December 15, 2017

Horse 2354 - In Defence Of Mucking Around And Play

Ever since I were a wee lad, I have been a fan of motor racing. I remember the likes of Peter Brock, Alan Moffat and Dick Johnson thundering around Bathurst in the kinds of cars that you would see on the road and thinking it was great. I remember the era of Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna who hated each other, and Nigel Mansell who was always plucky but who never really had the equipment to win (until eventually he did).
Of course having the kind of mind where everything gets thrown together and mangled, I look at the realm of pop culture and see cars like the Batmobile, the Mach 5, the De Lorean, and​ Darth Vader's TIE Fighter and want to have them face each other. In fact, in my copy of NASCAR 2, which was published by Papyrus in 1996, because of the ability to paint all of the cars, has colour schemes which would have never existed on any racetrack at the same time. In my copy of the game, it is possible to see George Washington in front of Kimi Raikkonen and Sonic The Hedgehog in the same race.
In the trailer for the film Ready Player One, you can see quite clearly that someone else has had the same idea as I did because that's clearly the van from The A-Team, the Interceptor from Mad Max, the 1966 Batmobile and what looks like the Mach 5 in this particular shot.

I make mention of all of this because this has only come about because of someone like me in a movie studio who wasn't afraid to just muck about. I'm sure that this isn't because some high ranking movie executive or director has had a brain wave somewhere but because some low level nobody who was just asked to make a thing look pretty, wasn't afraid to look stupid. Just mucking around like a doofus is in my not very well paid opinion, one of the single greatest drivers of human advancement ever.

It is no great accident that a few of the so called garagistas which came about after the Second World War, were all products of blokes in sheds just mucking around. Names like Bruce McLaren and Colin Chapman were able to take on the world and build world championship winning cars, from an operation which had less staff than an average supermarket.
Marie Curie, the great French scientist, won Nobel Prizes while doing something not much more than mucking around in her rooms in Paris. Of course it helped that she had been to university but while the fields of chemistry and physics were still relatively young, that spirit of just kind of mucking around and having a look at what was happening, is what helped open up nuclear chemistry.
The same thing can be said for both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs because their early efforts into the world of computing were really them and their mates just kind of mucking around and seeing what happened. The companies which were founded on the back of this initial mucking around are now massive.

There is a point to me telling a stories about people just kind of mucking around. I absolutely think that building the kinds of environments in universities where there is no obvious outcome, where there is no immediate economic payoff, and where it simply looks like people are just mucking around and wasting money, is essential to the development of technology and society. It looks chaotic at times, deans of universities might not understand why they are throwing money at what looks like a bunch of deadbeat moochers and governments who are always keen to trim their budgets because fundamentally politicians have no idea of what goes on in universities, but that still isn't a good enough reason to stop. Mucking around for want of a more formal word is "play" and for want of an even more formal description can unwittingly be "basic research".

This is the main reason why I love the whole idea of institutions where mucking around is actively encouraged​ and celebrated. Taken to its greatest and most visible manifestation, the whole Apollo Program which landed a dozen people on the moon at a cost of twenty five billion Us Dollars, is the greatest case of mucking around in history. I have heard all sorts of arguments about why it was a colossal waste of money but the amount of focused mucking around to make it possible which subsequently found its way into other technology, is immense.
The same can be said for the mucking around which led to the invention of Wi-fi, of touchscreens, in which advanced logic, and the graphic arts, which make the thing you are currently reading this on possible.

I think that mucking around and looking at things such as philosophy, the arts, history, literature, theatre, and a lot of other disciplines of study that seemingly have no immediate economic benefits at all are also worth spending money for mucking around, because life isn't just about the technical pursuit of stuff but the colour and quality of the stories that are told. Business people who only look to the improvement of a balance sheet at the end of the year might produce a number which leads to economic well-being but they produce unhappiness in so many people; they certainly do not produce either the playfulness of mucking around unless they have a dedicated research and development division.

In days gone by, when people mucked around and threw ideas together, it was fine. The creative process is often just chucking in lots of stuff and seeing what works together. Now that we have intellectual property law such as copyright and patents which sit over the top of published work, what may have been outright theft is now reskinned and might be included as oblique references. That's what has happened in Ready Player One and the filmmakers who have had the job of bringing the book to the screen are trying to show the working. Really though, what we have is someone mucking around and having fun, and I think that's glorious and want to play there for a while.

December 13, 2017

Horse 2353 - AE86 Was Never Great

Dear fandoms, we need to talk.

I realise that due to media such as The Fast And Furious movie franchise, video games like Need For Speed Underground and Gran Turismo on PlayStation, and the Initial D manga and anime, that the Toyota Corolla AE86 has acquired an almost mystical status which is well beyond its capabilities as a 1.6L warmed up econobox but the fact remains that it is still only that.
The AE86 came about because Toyota had a few chassis left over from their previous AE70 series of wagons. When Toyota applied the front end of the AE80 Corolla and then offer both the 1.5 and 1.6 engines, they got the AE85 and AE86 respectively, which were still rear wheel drive even though the rest of the AE80 series of Corollas had already moved on to front wheel drive. That meant that when the replacements for the AE85 and AE86 came along, they also switched to front wheel drive and​ Toyota built the AE92 and the four wheel drive AE95.

At the time, the AE86 Corolla wasn't even the best Toyota that you could buy either. You could get a Celica or perhaps if you we're adventurous, a 2.8L Supra.
As a dedicated race car, the AE86 wasn't much chop either. Depending on how touring car racing was organised in the various countries it found itself in, the 1.6L AE86 was either pitted against 2L cars and 3L cars. This meant that it found itself against cars like the Ford Capri early on and later, the 2.3 and 2.5L BMW M3, and would never stand a chance against the Volvo 240T, the Rover 3500 Vitesse, Holden Commodore, Ford Mustang, the Ford Sierra RS500 and the Nissan GT-R. Basically the Toyota Corolla AE86 was a cheap but slightly warmed up hatchback that when pitted against proper opposition, failed miserably. Granted, the AE86 did manage to hand Toyota the manufacturers' title in the 1986 European Touring Car Championship but that's because it won 12 of 14 rounds in class and had no real competition to speak of. That's like having the only 6 year old win a sports day because they were the only 6 year old at the sports day despite there being many 9, 10, 11 and 12 year old children.

Even in the manga and anime of Initial D, the original owner of the hero AE86 has moved into a Subaru Impreza WRX 22B, which in the real world was a proper racing weapon in the hands of people like Colin McRae and Petter Solberg.

- Bunta Fujiwara ain't taking any of your AE86 nonsense.

As a drift car, the 1.6L normally aspirated four potter is not really powerful enough to make the tail end break out in the way that it allegedly does in various anime and video games. Granted it is a fun little machine but the reputation far exceeds the real world capabilities of the car. A bog standard six cylinder black motor Commodore running on 70 spec tyres is easier to get the rear wheels to break traction than the dinky little Corolla ever was. When Holden brought out the VN with the 3800 V6 Buick engine, it became even easier and it was so easy that eventually they had to climb around the engineering question by introducing a limited slip differential and an independent rear end. Quite frankly the AE86 Corolla doesn't stand a chance against a standard family hack if that's the intent.

Given the hero status of a car which very clearly​ does not live up to the hype, it would therefore make perfect sense to see what I saw sitting in a car park one afternoon:

- If Takumi has any brains about him, he'd get on of these

I suspect that for the fans of Initial D or the myriad of video games, that this AE95 Corolla which is carrying the sticker for the Original Wisteria Tofu Shop, is bordering on blasphemy. This is an occasion though where the real world has produced something better than fiction. The AE95 Corolla in this guise features the same engine as the AE92 Corolla Sprinter which was the direct replacement for the AE86 but the folks at Toyota fitted it with both supercharging and four wheel drive. This car became the half way house between the AE92 Corolla and the ST205 Celica GT-4 which was in every respect a far more competent car and was going out and winning rallies.

Probably  Shuichi Shigeno used the AE86 Corolla as his hero car in the manga because he was thinking back to his youth and the cars that he once had. The truth is that most people's first or second cars are usually a bit rubbish but because we happen to overlay our little metal boxes with stories, sometimes they are endued with more competence than they really have. In my case, the funnest car that I've ever owned was a Mk1 Ford Ka but even I'm under no illusions that it was a a performance machine - it was fun because of its almost perfect geometry and suspension settings. The AE86 is a slightly tail heavy car with a case of deliberate understeer, so that it would be safer to the average schmoe if they happened to get unstuck, and really isn't that much different to drive than the AE70 stationwagon which it shares its platform with.
Precisely because it was used in the manga Initial D and in various video games, the AE86 then acquired a story but it still doesn't really change the fact that most of the fans have simply never driven one and the car is actually kind of lackluster to drive.

Of course I am one big hypocrite here because if I was given the opportunity to lay my hands on a 1980s sports car, it would be a Mazda RX-7 SA22C and I would be prepared to have it sit in the garage for months because it keeps on fouling apex seals.

December 12, 2017

Horse 2352 - I'm Not "Summering" Anywhere

The last few weeks of the year in accountancy land are usually either empty waste places of grey where nothing happens at all, or times of great sound and fury when everyone wants everything now, if not yesterday, or sooner.
This summer, is definitely of the latter variety; with either my phone or my boss's phone, ringing more often than Santa Claus' sleigh going for a ride in a spin dryer. (By the way, it's hot in there. Don't do it; stay safe.)

One of our clients who wants a report written for a family law case, came to our offices with a trolley of documents which I'm sure is purely for show, handed us a manila folder, and proceeded to tell us stories which I imagine were supposed to impress us with how fantastically wealthy he was, but online had the effect of making us answer "uhuh" at appropriate moments. It is exactly like that trip I was once on when I was still working for the law courts and someone wanted to tell me a story but I couldn't hear a thing over the drone of the propeller engines - they could have been a terrorist for all I know and I'd have been none the wiser.

At a point in the conversation where this lawyer had explained that his daughter was on a gap year in Spain and his son was finishing up law school, I was asked almost out of the blue where I would be "summering" as though that was a word which was normal. As if to appear impressive and probably in the hope that I would be envious, he very deliberately turned to me and told me that he would be "summering" in Switzerland.
When I explained that I had no travel plans, I was then asked if I was planning a mini-break or going on a staycation and when I replied no to both of those things, I was given a look as though I'd contracted explosive-syphilis-tuberculosis-diahorrea or something and was impolitely ejected from the conversation.
I said hardly anything from that point onwards and kind of went into a kind of daydream mode thinking about the distribution of prime numbers, when I was snapped back into reality when I was asked about what books I'd read lately and said that I'd read Thomas More's "Utopia" and "The Republic" by Plato and​ he was again disappointed that I hadn't read some novel which my boss later told me was rubbish and not very well written.
As if to be deliberately offensive, he then asked about where I live and then went on a rant about how everyone in Western Sydney is either illiterate, or a drunkard, or a multitude of other abominations in his eyes which included being of a different race or religion. To add a touch of perspective to this conversation, my boss asked him where he thought that Western Sydney actually was and apparently it begins in Stanmore.

I don't know just how representative this man's view of Sydney actually is when compared to the rest of the population but given what former Treasurer Joe Hockey said with regards poor people not being able to afford driving cars but I'm beginning to suspect that it might be more true than I would have thought.
Especially among those people who work in the upper echelons of the law, there is a genuine loathing for the working class as though poverty were a disease which they should be immunised against. Perhaps this explains the current government's desire to lower the company tax rates because in doing so, they engineer society in such a way so as to make the gap between the idiotic working proles and themselves unbridgeable.

I think that the reason for the almost continual disdain and suspicion of the imagined people of the mythical place called "the western suburbs" is partly because of the bubble in which people happen to live inside of. Most people have a group of friends and acquaintances who are roughly from the same socioeconomic group as themselves and so there is case of economic xenophobia going on. This is likely to be reinforced by a diet of Sky Business being projected into the inside of their bubble because ABC News is seen as communist, Trotskyist, or socialist. Naturally there is a reciprocal suspicion of the people of the east but that is nowhere near as important because of the immediate and obvious power imbalance.

I think that I cause a distinct sense of confusion for people like this lawyer. Quite obviously I am​ at least partly​ intelligent and because I've read Shakespeare, Aristotle, Cicero, Dickens, Hayek, Von Mises, Keynes, Adam Smith, Mill and Rousseau, I pose a threat to their worldview that everyone in the west are illiterate dipsomaniac thickos.
There are studies which indicate that the amount of dipsomania remains relatively constant across the classes and that the use of recreational drugs actually goes upwards slightly with an increase in disposable discretionary income. So as this lawyer is knocking back his third gin and tonic of the evening (before charging the cab fare to the firm and writing it off as a tax deduction) there's more than a hint of hypocrisy in this regard. As I explained in a previous post (see Horse 2346), if I had untold billions of dollarpounds with which to build a house, one of the rooms that I would definitely have to have would be a library. Probably my most favourite room in the whole world is the central reading room in Melbourne Library, with its great octagonal chamber of books on several balcony levels. Illiterate dipsomaniac thicko? Untrue on all three counts.

As the summer rolls around and the mercury climbs to the stupid side of forty degrees Celsius, I will be reminded of this lawyer who will be "summering" in Switzerland. I am also sure with absolute certainty that he will not be reminded of me at all. I might be tormented by the unavoidable heat and wishing to be somewhere that I could watch the dainty falling of snow but I can guarantee that I will be somewhere with a book for at least part of the summer. I won't be "summering" because although I agree with verbing nouns and even nouning verbs, "summering" sounds daft. I also won't be hearing sleigh bells ringing or the telephone ringing but I might return to daydream mode and think about the distribution of prime numbers again.

December 11, 2017

Horse 2351 - B Meh W

Last week, I wrote about my drive in the as yet unreleased ZB Commodore. One of my clients who follows this blog, noticed that I said that it out-Camrys the Camry, our-Mondeos the Mondeo and out 3-Serieses the 3-Series. Basically I wrote that the ZB Commodore is an excellent machine but I still wouldn't have one. This prompted him to ask what I think about the BMW 3-Series; to which my reply is "meh".

I have to attach so many asterisks and caveats to my opinion that it looks like a Christmas tree and say that I'm mostly operating in the realm of rubbish and nonsense because I haven't driven BMWs all that often. When you consider that I'm not exactly rolling in piles of hundreds like Scrooge McDuck, it's easy to understand that I don't exactly have the ability to buy each and every dream machine that I'd like. However, even if I was a multi-godzillionaire where money was no object, I wouldn't have a BMW through choice anyway.

After all is said and done, motor cars are really nothing more than metal boxes which are used to carry meatbags inhabited by consciousnesses and their stuff. This can easily be seen in a place like Hanoi where the usefulness of a motor car easily trumps any and all other functions that it might have. In a relatively wealthy place where people have overlaid stories on top of the motor car, through various elements of culture, the metal boxes take on more meaning that just a thing to move meatbags inhabited by consciousnesses.
Ever since I was a wee lad, I have followed motor racing. I know that it is an inherently idiotic pursuit but then again, so is all of sport, all of the arts, and indeed all of popular culture that isn't absolutely necessary. Like any other sport, motor racing is very much organised into tribes and the stories that are written on the racetrack spill over into the rest of the world. If it comes down to it, I like the stories of Ford, Mazda and Jaguar the best. The question then becomes what do I think about BMW relative to those stories and the technical prowess of the firm.

In my not very well paid opinion, BMW produces middle of the road motor cars, which have higher levels of trim than average, and adopt new technologies slightly earlier than most motor manufacturers, because they pitch their products at a higher than average price point. I mostly see that price point as unjustified and this attracts the kind of people who are more likely to be selfish and aggressive on the road. This in turn feeds my irrational internal prejudices through confirmation bias and in turn, I don't particularly like BMW as a tribe.
That I think, is a completely rational explanation of my irrational dislike of BMWs.

I have driven iterations of a 3-Series and 1-Series and I didn't really see them as special at all. I have a general dislike of SUVs and that would rule out every BMW with an X in the name, I would feel like a doofus in a convertible and so that rules out the Zs, and having owned a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the appeal of a big motorway burner was lost on me a long time ago.
What I want from a car is it to be little and quirky and fun, and BMW which makes highly refined and plush executive cars, is none of those things.

That means that if BMW were to have something that I want, it would be because they have a story which resonates with me. They do not.
I like the absolutely bonkers BMW 3.0L CSL of the 1970s, I like the E9 635i, I like the E30 M3, but all of those were in touring car racing and BMW haven't told me any new stories that I like, since about 1993.
When people win in a Ford, it is usually in spite of the apathy of the Ford Motor Company. Mazda are the small company in Japan which keeps on trying its little heart out and managed to win the Le Mans 24 Hour Race but was promptly banned. Jaguar's D-Type which won Or Mans in the 1950s, is the single most gorgeous thing ever commited to motoring; the noise which comes out of a Jaguar V12 is like the angels having a fist fight in a washing machine. BMW are a relatively big motor company, who occasionally goes motor racing and then fails to show any passion, which is something that I just don't understand because across the city of Munich, Bayern and their fans are mannschaftkrazygut.

When BMW bought MINI (all caps) from the Austin Rover Group, they had an opportunity to plaster the Union Jack all over the place but failed to take that opportunity. To date they have won zero British Touring Car Championships and zero World Rally Championships. In short, they have not understood the story and have not cared to do so.
When Mercedes-Benz decided to go back into sports car racing, they threw everything that they could at it until they won. Their partnership with McLaren lasted until they could find their own way to winning the Formula One World Championships and as we speak, they are the current holders of both the Driver's and Constructor's titles.
Ferrari is Ferrari. Even when Ferrari are terrible and tearing themselves to pieces, they do so with the flair and passion that can only come from Italians. The Tifosi (which autocorrect wants to capitalise because it could only be the definite article), are possibly the most crazy-go-nuts vans of any sporting team in the world.
BMW look at motor racing and shrug their shoulders.

For whatever reason, BMW either don't know or don't want to tell or write the stories that I want to listen to. They make competent machines which are driven by the kind of people who mostly confirm the stereotype that they driven by the kind of people who mostly confirm the stereotype. Although nobody wants to admit it, there's not anything that a BMW 118i does better than a Kia Rio. It produces 3kW less, uses more petrol in the process, has a smaller boot space but costs more than $15,000 extra; so I suppose that if you want to signal to the world that you are part of that tribe, then that's punishment enough.
I don't think that there's anything redeeming about a BMW to warrant the price tag and if it came down to it, I'd have lots of other things which are funner, crazier and madder and then put the change back in my pocket. All I see when I look at the BMW badge, is automotive boredom and meh.

December 08, 2017

Horse 2350 - I Am Cat: Fix My Problem Immediately

One of the perils with being cat owner is that unlike children who will eventually learn the social rules that you don't speak to someone while they are on the telephone, cats never will. As a result, if a cat wants to let you know something, they will just let you know. That's it. There's no filter, no holding back, no waiting. There's just the unashamed and open yell of feline impatience.

"Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds" - Purranna (probably).

I was on a telephone call on Monday evening when Purranna walked into the centre of the room and announced to the world that she was the most important thing in it. When that didn't immediately capture my full and exclusively unequivocal attention, she jumped onto the computer desk and gave that familiar three tone whine that parents will understand; which means "I'm really bored." Of course when I asked the question "Are you having a whinge, Miss?" it then became apparent that I was on the speakerphone at the other end of the telephone conversation; which was rather amusing.

I don't have children of my own but having been in the world for a sufficiently long period of time, and having observed other people's children, I can safely say that although there are differences between children and cats, those differences are not irreconcilably different (people with children will more than likely accuse me of being ignorant). Cats lack​ the ability of speech but they make up for it by having a whole range of meows, whines, chirrups and moans; which means that they can communicate very effectively indeed. This is also coupled with the fact that the average cat has the ability to learn at least a hundred words; which might not sound like a lot but it is more than sufficient to describe almost everything that is relevant to their interests. Probably most of what we communicate to them is carried by tone but words like "chicken" and "nums" are of great importance to a cat.
Cats don't have access to a suite of vocabulary but from what I've seen, they aren't immensely complex; so what they do have is entirely adequate.

I don't believe the stereotype that cats are anti social killing machines that secretly want to eat you in your sleep because they are more than capable of showing genuine independent affection for you. If you are nice to them, they will seek you out when they want to, they will ignore you most of the time but it's because they're happy just sort of hanging around and doing their own thing, and they will absolutely pester you when they want to be fed or if they want to go outside. Although cats are supremely selfish, that's not all that much different from quite a number of people.
When Purranna walked into the middle of the room and then across my computer desk, her demands to be entertained weren't because she hates us and sees us as some kind of slave but because she likes us and seems to think that the people can solve all of her desires. We are the ones who open doors for her, we are the ones who feed her, and because she had eaten the moth that she had been chasing, I think that she was expecting me to somehow bring forth a fresh moth. She has on occasion yelled at me after the sun has gone down, seemingly in expectation that I can bring it back.

When you have something that will talk to you so readily, how can you not talk back? Cats and people are both social creatures and probably all reasons of why anyone decides to get a pet is because they will form a bond with them. Cats are sufficiently independent and precocious enough that becoming friends with them isn't exactly a straightforward transaction. A dog will be a friend to practically everyone who is nice to it but cats are far more discerning and discriminating. You be a friend with a cat on their terms; which may include the ability to rub your face all over them but even if you are friends with a cat, when they want to be left alone they will be left alone and you will have no say in that.

So even if you happen to be on an important telephone call, even if you need your attention directed elsewhere, even if their demands are inconvenient, if a cat wants something, it wants it here and it wants it now. They haven't got some grand evil scheme worked out, there isn't some overarching vendetta, it could be as simple as "I'm really bored" and the expectation that you'll fix it immediately.

December 06, 2017

Horse 2349 - ZB Commodore: Practically Perfect Pallid.

A client of ours who is a car dealer, had to drop off a new ZB Commodore to another dealership on the Northern Beaches. On way through, he visited us to settle his account and as a result, I was able to cadge my way into getting a drive of it.
For reasons to do with secrecy, which I suspect have more to do with saving his bacon more than anything else, I have been requested not to post any photographs on social media of the new ZB Commodore but that doesn't mean that I can't write several hundred words about it.

This particular example which was the base model Evoke, still had more electronic doo-dads than I think is sensible. It has power everything, including windows, remote locking, press button starting and a head up display which is reminiscent of a jet fighter but what this car does well has nothing to do with the trim at all and everything to do with what it's like to sit in.

I have driven the VF, VE, VZ, VT, VS, VN, VL, VK and VC models of the Commodore in the past. When the VB came out in 1978, is was a strange hybrid of the Opel Senator and the Opel Commodore but with the 3.3L in-line 6 under the bonnet. This meant that the space between the A-pillar and C-pillar was practically all Opel and as such, it was ergonomically excellent. The VE and the VF which were the last two to be built in Australia, were entirely developed in Australia, and that meant although they were very well put together they still lacked that final little piece of ergonomic excellence which Opel has been able to replicate for decades.
Everything and I mean everything, is exactly where you expect it to be. Every dial and switch is instantly viewable and comes to hand easily. The seating position, right down to the angles of where your arms end up us bang on perfect and the pedals are perfectly sized and weighted. I found the ZB Commodore to have perfect manners on the road. The steering was weighted nicely and in terms of pitch, roll and yaw, it was polite and predictable.  I have no idea what kind of engine was under the bonnet but there was an adequate amount of power without being obnoxious and the automatic transmission with more speeds than I even can imagine, was completely seamless in its gear changes. I had no idea when it was changing gears and to be perfectly honest, I didn't miss changing them myself.
In short, the ZB Commodore is everything that you would expect from a car which was engineered obsessively by Germans. It upholds the stereotype of Germany's total lack of humour and it does so with ruthless efficiency. And yet, I still wouldn't have one.

The ZB Commodore is perfectly pitched at the European repbox market. The people at Opel, in producing the Insignia B (hence the reason why the model code is ZB, because ZA was Insignia A), have made a thing which is 100% perfectly adequate. This is a car for someone who wants to jump in, drive a thousand miles and instantly forget that they have driven a thousand miles. This is repbox motoring polished to perfection. What the ZB Commodore is, is out-Camrying Camry, out-Mondeoing Mondeo, and even out-3-Seriesing the 3-Series.
The ZB Commodore is practically perfect in every way and perfectly practical. Pallidly so.

I want bonkers.

If this came to deciding what I wanted in the motor pool, the ZB Commodore a lovely way to drown. I would take a Mondeo over the Commodore because the Mondeo has retained a little bit of insanity which it shares with both the Focus and the Fiesta. The ZB Commodore gives you sensible motoring but the Mondeo has remembered that someone who drives a car wants it to be fun. The outgoing VF Commodore retained that sense that you wanted to drive the car on Saturday and Sunday and not just during the working week. The Mondeo practically tempts you to take it out on the B-roads but the ZB Commodore is definitely driven by its purpose and that purpose is to go from point A to point By as efficiently as possible; without deviating and looking at points C, D or M.

The people who sell these things will fill their initial orders because people in Australia have been conditioned for the last 50 years to take part in a holy war. Now that Ford has exited the stage and replaced the top end of that market with the death trap Mustang (which has been lovingly put together by eight year old children with ADHD and riddled with Ritalin) and not replaced the Falcon at all, Holden have decided to chase the Mondeo rather than the Mustang. The ZB Commodore will be bought by people who still buy into the holy war but I can predict that they won't be as willing to by ZC (if Holden ever get it). People may be even tempted into buying a Kia Stinger.

I am not in the market to buy a large family car but if I was, I'd still have the Mondeo over the ZB Commodore. The ZB Commodore is a perfectly sensible, repbox; with all the personality of a repbox.

December 05, 2017

Horse 2348 - Calendar For Impeachment

I don't want to preempt what Robert Mueller has found or what he is likely to find from the testimony of Michael Flynn but I suspect that Mueller probably knew what he was looking for before Flynn was ever brought in to be questioned, and​ the as yet unnamed but "very senior" member of the Trump transition team who has been pointed at, has the surname of Trump. Exactly what Mr Mueller will find with regards to collusion and interference into the 2016 Presidential Election by the Russians, I also have no idea but I am willing to suggest that however bad it may look, it will still not be enough to impeach the current occupant in the Oval Office chair.

The specific conditions contained in the US Constitution which outline the impeachment of a President say:
The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
- Article 2, Section 4, US Constitution (1789)

The thing about an impeachment case is that the Congress needs to specifically pin the causes for impeachment on the President himself; not his advisers and staff, however close to him they might be. At the moment, I would suggest that that is impossible but given the absolute horrorshow of the current administration, I think that the chances of something being pinned on him eventually, will asymptotically rise towards 100%.
Given that I think that the chances of President Trump having done something which warrants his impeachment is likely, I'd still put the absolute earliest date at this taking place as March 4th, 2019.

As it currently stands, the Republican party controls all three rings of the circus that is the US government. They control both houses of Congress, they control the Presidency, and they nominally control the Supreme Court. The power to impeach the President lies with the Congress and while Republicans control both houses, the chances of them pulling the trigger on one of their own, however strained the relationship between Donald Trump and establishment Republicans may be, is zero.
That means that there needs to be a definite and distinct change in the composition of the Congress and given the failure of the Republican Party to as yet pass any piece of meaningful legislation, the anger directed at the President for everything that he's said and done​, and the impending taxation reforms which will simultaneously benefit the rich and​ cripple future budgets, I think that that change will be great. There is usually a swing in the pendulum against the President in the first mid-term election after their election but I suspect that on this occasion, the pendulum will really be swinging against the President and Republicans in the Congress.

If that's true, then the earliest that impeachment proceedings would begin would be the first week in January 2019 and​ because I think that the weight of evidence against the President will be great, due to massive incompetence by the administration to even so much as cover their tracks, then the formal proceedings would only conclude after it has passed through a committee stage. That would most likely take about a month and then there would be the formal impeachment proceedings in Congress, which would also take some time; which is why I give the date of March 4th, 2019 at the earliest.
Of course this is contingent on the Democrats taking back the Congress and given people's predilection to vote against their own interests because they still want to vote for their team (voters are mostly irrational actors), then the whole process would be short circuited and that would push the impeachment timetable out to 2021 and after the members have arrived from the 2020 election. The problem there is that that assumes that Donald Trump would be re elected in 2020 and I just don't think that that's likely. It could very well be that the conditions which would be necessary to impeach Donald Trump, only exist after he has been elected out of office; which makes this whole speculation moot.

It is noteworthy that there hasn't been a successful impeachment of a President. Andrew Johnson avoided it when the Senate decided against it, despite the House being in favour. Warren G. Harding who should have been impeached, died before that could happen. Nixon resigned before he was impeached and then given a pardon by his successor Gerald Ford because that would have made his own presidency virtually impossible to administer with that still hanging around. Clinton should have been impeached but was seemingly made of Teflon and so nothing stuck to him.
If Trump isn't impeached, it won't be because he's some kind of mastermind because that would assume that there's been some grand design to be masterminded and clearly the whole Trump administration has been unminded since before its inception. I think that Donald Trump's​ plan for the presidency extended as far as November 8th, 2016 and no further. 

If there were to be impeachment charges drawn up against Trump, I think that the most likely centre around obstruction of justice and his attempts to fiddle with the FBI. Again, that will centre on whether or not Mueller finds any smoking guns before the whole White House burns down.

December 04, 2017

Horse 2347 - The Adelaide Scoreboard: Complex Information Demands A Complex Information Board

Yesterday evening, Brady Haran of Numberphile, Sixty Symbols, Periodic Videos, Hello Internet, the Unmade Podcast... et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, posted a photograph of the fantastic scoreboard at the Adelaide Oval on Day Two of the Second Test between England and Australia. The scoreboard at the Adelaide Oval with its army of operators inside, is the fastest scoreboard in the world because unlike electronic scoreboards, the people inside watch the game meticulously and yell at each other in a beautifully organised system of mayhem which results in accuracy.

However, this promted a stream of confused people on Twitter:

"I'm an American and that scoreboard is 100% inscrutable" - Carl
"That scoreboard is confusing as hell. It’s so hard to pick out the key details" - Richie
"How do you read that thing?" - Ryzhahrd‏

I totally understand.

Cricket is one of those games which unless taught at birth is unfathomable as nuclear physics. It is a game which from the outside has almost arbitrary rules and which produces so many statistics that every year, a summary of them is produced in a book which is several inches thick.
Not surprisingly at all, a game which is that comples and produces a set of statistics which are equally complex, invariably needs a scoreboard which is equally complex. This them is an explanation of the scoreboard.

The basic mechanics of cricket are thus:
- a bowler bowls the ball
- the batsman defends his stumps with the bat
- after the bowler has bowled six balls in a set called an "over", another bowler has a go from the other end
- if the batsman hits the ball far away enough, or if the bowler misses everything badly enough, the batsman can run.
- the score is scored in runs.
- batsman can get "out" in a number of ways.
- once ten batsmen have got out their innings is complete and the other side has a go.
- once both sides have had two innings, the match is complete.

There are no rules about how long a batsman can stay in. If they can stay in for hours, good for them. There are no rules about how long an innings has to be. This means that innings frequently go into many hundreds of runs.

Basically - Team 1 has a go; scores runs. Team 2 has a go; scores runs. Team 1 has another go; scores runs. Team 2 has a go; scores runs. Add them up. Whoever gets the most runs wins.

Usually matches either end with the second team getting the number of runs and winning; or not getting the number of runs and losing. Sometimes, the match just ends because you only have five days and a draw happens.

Got it?
In this match, Australia is batting first.

Red section:
- No innings are complete.
- 7 wickets have fallen. 7 batsmen have gotten out.
- the two batsmen who are currently in are Cummins who is on 44 run and Marsh who is on 102 (scoring 100 is a fine thing to do).
- 13 runs have happened but not been scored by the batsmen.
- the score is currently 408.

Green Section:
- this is a list of all the likely bowlers.
- Number 1, Anderson has taken 1 wicket and conceded 74 runs from his bowling.
- some bowlers have taken 2 wickets and some have taken 0 wickets.
- the current bowler is Woakes.

Yellow Section:
- this is a list of all the batsmen who have gotten out and who is yet to come.
- the column "out" tells you how the the batsmen got out (Run out, Caught with a number of who took the catch, Bowled, Leg Before Wicket) and which of the bowlers was bowling.
eg. Paine, Caught by Moeen Ali, Bowled by Overton, out for 57 runs.

Blue Section:
- this is a list of when the batsmen got out, how many runs had been scored as each wicket fell.
- Overs Required, there are 98 overs required to be bowled today.

I will concede that this looks bewildering but it contains a lot of information; I think that it does so rather elegantly and compactly.

Australia would go on to finally get 442 runs when they finally decided to declare their innings closed with only 8 wickets gone (batsmen getting out). In reply and at the end of Day Two, England are in trouble, having only scored 29 runs but one batsman has already gotten out.

December 02, 2017

Horse 2346 - My Impossibly Fabulous; Imaginary A-Χ House (all 29 letters).

Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of  not much wealth and zero taste...

In the impossibly massive space inside my imagination, I often wonder what sort of house I would build given unlimited moneys. Four bedrooms? Secret passageways? One long staircase just going up and one even longer coming down and one more leading nowhere just for show?
I especially love the story of the Winchester Mystery House which was built by the Winchester Rifle heiress Sarah Winchester, after her husband, the world famous gun magnate William W Winchester died. It is a house with unnecessary rooms, doors, and total lack of any building plan whatsoever. That seems perfect for the sort of thing that I want - a rambling house.
That house is famous because of a lack of planning. Why not have the most idiotic of plans though? Why can't I have a house for all 29 letters of the alphabet? It's my imagination, I can do what I like.

A - Attic
It is fitting that the top of an alphabetical list should begin at the top of the house. Any attic worth having, needs a ladder with a pull cord and enough space to walk around comfortably in. Ideally it should have windows with shutters on them, that always bang about on the spookiest of nights; especially Spooky Night in October.
I'd have a skeleton up there for no reason at all, a chest filled with clothes that I'd bought at a charity shop and a stack of newspapers from the week we moved in. There needs to be an unexplainable doll's house, a dart board and Volume 9 of an old encyclopaedia Britannica for no reason.

B - Boudoir
A standard bedroom wouldn't be enough for my alphabetical house of wonders and so I'd want something fancier. I can already attest to the wonder of having a four post bed because I already have one owing to my internal pomposity; I don't see why the rest of your most personal space shouldn't also be just as wonderous. I want all wood wardrobes, cabinets, tall boys; as well as Chinese lamps and brass fixtures.

C - Conservatory
Mrs Rollo has often expressed a desire to have a room where butterflies would be free to live and prosper. I like the idea of a conservatory but I don't much care for the heat which is sometimes necessary to grow things like orchids. A proper conservatory should have at least some chrysanthemums, roses a few tulips as far as I am concerned. I would also like to have a pad for the cats to sit on (there will always be cats in my insane alphabetical house) and if possible I should like a small fountain with a few fish that aren't koi living in it.

D - Dining 
A proper dining room needs a table long enough to hold ten people, chairs which have backs that are significantly taller than anyone who might sit in them, a drinks cabinet​, a side table, and a hitch with enough silverware to make the whole thing feasible. There will be a toast rack, an English butter dish and cover, salad cutlery, a carving knife, and enough silver covers for every pot, dish and turrine that comes to the table.
The table itself needs to be exactly one day older than the point where nobody cares about its surface anymore. I want people to be able to bang the bottom of their goblets and/or their knives and forks on the table in a "we want food, we want food" manner. Even the poshest  dining room tables should allow for a complete disregard for manners if need be. Manners are primarily about making your guests feel comfortable and they will never feel comfortable if they think that your house is a museum. Style and taste should never yield to fun and laughter, ever.

E - En Suite
Everyone from age 3 until dead, needs to be able to get up in the middle of the night and have a wee. Making both little kids and big people run down a hallway while their brain still hasn't made sense of the world is nothing less than pure horror. It doesn't matter if it's​ night terrors, old person incontinence, stress, lady hormones, or fun time fermented vegetable drink products, in the words of the old department store prophet: "Everything must go."

F - Faintorium
In the late 1800s when corsets were bound up so tightly that women actually fainted because they couldn't fill their lungs properly, the Faintorium or fainting room was the place was the place where they could go to have a lie down. I rather like the idea of having a specific room for having a nanna nap in. I don't want some daybed which doesn't know if it's a couch or a bed, rather I want a proper chaise lounge of the sort that became famous in Sigmund Freud's​ offices. Whereas Freud will have used it to ask questions about how you feel about your mother, I will return it to humbler purposes.
The Faintorium will have lace curtains and flowers. It will also have a timer set for 22 minutes which is just about the perfect amount of time for a nap.

G - Growlery
In possibly the most diametrically opposed room in the world to the parlour, instead of a place where one goes to be sociable, a growlery is the room in a building where one goes to the unsociable. Low table funiture which might include cabinetry for alcohol, has also been included in the past when speaking of a growlery and while looking at two rather archaic books in the library, I found out that at least two distilleries in London made Growlery Gins which were presumably meant to be consumed while in one's growlery, though given that gin was also often seen as the drink associated with melancholia and sadness, I fail to see what sort of net benefit would actually be derived when normal gin will do just as well.
My growlery would be my own private Diogenes Club; a place where silence would be strictly enforced.

H - Hall
Every house benefits from having a reception hall. Ideally a hall should contain a set of stairs leading to the bedrooms, a small table whereupon the telephone sits, a longcase grandfather clock, and the ability to close it completely off from the rest of the house. You want to give someone the ability to step inside from the cold and wind and rain but not into your private life.
I have lived in houses where the front door opens directly into the lounge and I hate it so very much. If someone knocks on the front door, then your life come to a grinding halt and there is an intrusion into your space but in a house with a hallway, someone steps into a neutral space and that sense of violation is not there at all.

I - Inglenook
Although not technically a room in its own right, the Inglenook is a delightful little alcove by a fireplace which is either designed as a place to store wood for the fire, or a place where people can sit near the fire if they have come in from the wind and cold and rain and snow, and don't want to drip all over the carpets and floors. In houses where the main hearth is double sided, then the Inglenook will be on the side of the hearth where either the kitchen, galley or scullery is.

J - Jubilee 
Suppose that you want to hold a grand ball with many​ many guests, or perhaps have the ability to put on a small production of some kind. You will need a small stage and maybe a praesidium arch with curtains. You will also need a largish kind of space, with enough chairs down the side for people to sit if they are not dancing, a place for the refreshments table and a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling, which has been brought to life by means of the new electric illumination to chase away the ghosts of oh so many years ago.
The Jubilee room must have the sounds of a Viennese waltz, a Catalan tango, or the shrieks of someone being stabbed behind a curtain, at least a few times a year.

K - Kitchenette
Suppose that you only want to make a sandwich or a cup of tea. The scullery should be the place in which to prepare a roast turkey but you don't need a whole heap of space to make a sandwich in. Fridge, kettle, toaster and only a single set of cutlery is all you need for snack making. The Kitchenette would also be upstairs so that you don't have to go on an expedition through the house if all you want is a cup of coffee.
Also, no pod coffee machines. You are a moron if you have knowingly bought a pod coffee machine and are chained to buying pods at more than a hundred dollars per kilo for coffee.

L - Library
The grandest room in the whole world in my opinion is the central reading room in the Melbourne Library. The library in my house would be at least five stories tall, circular, and have ladders on rails so that you could find anything. I should like to have more books than it is possible to read in a lifetime and I would also like to have every single book custom leather bound and gilded with the proper call number - Dewey decimal all the way; none of this Library Of Congress nonsense.
I would have tables with pull up reading stands and enough power points to recharge any device.

M - Motor House
The garage replaced the motor house, as the motor house replaced the coach house before it. The whole idea of the coach house and then the motor house, was that you could drive in and get out, without getting wet. The idea is sound enough - drive in through the back of the motor house to arrive and drive out through the front to the street. Ideally I also want a five foot pit underneath my car so that I can do necessary works upon it without the need to jack it up. One should be able to do an oil or clutch change without the hassle of putting a car on a lift either.

N - Natatorium
Having a shower in a house is a purely functional decision. Having a bathtub in a house is a necessity if you have small children. Having a very hot bath for the sole purpose of doing nothing but soaking in, is a luxury upon luxuries. The Natatorium was a place in a Roman house that had a very large pool. I would like to couple this with the Japanese idea that a hot bath is only for soaking in and washing in it, thus sullying the waters with dirt, is a violation of nature.
Give me brass fixtures and fittings, give me marble; give me claw and ball legs. I want soaps that smell like roses and towels that are oh so fluffy. Sometimes I need to take a shower but really that's just obligatory ablutions but to truly live in the lap of luxury is to take a long hot bath.

O - Observatory
If ever there was a useless room in a house which adds class to it, it is the observatory. One imagines a room with prisms and pendulums as well as the obligatory telescope for peering into the heavens. Ideally the top of the observatory should be done shaped and rotatable through
 360° and on a motorised gimble so that while one is looking at the Jovian moons, the whole room can be turned along as the earth rotates.
I don't have the scientific knowledge to look for anything in particular; so all I'd really be doing is pointing my telescope at the Jovian moons or the rings of Saturn; and I'd be fine with that.

P - Parlour
The parlour is distinct from a sitting room or a reception room in that the parlour is the prime room for entertainment. In most people's houses today, this is where the television sits or perhaps where the lounges are. Clearly this is wrong and the television needs to get out.
I would include a table and some high backed chairs, as well as a tea/drinks trolley, and a sufficient number of stands for sandwiches and cakes, to make the room useful for holding high tea in. I think that I would also leave a collection of hats in the room because I think that the Mad Hatter was on to something. If one is going to have a posh as cushions room, then one aught to look as posh as cushions.

Q - Quartermaster
Every decent scullery should also have a quartermaster's store attached. Forget a simple pantry that's just hanging off of a kitchen like a built in wardrobe, I want a full on walk-in pantry with doors, rotating shelving and cool room. The whole room should smell like the spice shop at Harrod's, there should be things in tins and jars that nobody ain't ever going to use and I want my side of lamb and a keg of mild, cold.

R - Rumpus
The rumpus rooms that usually infect people's houses today, are little more than a room out the back where someone has decided to throw the kids' junk. Invariably they will end up with boxes and​the other detritus that houses produce and become nasty places. This simply will not do.
Once upon a time, the rumpus was the "loud room". It would be where the billiard or wiff-waff table would be housed. If one couldn't afford a billiard table or couldn't come at killing 12 elephants to get the ivory to make the balls, then one might install a nine pin alley or an Aunt Sally. The rumpus should always be a dedicated games room, in which arguments will rage brighter and hotter than the sun. In a grand house, the parlour might have also housed the piano or other kinds of instruments.
I have all of the musical ability of a gnay but nevertheless, I would still like to have a Les Paul Sunburst in my parlour. The carpet on the floor would be one giant Risk board and I would have a whole set of tin soldiers for the express purpose of playing said game; complete with a few croupier's crooks for moving them.

S - Scullery
I have a few things that I can cook but I'm probably not going to because my wife has specific dietary requirements. I on the other hand have guts made from iron and as such, I have the ability to eat anything. I can imagine myself in the scullery (because a galley is too small and a kitchen is too simple), smacking down on the head of a dead cow with a machete, or going proper mental with a six foot long katana and a pig.
I want proper violence in my scullery, with cabbages being cut with fire axes, cutting leeks with santoku and grating carrots with a chainsaw.

T - Toilet
Under no circumstances should the toilet be in the same room as the bathtub or the sink and shower. This isn't because I have some paranoid delusion about poo particles flying through the air and magically landing on a toothbrush like a microscopic Barnham And Bailey's Circus but because after Trump has made his announcements and you need to visit Vladimir Putin, it should be done in its own little private room. That room should also contain a very small sink so that you can wash your hands afterwards and it is best equipped with a book of pithy witticisms but if you are in there, the utility of someone else being able to have a shower at the same time in another room is exceedingly brilliant.

U - Underground
If the attic serves as that creepy space above the house where you keep your junk, then the basement should serve as the creepy space under the house where you keep your other junk. I am not a fan of having a laundry​ taking up valuable space inside the main part of the house but under it in the basement is fine. This is where you should also keep that collection of wines that you never get around to collecting and also where you keep teenagers who want to play video games.
The beauty about having a room underground is that as part of the house you can install either a laundry shute or a dumb waiter, and both of those things are cool to have.

V - Vicar's Hole
I want one secret hidey hole which is small enough for one person to sit and hide away for a while. I might never need to hide away a member of the clergy but it seems like an intrinsically good thing to have. Of course this may end up leading to an infestation of bishops and local parish clergy who might begin investigating murders but they're easily removed by spraying some Anglicanism​ around, periodically.

W - Wendy House
Every grand house will have its range of outbuildings such as sheds and greenhouses but there is one outbuilding that is so unbelievably wonderful that it simply has to be included: the Wendy House. Children's cubby houses and tree houses are all fine and they should absolutely exist, however they aren't big enough for big people to sit in. A proper Wendy House will have doors and windows and hopefully electricity connected. If there's one thing to be said it's that Teddy and Dolly do not like to sit in the dark. Plus, a proper Wendy House can also be used by big people as yet another venue to have tea in.

X - Xerodomatio
I am intrigued by the idea of the Xerodomatio. The Xerodomatio is literally the "quiet room" and the word is derived from the two Greek components. Unlike the Growlery where the idea is simply to retreat and be angry, the Xerodomatio is a room where one goes to be quiet and contemplate things. It might have a yoga mat if that's your kind of thing but I like the idea of a very narrow room which hangs off of either a hall or a staircase, and is mostly a cosy padded bench seat inside a bay window. Ideally it should look over the ocean so that you can watch the relentless pounding of waves against the shore and the grand light show when a lightning storm is brought out in all its glory.
The Xerodomatio should be quiet enough that you can not hear the rage of the elements outside nor the rage of your fellow companions inside.

Y - Youth
Babies are fine provided they are other people's and you can hand them back. Children should have their own rooms and the nursery insofar as much as one exists, should be separate and distinct from them. There needs to be shrieking and joy and crying coming out of this room, and adequate facilities to change nappies when the inevitable happens.
You wouldn't chose to sleep in the same room that you went to the toilet in; it shouldn't be any different for a baby.

Z - Zoology
A house needs pets. Winston Churchill had a cat called Humphrey. Teddy Roosevelt had a pet alligator in the White House. I don't care if you have cats, dogs or something else but they need to be able to access the rambling house as much as you do. I would have access ramps built into the walls so that cats and dogs especially can get up and down between levels. Stairs are an awful thing for an old cat or dog to fall down and I'm sure that they would appreciate their own access tunnels.

Þ - Þermidium 
I have been to a hot spring and it was fantastic. I have never been in a sauna though. I imagine that being in a sauna is probably a relaxing experience because people in Nordic countries seem to do it a lot. I would want the Þermidium to be an outbuilding and to make þis viable, it would necessitate my mad alphabetical house to be somewhere either alpine or a long way north.

Р- Ðeatre
If at all possible, I want þe television projected onto a proper screen. I would have at least a Dolby 5.1 sound system or if I'm feeling daft, Quatravox. I would also have a proper ðeatre organ installed with cymbals, hooters, rattles and þe obligatory player piano. If I'm watching Liverpool ðump Manchester United or Buster Keaton fall down a flight of stairs and into a barrel of black gunk, I want þe soundtrack​ to be identical. Ideally it should also be soundproofed so that þe sound of "Mars: The Bringer Of War" can be turned up to an impossibly loud ear bleeding level.

X - Χimney
Þere should be lots of χimneys everywhere.

This does of course warrant me suddenly running into many millions of dollarpounds and the only way that is going to happen is in my imagination.

November 28, 2017

Horse 2345 - It Is Impossible To Undermine An England Fan's Pessimism

Almost as soon as the First Test in Brisbane had ended, the Tweets and messages on forums ribbing me began. This is absolutely normal. One of the things about being an England fan is that whenever England inevitably fail at what ever sport they happen to be playing at this time, I also become the target of many put downs. The brilliant thing about sport is that under the veil of context, you can wish all kinds of horrorshows on people in the safe knowledge that it really doesn't matter at all. Much to the confusion of Australia fans though is that they actually can not invent a put down so withering that it has very much of an effect. This piece explains why.

The big difference between the vast majority of England and Australia fans though, is that England fans go into a thing with the expectation that they will lose. As sure as God made little apples, as sure as the sun sets in the west, as sure as the Pope poops in the woods, and as sure as the bear is a Catholic, England will lose at every single sport that they've invented. I remember when England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and looking around as England fans just stood around stunned because having won a thing, they didn't know what to do.
1-0 down in an Ashes series sounds​ to an Australian fan as cause for much gloating but if you are an England fan who is expecting a 5-0 whitewash from the outset, then you're already so far dug in with the expectation of losing that the only way to dig after that is upwards. The truth in the First Test is that once you remove the 141 by Steve Smith, then what you're left with are two mediocre sides with not much more than the width of a playing card to separate them.

England, being one of four unfriendly brothers, living on a teeny little sceptred island, set as the jewel in the sea, which nature built for herself, was once the centre of the world's biggest empire (unless you are the Mongols), and for the last hundred and fifty years or so, has slowly seen that disappear into the dust of history. This little nation of administrators did what they did best, even when having fun, and apart from America who invents sports that nobody else particularly wants to play, it was the English who set about codifying the rules of every sport... and then promptly set about losing them.
The oldest sporting trophy, The Hundred Guineas Cup, promptly left upon the waves and was carried by the boat "America", to the New York Yacht Club in 1851, wherein it was renamed the America's Cup and wouldn't leave the NYYC for 132 years. The England-Australia cricket began in 1877 and​ also started with an England loss by 45 runs. The sport which you'd think England should consistently win, football, has England not joining FIFA until 1950, and then being beaten 1-0 by an amateur United States team and being thumped 7-1 by the "Magic Magyars" of Hungary four years later.
When England do manage to win a thing, its usually quite a lot naff. All of the gold medals that England took in the 2012 London Olympics were in sports where the competitors were sitting down. Lewis Hamilton who is the current Formula One World Champion, has also won a thing while sitting down and that's compounded by the fact that he did so in a Mercedes-Benz which is a German car.
The little urn which hold the Ashes, are marked with a little notice which says "to the death of English cricket"; so England losing one match, set against the background of decades upon decades of sporting defeat, is of not much concern.

The whole outlook of Australian fans though is entirely different. Having won the Cricket World Cup, the Rugby League World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, the Asian Football Cup, the Netball World Cup and probably world cups in sports that nobody has heard about, Australian fans go into everything with the expectation that Australia will win. Of course that instantly turns to bile when Australia actually lose and the media invariably goes into a cycle of self flagellation.
Since Australia has no national story of birth which was conceived in revolution, the Australian national myth must forever reinvent itself on the sporting field as kind of a de facto substitute for an origin story. Unlike England whose national story contains being invaded by Saxons, Vikings and Normans under William the Conqueror, Australia's national story includes Fanny Durack, Evonne Goolagong, Don Bradman and Phar Lap who wasn't even Australian (and was a horse).

So bring on the taunts about how bad England is. Go on. Point and laugh if you think it will help. From where I'm standing, expecting a 5-0 drubbing as per always, when anything good happens, it's a sweet bonus.

November 24, 2017

Horse 2344 - The Ashes Is Too Hard To Predict

In the age before climate change finally renders life on Earth unsustainable, the whole notion of the seasons ebbing and changing is fast becoming a nonsense. At least in Australia, the summer is officially defined as beginning on December 1st and ending on February 31st, thus allowing for the fact that the arbitrary overlay of the calendar is equally variable and also a nonsense. When coupled with the fact that the summer doesn't line up with the already arbitrary overlay of the calendar and falls in two calendar years, the playing of cricket in an Australian summer is just the overlay of a nonsensical game, over the top of two other nonsenses.
In my mind, summer in Australia begins at precisely 10:30am Queensland time (because Queensland sensibly doesn't use Daylight Savings Time; which is yet another nonsense), when the first ball of the First Test is bowled. That means that in my arbitrary nonsensical scheme of things, the summer started yesterday when the first ball of the first over of the First Test was bowled. Welcome to the summer.

I would have said that the first day's play was likely to be an indication of the relative strengths of the two teams this summer.
Australia can not rely on the assumption that they are the best team in the world and that everyone else is just grist for the cricketing mill, because recent evidence would suggest that they have difficulty finding their way out of a wet paper bag, with holes cut in the side and with neon signs pointing the way out. (By the way, have you tried to get a paper bag fitted for neon signs? I tried and found it very difficult to find someone who would operate in a workplace that small.)
England on the other hand, always operate on the assumption that they are terrible. We always remember Our Lady Jenny Bull Of The Perpetual Assumption Of Rubbishness (amen), and that England being crap at cricket is just one in the long line of being crap at every sport including football, rugby, running, swimming, netball, hockey and losing an empire. The only sport which England seems to excel at is motor racing and Lewis Hamilton has proven that by becoming Formula One World Champion again, but even that falls on the predicate that he is driving a Silver Arrow which has been engineered by Germans.

The first day of this summer defied expectations by providing us with precisely zero information about the two teams in this Ashes series. Both team's recent form is like looking into a bag of Scrabble tiles and expecting to find "quixotic" but only finding "ham". When the rain came, the score was England on 110-1 after Cook fell cheaply and that should have given Australia cause to drive their Size 9 Dunlop Challenger gumboot firmly into the neck of England but they simply failed to do so. Every single one of Australia's supposed front line attack bowlers, failed to show any kind of intent at all and what the Courier-Mail had crowed as the "Gabbatoir" was more like the "Gabba Bottom Paddock" as both the Australian bowlers and fielders wandered around like Brown's Cows (The "Gabba Bottom Paddock" wouldn't have sold very many newspapers, I fear).
England on the other hand also failed to show any intent, as Cook fell for 2, Stoneman 53, Vince 83, and Root was trapped in front for an LBW on 15, and the day's play ended on an acceptable yet boring 196-4. The biggest highlight of the day happened when Australia took the new ball in the 81st over and Moeen Ali complained that the light was failing. The next over, Starc claimed that he'd managed to trap Dawid Malan leg before wicket but when it was referred to the third umpire who also couldn't see the ball in the dim light, Umpire Aleem Dar finally agreed with Ali's complaint.

Let's assume for a second that England manages to lose all six remaining wickets in the first over today (because as an England fan, finding new and impressive ways to be rubbish is par for the course. If a 1983 Ford Granada were to suddenly fall out of the sky and take out an English batsman's wicket, that wouldn't be anything particularly out of the ordinary). All out for 196 wouldn't be all that bad on this pitch. Dare I say it, it might be even defendable.
I would expect that given a new day and six wickets in hand, 196 runs already on the board is a pretty handy thing to have. Trying to guess any kind of outcome either for this match or indeed the rest of the series, is again like looking into that Scrabble bag of destiny and pulling out the word "pots", or is it "post", or is it "tops", or is it "stop", who knows? It certainly isn't "quixotic" because that would be as pointless as tilting at windmills, with a cricket bat, while riding on the roof of a 1983 Ford Granada falling out of the sky. It's just another layer of nonsense being laid down. Welcome to summer.

November 23, 2017

Horse 2343 - Suicide Isn't Painless: It's Inconvenient

As far as I'm aware, Sydney is the only city in the world with a fleet of double decker suburban rail cars; let alone double decker suburban rail cars that go underground. The majority of the City Circle dates from 1926; with services going across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, and the City Circle passing through Circular Quay in the 1950's after Premier Joseph Cahill decided to permanently foul up Sydney's infrastructure by ripping out the trams.
As such, Sydney's suburban trains are capable of carrying up to 2000 people, as opposed to the 900 that the trains on the London Underground can carry. Unlike the London Underground which has had a very long history of improvement (in a lot of cases belatedly), Sydney's underground stations remain mostly the same at platform level as the day that they were opened. Both at Town Hall and Wynyard Stations you can still see the now 90 year old wooden beams which make up the station ceilings, as well as the massive steel beams which hold the stations together. What we don't have in Sydney that I think that the network is desperately crying out for, is anti-suicide pits at least and platform length barriers at best.

The worst trip that I have ever been on, when I was on a northbound train going into Town Hall once, when suddenly the lights went out and those of us standing in the vestibule area near the doors, were thrown violently into the wall of the driver's cab. From the other side of the wall, I could hear frantic yelling as the driver was making his opinion known by use of very Saxon four letter expletives and I also heard that dreaded phrase of "one under".
I don't know what the statistics are for people being hit by a train in Sydney is like but if it's anything like London, then most people who die by being struck by a train are willing participants in the deadly game. Practically none of them are pushed but there are a few accidents.

I can not possibly understand the kind of angst and chaos that must pass through someone's mind to make them decide that taking one's own life is either desirable or acceptable and so I shan't comment on that but I do know that by changing the infrastructure just a little bit, them many lives can be saved.

My proposal would be to have a ditch cut between the two rails as they pass through the underground stations in Sydney. I don't know how deep the anti-suicide pits in London are but I do know that if built in Sydney, that they would be more effective because unlike the London Underground, Sydney's trains are powered by an overhead source of electricity and so there is no third rail between the tracks.
The point of the anti-suicide pits is that when you do have someone​ go under a train, they will fall between the two tracks and into the pit, while the train passes safely overhead. In the London Underground's​ experience, the the number of people who later report that they changed their mind as a result of being saved by the anti-suicide pits is significant enough to justify the almost minimal expense. The amount of bother caused by someone going under a train and the chaos and trauma it causes, is something which should be prevented.

The other more expensive thing that I would like to see in Sydney are platform length barriers installed. The concept is ridiculously simple. You have a series of glass or Perspex barriers down the full length of the platform, with doors that only open when there is a train stopped at the station. Everyone is familiar with the idea as this is how elevator doors should work: the doors on the elevator should only open when there is a car present. Although it is harder to synchronise when you have a train which weighs many tonnes, various underground railway networks like the London Underground, Paris Metro and the Rome Metro have already figured it out. Since Sydney's trains are now almost exclusively eight cars long and with sixteen sets of doors on one side, the set of design requirements are already known. The only challenge would be if there are the older style of V Set trains where the doors are closer to the ends of the cars but they tend not to travel down the underground portion of the network all that often. Really the only stations which would derive the most benefit from platform length barriers would be Wynyard and Town Hall as they experience the highest volume of peak passenger traffic.

Call me callous if you like but I think that I'd prefer the inconvenience caused by retrieving a person who is alive and at the bottom of an anti-suicide pit than the larger inconvenience caused by retrieving a person who is dead and has been pulverised for many meters at the bottom of a train tunnel. I think I'd prefer the inconvenience caused by being forced to stand behind a barrier and being fenced in like sheep, rather than having someone accidentally spill into the path of a moving train.
I realise that the death rate of the population is 100% but I'd rather have people die of old age in the palliative care ward of a hospital, than in front of the 05:47 train to Penrith and inconvenience several thousand people.

Anti-Suicide Pits and Platform Length Barriers... and Bring Back The Roundels Please

November 21, 2017

Horse 2342 - A 39 Year Old Man Walks Into A Toy Shop But Is Perplexed And Perturbed By What He Finds Lurking Inside

At the weekend, Mrs Rollo drove down the motorway to a toy shop, to do some Christmas shopping for our nephew who was born this year. Not having any children of our own, I haven't had much of a need to venture into a toy shop in a very long time, save for looking at board games. I certainly haven't needed to look at toys for very young children ever before and to be honest, I'm quite daunted by the process.
Driving down the motorway is perfectly fine and indeed a joy but going to a shop which I feel like an impostor and a great git, is decidedly unpleasant. This is yet another aspect of life which I feel like an anachronism. I'm sure that I was built for the late Victorian era but for some hitherto unknown reason, was placed in the late twentieth and early twenty first century. To wit:
When I was a wee lad, toys for very small children were either things that they could bite and things that they could hurl across the room violently. This usually meant that very small children had things like teddy bears, teething rings, wooden blocks and things like stacking cups.
Now I completely understand that in the twenty first century that everything will be branded to the eyeballs, and that children's toys are on the whole more colourful than the rest of the world but I did not expect to see what I saw at the weekend.

The first thing that I definitely did not expect to see was the unbelievable amount of things that make noise and have coloured lights. Even as long as twenty years ago, child psychologists were starting to make the connection between flashing and coloured lights and the onset of ADHD in those children who have a predisposition. Of course it would be completely hypocritical of me and very much remiss for me not to see the tremendous irony of my tapping away on a tablet computer to write this but the point remains that simply by walking about and seeing all the things on sale, I probably ended up with both ADHD and diabetes just by looking at them. One can not walk around and not witness the impossible visual saccharin that was going on, and I would not be surprised if the World Health Organisation classified all toy shops in first world countries as public health emergencies.

The next thing that I noticed was the sheer volume of brands and things with either television or film tie ins. I can only assume that Dora the Explorer has finished exploring because she was long gone, but in her place was a myriad of small animals that had television shows on either Nick Jr or CBeebies according to the packaging. I have no idea what The Paw Patrol is, nor what that show with the kid and his small pig was. I have a vague idea of what Iggle Piggle and In The Night Garden is but I am completely lost for words at describinyg what the heck that green dinosaur thing was.
Disney have apparently rebooted The Lion King with something called The Lion Guard, and I'm still unhappy to report that the ubiquity that is Frozen, still hurtles along like an out of control juggernaut.
There also seems to be something of a renaissance for reboots from the 1980s with My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake making a return to the toy shelves. I shudder to think that when 1990s echo nostalgia hits, that there's going to be an echo of the Tellytubbies and a whole new generation will be weirded out by a creepy looking baby staring out of the sun. Where's Skeletor when you need him?

As I walked around more, I was shocked to discover that you can buy a pushchair for carrying around your sprogs at a price which is more than a second hand car. To put on that in perspective, that means that if you parked your Commodore out in the car park, you could double its value by putting a pram in the boot. You could buy two kids bicycles, lash them together with some children's furniture and effectively build your own four seat pedal car and still have at least $500 change from the price of one of these pushchairs.
It makes perfect sense that a toy shop should carry baby clothes but I don't understand why there is some kind of excessive need to make children's wear deliberately obnoxious. I saw slogans on some baby clothes which would not have been acceptable on a big person's t-shirt; so I don't understand why they were magically acceptable on a small child, except to think that maybe it's all right because they can't read?

I was heartened to see that the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe is still in the stores, as is the obligatory aisle of vomit inducing pinkness which is in every toy store; where Barbie is still reigning as queen. I was also impressed that the toy doll aisle now includes dolls of colour, instead of just some weird leftover notion of the White Australia policy. The perennial heroes of Batman and Darth Vader are still in the toy store and it looks like Pikachu has joined the firmament of eternal merchandise. You can still buy everyone's favourite argument inducing holiday board game Monopoly and being summer in Australia, the whole front half of the store was devoted to inflatable everything. If you want a giant inflatable strip of bacon, there was one there for you to buy.

I'm kind of glad that I don't have to walk into a toy store all that often. In my ill-thought out opinion and entirely ungrounded in fact or research, the best toys ever are still soft toys which kids give personalities to, things like lego which build their imaginations and minds, cars and trucks for playing outside in the dirt, and balls which are for kicking and throwing and running around with.
I'm pretty sure that I would have preferred the days when everything was made of wood and when the paint was made with lead. Give a child a heap of blocks, a shovel and a bucket and tell them to play outside.

November 20, 2017

Horse 2341 - Honda Needs To Go To Le Mans Or Go Home

Last week, Honda made the official statement that their engines are "decent enough to compete in Formula One" and that they "are happy with the progress shown so far". I don't know if Honda are necessarily the most objective of observers here and I would rather take the opinion of McLaren driver Fernando Alonso who has frequently described the Honda engines in the back of his car by the use of four letter expletives.

Honda's engines in Formula One have been nothing short of abysmal. They've been hopelessly underpowered and unreliable and Fernando Alonso wishing Toro Rosso all the best of luck for the 2018 season, has the ring of someone wishing a Merry Christmas to a turkey. It's little wonder that Carlos Sainz Jr jumped ship this year because if a Honda powered Toto Rosso manages to win even so much as a single point next year, I will be surprised.

In the case of Honda, they arrived at the current set of rules late. In the the two seasons thanks they've been running the turbocharged hybrid cars, they've always been quite a bit down on performance. The main problems that Formula One presents are that there are neither enough days of testing permitted in a year; nor is there enough leeway to improve an engine if it turns out to be a monumental dud which Honda's current engine and drivetrain are. The way that the rules are currently set up, if you have an engine which is good, then that advantage is more or less permanently locked in; hence the reason why Mercedes Benz have been so dominant for so long.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else at Honda, then I would seriously consider not scaling back the engine program but expanding it to run at the toughest laboratory in the world, the Le Mans 24 Hour race.
Honda is already building the engines and so as far as that side of the equation goes, that's covered. Honda also builds cars for the Super GT series in Japan in the GT 500 class, with their NSX Concept-GT. As someone who has been enjoying the Super GT series, it seems logical to me that if Honda wants to improve the reliability of the engines, then they should run them in a theatre where they will keep on running until they fail.

This road has already been travelled down before. In the late 1970s when Renault's famous 'Yellow Teapot' earned its nickname because it kept on blowing itself to pieces in a great cloud of​ steam, Renault doubled down on their efforts and built the Renault Alpine 442. It would eventually go on to win Le Mans and in the process, they nearly became the first company to win the Formula One Driver's Championship with turbocharged engines in 1983 but were beaten to the post by BMW. Renault's Formula One effort never really took off until they found the limits of turbocharger technology by finding an even tougher laboratory to run in.

My solution would be for Honda to build a variant of their Formula One engine and put it in either the LMP1 or LMP2 class at Le Mans, or at least run it in a GT3 car in the Spa 24 Hour race and see where the engine breaks and more importantly why. Running an engine for 24 hours is basically the equivalent of running 12 Grands Prix back to back and although there might be a step down in the peak performance demanded from the engine, that's kind of counterbalanced by the sheer scale of the undertaking.

Mind you, the other option for Honda could be to just admit that this particular iteration of their Formula One program is a disaster and they should consider just leaving Formula One again. McLaren's​ patience has been tested and broken and they will be running Renault powerplants in 2018, and I very much doubt whether Toro Rosso will be all that much of a benefit to Honda; in the same way that Honda definitely has not been a benefit to McLaren.

November 15, 2017

Horse 2340 - Delete Everything - NaNoWriMo 2017


With one press of the delete key, I destroyed fifteen days worth of words. With one single strike, the story of two brothers and two sisters, which amounted to a tad over 27,000 words, has been sent to the great Memory Hole. It was surprisingly easy.

November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That sounds daunting but it only works out to be 1667 words a day and given that I write blog posts that are longer than that, what would seem like a Herculean task, is actually not all that difficult. The thing that I have learnt after doing several of these over the years though is that although volume isn't a problem, the frustration when you know that you have something which you ultimately don't like, is immense.

50,000 words is sufficiently short enough for me to write four chapters which all follow a pretty standard sort of basic template. There's a problem, two complications and the resolution which contains either two or three loose enda which may or may not be tied up by the end. There's a definite beat to it and it's simple enough that I don't need to expend that much brain power to work it out. In that respect, writing a novel is like solving a self imposed puzzle where the solution is unknown but logical.
This year though, I've reached the half way point and have decided that I just don't care how the story ends, I don't particularly care about the characters even though they are products of my own imagination and those things added together have meant that I don't really care about ending the novel. To press the delete key on this occasion and to have all of the the words simply disappear forever is of no great loss to me.

It has however given me an interesting thought though. I wonder what great novels never existed because the author couldn't be bothered any more. Maybe if I had been someone like Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Arthur Conan Doyle or JK Rowling, where my livelihood depended on producing work, then maybe I might have seen ​the necessity of ploughing through because that would mean that I get to eat (seriously, if you read through The Pickwick Papers you get the distinct impression that Dickens was just putting words together for the sake of collecting cheques from his publishers) but because I am an amateur who has never even seen enough money to buy a cup of coffee, then the only thing that I've missed out on is perhaps a few sleeps on the train, if that.

I think that one of the reasons why I like to write so much is that I think that I have a fairly methodical internal monologue. I can put that to use for me by sticking keyboard at the end of my fingers and then watch as words flow out (but not like endless rain into a paper cup because that's an inherently idiotic idea - at some point really early on, you're going to fill up the paper cup). I also just like the way that words fit together. We probably have only a small number of words in everyday usage but we're always finding ways to make them express new ideas, or the same boring ideas in new ways. I'm sure that if I was a native Mandarin speaker, I'd find joy in the rising and falling of tone and intonation; if I was a native Italian speaker, I'd find joy in the inherent rhythm of the language; if I was a native Hindi speaker, I'd find joy in the way that it wants to tumble with pitch. Because I am either blessed or cursed with English as my native tongue, then the way that it sounds and its Meyer are both known to me, and so that we internal monologue sounds far nicer than on any occasion that I open my mouth to speak.

When you throw all of that at a story, you get something which begins to take on its own kind of life. I had a fairly good idea of how this year's novel would sound if it was read and​ getting half way through it, was enough to convince me that it wasn't worth the effort. If I had borrowed it from the library, I would have thought that it was well written but I still would have returned it before finishing it because I would have been bored by it. If you have a story which is so boring that you can't be bothered to finish writing, then you surely can not expect anyone else to bother with it either.

15 days, 27294 words, no point. This novel did not live long in the memory and so the only verdict was death by delete key. Delete.

October 31, 2017

Horse 2339 - Coca-Cola Plus Confusion

John Pemberton's​ invention of 1886 of Coca-Cola, came just before what has sometimes been called "the great binge", which was that period in history where hard drugs were readily obtainable and unregulated. As a result, everyone who had access to free money, was pretty well much on anything that they could lay their hands on. Queen Victoria was said to have had a laudenum habit, the UK went to war with China and won Hong Kong as a result of the Opium Wars and even in literature, the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes was known for taking Heroin. Coca-Cola like so many of the tonics of the day, also originally contained a hard drug; specifically cocaine. In due time, the cocaine would be taken out.
Coca-Cola became the de facto drink of World War Two when it was made available to US servicemen abroad at the price of 2 cents a bottle, which is what they could get it for back home. For the latter half of the twentieth century, Coca-Cola reigned as the ubiquitous drink of many parties and summers, and for a short time became the synonymous with a marketing war with Pepsi.
In the twenty-first century, it has lost its place as the unchallenged market leader when it comes to fizzy diabetes inducing drinks, as we've entered another kind of unregulated "binge" of so-called "energy drinks"; the most visibly famous being Red Bull. This has meant that the people at Coca-Cola have had to come up with something different and new and that's where this fits in.

I won't say that I don't know what possessed Coca-Cola to​ come up with this product but I do know that it will pass into the realm of the past with almost no lament at all, and that's a shame because it isn't all that bad.

In my not very well paid opinion, the king of coffee in a can is made by Ueshima Coffee Company and is labelled UCC. Coming in a close second is the coffee in a can made by Pokka. If you've never had coffee in a can before, it can be something of an unnerving experience but that sensation of mental calamity very quickly wears off. I expected Coca-Cola And Coffee to be as equally as weird the first time and completely normal after that. I was half wrong.
Coca-Cola And Coffee was completely normal to me from the get go and therein lies what I think is its main problem - it is dull. There's a little bit of a brain disconnect when you experience the two flavours of Coca-Cola and Coffee competing with each other and then the flavour is exactly what it says on the tin; it is Coca-Cola And Coffee. It's not mind numbingly amazing and it's not brain implodingly terrible. As a thing which is exactly what it purports to be, it is what it is and that's a problem.

When you buy a can of Coca-Cola, you are expecting a can of Coca-Cola. When you want a can of coffee, you are expecting a can of coffee. I can think of no point in my life, either before or after why I'd want both at the same time. It would be like going to a café and ordering Coca-Cola in it, or alternatively going to a place that served cold drinks and asking for a Coke with coffee in it. Sure, you can do it but why would you?
I quite like Vanilla Coke because that has crossed the boundary into its own territory and for that same reason, Cherry Coke has also crossed the boundary into its own territory even though nobody knows what sort of cherry that it's supposed to be. In fact I'd argue that precisely because nobody knows what sort of cherry that the cherry in Cherry Coke is, that that is the reason why it is so wonderful. Coca-Cola And Coffee isn't particularly distinctive enough to justify its own existence.

Coca-Cola And Coffee falls into that same valley of indifference as Pepsi Max and Lime. The difference with Pepsi Max and Lime is that it does have a point and that is that it is secretly calling out for a shot of Bacardi to be put into it. Coca-Cola And Coffee seems like a solution to a problem which nobody knew that they had and nobody asked for either. It is like the key pocket on a pair of Stubbies that no key can ever fit into; yes it is a thing but why? It as though someone at a board meeting thought that it was a good idea but no A/B testing was done afterwards.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that it is unpleasant at all. If it was a hot afternoon, you would be quite happy to have it as a cold drink but that's because it is a cold drink rather than anything else. You absolutely not spit it out in a giant comedy spray which can be posted on YouTube later. In fact if anything, it will register remarks like "Hmm" and "Oh" as you try to determine what it is; then having done so, you'll be left with a quizzical expression as you ponder why but come away with no answer.

I don't hate Coca-Cola And Coffee, I don't love Coca-Cola And Coffee. I have no strong feelings one way or the other. This is a thing which in the year 2037 people will say "that was a thing" and someone will get completely hyped for in a wave of faux nostalgia for a thing. It will be like Leed Lemonade, or Sunkist orange. It will be was a thing and no more.