Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Five things I concluded this week

In what may or may not become a regular feature of this blog, here are my bite-sized musings on the last seven days.
  1. The Speaker of The House of Commons has proven what I already knew, and had known since he was first installed in the post: he's bloody useless.
  2. I don't need a Facebook quiz to decide whether or not I'm a potato.
  3. The Irish legal system supports paedophilia: the official enquiry into sexual abuse at Irish Catholic institutions was prevented from naming those accused of sexual abuse when the most-alleged-against brotherhood took the enquiry board to court in 2004 and won.
  4. If the Formula One Teams Association want to form a break-away series that won't be pissed about with by the FIA, now is the best chance they've ever had to do so. And if the teams got all of the TV revenue money to share between them (rather than just what's left after most has fallen carelessly into Mr B. Ecclestone's pocket), there would be no need for the FIA's proposed budget cap.
  5. Going with Mrs Steve to see John Barrowman in concert is bloody expensive: aside from the t-shirt and mug she had to buy, we also learned that he's taking over one of the lead roles in La Cage Aux Folles in the West End from September 14th - which means we're now going to see said show on October 2nd. In the most expensive seats, of course.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Unsafe at any speed

Intelligent Speed Adaption. If you've never heard of it, you will do soon. And you'll also have to put up with the high-handed crap that surrounds it. So allow me to fill you in.

ISA (which is surely a tax-free savings account) is a combination of GPS technology and a passenger that keeps telling you you're breaking the speed limit. A system is currently on test by TfL that only works within the boundary of the M25. The system uses GPS to work out which road you are on, and has a built-in database of all of the speed limits for all of the roads in the area it covers. You can either get the device to inform you whether you are going over the limit or not (by means of an in-no-way-patronising smiley or frowny face), or to actively control your vehicle's acceleration and breaking to make sure that it's completely impossible to break the limit.

Chris Lines, head of TfL's road safety unit, said: "This innovative technology could help any driver avoid the unnecessary penalties of creeping over the speed limit and at the same time will save lives."

Chris Lines is a fucking moron.

What the device really will do is stop drivers from thinking. What it will do is enforce the incorrect belief that if you're not breaking the speed limit, you can't cause an accident. But that's okay, because the current government clearly thinks that already. The number of speed cameras that are popping up - despite having no effect on the number of road casualties in the areas they appear - is testiment to that.

So is the fact that Chris Lines himself describes them as "unnecessary penalties". Creeping over the speed limit because you're - for example - driving past a school and paying more attention to whether any children are running out in front of your car then you are to the exact position of the needle on your speedometer should not be penalised by a machine that can't determine context: a speed camera.

What is more dangerous: a car travelling at 85mph on a clear, empty, dry motorway; or a car travelling at 60mph on a wet motorway with virtually no visibility whilst being about 10cm away from the back-end of the car in front of it?

Obviously it is the latter. But speed cameras and the ISA system will only prevent the former.

The government can't ban cars - fuel and road taxes generate too much money - but they clearly want to make them so unusable that we won't bother with them. If public transport in this country wasn't so utterly laughable, they might succeed. Too many people need their cars, because there is no viable alternative.

Except one.

And that presents itself to us at the next general election.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Enquiring runners

This one's only half there.

Muller 10k

Is this Cheap Tina The Cow?

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The prancing horse is lame


What does that name mean to you? If you're an F1 fan who was bought up on the sport in the 80s and 90s - like me - it means "laughable underperformance backed by biggest budget in the sport".

From 1980 through to 1999, Ferrari failed to win anything in F1. It might be hard to remember those times thanks to the work of Schumacher and Brawn (and we'll come back to them in a moment), but they were hopeless in varying degrees.

Sometimes, such as with Alain Prost in 1990, they came mighty close to winning something. Sometimes, such as in 1980 - the year after Jody Scheckter won the world championship for them - they suffered the indignity of undertaking the least-successful ever attempt at defending an F1 title. And other years, such as with Alesi and Berger in 1993, they were just utterly dire.

1980 remains Ferrari's worst ever start to an F1 season, but only as far as points scored are concerned. Because there was a different points system in place then compared to the one in place today, if we look at race results Ferrari's worst ever start to an F1 season took place in 2009. Yep, this year. In 1980, they'd managed a fourth place finish by the fourth race. This year, they only managed a fifth in the same period.

How can this be? Up until the last corner on the last lap of the last race of 2008, they were the champions. In 2007, they were the champions. As they had been every year from 2000 to 2004 inclusive. Where did it all go wrong?

In the past, driver management has been an issue. By failing to deal with Villeneuve and Pironi in 1982, one driver killed himself whilst trying to prove a point in qualifying for the Belgian GP, and the other suffered an almost idential career-ending (but not fatal) accident whilst qualifying in Germany.

Mansell and Prost didn't get on in 1990. By the end of the year, the whining moustache had done enough to unsettle the team at the point when they needed to focus on Prost's title challenge.

In 1997, Schumacher attempted to cheat his way to the drivers' title by ramming Villeneuve, in the same way that he cheated his way to the title in 1994 by ramming Hill. He didn't get the chance to challenge for the title in 1996 because the team suffered three consecutive Grands Prix in the middle of the season where neither of their cars finished. Schumacher was leading races on two of those occasions.

In the early 90s, Ferrari were able to entice designer John Barnard from Benetton, and this looked like a masterstroke. Barnard was responsible for the "flying nose" on the 1992 Benetton which since 1996 has pretty much been the standard front wing configuration used by every team. Although the idea was pioneered by Dr Harvey Postlethwaite at Tyrrell, Barnard had the vision and the funds to perfect it.

Ferrari got their man, but he wouldn't move to Italy! Instead, he worked from his design studio in the UK, with bits of Ferrari moving backwards and forwards between Italy and the home counties throughout the seasons as the cars were designed and improved. His 1994 Ferrari was beautiful to look at and moderately quick. His 1995 car was less attractive but much faster. In 1996 he dropped the flying wing and produced and ugly, dumpy car. Logic dictated that this should be even quicker. It wasn't, and only the brilliance (and luck) of Schumacher got it to perform.

But then Ferrari got Ross Brawn. He did move to Italy. The rest is history.

And then the FIA decide to rewrite the rule book for 2009, which means that all of this year's cars are clean-sheet designs. Everything that went before is thrown out of the window. Suddenly, Ferrari and BMW look like they don't know what they're doing.

Instead, Red Bull and Brawn are the cars to beat. Well, consider the engineering talents of Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey, and it's easy to see why. Between them, they have been responsible for the design of 11 of the last 17 title-winning cars!

Foot-shooting is common at Ferrari, and continues to this day. Had they not opted to use a needlessly-complicated pit exit traffic light thing instead of a bloke holding a stick to signal when Massa could exit the pits last season - a system which inevitably went wrong - then Massa would be champion. This year, they've managed to mess up qualifying on two occasions out of five. That's good going for a team that spends upwards of $300 million a year!!

They don't even appear to have the FIA on their side any more. In the early 2000s, when the teams were threatening to break away from the FIA and start their own series, the FIA made sure that they got Ferrari to agree to stay with them. Without Ferrari, they said, there was no F1.

Last week, when Ferrari threatened to withdraw from the series if the FIA go ahead with their budget-capping plan for 2010, the FIA said that Ferrari could like it or lump it. F1 will continue without Ferrari, they said.

Why the sudden change of heart?

Could it be because Ferrari were the main threat to McLaren, a team owned by Ron Dennis - a man despised by Max Moseley? Probably. Today, of course, neither Ferrari nor McLaren look like winning anything this year, and Dennis is no longer part of McLaren anyway. As far as Moseley is concerned, Ferrari have served their purpose.

And that leaves them up the creek without any means of locomotion. Because, without the FIA to randomly change regulations so that they maintain the upper hand, Ferrari appear to be at a loss as to what to do to improve their car. They look hopeless, a prancing horse fallen lame.

Which is why it's shaping up to be one of the best Formula One seasons in a very, very long time.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Just fan off!

Farcebook. It is the source of constant amusement. It is the place where you learn who has mastered the English language, as opposed to those people who think "aswell" is one word.

Recently, there has been a swell in the number and scope of fan pages on FB. And some of them are, to put it bluntly, staggeringly pathetic.

For example:

Of course, this is just subterfuge. Becoming a fan of "I hate battery low" really means, "I am hopelessly unable to manage the mind-numbingly simple task of making sure my laptop/mobile/mp3 player doesn't run out of power, and want to both announce this fact to all of my friends AND yet hide it behind a veneer of it not being my fault".

But what else are my friends becoming fans of? Let's see...

Jelly Tots !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now, I like jelly tots as much as the next man (unless the next man is diabetic, of course). But I will never become a fan of anything that uses fifteen bloody exclamation marks. For pity's sake...

Cuddling, Partying, Hot Baths, Kissing, Sex, etc...
I mean, honestly, what's the point? Who wouldn't be a fan of these things? What's next... Hey, everyone, I'm a fan of breathing. I'm a fan of oxygen. I'm a fan of using Facebook like a pillock. Pur-leese!

I'm not going to confine this Farcebook rant to just fan pages, though. Oh, no! You see, there is something else troubling me at the moment, something which used to be confined to group emails but is now waved in my face every time I access my Farcebook home page: "What kind of [insert random item here] are you?"

I don't give a rat's arse what element I am; what my completely arbitrary "personality evaluation" is; which character in [insert name of TV show] I am most like; how much knowledge of [insert subject or person] I have; or how runny my last shit was. Seriously - there is a Farcebook Bristol Stool Scale application. That's taking "too much information" into unexplored territory.

I don't want to shout about these things, because you're my friends, and if you wanted to know, you would use your own knowledge or, and this might come as a shock to the application writers on Farcebook, you would ask me. Farcebook doesn't let me ignore just applications on my home feed - I either have to ignore every sodding new test that comes along, or take the easy route of ignoring any friends that inadvertently fill my feed with utter crap. Which means that, should they post something I might want to know about, I don't get to see it, because I've blocked them - because I don't care which sodding Care Bear they are most like.

My main problem here is the fact that all these quizzes are for is to make users grant
the people who created the tests access to their profiles. They do that when they click on the "accept" button that appears just before the test application loads. With that click, all of the personal details that are stored in their account are available to the people who made the test application. So, if you've filled in a number of these tests and are suddenly getting a lot more spam than you used to, now you know why.

So, Farcebook - please, please, please make it so that I can block all applications in one go. Please. That way, I will remain sane, despite no longer being privvy to the exact comparison between my friends and boybands.

And please, please, please make "profile harvesting" applications a breach of the T&Cs. In order to fill in a simple quiz, an application does not have a legitimate need to know my email address or my date of birth.

Perhaps I should create a fan page for everyone who agrees with me...?