Walking with gadgets and social media

Ah the fun you can have with an iPhone, a couple of apps, a 3G connection to social media and a bus that sometimes doesn’t wait when the train is late.

Burn 239Kcal walking 4.32km in 47½ minutes. Log it all with kinetic.

Take some pictures as you walk and post ’em all using instagram!
[flickr-gallery mode=”tag” tags=”20110128walk” tag_mode=”all”]

Keep an eye on your heart rate: 105 beats per minute when I was nearly home (back down to 54bpm now).

And an oldie but goodie, listen to great music with the iPod!

Complaint to Unitywater

I’m getting pretty sick of all these expensive bills. TransLink cranked up their rates 15% this week—and still ran their train late so I had to walk home when a bus didn’t wait yesterday—and the combination of rates/water bills has been nasty for a while now. Particularly the water component, which has increased by 33%. So today I paid Âľ of my bill (what it was before the 33% hike) and I emailed ask.us@unitywater.com about it. Need to rant.

Hi,

We received our quarterly bill yesterday. I have been comparing charges on these bills and rates notices to the charges we had before council separated the rates and water charges. The upshot, we pay almost $100 more per month for water and sewerage now—close to $400 where before it was close to $300. There has been no satisfactory explanation given for this price hike of 33%! (and I include the unitywater update spruiking your business and projects—how about you save money and DO NOT print it in the first place, and then pass those savings on.)

I have paid $300 towards my account and will not pay more until a satisfactory explanation of these price increase is given.

You have until 24 February to reply and allow me to pay my account by the due date, or we shall have a glorious and very public fight about why my account is in debt.

regards
Ben

Complaints about unity water (and other water suppliers) have been around for a bit. I don’t really know where it all went belly up. From what I gather the Queensland Government grabbed water utilities off councils, changed things around a bit, then put it back in council responsibility through new supplier organisations—such as Unitywater in our region. Hard to know what’s happened and who to blame, but Unitywater send the bills so I need to start with them.

Here’s some links for those interested:

Update 1: auto response

Thank you for your email. Unitywater encourages and values feedback from our customers and we thank you for your comments / enquiry. A Customer Service Officer will review your email and forward to the relevant Unitywater representative for attention or action within 20 working days.

Wow—20 working days! Should hear back by 28 February then. By which time my bill is overdue. (No, I won’t call them. Phone calls cost money. There’s a principle here!)

Update 2: the reply

As a result of increasing costs to provide high quality water supply and sewerage services in south east Queensland, charges have increased by 33%.

Unitywater is aware that a price increase of around 33% places pressure on both families and businesses, however we have to take into account the rising costs of bulk water supplied to us by the State Government and the cost to deliver clean safe drinking water and reliable sewerage systems throughout our catchment. We have been chartered with the responsibility of operating as cost-effectively as possible without compromising quality or safety standards.

We are also aligning charges across the region with the goal to establishing a fairer system of parity pricing for all our customers.

Yup. I am pretty sure this is now true—everyone in the region got a whopping price increase!

The increasing cost of bulk water which Unitywater purchases at a wholesale rate set by the State Government, owners of the Water Grid Manager. In 2010/11 bulk water prices increased by 21% in the Moreton Bay area and 26% in the Sunshine Coast region.

The Unitywater Board, appointed by the Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast Councils, sets the fees and charges each financial year.

The South-East Queensland Water (Distribution and Retail Restructuring) and Natural Resources Provisions Act 2009, empowers Unitywater to fix charges and terms for services and facilities.

To protect consumers by ensuring efficient expenditure and fair pricing, an independent regulator, the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) was established from 1 July, 2010. Unitywater is required to justify price setting to the QCA who is responsible for monitoring price regulation until 30 June 2013. From 1 July 2013 their role will change to price regulation.

I went to have a squiz at the Queensland Competition Authority—who, incidentally, share an acronym with the Queensland College of Art, where I studied Animation—and was shocked by the horrible sight of lists and lists of PDF documents to read. No thanks.

Paid my bill. They did reply. Now to acceptance. As the tagline on the L4D2 campaign Hard Rain says: Come Hell and High Water (bills).

So that’s what I did. Played Hard Rain. Take that flood zombies!!

PS: I’ll take water bills over earthquakes any day. Hope NZ recovery goes well!

Assassin’s Creed II

Last September I posted about Assassin’s Creed, which I picked up in the 2009 Christmas sales on Steam. In 2010, the sale I was waiting for came along and I picked up Assassin’s Creed II—and it is excellent! Kudos too, to Ubisoft for offering an additional discount to owners of the first Assassin’s Creed game, which I happily took advantage of!

All the fun stealth and conspiracy elements of the first game are here—in a beautifully rendered Renaissance setting, and with oodles more content. The first game took me 24 hours to reach the finalé. I’m 19 hours into ACII and don’t think I’ve hit the halfway point yet. Nice!

You start exploring the life of Ezio as a youth, before learning of his assassin heritage. You learn more of his life and motivation, but I won’t spoil that here. And fear not, Ezio masters the assassin arts with enviable speed!

Graphics definitely got a boost and look fantastic in 1080p—sadly, my 9800GTX (or more likely my 2.2GHz CPU) struggles a bit in some scenes, but not enough to spoil it. The story also has a boost. Continuing directly on from Assassin’s Creed, Desmond and Lucy (Veronica Mars) escape the Abstergo building and meet up with a couple of other modern assassins. Desmond then gets into their animus and from then on it’s all about reliving the life of his ancestor Ezio (he was reliving Altair in the first game).

This whole memory aspect has a nice Matrix style twist to the game. And it’s very clever—you can’t die in a memory, you can only lose synchronisation. This plot device also controls when new areas open up. Venture too far and the game will reset to put you back in sync with Ezio’s actions. I find this more believable than the closed bridges in GTA 🙂

Controls are still a little whacky, at least they aren’t named “button 4” anymore. I had to remap the action buttons so the XBox360 controller colours matched the icons on screen, which definitely helps. I haven’t done as many accidental assassinations so it must be better! Other icons are somewhat mysterious—it is hard remembering which buttons are on the triggers and bumpers. Right bumper is “high profile” though—hold it down to add wow factor!

Showmanship will earn notoriety faster though (and could they have found a more awkward word than notoriety?) The notoriety system is much better. Guards won’t bother you too much at first, but if you start leaping around or knifing folks like—well, like an assassin—folks will start to pay attention. After too many incidents, you will be notorious. Guards will become instantly suspicious of you. Unless of course, you blend in…

Blending is much the same, but no longer requires a conveniently placed group of monks. You can blend with any group of passersby, so long as you stay in their midst. Hiring courtesans is even more effective (not sure why!) with the added bonus that they are able to distract guards when needed. This is highly useful for stealing treasure from guarded rooms!

Actually, getting minions—the courtesans, mercenaries and thieves—to do your dirty work is highly viable! They money system is generous so hiring them when around is almost always a good bet. Better than getting Ezio into a mess all on his own…

Gone are the repetitive missions and dialogue. The game flows confidently, sending you between cities. A great number of missions contribute directly to the story in this game, but there are a few side missions—races, assassination jobs, and beating on unfaithful husbands.

More fun is when you find a pickpocket in the vicinity—you can chase him down and tackle him (non-lethal) and keep the money yourself! Believe me, you’ve earned it. Those rooftop chases are crazy hard sometimes! Yep, it’s renaissance Italy and it’s full of colourful characters. And, this time, subtitles!

There are more soldiers and weapons. Ezio wields dual hidden blades, a knife and sword. You can buy new weapons as you progress and briefly pickup dropped weapons too. In addition to daggers and swords, there are mauls, hammers, axes, smoke bombs and poison. And probably more I have yet to discover.

Enemies are armoured, some more than others, and use different fighting styles. The combat is simple to control, and effective, even with the added variety. Successfully execute a counter and you’ll be treated to a nice little cut scene of Ezio showcasing his leet skills. But there are new stealth takedowns too—from haystacks, underwater or rooftop edges.

How you approach each task is up to you. Sandbox and stealth for the win! Can’t wait until we see Brotherhood on the PC later this year!