Archive for December, 2007

Happy 2008, for when such an event actually happens

I was going to post a roundup of the year, and all the usual gubbins that accompanies it. But then there was football. And invites to the pub. And more football. And more invites to the pub. And the occasional long walk across the Devonshire countryside. And then some chocolate. And then Match of the Day. And now it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’ve got a party and then football to go to tomorrow, so there’s be no wry, cynical look back. I can hear the disappointment in approximately 1.5 readers while the other 8.5 are probably popping champagne corks. Or have better things to do.

Apropos of such non-posting, there are a few things I’d like in the new year, and they include:

1. Exeter doing the double over Torquay tomorrow.

2. Me to get fit. Finally.

3. Me to get through tonight with my sense of dignity still intact.

I think one of these may be vaguely doable.

Happy New Year to one and all.

Soon to be banned in the land of Oz

There’s a lot to like about Australia. John Howard wasn’t one of these things. Now it seems new Premier Kevin Rudd can also be struck off the list, as Australia joins China in becoming one of the few countries where the government broadly censors the internet.

The argument seems to fall back on that classic piece of hysteria: won’t somebody think of the children:

‘Senator Conroy says it will be mandatory for all internet service providers to provide clean feeds, or ISP filtering, to houses and schools that are free of pornography and inappropriate material.’

I’d like to know what consists of inappropriate material here. Techcrunch has a pretty good summary, which includes BitTorrent, online gambling, ‘R’ rated computer games, the vague area of hate speech, as well as criticism of government policy regarding Aboriginals. I’d also imagine particularly sweary sites like Devil’s Kitchen, for example, could fall foul. After all, we wouldn’t want the children to be exposed to bad language would we?

As the ‘crunch say:

“If there is one certainty in any country that implements broadscale censorship, once they start blocking content it doesn’t stop, and certainly every do-gooder group and special interest lobbyist will be wanting the Government to add to the list.”

In all honesty, there’s no need for the Government to get involved. There’s perfectly good software out there that can block sites, and if parents want better software, then there’s enough companies out there making these products to provide even stronger controls. Absolutely no need for government interference.

What’s also worrying is the opt-out nature of the service. As techcrunch points out, if you opt-out of the censorship, the government will undoubtedly ask questions as to why and start to take an interest. So that could lead to childless twentysomethings who’ve got no need for these controls, finding themselves snooped on by the state because they fancy doing a bit of gambling or BitTorrenting.

Conroy’s defence is as daft as anything I’ve heard in a long time.

“Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road,” he said. 

Right, so you’re happy, proud even, to follow the lead of a repressive illiberal regime? Nice one. What next? Rounding up dissidents?

“If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.” 

Christ. But this isn’t about child pornography, which in turn has close to fuck all to do with freedom of speech. You’re just using it as an excuse to slip in a host of other controls. And are you really so dumb that you can’t tell the difference between a kiddy-fiddler and a libertarian?

“He says the Government will work with the industry to ensure the filters do not affect the speed of the internet.

“There are people who are going to make all sorts of statements about the impact on the [internet] speed,” he said.

“The internet hasn’t ground to a halt in the UK, it hasn’t ground to a halt in Scandinavian countries and it’s not grinding the internet to a halt in Europe.”

And? What the hell does the speed of the internet in the UK, Sweden, or Belgium have to do with Australian censorship? What this clumsy sidestepping statement is probably dealing with is what Techcrunch raises concerns over:

‘There is also a potential cost involved to Australian Internet users. The previous Government regularly cited feedback from ISP’s stating that the cost of implementing a “clean feed” would be passed onto internet users, who already pay some of the highest internet access costs in the Western world for on average slow services.’ 

Wonderful. I have, in the past, entertained ideas of emigrating Down Under. I won’t bother now.

What worries me is firstly the number of people in the comments who think America could be heading the same way, and secondly that somebody from our wonderfully liberal government will think: “Hmm… so we’ve got ID cards coming through, what next? Ah, the Aussie internet initiative sounds like a good idea.”

Obligatory occasional Exeter City post

I’m not sure if its a sense of pride or non-league obsessive shame that should accompany my accomplishment of being one of a few hardy souls to watch Exeter City away and home against Histon this season. Nonetheless, the terraces at St. James’ Park were where I found myself watching my last live game of 2007, reflecting back on the past six months and looking ahead to the new year [1].

Whipping past events up to July (roughly summed up as: started to win games, made play-offs, beat Oxford in THE BEST GAME EVER and then lost at Wembley and I sulked the whole bus journey home), pre-season was a cause for optimism. An ambitious 3-4-3 formation had seen City outplay Championship opposition at times, and look like a solid, threatening unit. New central defender Matt Taylor was looking the part, while striker Adam Stansfield was terrorising defences. With Matt Gill having an outstanding end to the season, it looked as if we had a great spine and a great chance.

The Wembley hangover looked like it might not last long, and a 4-1 rout of Altrincham at Moss Lane on the first game of the season, despite having a central midfield with a combined age of 36 who’d barely met two seconds before kick-off, seemed to confirm this.

The unbeaten run continued through August but the warning signs were there first when Exeter failed to break down 10-men Weymouth at the park, in a game where flicking jelly beans around the press box was a more entertaining option. One of the low points of the season followed: a 4-0 drubbing away at Kidderminster. Still, the catering at Aggborough is fantastic, as was a the quaint pub in an old railway station office that hosted fans before and after the game. I like to dwell on the positives, and those were two high points of the day. A football match also took place.

Despite a thoroughly entertaining comeback to snatch a point in the dying seconds at Oxford, who were making a habit of throwing away leads against the Grecians, the period that followed can be best described as The Draws O’Doom where, victory against Farsley Celtic notwithstanding, it seemed that City were doing everything possible to come away with one point instead of 3 (or even zero). Even the more optimistically-inclined fan, such as myself, was losing hair, due to large clumps being torn out in frustration.

The turning point was a dour ground-out victory against Grays, followed by a convincing 4-2 win against Salisbury where new found yellow-booted hero Richard Logan notched a hat-trick to take him into double figures – an impressive achievement for a player who many, including myself, had initially dismissed as lazy and average when he arrived the previous season. Suddenly ‘Logie’ was scoring for fun and idiotic journalists, such as myself, were rewriting our sighs of despair into platitiude upon platitude.

Then followed a depressing, dour goalless draw in front of the Setanta cameras at Northwich were Logan and the rest of the team seemed more interested in shooting off to have a look at the nearby salt museum. This game swiftly overtook Kidderminster as the most depressing performance of the season – at least we did occasionally threaten the Harriers’ goal.

At this point I relocated to London, and missed all games (including burying a hoodoo by convincingly winning against Ebbsfleet away in the FA Cup qualifers, and a 4-1 home capitulation to Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, to give the Brewers their full title) until the 2-all draw at the distinctly unglassy Glassworld Stadium in Histon, which modelled its design on Oxford United’s ‘fence end’, which is exactly as you’d imagine it. City’s inability to defend set pieces cost them dear, and looking past the non-existent crowd, over the fences into pretty Cambridgeshire fields made you realise how far Exeter had slipped. I’d mostly enjoyed the non-league up to this point. Now, escaping and never playing in such places again seemed like an urgent priority.

Following Histon came a series of cup matches, including a competition, the Setanta Shield, that was so pointless that the BBC don’t list it on the results pages and Setanta couldn’t be bothered to mention it on their news channel despite sponsoring the thing. (We lost. To Ebbsfleet. In case you were wondering).

The, the highlight of the season. An end-to-end, edge-of-your seats, squeaky-bum game against local rivals Torquay on Boxing Day that ended in a 4-3 victory to City. It had everything – controversy, a red card and plenty of great goals. Plus, with our old assistant manager in charge of the Gulls, plus a number of summer defectors from St. James’ Park in the team, victory tasted all the sweeter.

Which brings me back to the uninspiring home victory over Histon in freezing conditions that had be tempted to disappear to the local coffee shop in search of warmth, hot beverages, and entertainment (hey, Starbucks plays piped music. That would have been more fun than 90% of the game) but instead saw me meditating on the future into theNew Year.

At this time last year Exeter were in a similar position – just outside the playoffs with somewhat inconsistent form. Three good purchases later and a great end-of-season run and we were within 90 minutes of regaining football league status. Sitting just two points off the playoffs going into 2008, the same could happen again. Of the teams above Exeter, few are good or consistent enough, bar Aldershot (although they lost to Grays today) and, much as it pains me to say it, Torquay to consider themselves safe in the top five [2].

But while last season the only January departure was the very talented-but-replicable Danny Woodards at right-back, there’s a very real fear that next month Exeter will lose the very talented and currently irreplaceable Jamie Mackie.

Last season the youngster was very much a rough diamond. Defenders were terrified of his pace, he’d chase lost causes all afternoon. Hell, if manager Paul Tisdale told him to run into a brick wall, he’d do it not once, but all afternoon. The two things he lacked were decision making and finishing.

This season he’s added both and looks lethal – the most complete striker I’ve seen at the Park in a long time, and with 11 goals in as many games, he almost singlehandedly won the Histon match while Torquay will be hoping he’s gone to pastures new by New Year’s Day judging by how he terrorised their defence. Crewe and both Bristol clubs are rumoured to be interested, although with a couple of other teams. If he stays, Mackie could be the man to fire Exeter to promotion but, with his contract expiring in the summer, it’s more likely to be a question of when and how much. I’m not optimistic, much as I’d love him to still be an Exeter player in February.

Other potential players rumoured to be departing in January, or at least attracting interest from other clubs, include not-at-all-lazy-but-never-played second top scorer striker Ricard Logan, who is also out of contract in the summer. Right-back Steve Tully, Woodards’s replacement last January, has been rumoured to be on the move so many times since October, its a wonder the removal man haven’t pitched up base outside his house, while mercurial winger Lee Elam and young keeper Paul Jones have also decided the rumour mill clearly hasn’t got enough players pushing it round and have also leaped, or been thrown depending where you read, to keep the mill churning.

And replacements? Well, Logan, Elam, and Tully all arrived last January after Weymouth suddenly realised running up debts of over £1m wasn’t a sensible way to run a non-league club and stuck their entire first team up for sale, and all three played their part in taking the club to Wembley.

This year the only rumour is ex-Grecian Jamie Mudge, who currently plies his trade with Dawlish Town. Mudge left the club as a youngster after complaining of bullying, before then-Exeter manager Eamonn Dolan attempted to bring the prodigal son back home only for then-club Tiverton Town to demand a transfer fee. Mudge apparently has offers elsewhere but wants to stay in Devon, which probably means he’ll be turning out for Willand Rangers anytime in the near future.

Other than that City boss Paul Tisdale is a man who likes to keep his transfer cards close to his chest and will probably bring in a couple of players no-one has ever heard of. If he has drawn up a shopping list, I’m hoping his trip to Sainsbury’s will yield a right-back, a tough-tackling box-to-box centre midfield, a striker or two (especially if they’re on a BOGOF), and a winger, preferably left-sided, if there happens to be one lying around near the checkouts when he comes to pay.

Put simply, I’ve absolutely no idea where we’re going to end up. There’s every potential for us to go on a great run and burst into the play-offs. We could also do what Exeter tends to do around this time and flatter to deceive before a heroic last-gasp attempt to reach the top five sees us fall a point short. Much will depend on the comings and goings in January, but there’s every possibility of a mouth-watering (TM Setanta) play-off final of Exeter v Torquay, which would be something to savour and, very possibly, more excitement and nerves than my bladder could take.

Happy Grecian New Year.

[1] Sadly the game was that bad, and my mind wandered badly. The most attractive thing on display was the sunset. Exeter can be quite a pretty city, even if they’re not going to be knocking down the old Debenhams eyesore.

[2] And if Torquay have title aspirations they need to sort out their defence. For a team challenging for the top they simply concede too many goals, and have been involved in too many high-scoring games. Exciting, maybe, but a run of clean sheets wouldn’t go amiss. With a slightly slow back-line, a left-back who gets caught out of position too much and a less-than-impressive keeper, they need at least one more centre half and probably a full back to keep challenging. 

Blog! To Facebook! Oh, wait…

Techcrunch are getting reasonably excited about Blogfuse, a paid for service that allows bloggers to create an application for their blog on Facebook. On one hand, it’s a pretty an reasonably innovative idea. On the other, it appears to be a solution for a problem that doesn’t really need solving (although, given that there’s a large amount of Facebook apps and widgets that try to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist, I guess this can be filed under ‘mildly useful’).

I can possibly see this being useful for the bigger, well-known bloggers who already have a big enough following. But I’m guessing the lesser-to-medium known bloggers this is aimed at won’t find it as useful.

There’s already several ways of integrating your blog with Facebook, while friends both in and out of Facebook probably already read or have stumbled across the blog through other methods, like technorati, digg, delicious, and the like.

I can’t see an application, no matter how pretty, going ‘viral’ unless you’re doing a pretty big push, and are already pretty popular, or unless you happen to have a really well-written blog that’s begging to be discovered. In which case, you’ll probably be picked up on via digg, delicious, technorati and mutual comment exchange, as per already happens.

Plus, I can’t see why anybody would want to pay for this service. Surely there’s some bright spark out there offering something similar for less, or free?

Still, nice idea.

Festive linkdump

Merry Christmas to everybody. If, like me, Christmas isn’t a particularly big deal (unless you count the Dr. Who special) then here’s a few links to divert your attention as you digest the turkey [1].  Although this isn’t a bah humbug post – I’m more indifferent to various aspects of Christmas than anything else.

Anyway, should you have a lot of time and a more-than-healthy interest in social networking sites, Adam Greenfield has an excellent post on these, with very interesting discussion. It’s nice to see somebody trying to engage with the negative sides of Facebook et al without just resorting to sneering.

A fascinating, and all too familiar, lower league row brewing over TV rights at 200 per cent.

A quite sweet Yuletide tale from PC Bloggs.

And a ridiculously inappropriate Christmas present. Far less tasteful than anything I could have dreamed up.

Right, I’m off to pick from sprouts from our veg garden and cook my Christmas dinner – roast butternut squash stuffed with chestnuts and Parmesan. Merry Christmas everyone.

[1] Exeter City, meanwhile, hopefully will be stuffing the Turkey tomorrow afternoon. That’s what I’m most excited about. Perhaps even more so than Dr. Who. 

Literally.

John Widdop is literally right.

“I think the misuse of the word ‘literally’ has to, with no exception, be my favourite fuck-up of the English language there is at the average idiot’s disposal.  For example, the girl was barking out the rest of her evenings plans to her friend, who was stood on one of the benches trying to warm her hands on the heaters by reaching as high as she could. The following key phrase was dropped:

“I don’t know how I’m going to fit everything in over Christmas, I’ve literally got my fingers in every pie”

Education, of the sexual variety

Oddly enough, the topic of conversation with colleagues over lunch yesterday was pretty much the title of Marine Hyde’s quite good piece in the Guardian today: Porn is screwing up young men’s expectations of sex. Although, as it was lunch and at least some of the company was reasonably polite, we didn’t discuss the baser aspects to appear in Marina’s article, like gang-banging and Manchester United.

But it was largely agreed on one of the points Marina makes today – with porn so readily available, there’s going to be so many expectations from male teenagers, and even pre-teens, about what the girl will do and how to do it.

The solution I put forward was to improve sex education. But showing a true-to-life poor and pathetic sex video.

Picture the scene: the biology teacher announces they’ll be doing sex education, where they can learn what sex will be really like. It starts off with the male clumsily fiddling with the woman’s bra before she gets utterly frustrated and takes it off herself.

The sex that follows will then, in every way, be the most terrible, unsexy, and disappointing it can be – and one where most people can speak from experience. The bloke losing it midway through, and having to wander off for a quick bit of stimulation as the girl nearly falls asleep. It’ll be a quick three minute job, where the bloke half nods off at the end before the girl fakes a very unconvincing orgasm, before pushing the bloke away when he tries to be a bit more creative. There’ll definitely be lots of ‘can you move to the left a bit, you’re crushing my thigh,’ and ‘sorry, that’s just not doing it for me. Shall we go to sleep now?’ The post-coital cuddle will be quickly abandoned because the bed is just that little bit side of too small, and neither can find a comfortable position, so both end up turning their backs on each other, while at least one will spend ages trying to get to sleep before eventually moving downstairs to the sofa. Conversation the next morning will be silted and awkward.

That, more than anything else, will teach teenage boys about the harsh world of bedroom antics out there, and hopefully set them up with suitably lowered expectations, so anything that actually goes smoothly, let alone be any good, is a bonus.


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