Thursday, 26 November 2009

Welcome to Stanley Park, home of Leverton!

Is it the truth that dare not speak it's name? The facetious merging of Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs aside, is a Stanley Park ground-share not just the obvious solution to the cities stadia problems, but the only solution? I believe it is...

Traditional views, stereotypes and negative thinking often hampers change; especially volatile and dynamic change that challenges the way the world is today. This is particularly evident when discussing the taboo that is a shared ground in Stanley Park for both Liverpool's football clubs. The reason for the taboo: the fans don't like it. I can probably be rightly accused of having a bit of an issue with football fans and their positioning within a football club, my post outlining essentially why football fans aren't important would be a good indication. It's not that a hate football fans (I consider myself as one), more the outdated way in which they are perceived and the influence they have upon how a football club is run. 

Looking at the ground share concept, that fans do not want to share a stadium with their city rivals is a reasonable concern. In an ideal world they would not need to. However the utopian Liverpool as depicted by so many of the football fans of the city is about to held up to scrutiny. 

A consultation period has been afforded and the views expressed but that should not stop the concept being explored further. In particularly I'd like to see the city, the football clubs and the fans look into the consequences of a ground share. Doom and gloom will inevitably be the predication but objective analysis and rational thinking may well prevail. For example, a common argument is that 'I could not sit in the Liverpool home end during an Everton match where the away fans didn't take up their allocation of tickets'. Why? Would it really be that bad? The colour of the seats is also a common concern - paint them all black then!

The identity of both clubs isn't primarily associated with their grounds anymore. Both have new and modern training facilities that act as a strong-hold for the club. An oasis and somewhere they can call home on a day-by-day basis. The clubs train there, eat there, relax there and only use the stadium to play matches. Having a stadium as an identity is nice but both clubs are beyond nice in their searches for improved facilities. Facilities is also a key word in the debate: a football stadium alone is no longer sufficient for the 21st century. Additional, complementary facilities are required as well: community centre, conferencing, hospitality, retail...the list goes on!

Tackling each issue such as the example above will only help gain a consensus on whether a ground share really would be feasible. Would the fans boycott? Perhaps for the first game or two, but forever? And even if they did, would there be other fans waiting to take their seats? Arguably yes there would.

Again in reference to early postings of mine, the fans aren't the most important stakeholders of a modern premiership club a the mission, objective and strategies of these clubs are more wide ranging that just football (if you think that sounds like business-speak, there's a reason for that!). Sponsors, TV companies and other sources of commercial revenue are what makes the business of a football club run. These stakeholders do not come with the same amount of sentimental baggage as a football fan. That isn't a criticism of fans but a fact. 

Radical change is sometimes needed to achieve the progress and change that is desired. Incremental change has it's place and is effective in lots of situations. I'd like the catalyst for change to determine the method used to achieve change and for that to be driving force of change. 

Share a ground, realise the benefits and act accordingly. The fans will follow suit... 



Friday, 20 November 2009

Geek Alert: Google Chrome OS

I absolutely love Google. I'd like to think I can still be objective when talking about their products and services, but as I agree so much with their philosophy and innovative view of the future I'm not sure whether I'm being objective or subjective! In short I like Google so much because they are the future, they are going to revolutionise the way we use technology and unlike Microsoft before them, I'm able to be a part of it. That sounds yuk, but you get my drift!

That's why I'm so excited to get my hands on Google's Chrome OS. Chrome OS is basically an operating system (alternative to Windows XP and 7 etc.) for people who spend all of their time on the web. It has been designed with the Netbook computers in mind. Netbooks have become increasingly popular in the past 12 months as they strip away non-essential hardware, weight and functionality from a laptop that is only used to browse the web. They become lighter, smaller, more portable and most importantly cheaper than conventional laptops. 

The Chrome OS builds upon the successful Google Chrome web browser, expanding it to become an entire operating system. It's key feature is that everything is web-based and run from within a web browser. All applications run within the Chrome OS are web applications. This fits nicely with Google's strategy for Mail, Calendar, Docs, and photos through Picasa etc. It also replaces the need for traditional applications like Microsoft Office that need installing and updating from CD. As Google have stated in the video and link below, the aim is to get connected to the web as quickly as possible. In essence Google Chrome turns the desktop computing concept on it's head in a similar way that Client/Server architecture did to Mainframe computing. Ironically the mainframe concept is not dissimilar to the 'cloud' concept and Software as a Service (SaaS) concepts that Google is developing. 

There will inevitably be a downside: specialist computing such as music composition and photoshop editing will still require traditional laptops with sufficient processing capabilities. If netbooks do become mainstream then the traditional laptop is likely to become more niche and therefore expensive, which won't suit everyone. However Netbooks will allow affordable computing to households that we previously priced out of the laptop market and Chrome OS will further breakdown traditional barriers with its free web applications replacing paid for software such as Office (sorry to be so hard on office, but you're time is nearing an end!). Adverts while typing your letter or balancing your finances in web based spreadsheets will become common place, but that's a small price to pay for more affordable computing.  

The excellent Official Google Blog introduces the new Chrome OS here, and the video below is taken from that post. It's one of the best explanatory videos for a new concept I've seen, and no surprise it's being used already in blogs and news reports all over the internet. 

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A defence of Thierry Henry

I'm fairly certain that this is going to be a controversial posting. Not least because a defence of cheating isn't really going to be water tight. On which note I have a couple of caveats! Firstly the YouTube clip will probably disappear from the site as soon as TFL get round to complaining so apologies if the link is broken at some point in the future. Secondly, yes it's in French (all the English ones have already gone!). A full transcript is proving hard to come by, but The Globe and Mail have some quotes here:

“I will be honest, it was a handball. But I’m not the ref,” Henry said. “I played it. The ref allowed it. That’s a question you should ask him"

"We suffered for two years, we have been having some problems with our press, our fans, with other people,” Henry said. “It would have been better to do it in another way, but as I said, I’m not the ref...If they had got through it wouldn’t have been robbery (lucky)."

"We have a lot of respect for this team,” Henry said. “We knew they play long and like a physical battle. You saw tonight that they are a very good team. I played eight years in England and I can tell you they are.”

Cheating in sport is always an emotive subject and divides opinion. It is generally unwelcome yet common place, a juxtaposition that often leads to subjective and wide ranging guidelines on what is acceptable to form. A quick search in Google for 'examples of cheating in sport' returns examples of more famous acts of cheating, with The 7 Ballsiest Sports Cheats Ever and Cheater, cheater...The worst cases of sports cheating being the most prominent search results. However these 'famous' examples mask the regular examples of cheating that occur in sport, and football in particular, every week. 

Robbie Savage was interviewed on several media outlets a couple of weeks ago insisting he would do 'whatever was necessary' to help his side (no quotes available on the internet unfortunately) in what was an uncommon admission that the people who play sport don't always play within the rules. I won't name them hear but there are at least two English International players who have a reputation for diving during games. Michael Owen 'went down easily' I think is the euphemism in order to win a penalty against Argentina at the 2002 World Cup and Sven Goran Eriksson was widely quoted by his players as having encouraged them to seek free kicks within David Beckham's range for free kicks. Neither example sending the nation into outrage. 

Much effort has gone into addressing the issue of cheating in sport. The World Anti Doping Agency is probably the most prominent and professional organisation that exists to reduce cheating in sport, but regulation is increasingly being used in an attempt to combat cheating during play. The problems encountered through using regulation is that in order to apply it, the referee or official administering the laws is in effect calling the player a cheat. The concept that a professional sports person does not cheat therefore calls into question that players professionalism and ethical standing. All on the strength of someone else's subjective interpretation of their behaviour. 

This is a particularly complex issue for an official to navigate through when players employ tactics to hide their cheating. A footballer who 'falls' over an opponents leg yet leaves their own leg trailing in order to make contact with their opponent is a particularly difficult person to discipline. At high speed and with only human judgement to aide, is it possible to decide in a split second whether the incident be a genuine foul or an act of 'simulation'? [introducing a euphemism for cheating isn't in my view making a clear statement that deception is cheating]. There isn't a retrospective science that can be applied to cheating within football that WADA benefits from in Athletics. Technology can provide more information on which a decision can be made, yet that decision is still a subjective one, even when it isn't (when is there ever a consensus on what 'obvious' is?).    

So to Thierry Henry and his self-confessed act of cheating...

I can not and do not condone cheating and my defence of Henry here will not amount to such. My defence of the player is aligned to the media hysteria that has been generated and then venum that has been directed towards him as a result. It is also a defence against the disproportional view of his action that has been taken by a large amount of stakeholders for the sport. 

There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration when viewing the incident yesterday (during the France v Ireland second leg play-off for the 2010 World Cup Final). Circumstance, timing, impact and consequence are factors that are used (rightly or wrongly) in the judgement of a person's cheating within sport. When W.G Grace was bowled first ball in an exhibition match and retorted the bowling elation with 'Young Lad, they've come to see me ball not you bowl' before retaking his place at the crease, hysteria was not forthcoming (yes a different age a different media, but...). Hysteria was not appropriate because it was an exhibition match, it was the first ball he'd received, it would have caused a major disappointment for the people who had paid to watch him bat and there was little in the way of consequence (unless you were the bowler or his team mates!).

The reaction in England to Michael Owen's penalty against Argentina? Nothing compared to the reaction given to Diego Simeone who fell to the ground after David Beckham had kicked him four year's earlier. The reasons for such a difference in feeling relate to the factors identified above. 

When a player handles the ball on his own half way line when 3v0 down, what happens? A free kick. Same player, same incident in the opposition penalty area? A free kick with perhaps a few acknowledging voices from the opposition defends, glad the dangerous play has ended. So to the same incident in that player's own penalty area? Mayhem? Hysteria? Arm-waving? Gesticulation? Suddenly the circumstance, the impact and consequences have changed. A theoretical example it may be, but one a lot of people will be able to relate to. 

Intention is another factor that has to be considered. The general view is that positive intent coupled with cheating is the worst form of cheating. I would not counter that. I would, however, refer back to the subjective nature of determining intent as an issue to consider before passing judgement. 

Thierry Henry handled the ball twice, in the opposition penalty area, in the last minute of extra time to create the goal that knocked out Ireland and sent France through. The only factor missing is intent. The most subjective factor and the most difficult to prove. General consensus deems the second handball to be deliberate. Again, so difficult to prove but even if it was a conscious act it was almost certainly not premeditated. The reaction time between Henry seeing the ball, it hitting his hand the first time to him handling the ball the second is factions of a second. How much time does it take to make a conscious decision? Is it understood what effect the first handball has upon players who then handle the ball a second time? In such a short period of time do they feel justification? Just scraping the surface of the issues that surround those two acts bring doubt. 

The second part to examine is reaction: the reaction of the player, the officials, media and fans. What should Henry have done after the goal was scored? How should he have reacted? There are no rules, no guidelines and little precedent of action other than that of which he took. To deem his actions as wrong is to apply your own personal rules and guidelines and then judge accordingly. No-one would want that to happen to them in other areas of their lives. 

The only stakeholder in that situation that does have rules that govern how they react are the officials. The officials reacted to the best of their ability and the rest, as they say...

I understand the arguments that surround cheating, that you should not do it and that no matter what mitigating arguments I put forward here, it was still cheating and as such is wrong. My defence of Thierry Henry is based around the fact that cheating is an accepted part of sport, if it wasn't it would not happen and that a player should not be vilified because his cheating came at a prominent part of an important game. 

Only if it is ever proven that it is feasible to remove cheating from sport will there ever be any real attempt to remove it. Until such time, please lay off Henry because you feel aggrieved. After all, he was dignified enough to admit it.     

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Beyonce: 2 hour master-class!

There's a lot to be learnt from being under the influence. Decisions made in such circumstances always allow the inevitable get out of jail clause to be used alongside the 'perception' of hindsight, but sometimes the truth of the matter is that inebriation can offer judgement more astute than the conscious mind. That explaining the reason I found myself at a Beyonce gig, the scepticism was left at the proverbial door.

Granted I didn't really 'get' quite a few of her songs, the screaming kids or incessant military policing of said 14 year old's, but that aside I found her show a thorough masterclass for others to aspire to. Comparing dishcloths to cravats isn't always helpful, but the last ever [question mark] gig of Oasis' at the V Festival that I witnessed left me feeling that even as an aspiration Beyonce was just too ludicrous to even contemplate.

My expectations admittedly were low; a Kylie-inspired dance-a-thon and upmarket karaoke perhaps? It didn't even enter my mind there may be a costume change! (I stopped counting at 10) and as for singing live......? My ultimate feeling was that I wasn't sure what a singer such as Beyonce could offer that was worth the cost of attending. I found out.

The dance routines alone were worthy of commendation and the live singing flawless but the enegry and execution at which they were both seamlessly combined left me feeling very humbled. Not that I can properly comment having only seen it on YouTube out of curiosity, but Cheryl Cole's 'live' performance on the X Factor leaves so much to be desired. 

Beyonce sang for a full two hours, with the occasional song's rest to accommodate costume changes. Her ballads had a air of Whitney Houston about them, thankfully minus the contemporary        tendency to 'over-blow' (she avoids screaming merely because her voice can) and offers genuinely lyrical melodies that even in a huge reverberating stadium are fantastic to experience. The more up tempo numbers are delivered with a commanding control that belies the rigour of the dance routines and are appreciated beyond belief by a hugely energetic, shrilled audience. 

Her band was the single most impressive band I've heard since (and I almost dare not say) some of the latin numbers executed so exceptionally by the Strictly Come Dancing house band! (Both bands really are that good!). The fact Beyonce employs an all female band is secondary to their talent and the only worthy observation on the subject is other musician's reluctance to follow suit. They were tight, dynamic and played a range of different styles. For all the dancing her Trumpet player indulged in whilst performing, I would have had to mime!

Stevie Wonder aside, I can't think of an artist currently performing who could achieve the same level of success and produce quality in so many different areas: vocals, dancing, style, stardom, humility were all on show in abundance and you left feeling privileged to have experienced them. A gentle dig into her background and upbringing suggest a Michael Jackson-esque talent nurtured and guided from an early age that involved primarily hard work and talent. Whatever the cost of such upbringing it has paid untold dividends. 

A hugely likeable personality with a show second to only the legend who is Stevie Wonder. It was not what I was expecting but I'm extremely happy it's what I got!

[YouTube clip is taken from Tara Welsh, shot at a Beyonce gig in Liverpool and chosen virtue of the only clip I could find of any quality and primarily to showcase live vocals]            

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tasks v Calendars: Why can't tasks have reminders?


I've tried hard to keep rants to a minimum: suppressing anger until it can be reflected upon and emerge as a coherent and consise (if a little damning and judgemental) posting. Posts on Referees in Football, Cricket Referrals and Why Fans Aren't Important in Football spring to mind. I hope others agree that they're more thoughtfull than spleen-venting electronic anger! Up until now these postings have been reserved for sport-related topics but I can't hold back on my loathing of tasks any longer!   

If I had one question to ask anyone in the world right now it would be this:

"Why can't tasks have reminders in them?"

I've searched the web a bit for a definition of Tasks and Events (or more a distinction between the two) and not been able to find any. However I don't think it's too difficult to suggest a couple myself. I believe an event can be described as 'something that has or will happen'. A Task in contrast is probably adequately described as 'something that has to happen'. That's adequate in respect that it could be more concisely described were I not to make the link between the two obvious ('something' and 'happen'). 

Definition aside the real differences between the two categories is functionality: events have people, places, resources and reminders associated with them, whether you are in Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar. Likewise, non-application specific Tasks share descriptions, due dates and status categories. These seem like sensible enough features and appropriate to each category. I doubt a task (cancel the milk, phone the estate agent or finish the draft strategy document) really needs people, resources, scheduling re-occurrences etc. Neither would you expect to need to mark off an event 'corporate hospitality at the football' as complete after the final whistle! I do believe, however, that there is a place for reminders in tasks.  

As someone capable of forgetting my front door in the event I'm not actually looking at it, tasks are important to me. I write down almost everything that is asked of me in a working environment, less I would forget the instant my mind wandered inevitably towards food! Anything not work-related tends to end up as an event in Google Calendar as I use the SMS reminder feature. But they're not events as such (and defined above) they're most definitely tasks. When Google released their Task application I was excited and started to use it. After a couple of days I forgot about it and it wasn't until a chance encounter a week or so later that I remembered it even existed and then came the realisation of what I'd forgotten to do. Each tasks was neatly described and assigned a due date, for what is was worth. That worth turned out to be nothing as it relied on me checking the list every day to see what needed to be done. 

For me a task is not something that should take a large amount of planning, if any. Therefore I find it's best to schedule it for the time I want to execute the task. Having a reminder go off at that time allows that to happen. I get a text, it reminds me to book the tickets so I pick up the phone/find the website and away I go! It seems such a logical and obvious feature I can't believe it's not standard across all applications. Tasks invariably live with Events so the capability is there. It leaves me at an infuriated loss! 

I would love to know why reminders are included in Tasks. Does anyone know?