Friday, 12 April 2013

chinese grand prix

Chinese Grand Prix this weekend.

I haven't really blogged much about the Grand Prix season so far.  This has primarily been due to time issues - by which I mean I've not really had time to pay a lot of attention to the Grand Prix, rather than not having time to do blog posts.  Well actually, truth be told, both have been a little difficult to devote the time to.

Indeed, if I'm totally honest, I haven't really watched either of the two Grand Prix.  I've had the coverage on, but I haven't actually watched it in the sense of sitting down and giving it my full attention.

Now I used to do this to some extent last year, in that the practice and the radio coverage I would have on as background, but then I'd watch the qualifying and race coverage (be that highlights or live) properly.  However, this year I've backgrounded those too.

Part of the problem has been that the first Grand Prix was when I had the stag do.  Although even then I could have watched it, but the other problem has been SimCity.  Even though I've been posting about how I've found it frustrating that hasn't stopped entire days disappearing to it.

For example, in my post about Cheetah speed on Monday the thing I didn't say was that, having finished cleaning the bedsit, I sat down at 11:45AM to have a quick go to check if a post I'd read about Cheetah speed being back was true and to install the Nissan Leaf thing and didn't stop playing until 11:45PM.

Which isn't to say I played solid for 12 hours - I had my lunch, put stuff back in the kitchen once the floor was dry and re-arranged the bedroom bits, had my dinner, etc, but basically I did nothing else with the rest of the time other than play SimCity.  So I didn't watch recorded TV programs or DVDs/Blu-Rays or read any manga/books.

So I've struggled to find the time to properly watch the GPs.  However, China is usually a good race as the circuit offers some good opportunities to overtake.  It's also on in the early morning, though not so early as to be stupid, and the BBC is doing live coverage, so I will hopefully watch this one!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

shave update

I thought I'd do a quick update of the shaving today.

Last time I posted I think I was basically at the stage of using the DE blade, doing the prescribed 3 passes for each shave.

Well I'm not currently doing that.  Unfortunately the results were not all I'd hoped for and the time issue became a real pain.

I mean, the results were okay - I could get a reasonable shave doing the 3 passes (with, across and against the grain) - the problem was that it was giving me a lot of razor burn.  I'm not sure of the root cause of this - when I did with and across I was getting little burn, but then I wasn't getting a particularly close shave.  As soon as I added against the grain I got lots of burn (a lot more than with my Mach3), though the shave was acceptably closer.

It could of course be technique, but I was rather unsure how to really improve the technique.  It worked okay with 2 passes, but not with the third one.  Also I found that adding the third pass seemed to eat through the blades - if I used them for 3 shaves I would get nicks.  Now, to be fair, this is not a new phenomenon, as my beard is so tough it basically kills any blade.  However, it did mean that the cost wasn't quite as much of an improvement as it could have been.

The other issue was time - it was taking ages to do 3 passes.  2 took long enough, but adding in the third meant it seemed to take a small ice age.  I actually tried switching so that I just did across and against, but this gave poor results (yet still with burn!).

As such, I have basically switched back to my Mach3.  I still do a 3-pass DE shave on Sunday mornings when I have plenty of time and can take a very long shower to help soften the beard further.

I may still have another go at the DE blade, but for now I'm happy with the Mach 3.

What I think the DE shaving experiment has done is improve my technique.  The additional beard prep and just generally how I hold and manipulate the blade and the way in which I shave my face has been considerably improved, I think.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

transformers - dark of the moon

I seem to have missed something with these new transformer films.

In the original comic book series the Ark crashes on the earth millions of years ago.  It crashes in a volcano, from memory, and the robots on the ark are from both sides - autobots and decepticons.  I seem to recall that the ark is revived by the volcano re-activating and proceeds to repair all the robots utilising modern man's technology as the template for their rebuilding.

Reading the Wikipedia entry this isn't quite what happened in the first film - there's a crash landing on earth, but it's only Megatron.  It's also not millions of years ago, but probably hundreds.

I mean, I'd twigged that it was not millions of years (no Dinobots ever :() but I dunno - for some reason I'd thought the film was closer to the original, and not just Megatron.  The problem for me is this makes the stories in the films even more confusing.  I mean, I'd found them a bit confusing and non-sensical the first time, but having missed that it wasn't the ark that crash landed, I was very confused to find that in this third film the ark crash lands at the beginning :/.

I mean, why do the autobots and decepticons look like human cars and planes, etc, if they've not been remade in the image of our machines?  It gives them a stealth quality while here, but surely that would have been ridiculous on their home world?  But also does that mean they can change what they transform into?

Anyway, point is I hadn't realised the films were quite so divergent.  When I did realise this, at the start of this third film, I think it kinda made me see this third one in a slightly different light.  I mean, I don't think it's a good film in the sense of having a deep plot and well written characters, just that the fact that it was different to the comics/cartoons didn't bother me as much - I judged more on its own merits.

I think this film is the best of the three, though as I say, I may be judging it slightly differently.  The plot is certainly more coherent in my opinion.  Also, rather than try to be a direct sequel, it seems to simply be "later on" so you don't get so much in the way of those rubbish bits in the second one where they try to fudge things to get Megatron back to life.

And I think that's its main strength - it's not really carrying any baggage.  The first film you had all the issues over what they'd changed (which clearly I missed some of!), the second they were trying to make it a 'proper' sequel, but this third one they don't care so much and just spend the time blowing as much stuff up as possible (well, it's still a Michael Bay film after all).

I guess it's more playful is the point, so I found it a bit more enjoyable.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

i could be cruel

Margaret Thatcher died yesterday.

I could be cruel and give a link to the sequence in the Wizard of Oz where the munchkins (are they munchkins?  I forget) sing the song celebrating the fact that Dorothy has killed the wicked witch.  Suffice to say I'm not a fan.

She's a bit of a puzzle Thatcher - the conservatives seem to hold her up as some sort of beacon of conservatism, but in reality she was actually the opposite.  Thatcher was a Libertarianist, which is she believed in individual freedom, freedom of the market (basically unrestrained capitalism) and small government.  She had more in common with the Tea Party in the US than she did the conservatives.  Yet she was also the leader that took us into Europe, which is essentially about the opposite.

Conservatism is about the maintaining of the traditional social structures - in our case that particularly emphasises a royalist structure, though tempered nowadays towards a democratic version.  Conservatism is about the old guard, lords and ladies, the idea of 'social betters', that rank has meaning and that there are elites.

Thatcher was, in essence, more opposed to these ideas that with them.  She often railed against experts and "old boy's networks", though I think with a desire to maintain the basic ranks - she would never have done away with them, but would prefer they had no actual influence.

Of course neither of these are in synch with my own political beliefs.

I'm more left leaning, probably ending up most squarely in the "democratic socialist" camp, due to an acknowledgement that communism is unlikely to work until technology progresses to such a degree that it renders much of what we squabble over mute.  Imagine if you could buy a machine that would be able to manufacture anything you need (think Star Trek replicator) - what use would money, gold and jewels be if your machine could simply make them?  These new 3D printers are a step in that direction.

The worst thing that Maggie did was deregulate the markets.  That, in essence, is the root cause of the huge pickle we have now found ourselves in.

She didn't invent the idea of a deregulated market, but began the implementation of it in this country during the 1980s, with a similar process going on in the US (the so called "Reagenomics").  The up-side is that very clever people get to find extremely inventive ways to make money.  The down-side is that the market wrap themselves in such knots that one failure causes a massive cascade of failures and also, those clever people who are making money are also then not constrained by things like morals and ethics.

The fundamental flaw in the system is also the central belief - that deregulated markets will not act in such a way as to be self-destructive.  I don't see how this could ever have seemed like a sensible or logical thought process.  It's like saying that people who drive cars will never be reckless enough to have an accident.  Firstly it ignores that external forces may cause an accident, but it also ignores the fact that the market is underpinned by people, and people can be just as moronic as you imagine - indeed, more so.

Of course it's not entirely her fault - others did the same thing and successive governments had ample opportunities to reverse the policy or otherwise rein it in - but the implementation all traces back to Maggie.

Monday, 8 April 2013


So cheetah speed returned to SimCity just recently.

It makes the game infinitely more playable.  You can now slam it into cheetah speed and it eats up the time like nobody's business.  You may still have to sit and wait of course (for that budget payment to come in or for your buildings to finish upgrading, for example) but now the wait is a fraction of the time.

Indeed, cheetah speed often means you can spend the time pondering where is best to place your new water treatment plant and by the time you've decided you've got the money to place it.  Which is how it should always have been, but it's remarkable how much it helps the game play.

Of course it brings problems as well - bad stuff can happen and be in full swing by the time you even realise there's a problem when it's in cheetah, but that's to be expected.

Not that it totally fixes the game.  There's still a whole load of bugs and stupidity in the game.  While the bugs will be fixed in time I'm not sure the stupidity will be without them completely overhauling the underlying mechanics.  So they've already tweaked the behaviours of agents like garbage trucks and buses so they don't all drive round in a single train, but they now drive around in several mini-trains and often are actually simply taking different routes to the same destination.

But to fix that will take significantly different game logic.  They're all heading to the same place because they're all operating on the same list of priorities that's in the same order.  To have them behave differently you would presumably either need different logic sets for each agent or for the agents to be assigned differently to the priority list or for the list to be worked up differently.  I mean, there are a number of options, but my guess is that to do many of them they would need to rely much more on storing stuff in memory.  And storing stuff in memory means having using of memory if there are lots of them and then you're into system restrictions and presumably they want the game to work on as many systems as possible.

It's a bit of a catch 22.

The real shame is that these things kinda force you to do certain things in the game that are either illogical or make things less flexible.  So, for example, with the incredibly simplistic way that traffic junctions operate (so traffic lights simply rotate around the junction switching to green depending on the type of road, rather than factoring in traffic conditions like real lights) cross-roads become a no go.  If you have a cross road - particularly if all the roads are at the same density level - it virtually guarantees a grid lock.

As such you have to ensure you use T-junctions.  Now if you're clever with it you can still get about the same number of buildings in the space, but the point is why should you have to be clever?  Why are you being forced to avoid cross roads?  Particularly for a game that's essentially recreating the US where the grid is king.

So despite the return of cheetah I'm still hanging on for the 2.0 patch that's hopefully going to iron out a lot of this stuff before I really play it 'seriously'.

They also released the first new DLC for the game.  This was a Nissan Leaf charging station.  So it's basically an advert.

Obviously this has caused some umbrage in certain circles, but I'm really not fussed by it.  The station has a benefit for the game and isn't massively in your face.  Also it's optional - you don't have to install it or use it.  About the only downside is it takes up space in your tiny cities.