Fernando Alonso on track.(Fernando Alonso is hoping for progress in time for Spain)

So far it’s pretty fair to say that McLaren have had a woeful season. I ambitiously predicted that drivers Alonso and Button would finish 8th and 9th respectively in the driver’s championship, but for that to happen the team need to step things up a notch pretty quickly – and they seem to believe they can bring significant upgrades to Barcelona in time for the Spanish Grand Prix.

They certainly need to – no points from the first four races – and with Button not even starting last time out due to car issues in Bahrain – has been one of the worst starts to a season McLaren have ever had – hardly befitting of a team known for competing at the front of the field most of the time.

There’s been talk of what Alonso must be thinking, watching his old team Ferrari looking pretty sharp so far. Of course, every decision is easier with hindsight, and Alonso isn’t about to publicly say he made a mistake. What he is saying is that the team is motivated to do everything they can to get back to the top, and of that I am sure.

Hamilton Impervious to Pressure?

In Bahrain Hamilton was under little threat once again from the people behind him – he kept Rosberg at bay pretty comfortably through the race, despite much being made of a more aggressive Rosberg, prepared to be a bit punchier when dueling with Vettel. It’s now four races out of four where Hamilton has kept his teammate at arm’s length, never really looking troubled, and Rosberg needs to start turning the tables pretty soon. He is already more than a race win’s-worth of points behind Hamilton, who must be delighted with the way the season has gone so far (Malaysia notwithstanding, where things didn’t quite pan out the way he – or his team – would have liked).

LewisHamilton(Hamilton has been pretty relaxed so far this season)

It seems to me that Lewis Hamilton is the only person capable of unhinging his own chances this year. He has been driving like a champion, and unless he makes a serious error that lets Rosberg back into the fight, he is only going to get further ahead.

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SuperMarioKartTime for a bit of shameless nostalgia. Back in 1992 (that feels like a long time ago!) Nintendo released Super Mario Kart for the SNES, and a life-long love affair was born.

By today’s standards Super Mario Kart is hardly amazing in terms of graphics or sound, but the true mark of any game is replay value, and to me, SMK still has this in spades!

The first entry to the Mario Kart series introduced several staples to the series that remain to this day, such as turtle shells and other items designed to boost your race or impede someone else’s race. It was a lot of fun making my way around the various circuits, hurling heat-seeking red shells at racers ahead of me, or getting a jump feather at just the right time to hurl myself over an obstacle. The track design was clever and varied, with ghost houses, muddy chocolate tracks and lava-pocked fortresses. With various levels of difficulty (both in terms of available cups to compete for and the aggression of the AI) I can honestly say the original Super Mario Kart is still one of the best entries in the series, and one of the finest games ever made full stop.

SMK1(Being able to have a map up on the screen was extremely useful!)

Another great thing about Mario Kart is that it’s two-player. No, it isn’t something you can play over wifi or anything so elaborate, but the two-player aspect of the game led to some great fun with my friends, as we fought hard to win championships. We enjoyed fighting it out, race after race, the margins between us often quite fine.

smk2(Two players could play at once)

SMK also had a ‘battle mode’, where two players could go head to head in arenas, battling to pop the other player’s balloons. Finally, there was a time trial mode, which is literally as it sounds.

After so many new incarnations of Mario Kart, the original is still one of the best ones. It offered challenge, it offered fun, and it still offers replay value, even after so many years!

9/10

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With my appreciation of the Honor Harrington series well known to my wife, a couple of years ago she asked a guy in the local bookshop about other, similar stories. He introduced her to The Lost Fleet series, and she in turn introduced it to me.

I’ve got to say, I’ve been hooked since the first book, Dauntless!

Written by John G Hemry (under the pen name Jack Campbell), Dauntless puts us in the boots of ‘Black Jack’ John Geary, Alliance captain, and to some, saviour. He’s been absent for nearly a hundred years, frozen in stasis and with stories of his heroism growing to near-Biblical levels, and when he’s found by a beleaguered Alliance fleet, Geary is thrust into command.

I couldn’t help but warm to Geary. He’s a man out of time, having to somehow lead his fleet home whilst deep behind enemy lines, whilst teaching the fleet a thing or two about how his generation practiced warfare. He’s idolised by some, feared by others, and has to juggle so many different balls at once. I’m sure we’ve all felt like we have several competing priorities and even if you’re not in the military, if you’re in a position of responsibility you’ll empathise with Geary.

The battle scenes are well constructed and allow for both a tense buildup and a sense of directed chaos once the fighting starts. The heart of the story though, is Geary’s personal journey. He’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders, in more ways than one, and as soon as I finished the final page, I wanted to pick up the next book!

10/10

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Another thing I’ve been up to with my site is looking at other themes. WordPress has a considerable range to choose from, and earlier today I was playing around with said themes. After all, a redesign never hurts!

So far though, nothing has leapt out at me as being straightforward enough to change it too. Still, I may yet find something I like!

OnBasiliskStationOne of the things that I love is books. I have always enjoyed reading, and as a kid I would read Roald Dahl books over and over again. It was his vivid and often macabre imagination that fired my own, and his books were just a joy to read!

As an adult my tastes lean more toward science fiction, and I dare say I’ve read a lot of science fiction! I was introduced to the Honor Harrington series by a guy that worked in my local bookshop, and whilst I have a few reservations about his later work, David Weber’s earlier entries to the Honorverse are superb examples of not only good science fiction, but good storytelling and good characters.

The first entry is On Basilisk Station, first published all the back in 1993, and whilst some stories suffer from having to explain a lot of back story, Weber manages to maintain a sense of pace to this story whilst giving us insights into the characters that aren’t full of exposition. Honor is presented not as a flawless Mary Sue-type character, but rather, as a woman of strong will who nevertheless holds on to insecurity that stems from her academy days, thanks to events that haunt her, even as she begins her first command. She doesn’t let these issues stop her though, despite being undermined by certain superior officers who feel embarrassed by how she shows them up during training exercises, and despite facing a devious external plot with the resources of only one ship.

One of the things that sets this book apart from its peers is that the characters and setting have a ‘lived in’ feel. This is not some pseudo-plastic, shiny universe where everything gleams and is perfect. The characters are human beings, flawed people, subject to the same fears and frailties as the rest of us, and ships and equipment get dirty, break down and need fixing. Politicians still argue and lie, and people can still reach high ranks within a military because of their family name, rather than talent. This all helps the reader to relate to the characters, and the nice attention to detail by Weber sucks you into this world and helps you care about the characters.

It all builds up to a tense finale that actually had me sweating with anticipation and concern about the fate of various characters. The battle scenes are reminiscent of 19th Century naval duels, except fought over much greater distances! If you like naval combat scenes that are realistic, good, consistent portrayals of technology, political intrigue and most of all, relate-able characters, On Basilisk Station is a fantastic start to a good series!

10/10

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Recently I kick-started an idea to do with busting jargon. On reflection (as I am trying to do this on a semi-professional basis), I have decided I am not playing to my strengths. Yes, I feel I can offer some insights into how retail works – and I might well continue to do so, but instead it might be better to focus my efforts on something I know more about – so it’s time to offer my thoughts on various books, games and films/TV shows I’ve enjoyed (or not enjoyed!). I hope you are entertained!

So I’m walking with my wife and daughter as we head home from her school, when we hear a woman shouting for help from down the path. Turns out the poor dear tripped and cut her arm and bashed her hip! My wife and I, and a neighbour, helped get her home (along with her two dogs!). I hope the poor dear is ok!

Round four of the 2015 F1 season took place earlier today, under the floodlights of the Bahrain International Circuit, and having delivered a pole lap nearly half a second faster than Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton was largely untroubled as he took his third win of the season. His race was uneventful, save for one slightly hairy moment when, after the first pit stops, Rosberg was right on his tail. Aside from that, he once again controlled the race, opening up a 27-point lead at the top of the standings in the process.

Not everyone had a race that was quite so straightforward. Vettel had split the Mercedes’ by qualifying second, and he held on to second at the first corner, whilst Raikkonen squeezed his Ferrari into third. Rosberg, beleaguered after being out-raced three races in a row, had to show some fight today, which thankfully he did, passing both Raikkonen and Vettel on the track in the first few laps, before passing Vettel again after the first stops, and again after the second stops (which saw Vettel make an error and run wide at the final corner, damaging his front wing enough to necessitate a change). However, Rosberg once again could not get close to Hamilton.

Raikkonen was on a different strategy to Vettel and appeared quicker, even before Vettel’s error. He closed in hard on Rosberg in the final stages of the race (aided in the final couple of laps by a brake problem for the Mercedes driver) and got by the German when he ran wide at turn 1.

Williams suffered at the start when Massa’s car wouldn’t move off the grid for the warm up lap, but he battled his way to 10th and a points finish, whilst Bottas got ahead of Vettel after the latter’s wing change, and used the power of his engine to keep Vettel at bay, taking a credible 4th place.

The Red Bulls both came home in the points, with Ricciardo in 6th (albeit crossing the line with a smoking engine) and Kvyat in 9th, whilst Grosjean took a credible 7th for Lotus and Perez took 8th for Force India, despite an initial charge from Sauber that suggested points were possible. Alonso came 11th for McLaren, a sign of ongoing improvements for the team, though Button couldn’t even start the race, thanks to an ERS problem.

Neither Toro Rosso finished, both having to retire due to mechanical problems.

A shout out has to go to Will Stevens of Manor, finishing some 40 seconds ahead of teammate Roberto Merhl, an impressive difference between the two today.

So Vettel, having raised his stock in recent weeks, has dented it a little today. Raikkonen impressed and Rosberg showed some spirit, but it was Hamilton who took 25 points. Will anyone stop him from winning in Spain on the 10th of May?

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After a break of only a week since the Chinese Grand Prix, we have arrived (metaphorically in my case) at the Sakir circuit in hot and dusty Bahrain.

Last year this race (which was the first Bahrain GP to be held at night) saw an exciting, race-long battle between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, featuring some near wheel-to-wheel racing that ended with Hamilton emerging victorious on that occasion.

With Hamilton and Rosberg at the centre of an interesting exchange of words in China, a repeat of that battle here could be a very fiesty affair. Rosberg needs to show he can match Hamilton and needs to that soon rather than later. However, there is a new variable this year, with Ferrari perhaps eying another good race in hot conditions (something that suited them in Malaysia).

A possible issue for Ferrari will be the decreasing track temperatures as night takes hold, which could see the Mercedes get stronger as the race wears on.

Key areas to watch here are Turn 1 (at the end of a DRS zone), Turn 10 (a hard braking zone following on from a quick sequence of turns) and Turn 11, which should also serve up a good overtaking opportunity. As of the end P3, Hamilton has been only narrowly faster than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, which suggests an interesting qualifying session and a fascinating race.

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