering a device and that sort of thing. I measured the power before and then I went through the house and checked for such things. I don't have a lot of standby devices but I found that our video projector and AV surround sound system and the printer were all in standby. So I simply used their main switches on the back. Then I went on to discover no fewer than SIX DC plug packs which were in sockets but not powering equipment. A few of these were mobile phone chargers, just switching off at the wall would do. Some of them were lost relics left in the birdsnest of wiring out the back of a communications cabinet for my work stuff.
I also switched off at the mains the PC speakers and the Squeezebox in our conservatory. I would say I found some stuff, but I didn't find a lot. Still, every little helps right? So I went back and measured the power again and worked out I had saved about 30-40W of power. Nothing huge but 30-40W of stuff doing nothing.
Our house is gas heated but I deeply suspect an electric immersion heater in the hot water system since I have on occasion seen the meter spin like crazy for reasons that weren't necessarily obvious. We have an dishwasher that uses a fair whack of power since it electrically heats the water. Oven is electric, but it's used once every few nights. The kettle is used a lot but we don't boil any more than we need to. All the lights in the house are energy saving or flourescent tubes.
There's not much I can put my finger on that's excessive but I've narrowed it down and have a better idea than I did before which was the object of the excersize. In some ways the gas, being a heating issue, is easier to tell what's going on. I have a good indication of the state of the house's insulation, the temperature on a given day and how much the heating needs to be on. We've got work to do there too, I think, but this other stuff can be accomplished with a calculator and a run around the house. You might want to give it a shot.

Monday 26 March 2007

Word of Mouth marketing [Lurks]

I stumbled across these guys called as part of my work since I also work in marketing.
This ccrowd is a word of mouth marketing agency. Sounds boring right. Well, I guess it could be but give it a chance. Bottom line is you go there and sign up and assuming you tell them all about you and you jump through a pile of hoops, it eventually gives you the ability to receive goods and services free.
The idea is that you then find out what they're like and tell your pals, then do a web report kinda thing on the site which gives you some kudos to unlock higher levels. I'm giving it a go because I think it's clever and it doesn't do any harm. Sure, if they want to send me stuff I'll see if it's any good and mention it to anyone that I think might be interested, just as I do with anything else I come across. I figure they might send me some aftershave or something for starters but if you made an effort, who knows what they might send you?
Is it some breach of confidence in promoting something to your pals? Yes, if you didn't think it was good. However if it's not good, I'll say it's a pile of bum. They're not paying me so I'm damned if I'm going to lie about it. If it's good, I'll tell my mates because I think they want to know. Just as I'd like any of them to tell me about stuff that's good also.
On the other hand, maybe it's too much effort for anything they might send you free? It's hard to say but I thought it was an interesting enough idea to give it a go. It's certainly a real breath of fresh air in marketing stuff and largely made possible because you can manage it all through a funky web interface.
The amusing thing is that they're big on you telling other people that you're a Bzzagent. Heh, it's easy to be a cynic. I imagine that conversation in the pub:
"Damn yeah she was hot in that film, oh by the way I'm a Bzzagent. Incidentally, I find Flora Lite an excellent margarine spread and one which has been scientifically proven to lower bad kinds of cholesterol. Yeah, as I was saying, it was just a shame she never got her kit off."

Friday 16 March 2007

Maturity, do you feel your age? [shedir]

My wife is forty this year, I'll be 39.
Was watching something about victorian times, at my age a man was that. A man. Fully grown, mature and respected by the community at large (if he was a professional I guess).
I still feel like a kid a lot of the time, hardship brings maturity. We have life so easy now is that being lost along the way? Men feeling despair at a sporting event, women collapsing because some woman they don't know died in a car crash. It's all bizarre behaviour.
When I was growing up my dad felt like a proper authoritarian father figure, I seem to be more of a buddy to my kids. Playing games with them and watching a lot of their shows with em and enjoying it! No sunday with the papers for me it's out with the consoles.
I dunno if it's a good or a bad thing, are we turning into a nation of peter pans?

Monday 12 March 2007

Thought of the Day [Lurks]

This morning, for some reason, I felt the need to listen to some news/talk on the radio rather than slapping my music on. I turned on Radio 2 and ended up with Wogan. This went on for a bit and then he introduced a reasonable sounding man who's name escapes me, a reverend no less. He then began to deliver this crazy traditional sequence which has been a feature of radio from a long gone era, your 'thought of the day' type thing.
This chap, ironically, was holding up the channel 4 programme The Great Global Warming Swindle as an example of scientists who are certain in their beliefs. Then he goes on to say that being certain is not an attractive trait and then launches straight into how what one ought to demonstrate is a healthy scepticism, which I find hilarious coming from a Christian.
It was a remarkable burst of religious claptop riddled with hypocrasy which was seemingly unapparent to the chap. He was all very reasonable about it, he was also all very superficial, bordering on misleading when it comes to the core premise, presumably, that scientists are bad because they are all very certain. Not understanding science very well then, surprise surprise.
Forgive me for digressing onto this burst of lunacy, what I actually wanted to comment on was the way that many radio stations carry this 'thought of the day' type nonsense. Sure as eggs this chap will be on every day and it gets me to thinking, why is that? This is a largely secular country now (thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster, may His noodly appendage be upon you) so what business does this view point have on the show, much less every day?
Where's the secular thought of the day? Think how much more useful a 3 minute burst from a scientist explaining, for the layman, the real situation of global warming and putting the channel 4 'documentary' in context? I emailed as such to the BBC.
As I also emailed to the BBC, I'd also say why aren't we looking a preportional views? Maybe one religious 'thought of the day' per week in order to represent the views of the small percentage of bonafide bible thumpers left in the country?
The only objection I can think of is that it might be a little hard to choose someone to in essence represent secular thinking. Least of all someone who sounds so imminently congenial on the radio. That's still a piss poor reason not to try. Who is it that has decided that there should remain a moral burst in some 40's era throwback? Assuming you believed that are there any secular speakers that might deliver a moral message or has the concept of the moral speaker and the message washed down the sink along with religion in general? In some sense, given the things we see in society now, that seems a bit of a shame to me.
Does anyone else have a local station with a thought of the day type thing and what does it consist of?

Wednesday 7 March 2007

iTunes Plugins [Spiny]

Two of my favourite iTunes plugins are
  • The Filter which auto generates playlists for you based on seed songs.
  • iConcertCal which lets you know about up coming gigs by artists in your library.

Anyone else got some?