Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The 8th Amazing thing

I have found a brilliant quiz website and it is testing my knowledge of the world. So far I can name all the US states and the state capitals and match 196/197 of the world's capital cities. I keep forgetting Benin. I also enjoy the quizzes such as naming all the countries with a C in the name or the smallest country with four letters in its name.  Find it here but just remember it is good for wasting time.

Amazing things - next day (a lot later)

One thing that living with someone changes is your viewing habits. Some are terrible (I leave the room during Jeremy Kyle) and somethings that you suspect to be a bit rubbish are not so bad. Holby City is a guilty pleasure and especially the interactions that centre on the character of Jac Naylor played acerbically by Rosie Marcel. The script-writer seems to take a centre pleasure in crafting particular tasty lines with which to advance the script. However, it is more than just the writing but the absolute utter deadpan disdain with which they are delivered that makes it so good. Here is a link to some of the funnier moments

Some good examples are below.

Are you crying?

[unconvincingly] No.

Yes you are.

Why d'you always want to see me cry?

To see how far robotics has progressed.

Will it annoy you if I pray for you?


I might do it anyway, then.

I'll do some extra sinning to cancel it out.

I did not know you were into food, Miss Naylor.

You assumed I ran on batteries?

You're taking Mr Frisby up to theatre?

No, we're going for a Chinese and then we're off clubbing.


Monday, 6 January 2014

Day 6 -Living in Siberia

Today I was lesson planning about Russia and why it might be considered amazing. 

In my opinion the most amazing thing is the way people survive in Siberia. Whilst the polar vortex is creating havoc in the US this is normal conditions for Siberia. An ex-colleague is currently living there and reports the following

1. People who live in cities tend to live in flats, not houses. The blocks of flats are generally on a centralised heating system. Therefore, most people have no control over the temperature of their own flat, or any control over when it is turned on or off. Generally speaking, if the temperature drops below 5C for more than 5 days in September, the heating is turned on. If this doesn't happen (Which is rare), the heating is turned on anyway around the middle of October. It stays on (except for absolutely essential maintenance) until May 1st. Then it is switched off. As you can imagine, this has both positive and negative factors. In the depths of winter, it is extremely comforting to met by a warm wave of heat as you step in from -35 or so. If you want your room to be cooler, open the window. A minute or two of -35 coming inside soon cools a room down. The downside is that if, like this year, it is exceptionally mild, you are left in a room heated to +27, which is quite uncomfortable. Equally, early May doesn't always bring warmth. Last year on May 1st it was snowing here, -5 and no heating is not your friend. As for being outside in extreme cold, below -15 or so your nostril hairs freeze when you breathe in. The difference between -20 and -35 C is not that noticeable if the wind is not blowing. Windchill makes a massive difference. 'Comfort' temperature and air temperature can be quite different. 
2. Other interesting facts are that at around -28 C a cup of boiling water thrown into the air turns instantly to snow. I have seen this with my own eyes. It's quite cool. At least the first time.

3. Fur is very common here, mainly because after about -15/-20, synthetic fibres just aren't going to cut it. Fur or feathers are the only way to keep warm.
4. The colder the weather, the more expensive the taxis. After -50, which although rare, is possible, taxis don't run. If your car breaks down and you can't walk to somewhere warm, you are going to die. So stay indoors.
5. Primary school children don't go to school if the temperature (as measured by the city) is below -25 at 8.30 am. ALL students, university included, don't go in if it is below -30 at 8.30 am.

Next amazing thing a day late is the role of confidence and pressure.

Australia played England at cricket in Australia. Most people predicted that Australia were the underdogs and that England should win but they forgot to take into account the role of confidence and pressure. There maybe a talent gap between the teams but a lot of the England players have done well in Australia in the past so this is not a huge issue. The main difference between the two teams was ability to deal with pressure and the confidence to do well.

In the first innings Australia were in trouble, in the first test Australia were 132/6 but made 295 , in the second test 174/5 but made 570, in the third test 143/5 but made 385, in the fourth test 204 all out and in the fifth test 97/5 but made 326. By finishing each of the innings strongly you drain confidence from the other team and build pressure. Captains can keep more fielders close to the batsman, bowl more attacking lines, employ bowlers who he may have less confidence in for longer. It also gives the bowlers more confidence.

If the opposing team make a good start and bat time without losing wickets the confidence starts to slip and momentum starts to swing. Sadly, too often, poor shot selection allied to good bowling meant that the Australian team gained confidence with each delivery whilst England lost it. This in turn builds pressure as you want to do well so you subject yourself to more pressure in an feedback loop. I once heard a sprint coach explain that if you are running fast and an opponent runs past you the worst think you can do is to tell yourself to run faster - aren't you going as fast as you can anyway - instead try to relax so you use oxygen more efficiently.

When you are under pressure people start to question themselves. Graeme  Swann felt he could not longer continue to bowl as effectively as he had in the past. Would he have made that decision if he was in a winning team - probably not as immediately as he did.

When the pressure was off the Australians in the second innings they were able to many more runs. This but England under even more pressure - look how easily is for the other team.

Before you get too cocky Australia
1. Your team is old
2. The ball will swing in other conditions
3. The only away teams to win a test in 2013 where Bangladesh and Pakistan (both in Zimbabwe)

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Day 4 - Amazing Saints

My rugby team is Northampton Saints, coached by Jim Mallinder. I don't support many successful teams. Luton Town are doing well this season but the trail of ignominious rubbish they have served up for the last 20 years as they have dropped like a stone has been a bit pathetic. 

Last year Northampton were good. They came fourth in the table and qualified for the end of season play-offs. They then caused a surprise upset in the semi-final before being plucky losers in the final (despite playing with 14 men for a long time). The problem was that they did not beat many, of any, of the other top 4 teams during the season and they were flat track bullies, beating up teams that were weaker than them. 

This season has been different. The have beaten Harlequins twice, 13-6 and 23-9, they have beaten Saracens 41-20, they have beaten Bath 43-25 and drew with Leicester 19 all at Welford Road. At the moment they have lost one game (a little controversially) and are in a top two who are clear of the rest. 

Part of this resurgence is down to attracting better players. George North is an amazing player who can convert half situations from nothing but it is also down to better coaching. The introduction of Alex King as backs coach has added a layer of unpredictability to the way they attack and there have been marked improvements in other players such as Courtney Lawes. I also like they way that have used the youth team well so that players like Ethan and Alex Waller and Jamie Elliott have come through the Academy and A side (the Wanderers") giving players from Bedford and Kettering a chance to get into the top league in a way that football would love to emulate. 

I also like the way that the club dealt with the George North situation. Yes George, you can have an extra week to earn money for Wales that they can put into funding clubs you will be playing in the Heineken Cup against and we will pay the fine that we knew was coming,

What every happens I enjoyed watching you play today (recorded from yesterday so it is today's amazing thing). 

Day 3 (slightly late) - Amazing Weather

The third amazing thing is the string of wet and windy weather. While it is a pain in the neck, with the rabbit incarcerated in the garden hutch and the lawn is turning in a mud patch, the sheer power of the waves and the force that they exert is amazing. As a teacher of weather to A Level standard it is very exciting to see the weather forecast keeping putting up diagrams of occluded fronts, isobars stacked closely together and depression. If only my students were at a point where I could show them it and they understand it but we are still about three weeks from this.  Fortunately 1) the weather may still be going like that and 2) the BBC website has some amazing features to explain the weather. 

Here is an explanation of why it is so wet, beautifully illustrating the concept of Rossby Waves in the jet stream and the origin of depressions for my students. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Day 2 of Amazing 2014

The film Gravity was amazing. The cinematography was outstanding. The way that the film portrayed zero gravity was so realistic. Interviews with astronauts say that it was thrilling to see what they do shown realistically. The 3D adds to the film rather than is there as a gimmick and the sight of the incoming debris was remarkable. The plot stretched realism at times but overall it is truly worth seeing at the cinema.

Amazing start to 2014 continues.

On a further note the trailers at the time of year are full of Oscar hopefuls. The four they showed were The Railway Man, 12 Years a Slave, Long Walk to Freedom and American Hustle starring Colin Firth, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba and Christian Bale respectively. These gentleman were born in Hampshire, Forest Gate, Hackney and Haverfordwest.

Add to this that 3 of the last 6 winners of an Best Actor, 2 of the last 6 winners of Best Actress, 1 of the last three Best Supporting Actor and 1 of the last 6 Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars have been British and you can see the pattern.

The focus of Gove on a narrow academic curriculum overlooks the value of the cultural economy to the UK.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Reasons this year is awesome

Having had an extremely busy 2013 and not blogging one New Year Resolution is to keep on blogging. 2013 had some high profile issues that made the world seem very dark and dangerous so I am going to try and remember why the World is an awesome place.

1. Two good friends have announced that they are engaged. I am very happy for them and wish them all future happiness. What an awesome way to start 2014.