Posts from February 2008

(Extremely) Irrational Desire

Saturday 23rd February 2008

A car website I read has a feature where they find a car for sale each week which is under £1000, but fairly interesting. This week’s is one that you wouldn’t touch with a bargepole (unless you’re a talented spanner monkey), but reading the forums I came across a link to an episode of Old Top Gear where Clarkson tests it.

I want the V12 version. I reckon £4000-5000 would probably buy you a semi-decent one, and then £x on a classic insurance policy (limited mileage, blah blah blah). This is pretty harmless desire at the moment, as I don’t have £7000+ lying around. But give it a few years and I may well do…

I shouldn’t, but damn I know I’ll be tempted. Anyway, all irrelevant at the moment. And frankly at the moment theres not many cars I wouldn’t want…

On the topic of the Top Gear ep, its interesting to see how much it’s changed. I prefer Clarkson’s reviewing style in the old one to the way he is in the newer format. There’s coverage of the British Rally Championship in there too, and that’s always fun. Incidentally, it was back when Colin McRae was in the BRC, and watching him you see why he was so successful. With most of the other drivers, you watch it and think “pah, I could do that!”. But with McRae, you watch and think the exact opposite. It reminded me of a video of Jean Ragnotti I saw a while back. When I watch those kind of videos (esp Ragnotti), I see the way the car gets out of shape coming up to a corner and think “oh crap, this isnt gonna be good, he’s gonna crash”, and then somehow they gather it all together and go through the corner. Sideways.

I saw Ragnotti drive at Donington last year (incidentally, one of my favourite circuits), and the way he threw the car through the Old Hairpin (pretty much a 90 degree right hander. At the bottom of a hill) was electrifying. In fact… This is the exact corner I’m on about. And the spin on the exit is deliberate by the way (christ, I actually remember that run. Is that sad?). Also, watch him parking.

Someone who I wish I could’ve seen drive is Gilles Villeneuve. He raced in the late 70s and early 80s, and for my money he was probably the most naturally talented driver ever to have raced. One of my favourite stories from motorsport concerns him and the 1979 US Grand Prix. On the first day of qualifying it was raining. A lot. Only a few drivers took to the track, and they pretty much all said it was too wet to drive. Then Villeneuve went out and recorded a lap time nine seconds faster than anyone else. To put that into perspective, at last year’s US Grand Prix (albeit on a different track, the crappy Indeanapolis infield circuit), the gap in qualifying from the fastest car to the slowest car was about 2.3 seconds. 9 seconds is a lifetime in F1.

Another example from the same year. The French Grand Prix at Dijon. Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux had such an intense battle for second place in the last few laps of the race that, when people talk about that race, the fact that it marked Renault’s first win in F1 racing is pretty much forgotten. If you don’t like motorsport, watch this and tell me it’s boring. Oh, and watch all the way through, cos the last couple of laps are brilliant.

Villeneuve died in 1982 though after crashing in qualifying for a race. He tripped over another car and went into the barrier. The impact ripped his seat, along with him, from the car, and threw him across the track. If you watch the video on YouTube, you kinda watch the car go off. You don’t notice the white ragdoll being flung across the track… Horrible. Incidentally, I read Jackie Stewart’s autobiography a short while back, and one stat that took me back is that between about April and July 1969, one major driver died each month. Stewart said that, at the time, if you were a professional racing driver in F1, you were more likely to be killed than to retire normally. And yet when people suggested it might be a good idea to improve safety by, for instance, putting fences at the sides of tracks to stop people crashing into trees and the like, other people (including some of the drivers, iirc) said it was a stupid idea. Just so you get an idea, this is a clip of Spa Francorchamps in Belgium from the 60s (taken from Grand Prix, the movie), and here is the same circuit in 2007. Spot the difference…

I make no apologies for the car & racing nature of this post. I can understand why some people don’t like Motorsport, but to me it’s just brilliant. I love the places the races are held, I love the cars, I love the skill of the drivers. When I went to Donington last year, the brother I went with said it was the most excited he’s ever seen me (I don’t usually do excitement). It’s 3 weeks till the 2008 F1 season kicks off, and I know that I’ll get excited when I hear the theme music for the first time at the start of qualifying. It’s been far, far too long.

I could honestly write about this for a long time, so I’ll stop now before you start losing interest (if you haven’t already). I shall save the topic of Why Michael Schumacher is an Absolute Genius for another day (seriously, I could probably write a whole post)… By the way, the videos are kinda important to the points I’m making, so try to watch em all (apart from Top Gear, that’s not so important. But watch the first couple of parts [Clarkson and the BRC] if you’ve got 20 mins free, cos it’s entertaining).

I think the lack of motorsport may have something to do with my disdain for January-March. Is that bad?

Posted In: CarsMotorsport Tagged: | 2 Comments

A Spanner in the Works

Thursday 21st February 2008

Good idea: Going to bed at midnight.
Bad idea: Starting to play games at midnight.

Good idea: Going to bed once finished playing games.
Bad idea: Browsing YouTube instead.

Good idea: Going to bed now.
Bad idea: Writing this…

I have a book sat by the side of my bed that’s tempting me to read it instead of, like, y’know, sleeping. You know you’re bad when you procrastinate about sleeping.

I fail at Life :-(

Posted In: ProcrastinationSleep Tagged: | 6 Comments

A Scattergun Approach to Blogging

Tuesday 19th February 2008

Usually when I write a post on here, I have some vague idea in my mind of where I’m gonna go with it, and what I’m gonna say. Tonight, I’m just bored and feel like writing something, so no “plan” as such, more stream of consciousness.

I go through a sort of internal argument with myself every so often, where I try to work out what the hell to write here. I don’t like doing writing down everyday minutae, diary-style, because I always think that other people (i.e. you!) would find that a bit boring. So usually I end up ranting. Most of the time I don’t really care about that; I’m fairly opinionated, so having an outlet for that is fun for me, at least. But then sometimes I think “Does the Internet really need another idiot spouting his opinions on everything?”, and kind of lose confidence in it. Like I said last time, I write a lot of things where I get half way through and decide not to carry on, cos I don’t think its a decent post.

Why do we blog at all? I suppose I’ve partly answered that in the last paragraph, for myself at least. I enjoy writing it, and I guess as well I like that other people read it. It’s great when people leave a comment on something you’ve written. I think I try to make people think about things which they might not think about ordinarily (reading that line back, thats not exactly what I mean, but I cant think of another way to put it which is more accurate and less arrogant). I don’t know how well I do that, but meh.

In other news, the Eee is still great. I installed WinXP on it last week, and it handles it surprisingly well. It doesnt boot quite as quickly as Xandros (the default operating system) did, but i think its still <60 seconds to desktop, which is pretty good. And once its loaded it’s just as responsive. Pretty good. I took it to the Uni IT people last Friday to get it registered on the Cardiff network (for wireless internet goodness at Uni). When I took it out of my bag to give to the lady for her to set it up, her reaction was “aww, I’ve seen these!”. Amused me.

I love being able to use the net in more places than just at my desk. I’ve taken to using the Eee to check my emails/read the news/whatever in the mornings, because its small and quiet and because bed is nice. And tonight, I got bored of sitting in my room so I came downstairs to watch a DVD, with the net to accompany me. I watched Pink Floyd live first, and now somehow Heima seems to have worked its way into the DVD player… I’ve said it before, but damn I love this film.

Changing topic somewhat… I find it kinda weird that it’s already half way through February. I say this a lot, I think, but the rapid passage of time always kinda shocks me. In my head it still feels like early Feb, not almost March. Not that I’m complaining. As much as it surprises me, I do kinda like time’s winged chariot. The inevitability of time whooshing by is somewhat comforting to me, for some reason. The knowledge that the future will come, that now is but a fleeting moment… I’m not articulating myself nearly as well as I should be here.

Of course, as much as I like the passage of time, I also seem to get hung up on the past. And occasionally on the feeling that I’m wasting the “now” with daily monotony. But that’s an unhealthy way to look at the world, and if I feel like that I just remind myself of the small pleasures in life which make “now” so exciting.

For me, one of those pleasures is music. I don’t think I’d get through a day (and remain sane) if I couldnt listen to at least one song. I love the way that if you’re feeling depressed and alone, music can take those feelings and make you feel elated and involved, but if you’re feeling on top of the world it can amplify those feelings and make you feel fantastic (driving whilst listening to music always seems to help that process, which is one of the reasons why I miss driving so much…).

I think its because I find so much pleasure in music that it annoys me when people don’t appreciate it fully. I know people don’t have to, and I’m sure that someone who loves antique furniture could say the same about me because I happen to not appreciate antique furniture. But I don’t say “antique furniture is crap”; everyone seems to have an opinion on music, even if that opinion isnt well thought out.

Anyway, I was talking about time and got sidetracked. Uhm… oh yeah, middle of February shocker. I think I’ve said before here that I don’t much like the first 2 or 3 months of the year. Too dark and grim and miserable. So I’m kinda glad it’s passing quickly, cos then its done.

Of course, getting through the first part of the year also means that various motorsport series start up again, which may have something to do with my not liking the winter… I’m not gonna write down my predictions now (other than Ferrari and Raikkonen look like they’re going to walk the F1 championships, and I reckon Giovanardi could do the double in BTCC. As long it’s not Matt Neal, I don’t mind…), I shall save that for a later date. Which gives you all something to look forward to (he says, knowing that pretty much no motorsport fans read this…).

Anyway, I think I’ve gone on for long enough, so I shall go enjoy the rest of Heima. G’night!


Final thought: why is it that I never read back things I write for Uni before submitting them, but I always read back my blog posts before posting? I’ve only just noticed that I do that.

Posted In: MusicRantTechnology Tagged: | 2 Comments

Money Matters

Monday 11th February 2008

Since buying my Eee last week, Ive been thinking back to other gadgety goodness I’ve indulged in over the years. And it got me thinking about money, and how my attitudes towards it have changed.

The reason I got from gadgets to money is that you generally need the latter to acquire the former (unless you steal them, i guess). I was thinking back to about 5 years ago, when I really wanted a PDA* (for pretty much no practical reason, I may add). These things can cost anywhere from £75 to £300, depending on how much you’ve got to throw away. And at the time the one I wanted was about £90 (it was a Handspring Visor, by the way, and as an aside How did Palm and Handspring throw away the PDA market? At the time their products were demonstrably better than any Windows-based effort, but now Handspring doesn’t exist and Palm is just making a complete hash of things. I digress…). I remember that, at the time, £90 seemed like a huge amount of money to throw away on a gadget, mainly because I didn’t have it. I did get some money together eventually, and got the PDA (which I played with for a few months before burying it at the bottom of a drawer…), but it still felt like a huge amount of money.

Somewhere along the way, my idea of “a vast amount of money” has changed somewhat. Obviously, I have access to more money now thanks to things like loans and overdrafts and a job, but even so, when I bought the Eee last week I spent over £200 almost on a whim, because the display model was ever so shiny…

I really notice the whole perception-change thing at work. I work in a bank, and the way you look at money there is somewhat skewed. When someone wants to withdraw, say, £100, I think “pah, only a hundred? Take out a thousand, you wimp”. Never mind that its just over twice what I earn in a day… You can sit with £1500 sat in your till and think to yourself “good, thats not much, I’m fine”. At the end of the day there can be tens of thousands of pounds on the floor waiting to be counted, and you don’t really think of it as “a lot of money”. Actually I kind of disconnect completely with the concept of money when I’m at work; I don’t think “that’s £5,000 there it can buy me a nice car and insurance and a year’s running costs”, I just think of it as, well, just a number, really. It’s slightly odd, now I come to think of it, although probably good to stop temptation…

Once again I’m not sure where I’m going with this, so I’ll leave it here. After people saying the last entry was “damn good” and “interesting and worthwhile”, it feels as if theres some sort of pressure to keep writing to a high standard… I don’t generally think what I write is that good; I write loads of things only to get halfway through and think “what the hell are you on about? This is crap”. I must’ve written the last entry at least a couple of times in the past and never posted it… Ho hum.

* If it wasnt clear before, that really marks me out as a geek…

Posted In: Uncategorized Tagged: | 4 Comments

Waxing Lyrical

Thursday 7th February 2008

One of the things I got for Christmas this year is a DVD. Well, I got a few DVDs actually, but theres one in particular that I really enjoyed. It was the new Sigur Ros film, Heima. To be honest, I hadnt heard much Sigur Ros before I got the DVD. I’d downloaded a couple of albums, and thought they were good, but nothing more. Obviously, I thought they were good enough to point out the DVD to my Mum, but anyway… I watched it about a week after Xmas with one of my brothers, and we were both absolutely bowled over by how good it is.

For anyone not familiar with the concept of the film, this is basically it: in 2006 Sigur Ros returned to Iceland after playing a fairly large world tour and held a series of mostly unannounced gigs all over the island. The film is a record of that tour. They played in some pretty weird places, as well as more traditional ones, and it’s pretty interesting to watch. Theres one where they just played an acoustic set on a hillside, and the thing was recorded with a single mic (iirc…). They played another gig at an old herring factory, and one of the songs they recorded there was played in an old vat or something – a really echoey place, and whenever the lead singer made a noise his voice echoed round really nicely.

One of the things I love most about the DVD though is the insight you get into the whole ethos of the band. Not only staging the concerts for free, but other things. During the songs, quite often the camera cuts away from the band and focuses on the audience. Not just a cursory wide shot either, proper shots of individuals, or groups, reacting to the songs being played in front of them. Its a small touch, but I think it displays a certain lack of arrogance on the band’s part – the film isn’t about them; it’s about the music, and that includes the fans as much as it does the band.

What I’m getting at is that it shows that the band are obviously massive music lovers, and I think that’s why my brother and I like it so much. We’re both massive music fans too, so something like that really resonates.

Now, I don’t like putting music down, and saying that X is better than Y; I know that its largely subjective, and what I hate others may love, and vice versa. But it got me thinking. Surely certain songs, albums or artists just are better than others? I’m not saying “Everything I like is categorically Good, and anyone who disagrees is Wrong”, far from it. But surely anyone who appreciates music will find something to appreciate in Sigur Ros? Surely anyone will agree that Love Sick is a better song than Insania? Isn’t it a Fact that The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place is a much better album than, say, Vulture Culture*?

The thing I forget, of course, is that people want different things from music. Some people like music because its popular, and it helps them fit in or whatever. Others like things they hear in clubs because it reminds them of the experiences they’ve attached to the music. Or whatever. I like music on it’s own though, music for the sake of it. I like lying in bed at night, closing my eyes and being enveloped by music. Whether it be scratchy blues recordings or well-produced epics (and part 2 – although this ver is poss better if you dont know the song) enveloping me, I enjoy well-made music. Those last 2 clips kinda sum it up actually: two pretty dissimilar songs, but both make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

That said about people wanting different things from music, it really annoys me when people write off music without listening to it properly. For instance, I once introduced someone to Explosions in the Sky, only for them to say that they “dont like it, no-one’s singing”… Or when someone says they dont like a band cos theyre too old (or too new…). It’s far too narrowminded, and those people are missing out on some fantastic music because of it. Annoying to the Extreme.

This post is probably far too long and incoherent by now, anyway, so I should probably stop writing…

* For the record, I do actually like that album. I don’t like Insania…

Posted In: Music Tagged: | 3 Comments

Small, but (almost) perfectly formed…

Wednesday 6th February 2008

So I suck at self-control and patience, and splurged on an Asus Eee. So I’ve dared to leave the cosy confines of my bedroom, and relocate to the comfy reclining chair in the living room…

First thoughts are that this thing is small. Way small. I knew it would be tiny from the pics online, but you dont realise how small till you see it. Yes, that means that some webpages look poor (cos you have to scroll), and yes its kinda hard to type on the keyboard, cos i have chubby fingers. But you can scroll the pages (and tbh with firefox in fullscreen mode, its not too bad), and I think I’ll get used to typing; it’s certainly better than things like Graffiti used to be on PalmOS.

Other things are how easy to use it is. I was toying with the idea of putting Windows XP on here, but that kinda defeats the point. This has found my network shares on The Beast (my desktop) remarkably easy (and by the way the built-in speakers are better than most full-sized laptop speakers ive heard), and found the wireless flawlessly. It has everything I want to use (i.e. messenger, firefox, music and office stuff), and it runs really well. I’ll probably swap from the “Easy” UI to a normal desktop, but I’m not even sure of that…

I say “almost” perfectly formed… Thats because the screen could be larger without pushing the form factor up, or affecting the price too much. And because I’m not getting on with the trackpad too well at the moment, but then I’m yet to meet a trackpad that I do get on with…

So far then, this thing is great. It’s small enough to make carrying it to uni a practical idea, but big enough and well-featured enough to make it genuinely usable. I honestly can’t see the point – for me – of spending more on a laptop. I use my desktop for gaming or stuff like that, and I’d never use a laptop for that. Actually, for a hell of a lot of people, I can imagine something like this is all the PC they’d need…

It’s a slightly scary thought that this cheap little pc is significantly more powerful than the first PC I had as a kid. Huzzah for technology…

(btw, in the space of writing this post, my typing’s got much better. I reckon in a day or so it’ll be fine)

Posted In: Technology | 5 Comments