It is becoming more and more difficult to work out exactly how the proposed high speed railway lines for England are going to be a good investment. The extensively reported HS2 project involves first a London-Birmingham railway line by 2026 and then two additions. One route going to Leeds and the East Coast mainline south of York. The other going to Manchester with connections to the West Coast mainline north of Lichfield, at Crewe and south of Wigan. These two extensions are currently planned be to ready just six years later in 2032.
The past few days have seen yet another version of the case for the project put to Parliament – with slightly less optimistic figures – leading huge amounts of political hot air rising from not just Westminster but around the country. Those local authorities with stations on the route wanting to press ahead – not having to pay for it. While those regions away from the route – or the stations – are wanting compensation for not being included. So both sides are, in effect, asking for taxpayers’ money – either to build it or to be compensated for not having it; if it goes ahead.
But the typical Grandad does not live in either London or Birmingham and is more likely to be searching for off-peak discounts than premium rates on any train travel. While being 13 years in the future many will consider this someone else’s problem. However, by then, it will be their grand children that are paying the price for today’s poor decisions.
So is HS2 a trick or a treat? Will it be another case of politicians thinking that they know best when spending our money – while taking no financial risk themselves? Or will HS2 provide the promised financial benefits – ones that really will exceed the substantial costs by more than 2 to 1? Who knows?
But when children knock on your door tonight the most horrific response could well be just to show them the £42,600 million bill that they could be paying off for the rest of their lives …
Cleaning Windows – First for those who did not recognise the photo and the clues it was George Formby that appeared in the previous posting. And rather than explaining who he was it would be best if you take a look at Frank Skinner’s fine Formby documentary from 2011. It’s here on YouTube ..
Second this latest posting comes courtesy of Windows 8.1 and signals that we have almost reached the end of the upgrades, conversions and re-installs on two PCs. The combination of faster hardware, the latest software and cleaning away old left-overs has made some noticeable improvements – but getting there did use up a lot of time. And NetObjects Fusion may have gained some new bugs with the latest update – since on the convenional web page George’s image jumped to the left despite still being laid out on the right. However switching from HTML 5 to HTML 4 fixed the problem. Elsewhere there are other reports of bugs with – sound output via HDMI stopping, system fonts going missing and usb wifi dongles slowing to a crawl. These could all be due to third party software not being up to date but Microsoft have still been busy issuing important 8.1 updates every day to try to stem the flow …
After three hours of downloading and updating the first of Grandad’s PCs is up and running on Windows 8.1 – and, so far, things seem to be functioning OK. Now we are at the cutting edge – using the latest 64-bit version of an operating system that was first used, as DOS add-on, back in 1986. Then Windows needed 256K of memory or greater and MS-DOS 2.0. Soon this minimum memory was expanded to 320K and then up to 512K – when 640K was the memory limit. But in practice most serious software ignored Windows and ran directly under MS-DOS – for obvious performance reasons. It was not until 1992 that we started moving to applications designed for Windows – then just upgraded to version 3.
Now all traces of MS-DOS have been cleaned away – and Windows is striving to become a vehicle for pushing products and services our way day and night. But it is still possible to turn most of the advertising off and stop many (some) of the nosey parkers from spying on your daily life. Better still the sheer power of the latest hardware means that Windows’ massive code burden can be largely ignored. Version 8.1 has only had a few hours of use but seems to have Turned Out Nice Again …
Today the Radio Festival opened at the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays. And one of the first announcements was from the BBC’s Director of Distribution [Dr Alix Pryde] with the Corporation’s plan to add 162 new DAB radio transmitters to the UK network by the end of 2015. These transmitters will be added at a rate of more than three every two weeks up to Christmas 2015 – with Basingstoke being the first to launch sometime during December.
Back in July the Goverment’s decision on the future of DAB radio was pushed back – and is also scheduled for December. So perhaps the BBC already knows the result or is trying make the DAB project too important to be stopped by the politicians. Then again the cost of 162 DAB transmitters may be just small change if the Minister does decide against it – and the transmitters are scrapped. Not a big BBC write-off considering how much TV tax is wasted in other ways.
But there is that nagging feeling that Grandad’s Pointless Award Winner for February will actually get the go ahead – if only because the Minister concerned does not really understand the issues involved. Then the key question for the average listener is – why buy a radio receiver that works only in the UK when worldwide radio is freely available on-line.
In just six months time Microsoft will end support for its XP incarnation of Windows. Normally software going off support is not newsworthy. But XP was, it seems, Microsoft’s most successful operating system and the one that many IT departments and home users had got most used to. It was – by service pack 3 – that combination of boring and reliable that is ideal for software designed to act as a foundation layer for the more interesting stuff.
Windows XP was first released in 2001. It remained current until Vista came along in 2007. And despite Vista then being supplied as standard with new PCs, much of the existing XP user base remained faithful. So by 2009 Vista was in turn replaced by Windows 7. By then the phasing out of XP had picked up speed – partly because corporate PC hardware was further into its replacement cycle.
Moving on to October 2012 Microsoft released Windows 8 and XP diehards were firmly pushed towards a stark choice – if they needed to stay within the Windows ecosysem – as April 2014 was set for XP’s exit. The choice being either to stick with the crumbling security of XP or move to Windows 8; a product berated by many critics. Its front-end designed for touch screens remains the main bugbear but there are other issues – such as loosing DVD play back, defaulting to new, poorly featured apps and, critically, needing firmware on the motherboard that supports UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) instead of simply the BIOS. This last technical point would seem to have the effect of killing off almost all domestic PCs from the XP era.
Today we are another year on and Windows 8.1 is due to appear within just days – but it will not really resolve the basic issues. Worst of these is that there is no upgrade path to get an app that is working on XP onto Win8. Such software has to be re-installed from scratch. For anyone with an app, from say 2006, that has been repeatedly updated with paid-for releases (probably as downloads) this seems wildly unrealistic. To go through a process of uninstalling back through the versions and then installing the updates again in order – even if you still had backup copies – is as time wasting as it is impractical. And unlikely to get through the re-entering of all those security keys. The more likely (only?) solution seems to be to buy a compatible copy of the app – possibly even a full copy – and do a clean install.
But there is another less obvious software trap to look out for. PC hardware has moved on hugely since XP was king. Today having a PC with 8Gb of RAM , a few terabytes of disk and a 64bit processor is not unusual – or even expensive. Such a class of PC really needs a 64bit operating system to make the most of its hardware – and even Windows XP was available as a 64bit version. But that’s where you may get really stuck if you have printers, scanners, cameras and even add-on cards that don’t have the drivers that a 64bit operating system expects.
So if you really need to keep using that expensive scanner or cannot face buying that specialised app again then it may be best to take your XP system off the Internet and instead invest in a new PC, or tablet, to handle your always on-line lifestyle needs …