Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Pile up like bones

Sunday, 20th September

I think it's fair to say that I hate cars, car travel and all related practises. I enjoy motor car racing but not really when people attempt it upon the highways of our fine country. Similarly I don't much enjoy car users when I'm cycling, maybe it's just my vigilante spirit that makes me feel fairly inclined to get hold of a helmet camera and just record the day to day poor and potentially dangerous road users of England.

Cruising past the fairly horrible settlement of Swindon (I assume the stationary caravans by the motorway make up Swindon town center) it seems a fairly odd place to stick a town/city. 60ish miles from Cardiff, around 80 miles from Portsmouth and Southampton and god knows how far from London.

Today

Isn't it funny, time, it becomes one of the greatest commodities. After a week and a few days the idea of becoming constantly involved with other people is slightly bewildering. Coming from wasting time to thinking of ways best to invest it is a massive surprise and change around. If only looking at the above, on a day largely expended sitting in a car on the route between home and here, while comparing it to today, time has become rarer, precious and now even important. Whether it is spent or misspent depends upon where the criteria lie.

Quantum? Well spent. Queuing in Sainsbury's for a til with the best looking girl serving? Hardly well spent. But what has been the more exciting part of the day? Maybe the sideways glance from the girl behind the til. Maybe spending the evening drinking someone else's beers in someone else's garden, twice. Maybe watching a team actually win a game of football. Respect it or it'll sell you out, badly.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Last day

So tomorrow will feature the final few hours at home until possibly Christmas. It isn't long but it seems that way during the fairly wintery autumn period. Only 12 weeks, 12 Mondays and a possible 77 hours of lab time. After brief breakfasting it is onwards to chariot for the 154 mile journey westward, across the toll bridge and into the capitol city of Wales. I should suggest that I'm looking forward to it, and I am, in spite of the SLC cock up. It was good to see the BBC carrying quotes in one of it's stories branding the SLC's work as "someone else's incompetence". For future reference:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8263088.stm

Hopefully after this farce moving will go smoothly, I'd say I'm around 80% packed. Computer, monitor and related peripheral are almost the last to go every time, folders and textbooks are pretty easy to get boxed early enough. On top of that I had the fairly simple task of swapping out my football boots from last year for some shiny new ones, after spending the last couple of months complaining about lack of funds I managed to spend close to £50 on some new Nike boots. They're pretty much top of the range and have got everything: event lining, laces and even several studs. They are rolling an orange and silver and black colour scheme which I've yet to see on Match Of The Day this evening but I don't think many of the trendy Arsenal or West Ham players are rockin' last year colours. I reckon they'll be on show in the Bolton game though so there's a chance of some air time. Word is they won't make me any better... I think Ben Haim is wearing them, he just got rolled for the second we conceded this afternoon. Doesn't bode too well.

Moving into a new house has an upside or two, a week or so without internet means that stuff/things get done. There is some odd buzz I get from shopping for kitchen utensils, probably the only things that do it. Technology and computers used to but now they are fairly free of mystery on the other hand a range of chopping boards to choose from is something of a bloody novelty murder mystery of an afternoon. I also want some kind of kitchen oil dispenser. I think I might be overestimating the amount of time I'll be spending in the kitchen considering I'm scheduled for nine to five Monday but maybe it's in my head trying to make up for the lousy kitchen facilities of last year. Hopefully the facilities are as (or close to) I remember.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Garage

So wikipedia tells me the humble CD has been filling up shops since 1982. The first album available in this format being Billy Joel's 52nd Street, I've never heard of this so chances are it could have been a generation defining classic. By the time I was seven or eight I had taken an interest in the Brit-Pop explosion, the usual candidates of Blur, Oasis and Cast. Obvious my first tentative steps into music were fairly mainstream but probably just about the right side of the tracks musically, I managed to miss out on the pre-S Club 7 pop mammoths of.. I'm not actually sure. Whoever those acts making their own equally tentative steps towards the pre-pubescent masses were, they certainly didn't pack much staying power and ultimately a short lived career in the spotlight and a slot on Top Of The Pops was the dream. I thank all available gods each day that I never fell for the charms of the UK-garage scene. Year 2000, Craig David and Dane Bowers, the year of temptation.

Fast forward to now, the naughties, with all the new advances in music and technology it seems that we're almost leaving the CD behind. I last bought a CD as a present, what good is it giving someone a downloaded album on a CD-R for a quid or two less? The one before that I bought as it was impossible to download (legitimately or illegally). That's almost the norm now, buy it physically if you can't find it anywhere else. Looking through my now dated rack of purchases over the last five or so years there are still some real gems in there. I've got a hurriedly signed Neon Handshake by Hell Is For Heroes, Interpol's wonderful Turn On The Bright Lights and Weezer's classic Blue and Green albums. It seems every time I log into Spotify or check out a band on Myspace that the age of the CD is ending faster still.

The difference between the early days, Oasis' fine performance in What's The Story.. is matched by a case and booklet that just as much time could have gone into. That's what made buying a CD special, it sounds like I should be saying this about buying vinyl but sadly that age definitely passed me by. It was more than just the obligatory physical release that it is now, it was the whole product. Maybe I'm ten or fifteen years too young, I think I belong in the generation of the CD. I remember with fairly little fondness the cassette tape, maybe recording awful songs from the radio is the one art to have been lost but it certainly seems a little too old school now. A little too VHS. The coveted purchase of high technology, new music on a disc, incredible. So as the mp3 becomes king, music that weighs next to nothing, the old days of the Walkman, AA batteries and 20 second anti-shock start to gather dust like my old discs.

In an age where the environment is one of the first considerations, it seems to add up, where is the sense is expending recourses to make discs and cases that sit on a shelf for years and are never used again. Then finally with a heavy heart they're thrown out in the garbage, whether it was a classic or not the case and disc are full of memories. When I look at some of the rubbish that sits alongside those albums I love, it really makes some sense. Hawthorne Heights? What a waste.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

MP

Now I've never written to my MP. For a start I don't know who he is, I guess it's a he anyway. The road to receiving a student loan is both long and arduous. Again another letter, with more orders from HQ in Scotland. Another call to, for the first time actually, a rude cretin in the SLC (I forget who they are and what I want to say by the time I get through) offered a fairly simple answer to a fairly simple question. Quite why it takes half an hour to get in touch with someone for a one word but important yes/no answer is very poor.

What I'm planning to say to my MP I currently don't know. I'll express my continued frustration at a company of whom I am a customer. Throughout the ordeal I am made to feel less and less like a customer and this, once more impenetrably complex turn of events, leaves me feeling pretty cold towards the SLC company as a whole. It's not that I expect £20 of M&S vouchers as a token apology, nice as it would be I don't find that kind of gesture particularly useful. Perhaps I would prefer a dialogue with the company where my complaints are taken on board. It's not as though my complaints are wholly unique but centre around a couple of points where the change in income assessment criteria other the years I have been at university mean that assumptions are wrongly made by the company. The real weakness of the SLC is its slow reaction to problems. When things go wrong, don't expect to hear what you need to do or what they did wrong for at least a couple of weeks.

So my MP will have to endure my roundabout rant. Even if it makes no difference to me I hope this awful polluted system is set crashing down and replaced with an equally faceless government body. SHITLC would be a fine name. Long may the good work continue.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Wintering blues

I can officially state once more my dismay at lack of student loan. I'm pretty sure that I'll do well to have received any information on the status of said loans before the end of the week when I move out for about the sixth time in three years. Most of this week is geared towards moving out, people are either going or gone. It more or less marks the end of summer. It ends up giving a fairly skewed picture of a city, to live there for only the autumn, winter and spring months. I can imagine living in Edinburgh and never seeing the beauty of the place in the sun, just because of university calenders. Cardiff is wonderful in the sun (limited time only) but most of the time the sky is draped in greys and blacks. It would feel pretty normal to arrive back and find it pouring with rain for days on end. It's not really the weather I enjoy but it is the weather most regularly served up in the south of Wales.

Packing is at more or less a halt but progress has been made in the resupply routine with tinfoil, cling film and peppercorns sourced for the new year/cupboard. That's less than half the job but it's progress. I've looked over the timetable for this semester and I've considered (briefly) reading up some of my old notes. Also considered researching my project (again, briefly). My project is "The Physics of a Cricket Bat". Exciting as it sounds it sits happily with my interest in the game.

Currently England sit at 69-1, good start once more but 4 nil down, it's hardly a crucial juncture. It has, however, become fairly tiresome. It seems that almost every spectator, journalist and pundit can see the (multitude of) problems and pose sensible solutions, however the same errors pop up and the games fall away in the same way, time after time. It's like any sport, the blend of attack and defence is what defines a team, it's about striking the correct balance and sacrificing one for the other at the right time. But even if it came down to instinct, mental arithmetic or general knowledge, England would still find a way to get it wrong in either 50 over passage.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

18 months

Technology moves fast, having spent a bit more than £200 just about a year and a half ago on an Asus Eee PC (left) I'm pretty surprised that I still use it. With it's tiny seven inch screen, cramped keyboard and weedy processor, it was hardly a revolutionary set of parts but what it became was a revolutionary product. Using a fairly lightweight linux build it can still pull its weight in most situations, the screen is still tiny and hard disk (4gb!) restrictive but connectability, small size and durability make up for a lot.

Roll on 18 months and just over £200 buys a multitude of new and much faster netbook in a massive range of styles and colours. Based on the same ideals of the originals, just on a few steroids, it's a whole different proposition. The hard disk for a start is 40 times bigger, the processor is die shrunk, faster and cooler. Even better news, the keyboard is almost a normal size, touchpad well proportioned and battery capacious (up to eight hours compared to Eee's 3 hour maximum). Oh, it'll run XP Home or Windows 7 happily as well.

The newer netbook on the right, a Samsung NC10, has got all the standard bits, Intel Atom, 1gb of ram, 160gb Hdd, blueteeth and wireless LAN (almost goes without saying but really it's the most important part). Sadly it's not for me, I'll have to pay for my own. It's a birthday present from the parents for my sister, I've spent a few hours installing all the useful programs and removing the load of junk (McAfee anti-virus of all things) pre-installed with the OS. I'm seriously considering replacing my Eee, most likely with a newer version as the build quality from Asus has been good to me. Whether it will be worth waiting for a Windows 7 version most likely comes down to cost. If the price is the same and with only a couple of months to wait for the new and supposedly superior OS it should be worth a look.

What these netbooks and wireless internet access have conspired to do is change almost every practise from a decade ago. Back then I used to use (the awful) Microsoft Encarta '95. On a slow desktop with 56k internet it was a bloody struggle. Now it's Wikipedia (other occasionally unreliable online encyclopaedias are available) on your lap. What could be better than that?

Friday, 11 September 2009

Magic. Not Magic.

One thing is for sure Derren Brown can really get some people's knickers in a twist. His elaborate stunt/trick/illusion the other day was originally billed along the lines of:

Man predicts lottery numbers.

What it became:

Man gets lottery numbers onto some ping pong balls within around 30 seconds of the actual draw.

Taking it for what it is, nothing too difficult, it could be done in a multitude of ways. Of course by putting on an hour of pretty dull TV, even by the standard of Dave day time repeats, without posing a solution is another shrewd move. Good for DB (not a fan of initials but I'm willing to try them out) really, even better for the people who didn't know about it or watch either show though. Of course this leaves room for a book "How I Dunnit" and he's set for life, these antics alone should be worth more than £2.5mil from winning the needless Wednesday night lottery draw (though winning it every week could net him slightly more).

After yesterdays exciting loan related events I was pleased to read on the BBC (getting to like initials) website that there is a widespread outbreak of anger towards the hapless lot in charge of student loans. Considering I'm a returning student so all the bits and pieces go through my LEA, they should have a fairly reduced workload but still manage to make a fair old hash of things. I feel inclined to use their complaints facility but that may be "unlikely" to receive a response. More likely lost in the depths of their inbox. Or worst still be given priority and stall my loan seeking.

My only plan, at this stage, is to wait 'til the Friday before I leave (next Friday!) and lay siege to their phone lines, potentially I'll have two land lines bombarding the castle. If by midday I have no mail and no happy little call centre chappie to talk to, I'll acquire a train to Winchester and lay physical siege to their castle. It actually is "The Castle" in their address so I'll pack accordingly. Clearly the second phase is unlikely to be implemented and may give proper grounds for complaint about my "attitude".

In the longterm, i.e. back in Wales, I have no real plan. I'll just show up, beg for money from the parents and uni, spend it in my usual guilt free fashion. I long for sausages wrapped in bacon, phallically shapen fruit and veg from the market, blue milk and chocolate based cereals. I'll possibly buy a useful book or two. Or most likely spend everything I haven't got on the same old shit and at the same old pubs.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Out

Today, being only ten days until I'm back to uni I've done the two (most exciting) things on my list:

1. Call Student Finance England or whatever they're called now.
2. Put some things in some boxes.


Complications all over the place. After 20 minutes of holding I finally enjoyed some human contact from a call centre worker, who surprisingly was fluent in English. After explaining my awkward situation, I expected to here him wading through the hundreds of forms that have been filled out (mostly by my mum). But no, I was passed on into the devilish grasp of an "assessor", these superhuman beings (only women in my limited experience so far) are highly trained in the art of confusion.

The word/acronym/secret codename "PFF2" came up a number of times. Similarly the slightly more well known "P60" was banded around, pretty much every sixth word. As I my way, surely the way of many others also, after a huge wait on hold I was fairly well irritated. What becomes more irritating still is people making reference to your irritation. YET more irritating still is having one's "attitude" called into question. Needless to say these people are paid for at my expense and are employed to do a service for me, so for me to become in any way frustrated with the quality of their service is very poor form. After 13 minutes of codename after codename and verbal battling it ended in a bit of a stalemate.

At that point having been informed I was "unlikely" to receive my student loan within the next couple of months I phoned the much friendlier Welsh types at university. I informed them after two years of loyal fee payment that I was pretty "unlikely" to pay them on time. She happily informed me that "it should be fine". Good customer service. Actually being treated like a customer, even better. A few hours later, situation, pretty much remedied. A swift call from my mother and the woman guilty of my horrific torture conceded that I was correct. What about? I'm not too sure.

Better news on the other front, task number 2 has yielded a box, with some stuff in. Along with a further box, with some stuff in. At this rate I'll be packed moments before the end of the year, so maybe stepping up my game a little in the next few days would be of some benefit.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

50%

So based on my prediction of a hat trick of sporting losses within the day I've come up fairly short. The defeat in the cricket was always on the cards from the moment Ravi Bopara (wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time, most of the time during his international career) skied a catch to an Australian fielder. Not only did the young batsman manage to hit the ball high enough to break the newly upgraded Hubble but he also took him a whole seventeen balls to put us out of our misery.

Now I understand the lad is under pressure and the slow pitches so far haven't helped him but surely he has the common sense to talk to the management and find a niche lower down the order? Granted, if soccer star Denly hadn't manage to break his fairly frail looking body the situation could be different. England can't keep sticking with a losing team and no matter how many bowlers they pack into the side the continued batting collapses and foolishly late power play overs will continue to cost them.

Moving onto the soccer end of things, 5-1 is a fairly powerful statement against the doubters (where are they now, eh?). Well I still doubt. For a start England enjoyed an easy group, played their best game away in Croatia and have since cruised to qualification. That word, qualification, is the key here. Against competition, and by competition I define any country that you can fairly accurately pick out on a globe, they have faltered. Spain and the Netherlands are tough opponents and suitably made good on England's lack of skill and composure and made the kick it long tactics employed on both nights look fairly foolish. And not just their kit, which, let us be honest, make even the legendary Cameroon one piece leotard look stylish.

So qualified they may be but there are still problems in the team, Barry lacks the mental aptitude to play the defensive position, Heskey can't score and Defoe can't pass the ball. Or head the ball. Really the team is still fairly far from the finished product. For now though, they enjoy a far more comfortable position than the team of '07.

The sky's revenge

Climate change is a burden we all share, the sins of today will (likely) reap their revenge on the generations of the future. Today the government's official climate advisers claim that greenhouse emissions will have to fall by 90% in both domestic and industrial fields to maintain air travel at the current levels throughout the UK.

Now I've never been on a plane and currently don't own, or am able to drive a car, my carbon footprint comes from the electricity I use, the food and goods that are shipped thousands upon thousands of miles to me (spring onions come from Mexico of all places) and the travel methods I use. So where is a 90% drop in greenhouse gases going to come from? And how will it be payed for? Well it'll simply be footed by me and my generation so planes can take off from Southampton and fly to Manchester for half the cost of a train and at twice the carbon emissions. Who will be left with a planet with dwindling natural recourses and an unsustainable boom in population?

Answers on a postcard.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Three a day

The dream is alive, are three sporting defeats in 24 hours (well more likely 25 and a half hours) possible?

Andy Murray's (adopted as "'inglish yeh") defeat, England cricketers continuing their hot form in the one day game and the grown men playing in junior school PE kits failing to overcome their demons against the Croats. We've got the first casualty so far, the huge media pressure (and a combative, powerful and instinctively more offensive opponent) scuppering Mr Murray's chances of claiming what could (but surely won't) turn out to be an illusive grand slam. If he can change his game from running after the ball for longer than his opponent can/is willing to before getting bored, then maybe he can become the success that he himself demands. The best players today are certainly nowhere near as passive. The more often you chance your arm, the better you get.

Of the three, the safest bet goes on the cricketers, while England's bowling has been impressive, the balance of their team has not. Picking a side which has six (and a half if Ravi Bopara is included) serviceable bowlers it is of very little surprise that the most brittle batting order in world cricket looks that little bit worse. A tail starting at six, a top order terrorized by the fresh and sparkling Brett Lee and a series which is two or four games too long has become the blueprint for white ball disaster. Real car crash tv.

The only real spanner in the works here is the round ball chaps, with a squad boasting such illustrious names as Lescott, Lennon and Barry. The combined talent of these three foul cretin alone surely leaves the Argentinians, Italians and even Brazilians quaking in their boots. England sit in a comfortable position in what is, on paper close to the weakest group for qualification. What this is brining though are some delusions of grandeur, dreams of world cup drumming and football coming home.

Take for instance Gareth Barry, a £12,000,000 signing. Does he look it? Of course, he's become England's sideways passing, clumsy tackling and brain-dead holding midfield supremo over the past year. Caught in possession time and again, lacking the pace of even the sluggish John Terry, our friend Barry has become the pin up boy for the new top tier standard of international football. Great in the Premier League where week after week he comes up against such greats as Sean Davis and Teemu Tainio, who really can't come close to providing the competition for space and time of the players of Spain, Holland and to a lesser extent Croatia. But thats fine.

This is what Capello and crew are stuck with, yes, they have some good players, maybe even world class players but they are slotted into a ragtag squad of the almost's and never will be's . There is little left for the likes of Lennon to prove, we've seen time again his pace causes havoc up against the likes of George McCartney and similar equine beasts of burden but the lack of end product is both demoralizing and is becoming truly symbolic of English football.

I Am Legend

After reading the Richard Matheson novel in the last few days, it has become one of my favorites of any genre. After seeing the film adaptation, I Am Legend, the book comparatively takes on a harder edge. The chapters describing the encounters with the dog are horribly moving and tense, it paints the bleakest and most extraordinary picture of the world within which only one man remains. The horrible desperation of routine becomes a greater pain that the destruction of the world and vile vampire plague.

Where the film falls down in comparison is possibly due to the quality of its opening hour. The wonderful camera work and excellent one man role, played by Will Smith, in the beautifully ruined future the film comes to life. From thereon the film struggles to reach the same heights and the climax that never really comes is surprising. The weak ending doesn't do real justice to the ceremonial reverence for which the last man alive is held by the new generation of vampires.

After checking Wikipedia, I found out about The Omega Man. Of course the name is near perfect and the lead man again is very strong, Charlton Heston takes up the roll (and name) of Robert Neville. Again an excellent opening hour with superb set and camera work paints a wonderful world, full of the horrors of post nuclear anti-civilization. Again the ending is weak. There is also another film adaptation of the novel by the name of The Last Man On Earth. Which may be worth a look but maybe again it will highlight the pitfalls of adapting such a strong novel to the screen.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Inbox

I have received 17 emails from Friday to Sunday. All but two being spam/advertising/spamvertising. Based on these statistics (the most reliable possible) that suggests that only 12% (11.76%) are actual useful correspondence.
That aside, I'm fairly pleased to announce, within a much longer time period, ten weeks, I've read eight complete books. Chances are that I have read more words of spam than print. To go back to the percentiles; I've had untapped internet access for 50% of my life. Several thousand emails (62,000ish actually), I'm still yet to consider a spam filter.

Today I'm looking forward to another display of sporting prowess from England's other sports team. After yesterdays poor showing, attributed mainly to a better than average defensive display from a less than gifted set of opponents. Considering the opening goal came from equal parts poor refereeing and fairly lowly cheating from the player who ever so foolishly (hindsight, of course, is still king) commented during the week of his overwhelming urge to never cheat and certainly not dive. Dive, maybe he didn't, but to accept the award of the penalty while all around him players from both sides displayed their dismay at the decision is as good as cheating. Deceit is deceit, however and whoever you are deceiving.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Maybe

Maybe I'm getting old (20) but it seems that the once promised land of drinking, loud music and interpretive dance have lost their sparkle. Of course clubs, clubbing and clubbers (a fairly wretched term) are big business now. Really I think my shift in opinion over two years comes down to music, where the average commercial playlist is flatteringly described with the statement "Blows my mind the shit music that brainless morons love..."
Of course the simple answer is vote with your feet. I don't need to hear this rubbish but maybe, secretly, I want to.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Team

As the transfer window shuts for the Premier League, the sad news is broken that the super transfer totaliser is down 10% on the same point last season. Still £450 million changing hands isn't that bad.
So hastily assembled squads with managers under the most enormous pressure prepare to do battle. But not for another 10 days. So congratulations to the powers that be producing an almighty anti-climax. In a country so steeped in football heritage, how has it come to this? For a game with fairly simple rules, played over 90 minutes between 22 players (plus subs) to become so outrageously hyped up is ridiculous.
The best and most exciting league in the world? Manchester United v Arsenal, perhaps. But Portsmouth v Bolton? Two teams on zero points after four games. Between them they have mustered just three goals (Pompey managed a disallowed goal against Manchester City, but they quite clearly don't count). Exciting? Not much chance.