Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Business Time

Because you know when I'm down to just my socks, what time it is. It's business time.

My week of dossing off is over, and once I'm done making blog posts and references to epic Flight of the Conchords songs then I'll actually have to finally start getting some work done. Or I might just keep watching South Park and playing StarCraft. Who knows.

I went shopping earlier in the week in preparation for revision, buying crucial supplies such as pens and paper crisps and chocolate biscuits. I actually only went to grab a few things but ended up coming out with more stuff than I can even fit in my rucksack because things were on offer. There's so much confectionery in my room right now that even a fat girl whose boyfriend had just broken up with her would not be able to consume it all.

My entire Sunday (besides 7:00-8:30am for watching F1) was taken up by being in Henley for the Henley Boat Races, which was a pretty good day out, helped massively by the weather being pretty nice. Henley has always had this weird sort of mythical aura in my impression of it, as if it's the sort of place where crime and poverty don't exist because everyone there is so ridiculously upper-class and involved with rowing, and that anyone who hasn't rowed or at least attended an esteemed public school is not allowed to be there. My northern accent would be a liability and I could get removed from the town at a moment's notice for not being rah enough.

Obviously this isn't the case, but Henley didn't do any favours for itself, given that within five minutes of being there we'd already ended up queuing behind James Cracknell. And then we came across a bunch of chavs with pitbull terriers, and the magical world was shattered - normal people exist in Henley too.

Having to change into black tie in a toilet stall in Wetherspoon's shattered another dream of mine too. I'd expected that despite the awkwardness and faff of changing into a suit into a confined space, it'd still be awesome. You walk into the stall wearing normal clothes, and you walk out in black tie - very James Bond. Except I don't think James Bond forgets his cuff-links, and I don't think he typically has someone with the shits in the cubicle next to him. The experience was not quite what I'd hoped it would be.

The ball itself was fairly good, although I'd not brought that much money and the drinks were extortionate, so I ended up pretty stone-cold sober by the end of the evening. Still it was a good day, even though I was knackered by the end of it, without having even rowed.

My plans basically now solely consist of going into London with Nick on Thursday, and then going home for a few days the weekend after next, and then I have nothing until the exams. It's slightly unnerving that I can see my first exams on the upcoming appointments things in Outlook and on my iGoogle homepage. On the flip-side, it'll force me to write proper posts on here instead of just mindlessly rambling about what I've done in the last few days. Unless people really want to hear about how I just revised a bit and lazed about all day.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Summer Sunshine

I'm aware that the song I'm referencing in the post title is by The Corrs, and that this makes me MASSIVELY GAY, but I'm cool with it, because it fits and I couldn't be bothered thinking up something more manly.

On Sunday I moved into my room over the vacation in Lensfield 32. It's not a bad room itself, a bit small, but there's a fair amount of cupboards and storage space, and I don't really need a huge room or anything. My major complaint at this point is that the "desk" (it's not a desk - it's just a table) is pretty small, doesn't have any drawers, and has these awkward things at the corners that obstruct you from putting your legs under the table. That and the chair is utterly shit for back support. But aside from the furnishing, it's an OK room and pretty good for the rent band.

About a week ago I made a laptop stand out of cardboard. I cut the cardboard into pieces, they all slotted together fairly akin to the pic below, and it was fairly dandy.

I made my own modified design (because I have a big 17" laptop which means it needs to be a bit more elaborate) and it seemed to work well. It raised my laptop up so it ran a lot cooler (like 10°C cooler when running StarCraft II), and tilted it so it was more comfortable to type on. By pure fluke it also meant my laptop screen was raised to almost exactly the same height as my second monitor, which was better both aesthetically and ergonomically. I think the phrase to best describe how I felt would be "dead chuffed about it". If it wasn't for a lack of camera with which to take photos, it would have gotten its own blog post.

As it happens, it wasn't as awesome as I thought it was. My laptop is pretty damn heavy (3.5kg) and turns out that four vertical cardboard slats don't support that sort of weight particularly well. I'd also been a bit retarded and short-sighted when cutting the cardboard out and gotten the orientation of it wrong. Corrugated cardboard has a direction in which it's pretty resistant to buckling, and a direction in which it's not, and I'd not being paying enough attention when cutting the pieces out, and screwed that aspect up. So it still sort of does the job of raising my laptop up, but at a far lower height than it was a week ago. I've got the time tomorrow to make a Mk II, so I'll probably do that and make it a little better the second time. Or alternatively I could find some sheet metal and make a metal one on the CNC machine in the IfM, though that seems a bit excessive and somewhat defeats the awesomeness of it being just botched out of cardboard.

On an artsy-crafty sort of note, I was on the BBC late one night last week, and saw an article in the 'Most Read' section titled 'Student recreates school out of Lego', which I thought was a pretty cool sounding article, so I clicked on it. My first thought on seeing the picture of the model was "Hey, that sort of looks like my school". Then I actually read the full article title, and turns out it is my old school. To be fair, he's done a pretty good job, and it's a pretty good likeness. God damn bloody overachieving public schoolboys...

My most notable activity of the week so far was cycling with Peter on Wednesday, in which I did the longest cycle ride I have ever done, and which also has the greatest total climb out of any ride I've done. I'd planned the route out beforehand, with the basic target being Great Chishill, which is the highest point in Cambridgeshire, and the route mostly following quiet country roads on the way out, and then the 11 Cycleway on the way back. We stopped off at Waitrose on the way out to get some stuff to eat and drink, chatted to some other cyclist in the car park for a bit, and studied the map to make sure we knew where we were going. Peter had a fairly new OS map, but it stopped about two miles north of where we wanted to be, so we were using this older OS map which actually had the entire area we were cycling in on it. We were a little surprised at first to discover it was missing some fairly noticeable features, such as the M11 and A14, which just completely didn't exist on it (turns out the map was from like 1972), but for the roads we were on it was fine.

It being the first time I'd ever cycled that far, I wasn't really sure quite how to set about it, but it turned out OK. The climbs were pretty painful, in particular the second peak just before Littlebury Green, and the undulations after it, but on the whole I actually felt pretty good, and my legs were hardly sore yesterday. I think we paced it well, and a couple of rest stops to take in the scenery probably helped a bit too. It was nice just to be out in the sun, and even though it's monotonous there's something quite pleasant about just sticking to a single gear and rhythm on the flat, and eating up the miles and the scenery.

It's still a fair distance away from our final goal of cycling from Cambridge to Oxford in the summer, given we only did about a third of the distance and a fifth of the total climb, but it felt pretty good for a first outing of that sort of distance in a while. If the weather stays good then it'll be fairly easy to do a few more rides of a similar sort of distance over the next couple of weeks.

I've basically got this weekend left before I need to start cracking on again with revision, and the Henley Boat Races are taking up my entire Sunday from like 9am to 3am Monday morning, but it should be reasonably good fun. For once I'm actually thankful for the F1 being in Australia (holy shit it's finally starting again) because it means I'll actually be able to watch it on Sunday before the coach leaves to Henley.

The general consensus from the pre-season stuff was that McLaren were going to be rubbish, but the practice times from this morning seem to imply that they've at least got some sort of pace. We'll see - I don't really hold testing and free practice times with particularly great regard, and I wouldn't try and make any sort of prediction on what is probably going to be another very close season until the end of qualifying tomorrow. I'll still be rooting for the McLarens, and I can't wait until Sunday.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


Post title taken from the new Rise Against album, which is pretty good. Not as good as their best, but definitely strong and with some decent tracks in it.

Random FBF pic because I don't have anything particularly new or relevant to put here.

Lent term has finished, so there's now the sort of twilight in between where I feel like I can slack off, but can't because my exams are actually week 1 of Easter term, which has completely thrown my usual schedule off for this time of year. The plus side is obviously that they'll be out of the way, but the downside is that I have to basically spend the whole vacation working (or feeling like I should be working), which is actually going to be somewhat difficult. It's hard to get a good idea for how far away exams are when the entire period beforehand is just a series of mushy weeks where I don't have anything scheduled.

I was doing some vague groundwork for revision today, and drawing up something of a timetable and actually trying to get to grips with how long I've got (plus it's always nice to feel like you're doing something productive without actually doing any work) and realised that my standard revision plan is going to be utterly fucked over by the MET format. Usually I just take the past tripos papers for the last five or six years, go through some of the old ones in detail with notes, and then go through the more recent ones without notes, and then do last year's under exam conditions and see how I do. It might not be the most perfect way of revising, but it's worked well the last two years.

The issue I've got is that the MET course was totally reconfigured last year. The 2010 papers are the same style as the ones we'll be sitting, but all the ones before that are a different format, and the content isn't quite the same, meaning they're nowhere near as useful for revision as I'd prefer them to be, so I'll probably have to come up with some other way of revising. Unless they provide us with a bunch of sample papers, in which case I might just use them and it'll all be fine.

I'm staying in Cambridge over Easter to do this whole revision bollocks, except I can't stay in my room because it's one of the nicer ones in college and therefore gets whored out to conference guests to use. So tomorrow I've got to pack up all my stuff and move approximately 200m across the college to a different room, and then do the reverse in about five weeks' time. There are worse ways to spend a day, but it's still going to be a huge pain in the arse faff to do.

This weekend has been a bit weird too, because pretty much everyone has buggered off. I'm grateful for AOL being around and accompanying me to brunch and pub, because pretty much everyone else has either gone home or is away this weekend, and it's a bit quiet and strange. It basically meant that I got a ton of StarCraft II played today (and there's still hours left!), and I'm starting to actually feel reasonably competent at the game now. Watching a few Day9 dailies has definitely helped, and now that I understand what I should be doing, things are working fairly smoothly. It's still a multitasking nightmare, but I can get used to that with practice.

My revision schedule did at least throw up that I've got enough leeway to take a bit of a break before I start revising, which will be useful to sort out some of the Tetris league stuff, get some fansubbing work completed, and also just concentrate on a report I've got to write (which is only 1500 words, so shouldn't take more than a day or two). And of course time to write reasonably overdue blog posts.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear "Crisis"

The news has been pretty much filled this weekend with news of the natural disaster and aftermath in Japan, and the internets have been pretty filled with stuff as well. In terms of brute force and the earthquake and the magnitude of the event, it's definitely one of the worst natural disasters in living memory, and I think that Japan's status as a MEDC and the fact that their infrastructure is built to withstand earthquakes is the only reason that the death toll is going to stay in the low tens of thousands, instead of the hundreds of thousands seen in the Haiti earthquake last year, and the one in Indonesia in 2004.

The amount of #prayforjapan has pissed me off somewhat. I'm not against people praying for those suffering in the aftermath, but I am against the way people seem to be parading the notion around. How about don't pray for Japan. How about do something actually useful and donate to one of the charities making a difference over there.

Aside from the fact that this sort of event is even labelled by insurance companies as an 'act of god', the whole "I'm praying for Japan" thing is really irritating for me just because it seems like people are boasting that they're doing their bit when they're completely not. If I went to the hospital with kidney failure and was told that the doctors could perform a transplant, but had decided they would pray for me instead, I would not be happy. I would expect that even devout Christians wouldn't be particularly enthralled by the prospect either. Or maybe they should start really showing their faith and asking for prayer as a treatment (because I can't think of any better way to show your faith than to put your life in his hands) - it'd cut down on hospital bills at least. I don't like the implication from some people that Christians are praying and making a big difference while the rest of us are just sitting twiddling our thumbs and not doing anything to solve the issue.

I'll admit that the people who insist we should pray to Japan are significantly better than those in America who claim this is just divine justice for Pearl Harbor (albeit 70 years late and ignoring the two atomic bombs dropped in between, which together killed around a hundred times more people than the Pearl Harbor attack). Still, giving up some of your limitless supply of prayer points, and maybe a whole minute of your time is hardly something to boast about. Really it's only a small step up from the status of 'not giving a shit at all'. I have no gripes with people wanting to do it, but if you seriously care there's definitely a bit more you can do to be genuinely helpful to the survivors.

The other thing that's really annoyed me is all the media furore over the Fukushima nuclear "crisis". There was a fresh explosion this morning and still all the media hype is on the " biggest nuclear crisis since Chernobyl".

I was going to write a huge post about how retarded all this media scaremongering is, and how there's actually nothing to worry about, but then I was linked by muf to what is basically exactly what I would have written, only it's more eloquent, informed and reputable than anything I'd have written. So instead I shall link to it instead:


The fact is, there's very little to worry about. The problem with nuclear energy is that people imagine that every nuclear power plant is essentially a nuclear bomb being controlled in a big shed, which isn't the case. Nuclear reactors can't possibly explode in the way a nuclear bomb can (as pointed out in the article, if that was the case then Iran and plenty of other countries would have nuclear arms by now). Chernobyl didn't explode in that manner, and was basically a hydrogen explosion (so your standard sort of combustible explosion) except it was really badly designed and it blew up the main reactor.

Stuff has exploded in the Japanese plant, but crucially the design of it means that nothing important has been damaged in the explosion. So long as the huge steel cocoon holding all the really radioactive stuff is intact, there's nothing to worry about. The literally worst case scenario is that everything inside melts into a huge pile of molten, radioactive garbage, and the plant is rendered completely unusable and will take a few years of difficult cleanup to properly sort out. The chances of anything truly harmful being done to the surrounding area is extremely unlikely - and at the very least anything that does leak will be absolutely tiny compared to the loss of life and environmental damage caused by the huge earthquake and tsunami. It's like worrying about a mosquito bite when you've just broken a limb.

Even the factual and non-speculative sections of the media aren't helping things, because they're not being explained properly. Reports that radiation levels outside the plant were "8 times above normal" and that there's radiation exceeding legal limits are really not particularly helpful, because at no point do they explain how absolutely minuscule these levels are.

I'll admit, I know nothing about the legal radiation levels for nuclear facilities in Japan, but I know what the UK limits are (I worked in a nuclear engineering company for a total of 10 weeks over the last two summers), and they are insanely low. They are low to the point where there have been issues regulating a plant in Scotland because the whole thing is sitting on granite bedrock (which is a pretty good, solid foundation), and the background radiation levels coming from the ground are above the legal limits before you even stick a nuclear plant there. If you live in Aberdeenshire, you're probably getting a higher dose of radiation than you would stood outside the Fukushima plant right now.

According to the media, this whole incident raises the question of whether nuclear power is truly safe. Seriously? Are you fucking kidding me? A country with a huge nuclear power program gets hit by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake and a resultant tsunami, and as of yet there has been no wide-reaching disaster (and in my opinion there won't be). Several nuclear power plants go through what is one of the ten largest earthquakes on record, ever, and come out pretty much entirely unscathed (except for one, which is still doing fine as far as greater security goes), and somehow this raises the possibility that nuclear power is unsafe? Given the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, and the regularity with which oil and gas refineries explode and kill people, and in which oil spills cause huge environmental damage, I'd say nuclear power is faring pretty well. In comparison, the global track record for nuclear power isn't particularly bad. Sure, the after-effects of Chernobyl were massive, but that was utterly ignorant reactor design and operation, and with proper regulation in the Soviet Union it would never have happened, and something on that scale shouldn't happen again.

If, in a week's time, it transpires that no major incident has occurred in Fukushima, and aside from the functionality of the plant there is no lasting damage, then I would take that as a pretty good sign on the safety of nuclear power - that even after the worst attack nature has to offer, things hold up as they should do. There shouldn't be questions of how close we maybe came to disaster, because really it's probably not come that close. In terms of environmental damage and loss of human life, nuclear power is almost certainly cleaner and safer than coal and oil are (especially if you accommodate the effects of CO2 and the like). We're at a point where we need to seriously start shifting into nuclear power generation to start covering the gap for when coal and oil disappear as energy sources (currently renewable forms are nowhere near good enough to make up the deficit) and the relatively low impact of a 8.9 magnitude earthquake should be a sign that we'd be doing the right thing, not a reason to second-guess and worry about the safety. At the very least we're not going to be getting any earthquakes of that size in the UK.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Some Awesome Videos

I've had a busy week, and haven't really spent much of it doing anything blog-worthy or being on the internet enough to have much to comment on. Charlie Sheen finally got sacked from Two and a Half Men, and about fucking time really - I have no idea why he was getting $1.8million per episode for that show (and had the audacity to ask for a 50% raise about a month ago). I'm sure the porn-star and the model (two separate women) he's currently living with will keep him warm at night.

There's also the ridiculous earthquake and resultant tsumani in Japan right now, but there's not really much to comment on that other than holy shit, the pictures and videos coming out just look insane. Literally entire housing estates just being washed along across farmland by the water. Even for a country used to earthquakes, the level of devastation from the tsunami is just massive.The death toll is already at 300, and I hope it doesn't get much higher, but I really can't imagine it's going to stay that low. Thoughts go out to the people out there.

Anyway, because I can't be arsed writing a wordy post, I'm instead going to do a cop-out post containing a shitload of videos that I've seen recently, or which I've actually seen ages ago but haven't put on the blog yet, and think are worth spreading. So yes, some of these are OLD, but IMO they're good enough to watch again.

First off, an absolutely insane video I saw yesterday, courtesy of Peter, of this downhill urban mountain-bike time trial thing. Go figure Red Bull have a hand in the sport, but unlike the standard extreme affairs such as Crashed Ice, this is a far less professional affair. There aren't fancy purpose-built sections of the course, the majority of it is just tape and ramps made out of big pieces of plywood. It's almost the sort of thing you could just make yourself if you had a bit of spare time and a disregard for serious injury. It is mental:

Some of the gaps he flies through don't even seem wide enough to fit through, and the bit down the series of steps around a minute in is just insane.

Next one, sticking with the DIY urban extreme sports theme, is a montage of a few parkour guys in Cambridge. I swear this has already been posted on my blog, but I can't seem to find it, so I guess I just linked it around to a few people. It's reasonably old, but I actually first saw this last summer, not long after the video was posted. It's also a bitch to find because the video title is just the band and track title of the background music, and has no mention to anything you'd actually search for - I had a hard time re-finding it even when I was looking for it. The fact that this video still has two million views even with the retarded title is something of a pointer to how good it is.

What I think I like more than anything is the fact that it's such a well-edited video given that it's not professionally made or anything. Most of these sorts of vids are fairly rough, but this has had proper care gone into it. Trying to figure out where everything is probably adds a decent amount onto it as well.

A short one, courtesy of Craig Sawyer, titled "Cat Laser Bowling". Pretty self-explanatory really...

The tea-towel is the best touch in my opinion.

One that's a little bit more artsy, but really fucking cool:

These are the sorts of videos that really drill home just how far video editing software has come in the last decade or so. Not long ago this sort of video would be limited pretty much to fairly big-budget advertising campaigns, and now you can get these sorts of results from a group of people basically doing this sort of thing in their spare time.

Video of the fairly recent Tetris 40 Lines world record:

Apologies to Rob Clarke, and anyone else who thought it was me when I posted it on Facebook, but this definitely isn't me playing - I'm disappointingly nowhere near that sort of speed. Not a billion miles away, but definitely not that rapid. Four and a half pieces a second is just ridiculous, and I'm generally doing well if I can get up towards three.

Another set of videos which I think are funny, but can't embed here irritatingly, are a bunch from the Adam and Joe show, which are basically parodies of famous films, but using cuddly toys. My personal favourite is Saving Private Lion, but they are all extremely funny if you've seen the film they're parodying.

So, cheap and cheerful minimum-effort blog post. If people have video suggestions, then link/email/IM me them, and I'll either add them here or make a second post some time in the future when I again can't be arsed doing a proper post.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Lent Bumps - Day 5

There's always a slightly different tone on the final day of Lents in comparison to Mays. Of course the weather isn't as pleasant, and the crowds aren't as big, but most of all I find it weird because it's still two weeks from the end of term. With Mays, and even Fairbairns to an extent, there's no continuation of work once the rowing stops. I've got four supervisions in the next three days, most of which I've not done the work for because I've been distracted by rowing, and it's now hugely biting me in the ass.

Anyway, M2 finished fairly strong yesterday with an extremely lonely row over as pretty much all the boats in front of us bumped out, leaving us with only Churchill M1 at the top of the division to hit, which was never going to happen. Sidney M1 rowed fairly hard behind us, but they never really threatened too much and after the first minute or so we pulled away from them and it was pretty much job done.

W2 bumped, so completed a week of making fairly neat progress up the starting order for the second boat. Not the blades that the crew got last year, but still not bad for a crew almost entirely full of novices, and I guess things are only going to get more difficult as the boat moves up, although I'd say things are still fairly random at the bottom women's division.

The main celebrations kicked off with W1 rowing over (aside from a collision with some geese) to get the headship. I was still back at the boathouse at this point, so only had dodgy CamFM commentary to go on, but it sounded like it was pretty comfortable (aside from a flock of geese being on the river).

M2 cycled up to the meadow on the Reach to join the crowd watching the M1 division. It was tense as fuck, and even after the starting gun went off it felt like we were waiting forever for the crews to come round Ditton and into sight. All we could hear for ages was the noise of the crowd further down the river, and whistles from the bank. As the boats came round and into sight, Caius were pretty close, and they made a pretty huge push out of the corner which pretty much obliterated the gap. For a while we hung on where it seemed like every stroke would potentially be the bump, but eventually Craig's blade hit their bow and it was all over.

What felt the worst at the time was the silence. Nobody really said anything - we all just stood around shell-shocked and speechless. Even when we were back at the boathouse and they'd taken the boat out we still all mostly just stood around looking dejected. The girls came back from their lap of honour, and it didn't really feel like they'd just gotten headship. In some ways the men had sort of spoilt their party, which if anything at least shows the solidarity between the men's and women's squads this year. Then Ian had a chat to the crews, and we got over it somewhat and the smiles broke out a bit more.

I said to AOL and Dangerous earlier on the day that it was probably for the best that Caius were behind us on the last day. Aside from it being the grandstand finish to the week, it at least let there be a fair fight at the top of the division. It didn't matter which crew came out on top, they'd be able to say without a doubt that they'd earned it. Sure, the double headship would have been fantastic, but it would have taken things away from it somewhat if we'd never properly faced Caius to claim it for certain. Fair play to Caius, they are massively quick, and they thoroughly deserve their headship. There's no shame whatsoever in losing to a superior crew. We're still up there to fight for it next year.

And besides, the women got their headship, so we still got to burn a boat. The boat was, much to my absolute delight, the Rev. Kinsey - quite possibly the most uncomfortable boat I've ever had the displeasure to cox in, and I don't think any of the Downing coxes who have sat in it were particularly unhappy to see it go. It's like they specifically designed the cox's seat to have sharp bits of wood sticking out wherever you made contact with the boat. I coxed it for my entire novice term in May 2009, and by the end of bumps it had completely worn away the skin on my lower back and I was bruised to hell from sitting in it.

It's a huge, heavy wooden boat, though it's tank-like features have come in useful in the past...

W2, Mays 2006

W2, Lents 2008

W3, Mays 2009

I'm the cox in the final picture, though we actually mounted the bank after being bumped, whilst trying to clear the river a little too hard and whilst the boat behind us completely failed to hold it up after hitting us.
Some of those pictures might be down to the fact that the boat is actually a complete bitch to steer. I coxed in it in Michaelmas whilst taking novices out, and even when I'm not a completely incompetent novice cox, I still found it hard to get the hang of the handling. The rudder on it is absolutely tiny, and the handles aren't properly attached to the steering lines, so moving the handles doesn't actually do anything for the rudder, and it's difficult to judge exactly when you're steering straight.

The Kinsey did have one final awkward moment before we carried it back to college and burnt it to cinders. The boathouse is on the other side of the river to the college, and rather than take a large diversion to take it over a bridge, we instead pushed it across the river. Except it didn't get across the river. It stopped dead in the middle.

Ian told me to go get it, and I laughed at his hilarious joking, and yet somehow five minutes later I was taking my layers off, handing my phone and keys to people, and lowering myself in the river to get the fucking boat. Not only was it fucking cold, but it was ridiculously deep at that point in the river. I'm not a particularly tall guy, but I've been in the Cam before and it usually comes up to about my waist. When I lowered myself in yesterday it came up practically to my shoulders - to the point where I thought "fuck it" and just swam instead of wading in to get it. By the time I was in past my ankles any lasting sentiment I had for the boat I noviced in was long gone.

Ben Pierce did an awesome job of making sure I got my wet shirt off and put some layers back on, before we walked the boat to the college. We'd mostly gotten over losing the men's headship by this point (or at least, those outside of M1 had) and were starting to get into the party mode. I had a much-needed shower once we got back, and we reassembled on the paddock to burn the boat. Accidents in previous years meant that the crew weren't allowed to jump over the boat (or anywhere particularly near it for that matter), but it was still a good party.

And that's pretty much it for rowing this term, aside from a few races at the tail end (Cardinals should be pretty good fun). Bumps are over, so back to the grindstone for the last couple of weeks. It's been a good week, and aside from M3 getting spoons (lol) and the final day for M1, it's been great fun as a club, and really, the results overall have been strong. It's not quite as good as it could have been, but at the same time we're also missing four strong guys and Lizzy to the university crews, and I'd say we've ended up in a far better position than we'd have predicted halfway through Michaelmas. Bring on Mays.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Lent Bumps - Day 4

This is late because I went to see Reel Big Fish last night, so didn't have the time to do a proper write-up until this morning. The gig was good, although my voice is now struggling a bit. If I can speak audibly by tomorrow morning then I'll be disappointed. The Day 5 blog post is almost certainly going to be a day or so late as well.

I said in the last post that I didn't really know how yesterday would pan out, but it turned out pretty well. Sidney didn't bump Caius, and we held station with them off the start, and moved up a bit through the corners. We came onto the Reach just under a length away, and then we basically just wore them down. The race had been fairly solid up to then, with a near-crab from Will in the five seat around Grassy, which he managed to keep under control before it put took any real speed off us (he blames it on being distracted by Wolfson M1 mounting the bank behind us and then Jesus M2 ploughing straight into them.

We knew from the results already this term that we're fairly decent over a head course, and that our fitness is pretty good, and we basically just used this to hit them. I called pushes down the Reach, and each one took us closer to them, until they eventually ran out of steam and we caught them under the railway bridge. I was getting a bit worried by the end that I'd be calling pushes with nothing left in the tanks and we'd just burn out, but we dug deep and it was a really satisfying bump to get. It was good revenge for them stealing pots from us at Bedford Head by not being in the IM3 category.

One thing that I did learn yesterday is that being 7th is really shit, because it puts you on the station directly underneath the A14 bridge, right next to the cannons, and they are fucking loud. They're a few metres away, and they echo and amplify underneath the bridge. You can feel the vibration in the boat.

W2 rowed over, apparently not being too far off an overbump, and W1 rowed over comfortably at head. M1 also rowed over, but Caius bumped FaT, meaning that today is now set up to be a grandstand finish. Obviously I hope we keep the headship, and I'll be cheering along from the bank, but it's going to be a close-fought race.

There's video footage of M1's bump on FaT on Thursday, a notable moment being Ian's forward roll after jumping off his still-moving bike:

There was also a fair amount of carnage yesterday, with Magdalene M1's boat being pretty badly damaged after they parked on the outside of Grassy and Fitz smashed straight into them. Bumps always has a reasonable amount of carnage, but I think there's been an exceptional amount this year, and notably so in the higher divisions. You expect crashes and re-rows in the M4 and W3 racing, but the number of first and second crews which have stacked it into the bank this week has been truly remarkable. It's like all of the senior coxes graduated last year, and there's pretty much only novice coxes who haven't quite grasped how the steering works yet. Even out of the crews that have stayed out of the bank, a huge number of crews have been taking awfully wide lines round Grassy and Ditton.

Not sure how things are going to pan out for M2 today. It'd be awesome if we can hit Caius M2, the question is more whether they'll hit FaT M2 first or not. If they do, then there's always the hope that St Catz will crash out again and hand us an overbump...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Lent Bumps - Day 3

Today was a day of aggression, for the senior men's squad at least. For M2, we knew we had to go out hard and just hit LMBC M2, because we seemed significantly quicker on Tuesday. M1 had to go out and hit First & Third, because anything else would most likely result in lining up tomorrow with Caius M1 behind us, and without the benefit of clear water ahead.

Things went fairly to plan for M2. We got off to a decent start, we held station until First Post corner, and then they started to crack a little bit and we moved up. Things got down to about a canvas down the Plough Reach and they held us there for a while, but we kept slowly closing the gap. It seemed to take forever, but when they turned to take Ditton, I took a straighter line to maintain the speed a bit more, and we hit them as we entered the corner.

It was my first actual bump (my record so far is a fairly abysmal minus six, mostly from coxing W3 in Mays 2009), and the awesome aspect of it was slightly overtaken by the instant panic of trying to clear the river. Clearing to the outside of the corner (ie. what you're meant to do, and what we were told to do) was made somewhat more difficult by the fact that St. lolCats had crashed on the outside of Ditton (and had been bumped by FaT M2 as a result), and so there was limited space for both us and LMBC to move across. We did, and while the guys were a bit unresponsive, and I was worried about our bows crashing into Cats and as a result took a while to tuck the stern in, I felt there was still more than enough space on the inside of the corner to get a boat through by the time Jesus M2 came up behind.

The issue with that was that Jesus M2 apparently didn't want to take the racing line into the inside of the corner, and instead were taking a ridiculously wide arc around Ditton, right towards where us and St Cats were parked, and as a result they stopped behind us and got bumped by Wolfson. I do have to say that I'm thankful that they at least stopped behind us, rather than careening full-tilt straight into us, but I reckon if they'd actually taken the corner properly then they'd have gotten through fairly comfortably, and I'll be a bit annoyed if a fine gets levied at us for failing to clear. I could probably have cleared quicker, but it was a bit panicked, and I didn't take that long. We'd actually have been better off parking on the inside of the bend, but the hindsight that the crews immediately behind are apparently shit at steering wasn't something I had at the time.

A selection of photos, courtesy of Bethan Jones (click for full-res)

We got back to the boathouse, had some snacks, and then rushed off to watch M1 from the meadow side of the Plough Reach. In the mean time W1 had an easy and uneventful row-over at the head of the division, with all the boats immediately behind them bumping out without giving them any trouble. The meadow side of the reach was basically occupied entirely by Downing M2 and FaT M2, which made the cheering fairly interesting.

M1 came round Ditton about a quarter to half a length off, and for a while the gap didn't really change. As we charged down on bike shouting and cheering them on, I have to admit I was somewhat worried that the bump wasn't going to happen, because we didn't seem much closer than yesterday and we didn't seem to be making progress either.

I don't know if there was some sort of 'Head or dead' call, but suddenly we picked up a shitload of speed and basically just reeled them in. The gap got smaller and smaller each stroke, and it wasn't long before AOL twatted his blade against their stern and it was all over. I nearly fell off my bike from celebrating with both hands in the air, until I hit a rock and they returned quite swiftly to the handlebars. There was also a Trinity girl (I think she was their M2 cox) who fell off her bike into the mud at the gap in between the railings, causing something of a panic behind her as everyone tried to rush past to keep up with the action.

The point at which we hit them, and Sarah pulled into our side of the bank, reminded me so much of the scene when Shevchenko's penalty was saved in Istanbul of all the Liverpool players running from the halfway line to celebrate with Dudek and the fans. Perhaps a little bit overly dramatic, but it felt that way as we all threw our bikes down and ran across the meadow to the boat. In some ways, I was happier after seeing the M1 bump than I was for our own bump (helped by the fact that I didn't have to worry about clearing the river when they bumped). After yesterday I think there was an aspect of deflation, and perhaps niggling worries that perhaps things would go as they did last year, and we'd just row over behind them every day (or worse, with Caius in the mix). It was great to get over those thoughts and to finally hit them. We've still got to defend it for the rest of the week, and the task is far from over, but for now we are the headship crew for both the men's and women's divisions, and it is a great feeling.

Kudos to FaT as well, who were pretty gracious and generally well-mannered in defeat on the bank. All the best for them to hold of Caius tomorrow (so long as they don't bump us back! :P).

I have no idea how things are going to pan out for M2 tomorrow. Cats have pretty much destroyed any hope of M2 headship for us by crashing and letting FaT M2 overtake them. Unless Sidney hit Caius back, and Cats crash again to let us overbump, then it's pretty much beyond all hope. I'm not really sure whether we're fast enough to catch Sidney Sussex M1 or not, but if we could it'd be nice revenge for them stealing pots away from us at Bedford Head. I think the race plan tomorrow will probably be to absolutely sprint to the exit of Grassy corner, and then see what's ahead of us and decide whether we're going to push for a bump, overbump, or just settle down for the long-haul and row over.

Another reasonable lol du jour is LMBC M1 managing to completely beach their boat into the bank in the Gut as they were hit by Caius. I have no fucking clue how or why they managed to do that, because it looks to me like they beached themselves before Caius made any contact, but either way Girton have some quite impressive footage of it (and them sorting the boat out at the end of the video):

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Lent Bumps - Day 2

The men's second division had their rest day today, which meant I actually got some work done, and then spent the rest of the afternoon on the bank. Downing W2 did a great job keeping up their momentum and bumped Queens W2, who were overbumped yesterday.

Still, the main events were the W1 and M1 divisions, with both crews aiming for headships. I was bank-partying M1, so couldn't watch the W1 race, but the race reports say that the bump happened in the first thirty or forty strokes, and there was hardly even a rhythm call. They've taken the headship in pretty reasonable style, and I think the only negative aspect is that they bumped before First Post corner, so most of the Downing crowd sat on the bank at Grassy saw fuck-all.

Things weren't quite so straightforward and simple for M1, with FaT putting up a pretty stubborn fight at the front. The gap was down to about half a length by the time they got out of Grassy corner, but they held it there down the plough reach. The gap closed again to about a canvas round Ditton, with Trinity taking a wide line and ending up on the meadow side of the Reach, with Downing staying tight round the corner and coming out on the towpath side. With the boat having fairly clear water the gap closed considerably, and there was a foot or two of overlap, aside from the issue that the boats were on opposite sides of the river. As Downing moved across towards FaT, rowing through the stream and into FaT's dirty water slowed us down a bit, and the gap opened back up to around 1/4 of a length. We moved up at points, but First & Third did a decent job at holding us off, and the end result was a row over.

It was definitely close though, and I don't think that FaT will be looking forward to doing the same thing tomorrow. Caius might make it interesting in the back end of the week if they keep moving up, but tomorrow Downing can have another decent crack at it, because LMBC didn't really threaten a huge amount. It's not going to be quite as easy or emphatic as the women's headship, but it's definitely still within reach. The rest of the week will be interesting.

The main other drama from my perspective was on the towpath, with a fairly spectacular cycling pile-up around Ditton corner. Some member of the public was cycling the other way (which is a bit fucking daft to be honest - when faced with about a hundred bikes charging down the towpath in the other direction, most of them having their eyes on the river and not where they're going, it's probably a better choice to just get off and wait for the madness to roll past than to try and cycle through it) and one of FaT's bank party was on the wrong side of the towpath. The guy swerved to avoid the Trinity guy, and in doing so crashed head-on into Ed Saunders, who was right in front of me. I somehow managed to swerve right between the two bikes as they bounced away from each other, merely clipping my rear wheel as I went past, with Ian swerving round the outside. I heard another bike crash into them behind me, which turned out later to be Barry (the college Master). With things being close on the river, I think Andy summed up the situation best with "Man down, keep going", and thankfully nobody was seriously hurt (not as far as I know, at least).

Back to racing tomorrow, chasing down the LMBC M2 boat that cost us the chance of bumping yesterday, and hopefully hitting them pretty hard.

Oh yeah, and M3 got bumped again today. Lol M3.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Lent Bumps - Day 1

All the excitement finally got unleashed today, with the start of bumps. I'd had a mixture of nerves and excitement through the morning (pretty much since the crew meal the night before) but marshalling and waiting for the starting gun I actually felt pretty calm, and nowhere near as nervous as I'd been beforehand.

Random non-rowing picture (courtesy of Muf):

Things went pretty much exactly how I'd predicted they would for M2 - we moved up on Caius M2, but LMBC M2 were too slow and so Caius bumped out and we were forced to row over. Mostly today just put any lingering nerves and doubts at ease for the rest of the week. There were no fuck-ups on our side, and no surprises from behind us either. I was somewhat worried just because of the lack of experience in the crew, and I thought that nerves could perhaps do a few people in, but it turned out not to be the case.

We got off to a smooth start, rowed away from Jesus M2 fairly comfortably, and look likely to bump on the next day, at the very least, and can hopefully move up two more on the final two days if results don't go against us. Being faster than the two boats behind us can give us a fairly big lift, because it means if we go up on Thursday then we shouldn't have anything to worry about chasing us, which simplifies race planning a lot because it means we can really just focus on what's ahead of us on the river.

W2 also did really well, bumping Sidney Sussex II before things even got going - apparently in the first 30-60 seconds (depending on who you believe). It'd be good to see them moving up through the division for the rest of the week.

Apparently my comments about the Newnham paint-job ruffled a few feathers in their college yesterday, so I apologise to Newnham if I in any way implied that they had no right to paint a public bridge (well, aside from it being against the law and stuff, but I don't really give a toss about that) or that their club are shit, which isn't true, and you can't blame current rowers particularly for them starting low down the start order. I'd only actually care or be indignant about anything if you'd painted over a brand new double-headship Downing paint-job, because then it would be a bit of a dick move, but the Queens' paint job had been there more than long enough. Mostly I'm just somewhat impressed and jealous at the whole bridge-painting escapade.

Also congrats on Newnham W2 for overbumping today, and doing a decent job of sending some rubbish down for Downing W2 to hopefully bump into over the next few days.

Oh yeah, and M3 got bumped today, but they're a lowerboat so we'll keep fairly quiet about them until they start doing well :x

Anyway, tomorrow is when the real event kicks off, and when things will finally become a little bit clearer for the first divisions, and who is actually most likely to be holding the headships on Saturday evening. I've got a crapload of work to do tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure I'll still make the time to be on the river for the W1 and M1 divisions, because I really wouldn't want to miss it. At the very least it looks like it'll be a change from the dull row-overs at the top that have been the norm for the last couple of years.