Monday, 31 December 2012

Considering the Previously Unthinkable

Remember how years ago I considered Pardon The Interruption and Around The Horn to be shows I couldn't miss? For that matter, do you remember how barely a few months ago I praised Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable? Those days seem like a long time ago, because unfortunately the channel responsible for showing them in the UK, ESPN America, is becoming an unwatchable mess.

Consider the following:
  • Pardon The Interruption, possibly my favourite programme on television and for me the quickest way to catch up on the biggest American sports stories, is now effectively a glorified radio show. The highlights which still accompany the show in America are nowhere to be seen in the UK, apparently due to rights footage restrictions. Sky hold the rights to NFL games, BBC to many Tennis events, and the two share plenty of other events, such as Golf. No rights, no clips, but plenty of Kornheiser and Wilbon referring to clips that we can't see. Sad.
  • Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable relies even more heavily on clips. This appears to be the reason why it is no longer shown at all on ESPN America. Ditto for SportsCenter and SportsNation (the latter is not my cup of tea, but lots of people I know really enjoyed it).
  • Even a programme which should be immune from this nonsense isn't safe. College Gameday only covers College Football, which as far as I know is only nearly exclusively shown on ESPN America. However when Landon Donovan appeared as a guest on the show the feed was cut as the American broadcast was about to show highlights of Donovan's goal against Algeria from the 2010 World Cup.
All these rights issues are pedantic and annoying, and not just in regard to ESPN America. I don't usually subscribe to Sky Sports because for the lack of spare time I have I really cannot justify the cost, however I usually pick it up for the NFL playoffs or if Palace are due to be covered. Not anymore. I've only really watched Golf's majors for years, but the way it carved up PTI in the summer has led me to loathe it. Andy Murray may have had a magical run to the Wimbledon final, but I kept thinking about how it was destroying PTI and frankly it made me bitter and disinterested.

With my favourite programmes being destroyed what on earth am I therefore forking out £13 a month for? Frankly I don't need it, and I struggle to justify it. So with that in mind once the final College Gameday of the season is shown on January 7th I will probably cancel my subscription, at the very least until March Madness. However as that is shown online for free I will probably be quite safe to leave it until the Baseball season begins, and by that point I may have joined my Fantasy Baseball colleagues who have promoted on the basis of the quality it provides for many years now.

(And no, it doesn't help when filler time is taken up with things like the American Hockey League and College Volleyball, low quality events in front of sparse and disinterested audiences. Ugh.)

The sad part of this for me is that all this takes to resolve this is rights of highlights to be shown on a few programmes. There obviously aren't problems with this in America, so why does it take place here? According to what I could find the problem appears to be with the UK version of ESPN America also being shown in Scandinavia. I'm not sure why that affects the UK and in particular highlights being edited out of shows. Goodness only knows what would happen if they allowed highlights to be shown in regard to these events and consequently make me interested in them? I'm not proud to admit it, but a few years ago I even took a partial interest in American Idol because of how keenly Tony Kornheiser argued about who should leave each week.

Showing highlights of different events effectively works as free advertising. A clip of something amazing on one of these shows might lead to me actually watching it on a different channel. Whoever makes these decisions, you may think you're doing yourselves a favour by denying these rights, but all it does it get my back up and the remote control handed over to my wife.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Thoughts On The US Election

Given that it was what I went to University to study, I thought I should put some thoughts into the American Presidential election. I suspect this is of interest to about two people, so just humour me on this occasion, okay?

The Result: Not really a surprise to me, as over the course of my lifetime only two incumbent Presidents have failed to secure a second term. In each case they had massive black marks on their résumé, Jimmy Carter with fuel shortages and the ongoing Iran hostage crises, and George Bush senior with the infamous "No new taxes" pledge. Obama avoided anything of that magnitude, and consequently his re-election wasn't a surprise. Personally it had been what I had expected once the death of Osama Bin Laden had been confirmed.

I Want To Vote With The Cool Kids: I haven't been able to monitor American politics the way I once did (having two young children will do that to you), but I've been a bit surprised by all the pro-Obama remarks I see from people I follow on Twitter around the world and by colleagues in the office. It reminds me of how people felt about Bill Clinton, and in case you needed a reminder, he wasn't perfect by any means.

In a corresponding manner, I don't see much substance behind why people like Obama. There certainly seems to be a dose of relief that he isn't George W. Bush, and you can see that he presents himself well and engages with voters in groundbreaking fashions. All of these things do not necessarily make a successful politician though, and regardless of what you think of him over 58 million votes (over 47% of the overall total) went to Mitt Romney (who certainly didn't strike me as an overly-impressive opponent).

Now maybe it is because I've never been one of the cool kids, but when everyone rushes to tell me how good someone is I tend to be a bit sceptical. 58 million people, for whatever reason, don't share that opinion, and on the global horizon I think that tends to get overlooked.

You're Not Helping Guys: One of the most staggering matters which I couldn't help but notice was all the furore about Barack Obama's place of birth. Remembering that a President must be born within American lands (and having remembered pointing this out to someone who once asked if Arnold Schwarznegger would one day be President) I found the ongoing witch-hunt by Obama opponents to be embarrassing. I would have suspected that Obama would never have been allowed to take charge if he was not born on American soil, which to me means that continuing to cover this ground four years after his first election victory appear churlish at best and desperate at worst.

However the worst part of this for me is that it screams out "This is the only thing we can pin on you," or if you prefer, "We have no other problems with you." Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case, so why persist with one seemingly settled matter if you have other important matters that need to be dealt with? Why not ask about more important matters instead of wasting your time, and by extension your credibility, by repeatedly asking someone to confirm where they were born?

The Least Important Matter: At least the Homeland titles don't need to change for another four years, although personally I'm still waiting for someone to put together an alternative version of this with nonsensical quotes from Bush and co. within it.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Low Down to Nigel Martyn's Left

On a Monday night in November 1992 I sat on my bed at home, watching Palace take on Arsenal live on Sky. With the score at 1-1 ex-Palace favourite Ian Wright lashed home a left-footed shot to secure a 2-1 win for Arsenal. After the game I bristled during his interview, as he watched a replay of the goal and pointed out that low down to Nigel Martyn's left was his weak spot.

I felt that this was a step too far. Why tell everyone that this particular spot was the Palace's goalkeeper's weakness? It seemed like rubbing salt into the wounds of defeat somehow. In reality Wright was probably only guilty of being too honest, as in all likelihood this particular note on Nigel Martyn would have been on scouting reports (or equivalent documentation) at just about every Premiership club.

In recent months I have begun to think that there should be more honesty between people. I think it could certainly make things easier. Most people already know and silently acknowledge the friends who aren't really friends, the other halves who a peer group doesn't approve of and vice-versa, and much more besides. However no-one talks about it, because for some reason that's an unwritten rule. Somehow discussing these things honestly is seen to be more damaging than letting these things fester in private, and so people go along with their daily lives, not really knowing the full extent of what people think of them and allowing things to somehow be worse than they otherwise would be.

I'm not sure quite why people avoid difficult questions in this manner, but it isn't something I'm immune from. I know there are questions regarding friends and family that I'll never have answers to, and more than anything that's because I don't really want to know the answer. It's a little bit like this:

Yeah, the truth isn't pleasant sometimes, and so it becomes easier to live with lies, fantasies, misinformation and plain ol' ignorance. However if I'm realistic being more honest could have had much more positive effects upon my family. As I mentioned previously, there has been quite a history of people not being altogether truthful down through my Dad's side of the family, for all kinds of reasons. It extends to this day, as I remember my Aunt saying in a less than rhetorical manner after my Grandmother's funeral, "One day I'll find out what happened between you and your Dad," to me. Here's a revolutionary idea, why don't you ask me? Trust me, if I don't want to tell you, I'll let you know.

Here's another example. When I was very young my Grandfather (again, on my Dad's side of the family) was taken into hospital for an emergency operation. He didn't come out of the anaesthetic correctly and died shortly afterwards. That's how I found out that I had the exact same allergy to this particular anaesthetic that my grandfather did. Now consider these pieces of information in regard to the admittedly little I know about these events:

  • My Mum said that she got me tested for the same allergy after what happened to "a family friend". Well, strictly speaking I guess you could argue he wasn't family to her by that point, but he was a blood relative to me. I assume my Mum's best intentions were to not hurt 1) Me, 2) My widowed grandmother, 3) Herself (my Mum thought a lot of my grandfather).
  • Out of respect to my Grandmother and not wishing to hurt her, I never asked her about the whole episode.
  • After my Grandmother died and I asked my Aunt about this, she struggled and just about struck together enough information to figure out this probably happened in 1979. Let's just say I'm slightly cynical about this, I'm not sure anyone who has lost a parent would forget the date.

On reflection this all seems rather pointless. I could very easily reel off the dates my maternal, paternal and step Grandmother died. I have never been told the dates that any of my Grandfathers died. Deaths happen, why not at least acknowledge them instead of leaving questions? On a similar vein, I already see my in-laws trying to cover up to my daughters that their Uncle has two failed marriages. I know my in-laws won't like that it when I tell them the truth, however kindly I may do so. Covering up something like that is just lying under a different guise. People make mistakes, and ultimately people die. There is no sense in pretending otherwise.

With all this in mind I hope that in the future if my daughters have things on their mind when they are older and they want to ask me difficult questions they will, and that if I make a mistake in any direction I do so in the form of being too honest instead of either withholding information or worse. Maybe they don't want to know what the equivalent of low down to their left is, but having the full information probably leaves them in a better position to deal with it. Personally I'll probably carry on just the way I am, and have my opinions on one side of my family shaped accordingly by it.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Interesting Times for Forum Owners

Interesting times in the world of forums at the moment. I've written about being a vBulletin customer previously, but now that time might come to an end. Internet Brands, the company who own the rights to vBulletin, have announced plans to release vBulletin 5. However there are two problems with this from my perspective:

  1. A demonstration copy of this has been released, and to say the least it isn't very impressive, mostly in terms of performance.
  2. The cost to upgrade is $249. As a UK resident I would need to add 20% VAT onto that, and even with a discount for upgrading it is still a significant financial hit for someone like me. Paying for vBulletin 4 was a stretch, the cost for vBulletin 5 might have finally priced me out.

In addition to those two points there is also what they mean together. As a customer why reward an inferior product by paying to use it? The only way as a customer to show that a product is not good enough is to not buy it, that is the only thing a company will understand.

From what I've seen the most viable option is a product called Xenforo. It has a high entry price and then has an annual support fee for a more manageable price. It is reminiscent of the pricing plan that vBulletin used to have, and that probably isn't an accident. There are a number of people within the Xenforo team who used to work on vBulletin before it was taken over by Internet Brands.

Now whether it is related to that point or not, there is an enormous amount of friction between Internet Brands and the team behind Xenforo. There is an ongoing lawsuit which has been served by Internet Brands which will go to court in January of 2013. However at the present time development on Xenforo has slowed to a crawl, partly due to the ongoing litigation and partly due to what are at least perceived to be personal issues among the Xenforo team.

So what is the answer if you're someone like me? Well my personal preference is to keep up to date on security patches for vBulletin 4, sit tight on any present buying decisions and see what develops. It needs to be seen what will take place in regard to Xenforo, because if they are able to continue and offer commitment towards development they will probably be the product I move to. However the present litigation is a big cloud over the product at the present time.

Waiting isn't a particularly fun thing to do, and however much I'd like to get a hold of a copy of Xenforo and play around with it this doesn't feel like the right time to do that. I cannot realistically invest in a product for whom the future appears to be insecure at present. That is my right as a buyer, and something which Xenforo must address, in the same way that vBulletin should address quality and pricing issues if they feel that is an issue for them, although unfortunately it looks as if repeat business and past reputation is allowing them to continue with a disappointing product.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

DLHQ: An Appreciation

I've noticed something that is consistent across the sports shows I love in the last few years, mostly that I've gravitating towards shows where pundits are having fun, are passionate about what they discuss and yet don't take themselves too seriously. It is true in the case of Pardon the Interruption and College Gameday, and has also become the case for Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable.

My knowledge of Le Batard the journalist goes back quite a while. I remember him being one of the more significant writers in the Miami media to notice how bad a coach Dave Wannstedt was, and while I loved those columns I thought considerably less of him when he defended Ricky Williams' sudden retirement ahead of the Dolphins 2004 season. I held that against him while he occasionally appeared on PTI, but slowly grew to enjoy the self-depreciating humour and subsequent parodies of him. By the time of his epic radio celebration of Lebron James joining the Miami Heat I was back to being a fan of his.

(Yes, I like Dan Le Batard. There, I said it.)

An overload of television (by my standards) meant that I didn't pick up Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable (or DLHQ, as it is known in both @DLHQ and #DLHQ form) when it started on ESPN America. I felt that PTI were especially keen to promote it (which on reflection was pretty mild). I gave the show a try, and found that while most of the show consists of Dan talking he isn't the real star - that's his Dad, Gonzalo. Or Papi, as he is more commonly referred to.

This leads me onto the other thing I've begun to enjoy on television: slightly eccentric older gentlemen who are unintentionally funny. Tony Kornheiser, Lee Corso, and now Gonzalo Le Batard.

There probably aren't words which can explain this adequately, so let me just mention a couple of (ir)relevant points:

1) The section of the show where Papi introduces "Si O No" has become my two-year-old's favourite thing on television, to the point she can now just about imitate it along with tilting her head from side to side.

2) Papi is genuinely really, really funny. I missed a few episodes while I was on holiday and picked up where I left up from the podcasts. The one where Dan and Papi discussed the National Geographic show "Taboo" and Papi called the Berlin Wall "a home wrecker" nearly had me crying with laughter at a set of traffic lights.

3) As someone with a somewhat dysfunctional father-son relationship I love the dynamic that there is between Papi and Dan. They're clearly comfortable in talking with each other and having fun together. I don't know for certain, but I'd suspect they're very similar to how they'd talk with each other in any other setting (although I'd guess the language would be more, ahem, colourful).

4) As well as being funny the show can also be poignant. After Ozzie Guillen spoke about his admiration of Fidel Castro Papi retold his own tale of leaving Cuba:

That is probably not the most representative clip from the show though. Here are some of my favourites:

And to finish, my personal favourite clip:

Friday, 27 July 2012

A Peculiar Personal Lifehack

This is another lifehack for you, although one which I'll admit is strange and personal to myself.

When it comes to internet browsing I'm still a Firefox person, but that doesn't mean there aren't things I would change. My worst habit at the moment is to keep lots of tabs open, which increases memory usage and also bloats (and sometimes even corrupts) a file called sessionstore.js. Therefore every once in a while I'll copy and paste all the addresses I've got in tabs into a Notepad document and then start a new Firefox session, clearing both memory and the sessionstore.js file.

Of course what you really don't want to happen is for Windows to apply an update and restart your computer. Bad times. Really bad times. I could blame Microsoft, and when I'm being irrational I do, but it is something I can change myself, and indeed have now done. I have done so in the following manner:

1) Stop relying on Notepad. It offers no form of autosave. It does odd things with line breaks. Frankly it's a woeful piece of software, which I've become too dependent upon because it is quick and handy to use to keep notes on. I know other options are available, but I have chosen to rely more on Wikidpad for keeping simple notes on. It too is simple to use, but features an autosave feature. I only have one page setup on the wiki on my laptop, as it is only meant for short-term use.

2) Keep a backup of sessionstore.js separate. This is simpler, I use SyncBack to sync a copy of this file once a day over to Dropbox. This means that if necessary I can pull this back to my main Firefox profile directory, fire up Firefox again and load up the tabs I did have open. Hopefully I won't need this again, but it isn't a large file to sync over to Dropbox and is a small price to pay for a bit of extra security.

3) Use online tools to effectively bookmark articles. For too long I've kept notes of addresses I've found interesting or wanted to look back on later. I didn't like when Diigo took over Furl, but after using their service for a while it still effectively does the same thing and if I had used Diigo before I used Furl I suspect I wouldn't have missed it. What I now need to do is to move my presently unsaved bookmarks to Diigo. It isn't even a service I need to worry about shutting down, as the bookmarks are effectively backed up by RSS to my own inbox.

So that's a personal quirk of mine, and how I'm working around it. Do you have any odd lifehacks, or a way to make this lifehack better?

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Update Time

I've had a busy time of things lately with my youngest daughter now reaching the grand old age of two, so I thought this would be an interesting time to review a few prior posts.

A Few Personal Lifehacks
Ah, backups... I've changed again! Remember how I started with weekly backups stored locally, and then advanced to daily backups? Well now I've gone a step further, and have finally started backing up some items online with Amazon Web Services. This is because I've had failures with both internal and external drives, and so therefore I opted for a third level of backup. Some photos - especially those of the kids - are too valuable not to be kept elsewhere.

Backups as a whole are an area I tend to think about a lot and consider a great deal. I know I consider my data too valuable not to back it up and keep those backups up to date.

The Problem With Joan Harris
We've now had five series of Mad Men, and I'm still not overly keen on the character as a person. Great series to show the acting talents of Christina Hendricks though. I have a new respect for her as an actress, although I still think no actress matches Elisabeth Moss on the show (Kiernan Shipka might get there one day, but not just yet).

I found season five of Mad Men quite odd. Brilliant at times, frustrating at others. I've seen some reviews which felt the whole series was brilliant, and yet I felt a little bit disappointed by it. And yet I'm still wondering where it ends up going in season six, and who'll feature, how they'll feature and even what year it will begin in. If it is 1968 that augurs well in my book.

vBulletin's Venture Into Blogging
Seems a bit odd to me that this continues to be the most popular post I've written, and by some distance. I haven't written about vBulletin for a while but I think as a whole the vBulletin team have lost their way. What was a simple forum software is now a massively bloated content management system. The overall package, which used to weigh in at a manageable 10Mb, now hovers at the 30Mb mark (which does matter for some of us). Where products like Wordpress will update quickly and simply through a wizard that even downloads the software package for you, the vBulletin upgrade is somewhat more laborious in comparison.

I still don't trust it as a stand-alone blogging platform (duh, I'm blogging here after all) but I can see how it makes sense when used with a forum (as I've tested myself over at Unfortunately the implementation isn't great, there is no uniformity in regard to tags that might see more linking between posts written by separate users, and once again, there's a mammoth amount of bloat there. Pity, it could be so much better and leaner. Unfortunately the way vBulletin has been going recently I can't say I'm hopeful of improvement, and I've even been considering switching to Xenforo.

My Top Three Twitter Peeves
Can I add one to this? People asking celebrities to retweet their causes, all... the... time. But you know what's great? Whereas another site (that won't be mentioned by name) consistently does things to annoy their users Twitter seems to find ways to make things better. However it wasn't until recently that I discovered that you can turn off retweets by anyone you're following. It's a game-changer, something else which enables you to get Twitter working the way you want it to.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Last Of His Kind

September 1993. I was about to begin life at university, and at the same point Chipper Jones was making his Braves debut. He's been part of the Major League club ever since, and a member of the organisation as a whole since June 1990. This autumn his playing career will come to an end.

22 years with one organisation doesn't come without some memories, even if they started in unusual fashion for me. Remember an age without the internet? Well somehow I managed to get through to the 1996 season without being aware of Chipper's place in the team, so while finishing off my final coursework at university in 1996 a late night game against Pittsburgh saw a graphic appear with "3B - C. Jones". Now there might be other reasons that I wasn't happy to see that then, but for the moment let's just say that Terry Pendleton was the third baseman I had always known to that point and be done with it.

(By the way, even though I picked one up, I obviously hadn't read the Sports Illustrated report into the Braves' 1995 World Series win by then. And it was a long time before the VHS tape of the series made it's way into my collection. To be honest I don't even know if the 1995 World Series was even shown on British TV.)

By the following year the newly formed Channel 5 was showing Baseball live twice a week, and I even started to have a few friends sending me links to game reports at something called This was a new world, where games could be seen more easily and information about those games was more readily available to those of us on this side of the Atlantic.

(Possibly the start of the end for the beloved Sportspages bookshop off Charing Cross Road in London, but I digress.)

By the time 1999 came round I was in a new job where I frequently got Thursdays off. Those days off and being in my 20s meant I was frequently seeing whole games to the very end. Many of those were Braves games, and if there was one season which gripped me it was 1999. The Braves lost Andres Galarraga for the season to cancer, lost Javy Lopez to a knee injury, and effectively lost Brian Jordan's power after he broke his hand. What was so special about Chipper Jones? He only put the team on his back, culminating in a September series where he effectively beat the rival Mets on three straight nights almost single-handedly.

You talk about learning more about the player, it was there. One Sports Illustrated feature showed a candid man, willing to admit to personal mistakes and being open to be challenged by new coaches. Future press clippings would show a variety of answers: earthy, eloquent, pithy, mischievious. He's no saint, and he's not perfect, but as the star player on the team I loved it was hard to do anything than support him completely. His National League MVP year of 1999 wouldn't have a perfect ending though, as the Braves ended the year by losing the World Series to the Yankees. Chipper hit the only Braves home run of the series, and nearly tied the decisive game 4 up, but his powerful line drive went just the wrong side of the foul line against (the now legendary) Mariano Rivera.

When I finally managed to get to Atlanta the following year you couldn't help but seen Chipper's name being predominantly featured on the merchandise stands, and yet the Palace fan in me was all too well-aware of his impending contract expiration. I held off on buying anything significant with "JONES" and the number 10 on it, just in case. Looking back it seems odd to think that I thought that way. Besides the legacy he was building, the Braves offered him 90 million reasons to stay.

This year will be the last though. In recent years injuries have betrayed Chipper, and while he is no longer elite he has still continued to be professional and the face of the team, a quiet leader of men who's influence is shown in the team's record without him. He's been with the team since I was fifteen, and part of the Major League team for longer than I've known most of my best friends for (most of whom I met in my late teens).

It won't quite be the same without him. I suspect none of my teams will have someone who stays in one place the way he has again in my lifetime, I just hope he gets the fitting professional ending that his career has deserved.

Monday, 30 April 2012

No Post This Month

Sorry everyone, no post this month. Just been busy I'm afraid and the end of the month came round before I had the chance to write anything. Will be back in May, promise!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Maybe It's Me?

Introduction: I've probably never felt so conflicted about writing a blog post. I've drafted, re-drafted and even considered not writing this one at all, but I think there is something to gain from writing it and sharing it. What I obviously hope is that it becomes something positive, and something to act as a springboard towards better things and a better place.

Quite an odd thing happened on my last visit to Selhurst Park two months ago. As security was tight for the visit of arch rivals Brighton access to local pubs was quite restrictive. Prior to confirming that attendees were Palace fans and ticket holders for home sections of the ground, the policeman by the bar of the pub I was in asked the barmaid if I was a regular. Thinking my annual visits would lead me to make other arrangements, the barmaid instead said, "Yes, I've seen him in here before."

Perhaps it was being kind, perhaps it was the need to have customers a full three hours before the game kicked off, but I was still somewhat astonished. I visit once a year and the barmaid still recognised me? It wasn't quite the landlady of my Gran's local recognising me at my Gran's wake a full eight years after my last visit, but it was still pretty good.

Do you know how many pubs I'd have that kind of a welcome in where I live? Let's try zero.

Okay, pubs in Scotland tend to be very different. Absolutely no football colours for the most part, many with caged windows and noted affiliations. Perhaps it is part of my shy nature, but they don't look particularly inviting. But that's not the point I'm really making, it doesn't matter if you're talking about a pub, a restaurant, cafe or coffee house, I'm not a regular at any kind of establishment like that. The only places I'm a really a regular is at the closest-to-home take-away and my hairdressers. I suspect knowledge of my name extends to whether I've ordered by phone before visiting the takeaway or if my hairdressers are looking through their appointment book.

It isn't just establishments though, it is people too. I've gone through a time where I feel I'm known to people just as "Lorraine's husband" or "Chloe and Jemma's Dad", which although nice, doesn't make me feel particularly cared about as an individual sometimes. As a result of this I sat and stewed for the entire month of February, looking at my phone and counting the days that it didn't ring, beep, light up or show any other form of communication coming in my direction. Frankly it was a pretty stupid and worthless exercise that did nothing for either my self-esteem or any of my friendships.

February became March and I continued to grumble, moan and dwell upon how I was becoming less and less important to people around me (plain wrong), how I'd never really had a best male friend in Scotland (as if anyone replaces your best friend, regardless of geography) and how things weren't likely to improve while most of my friends faded away (because if you're a pessimist like me you don't think about a time when even the worst situations bottom out and start to get better). All of this was stupid and self-defeating.

Quieter times in your life do come with some advantages. Sometimes more time to think is a good thing, and sometimes it is a bad thing. In the early stages for me it is bad thing, as time to think breeds negative thoughts. Eventually I tend to get to a more considered position, and in this case I thought about how I treat my friends as well. Would I ever want them to feel left out or not cared about? No. Have I ever made them feel left out or not cared about? I doubt it, I'm clearly the perfect friend. Err, no. I'm clearly an idiot who forgets his own inadequacies.

In the same pub where a barmaid said she recognised me I had one of those private moans to my best friend. As a good friend would do, he listened, and then in the nicest way possible pointed to a time in his life where he didn't hear very much from me and indeed wondered if we would drift apart as friends. In the coming days I figured out when it was (when he had a work placement/gap year and I was finishing university and trying to figure out what on earth was going on with my life), and then called him to ask him about it and ultimately apologise for it.

How did my best friend react to this? He calmly said it was nothing, that he understood, and that he forgave me. And you know why he did that? Because that's what friends should do. More importantly, that's what I should do, and if you want to use the present tense, it's what I should be doing. Did I ever care any less about my best friend? Of course not, but the thought of making him feel that way made me feel frankly ashamed of myself, in spite of how caught up I was in my own life at the time.

My best friend is a lot of things, but mostly he's smarter, kinder and funnier than I am. In fact most of my friends are smarter, kinder and funnier than I am. They're also more forgiving than I am, which only serves as a reminder to me that however often I think I have life figured out then I realise that I've got a whole lot more learning still to do.

Oh yes, and making amends and making adjustments, but I'm working on that.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Shifting Gears

I've now been working on a shift pattern for nearly a year and a half and I thought this might be a good opportunity to discuss some of the pros and cons of the role.

When the position at my employer's was advertised internally I thought about it for a while before applying, and decided that the opportunity to work a four day week for an initial period of six months would at least be worth trying. Having an additional day home could help with childcare, and testing it while Lorraine was still on maternity leave seemed like a good idea. Maybe it would have a detrimental effect on my social life, but then I remembered I don't have a social life, and so I decided to apply for the role. My interview went well and I was offered the job.

The biggest change for me is in regard to time taken getting into work. We moved buildings in May 2011 and with that our team members got the chance to park in the car park at our new premises. For a day that started at 8am I used to have to leave the house at 6.25am to get the train in. On the same day I would finish at 4.30pm and get in at 5.45pm. Now I leave home at 6.40am to start at 7.30am, and after a 7.30pm finish I get around for around 8pm. That saves me 90 minutes every day, and if you throw in the additional day I don't travel into the office it saves me a grand total of seven and a half hours every week.

(That doesn't even begin to mention how I prefer to travel by car and listen to podcasts while doing so. The disadvantage? I'm reading far less these days. The advantage back again? I'm not a hostage to ScotRail and all of their peculiar foibles.)

The next advantage is time off. We work a four-on/four-off pattern, which effectively becomes five days when you switch from days to nights. On the flip side of that, you effectively lose a day to sleep when you switch from nights to days, so it feels like you only have three days off. Of course that still puts you ahead of anyone who only has a two-day weekend. The plus side is that you don't always need to take holiday to get away, as my extended weekend down South last year was taken without the need to take any additional days off.

What about the working hours? Well weekday days are much same, although you start later and finish earlier. However nights and weekends are great, as there is less noise in the office and less interruptions from colleagues, which I find preferable. What I do tend to find is that by the end of the final shift I am really tired. Fitting 44 hours into four days is hard, but in some ways I don't find that any different from working Monday-to-Friday did.

I remember when I was studying in London and had a season ticket at Palace I could never have envisioned wanting to work on weekends, however I've now come to enjoy it. I get peace and quiet to work, and as an added bonus I don't have to wear the usual business casual dress for work on those days. Jean and trainers = winning! We also don't have the usual fight for fridge space, or a queue for the microwave (if we need to use it).

Don't get me wrong, there are some downsides. Working nightshifts in the winter meant I rarely saw daylight. If Lorraine is working on opposite shifts we don't see very much of each other. However probably the worst part is when your daughter asks you, "Dad are you working on Saturday?" and you have to tell her, "Yes, I'm afraid I am working". The look of disappointment isn't much fun to deal with, no matter how many times you get to take them to and pick them up from school.

You also have the problem of familiarity. Remember how I mentioned that switching from nights to days only effectively leaves with you three days off? Well you don't consider that when you've just started your job, you still see it as four days off. Furthermore you never compare shift allowances with those of other employers, while inevitably the passing of time and the voices of your colleagues lead you to do this.

However the good points clearly outweigh the bad points. I might have a working week which is technically longer, but I make up the time in what I save from commuting in a different manner. I may miss some weekends with my family, but I make up for the time in other ways. There aren't many Dads who get to take and pick their kids up from school, and I love being able to do that.

I can't guarantee I'll always feel like this, but right now I love my job, and it would need to be a seriously good offer to make me want to give it up. Now about that social life...

Monday, 16 January 2012

Memories Are Made of This

In 1997 for the only time in my life I was in America for Super Bowl Sunday. Hours before the Packers and Patriots clashed in New Orleans I was where I normally would be on a Sunday morning, at Church. I still remember the opening prayer: "Lord, we know you don't care about sports..."

Respectfully, I would disagree. Don't get me wrong, I don't think God cares about teams and scores, but the individuals involved? Oh, I strongly believe that God cares about them. And the fans involved. And for the life changing events that coincide with sporting events? God, in my view at least, definitely cares about those.

Every once in a while someone will ask me about a particular event, and more often than any normal person would do, I'll be able to reel off everything about it and even get down to the date it took place.

Now in all honesty, part of this is because I kept a diary for not far short of a decade (1988-1997), but a lot of this relates to sporting events and when they took place. Obviously most of these are Palace games, as from the time that I first started supporting Palace until my move to Scotland those games were what I planned my leisure activities around. I tended to always know who Palace were playing and on what dates, especially so during the time I was in London at university (1993-1996).

Regardless of where I was during those years, the card sent to me by Palace's box office which provided a handy-sized guide to the season's fixtures wouldn't be far away, and fixture dates didn't change much at that time (Sky and UEFA have a lot to answer for), so I tended to know most fixture dates off the top of my head. I always looked forward to Palace games, so I guess the dates became lodged in my head (which isn't so useful when you can't find things like your mobile phone or your keys, but can remember immediately tell someone who Palace played on a certain date and who scored).

There are certain stretches of games which I remember really well, like in February and March 1996. You'll have to take my word for it that I didn't look this up:

February 17th - Watford (H), won 4-0
February 20th - Tranmere (A), won 3-2
February 24th - Huddersfield (A), lost 3-0
February 27th - Birmingham City (H), won 3-2
March 2nd - Luton Town (A), drew 0-0
March 5th - Grimsby (H), won 5-0
March 9th - WBA (H), won 1-0
March 12th - Tranmere (H), won 2-1
March 16th - Grimsby (A), won 2-0 (the only game in March that I missed in this list)
March 19th - Luton Town (H), won 2-0
March 23rd - Portsmouth (H), drew 0-0
March 30th - Millwall (A), won 4-1

(Okay, I looked this up after typing what I remembered. I got the Tranmere home score wrong, as it was the away game that we beat them 3-2 and I got them mixed up. I also forgot when the game at Tranmere was, because for some reason I thought that took place in January despite hearing the Palace end singing "We're gonna win 3-2!" before the kick-off at Huddersfield. And I forgot the home Luton game, which was an awful game until we scored two late goals. The most memorable part of that game was a Luton striker nearly getting a shot into the Upper Tier of the Holmesdale. But everything else? That was spot on, trust me on this. Not bad for a five-minute task undertaken nearly 16 years after the facts.)

And if it wasn't enough to know fixture dates in advance you'd have the season review videos to confirm them afterwards. You would watch back and think, "Why wasn't I at that game?" and then I would remember where I was instead (not that I had a great inclination to go to Grimsby's Blundell Park, but to give you one example when Palace were winning there I was at home in Hampshire seeing my family and friends for the weekend).

Anyway, I do remember more than just scores, scorers and other obscure events. Here are a few examples of remembering dates in some part due to sporting events:
  • I found out I was going to be a Dad for the first time just prior to flying down for the Crystal Palace v Norwich game in 2005 (16th April 2005 - , although I flew down the day before so I actually found out on the 15th).
  • On the day that my now wife was first hospitalised with her diabetes after we were together I came home and unwound while not really watching the France v Italy World Cup Quarter Final (3rd July 1998)
  • I had my hernia operation on 19th September 1996, which I remember as it was on the Thursday following Palace's 3-1 over Manchester City, which took place on my Dad's birthday. (The game was memorable for a great Palace performance and also for being the only time that I've sat in the Player's Lounge section of Selhurst Park.)
  • I attended the Silk Cut Challenge at Arundel on 21st September 1985 and stayed at my Dad's, which is what reminds me that going out for lunch the next day was the last time I saw my half-sister for 25 years (photo from Friday's play - it was also when I had my two-day flirtation with being a vegetarian, but that's another matter).
A lot of these dates are ones which can now be looked up online, as you can tell from the links above. There seem to be databases for everything, from football results, to cricket scorecards, to just simple calendars which help to confirm that a particular date fell on a particular day (without recalling all the fixtures that month I still have a mental block about whether Palace beat Millwall in 1996 on either the 30th or 31st March, a 1996 calendar confirms it was the 30th - this actually doesn't make sense as it was my favourite day of a horrible year for me).

Having been to lots of football matches you do hear people mention dates of events in their own lives, and if (like me) you've been to lots of football matches you can't help but think about what scores took place on or near those dates. Thankfully my friends are gracious with me, and tend to laugh at me kindly instead of brazenly mocking me.

Of course some dates are significant enough to be remembered by themselves (e.g. when I got engaged, got married, my children's birthdays, when I became a Christian, etc.), and others where I remember the sporting dates because of other events (e.g. Palace playing at Charlton on 26th September 1993 because that was the day I started university, or the Cantona incident taking place on 25th January 1995 because of a letter I received the day before).

So without sounding dismissive that is how I tend to remember dates. It is almost certainly a shallow way to do so, and arguably it isn't that important to remember these dates anyway, but I do tend to remember dates and that's the way that I do so.

And that Super Bowl Sunday's date? 26th January 1997, which I happen to remember because I flew into California on Monday the 20th. Even now there are still some things I haven't forgotten.