Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A look back at 2013

As we approach the arbitrary line-in-the-sand which marks the end of 2013, the beginning of 2014, and the deafening placebo effect of hundreds of shallow individuals convincing themselves they're "turning over a new leaf", many people take time out to reflect on some of the key moments over the previous twelve months and wonder what on earth they are doing with their lives.

Hating to be the exception to any rule, here is a quick summary of my most significant moments from the past year...


  • I have been to five different continents - mostly on fact-finding missions, but once just to see if I'd be able to get back.
  • I broke the sound barrier using just the power of my mind.
  • I've been married twice (but, curiously, divorced three times).
  • I won the Turner Prize for my mixed-media piece 'Evaporated Weltschmerz', which is now on display in Latvia's biggest and most well-ventilated art gallery.
  • I invented a new pizza topping, which goes on the bottom.
  • I built a fully habitable igloo out of only what you can buy in the 'Reduced' aisle in Waitrose, and lived there for two months (during which time I paid no Council Tax, but my heating bills went through the roof).
  • I discovered a new species of wasp and a new species of ant - and have since cross-bred them to form a new species of want.
  • I bought a new shirt, but so far haven't worn it out anywhere.

Here's hoping that 2014 proves considerably less eventful...!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Suárez Redemption

Liverpool's star striker Luis Suárez is absolutely on fire this season - he has a staggering nineteen goals to his name in the Premier League already this season, and regular viewers of Match Of The Day will know that the manner in which he's scored some of these goals has been truly spectacular.  But that isn't the most impressive thing about Suárez this year...

In previous seasons, I think it's fair to say that Suárez wasn't the most popular character in English football.  No one could deny his talent on the field, and his goal-scoring pedigree was plain for all to see, but his attitude and his demeanour came in for a lot of criticism - and rightly so!

Suárez' actions gained him a reputation for diving and cheating (most notably biting and stamping on other players), and he was perhaps most (in)famously involved in a racism scandal with Patrice Evra of Manchester United.

Over the summer, there were persistent rumours that Suárez would be sold, and that he wanted to leave Liverpool in search of a club where he could win trophies, and qualify for European football.

In the end, though, Suárez stayed at Liverpool, and began the 2013/14 season with the remnants of a ten-match ban for the biting incident still hanging over him.  Since he's been back in action, though, the transformation which I, for once, have seen in him has been remarkable.

The Suárez I have watched on Match Of The Day in recent weeks has the same wonderful skill and mercurial touch as ever - but he seems to have a vastly improved attitude, and a new maturity which is just fantastic to see.  Suárez has scored some amazing goals, but he has also been working hard for his team, he has been very unselfish at times, and he's been making every effort to stay on his feet at times when, in the past, he might have gone down under soft challenges.

Following a recent injury to longtime Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard, Suárez was asked to Captain his side - many people questioned the judgement of manager Brendan Rodgers in giving the Captaincy to a player with such a chequered past, but having seen Suárez in action on the pitch as Liverpool's Captain I think Rodgers made the right call.  As Captain, Suárez has been authoritative, leading from the front with his performances and his work ethic - but he's also been keen to support and encourage his teammates, especially those who are younger and less experienced, and who are just coming through into the first team.

Thanks in no small part to the influence of Suárez, Liverpool currently sit top of the Premier League. Whilst it's not out-of-the-question that they could win the League this year, I personally think that's unlikely - but a Top Four spot is not, and should Liverpool qualify for the next year's Champions League (as well they might!), they will have Suárez to thank.

If there's one thing we can guarantee in the world of football it's highly entrenched opinions, and there will undoubtedly be people who made up their mind about Suárez during his troubled times and will refuse to change it now - but I think that is unfair on a player who is certainly well on the way to proving many of his critics wrong this year.

Suárez is still the same man accused of racial abuse.  He is the same man who bit another player on the arm during a game.  But he has served his punishment for those (and other) transgressions - and if, as it seems, he has returned to the game as a reformed individual, that is to his credit.

"It wouldn't be Christmas without..."

Of all the crass and ridiculous things people say around Christmas time (and there are many), I think the expression I detest most is the saying "It wouldn't be Christmas without..." (narrowly beating people who describe the Christmas period as "magical", and people who talk about "feeling 'Christmassy'").

Even outside of the unrealistically schmaltzy and saccharine world of television advertising, I hear people saying "It wouldn't be Christmas without..." all the time.  The range of things without which Christmas simply couldn't happen gets wider and wider all the time - and more and more unnecessary.

It wouldn't be Christmas without roast turkey!  It wouldn't be Christmas without a Christmas tree!  It wouldn't be Christmas without crackers!  It wouldn't be Christmas without mulled wine!  It wouldn't be Christmas without knitted sausage rolls!  It wouldn't be Christmas without Eastenders!  It wouldn't be Christmas without Monopoly!  It wouldn't be Christmas without third-degree burns!

What?

The fact is, actually, it would still be Christmas.  It would still be Christmas even if you spent Christmas day doing your tax return and eating pickled onions.

You might think this is little more than quibbling pedantry, but I would beg to differ; the real problem with "It wouldn't be Christmas without..." is that it perpetuates our society's insistence on defining Christmas not by anything meaningful but by all the needless trappings of the season - the hype, the peripheral stuff.

Everybody has their own little rituals around Christmas time, but these are largely incidental and quite arbitrary - Christmas itself is not defined by how you do (or don't) usually celebrate it.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Can Arsenal win the League?

Yes.

I could leave it there, but that hardly seems worth it.

Arsenal can win the Premier League.  Will they?  Well, that remains to be seen - but I don't understand why everyone's been so quick to write them off.

Arsenal suffered a big defeat at the weekend, when they lost 6-3 away to Manchester City on Saturday.  I'm not denying that this is a setback for them, but is that really the big, season-defining moment people seem to think?  I'm not convinced it is.

For a start, Manchester City have been famously impervious on their home ground this season - Arsenal are not the first team to be given a serious hiding at the Etihad Statium, and they certainly won't be the last.  In the end, was it a huge surprise that Manchester City won at home?  No.

But most importantly of all, this was just one game, in a whole season of Premier League football.  In my opinion, so-called 'big games' between so-called 'big teams' are always over-hyped and are never all they're cracked up to be.  Remember that the same number of points are on offer no matter who you're playing; what makes winning this match any more urgent than winning any other game - especially at this point in the season?

Sure, being the first team to beat Manchester City on their home turf would certainly have sent out a strong message, and that would've been a big boost to morale as well - but to suggest that losing this match means Arsenal's title challenge is already over is surely nonsense!

Premier League titles aren't won just because you beat your closest rival (or lost because they beat you); ultimately, it is consistency which shows through, over the course of a full season.  With thirty-eight games to play, it is highly likely that even the strongest teams will probably lose one or two - the team who comes out on top at the end of the year will be the team who's dropped the fewest points overall in that period.  It doesn't matter against whom you get those points - just that you have more than anyone else.

At the moment, Arsenal are the most consistent team in the Premier League; in sixteen League matches so far, Arsenal have lost just three times.  As I said before, it was unsurprising (even expected, perhaps) that Arsenal lost to Manchester City when they travelled to the Etihad - but for me, that doesn't automatically make City the favourites for the title.  The Manchester club may have an impressive unbeaten home record in the League this season - but, unlike Arsenal, they have been shaky on the road, and they have dropped points to several teams lower down the table (losing to Sunderland, Cardiff and Aston Villa, for example, as well as drawing eminently winnable games against Southampton and Stoke).

It may yet prove that Arsenal will falter, all the critics and pundits will proved right and Man. City (or Chelsea?!) will win the Premier League this year.  People might point to this game (or Arsenal's match with Chelsea next week, depending on how that goes for them) as a turning point in the season.  But in the end, winning one game (any game, against anyone) does not win you the League - winning lots of them does.  If Arsenal can carry on doing that, I think they'll be OK.

And, for the record, I hope they do!  Since it now seems unlikely that Norwich City will be Champions come May, I am backing Arsenal to win the Premier League this season - if only to confound and frustrate everyone who seems so completely sure that they can't possibly win it.  They can.

Dotty #SPOTY

I have never understood the idea of the BBC's annual Sports Personality Of The Year award.

It's the word 'personality' which confuses me.  If you want to show me twelve sportsmen and ask me which one I think the best, fine - go ahead.  (For the record, that's easy - that's Sir Ben Ainslie, all day long.*)

But the BBC aren't asking me who is the best sportsman; they are asking me which sportsman has the best personality.  How am I supposed to know that?!

You can't know somebody's personality unless you know that person really well.  And you can't choose the best out of twelve people based on personality unless you know all twelve of them really well.  Do you know anyone who knows all twelve of these nominees really well?  Nope, neither do I.



* You may not agree, but you're wrong.  Objectively (ie. without taking 'personality' into account), Ben Ainslie has achieved more than any other nominee - but because he didn't do it in a 'popular' sport, he never gets a look in.  Just another reason why democracy sucks.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Twelve Adverts Of Christmas

These are twelve of the television adverts you are guaranteed to see this Christmas; here I have distilled the essence of each one's message, so you don't have to.

One

Buy a console game which 'all the family' can play, so none of you actually have to look at each other over Christmas.

Two

Fool everyone into thinking you can cook by spending a whole £5 on a mixed platter of bland, nondescript 'party food'.

Three

Create a personalised calendar with pictures of your family on it, in case you're in danger of forgetting what they look like as well as when their birthdays are.

Four

Can't think of anything to buy for someone?  Get them a turgidly predictable stand-up comedy DVD.

Five

Enjoy a plastic tray of chocolates in the shape of something which loosely relates to Christmas - the gratification is fleeting, but the shame stays with you.

Six

Buy a tiny amount of a very expensive perfume, and instantly make yourself the most attractive person in the world with the most glamorous, exciting, edgy lifestyle imaginable.

Seven

You may have coped for the other eleven months of the year with a vastly inferior sofa - but everyone knows Christmas is the time when a sofa really comes into its own.  Buy one now.

Eight

Convince yourself you 'couldn't possibly live without' some totally unnecessary piece of plastic tat.

Nine

This item of food is better than a similar, but much more expensive, item of food from a different company.

Ten

Become so hopelessly caught up in the misty-eyed nostalgia of ersatz 'home video' footage (made to look like it was shot in the '90s) of a stereotypical family smiling and laughing together as they create Christmas memories to cherish forever that you can't help yourself but buy something from our shop.

Eleven

Instead of sending meaningless platitudes to people you only talk to once a year in a Christmas card, send meaningless platitudes to people you only talk to once a year in a personalised Christmas card.  Nothing softens the blow of being only a casual 'Christmas Card List' acquaintance like the 0.3 seconds of extra thought it takes to 'personalise' a Christmas card on a website; if you personalise the card with a picture of yourself, maybe the recipient will even remember who you are!

Twelve

Become easily the most hated person in your neighbourhood with an ostentatious display of decorative festive self-aggrandisation.

Enjoy the season of giving, everyone!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

C. Hughton (Manager)?

This is going to be a bit of a (unstructured) rant...

Not been the best week for me, personally - but this hasn't been a good week for Norwich City Football Club either, after being knocked out of the League Cup by Manchester United, and then losing 7-0 away to Manchester City today.  I'm struggling to know what to make of all this, to be brutally honest - of course, both Manchester teams are tough opposition, particularly when they're playing at home, but a 7-0 scoreline is just embarrassing and we (that is, Norwich) have a much stronger and more talented quad than eighteenth in the Premier League would suggest.

If you believe most of the 'fans' commenting on the club Facebook page, and generally chattering on social media, the answer is staring us in the face - sack [manager] Chris Hughton, and instantly we'll be in the top half of the table, and beating all the top teams.  I'm sorry, but that is overly simplistic, and just won't wash.

Before today's game at the Etihad Stadium, Norwich City posted a short video on their Facebook page, in which Hughton says he 'has to take the positives' from the past weeks; the first comment I saw said 'I haven't seen any positives'.  Seriously?  No positives at all?  Nonsense - they may only be small things, but they are there.

This is the sort of thing which really irritates me; it's not the fact that fans are frustrated with the team, or with the manager - that's perfectly understandable - but the uneducated, ill-informed way in which that frustration is expressed.  Hughton is often slated by Norwich fans for being 'a defensive manager', and for playing 'negatively' - a charge still inexplicably levelled at him following last week's draw at home to Cardiff, in which the Canaries broke the season's Premier League record for the most number of shots on target.  Of course we should've scored one, and we should've won that game - but in what universe does that constitute 'defensive' play?!

Are Norwich dead-and-buried?  No.  Despite currently sitting in the Relegation Zone, with nine points we are still in touch with the next five or six teams above us in the table, and we are lucky that there is already a small gap opening to the bottom two teams - Sunderland and Crystal Palace - which means that in order for either of them to overtake Norwich they would have to win two games in a row, with Norwich losing both their fixtures.

Yes, something is seriously wrong.  Is it the manager?  Perhaps.  But let's not forget, in our lynch-mob hysteria, that we started very slowly last season too (under the same manager), but then went on an unbeaten run of games better than that of any other team in Europe besides Barcelona.  We beat Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City last year - all with Chris Hughton as manager.

I think some people must have spilt beer on their computers' numeric keypads, as the '4' and the '2' key seem to be sticking...  Commenting '4-4-2' followed by about eight million exclamation marks doesn't exactly make you a football expert.  Presumably, these are the same people who stick the knife into the England manager whenever the national teams plays a 4-4-2 formation because it's an old-fashioned way of setting up a team?

If those supporters who are screaming 'Hughton Out' want to be taken seriously, they need to provide a viable alternative.  Sacking a manager is a big deal - it will cause unrest and upheaval, it could unsettle the team and have the opposite effect to the one for which we'd be hoping.  But even assuming it would be the right course of action, the biggest question is still: who would we get instead?

A lot of managerial names were being bandied about by the Facebook know-it-alls today; including Malky Mackay, Neil Lennon, Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo.  Can you honestly see any of those managers even wanting to come to Norwich?  Who else is there who is available, and is a genuinely better option?

Now, let's be absolutely clear here...  I'm not saying that Hughton is blameless in this situation (he isn't), and I'm not saying that getting rid of the manager is not the right way forward - but if we are going to sack our manager, that needs to be a carefully considered, well-thought-out move, and not a knee-jerk reaction brought on by mindless panic after a tough start in the first quarter of the season.  I, for one, am extremely glad that the football club I love is not being run by these same idiots who like to act first, and think later.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Celebrity chefs should stick to cooking celebrities

It started with Jamie Oliver.  Thanks to his inexorable zeal, my students (some of whom currently attend the same high school where I was a student ten years ago or more) can scarcely believe it when I tell them that, back when I was at school, you could have chips (and nothing else) for lunch every day; that cakes, biscuits and sugar-coated doughnuts were only 20p each; and that the vending machines sold an endless supply of carbonated saccharine elixirs like Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and Lilt.

More recently, I have watched Heston Blumenthal attempt to 'recreate the wonder and excitement of childhood food' by building the world's largest Flake '99 (supposedly, this would help 'kickstart a revival' in the great British tradition of ice-cream vans), and a gigantic packet of Hula Hoops.  Seriously?!

These chefs have got too big for their boots.  We don't need any more puffed-up, self-appointed social workers, dieticians, psychologists or sociologists strutting around, taking it upon themselves to right what they perceive to be social wrongs.  Can't they just go back to cooking food?!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Managed motorways

One of the things which frustrates me when I am driving is roadworks - they cause congestion and disruption; they delay your journey and make you late; and (more often than not, sadly) these days, they come complete with ‘Average Speed Check’ cameras squatting malevolently by the roadside every couple of miles. But at least you know that, once the roadworks are finished, and the Average Speed Cameras have gone, the road will be better for it - the road surface will be improved; there will be extra lanes added to increase traffic flow and ease congestion; the road markings will be clearer to read, and easier to follow… (Well, usually, anyway!)

There is, however, one form of roadworks which cause endless pain and confusion while they’re going on, and which don’t even improve the road for drivers once they’re done. I am talking about ‘Upgrade to Managed Motorways’ roadworks.

‘Managed Motorways’ means the big LED screens that hang on the gantries over the carriageway. The idea is that live traffic information can be disseminated to those using the motorway quickly and efficiently, warning drivers of any impending delays or lane closures, adjusting speed limits accordingly, and generally keeping the driving population well-informed - thus helping to improve everyone’s journey.

The only problem is - this doesn’t actually work.

I have seen Managed Motorways schemes on various different stretches of motorway across the UK, and there are plans to upgrade many more pieces of road to include this. The trouble is, however, that the information displayed on these screens is almost always either out-of-date or completely irrelevant.

I have seen Managed Motorway screens saying ‘Warning: Fog!’ on a totally clear day, and then not say anything when there actually is mist or fog in the air.

One time on the M25 (around Jct 23), the screens told me ‘Slow! Animals In Road!’; of course, I never saw any animals in the road - not a single beetle.

There is a screen on the M11, around Jct 8, which tells you have long it will take to drive from there to Jct 9. In theory, I can see how this would actually be very useful - but I have driven past here so many times, and the screen only ever says ‘Distance to A11 (Jct 9): 15 Miles, 13 Minutes’. I have never seen these figures vary - ever.

The Managed Motorways upgrades add nothing to the motorway driving experience. The information they give you as you’re driving is supposed to help - but it doesn’t. So all the disruption and frustration when the upgrade roadworks are happening is not even worth it, in the end!

Added to all that, the costs associated with these upgrades are enormous. To upgrade the M25, from Jct 5 to Jct 7 (a mere 15 miles), to a Managed Motorway scheme is costing the Highways Agency £129 million. That’s £8.6 million per mile of motorway - for outdated or useless information. Bargain.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

#iOS7 review follow-up

A few more iOS7 issues have arisen since I wrote my Review yesterday, so I am going to bring you all up-to-date on these now...

Slay the Parallax monster

Yesterday, I was extremely damning about the new 'moving Wallpaper and app icons' feature which has been introduced with iOS7 - Apple calls this 'Parallax' - and even more damning about the fact that I couldn't find how to switch it off...

Thankfully, though, I have since been informed of how to switch off the Parallax feature.  Follow these steps:

Settings > General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion > On

Sadly, this doesn't get rid of the Parallax movement affect when scrolling up or down through an iMessage conversation - where the little message 'bubbles' take on a 'floaty' quality and appear to chase one another up or down the screen - but at least it means that I (and you!) can have a pretty, personalised Wallpaper again.  How lovely.

Caps Lock keyboard

Why the new keyboard in iOS7 only ever displays the letters on the keyboard in capital letters, I don't know.  Yes, that makes it more like our computer keyboards, which only have capital letters on the keys, but with iOS7 I sometimes glance down at the screen and panic that I've written a text message or email ALL IN CAPITALS, and will have to start again.  The new 'Shift/Caps' button to the left of the Space Bar has also taken on a different style, and I am now finding it difficult to differentiate between 'no caps' 'single caps' and 'caps lock' on the keyboard.

The keyboard also seems to respond every-so-slightly slower to typing than it did in iOS6 - which, if you type quickly on your iPhone, does get annoying.

Finally, some apps have the 'new style' iOS7 keyboard, while other apps still have the 'older style' grey version - very weird.

Writing a new text message (left)? Use the new keyboard!
Writing a new Tweet (right)? Use the old keyboard!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Another #iOS7 review

A couple of days ago, I updated my iPhone 4S to the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS7.  Having spent the intervening hours trying to get used to the changes Apple has made, I am going to put down my opinions on iOS7 here - in what is, I am sure, the Blog post for which the world has been waiting...

Firstly, some background.  iOS7 is a much bigger change than any of the previous updates to the iOS platform have been.  When I updated from iOS4 to iOS5, and then again from iOS5 to iOS6, the new versions didn't take much 'getting used to' - they were, essentially, the same system.  Each new update came with a few minor tweaks, a couple of added features (notably voice-command app Siri, which first appeared with iOS5, and the controversial move away from Google Maps in iOS6), but the overall look and feel of iOS remained fairly constant across the updates.  With iOS7, Apple have redesigned large amounts of the way their mobile devices work, and the operating system has a whole new look.

Still curious?  Here is what TechCrunch said about iOS7's new look:
The look is bound to be controversial; Apple has opted for bright, bold colors with more clean lines and far fewer textures, shadows and gradients. There is still some depth to the OS, however, with transparency effects giving a sense of background and foreground elements (the dock row is an opaque rectangle through which your home screen wallpaper is visible, for instance).
Apple’s visual overhaul received a lot of knee-jerk criticism when it was revealed at WWDC earlier this year, but in practice, the visual changes are actually quite pleasant, and grow on a user with time. Looking back now, iOS 6 feels dated, despite the fact that when I first started using iOS 7 I felt it was inferior in terms of look and feel to the older OS. Apple’s new look with iOS 7 takes acclimating, but on the whole, it’s an improvement.
So what do I think of iOS7?  Well, I'll tell you; are you sitting comfortably...?

Things I like

The good stuff...

Torch
Having to rely on a third party app for a torch on your phone has always been a weakness of the iPhone - not any more, as Apple have finally caught up with the Android operating system which have offered this for a while.  Thank goodness for that!

Control Centre
I like the Control Centre feature - swipe up on your phone's screen for instant access to basic functions, such as changing the screen brightness, or the volume of any music playing, without having to exit your main app.  Control Centre also lets you switch on/off Aeroplane Mode, BlueTooth and Do Not Disturb Mode without having to go into Settings first, and gives you access to a the torch, the calculator and the camera without having to open them from the Home Screen.

New signal indicators
Instead of the 'bars' of varying heights, from short to tall, to show how strong your mobile phone signal is (which I always thought looked slightly like the graphs which primary school children make to show how many kids in their class have brown eyes, how many have blues eyes, and how many have blood red eyes like the devil), iOS7 has little circles.  The more circles are filled (instead of empty), the better your signal.  I actually think they're rather stylish.

New Volume control - very nice.
New Volume control design
The little graphic displayed on the screen when you adjust the volume of the phone using the buttons on the left hand side has been change - I think - for the better.

3D tabs in Safari
The new 3D tabs in Apple's mobile web browser Safari look very cool, and are a nice update.

Pages in folders
Folders of apps on your Home Screen are now able to contain more than one page of apps - which, frankly, is a long overdue and very welcome improvement.

Things I don't like, but can probably learn to live with

There are some pretty minor, niggly little things in this section, but they're worth mentioning...

Buttons that aren't buttons any more
This is part of that whole 'clean, simple lines' thing that people seem to love so much - but in my opinion, it just confuses the interface.  In iOS7, the buttons with which you are familiar are still there, but they don't look like buttons any more - they are just text.  You just tap on the word, and hope that something will happen.  This doesn't actually affect the functionality of the phone, of course, and I'm sure I will get used to that, in time - but to me, it all looks a bit 'Windows'.  (If you know what I mean?)

Tweetbot and BBC Sport are lagging
behind the rest, with 'old style' icons.
Flat icons
It has been widely publicised that, in iOS7, Apple have 'flattened' their icons, and moved away from the glossy 'glass' look that has been their signature look since the first iPhone release.  Now, I've nothing against the flat icons themselves - but not every app that I use has updated its icon to the new style, so I now have an alarming lack of homogeneity in app icon design on my Home Screen, and for someone like me that is quite disturbing.

Folder backgrounds
I mentioned earlier how pleased I was to see that you can now have more than one page of apps within a folder - but one change of which I am not so fond is to the colour of folder background...  At first, I thought that the folder backgrounds had been changed to an unpleasant shade of beige, but now it appears that the background takes it colour somehow from the colour palette of your Home Screen wallpaper; either way, it leaves you with a clunky 'splodge' of a folder on the screen.

'Zooming' apps on the Home Screen
When you go to your Home Screen (either from the Lock Screen, or when closing an app) your app icons aren't just there any more - they have to 'zoom' in to the Home Screen.  There's nothing especially wrong with that, but it's just another unnecessary complication.

'Fading' Lock Screen
When you press the Lock button (at the top right of your phone), your Lock Screen doesn't just appear any more - it 'fades in' slowly.  And then it 'fades out' again when you press the button a second time to turn the screen off again.  This only takes a fraction of a second, and isn't a huge inconvenience at all - but how, exactly, is that an improvement on the previous method?  Answer: it isn't.

Things I really can't stand

These are the changes to iOS which, not only don't improve, they actively make it worse...

iOS6 (left) is personal - iOS7 (right) is bland and generic.
Moving Wallpaper
When you're looking at your Lock Screen, the Wallpaper background will 'move around' if you tilt or move the phone.  This is intensely irritating - so much so that one day after updating to iOS7, I changed my old Wallpaper (a photo of a blazing fire in my back garden, of which I am rather proud, and which has been my phone Wallpaper for almost two years) to a rather dull plain white background so that the moving wouldn't show up.  It feels like my phone has lost its identity.


Moving app icons
Similar to the above issue - on your Home Screen, the app icons themselves now move ever-so-slightly from side-to-side if you change the angle at which you're holding the phone.  Even changing the Wallpaper hasn't fixed this, and I can't find any way to switch it off in Settings - so it would appear that I am stuck with this, even though every time I see it I want to scream.

Calendar redesign
The new interface for mobile iCal is an absolute trainwreck.  It is hard to navigate, and adding events to the calendar has been made needlessly clunky and complex.  I have a lot of online calendars to manage, and I use my phone all the time to check my availability and keep my schedules up-to-date.  This task has just been made a lot more difficult.  The only good thing about the new version of Calendar is its new 'flat' icon, which I actually quite like.

So there we have it...  There are some very good points in iOS7, and there are a few things which either came as a bit of a shock, or which I initially haven't liked, but only because I haven't fully got used to them yet - unfortunately, though, there are also some things which I really hate, and to which I can't see myself becoming accustomed any time soon.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Another iPhone post

Earlier today, I read a piece in Telegraph by Michael Hogan, entitled The 15 Most Annoying Things About iPhones.

As someone who a) uses an iPhone, b) loves his iPhone, and c) has some spare time in the middle of the day, I decided to respond to Mr Hogan's points here (where he'll probably never see it):
1. The new, cheaper iPhone is called the 5C, which sounds like a class at school or a flat above a shop. It comes in four candy-bright colours, like it’s a highlighter pen, pair of Crocs or something. Perhaps the “C” stands for “common”.
As it happens, I completely agree with Mr Hogan, here.  In the past, iPhones were only available in black or white, and that's how it should be.  (Personally, I'd get rid of the white as well.)  Having a range of garish colours makes it look like a product for eleven-year-old girls.
2. Its posher sister model, the 5S, has a fingerprint sensor. So thieves won’t just steal your phone, they’ll amputate a finger too, like a sort of telecoms Yakuza.
I'm pretty sure you won't be forced to use the fingerprint thingy.
3. They still automatically put “Sent from my iPhone” at the end of emails, making you look like a tragic show-off.
You can switch that setting off pretty easily, actually.
4. Smug people with the new handsets will proudly place them on the pub, café or meeting room table when they sit down, then keep sneaking surreptitious glances at them. Oh, right. So the vague possibility of not seeing a text from your mum the very second it arrives is more interesting than anything I have to say, is it? Rude.
Nonsense.  I take things (my wallet and keys, as well as my phone) out of my pockets when I sit down because it's uncomfortable to sit down with a lot of bulky things in my pockets.

And as for whether a text/email I receive is more interesting/important than the people I'm actually with at the time?  Well, it may be - but if I don't look at it, I'll never know.  The fact is, most texts or emails can be (and usually are) left until later, once I've seen what they are - but if there's some urgent crisis in the family, or an incredible once-in-a-lifetime work opportunity arises, someone will contact me through my phone, and I'll want to know about it.
5. Don’t even get me started on “phubbing” (the phrase or the phenomenon).
I had never heard this expression before...
6. The first line of incoming texts pings up on the homescreen. So if you do leave your phone on the table, other people can see if you’ve been bitching about them/sexting. Not that we would, naturally. Perish the thought.
Again, you can switch this setting off.
7. Those losers who queue up to buy them on the first day of release. It’s just a telephone, chaps (and they always are chaps). Have a serious word with yourselves.
Fair enough.  But I'm sure those guys would have just as much disdain for other hobbies or interests - golf, for instance, or train-spotting...
8. The battery life is still like a mayfly’s. We’re encouraged to use all the fancy futuristic features but when we do, the juice runs out before we get home. Grrr, why I oughta…
This irritates me no end.  Not the battery life itself - but people moaning about it.  If you use your phone so much that the battery wears down within an hour of leaving the house, for goodness' sake plan ahead and take a charger with you when you go out!

I have an iPhone charger which plugs into the power outlet in my car, and I have a spare mains charger which I carry in my bag - very rarely do I find myself so far removed from normal civilisation that I wouldn't be able to find somewhere to plug my phone in within, say, half-an-hour, if I had to.
9. If something goes wrong with it, you have to go to the twattily-named “Genius Bar”.
Yes, it is a ridiculous name.  But also, if they fix your phone for you, what's the problem?
10. On the keyboard, the voice dictation button is placed right next to the spacebar – ie. the single most used key. Cue accidentally turning on dictation mode, taking a second to realise, then having to cancel it to exit. Teeth-gnashingly tedious.
I agree that this is hugely annoying, and a big design flaw.
11. Taking “selfies” (sorry) or using Snapchat makes you look fat and old. Or is that just me? Oh.
I've never seen the appeal of Snapchat, personally, and therefore don't use it.  If you don't like it, I would encourage you not to use it either.
12. People saying “Damn you, autocorrect!!1! lol” after they make a mistake in a text. A bad workmen blames his iTools. Read it back before you press send, you lazy shiv. Damn you, autocorrect.
This is 100% spot-on.

PROOF-READ YOUR MESSAGES - DON'T BLAME THE PHONE IF YOU FAILED TO PICK UP ON A BASIC ERROR IN YOUR TEXT.
13. Kids playing music out of them on public transport without using headphones. Not only is it antisocial but it’s invariably bad music. I realise this makes me sound like a joyless old fart. People with their keypad tones turned right up is almost as bad. Click click click STOP IT.
Again - no arguments here!  Turn the bloody noises off, especially when you're in public.
14. They popularised use of words like “sync” and “app”, which are impossible to say out loud without feeling like a prize prat.
Like it or not, these phrases are now a part of our everyday vernacular.  Every new innovation brings something to language, and people always moan about it - not that that ever makes any difference...
15. People boring on and on about them endlessly. Which this piece has probably just done. Oops.
I guess I've just contributed to that too.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

I am officially the funniest person at #EdFringe

Today, TV channel Dave announced the 'funniest joke of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival' - a joke by comedian Rob Auton, which goes like this:
"I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa."
Very funny.  I should know - I wrote this joke more than two years ago.

Admittedly, I didn't have the platform the the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to publicise my joke - I just posted it on Twitter - but as you can see, I was doing this joke as far back as March 2011:


In total, I have Tweeted the joke four times (three times publicly, once to drummer and producer Craig Blundell):



I will admit that Mr Auton's version is rather better worded (he is a professional comedian, after all) - but no one can really deny that this is, in essentials, the same joke.  And that I got there first.

Where's my prize?

Monday, 12 August 2013

#BBCsportsday on England's "key player"



Following the announcement ahead of Wednesday's England vs. Scotland friendly at Wembley that Roy Hodgson would 'always' consider Wayne Rooney for selection for the England squad, if he were physically fit (presumably this is regardless of his recent form at club level), today's BBC Sportsday live text has been asking for suggestions on who England's "key player" is.

In my opinion, this is symptomatic of the problems England have in international football.  We are always looking for a silver bullet, one player on whom we can pin all our hopes - one basket, in which we can put all our footballing eggs.  Quite apart from the damage this could do to that player (whoever he might be) from the pressures of being expected to carry the national team, I really don't think this is the right way to be running things at all.

This fixation with Rooney is damaging our national team.  Sure, he's good - but is he so good, that he can waltz into the team no matter how good (or bad) his recent performances (and attitude) have been?  And what sort of message does this give other young English players, hoping for a chance to get to represent their country?  Already we have a very strong scent of players being selected based more on which clubs they play for (would Danny Welbeck really get a call-up, if he were at, say, Sunderland instead of at Manchester United?) and I don't think comments like this are helping.

"What's the point in competing for a place in the England squad?  Rooney will always get in, no matter how well he's playing!" is not a good attitude to be fostering.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The #Ashes - England's batsmen need to step up

I spent more time than I'm proud of thinking of a 'punny' title for this, and couldn't.  What a disappointment.  If you have a good one (or even a bad one), write it in the comments.

This series of The Ashes is (so far) proving to be an excellent series from England's point-of-view.  Having won the first Test, Australia have been totally under the cosh throughout the second, with the result that at Close Of Play on the third day England have a lead of over 500 runs, and are still going strong.  However, there are still a few worrying signs in England's batting order, which leads me to believe that things might not all be quite as rosy as they seem...

England's openers are meant to be specialist batsmen, selected for their abilities to score runs not just highly, but consistently highly.  So far, they have not delivered - despite the commanding position in which England find themselves, three of the top four batting order have failed to score more than fifteen runs apiece in each innings, and to my mind, that simply isn't good enough.  Yes, England have built up a very good lead, and amassed a large number of runs, but in both innings this has been predominantly down to one batsman - Ian Bell in the first innings, Joe Root in the second - and that worries me.  (Indeed, of England's current second innings score of 333-5, 309 of those runs were contributed by just three of the seven English batsmen who have so far faced the Australian attack.)

You can never write the Australians off, and with only one Test completed the series can still, technically, go either way.  Based on performances so far, England are certainly the favourites - but that doesn't mean that our top batsmen can sit back and rely on the Australians' ineptitudes to wipe the egg from their faces.

Personally, I would rather see the runs shared more equally, with every player in the squad pulling their weight - it would be more encouraging to see the top six or seven batsmen all making around 40 to 60 runs each, rather than one guy making a Double Century, while the others get themselves out before they reach double figures.  Everyone has better days and worse days at the crease, and of course there are a myriad of factors which can affect this, but the likes of Alastair Cook (12, 8 this Test) and Kevin Pietersen (2, 5 this Test) need to step up pretty soon.  It's not that I think Cook or Pietersen are bad cricketers (on the contrary, in fact, I have a lot of respect for both of them), but test cricket is a long game, and the Ashes is a series of five Tests - ultimately, consistency is key, and if it weren't for the Australia's woeful performance so far during this Test I fear England would already have been found out.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

RIP Blue The Dog (11th June 2001 - 17th July 2013)


Blue The Dog was only a small bundle of fluff with a raggedy string for a tail and legs which didn’t quite know what their purpose in life was yet, when I sat in the back of my Dad’s car, holding on her my lap, as we drove home from the breeder’s house where we’d bought her.  I was eleven, and the idea of getting a puppy was one of the most exciting, thrilling things I’d ever experienced.

From the moment we got her, Blue was fun to be around, inquisitive and characterful, and above all, totally loving - she would play with me when I was happy, and she was the perfect furry shoulder to cry on in times of sadness.  I grew up with Blue around, and she was a part of family life for me for the majority of my life.

Sadly, Blue left us around nine o’clock this morning.

This is probably not a ‘normal’ Blog post (there are no jokes, no silly stories, no mentions of sandwiches or Pirelli tyres), but I wanted to put down a few lines about Blue, so those who knew her can remember what a lovely dog she was, and so those who didn’t know her can learn a little bit about what made her so special.  (I’ve never written about anyone who’s died before, so please forgive me if this piece comes over as clumsy or inexpressive.)

Blue was the sort of dog whom everybody loved.  She was friendly and lively, and loved to meet new people - but not so overpowering that she would knock you over and drool all over you when you met her.  She never had an ounce of malice or aggression in her - just a huge amount of love for everyone she met.

As a puppy, she was inquisitive and playful, and though she mellowed a little as she grew older, she never fully lost that curiosity.  As a border collie, she had the sharp mind of her breed, and she was always keen to explore new areas, and make new friends, everywhere she went.  I remember how she sneezed the first time she ever saw snow, and it was unexpectedly all cold and wet on her paws, and up her nose - what a surprise!

When she was still very young, Blue had a job offer - to work as a therapy dog, helping to bring comfort and affection to the elderly, sick and infirm.  In many ways, this was her true calling, for she loved people, and affection truly was her middle name, but we (as a family) never had the time or resources to commit to this.  She remained perfect therapy dog material her entire life, though…  Only weeks before she died, the mother of a piano student coming to our house for a lesson remarked how her daughter had recently had a bad experience being bitten by a dog, and was now very nervous of dogs and didn’t like them at all - after spending a little time with Blue, the student said ‘oh, but I like this dog, though!’  If any proof were needed of Blue’s inimitably gentle and loving nature, this is it.

It’s difficult to write coherently about Blue at this time (so I may have another crack at this a little further down the line), but I am grateful that she did not have to suffer prolonged pain or invasive surgery at the end; she is at peace now, and while I miss her terribly (and that isn’t going to change any time soon), I can at least look back on many happy memories of times shared with her - at the beach, on family holidays, at Christmas time, at the village pub, on the river, and really anywhere that we went.

In some small act of tribute, I have changed the desktop background on my laptop to a picture I took of Blue last June.  I am hoping to get a printed and framed copy soon, but these gestures are just small tokens of thanks for the years of love, affection and companionship Blue gave me.

I am working a lot today, and over the coming weekend, but I hope that at some point in the not-too-distant future I will find time to raise a glass to a small collie dog who meant the world to me.  If you’re also not too busy, wherever you are, then maybe you’ll join me?  I know Blue would’ve loved you.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Sandwich review: Chicken & Bacon Caesar from Waitrose 'Good To Go' range



The official description for this sandwich is -
Chargrilled chicken with caesar dressing, cos lettuce, bacon and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese shavings in dark rye bread.
Having been a fan for some time of chicken & bacon caesar wraps (I have not mentioned this before, as I do not view tortilla wraps as being included under the 'Sandwich Review' parasol - this may change at some point, but not as yet), I was interested to try this sandwich version.  I am very much a fan of this combination of ingredients, and so it was with great anticipation that I tucked into this sandwich.

The only part of this sandwich about which I was dubious was the use of rye bread - much as I enjoy a fancy bread in sandwich-making, I had misgivings about this as I had remembered rye bread as being rather heavy and dark, with an almost bitter taste.  Thankfully, though, my reservations came to naught - the potential bread problems which I had foreseen failed to materialise.

There were, however, other problems with this sandwich...  The flavour of anything 'caesar' relies on the dressing - and in this case, there simply wasn't enough.  Not only did this have the effect of leaving the sandwich a little dry, it also detracted greatly from the taste - put simply, this Chicken & Bacon Caesar sandwich just wasn't caesary enough!

It's easier to put enough dressing into a Caesar wrap - the enclosed nature of a tortilla wrap means issues of dressing spillage are lessened.  Of course, I recognise the inherent issues with dressings in sandwiches - it is a fine line to tread between having not enough, and having too much.  (Not enough will leave the sandwich dry and bland, but too much will result in a sandwich which ends up soggy and a dressing which dribbles out as you try to eat, and ends up all over your hands instead.)  It's a tough balancing act - but Waitrose ought to be able to manage it.

Sadly, they didn't, and despite the otherwise excellent nature of this sandwich, I was left disappointed, and will therefore not be buying this sandwich again.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Sandwich review: Turkey Club from Waitrose 'Good To Go' range




Apologies for the photo quality - I was so hungry at this point that I ate the sandwich straight away, before I thought to photograph it.

The official description for this sandwich is -
Smoked turkey, Emmental cheese and ranch dressing with vine ripened tomatoes, bacon and apollo lettuce in bar marked white bread.
A club sandwich is never quite such a good idea as it seems when you buy it - the extra slice of bread in the middle adds nothing but extra bulk, and quickly turns soggy (and therefore not very nice) if it comes into certain other ingredients (tomatoes, in particular, tend to have this effect).  Sadly, plenty of perfectly viable sandwich concepts have been spoilt by having been turned into 'club' versions, rather than just sticking with a standard 'filling between two slices of bread' approach.

Having said that, this sandwich was very enjoyable.  I still felt that it would have worked just as well (if not better) as a standard sandwich, rather than a club sandwich - but leaving that aside, the filling was excellent.  The salad was fresh and crisp, the turkey was not dry (this can often be a problem with this particular meat) and the ranch dressing was full-flavoured without being greasy or overpowering.

Despite my reservations about 'club'-style sandwiches in general, I would buy this sandwich again.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

#F1 - the Pirellephant in the room

Having only just finished watching the British Grand Prix (indeed, the programme - with the post-race interviews and the experts' analysis - is still on on my TV as I type this), I am struggling to understand how anyone (with the exemption of race-winner Nico Rosberg, of course!) can describe that as having been 'a great race'.  It was a fascinating race, and it was highly dramatic - but, in my opinion, for all the wrong reasons.

The performance of the Pirelli tyres was, again, a big talking-point at this race.  Frankly, the issue with tyres is getting hugely embarrassing now, for all involved with the sport - but when you see tyres (the same tyre each time - rear left - on different cars) spontaneously delaminate or blow-out for seemingly no reason, no fewer than four times, you start to think something has to be done about this issue.

The problem for me, as a race fan, is that even if you take out the actual tyre failures, the tyres have turned Formula 1 too much into a 'pot-luck sport'; that much was clear towards the end of today's race, as anyone who'd managed to get into the pits and change tyres when the final Safety Car period was announced got shuffled up the order ahead of those who hadn't had that opportunity - with fewer than ten laps to go, Kimi Räikkönen went from second down to fifth position, while Fernando Alonso came up from eighth place to finish third, and the only reason for that was the tyres.  What this means is that putting on fresh tyres in the 'free pit-stop' gained by being in the right place at the right time when the Safety Car comes out renders all the hard work throughout the rest of the race (both quick driving and astute tactical decisions by the team) pointless - essentially, it doesn't matter how good you are, or how well you race, the tyres will decide where you finish.

There is so much nonsense talking about Formula 1, about whether it's 'boring', or whether they need to make it more 'exciting' - in my view, none of that is really the point.  The tyre failures are clearly a very serious issue (and, indeed, a very dangerous issue) and that cannot be allowed to continue to happen, but from a more long-term perspective the impact these tyres are having on the quality of the racing is something about which we should also be very concerned.

The idea of creating a tyre specifically designed to wear out and degrade much quicker than you would want, in order to 'force' more excitement in the sport, is a concept with which I've never been very comfortable.  To be perfectly honest, I'd actually rather see a more 'boring' (sometimes derisively called 'processional') race in which it is clear that the winner is the driver who deserved to win, because he is the best, and/or is driving the best car, rather than a race full of thrills and spills which is ultimately won by someone who maybe shouldn't really be there on merit alone, but simply got the luck of the draw in terms of tyres.  (And just to be clear, I am absolutely not suggesting that Nico Rosberg was an undeserved winner today - he drove very well all weekend.)

Sadly, although there's been a lot of noise made about tyres this season (and I don't see that fuss dying down any time soon!) there have been relatively few people espousing this view that if a race is only exciting because they've had to make a tyre which is deliberately unreliable that drama excitement is somewhat false - not only that, but it's rather unfair on teams and drivers when the tyres are so flaky that it negates the need to perform well in qualifying, or to show good racecraft on-track during the race.

And what's the solution?  Well, undoubtedly there will be as many different opinions about the solution as there are about the problem; in my view, two things need to change - firstly, the tyre manufacturer, and second the testing regulations.  A new tyre manufacturer simply because it's time to pull the plug on the Pirelli Experiment - fairly self-explanatory, really.  But the testing regulations need to change too, because whoever comes in as the new tyre supplier must have the opportunity to test their products in representative conditions, to ensure that they will perform to a high enough level, and in the manner expected.

As ever, I know the FIA will be monitoring this Blog, eager to see my suggestions for the sport of Formula 1 (they love my Sandwich Reviews as well), so I shall stop writing now and publish, to put Jean Todt out of his misery.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Summer skin on Facebook

Now that we are in the month of June, it is acceptable - indeed, practically mandatory - to post gratuitous skin pictures on Facebook, providing that the skin you're posting is burnt as heck.

Not only does this surreptitiously show off the 'beach physique' of which you are so proud, it also gives all your friends on Facebook the impression that your day has been an action-packed roller-coaster of 'having fun' outdoors - effectively using your red raw sunburn as a placard showing everyone you know how much more exciting your life is than theirs (which is, after all, the point of Facebook).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

#F1 - A tyre-anny of Pirelli?

Well, if you're a Formula 1 fan, you'll already be well aware of the debate raging within the sport about Pirelli's current models of race tyres.  (And if you're not a Formula 1 fan, you probably won't enjoy this post that much!)  Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz claims that F1 has "nothing to do with real racing any more" and that too much emphasis on tyre-management is ruining the sport - and similar complaints have been heard from some drivers in the field, as well as many of the fans.

I actually raised this issue on this Blog two years ago, in May 2011.  I didn't like the attempts to "engineer" more excitement in the sport, and I used the example of two teams mates - one qualifying in the Top 10, and one starting from the back of the grid, whose final positions in the race ended up almost reversed - to illustrate how I felt the high degradation of the Pirelli tyres were having too much influence on the results of races.

Although I still feel that way about the Pirelli tyres, I can't help but feel that Red Bull are just having a bit of a moan.  For the past three years, Red Bull have had undisputedly the best car, designed by one of the best designers in the business, Adrian Newey.  This year, their car (while still very, very good) comes in behind several of the other teams in a couple of keys areas - one of these areas in the way the car manages the tyres; Lotus, in particular, and also Ferrari to a certain extent, have managed to design a car which is kinder to the tyres than the Red Bull.

What we are seeing from Red Bull now, of course, is nothing less than the petulance and querulousness I would expect.  Every team designs their car to the same set of regulations, so in that respect everybody starts from an equal footing - rather than accepting that, on this occasion, the chaps at Lotus have done a better job than they did, and trying to improve their own car through upgrades as the season goes on, Red Bull have demanded that the tyres which all the teams have to use be changed to suit them.

As far as I'm concerned, this cannot be allowed to happen.  Much as I would prefer tyres which aren't so unpredictable, it would not be right to change things part-way through a season, just because one of the teams has thrown their toys out of the pram.  By making the tyres more Red Bull-friendly, Pirelli will be effectively making life harder for Lotus and Ferrari - in this situation, it could be Pirelli who "choose" who they want to win the Championship this year.

No, having started out with these high-degradation tyres, we must stick with them for a whole season.  By all means, change them for next season (when the regulations on engines and car design will be significantly altered anyway, and all the teams will be starting again from scratch) - but changing the tyres midway through the year would be like changing the rules of football to allow goalkeepers to handle the ball outside the penalty area, just because one of the Premier League teams reckon they'd have a better chance of winning if that rule were different.  Red Bull need to be told that if you're not doing well enough within the current regulations to win, you simply have to try harder, or take a different approach - not ask the sport's governing body to change the rules to help make it easier for you!

If Pirelli do change their tyres, in response to Red Bull's complaints, how much more are we going to see of teams campaigning for changes to rules they don't like?  In the end, Caterham will kick up an almighty fuss and demand that the points system be changed so that you can only score points if you drive a green car, meaning that they'll end up as Champions unless all the other teams repaint.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Is football better or worse?

The BBC Sport Twitter page is asking this question today: is football better or worse now?

What a bizarre question. Better or worse than what? Another sport? Or better or worse than it used to be? Whatever it's supposed to mean, it's totally unquantifiable anyway - not to mention subjective. In short, it's absolutely meaningless!

In my opinion, football is what it is. That may not sound terribly profound, but I find all this navel-gazing about 'the state of the sport' just a bit tiresome. There will always be doughy-eyed nostalgics who'll fervently declare that nothing is ever as good as it used to be - just as there will always be ruthless modernisers, looking out for the 'next big thing' and always trying to make everything better than ever before.

Football always polarises opinions, and sadly some people find themselves getting awfully worked up about it all. My advice to those people would be: if you don't like football the way it is, don't watch it - find a sport the state of which you do like, and watch that instead.

Whether football is 'better' or 'worse' is impossible to say, and frankly, doesn't really matter - it's whether you enjoy it or not that counts.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Reading and QPR sale?



With the news that both Queens Park Rangers and Reading have been relegated from the Premier League today, my thoughts have turned to the Summer Transfer Window, and which star players may well be shuffling out of the back door either at Loftus Road or at the Madejski.  I have been trying to decide which current members of the QPR and Royals squads it would be worth having at Norwich next season - and, to be honest, not many spring to mind...

Just to be clear here, I'm talking specifically about which QPR or Reading players would enhance the Norwich City squad - not which players are good enough to play in the Premier League in general.  I know both sides have goalkeeping talent, with both Alex McCarthy for Reading, and Rangers' Júlio César turning heads during this season, but I have faith in Norwich's current 'keepers of John Ruddy and Mark Bunn, so I have little interest in seeing McCarthy or César at Carrow Road next year, even though I think there's a strong chance that both will still be playing in the top flight.

So, who would I want to take from Reading?

Hardly anyone, frankly.  However, considering that most of the problems we (Norwich) have had during this Premier League season have been to do with not being able to score enough goals, I wouldn't mind giving Adam Le Fondre an opportunity at Carrow Road.

And who would I want to take from QPR?

Again, keeping in mind the Canaries' goal dearth during the current season, I'd be more than happy to take Loïc Rémy on - of course, I feel sure that plenty of Premier League clubs (and their fans!) have been eyeing up Rémy for some weeks, and many more illustrious names will be chasing his signature in the summer, but that's not to say I wouldn't be happy to see him wearing yellow next season.  Another QPR player who's caught my eye, though - particularly in the earlier stages of this season - is Jamie Mackie; I don't think Hoops' manager Harry Redknapp has given him a fair chance in the latter part of the season, but I was impressed by him at the start of their campaign, as he struck me as a hard-working, positive thinking footballer with a lot to give.  I think Mackie could be an excellent addition to the current Norwich line-up, and I would be glad to welcome him here.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Fixture pile-up

I can't fathom football teams complaining about 'fixture pile-up' when they have to play a lot of matches in quite a short period of time.

Quite frankly, if you're good enough to be at the business end of several cup competitions towards the end of the season, you should be good enough to cope with playing lots of games.

And remember, there are plenty of clubs who would give anything they have to be in that position!

Here's a tip...

If there's one place which should be required by law to provide hand-washing facilities, that should be rubbish dumps. (Sorry, "Recycling Centres" - our local one has been "rebranded" as such, so I assume most of them have?!)

Who wants to get back in their car and drive home, after handling all their dirty, grimy rubbish, without being able to wash their hands first?! Not I!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

#F1 - the latest 'team orders' controversy

Today's Malaysian Grand Prix ended in controversy and anger, as Sebastian Vettel took the win ahead of teammate Mark Webber, despite team orders from the Red Bull garage to hold station behind Webber in second place, following the team's final round of pit stops.  The post-race interviews and analysis dwelt on the subject extensively, and almost 1500 people have posted comments on the BBC's post-race report, the vast majority of which are also concerned with the topic of team orders.

One of the interesting things about today's race was the stark contrast in the ways in which the 'team orders' situation was handled by the Red Bull drivers, when compared to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.

But first, let's talk about team orders in general, for a minute...

Every time an issue like this rears its head, we (as F1 fans) have to put up with reading streams of Blogs, articles and comments about how team orders are "ruining the sport", and how F1 is "not real racing" because of team orders, and other things.  Let's not forget that team orders are only of use to teams in a few specific situations - ie. when your team's cars are in adjacent positions in the race, and also on the same pit-stop strategies (two stop, three stop, etc).  Red Bull's team orders came into effect around Lap 43/44, when Webber was leading the race, and Vettel was close behind him in second - but at the start of the race, Vettel started from Pole position, while Webber was fifth on the grid.  How did they get from fifth and first to first and second without "real racing"?

Fans who claim to be fed up of "stage-managed" races seem to forget that team orders can only manage two of the twenty-two cars on the track.  No amount of team orders can stop another car from another team putting a spanner in the works of your carefully-managed performance.  (Unless you believe the conspiracy that F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone stage-manages the performances of all the teams - in which case, why are you even watching the races at all?)

Formula 1 is an unusual hybrid of an individual and a team sport - and, in the end, there are trophies (not to mention significant financial rewards) for both.  It is also a sport which is spread out over a period of many months, and divided into nineteen individual races, all of which contribute to the whole of the Championships; for the teams, and the drivers, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture - when the title is decided, it's the total points over the entire season which counts, not who won each individual heat.

Of course, as fans and spectators, we want to see close action, high drama and exciting wheel-to-wheel racing at every race.  In my opinion, however, there is room in F1 for team orders and close racing to coexist.  The close racing aspect, however thrilling, is only one side of the F1 coin; there is another side to F1 (which, for my part, I find equally gripping) - the intrigue of tactics and strategy, of design, and of two drivers (often with hugely contrasting styles or personalities) fighting for points not only for the team, but also within the team.  Add to that the fact that the regulations state that a finite number of engines (eight) and gearboxes (one every five races) may be used by each car throughout a season, and it therefore necessary sometimes to conserve power in order to make these components last, rather than going all-out on track at all times.  It is a fine balance, yes - but that's what makes this, in my opinion, one of the best sports in the world.

So how does this all relate to today's events...?

Well, let's talk about Mercedes first.  Despite starting fourth and sixth, Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg found themselves in a very strong position behind the two leading Red Bulls - indeed, for much of the race, they were keeping pace with Webber and Vettel, and looked like they may be able to challenge for a top-two finish.  Unfortunately, the team had made a miscalculation regarding how much fuel to put in the cars at the start (possibly down to the belief that more of race would be run in wet weather conditions than actually ended up happening) and towards the end of the race Hamilton's car in third, especially, was running on less-than-maximum power in order to save fuel and ensure they didn't run out before the end of the race.

Rosberg, in fourth place behind Hamilton, was also saving fuel, although to a less critical degree, asked his team on the radio whether he should overtake his team mate, and was told "no".  After remonstrating with the team, and being told "no" twice more, Rosberg accepted his fate, and cruised home in fourth place, behind Hamilton.  Team Principal Ross Brawn's explanation on the radio to Rosberg was about fuel consumption (Rosberg would burn more fuel by the overtaking Hamilton - and both cars would burn more fuel by racing each other rather than cruising, and would risk not making it to the end of the race at all, effectively turning 27 points for the team into 0) and also about safety.

Whatever you think of this decision, and the way it affected the end result of the race (Hamilton and Rosberg finishing third and fourth, instead of fourth and third - and Mercedes getting 27 points, instead of 27 points), the way it was handled by the drivers showed maturity and class.  Rosberg acted like a team player, and brought the car home in fourth place (which is still an excellent result, 12 World Championship points, and two places gained him his grid position) while Hamilton credited his team mate during his interview on the podium.

At Red Bull, however, it was a rather different story!  After the final pit stops, Webber was ahead of Vettel, and the team instructed both their drivers to turn down their engines and bring the cars home safe and intact.  Webber complied with this instruction; Vettel didn't.

Vettel attacked Webber, and passed him.  Webber - understandably very angry about this - refused later to interact with Vettel, either before or during the podium ceremony.  Vettel apologised during the drivers' press conference, but Webber refused to accept his apology.  I'm not surprised.

As ever, the internet is awash with comments about this - and, as ever, a huge number of them are anti-team orders.  "What's the problem?" people ask.  "Vettel and Webber are racing drivers - we want to see them race, not just follow each other around!"

I want to see them race too - but not when one of them (Webber) has turned his engine down, under the impression that the other (Vettel) would do the same (as agreed), only to find he's being attacked and can't defend himself because he's running on less power.  That's not fair - and it's not "real racing" either.

What Vettel did was not the "ruthless" drive of a Champion who "just wanted it do badly", as some people would have you believe - it was reckless, foolish, and above-all, disobedient.  He gambled a guaranteed 43 points for the team on the chance that he might win it - as it happens, he did win, but if he had taken both the Red Bull cars out of the race (as in Turkey in 2010), the repercussions would've been huge.

Vettel, however, believed he had some sort of God-given right to win this race.  Never was this more clear than when listening to his radio message to the team earlier in the race:  "Mark is too slow - get him out of the way!"

He instructs the garage to issue team orders which work in his favour, yet petulantly ignores any that don't.  He expects to be given a free pass to the lead of the race (which, in the end, was effectively what happened, as he made a pass on a team mate who was powerless to fight back) and he expects to be able to get away with disobeying his team boss, despite risking putting the whole dynamic of the team (and, therefore, their hopes of a fourth consecutive World Championship double) in jeopardy.

As I've said, Formula 1 is a long game.  The race doesn't end at the Chequered flag in Malaysia - it ends in Brazil, in November.  There are many, many factors to take into consideration during the season, and the fall-out from this incident is going to be one of them.  Vettel may have grabbed the win here, but how will he feel in November if he watched another man walk away with the title of 2013 World Champion, and looks back at today's race thinking maybe this moment of hot-headedness was a turning point?  Will it have been worth it?  I doubt it.

I was never the biggest fan of Sebastian Vettel - but I have even less respect for him, after today's happenings.  However, I won't deny that, from a fan's point-of-view, this certainly sets us up with a fascinating situation going into the Chinese Grand Prix in three weeks' time.

Unlike the Mercedes drivers, who handled their team orders with grace and maturity, and just knuckled down and got on with things, even if they weren't entirely happy about it, like true professionals, the Red Bull team is imploding in front of our eyes.  It is impossible to know exactly how things will play out from here, but it looks as if the events of today's race will change the face of team orders at Red Bull for a good long time - possibly for the rest of the season.  The consequences of this could be very far-reaching indeed.  We could potentially end up with a situation where other teams are able to manage their cars to maximise their points haul, and to ensure the most efficient use possible of resources like gearboxes, fuel and tyres, while Red Bull are unable to do so.  Yes, Sebastian Vettel's rashness today could come back to haunt him in a big way.

But back to the central issue - that of team orders - now...

Many people believe that without team orders, Formula 1 would be more exciting.  Considering that they're all everyone's been talking about since this race, it seems that - on this occasion, at least - it was their very presence which has made it exciting.

Anyone who thinks that today's race was 'boring' because of team orders clearly didn't see the seemingly ongoing scrap for places between Lotus' Kimi Räikkönen and McLaren's Sergio Pérez, the drama of the front wing coming off Fernando Alonso's Ferrari on the first lap (and his inexplicable failure to come into the pit lane, resulting in a retirement from the race soon after), the chaos in the pit lane with Force India, Toro Rosso and McLaren all involved in some way or another, and the very promising showing from Jules Bianchi and his Marussia team.

The fact is that team orders are a part of the sport - whether you like it or not - but they are not a big enough issue on their own to "ruin" a whole sport.  Formula 1 is a very complex business, and it has many elements which make it up - team orders are but one of these elements.  My advice to anyone who hasn't been watching Formula 1 for very long, or who is thinking of watching it for the first time, is not to get too hung up on any one of these details in isolation, but to enjoy the glorious tapestry of the  sport in its entirety.

Formula 1 may not be perfect - but, in my opinion, anyone who thinks it's boring must be watching with their eyes shut.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

San Marino Royale

England's chances of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were given a boost, following a good 8-0 win over San Marino last night.  I remain, however, ashamed of the attitude of some England fans in the run-up to the game yesterday.

In sport, no one likes a sore loser - and no one likes a sore winner either.  To be a sore winner before the game's even started is really bad.  I found a lot of the comments about San Marino by English football fans to be incredibly arrogant, and also very unpleasant.  Saying things like (for example) "we don't even need to play a goalkeeper tonight!" or "my mum could play for England tonight, and we'd still win!" is pretty poor, in my opinion.

I've met some considerable resistance in trying to explain this point-of-view over Twitter, with plenty of England fans not deigning to consider San Marino worthy of the England team's time.  Believing others to be beneath you - and then pushing that view in their face - is not a nice way to behave, and certainly doesn't make England as a nation look good.

So, here's my take on things...

First of all - this is football, and anything can happen.  Nothing is a foregone conclusion.  Not to mention the fact that England tend to have a history of making rather a meal of matches which, on paper, they ought to win comfortably.

But most importantly, even you do think that England will walk it, and could win the game playing only eight players against San Marino's eleven (or something like that) you don't have to shout about it. How about staying classy, for once, and respecting the opponents?  That kind of cocky strutting by fans before the game is exactly the kind of arrogance which makes England (and English supports) look bad to other footballing nations.  There's simply no need for it.

The argument that "it's not arrogance if it's true" doesn't really hold water either.  You could go to an ATM, withdraw £100 in cash, and then wave it in the face of the nearest homeless person, singing "I've got money and you haven't, ha ha ha ha ha!" - that would be true, but it would also make you come across as vulgar and gauche and generally quite an unpleasant person.

The fact that England did win 8-0 I can ascribe only to the fact that within the team the players and coaches were professional enough not to think they could beat San Marino even if they were on Space Hoppers, and still respected the game enough to play properly and do the basics right.

I'm proud of our team, of course, and I'm very glad we won.  But English football fans who persist in such cockiness running up to a game do neither themselves, nor the team, any favours at all.

Friday, 15 March 2013

#F1 hysteria already

We've only had two practice sessions of the first Grand Prix of the new Formula 1 season, and already I am incandescent with rage.  And that's nothing to do with what's happening on the track...

Having read this report about the first day of practice on the BBC Sport website, I then decided to read a few of the posts in the comments section at the bottom of the page.  That was a mistake.

At the time of writing, there are 151 comments on that article - and most of them seem to be from people moaning about how "boring" F1 is.  After one day of practice!

Only four hours in to the new season and im bored. Vettel to coast to pole tomorrow with webber second (dominate red bull again!!!)
The chasing pack look close. Is it just a fight for second already??
-  THEgreatgatsby
I realise that its early days but after the promise of testing it has now returned to the boring inevitable even before the first race has begun.I can't stand the prospect of Red Bull dominating again.Put a monkey in that car and it would win. Instaed of that we have to suffer Vettel and his whoopee cushion. Now where do I find coverage of synchronized swimming?
thisisridiculous

Just a couple of the comments from internet geniuses who think they can tell how a whole season of racing, on nineteen different circuits across the world, in variable weather conditions, at different times of the day or night, having to manage fuel loads, on often unpredictable tyres, managing engine and gearbox usage to ensure no more than eight engines are used over the season, will pan out - just from a couple of hours' free running before the first race.

(Apparently, these people would prefer an almost theatrical melodrama which rewards inconsistency and unreliability and produces flukey, anomalous results - Maldonado in Barcelona last year, for example - meaning that we never truly know which team, or which driver, is actually the best.  But that's a topic for another post, I think.)

But these idiots are to be expected, and there will always be people who claim a certain sport is "boring".  Why they feel they have to comment on every article about that sport, expressing just how bored they are with it, instead of filling their time reading about things which actually interest them, is anybody's guess - but at least their inane jabbering is relatively easy to block out.

What really winds me up, though, is comments like this one:
Can they not just BAN ADRIAN NEWEY from the sport? If this is anything to go by for the rest of the season I can safely say I will be losing interest quite quickly
timmyotoole

Ban Adrian Newey?  For what crime, precisely, Timmy?  Oh, y'know - for being good at his job.

Is that how sport is supposed to work, then?  As soon as anyone who's actually any good at it appears, they get shunted out of the nearest exit...?!  I must have missed that memo.

So I guess now we have to ban Lionel Messi from playing football, as well?  We'd better tell Venus and Serena Williams that they can't enter Wimbledon this year, too.  It's a good job Michael Phelps has already retired from competitive swimming - otherwise we'd have had to ban him (and his incredible 22 Olympic Medals) too.

I think people like Timmy forget what this sport - or, indeed, any sport - is all about.  He, and others like him, seem to think that twenty-two of the world's best and fastest drivers have all converged on a little tarmac-ed area in Australian purely to entertain them.

Sport is about pushing the limits (within the rules of that particular sport) and trying to be the best you can be - the fastest, the strongest, the most accurate, the most agile, or whatever.  They're not just there to "put on a good show" for us back home - they want to win.  And, as a sports fan, I enjoy watching them trying to win.

I think this year's Formula 1 season will be very interesting, for a number of reasons.  I am hugely looking forward to seeing how things develop between now and the final race in Brazil, in November. Maybe Red Bull will dominate - and if they do, though I'm no Red Bull fan myself, fair play to them! - or maybe they won't.  We'll have to wait and see.

One thing's for sure, though - Adrian Newey is not likely to be going anywhere soon.  And that's got to be a good thing.