Friday, August 21, 2015
When I was young we lived in simpler times. There was only one supplier for electricity, There was only one supplier for gas. There was only one supplier for what passed as telecommunications (some arrangement of paper cups attached with string if I recall). Those state owned monopolies generally provided reliable service but they were inflexible and not particularly good value. You took whatever service they prescribed for you and you paid the price they saw fit to charge.
Today all is deregulated and competition is king. Advertisements constantly tout the advantages of one supplier over another and not a week goes by without sales folk calling to our door to encourage us to change suppliers. Living in a large urban area we are blessed with a surfeit of choices for just about every household utility. Competition is actively encouraged by the government and is supported by strong regulations which make it simple and cost free to switch suppliers. A single phone call or single visit to a web page is usually all that is required.
Competition has certainly brought advantages. The competing suppliers are far more responsive and flexible than the old state monopolies. The passage of time and march of technology makes it hard to make direct comparisons but I am pretty sure that services are also far cheaper in real money terms. Frictionless switching has given rise to the almost universal practise of offering significant discounts to new customers. A new customer being generally defined as someone who has not used that particular supplier for one or more years.
These new customer discounts are the reason why at this time every year we need to ride the annual utility supplier merry go round. In order to ensure the best price for our utilities we need to switch suppliers every single year. Regardless of how pleased we were with last years suppliers we must without fail abandon them as soon as our "new customer" status expires in order to avail of a competitor's new customer deal. Fear not we shall doubtless be back once the exclusion period has passed and we can once again claim to be new. There are enough suppliers to ensure we can always avail of a new customer discount from somebody.
It strikes me as an odd business model that practically forces customers to change suppliers each and every year but I can see how difficult it would be for any one supplier to break the cycle. We humans are lazy by nature and it is well reported that many customers never or rarely change suppliers. The utilities offer these juicy discounts in the hope that we will neglect to change and stick with them once the discount period has passed. If any company did not offer discounts then they would get no new customers at all and if they tried to offer a better rate to long standing customers they would lose money. As a customer I find it a nuisance to have to ride this merry go round every year but I am pleased to be able to avail of the discounts. Happily there are websites which do the hard work of price comparison and make it very easy to select which of the available offers is best value for our particular usage pattern.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Edit: There is one bizarre glitch that I haven't got a handle on yet. Every time I reboot my second monitor goes haywire and come up with a corrupted screen. The solution is simply to switch the monitor off an on again which would point to a monitor issue rather than a driver issue if it wasn't for the coincidence of this happening today just after an upgrade to Win 10. I guess it is some kind of handshaking problem on power up.
Edit 2: Second monitor issue seems to have gone away. Don't know why. Also noticed that my previously chosen anti-virus: Avira doesn't seem to work. It may be working in the background but none of the control panels work so I cannot tell what it is doing. Have temporarily uninstalled it and gone back to Windows Defender.
Edit 3: Happy to report that endless disk activity has calmed down considerably and system has become a lot more responsive. This has allowed my SSD cache to start working so all is quite good at he moment.
Sunday, July 05, 2015
I have been enjoying this Japanese RPG with turn based tactical combat since picking it up in the Steam sale.
The game has an excellent story with well developed characters and plenty of background details all told with very cute anime graphics in a storybook format.
The turn based tactical combat feels a bit like XCom but it has several interesting differences. For example rather than each character getting one move each round you get a limited number of action points to spend on whichever characters you chose. Action points are precious so choosing the best characters each round is an great tactical twist. Also surprising is the fact that characters can move after they attack unlike the majority of turn based games that I have played. This means that it is possible for a character like a sniper to pop out of cover take a shot and then pop back into cover. The usefulness of this is somewhat constrained however by the abundance of reaction shots in the game. Most characters get a free reaction shot after you attack them and before you can move. Also they automatically fire at any exposed character for the duration of that characters turn. There appears to be an accuracy penalty but you can easily be killed just standing around or moving out of cover. It is no exaggeration to say that more bullets are fired this way than through deliberate shots so positioning your units to get good reaction fire is a key element of tactics. It also introduces a sense of urgency to turns because you cannot afford to linger if a character is exposed.
I have read criticism of the mission grading system in Valkyria which prioritises speed over everything else if you want to get the most XP. This is not a game breaker for me however because even though I like taking a slower more tactical approach there are repeatable skirmish missions that can be used to cover any deficit in XP. Also if you are playing more tactically you don't need to maximise your stats so XP is less important.
Friday, July 03, 2015
I will admit that I was initially put off by Reddit's reputation as the home of some of the worst scum and villainy on the internet and it is true that Reddit is host to a lot of very objectionable content and even more objectionable users. Misogyny, discrimination and racism are easily found on the site along with a generous doses of innocent and not so innocent pornography. Reddit has it's own history of outrages such as the awful trial of an innocent by social media that occurred after the Boston Bombing. Yet Reddit is so much more than this. It is also home to terrific scholarly material on history, science and other subjects. It is perhaps the only place on the internet where a comment on a book by an ordinary user might be answered by the author himself or a film star or even a president. Best of all the subreddit structure allows you to tailor your Reddit experience to your own interests and likes.
Reddit is also a very current source of news. Breaking news invariably shows up on Reddit long before it hits facebook, Buzzfeed or the established news sites. Indeed you only have to browse Reddit for a few days to realise how much those tardier sources have come to rely on Reddit for their content. It is somewhat galling to hear mainstream media commentators adopt a holier than thou attitude to Reddit when you realise just how much of their own material is lifted from the site. Reddit may not be the most current source of news on the internet but the sites which regularly beat Reddit to a scoop live in murkier corners of the internet, places that most of us dare not go. Reddit has become the established portal for the more inspired creations and discoveries of those murkier corners to bleed over into the respectable internet.
Anyway the site is currently going through upheaval and the volunteer moderators and posters who actually make Reddit what it is are very unhappy with the direction being taken by the sites management and administrators. This discontent has been brewing a long time but the flashpoint happened when former Reddit employee Victoria Taylor was let go. Victoria is legendary among the community for co-ordinating and facilitating the AMAs (ask me anything) that have become such a feature of Reddit.
I don't understand the full implications of what is happening here but this feels like a serious rift, one that ultimately may not be reconcilable. If the management want to pull Reddit in a direction where the volunteer moderators and posters do not want to follow then the future for the site is bleak. I do hope this is not the end of Reddit as we know it. I mean where else could you find a man with two penises vying for top billing with Barrack Obama and Bill Gates?: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/search?q=ama&sort=top&restrict_sr=on