Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Death Grandmaster

Last night was, to begin with, a fairly good night. Liverpool edged out a 1-0 win against Fulham to move up to 7th in the Premiership, and I was in a fairly good mood. Having a 7am outing the next morning, and the game finishing around 10pm, I figured I'd crack out a few games of Death mode before I showered and went to bed. Those few games bumped it from being a fairly good night to a fucking amazing night. I played about five games in total. The end result was this:

I started playing TAP around four years ago. At the time, I was a fairly skilled Tetris DS player, and I was already ranked extremely high for the game, but I was fairly shite at the TGM series still. Death has always been the mode I liked the most, with TGM1 being fairly slow, relatively easy (emphasis on "relatively") and generally not providing much of a thrill for me. TAP Master mode has similar issues, and I'm really not a huge fan of it. Ti Master and Shirase require blistering speed, but for the most part there's no real art to them. If you attack them hard enough and just smash the speed out, then you'll do reasonable well even if you're not that great from a technical level.

Death mode is different. Death mode requires speed, but it also requires superb "tekkers", as has become the DCBC term. You need to be able to handle the speed of the mode, but ultimately to get the M and Gm ranks you need technique, and you need flawless precision and rhythm to be able to complete the mode. It requires the combination of speed and technical ability, and importantly for me the games are short. You don't play for ten minutes and find you weren't good enough - games of Death are usually two or three minutes long before you screw up and die, and start again.

After around two years of playing, in March 2008, I got my first M rank. I then took absolutely fucking ages to get M again (two months). I broke 700 in January 2009, and then basically stalled for a while. I improved consistency slowly, but the really high runs were hard to come by, until I broke 900 about six months ago. The thing with breaking level 900 is that it shows you're basically there. It doesn't get faster past 500, so really if you can survive 300 or 400 levels of that speed, there's no real reason why you can't survive 500 and get to 999.

Despite that, it's still a total bitch. I slowly inched my score up with decent runs, but Gm still seemed irritatingly far away. The main problem was keeping nerves under control - I'd start getting hugely nervous if I ever got to 750 and was still keeping decent control. Even when I was doing it fairly regularly, I'd start bricking it past 800, and there's just not enough leeway in the timings to get nervous. One slip up, and you're pretty much completely fucked at that pace. Every time I realised I could make Gm on that run, I'd panic and die.

Even yesterday I was hugely nervy past 800. To the point where I could physically feel my hands being sweaty and nervous. It's hard to keep yourself calm when the mental control required to calm yourself down might distract you too much and cause you to die anyway. I remember looking at the level counter and seeing 970, and just having a blind rush of panic and hoping I could frantically cling on and just clear singles to get past the level stop at 998 and get Gm. I tried to hang on and clear the credit roll too, just for the completeness, but I died and just made sure I got the name-entry instead. I forgot to make a screenshot at the time, so I'm somewhat lucky that I got the replay.

That game made me the first British player to get the Gm grade on Death mode, and the seventh player to get it outside of Japan. The time is fast enough to place me third in the Western rankings, behind batfly (Swedish, 5:32) and colour_thief (Canadian, 6:04). If I'd not wasted so much time at the level stops (especially at 499) then it could quite easily have put me into second place.

I'll probably not bother trying to make M rank on TAP Master, because the mode just infuriates me too much. I'll probably stick with Death a bit and hopefully try and break the six minute barrier, but my main focus is now going to be improving on Nullpomino and the multiplayer scene, especially given that my league starts next week. For now, I've achieved everything that I want to achieve in TGM, so I think I'll settle for that.

Thanks to all the guys on TC for the support, competition, and for ultimately being the reason I've kept going for so long. And thanks to Edo for dying at 998 and not beating me to the first UK Gm, and to Amnesia for being not quite quick enough to keep me behind him ;)

Monday, 24 January 2011

An Open Letter To Single, Nerdy Guys (Guest Post)

Disclaimer: aside from some minor editing and proof-reading, this post is not my own and is entirely the work of a friend of mine, Emma (aka Audia, and who won't let me post her surname). And yes, I'm perfectly aware that this post probably applies to me as well (lol). I don't imagine anyone would get offended or anything, but it still feels REALLY FUCKING STRANGE posting this.

This letter applies to specifically anyone who:

a) Is male and knows me via the interwebs (hell yes - that rules me out ~Rosti)
b) Doesn't currently have a girlfriend (and probably hasn't for a while, if ever)
c) Isn't so much of a ridiculous online recluse that they don't actually speak to any real girls at all - you guys are pretty much beyond help

But any nerd who qualifies for two out of three is probably good enough (ah shit... ~Rosti).

The inspiration and effort to write this mostly came about from a Skype conversation yesterday with Rosti, Daz and a couple of other people, where we got onto the subject of a certain SMBC strip from this week:

I guess the rest of the inspiration and effort would probably be from my muppet of a boyfriend, and his completely ham-fisted unintentional method of asking me out, which has been well publicised and viral on the internet (and you laugh Rosti, but you've not been much better). And the fact that I have a ton of single nerdy friends who all have perfectly decent (and even realistic!) candidates for girls they want to go out with, but none of them actually seem to have the ability to do anything more concrete than merely discuss to other people how they'd quite like to ask them out. They've mentally imagined and planned out their entire future with them, but won't actually make the first step into reality.

The problem with you guys is that you're usually way too shit-scared and cowardly to actually make the first move. Which is perfectly acceptable and normal, but doesn't change the fact that the chances of anything happening unless you overcome that fear is practically zero. Either you man up and do something about it, or you continue dreaming and hoping that maybe we'll make the first move, which is something that will almost never happen.

The thing is, us nerdy-girl-types aren't that different to you guys. We have self-esteem issues, fairly low confidence, and we have a tendency to overthink and overcomplicate things. Just as much as you guys do, if not more because we're women and to a large extent it's how we are. We have to face the exact same issues that you guys have when it comes to asking out a girl, except we're the female and so it gets magnified absolutely loads.

You can whine about it all you want, but the social convention is that the guy asks the girl out. It doesn't matter whether this is how things should be - all that matters is that it's how things generally are right now. So on top of all your insecurities and doubts over whether she'll say "yes" if you ask her out, we also have to deal with the extra huge worry of "if he wanted to go out with me, surely he'd have asked me already?". For a girl to ask a guy out not only requires the courage of making the first move, but also the confidence that the only reason that the guy hasn't made the first move already is because he's too much of a fraidy-cat, and not because he doesn't see you that way. Even in the best of scenarios, that's hardly a brilliant quality to ask the guy out on the back of.

So sure, you'd absolutely love it if your dream girl would solve your problem and ask you out instead, but if you're a shy, socially-awkward sort of guy, then chances are that your dream girl probably is too (unless she's way out of your league), and that she'll be just as bad, if not worse, when it comes to finding the confidence to ask you out.

I guess my main point would be that sometimes you guys just have to show some balls (use a little alcohol if you need to), swallow your fear and potentially your pride, and just go for it. It's not going to happen otherwise, and the longer you let it drag on the less likely it's going to happen, and the more likely you are to just end up in the ~friend zone~, and then you're buggered (and yes, they will talk to you about their current boyfriend, and whether he's an asshole or a perfectly decent guy, it'll be crappy for you either way).

The longer you leave it, the more and more we'll shun the idea that you're ever going to ask us out. It's not that we get bored or anything, it's just that we figure if you were ever going to do it, then you'd have done it by now. We move on (maybe we even come to the conclusion that you don't swing that way), and come to terms with the idea that it ain't happening. Even if you do ask us out then it'll most likely catch us totally off-guard and we won't be quite so sure what to make of it, and if someone else asks us out first then we probably won't keep waiting for you.

That's the other thing - you guys seem to overcomplicate it with this weird idea that we're all totally against the idea of dating anyone, especially not some bedraggled, socially-inept poindexter such as yourself. I'm not saying that we're all actually sex-obsessed and desperate for action (also not speaking for all girls either way here), but if we're single and have been for a while, then we're probably fairly open to the idea of going out with someone. Maybe not anyone, but if they seem decent enough and don't have horrific hygiene issues, then it'll probably be worth a date.

I mean, come on, worst case scenario is that he turns out to be a bit boring or a creep or whatever, and it was a bit of a waste of a lunch/evening and we had to pay for our own meal. It's not like we've got a huge amount to lose if we go out on a couple of dates and figure that maybe you're not the right person for us. Unless you're already in the aforementioned friend zone, which is another reason to make a move early.

Think about it nerd guys: if you'd been single for a while (or forever) and a not-unattractive, seemingly nice and intelligent girl asked you out on a date, would you turn her down? Hell, isn't that pretty much the exact bloody scenario that most of you crave for? Why the hell would any of us think that much differently?

You don't need to look like Johnny Depp or anything to ask a girl out - if you do then either your sights are too high, or she's a bitch and don't bother with her anyway. Just take a chance and go for it. It's not like you've got much to lose even if she rejects you, so long as she's not a good friend or someone you're going to be in regular forced contact with. If you don't have much to lose, then she probably doesn't either (so long as she's single - probably worth checking that first) and maybe something good might happen and you can finally stop whining about your floundering and unsuccessful love-life. Heck, even the worst-case scenario is that you get something a bit more concrete and less pathetic to complain about.

Though as a word of warning, if the answer is no, then leave it. Move on. Not taking no for an answer is even worse than not having the courage to get an answer in the first place. Use your new-found ability to ask girls out on someone else instead.

And I'm done. Again, I can't speak for all the girls in the world, and I'm no master of relationships (hence my current boyfriend), but I know more than enough nerdy guys (i.e. more than zero) to know where you all almost unanimously fail when it comes to girls and dating.

Yours faithfully/sincerely/lolwhatever,


Saturday, 22 January 2011

Climbing & Rowing

So the project is now finished and handed in, and I'm back to being in a sort of weird limbo of having just had a fairly large deadline, but with the next one still being a while away. I feel like I have no work to do even though I've actually got a reasonable number of things to get cracking on with.

I feel pretty happy with my project overall, and I reckon I had some decent creativity in there. My final design wasn't brilliantly creative or stunningly beautiful, but I did manage to figure out how to use Photoworks properly to get something which doesn't look entirely like ass:

I bought a three-month climbing pass at Kelsey Kerridge yesterday, mostly because I'll be staying in Cambridge over the Easter vacation, so it actually makes sense given I'll finally be able to spend three consecutive months in Cambridge, rather than buying a three-month pass and then spending one of those months a couple of hundred miles away.

The three-month pass is fairly expensive (£77!) but then it does mean I can just go whenever I want for however long I feel like. Usually because it's like a fiver to get in, you feel like you need to go when you've got two or three hours free so that you can get your money's worth, but now I can just turn up when I've got a spare hour or so, mess around on the wall a bit, and then go.

They've done the wall up massively so that the whole room is now dedicated to climbing, and there's a ton of bouldering stuff. The advantage of bouldering is that you don't need a rope and belayer, but it does sort of expose my fairly large fear of heights. Or, more specifically, a fear of falling.

Usually when I'm climbing I don't mind the height so much, because I'm on a rope. I'll be a bit scared at first, but once I've been to the top once I'm usually fairly OK with being high up because I can feel the rope and know it'll stop me falling. Now, granted, the bouldering wall doesn't go more than 5m high, and the floor is completely covered in padding, so if I do actually fall it's not likely to even hurt, let alone cause injury, but I find it really hard to actually properly get that idea into my head.

Usually I climb, get fairly near to the top, and then I have to down-climb to pretty near the floor and jump off. Down-climbing is not only fairly difficult when the wall is overhanging, but it's also fucking tiring as well. Yet if I try and jump off from a fairly big height (or what feels like a fairly big height), then half the time I physically can't do it. I psyche myself up for it, I'm fully committed, and then when I actually try and let go my hands just aren't having any of it. Every part of my consciousness is ready to jump down, and my body just 100% doesn't bloody want to and I just end up clinging their like a total nonce.
Definitely something to work on...

Given that I've been keeping a fairly tight rein on my sleep schedule, I've actually not hurt so much having to get at 6:30am for rowing this week. Getting up around that time every day does actually work, even if it means going to bed at a daft times every day too. Means I'm actually awake enough to cox properly, though I still have my standard retarded mixing of words and talking absolute bollocks (eg. "sternside" and "middle six").

I definitely didn't miss being on the Cam though. It's even worse now that novice boats are supposedly senior and get to spaz around the river crashing into banks and generally being a nuisance. And crews doing backstops warm-up from the boathouses. Like, seriously, backstops warm-ups? Do some clubs just not have ergs in the boathouse to warm up on, or are their rowers so badgering shit that they can't remember how to row unless they get taken through it painstakingly slowly in a boat?

I don't mind crews doing stuff like that to warm up for races, but at 7am on a weekday morning it's just totally badgering stupid and they hold up the entire sodding river because it's too narrow and twisty to overtake (and novice coxes can't do it well enough) despite the fact that they're going at below walking pace and holding up a dozen boats behind them. Screw two-card rules and the like; just stopping crews doing retarded shit like that early in the morning would ease congestion a shitload. It's the equivalent of getting out of your car during the rush-hour and pushing it down a main road, just because you feel like a bit of early-morning exercise and didn't make time to do it before you left.

In slightly more cheery rowing-related stuff though, Fairbairns was fairly good fun, and the CUW alumni boat won the Women's Senior IVs, despite the lack of training, the last-minute somewhat clueless blade adjustments, and Anna's inability to actually get her blade out of the water. Oh, and Caius WII being absolutely fucking shit, and the rules for Fairbairns being completely bloody retarded. Overtaking is going to be difficult for the first stretch of the course, but not allowing boats to overtake even when it's clearly perfectly safe is totally stupid. When we've already had to easy to avoid crashing into the back of an extremely slow boat in front of us, and when we clearly have the space to overtake (to the point of being completely alongside them with a good metre or two of clearance in between), but we're apparently not allowed to because we've not gotten far enough up the course yet, then that's just completely idiotic.

It's hard having four women in the boat yelling at me to overtake, and then marshals on the bank telling me I definitely mustn't overtake, even though we're already drifting safely past them purely because we can't actually go slow enough not to. I don't see why having a slow crew concede the racing line and allow the faster crew to go past is particularly dangerous compared to having the cox of the faster crew desperately try and keep behind the slower crew without his crew members potentially killing him in the heat of the moment. Whether you can overtake or not should be based on whether it's safe or not, and not whether you've gotten past the top finish post or not. And maybe they should also try and avoid putting boats which are clearly going to be quick in the order starting behind boats which are clearly going to be slow, because that's pretty stupid as well.

But shit competition rules and slow boats aside, it was a nice experience and a decent way to spend an afternoon, even if I felt my coxing was a bit crap on the day. Plus I got a mug out of it, and found an awesome gift in my pigeon hole yesterday:

There were actually two bars of Green & Black's but I was greedy and ate the other one before I took the photo. Thanks Anna - almost certainly the best thing I've ever unexpectedly gotten in my pigeon hole.

I wasn't racing in the Head to Head today because we didn't submit an M2 crew to race, but I heard that the stroke of one of the Cantabs boats suffered a heart-attack, though is apparently recovering in hospital. I dunno who they are, but I hope they get well soon.

Also holy crap Liverpool won 3-0 today. And they won while playing away, even if it was against, err, Wolves...

EDIT: and now that the results are out, congrats to Downing W1 winning their category in the H2H race. Decent job by M1 too, to set the fastest 1st leg time and come pretty respectably in 3rd. Especially given that half the crew were novices last term.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Everything Sux

Back already from the wondrous warmth of Spain and into the cold wetness that is the UK in January. It was an excellent week, but I still wish it could have gone on a little bit longer (or forever).

*random awesome SMBC comic from this week*
As well as the weather, I now also have the grim realisation that all that work I'd largely been ignoring while in Spain still needs to be done, and I'm now a week closer to all the deadlines than I was when I went away. I've got a project due in on Friday which I was given in November, so clearly I got it done and dusted long, long ago? Only a moron would have put it off for two months and then decided to do it in the last week?

It's actually a design project, so it's not too harsh to be doing it fairly late on, because it's not particularly difficult - I just spent a large portion of today drawing shit. I'd sort of been working on it mentally for a while; it's just I'd never actually started properly putting things together in a physical form until Monday.

It's weird to have sat in boats three times a day for pretty much a whole week and then have an entire 48 hours or so of not going so much as near a river, but that'll change tomorrow for Fairbairns. Which I know very little about because the website is apparently a pile of shit, and all the important pages which were working a week or so ago are no longer working. Looking forward to it, though I'll also be nervous as hell, because the prospect of crashing a boat containing four serious female rowers who are each significantly bigger than I am is always a scary one. My only real sadness about it is that I'll most likely be forced to miss the enthralling joys of unloading the trailer from camp and re-rigging all the boats, which is apparently also happening tomorrow afternoon.

MET seems to have taken something of a twist away from the batshit hectic timetable of last term into something a little bit more sensible. I still had a stupid Week Zero lab thing today, but that was mostly mucking about on a Mazak Integrex machine, which for an engineer is possibly one of the coolest pieces of equipment ever (basically you shove a lump of metal in, load the CAM program, and it'll blitz away and machine it into a proper thing in a flying mess of coolant fluid and metal swarf). I turned up late because the guy running it switched the times fairly late, and I got confused and ended up turning up early for the time I thought I was meant to be, but actually late for the time I was really meant to be. No harm done though, and we also managed to make the part we were supposed to without breaking the huge expensive piece of machinery.

Still, a timetable that includes 11am starts on Mondays and Fridays instead of 9am lectures is awesome. It probably won't result in lie-ins just because I'll almost certainly have some sort of rowing thing in the morning, but it will at least mean I won't have the ridiculous manic cycle from Downing boathouse to the IfM, which is pretty much the entire way across Cambridge, and is an utter pain to try and do quickly and during rush-hour in the morning.

Plus it seems that training camp has actually fixed my sleep schedule. I woke up at 8:45am this morning, and I actually got up rather than sleeping in for another two hours. I did sort of get up because I thought I had a lab at 9:45, but when I found it had been shifted back a couple of hours I didn't even go back to bed. I did actual work instead!

I give myself three more days before attempting to get up early every day and maintain a constant sleep schedule goes to shit and I'm back to erratic mixtures of long lie-ins and stupidly early morning outings.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Banyoles Blog

So last year the DCBC training camp was spent in Soustons, France. The accommodation was OK, the lake was absolutely fricking huge, the food was apparently shite (though I didn't think it was that bad, though unless it's got poison/disease/mushrooms in it, I'm generally not fussy when it comes to food), the nightlife of the town was pretty dead (and expensive), and we managed to go in the first week in January, when most of Europe was hit by blisteringly cold weather.

I'm currently sitting in our hostel in Banyoles, and I have to say that yeah, so far this year it's been significantly better than Banyoles was.

First off, the weather. It's been really nice, generally pretty sunny every day, and the temperatures in the afternoon are hitting 15-20C each day, which is pretty damn awesome for January. It's certainly a shitload warmer than the UK has been for the last month. It gets cold pretty quickly in the evening once the sun goes behind the mountains, and it can be a bit nippy in the morning, but it's still probably a good ten degrees above the temperatures in Cambridge. I'm really not looking forward to the freezing early mornings for the rest of term once we get back.

Secondly, the fucking scenery. The lake is absolutely awesome. It's astonishingly clear, and you can see right to the bottom of the lake if you're in the shallower bits. It's a fantastic blue colour once you get out into the middle, and it's apparently five-star quality for swimming, which makes a pretty big change to the disease-infested murky waters of the Cam. It's surrounded by forested hills with the Pyrenées in the distance, and is postcard beautiful. If I had a bike with me I'd definitely have taken it up a few of the hills nearby because there'd be some awesome views to be had.

You'd probably need to go to the Scottish lochs for this sort of rowing scenery in the UK, and it wouldn't be 15C either
(click for full res)
The lake is nowhere near as big as Soustons, and it only just fits the 2k course inside it, so it's a bit of a pain in that respect because you can't just have continuous paddling forever (Soustons is like 20km or something for a full lap of the lake) and do actually have to turn round every ten minutes or so and go back the other way. On the other hand, the course is actually clearly marked out with buoys, unlike Soustons, so from a coxing perspective it's possible to actually keep a decent course and know where the fuck I'm meant to be going in the lake.

It's always a really weird transition going from the Cam, where it's tight and congested, and where I'm never more than a couple of metres from the bank, to a huge lake where I feel like I'm in the middle of fucking nowhere on the water sometimes and I've really not got much reference as to where I'm steering.

The real benefit of this sort of thing over the Cam is that there's the space and the freedom for us to actually have a bit of fun on the water. Usually the Cam is congested, and there's really not much scope to play about with things. On a lake with hardly any other boats on the water we do have a bit of a free reign, and the last few days have been filled with some pretty awesome side-by-side racing, which you practically never get on the Cam because there just isn't room.

The reach is wide, but it's not this wide
(again, click for full res)
It's been good fun so far, and I've enjoyed it a ton. I'm surprised how quickly the novices have improved, and I think the club has really good reason to be confident going into Lent now, because the first boats should be reinforced well, and the second boats are looking like they could be really strong too, bar maybe a couple of stragglers in the senior squad. I feel like I've improved quite a bit this weekend, and it's been nice to integrate myself through the club a bit more after a term spent almost entirely with the WII IV+. I'll probably be shooting for MII, and maybe MI next term, though I reckon Sarah probably has the first boat covered just through the extra experience she has.

Except for May bumps, I'd say this is probably the highlight of the year as far as rowing goes, and it's a shame that we don't have a training camp in the summer just for the fun of it and to maybe send off the seniors, because it's definitely a great way to spend a week. Even if I am absolutely shattered and my back is aching from spending up to six hours in a boat every day - and I'm not even doing any rowing.

We're off to Barcelona tomorrow afternoon for a break, which I had no idea about until Ian mentioned it at the start of the week. Barcelona is probably my favourite European city, and I'm epicly looking forward to it. I'll do my best to get round the Sagrada Familia and the Parc Guell, because they were the highlights the last time I was there (also the Camp Nou, but that's not really worth visiting again), and then I'll see how things are going for time from there.

I'm in the boat on the far side, in the lead obviously...
So not looking forward to being back in the UK, but I'm still looking forward to the rowing next term, even if the outings are going to be cold and mostly spent fucking about in traffic on the river. The sudden transition back into rowing in Cambridge is at least being sweetened by a surprise appearance in Fairbairns (Downing have scratched because we might not have our boats back and crews prepared in time) coxing a CUWBC alumni IV+ courtesy of an offer from Anna Railton, whose blog is far better than mine, and who is an ex-CUWBC-rower-and-GB-trialist (I got it right this time!). Because clearly the best way to get myself back used to coxing the Cam is to get in a boat with four women I've never met before, and who haven't trained together (at least not recently and in preparation for Fairbairns), and to hurtle down the river in the strongest womens' IV+ I'll have ever been in, most likely by a good margin. Oh yeah, and they'll apparently be wearing the worst kit possible which, as representatives of a boat club currently led by Lizzy Polgreen, is probably going to be pretty damn shocking.
A little nervous about it, but it should be a good laugh and I'm looking forward to it. There are definitely far less interesting ways to spend a Wednesday afternoon.

And one final bragging "where I am right now is almost certainly better than where you are" picture to those in the UK...

... and also to those on the CULRC camp in Soustons ;)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


I meant to write this post like a month ago, but I sort of forgot about it until I was reminded by the solar eclipse this morning, and some pretty decent photos of it that Peter sent me:


(As usual, click for larger size, albeit still not that big because I got them via email)

At the end of last term myself and Nick cycled to Peter's house. The cycle itself was pretty fun because we took various bridle paths and farm roads which were a fairly interesting mix of ice and thick mud. I'm surprised that none of us actually fell of at any point, despite a number of fairly close calls.Anyway, we spent the afternoon and most of the evening at his house in the middle of nowhere, and we did some stargazing in his back garden.

My first real surprise was just how many stars there are when you get into a place with not much light pollution and just look up at the sky for a few minutes and let you eyes adjust. I live in a fairly built-up area and this was the first time I've ever seen stuff like the milky way across the sky. I've never really considered that where I live would have that much light pollution, but I've never been able to look up at the sky and see anywhere near that number of stars before (the fact we rarely get a clear night here probably doesn't help).

Even at college, if you go out into the paddock on a fairly clear night and just give yourself a few minutes out there, you can see a shitload of stuff in the sky. A shitload of stuff that I can't usually see back home :\

I also looked at Jupiter through a telescope for the first time, and was pretty amazed at just how clear the moons are, and how far away they are from the surface of the planet. It's fairly impressive stuff.

So in the interest of pursuing this sort of thing, and perhaps having a greater interest in astronomy, I went looking for a sky map program and found Stellarium, which is a pretty damn impressive piece of software given that it's free. It's easy to use, to set your location etc, and there's plenty to play with in terms of features and view options. It also has plugins for various things, such as showing real-time information on where you should be able to see satellite traces in the sky.

Satellites are something I've actually watched for a while, because even in light-polluted skies you can usually see iridium flares. There's a site called heavens-above which allows you to enter your location, and it'll give you details about any iridium flares you should be able to see for the next week or so (though -6 to -8 ones are usually the only ones worth bothering with the naked eye). It gives you the time, and the position in the sky you should be looking at. They're pretty cool - usually you can see a faint dot moving fairly quickly through the sky, before it gets epicly bright for a few seconds and then fades away again. Given how bright they get it's a bit weird to think it's just sunlight reflecting off a fairly small satellite.

It's slightly more obvious to me now why ancient cultures have so much mythology and interest in stars and constellations. Aside from that fact that there was very little else to do back then, the sky must have been completely astonishing to them because there would have been no light pollution whatsoever. I feel slightly bewildered that I've been able to spend twenty years of my life before properly being able to see and appreciate the night's sky. And that was just from looking from the fens - I'd imagine from the Scottish Highlands things look even more amazing.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year's Resolutions (Again)

So about this time last year (it was a bit earlier, but who cares) I made a set of resolutions for 2010. I also sort of said I'd go back over them in 12 months time (i.e. about now) and see how many I utterly failed to manage. But first, obligatory webcomic:

Ok, now lets go...

Get a 2.1 or higher in the end of year exams

Fuck yeah, good start. Totally fucking nailed this one. Which is good, because this was by far a resolution I was expecting rather than hoping for. I sort of skimped out of the "or higher" part, but that doesn't matter for the answer to "did I do it or not?". One out of one so far...

Focus my time a little better, spend more of it doing what I'm actually meant to be doing

Not really. I'm not even I can squeeze this one into being a yes under the loophole of "a little better", because I'd say I might have actually potentially gotten worse at procrastinating and just totally wasting time. As reluctant as I might be to actually call it time wasted, I'd have to say that the likes of Robot Unicorn Attack and Civilization have definitely not helped matters here. So not going to con myself into thinking I've won this one.

Get back into talking to people who I've drifted out of touch with

Another nope. People who I rarely talked to are still people I rarely talk to, and if anything that list has probably grown a fair bit (as is the nature of the internet really). I can't really do much other than apologise to people I've hardly spoken to in the last twelve months, and assure you guys that for the majority at least it's nothing personal - I just don't have the time to spark up conversations with all of you and catch up.

Get me one of those woman things. Preferably a non-crazy one.

Yet again, a fail for this one. It's been another year of sexual frustration and crippling loneliness (haha, I'm just kidding - I'm totally not sexually frustrated). Though I guess I have managed to remove one crazy woman from my life for the most part, and I'm not far off making that two. So I guess that's a plus side, right? Right?

Get TAP Master M and Death Gm. Which shouldn't be that fucking hard considering I could do either this week with a lucky run.

Another fucking no. And I was so damn close with this one. Well, at least with half of it. Fuck TAP Master, because I can't stand playing that shit, but I've had like two dozen runs in the last week or two that could easily have been Death Gm runs with a bit of luck. I'm almost fucking there, but I've still gone another year because I don't really play it that much and I just ain't had the fortune for it.

Actually go to sleep when I intend to, rather than staying up on MSN, IRC and Facebook for another two hours

This is a hard one to judge, but I think I'm also going to have to stamp a FAIL on this one. It's a hard one because I sort of do go to sleep when I intend to now, but I'm pretty sure not in the way I was intending when I wrote this post. It used to be I'd aim for 1am and then end up going to bed at 3am having wasted two hours doing random shit on my laptop. Now I just intend to go to bed at 3am, and I manage it, which isn't so much an improvement as just substantially lowering the bar. Plus I still fail to go to bed at 3am often enough, so I can't really justify this one being a resolution I've kept.

Over Lent and May bumps, average out bumping more often than being bumped - not totally under my control but something to work towards anyway.

Another fail, but this wasn't my fault directly, and I'm fairly proud with how the girls did for Mays (if I'd competed in Lents I would have had blades, which is a tad irritating), so this one isn't a huge black mark. Plus we won our division for University IVs and Autumn Head so I've had some marked success on the Cam in 2010.

Get the Riichi Mahjong Society properly registered (preferably before the 2010 freshers' fair) and established as a real society.

This still hasn't happened, so I sort of have to strike this one off to, but I did write up the constitution for the society the other day, and hopefully it'll get registered next term. We do at least have a committee and stuff now. So in terms of this list, a fail, but I'm happy enough with where things are. I probably would have gotten it done last term had I not been far busier with MET than I thought I'd be.

Learn how to hold my tongue sometimes when people are being idiotic, and be a bit less abrasive.

This is a hard one to really judge, but I'm fairly sure I haven't managed it. I can still be snappy, and a douchebag, especially when it's over the internet and I'm not in a particularly great mood.

Will! says (12:38):
for some reason your appearing a lot in my news feed in a production called "Chris is tactless and unhelpful"

Though I will say in those situations I was being near enough exactly as tactless and unhelpful as I was intending to be (also, in hindsight, the best ironic comeback would have been It's spelt "you're", not "your", but I missed that witty retort at the time). I guess really my problem is that I'm amateur at all this 'being a dickhead' stuff. If I could compare to the godly level that is 27b/6 and be FUCKING HILARIOUS then maybe people wouldn't mind so much, right? So really either extreme is OK so long as I'm not in the middle too often where I'm just being a twat. Ok, maybe not.

So the final result is a scorching one out of nine resolutions passed. And not only that, but the one I actually managed was something I expected to do anyway, and I passed it at a bare minimum standard. What with it being a poor year for resolutions, I had a small think about what I actually did in 2010, with the overwhelming answer seeming to be "not much really". I think part of it is that my life has settled down a bit. I'm into a routine now at university, and at home, and there's not much that really breaks that. Plus I've finished puberty and being a teenager and all that drama and crap. I sort of am who I am now, and really I doubt I can change it all that much.

She probably won't read this, but I'll say thanks again to Helen for inviting everyone round for a New Year's party. And thanks to everyone else who was there (most of whom probably will read this) for making it a fun time. I enjoyed it and it was totally worth the epic journey to London and back in just over 24 hours to be there. Much merriment was had, and not even with that much alcohol.

So what of 2011? What are my plans, my hopes, my ambitions and dreams for the next 12 months? We shall never know, because I'm not going to bother making any. Going through the utterly shambolic debacle that has been my 2010 resolutions has just confirmed the opinion I already held that New Year's resolutions are POINTLESS and FUCKING STUPID.

I see there being two types of proper resolutions. The first type would be easy resolutions, e.g. the only one I actually managed to achieve for 2010. The sort of stuff that's going to happen anyway, regardless of whether I make it a specific goal for 2010. Those ones are utterly pointless because the fact I've made it a resolution changes nothing - I was going to try and aim and most probably get that anyway.

The second type are the hard resolutions. The ones that represent reckless naïvety and over-ambition. Major life changes and other such difficult stuff. Really, a resolution is just a confirmation of shit you'd like to change in your life. Usually stuff that if you wanted hard enough, and if it was that easy, you'd have already managed by now. The resolution changes nothing. There's a good reason why it hasn't happened already (usually that it's hard/boring/etc), and merely acknowledging the fact that you'd like it to happen really doesn't go a great deal towards actually making it happen. The reason you've never done it before is still there.

Really what you need to do is hit the extremely sleight and tiny group of resolutions precisely between types one and two. Which basically don't exist, or are pointless random things that need to fall under "I've never thought about wanting to do that before, but now I have, I guess I do want to do it and will."

The main problem with resolutions is that you usually forget them before the end of January anyway. And even if you don't, a year is way too long a deadline, especially for a student. If it's a discrete event then you can just put it off and convince yourself you'll do it later in the year. If it's some sort of continuous self-improvement program, then keeping it up for a whole 12 months just seems exceptionally far-fetched and difficult at the start, so you end up giving up anyway. If you want resolutions to actually have an impact on the way you lead your life, then not only do you need to properly believe in them and do your best to carry them out, but you also need to make them every month, or even every two weeks.

Life is a gradual process of continuous improvement. You can't magically change your life just because the Earth has reached a point in its annual journey around the Sun which we have arbitrarily defined to be the start/finish line. It's something you need to work on each and every day, not just for the 1st January and a few days after that.

There, most wishy-washy and profound thing I'll say for the entirety of 2011. Back to being a bitter, sarcastic and cynical asshole.