Count your blessings – Week 4

Monday 9
If you take farming out of the equation, only 20% of paid jobs in northern Africa are held by women.
Pray for equality for women in northern Africa, and around the world.

Tuesday 10
In 2013, almost 300,000 women died globally from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Give 50p for each woman you know who has received specialist care during or after her pregnancy.

Wednesday 11
Through our partners, women like Elema have found support networks to turn
to in difficult times.
Give 40p for every woman who supports you in times of trouble.

Thursday 12
In many societies, women can’t leave home without a chaperone. Our partners support income-generating projects to do at home, such as cultivating silk worms in Afghanistan.
Give 30p for each place you go to on your own today.

Friday 13
Thanks to HUNDEE, Galgalo recognises that there shouldn’t be any supremacy between men and women. He shares the household tasks he previously considered ‘women’s work’.
Give 20p for each chore you think is a job for the opposite sex.

Weekend 14 & 15
Mothering Sunday
Elema followed tradition and was proud
when her daughter got married aged 12. Shortly afterwards, Elema watched her die
in labour. With the help of HUNDEE, Elema now campaigns against child marriage and protects girls like Bokiya who flee from it.
‘Not only will my daughters be over 18 when they marry, but I will protect other girls too,’ Elema says. Thanks to her, the community has prevented many child marriages.

Count your blessings 2015 – Week 3

This week’s Count your Blessings focuses on Education.

Monday 02 March
Education opens up opportunities. Bokiya wants to be a doctor when she finished school.
Give 30p for the number of professions you wanted to be as a child. Give 50p more if it became true.

Tuesday 03 March
Elema’s father wouldn’t let her go to school now she’s in her 50s, she feels it is too late.
Give 30p for each qualification you’ve taken as an adult.

Wednesday 04 March
Every year, 14 million girls get married before the age of 18. At school, girls like Bokiya learn about their rights and the dangers of child marriage.
Pray that girls will be courageous and able to stand up for their rights.

Thursday 05 March
World Book Day
Today we celebrate being able to read. But 781 million adults around the world lack basic literacy skills.
Give 5p for the number of books on your bookshelf that you haven’t read.

Friday 06 March
More than one in four children in developing regions are likely to drop out of primary school for reasons beyond their control.
Give 50p for every educational institution you have attended.

Weekend 07 & 08 March
Through community education, HUNDEE helps parents to understand that girls should go to school as well as boys. Bokiya says: ‘I like education because I can be a self-helper, a strong woman who can help herself.’
Visit christianaid.org.uk/reflect and use the weekly reflection to consider the gift of education.

Count Your Blessings 2015 – Week 2

We are a week into Lent and Christian Aid are running their Count your Blessings cause to give us something to think about, while also giving money for a good cause. Beth and I are both raising money again, however, I want to share the resources so that others can raise money alongside us.

The resources are available here:
http://www.christianaid.org.uk/getinvolved/lent/count-your-blessings/

Monday 23 February
It’s Fairtrade Fortnight! Fairly traded products offer better prices to the hard-working producers, and ensure decent working conditions and fair terms of trade.
Give 20p for each fairtrade product you can name.

Tuesday 24 February
In parts of Ethiopia, women don’t traditionally have the right to inherit any of their husband’s or parents’ assets.
Pray for our partners who challenge the structures that keep people poor.

Wednesday 25 February
Where our money goes shapes the world. Ask your pension fund whether your money is invested in risky fossil fuel projects or is funding a fairer future.
Visit christianaid.org.uk/greenlight to take action.

Thursday 26 February
Savings and loans groups provide communities with opportunities to borrow money. When they pay it back, others can then borrow money.
Give 50p for each bank account that you have access to.

Friday 27 February
Our UK state pension helps to maintain a decent standard of living when we retire. For many around the world, if they can’t work or grow their own food then no one will provide for them.
Give 40p for every year that you have paid in to a pension scheme.

Weekend 28 February – 01 March
Galgalo used to make all the financial decisions in his household. He says:
‘If I wanted to sell a cow, I would sell it. Then I would spend the money however I wanted, I might give my wife a bit to spend on the children, or I might not.’ Thanks to the work of HUNDEE, Galgalo sees the importance of involving his wife. Now they go to market together so there is no secrecy in how much money is made and spent.
Give 50p for each time you use a credit or debit card this weekend.

Film of the year 2014

2014 was a good year for cinema, there were a lot of great big releases and Beth and I each saw around 20 films, making a top 10 more difficult.

Beth’s list:

10. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
9. Dallas Buyers Club
8. Calvary
7. Belle
6. The Imitation Game
5. The Judge
4. Godzilla
3. The Lego Movie
2. 12 Years a Slave
1. Interstellar
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Jonathan’s list:
10. Dallas Buyers Club
9. Godzilla
8. Belle
7. Edge of Tomorrow
6. Imitation of Game
5. Her
4. Interstellar
3. Gone Girl
2. 12 Years a Slave
1. Guardians of the Galaxy

Beth and I both picked Sci-Fi films this year. 2014 also marked my second such film in a row. We also picked the same film at number 2, which is as close as we have gotten to an agreement on Film of the Year so far. Interstellar was possibly the best cinematic experience that I have seen in a long time. I just had more fun with Guardians of the Galaxy. I have now seen the film five times and still find it an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Marvel’s latest is exactly the type of film that I want to see and while I am having trouble getting excited for their super hero films at the moment, this seemed fresher, giving us a new space outlaw to (G)root for.

The notable film missing from both of our lists was Boyhood, there is a lot of oscar buzz for that film, however, we watched it and were pretty underwhelmed. The process of making the film was more interesting than the finished product. While I applaud Richard Linklater’s ability to keep the narrative going, that narrative was a little too plain for me. Guardians was practically guaranteed to be my Film of the Year as soon as the lights came up in the cinema.
GOTG-poster
Previous winners:

Beth

2013 – The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
2012 – Trade of Innocents
2011 – King’s Speech
2010 – Toy Story 3
2009 – Beth was indecisive and picked 5 films
2008 – Juno

Jonathan

2013 – Gravity
2012 – Django Unchained
2011 – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
2010 – Inception
2009 – The Wrestler
2008 – The Dark Knight
2007 – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Game of the year 2014

2014 was not a year in which I found it easy to find interesting games to play. When I changed jobs in August my gaming habits changed, from previously being predominantly a console gamer, I edged closer to the PC with my steam account receiving increasing amounts of activity. That said, the joy of Steam is discounts on older games and so I only played 5 games that came out in 2014. This small list is partly down to frugality, however, I also think that the year represented a weak year in gaming. The new consoles were finding their feet and it appeared that the market was fairly barren. 2015 looks interesting, it looks to be the year that the new consoles (PS4 and XboxOne could finally begin delivering. It also looks like this could be the year that Nintendo’s consoles shine, the year is starting with a revision to the 3DS, and the Wii U lineup for the coming year is pretty strong, even if it does suffer from the usual third party game drought. Here is how I would rank the five games I played in 2014, looking back, I am not sure what else I would want to pick up:

5. Banner Saga – An enjoyable turn based indie game with an interesting multi character story.

4. Grid Autosport – Finally a touring car game that gets close to allowing me to enact a BTCC season (well 4 rounds out of 10).

3. Far Cry 4 – Sticks to the formula of Far Cry 3, very pretty game that doesn’t do a lot new, however, there is nothing wrong with that in this case.

2. Wolfenstein: The New Order – The best shooter I have played in years, the controls feel tight and the story is suitably bonkers.

1. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor perfected a system that was brought in by Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham games, with a simple and engaging combat system that grabs you and pulls you in. In addition it did some great and innovative things. The main one of these being the nemesis system where you are confronted by Sauron’s army and can pick them off one by one, allowing you to create your own story as you build up your own feelings about various captains and chiefs. When an orc defeats you, it remembers and torments you about it at your next meeting. If you defeat them, they are not guaranteed to be dead, they can come back seeking vengeance. Then later in the game you can take control of orcs and turn them to your will, this allows you to take down their hierarchy from the inside. It allowed me to build a powerful story and made for the best game I played in 2014.

F1 Driver Rankings 2014 edition

It looks like I missed out on doing this last year, probably because I was a little bored of the Sebastian Vettel show.

So to my list (comparisons are against my 2012 list):

1. Daniel Ricciardo +17
2. Lewis Hamilton +1
3. Fernando Alonso -3
4. Valtteri Bottas NE
5. Nico Rosberg +5
6. Sebastian Vettel -4
7. Jules Bianchi NE
8. Felipe Massa -1
9. Jenson Button -5
10. Romain Grosjean +10
11. Nico Hulkenberg -6
12. Danil Kvyat NE
13. Kevin Magnussen NE
14. Jean-Eric Vergne +9
15. Kimi Raikonnen -9
16. Sergio Perez -8
17. Kamui Kobayashi -6
18. Pastor Maldonado 3
19. Marcus Ericsson NE
20. Adrian Sutil RE
21. Esteban Guttierez NE
22. Max Chilton NE

 

While Lewis Hamilton won the championship, winning over half the races along the way, it was Daniel Ricciardo who impressed the most. The new Red Bull driver dominated his four-time world champion teammate and snatched the only three victories that did not fall Mercedes’ way. In a season where one team had a second or more advantage per lap, his achievements were clear to see. Alonso again did the best he could with a poor Ferrari while Bottas had a break out year for Williams, getting his first podium finishes along the way. Hopefully in 2015 someone will catch up to Mercedes, otherwise 2015 could easily become a repeat of 2014. Mclaren now have one of the strongest lineups on the grid, they will be under a lot of pressure to perform with Alonso and Button, if Honda deliver a strong engine things will heat up.

The last lap redux

Last week the FIA met to discuss changes to F1 for 2015 and beyond. A number of the changes address issues that I raised in my article last month. I thought it would be a good time to take a brief look at where things have been changed and how.

 

The problems

Poor attendance at tracks (ongoing) – A number of poor tracks exist as pet projects that have poor layouts, oft poor racing and nobody watching… the FIA has now reintroduced one of the more boring races, Korea.

Ever younger drivers (2014) – For F1 to claim it is a sport for the best drivers, those drivers should have a certain amount of experience and therefore Max Verstappen with this one year of single seater experience should not be allowed in. The FIA have agreed, from 2016 (so after Verstappen), an F1 superlicense will only be granted to over 18s with at least two year’s single seater experience. This is a good move that should have been in place sooner.

Financing (ongoing) – The teams are meeting on 18th December to discuss F1 costs, the big teams will need to give the small teams some rope.

Double points (2014) – I threatened to stop watching Formula One if double points affected the championship fight and the prospect loomed large over the season finale. Fortunately Lewis Hamilton had everything under control and I didn’t need to worry. In addition, the FIA have now dropped double points for future seasons.

Poorly thought-through regulation changes – I came up with a few examples (including DRS) of gimmicks to improve the show, fortunately a number of new ones planned for next year have been dropped including standing starts after safety car periods.

 

Most of these changes are common sense and it is good to see that the FIA have made these changes. In addition, despite Bernie’s comments about F1 not being for young audiences and saying the sport will not embrace social media, there are plans in the works for the sport to increase its social presence with youtube and facebook being added to the existing twitter offering. Hopefully the sports leading teams and the sports owners can agree to lower their slices of the revenue pie and give the small teams more of a chance to succeed when they meet later this month.

The last lap

I started watching Formula One with the 1998 Spanish Grand Prix – won by Mika Hakkinen – and since that day I have not missed a single race, watching around 95% in their entirety without fast forwarding. That makes a streak of 295 consecutive F1 races. However, over the last three years I have had a growing feeling that I may just be watching for the sake of watching. The powers that be have decided to make changes to the sport to ‘improve the show’ that have led to me feeling alienated. In this post I am going to outline these changes and then outline some of my own ideas that I think could make me love the sport again.

The problems

DRS (2011 – today) – The Drag Reduction System (DRS) was brought in as a solution to aerodynamic efficiency leading to a lack of overtaking in the sport. The system allows a following car within 1 second to open a flap in their rear wing to reduce drag and give them a speed boost along a particular straight. To me, this is an unfair system as you are being punished for being ahead. If you are ahead, you deserve the chance to defend in a position that is stronger or equal to the driver behind; there should not be a rule that enables them to drive around you.

Poor attendance at tracks (ongoing) – F1 has always attracted new tracks and races. Some of these – such as Circuit of the Americas where this weekend’s race takes place – have been a big success. However, poor tracks that receive a poor attendance do no-one any good: just look at Korea. A lot of the circuits that are on the calendar are there as a marketing exercise for car manufacturers or are the pet project of a rich consortium for their pleasure. The circuits are poor, the racing they give is poor, but they are being used for the world’s premier single seater series.

Ever younger drivers (2014) – To me the intention of F1 is to have the best drivers in the world doing battle on track. Having a 17-year-old racing next year does not reflect this. Max Verstappen has one season of single seater racing under his belt and yet in 2015 he has a drive with Toro Rosso. To me that is a joke and disrespectful to drivers who are working their way up the ladder properly and have gotten where they are deservedly and not on their name. If F1 is easy enough for an inexperienced 17-year-old to take part in then it clearly is no longer enough of a challenge.

Engine noise (2014) – This is a minor point for me; I love the new power units and their general efficiency against previous cars. I also don’t particularly mind that the lap times have dropped since last year. However, that all being said, I still personally prefer the high pitched whine over the lower grumble this year. The old cars just sounded better and faster.

Domination (2014) – Again, a small point for me. I sat happily through five years of Schumacher domination and four years of Vettel domination. However, with Mercedes a second and a half quicker than the chasing pack it isn’t close to being a fair fight. We need more equalisation between the engines, otherwise we can get ready for many more years of Mercedes driving straight past people if they have to start from the back.

Financing (ongoing) – Two teams have just announced their inability to take part in a race in the same week. Meanwhile the teams at the top of the sport are being given extra money for showing up. By all means have performance-based prize funds, however, don’t reward teams that already have more money for attendance. Based on figures in Autosport magazine 30/10/2014, the smallest team, Caterham, is spending approximately four times less per year than Red Bull (the biggest team that doesn’t produce its own engines), and yet it is that small team that is failing. The cost of third party parts needs to be reigned-in to help smaller teams.

In addition, the costs of watching F1 in 2014 are prohibitive; it is now harder to watch F1. Few will pay £50+ per month to watch the racing on Sky, and going to a circuit is also ridiculously expensive. For the cost of general admission at Silverstone I can go to approximately six BTCC race events (18 races of 30). If the teams and the circuits aren’t making money and the fans are over-spending, do we really want to be lining the pockets of the sport’s owners?

Bernie paying his way out of a bribery case (2014) – Should you really be allowed to PAY to end a BRIBERY case?

Double points (2014) – If a driver wins the championship because they won a race that was worth more than all the other races I will stop watching and not turn back. This rule in a sport where reliability is a factor is not sporting.

Poorly thought-through regulation changes – F1 has become so desperate to improve the ‘show’ that it is practically no longer a sport. Artificial overtaking now rules, with the championship potentially no longer won by the most consistent driver, but the one who gets lucky in the last race. Next year there are plans for standing starts after safety cars, because starts are “more exciting” (with the clear potential for yet more safety cars). I want to see racing where overtakes are earned, and where the best driver in the best car is not cheated out of the championship.

Possible fixes

Remove bonuses for ‘legacy’ teams – Instead give all teams an even share of the pot as soon as they have completed their first full season. Allow prize money to spread the best teams from the worst. In addition, if you want to engage the fan base, lower the cost of entry, because if no-one is watching, there is no money.

More difficult super-license – Having young inexperienced drivers does not do the sport any favours, to be in F1 you should have to earn your place by working up the ladder, not by jumping several rungs.

Allow for a maximum cost cap of £100m – In 2009 Max Mosley attempted to enact a restrictive £40 million cost cap. For the big teams this was never going to be achievable. however, setting the bar higher so that it is lower than the large teams spend and bigger than the small teams spend means that there is still a small window for buying success. This would need to be balanced for teams that also produce their own engines, perhaps defining a separate cost cap that applies to engine production, which in turn defines a maximum price that an engine supplier can demand from teams.

DRS limit – DRS as it currently stands diminishes overtaking. However, it has proven itself as a means for getting one F1 car past another. An approach that I would like to see taken would be to change the rules so that each driver gets 10 uses of DRS per race. They can then plan when to use that, whether it be to attack or defend or pull away. It would have the current provisos regarding no use during wet conditions or within two laps of a start/restart, however, could be used anywhere on the track.

Ask the fans what they want – Instead of a group of old men making decisions about what the fan base wants or the sport needs, would it be so hard for the decision makers to ASK and listen to the fans? There has been overwhelming negativity for a number of recent rule changes, the loudest response regarding double points. It may be that fans want dumb gimmicks, but do some research and explain how the results led to the decisions made instead of just deciding on things like double points or medals or standing starts after safety cars.

 

F1 is not the sport that I started watching in 1998, in many ways it is a shadow of its former self that has continued down a path of allowing money to dictate both success and priorities. The victors are currently neither the drivers, the teams, nor the fans, just those at the top raking in millions of pounds off the sport each year. The racing is almost as entertaining as it has ever been, however, gimmicks being piled on top diminish the appeal and I have questions about how challenging the sport is now for drivers.

Simplifying

I have now decided to simplify. Previously my site was using a custom CMS that I had written from scratch in my free time, unfortunately it was getting fairly clunky. I have therefore reverted to using (insert name of generic blogging platform here).

We are still at the beginning of this adventure/step-backwards, I am still looking at what content to move across and what to get rid of. For a start, I have removed most posts from before 2009, as while that form of my blog had a purpose, reading the boring nonsense I typed during university is not going to appeal to anyone.

In addition, when/if the gallery arrives, it will be in a cut down format for a similar reason to that given for the old blog posts.

I am also going to attempt to use redirect on previous urls, that will be coming soon though.

My plan is now to post more regularly, I have had that plan before, lets see how it goes…

Remembering 2013

5. Taking my mother to Silverstone and Brands Hatch
The last time I went to Silverstone to watch F1 was 2010 and our rear windscreen got smashed, so while memorable it was not a great experience. This time I took my mother along for the first time and we greatly enjoyed qualifying day as our man Lewis Hamilton took pole position. After my trip to the States it was also great to be able to head to Brands Hatch in the autumn to watch another fantastic title showdown (even if the weather was wet and horrible).

4. Thanksgiving
After our first Thanksgiving in America it was nice to be back in England again with all of our friends round for turkey. A lot of them we had not seen since our barbeque the previous summer and so we had lots of catching up to do.

3. Getting very cold at an NFL playoff game and going to Wembley
I was not going to pass up the opportunity of seeing Denver play a home playoff game while I was in the city. I therefore stumped up the cash and got myself all kitted up to see them take on Baltimore. Unfortunately the game itself ended in an embarrassing loss, the temperature was a long way below 0, and I nearly got frostbite in my foot… but the experience was something I will not forget. Added to that, I got to go to both NFL games at Wembley and although the games were not brilliant it is wonderful being able to watch the sport on home turf.

2. Getting an awesome job
I began job hunting about two months before I was scheduled to leave America, it took me a month to find the perfect job and I ended up leaving the country a fortnight early for it. I am greatly enjoying working for Tempered Vision in Basingstoke, I’ve got a great boss and we have been working on some interesting projects.

1. Buying a house
The biggest thing that happened in 2013 was our getting on the property ladder, in fact since returning from America most things in our lives have changed. The house is the icing on the cake though and we are now very happily living in Billingshurst, just 8 miles down the road from where I grew up.