Posts from September 2008

Can’t Find My Way Home

Tuesday 23rd September 2008

I moved back to Cardiff last week, and to get my room sorted has taken a few days (between other stuff, obviously). The last thing I needed to get to sort it completely was a decent desk. So, I decided earlier to drive to Ikea to pick one up. Obviously, I looked up where I needed to go. I thought that I’d got it all worked out. That it’d be a simple matter of going left, right, left again and parking up outside the shop to get a shiny new desk. I was wrong. I got lost instead.

Initially, I started thinking about Backtrackin’, about trying to work out where I went wrong and how to get back on the right track. In fact, I did get back on the right road fairly quickly, only to make another wrong turning and end up in places I’d never seen before and didn’t know where they were in relation to Ikea (or, indeed, Cardiff). At that point, I decided to rely on the tactic of taking what seemed to be the be the best turnings. I guessed, basically. Now, I have no doubt that some of those decisions made the situation worse. I have no doubt that if I stopped, got a map from somewhere (I only have an A-Z in the car. A Birmingham A-Z…) and worked out what to do, I could’ve probably got back on track much quicker, and at less cost (£1.10! A litre!). But, I carried on. Couldn’t be bothered with stopping.

I actually started to enjoy the journey. Sure, I wasn’t getting where I wanted to go. I was getting rather hungry, was using up expensive petrol and probably getting further away from Cardiff; but it was quite enjoyable in a perverse way. I jest kept driving along, taking a turn when I felt like it and hoping that it’d get me to somewhere I at least recognised. Ikea really wasn’t the main objective at this point, just a “it’d be nice if I get there” sort of thing.

Eventually, I got somewhere I recognised. And, as somewhat of an aside, I love that feeling of joy when you go from being utterly lost to knowing where you are. Especially when it’s literally a case of turning a corner, you just think “wow, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”.

Anyway, once I was somewhere that I recognised, it suddenly becamae a possibility. I started to plan, to hope. Maybe if I try such-and-such instead, I’ll get there. Maybe it’ll be different this time. Only one way to find out!

I found what I wanted in the end. I’m glad I didn’t abandon it.

Ikea wasn’t bad, either.

Posted In: CarsSleepStuff | 2 Comments


Wednesday 10th September 2008

The Belgian Grand Prix took place on Sunday. It was, it’s fair to say, an extremely good race. The last few laps literally had me on the edge of my seat because it was so amazingly tense. Anyway, Lewis Hamilton was the victor after yet another outstanding drive. I’m not really a fan of any team or driver, but he’s seriously impressive and for my money is one of the best drivers out there at the moment (and given that he’s only on his second season, it won’t be long till he’s the best out there). He really deserved to win, because he outperformed everyone else so remarkably.

So, he won. Although actually, he came third. You see, he made the basic error of, uhm, overtaking a Ferrari…

I’ll explain. For most of the race, Hamilton was 2nd to Kimi Raikkonen. After the second set of pit stops, however, Hamilton started to close to Raikkonen due to the McLaren seemingly working the tyres better than the Ferrari. With 3 laps to go, he was close enough to attack. Coming into the Bus Stop chicane (is it even called that any more?) at the end of the lap, he outbraked KR and went to the outside, to be on the inside for the second part of the chicane. KR forced him over, so LH decided that rather than crash into him, he’d cut the corner. This put him ahead of Raikkonen, which for obvious reasons is illegal. So, Hamilton let him past, and re-took the lead at the La Source, the next corner. This is the move, if you wanna watch.

Because he cut the corner, the stewards later decided that Hamilton had an unfair advantage, and applied a 25 second penalty to him (basically they added 25 seconds to the time it took him to finish the race), which meant he finished third.

Given that Hamilton slowed to allow Raikkonen the place, was subsequently 6kph slower over the start/finish line than Raikkonen and behind him on the track, I’m not sure where the advantage comes from. If anything the fact that he had to slow down to concede the place means that he must’ve been slower than Raikkonen, I would’ve thought. That he took the lead at La Source is testament to Hamilton’s skill and Raikkonen’s cautiousness.

Two weeks before that, Felipe Massa (the other Ferrari driver) was leading the “race” (procession) at Valencia. At his second pitstop, he was released into the path of another driver, and had to lift off to avoid crashing. I defy you to watch this and tell me it’s not unsafe. The rules pretty much agree, and IIRC mandate that Massa should’ve had a drive-through penalty (i.e. have to drive down the pitlane without stopping), which wouldve cost him the win and given it to Hamilton. Now, this wasn’t Massa’s fault, and I wouldve  been a bit disappointed if he lost the win because he deserved it. But, he also deserved the penalty, because he and the team broke the rules.

He got a fine of $10,000, rather than the penalty stipulated in the rules. No punishment at all, then. Bear in mind that at the same race (and in fact at Spa), the same thing happened in the support race. Result? Drive-throughs.

These are two parts of a very large picture. And I don’t want to believe that there’s bias towards Ferrari (and against McLaren), but the more that happens the more it becomes more and more possible. At the very best, there is some horribly inconsistent application of the rules. At the worst, it’s bias. Either way, yet again the powers that be have shown themselves to be horribly out of touch with what the fans want. With all the “important” people calling the Valencian race a huge success, even though it was actually really, really dull. The commentators at one point were talking about a tomato-chucking contest thats held in the region each year. I shit you not…

And then with this race, penalising Hamilton for doing his job in overtaking Raikkonen. They don’t realise that this is exactly what the fans want to see; two drivers battling hard for the lead of the race. That’s exactly what motorsport is all about, but it seems that the FIA want to stop that at all costs. Over the past decade or so, pretty much all the rule changes have conspired to make overtaking harder for the drivers, and detract from the spectacle. Not on purpose, obviously, but it’s clear that those making the rules don’t think about the effect those regulations will have upon the sport. For them (and by “them” I mostly mean Max Mosley, the arrogant bastard), it’s mostly about a long power trip. About getting their own way.

The Hamilton ruling angered me. After such a stunning – inspired – drive, it’s gutting to see him stripped of such a well-deserved result. But it’s not just that. And it’s not just because it’s yet another highly dubious decision that benefits Ferrari. It’s because I can imagine the “average” viewer, who doesn’t really follow the sport that much but watches the odd race. I can imagine them seeing the Belgian GP and tuning out thinking Hamilton was the winner, only to hear on the news the next day that actually he came third. And I can imagine them thinking “what a load of bollocks that F1 is then”. It angers me because if anyone says that because of this race, I can’t defend it.

I’m fed up of the sport I love being tarnished by fools.

(anyway, if you’ve ever said F1 is boring, watch this. Even though I know how it ends, watching it back it still makes me smile)

Posted In: MotorsportRant Tagged: | 2 Comments

Eeeasy Rider

Saturday 6th September 2008

As you may recall, a few months ago I bought myself an Asus Eee. I said at the time that it was great – almost perfect in fact. And I stick by that statement. I bought it just as a toy really, a pure impulse buy; but for a toy it’s been spectacularly useful. Combined with blanket Wi-Fi coverage across the various Uni buildings, a small notebook (“Netbook”, I think the preferred term is) is absolutely ideal for looking something up quickly, or having access to all your lecture slides/past papers/tuition sheets when revising.

I said when I got it that the biggest flaw was the screen. So, when the new wave of netbooks trickled onto the market – almost all of them with larger screens – I was intrigued. The other week, I splurged on an Acer Aspire One. It’s very closely based on the Eee, but with an 8.9″ screen running at 1024×600. It also has a slightly better keyboard, which is useful.

In terms of hardware, this thing is probably better than the Eee. It’s much more usable, which isn’t to say that the Eee was unusable, just that this one is slightly better. The only thing that lets it down is the software. One of the things I really appreciated with my Eee is that everything was really well thought out. For instance, there was a command on one of the menus in the file browser thing to mount network shares from Windows-based machines. That makes it so easy to use the Eee as part of a network, which is probably a vital part of a machine like that.

On the Acer, you get the feeling things were rushed slightly in development. The biggest error that I can see is that an old driver was used for the graphics which meant that dithering didn’t work properly, meaning that fewer colours were displayed. That was really noticeable as banding on gradients, such as on the BBC website I use as my homepage. Or the menu screen that the thing initially boots into… It also doesn’t have an easy way of seeing Windows shares (to use winsock names you have to edit one of the config files. And even then you have to mount the share from the terminal, rather than a nice friendly window). Once I’d mounted my shares – so I could listen to music from my desktop – I discovered that the included media player is the biggest pile of shit ever. So I had to install something else to do the job (incidentally, Amarok is now my new favourite player and I wish I could use it in Windows too). Oh, and while I’m talking about the media player, I should mention that it doesn’t support DivX/Xvid natively. Also, at one point it stopped loading the network manager tool at boot (purely randomly), and I had to run it from terminal if I wanted to connect to a network.

One thing I will say in favour of the software is that the “easy mode” is based on XFCE, which is probably my favourite WM (from my previous brief forays into Linux). I turned easy mode off fairly quickly.

Now, I don’t mind having to do all these hacks to get the system working as I want. Actually I quite enjoy it – I’ve learned much more about Linux by tweaking this than I ever did from using the Eee. But I can just imagine someone non-techy getting one and having all these issues with it, would make Acer look fairly daft I think. Which is a shame, because it really is a good device – the screen is absolutely stunning (now that I’ve updated the graphics driver…). A worthwhile upgrade from the Eee, I think.

I have to say, I really love devices like this. It just makes sense to have a small, light device that boots up quickly (about 20 seconds) and can do simple things like get online, or quickly edit a document. Actually I’d happily work all day on the Acer, the keyboard/screen are that good. I can imagine that for schools, it’s be really great to give kids one each instead of textbooks and whatever, and throw a wireless network across all the school. They’d be able to access all their books at once then, as well as get online to get other info. Of course, it’s completely unrealistic to do that, but even so.

Anyway, it makes me wonder why someone didn’t come up with the idea sooner. It’s just pure brilliance.


Posted In: GeekSleepTechnology | 4 Comments