Guest Post: Sports in 2012

Once again I asked my father to give his view of the best and worst sporting accomplishments of the year. Here is his (unedited) list for 2012:

 

Sports in 2012 – Or how to not mention the Olympics

Team of the Year – Chelsea. For knocking Barcelona out without leaving their own half and then winning the Champions League using the same tactics.

Sportsman of the Year (on two legs) – Andy Murray. For crying at Wimbledon and then winning the US Open. We all love him now.

Sportsman of the Year (on two wheels) – Bradley Wiggins. For winning the Tour de France. Special mention to Sky Sports for an excellent series about Team Sky, never realised you could lean on the support car if you were feeling a bit tired.

Sportswoman of the Year – None. Sport and Women should not mix, it messes up their hair and makes them perspire.

Overseas Sportsperson of the Year – Peyton Manning. For a great return in 2012. Probably won't win it in 2013!

Overseas Team of the Year – Spain. For winning Euro 2012, bet no one saw that happening.

Other notable events in 2012
Good
AFC Wimbledon stayed up
Bad
AFC Wimbledon only just stayed up

Good
Managed to stay awake for the Superbowl
Bad
New York Giants won it

And Finally (I know I said I wouldn't mention it but it has been impossible to avoid)

Good
Team GB won lots of medals and apparently some were won by GIRLS!
Bad
As predicted lots of empty spaces – not that I'm bitter about not getting any tickets

What you need to know to be a PHP developer

 

If you want to be a web developer it is not enough to simply know PHP (or ASP.net if you go that way). It is important to also know which skills are most in demand for a web development role.

I decided to find out so did a search for PHP on a variety of UK based recruitment sites. In total I tallied 60 positions for their required/optional skills and ordered by the number of times each appeared.

Here are the top 10 skills that you want in 2013 if you are to be a PHP developer, the percentage is the number of jobs that ask for the skill:

  1. PHP – 100% (kind of makes sense a PHP developer would need to know PHP)
     
  2. MySQL – 78.8% (By far the most popular of the database options, only alternatives mentioned were SQL and PostgreSQL each under 10%)
     
  3. HTML – 73.1% (Helpful for putting that PHP onto actual web pages)
     
  4. CSS – 71.2% (Make those web pages look pretty)
     
  5. Javascript – 69.2% (Add some function to those web pages. Most of those mentioning Javascript also mentioned jquery, two mentioned mootools)
     
  6. LAMP – 28.8% (Creating sites on Apache Linux)
     
  7. OOP – 26.9% (Object Oriented Programming, most did not mention it by name but mentioned frameworks like zend, symfony, cakephp etc. I also tallied these individually but each reached under 10% with Symfony and zend each getting 7%)
     
  8. Subversion – 21.2% (The oldest of those generally used still rules the roost, GIT was the only other one mentioned with 9.6% of the ads asking for it)
     
  9. AJAX/JSON – 19.2% (allowing us to send and receive data in the background of our web pages)
     
  10. XML – 17.3% (XML is another markup language that enables things like rss feeds and is both human and machine readable)

Just below these ten we have mentions of actual products with WordPress, Drupal and Magento developers all in demand.

Number eleven though is something you either have or you don’t… communication skills. Good luck shy guys.

While this is a small sample set gathered over a single day in January 2013 this top 10 makes a lot of sense. Only one job asked for any type of certification (and they said they would pay for the applicant to get it if they were successful but lacking it), several asked for degrees but were generally unpicky about the subject, the majority asked for experience. Get coding!

Film of the Year 2012

 

2012 was a fantastic year for cinema. In 52 weeks I managed to see 27 films and I generally enjoyed all of them. That makes a top 10 difficult to accomplish. Beth may have struggled to think of more than six great films but I had an initial shortlist of 15 that needed to be trimmed.

Without further ado here is Beth’s list:

10. Woman in Black
9. Avengers
8. Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists
7. The Lorax
6. Skyfall
5. Lincoln
4. Hobbit
3. Brave
2. Les Miserables

1. Trade of Innocents
This was not an easy film to watch – it should not be. I picked this film as my number one because I believe it is the story that most needed and deserved to be told. Though fictional, it could be the true experience of thousands of girls around the world. Trade of Innocents explores sex-trafficking in Cambodia, through the story of a couple working to rescue and rehabilitate girls, and their dealings with local corrupt authorities, impoverished families, and rich tourists exploiting the sex trade.  It calls to our attention the slavery that still exists around the world, and even in our own neighborhoods. Hopefully this film will break your heart.

And now my list:

10. Skyfall
9. Lincoln
8. Wreck-it-Ralph
7. Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists
6. Avengers
5. Les Miserables
4. Dark Knight Rises
3. Hobbit
2. End of Watch

1. Django Unchained
I got to go to an advance screening of Django in early December and it was everything a Tarantino movie should be. Copious violence, fantastic screenwriting and some superb acting. There was not a weakness in the cast and I found the movie very entertaining. In a year with the Hobbit, Les Miserables and Batman – films I loved every bit as much as I expected to – it is great that End of Watch and Django were even better.

Remember 2012

My 2012 had a rather defining moment. It was the point when we decided to come to America for eight months. Our options were to stay in Canterbury, move to Sussex or come to America. We chose the latter and it should be no surprise that this decision sits at the top of this list but here is my full top 5 of things I enjoyed in 2012.
 
5. British American Football
 
There were problems with the finals weekend in 2011, but no such issues this year, as we took over Don Valley stadium and streamed live online. The crowds in the stands may have been small compared to the size of the stadium but it was a great (but wet) event with over 6000 people watching from home via GridironTV. 

It rounded off what was a pretty special season. The London Blitz retained the title but had stiff competition all year from their cross town rivals London Warriors who topped them twice in the regular season. I am proud to be involved with the league and hope that the future remains bright and we can continue to build on our following.
 
4. Brugges
 
In early July Beth and I took the Eurostar to Brugges for a fantastic long weekend. It is a wonderful medieval city and even though it may be constantly overrun by tourists is more than a little magical. We stayed in a fantastic hotel right on the canal and would happily go back again.
 
3. Leaving BBQ weekend
 
 
Before coming over to America we invited all of our friends to Canterbury for karting and a BBQ. The karting was a great start to the day with a close race between Craig, Ceri and I. Craig led for a good portion of the race before I eventually managed to sneak past. The two of us pulled away and I was able to take victory. In the evening more friends arrived and we ate good food until late. It was a nice send off.
 
2. Denver Broncos
 
My love of the Broncos strengthened this season as I was given the chance to go to their eight regular season home games in 2012. I saw them lose just once on home soil and had a great time at each game. It helped that in the off season they signed one of the best quarterbacks to have ever played the game in Peyton Manning and that they lost just three times on their way to number one seed in the AFC for the upcoming playoffs.
 
1. Coming to America
I have been given a great opportunity. While Beth studies I have been able to find out what life in America is like. This is something that was not possible on previous two week visits. I am still enjoying my stay and while there are things that I miss about the UK there are almost equal numbers of things I like about Colorado. I have also been able to expand the number of states that I have visited with a trip to Wisconsin to see Beth’s Aunt, Uncle and Grandma. This trip also took us into Chicago for a trip up the Willis Tower, the Chicago Aquarium and of course pizza (which was amazing). We are sure to have a lot of fun in our remaining four months and look forward to all that time may bring.
 
It has been a great year and here is to an even better 2013 as we continue to enjoy America and then return to England looking for new jobs and a place to call our home.
 

As usual my other lists will be coming soon with film later this week and games next week… sport will turn up at some point too.

Forever learning

In my past job, I was the sole IT person in the company and so it gave me ample opportunities to learn new things. A large number of these, however, were unrelated to my ideal path as a web developer and so that learning at times stagnated for periods of up to six months. Being on my own also meant that I didn’t have the opportunity to share and develop these findings with anyone else, this perhaps lessened my ability to expand that learning beyond the basics. I am definitely glad of the skills I picked up with various types of hardware and software including network storage, indesign and filemaker. All these things potentially have uses in the future but I was unable to maintain pace with developments in websites.

When the opportunity came for us to take a year out while my wife completed her masters in America I decided it was a good chance to catch up. In my little basement in Denver I have been setting myself the task of filling in these knowledge gaps that have developed over time. A lot of this will come from learning by doing and a lot of it from reading.

The key areas I am looking to improve in are as follows:

  1. Web Design: My websites are never the prettiest. I understand that and want to fill in the gaps so that they can look better. I will be doing this through reading, trial and error and by trying out some online code schools like codecademy, codeschool and treehouse.
  2. Leadership and Management: I have been running a small business for three years but have no real management training. My goal is to work through Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman along with as many other business books as I can. I will read relevant biographies and case studies of businesses and people in my sector. I will then put these lessons into action with my small company.
  3. Mathematics: I always enjoyed maths in school but I was also aware of the growing holes in my knowledge as I worked through the curriculum. For example, until a month ago, I could never do long division or long multiplication. I feel that filling in these gaps and expanding my knowledge will help me down the road with my programming. I will use Khan Academy to work through these gaps.
  4. Computer Science: I did an A Level in IT but a lot of the syllabus was poor and outdated. It also didn’t dwell deeply on how a computer does what it does and I want to learn that. I have enrolled in a couple of edx classes to help me along this learning path.

I have created a new category on my blog so that you can track my progress, I will be putting reviews and brief notes of the books that I read, links that I find helpful and other information that should allow it to be shown what I am learning along the way. My aim is to come back from America knowing more and with a renewed hunger to never stop learning.

Review: Head Games

Motorsport has long had signs encircling tracks pointing out to spectators that motorsport is dangerous. From the biggest Formula One circuit to the lowliest kart track that message is loud and clear. Is it time for other sports to begin proclaiming the same thing? That is the question that Head Games deals with.

While the risk of injury in motorsport comes from the vehicles themselves, in other sports it comes from the act of playing the game itself. If you don’t stop the opposition in their tracks in American Football they will just keep running past you, in ice hockey it is also part of the game. This leads to hard blows to players’ heads. A blow to the head is never good news though and the NFL has been forced to come to terms with this. The movie primarily focusses on American Football but points out that concussions can come from practically any sport (the film dwells on women’s soccer for a while). Head Games is detailing the work done by Chris Nowinski and his team at the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston as they continue their research into how to find signs of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) – which can lead to symptoms of dementia – in people still living. Previously it has only been possible to have access to, and find signs in, the brains of the deceased. The film points out that unsurprisingly getting repetitive blows to the head is bad for you and the fact is brought home by showing us a former NFL player who can no longer recite the months of the year between January and June in order or remember a six digit sequence of numbers. The film also shows a study that NFL retirees have 19 times the risk of dementia of a normal member of the public.

The movie stops short of telling people not to play these violent sports but does suggest that perhaps parents should think twice before letting their children play, or keep playing after having a concussion. Head Games makes its points well and there is still a lot of research to be done by this relatively young team. If the movie is able to get a debate going and help make these sports safer then it has done its job.

It is obvious that after spending the nineties denying the effects of head shots, the NFL can no longer ignore the facts regarding concussions. For the past couple of seasons the rules have begun changing to start to minimize the risks and stop potential damage to the league’s reputation. As younger players start seeing the men they idolize clashing heads less often the hope is these changes will filter down. One thing to note is that concussions take a long time to heal, the NFL currently takes players out of the game but more often than not they are back the following week. The league perhaps needs to look into increasing the time that these players sit out before returning.

It may look like the league has been neutering the show but if it means one fewer suicide and more players retiring in decent health then it is surely worth it. What does this mean for us in the British leagues? We need to acknowledge that the problem is out there. Make sure no player enters the game with a concussion. If we see a player take a blow to the head then make sure he is fit to re-enter. While I have seen few, if any such hits in the British game it should still be a point of emphasis for coaches that players should not go in with, or aim for, the head.

As the movie points out one concussion is really too many.

Trailer for Head Games:

F1 Driver Rankings – End 2012

So another season of F1 has passed. This was my 15th, it also marked the first year, however, that I did not watch a race the whole way through. As a kind of protest against the Bahrain Grand Prix I suffered through the fairly poor BBC highlight show instead of watching the race live. Bit of a crap protest as I still watched… but I didn't enjoy it.

Anyway, it was another title for king Vettel, Red Bull once again supplied him with a car with which to take the title. The difference between Red Bull and the rest definitely came down this year and they started the season with the second or third best car out there. Alonso's achievement was far greater though, in the first race of 2012 the Ferrari car was the eighth fastest out there. By season's end it was still only third and yet Alonso took the fight to Vettel, losing out by just three points in a tense final race. Consistency was Alonso's game and he drove a near perfect season in a middling car.

So to my end of year rankings:

1. Fernando Alonso /
2. Sebastien Vettel +1
3. Lewis Hamilton -1
4. Jenson Button +5
5. Nico Hulkenberg +5
6. Kimi Raikkonen +7
7. Felipe Massa +12
8. Sergio Perez -2
9. Mark Webber -1
10. Nico Rosberg -6
11. Kamui Kobayashi +1
12. Paul Di Resta -1
13. Michael Schumacher +1
14. Bruno Senna +9
15. Timo Glock +1
16. Heikki Kovaleinen -9
17. Vitaly Petrov +4
18. Daniel Ricciardo -1
19. Charles Pic +1
20. Romain Grosjean -15
21. Pastor Maldonado -6
22. Pedro De La Rosa =
23. Jean-Eric Vergne -5
24. Jerome D'Ambrosio RE
25. Narain Kathikeyan -1

To me Alonso was clearly the best driver all season long. Hamilton drove better than last season and was largely let down by the team with reliability problems and issues with pitstops throughout the season. He drove fast but not necessarily intelligently and as it stands Vettel and Alonso are better drivers than he is. Grosjean and Maldonado both slip as each was involved in too many incidents, Maldonado because he is malicious and Grosjean because he is careless.

My big hope for the offseason is that both Kobayashi and Kovaleinen are picked up by teams for 2013, both deserve their drives and make F1 a little bit better. I am also pleased to see that Massa is back to where he needs to be in terms of pace finally, it appeared that the new Ferrari deal he received lightened his load and allowed him to concentrate on the driving again.

Great weekend

Last weekend was pretty special, with lots of fun things and two additions to the family.

As the penultimate Grand Prix of 2012 was in Texas I was able to watch both morning practice and qualifying on Saturday morning while talking to my parents who are in New Zealand. Then after lunch Beth and I drove north-west to Dinosaur Ridge which is located in the foot hills outside Denver.

In the 1900’s they found a lot of dinosaur tracks and bones in them thar hills. The walk was pretty good, it started with a pretty dull steep elevation increase but eventually led to dirt tracks that went along the top of the hill. These were great but made a little worse by the number of cyclists using the narrow trail and dog walkers. From the top we had a great view of Denver, and of Bandimere Speedway, a drag strip a mile away. More enticingly I could make out their kart track and was able to work out the layout.

Dinosaur Ridge

On the way back down the ridge it was decided that we would go down to the track, see what their prices were and then see if there were spaces. So once we made it back down the boring long road (obviously now downhill) we drove the short distance to the track and found out that they had one more session for the day and it had spaces. Due to the falling temperatures Beth decided she would not partake but gave me the all clear. (it was $35 for 10 laps which is rather pricey at £2.10 a lap compared to the max of £1.50 a lap we pay in the UK).

I suited up with everyone else for a ten lap session. I got chatting with a guy named Sam who had also been karting before. They let people leave the pits in pairs about five seconds apart and I was in the fourth group. By the end of the third lap I had overtaken everyone else but it turned out that Sam was around my pace, as although I had passed him he was on my tail. The two of us were clearly faster than everyone else. The karts were single engined so were slower than I was used to and so there were only two spots where I even had to slow around the kilometer long circuit.

Bandimere Speedway

We pushed on getting quicker and quicker, eventually I caught some backmarkers at a bad spot and Sam was able to sneak past me. I followed him home over the remaining two laps. Afterwards we chatted, he was able to take one of the corners I slowed for flat and I managed to take a tight chicane that he slowed for flat. His line would give a bigger advantage as it led to a long straight so I assumed that I probably lost on the fastest lap count. We eventually received our times (11 drivers):

Jonathan – 58.072
Sam – 58.080
Third – 61.029
Fourth – 63.199
Last – 84.691

I beat him by eight thousandths of a second, I guess we were fairly equally matched. We resolved to meet up and go again sometime and swapped numbers, hopefully that will happen. Couple of other comments, it’s a fast and exciting track, I got black flagged on my third lap according to the timesheet, I never saw a black flag and have no idea what I supposedly did, must be a phantom call? Beth also said the guys owning the track came out and commented on how fast the two of us were going.

Karting at Bandimere

Beth and I headed home via the biggest liquor store I’ve ever seen and soon after getting home we went out again and bought two adorable dwarf hamsters for $7 each. We named them Mika Hakkinen and Kamui Kobayashi (names Beth’s idea). We played with them in the evening.

Dwarf Hamsters

On Sunday I went to church with Beth and then watched the first five laps of the Grand Prix before meeting Ethan and heading to the Broncos vs Chargers game. As a Philip Rivers hater and Broncos lover it was a great game for three quarters. Unfortunately we eventually gave him two touchdowns in the fourth to make him look less crap but it was enjoyable and yet another home win. We headed back to the Blomberg’s via Papa Murphy’s, a pizza place where they make it and you cook it (making it cheaper than ordering). We got a double decker five meat pizza that totaled 4800 calories, we were eager to eat it but it took thirty minutes to bake. Eventually we tried some and it was fantastic, neither of us was able to get much past a quarter each though. Sarah came over and watched the second half of the Steelers vs Raiders game with us and then Beth showed up with Leslie Ward our university friend. We all ate in the basement and watched the football.

Chargers @ Broncos

When that was over I introduced the natives to Formula One and we watched the first 24 laps of the race before Sarah and Ethan headed home. We finished it then next day and it was great to watch Lewis win. A fantastic weekend. It set up what was to be a great thanksgiving week but more on that later.

More pictures in the gallery.

Denver Film Festival

Before I arrived in Denver, one of my Mother-in-law’s church friends suggested that I get involved in the Denver film festival during my stay in the States. When I got out here this friend put me in touch with the volunteer manager for the festival Charles Powell and between the two of us we narrowed down my options.

I was excited to be a part of a film festival, even if its scope was not that major, it has now been around for thirty five years. It gave me a rare chance to put my degree to some vague use and also to get out of my basement for an extended period of time.

Due to my lack of guaranteed vehicle access I eventually got placed on the volunteer check-in desk, which was fine by me. I got six six-hour shifts to work on during the ten day film festival which would allow me to balance the festival with other commitments. The day before the festival started I met with the Charles at the Denver film theatre, on what is billed as Colorado’s longest street, next to a Tattered Cover book store. Tattered Cover is a book store with character and is one of my favourite shops in the world.

Anyway, I met with Charles and he explained my role, I would be signing in and out volunteers and answering their questions. The signing in and out would be done on an iPad and it was a nice simple job. Sounded fine to me, plus I would get four movie tickets for each shift I did that would be redeemable for a year.

I began my shift on the second day of the festival, I drove to the lightrail station and took it all the way downtown to 16th Street which is a great pedestrianized high street in the center of Denver. I made my way to the cinema and found my spot. While there were long periods of inactivity (sometimes three consecutive hours) and the desk was situated a floor down from the main festival, it was good fun. I got to meet a lot of lovely people, including those on the customer services desk (such as artist Susan Goldstein who has been involved in the festival for all but one of its 35 years) next to me. I also got to sample the filmmakers lounge next door and was able to get free food and drinks from there each night. I also thought I was putting my tickets to good use. I got tickets to four films: The Revisionaries, a documentary about the Texas State board of education pushing their agenda of creationism and other nonsense; Polski Film, a comedy from Poland; Virgin Tales, a documentary about girls brought up with chastity promises; and John Dies at the End, an Indie film starring Paul Giamatti.

Unfortunately I was not to go and see any of those four films. I missed out on The Revisionaries on the Tuesday night of the festival because I was going to take Beth and we would have gotten home late, with Beth having an 8am class the next day. I missed the other three because on the Wednesday morning, with half my shifts complete I got food poisoning.

I am now fine, I put it down to some slightly undercooked chicken on Tuesday night. The illness wiped out the remaining three shifts I had at the film festival though and meant I wasn’t able to see the remaining movies either. Even so, I greatly enjoyed my three shifts at the festival, it felt like I was able to use the knowledge from my degree talking to the other volunteers and I met some lovely people. The illness meanwhile meant I wasn’t able to do anything for four days. I felt better in time for a trip to Skyfall on Saturday evening. By Sunday night I was completely back to normal, I lost five pounds but I’m back in action.

I also got featured in their volunteer spotlight: http://denverfilmsocietyvolunteers.tumblr.com/

Microsoft Surface Impressions

I had the chance to play with Microsoft’s new Surface RT yesterday so I thought I would give a few impressions. I will preface them by saying that I don’t currently have a horse in the tablet race. The iPad has done a fantastic job in popularizing the concept (as apple products tend to do) but I am not a huge fan of the iOS interface with its grid system. On mobile I prefer android and have a fondness for Asus’s Eeepad Transformer range of tablets. I was eager to see what Microsoft would bring to the table.

The tablet itself is a nice piece of kit. The hardware seems sturdy and the stand does not feel like it will snap off easily, I also love how easy it is to connect and disconnect the keyboard from the device. Surface is well featured with usb, microsd and a port that will allow you to connect it to monitors and televisions. There are two downers though, the first for me is that the device is too heavy. I disconnected it from its keyboard and played with it off the desk for a while and it was giving me a bit of an arm ache. It was noticeable that the device was heavier than an iPad and less comfortable to hold. The other downside comes from the keyboards. The first major issue is that to use the keyboard functionally you need the device on a table. If you place it on your lap the stand will not be stable and it will be a poor experience. The second issue is that the colourful surface touch covers are horrible to use. They are pretty much flat and there is no movement or feedback when you press a key. It makes it very difficult to discover if the keys you are pressing are actually registering and it was not enjoyable. Fortunately Microsoft also offer a black keyboard cover that has a much nicer keyboard and although the level of travel is still small you have a much better idea of what you are doing. I could get on with the black keyboard, I couldn’t with the coloured ones. Spend the extra money… The final thing I will say on hardware is that Apple have gotten me used to the dimensions of the iPad which made the RT feel very wide and thin, this made it feel strange in the hand. The advantage of this is that it means that video tends to fill the screen.

The tablet I played with did have some videos preloaded and they predictably worked well, the store on the device also seemed to be offering movie rentals at very decent prices as well. The music player didn’t seem overly well laid out and it was hard to hear the sound quality in the store, even with sound all the way up I could hear nothing. The supplied apps were generally pleasing, calendar, contacts and mail all have a nice clean feel and I would be happy using those. The image features were pretty standard and the inbuilt cameras seemed ok for what they are. The sample pictures and general colour display on the device did not seem as vibrant or enticing as on the iPad though. In terms of the general Windows 8 interface, it is starting to win me over as a tablet and phone layout. It has the ability to display information easily and once you get used to where things are I would rate it as better than the iOS grid. It took me a while but I also worked out some of the gesture controls that are not standard on other devices, for example swiping from off screen to bring up the open/recent apps on the left or the search/settings on the right. It took me a while to work out how to control IE but swiping from the top/bottom does the trick. These gestures work well once you know them and it made the experience easy to control. What was less impressive was the responsiveness of the tablet. Sure it runs apps and all of that fine, my problem was a more base issue of the device not picking up what I was tapping on. It occasionally took me two or three attempts to open an app, the worst was trying to play music which took me a while to get working. A delay and a lack of feedback to tell me if something was in the process of opening did not help.

So overall I enjoyed playing with the surface. Would I buy one? No, but the interface is up there with android as my favourite. I am sure that Microsoft will fix (or already has fixed) the responsiveness problems I faced but there is a more general issue of the device being too heavy and being impractical for lap usage. I guess that means that I am giving the interface and OS a plus mark for use on tablets, especially given the bonus of the integrated windows desktop experience and office suite, but I am not sold on the surface hardware. Time will tell on how the competition stacks up in the RT marketplace but if I had to buy a tablet today I would be going android.

Image from the Microsoft Surface website