June 2010 Archives

[Note: Damn, I wasn't expecting this to get so many hits (hi there!) or I'd have written something better. I have, however, fixed a couple of the more blatant errors. Feel free to mail me if you want to take me to task for my poor grasp of football terminology.]

A couple of times recently I've heard people complaining that sports coverage in the news is expected to be highly technical and laced with jargon, but that if a science or technology story uses any specialist language or jargon whatsoever it's derided publicly as "elitist" and "inaccessible". 

Let's take a trip to a parallel universe.. (wobbly lines effect)

HOST: In sports news, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti today heavily criticised a controversial offside decision which denied Didier Drogba a late goal, leaving Chelsea with a 1-all draw against Sunderland. 
INTERCOM: Wait. Hold it. What was all that sports jargon?
HOST: It's just what's in the script. All I did was read it - I've got no idea what it's really on about. 
INTERCOM: Nobody without a PhD in football's going to understand that. Who wrote this crap? It's elitist rubbish, people will just turn off when they hear it. "Late equaliser"? "Offside"? We've got to get this rewritten so it's more accessible.

(time passes..)

HOST: Let's try this again, then. In sports news, a London football referee has reinterpreted the rules of the game in a manner which is causing controversy among the footballing establishment. Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti described the moment the referee revealed his new version of the rule.
ANCELOTTI: Well, obviously the referee called that decision as he saw it, but even I could see three men between Drogba and the goal. It's terrible refereeing, and we're disappointed to have been denied the win because of such a poor decision.
HOST: Hahaha! Wait a moment, Mr Ancelotti - our listeners will need to have some of that egghead jargon explained to them. Can you explain it a little more simply?
ANCELOTTI: Well... the referee decided that Didier was offside, and I don't agree with that decision. It was clear from the replay that the goal should have been given.
HOST: So in layman's terms, what exactly does "offside" mean?
ANCELOTTI: Offside? Well, it means that if there are less than two opposing players between an attacking player and the goal, and the attacking player is in front of the ball...
HOST (interrupts): ... "Goal?" I'm sorry, all this jargon is difficult to understand. Can you put it in the form of a simple, easy-to-grasp metaphor?
ANCELOTTI: ....No.

HOST: Well, let's go to the phones and see what the public think about this. Line 1 - Mick in Surbiton.
MICK IN SURBITON: I just don't see the relevance of this to everyday life. What difference does Mr Ancelotti's work make to the everyday taxpayer? Was this game funded by the government?
HOST: Good point, Mick. Line 2 - yes, Steve in Bromley, you're on the air. What do you think, Steve?
STEVE IN BROMLEY: I think we need to hear the real story here, which is how the footballing establishment refuses to enter into any debate on this alleged "offside" rule. Why should we have this establishment view of how many players need to be between an attacking player and the goalmouth presented as if it's gospel fact? I read an article on the Internet which said there's strong evidence that in fact, four or even five players need to be in front of an attacking player for them not to be offside, and I don't think this is being presented in an unbiased manner. Why should we believe this Ancelotti guy?

HOST: Food for thought, Steve. I believe Mr Ancelotti's still on the line.. Carlo, do you have any response to that?
ANCELOTTI: Well, the offside rule is clearly documented and the vast majority of authorities have agreed that it is being interpreted correctly as "two players" for many years now. There's no real debate as to whether the offside rule exists or how it should be interpreted. That's why I was so disappointed in the referee's decision.
HOST: Let's take another call. Line 3.. Angela, in Newcastle. Hi, Angela!
ANGELA IN NEWCASTLE: Yeah, I'd like to ask why this establishment figure is attacking the referee so viciously. The referee employed an interpretation of the offside rule which most so-called authorities would consider "wrong", but I think that's just a really arrogant view, assuming that this so-called offside rule is as set in stone as they want us to think it is. This referee is just being victimised for being a maverick who brings things out into the open that the money-driven football establishment and the sportswear manufacturers want covered up. I'm certainly going to think twice about letting my children play football now.

HOST: Well, that's all the time we have for now. Later on we'll be holding a Q&A with the referee, who continues to maintain that his "four player" interpretation is supported by the available editions of the rules and that the football establishment is trying to silence his viewpoint. We'll be talking to well-known sports personality Lance Armstrong to hear his reaction, and in our Special Investigation segment we'll be looking at the sometimes controversial history of the offside rule. Please do keep emailing and calling in, especially if the old "two-player" rule has affected you or your family.
I'm only really posting this because I hope I've found a functional blog posting tool for the iPad (Blogpress), I want to try it out, and I'm being prevented from going to bed by the fact that the cat sauntered out a while ago and hasn't yet returned. Having no cat flap sometimes means my sleep patterns are somewhat at the mercy of a small furry tyrant. 

In other news - well, still no iPad buyer's remorse, regardless of how hard some folk have tried to convince me to have some. It really does do pretty much everything I usually want to do when I'm not at my desk, plus it's smaller and massively more portable than a laptop, with better battery life. I could certainly see myself going for a week away (a non-work week away) with just the pad and no laptop. "You can get a laptop for the same money" misses the point, I think - if I wanted to carry a laptop (couple of kilos, needs space to open up, limited battery life) I would, but for the times when I don't the Everything-Slab is the ideal companion machine. 

...and moreover, one really big win is that in most countries you don't have to take it out of your bag at airport security. Given that at pretty much all airports other than Z├╝rich and maybe Schiphol the very concept of airport security fills me with rage, that's pretty much worth the price of admission by itself. It's worth it to give the screeners at Heathrow one less thing to bark at me about.
I think I said I'd post some first impressions of the iPad. Well, here they are. More stream of consciousness than technical rigour, but there are plenty of technical reviews and teardowns out there already if you want to read about the A4 and debate the merits of the micro-SIM.

I will happily admit that I'm sitting on my sofa writing this in Pages on my iPad - typing in horizontal mode is a little slower than using a physical keyboard, but as I'm a touch typist the main issue isn't speed, it's the interruption in flow caused by most punctuation needing a mode switch from the alpha keyboard to numbers 'n' symbols. Other than that, typing flowing text is surprisingly easy.

When I was somewhat younger the legendary Clive Sinclair designed and marketed a portable computer called the Z88. Around that time the famous Tandy model 100 and its friends were also popular. Both these machines were rectangular slabs, with a fairly small oblong LCD display and a full-size keyboard taking up the remainder of the surface. I used to lust after the Z88 in particular, but being young and impoverished I never got one.
CambridgeZ88small.jpgIt was the Z88 I thought of yesterday when playing with the iPad. It's rather smaller than a Z88 and has about a kajillion times as much storage, but in text input mode it's basically a slab with a keyboard (albeit one that appears and disappears) and a display. One big difference is that I'm not so sure how many writers ands journalists are going to use the iPad for taking notes without an external keyboard. Another big difference is that the iPad is way more than a slab with a display. It will let you read, it will show you videos, it will play games, it will read your mail, let you paint pictures, process your photos and write blog posts. It's kind of the Everything-Slab.

This is normally the point at which the Cory Doctorows of this world adjust their ironic spectacles and pronounce in languid tones, barely able to disguise their yawns, that the iPad's "just a media consumption device". While I naturally have the profoundest respect for such clearly superior intellects, I have to disagree. If you only use the built-in apps that may be the case, but that's also the case with most of the computers sold. You can't do that much with a newly installed Windows box, and it's certainly disingenuous at the very least to imply that a newly installed Debian box is much better for the non-nerdy lay user. Sure, Apple is going to be very happy to get the revenue from selling you movies in the iTunes store, but that is just one aspect of the Everything-Slab.

Where the power lies, and where the interesting future lies, is in the apps. You can argue the merits or otherwise of the iPhone OS development process and App Store approvals (me, I think that Apple needs to be a little less heavy-handed and arbitrary, but I'm not entirely convinced a free for all is automatically the best system either), but it is producing results. You can argue if you like that nothing should exist at all unless it's an open source utopia, but like most utopian arguments it's probably unworkable. I'd rather people - ordinary people, mind, not people who scrutinise the licence for every piece of software they use to verify it's 100% free - had access to a great collection of software distributed under a less than perfect set of rules than not.

In short, this is a fascinating and practical device, more so than I had expected it to be, and I look forward to see how its story unfolds. Apple has proved people wrong in the past enough times that I think it's going to be a hit and that people are going to find some very unexpected and interesting things to do with the Everything-Slab. It's not perfect (a camera would certainly have been nice) but as the first version of a new piece of hardware it's really pretty good. The cynics can cynicise all they want, but I think they're wrong.

Final note at editing time - this post was indeed entirely written on the iPad, and typing is much less painful than I'd been led to believe. All I did on my grown-up computer was add the image and a couple of hyperlinks and post the blog entry - Movable Type's editing box doesn't play nicely with the iPad. Guess I should find a blog posting app.

The Z88 image is by Bill Bertram via Wikimedia Commons, and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.5. Thanks, Bill!

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