Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Life: Almost There...

So this term has been mostly dominated by monotonous C lectures, security assignments, and - in the last week or so - staying in the labs until midnight for several days straight just to make sure this team project assignment gets done. It's been pretty tough going but today we presented out 'finished' game, which actually went rather well! The issue was the lag through the wifi which was something we didn't foresee, but the game itself worked perfectly other than one minor server crash at the beginning - something I realised how to fix as we walked out.

Apart from that we had a lecture from somebody at MWR Infosecurity/Labs. The course this year has seriously made me think about going into that field after university, although something tells me it wouldn't be quite as simple as spotting the planted errors. The guy gave us a memory stick with challenges on, but I really need to install Linux at some point so I can actually do things. Plus I actually know how to use the Linux terminal, and make myself look like a proper CS student with all my use of ls and cd.

Our exam timetable has been released and looks horrific. A timetable that was 7 exams in 9 days is now 7 exams in 8, although the amount of exams loaded into the last week has decreased so that may be a little nicer. It's a complete change from first year when we had our two three-hour exams in the first two days, immediately followed by another - and were then totally finished with two weeks to go. No going home early this year! I need to start learning Haskell and C/++...

Finally, in the world of computers, I've booked tickets for this weekend's EGX Rezzed event at The NEC. It's basically just a place to show off a whole load of games (Hotline Miami 2!!) and there's a few developers talks, including about an AI that can create video games which sounds cool! From there it's straight off to the CS barcrawl around Selly Oak as well, and then over to Aberystywyth for the weekend! I can't wait.



Monday, 17 March 2014

Film: Netflix Documentary Hype (Catfish/Indie Game)

Netflix has introduced me to a whole heap of stuff to watch, some of which I've meant to watch for ages but only got round to because of the ease with which Netflix allows (see: 'Bowling for Columbine', 'White Collar'), and others that I had never heard of before - which include the two that I've watched recently - the technology-centered 'Catfish' and 'Indie Game'.

'Catfish' was kind of sobering, because things like that don't happen. It's about a guy who develops relationships online. A few people have expressed scepticism whether it's 100% a work of fact, but it's a little bit worrying none-the-less. Long story short, it turns out that people on the internet aren't always who they say they are. For a computer scientist who spends quite a lot of time on the internet that's a pretty scary thought. Obviously all the people I've had conversations with are legitimate, and kind-hearted souls who exist outside the magical internet box but I rather expect that that's not everybody's experience.

The aptly named 'Indie Game: The Movie' tracks the development of indie games, 'Fez' and 'Super Meat Boy', and also looks back at the success of 'Braid'. Needless to say I've over-romanticised the idea of being an indie-developer and now would very much like to give it a go, which means that I should really start going to Games Dev Soc more. Pretty much the only thing I've planned on doing later in life is making sure that I live on 'my terms', whatever they are. I've always been drawn to lifestyles that don't make any money unless you're good at them, (photography, music) which I - alas - never am. People who have managed to make a life for themselves through blogging, or photographing their favourite band, or writing computer programs at their 'leisure' have managed to get to exactly where I want to be! So if you have a job offering in any of the following areas please get in touch:
  • Music/Sport Photography
  • Football Journalism
  • Writing incredibly average computer programs
  • Some sort of music that I manage to fit into
Thanks, Matt
     xx

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Photography: (Actual) Hockey


I've actually always liked field hockey, ice hockey's less-cool older brother. I watched some of the EuroHockey final last summer and my family also had tickets to watch at the London Olympics - it was a memorable day if only for the rain (and the fact I wasn't allowed a pork steak). I'd sort of forgotten how much until I got to photograph the women's first team play Durham on Wednesday.

It's the second part of a week filled with pictures, from my dad's birthday to Anavae's show in Wolverhampton supporting Polar (pictures to come), and now hockey! I don't think I appreciated that even field hockey is pretty fast paced with penalties only providing momentary respite, and the only real chance to breathe coming before short corners.

I have no real grasp of what makes a good player, but our team looked really good. The game was dominated by Birmingham, but (when I left) we only led 1-0 so maybe I'm way off. I had to make this blog post long enough so that I could fit in a picture in portrait, which is unusual for me, I know. (I cropped it from landscape, don't worry).

Also, a massive shout-out to the sun for acknowledging that my camera is awful without it. More pictures below the break!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Sport: England's 23


Goalkeepers

Forster The guy's a rock for Celtic. Yeah, you have to take into account who he plays for, but he has a record of a clean sheet every two games across all formats. That's a ridiculous record to have.

Foster Okay, so the guy's got a tendency to make mistakes that cost England, but he's the only real option for the no. 2 shirt unless you want to take two rookies.

Hart Obvious England no. 1, especially after reaffirming his place with City.

Defence

Baines In my mind he should be England's first choice LB. I've never been much of a fan of Ashley Cole - although I begrudgingly admit he may be better defensively - but with him losing his place in the Chelsea team I can't see how he'd be above the Everton first-choice in the pecking order.

Cahill Him and Terry have been a rock in the heart of the Chelsea defence (cliché!) which has to make him one of the top choice CBs in the England team.

Jagielka The other of England's first-choice centre backs for a while, and as far as I'm concerned should remain that way without a credible alternative. (I'll come onto Terry and Rio in a bit)

G. Johnson An offensive threat, and probably England's best right-back, although considering the competition that's not a great achievement. 

Jones Probably won't get near the starting XI but a versatile player to have in reserve. Can play pretty much anywhere across the back, and also in the midfield. Will probably be used in the extreme Brazilian heat.

Shaw A slightly controversial pick over Cole. However Shaw's been playing excellently for Southampton this year, whereas Cole seems to have lost his place in the Chelsea line-up. Building for the future may not be priority at a major tournament, but with Baines as no.1 Shaw being around a World Cup can only be beneficial.

Walker A pretty solid back-up for Johnson that can be called on if necessary.

Midfielders

Barkley Ross Barkley has impressed a whole host of people with his performances for Everton this season, and his creative spark is something which England can seriously lack.

Carrick The guy when it comes to playing a holding role. It'd be ludicrous not to have him in the squad, even if to just protect that slender 1-0 win over Costa Rica.

Oxlade-Chamberlain Walcott is unfortunately injured for Rio, but what better replacement to have Walcott 2.0? The exact same career trajectory, but with the added benefit of actually developing rather than stalling.

Gerrard Brendan Rodgers seems to have got Stevie G playing back to his best. Leading an often rampant Liverpool team he's surely the best person to lead the Three Lions in South America.

A. Johnson Not a popular choice, but Johnson's performances to drag Sunderland back to the bring of safety deserves a spot on the plane by itself - in my opinion. Has the very real talent of being able to pull something out of nothing, and another creative spark.

Lallana Why wouldn't you want the Southampton skipper? Grabbing all the headlines this year, and deservedly so. Set-up Sturridge for the winner against Denmark if you want an example of what 'impact' means.

Milner A slightly more defensive option who will run all day long. Flying forward isn't the only thing you want in football, and Milner does a good job of covering and tracking back that some others may not.

Forwards

Carroll Carroll gives a different approach to that of Sturridge and Rooney. England are often one-dimensional, and having a target man on the bench could work well in those last ditch attempts to rescue a draw against Italy.

Rooney Does this one actually need explaining?

Sterling He's seemingly been able to tear defences apart this season, and with his pace and skill he's always a threat to make something happen.

Sturridge Based on recent form this is the Liverpool striker you want on the plane. Scoring at (as little as makes no difference) a goal a game this season he's a sure fire pick.

Townsend Deserves his place just for how much better England look whenever he plays. Tottenham seem to have fallen slightly out of love with him recently, but the spark he provides to England means that it would be a shame not to give him a chance on 'the big stage'.

Welbeck Has a goal every other game in the Premier League and 8 goals in 21 England caps - although you may level the same criticism as people do at Crouch, that he seems to not turn up in the 'big' games.

Omissions

John Terry Even despite his retirement from international football Terry's issues with race make him unselectable for me.

Rio Ferdinand Seems past it, and has also retired.

Ashley Cole Certainly a good player, but Baines would be my first choice, and I'd rather see Shaw take the experience from playing. Plus he's not making the Chelsea team either, and never seems to give 100% in England tournaments.

Chris Smalling Has never convinced me, and I just feel that England have better options. Jones beats him just, but his versatility definitely works for him.

Jack Wilshere Never seems to spark things for England, plus is habitually injured which doesn't help his case.

Jordan Henderson A great asset to the Liverpool team this year, but to me doesn't have the same creativity that England lack that Barkley or Lallana has. He's still got many years ahead of him. Don't you worry.

Stats

Average Age - 25.5 years
Average Caps - 23 caps
Average League Apps - 225 apps
Premier League Captains - 3 (Jagielka, Gerrard, Lallana)

Total Premier League Goals - 556
Players with 100+ PL Goals - 2 (Gerrard, Rooney)

Total International Goals - 84
Players with 10+ International Goals - 2 (Gerrard, Rooney)

Starting XI / Formation


The GK pretty much picks itself. Joe Hart is the only real choice here, personally I'd prefer Fraser Forster on the bench but I assume it'll be Foster. Then Glen Johnson at right back with free-kick specialist Leighton Baines on the other. Cahill and Jagielka being solid in the middle. I honestly can't see a different line-up (unless you picked Cole, but even then I'd pick this back four)

Gerrard and Carrick in the middle, providing cover for the back four, or probably Barkley instead of the latter to provide something more attacking - with more flair.  Sterling and Ox destroying full-backs with their pace, and putting the ball into the middle where Sturridge and Rooney will be waiting to pounce.

I think playing Sturridge out wide didn't really work against Denmark, and he looks much more dangerous when in the centre, which would also give Rooney a free-role as he so often does with United. He often drops deep to get the ball, but often with England that's then left nobody up front.

Anyway, I'm sure this'll cause a whole load of debate so tell me your dream 23! Pick yours here.

(If you ever talk to me about this I'll probably have changed my mind)

Sunday, 2 March 2014

(Student) Politics: University of Birmingham Officer Elections

I'm going to start off this blog very clearly, I do not want Poppy Wilkinson to be re-elected as Guild President. Her response and subsequent handling of the Defend Education protest was appalling, one of the main functions of the Guild of Students should be to represent, and protect students in times like this. Students were illegally arrested for refusing to give their details to leave a kettle - as the word illegal implies the police are not allowed to do this, and Poppy chose to overlook this fact to condemn the actions of students whilst completely ignoring every other aspect of what went on that day. She failed in her role as President, and I do not want to see her back.

So it's a shame that she's one of the only two candidates who support The Living Wage. She obviously has the advantage of having a history in the position, managing to fulfill all of her election pledges - and the longer library hours have benefitted many students. She's also got the slightly more wishy-washy policies to 'Reform Guild politics' and have 'More big campus events'. She was the only one to really push the other candidates during the debate, and was visibly frustrated with Ben - and got more annoyed when people started criticising Guild Departments, I guess being the acting President makes it hard to condemn 'your' staff.

There was an incredibly average Guild TV Presidential 'debate' with the candidates where they were asked the tough questions like, "Will you take your two free fab tickets" - all the (actual) candidates answered no. Not sure why, I don't think anybody's going to cause a massive fuss if they did. Most probably because I doubt anybody actually watched the presidential debate.

The most entertaining candidate was certainly Benjamin Puusta and his unique brand of scepticism. I didn't expect Guild Elections to be prestigious enough to have frivolous candidates, but apparently I was misguided. Alongside his pledges of free jam and devising a defence strategy for the zombie apocalypse he actually made some decent points during the the hour and just seemed angry at the structure and bureaucracy in other areas of the Guild. He also managed to annoy Poppy to the max, so that was nice.

Maximilian Shapiro's drawl is slightly off-putting at first, seeming just as suspicious of the Guild as Ben, but his policies are solid. The second of the candidates to support the Living Wage and also has an ambitious plan to consolidate all the liberation officers into a single 'Inclusion and Diversity Officer' - as, according to him, siphoning people off into separate groups doesn't help. He was pushed about the point though, and did concede that maybe he'd have to rethink due to other people's concerns. I like his policies, but do think that he'll alienate some people, and I doubt that's a great trait to have in a President.

Then there's the two main candidates that I think would make the best replacement for Ms Wilkinson, at least in terms of personality, and those are George Derbyshire and Edward Sainsbury. Neither of them have particularly spectacular policies but they dealt with the questions well and seemed knowledgeable about Guild Politics. I'm not sure how plausible the latter's desire to negotiate a higher block grant is, but a campaign encouraging students to vote in general elections is easily achievable, and building the reputation as an entertainment venue is definitely plausible. It's got more than enough space to be used as music venues and although not the same, Manchester University's model is probably quite a good one to follow - especially for 'popular music'. His "I don't want to run the Guild, I want to be part of the Guild" made for a good soundbite, and heavily contrasted with Maximilian's strong leadership, who most definitely wants to run the Guild.

'Curious' George's aims aren't much. Better events that students actually want, raising awareness on Liberation, working toward a carbon free university, and making out of term library book recalls fairer.  I'm pretty sure the library's a fairly manageable task for President's to handle because they all seem to do it. He actually managed to come across a lot better in the debate than in his election manifesto, but that might be because there was an "I agree with George" moment for all of the candidates.

One of the only decent questions in the 'debate' was whether they agree with protest or discussion to get things done. Most of the candidates said that it was a combination of both rather than just one or the other, but I found a nice quote from Maximilian in a Guardian article from last month, "Occupation as a tactic does not force the university to listen. Only through the use of legitimate and accepted institutions, such as the Guild Council, can Defend Education ensure that their grievances are addressed." That's a strong line to take, and he backed it up with his rhetoric during the debate. I'm just disappointed that nobody pressed Poppy on her reaction to earlier protests, especially because Defend Education was brought up and a question was asked to Poppy. Oh well!

Personally I really like Edward's 'entertainment venue' idea, but it needs dedication and knowledge beyond what I think the Guild will have. If it was me I'd probably spend more time pushing Joe's as a legitimate 'pub', it's cheaper than anywhere in Selly Oak with a student card and is quite a lot nicer than most of them too.

What I think will be most interesting next year is Bethan Dovey's promise to scrap the Guild Council after last year's electoral fraud. That's a fairly major reshuffle, and with nobody running against her it has to - hypothetically - happen. Also, Joe Armer is trying to roll out lecture podcasts, which - I think most students know - would be a huge help, alongside trying to assess timetables to stop 'deadline loading'; I'm not sure how plausible playing with the timetables is, due to the sheer size of operation at the University but I'd like to see him try.

Obviously, at the end of the day the amount of change that a committee can do in one year is minimal, and there are bigger forces at play behind the scenes, but they can try! Voting is always good, sometimes. Vote!

Edit 04.03.14 - The Guild have today finally released a statement in support of the suspended students Good to see.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Sport: Can British Ice Hockey Capitalise On The Olympics?

So the Winter Olympics has been and gone, and hours of spent watching Curling and Ice Hockey now have to be reallocated to actually doing work. It's no secret that participation in sport tends to peak after major sporting events, with London's Olympic Games showing just how much people can be inspired to get involved.

So can Ice Hockey replicate this, and get more people into the game?

Of course it can. It's unlikely that England is ever going to be 'hockey mad' but it's already the biggest indoor sport in the UK, and third only to football and rugby union in winter sports. The Russia vs USA game in the Olympics pulled in a television audience of 1.72m (I think). Plus the Elite League is now carried by Premier Sports along with the NHL. So there's a solid base there, and if there was any time to push then it's probably now.

Premier Sports is great, but it means that only people already interested in the product is going to buy it. Yes, there may be a few new fans who bought PS for something other than ice hockey but it's minimal. Alas I can't find any statistics on the attendance at Speedway events but I wonder how much of an effect that Sky's backing of the sport has had. The 2013 season had dire viewing figures and it's something that I'm sure ice hockey could exploit. That said the seasons obviously differ so it's not as easy as a straight swap, and with the contracts tied up by PS I doubt it'll happen any time soon but some form of ice hockey on Sky would be a huge boost to the sport. Especially with the possibility of a British team being in the CHL, what better place to start than there? An article from 1998 shows what kind of effect TV has on the sport.

I agree with the points made in Rob McGregor's blog post that argues that British teams should stop targeting families. Of course, families should be welcome at games - and the more the merrier - but if you look at Europe, the KHL (and the two minutes of the SHL that I've watched) the atmosphere is like a football match. The best bit about atmosphere is that it encourages other people to show up, it's a beautiful cycle. It wouldn't be too hard to designate certain areas 'family areas' with the the rowdier crowd situated elsewhere. The sport over here isn't expensive to watch, especially for students with most club's charging under £10. Compare that to the non-league football match I went to recently, Nuneaton vs Luton, where I had to pay £12 and you realise how good the value is.

One of the things I think would help is for teams to have some way of streaming games. Coventry Blaze's online streams cost £8 to view, which is extortionate and probably need to be changed - unless it actually works - and other teams - like MKL (who are playing in Coventry this year) - who have comprehensive highlights of their matches online surely can find some way of streaming the match live. As well as - hopefully - getting people interested with the English leagues it should also be a handy little revenue stream for British clubs.

On the plus side teams like Nottingham Panthers attendances are slowly increasing. My own team, Bracknell Bees, have seen a 30% increase in people through the doors and broke the long-standing EPIHL attendance record at their home game with Guildford Flames. So there's some positive signs there.

Plus, one of the best matches in the Olympics was the Gold Medal match in the women's competition. If that's not enough to inspire anybody then I don't know what is but hopefully it'll mean a lot more girls wanting to get involved in the sport.

I'm not going to get involved in saying how the English leagues should be structured because I honestly don't have that answer, but I do know that whenever I introduce somebody to ice hockey it tends to be a positive reaction, all that needs to be done is to show people that! Although Belfast are running away with the Elite League in the EPIHL anybody can beat anybody and that makes for some exciting games of hockey. Especially with both Basingstoke and Manchester topping the table with 66 points, and Guildford just behind that with 58 - having dipped post-Christmas. At the other end of the table the battle for the play-offs is just as tense with a few teams not safe.

DEFEND BRITISH HOCKEY, or something equally as pop-punk.