Thursday, November 27

Not modern, nor penta.

The Olympics still has a somewhat strange mix of sports, where multi-millionaires in some sports go through the motions with thoughts of more important events to follow, while others grab golds and smash records, then go back to shop-worker wages.

One event that continues to exist purely because of the Olympics is the increasingly misnamed Modern Pentathlon. Originally created as an updated idea of the Greek Pentathlon, it is often said that it was supposedly meant to demonstrate the skills of a military officer. First held in 1912, events a couple of years later showed that these were very outdated skills. Having been distinctly non-modern for a century, it is now arguably no longer a pentathlon either, as they're combining the running and the shooting. The random drawing of horses at the last Olympics appeared to make it a bit of a lottery (although I got the impression the women coped rather better with the horses than some of the men did). I suspect it's a sport that has its place in the Olympics guaranteed by its history of being invented by Baron Coubertin, but it's also in danger of not getting shown on the TV unless either a) one of our athletes might win it, or b) it's as funny as the horses that refused to jump were.

Either way, it's still not as silly as synchronised swimming.

Wednesday, November 26

As you sow...

Hilariously, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is claiming that teams are fouling United's Cristiano Ronaldo so often referees think the winger is diving.

Um. This is not a chicken and egg situation. Ronaldo has dived so regularly that referees became suspicious, and gave the defenders the benefit of the doubt when Ronaldo hits the deck.

That's the benefit of the doubt, not carte blanche, of course. It's probably not surprising that Ferguson waited until after a match where the defenders had become too blatant, with one of them sent off as a result, to make his complaint.

None the less, if strikers realise that regularly diving will result in them being tackled more without repercussions for the defenders, hopefully this will result in a few less strikers hitting the deck without being touched.

Monday, November 24

Ecclestone's F1 Imperial overreach

F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone is still fantastically rich (even if his decision to put his wealth into the name of his tax-exile wife turned out not to be such a smooth move)

But while he has been readily abandoning the traditional base of Formula One for the allure of new tracks (ones that'll pay him huge wadges of cash), it appears he's forgotten to ensure that the new venues are actually, well, popular. China, who started paying large amounts of money to host F1 a few years back, are now having second thoughts on the grounds that the Chinese themselves don't appear to care. In the credit-crunch era, they may not be the only rich but fair weather friends F1 has.

Don't forget your prime purpose

Any large organisation will develop a large support infrastructure. This has its dangers. For example, the central bureaucracy can start running things for the benefit of the central bureaucracy - the accountants are on tap, rather than on top. For an organisation that can't go broke - e.g. a university - this puts in a danger of forgetting that the main purpose is to educate and to research. If the educators and researchers are put second best to image and publicity, short term gain will become long term pain. I can sometimes be heard grumbling about a lab that has single glazing rather than my desired double glazing because changing the window during the refurbishment would have "changed the external appearance of the building". I don't see this as a reason not to go ahead - the purpose of the building is to do research. The central authorities did - presumably this is an image and appearance thing, ahead of research efficiency (and energy efficiency - there is a breeze in my office (similarly benighted with single glazing) with the window closed. How much energy is wasted heating this room?)

Reading the NY Times, there are much larger illustrations of this - the US Ivy Leage university, Rutgers, has spent millions trying to become a major power in college American Football.

Now, it is not that Rutgers American football team has a large budget that is the problem. If this budget was raised from the gate receipts of people who want to watch the team, and from TV revenues for broadcasting the team, then I would have no problem with them spending this money on the team, even if that results in the team coach earning more than the professors (although how many professors would swap their tenure for the instability of a sports team manager?). This money has come from the sports fans, and so can be spent on giving the sports fans what they want. I don't see it as a necessity that income from this should be taken away and given to research any more than income from filming soap operas should be taken away and given to cancer research, except via standard taxation.

It is not even that they're spending money on something other than pure teaching and research - extra mural activities are an important part of many a students time at universities, and many employers look very favourably at the appearance of a sports team on a graduate's CV as a demonstration of commitment and team work. It is that this is *all* about image, and not about education. How much more education does the average player get on a college American football that has a winning record? How much more benefit could that money do in keeping tuition fees down, budgets up, even in supporting a much larger number of students in less high-income sports (e.g. rowing, swimming, athletics) or student theatre, music, art etc?

This can't be defended as education of rounded students. It is because someone in a big office has decided they want to see Rutgers name up in the top flight of college football. But he has forgotten what a college is for.

Google search box predictive text update

Yes, I should be working. Instead I'm mucking around on the internet. The joys of 21st century life, eh?

Anyway, to update a post from a month ago - Three changes to the list:
j - John McCain, having been beaten by Barack Obama, is now being beaten by Ms Jennifer Hudson. Whoever she is, plenty of people are googling her.
k - The mysterious-to-me Kelly Blue Book has been replaced by Kohls. Which is also mysterious-to-me.
l - Limewire (obviously something internet) loses out to Lowes. Which I guess is probably an American shop of some sort. Perhaps Kohls is also. Tis the season to go shopping, even though you have no money any more.

Unsurprisingly, the President-elect is still dominating the Os, and will continue for years - particularly if the likes of Southwest Airlines, Skype and Sears continue to fail to displace Sarah Palin.

Vulgarity and offensiveness

One of these random thoughts that strikes me occasionally:

The BBC is currently apologising about everything, particularly to people who are disgusted at the vulgarity and offensiveness of BBC programmes they didn't actually watch/listen to at the time, but now they've heard about it are outraged at the vulgarity and offensiveness of them.

As these people actually in some way must enjoy being offended to have sought out the vulgarity that offended them, there must be some who not only enjoy this but also have the (im)maturity to admit to it.

What if these people got together (say, on Facebook) and started an organised complaint that some BBC programme was neither vulgar nor offensive and they, as licence payers, demanded to be offended immediately? Could they get the BBC to apologise for that too?

Tuesday, November 11

Phoenix will not rise again

The BBC report that NASA have declared the Phoenix lander to be silent, presumed dead, having lasted two months longer than its expected three month operating period.

Having not heard from it since the 2nd of November, NASA are scaling down operations, while listening in just in case it has more surprises in store. With no power to supply warmth, the cold of a Northern Martian winter will break the solar panels and electronics.

Phoenix was a resurrection of the Mars Polar Lander, the original of which was lost near the South Pole.

The other NASA stalwarts, Opportunity and Spirit, are still going in the relatively balmy equatorial region.

Wednesday, November 5

Google search box predictive text

The Google search box on the Firefox browser has predictive text - not sure how much of that is remembering what I've searched for before, as opposed to the current default (appears to be google world rather than UK only, but I suspect there is some UK weighting), but I thought I'd note what some letters bring. Some will stay the same for years, others show that this is updated fairly often (and will hopefully change very soon now)

So you have the internet royalty (Amazon, Ebay, Google) the new internet royalty (facebook), the US powerhouses (is craigslist even in the UK?)

a: Amazon - internet royalty, unsurprising. The second place of Argos makes me think there must be a UK weighting to these results, though.
b: Bebo - I've vaguely heard of this, perhaps its for a younger audience
c: craigslist - American powerhouse, I think
d: dictionary - one of the few English words to win
e: ebay - internet royalty
f: facebook - new internet royalty
g: google - figures
h: hotmail- clearly not dead yet
i: imdb - not exactly internet royalty, but clearly doing well to beat itunes
j: john mccain (mccain doesn't even appear on the m list)
k: kelly blue book - I've no idea what this is. Or indeed many of the other entries that appear under 'k'
l: limewire - as above, no idea
m: myspace - the tawdy network site, unreadable to anyone my age
n: next - the retail chain or the English word I wonder?
o: obama - Mr President-elect - no surprise there (Barack Obama is sixth in the bs)
p: photobucket - photo hosting. 'Palin' hit ninth, which I suspect is not largely due to fans of the dead parrot sketch
q: quotes - a small field, and won by a non-trademark.
r: runescape - I suspect it's a game.
s: sarah palin. Oh please let this be temporary.
t: target. I think this is a retailer.
u: utube. Are there really that many people who don't know it's "youtube"?
v: verizon wireless
w: wikipedia. Internet royalty, despite the flakiness of some of its entries
x: x factor. Make it go away, please.
y: youtube. For those who can remember the spelling.
z: zipcodes. See, I said it was American.

The US dominance of google searches is clear - of the big hits, only one that I'm aware of started outside US territory (imdb - technically the bit of Panama that john mccain was born on was US territory or he wouldn't have been able to stand for president)

Tuesday, November 4

Time to vote?

According to the BBC's live feed, Barack Obama appears to have taken about 16 minutes to cast his vote. While careful consideration is a plus in a politician, this may be taking things a little too far...