Thursday, 29 April 2010

Steve "Interesting" Davis

I've always been a bit sceptical about snooker being classed as a sport. For me, sport should always involve some kind of obvious physical exertion and/or a risk to life and limb. The fact that a snooker player considers a bow tie as 'sports kit' doesn't help either.

Nevertheless, it is a sport and the professionals who play it have won my respect, for whatever that's worth.

Generally I don't have a lot of time for most sports. Football, rugby, athletics etc. all leave me un-moved, and as for tennis... That's completely insane; how can you have a game that can theoretically last for ever? Even when the matches don't continue until eternity, it certainly seems like they do.
But I digress...

I quite like watching snooker.
I've never played or even had any desire to play it, but it is a game I can understand and it is played at a pace which I can follow. Everything about the way the balls move across the table and the trajectories they take following a collision is so satisfyingly predictable. Every shot that a player takes becomes a demonstration of Sir Isaac Newton's laws of motion.
The players are studiously calm and generally well behaved as they take their turn at the table, carefully chalking their cue as they analyse the probable outcome of the next shot. There is never any sense of unnecessary haste or urgency, just a measured concentration culminating in a single stroke of the cue and that wonderful sound as the balls collide and ricochet  across the soothing surface of the table to their predestined new resting places.
The player seldom exhibits any satisfaction or dismay at the success or failure of a shot, The audience may be applauding or groaning, but the player seems oblivious. They either set about the business of taking the next shot, or make their way back to their seat at the edge of the arena to watch and wait as their opponent takes their turn at the table.

The World Championships are being played at The Crucible in Sheffield at the moment, so there's been plenty of coverage on TV, and one of the best things about it has been the surprising performance by Steve Davis.

At the age of 52, he beat the defending World Champion John Higgins, before being knocked out in the quarter-finals by Neil Robertson.

Go Steve!!! All of us old buggers salute you!

Friday, 23 April 2010

The waiting game

As you know, I don't do gardening.
Anything that is vaguely green in our house has been nurtured by Blight-of-my-life. It will only have survived through her efforts and in spite of my malign influence.

The stuff that I do in the garden isn't horticulture, it's civil engineering.

Recently. I've also been doing what is best described as 'rough carpentry', at the allotment. I've been hammering in pegs and nailing together bits of wood to surround the various vegetable plots, to accompany the posts and wires that will support the raspberries.
I was really looking forward to the raspberries. They are probably my favourite pie filling, so I needed very little encouragement to make the necessary preparations for their arrival. Unfortunately, due to some kind of clerical malfunction, our order for the plants got lost so we've missed this season's delivery.
Ah well....

One of the other plots is for asparagus. This is not a vegetable for the impatient, as it takes about three years to get anything like a sensible crop from the plants, but if the taste of a fresh-from-the-soil, home grown asparagus spear outclasses that of shop-bought it may be worth the wait. Last season's spuds from the allotment were an order of magnitude tastier than anything from Tesco's, so I'm hopeful.

Knowing how slow asparagus is to develop, there was considerable excitement the other day, when the first green shoots were detected. Well, actually they're a sort of purple rather than green, but you can't keep a good cliche down.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Surely, there's some mistake...

I really don't know what to make of this.

A friend of mine works for a Emmaus, a charity for homeless people.
At one of their shops, in Gloucester, they have received a rather odd donation.

It's a small casket of ashes and it bears the inscription "In loving memory, Imogen".

What can possibly have led to this?

The staff at the shop are, not surprisingly, a bit perplexed about how to deal with this item. They are reluctant to simply sell it in case it has been handed in by accident, so they are trying to find out who has donated it, just to minimize any upset or embarrassment.
Long running family feuds have originated in far less dramatic circumstances than the unfortunate loss of a much-loved relative's mortal remains, so for the sake of the friends and family of 'Imogen', I hope that the folks at Emmaus in Gloucester can find the donor.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Something you don't normally see at the pub...

We went along to our local SciBar last night. If you've never come across the concept before, it sounds a bit unlikely.
Basically, it's science in a pub.

A guest speaker is invited to give a talk about their particular branch of science at a suitably enlightened drinking establishment and anyone who's interested can come along and listen, ask questions and drink beer.
Our local SciBar is held once a month at "The Vale Inn" and since it started, last year, we have had speakers covering such widely diverse topics as "The Search for Extraterrestrial Life", "Body Clocks", "Nuclear Fusion" and "Anti-matter". It is astonishingly popular, to the extent that if you don't get to the pub by 6pm, you'll probably struggle to find anywhere to sit.

Last night we were lucky enough to see Herpetologist and Amphibian Conservationist,  Andrew Gray, from The Manchester Museum. As you would expect, anyone who is willing to go out and talk about their work to a bar full of complete strangers needs to be a bit of an enthusiast and this is a man who clearly loves his work. With his tales of crawling about in caves and climbing trees in the jungles of South America, simply to observe frogs I was left with no doubt that he had found his dream job.
The talk was full of good stuff. I didn't know that frogs don't drink, but absorb moisture through their skin and that a frog's eyes help it to swallow, but the undoubted highlight was when we were introduced to a couple of live tree frogs that he had brought along.

They are almost unbearably cute. 

Have a look at "Frog Blog Manchester" if you want to see the sort of things Andrew Gray gets up to. 

Friday, 9 April 2010

Here's a bit of a diversion

You've probably realised by now, that I'm a bit of a sucker for games and similar time-wasting, so the accidental discovery of a multi-player browser game set in the American Wild West was a particular delight.

If you fancy yourself as a bit of a Wyatt Earp, you may find "The West" of interest.

You don't have to download anything, as the game runs on your web-browser. All you need to do is register a valid email address, a name for your character and a password and you're up and running. There are currently twelve servers, or "Worlds" in game parlance. It seems to be OK to have characters on more than one World, as they all operate in isolation from each other, but as your character has the same name in each world this could get confusing.
You can play the game for free, but if you get hooked and want to play more intensively you can buy extra features.

As a new player, you begin your adventure with no cash or skills, so your first priority is to head to the local saloon for odd jobs to earn a living. There's a helpful tutorial which will guide you through duelling, picking tobacco, and making sense of the interface. Progression is through doing Quests which provide additional cash and experience points that allow you to customize your character. Most of the Quests seem to involve doing suitably 'western' jobs; Mending Fences, Branding Cattle, Tending Sheep etc.
Once you have set your character to work, all you have to do is wait until the time you have allocated to the task has elapsed, when you discover whether you have found anything useful or sustained some injury. (I have managed to lose varying numbers of Hit Points by "getting sunburned" whilst picking beans, banging a nail through my hand when I was mending fences and being bitten by a sheep) This 'real time' aspect of the game ensures that you don't spend hours at the keyboard, although some players may find the waiting too much of a disincentive.
It doesn't seem to take too long to attain Level 10, when you can choose between four class types to suit your particular style of play. It also allows you to select an appropriate, new avatar. This is a relief, because quite frankly, the 'Greenhorn' avatar that you start with, looks a bit bonkers.

As this is a multi-player game, you are encouraged to interact with other like-minded souls by getting yourself invited to join a town. Towns are set up by players and they provide places to trade things you have earned, a bank to safeguard your cash and a hotel where you can recover energy after all that hard work toiling in the fields.
Towns are also where you can get into duels with other players who have a character at a similar level of competence. There's probably some amusement to be had there.

You can find a review of "The West" at MMO Hut, amongst other places.

At present you can find me in 'World 1' or 'World 12', as "Rock Lobster".

Now, where did I put my sombrero?...