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Posts from July 2010

Getting The Points, But Not The Point

Monday 26th July 2010

The result of the German Grand Prix this weekend was that Fernando Alonso finished 4.2 seconds ahead of his team mate, Felipe Massa, to win the race. However, to the vast majority of F1 fans, Massa was the real victor.

Alonso outqualified Massa on Saturday, but they both started behind the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, who qualified on pole position for his home race. At the start the two Ferraris got off the line better than Vettel, who immediately moved to the right-hand side of the track in an attempt to block Alonso. This left Massa to take the lead of the race, and ultimately Alonso got past Vettel to go second. The Ferraris were running 1st and 2nd, a great achievement given that they’ve been off the pace in recent races. It was also good to see Massa leading a race again, a year to the day after his near-fatal accident in qualifying for last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

During much of the race, the two Ferraris were not far away from each other, and it was fairly clear that Alonso was the quicker of the pair. Indeed, he made an attempt to overtake relatively early on, but Massa did a really good job of defending his position to keep the lead and then maintain it throughout the pitstop phase.

While he was being held up by his team mate, some of the radio messages that were broadcast sort of hinted towards Alonso’s frustration. He said that it was “ridiculous”. And then, on lap 48, Massa’s race engineer told him over the radio: “Fernando is faster than you“.

If you don’t follow motorsport, the significance of that phrase is probably lost on you. Because it has a very clear, distinct meaning: let him overtake you. Sure thing, a short time later, Massa miraculously slowed down coming out of a hairpin, allowing his team-mate past.

It was a team order. Ferrari wanted Alonso to win the race, so they told Massa to slow down.

The reasoning is clear. Alonso has a real chance of winning the championship this year, and Massa doesn’t. Therefore they want Alonso to score every point that he can, and doing this enables him to score 7 more points than if he had finished 2nd. Those points could be the difference between winning and losing a title. It’s a very good way to run a team if you want to maximise your chances of winning titles.

However, team orders are banned in F1. They have been since 2002, when Ferrari asked Rubens Barrichello to let Michael Schumacher through to win the Austrian Grand Prix. Accordingly, Ferrari have been issued a $100,000 fine after today’s race (which is essentially a non-punishment). But we’ve seen team orders used plenty of times, even after they were supposedly banned.

In some ways, team orders are a part of motorsport. It’s a team game, and the driver’s responsibility is to the team first, themselves second. There have been countless examples of this sort of thing over the years (indeed, in the early years of the sport, second and third drivers were sometimes required to give up their car part way through a race, if their team mate needed it). Almost every team does it, and I’m sure it’ll continue even after today.

I think the difference is timing. Mostly, team orders are used towards the end of the championship, when one driver is way ahead of the other and is in with a chance of winning the title. In that case, although it’s still slightly awkward, I think it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. The difference here though is that we’ve only just passed the halfway point of the season. Massa is way behind Alonso in the championship and so has no realistic chance of winning it, so logically this move makes sense. But even so, at this stage of the season it’s an incredibly bad thing to do.

There are two reasons why I say this. Firstly, it’s ridiculously un-sporting. Obviously the points are important for Alonso, but when we’re at this stage of the season it just feels really unfair to start using team orders. If Alonso was quicker than Massa, he should’ve made the pass on-track, and I was certainly looking forward to seeing that battle. Instead, Ferrari cheated Massa (and Alonso) of the opportunity to win the race (as opposed to having it gifted to them), and we were cheated out of the spectacle of seeing them do that.

Secondly, I think that Ferrari should’ve considered the damage this has done. Yes, 7 points are useful. But are they worth a demotivated Massa? I would say not.

This isn’t the first time that the issue of driver parity has reared it’s ugly head this season, as Red Bull have been accused of favouring Vettel over Webber a couple of times. In this case, it’s been because of things the managment have said, or by putting upgraded parts on Vettel’s car and not on Webber’s. But I reckon most of these are through mismanagement rather than anything more sinister. And anyway, it’s a very different scenario to ordering one of the drivers to let the other win a race.

It’s been a great season so far, and much of that has been down to intra-team battles. The Red Bull battle that I’ve just mentioned is one example, as is the contest between Hamilton and Button (the last 2 World Champions) at McLaren. I’m sure that the second half of the season will be just as enthralling, especially if Ferrari are able to join the title fight.

But whoever wins this year, it needs to be fair. Maybe Ferrari and Alonso simply want to win at all costs, and that’s their prerogative. Indeed, Alonso was happy with his “win” at Hockenheim, just as he still counts his (disgusting) result at Singapore 2008 as a fair win. But great champions do not need to throw their toys out of their carbon-fibre pram in order to get results; instead they just concentrate on winning in the proper manner.

A couple of years ago, Sir Jackie Stewart (World Champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973) released his autobiography. He entitled it “Winning is Not Enough”. It’s a shame if drivers and teams of the calibre of Alonso and Ferrari don’t share that sentiment.

Posted In: Motorsport Tagged: | 3 Comments

iPhone 4

Wednesday 14th July 2010

To be honest, I was fairly sure that I probably wouldn’t get an iPhone 4 on release day. I know that stock was really scarce (and indeed still is), and I really couldn’t be bothered with getting up uber-early in order to go queue outside a shop for one. But I thought it was still worth going to the shops at 9 o’clock, just to see. It’s not as if I had anything better to do!

Sure enough, the first couple of shops I visited had about 5 each, and they were sold by the time I got to them. But one of the sales assistants tipped me off that the local Best Buy (!) had a decent number in stock, so I went down there. There were about 20 people queueing outside the entrance, so I thought “why not? Can’t take too long” and joined the line. And about 5 minutes later, an employee walked the queue to ask us what version we wanted, and to put our names on the list to allocate us phones. Yay!

I was somewhat wrong about it not taking long though. It was taking an age for the sales people to process each order, so I still had an age to wait. I really didn’t think I’d be there for more than an hour, but in fact I ended up spending 2 or so hours in the queue, then another three quarters of an hour with the sales assistant actually buying the damn thing. Because of course, there were 4 assistants dealing with iPhone sales, and each sale was taking ages because O2 was initially taking ages to sort out upgrades and the like.

Anyway, 3 and a half hours after I set out to get one, I returned home with a shiny new iPhone. I’ve had it a few weeks now, so I’ve had a decent amount of time now to get used to it.

The phone I traded in to get this was an iPhone 3G. I’d had that for a while and I really liked it, but this is definitely a massive step ahead. The software is obviously mostly similar because it uses the same OS. That said, there are obviously new features to iOS 4 and some of those aren’t available to the 3G. Multitasking is the most obvious thing, and it works really well on the iPhone 4. I know it’s taken ages to come to the iPhone in comparison to other platforms, but one of the things I like about the iPhone platform is that once Apple implement a new feature, it works really well. The implementation on the iPhone may not be “real” multitasking, but it works well for the way most people use their phones, and that’s the main thing. For instance the new version of Spotify for iOS 4 is excellent, and runs really well in the background without noticeably slowing things down.

Also, this iPhone is much quicker than my 3G. For instance, I always found that the Spotify app would take forever to load on the 3G, and is pretty clunky to use too. On the new iPhone it opens pretty much immediately, and is extremely responsive when you navigate around the app. The camera is also much better. The 3G camera was ok, it was usable for most things (indeed, the picture in the header of this page was taken with my old iPhone), but it was always a bit hit and miss as to whether the pictures would be any good. The new camera is much better in this respect; even low-light pictures are pretty good. Oh, and it records 720p video, which looks pretty snazzy.

I’ve not tried FaceTime yet because I don’t know anyone else with one of these phones, but I’m pretty keen to give it a go.

This is all pretty much peripheral though, because in my opinion there is one thing which really sets this phone apart from anything else: the screen. It wouldn’t be exaggeration to say that it’s pretty much the best screen I’ve seen in any device. I can’t see the individual pixels unless I hold the phone about a 20mm from my face, so everything is incredibly smooth. Reading on the old phone used to tire my eyes after a while, but this is much more readable because the text is so much smoother. Oh, and it’s brilliant for watching videos on. HD videos from YouTube look really, really nice. In fact the other day I did a comparison with a 3GS, both showing the same video from YouTube, and it was surprising how much clearer the new phone is. Honestly, this thing has to be seen to be believed.

I would love an iPad with this screen… (but that’s probably quite a way away)

I also think that the phone looks absolutely gorgeous. Photos don’t do this thing justice, I reckon. It’s pretty understated, but quite classy. That said, it’s also pretty badly designed.

Mobile phones are portable. In the real world, they get exposed to a pretty hard life, and in fact it’s more than likely that the typical phone will be dropped several times over its lifetime. So good phone design would look good in 12 months time as it does when it’s new. It should be able to weather the inevitable scrapes and knocks. Glass screens are pretty unavoidable on phones like this, but this has a glass back too. You don’t need me to tell you that glass shatters, so this phone is pretty damn fragile. That’s bad design.

But there’s another problem, and this one is amazing. The aerials for the iPhone have been placed on the outside edge, in order to save space and move them outside the case. Good thinking? No. There’s a point on the bottom-left corner of the phone, which if touched causes the network signal to be severely attenuated. You can literally place your finger on this spot and watch the phone signal decrease. If you hold the phone naturally, it’s easy to inadvertently touch this part of the aerial and have this effect. There’s no excuse for this, it’s just really poor design, and could have been easily sidestepped by applying a transparent coating to the aerial.

Steve Jobs’ response of “just don’t hold it like that” is really unhelpful as well…

Anyway. These problems are mostly solved by a case, which is something I would get anyway (and that doesn’t in any way excuse Apple for shockingly poor design, it just means that it doesn’t affect me massively). So I really like the new iPhone. Unless you’re still tied into a contract for a while, I think it’s an absolute no-brainer for current iPhone users to upgrade. Especially if you’re still using a 3G (or earlier)… Obviously if you don’t like the general iPhone model then this isn’t going to do anything for you, but lots of people just want a smartphone that’s powerful yet really easy to use, and the iPhone 4 does that brilliantly.

As long as you don’t hold it wrong.

Posted In: Technology Tagged: | 24 Comments

This is Rather Spectacular

Monday 5th July 2010

Nick Clegg retreats on no-confidence votes.

Nick Clegg today performed the first big U-turn of the coalition when he announced rules to guarantee that a simple majority of MPs will be able to vote down a government and trigger a general election.

The fuss about the dissolution of parliament (not the passing of no-confidence votes, which is a different thing) centred on the proposal for the requirement of a 55% majority to pass a vote to dissolve. The argument centred on how parliament should require a simple majority to dissolve, rather than the 55% limit. Opponents of this policy said that this limit was engineered to allow the coalition to decide when to dissolve parliament (which betrays a colossal misunderstanding of current parliamentary procedure, but that’s somewhat incidental at this point).

I really don’t understand how this is a U-turn. The opposing argument was that a simple majority would not be sufficient to dissolve parliament, and today Clegg has announced that actually the government will introduce a higher requirement – a 66% majority – to dissolve parliament. OK it’s different to what was originally proposed, but it’s not exactly a U-turn and it’s certainly not bowing to the opposition. I mean, they wanted it to just be a majority of MPs, so if they were thinking straight they would be even more opposed to the higher limit. As far as I can tell, the initial announcement back in May had nothing to do with changing the rules for no-confidence votes, and was all about moving power for dissolving parliament away from the Prime Minister and instead giving MPs that power. Today’s announcement doesn’t change that at all, so where’s the “big U-turn”?

I guess I shouldn’t expect anything else from the Grauniad though…

Clegg is currently trending on Twitter, in response to today’s announcement. A lot of it is negative, with some people saying things like “well I voted Lib Dem, and I won’t make that mistake again”. Huh? The Liberal Democrats have never been coy about their commitment to electoral reform, so the things Clegg announced today really shouldn’t come as a shock, especially to people who voted for the party. I mean, I’d sort of expect those people to have an idea that the people they voted for are committed to such major things!

Quite honestly, I can find nothing controversial in the announcement (except perhaps the date), so much of the negative reaction is a bit perplexing really.

Posted In: Rant Tagged: | 7 Comments

What Equality Looks Like

Sunday 4th July 2010

Wimbledon finals this weekend. It’s been a really good tournament, so it’s a bit of a pity the singles finals were both fairly unexciting. Ho hum.

The subject of prize money in tennis majors is relatively controversial. This is because in men’s tennis, they play the best of 5 sets, whereas women play best of 3. Both get the same amount of prize money (£1 million this year), even though male players do more work and provide more entertainment.

I think it’s right that the male and female players get paid the same amount of prize money. I think it would also be right if they both had the same challenge; if they both had to play to 5 sets.

Yes, men and women’s bodies are different. Yes, men are generally stronger, but that’s why there are two tournaments. I don’t think that women are that weak and incapable of handling the extra sets, provided they trained for it. We’re talking about stamina here rather than strength, and women are hardly incapable of completing marathons and the like…

It amuses me when alleged “feminists” argue (correctly) that men and women should be equal and that women are just as capable as men, but then fail to see the irony when they argue that women aren’t strong enough to play for as long as men do. This is a relatively small example, but these sorts of people offer similar arguments to justify all sorts of other inequalities (in the name of “equality”!) and frankly it’s ridiculous.

Posted In: Rant Tagged: | No Comments