In my previous post I was quite reflective on taking the time to notice things and learn about the world around us – after the frightful events in Belgium earlier today, this takes on greater significance.

We don’t know what’s around the corner. We take too much for granted and we move through life with too much haste and not enough appreciation. Anything can happen, to any one of us, at any time, so please, to anyone reading this, tell your loved ones you love them, go for a walk and admire the scenery, take the time to play games with your kids, phone your parents and siblings, go down the pub with your mates, and really talk – laugh, cry, scream, run, leap, and live.

As I journeyed on the train this morning I looked around the carriage and saw quite a few people with their heads buried in their mobile phones. This is not unusual (I am guilty of same), but something in me gave me pause. What are we missing when we stare into the small screen in front of us?

So I made a point of stuffing my phone in my pocket and looking around. What sights would I see whilst actually taking the time to appreciate my surroundings? I would notice two new details about my journey, things that I had never observed before, despite doing the same trip day in, day out since the end of June.

The first was a pill box.

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The picture above isn’t the one I spotted, but it should offer up an idea as to what I saw. This relic of World War II served as a reminder of the very real threat of invasion that loomed over Britain back then – that little pill box, and no doubt dozens (if not hundreds) more like it would have served as defensive points, where brave soldiers would take up arms to repel invaders.

It was fascinating to see something like that, hidden in plain sight and probably ignored by countless passengers (who wouldn’t even know what it was). That one little box is a piece of history, a remnant of a destructive and hard-fought war that we must never forget, though I fear today’s generation won’t appreciate the significance of either the pill box or the war. The things we take for granted now were won for us by a generation that endured hardships we can barely imagine, and yet today’s generation would suggest having their mobile phone confiscated in school would represent hardship.

As I considered the box and what it represents (it can be spotted not too far from Pitsea train station, looking left from a forward-facing seat), a nice bit of symbolism caught my attention.

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The above is an image of Hadleigh Castle. This historic site is one that I pass on the train every day, yet I’ve never stopped to even learn its name until today. Built around or shortly after 1215 during the reign of Henry II (by someone called Hubert de Burgh), Hadleigh Castle was greatly expanded upon by Edward III, who used the castle as a retreat, but one that kept him reasonably close to London. The castle was important for economic reasons, but like the pill box, it served as a defensive location too. Much of the land around the castle is flat, and with high enough battlements the view would be quite good, allowing any watchers to spot invaders and send messages to summon armies.

As is obvious from the picture, Hadleigh Castle is in ruins – not only was it built on a foundation of London clay (not a stable surface by any means), but in the 16th Century the castle was dismantled for its stone.

Had I not opened my eyes this morning, I would never have delved deeper into the history of a place that’s virtually on my doorstep, and I certainly would not have noticed the pill box, which served as the catalyst for this post.

The second thing I noticed is not something that surprised me or that I wouldn’t expect to have seen, but it did nevertheless make me think. Benfleet train station is old (in station terms at least), dating back to Victorian times, and the reason I know this is not because of any research but because of something I recall from studying history at school – the style of brickwork used in the station’s construction is classic Victorian design. When I did do some searching earlier on, my suspicions were confirmed – Benfleet station dates back to 1855.

BenfleetStationGiven the pages I have developed on the history of the British railways, seeing and actually noticing that some of these stations hark back to this bygone era makes me feel a little more connected with that history. The train that I travel on is a modern marvel, but its journey is the same (and my journey is the same) as people who would have lived in a very different age – in a sense, I feel pulled a little closer to them and their journeys.

I just hope that future generations stop and take a moment to look at the world around them – even something as simple as a short train ride can yield remarkable facts about where we are from and who we are.

wp-1457296544878.jpg(wait, what?)

Not for the first time, earlier today I read of the idea that the Republican party of the US (traditionally the right-wing, conservative party in their political system) is actually more ‘lefty’ than it is right-wing (and this was intended very much as a slur against the GOP). Is there actually any truth to this?

Not, it would seem, if we look at the stances of the key candidates currently vying for leadership of the Democrats and Republicans in the race to decide who gets to be Presidential nominee. A comparison of the players (such as Sanders, Clinton, Trump, Rubio and Cruz) would suggest that the Democrat candidates and the Republican candidates have opposite views across a wide range of positions – from gay marriage to economic issues and military spending. It would seem the Democrat candidates line up more or less along the same lines, and the Republican candidates do likewise.

What does this mean? Well, it means that if the Republicans are now apparently left-wing, and their key players are all in agreement (more or less) with each other, whilst opposed to the Democrat candidates (who are again, more or less in alignment with each other), then are we to consider the Democrats right-wing? Of course not.

The anger directed at the Republican party by some of its own members and supporters is understandable, but the reasoning for that anger is also a denial of where the responsibility for their shortcomings comes from – Donald Trump is doing so well and galvanising the Republican membership so much precisely because he is right-wing – he is tapping into their values, and doing so with an intense, hardcore approach. He has claimed that ground and done so quite thoroughly.

So instead of blaming the evil lefties, the conservative right needs to take a long hard look in the mirror and consider that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start taking responsibility for its own failings, instead of projecting them.

 

Rosberg takes the chequered flag to win the opening race Picture via Associated Press

Rosberg takes the chequered flag to win the opening race Picture via Associated Press

The inaugural race of the 2016 F1 season has just finished, and straight away I can say it was a considerably more entertaining fare than last year’s offering.

Qualifying -New Format is a Farce

For 2016 the aim had been to shake things up with a new ‘elimination style’ qualifying format, with the slowest car being knocked out every so many seconds, until the time for the session was up completely. Whilst this did, to an extent, mix things up a little in Q1 and Q2, it also led to teams being unwilling to run in Q3, in the interest of preserving tyres, and already F1 bosses are looking to revert to the 2015 format – it would be fair to say, the new format has been an unqualified (if you’ll pardon the pun) disaster.

Nor did it impact the outcome – Lewis Hamilton parked his Mercedes on pole, Nico Rosberg lined up next to him, and the Ferraris followed in 3rd and 4th. One slight surprise was the strong showing of the Toro Rossos (Verstappen was 5th and Sainz 7th), suggesting they might be on for a good points haul. The McLarens, whilst more or less in the middle of the pack, produced a much better performance than at the same stage in 2015, whilst newcomers Haas were down toward the back with Manor.

Hamilton fluffs his Lines

Hamilton jostles with Vettel late on

Hamilton jostles with Vettel late on, image via AP

Having qualified quite comfortably, Hamilton might have expected to enjoy a good race, but any notions of that were dashed with a poor getaway that saw Rosberg, both Ferraris, Massa and Verstappen get in front of him. To begin with, it looked like he might only lose out to Vettel and Rosberg, but Hamilton was forced to slow up to avoid going into the back of his teammate in turn 1, and that allowed the others to slip by. Hamilton would dispatch Massa fairly quickly, but would be stuck behind a calm and collected* Verstappen for a number of laps.

Rosberg’s fortunes weren’t much better. He lost out to both Ferraris, which then began to gradually eke out a gap that would potentially allow them to control the race. Whilst there had been a difference in pace during qualifying, the Ferraris were clearly not so far behind in the race, and whilst Rosberg was able to get with DRS range of Kimi Raikkonen, he didn’t quite have enough speed to close up and get past.

It was a weekend to forget for Danill Kvyat – his car failed as he came around to complete the formation lap – he didn’t even get to start the race!

Alonso’s Almighty Shunt

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Alonso was winded after a huge smash with Gutierrez. Image via F1

It’s not often these days that I fear for a driver after a crash, but the scale of the crunching accident that Alonso suffered was enough to put my heart in my mouth for a few seconds. At first the TV cameras showed Gutierrez’ stricken Haas, which had suffered damage to the rear-left side of the car and was stuck in the gravel at turn 3. When the camera angle changed, it took a moment for everyone to realise there was a second car, half upside down and resting against the barrier – this shell of a car was what remained of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.

Alonso had been trying to sweep by Esteban Gutierrez on the run up to the corner, aided by DRS, and he dinked to the left of the Haas just as Gutierrez braked a little earlier than expected. The front-right tyre of the McLaren caught the rear-left of the Haas and sent Alonso into the barrier on his left at high speed – the car then slid off the track and hit the gravel still carrying great speed, the result of which caused the car to flip and spin through the air, actually hitting the ground once more on its way into the fence. I am struggling to recall the last time I saw an F1 car so thoroughly destroyed, as the pictures below show:

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AlonsoCrashMotorSport(images via Rex Features and Motorsport.com)

Amazingly, despite appearing to be a little winded, Alonso walked away unharmed – a testament to how strong F1 cars are. The accident triggered a red flag period, that would go on to have repercussions for the leaders…

Ferrari get their Strategy Wrong

Normally the Italian team can be relied upon to nail their tactics during a race, but today they were unable to adapt to the situation as it unfolded, and perhaps robbed via Alonso’s crash of what would have been a fantastic 1-2 finish. As it happened, Raikkonen had to retire with gearbox problems (and had flames shooting around above his head, not that he seemed to mind), and Vettel, who was on the super-soft tyre, was unable to build up a reasonable gap over Rosberg behind him, who had opted for the medium compound. Such was Rosberg’s choice (having taken advantage of the red flag spell) that he was able to go to the end of the race without stopping again, whereas Vettel would have to, and would need a gap of 24 seconds at a minimum to get in and out of the pits without losing the lead.

Unfortunately for Vettel, the tyres fell off the cliff and wouldn’t allow him to open up any sort of meaningful advantage, and when he pitted, he fell back, behind the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton (who was also running on the medium compound). He would close right in on Hamilton before the race’s end, but a late off-track adventure ended his hopes of 2nd, and Mercedes secured their predicted 1-2 finish – just with more sweating than they’d expected.

Sweary Radio Messages

The Toro Rossos battled each other for much of the race. Image via Getty

The Toro Rossos battled each other for much of the race. Image via Getty

*You may have wondered why I placed some doubt over Verstappen being calm and collected. That’s because in the second half of the race he was anything but calm. The youngster was quite passionate over the radio, firstly when his teammate Carlos Sainz (who was ahead of him but barely at the time) was pitted first (Verstappen had apparently been complaining about his tyres and felt he needed the stop more), and secondly, when the two Toro Rossos were trailing Joylen Palmer’s Renault. Sainz spent several laps trying and failing to get by the Renault, huffing and puffing and being unable to make a clear move, and behind him, Verstappen was venting his spleen, insisting he be allowed to have a crack at Palmer. Sainz was in no mood to just move over, and thus Verstappen kept complaining.

This was a scenario that would repeat itself late on as the Toro Rossos (which in the second half of the race were more or less glued to each other) came upon the train that was Grosjean, Hulkenburg and Bottas. Once again Verstappen was on the radio, demanding to be let past Sainz, and once again Sainz was not yielding. Things came to a head when Verstappen clipped Sainz but succeeded only in putting himself into a spin as they came out of the second-last corner.

A Points-scoring Debut

Grosjean had an excellent debut for Haas

Grosjean had an excellent debut for Haas

Taking advantage of the mixed-up tyre strategies and the red flag period (which was Grosjean’s only stop), Haas were able to score points upon their F1 debut, a feat not managed by a brand-new (that is, not a team that took over another team) team on their debut since 2002. A few years ago Grosjean was seen as a liability – today he was composed, keeping the Mercedes-powered Force India of Hulkenberg at bay without any obvious worry for much of the race.

What’s Next?

Formula 1 returns in two weeks’ time with the Bahrain Grand Prix – a circuit very different in layout, weather conditions and character. Can we expect another exciting race? I hope so!

Back to F1 2016

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I wrote a review of The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword some time ago, and when I wrote this review I did so through the slight haze of time and nostalgia. Recently I’ve been replaying this game, and whilst there are certain elements that I have come back to and enjoyed, I dare say there is a darker side to my recollections that I’d shut out.

Part of this is maybe me. I’m writing this having had a long day where a few little things here and there have conspired to piss me off a little, and thus I’ve been ‘playing angry’. I am though, pretty sure that, upon reflection, some of the frustrations I am feeling now I felt way back when I first when through the game. As I’ve gone through it, I’ve been mentally listing the tropes that I feel were totally unnecessary and just plain annoying.

The Imprisoned

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I get that there has to be an element of challenge to any game, or it just isn’t worth it. It makes the completion of said game all the more satisfying. However, going over the same steps again and again and again can swiftly feel repetitive and annoying, especially if the mechanics of the quest/boss aren’t straightforward. The Imprisoned is a good example of this, and highlights a few flaws in the game. He’s a big monster that can only be stopped by smashing a stone upon his head, and you have to bring him down first in order to do that – with each fight he takes on new characteristics – such as moving faster or climbing up walls, and all I can say is that I dreaded facing him – at one point I was inexplicably shoved onto a lower level (I wasn’t there before the cut scene) and had to repeat a chunk of the fight. I found the whole little saga to be quite irritating – and as said before, repetitive.

The Pirate Captain

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In my view, this bastard is the most annoying fight in the game. Hit his defences in the wrong fashion and the mechanics here are such that no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to get your shield up in time. You’re on a tight walkway and you need to hit him so many times to drive him back but guess what? The Motion Plus makes it harder to score hits and his electric sword zaps you if your sword clashes against it (even during the second fight, when your sword has evolved). The somewhat unwieldy controls leave you hacking and slashing away more in hope at this point.

What’s worse, when you make your way through the final temple to find the Triforce, you have to fight him again. You’re the Hero of Legend that has just purified his sword and his spirit, facing all kinds of trials and tests to do so, before having to go back through pretty much every location you’ve already been to to complete a song, only to face another trial (see below), and as if that isn’t enough, you then face to face more traps and monsters once in the temple! The land is depending upon you to defeat an evil that could destroy everyone… So let’s make him face deadly traps that might kill him before he can stop this great evil! Yeah, that seems smart…

The Silent Realm

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The first time you run into this alternate take on certain parts of the map, it’s actually quite good, but in the end it feels shoehorned in. You’ve searched high and low for Zelda, you’ve purified your sword and spirit, you’ve learned the Song of the Hero – and you still need to prove yourself as the hero? Methinks the Goddess needs to reevaluate her priorities – defeating the bad guy should take precedence over tormenting the hero!

Another good example of this is the pointless filler that comes with finding the parts of the Song of the Hero. I don’t mind the Lanyaru Gorge or Volcano parts – but when the water dragon decides you need to swim around finding all the notes to the song??? This is just tedious and in my view, a blatant effort to pad the game out when it wasn’t really required.

The Controls

I can understand what Nintendo were trying to do here. Creating a semi-realistic motion of weapons could have added to the game, but the unwieldy nature of the execution (including how it affects swimming, flying etc) means you feel like you’re fighting Link as much as anything else – he won’t respond to the controls in quite the right fashion a lot of the time, resulting in untimely falls or misplaced attacks.

The Verdict

Despite the problems with Skyward Sword, I still like this game. It is not a bad Zelda title. It is however, upon greater reflection, far from the best. It needed sharpening and it needed some of that padding removed.

The pressure continues to mount on Man United boss Louis Van Gaal, after an ultimately tame performance against arch rivals Liverpool in the Europa League at Old Trafford condemned his side to exiting the competition in the last 16. With a huge Derby game against Man City at the weekend, and a potentially very tricky trip to London to face West Ham in the FA Cup, LVG appears to be running out of chances to save his Utd career.

In the second leg’s early exchanges Utd did create chances but nothing clear-cut, whilst Liverpool carried a threat on the break. With the home side needing two goals to bring themselves level on aggregate, they did take a 1-0 lead on the night when Martial scored from the penalty spot (having been brought down by Clyne). However, Liverpool would grab an equaliser – and crucial away goal – on the stroke of half-time.

Philippe Coutinho has blown hot and cold during his Liverpool career, but last night’s goal was a moment of sublime beauty that sucked the spirit out of Utd and put Liverpool firmly in control of the tie. Having skipped down the left flank, dodging defenders as he went, Coutinho found himself in the penalty area but rapidly running out of room. Knowing that Utd ‘keeper De Gea can make a save or two didn’t stop him from making the effort – and a delightful dink of the ball over De Gea and into the net ended the game as a contest.

For Klopp, things would appear to be looking up. He has steadily impressed his style and character upon Liverpool, and has done so only with the players he had when he arrived. With a full pre-season and signings of his choosing, Klopp can hopefully set higher targets for the Reds next season. Van Gaal will probably be watching from the sidelines.

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It’s time! After what has felt like an eternity, Formula 1 is blasting back onto our screens! First up, Melbourne, Australia.

This race will mark twenty years of hosting the Australian GP at Melbourne, and this ‘kat aims to be awake for the 5am start!

58 laps will be run, covering over 300KM (barring protracted safety car spells) in what should hopefully be a good showcase for the progress (or lack thereof) of the teams over winter and testing. This will also be the first occasion that the new ‘elimination’ qualifying format is introduced. Might this unhinge the established pecking order? Time will tell.

Predictions: for all the progress made by Ferrari and the other teams, it is still Mercedes’ race to lose, and despite the apparent strength of Rosberg in testing, it will Hamilton who will look sharper on the day – it’s Hamilton who has the greater talent and, more importantly, desire.

Should a challenger emerge from elsewhere, it will be Vettel, who was able to lurk just beyond the Mercedes last season. Will he actually be able to close the gap on race day? He has the hunger to win more titles and if Ferrari are closer in terms of performance, he also has the ability to be a nuisance, but I don’t think Ferrari are quite there yet.

The first race is all about setting markers – I expect Hamilton to do exactly that.

Back to F1 2016

https://theologyarchaeology.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/yec-is-not-absurd/

So Young Earth Creationism is apparently not absurd. Of course not. It just flies in the face of everything we know about how planets form (including the timescale), and about how life evolves.

This once again links in with what I said in my previous post – that a literal interpretation of the Bible is not necessarily the right interpretation.