Sunday, 29 April 2007

Picture of the Week: #17

Although this post is technically rather late, by the magic of the Internet it's been pushed back to Sunday afternoon, when I meant to post it. Wooo...spooky...

This is a panoramic shot (which I've had to split into two bits, hence the rather odd layout that you may be experiencing) of the St. Ebbe's church family picnic last Sunday. Err...I mean today. (Stupid spooky timeshifting.) Anyway, Ebbe's do this every year, in an attempt to get all the different church congregations together into one big group. Not sure how successful that is in all respects, but I'll tell you this much - it's an awesome excuse for a massive picnic.

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Friday, 27 April 2007

Personally I think I prefer Channel 4 News, to be honest

So here's an interesting thing. Jon Stewart interviewed John McCain, one of the frontrunners for the Republican Presidential nomination, the other night (see the video of it here). It's reasonably entertaining, in a horrific dispassionate-discussion-of-terrifying-violence-and-loss-of-life kind of way. The weird part has been the reaction to this interview from the fine, fine people of the internet. I'll concentrate here on the responses found over at Digg.

On the one hand, we have user whiskeymb, who reckons that McCain "was ultimately just very rude" and "had talking points he was trying to get out", rather than trying to engage in constructive discussion. He claims that it was unfair of McCain to "interrupt" and "talk over" his host.

On the other hand, we have ilyag, posting just four comments later, who says that Stewart "was extremely aggressive" and constantly "jumped on yet another talking point", not letting McCain "say more than 4 words" at a time.

The only conclusion that I can come to is that these people were watching entirely different clips. I can understand claiming that an ambiguous statement might be claimed as support for opposing political viewpoints. But how on earth does that work for claims about interview style?

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Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Why yes! My entire world view is wrong! Thank you!

The genre of "Christian literature" is pretty successful at the moment. You've got books dealing with proper heavy theology, books dealing with specific aspects of faith, books about other faiths and how they relate to Christianity, and loads of different versions of the Bible. The Bible, actually, is doing incredibly well - most people know that it's the best-selling book of all time, but I was surprised to find out recently that it is also the best-selling book every single year.

It's not surprising, and in fact quite gratifying, that other forms of entertainment have their own Christian branches. Some of them aren't really very exciting (Christian popular music, when presented just as music rather than as a form of worship, still has some way to go, the first step of which should be "attempting not to sound like yet another U2/Coldplay clone"), while others - the Christian children's novel, for instance - have been wildly successful outside their original genre. Which brings us to the webcomic "Josh and Jimbo: Long Street".

I found this site from a Google advert on Questionable Content, of all places (I wonder whether either party would be particularly happy about that fact - QC rarely lives up to its name, but its ethos is very distinctly different to Long Street's). I've only read the first episode, and already I'm despairing.

First, the artwork. It's not bad by any means, it's just that it could be done so much better. If you're going to go for a 3D modelling approach, then make sure you don't leave the job half done. Read a couple of pages of Crimson Dark if you want to see how this style of artwork should be done. Second, the entire storytelling style of the comic is pretty much doomed to failure. It presents itself as two guys "living normal lives", whereas what we actually see is a few conversations, with no setup and no context (we have no idea who these guys are or why they're capable of driving around for no specific purpose discussing philosophical ideologies). The purpose of the comic is clearly to present dialogues about particular issues. To put it another way, it's trying to present a debate - something that is, almost by definition, completely verbal - in an overwhelmingly visual genre. You have to be really, really good at writing to keep a reader's interest through pure wordiness.

So how good is this writer? Sadly, the writing seems to be the weakest part. Within the first episode, the topic of debate is brought up with one of the worst analogies I've ever seen, the participants immediately take views at polar opposites of the possible spectrum, there's no possibility of either being remotely unsure of themselves, and then within about three minutes of story time it is completely resolved. There are no apparent subtexts and no subplots. Worst of all, in what I think is probably an attempt to be "inclusive" or "non-threatening", there is no explicit mention of God, Jesus, the Bible, or anything remotely Christian, despite the site being called "The Book" and there being a link on the sidebar to find out more about Christianity. What you're left with is a bizarre, contrived and shallow philosophical argument, which is, just to put the icing on the cake, almost solved with violence.

I'm sure there are webcomics out there that deal with explicitly Christian issues in a sensitive, well-written and probably even effectively evangelistic way. I just wish that they were the ones that advertised on other major webcomics, instead of fatally flawed ideas like this.

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Monday, 23 April 2007

Would you want to make over 6 billion cups of tea for them?

It's always fun, when you're in a particularly odd conversation (given my friends, most of my conversations are odd) to drop in interesting and unlikely facts that you've heard recently. One of my enduring favourites is that if you squashed them a bit, you could fit every single person in the world onto the Isle of Man.

The reaction I get to this fact is always good (that's why I keep mentioning it), and if you're anything like most of my friends your reaction just now will have been "Surely that's not true." Well, it's easier to verify than you might think. Gather round, children, because it's time for a session of Uncle Phil Makes Arithmetic Fun!*

We'll start with the population of the world. At the time of writing, the US Census Bureau estimates that there are 6,590,618,635 people around. Obviously that's not going to be perfectly accurate, but it's good enough for our purposes. Now we have to allocate land so that each one of these people can stand up - a square of about 40cm x 40cm should be OK. There will be plenty of obese people who need more space than that, but on the other hand there will also be a lot of babies and toddlers who need significantly less, or who can be carried by their mothers. The CIA Factbook reckons that 27% of the world's population are under the age of 14 anyway, so if anything 40cm is generous.

Our 40cm square takes up 0.16 m2, which, when multiplied by the Earth's population, gives us a total land area of 1,054,498,982 m2, or 1,054.5 km2. Now, by this measure, we can't get everyone on the Isle of Man, not by a long way - that has a land area of 572 km2 (CIA Factbook again). We can comfortably get everyone on the Isle of Skye (1,656 km2), though.

Let's not give up on the Isle of Man just yet. Our estimate of 0.16 m2 per person was assuming that everyone is standing next to each other - fairly tightly packed, yes, but definitely not as close together as they could be. The classic measure of people packed closely together is the good old "students in a phonebox" trick, and the current record for the number of adults in such a phone box is 12. (I'm not bothering with the records that included children - that would just be silly.) Red phone boxes are around 3' square, giving us a land area of around 0.0675 m2 per person. If we pack the entire world that close, we're now looking at a mere 444,866,758 m2, or 444.9 km2.

So there we go. It is indeed (theoretically) possible to fit the entire population of the world onto the Isle of Man. This would raise the population density of the island to 11,522,060.55 people per km2, about 487 times the density of the current record holder (Monaco, with 23,660). Of course, the practicalities of actually doing so would be prohibitive, and it would be a bit daft to even suggest it's possible, wouldn't it?

So if we were to try and put everyone on the island, it would have to be pretty flat, as we need all the available space. Because the Isle of Man currently has a population of 75,831, assuming 3 people to a household we'd need to demolish 25,277 homes, not to mention all of the shops, factories and other buildings. Now, if we wanted to make sure that we'd crammed them in tightly enough, we could always supply the requisite phone boxes, which, given that they weigh about 750kg each, would require us (at a rate of 12 people per box) to import 411,913,664.7 tonnes of material. Or, to put it another way, enough stuff to outweigh all of the steel produced by China in 2006.

While everyone's there, it would be rude not to give them something to eat. A ham sandwich would do, I reckon. Assuming that a slice of ham weighs 15g, this means that we're using 98,859,279.53 kg of the stuff in total, or approximately 870,000 pigs. That's about as many as were present in the whole of Colorado in 1998. After that we'd definitely need to have a game of something, too. I mean, would you want to have to come all that way and then just go home? Twister's always a good choice. There is the minor problem that a Twister board big enough to accommodate everyone (that is, 4 spots per person) would require 26,362,474,540 spots, and given that a normal mat only has 24 and takes up 2.45 m2, we would need a mat that took up 2,688,972,403 m2, or 2,689 km2. Luxembourg would just about do (we could always use a bit of Belgium if need be).

This concludes our lesson for today, everyone. Thanks for being such good students. Hurry back for more improbable-sounding facts soon!

*Uncle Phil may or may not make arithmetic fun. Uncle Phil is not actually anyone's uncle. No discounts, exchanges or refunds. Do not attempt arithmetic unless you have been examined by a competent medical professional and declared safe to do so. Avoid operating heavy machinery within 5 hours of attempting arithmetic. If you are pregnant or lactating, seek medical advice before performing arithmetic.

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Sunday, 22 April 2007

Picture of the Week: #16

Slightly weird one for you today. This is a caddisfly that I found fluttering around my room the other day - it sat next to my laptop for a minute, so I took the opportunity to take its photo. To give you a sense of scale, the green object is the plug on my external mouse - it's just over 3cm long. Caddisflies apparently hatch underwater, which I find slightly odd as there's no open water for quite some distance around here, so presumably it's either very determined or has emerged from a rather unsanitary pool somewhere closer to home. Either way, I think it's still a remarkably beautiful little creature. I know it's always a mistake to anthropomorphise, but doesn't it look like it's trying to comfort the mouse plug?

Incidentally, I only found out that this was indeed a caddisfly by posting this photo on the Science Reference Desk over at Wikipedia. Within about 10 minutes I had a response, which is both extremely impressive and slightly worrying. Never underestimate a gang of volunteer workers for disturbingly enthusiastic amateur sleuthing.

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Friday, 20 April 2007

In Which I Lecture My Readers Endlessly While Using Lots Of Capital Letters

I'm fully aware that one of the most pretentious things one can do when publishing one's thoughts online (apart from using the word "one" as a pronoun) is to mistake the personal for the universally resonant. Specifically, it's a very bad idea to take your own experiences and present them as if everyone goes through exactly the same thing.

Well, in this post I'm going to avoid that in a very clever way - I'm going to use experiences that aren't even mine and present them as universally resonant while addressing my readers in a patronising tone. Clever, eh?

To be fair, it is probably true that everyone will, at some point, have to face a challenge to their beliefs. These beliefs may be of any kind, religious, political, more generally ideological, even beliefs about the best way to run a business. There are several strategies that can be used when faced with these challenges, and I'm going to go through a few of them here.

La La La I'm Not Listening
The simplest way of dealing with a challenge is to dismiss it outright. I hardly need to say that this is not a very good method. Even if you don't have to think about the challenge for a while, it will come back eventually, and it will probably bring a few friends. If you've used it more than once on a single issue, it's time to move on to a new strategy. Even worse is to use this method in a debate - unless you're debating a complete moron, and if you are then for goodness' sake get a hobby, you will be demolished and your opinion will hold no weight whatsoever. Beware the variants of this method, Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad (repetition of the basis of your original belief even if this repetition has absolutely nothing to do with the challenge) and Let Me Get Back To You On That One (getting rid of the challenge with no intention of ever addressing it), as they are surprisingly easy to use without realising you're doing it.

Corollary: The "That's Not Even Worth My Time" Approach
If a challenge is so obviously wrong that it would be a waste of your time to even consider it, then it is probably OK to dismiss it outright. The problem with this approach is that an argument that sounds like complete rubbish might turn out to be valid after all - you can bet that a lot of scientists said "Continents? Drifting around? Yeah, right," or words to that effect. In general, only use this approach if the challenge is not even coherent (along the lines of "turkey cabbage gizzards ate my brain").

Yeah, Well, Yo Momma's Fat
I really hope that will be the first and last time I ever type those words in this blog. Anyway, this method of dealing with a challenge is more formally called an Ad Hominem attack. It involves rejecting a challenge on the grounds that the source of the challenge is unreliable. This is another poor method to use, as it again doesn't address the underlying challenge, although it may be suitable in the extremely short term because it will at least make you feel better. (Possibly.) This method is much more commonly used than you might think, and is particularly insidious in that even if your reason for thinking the source of the challenge unreliable is entirely accurate, you still haven't adequately defended your belief. For example, suppose you read something by Richard Dawkins claiming that Christianity is a Bad Thing because of the Crusades. You can dismiss this by saying that Richard Dawkins is an utterly useless theologian and should go back to biology where he can, you know, actually make a contribution. And you'd be absolutely right to say so. However, you need to address the claim itself, for example by pointing out that the Crusades were an example of the misuse of religion in the name of force in the same way that the forced sterilisation of over 64,000 people in the United States between 1907 and 1963 was a misuse of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, not a direct outgrowing of the beliefs themselves.

Hah! They Didn't Close This Parenthetical Statement And This Invalidates The Argument!
If your gut feeling is that the challenge made to your beliefs is wrong, a more useful approach is to go through the challenge until you find an aspect of it that's wrong. Given that arguments with wrong elements in one place are likely to have wrong elements in other places, it's very possible that the first mistake you find will invalidate the whole challenge. Be wary, though, of dismissing arguments too quickly. To use the previous example, although it's true that the Crusades can't be used as proof that Christianity has been a force for evil throughout history, the Crusades themselves must be faced as evidence that Christianity can be dangerously misused, and steps must be taken to ensure that that kind of thing doesn't happen again.

Yes, I Do Require This Library Desk Until October, Thank You
By far the best approach to take when faced with a challenge is to exhaustively study it. Take it to pieces, look at every element, and compare it to your current beliefs honestly. Although this process will be pretty quick for some beliefs ("playing tennis is more fun than playing badminton", for instance, can be verified or knocked down in a couple of hours), for big and complicated beliefs (political philosophies and religious beliefs, especially) you're probably looking at a much longer process. Researching the background of each element, or talking to people who have researched it, is always a very good strategy. It's also worth noting that you don't need to come to a decision on all elements simultaneously - putting off decisions until later is fine, provided you're willing to face them eventually.

I Don't Agree With This So I'm Going To Invade Iraq Hit Someone To Create A Diversion
No, this is not a good strategy.

Maybe You've Got A Point
If, after going through the above options, you find that the challenge to your beliefs was valid, change them. It is not a sign of weakness to change your mind. Make sure that it's the right thing to do, though - what's more, it is not a bad idea to leave off making wholesale changes in attitudes or beliefs until you're sure on all elements, rather than switching beliefs as soon as you reach a tipping point one way or another. The reason for this is that long-held beliefs are often comforting, and it can be painful leaving them. (For me, realising that I should not be supporting the Conservative Party's goals was not especially painful. For you, maybe.) That said, if you realise that your current beliefs are so wrong that they're actively damaging you or someone else, that's probably a good opportunity to change them sharpish.

Hold On A Moment
Yes, changing back again is also fine, but if you're doing that without any new information coming to light it's probably a sign that you didn't go through the research stage properly. Try it again.

If all of this sounds too much like hard work, then OK, try to forget about the challenge to your beliefs and get on with your life. It is worth remembering, though, that even though a ship might be huge and beautiful and comforting, recommended by thousands, if it's got a huge hole in it then running from end to end will not help you. The only safe place to stand is what we technical sailor people call "not on the ship".

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Wednesday, 18 April 2007

"Freedom of the press" takes on a whole new meaning

StatCounter is showing four visitors to the site today (since the last update), one of whom I definitely don't know (nor am I sure why the Google search string "eleven precepts of interpersonal relationships" should lead here, but there you go). This makes me think that I may be reaching rather more people with this than I thought; as such, maybe it's worth adding something else that may have escaped your notice.

Alan Johnston is a BBC reporter, kidnapped in Gaza on the 12th of March this year. No-one's seen or heard anything of him since. Although the BBC has (understandably) been keeping this in the news as much as possible, a lot of interest in the story has died down. If Johnston is to be released, this can't be allowed to happen - pressure needs to be kept on his kidnappers to release him, and maybe they'll be more likely to do so if they know their motivations will be seen on the world stage.

As such, I've added a banner at the top of the sidebar - it'll stay there until the issue is resolved, one way or another. Click it to find out more about the story, and please do whatever you can to keep it in the public and political consciousness as much as possible. Letters to MPs - or maybe you even know MPs or other public figures personally - would be a good start. Maybe this won't do much, I don't know. Something has to be done about the continuing trend of violence by those who don't want journalists telling the truth, though, and here is as good a place to start as any.

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Mrs Potts, however, couldn't make it.

My brain has been working very strangely recently. Trying to fill it with revision notes is yet to have any kind of effect on remembering anything to do with multisensory perception, unfortunately, but most of the rest of the things that I pour into it end up scurrying around for ages and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

This became particularly apparent early this morning, when I dreamt that I had woken up. Dreams like this are confusing at the best of times - it didn't help that my room was apparently now located in the house of one of my friends at Oxford. Given that I have never been to this person's house, my brain was working quite hard to construct it - for some reason all it could come up with was a very complicated brass shower unit. Because of the strange way in which one simply accepts the bizarre in dreams - particularly if it seems absolutely clear that it's not a dream - I didn't find it surprising that almost immediately I was apparently entering what seemed like a warehouse with several of the cast from Order Of The Stick, one of whom was being played by the aforementioned friend from university.

Nor did it seem weird that there was someone else in this warehouse, who looked oddly like this friend, but who I'd never seen before. She apparently knew me, though, and it was barely a couple of minutes before we were performing the entire ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast. Except that clearly neither of us knew how to dance, and I didn't look much like the Beast.

Look, it was a dream, all right? These things tend to happen. Just to put the icing on the cake, it then turned out that this warehouse was about to be used for an OICCU event, and was rapidly filling up with people I vaguely knew, none of whom seemed to be bothered that there were two complete strangers waltzing around singing "Tale As Old As Time" very loudly. Luckily, it was at about this point that I actually woke up, which was the cue for several minutes in which I tried to work out what on earth had just been going on inside my brain.

Someone else whose brain works strangely is Simon Thomas, who has a new blog up called Stuck In A Book. Simon reads more books every month than I do in a year, probably (he is an English student, after all), so it's the perfect place to go if you want to feel at all literary. Or if you want to see his cartoons, which seem to be appearing on most of his posts. Either way, it's a lovely place to go and be informed.

All of which brings me to what I was going to say from the start of this post, which is that I've now installed a stat counter on this site. (The same one that Simon uses, if you were wondering how I'd got from there to here.) It will install a small cookie onto your computer so that I can see who's been visiting, and whether they've been here before - it doesn't collect any personally identifiable information, but if you'd rather not let it install, that's fine. If you're using Firefox, you can block it by going to Tools -> Options... -> Privacy -> Exceptions... and entering into the Address bar. IE has a similar procedure, but I use it so rarely that I'm not sure exactly how it works. I'll post any interesting bits of data from the stats here as and when they turn up. Provided I don't wake up again in the next few minutes, of course.

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Sunday, 15 April 2007

Picture of the Week: #15

One more picture from home, then I'm back up to Oxford - this one's taking advantage of the beautiful weather recently. This is the view from the back of my house at dusk. It usually only looks like this during the summer months, but recently it's been looking like this pretty regularly. I don't know whether it's global warming or just a freak warm spell - I suspect the latter, as we're not yet drowning under melting ice floes - but I certainly appreciate it.

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Friday, 13 April 2007

lol i love it plz write more

Good writing is surprisingly easy to find on the Internet these days. I've already mentioned Ficlets here, and although there's quite a bit of poor stuff on there, you'll also run across the odd gem. Then there's the old classics available at Project Gutenberg (it's because of that and ReadManiac that I can read Sherlock Holmes stories on my mobile any time I like - you know, if I ever want to squint at books on a minuscule screen), and endless novels and short stories released under Creative Commons licensing. If your eyes get tired, you can always switch to audiobooks as well.

But that isn't what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the wide-ranging swathes of mind-bogglingly poor writing available online. Not simply teen LiveJournal posts, either, as that's caused less by a lack of writing skills and more by a simple shift in the location of personal diaries - an ill-advised shift, to be sure, but really there's nothing particularly new in the wrong people seeing angsty teenagers' musings. No, the really bad stuff, the stuff that leaves your jaw hanging slackly and your eyeballs popping from your skull, is that produced by people who know full well that they're writing for a huge audience and yet have no grasp whatsoever on even the slightest bit of writing skill. Fair warning - in this post, bold links are not really safe for work. Or for anyone with any taste or sensitivities whatsoever. To start us off, we have the worst piece of sci-fi/fantasy ever written (thank you once again Metafilter) - the challenge is to read the whole thing without once bursting out laughing. I failed the challenge fairly quickly (somewhere round about "he regained his statue"), but forced myself to read right to the end nonetheless. The misspellings, appalling choice of words, complete lack of characterisation and simply bizarre dialogue place it as a classic.

If you're not sure how best to write something obscenely bad, you needn't look further than The idea of fanfic isn't too ridiculous in itself (and yes, I have written some myself, so I don't claim any moral superiority on those grounds) - but it's more the scale of these people's efforts. At the time of writing, for example, there are 291,323 pieces of Harry Potter-themed fanfic, 11,759 based around Pirates of the Caribbean, 6,710 on Power Rangers (now there's a nostalgic moment for you) and 15 on SkiFree. Yes, that SkiFree. There is very little that does not make a suitable subject for the denizens of this site.

Most of the particularly amazing bits I think I'll leave for you to find for yourselves, given that most of them are probably written by teenagers and it seems a little harsh to mock them directly. People who include themes such as slashfic, though, deserve absolutely everything they get. So, if you can bear it, have a read of some romantic relationships between Rusty and Linus from Ocean's Eleven, Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter, Catherine and Sara from CSI, and, I kid you not, most of the major characters from The Muppet Show and Harry Potter. Then, of course, there's the poetry. Oh, the poetry. Again, most of it is just ill-advised, but if you're going to shamelessly plagiarise Shelley and change the words "west wind" to "West Wing", once again I have absolutely no sympathy. And, of course, we just have to include the poems giving the innermost thoughts of most of the characters in Beauty and the Beast. Including Philip the horse. No, really.

No post about bad writing would be complete without a mention of Mills and Boon, although luckily for me someone has already written an awesome article on their complete writing style, meaning that I don't have to read any. I'll close, then, with a quick look at people who are absolutely convinced that they can write for other formats. Over at Drew's Script-O-Rama, we have people who think they can write screenplays - check out Prank Call (Word doc) for an example of how not to write what seems to be a 10-minute extremely gory horror flick. Or you can try looking at the efforts of those who can't write webcomics, or indeed just read transcripts of one of the worst TV shows to grace our screens.

That's about as much as I could bear, and I'll be very surprised if any of you made it all the way through those. Hope you weren't too traumatised. I'll leave you with the wise words of Wednesday White over on Websnark that really should have been heeded, oh so many times:

Just because someone tells you you have potential doesn't mean that you're any good yet. Have a sense of perspective.

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Sunday, 8 April 2007

Picture of the Week: #14

It's become something of a family tradition - I'm not sure quite how - to walk around Stour Wood every Good Friday. These kind of traditions seem to get started in the oddest way, but I don't think I want to drop this one any time soon - Spring is absolutely the best time to go to the wood, because you get absolutely beautiful views like this. No matter how far Easter jumps around the calendar, I don't think we've ever been there and not found the entire woodland floor carpeted with white wood anemones. Just one of those things that helps you forget everything else and appreciate the world for half an hour.

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Wednesday, 4 April 2007

The "thwack" of leather on willow, the screams of the injured...the sounds of Middle England

The Cricket World Cup is in full swing, and I really don't care.

Cricket must be one of the dullest games ever invented. 15 people stand out in a field for days on end, getting alternately baked by the sun and soaked by the inevitable rain, arguing over whether it's too dark to hurl a small hard ball at each other at speeds approaching 100mph, and basically playing a game that is so slow that the short version of it takes an entire day to play. Twenty20 is a step in the right direction, but really, cricket is something of a lost cause. Even those who really enjoy it tend to watch it either in highlights or by periodically checking the score throughout the day. And before anyone says anything about the recent events at the World Cup, those were not exciting, they were appalling and tragic. There's a difference.

So if cricket as it is now is doomed to fade into oblivion (and it is - how many of you, who were hugely excited by cricket's "renaissance" when we won the Ashes, still watch it?), how can it be revived? Well, luckily for all of us, I've come up with a few new variants on the game that will satisfy the Great British Public's unquenchable thirst for blood excitement.

Five5 Cricket
Building on the success of the rule changes that made Twenty20 halfway watchable, these new rules shorten the innings to a mere 5 overs. A new way of being given out is created ("failure to offer an attacking stroke") in order to avoid batsmen playing safe - they've only got to face 30 balls anyway, so being given out is no great hardship. In the same spirit, if batsmen hit the ball they now have to run, so they're definitely going to be slogging it for all they're worth. Leg byes are abolished in order to prevent batsmen being able to kick wide balls to the boundary, and in return, any ball that is not deemed to be heading towards the wicket is now classified as a "wide". Neither rain nor bad light stops play - either floodlights or glow-in-the-dark bats and balls take care of the latter condition, and as for the former, well, if footballers can play in the frickin' snow, a little bit of rain shouldn't be a problem. Oh, and overs are now timed - if the bowler fails to deliver his next ball within 1 minute of the previous one, the batsman automatically gets 6 runs.

Bonus Multiball Mode Cricket
This variant takes a leaf out of pinball's book by applying the same rule that makes any ball game much, much better - more than one ball is allowed on the pitch at any one time. In 2-ball mode, this is fairly simple - both batsmen are now defending their respective wickets simultaneously, and both bowlers run in at the same time. There aren't any more fielders than normal (in order to make things more exciting for them), and the wicket-keeper is replaced by the other bowler, so it's in the bowler's interest to get behind the wicket he's just run past as quickly as possible in order to try to stop the ball that is currently hurtling towards him from the other end. 3- or 4-ball mode makes things even more interesting, as now there are as many bowlers as there are balls on the pitch, and they can be bowled at either wicket at any time. Similarly, either of the batsmen can hit any of the balls at any time, so although the bowling team might want to bowl one ball, then try to bowl the batsman out as he starts running, they'd have to be careful of the fact that he'd be charging, bat in hand, straight towards the next bowler.

Spacehopper Cricket
Naah, no particularly revolutionary rule changes in this one. I just like the idea of every single person on the pitch (umpires included) having to go everywhere on a spacehopper.

Crosswise Cricket
Similar to Bonus Multiball Mode in that there are 2 balls in play, but in this case it's because there are 2 different matches going on at the same time. Essentially there are now two cricket pitches in place, one on top of the other but turned through 90 degrees so that the wickets made a cross shape in the middle. All the fielders share the same space, but a catch doesn't count unless it's by a member of the right team; batsmen can, however, be run out with the wrong ball, hopefully leading to fights between the different teams' fielders as they try to get hold of the same ball. And, of course, both bowlers have to bowl at the same time. This variant is particularly suited to modern interactive TV, as viewers could select commentary for the match on which they're currently concentrating.

Reality TV Cricket
In an attempt to truly get inside the mind of the players, the batsmen are now equipped with mini-DV cameras, and are required to provide commentary before, during and after each ball is bowled to them. That includes while they're running, of course. This might be thought to provide them with something of a disadvantage, but fortunately things are balanced out by the fact that their producer and soundman should be able to get in the way of the ball if need be. If the commentary is not up to scratch, players won't be given out, but their series won't be recommissioned - a serious blow for the merchandise sales.

Shotgun Cricket
There have always been dull sports, and there have always been attempts to get even more dull sports into the Olympics. In an attempt to get cricket into the schedule for London 2012, it could be combined with another sport entirely unwatched by anyone except those who participate in it: trap shooting. In this new and exciting variant, the contenders for the shooting medals are stationed just beyond the boundary on the pitch. A new way of being given out is created ("shot out"), which is defined as the ball being destroyed mid-flight by a shotgun blast. For obvious reasons, shooters are not allowed to aim below the top edge of the stadium, leading to a drastic reduction in players trying to loft the ball too far; in return for this restriction, any shooter who is struck by the ball must leave the competition, leading to a drastic increase in the number of players driving the ball horizontally at top speed towards the boundary. As an extra bonus, the fact that the shooters are likely to be rather nervous will lead to an increase in the sadly underused way of going out: "retired hurt".

And, of course, there could easily be combinations of these new variants, producing ever more thrilling and deadly games to fill the schedules on Sky Sports 3. Front row seats, please!

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Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Picture of the Week: #13

Rather late (again) with the PotW, but my excuse this time is that I was trying to work out what to do as an April Fool's post. I did have a rather good one lined up about a fake family history of mine (and you can go behind the cut below to find out what the picture would have been - I'm rather pleased with it), but I decided in the end that I'd already done quite enough April Fooling for one day. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm afraid I'll be keeping schtum...

Anyway, the tree in this photo is an old oak in one of the fields behind my house. It's been known as the Goblin Tree for as long as I can remember, because of its wrinkled and bulgy appearance, and because when I was little my Dad used to climb up it and pretend to be the Tree Goblin. What a well-balanced childhood I had. Explains a lot, really.

What a handsome fellow.

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