Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Roofing prices

Another rant.

Need to get the roof retiled and insulated (Celotex boards, between rafters, best done from outside due to complications caused by twin dormers).

Ok - this is a bungalow, good access, 80m2 of tiles on the hipped roof sections, 17m2 tiles on the dormer vertical faces. We need 75 Celotex between rafters, 50mm between dormer timbers, breathable membrane and we are happy to go for round hips (instead of bonnet tiles) and concrete interlocking tiles (10/m2 instead of 60-ish/m2, lower costs).

There are a couple of side jobs - install vent strips under dormer roof gutterboard (gap exists, need to remove infil plywood and insert insect comb/mesh); and replace 1m rotten wallplate holding up lead bay roof - needs to be done from inside.

All lead and felt flat roof sections to remain untouched.

Guttering to be removed for customer to refit. Customer will also refit soffit boards (both are fiddly and I need to do other work inside the soffits - wiring and stuff).

I have just reckoned up the materials (all inc VAT tax and 10% extra for wasteage)

£809 - 80m2 tiles for hipped parts
£408 - 17m2 flat tiles for dormer walls
£864 - 75mm Celotex (new, not seconds)
£198 - 50mm Celotex (new not seconds)
£246 - Round tiles (ridge/hips)
£570 - 50m Code 4 lead flashing (over estimate)
£244 - Tyvek breathable membrane
£355 - 6x1" Western Red Cedar for gutterboards
£900 - Scaffold all round, 1 lift = approx  (asked a scaffolder)
£250 - 8 [cubic] yard skip
£500 - Misc materials, mortar, vent strips etc

Total around £5400 inc VAT. Been told this is 2-3 men for 2 weeks job by several people.

Quotes have been coming in at 16k-20k.

So - lets work this out:

6k materials, 16k total = 10k for labour and overheads.

5k/week for 3 men.

Each man is £1600. if we halve that for business overheads (a pretty standard factor) we see each man gets paid £800 per week gross.

At British rates of tax that is £2560 Net per month. That's more than I get paid.

I know these guys may be contractors and thus have to fund their annual leave, etc, but even so...

And the company is taking 5k which sounds like a vast over estimate, meaning the men probably get more.

Strewth... Do I have to go trawling northern England for people and put them up in a Premier Inn for 2 weeks? It might be cheaper...

Royal Fail

Short rant.

Just missed a signed-for package delivery because I'm at work. I know this becaus ethe Ebay seller sent me a Royal Mail tracking number. Putting that number into Royal Mail's tracking website said the delivery had been aborted and the package returned the Battle office.

Now I live 5 miles away from there and it's a right royal pain to go down there - parking is bad and I rarely have reason to go to Battle as nice as it is.

Anyway, Royal Fail's website said I could re-book a delivery. Goody I thought. I have enough information to authenticate myself to them - stuff like tracking number, my name, delivery address, package type etc.

So I filled all this in an made it to the page where you can choose to have it redelivered or held at a local Post Office for £1.50 extra.

OK - Excellent - I select "Redilivery" as I will be working from home tomorrow (Thursday). Choice of dates for redelivery starts from Friday!!!

WTF???! This was Wednesday at 2pm. How much warning do they need to lob a packet into the postie's pile? It's the little things like that that just really piss me off...

Monday, 3 September 2012

Sod the B&B, Give Me Premier Inn anyday...

Having just spent a week around the Windsor area in 3 different hotels/B&B I have come to a conclusion:

Hotels and B&Bs: Premier Inn are eating your lunch.

We stayed for 1 night initially in Premier Inn at Sunbury Cross. Now, Sunbury Cross is basically a 1960's concrete boghole - the very epitomy of Prince Charles' "monstrous carbuncle" speech concerning the state of "modern" architecture. However, this is barely a problem as the Premier Inn is completely self contained so the only reason to leave is to nip next door to the shops or to leave the place entirely to visit your actual destination.

The rooms are reasonably priced, immaculately clean and everything works. The breakfast is a first class all-you-can-eat buffet and the evening dinner has a wide variety of extremely well cooked meals. There is WiFi available for £3 per day, aircon which can be left on all night, quietly, and a small but decent flatscreen TV with plenty of spare inputs should you decide to take your own laptop or video player.

The best part is car parking - on site, under cover, safe and free (though some Premier Inns such as Heathrow do attract a charge for this). The other best bit was the fact that breakfast was available from early until 10:30am - perfect for early risers and those who'd rather have an easy day. Coupled with a noon-at-the-latest checkout makes for a very relaxing experience.

Contrast this with a B&B we booked 2 nights in in Windsor. Car parking was a nightmare - 4 spaces on the driveway (ie no chance), residents' bays only, in the road outside and the recommended car parking was 3 minutes down the road in the derelict end of Windsor in a multi story car park where the ticket inspector I bumped into cheerfully told me about the bloke who got bottled on the ramp a few days previously. Rather nervously, I paid the £1.50 to park my car overnight and after removing all incentives to thievery, I scarpered. The worst bit was having to be back on the dot of 9am to either pay for a day's parking at £11 or move the car somewhere else.

The B&B to be fair was tastefully decorated and clean but sadly lacking in basic maintenance - eg TV looking like it was about to fall off and the bedside shelf was maintaining its position by nothing more than sheer balance. All for £100 per night.

Then there was breakfast. Available until 8:45am and served by Squidward's younger sister. The experience was so painful that I took the hit on a last minute cancellation penalty and rebooked the Sunbury Premier Inn for the last day, which was the best decision I'd made all week, other than pay for a Q-Bot for the last day at Legoland...

The B&B would suit contractors well enough who'd be up early enough to avoid the car parking issues and the sort of people who would enjoy a 4-5 star hotel are unlikely to consider the likes of a modern Motel. But for people such as myself who want a good bed at a reasonable price, decent nosh, an absolute minimum of hassle and who would really find Jeeves distastefully eyeing our lowly middle class selves deeply annoying, there really is only one option from now on.

And no, I don't work for Premier Inn and they're not paying me... But I will accept used fivers if you change your mind...


Just had a call from the hotel we stayed in (Legoland joint deal with the Royal Berkshire Hotel). They're claiming we checked out early having booked 5 days. We booked 3 days and enquired about the cost of extending to 5 and told them "No" when it transpired it would be around £150 per night. They somehow translated that into "booked for 5 days" and claim we owe then for a late cancellation fee despite the fact that we reconfirmed our 3 days only in person when we arrived.

I'll leave that for the wife to sort out - but it's pretty much confirming my preference above. At least the Premier Inn send you emails and SMS messages confirming exactly what booking was made.

Further update:

The Royal Berkshire have finally given in and accepted we booked for 3 nights. Then they found an extra bar receipt that was not on my final bill to the tune of an extra ten quid or so. Not very efficient at all...

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Olympics Late Event - World Diplomacy

Gold goes to Ecuador

+1 for well staged statesmanship
+1 for annoying pompous nations
-1 for actually being somewhere Assange will feel safe when/if he gets there considering how much income Ecuador receives from the USA.
Overall score +1

Silver goes to Julian Assange

+1 for exposing attacks on Afghan civilians and children and other dubious practises
+1 for annoying pompous nations
-1 for failing to answer to allegations in Sweden, even if they do seem a little suspicious
-1 for poor handling over the release of the bulk of the leaked cables (eg endangering other operatives)
Overall Score 0

Bronze goes to Sweden

-1 for failing to send interviewers to London for the Assange case
Overall score -1

Wooden Spoon goes to UK Government

-1 for talking about violating, in spirit at least, the concept of diplomatic sanctity
-1 for apparently demonstrating that we are still the lapdog of the USA
Overall score -2

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Why are Germany's trains cheaper than the UK's?

My season ticket from Robertsbridge to London Terminals costs £4236 per annum[1] for 2nd (standard) class. This is due to increase by an estimated 6.2% at the end of 2012.

This ticket of course is valid for one route only.

So why is it that in Germany I could buy a Bahncard 100 [2] for £3138 which allows:
  • Unlimited travel on DB trains (except car trains and ICE Sprinters)
  • Valid at all times
  • Also valid on loads of city local trains and busses
  • Upto 4 children ages 6-14 ride free if accompanied
So how do the Germans do it and how long do we put up with an unreliable and overpriced service?

[1] Although I can get a cheaper rate of £3796 by purchasing a ticket from Robertsbridge to Oxted via London and leaving the system at London - it is an anomaly and valid within the fare regulations. Still more expensive than DB trains though!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Meddling MPs

You know, just once, I would like to go to sleep and wake up, read the newspaper and exclaim: "Wow, that's a really good idea the Government just had!".

Instead, we have the content of the previous blog and today, I wake up to this:

'Mandatory' green projects for householders building conservatories
Bank holidays 'cost economy £19bn'

Addressing the former article: Superficially seems like a reasonable idea, except:

The Law of Unintended Consequences will kick in, like it did with the Part P (electrical works brought under building regulations). Regarding Part P - a question in the House of Commons led to the revelation that around 8 deaths per year in England and Wales would be prevented by the introduction of Part P
(see )
Woopy doo. That was worth the expense then. A fraction of the effort expended and money spent could have reduced the 3000 deaths per year on the road by that amount. Also, I suspect a great many people have adapted to this sort of interfering state nannying by simply not bothering to inform the local council if they are undertaking internal renovation work. Which is a shame as Building Inspectors are very helpful in my personal experience when it comes to matters of the structural integrity of a house and how building works may affect that.

In this case I predict a rise in unregistered gas fitters (including a large proportion of "cowboys") and a further reluctance to inform Building Control departments about anything.

In the second case, it would be funny if someone hadn't wasted money on it. Just read this for the low down:

Therefore, I rename "Think Tank" to "Oxygen Thieves" and "MP"


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Stalinist UK?

Wiretapping without warrant: Expansion of GCHQ internet monitoring proposed


Now let's be clear - GCHQ, the UK communications monitoring (aka spying) agency will not allegedly be able to read your email or listen to your phone calls without a warrant.

But they will be able to see who you called and who called you at what time and who emailed you and who you have emailed and which websites you accessed.

That's a lot of information to be able pick up on a whim. Are you comfortable with the idea that some anonymous spook can correlate all the people you communicate with and where you browse on the Internet?

This is akin to steaming open your post and recording the sender's details (but promising to not read the actual contents of your letter) and having to check out a book in the library even for browsing whilst presenting the librarian with ID so your name and book title can be noted in a register.

Your IP is anonymous? Is it? Well, this plan will be enacted with your ISP complicit, so at any given time your IP will be able to be correlated with your account. About the only way to be truly anonymous will be to use Tor or to buy a PAYG data SIM for your phone for cash and hope your face didn't get on any CCTV recordings with face recognition technology.

I suppose you feel rest assured that if you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to hide? So what happens when you are a lecturer who emails a student whose uncle who is on a watchlist of "people who may be sympthetic with terrorism", even though the student knows nothing of his uncle's affiliations? Or your son is best friends with the kid from down the road and is phoning the house owned by a man who is a member of No2ID or runs a website like this one. Happy now?

Or you are part of a perfectly legal group that is critical of government policy. I don't know, perhaps Liberty, or an anti nuclear group or a group that believes the country should become a republic or a group that believes the current form of democracy is ineffective or a group that investigates politicians with corrupt dealings with big business?

Perhaps you don't care, because you think all such groups are whackpots? Fine. When you are used to this then what about when the government moves the goalposts a little. Then a little more. Until they are watching you because your child has joined a student protest in London. Or because you believe personal use of cannabis should be legalised. Or you are a member of an opposition party trying to displace your local MP in the next election and the MP happens to be the Home Secretary?

Don't think it could happen here? Well, if you are old enough, or know someone who was alive in the 1970's or 1960's - compare society then with now. Make a checklist of information government agencies could trivially hold on you - then and now. You may be surprised.

And now, advances in computing technology make it easy to correlate. Gone are the days of the cold war when, in order to build up a detailed dossier on someone, you would need a Michael Caine character personally on your tail backed by a small team - which made the possibility of mass surveillance fundamentally self limiting.

Still don't care? Well, don't complain if one day, you or someone you care about ends up in a secret court.

And for those of you who are up on the news enough to see this piece: this is not the first time such a policy has been pushed. How many more times will it happen? Even on this occasion, despite the media outrage, will some of the measures still be enacted? Then a few more. Then a few more?

Orwell may have been a little off on his timing and symbolism, but the day when everything you do outside your home and a fair bit of what you do inside is monitored is most certainly coming and a good deal of it is already here.

Unless you, and I mean you, take a stand. I'm not suggesting you wear a funny beret and join the Tooting Popular Front. All it takes is a letter to your MP, a blog post giving your opinions, talking to friends - anything to keep awareness of the issue alive. Such policies are not successful when everyone is watching out for them - they are successfully enacted little by little when you are distracted, bored or don't care about anything except who gets evicted from Big Brother.

Friday, 6 January 2012

New OpenBox Theme for Lubuntu/LXDE/OpenBox

Well, finally - I got around to making a window decoration theme for OpenBox.

Big Bright Green

It's simple, very bold and extremely clear (well, to me anyway). The "Green" is a matter of personal preference as I wanted the window titlebars to stand out from the rest of the junk on the screen, but you could easily edit those (either edit the themerc file or use "obtheme").

Here are the screenshots: