On the constructive side, I have backed up the useful data from this hard disk because it was starting to make bad rattling noises. Another problem is that all my .avi players have stopped playing all my .avi files, except one which is 2.32 MB large. I am not sure whether it is a file size problem - not many small .avi files to try this on - a slow video card problem or a video player problem. The current theory is the installation of Civ II which has its own video playback system may have screwed things up.
Another constructive thing I have done is found two really good Christmas presents and one nearly really good Christmas present to give. Normally I can give about three really good (not necessarily really expensive, but really appropriate) Christmas presents a year and the rest are ones I've struggled with. I request that you make a wish list, just in case you're one of the people to whom I want to give but am struggling with a present idea.
Oh yes - if you rang me on October 23rd, you're on my Christmas card list. (No reciprocation is required - or, rather, you have already got your reciprocation in first.) The contrapositive (?) doesn't apply - just because you didn't ring doesn't mean that you aren't on it. I will be digging out your addresses accordingly, but you could make things easier for me by supplying a good postal address for you by private e-mail. Unspamtrapped e-mail address in a LiveJournal? Here come 200 more spams. Hey ho.
I got a helium-filled balloon on my birthday. Two and a half weeks later, enough helium has leaked out that the balloon has difficulty supporting its own weight any more. I feel a bit like that. (I do like helium balloons and will be contriving some way to fill the Nimbus 2003 game room with three thousand of 'em. Joke.) I also feel like bringing things up to date on a number of previously discussed topics:
The 35th Chess Olympiad finished today. After fourteen rounds of competition, the England open ("men's") team, expected to finish sixth, came... seventh. (Technically, tied for fifth-to-seventh, but the weakest schedule in the tie.) Russia won, but Hungary kept it closer than expected. Armenia rather overperformed to get the bronze and the Georgian team will be happy with fourth.
Let's review the performances of the team one by one. Michael Adams had a bad loss fairly early on, but finished on 8½/13. The loss turned what would otherwise have been a pretty good performance into a merely so-so one. Nigel Short, almost always on board two, turned in an excellent 9/13 and may be contending for a "Best Board Two" medal. The difference between Michael and Nigel is that Michael is at his best in the highest level of competition; while England were never quite high enough in the standings to take on Russia and so we didn't get the Adams-Kasparov competition between the Olympiad's two highest-rated players, Adams isn't the sort of ruthless machine who can tear apart relatively easy meat. In comparison, Short is at his best against the moderately-rated opposition you tend to face as an England second board and a little out of his depth against the top stars.
Our top two boards score 17½/26 but the bottom half only got 16/30. 18-year-old Luke McShane worked very hard to pick up 6½/11, mostly on board four, and has shown that he's likely to eventually make it to the world top 100, but maybe not soon - there are rumours that he's off to university next year and one wonders whether he might be set to continue the strong Oxford chess tradition. (Maybe even the strong Keble chess tradition?) Jonathan Speelman probably won't be writing home about his 5/9 as board three; Stuart Conquest scored 3/6 when filling in as required and player-captain John Emms could only pick up 1½/4. Our young ladies team didn't really seem to show what they were capable of.
The Olympiad is always a pretty draw-ish sort of event - teams quite often seem to agree upon four quick draws to save their energy. In short, this was another Olympiad: a few unlikely heroes, a lot of performances to expectation and lots of draws. For more information, see the not-particularly-great official site or the more interesting (but still slightly behind) unofficial performance rating data site.
In the Louis Vuitton Cup (America's Cup qualifiers) syndicate GBR Challenge rather faded in the second round-robin and tie-broke down to sixth place out of nine. They were some way off the top four which would have put them into the "double-chance fleet" and missed out on fifth place which would have got them their choice of opponent in the "single-chance fleet". So, in short, what they need to do to make it to the America's Cup is beat Team Dennis Conner, beat the loser of OracleBMW-OneWorld, beat the winner of the other single-chance fleet repechage round, beat the loser of the double-chance fleet final and beat the winner of the double-chance fleet final for good measure. Four best-of-seven-match wins and a best-of-nine-match win. Easy, really. Nope, syndicate GBR Challenge suck and are hosed.
But what's this? Why, it's the Chris Dickson Exception coming into play - it's the reason why searching Google News for Chris Dickson reveals some results! Oracle (technically OracleBMWRacing) boss Larry Ellison stood down from the crew of his own boat and brought on super-sub Kiwi yachtsman Chris Dickson, who has turned things round and steered them into second place. OracleBMW's opponents OneWorld may be starting to fade already. This space will be watched further. Forget GBR Challenge, come on Chris Dickson!
calliaume, lambertman and <lj not-user="Aaron Solomon"> have kindly explained the USA's NCAA college football system to me over the years - and it has taken years for me to start to get to understand it. Here's the quick version as far as I understand it.
There are lots and lots of universities in the USA. Some of them are small, some of them are middle-sized and some of them are big. The big ones are the most prestigious and get called Division I. (There are something like 300 of them.) Some of them award scholarships to people who play gridiron football well and some of them don't. The ones which don't are called Division I-AA, the ones which do are more prestigious in football terms and get called Division I-A. There are something like 117 of them. 111 of these 117 teams are divided into 11 regional-ish parallel divisions called Conferences. Six of these conferences do not suck and are eligible for the Bowl Championship Series. The non-sucky conferences are Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific-10 and Southeastern. (The Big Ten conference has eleven teams, for historical reasons.) Notre Dame University is also eligible for the Bowl Championship Series, just because, even though they're too cool to be in any conference at all. A list of teams and conferences is available.
(Aside: I can think of some universities which are relatively famous - Caltech and MIT - but which don't appear to be either I-A or I-AA. Are they just not Division I, or do they appear under different names, or do they just not play football at all? Looks like MIT are Division II and Caltech just don't play at all. Wow.)
Anyway, the teams tend to play against most of the other teams in their conference and a few of the teams in other conferences as well. (For instance, the university of Miami also plays the universities of Florida, Florida State and Florida A&M, none of whom are in their conference, presumably by tradition.) Ranking charts are drawn up by formula to identify the 25 best I-A teams in the nation. There are 28 end-of-season games played for trophies called bowls. 56 teams each fill one of these spots. (In order to be eligible, you must have won at least 50% of your games over the season.) For instance, the winners of Conference USA and Mountain West, two relatively weak conferences, play each other for the Liberty Bowl; the Peach Bowl sees the #4 team in the Southeastern conference take on the #3 team in the Atlantic Coast conference and so forth.
Four of these bowls are special: the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl. According to the Bowl Championship Series rules, one of these four bowls will be declared the National Championship game, by rota. The two top-ranked teams in the nation will face each other in the National Championship game. Then the remainder of these four bowls are filled up; in theory, the Atlantic Coast and Big East champions play each other for the Orange Bowl, the Big Ten and Pacific-10 champions play each other for the Rose Bowl, the Southeastern champions play someone else suitably qualified for the Sugar Bowl and the Big 12 champions play someone else suitably qualified for the Fiesta Bowl. However, these four bowls are subject to the requirements of the National Championship first and foremost. The remaining slots are filled ad lib by suitably qualified candidates, principally according to the ranking list.
I will compare this against the British University Sports Association's organisational systems at a later date.
Good luck to all my friends who are making continued progress in NaNoWriMo. I can think of one who is ahead of time, one who is about spot on, two who are very slightly behind and I'm not sure about the other three at all. (Quite a few /friendsfriends are doing this as well.) I am confident that you will all have the stamina, guts, determination and creativity to see you through and complete impressive 50,000 word novels by the end of the month. One good day can easily make up for a couple of bad ones.
I went to the optician the other day. (No, this isn't the first line of a joke.) The result was something which I wasn't quite expecting: while the strengths of the lenses required remain roughly the same (I am -7.25 in one eye and -7.50 in the other, which is apparently rather strong, though one of my friends has stronger lenses) the degree of astigmatism has got rather more severe - now apparently -0.75 in one eye and -1.25 in the other. Astigmatism is caused by the cornea not being spherical; roughly, my spectacles need to be relatively thicker in some directions than others. I suppose it should have occurred to me that as well as general eyesight theoretically getting worse it's quite possible for this astigmatism to get worse as well. Previously the opticians had never mentioned it, so presumably it was not particularly severe in the past and is relatively severe now. This explains the test where an extra lens is placed over the spectacles from varying directions, whose purpose I had not previously understood.
The appointment was conducted by an Indian-looking lady, fairly plain-looking but quite attractive in her way. She wasn't wearing spectacles herself, contrary to a theory from huskyteer (I think?), but she could well have been wearing contacts instead. She did have a tendency to move her head very close to mine while getting me to look in specific directions, which was rather intimate (and not unpleasantly so!) in that I could feel her soft breath upon my skin but did sometimes block me from seeing what it was that I needed to see.
Before the test, I asked for a measurement of the visual accuity of my eyes uncorrected. By standing six metres away from the screen I couldn't read a thing, nor three metres away. Standing one metre away I could read the second line with one eye and the third line with the other, thus making me 1/36 in one eye and 1/24 in the other. (Seems like quite a difference for what turned out to be only -0.25 in lens, but it was a very quick test.) The reason for this is that I cynically wonder whether I am visually handicapped enough for the Paralympics. According to the International Blind Sport Association classifications, category B3 is for those with "From visual acuity of above 2/60 up to visual acuity of 6/60 and/or visual field of more than 5 degrees and less than 20 degrees." However, it also states that "All classifications in both eyes with best correction. (i.e. All athletes who use contact or corrective lenses must wear them for classification, whether they intend to compete wearing them or not.)" which makes it clear that these classifications are for people with such strong visual handicap that even the strongest and most accurate/appropriate corrective lenses possible still leave their vision considerably short. So now I know.
The other unusual thing which took part in this test was a "peripheral vision" examination, which I hadn't done before and which was rather fun. Basically you look into a white box, one eye at a time. A little red light moves around the screen, which you follow with your eye. Near the red light, zero to four dim green lights will flash on. You press a button once for each green light you have seen. Eventually the green lights get further and further away from the red light. If you can see green lights which are some distance away from the red light then evidently your peripheral vision is fine. Mine was, which was nice.
So to purchasing spectacles. Unfortunately the prescription is so strong that specially thin lenses are recommended. These lenses are not cheap. Boots, who are doing a 2-for-1 deal at the moment, suggest that two pairs of thin coated lenses are likely to cost GBP 187.50 and two pairs of ultra-thin coated lenses would be something like GBP 247.50. This is on top of the cost of the frame, which could be anything from GBP 10 to GBP 200, but they will give you a second frame from a limited range free. Currently I'm wondering just how Dan Radcliffe a look I can get away with, or how Dan Radcliffe a look I want to get away with, and whether it would make things easier if I asked for a John Lennon look. You know what I'm getting at here?
Iain Weaver doesn't put any photos of himself upon his site. To be fair, he doesn't look as attractive as Melissa Joan Hart, though (from our single meeting) he's got nothing to be ashamed of. However, when it comes to explanations of the significance of Trotsky and the meaning of "right-wing Trotskyite", I'll take DaWeaver Explains It All (see the Wednesday 6th November entry) over a Clarissa counterpart any day of the week. Tremendous research; thanks for and congratulations on what I suspect will be the definitive short work on this rather specialised subject. Many thanks also to athena_arena and company for another perspective on the same issue.
Not just one but two - count 'em, two! - new budget airlines are starting in hte UK very soon: the smartly-named Jet2 who are not even slightly inspired by the US breakout hit JetBlue at all (oh no, no, no, no, no, no, yes) and the unwieldily-named FlyGlobeSpan.com. The latter is a hobblingly bad name and not just because giving your company a name which ends in .com is a very 2000 thing to do - and we all know how that turned out. :-(
Jet2 will be based at Leeds Bradford Airport, which is the third closest passenger airport to here after Teesside and Newcastle. I have slightly mixed feelings about this: while I'm glad that there is some more choice relatively near here and the Yorkshire area could certainly do with being better served than the 90-minute-plus treks to Liverpool (for EasyJet) or East Midlands (for Go's services now being operated by EasyJet and for bmibaby) it does make it harder to believe that Teesside might eventually get its own budget airline. LBIA is still going to be a bit of a bear to get to, as well - Leeds is an hour and a half away by even a fast train and the bus transfer at Leeds is tricky. For example, the Scotsman's UK Travel Planner estimates the total journey from Middlesbrough rail station to LBIA as "three hours if you're lucky" whereas Middlesbrough rail station to Newcastle Airport is easily feasible within two hours thanks to the Tyne and Wear Metro. All the same, I shall be looking at Jet2 with interest; they announce their destinations later this month and launch in February.
FlyGlobeSpan.com are bravely starting off in the first place with two bases: Glasgow Prestwick - which is looking positively greedy with its three budget airlines - and Edinburgh. They might well only have one aeroplane based at each airport, with a second chartered for Wednesdays; the Prestwick plane will fly from Glasgow to Malaga, Nice or Rome and back in the mornings and a quick hop to Palma and back in the afternoons. The Edinburgh plane only makes one return journey a day to Malaga, Nice or Barcelona. Prices start at GBP 37.50 one way, excluding airport taxes, which is starting to look a bit not-so-budget after all, despite the budget service levels.
This brings the number of UK budget airlines - if we count RyanAir as UK, which is technically inaccurate but considering the size of their Stansted operation, practically correct - to a whopping nine, which is starting to look dangerously like many. (It'll drop to eight soon when the Easyjet takeover of go becomes practically complete as well as organisationally complete. Some people would count flybe out of the category for offering business class service, for offering transatlantic code-sharing with Continental, for not being all that cheap most of the time and for basically being structured like a full-service airline rather than a budget one.) It's always rather sad when businesses turn out to be unsuccessful and fold, even when they get rescued or bought out by a competitor. buzz have announced a hub in Bournemouth; both buzz and bmibaby are expected to announce another UK base in the coming year, too. This is all adding up to the amount of budget air travel available in the UK being Rather A Lot. I do hope this doesn't turn into a sector crash of ISP industry proportions.
Strange dream last night. I was swimming in a fairly small swimming pool, possibly half Olympic size. This is unusual, for I am a reluctant and weak (bordering on non-) swimmer in real life. (This is due to an abnormally low lung capacity. You can tell this from the shape of my chest, if you're ever "lucky" enough to see it.) I could swim widths of both front crawl and backstroke in my dream, which is definitely dream territory. Also in the pool was a former president of France. Anyway, the pool got busier and busier and we were restricted to the amount of it we could use, because apparently six games of cricket were taking place at once in the deep end of this small pool. Later still in the dream, the president of France died - I swear I had nothing to do with it - and the first we heard about it was on the TV news broadcast pool-side. The headmaster from my old school was there and he made everyone deliver a brief eulogy. That's a strange dream, all right.