Nov 26, 2010

"Choose your own adventure"

Why do 25 men (15 on active duty) cause so much disruption in the lives of some grown men and women? Some of the stories sent in to The Guardian's over-by-over coverage(OBO) of the 2nd day of the first Ashes Test in Brisbane:
"Choose your own adventure" says Jay Buckley, "You are at work, somewhere in Sydney. Everyone is watching the cricket. Australia are fighting back. A gripping encounter is unfolding before your eyes. Your wife is waiting downstairs for you to drive her into the city for a drinks function where no-one will be watching, nor listening to the cricket. Do you (a) be a good husband, go downstairs and talk to her about her day; or (b) man-up and watch the rest of the session?"
A Pom, clearly too lilly livered to use his own name, writes: "Live and work in Melbourne. To my eternal shame I dodged cricket training last night for fear of the repercussions of Siddle's hat-trick, combined with my pre-series arrogance. A happy Saturday depends on this last session – otherwise an afternoon of sharp wit and piercing, astute sarcasm from my Aussie teammates awaits...Cough cough."
At 168-5, England are in good shape" says Darren Paterson. "As is the lass sitting opposite me who jumps and jiggles in all the right places every time the Aussies score a four. So I am in two minds: I want to see wickets, but I love to "watch" the fours." Good grief.
I"'m in Brisbane, sadly at work, reading your commentary," says Will Straw. "Although I've been caught several times reading 'cause I keep yelling out "NOO!" everytime Australia loses a wicket. Sadly this has happened five times today." That's a schoolboy OBO error Will, though I appreciate that sometimes a man just can't help himself.
"As I excitedly shimmied out of bed this morning at 5am my missus squeaked 'you're obsessed'," says Stuart Wilson, another one like Millings. "She is, as always, correct, but she doesn't understand. Watching England play is an obsession, a rollercoaster ride and at the same time the most the most special and painful (clean) experience a man can have. I wouldn't have it any other way. Enjoy the coming weeks, Rob!" Actually, re: your use of missus, why don't women refer to 'my mister'? Maybe they do, and have the same jokey conversations with their friends. "Look, girls, I'd love to stay out and nail 12 pinot grigios, but I haven't got a pass out from the mister," and so on. Maybe not. I don't know what I'm talking about. It's been a long night.
TEA Andy is on now. Please send your emails to him at Honestly, a man slogs through two all-but-fruitless hours and then Smyth waltzes in and sees four wickets in a session. It's enough to make you sick.
"It's 7.55am in Dubai and a clear, crisp 24 degrees," says Sarah Bacon. "Am watching the Channel 9 coverage via OSN Arabia but couldn't enjoy this properly without the OBO." Awwww. Actually, I am fascinated by people who have lots of different coverage on at the same time. I don't know how you manage it. The last I heard Naylor had TMS, Sky, Test Match Sofa, the Guardian Ashes blog, seven different OBOs and Channel 9 on the go - and he was doing unpaid work for all of them.
"I really thought the hat trick on day one and the duck from Strauss meant this series was set to unfold like most Ashes Down Under," says Jacob Geiger. "But seeing the Aussies collapse after lunch here has reminded me that maybe all their pre-series troubles were not a fluke. Thank goodness this is a cracker of a match, because I'm in a turkey-induced food coma here after celebrating America's Thanksgiving holiday here in Virginia. Cricket is a salve after a long day with the in-laws."
"My mate's Sky service failed a last-minute fitness test (who knew that interference from the alarm on the shop next door would render Sky Sports useless post-midnight?) scuppering our plans to watch all night," says Lee Rodwell. "I've ended up in the Shepherd's Bush Walkabout instead though which I think might be the only public space in London with all-night coverage? The atmosphere is surprisingly serene and civilised. Or at least it was... Some guy just got thrown out by the weary-looking staff.
"Evening, Rob," says Alan Cooper. "Following along from the USA. The BBC forgot to block TMS yesterday so I had a lovely time listening to the commentary. Today they remembered. I wish someone would explain why they do it — it's not as if anyone else is offering commentary, and I would gladly pay a reasonable fee to listen. Bah! Still, I always have you!! Sorry, did I ruin the moment there?" It's the most moving paean to the OBO I've ever heard.
"Unfortunately, I don't have a TV so it's illegal feeds all the way. What with TMS being banned in Canada (bastards) the only coverage I can get is apparently from India and I am getting insane advertising throughout. The pick of the bunch though, if you'll pardon the pun, is for Mango frooti juice drink (can you have a bunch of mangoes? Whatever). Here it is. It's like the Prisoner with fruit. Is that not some f****d up idea? What a way to scare the bejesus out of someone. Bit like a bouncer from Broad."
Test cricket, will you marry me? This is true love. It's just a perfect thing, the most magnificent, nuanced sporting format, and still with (for the most part) an oldfangled integrity at odds with almost everything else in top-level sport. A classical, elegant beauty. I adore the thing. And that's even before you factor in that special, sexy little outfit we call the Ashes. It's looking particularly good just now, because Australia are just starting to fight back after that traumatic half-hour. Finn is a bit too short again and Hussey swivel-pulls behind square for four. This is such good cricket. Hussey is a fiercely tough bugger. I don't trust his bad form at all. Even if he'd gone binary for 17 innings in a row, I'd half expect him to get runs. "Millings is indeed a phony," says Phil Sawyer. "I sit here divorced, alone, and in a flat full of comics (the printed variety - I'm not hosting Live At The Apollo). Now that's proper OBO credentials." When can you start?
Hallelujah! Up goes the finger. Katich is given out LBW. But the batsmen consult and decide to refer it. Oh mercy me. What have we done to deserve this? The replays show the ball was going over the top and the decision is overturned. Katich bats on. What a kick in the guts. And it gets worse. Katich flicks the next ball away for four to fine leg. I've opened the Moster Munch after all. They taste like defeat. "Over here in France I'm quite keen to go to bed," says Michael Plevin, "Can you manufacture me a wicket (or two) in the next couple of minutes? I've got a busy(ish) day tomorrow and it's getting a little late. I really have to go to bed soon." Would it be better if I just lied to you about all this?
While talking about cricket, the Indians squabble noisily, the Sri Lankans beat some drums, the West Indians are sarcastically blasé, the Aussies tell you how good they are, but only the English *suffer*, in the best traditions of true love.

Nov 22, 2010

Simplicity through Complexity: great information visualisation approach to problems

Eric Berlow, an ecologist, has a fine TED talk (or micro-talk) where he takes an example of how we could use information visualisation to get to grips with seemingly complex (and perhaps complicated) problems. The example features the notorious Afghanistan graphic that came in for great scorn (rather unfairly, I thought) and as an easy means of Powerpoint bashing.

The video is only about 3-4 minutes long, and Berlow makes his point very succintly.

Nov 21, 2010

Run Out at the Asian Games

Read today that Preeja Sreedharan and Sudha Singh won golds (10000m and steeplechase) with Kavita Raut finishing behind Preeja for a silver at the Asian Games. This news made the sports fan in me very happy - it's been a while since individual women athletes scooped up some medals at a major tournament. Not yet close to the 80s of course, but that these hard-working athletes could do it in an era of general Chinese domination is particularly heart-warming. (BTW, where are all the post-Ma Junren Chinese long-distance runners?)

Contrast this with the BCCI opting not to send any cricket teams to the event. This is particularly galling on the women's side: the team is ranked much higher than any of the two eventual finalists (Pakistan and Bangladesh) and a gold medal should have been as easy as taking a single after the ball was hit between Arjuna Ranatunga and Sourav Ganguly.

For the Indians, coming by gold at the 2010 Asian Games have been more difficult than looking for it in Bappi Lahiri's bank locker. The women's team say they were keen to go to Guangzhou (as it is, they have very few sporting engagements each year) but the BCCI didn't choose to send a team. Perhaps the BCCI is busy with the various IPL and WADA litigations. It is also too busy to understand that, after the various IPL fiascos and the match-fixing scandals to have hit the world of cricket, it has a PR standing just above the likes of A.Raja. A cricket gold medal could have been just the happy boost that the game could have done with in India. It is hard to spot any logic in the BCCI's actions unless this is part of a large conspiracy to undermine the inclusion of the sport in future Asian or Olympic Games. Very absurd, but seems very BCCI.

Or is it just that for wise-old-BCCI, all that is gold does not glitter?

Nov 16, 2010

Facebook's new messages system

I've always wondered why, in the age of online handles and content-based routing and web identities, do we still need to have 8+ digit numbers for phones. Since it's painful to remember more than a handful of these numbers, we end up giving them useful aliases on our mobile devices or address books. Instead, why can't we simply have something like a "name telecom provider" interface?

Which is why I was intrigued to see that very same point being made in Facebook's announcement of its Facebook Messages revamp. It's very clever, it's very social, and it is likely to take Facebook to people who didn't care to be part of that ecosystem. When GMail brought in a fresh look at e-mail, it was typically Google: fast, usable, but geeky (tags instead of folders, email classification, attachment reminders). This, in comparison, is social-like-hell (for us not-so-social types) - separate inboxes for friends vs others (v. simple - why didn't others implement this?), the promise of replaying your interactions with a person over a lifetime, and convergence of email/IM/sms.

The announcement also suggests that they spoke to high-schoolers to understand what they thought about messaging, which is interesting. So Twitter is for the 30+ crowd and the hare-brained-celebs, GMail for those who discovered Google in their twenties, but FB will evolve with teens.

I don't use FB very much, but it looks like it's just arrived on my online doorstep. Especially if this is the vision:

Relatively soon, we'll probably all stop using arbitrary ten digit numbers and bizarre sequences of characters to contact each other. We will just select friends by name and be able to share with them instantly. We aren't there yet, but the changes today are a small first step.
Zuckerberg's Social Network keeps getting wider.

(just a bunch of thoughts that struck me when I read the announcement)