Archive for the ‘Boring Rants’ Category

Video

March 18, 2015

Few may remember the long bygone era when watching a football match required going to a stadium, but times are ever changing and for some even watching a full game on telly feels slightly anachronistic. After all, why waste all that time staring at a screen nothing much is happening on, when you can go on Youtube and watch a plethora of short video clips (of varying production quality) that have all the action without the boring bits? At first these clips may seem dazzlingly random and arbitrary but there are distinct and recognisable genres.

Match highlights

Match highlights is the oldest and most traditional genre of all. In fact it isn’t even one genre, as there are the 30-60 minute long highlights, which is basically the entire match with stoppages edited out, then there are medium length highlights, these are slightly trickier to edit down to 1ö-15 minutes, but our focus is now on short highlights, featuring 3-5 minutes of action, maybe 6 if there was a goal fest.

Short highlights are notoriously hard to get right, it requires talent and experience. The main challenge being that if you only include incidents that end in goals, the result will contain as much dramatic tension as when you see a mechanic turn up to fix the washing machine in a porn movie.  We all know that in real life not all washing machine repairs end in anal intercourse (heck, most of the time your washing machine isn’t even fixed), we still have no doubts about the outcome when we see it happening on screen.

Some narrative has to be constructed then out of 10-15 well-chosen incidents – short highlights are definitely artificial constructions, which on a good day re-create a similar overall experience as the match itself. Heroes, villains, turning points and conflicts need to be created, a tough job even if you weren’t further constrained by a pre-recorded match footage. That’s why you won’t find many home-made short highlights on the internet, but the better professional pieces that you do find, deserve some admiration.

Goal compilation

Goal compilations are much more of a mixed bag, with them concentrating solely on the goals of a single player or team. I wouldn’t even try to extend the porn analogy to this genre, let us contend with the observation that goal compilations don’t even attempt to capture the feel and the rhythm of a football match. Yes, the rhythm, dictated not by the slow-mo footage we see but the thumping mid-tempo two-four time soundtrack.

In the world of the goal compilation there’s no room for the natural ebb and flow of football, everything has to be bombastic, mechanised, following the robotic tic-toc-tic-toc of the music.

Just how much power the backing music wields can be seen by comparing the video above to an example of the emerging scene of goal compilations set to classical music, like this truly wonderful piece highlighting the artistic skill of Matt Le Tissier.

Touches

Out of all the football clip genres this is probably the most recent and also the weirdest. What happens here is the total deconstruction of football: watch all the touches of a single player, and only that. Although it is very tempting to ascribe this to deliberate post-modernism, the probable explanation is more prosaic: Football Manager. FM is a perfectly fine and enjoyable computer game, but it can create the false impression that players are nothing more than a collection of abilities, skills and stats, all expressed in precise numbers. A team in turn consists of X number of players, and a set of meticulously crafted formations and training regimes.

Watching them in this context touch videos are bleak and deeply saddening: what you see isn’t just your ordinary cult of the hero – that’s been part of football since the earliest days –, it is a total denial of the concept of team.

Fuck knows, maybe it is all random after all.

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Crest

May 26, 2013

Now, I don’t normally write here about stuff that I’m genuinely into but this time I’m going to make an exception. This isn’t the Author speaking, it’s just me, the author.

So, deep breath and off we go.

everton-crests

Everton’s crest for the last 13 years vs. the newly unveiled abomination

First of all, what is a crest or a badge? Well, it’s easy, the badge represents what we are, like a uniform: you wear it, so that your comrades know you’re on their side, right? No not right, because if the purpose of the badge was simply to identify each other as Evertonians, we could’ve just written “Everton” on our shirts, or we could’ve gone with a simple drawing of St Rupert’s Tower. It doesn’t have to look good, it just needs to be unique. You could also easily argue that, considering what we put up with every day, Nil Satis Nisi Optimum would be highly ironic a message to choose.

But what the badge actually represents is how we want others, outsiders, non-Evertonians to see us. And once you realise that, you’ll also realise that there’s almost never a good reason to radically change your crest, special circumstances aside, like if your current badge is embarrassingly hideous (as this new one is) or if you win a tenth champion’s medal and you want to incorporate a star into it (an unlikely scenario for us).

Obviously you do tinker with it slightly, as clubs often do and there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s suddenly changed though that prompts us to project a different image? (And let’s ignore the fact that the image we’re projecting with this crest is that of a newly formed Albanian non-league club.)

Of course people at Everton must know this too, after all, it’s not rocket science and they can’t have all gone mad simultaneously. And indeed if we look at the press release, there’s the answer to the why.

“As well as the Everton fan-base, key commercial partners such as Kitbag and Nike were also consulted and their input and ideas were fed into the design process. Of course, Nike’s brand pedigree is unrivalled and their contribution was invaluable. “

So there you have it, not much reading between the lines is required to realise that our new crest was designed and forced onto us by Nike, presumably to drive down production costs.

This is again understandable from their point of view and it would even be acceptable but this is where someone at Everton should’ve stepped up and said: “Hang on, this is our identity, our public image we’re playing around with and we can’t let that happen. We also realise that we lack the finances to tell Nike what to put on our shirts and we must accept your changes. We’re trapped and we must find a way out.”

And it wouldn’t have taken much thinking to find that way, even though it seems to be alien to the Everton hierarchy: the way of a sensible compromise and truth-telling. This is what my press release would’ve looked like:

My fellow Evertonians!

As you probably already know from the leaked photos, we’re planning to put a new crest on our shirts from next season. The purpose of this is to make embroidering it easier, cheaper and the result more uniform.

It wasn’t a decision we took lightly but our commercial partners convinced us that this is the best way forward.

Needless to say that this change doesn’t affect the official crest, which remains the same as it has been for over a decade, and will continue to be used on our website, letterheads and any other non-merchandise material.

Thank you for your understanding.

There, it wasn’t that painful, or was it? After all, it’s not even the new design itself that is so irritating, it’s the happy-clappy campaign that has gone with it and the insinuation that it’s for our own good.

Insults

November 25, 2011

The Problem

Helmet
Helmet

Of course hurling insults at others is not great but it feels great. What’s more, there’s no need to use swearwords, as an amazing feature of the English language is that almost any noun can be used as an insult. This creates a new problem though. Which noun should the discerning would-be insulter choose? Well, let’s have a look at how insults work.

Analysis

Weapon
Weapon

First of all, it’s important to recognise that the verbatim meaning of the insult is of secondary importance: what really matters is intonation. An insult should be a word of quick exhalation, no more than two syllables. It should express both disdain and disgust, both of which must manifest themselves in the facial expression. To achieve this, the utterance will have to be separated into several distinct phases, the interplay of which should yield a word with all the desirable properties.

Phases

Plank
Plank

The first phase is the build-up and explosion phase. This is the key step in the dynamics of the insult for several reasons: it draws and focuses attention to the speaker, it should deliver the element of disdain and it also gives the insult its energy. The rest of the insult must roll off the tongue using the air compressed during this phase and running out of breath before the end is just as undesirable as having plenty of breath left. This phase therefore calls for a stop consonant, bilabial plosives ([p], [b]) work best, as they are reminiscent of (and occasionally include actual) spitting.

Muppet
Muppet,
a poor choice

The second phase is the evacuation phase. This phase consists of a mixture of vowels and consonants. Since almost all the air must be expelled here, the consonants should be approximants or fricatives, allowing relatively free airflow. Unrounded vowels can also improve the effectiveness of the insult by clenching the face into a snarl-like grimace.

In the third and final phase there’s not much air left to work with, but it should be enough for one final flourish. Although it is possible to simply leave out this phase and end with a vowel or semi-vowel, a velar stop helps giving a nice impression of retching.

Conclusion

Prick
Prick,
almost perfect

There can be alternative ways of forming effective insults (cf. “fucker”), either by reordering these steps or using radically different strategies, nevertheless this method covers all the objectives set for an effective insult that doesn’t involve literal swearing.

Using the method outlined above we can also construct the perfect insult: PING!

Puns

November 8, 2011

William C Durant was undoubtedly a remarkable man. He founded General Motors and although he died in poverty after the Great Depression, he was a successful and probably also ruthless businessman.

But there’s a tiny voice in my head that says his early life would’ve been much happier, had he not been given the middle name Crapo. Pronounced kray-poe of course, but try telling that to your classmates.

Maybe this painful experience was the reason he dropped out of school and maybe the urge to escape from the stranglehold of that extremely cheap pun was what drove him to success in business, finally allowing him to buy Frigidaire.

Because nobody will be bothered joking with your name when you’re the world’s first fridge magnate.

A List of Mildly Annoying Things

September 3, 2010

The ability and the urge to make lists is probably one of the things that makes us human. It’s easy to imagine that well before inventing chipped stone tools or language our early hominid ancestors had already been compiling lists of the ten prettiest females in the savannah, the twelve tastiest species of hooved animals or the five worst things to do when ambushed by a predator while taking a dump.

This means that by now almost everything has been compiled into lists, even lists and probably lists of lists too. Almost everything, but not quite everything, because there are things that are just too ordinary and average to make it to either a best-of or a worst-of list. In particular, there are things that are definitely not pleasant but at the same time extremely trivial, nowhere near awful or important enough to have a moan about it. Not even on the Internet or in Britain. And I think that’s rather harsh, why shouldn’t they have their own list too?.

So with that in mind, here’s my list of mildly annoying things.

  1. Realising that the incredibly dumb forum post that you wanted to reply to is three years old.
  2. Missing a bus but knowing another one will be around in five minutes.
  3. Having to repeat the punchline of a joke because the sound of a passing lorry drowned it out.
  4. Discovering that someone left the door of the office fridge slightly ajar.
  5. TV ads being slightly louder than the programme.
  6. A tiny speck of toothpaste on your shirt that you only notice in the afternoon.
  7. Slightly cold feet.
  8. Forks that are bent out of shape.
  9. Forgetting the password of an unused bank account.
  10. Realising that the incredibly dumb forum post that you wanted to reply to is three years old and yours.

Sermon on the mount(8).3

July 22, 2010

A Workaround

‘Boss, I think we’re stuck.’
‘What’s the problem?’
‘A chasm. We can’t get across it. But I have a solution: we should build a lightweight metal bridge on our side, then winch it across the gap.’
‘Can’t you just leap over it?’
‘Nope, this would be a two-jumper.’
‘You could climb to the bottom and then up on the other side.’
‘That would take ages.’
‘Yes, but it would only be a temporary workaround. It’s better than nothing after all.’


Streamlining the Process

‘Boss, this whole climbing-down-and-up business works better than I expected. I’m getting used to it.’
‘But it’s too slow.’
‘Told you so.’
‘Can’t we do something about it to partially streamline the process?’
‘Like what?’
‘Weeeell, I saw a programme yesterday about base jumping…’


The Ultimate Solution

‘How’s your ankle doing?’
‘It’s healed mostly.’
‘You’d be glad to hear then that I showed the x-ray of your fracture to management and convinced them that the base jumping workaround, although admittedly faster, is a bit less stable.’
‘So will they fund the bridge at last?’
‘They rejected the business case as our workarounds work too well. But to speed your climb up, we hired some consultants who promised to carve steps into the rock face for you.’

Sermon on the mount(8).2

May 17, 2010

Code reuse has been one of the most persistent buzzwords of software development for as far back as I can remember. It seems to be the sensible thing to do, after all, we’re doing it all the time with our own code, we’re using third-party libraries written by dedicated but random people across the world and it’s all fine.

Why is it then that in a corporate environment what starts out as “Share and Enjoy” often turns into “Go Stick Your Head in a Pig”? The symptoms are varied but all too familiar: after a brief honeymoon people discover that changes in shared code result in cascades of bugs, then either a multitude of near-identical copies of the same code spring up or a paralysing fear creeps over the department, locking every system into using sub-standard code. Either way, after a couple of years nobody quite remembers what had happened, and memory only survives in the form of rituals and taboos.

As far as I can tell, there’s only one fundamental difference between successful and unsuccessful code reuse: knowledge of purpose. Failed attempts always turn out to be based on behavioural similarities only. Successfully shared code serves a clear purpose and that purpose is known to all parties, authors and (re)users alike. And that brings me nicely to the second part of my rant: in-code documentation.

Why is it that we so keenly document what a piece of code does but very rarely state its purpose? When you think about it, it’s quite stupid: after all the code tells exactly and quite clearly how it works and if it doesn’t, you should concentrate your efforts on fixing your code instead of building a palisade of excuses around it. Purpose, on the other hand, is not evident from the code itself, and needs to be specified explicitly. Purpose is also less likely to change over time, so the chance of finding out-of-date comments (yet another pet hate of mine) is reduced too.

Only code that not only looks like doing what you want but actually serves the same purpose too should be reused. No matter how tempting the functional similarities, it should be avoided. Make a copy and modify it if that makes you any happier, but since typing the code is probably the least time consuming part of development, it’s rather pointless. I know this sounds like stating the bleeding obvious, but my experiences suggest it isn’t.

Having said that, it’s not always easy to tell purpose and behaviour apart. And when you spend several years at school learning that natural phenomena don’t exhibit a purpose, it’s even harder. But this doesn’t change the overall picture: if you can’t reliably establish the purpose of a piece of code, don’t reuse it. It’ll end in tears. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

There’s no punchline to this one. There’s no tool either* that would aid in documenting purpose and searching or managing reusable code bits and I don’t even know exactly what such a tool would look like but I know there bloody well should be one.


*At least none that I know of and would work on Java code. I know literate programming has a partial answer to some of these problems, but I find the idea of writing what’s when all’s said and done invalid code unacceptable in the age of modern IDEs.

Sermon on the mount(8)

April 9, 2010

Now I’m gonna preach about software development.

What qualifications have I got to allow me to do this? Well, to start with, I’ve been working as a software developer for some time. And …er, that’s all. So basically I’m going to talk out of my arse, like everyone else, except that I admit it.

There was a story in the papers today about a Polish bloke who burgled companies by posting himself in a large parcel to their addresses, nicking stuff during the night, then posting himself back to his home address. He was caught eventually, but it’s a brilliant idea nevertheless.

And that brings me neatly to the subject of today’s rant: thinking outside the box.

It’s been all the rage for some time in corporate circles and it does my head in. They encourage everyone to think outside the box all the time, completely ignoring the sad truth that most people are thoroughly unable to think, be that inside or outside that box.

Of course I’m not suggesting that nobody should do it, there’s certainly need for people who can pretend that the box isn’t there and come up with ideas the likes of which nobody else had thought before. But more often than not it isn’t what you need at all, not unless  you have to design and create a completely groundbreaking stuff, which you very rarely have to.

It would be much more useful instead if people learned to recognise a box and to be able to figure out why it is there in the first place.

If nothing else, you might avoid being robbed.

Tractatus Logico-Politicus

March 18, 2010

“There’s nothing more exhilarating than pointing out the shortcomings of others, is there?”

Clerks

The idea behind fallacy spotting is simple: you just try to catch the author of a text trying to use illogical (and therefore illicit) means to prove his point. And there’s no better training ground for the novice fallacy spotter than political rhetoric; the source material is abundant and the frequency and variety of fallacies is so bewildering that even the untrained can spot a few straight away.

Probably the most rewarding situations are that of a government official caught in an  incompetence-complicity trap. That is, if he knew about the wrongdoings going on in his organisation, he’s complicit and must resign, but if he didn’t, he’s incompetent and must resign. All we have to do is sit back and watch him trying to wriggle free.

A more subtle mistake is accusing another party of being divisive. “The other party is divisive, ours isn’t”, goes the well-known line. Never mind the faint but piquant odour of  self-contradiction it radiates, but if your party isn’t trying to divide the general public, then what exactly IS your party doing?

But it would be unfair to claim that political rhetorics are about nothing but fallacies  there are some really delightful logical constructs to be found too. The leader of a practically defunct Hungarian party that has been dealing in casual racism for OAPs (a niche market, if there ever was one) has recently announced: “They say our party is dead. Yet I’m  standing before you, so our party cannot be dead after all.”

Which is brilliant, because we’ve never had Cartesian politics before.

However, not even the strongest and most impeccable reasoning can avoid being crushed under the jackboots of bureaucracy. The mayor of a Transylvanian town called Pecica ordered the installation of new, highly expressive road signs warning motorists of drunken citizens crossing. He argued that even though ideally the drunk should be warned,  in practice this wouldn’t work, on account of them being, well, drunk. So up went the road signs in the name of public safety and common sense over the letter of the law.

Sadly, the signs cannot be seen anymore because the local police claimed it was violating EU regulations and suggested a much less inspiring “Other dangers” sign. Sometimes you just can’t win.

Gargoyles and Grotesques

February 22, 2010

In writing grotesque, I always found restraining the thought-eroding forces of common sense the hardest. Common sense smooths all the sharp edges and what you’re left with is a bit unusual, but not really grotesque. Here’s an example.

On the face of it, sponsored marathons are a brilliant idea. Not only do they raise a substantial amount of money for charity, they often change the (initially not too fit) runners’ lifestyles for the better.

On a personal level though they often create a dilemma: what do you do when, despite your best efforts, you fail to raise enough money to enter the race? There aren’t too many options really, you can’t give the donors their money back, so you stump up the missing bit. You’re morally obliged to pay, there’s no getting out of it.

And here’s where a radical new approach is born: charity through extortion. Sure enough, certain charities have always liked to guilt their donors into donating more and more, but I’ve yet to see a couple of bald men in dark suits turn up in my house and say things like “You’ve made the orphans really, really sad.”, while cracking their knuckles nonchalantly and pointing out my more flammable possessions to each other.

It’s just not there. It’s not surprising enough and despite its superficial weirdness, it’s far too logical. It might even be funny for a fleeting moment but it’s nothing more than a bizarre mouth around the rainwater that would’ve gushed down from the rooftop anyway. A gargoyle.

To produce something really grotesque, you have to completely break the shackles of coherent thought and probably the understanding of the meaning of certain words too.

A newspaper called Atlanta Progressive News had fired one of their writers and when questioned about the reasons for this decision, they gave the following explanation:

At a very fundamental, core level, Springston did not share our vision for a news publication with a progressive perspective. He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between gargoyles and grotesques.