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Yesterday Liverpool FC legend Steven Gerrard played in his last home game for Liverpool. His contribution to the club over the course of his career has been immense, and it saddens me that he did not get the Premier League winner’s medal he so sorely deserves.

Loyal to the end, despite having the chance to join Chelsea and almost certainly win trophies, Gerrard has spent his entire career at Anfield, at times singlehandedly dragging the club up the table. He has scored some unbelievable goals (such as his screamer against West Ham in the dying seconds of the 2006 FA Cup final), and his leadership and inspiration will never be forgotten.

Perhaps his most famous contribution though, came in Istanbul, in 2005, when Liverpool (who had already defied the odds to simply reach the Champions League final) would come back from 3 behind to take the match against AC Milan to penalties and, ultimately, victory. Gerrard set Liverpool on their way, scoring a thumping header to put the Reds back in the game, and he joins an illustrious group of players who have captained their side to European glory.

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He has made over 700 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 183 goals, whilst he also appeared 114 times for England (currently the third most capped player for England of all time).

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Without a doubt, Liverpool fans everywhere are indebted to Gerrard for his loyal service to the club. Gerrard, we salute you!

For reasons unknown to me, my Ayrton Senna page on my site has been getting a steady flow of visitors over the past few weeks. This is quite pleasing – naturally I want traffic – but I’m at a loss to understand why. I haven’t been promoting that page more than any other – so its popularity is something of a mystery.

It’s had me thinking about how I can promote the site. I want visibility – I want attention and I want feedback. So far, Twitter and Facebook have been my main avenues – that a few forums I visit. I need to do more.

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My first film review is a film that proved to be quite divisive within the Trekkie fan base. Star Trek was the film that ‘rebooted’ the franchise, several years after Enterprise went off the air.

The film takes the franchise back to its roots. The original characters of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and co were recast and we got to see them meet each other and come together to form the crew of the Enterprise for the first time. Along the way, we get time-travelling Romulans, planetary destruction, and a fandom that couldn’t decide if the film was exactly what Star Trek needed, or the final nail in the coffin.

Financially, Star Trek was a success. It faired quite well at the box office, and I dare say critically it was a success too. Most critics enjoyed the high-tempo and fast pace of the film, which served up plenty of action and had a lot of fun in the process.

The first 10 minutes or so are amongst the best material Star Trek has ever produced as a franchise, actually moving me to tears with a gut-wrenching opening. It is also filled with little nods to the original show, and whilst the story is not perfect, it’s good enough and close enough to the spirit of the original series.

Star Trek draws criticism from fans who disagree with the lighthearted nature of the film, a lack of exploration, and the destruction of a key world. Star Trek does upset the established timeline with certain events, which led to some fans crying that their TNG and DS9 boxsets would suddenly be meaningless (I hope I don’t have to explain to anyone why this is not the case), but in being bold, I feel the film was braver than a lot of the samey material that preceded it.

As far as exploration vs action is concerned, it is worth noting that the more successful Star Trek films have favoured action over anything else. Also, it is necessary for Star Trek to evolve or fail – it died off because fans were clearly tired of the same old stuff every week (just look at how quickly viewing figures for Enterprise plummeted). Star Trek’s mandate was to reignite interest in the Star Trek franchise – and it did exactly that.

9/10

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We’re skipping a few Honour Harrington books here to review book four in the series, Field of Dishonor. I should mention, I’m not skipping The Honour of the Queen or The Short Victorious War because I don’t like those books, but for me, Field of Dishonor is quite an important book and provides us with a greater insight into Manticorian culture – as well as Honor as a person.

The start of the book deals with the immediate aftermath of the events of The Short Victorious War, where an act of cowardice leads to avoidable casualties in battle, and Honor finds herself fighting an internal battle against a very personal enemy. She effectively humiliates a man who wronged her in the past, with the consequence that she angers a politically influential family within Manticorian society. By this point, she has already begun to polarise the opinions of her commanding officers (some regard her as a great officer, others feel she is reckless and untrustworthy), and Honor soon finds herself confronting a painful personal loss, and facing an overwhelming desire for revenge, despite knowing the political implications of where that desire might lead.

In the end, I couldn’t help but sympathise with Honor greatly. She doesn’t do anything wrong, but is nevertheless the subject of a personal vendetta by a man who hates her (and whom she hates). She faces orders from her superiors that are politically motivated but she sees those orders as unfair and unjust. She is put through a great deal of pain, for more than one reason, and through it all, it shines through to me that Honor is a determined person, not prepared to let those who wrong her get away with it, and damn the personal (and especially the political) consequences. I couldn’t help but root for her, even though I knew her choices were potentially quite reckless .David Weber is also keen to ensure we feel little sympathy for the villain of the story. He is offered few (if any) redeemable features, presented as pompous, arrogant and cowardly. He is everything that Honor isn’t.

We learn that Manticorian society (already established as a constitutional monarchy) is quite in favour of equality, but unfortunately, there are elements of the nobility who are very much elitist and snobbish. These elements stretch to the military, forming some of the political enemies that Honor has to deal with, despite her own disdain for politics. We also get to see the practice of dueling in action (seen as archaic to some, but an element of Manticorian life that isn’t going anywhere).

One of the things I enjoy about this book is the ‘lived in’ feel. People argue, they go out to dinner, they worry about money and they aren’t perfect.

A thoroughly entertaining read!

9/10

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Having reviewed my phone (the venerable Samsung Galaxy S4), I thought I would weigh in with my thoughts on the Apple vs Android debate. It can be a thorny one at times (brand loyalty can be a big thing to some people), but nevertheless I wanted to have my say.

The contenders:

Apple

AppleLogoOne of the largest companies in the world, Apple to begin with made iMacs and Macbooks, that offered an alternative to Windows-based PCs and laptops. The interface has often been described as friendly and easy to use, though personally, I have never enjoyed using Macs. To be honest, I don’t find them to be especially straightforward.

Where Apple came into their own was with the development of iPods (of various shapes and sizes), and in particular, the iPhone. These products propelled Apple forward, cementing their reputation for excellence and giving them a platform to spring forward from. It wasn’t long before they began to dominate the smartphone market.

It was all the way back in 2007 that the first iPhone appeared, and since then Apple have continued to develop it (we are now on to the iPhone 6).

Key Features:

Like pretty much all Apple products, the iPhone uses iTunes (Apple’s online music directory and store). If you have iTunes you can download a huge selection of song to your device, capped only by the storage space and what you’re willing to spend. There is also an apps market, and Apple tightly control what apps are available, to ensure quality. Because iTunes is software used across different Apple devices, if you purchase a book from the book store, it will automatically be available not only on your iPhone, but on other Apple products you might own.

Needless to say, this is quite convenient!

Generally speaking, the iPhone, iPad and other Apple products are well-made. They are virtually carved out of metal and glass and screen quality is superb. Even older generation iPads hold up quite well in terms of their build quality.

The Downside

Of course, with this there comes a catch or two. The price of Apple products is usually considerably more than that of rival products, and there is little variation. For example, the cheapest iPhone 6 contract available on Vodafone is £39 a month, and you have to pay £99 up front for the phone! The cheapest Samsung S6 contract on Vodafone is £39 a month, you pay £49 for the handset, and the phone has twice as much storage space. The S6 is also a more recent handset, making it the latest technology.

Historically there have also been problems with being unable to change the battery in iPhones (they are sealed units). This means you have to take your phone back to a phone shop or Apple store, and there may be charges involved for this.

Android

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The Android system first appeared properly in 2007, after being developed by Google and a handful of phone manufacturers. It is purely an operating system (unlike Apple, who make both the hardware and software), and it has filtered through onto a wide range of devices.

Many major phone companies make Android products – Samsung, HTC, Sony, LG, Acer and Asus are among just some of the companies who had or are making Android smartphones and tablets. As a result of being available to a wide range of companies, Android devices are a major force in the market place.

Key Features:

Android is what is known as ‘open source’. This means that anyone can create apps for Android devices, because the source code is available for anyone to view and make use of. The apps market is huge, as anyone can publish an app.

Because Android is available for any manufacturer to make use of, there is tremendous variety on the market for people seeking smartphones, and some of these are quite cheap.

Problems

Because the Android software is open source, and because anyone can develop apps for it, it is largely unregulated. This increases the risk of viruses corrupting the hardware (though anti-virus software is available for phones and tablets). Additionally, the quality of the hardware varies wildly.

There are also quality issues concerning apps. Anyone can make a game for Android, but this doesn’t mean everyone who does should.

Conclusions

Personally, I favour Android products. This is largely because they are cheaper (in some cases considerably) than Apple products, and because there is greater variety. If you want something running iOS, it has to be an Apple product. Yes, you get excellent build quality, but they are not without their flaws, and Apple’s tight regulation of their software and what you can do with it feels restrictive to me.

That said, the iPad is the best tablet device out there, despite its price tag.

I also take issue with Apple’s stance toward its competitors. Apple have been engaged in legal disputes over patents with Samsung (amongst others) for a number of years. To me, this smacks of fear over the growing success of the Android platform and a desire to control competition through the courts rather than through sales. Apple’s anticompetitive stance has sullied its image in my eyes.

This isn’t to say Android products are flawless and I would never say no to owning an iPhone or iPad. The prices need to be better for that to happen.

SamsungGalaxyS4As part of my ongoing review series, today I turn my attention toward a device that none of us can do without these days – the mobile phone.

Mobile phones are a terrific measure of technological progress. My first phone, the Siemens C35i, had a black and white display, a small screen and physical buttons. I got it back in 2000, and to be fair to it, it did its job pretty well.

Flash forward to 2015, and within fifteen years I’ve seen phones transform from bog-standard devices for calls and texts, to mini computers, capable of letting us access the full sum of human knowledge and history from nearly anywhere on earth.

The smartphone can be used to access the internet via mobile data (which is getting faster and faster), whilst bigger and clearer touchscreens make using them easier, and there is a dizzying array of applications you can get (from games, to recipe ideas, to exercise regimes and booking holidays).

My current phone of choice is the Samsung Galaxy S4. It was first released in March 2014, so by phone standards, it’s old, but it is still more than capable of doing the job it needs to do.

The S4 runs the latest version of Google’s Android software, meaning it can run the latest apps designed for Android devices. In direct comparisons with Samsung’s latest offering (the S6), the S4 actually stacks up quite well. It’s two years older so naturally the S6 has it beat in some respects (screen resolution, processing speed and RAM), but the differences are not spectacular. The battery life is comparable, and whilst the S4 had a maximum capacity of 64GB (compared to the 128GB of the S6), the S4 can accept micro SD cards, which the S6 can’t.

Perhaps the S6’s best feature is its construction. It’s made from glass and aluminum, so therefore feels more solid than the plastic construction of the S4. However, you can change the battery on the S4 yourself if you need to – on the S6, you can’t.

In short, the S4 offers a decent service. It’s pretty quick, it can handle the latest apps, it’s got a good sized-screen, and it’s not too far behind Samsung’s flagship model. If you can find one, it will not be as pricey as the S6 (or S5 for that matter) and I would recommend snapping it up!

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The main site has stuttered a little bit in recent weeks. Various work-related issues have conspired to keep me from developing the site in the way I would have liked. However, the next stage of my trains section is underway, and I’m considering porting some stuff over from my old Wix site.

I’m also thinking about setting up an archive of material from a much older site. Many years ago I had a site called The Site of Sothis. Thanks to a clever little site called The Wayback Machine, it’s possible to retrieve some of this material. I don’t yet know whether any of it is even worth bringing back, but it
might be worth a look!

It would seem that, in the wake of yet another disappointing race, Red Bull are planning to leave Formula 1 (despite being contracted until 2020), a result of their ongoing unhappiness with the current regulations and reliability problems with their Renault engines.

We are only five races into the 2015 season, yet Daniel Ricciardo has already used four engines (the maximum permitted before facing grid penalties), whilst his teammate Daniil Kvyat has also been forced into more than one engine change. Sister team Toro Rosso have faced similar issues, and the cars have not been particularly balanced to boot. Red Bull have not been at all competitive in 2015, and to me it seems they are having an epic tantrum.

As a team, Red Bull dominated proceedings from 2010 to 2013, winning four consecutive driver’s and constructor’s championships. Then the regulations changed, and despite their resources and finances, Red Bull failed to adapt. Obviously, no one wants to be second-best (especially if you’re used to winning), but all sport sees ebbs and flows. Teams peak, they wane, and they peak again.

Red Bull’s greatest strength in recent years has been producing cars that have terrific downforce. They tended to be good on their tyres, and a lack of engine power was more than compensated for by aerodynamic brilliance, making the cars easy to drive and especially good on twisty tracks. I can’t help but wonder if their threats to quit are an attempt to force the hands of F1 bosses into returning to an era where aerodynamics are more important than engine grunt – because they clearly lack the latter.

What RBR seem to be forgetting is that they actually won races last year, thanks in part to their car’s aerodynamic properties. Despite having a car that wasn’t as powerful engine-wise as the Williams, RBR were second in the championship last year. They’ve made backward steps this year and are blaming everyone else, throwing their toys out of the pram, and I find it pathetic.

I can only wonder what this means for the drivers currently employed by Red Bull. They are doing their best in trying circumstances, and surely want to remain in F1.

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The dust is settled on the Spanish Grand Prix and for the first time this season, Nico Rosberg has been victorious!

Ultimately his victory was sealed at the very start of the race, when he got away well, whilst Lewis Hamilton span his wheels too hard and fell behind Sebastian Vettel, proceeding to be stuck behind the Ferrari for a big chunk of the race (not helped by a botched pit stop when he first boxed either).

With the Ferrari pacing the Mercedes quite nicely, Hamilton was unable to get close enough to take advantage of DRS, the only chance Hamilton initially had to get by Vettel was to try and undercut him at the pit stops, but a problem with the rear-left tyre at the first stops meant Hamilton actually ended up even further behind Vettel, and had to play catchup all over again.

Rosberg meanwhile, was largely un-threatened up front, stretching out a decent enough gap to avoid any pit stop strategy work from Ferrari.

The Toro Rossos, which had qualified 5th and 6th (a mighty effort), fell back during the early stages of the race, hampered by a setup that favoured strong cornering but left them sitting ducks on the straights, thus seeing to it that Kimi Raikkonen and the two Lotuses got by them fairly quickly.

Fernando Alonso nearly – nearly – ran over the jack man when he pitted, the result of a brake problem that would force him to retire, whilst Maldonado’s Lotus firstly suffered a damaged rear wing, then he too was forced to retire through no fault of his own.

Ultimately only Carlos Sainz would bring his Toro Rosso home in the points, though as I type he’s under investigation for a last-lap collision with Red Bull’s Kvyat, that saw him run wide through the first couple of corners.

Williams saw both cars in the points, with Valtteri Bottas holding off Kimi Raikkonen over the final few laps, once again showing great composure to right off the faster car. Ricciardo recovered from bad qualifying to finish 7th, with all the Red Bull-owned cars finishing the race (a minor miracle!)

Grosjean accidentally hit one of his pit crew when he failed to stop in time during one of his stops.

It would be fair to say the race was not especially exciting, but it was an important moment in the season – Rosberg controlled the race, for once looking every bit as confident as Hamilton has looked so far. He remains 20 points behind Hamilton after five races, but he’s shown he can still fight back, and he will be very keen to carry this form through to Monaco.

For his part, Hamilton managed to put in some sensational lap times on the harder tyre, managing to undercut Vettel in the end (Ferrari mysteriously didn’t try to cover Hamilton off). His speed once free of the Ferrari was impressive, and at one stage it seemed he might try to catch Rosberg in the final laps, but he was too far back to have a realistic chance. In the end, his chances of victory were thwarted at the very start, thanks to his poor start. He’ll be hungry to regain the upper hand in Monaco!

Back to F1 2015

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After a few weeks without any F1 (I like to refer to these weeks as ‘the dark times’) it’s back! Barcelona, Spain, is the place, and I dare say this is one of my favourite tracks on F1 games.

It’s a circuit noted for being hard to overtake on, thanks to a number of winding corners that follow one another quite quickly. The best point is at the end of the start-finish line into turn 1, though even here, seeing as turn 2 follows on pretty quickly, getting by someone can be tricky.

In 2014 Lewis Hamilton won here for Mercedes, with Nico Rosberg close behind. It was a fairly close thing between the pair, but in the end Hamilton pulled off his fourth straight win.

This time, Rosberg has scored his first pole position of 2015, an important act, given that Hamilton has been pretty comfortable so far. Hamilton will not like being second, but last season he proved himself very capable of passing Rosberg on the track, so I can’t imagine he will too unnerved.

Sebastian Vettel parked his Ferrari third on the grid, once again lurking near the Mercs. Bottas had a good qualifying session for Williams, ending up fourth, but perhaps the best performance belongs to Carlos Sainz Jr, who stuck his Toro Rosso in fifth, a great effort from the rookie. His teammate Max Verstappen was sixth, meaning both Toro Rosso’s have qualified ahead of the Red Bulls.

Kimi Raikkonen was seventh, and I can only wager he’d be a tad disappointed, along with Massa, who only put his Williams on ninth, sandwiched between the Red Bulls. Kyvat out qualified Ricciardo, taking 8th to Dan’s 10th.

Both McLarens made it to Q2 but remain someway off the pace. They’ll be hoping to have a sniff of points during the race, but then so will Lotus, whose cars are 11th and 12th (right ahead of the McLarens).

It should be an absorbing race, one I am looking forward to!

Back to F1 2015