Thursday, 19 March 2009

Google Street View Goes Live in UK

Back in July I wrote about the controversy surrounding Google Street View. I supported the facility, which allows users to get a street level view via Google Maps.

Today the service went live in the UK with photographs at street level for 25 cities across the UK from Southampton to Glasgow.

The moment I saw the service had gone live I mentioned it to the people I'm working with. Within minutes we were all looking at street level views of our homes, previous homes, parents homes etc, as though we'd never seen them before.

I don't know why we experienced such a compelling fascination to stare at our own homes, as captured by Google, but we did.

How has Google managed to make everywhere look so sunny and bright? It doesn't seem to be raining anywhere - not even Glasgow! It's summer in all the streets I visited, which makes the world look nicer. Nicer than the bare winter trees we have now at any rate.

Not only that but Google, after requests from the Information Commissioner has blurred all the pedestrians' faces and car number plates to allay privacy concerns.

It's not only me, Channel 4 News has been busy searching too. C4 News has just reported that it has found faces which have not been blurred. They show someone leaving a sex shop whose face has been missed (although subsequently blobbed by C4). A google spokesperson says anyone can ask to have their face blurred, or even their image removed if they've been missed.

No one is quite sure how google stands to pay for their work - other than increased traffic to their site, which they certainly got among my team tonight. Mind you we use google many times a day anyway.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Email and the Royal Mail

A week ago I received one of those red 'Sorry You Were Out' cards from the Royal Mail. The packet they attempted to deliver was 'too big for your letterbox'.

At home I usually nip along to the sorting office and collect these items, but I'm staying in Glasgow and the sorting office is difficult to get to.

The Royal Mail is often in the news for its failure to modernise, so I was surprised to see I could rearrange delivery via the Royal Mail website, which I did.

Re-delivery was set for last Friday, 13th March. An ominous choice as it turns out. The Packet didn't reappear.

Last night I emailed the Royal Mail to enquire what had gone wrong. According to their automated reply I can expect a response within 5 days.

Was my mistake emailing the Royal Mail to arrange redelivery?
Perhaps I should simply have posted their card back?

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

No Water Saving in Scotland

I'm visiting my partner in Glasgow. She's just received the Council Tax bill for 2009-10. There has been no increase in Glasgow's Council Tax for 4 years.

Scottish Water haven't done so well. Their increase is over 3% this year.

What's that got to do with the Council Tax?

Well in Scotland, unlike England, the water is a publicly owned utility and payment is collected along with the Council Tax.

Just as in England water use is billed according to the ratable value of the property - what it would have been worth in 1991. Let's not go into the absurdity of the rating system now.

In England if you have a valuable property, but use little water you can elect to have a water meter installed and you are rewarded for your 'green' initiative with smaller water bills.

My partner uses little water, but her property is rated third highest - band F. This puts her well outside Scottish Water's boast that the average household pays just £1 a day.

I look at the U Switch website to see if installing a meter in Scotland would make sense. The questionnaire reveals that her water use is LOW compared to the national average.

But here's a surprise, the saving is shown as a negative. Fitting a water meter will result in a an increased bill of an extra £75!

How can installing a meter, and paying only for the small amount of water used produce a negative saving?

U Switch helpfully explain that in Scotland, where the water is a publicly owned utility, metered charges are set such that a meter is unlikely to produce a saving.

So, in Scotland there is no reward, or incentive to save water.

My partner, who grew up here, says 'that's because it rains all the time'.

'It certainly does I agree' (while London basked in 17C sunshine yesterday Glasgow was 10C and wet) 'but recycling and cleaning water uses energy and costs money.'

Even if the Scots don't want to save water, I'm sure they'd like to save money?'