Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Google Music - Two Spare Invites

I've started a new job as a web designer, working away from home which is great.  And naturally, in order to stimulate the creative juices necessary to creat fabulous websites I've been using Google Music, and it has proved to be exactly right.  

The user interface is nice and simple, so I can just find some music, stick it on and get on with work.  No more hoping Last.FM comes up with the right playlist, or jumping around YouTube videos. 

One little annoyance though is that in the top left corner, I've now got a little mail graphic, and the statement Invite A Friend: Two Invites Remaining.

So, if anyone wants one, drop me a message and I will gladly invite the first two people who contact me to take part in the fun.  

Monday, 11 July 2011

Warpaint – Warpaint (The Video)

Ever since seeing some promo pics for the shoot of Warpaint in NME months ago, I’ve been counting the settings of the sun until it was released.  Finally, about two weeks ago rumours surfaced that it would be premiered on July 7th, and lo and behold, there it was!

For those who’ve not yet discovered this majestic band, Warpaint are an all girl quartet from Los Angeles, peddling a highly original psychedelic dream pop/shoe gaze sound.  Formed in 2004, they consist of Emily Kokal (Guitar, Vocals), Jenny Lee Lindberg (Bass) and Theresa Wayman (Guitar, Vocals).  They’ve followed the tried and tested Spinal Tap method of a reasonably stable guitar/bass line-up with a multitude of different (and quite surprising) drummers.   First up was actress Shannon Sossamon, sister of bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg.  She departed to focus on acting, and was replaced by Josh Klinghoffer, who subsequently left to become the Red Hot Chilli Peppers new guitarist.  A few drummers kept the throne warm, but eventually along came a young Australian called Stella Mozgawa, who fit the mould perfectly.  Three weeks after she joined the band, they recorded their debut album The Fool, which was released in October 2010.

L - R: Jenny Lee Lindberg, Stella Mozgawa, Theresa Wayman, Emily Kokal

Track two on the album was a tune called Warpaint, and that is the focus of today’s writings.  Warpaint starts off with a mechanical grinding, from which emerges a hypnotic guitar line, quickly reinforced by the bass.  From there, it takes off into an upbeat melange of fuzzy guitars, funky bass and unbelievable drumming.  The snare patterns Stella beats out caused me a minor breakdown when I first heard them, and her drumming style is stunningly fresh.

Stella on skins
The video accompanying it is equally interesting.  From a visual perspective, it is a lovely mix of the plain of the real world, and the psychedelic lushness into which their music transports the listener.  The point at which the song progresses past the intro to really start moving (at around the one minute mark) is synchronised to the point at which the first underwater excursion begins.  The general premise of the video is probably something to do with looking beneath the surface.  It features the four musicians doing something mundane – Theresa is crying by a waterfall, Stella is a traffic warden, Jenny is a Hasidic Jew (complete with moustache) wandering the beach and Emily is exploring a forest.

Jenny demonstrates the mundanities of life
 Over the course of their trips, they variously come into contact with water, which serves as a portal to a transformation, and an underwater meeting point.  The whole thing has a very Alice feel to it, including a four way submarine tea party.  
Mad Musicians Tea Party
One point that I’m sure they really wanted to hammer home is the difference between the mundane world and the Warpaint world.  Above ground, they are all dressed in darkly coloured, mundane street clothes but once submerged, they are all clothed in flowing, colourful dresses and surrounded by flora.  The colours underwater are particularly notable; the contrasts they obtain are exquisite, and they make for a video that is visually stunning.  The saturated greens and blues are the main colour focus, and it works brilliantly. 
Exquisite Colours
The only downside (and an inevitable one) is the fact that in order to stand any chance of garnering airplay, the song has had to be cut from a lengthy six minutes to a more palatable four.  This means that in a song that to me is not far from perfect, thirty three percent has been cut, but this is sadly unavoidable.  Additionally, they cut some particularly good parts of the song, which saddens me.


Ultimately though, it’s an imaginative video that showcases the mellow, otherworldly side of the band and emphasises their ethereal nature perfectly.  A perfect video to escape to.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Google Music Beta - You're Invited!

So I woke up the other morning to a very nice surprise.  I'd been invited to participate in the Google Music Beta program.  I've been excited about Google Music Beta since the rumours started, so naturally I leapt to the 'Get Started' button.
The whole process of signing up is painless.  All I had to do was agree to the Ts & Cs, download Googles Music Manager software, and I was away.

The Music Manager software was equally painless - after entering my account details, and notifying it as to my choice of music playing software (iTunes) it scanned my library, detected all my music and began the upload process.  Thrilled, I gave it a few days before I'd be listening to my entire library, everywhere I went with no care in the world.  And three days later, I'm still waiting to be thrilled.

As you can see, I have a fairly staggering amount of music in my library.  This is a significant cut from the ~19,000 songs I had once upon a time, but it is still not an insignificant amount of music.  So, I guess it's somewhat my fault, but after three days of near constant uploading 3,287 songs have been uploaded.  This amounts to about 20% of my collection. My upload rate is about 200kbytes/s peak, which means that over three days I have had the potential to upload 51gb of music.

Instead, it has managed a measly 3,287 songs, which I work out to be roughly 21.4gb.  Additionally, it can be no coincedence that my computer has slowed down massively ever since I started the upload process.  The real worry is that I'm moving away from this house soon, to a house that has a pathetic 50kb/s upload (last I checked) so if my music isn't uploaded before Sunday, then I could be waiting an extraordinarily long time. 

One idea that occurred to me whilst thinking about how they could make the upload process a bit more painless is prioritising.  It's fairly easy to tell what most iTunes users favourite music is, using the play count metric.  It think it would be a fairly easy algorithm for Google to incorporate so that it initially prioritises music by its popularity.  That way, I could already be listening to my Warpaint and Sister Crayon, not passing the time with music I don't even remember adding to my library. 

Of course, this is merely a growing pain.  I undoubtedly have an overly large library, and once this has finished I will forget the whole uploading saga in a few weeks, and the sync process should be painless when I'm only adding an album.  Also, aside from this upload debacle, there's a lot I like about the whole software.

First: Once I'd found an APK for the Music android software (the work of a minute), it turned out to work very nicely indeed.  The only issue was, I had to enable 'Auto-Sync' which is no big deal.  The ability to access my entire library will be a godsend when I'm at home.  I plug my phone into my hi-fi, and use that to listen to music, so to be able to access 90gb of music as opposed to the usual 8gb will be heavenly.

Second: It is wonderful to know that my music is now (will soon be) backed up.  Hard Disks are notoriously volatile and there's a lot of music that's taken some time to track down.  Knowing it's stored on Google's nice servers, probably backed up is great peace of mind for me.  And additionally, Google are giving me 91gb of space free!  I get the impression that they are looking at charging for this service down the road, but right now I am paying with nothing except feedback.
Just as a reference, Dropbox would charge me $20 a month for 100gb of space. 

Third: I am now be able to access my music from anywhere!  No need to pray that someone has uploaded that rare Foals B-side when I want to show a friend away from home.  Just load up the browser, go to Google and hit play.  Or when I'm on holiday, or doing some office work, I now have full access to my library. 

The web interface is very nice and clean, sound quality seems to be identical to iTunes and there is very little lag.  There's no gap between the songs, and you can navigate around the site while songs play.  The only criticism is that the customisation options are non-existant.  There's no ability to EQ, no ability to alter the crossfade, and no nice little luxuries like visualiser.  All this may be forthcoming, but right now it's missing, although it doesn't really ruin the experience too much. 

Overall, I'm extremely happy with the Google Music Beta experience.  It has a lot of the features that I was hoping for, seems to make no bones about the source of your music (a worry for the iTunes cloud) and currently sits at my favourite price.  Now, I just need to wait for my music to finish uploading!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

F1 On The Move

On Sunday night I was faced with a distressing turn of events.  I had work (at Silverstone, of all places) until 6, and had to catch a train at 8.19, leaving me the perfect timeslot in which to watch the Canadian Grand Prix.  Along with Spa-Francorchamps, it’s the best track on the calendar and always a thriller.  

Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, a man made island.

Arriving home I found that the race had been red-flagged due to the deluge, and there was no way it would be restarted soon.  On any other day, I would have just missed the train but unfortunately I had a potentially life defining meeting the next day, so that wasn’t an option.  And so, with a heavy heart I boarded my 8.19 train, and received a text at 8.40 telling me the race was due to restart at 8.50.  At this point, I considered my options for following the race on the go.  I was armed with my Android phone, and laptop.

My first idea was to tether my phone to my laptop, and just watch the BBC stream.  But on a moving train, the connection would have been terrible and the streams weigh in at around 750Kb/s, 5 megabytes a minute or nearly 900megabytes for the duration of my journey.  Data is pricey, so that was a no go.  I couldn’t watch it on my phone, as the ZTE Blade’s ARMv6 processor isn’t supported by Adobe Flash. 

At this point, I decided to settle for reading the BBC commentary for updates instead.  I’ve used it during work, and whilst it’s not great, it does the job when it’s not really getting my full attention.  But after a while, it proved inadequate.  For a blow by blow account, it was contained nowhere near enough detail to paint me any sort of picture as to what was going on.  With no mental picture of the action, and updates coming in once a lap, for selected drivers I needed something a bit more.

The F1 Live Timing app was at this point booted, to see what I could get out of it.  I often use it to follow qualifying, but since it doesn’t suffer from the lag of the FOM stream, I normally have to leave it during the race.  But with few other options, I gave it a go.

 Live Timing is pure data coming straight from the track.  You occasionally get glimpses of it on the stream, with the ticker along the bottom changing between gap, lap times and other bits of data.  But using the app, you can get instant access to enormous amounts of data. 
At will, you can access; lap times, sector times, gap from the leader, gap from the next man, number of pit stops, as well as data on the track itself such as temperature, wind direction, humidity and weather.  It also had a complete lap chart for each driver so you can see how they’ve done.   It even has a commentary section, which describes what’s happening on the track, and frankly does a better job than the BBC.

The point at which I joined Live Timing was when Schumi was running in second, and looked to be catching Vettel nicely.  He’d just passed Kobayashi, and Button was lingering nowhere.  Soon the PIT sign started appearing for the drivers, and presumed they must all be pitting for dry tyres.   With Jenson lying in about 11th at this point, he started to light up the timing screens.  

One of the most useful features is that the software automatically draws attention to people going fastest, by showing their sectors and/or times as purple.  So when you hear Brundle referring to a “purple” time, he is saying what he’s seeing.  It was at this point that a lot of purple dots started appearing for Button, indicating that he was starting to motor.  By checking the gap at the start of a lap, and their relative sector times, it was possible to work out when an overtake took place during a lap.  My delight was hard to hide, and watching Button carve through the field bought out all sorts of over excitement.  He made it up to second and watching the times sector by sector, it was plain to see that he was in with a chance of catching Vettel.  Here’s a little snapshot into how the last lap played out for me, and how I worked out Button and overtaken.

At the start of lap 70, Button had managed to make it into the DRS zone, with a gap to Vettel of 0.8s.  Sector 1 showed Button about 0.2s faster, so still evidently behind. Sector 2 showed Button doing a ~ 24s, while Vettel showed ~28s.  With a difference of 4s, it was either a glitch on the timings or a glitch by Vettel.  Luckily, a text came in at this point.  “Button 1”.  This led to the sight of me pumping the air around Basingstoke station, an act which seemed to draw a few confused gazes. 

Ultimately, I’d say that the live timing serves as a great muse for painting a mental image of what was happening in the race.  The main problem was that I was only focussing on certain drivers (Button, Kobayashi and Schumi in particular) meaning I missed out on other things that were interesting with hindsight – the Toro Rossos sneaking into the top ten, and some other non driver related things.  Having Brundle and Coulthard to point these things out live is definitely worthwhile. 
Fortunately, my HD version is just finishing downloading, so I shall soon be able to settle down and watch that. 

A fine commentary pairing

I’m also still in shock that Button managed to win, after so many incidents.  Whilst Buttons race pace was undoubtedly fantastic (and very much what I like seeing) Red Bull and Vettel made a mistake each that allowed him to win.  Vettel was obviously controlling the gap, and the pit wall should have noticed that a Mclaren was charging through the field, and given Vettel more of a gap.  The fact that he managed to find about 2s a lap extra after Jenson got into second tells you all you need to know about that. 
The second of course was Vettel running wide at turn 6, a most uncharacteristic error.  He’s had pressure for the lead in the last three GP’s, and has only finally made a mistake.  It’s also interesting to note that Jenson is emerging as Vettels new title adversary.  With a potential Monaco victory snatched by a red flag, and now victory in Canada, he’s moved into second place and looks to have had the measure of Vettel at two wildly different circuits. 
The future also looks interesting.  Mclaren are showing that they are pursuing aggressive strategies, which seem to be generally paying off and of greater interest is the EBD (Exhaust Blown Diffuser) row brewing.  It looks likely that it will be banned for Silverstone, and from this armchair, it seems that Red Bull will lose the most performance, especially their qualifying margin.

DRS wide open

BBC have been doing wonderful qualifying comparisons recently, and one that I would be interested to see is a Red Bull (preferably Vettel) against either a Mclaren or Ferrari (whichever is closest that weekend).  They should show the whole lap using a rear wing view camera, in order to see how much earlier the Red Bull can hit the DRS coming out of the corners.  I’m guessing that it would be significantly earlier, and the reason for that would be that their EBD keeps them well planted through the corners, so they can afford to start turning drag into speed much earlier than the others.  A lot of people seem to think that DRS is the key to their qualifying advantage, in combination with the EBD.  Without it, they will go a whole lot slower.  Of course, the other teams will lose some performance as well, but I would guess that Red Bulls will be a greater percentage of lap time than Mclaren, Ferrari and Mercedes.   With Mclaren and Ferrari being in pretty much the same ball park, and Mercedes just about there, the EBD ban could mean that we have four teams on pretty much the same performance level.

Of course, it could be that the EBD is only a minimal part of Red Bulls package, blown wildly out of proportion and Mclaren et al will only fall further behind.  Time will tell, but it looks promising.  

 Oh, also, I've been following it for a while but I got to see the finished Silverstone Wing this weekend.  And it looks awesome. 

Monday, 30 May 2011

Post Monaco Thoughts

Well, a weekend that looked full of potential for Mclaren has failed to materialise at every junction.  The Grand Prix was a deeply exciting one, and I don't think I've ever maintained such a high average heart rate whilst watching a Grand Prix.  But unfortunately, as a Mclaren fan absolutely no luck at all seemed to go their way, leaving me feeling utterly deflated on Sunday evening.  So, here's a list of just where things went wrong, generally at no fault of the drivers.  
I do want to say that this article may seem excessively negative, but I thoroughly enjoyed the race, thought Monaco looked absolutely stunning, and I feel this will be talked about for years to come.  Just not by Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button or anyone else in the Mclaren team. 

Boats, Babes and F1.  The dream come true. 


It had been looking excellent up until Q3.  Alonso may have been fastest in all the practices, but it was quite obvious that he was absolutely ragging it.  In comparison, Button and Hamilton were looking similarly fast, but without needing to drive quite so close to the precipice.  Things were waiting to be turned up a notch, and indeed, come Q1 and Q2 Hamilton aced both sessions.  Q3 was where it all started to go wrong.

To begin with, the signs were looking promising.  On his first lap, Button had managed a 1:13.997, half a second off Vettels 1:13.556, but Jenson normally is.  Hamilton came out for his first flying lap, with the aim of winding himself up for a three lap run.  His first lap started just as Ferrari released Massa from the pits.  No doubt this was pure chance, but it greatly hampered Hamilton in the climb up Beau Rivage.  

Then, Sergio Perez was unfortunately caught out by the bumps, and took on a barrier sideways.  That this happened within 2:26 of the end of the session caused alarm bells to ring.  Memories of Malaysia flooded in, when Petrovs failure minutes before the end of Q2 forced about ten cars to try and make a run within two or so minutes, with several high profile names failing to make the cut.  

Thankfully, the medics were able to extract Perez from his car, and he escaped with minor injuries.  So, the barrier was repaired, and the session was resumed.  

No doubt with Malaysia in mind, Mclaren sent Lewis out to sit at the head of the pitlane.  This was undoubtedly a smart idea, however he was sent out too early, and so he was forced to sit there cooking, as his engine temperatures rose and tyre temperatures dropped.  He was waiting for about two minutes before getting out, by which time his tyres must have cooled off immensely.  Setting off for his outlap, all was well but as soon as he finished his first sector, he was already 9/10ths of the pace.  By the end of the second sector, he'd dropped another 4/10ths, despite cutting a chicane just after Piscine and his lap time was a disappointing 1:15.280, only good enough for seventh.  But worse was to follow, as the stewards (fairly) decreed that his lap time was invalid, and deleted it.  This left him with no lap time, and he was forced to start from 10th (net 9th, of course).  
Button was in second, which was fantastic, but there's little doubt over who the man to take the fight to Sebastien Vettel is.  So, with a heavy heart, I bided my time until race day.


Another beautiful day in the tax haven of Monaco, and 23 of the fastest machines in the world lined up on the grid.  With DRS, KERS and Pirelli tyres surely even Monaco could be a feast of thrills and spills.  
The start was reasonable, with Button getting away nicely and Hamilton getting in front of Schumacher, who had a poor start.    Schumacher, though rammed Hamilton and detaching bits of his rear wing, and then got overtaken by him at the hairpin.  Hamilton hounded Schumacher, and subsequently took the place back with a beautiful dive up the inside of Ste. Devote.

Schumi is too agressive into Ste. Devote

Vettel pulled a reasonable distance over Button, but it was then maintained at around four seconds.  Then, on lap 14 Jenson dived into the pits and strapped on a second set of super softs.  With fresh tyres, and clear air he pumped in a brilliant outlap.  By the time Vettel had pitted, he emerged behind Button.  Worse, his team had made a mistake and given him the softs, rather than the super softs, and so Button was able to tear away at about a second a lap. 
At this point, things were looking beautiful for Button.    With a comfortable lead everything was looking good for a Mclaren victory.  But then, around lap 30 Timo Glock pulled over with damaged suspension.  This was a point of contention, but I believe that Mclaren viewed this as a likely Safety Car, and hence pitted Jenson.  Of course, a safety car didn't come out but Hamilton conspired to bring one out anyway.

Hamilton at this point had pitted and had managed to get behind Massa.  He caught him at around one second a lap, but then got stuck behind.  After trying a few dummies, he tried to send one up the inside, mirroring Schumi's move on him earlier.  Unfortunately, at the same time, Massa was trying to send one up the inside of Webber and the hairpin is not a place for double overtakes.  Massa and Hamilton collided, but both managed to carry on.  Then, Massa got a poor drive into the tunnel, and Hamilton managed to overtake him.  Massa moved onto the marbles, lost control of his car and slapped into the barriers.  This was all two laps after Button had pitted, and in my opinion this once again played into his hands.  Alonso pitted, putting on a set of super softs. Hamilton earned a drive through penalty for his maneouver. 

Once again, Button was up behind Vettel, again on a set of super softs against Vettel on his softs.  However, this second set of softs ultimately proved to be Buttons undoing.  Unable to get past Vettel, and with Vettel told to force Jenson to waste his tyres, Jenson ducked into the pits and got the mandatory soft tyres on.  

At this point, Button had made three stops to Vettels one and Alonso's two.  And with the different strategies all meeting in the middle, the race was truly on.  Alonso caught up to the back of Vettel and started attacking him, whilst Button caught up to the pair of them, although he chose to sit at a respectful distance, whilst they wore each others tyres out.  With Pirelli tyres that tend to fall off a cliff, and Vettels tyres having to run an unprecedented sixty laps if he chose to one stop, Button was looking in a reasonable position.  

Three cars, from three different teams battle it out for the lead

It was at this point that the leading three caught up to the battling midfield, and started lapping them.  Sutil was in fourth, with Kobayashi in fifth and Petrox sixth hunting him down.  Not far behind Webber, Maldonado and Hamilton were all following each other as well.  Kobayashi slipped past Sutil on the entry to Mirabeau, with his front wing making contact with Sutils right rear.  With Webber attacking Sutil, and Maldonado passing Petrov in close proximity, there was little concentration for what was going on around them.  The train of events that led to a safety car began with Sutil running wide, and slapping his right rear tyre into the armco.  Sufficiently punished, it duly punctured causing him to veer wildly.  With Hamilton having got past Petrov, he then attempted to slow down to avoid the wild Sutil.  This took Alguersuari by surprise, who mounted the rear of Hamilton's car, and slid into the Armco.  This equally shocked Petrov, who followed suit.  With two wrecked cars on the track, a safety car was summoned.  

Sutil, Kobayashi, Webber and Hamilton in close formation

Now, things started to look more unsteady for our Mclaren heroes.  With a safety car, Alonso and Vettel would be able to rest their tyres for a bit, giving them less laps on which to fight it out.  And for Hamilton, Alguersuari's detour to his derriere had caused him fatal rear wing damage.  Although he looked as though he was going to stay out, a radio message went out from Mclaren on lap 72 telling him to box.  

Simultaneously, as the extent of Petrovs accident was realised, a red flag was given.  After everyone had worked out exactly what this entailed, they parked up on the grid and the teams slowly started to realise that they were able to work on their cars, including a change of tyres.  This played straight into the hands of Vettel and Alonso, as the teams discovered that under red flag conditions, they were constricted only by time as to what they could change. Everyone discarded their degraded tyres and put on a young set of soft tyres, and with three cars now on the same strategy, with only six laps left, it was at this point inevitable that the lead at the top wouldn't change. 

However, as Buttons hopes faded Hamiltons were given a new lease of life by the same rules.  Images showed his pit crew working flat out to detach his old rear wing, and install a new one that would enable him to complete the race. In the nick of time, Mclaren engineers completed the swap, and the race restarted.  

For the front three it was a standard lights to flag procession, with the order unaltered.  Behind them, further action unfolded.  Hamilton was clearly faster than Maldonado, and took the opportunity to tear up the inside of Ste. Devote.  However, there wasn't space for two cars, and one of them had to give.  Maldonado went spinning into the barrier, and Hamilton flew on his way for a sixth place finish.  But unsurprisingly, cars three and twelve were to be investigated after the race.  All the cars took the chequered flag, and with Mclarens finishing third and sixth, it was neither and unmitigated disaster nor the brilliant success it could have been.  With Mclaren showing race pace that exceeded the Red Bull, had Saturday gone according to plan then it could so easily have been a 1-2 finish. 

Post Race

As I sat there contemplating a return to revision, I noticed Lee McKenzie interviewing Hamilton.  It was evident from his facial expression that he wasn't feeling particuarly happy, and he took the opportunity to unload his feelings to Lee McKenzie.  I've taken this opportunity to repeat and analyse some of his juicier statements.

"Out of six races, I've been to the stewards five times, it's an absolute frickin' joke".

These have been his trips to the stewards, reasons and results, as far as I can work out/recall. 

Australia; Possibly had to see stewards regarding broken undertray. No punishment.

Malaysia; Put in front of the stewards for weaving in front of Alonso.  Penalised twenty seconds, and dropped from seventh to eighth.  Harsh, but not entirely unreasonable.

Spain; Failing to slow under a yellow flag. The flag was on a corner, and Hamilton had just got onto fresh tyres, so he was not really able to lose much speed through the corner, and hence why his lap time was so quick.

Monaco x 2;
1. Cutting a chicane on his Q3 qualifying lap.  Time deleted, and dropped to tenth as a result.
2. Causing an avoidable incident.  20 second penalty, no resulting position change. 

I can't think of the any others right now, although I have a memory of him blocking someone in qualifying somewhere.  But that could be made up.  He's undoubtedly had some bad treatment from the stewards in the past, but this season nothing overly unreasonable.  He does lose marks for use of the word fricking, as well. 

"These drivers are absolutely frickin' ridiculous, it's stupid". [Having described the Massa and Maldonado incident]

I hate to say it, but Hamilton ALWAYS has a somewhat warped view of events.  Apparently, Massa turned in a car length earlier than he normally would, but he had Webber on the outside so of course he would. He was behind Maldonado, so Maldonado had the right to the racing line. Hamilton jumped the curbs, and was lucky not to lose control of his car.  At best, this was a 50/50 incident, and I have a hard time seeing it as Maldonados fault.  

 At this point Lee gave him a perfectly worded question;  "Why do you feel you're so magnetic to the stewards?".  And the most fantastic response was elicited.  

"Maybe it's cos i'm black. [laughs].  That's what Ali G says".

At this point, Lee paused as she realised exactly what response she'd just elicited.  The fact that Hamilton even jokes about it demonstrates that it's something on his mind.  There is the possibility in his mind that the stewards are picking on him, because he's black.  

I find this interesting, because after the Chinese GP (where Hamilton won), a friend of mine's mother (who is also black) observed that the British press never got as excited for Hamilton winning as they do for Button, suggesting that there is latent racism towards him.  As someone who only ever reads the specialist motorsport press, this is something I've never noticed, but maybe there's a grain of truth to that.  Certainly, in 2007 and 2008 Hamilton recieved a certain amount of abuse related to his ethnicity from a certain quarter of Spanish fans, but I refuse to believe that he could see the stewards in this number.  He subsequently went to the stewards to explain that it was an unfunny joke, but it's certainly going to hang in the air for a while. 
"You get done for trying to make a move".

Now here's something I agree with.  When Vettel took out Button at Spa last year, he was given a totally undeserved penalty.   We need drivers to be able to attack other drivers without the threat of punishment if it goes slightly wrong.  A crash and loss of position is punishment in itself.  If a driver pulls an obviously dangerous move, then fair enough, but I don't think a driver losing control in a marginal situation should be punished.  Whether Hamilton's incidents today were marginal is another question. 

Overall, I thought it was one of the best interviews I'd seen in a long time.  It's rare to see a driver really open up and tell it as he sees it, and for this Lewis (and Lee) should be applauded.  

So overall, despite my awareness of what an exciting weekend this has been, I'm left with a sour taste.  Button could have won had luck not favoured Vettel, and Hamilton had one of his most embarressing weekends ever.  Still, onwards to Canada, the scene of Mclaren's last 1-2, and a race that has only ever seen Hamilton starting from one position.  Pole. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Should Old People Drive?

I was just doing the bi-annual phone memory card spring clean, when I discovered this photo that I took in the legendarily sketchy Banbury.  Yes, the place contains the well known Banbury Cross but it has also been nicknamed BanBurberry, a thoroughly deserved title (and good advice).  

Banbury is a place full of bizarre people, and here is a perfect example of one.  I think the focus is obvious.  Has this chap accidentally got into his mobility scooter rather than his Kia?  Or if his chosen  mode of transport is intentional, can that vehicle really be road legal?  Can it be safe?  Surely at the very least, it's so slow as to greatly irritate anyone behind him, leading to severe road rage.  It's also probably awesomely fun, there's no need for air conditioning, and the guy probably doesn't give a shit so power to him. 

0 - 60 in a lifetime

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Music In The Cloud - Finally!

Having just bought myself a new laptop, I've been trying to work out a nice wireless way of transferring all my music onto it.  I've tried using Itunes Home Sharing, but it's been hopelessly slow (even over wireless) so I gave up on that.  I've been on the verge of just putting my library onto an external Hard Drive but this seems like a hopelessly old fashioned method of moving music around.  

I've been happily embracing the cloud this year, using Dropbox to share my documents around my devices and Firefox sync to keep my bookmarks unified internationally.

When it comes to music, I can happily wait for a decent solution to come along, and with the Cloud Wars hotting up, I knew it would only be a matter of time.

So imagine my joy on waking up to discover out that that not only was it another scorching Mediterranean day on the other side of my curtains, but also that Google were planning on launching a cloud system.  Anxiously, I waited through the day to discover whether or not Music Beta would tick all my boxes.  And come five o'clock, I discovered that it did!   All but one, very big, very important feature.  And one other possible problem too.

So, I'm going to list the features of Google Music Beta that really sticks out as features I need and/or appreciate;

  1. Storage; Google Music Beta offers storage of a phenomonal 20,000 songs.  My library has peaked at around 19,000 songs, and is currently sitting at around 14,000, so this should be more than enough space for me.  This kicks Amazons 1,000 song arse. 
  2. Price; Currently retailing at my favourite price of no pounds, no pennies and nothing else.  Except presumably information about what I listen to, which I already give out anyway to anyone who cares.
  3. Synchronisation; The music is stored in the cloud, but changes made on all your devices are stored and repeated everywhere else.  This was one of the things that put me off using Itunes Home Sharing as a permanent solution.  Imagine, everytime I add an album to my desktop computer, I would have to manually add it to my phone, and laptop as well.  This way, everything is synced and if I change something on one device, everything else will keep up.  Make a playlist, change a tag, add a song.  All there on all my devices.  I know it's gonna take a bit of time to upload 14,000 songs, but once it's done, maintenance syncing should take no time at all. 
  4. Device Compatibility; Vitally, Google have maintained their hubris and offered compatibility with Itunes.  Which means that I can easily upload my Itunes library to the cloud, and keep it synced with my Android phone!  Wahey! Additionally, I can also play my library through a web based browser.  When I'm using a computer I can't install onto, but need to work on, I can still listen to my music on it, improving my productivity by untold amounts! 
  5. Offline Streaming; I don't have a data plan on my phone, so happily I can just choose the songs I want from my library, and quickly download them to my phone for when I'm on the move, whenever I'm in a wi-fi zone.  Alternatively, I can access my whole library from my phone whenever I'm at a friend's house, in the library, or anywhere else. 
I know, doesn't it sound fantastic!  All the capacity of an Ipod classic on my humble ZTE Blade. But there's only one problem.  It's not available in the UK!!!! What's going on there???  Is this some kind of revenge for the US not having Spotify?  
My second possible problem is that I've heard rumours that it might require flash on Android devices, which would be a massive shame, since my ARMv6 equipped ZTE Blade doesn't support flash. 

So, as long as they release a flash free APK for my phone, and let people in the UK sign up, I think I'll be in my musical Nirvana, my Stairway to Heaven, feeling Hysteric, etc.    

Monday, 9 May 2011

Jenson Button Needs To Sort His Act Out

Jenson Button is renowned for his smooth driving style, making a single adjustment into the corner and one more out.  This fact is indubitable.  What is a little more tenuous are Jenson Button’s ‘legendary’ tyre management skills, and his ability to make tyres last laps longer than other drivers.    I've spoken to many people, including team engineers who believe it.  To many observers it seems completely logical that one talent leads to another, but I’ve always found this train of thought a little questionable. 

A man frustrated?

Now I’m sure it’s true that he tends to be a little easier on his tyres – Monaco 2009 was a classic example where Jenson was one of the few able to make his super soft tyres work.  Both the Brawn GP cars and Vettel started on the super softs, and after about 12 laps, Vettel was lapping 4 seconds slower.  But the ability to utilise a tyre, and the ability to make a tyre last aren’t necessarily the same thing.

Monaco 2009 - Kind to softies.
For Jenson, this season and the last have been characterised by a conservative attitude to tyres, always doing his best to eke out as much life from a set of tyres as possible.  

When McLaren decide to split strategy, it’s always Jenson who ends up staying out, and it rarely works for him.  
Lewis Leads usual.

And apart from a somewhat fortuitous (albeit not undeserved) podium in Malaysia, this season has been generally poor.  Observe;

In Australia, he was tucked up behind Massa before incurring a drive through penalty, failed to hold up Vettel for any great length of time, passed a few slow-ish cars and ended up finishing sixth.  Contrast this to Lewis, who managed to hold onto second despite having a broken car.

In Malaysia, he managed to finish an impressive second, but only after Alonso and Hamilton took each other out of contention.  

In China, he qualified a remarkable second, managing to pip Hamilton.  However, he managed to royally screw his race up, after pitting in the Red Bull box, losing precious time and track position to Vettel, and nailing the coffin of his race.  This was only compounded when Hamilton managed to pass him, and win the race.  This compared starkly to Jenson being passed by Webber in the final laps.  Clearly, tyre management was the issue here, and Jenson lost out badly.  

Finally, we reach Turkey.  The perceived wisdom was that four stops was the way to go, and at the end of the race, this was certainly demonstrated.  In the top 10, three drivers made three stops.  Button, who finished sixth (after starting there), Buemi who finished ninth (and started 16th) and Kobayashi in tenth (who started 22nd).  

Jenson has under achieved this season, compared to his team-mate.  He’s always been there or thereabouts, but he’s totally failed to outperform the car as he previously has managed, and I’m convinced that his attitude to tyres is the problem. 
Australian Blisters

The nature of Pirelli’s this season seems to be that they will fall off a cliff at some point, causing the drivers to lose significant speed.  This in itself shouldn’t be a particular problem, as previously defensive driving would normally be enough to keep a faster driver behind.  However, with the advent of DRS this has meant that defending against a faster car is much more difficult, if not impossible.  Which means that while Jenson tools around protecting his tyres, everyone else slips past using the DRS.  In China, Webber and Hamilton both snuck past on the pit straight after having managed to use the DRS to close up on him (both were magnificent overtakes, mind) while in Turkey Hamilton and Rosberg both managed to slip past in the DRS zone (less magnificent overtakes).

Mercedes DRS is widely considered the most efficient

The other problem is that the hard tyres are not hard tyres in the sense people are used to, something Pirelli are aiming to rectify.  In previous seasons, the Bridgestone hards were slower than the softs but also lasted much longer.  This year, however, the hards are slower than the softs but drop off just as quickly.  This calls into question the wisdom of a driver like Button attempting to make the hard tyres last for 19 laps, when he could probably manage such a feat with the softs, and be a second a lap quicker.  

In addition, conservative driving of the Button variety doesn’t necessarily seem to be the key to maintaining a Pirelli.  Tyre degradation occurs mainly due to friction occurring on the tyres, detaching rubber from them.  The key to this is cornering.  

There are a few things we need to know before preceeding;
1) The key to maintaining tyres is not causing them to grind against the surface.  This can be in planes both parallel (wheels locking under breaking) and perpendicular (sliding whilst cornering) to the motion of the car. 

2) The formula for downforce is D = 0.5 * (WS * F * AoA) * F * p * V2.  For our purposes we can consider everything to be a constant, aside from D (downforce) and V (velocity). D ∞ V2

So, the key to downforce is speed, and the key to not chewing up your tyres is having enough downforce through a corner that the car drifts as little as possible.  Greater adherence to the ground means less drifting in relation to the intended direction.  We can extrapolate this to show that the key to maintaining your tyres is maintaining speed through the corners.   

At this point, it should start to become obvious why a driver like Jenson is having a much less successful time maintaining his tyres than everyone expected.  The most common method of preserving tyre life is to drive a bit slower, but this year, that doesn’t seem to work.  Because Jenson isn’t carrying enough speed through corners, he is drifting more, and causing his tyres to suffer just as much degradation as anyone else’s.

Incidentally, this fact also leads to another worrying discovery.  The BBC showed a brilliant piece today (see video above) comparing Webber and Vettel’s qualifying laps side by side, and it was evident that his main advantage over his teammate was carrying more speed through corners.  It can be no coincidence that Vettel has generally needed one less stop than his teammate in every race.  Even in Turkey, his stop was purely precautionary, and it turned out unnecessary.     
Combine a man who is quick through the corners with an ultra downforce efficient car, give him some tyres that degrade primarily through application of lateral friction and you have a terrifying prospect.  As people are discovering this year.  

Vettel claims a turkish victory...

Hamilton is another driver who carries speed through corners excellently, and he seems to be quite the match for Button in tyre preservation this year.

It seems as though Jenson has let all the talk in recent years of his smooth style and tyre preservation force him to make them his most prominent attribute, rather than a handy part of his arsenal.  Ever since the eighth race of 2009 where he started to bottle up, he has been a changed driver.  For the first third of 2009, he was a sight to behold, winning races from all over the track, pumping in the laps when they mattered and flowing with the circuit, all without a care in the world.  But then, up against his home crowd he started to bottle it, and withdraw into his shell. With thoughts of the world championship in mind, and a massive lead to protect, he adopted a conservative style that he has rarely since dropped.  Brazil and Abu Dhabi ’09, and China and Monza ’10 aside.

With his entire driving style geared towards maintaining tyres, and sacrificing speed he is going nowhere.   

Therefore, I postulate that in order for my favourite driver in my favourite team to win races, he’s going to have to start driving more aggressively.  He’s going to have to start attacking the corners, and keeping as much speed through them as he can.  When this is combined with his smooth, efficient input style, it should work to great effect and I think we can expect to see the winning driver emerge once more.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Official Royal Wedding Brochure - Downloadable Version

A colleague at work asked me if I could make a printable version of the Official Royal Wedding Brochure that's currently doing the rounds, so I duly did.  The format in which it's presented is very restrictive, and doubtless designed to dissuade people from using it for their own purposes, but I couldn't see anything prohibiting it. 
I figured some other people might also like to try and print it out as well, so they can read along to the ceremony, kneel at the appropriate time and enjoy looking at all the nice pictures.  So, I made up this PDF of the brochure which you can print, view, send to your reli's and enjoy without any limitations. 

Royal Wedding Official Brochure

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

So You Liked The Mighty Boosh?

I was in philosophy class at the tender age of sixteen when my friend Leo told me about a show called The Mighty Boosh.  Initially I was sceptical; how could a show about two men working in a zoo be entertaining?  But my friend forced the DVD’s upon me, and so after school one night I took a break from my dedicated homework routine, put the DVD into my computer and sat back.  And I was taken on a journey through time and space, a journey I’m still on to this day.  The Mighty Boosh was a revelation.  Each episode was a totally enthralling trip, a juxtaposition of dark humour against colourful, arty and energetic adventures.  

The Mighty Boosh's Bizarre Logo

The first series follows the adventures of Vince Noir, a trend setting hipster (Noel Fielding) and Howard Moon, a trend apathetic 'jazz dalek' (Julian Barrett), Zoo keepers at the Zooniverse, owned by Bob Fossil.  The Zooniverse features a gift shop owned by shaman Naboo, whose best friend and familiar is the ape Bollo.  A diverse crowd to be sure, and every episode they embark upon a surreal adventure.  After a brief and generally irrelevant (but always amusing) introduction, it launches into the episode.  With trips to the afterlife, a trek through a mod-wolf infested forest and journeys to the arctic to find precious stones, every episode features a leftfield story with twists and turns.  Fashion, musicianship, arty-ness and relationships are all commonly explored themes. 

The Cast assembled outside the Mod-wolf infested Jungle Room

The Mighty Boosh has a few things that really make it special.  The banter between Vince and Howard is lightning, with hilarious back and forth between the two.  The balance of Vince’s obvious affection for Howard is juxtaposed with Howard’s disdain for Vince, and his ever changing hipster ways. 
The second factor is the regular breakdown into a song and dance routine.   Every episode features one, sometimes two songs, all of which are memorable and entertaining.  Julian Barrett is a talented musician and wrote most of the music.  Of particular note are their two man raps which they occasionally embark on, known as crimps.  With genius wordplay between the pair, they have become so notorious even the sugar puff monster has tried to get in on the action.  

Calm a Llama down!

The third and final factor that makes The Mighty Boosh so noteworthy is the imagination that goes into it.  I don’t know exact figures, but the Mighty Boosh has always featured a risibly small budget, which is compensated for by the enormous amount of imagination that goes into each scene.  In fact, they played it cleverly by often acknowledging the fact that money hard to come by, sometimes even breaking the fourth wall.  But it never comes across as cringe worthy, with the cheap costumes and unconvincing sets coming across as being intentionally kitsch, rather than financially restrained.      
Six years on, I have trouble remembering what TV shows I watched before I discovered The Mighty Boosh.  I seem to recall watching and enjoying The Office, but aside from that I think it was all dross.  But having watched The Mighty Boosh, it turned me onto a completely new type of comedy.  Comedy with a dark, yet (generally) good natured edge.   

Noel Fielding - The Cockney Hitcher

Possibly the most glowing review is demonstrated from this story.  After watching the first few episodes, I eagerly e-mailed my friend Felix telling him about this fantastic new show I’d discovered.  Having not heard back from him in twenty four hours about it, I e-mailed him again to see if he’d enjoyed it.  A while later, he replied saying that he’d stayed up until six that morning watching the entire first two series.  A wise man once observed “Crack is really more-ish” and The Mighty Boosh has a similar appeal.  

After having consumed both series myself, I found my thirst for psychedelic, surreal, dark commentary barely sated and so I set out to discover more.  And as is often the case with journeys into the unknown, I discovered a vein of riches far greater than I could possibly imagine.  But aside from The Mighty Boosh, very few of these surreal comedies seem to have permeated the public psyche.  

Julian Barrett converses with a coconut

The Mighty Boosh is reasonably well known, as it has unfortunately become something of an indie video bible.  What with Noel Fielding’s increasingly frequent appearances on the uncomfortably hip Never Mind The Buzzcocks, he (and therefore TMB) are quite well known, but there is a wealth of other shows  that a criminally small proportion of the population are aware of.  And so, I’ve decided to write a couple of articles (as and when I think of them) of a few shows that I would consider essential viewing for Mighty Boosh fans.  They all feature a degree of surrealism rarely seen on mainstream television, and all will transport you to somewhere totally abstract while you consume them.  

One of the ways in which I rate the potential of a show is the actors it features, and so I will try and highlight this aspect.  There seems to be a pool of about fifteen actors whose performances always hit the spot, and you’ll find them commonly spread out throughout these shows.  These include;

Noel Fielding
Julian Barrett
Rich Fulcher
Matt Berry
Richard Ayoade
Simon Pegg
Mark Heap
Chris Morris
Matthew Holness
Alice Lowe
Julia Davis
Nicolas Burns
Chris Morris 
Rebecca Front

And probably several others who’ve slipped my mind at this moment.  These people are all acting gods amongst men, turning in consistently entertaining performances in a variety of roles.  Some are more versatile than others, but they all consistently entertain. 

So, look out for my next entry where I’ll recommend you a darkly surreal comedy you've probably never seen!  

Friday, 1 April 2011

It's all a matter of perspective

I recently found these two spectacular images of the Earth, and after marvelling at the beauty portrayed, and the science that made the capture/creation of these images possible, I also started thinking of how these photos embodied the attitudes of their representative countries.  

Please click the pictures for full screen versions, it may take a while to load but it is well worth it.

Earth - The American Way

So, this is Earth as seen by Americans from fourty five thousand kilometres away.  This is actually a composite image, stitched together from thousands of other images, the most famous of which is known as Blue Marble (thanks Wikipedia!).  That link points you to a picture of the Earth, as photographed from NASA satellite Apollo 17, way back when on December 7th, 1972 at precisely 5:39 am UTC.  This is quite releveant, because at this time, over this point on the Earth, Africa and India are fully lit up whilst the East is experiencing sun down.  The photo was taken with the sun behind the astronauts, and shows Earth fully illuminated.  
Along with several other images, it was stitched together to give a 'true color' image of the world.  The original has a 1pixel/kilometre ratio.  A true colour image means that even though it might not be a photo as we know it, it has been corrected to give an approximation of the colours as we see them.  In this case, a lot of the image comes from infra-red sources, amongst other things.  
With it's rich blue oceans and verdant green land, it's a breathtaking image. It is typically American, with it's overly saturated and unnaturally rich colours lending the image an optimistic feeling.  It has a slightly artificial, unnatural look to it.  This is Earth as imagined in a Pixar movie.   

Some Images are more equal than others
And here we have the earth, photographed by Russian weather satellite Elektro-L, from thirty six thousand kilometres away.  This is the first major spacecraft developed and launched by post-Soviet Russia, With it's darker seas and browner terrain, it seems a far more austere representation of the Earth as we know it, bringing to mind war torn pictures.  Somehow, it seems like a far more realistic capture of the Earth than we would imagine NASA's effort to be.   

The Russian images are created from a mixture of near-infra-red and visible wavelengths.  Any details out of our visible wavelength are given an unnatural colour.  All plant life appears red, for instance (representing the infra-red they reflect).  This means that they show the Earth in a way that humans wouldn't see, using the naked eye.

Which means that, surprisingly, NASA's gorgeous green and blue representation of the Earth is actually closer to what we would see if we took a ride up to space (with Richard Branson as our tour guide, maybe).  

It's interesting to note that despite the enormous effect that humans think they've had on the Earth, it's still impossible to directly see much evidence of it from fourty thousand kilometres away.  No settlements jump out, no enormous ocean liners make themselves obvious, and no planes or other aerial craft interrupt this view.  Maybe it would be a different story if this was taken over Europe or North America, but from this view of the Pacific Ocean, Earth looks like a place where calm and tranquility reign supreme. 

Credit to Russian Space Web and Visible Earth for these images.