Saturday, 30 April 2011

The New Bike

So a while back I made a resolution to cycle from Cambridge to Oxford, and quite possibly back (although it'd be a day later). And while I've not been doing extensive training for this goal, I have been doing some stuff and so far it's actually not been going that bad. With a break for eating and chatting in the middle I've managed to cycle 35 miles reasonably comfortably, twice. It's only two fifths of the distance, and doesn't have nearly as many hills, but I also didn't feel like my legs were absolutely dead the next day (or for several days, as is the case with badminton and boat club circuits and stuff). In fact I actually felt fine, which is completely not what I'd expected. Usually I suck at this exercise bollocks.

Anyway, we've vaguely set a time to do it as being grad week at the end of this term (depending on weather). Part of setting this date meant that it set a date before which I needed to get a new bike. My current bike is OK, but I wouldn't want to go any sort of distance on it. Last year I had my grandad's ancient old Raleigh road bike, which had dodgy brakes and down-tube gear shifters and was generally a bit untrustworthy. So this year I stuck hybrid tyres on an old mountain bike and made it into a bike that's actually pretty reasonable for getting about on. It's light enough for general use but has enough ruggedness to not get totally decimated by the towpath along the river. Still, it is fundamentally a mountain bike with cleaned-up boots on it, and I definitely wouldn't want to cycle all the way to Oxford on it. It's just not efficient and comfortable enough for riding for six or seven hours.

So I decided I'd get a new bike. Then I actually looked around and found that most decent bikes are fucking expensive. Like, genuinely really expensive. I had a rough price range I figured could get me a nice bike, and it turns out it gets me sod-all first hand. So instead I moved to eBay where there are actually quite a few going cheap. And if you happen to live in the arse-end of nowhere like Stoke, Carlisle or Plymouth then you can actually get some insanely cheap stuff on free collection only, because most people don't live in such daft places and can't collect, and therefore don't bid on it.

I browsed and looked for a while, and then came to the conclusion that I should probably get one fairly soon so that my parents could take my current bike home when they come to visit halfway through term. Also so I could properly get used to it and iron out any issues. So I bought a bike. Specifically I bought this bike because it was fairly well-priced for the specs, is in what I feel is approximately my size, and was Buy It Now and therefore had an element of OMG GET IT. There was a mild faff in that though I do have an eBay account, I don't have PayPal, so Peter bought it and I gave him the money.

In the time since paying money for it (Sunday) I became something of a ball of excitement over The Bike. This was almost certainly partly down to exams looming and the fact that everyone goes a little bit mental when their exams are a couple of days away, but also because on reflection this is the most money I think I've paid for anything ever (aside from my laptop, which I didn't pay for entirely by myself). It will live in my room, I will love it and care for it. I mean, hell, I could have bought a PS3 for that money.

I looked over that eBay page dozens of times. I looked up reviews and stuff online (all absolutely brilliant non-revision activities). The fact that Monday was a bank holiday and a day without postage was near agony. It got posted on Tuesday morning, and it was meant to arrive Thursday, except I became somewhat preoccupied on Tuesday afternoon with the notion that it might, just might, arrive the next day. This idea nestled in my consciousness and slowly grew and became all-consuming to the point where I was going to be so damn disappoint if it didn't come on Wednesday morning.

Imagine that you are twelve, and that it is 23rd December. Imagine, on that afternoon, that your parents raise the possibility that Christmas might come a day early. They tell you that after you've gone to bed, they're going to roll a dice, and that if it's a six then you'll wake up to all the presents the next morning and get everything a full 24 hours earlier. Oh my god how awesome that could possibly be!

My hypothetical parents did not roll a six. I checked to see if it was there. It was not. I shall use the medium of Yotsuba to roughly convey my emotions at this point:

I basically spent a lot of Wednesday going to and from the porters lodge to check if post had arrived in later deliveries. It did, but it was not The Bike, so it was little consolation.

Thursday morning (ie. when it was meant to arrive in the first place) I happened to cycle back from the morning outing right as the Parcel Force van left the college. I looked through the window of the P'Lodge and saw a huge fucking bike-sized box as I cycled past. My first thought was fuck yes, it's here. My next thought, as I parked my bike up was that Peter was at lectures and not actually around to sign for the package. Bollocks. I went to the P'lodge anyway, in case I had other post.

On Wednesday afternoon we had something of a mix-up, where the tracking number which Peter thought was for The Bike said that it had arrived, and we grilled the porters on where it was. Turns out Peter was just a dumbass and hadn't read the email properly, and it was actually the tracking number for something else he'd bought, which had arrived. Throughout this mix-up and dumbassery we got the point fairly firmly across that I was waiting for a bike which was going to be delivered to Peter.

So when I got there on Thursday morning the porters were expecting me. Not only that but they let me sign for the parcel in lieu of Peter not being around. Yet again to the medium of Yotsuba:

I lugged the frigging huge box back to my room, and then realised that the best tool I had available to open it was a pair of nail scissors which were going to be pretty much sod-all use. So I found some proper scissors, Peter arrived, and we liberated The Bike from the mass of cardboard and duct-tape, and we assembled it. And it was SHINY and BEAUTIFUL. I spent half the afternoon revising, and the other half fondly gazing at it.

Slowly the novelty of it wore off and it slowly sunk in that my room is pretty small, and it turns out The Bike actually takes up quite a lot of space. I can't keep it outside because the only lock I have is keeping my previous bike locked up outside, and it's nowhere near trusty enough to secure a bike actually seriously worth effort stealing. Plus even if I used that lock I'd still have a bike to store somewhere and it wouldn't actually solve the issue.

After a fair bit of faffing and dis-assembly I managed to fit it into my cupboard, and it's actually a pretty sweet fit. I had to take off a wheel and it doesn't give much room for the other stuff in there but it'll work until a new lock arrives and my parents take my old bike home. It's not like I've got much time to ride it this week anyway with exams and all that bullshit. Plus the weather is windy as hell right now, and I don't want to taint my ~first time~ on The Bike by having a shit time riding through a gale.

So that was the fairly long and not-so-interesting tale of my new bike. If you hadn't already repeatedly been told about it in person (and even if you have), then there you go. I'll make up for it with a couple of more amusing/interesting posts this week.

My first exam was today, and went fairly well. Also Peter bought a new bike for himself today. It's slightly better than mine for the same price, the bastard. Though it is also a large bike so wouldn't be the right size for me anyway.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The 2011 Referendum - Conclusions (also Portal 2)

While my post on the referendum was published this morning, it was actually written late last night, and I scheduled the release of it for a time when I thought more people might actually be awake to see it go up, so this doesn't feel so much like I'm posting twice in one day.

Discussion has been had on Facebook and in various other ways. There have been various links and comments, and I've somewhat come to what I feel is a solid conclusion on the issue.

The crude, somewhat over-simplified argument for AV was summed up in an image posted by Nick:

With stuff like that I always feel like it's perhaps missing some of the subtlety, so I'm always fairly cautious to really live my life the way that internet images tell me to. A slightly more high-brow take on the matter was linked to me by Anna, in the form of a blog post by Tim Gowers. For those who don't know who Tim Gowers is, he has a Fields medal for Mathematics (not far off the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for Mathematics), and is the current Rouse Ball Professor in Cambridge. He's perhaps not an expert authority on the world of politics, but he is pretty much as intelligent as they come, and his blog post is pretty informative, balanced, and well written (and also bloody long). It takes a while to get through, but anyone who hasn't fully made up their mind on the issue should almost certainly check out that post.

My basic final conclusion is that voting yes isn't the perfect solution, but it probably gives a better solution than voting no. It doesn't solve any of the underlying issues I feel are wrong with the way politics work in the UK, but on the other hand I won't be solving any of those problems by voting no either, so it's probably worth going for. If you need to somehow muster £100,000 for something (maybe you're about to get tortured by gangsters or something) then it's probably still not in your best interests to turn someone away who is offering you a free tenner, just because it feels like a drop in the ocean. Putting a sticking plaster on a severed limb might feel horribly useless, but it's still probably better than doing nothing at all.

In general life news, I have a week until the start of exams, so revision is starting to crank up a few notches right now. Except that Portal 2 arrived in the post this morning, and it's a horrifically brilliant game to have to avoid playing. I'm still not particularly far through, but Steve Merchant's voice acting is absolutely quality, and it's thoroughly entertaining and challenging so far. The puzzles feel far more involving and innovative than in the first game, and the new features they've added really do add a lot of interesting level design to the game.

It actually helped me revise today too, because Nick wanted to play it and his laptop is garbage, meaning I let him kick me off my laptop, meaning I got some proper work done instead of being distracted by Facebook/email/imgur/YouTube every time I finished part of a question.

While my blog has been fairly stern with all this politics crap, I've been acquiring a collection of interesting and amusing stuff to talk about, so expect mostly business as usual for the next few posts.

The 2011 Referendum - The Alternative Vote

This is a post I've sort of been meaning to make for a while, because it's a reasonably serious point of debate and I generally enjoy writing about this sort of stuff. I even made notes on a piece of paper so I don't miss out things that I've wanted to put as I've slowly mapped this post out in my head over the last week or two.

I'm going to write most of this in a fairly blunt, matter-of-fact way, but I'm actually still slightly on the fence on the issue, and my opinions are definitely not dead-set in their current state. I'd genuinely like it if people would put comments and start debate, either on the blog or on the Facebook link, because I usually find that discussing things with various people is usually the best way I can ever properly understand my own underlying views on the matter. Plus there may be things I say on here which are just incorrect because my sources or memory have failed me, in which case I'd be happy to hear corrections.

This is going to be fairly text heavy, so I'll start with an image to set the tone somewhat (both in terms of content, and in that the image is also text-heavy):

A while back I signed up to a petition somewhere for voting reform to the Single Transferable Vote system, which gives fairly proportional representation in parliament to the number of votes each party got. If your party got around 10% of the votes in the country, they should get around 10% of the seats.

Somehow this show of support for voting reform, and the handing over of my email (albeit my email address mostly reserved for spam) meant that I got bombarded with emails fairly regularly which are pro-reform, even though this current referendum is not for a change to the STV system, but for the Alternative Vote system.

The issue with the current voting system is that it narrows down people's opinions into a single vote. As explained by this graphic relating to Canadian politics, you can get a majority unhappy with the elected party, even though they got the highest number of votes, because the majority were split between multiple like-minded parties. I do believe that it is a fundamental flaw of the first past the post system, and I think it's an issue which was seen in the 2010 UK election. A Labour-Lib Dem coalition would probably have been more satisfying for the majority of people, because the parties were far more similar politically than the Conservatives and the Lib Dems were. At the very least it would have resulted in the Liberal Democrats backtracking far less on various key campaign policies and promises they'd made before the election.

The thing is, while the Alternative Vote is an election reform of sorts, it doesn't actually solve the issue. The studies suggest that had the Alternative Vote been used in the last election, the results would have been pretty much identical. For those too lazy to click a link, I'll give you the graphic containing the final results:

Now I question the accuracy of the method they've used to generate those statistics, and I'm not sure it takes into account the mentality of the last election being under the current voting system where a vote for a minority party is essentially a wasted vote, and reflects how people would actually vote under a new system, but if those results are to be believed they're fairly damning evidence that the Alternative Vote system won't really change anything. In the last election the Liberal Democrats were hyped to potentially have their best run in years, and under an AV system they still would apparently have only got a quarter of the seats that the Conservatives got, which is hardly breaking out of a two-party system.

Still, it's an improvement, right? Surely any reform is better than no reform at all? Well I'm not so sure. There are other consequences of the AV system, and they're not all positive, especially if you hold a fairly low opinion of the general public.

For starters, almost as an aside, I question the referendum itself. Going on speaking to quite a few people who I would consider adequately represent an average voter fairly well (including members of my family), there are quite a few people who don't really understand what the referendum is about. That could be just down to lack of information, or lack of clear information, but if people don't understand what exactly the differences between the voting systems are, then the referendum seems somewhat shallow. Is there some sort of quorum in place for this referendum to actually give a valid result?

What's also really not helped this is that the propaganda from each side is really not particularly brilliant. The leaflets against AV are particularly bad, which annoys me a fair bit because the fact that the groups pushing against AV are using such retarded arguments to try and persuade people doesn't mean that there isn't sound reasoning (in my opinion) why AV isn't a great idea.

I've also seen both sides use the BNP card, which is especially irritating to see. The anti-AV groups point out that AV might give more votes to extremist parties like the BNP, and the pro-AV group have pointed out that Nick Griffin is against the Alternative Vote and claimed this is because he knows it gives the BNP less chance of getting seats.

Now, I by no means support groups like the BNP, but I also find it really worrisome that groups involved in issues like this, essentially pushing their view of how democratic voting should be undertaken, would miss such a horrific flaw in the principle that you shouldn't pick a voting system based on how it does or does not allocate seats to extremist parties. If enough people vote for the BNP for it to merit seats in the House of Commons, then it should have seats in the House of Commons. End of argument. If you don't like the idea of people being able to vote parties like the BNP into a position of political power, then don't back democracy (I personally don't back democracy, but that's a different issue). You can't have things both ways.

My main issue with AV (this is also something of an issue with STV) is that it needs people to rank candidates. There are a number of reasons why this is a bad idea.

The first problem with ranking a bunch of stuff is that it's actually quite difficult. To take an example totally out of politics, try ranking the twenty Premiership teams in order of how much you like them. Sure, you can easily pick out the ones you like (Liverpool) and the ones you don't (Man Utd, Everton), but in the middle you're generally left with a mix of stuff you're mostly indifferent to, and it's hard to rank that stuff. Try ranking a group of common colours in order of preference. Or famous people. Picking out the ones you like and dislike is easy, but there's inevitably going to be a sizeable group in the middle which you don't really care about enough to place some in front of others.

Now AV doesn't require you to rank all the candidates, but that doesn't mean that a fair few people won't try to anyway, either because they don't understand that they don't need to, or because they feel obliged to, or because they want to push a particular party into last. This leads to votes which are poorly thought through and are basically random, which are probably one of the worst issues with western democracy, because each random vote essentially cancels out a proper thought-out vote.

I follow politics a fair amount, and I'd struggle to compile a full ranking. Obviously parties like the BNP would be at the bottom, and the Conservatives would be pretty far down, and Labour and the Lib Dems (not so much) would be at the top. But in the middle it gets hazy. This isn't even because I don't know much about the parties involved - it's just that I have mixed opinions of their manifestos. I don't agree with the UKIP stance of pulling the UK out of the EU, but at the same time I agree with their policy of investing in nuclear energy. There are things I back the Green Party on, and then there are things I don't. I'm not just being asked to figure out which party I agree with most, but now I'm being asked to gauge and rank parties which I agree with partially and in fairly equal amounts. It's not straightforward.

And that's me, as a person who did actually read a fair bit into the different parties and candidates in the last election (admittedly, it was that or revision). There are a hell of a lot of people who will understand pretty much nothing about any of the parties outside of the main two or three. This is fairly understandable, because the media focus is almost entirely on those parties, and the TV debates and election build up on the whole won't give you much information about the minor parties. You'd have to go looking for that info on your own accord.

As shown in the analysis before, it's still going to be primarily a two-horse race under AV, and it's not fundamentally going to change anything in the result, which is why I don't see the point of it. It's not that I think it's confusing (anyone who can't understand how to vote under AV frankly doesn't have it together enough mentally to deserve a vote, in my opinion), more that it's just somewhat pointless and a fairly unhelpful compromise between first past the post and STV which doesn't actually fully address the problems in the current system. We're better off holding out for STV than enforcing change for the sake of it, and just because we can.

The other thing I don't particularly like is the way it will affect politics. I don't see more coalitions being a problem - if they happen they happen, but more the way that pre-election campaigning could shift from solid stances to just trying to piss off as few people as possible and not really making a solid manifesto and outline. And it's still not going to change the fundamentally broken way in which people decide who to vote for. The media will still be mostly shit. You'll still get people voting based on how bad things were or were not under the previous administration (it doesn't matter that the Conservatives backed the war in Iraq at the time, or would still have given us the exact same economic crisis - they're all black marks on Labour's record), and you'll still get shadow cabinet members proclaiming that they'd definitely have done it better if they were in charge (because hindsight of outcomes and public opinion is a wonderful thing). And you're still going to get people voting because they can, or feel obliged to, even though their entire knowledge of political issues and politicians comes from the likes of The Sun and The Daily Mail.

Ultimately though, I don't see what great benefit AV brings to what is, and will almost certainly remain, a two-party system. When minority parties, and even the Lib Dems, are as far behind the main parties as they are, then you're not going to see much change. Sure, people can now vote for independent candidates without knowing they're wasting their vote on a candidate destined to lose, because they always have their second preference marked, but that still probably won't help the independent candidates win enough votes to get a seat, and it will be a long time before that mentality is appreciated enough for that to change.

While the focus is still on Labour and the Tories, the first choice for most people is going to be one of those two parties, and as a result all the support for minority parties is still going to be wasted. Sure, you can put them down as a first choice more confidently now, but they still won't get a seat, and all you're gaining is the opportunity to state whether you'd rather the Labour or Conservative party were in charge. Which I guess is a better system, but it still feels like a shoddy compromise when nationally those parties are getting enough votes as a percentage to merit a couple of seats in parliament, and they end up with none. A compromise that pisses off the fewest number of people is not how democratic representation should work.

So I'm still somewhat unsure on the AV issue, even after collating all of my thoughts on the matter into this huge-ass post. If I were to vote right now, I'd say it would probably be against AV, but fundamentally my reasons for that are that the general public aren't engaged enough in politics and informed enough (I mostly blame the media) to make a proper decision during elections, and I feel that AV will just compound all the things I already see as being completely wrong with western democracy as it currently operates. And I'm not sure if thinking the system itself is broken is enough of a justification for voting against what is possibly an improvement (a negligible improvement in my opinion, but an improvement nevertheless) to the broken system.

So yeah, interested to hear other people's thoughts on the issue. Perhaps they'll push me one way or the other.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Air Multiplication, GMod Hax & Buscemeyes

Something which is almost certainly not news to anyone any more is Dyson's "bladeless" fan. It wasn't news to me either. However, what was news to me (but still probably not other people), was the price-tag. I was sort of wondering why I'd not seen any around anywhere, after all, Dyson Airblade hand dryers are now pretty much everywhere. The answer it seems, is that they're fucking expensive pieces of desk furniture.

At the risk of offending most likely nobody, if you own one of these things then you are an idiot and seriously have more money than sense. And if you are offended then just take comfort in the fact that I can't wrap myself up in £20 notes to keep me warm at night like you can.

The main selling point behind this thing is that it gives a continuous cylinder of airflow, while conventional fans produce a turbulent stream of air, which gives you a "buffeting" sensation when it's blowing on you. And apparently this "buffeting" is the worst sensation in the world, or at the very least is worth paying upwards of £200 to not have.

Now I've had nearly twenty-one years of living so far, and in those years I have become fairly familiar with the whole desk fan experience, and if I'm honest I never thought it was that terrible. They're perhaps not as brilliant as an A/C unit, but they're also not consuming huge amounts of electricity so that's somewhat expected. This "buffeting" sensation isn't something I can say I've been particularly annoyed by, and even if I had been, would it be worth £200?

I mean, there are plenty of things which annoy me. It annoys me that I have to continually shave hair off my face only for it to grow back. It annoys me when a ball-point pen temporarily stop working and you have to scribble all over a piece of paper to get the ink flowing again. It annoys me when vending machines give you cups of coffee that are full to the brim and boiling hot, so there's nowhere you can actually hold the cup without burning your fingers. I would most likely not pay £200 to remedy these issues, because £200 is a lot of money for what is only a minor inconvenience in the greater scheme of things.

I don't even own a regular desk fan anyway. What with the whole living in England, it's only actually that hot for about two months a year, and generally I can get by just with having the window open. My actual main bitch with fans is that when it's hot enough for me to want one they tend to be fairly useless, because blowing hot air around doesn't really provide much of a cooling effect.

Apparently other benefits of the Air Multiplier technology include safety, because you can put your hands through it without being injured. This would be a selling point, but I feel it's something which most desk fans have solved fairly cheaply by just having a huge cage around the potentially hurty parts. And if you're stupid enough to put your hand into a set of spinning blades then you deserve whatever injury you get. The only really appealing aspect for me is that it looks fairly stylish, but at the same time there are plenty of stylish conventional fans around too, and I reckon if I was the type to spend £200 on something just so it could look nice on my desk then I'd be able to find something a little better.

Something which provided relative amusement and internet furore this week was an update applied to Garry's Mod, announced with relative smugness by a tweet from the developer. The basic effect of the update was to enable an error which had been dormant in the code for ages, and which basically disabled all pirated copies of the game. Aside from it just seemingly like a regular error, so people posted the issue all around the internet to try and get help with it, the error also pulls up and includes the user's 64-bit Steam ID number, meaning that when people post the error they get it's possible to cross-reference their number with their steam account and see if they actually legitimately own a copy of the game they claim to have trouble with.

As was pointed out by Garry himself on a blog post, this isn't going to make his game unpiratable, and it's a fairly easy issue to circumvent. It was more done as a pretty superb prank to troll people who pirate his game. Judging from the number of people who are pissed off at his attempt to play a joke on people who have stolen copies of the game he made, I'd say it's been a pretty successful prank.

The final thing for this post is something mentioned to me last week by James Parker, and it is the fantastically creepy chickswithstevebuscemeyes. It's fairly self explanatory - it's a load of photos of women with Steve Buscemi's eyes photoshopped onto them. Some of them look stoned, some of them look like they've not slept in over a decade, all of them look extremely fucking creepy.

Except Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. I'm not even sure if those ones have been photoshopped.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

2011 Chinese Grand Prix

For probably as long as I've seriously followed the sport, there's been a constant stream of suggestions and ideas for how to make F1 a more exciting sport to watch, and to try and remove the processional nature of it which had become something of a trademark under the Schumacher years. From KERS and DRS to a complete overhaul of the aerodynamic restrictions, to slightly more radical suggestions such as artificial rain, there have been plenty of ways discussed to liven things up a bit.

It turns out that the simple solution is just crappy tyres. The race today perhaps didn't have any huge moments of drama to make it a real classic, but it's almost certainly the most action-packed race I can remember with a dry track. To take a quote from Martin Brundle's commentary this morning:

"It's all the cars. All the cars are fighting all of the other cars."

Usually that could be taken as a really stupid thing to say, and it still sort of is, but it does describe the race this morning pretty damn well. There was an almost constant stream of action through the field. I don't envy the TV director for the race today, because sometimes there was literally too much stuff happening at once to show everything. In watching a replay of an overtake that had just happened, we'd come back to the live footage to find that the running order had changed again.

The strategy used to be in how the cars ran fuelling, but since refuelling was banned pit-stops were something of a formality. Now that the tyres degrade rapidly, and there's a marked difference between speeds running hard and soft, and running new and old tyres, the strategy is back. When you have different strategies, you get cars running at different speeds at different points in the race, and when you get that, you get overtaking and excitement. The late charges of Hamilton and Webber as the cars around them were struggling to see their tyres out to the end of the race was thrilling to watch, and gave a lot more excitement in the last ten laps than there's been in recent years, where the order is usually pretty much decided after the final run of pit-stops. Arguably Rosberg would have been further into the mix as well, had he not had issues with his fuel running low.

After qualifying yesterday I was somewhat apprehensive of how the season was going to run, because Vettel's pace just seemed to be completely dominant. Perhaps if he hadn't been beaten by both McLarens into the first corner he would have just stripped away from the field and the race outcome would have been completely different, but today I think showed that he's perhaps not as untouchable as his raw pace would suggest. McLaren switched (I'm pretty sure) onto a three-stop strategy and it paid off for them against Vettel, and salvaged a race that looked to be slipping away from them after the first round of stops.

It might diminish later into the season when the teams get to grips with how the tyres work a little more, but for now they're really putting a fair bit of excitement into it, and it's not excitement which detracts from the spirit of the racing either. Sprinklers (and DRS to an extent) seem like steps towards making F1 motor-based entertainment rather than motorsport, and while it would make for superb viewing, I feel like it could undermine the nature of the sport somewhat by moving too far into imposed theatrics rather than just the racing itself being the spectacle.

This was in China too, where the circuit has given some interesting racing in the past, but isn't really regarded (yet) in the same way for producing classics as circuits like Spa or Suzuka are. If it's any indication of the rest of the season to come, then this could be an absolutely fantastic season, although at the moment Vettel still looks a bit likely to just run away with things.

Another thing that struck me was that out of the 24 runners, there was only one retirement this morning - Alguersuari after his rear wheel fell off, having not been put on properly during his first stop. There was absolutely no contact between anyone in the first corner, and it seems like massive carnage at the first corner is something of a rarity these days. At most there'll usually just be a couple of damaged front wings, and it's somewhat impressive given how tight things get that the drivers all get round with such regularity. It's possible that the cars are just a bit more manageable into the first corner, or that perhaps more positions finishing in the points put a bit more emphasis on finishing the race rather than trying something risky into the first corner.

It's three weeks until the next race, which would usually piss me off, except it means the next race is the weekend after my exams are done, so I'm actually somewhat grateful for it.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Spotify, Jelly Beans & Gary Neville

I was first given a Spotify invite ages and ages ago, back when it was in beta, and when pretty much nobody outside of Sweden (including myself) had heard of it. At the time I didn't really see much point in it. Sure, it would let me stream music on my PC, but I already have an extensive collection of digital music on my computer.

After a while, I found uses for it, and it grew on me. Sure, I had plenty of music on my computer, but there's also plenty of music I didn't have. Spotify also was way more convenient for single tracks, where buying/downloading the whole album is a bit awkward and excessive when there's just one track I want, and where YouTube has crappy audio quality even if it is convenient for single tracks.

So yesterday Spotify announced that the free service was going to be heavily limited. Something which most people seem to be fairly unhappy about, but then I guess that's sort of a given when you're going to remove a free service which people enjoy.

I'm still on the fence on the whole thing. Not on whether I'm outraged by this or anything - at the end of the day it's completely up to them to charge what they want for their service. More on whether I'm going to bother with the premium service, settle for the fairly crippled free one, or go back to how I used to listen to music and not bother with it any more. My guess is that a fair few people will just get premium (which, to be fair, has quite a few perks if you've got a smartphone) and that's the reason they're doing this. Given that the company is posting massive losses currently, then it doesn't surprise me. I think they're looking at it from the point of view that if they can't try and push people into paying by restricting the free service, then there won't be a Spotify service at all for much longer.

Either way, the free service was good while it lasted.

My next topic, linked by Luke McArthur on Facebook, is from the Metro. Even if it is a free newspaper, I've always sort of considered the Metro to be to the rest of the world what The Cambridge Student is to the bubble of student-run Cambridge newspapers. At the best of times it's a pretty shoddy attempt at journalism, and it doesn't even make up for it's lack of quality by putting breasts inside the front page. Anyway, the story of the day is that apparently Kate Middleton's face has been found on a jelly bean. Which made me laugh, if nothing else. It looks like a face, sure, but Kate Middleton? Really? It could be pretty much any woman so long as she has, er, long hair, eyes and mouth? Heck, in my opinion the person it most resembles isn't even female...


I mean, at the very least they could have found a photo of Kate from the same angle as the jellybean face so you can at least vaguely agree to the comparison. Really it's just the latest in the weird royal wedding hype that I don't understand. I don't find it particularly irritating (which is rare for me, I know), and when I see the daft merchandise in shops I just have a mix of amusement and bewilderment, no matter how RIDICULOUS it gets. Maybe it's because I've got an exam on that day, and I'm not even treated to a bank holiday for the wedding like most of the rest of the country is, but I couldn't really care less. I am happy at least that the face in the jelly-bean wasn't claimed to be some bizarre message from God.

The final thing for this post is that after sacking Andy Gray, Sky have finally found a replacement to fill their "biased wanker" role in the form of Gary Neville. And it seems that people aren't happy about it. Apparently there's also going to be a limited edition remote control to mark his appointment in the role.

I guess Man Utd fans would point to the fact that the vast majority of football pundits seem to be ex-Liverpool (Phil Thomson, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Jamie Redknapp and Gary McAllister just to name a few regulars), and that not all of them are totally impartial when it comes to games involving us. However, Gary Neville is an arsehole, and I believe that point stands regardless of the bias and standard of punditry in the British media.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

OMG A Post!

I've been really busy lately with revision (like, actually), StarCraft, generally being outside because the weather has been awesome and finding somewhere to live for next year. There was mild sort of unease because people seem to have mostly found places and we don't have anywhere, but we actually spoke to estate agents and the Cambridge accommodation service today, and their view seemed to be that we were still a bit early if anything, and everything is cool.

So to start, a random and fairly old SMBC comic, because I'm running out of SFW images in my hilarity folder, and this is one of my favourites:

Awesome news today, linked to me by AOL, with the announcement that Glenn Beck's show is being dropped. If FOX could get Bill O'Reilly and Anne Coulter off the airwaves now, then I'd actually maybe start having some respect for them. Except not really, because the only reason they're actually pulling their bigoted right-wing crazy people off the TV is because the sponsors won't accept to associated with them, not because they're bigoted and crazy. Still, right result for the wrong reasons is better than the wrong result in my books.

I got shown more awesome politically-related stuff today by Peter, in the form of a fantastic rap about Andrew Lansley's plans for the NHS:

This is one of the examples I'd pick to anyone who dismisses rap in whole as a genre. Same sort of deal with punk rock. Sure, it's nicked the riff from House of the Rising Sun, and the chorus is a bit dumb, but the lyrics are well-written, clever, and they make more of a point than 99% of the music out there in the world. If you've got shit to say, it's a pretty good way to say it.

I'm going home for the weekend on Friday, so might get some stuff written up on the train on my netbook, or I might just watch some videos. Not sure what day I'll be coming back, probably depends on how I feel and how much stuff I can be doing. It'd be nice to stay until Wednesday because it's my pa's birthday on Tuesday, but given that being there on his actual birthday isn't a huge deal when we're going out on Sunday night, and nobody will actually be around during the day I might just come back home on Monday. Plus I can apparently move back into my room from Wednesday, which is something I'd like to get out of the way as soon as possible.

The UK Riichi Mahjong Open for 2011 has been announced, and I've signed up for it. There were still only 48 places or so, and they seem to have gone pretty damn quickly. It's on the 25th of June, which is the final day of NPR not counting grad week, so it'll mean I'll either have to get the extended leave for grad week (which is probably what I'll do) or somehow clear out my room the day before and go home, and then travel the entire length of the country the next day.

I should also be booking flights to the Eindhoven tetris meet in July, which is going to be absolutely awesome, but I'm still monitoring the prices on EasyJet. It's only going to be around £50 return anyway, but they seem to be fluctuating a fair bit, and they're already £5 cheaper than they were a week ago. There are also now plans for what I'm doing over the summer (inter-railing around Europe, basically), which I'm pretty excited about, and it's nice that shit's actually starting to come together.

Except for exams in three weeks. They can sod off.