Lee Skevington, Yeovil candidate, answering some questions

If I still lived in Yeovil, I'd be voting for this guy... He has a cool bookshelf.



Answering some questions put forward by the Labour Representation Committee.

Tory national insurance "tax on jobs" rubbish debunked

The Tories would like you to believe that a planned National Insurance increase of 1% for workers earning more than 20,000 a year will cause job losses. They haven't actually gone on to say anything specific about it. In the computer industry there's a little saying we have, FUD it stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Essentially the Tories are guilty of spreading FUD. They're trying to scare people into thinking this will lead to mass unemployment.

However a 1% increase in National Insurance is not statistically significant. Based on my calculations with estimates provided by the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales (which are probably high estimates at that) such an increase would only cause an effect of less than 0.2% on what companies spend on employing people. And that figure is probably inflated as I don't have the exact breakdown of workers earning more than 20,000 so instead it takes into account the entire UK workforce, so in reality it is probably closer to 0.1%. That's taking the Tories at face value.

The rise doesn't happen until 2011 - after 12 months of growth

An increase in employment costs of between 0.1% and 0.2% will get absorbed by a year of growth. A report out today from OECD states that the UK will grow an annualised 2% in the first quarter of this year, and that they expect the UK to be growing faster than any developed nation other than Canada with a massive 3.1% in the second quarter of this year. The bottom line is the UK is well on track for a solid and rapid recovery before 2011, business can easily afford the planned rise in National Insurance. Business should pay more, they caused the recession, they chucked people out of work despite being profitable, now they can at the very least least help pay for it.

The Tories said the same about the minimum wage

Let's also not forget that the Tories claimed introducing the minimum wage would also hurt employment, they claimed it would lead to a million more unemployed - in reality the numbers in employment grew. Just like employment will be growing in 2011 - not shrinking like the Tories claim.

More people in work, despite just coming out of recession than in 1997

Labour's track record on employment has been solid. In the 1980s the Tories chucked millions of people out of work. Even with the biggest recession in a century, there are more people employed today than when Labour took over in 1997. That's not down to chance, Labour continued spending to keep the economy running, the Tories if they had their way would cut spending and cause a deeper and longer recession, just so the rich wouldn't have to pay a penny more. At the end of the day government spending is money in the economy, it doesn't dissapear into a black hole, it pays for teachers, nurses, doctors, civil servents and so on, those people inturn spend money to keep the economy going. Cutting spending, is cutting jobs. It isn't something that can be done likely or willy-nilly just to fund tax breaks for the rich.

Workaround for Audigy 2 ZS recording problems on Windows 7 64-bit

Those trying to record on systems with 4GB or more of RAM with an Audigy 2 ZS, possibly X-Fi and other models too, have probably come across the problem with distortion, noise, or choppy sound (like talking through a fan). This affects the microphone, line-in and also 'what u hear', important for capturing audio that is currently being played.

The trouble stems from Creative's drivers not being entirely 64-bit compatible, Creative have no date for any fix to be implemented, and haven't even announced if they're working on any such fix.

As it does require 4GB or more RAM for this problem to show up, it only affects 64-bit systems. For those with similar issues on 32-bit systems, this is not a workaround.

There's a few different options, none of which are particular pleasant. First up, you can pull RAM out of your system, or enable a memory hole feature if your BIOS supports one, enabling the memory hole in the BIOS will cause your RAM to max out at around 3GB.

However there is an easier solution, that doesn't require you to open your case like removing the RAM physically but it does still require a reboot. This involves setting the operating system itself to set the maximum amount of RAM.

Press Start, type in msconfig and press enter.

System Configuration tool

This will launch the System Configuration tool. You'll want to click on the Boot tab, then click on Advanced, and set the maximum memory to a number under 4096. Unfortunately setting it to a figure like 4095 in practice will probably limit you back down to about 3GB as it looks like it disables an entire channel on the RAM.

Then reboot, record what you need to, then when you want your RAM back, just undo the change and reboot again. Not the best workaround but it'll have to do until Creative fox their drivers.

HTC HD2 now vs Windows Phone 7 Series later

More than a few people seem to be struggling with this problem. I didn't have much difficulty deciding however, back in February I awaited the Mobile World Conference, a few hours after Microsoft's keynote I ordered the HD2.

Don't get me wrong, the WP7S is nice. It does have some killer features, such as Xbox Live integration and Zune integration which hopefully will mean Zune Social and Zune Pass (fairly priced) will become available in the UK later this year as I've been whinging about lately. It'll also help application developers raise the quality of their applications by not having to write for the lowest common denominator as Microsoft have set pretty high minimum guidelines for the device specifications they'll be more willing to take advantage of the improved performance that WP7S will offer.

But the HD2 is here now, well has been here for 6 months in Europe, with Windows Mobile 6.5, perfectly respectable and with the HTC TouchFLO 3D, now called Sense interface highly usable with a finger. And with some pretty nice specifications.

The good:

  • Fast, that 1Ghz Snapdragon is nice.
  • Nice screen 800x480 pretty standard for WM devices over the last 18 months or so, but puts iPhone users in their place.
  • Flash support in Internet Explorer (although not Opera the default browser).
  • The ability to install applications from any source. :-) The Marketplace is good, but only lists a tiny fraction of the software available for WM.
  • Ability to tweak the hell out of the phone to get it exactly the way you want it.
  • And of course always the potential for juicy ROM updates in the future, including to WP7S *fingers crossed*.

It's got some bad bits as well. Performance is pretty poor in the SMS client. And doesn't have a hardware keyboard (I do sometimes miss my Touch Pro).

WP7S on the other hand:

  • Won't have copy and paste on release, I don't use it much but I know when I happen to need it, I'll be swearing.
  • Doesn't have full multi-tasking, although the limited multi-tasking it does have is superior to the iPhone.
  • Application performance is up in the air considering its Silverlight based, developers might want to write natively for the hardware but don't currently have that option.
  • Uncertainties over application distribution, will the Marketplace be an absolute monopoly, or can I still dump a .cab on their and install it?

Of course it's got the good stuff, Xbox Live, Zune, Super-swish UI that isn't trying to be an iPhone clone, like Android seems to be, no offence but surely there's something a bit better than a boring grid full of icons? Oh yeah WP7S' interface.

So that's why I went for the HD2 back in February, I did actually wait until February so I could check out the WP7S announcement and weigh things up instead of just ordering one in November like Catherine did. Plus Windows Mobile being Windows Mobile, there's always a good chance of WP7S being made available unofficially for the HD2. :-)

WorldWide Telescope comes to Bing Maps

Longtime readers will know I am a huge fan of WorldWide Telescope. To put it mildly, WorldWide Telescope is the best astronomy program ever. If I had this when I was a kid I would never turn it off, it would autostart with the computer and I would be constantly looking at everything.

Anyway as you may recall a Silverlight based web version of WorldWide Telescope was released last year. It wasn't as well featured as the Windows client, nor anywhere near as fast. But it covered the basics. Essentially that's what has been intergrated into the new Bing Maps.

Bing Maps running WorldWide Telescope app

What's really cool is if you're currently in Streetside view, turn on the WorldWide Telescope application, and look up, you see stars! The screenshots in this post are of me stood, virtually of course, along University Drive in Phoenix. You can scroll through time as well to see the stars as they would appear above that location.

You can zoom in too. Below showing the Andromeda galaxy, you can access all the additional images as well, I could view it in infra-red with just a click of a mouse using images from the Spitzer space telescope for example.

Bing Maps running WorldWide Telescope app

If you're not in Streetside view, it still works, you just lose the perspective of having the ground under your feet, being able to see the complete sky instead without it being blocked out by the Earth.

All in all, good stuff. The only thing I can really complain about is performance, unlike the Windows client, it doesn't have anywhere near the same sort of silky-smooth frame rate. So yes I would still recommend the Windows client. But its nice having the option in the new Bing Maps too.

Here's a video of it in action demonstrated by Blaise Aguera y Arcas at TED this year in addition to some of the other improvements in the new Bing Maps:

Sometimes you need to install DirectX

There's a lot of confusion going on out there. Increasingly it's more and more about issues related to DirectX. So much so that now I'm writing an update to the article I wrote almost 3 years ago now. That article advised people to install the latest DirectX end-user runtime if they encountered errors like d3dx9.dll is missing or not installed.

The confusion seems to stem from people running Windows Vista or Windows 7 and seeing that they have DirectX 10 or 11 installed, by way of the DirectX Diagnostic Tool.

DirectX 10 however represented a clean break from DirectX 9, essentially the two are on the system together. DirectX 10 and up handles all the new stuff and DirectX 9 provides all the backwards compatibility with previous versions.

It can be represented like this:

Graphic representing DirectX as two seperate stacks

The DirectX team felt this was superior than bloating out DirectX 10 with all the old features nessasary to support ten years worth of games. Why do that when DirectX 9 would be on the system anyway and can achieve all of that?

The most recent example I came across, about 30 minutes ago. Had a user attempting to play Flight Simulator X, which returned the following error:

Flight Simulator cannot run because the version of Microsoft DirectX(R) installed on your computer is incompatible. Please reinstall DirectX9.0 by running Flight Simulator Setup, or download current version from www.microsoft.com/directx.

Nice and simple, and tells you exactly what to do. Go to the DirectX website, and grab the latest version. Doing that would solve the problem.

However, as people think they have DirectX 10 or 11 installed, they don't think they need to grab the update. Not realising that DirectX 9 has its own updates which may be required or that it has optional components which don't come installed on the system.

My advice for those with problems, just install DirectX. It doesn't matter what version you have, grab the update anyway. It won't break anything by installing it, it'll know what optional components are needed and which components need to be updated and update them.

For those installing a game, and are tempted to cancel the DirectX installer, just think for a second that maybe that installer is installing something the game needs to work.

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