Isn’t legalised violence wonderful?

OK, back I am after unscheduled break, and since I have some time, I thought I would try to spread the word of something very close to my heart- the sport of rugby.

In Europe (or Britain, anyway), rugby is subject to a lot of misconceptions due to lack of knowledge- across the rest of the world, Australasia and South Africa excepted, it is hardly known. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, rugby is an ancestor of American Football, and shares several of the same broad features- big meaty players, an oval-shaped ball (although rounder than an American football to make it easier to pass and kick), physicality and the idea of touching the ball down in the end-area. However, below the surface, the similarities end. For one thing, rugby players do not wear full body armour, and for another they do not run around for 3 seconds at a time interrupted by a 2 minute break. I would try and explain the rules differences, but rugby is recognised as having some of the most complicated laws (when gone into in detail) of any major sport. A few basic rules include- there are two groups of players, big, strong forwards who win possession and be physical, and light, fast backs who score most of the points. Points are scored either by touching the ball down over the end line for 5 points (not just by running over it or throwing it down), or kicking the ball through the posts at either end- this can either be done either after a try (touchdown) has been scored (worth an extra two points), when a penalty is awarded (3 points), or from a drop kick in general play (also 3 points). You can only pass backwards & sideways (but can kick or run forwards in open play), you can only tackle a player with the ball, and once a player has been tackled to the ground the forwards (or whoever happens to be nearby), all pile in to try and push each other off the ball in what’s called a ruck, in order to win possession. If the ball is ‘knocked on’ (spilled forwards), a scrum is formed (both sets of forwards pushing against each other to win the ball), and if it is kicked out of the field on either side, a lineout is formed (the ball is thrown in and both sets of forwards jump and lift one another in order to try and catch it).
Considering I probably could have summarised football in a sentence, this gives you some idea of just how complicated the game can get. If you want to learn more, I suggest you try to watch some- the Six Nations tournament is starting in February and will be on TV, while one of the American networks (I think it may be NBC) has recently started broadcasting rugby 7’s (7 players on each side rather than 15, and only 7 minutes each way rather than 40- this leads to very fast, high-scoring games).
I should probably also take this point to clear up a couple of misconceptions about the game. 1) Rugby is not a ‘posh man’s sport’. Yes, it is named after an English public school and yes, most of the current England squad will have got sport scholarships at private schools, but rugby is an inclusive game, and anyone can join without fear of class boundaries- I have been in a squad where one guy with a dad earning upward of 100 grand  has been struggling for his place while our first choice centre’s dad has been struggling for work. 2) You are not guaranteed to break eery bone in your body. I have played rugby for numerous years now and have yet to receive a serious injury, and while it is true the injury toll in rugby is far greater than in football, it is far less than sports like American Football, and the rugby community is very good at looking after its members.
However, I didn’t post this just to be a laws description or a whinge against those who don’t understand the game, because rugby is so much more than a complicated set of rules. To my mind, there are 4 reasons why rugby is the best game on the planet. One is that it is a game for everyone, regardless of shape, size or skills. The big chunky ones who may not be the most intelligent or skilful but like to push each other around can go up front in the forwards (probably the front row, who are an entity unto themselves), the big tall ones can be really good in the lineout, the fast ones can go on the wing, the skilful and aware ones at flyhalf (the rugby equivalent of a quarterback), and the tiny, annoying little gob*****s who like to annoy the referee are born scrum-halves. Two is that rugby can, at its best, be superlatively spectacular and beautiful in a myriad of different forms. This: http://www.rugbydump.com/2011/12/2271/biarritz-score-a-sensational-team-try-against-montpellier, is just a teamwork spectacular showing a ‘backs try’, but just as beautiful to a rugby aficionado could be a 60-metre maul (like a loose scrum), pushed all the way up the pitch. And then you’ve got this which, well… it was the world cup final, England v Australia (the old rivals), England had never won the world cup before, it was 17-17 well into extra time, there were less than 30 seconds left and- this:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuKHtcIdD4M&feature=related. It was a hell of a lot better than the video and commentary makes it look.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, rugby is a social sport. It’s a friendly game, and getting drunk in the bar with your opposite number is a celebrated post-match ritual, even if he’s sporting a broken nose you gave him in the match earlier. On the pitch, you may be worst of enemies- on it, everyone has a laugh. Rugby fans are allowed to drink at matches, unlike football fans, because the authorities can trust them to basically behave. Rugby abhors violent play, and abuse of the referee is especially frowned upon. It is a game founded on trust and friendliness, on camaraderie, on team spirit, to an extent that no other sport can match, and it is a thing more beautiful than even the greatest of tries.
And fourth (watch all the replays of these) and finally there is… well this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuKHtcIdD4M&feature=related
and this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuKHtcIdD4M&feature=related
and this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPMZrPjW5cs
… and also this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wq_PL-GDTI&feature=related
Yeah…

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Since when the internet become alive?

Looking back over my previous posts (speaking of which by the way: WOO DOUBLE FIGURES), I realised just how odd my way of referring to the internet is. The internet, by archaic terms, doesn’t really even exist- there is nothing physical to show its presence. One can argue about the billions of computers and servers which connect to and contribute to it, but that’s a bit like saying that the story of a novel exists by virtue of the book having pages- the story itself is something… more than that. The same is true for the internet which is, when boiled down, just one huge mass of information- nothing more, nothing less. And yet, from my first posts in which I introduced myself to the web, I referred to the internet itself. When you think about it, the level to which the internet community has made the internet itself seem human goes far beyond just normal personification- the internet does not just represent a figure, it has, over the years of its existence, managed to give itself a personality. It has clearly defined ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’, far beyond a simple average view of the human population. In my home country of Great Britain, for example, the majority of voters at each election vote Conservative, and such views are held by many people across the world, especially in America- the source of the main bulk of internet traffic. And yet, the internet’s political stance appears very liberal- it dislikes racism, is heavily supportive of freedom of speech and information, and dislikes privacy controls and regulations on itself. The internet also appears to like computer games, science, especially computing (and be of above-average intelligence in these matters too) and hate the likes of Stephanie Meyer, Justin Beiber and Rebecca Black, but one trait is predominant, and has almost become the defining feature of the modern internet- it likes to have a laugh. A large proportion of my Facebook traffic, for instance, is people sending me links of funny stuff from everyday life that other people have posted, and there is a recurrent joke that the internet could be basically split into two parts- porn, and pictures of cats looking simultaneously cute and hilarious. This set of priorities is very prevalent when studying the aims of internet groups such as Anonymous- quite a good description of them (and incidentally a link to a quality series of videos) can be found here: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/anonymous, and I recommend you watch it. Their aims appear based around a similar set of liberal and ‘for teh lulz’ priorities.
Now, just sit back for a second and absorb this simple fact- the internet, essentially a large collection of information contributed to in some way by the vast majority of the human, has managed to develop its own personality and opinions. Furthermore, these opinions are held, as a rule, by the vast majority of the internet community (excluding the people, if they can be called such, who comment below youtube videos), even though these represent the views of a non-majority group in the real world (although feel free to debate the extent of non-majority). Now, ask yourself this- HOW IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT’S HOLY DID THAT HAPPEN!?!?!?! The very concept of creating such a personality could never have occurred to the web pioneers, the likes of Tim Berners-Lee and the CERN team who aided the process, and yet it has happened. Swathes of the internet may be devoid of such views, and there are a series of internet counter-cultures (the conspiracy theorists, for example, or the ‘vast uninformed panics’ that erupt whenever there is a major health scare), but the internet as a rule appears to have predominant characteristics THAT ARE INCONSISTENT WITH THOSE OF THE VAST POPULATION OF PEOPLE WHO CONTRIBUTE TO IT.
Normally I like my posts to have a conclusion behind me, and several of my instincts are fighting to explain about the kind of bored teenagers who populate the web for much of the time etc. etc., but right now I really don’t want to. I honestly think that the way this has happened is truly amazing, and from a psychological/behaviouroligical/ sociological perspective it is certainly incredibly interesting- I could fill a paper describing it. But, for now, I’m just going to sit back and revel in what humanity has done with its greatest invention. And try and think of a suitable way to conclude this post…

Failure and Happiness

To anyone who may end up reading this who does not currently have a wordpress blog, please allow me to inform you as to one feature of it. In the top left-hand corner of the screen, there is shown a small graph, demonstrating activity on your blog for the last 48 hours. For the last few days, mine has been empty. I have had no views of my blog.
Now, a blogger’s task is, ostensibly, to attract attention and traffic- the average blog is started by someone with a pressing need for attention and validation, which certainly explains why I’m here, and so this fact basically means that I am failing as a blogger.
So, I thought I might share with the internet something on the subject of failure, something with which I have extensive experience. For example, the rugby side play for are basically out of this year’s league competition having won 5 from 13 matches- this coming after a season in which we won the league, lost only 3 times and were undefeated for around 5 months, while the side I support are currently lying 11th out of 12 in the league and have lost either 5 or 6 games on the bounce, just 4 years after they won the league. From the social front, I can count the number of friends I consider to have had over the years on my fingers, am perpetually single and not long ago finished a period of counselling- this helped, but I now find myself in the midst of even greater psychological issues. My mood cycles between mental and deeply depressed on an annoyingly regular basis and I see little sign of my situation improving. I could go on. I consider myself to have failed, to some extent, in every aspect of my life- and yet as I sit writing this, I exist as a happy person, or if happy appear too strong, then to say the very least I am content.
Why? This seems to make no sense- my reasons for happiness seem minimal. The experienced conscience-attackers among you may like to point to the fact that, from the very fact I am writing this, I have access to a computer, I am able to play and watch sport for enjoyment, have access to psychological support, have a roof over my head, food in the fridge etc, etc, but the kind of people who say these kinds of things have probably been shouted down often enough to know the kinds of arguments that can be proposed against them. But what they have to say does have relevance. You see, to someone without a roof over their head, a house may seem an impossible luxury. To a child who gets one meal a day and is developing kwashiorkor, the delicacies of a fridge may seem unparalleled delights. To the manager of a small business struggling during the economic downturn, the stability and prosperity of a larger, more successful business may seem a cruel injustice- and yet the manager of this business, surviving far easier than it’s smaller compatriot, may consider his stability to be just as bad as his struggling compatriot, compared to the prosperity he may have experienced in recent years. Conclusion- the satisfaction a person shows with their state of existence is entirely relative to their personal experiences.
When you think about this, you know it already, but it is genuinely astonishing as to the amount of stuff that can be understood simply by thinking over stuff you know. For example, any parents or soon-to-be’s reading this, for example, who want my advice on avoiding bringing up the kind of spoilt brat every parent dreads, could well consider this principle. Children who are ‘spoilt’ are basically always wanting more. The reason (it seems to me from my experiences anyway) for this is that their experiences of asking for something are that if they are showered with the modern, expensive, toys, then always having the latest toy or gadget seems to them a normal state of existence. When this changes, and they are not allowed their new favourite, this seems to them akin to an invasion of their human rights, and as such they complain and get the ‘spoilt’ tag (N.B. I know that I am in no way qualified to give this advice, so please don’t treat it as fact- it’s just what seems logical to me).
Now, how then does this relate back to me? Well,  having considered this logic, I began to realise that all my adjudged ‘failures’ were relative to previous experiences. I consider the rugby side I support to be failing, but the side who are in joint 11th with us have just been promoted and their fans are probably glad to be mostly out of the danger of relegation. I consider 5 wins from 13 to be a bad record, but considering the calibre of side some of those losses have been to, I can think of a few teams who would give their eye teeth for that record. And the list goes on- my social life is bad now, and compare to guys I know it’s appalling- but I know that I am a better person, with a better social life, than I was before my counselling- I feel things are bad now because I am not progressing at the same rate as I was previously. As such, I consider all my problems, and realise they are not problems, really at all. And it is this that enables me to consider my life more objectively, remind me of my family, the people I do love spending time with, the epic wins that will stick in my memory together, and the amazing camaraderie of my team- the drinking sessions, the laughs, the mates. And it makes me a happy person.
For one last comment on the subject of failure, I turn to one of the most inspirational quotes I have ever heard, courtesy of Michael Jordan:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”

How to Waste Time

OK, I have finally returned from the biggest waste of 3 days in my (admittedly quite short) life, so thought this would be a good time to put up a post about time wasting- I hope you enjoy it.
Wasting time an art form that the world is beginning to embrace, but which many perpetrators require some help with for maximum effectiveness. The problem comes from an inability to fully understand the problem at hand, and a similar inability to strike the fine balance required. The thing is, time wasting is not as simple as not being productive, for this is not necessarily wasteful- a businessman, for instance, who comes home after two weeks’ frantic effort to strike a deal and immediately sits down, exhausted in front of Skyrim, is not wasting time. Rather,, he is recharging, better enabling him to work productively in the future, and for this reason neither sleep or rest can be quantified as wastes of time on their own. A time-waste should ideally be counter-productive, but this is not at all obligatory for a successful operation- the only requirement for a successful time waste in this regard is that the effort, time and headaches inputted should far exceed the value of the output. However, this in and of itself is not quite enough, because just as important as outcome to a time wasting exercise is delivery. A time waste in which the participant fully knows their exercise is pointless is not a true time waste- an exercise like that is either involuntary and enforced, in which case it comes under the realm of punishment and is an entirely different kettle of fish, or is voluntary, in which case it may either be vindictive or therapeutic- both purposeful activities. No, a true waste of time should largely keep the participant of the activity unaware as to the wastefulness of the activity. There are two main ways of achieving this- either the classic ‘reveal’ in which it is suddenly shown that the sixth month project you have been working on is for a now-obsolete piece of equipment the moment you hand the report in, or a sort of gradual deceivement process. This latter option is far more subtle and can be harder to achieve, but requires no effort on the part of the applier of the time waste if properly set up, as it is propagated by the participant. The trick is to get the participant working flat out to get the project done, conducting page after page of research and tests. All these are ostensibly ‘useful’ and ‘valuable information’ that are ‘vital to include in a report to show proper consideration has been given’, and indeed this is basically true. But, in reality, the progress posed by such activities is infinitesimally minute, and by conducting them one is merely adding, almost unnecessarily, to a workload- this can be a particularly successful trick, as it gets a group of people working at full speed through all these pointless tasks, deceiving themselves that they have a purpose, and yet when their time is up a mountain of work still remains. Even better, if this effect has been more ‘suggested’ than made obligatory, one cannot be held accountable for the time wasting of the participants, leaving them feeling worthless and stupid- the ideal goal for all seeking to waste a person’s time. To conclude, therefore a successful time waste should simply have an appallingly bad input-output ratio, which can be achieved either by subsequently revealing the pointlessness of a task (decreasing the output value), or by ensuring the work is all incredibly stressful, tiresome and largely pointless (increasing the input value). So next time you’re wasting someone’s time, just think- why don’t I just shoot myself, and make the world a better place.

Really should have planned this better…

Normally I have neither the time nor (in all honesty) the inclination to put up posts on consecutive days, and this is going to become even less of  a trend and more of a rule when the holidays end next week. But my scheduling forces me to change this today- I am away from both home and my computer for the next 4 days and will not be able to post, and while I don’t quite feel obliged to make posts regularly (especially when I take a look at the graph showing the number of visitors I get), I have been brought up with a crippling devotion to good manners, so feel obliged to at least let any meagre following I have know why my random ramblings have disappeared for a week. Unfortunately, said manners also mean that I feel obliged to actually post something here rather than just make excuses, so here is a completely unrelated post about trains.

I LIKE THEM

Willkommen, 2012…

Hello and happy New Year to whoever may or may not be reading this- for those who are not, please consult reality and try again. I was considering taking this opportunity to look forward and pontificate on what the new year may bring, but I eventually decided that since I don’t have a sodding clue what interesting stuff’s going to happen (bar the Olympics, which everyone knows about already), I have decided instead to give you a list of random facts to give some new stuff to confuse people with in 2012 conversations*. Read and enjoy:

The only sound Seahorses make is a small clicking or popping sound during feeding or courtship

Krispy Kreme make five million doughnuts a day

There were no red colored M&Ms from 1976 to 1987

In Belgium, there is a museum that is just for strawberries

Tomatoes were once referred to as “love apples.” This is because their was a superstition that people would fall in love by eating them

Over 90% of diseases are caused or complicated by stress

An average person uses the toilet 2500 times a year

Approximately 97.35618329% of all statistics are made up

Michael Jordan makes more money from Nike annually than all of the Nike factory workers in Malaysia combined

Pentagon estimates their computer network is hacked about 250,000 times annually

Marilyn Monroe had six toes

On a Canadian two dollar bill, the flag flying over the Parliament building is an American flag

Most heart attacks occur between the hours of 8 and 9 am

There is a town in Norway called “Hell”

The electric chair was invented by a dentist

The word “nerd” was first coined by Dr. Suess in the book “If I Ran to the Zoo.”

For every human in the world there are one million ants

After being picked an orange cannot ripen

There are more pigs than humans in Denmark

Hockey pucks were originally made from frozen cow dung

Karate actually originated in India, but was developed further in China

A group of tigers is called a streak

The average ear grows 0.01 inches in length every year

The same careers advisor dismissed both Mark Knopfler and Alan Shearer’s ambitions (to be a musician and footballer respectively), saying to Knopfler “you’ll never get anywhere playing that kind of stuff”. Shearer broke the world record in transfer fees when he signed for Newcastle, and Knopfler went on to make over £50 million and played at Live Aid

The most exclusive aftershave in the world is named after a Welsh winger and rugby captain

A bank in Paraguay was once held up by two sets of bank robbers simultaneously

A South Korean woman failed her driving test 959 times, and when she finally passed was given a car worth nearly $17,000 by Hyundai, as well as an advertising deal

The biggest defeat in a game of football is held by a team from Madagascar, who lost 149-0 in a match in October 2002

In a 2008 council election in North Dakota, absolutely nobody voted, not even the candidates

A news reporter in Swaziland once spent a month delivering reports from a broom cupboard whilst pretending to be in Baghdad

Elvis Presley once came third in an Elvis Presley impersonator contest in Tennessee

A South African effort to promote condom usage, that included the distribution of a free government condom, ended in failure when it was noticed that the condoms had been stapled to the packaging, puncturing two holes in each of them in the process

*I make no claim to have sourced any of these- the first half come from a friend who used to post these things on Facebook, and the second half are from one of my favourite books- The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures by Stephen Pile. The ones I have done are just the easiest to paraphrase from the first two chapters- if you want a good source of laughs for the upcoming year, buy yourself a copy and enjoy the rest