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Petrol wheeze

A petrol price signHere I wish to present my assorted collection of random insults at "the petrol industry" (or gasoline for our American friends). I am not entirely certain exactly who is to blame in each case, however I think shameless profiteering is part & parcel of the entire industry, from Arabian sandpit to the little hole in the side of my car...
  • First up, the prices. You can see in the photo on the right that 95 octane unleaded (sort of like "three star") is 1,535. This is because they simply don't have the balls to say 1,54. It is a psychological price. Look at GO (diesel). It is 1,279. What relevance is a tenth of a centime? Well, the relevance is that the price difference from the next shop selling for 1,28 will seem so much more expensive, yet you could pull fifty litres from the pump to fill an average sized family car and the difference would be... five centimes.
  • I am one of those annoying people that like specific amounts. €20,00 or €12,34... I have never been one to fill until it clicks off. And as such, I can report with depressing regularity that the pump will go from €19,97 to €19,98, to €19,99, to €20,01. We have pricing in the tenths of a single centime, yet the calculation suffers accuracy fail? What's with that?
  • I can put my plastic into the machine to take out petrol at any time. Cool? Well, sort of. It is useful if I need to fill up and I'm working the God-awful hours, because one thing I can guarantee is that the girl is not going to be there to serve me at half four in the morning.
    However, after contacting the bank, the pump "authorises" me to take out up to a set figure, which is usually €89.
    This is when it all falls apart. Because the distribution has actually swiped the entire €89 from my account. I know, I can - with my mobile phone - see my bank account balance. The bank website tells me the "official" balance, and the unofficial "real-time" balance. My card was accepted, I hit refresh on my phone's browser, and my real-time balance had dropped before I'd even picked up the nozzle.
    So I fill the car, hang up the nozzle, and the computer sorts out how much I actually took, right?
    Wrong. That debit will persist for at least a day, more usually two or three days, until the amount is adjusted to be the amount consumed, and the difference magically reappears in my account. Where does this money go? It isn't in my account for that duration. Who benefits from it?
  • Furthermore, the system is either unable to tell when there is a fault (unlikely) or nobody gives a toss about the end-consumer (most likely), for when a pump failed to deliver anything, I hung up, didn't get a receipt even though I asked for one, and I went to a different supermarket... have my card rejected. Some overworked banking computer obviously didn't feel it was on to authorise me for eighty nine euros of petrol when... the last one was outstanding and only a couple of minutes ago.
    And this was done on a Thursday night before a holiday Friday and that money didn't reappear in my account until Tuesday afternoon. FOUR days, that money was elsewhere. I bet across France there's a thousand people a night using the pumps. Which would be €89,000 for debits maybe half that, or less. I reckon that could earn a nice pile of interest, don't you?
  • Why is it the slightest mite of scaremongering and the prices rise? Okay, Bin Laden is dead, things are going relatively well in Iraq, and Sarah Palin is going to have to accept that holes will be dug all over Alaska. The price of raw crude has gone down a fair bit. The price at the pump? Barely moves.
    Of course, it is foolish to think that the price will lower to the levels of even a year ago. We used to pay a euro a litre. Now we pay half again as much. The oil companies lied, cheated, and massaged the figures to keep the prices artificially high. Now they declare (yet again) record profits. Of course, it is in their best interests to suck every centime they can get away with. More wad in their pockets, isn't it? Governments won't be overly willing to step into the fray, for higher prices means higher tax revenues. As I said, it's all a big screw you to the hapless end consumer.


Useful wheels

A local town had this parked. The owners have to be Brits, because who the hell else is going to think it's "cool" to own a Porsche in a small farming community?
A Porsche, and not in a city!
In this place, a low sleek sex-on-wheels car capable of doing nought-to-sixty in microseconds is... somewhat lacking in relevance. What you need around here is good suspension, perhaps four wheel drive. Power steering is a bonus, makes those windy little lanes less stressful.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not jealous of this. Not in the slighest. My idea wheels would be a chunky Asian efficient hybrid four-wheel-drive jobbie that will look at potholes and country tracks (barely paved) and think "Meh!". Sort of like a Prius crossed with a Land Rover, if such a thing exists, with the solidity of a Humvee and the safety features of an average Volvo. That would be something I'd like.
Not a Porsche. Not here, not ever.


PlayStation 1 (PSX)

Last weekend we went to (yet another) vide grenier. This isn't a preoccupation or obsession, it's just that not a lot else happens on a Sunday...
Anyway, I'm not much of a gamer, but I thought I'd take a dabble with a Playstation. It cost me a fiver with two games, and I picked up some others for €0,50 apiece.
Well, it dates from the mid-'90s, so no surprise really.
PlayStation and games.
Got it home, plugged it in, the startup logo appears, then, nothing. However by repeatedly disconnecting and reconnecting the video lead, I can sometimes see a messed-up static image, such as those shown here:
PlayStation output to a USB capture box.

I originally thought it might be Macrovision, but the tell-tale white and black bars are not there. I'm now wondering if it is a really screwy video signal. This seems excessive to me, for a video game, but then we must remember the PlayStation is a product of the company that considered it acceptable to rootkit its customers who wished to play music CDs on their computers; not to mention getting involved in a legal dispute over those who were none too happy with the "Other OS" function in later consoles being arbitrarily removed.

Aside: The idea is this. With the "Other OS", you can run some sort of Linux on the box, perhaps use it as a networked media server or somesuch. No, not the one I have, the up-to-date models. Mine pretty much predates the Internet. ☺ Anyway, one day a firmware update was rolled out that killed off this function. Just... like... that.
Now the sort of people who want Linux on a games console are the sort who will hack it to get this functionality back. And the process of hacking the console apparently worked around some of the anti-piracy protection measures. This in itself isn't a bad thing, for the aim was to get the other OS running, not to pirate games. It's akin to asking "is a fireman breaking into your house if he kicks in your front door to rescue you?" Technically, perhaps. But its a side effect to the real issue.
Sony, of course, got legal. Somewhere along the way the collective known as "Anonymous" may or may not have become involved, leading to some rather large compromises of Sony's online gaming stuff.
The two morals of the story are, perhaps, that if you implement a geek-feature, then decide to get rid of it, don't be surprised if the geeks do what is necessary to get this feature back. And if you take seemingly oppressive legal action against the individuals concerned (justified or not), don't be surprised if you get painted a megalomanical tyrant and taken down a peg.
But, then, Sony is famous for shooting itself in the foot. They create a fine video recording format (Betamax), then get all huffy about what sort of content it can be used for. The competitor (VHS) didn't care, and as such, all us dirty minded perverts got our under-the-counter porn on VHS [*] and Beta died out.
* - apparently... I wouldn't have even been a teenager in those days!

Anyway, this box, with its weird black CDs runs a MIPS RISC processor at a shade under 34MHz, along with 2D and 3D graphics processing units. A rather small 2MiB of system memory, with 1MiB VRAM, 512KiB for audio functions, and a 512KiB BIOS. Processing speed is 30 MIPS, which is just a mite slower than an Acorn RiscPC, or a little faster than a 33MHz 80486. It does win, however, running a bus bandwidth of 132MiB/sec. The average 486 chipset is somewhat less impressive, and the Acorn RiscPC's bandwidths are, frankly, an embarrassment.
Here's a picture of the main board:

PlayStation main board.
Of particular interest is the little modification on the upper right. It calls itself a "Stealth Chip":
PlayStation Stealth Chip.
I looked this up, and while I could not find the exact type used here, these are generally a PIC microcontroller that hijack the region coding information transfer to allow both non-original CD-Rs to be used, along with games from alternative regions (i.e. Japanese games on a European box). I would try this to see if it works, but games are not provided as ISO images... the one I have contains three files - .ccd (722 bytes), .img (625MiB), and .sub (25MiB). No idea what I'm supposed to do with those...

The console works as expected on a traditional cathode ray. But given the current layout of my room, this is rather less than convenient. I give up - how do I get this thing to talk to a video capture card? What the hell is it doing to the video signal?
For what it is worth, I tried routing the video through my OSD. That choked too.


Tree cutting

The oak trees by the pond were getting large enough to risk being a problem for the telephone line. We are responsible for damage to the line from trees on our own property. Therefore...
Cutting the trees.
I climbed the ladder, then the tree itself. It wasn't a bother wearing black leather shoes, black trousers, and (wow!) a non-black jumper. This is because back when I was at school I used to climb all sorts of stuff during the evenings and Saturday afternoons; so I got quite used to doing it in my school uniform..... err, there's a sentence begging to be taken horribly out of context!

It's a long way down! <quiver!> <quiver!>

Aaaaargh! <splat>


Amazon weirdness

I have an account with Amazon France. I've ordered a fair bit of stuff. Mom wanted to add things to my wishlist, and I got fed up with her additions mucking up my "suggestions".
So I set up an account for her.

Tried to order a book from the Marketplace, the payment was rejected. Twice. Okay, perhaps the long number was entered incorrectly. So I deleted the card and entered it again. I noticed that the three digit security code was not asked for.
Payment... rejected.
We contacted Amazon to ask what was going on, and the person we finally spoke to said that the cryptogram security digits are not required. Really? I think Amazon might like to re-read the legislation regarding VPC (Vente Par Correspondence).
Mom got fed up, and gave up at this point as her card expires in a month or two, so we'll set it up when the new one arrives.

Fast forward to today. I put in an order for three books (a mere centime each, plus €2,99 postage!). This was using my account, my untouched card details, and my previous order placed on the 18th of this month. Of the three orders, two were rejected, the third one is yet to be handled.
Say what?

I wiped my card information and reentered it. Noting well that the security code was not demanded. Unhappy with this, I got read of the card information and told the site that I wanted to update my payment details. It prompted me to enter the card information including the security code. However those three orders have not, as yet, been actioned. I don't suppose they will be until Monday.
I put through an MP3 order for "Your Song" (Ellie Goulding), and it was sent to me and my bank account appears to have been debited about a euro (in the provisional balance, I won't know for certain until it is properly cleared, again probably on Monday).
It will be interesting to see what happens with the books.

Is something really screwy happening with Amazon? I can understand maybe there is an issue with my mother's MasterCard (my MasterCard is blocked from Internet purchasing, I must use the virtual card), however to then find this occurring to a previously working Visa card is... extremely strange.


Doo-da-doo! Steins;Gate 6-8

The episode opens reminding us once again of the bizarre spectacle that is the satellite that crashed into the building. That it arrived more or less intact (contrary to the laws of nature, look at what became of the Shuttle following a failed re-entry) is bizarre.
Steins;Gate - the crashed satellite.
Following a café spot and more of Okarin's rampant delusions, we see Suzuha glaring at Kurisu again. And, once more, rescued by the boss telling her to get back to work. Her odd behaviour, this time, is not missed on the group.
Inside the Future Gadget Lab, Okarin demands a round table. Irrationally. But then, this is to be expected. Then, a lot of time is taken with Okarin's ridiculous names for the messages sent into the past, for example "Nostalgia Drive" written with the kanji for "journey crossing over time". I just looked that up and Google Translate suggests "旅の時を超え". Not surprisingly, Kurisu rejects this as being too complicated. Daru suggests "The Mail That Leapt Through Time" - nice nod to Ghibli there! To keep the sci-fi madness going, Mayuri suggests "Back To The Mail".
Honestly, even if it looks like nothing exciting is happening, the banter between this characters is incredible. I just want to lock 'em in a room and listen in all day - with subtitles of course! ☺
Eventually Kurisu comes up with the solution - "D-Mail".
Aside: Why is it animé geeks are overweight, socially inept, and complete perverts? ["Put the banana in!"]
Steins;Gate - the overweight pervy nerd, we're not all like this!
After nine minutes, we can get down to some hardcore experimentation, including the banana returning to the bunch, albeit in a slimy form.
Steins;Gate - nanaslyme.
The two guys go out shopping and along comes Moeka (quiet girl with glasses and mobile phone - codename "Shining Finger") showing that she has an excruciatingly irritating habit of communicating by text message instead of, you know, talking. Like, ALL the time. What is she? A hikkikomori with no place to go?
Daru is somewhat smitten by this 3D girl. Or, rather, by her various assets. She, on the other hand, has zero interest, walks on by.
Back at their building, Suzuha says she only just met Kurisu, which has to be a lie following her glaring and such. Then Okarin gets a bollocking as the experiments shake the building, The Boss is quite annoyed by all of this.
While all of this has been going on, Kurisu sussed that there are several 'rules' to the D-mail:
  • Every second on the microwave's timer represents an hour back in time.
  • Message limits - 36 Latin, or 18 Kanji.
  • Possible time limitations - noon to 6pm?
Later on, phone-girl turns up, wants to take pictures. Okarin says not his face. So she takes pictures... of the old IBN computer! Daru lets slip about sending emails to the past, and as such Shining Finger becomes the next member of the group. While she isn't bad looking, her habit of texting instead of speaking is so annoying. That's her on the right, with Kurisu on the left:
Steins;Gate - Shining Finger.

Episode 7 shows a demonstration of the messages to the past to Moeka. There's some cracking dialogue - I giggled so much at Daru's glib "Delusion fail!" response. So they sit for the round table (which, er, doesn't exist), and are unsettled to learn that Okarin wants to change the past. Okarin, like any warm-blooded bloke with message-time-travel possibilities, decides the easy solution for a practical test is to send the winning lottery numbers back in time. Well, come on, wouldn't you think of this sooner or later?
He chokes at the main prize (200 million Yen, a little under €2M) as being too conspicuous given The Organisation is after him. Second prize (¥23,000,000 (about €200K)) is a little on the large size too. Third prize is ¥700,000 (about €6000). He elects to try to win that.
The moment Okarin pushes the button to send the text message, he has another one of those weird lonely-world moments. But it gets weirder. The gang were talking about the possibility of sending a D-mail to change the past, obviously completely unaware that they were just doing so. They think he is a little mad, and he slowly realises they have no idea at all.
At that moment, Rukako (the shrine girl boy) enters, apologetic, handing over the lottery ticket. Nothing was won as she copied a number incorrectly.

Steins;Gate - Rukako.
While it is dawning on Kurisu that they really did do the experiment somehow, in some other timeline, a horrified Okarin stares down at the table to see a Dr. Pepper drink, having previously been told that the shop was out. Yes, this is a different future.
Okarin stumbles outside in a daze. Is grabbed by Suzuha who stares into his eyes and says "there's no chip". This girl just keeps getting weirder. And, it is my hunch that there is no John Titor, this girl is the one from the future. That is not intended to be a spoiler, I really don't know, I'm just trying to work out Suzuha's behaviour.
She does admit that she knows pretty much everything, she can hear them talking upstairs.
In a darkened room, Okarin goes even more to pieces realising the future they are in is not the future they were in. But even more unusually, Okarin appears to have the ability to remember the previous 'reality', while the others have no idea whatsoever.
John Titor sends a text, a lengthy response to Okarin's question. John's goal is to change the future. He needs Okarin... be the Messiah.

Episode eight starts with the heavy feeling from the end of the previous. What's a paranoid delusional bloke to do being a Messiah? As he is in danger of tipping into the nutcase category, Daru and Kurisu come on board for the shocking realities - the timeline change and the fact that Okarin retains memories. In keeping with tradition, he calls his special power "Reading Steiner".
To prove the theory, Daru volunteers to win the Feyris Cup, but discovers that - no - he lost utterly. Obviously such a small thing isn't going to alter the world. They need something bigger. Kurisu is frightened of creating a time paradox, while saying that she doesn't want to alter her life - it's all a part of her, even the failures. Noble.
Yet another tense moment between a glaring Suzuha and a confused Kurisu, which Moeka photographs, a lot.

Steins;Gate - epic glaring.
In the lab, Rukako (shrine girl boy) pops by to leave a perfect watermelon as another apology. Moeka, meanwhile, says that she doesn't much like her new phone, so wants to send herself a message not to buy it.
She does. Cue weird-lonely-world-feeling again, and before you know it, not only is Moeka not there, but nobody has a clue who she was in the first place. The lovely watermelon, also, has gone. This might start to be a clue that timeline changes affect more than just the obvious thing that changed. Okarin confides, briefly, in an increasingly worried Kurisu.
Rukako pops by the lab as a guest of Mayuri, who immediately drags him off to cosplay... in a cute, short, pink dress. As Okarin falls apart, Kurisu arrives at the lab. Rukako spurts out a heartfelt apology and asks to be able to send a message to the past. We learn the vanishing watermelon is because he arrived with it, heard Okarin's freaking out, and left without knocking. He... wants to be a girl. For real.
Kurisu, not believing a girl that cute could be a boy, says "excuse me" and then gropes. And then has her own little moment of "WTF?".
Steins;Gate - Kurisu's moment of truth.
The figure out that the best way might be to send a text message to his mother. But, problem, he was born before mobile phones were popular. But back then, pagers were popular.
Having secured the number of his mother's pager, Rukako hands over his message, stating "Eat vegetables for a healthy child", which looks like "やさいたべるとげんきなこをうめる", but that translates into gibberish - Google Translate says "Languages fill the soybean flour and eat vegetables"!
This, however, is four characters too long, so Okarin shortens vegetables to "veggies" (actually, it becomes "やさいくうとげんきなこをうめる" which Google translates to mean "Rinku soybean flour and vegetables fill the atomic"!!!).
Message sent. And to leave us with one hell of a cliffhanger, the world changed - Okarin felt that - but Rukako is... still male. Say what?

If you think Okarin is a tortured soul, just think how I feel waiting a whole week for the next episode to roll along! Sure, okay, we seem to be going nowhere fast, but frankly who the hell cares? It's one awesome ride, oh yes.


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Rob, 29th May 2011, 12:44
Petrol prices - it's like that here. There is not a single place where you will find it listed with anything other than .9 of a penny at the end, e.g. 1.429/l. Anyway, I remember when it used to cost 60p/gallon (That's about 0.15/litre.) 
Cards... you're suffering from pre-auth.. if it's anything like how it works here, don't worry, the money never leaves your bank account, and you still earn interest on it. The bank just maintains two balances for your account - the actual balance, and the "available balance". The latter is reduced when somebody (or something) checks your card in advance of a purchase, and this can last between moments (if the actual transaction completes properly) and /weeks/ (if it is aborted.) I had ~300 "lost" from my available balance for two months, once, due to such an issue. You see the same effect in the other direction when you pay in a cheque that needs to clear - balance goes up, but available doesn't for a few days. It's not normally an issue, except for the situations you describe. 
Yep that PSX is chipped. You can play anything on it. The psx games - grab yourself a copy of ImgBurn (free) and you can send them to cdr no problem. Or just use nero and pick the .img file and burn raw. No idea what's happening to the video however.. might be a PAL version or NTSC thing. Is it a .fr model? 
Rick, 6th June 2011, 20:07
As far as I can tell, there is only the one European (PAL) model. It plays fine on an old CRT telly, but fails with digital methods. Bizarre. 
If I burn the .img file, what should I do with the largish .sub file? What, in fact, *is* a .sub file?
Rob, 7th June 2011, 16:29
Sub are usually cd-text data, but being big might have other stuff the game is looking for. What you basically have is the set of files created by a long-standing program called CloneCD. If you grab a copy of that from it's got a 21 day trial period so you can at least have a play! 

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