Monday, 31 March 2014

Quick Thoughts on Jonathan Martin & Richie Incognito

I've been short of time this month, but I just wanted to post some quick thoughts on Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito affair, and the effect of it upon my favourite NFL team, the Miami Dolphins. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, Martin left the team in mid-season because of alleged bullying, led by Incognito. Firstly, and most importantly, when Dolphins veteran John Denney was asked for his opinion on the Wells report, he stated, "Ted Wells can go into any one of the 32 teams in the entire league and he's going to come out with the same investigation, same results." I think this is really important to state. I have read countless articles over the years which have praised the standards and setup of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so why did former Steeler and Dolphin of a mere few months Mike Wallace come to the defence of Incognito? Because I suspect the kind of hazing/teasing/pranks that took place are standard across the league. Does this make Incognito innocent in all the proceedings? Clearly not, and actions such as seeking to burn the fine book detailed in the Wells Report show that (and obviously the repeated use of racist terms is unacceptable). In my opinion though, that shows someone who has been pampered to due to his athletic ability, throughout his life, and has never been disciplined or told in any form that such behaviour is wrong. Now don't get me wrong, boys will be boys. Jonathan Martin complained about comments about his sister. Workmates of mine have seen pictures of my sister and made comments, and while they have not been to the same extremes, they haven't always been tasteful either. Have I complained? No, because such chat goes on between guys, and I know they're not being serious. As I've mentioned before, I moved around a fair bit through my childhood, and this led to some difficult times being the new kid at various schools. Do you know when the bullying stopped? When I stopped showing that it bothered me. Sometimes you have to make a change yourself, however difficult that may be, however unjust it may seem that you have to be the one to make a change first. Additionally, the way both the initial affair and subsequent report were detailed in the media were not balanced. Did anyone report that Martin, for whatever reason he deemed correct, talk about women in the same way as Incognito? Did anyone mention that in his lowest times Martin admitted to being an abuser of alcohol and controlled substances? No, because they didn't suit the narrative. Incognito, the guy with trouble in his past, Martin from a family of Harvard graduates, who himself attended highly regarded Stanford. To be clear, I don't think that either Incognito or the Dolphins have behaved perfectly in this whole affair. Indeed, I think it is the latest in a long line of public relations disasters under the ownership of Stephen Ross, and Incognito has more than enough on his record to show he is a less than stellar character (although on the evidence of his damaging his own sports car with a baseball bat, I also suspect mental health issues). However I don't think Jonathan Martin's move to San Francisco will be the last time we hear of him being involved in some form of controversy. For his sake, I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

In Defence of Gran Turismo 6

Following the launch of Gran Turismo 6 last November I looked forward to receiving it at Christmas. When Gran Turismo 5 came out my pre-order was quickly snaffled away by my wife for Christmas, and so on this occasion I by-passed the pre-order and accepted it would be a Christmas present. Between the release and my receiving it, I was somewhat surprised by the criticism, but with the present purchased a few weeks prior to Christmas I didn't consider returning it.

Do I regret that at all? Not in the slightest. I really enjoyed Gran Turismo 5, and my enjoyment of Gran Turismo 6 has lasted for a solid two months, and I don't think it will stop at any point soon. For one thing, it has met my biggest need from Gran Turismo 5, namely more circuits. Having visited Brands Hatch, I love having both the Indy and Grand Prix circuits to drive around. Having watched countless races from Silverstone, I love having all manner of Silverstone configurations to drive round. Additionally, the sadly fictional Apricot Hill is a fabulous circuit, offering challenging fast turns, an opportunity to get into a nice rhthym, and lots of overtaking opportunities amid the rolling contours.

(Billionaire to-do list: Build the Apricot Hill circuit in real life. I won't ever have an opportunity to do so, but if someone could that would be awesome, thanks.)

So why the criticism? Because the game isn't very different to GT5? So driving on the moon and on a hillclimb aren't different? The licence tests are now required to progress throughout the game, and if you throw in the coffee break challenges there is plenty of new content there. Because you don't see every intimate detail inside every car? That's a criticism I have never understood, although I'm more of a race fan than a car fan, with a keener interest in the circuits and driving on them as well as possible instead of as beautifully as possible. Because sounds of collisions still sound, as one critic suggested, "like elbowing a fridge"? Well, to be fair I can't argue that last point.

My biggest bug-bears are the absence of the colossal rewards that some of the seasonal challenges offered in Gran Turismo 5, and complete disappearance of the Ferrari Formula 1 cars. While the F2007 was pretty challenging to drive, the rewards from setting it up perfectly and then driving it well rank as some of the most enjoyable moments I've had from any video game. I wish they would come back, although I suspect if the cars were not in the game at launch then there is no plan to add them later. Polyphony Digital, feel free to swap these in for the Ascari circuit, which looks pretty in an overhead plan but which is too twisty to really let loose and have fun on.

I have come to enjoy the opportunity to experience the longer races (i.e. ten, fifteen and twenty minute races), but an opportunity for further control over races would be welcome, as in fact would the opportunity to take part in the endurance races which although daunting where nice to take part in on days off from work. Opposition driver AI needs some work as well, for with the exception of occasional swerving from the racing line their refusal to fight overtaking sometimes takes the challenge away. Perhaps one day there will be the opportunity to change the challenges you face, whether that be in regard to AI aggression or to AI tactics in general. Want to run long on a set of hard tires? Why shouldn't an AI driver go to soft tires for a faster set of laps in a longer race?

I would suspect at this point that such resources and options may be saved for Gran Turismo 7, which will ultimately be the point that I will need to decide whether I'm a 40-something with a wife and two kids who is happy to "make do" with a PS3 or someone who feels younger than they actually are and who can't be without a PS4 and the opportunity to blast around Laguna Seca in Gran Turismo's latest incarnation. While I enjoy the present game the three year gap between GT5 and GT6 seems to set a precedent, along with a clock ticking. For the time being I will continue to enjoy GT6 on the PS3, and occasionally think ahead to what I might need to ask the family to put under the Christmas tree for me in 2016.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Words, Thoughts, Expectations and Considerations

Last week at work my shift colleagues and I were considering what the day may bring, when one of my colleagues spoke out in unusual confidence, stating that we were going to have a good day. I couldn't help but warn him, "Don't say that," but an odd thing happened, the day did actually go pretty well. The weird thing about this? It showed that ultimately what we say doesn't really have any power over anything.

Why is this a big deal to me? Ever since I was young I learned not to boast about what I might or might not do, for fear of the worst happening. In recent years that has only increased, to the point where I wonder why my colleagues ask what I have planned for my days off. Nothing is set in stone any more, I'm always gearing for the worst, or at least attempting to. Sometimes even your worst projections don't cover all eventualities, or worse still, you're completely blindsided by what has taken place.

What is the worst case scenario that people talk about? How about the numerous people, who have recounted to us for years about how they didn't receive support while their children grew up, lost a home, encountered health problems due to overworking to meet commitments, etc. Are they wishing this on us? Of course not, but as soon as someone mentions it I end up thinking, "Well, that's obviously going to happen to us." Does it have to be this way? Certainly not. To I expect all the worst case scenarios to become reality? Yes. Does that make sense? No.

Although I don't think it is really talked about, you reach points in your life where you realise that you still have a lot to learn. Part of me thinks, "I'm 38, I should have everything figured out by now," although I clearly don't. I'm really just coming to realise that at the moment I'm a strange blend of pessimist and fatalist, where I expect things to go wrong and just accept that I can't change them. When it comes to other people, I can't change them, but when it comes to myself, my family, and things which I may not be able to altogether control but may have an opportunity to influence, then I owe it to myself to do everything I can to seek the best for my family.

Some of the issues that I see at work on a daily basis are brought about by expectancies. These come in all manner of forms, the expectancy that a service will break, that a team member may call up and ask for a holiday, or even the self-expectancy that I expect better performance from myself. What is the expectancy I have from life? That things are bad, that they will continue to be bad and that they won't get better. And so I come back to the lifelong battle I've had with my parents, where they exhort me to "think positive" and I wonder what the justification is for seeing anything positive on the horizon. Even then, every once in a while something positive does come along, even a pessimist like me sees that. The difficulty is in making changes to make positive events more frequent.

One of the changes I am going to need to make is to pay less attention to others. When I think about career options I consider what my in-laws will think. When my kids aren't happy I consider what other parents might think. When thinking about what I'm doing with my days off I think about what my colleagues will think about what I'm doing, and whether or not they think my life is boring/miserable/dull? I need to be less considerate of a lot of people, and actually put myself and my family first more often. Will everyone like it? I suspect not. Does it hopefully mean a better future for myself and my family? I hope so. Will all be plain sailing? Almost certainly not, but eventually we'll get there, in one form or another.