Calm Before the Storm

As I approach an exam I’m not wholly prepared for, I feel remarkably calm. I don’t feel in anyway particularly stressed, especially as one would expect third year University exams to have some sort of impact on your stress levels.

This isn’t an especially new feeling for me though, I’ve managed to maintain a relative cool throughout most of the exams I have faced in my sixteen or so years of education, and I think it may be one of the few things that has kept my grades up.

As you progress into higher and higher education,the general trend is for your grades to slowly drop down as you progress. This isn’t to do with your laziness, or lack of work at these levels (as I personally find myself working harder now than ever before) but because everything just gets harder. Obtaining an A at GCSE meant reading through the textbook the day before, and familiarising yourself with the questions. At A Level past papers in a large enough volume would secure that grades, but at University hours and hours of intensive studying have no inherent guarantee to increase your grade. If you can’t get the subject, you won’t get the grade.

However despite this obstacle, my grades have remained at a relatively consistent level (and with a rather significant peak in my exams last semester) despite feeling no more prepared for these than the past. I worked bloody hard for those last results, but so did many others who didn’t do as well. One of the variables that I believe makes a huge difference is how calm and collected you are.

Especially within Physics, though I can imagine it applies to many other subjects, the questions often ask for quite a long, and often complicated, series of steps to be followed through to produce the result. One could obviously learn these rote but a slight tweak in the question can throw you off. The more common approach is to learn the manipulations required, and the outcome expected, and solve the rest yourself. Doing this however when you are stressed, and on edge, is never going to work out fantastically.

I find that when the adrenaline is surging my mathematical ability does not peak. My mind simply goes to other places. My focus will not be retained. Staying calm, and approaching the paper with a steady, but sprightly, pace allows the answers to flow a lot more easily. Your whole mind becomes dedicated to the task of solving the problem before you.

I also find i comforting that my frustratingly short attention span is suddenly lengthened when placed in an examination hall. I can barely make thirty minutes of revision before becoming exceedingly bored and restless, but can sit through 45 minutes of exam without even noticing time passing. I can dedicate my entire mental faculties to accomplishing the task at hand, and I attempt to do so with ferocity. 

With an examination in 11 hours, I intend to get some sleep before awaking early to carry on revising and sit the exam with the information still freshly imprinted on my soft, squishy brain.


FUBAR – Spec Ops: The Line

Apologies for the gap between entries, I have thrown myself quite deeply into revision and it is leaving me pretty exhausted. My usual ability to stay up into the wee hours of the night has been massively diminished. Until the 17th this will probably keep happening, though I have several concepts floating around in my head.

The Modern Military Shooter genre is one of the biggest selling genres of the last few years. Call of Duty, Battlefield, and to a lesser part Medal of Honor have been huge hits, with Call of Duty itself having the title of ‘Largest Entertainment Launch of All Time’. That’s the largest entertainment launch of all time, beating out any film, TV, or musical launch. As an aside, this shows that gaming is now one of the biggest entertainment markets around.

If you ever play one of these games you will notice a few recurring themes. There is the wholesale massacre of thousands of soldiers, often from countries that are moderately developed. You mercilessly blast your way through the game, ending the lives of whole platoons. You possess, if only temporary, weaponry which turns ending lives into merely clicking at glowing white orbs. In my opinion though, the worst of all of these themes is that you are the good guy through and through, acting in the interests that prevent the world from being overrun by nuclear warhead wielding megalomaniacs.

Spec Ops: The Line takes a different view of this genre. Spec Ops is a Third Person, cover-based, Modern Military Shooter. You take the handle of the leader of a three-man Delta Force task force, sent to Dubai to help with the imminent evacuation. You wade into a Dubai torn apart by horrific sandstorms (sandstorms that bury small buildings and bring aircraft out of the sky with a brutal conclusion), a civil war between local Emiratis (armed by the CIA) and ‘The Damned’ 33rd Infantry of the United States Military. The 33rd were initially sent in to assist with the evacuation, but have since gone rogue.

The game initially starts with your squad being on the defence from various atack forces, before you learn of the 33rd’s actions and then go after the leader, Col. John Konrad, to seek ‘revenge’ for these grievances.  The game moves through the standard motions of third person game, utilising a solid and robust cover mechanics, but with the unique tough of being able to use sand to your advantage. You can shoot out glass to allow enemies to fall to their death, or allow them to drown in sand, as well as being able to destroy various walls to achieve the same ends.

But Spec Ops doesn’t really shine on its gameplay. While solid, its real redeeming feature is its storyline. In an attempt to reduce the number of spoilers I will talk in generalities here, but I will have to allude to certain events.

The enemy in this game are US Soldiers. They talk with American accents, they wear the Star Spangled Banner across their arms, they drive American vehicles, shoot American military weaponry, and they hoist the American Flag where ever they make base. You can even play the game with a moderate amount of stealth, during which you can hear the soldiers talking about their lives. They make comparisons to home, talk about their life in the States, they make jokes and, most importantly, they seem real. A lot of effort was put into reinforcing the idea that these guys, your bullet sponges, are American. These guys are meant to be the good guys.

Another effort with the story was to make you challenge who is good, and who is evil, and goes very much for the realities that it’s all a hazy shade of grey. Half way through the game you team up with the CIA lead Emiratis. The CIA made it clear that they were treating the 33rd as a rogue military force that needed quashing, and were using the Emiratis to fight their battle for them (a pretty common tactic for the CIA, and one they have used to install, and remove, dictatorships all over the world). While the 33rd most definitely appear evil (shooting at, and rounding up unarmed civilians, as well as brutally executing those who would not comply within their own ranks) you are constantly asked to rethink this.

There were two major events that were designed to truly force you to question whether you are really fighting ‘the good fight’. The first of these takes you into an aerial targeting system to eliminate the attacking forces of the 33rd with white phosphorus. White phosphorus is an aerial bomb that unleashes super-heated phosphorus from above, burning and igniting anything it touches. After leaving little but charred remnants of what stood before you are forced to walk through the decimated area to reach the next objective. As you walk through you see, and hear, American soldiers who didn’t die outright from the initial release. They lie there massively disfigured, covered in near full-body third degree burns, coughing up blood, crying for help, and crying for home. You walk up to one of the survivors who cries out ‘Why?’. Your protagonist, who is at this point in the game extremely pissed off and increasingly angry, responds with ‘You brought this upon yourselves’ which leaves the dying soldier in confusion. As far as he was concerned the 33rd were trying to help. At the point you are made aware of the true effects of your attack. While the 33rd may have been killing civilians earlier, you have just done the same to a greater scale.

The second example is the unravelling of the CIA’s narrative. It becomes known to you that the CIA aren’t really there to liberate, or assist with the liberation of, the Emiratis. American interests became concerned with what was going down in Dubai, and sent the CIA in to wipe as much evidence of it’s existence as possible. The going-ons of Dubai threatened a war between the Arab nations and the United States. The side you are fighting for has no moral high ground over the 33rd.

At this point the game becomes less about ‘the good fight’ or completing the objective and more about revenge. Your character is burned, and charred, with the right side of his body covered in scars, blisters and burns, and your right red with burst blood vessels. The sand is well and truly within every crevice, and your high-tech Delta Operator kit is now torn and charred. Vendetta screams from every word and action you perform. The executions (kills against already downed enemies) become brutal and unnecessarily violent. Your call-outs and commands go from the precision execution of the early game to being mere war cries for blood. Your character becomes blinded by anger, and it changes the whole mood of the game.

The whole game concludes with a very sour note. You are left confused. Confused about what has happened (not because of bad narrative, but because of the mental condition of the lead character), and confused about what you have just done. Were you acting in the greater good, your own interests, or the interests of a higher organisation within the US government.

The game’s narrative is fantastic, and when tied with the solid and enjoyable gameplay is definitely worth playing. The game is continually heavily discounted on Steam, and on various online distributors, and I recommend you purchase it.

Rather Toasty Outside

As of the very moment of which I start writing this post it is the 2nd of January. This is usually the very centre of winter, which means that it is usually bloody cold. However this year I am finding that it is not too bad: it’s positively balmy out there.

I am very aware that perception of temperature is a very subjective matter. I’m generally pretty good with the cold, and instead die when exposed to the slightest bit of heat and humidity. This means that I can be relatively exposed to the cold and still be comfortable. All this aside the weather at the moment is ridiculously out of character.

I walked to the shops earlier, which is a merely fifteen minute round trip, with merely an open jacket and a t-shirt covering my torso, which seems dreadfully under-dressed considering the circumstances. But even in my modest coverings I barely felt the cold, which is unsurprising seeing as it is only 10 degrees outside.

While for some that may seem cold, I find that it is only when we drop below 5 that I really start to feel the cold. So for me, right now, it is feeling rather toasty.

I’m not here to just boast about my prowess as an Arctic explorer, or carry on the British  tradition of talking about the weather, but to comment on the increasingly common shift in our seasons. A shift which is primarily due to anthropogenic climate change.

I’m not going to talk much about the actual effects of climate change in any quantitative manner, but instead the chaos which is going to be left in its wake. People often criticise global warming because the summer was really wet, or that it snowed terribly last year, which ultimately shows a misunderstanding of what climate change means in its manifestation. The atmosphere of our planet is extremely complex, with a huge amount of variables involved. A lot has to be accounted for when trying to model the weather, and changes that can occur with variations.

Positive feedback loops are hard to predict because working out exactly how much of a runaway effect they go under. Will it accelerate to set point, merely speed up continuously, or whether it leads to an oscillation. These are exacerbated by the knock on effects of these feedback loops. The melting ice in the Arctic Circle causes further warming by reducing the amount of reflective ice, and instead exposing darker, more thermally absorbent water. While this effect can be accounted for to some extent, more complex effects such as algal bloom within these newly exposed waters, and how that changes the atmosphere (and also the ecosystem) with the production of oxygen or storage of carbon.

This is merely one effect of many. Changes to the temperature lead to changes in pressure, which lead to changes in weather fronts. The circling winds and storm fronts shift from their predictable patterns, which has knock on effects to sea and land in the Northern Hemisphere, which itself effects the entire planet’s weather system.

I will know doubt talk more in the future about climate change, as it is a topic I am passionate about, but these were merely the musings of a mildly amused Brit venturing outside on a surprisingly pleasant January evening.

One Might As Well Try

Many of you may already know, but I used to be a member of a social networking site called Dailybooth. The site’s premise was relatively simple: upload a picture of yourself everyday and write a small blurb about what you’ve been up to, or what’s on your mind. Despite being very simple in it’s vision it built a considerable community of quite dedicated Boothers. Many of these people broke over 1000 booths (which a few of them 1000 consecutive days), with myself adding over 850 to the site, with about 600-700 consecutive booths.

I even managed to keep the uploads Daily while I was in India, wrestling with dodgy connections and travelling around the sub-continent. But, alas, this wasn’t to be as the site announced it’s closure at the end of last year, and gave us a few days to say our goodbyes before the site went to read only, and we were given slightly longer to pull all the data we could from the site.

But now the site is dead, and merely loads a page sitter whenever you try and visit the site. The site that was a record of my journey from weird sixteen year old who wasn’t fantastic at social situations to the still weird twenty year old who is slightly better in social situations. It saw me through AS Levels, A2’s, and my first two and a half years of University. Losing it was an annoyance among other difficulties, as I liked having this record to look back on. 


Once the site shut down I pretty much dropped out of daily-blogging. After the initial sadness passed, it felt somewhat liberating to be free of the self-imposed shackles of having to booth once a day. As much as I loved the community, and loved the site, having to get myself to some sort of computer to upload a picture meant that it was often a part of my planned day. When it was gone I stopped caring about and ignored any sort of commitment to updating my life anywhere. Though after a while I started becoming a little annoyed by not having this personal space where I could write what I wanted, for a limited audience. It was cathartic just to write stuff down, to have a continuous stream of my conciousness was such a nice privilege, and the site was very much a stream of my rambling conciousness.

I have a great inability to keep on topic for any length of time, instead just bouncing and switching between topics which I can only tenuously segue between. It wasn’t unusual to go from talking about the trials and tribulations of being a Physics student to discussing the socio-economic issues that lead to the London Riots within one blurb. Sometimes this a problem, but it can produce interesting reads (at times).

But I have clearly gone off on a tangent utterly irrelevant to what I was initially trying to talk about: the restarting of this blog. As I have lost this cathartic place to rant, chat shit, and just spew nonsense I have found myself becoming more ranty in person, and becoming more domineering in conversations, tying to weave conversation to what I want to talk about. All in all I feel that it’s starting to bother me that I don’t have somewhere to write, and I want to remedy that before it starts to become demonstrably problematic. So I am restarting this blog, kicking it back to life from stable, but critical condition.

I’m not entirely sure what I will fill this place with. Using it as a diary feels mostly irrelevant as this blog isn’t advertised as an insight into the person me, but instead into various aspects of myself. The same comes from using it purely as a political vox-box. The second you make your space very political you alienate a lot of people who would otherwise visit, but don’t want to be preached at, or completely disagree with you. 

As of this very moment, I have very little idea where this will end up, or where it will go, but I am looking forward to finding out. 

My intention is to update this daily, though I am unsure how that will pan out in the future. 2013 promises to be a pretty busy year. January throws a bunch of exams I am not entirely confident about, and then until June I have lectures and then my third year exams. The summer will throw whatever it can at me, and then I’ll come back in the new academic year for my final semester of lectures for my undergraduate degree. 

But I hopefully have a lot to discover, and change, this year. For most people on my degree this is their final year of University, meaning they have to go and try and enter the real world come June/July. I however get to drag on as a student for one year longer, and dodge paying tax for one more year, which lead to an interesting shift among my friends. I’ll also be moving houses and into a house filled entirely with my course-mates, something I haven’t done before either. And alongside all of that, some fantastic looking games are due to come out this year, along with some amazing looking films due this year, which will no doubt lead to a bunch of incessant ramblings once they suddenly provide with new clarity about how I perceive the world.

Hopefully this will work out in the long run, if not, I thank any of those who decided to check out what is going on at any point over the next year.

A Culture Shock

Before this summer the furthest afield I had been was a week I spent in Greece when I was 7. I have travelled quite extensively within Europe (Spain, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Czech Republic and Belgium) but visiting these countries is a whole different experience to the journey I have been on so far. 

Despite the differences in each European countries culture, there is a lot of common ground. Our heritage has overlapped many times over the last few thousand years of history and anywhere you travel within Europe will offer some sort of familiarities. The Emirate and India are distinctly different places.

Dubai, of the United Arab Emirates, was the first place I visited on my journey and it is a truly odd place when it comes to its culture in crisis. Due to the desire for economic growth it has allowed a lot of development, and a lot of Westernisation, to it’s country. Dubai’s advertisements are predominantly filled with white European individuals, and all their development seems to be towards huge shopping and entertainment complexes. 

Abu-Dhabi is significantly more restrained, but you can see how they have pulled aside certain restrictions to allow Westerners to feel more comfortable (only demanding women cover up in Mosques, for example) while desperately trying to hold onto their culture in other places (by ensuring you are never more than a few miles from a mosque). 

Though the strangest place of all where the clash seemed obvious was in the Emirati women. Many of them were in the full hijab but carrying with them expensive designer bags are insanely high-heeled brand shoes. You would also seem them in shops looking at fancy clothes which you couldn’t imagine they would ever get to actually show off, though I may be showing my ignorance to Islamic culture in the Emirates here. It just seems ludicrous to an outside observer.

India on the other hand feels different, very different. There a clear signs of Western influence (in the adverts, the clothing, the television) but there seems to be a strong identity with their heritage. This may just be the area I am living (Manipal being a student town, filled heavily with the youths who have adopted our cultures) or the minimal Western populace here. There is no money to be made here as a salary, for someone who comes anywhere with a higher cost of living, and only investment in labour and materials has really migrated here. 

India is so different to Britain, in almost every way. The roads, food, work ethic, facilities, living quarters, restaurants, transport, manners etc. The cars and Rickshaws here don’t care if people are in the way, the buses don’t break but honk their horns and the motorcyclist weave in and out of traffic without helmets. Food is generally eaten with your hands, and Indian restaurants haven’t done a good job of conveying the actual way to eat Indian food, everywhere serves milkshakes and to grab your waiters attention you look at him, raise your hand and call ‘Boss.’

Yet as a Brit, the single most confusing, frustrating and terrifying difference is that no one queues. Getting food from the cafeteria involves forcing yourself to the front, barking your order at the server, and throwing your money at him. If you don’t force yourself there, you aren’t getting food. It is something that I am not used to. People in Britain queue. We form neat little lines at any given opportunity, and people join queues even if they don’t know where it goes. 

Oh, and I suck at bartering. I feel so rude turning down something for a tenth of the British price, and demanding half of that price. 

Am I Actually Returning?

A great quality of digital spaces is that if you leave them alone for a year, unlike the real world, they remain in pretty much the same state when you return. No cobwebs to dust away, no furniture to reposition and no creaking floorboards to avoid. It is a pleasant novelty of these spaces.

It also has the reverse effect in that there is no need to maintain these places with any forms of activity. Until you have an audience to satisfy, you are entirely motivated by your own whims and moods, and then at that point you have to wonder whether the content you produce is really yours.

Impressive. I can’t even stay on topic for the first two paragraphs. I’m back here, writing on a near dead page that I haven’t looked at for a very long time. So the question that you are clearly desperately looking for is: what would I rather be, a unicorn or a centaur?

The answer is obviously to be a unicorn.

But on the small chance that you were actually wondering why I am back, the answer is a little more convoluted.  When I look around at blogs out there on the net they tend to be focused around the narrative of the writer. Even when the content is about something completely separate to themselves it weaves a story around their experiences and observations. However, I use a multitude of various social networking sites to berate my poor followers with the random crap that goes on in my life. Twitter being mostly filled with my attempts to be witty, Facebook being mostly a collection of videos that make me look like some awful viral video hipster, and my Dailybooth being a day-by-day recollection of my life.

The main other purpose of most blogs is to express, defend or argue their position, and that is one of the reasons I am coming back. It has been about 15 months since I last posted here, and my opinions and views have changed quite a lot in that time. My core ideologies are pretty much the same (Atheist, Liberal, Anti-censorship) but a lot more have evolved into more substantial views.

I have become more knowledgeable about the LGBT community, and while I have always been supportive of their fight I have gained a truer insight into what goes on within members of the community. I’ve become a lot more aware of the terms of self-identity and how the correct use of pronouns works. I have also become a lot more combative of some of the more aggressive members of the community who throw ‘privilege’ around and act with huge hostility to anyone who is uninformed on the nuances of the trans* community and therefore use bi-genderality or pronouns incorrectly.

I’ve grown far more interested in economics and politics on the international playground, given the inherent interconnectedness of the world, the actions of any country will impact me. The same passion has lead me into a deeper vitriol for religion. The Religious Right, the fatwa’s and arrests made in the Islamic to prevent the free and unobstructed flow of ideas, and the continued view of countries around the world to prevent gay marriage, have all driven me deeper into the world of anti-theism. The passing of the late, great Hitchens more firmly solidified this position of mine and it has been a bizarre transition because I have to censor myself in public because I could rant for hours and hours about religion, and very few want to listen to it.

Most places I post don’t really allow me to rant so openly, or just ponder ideas because they are concordant to civil discussion. My Dailybooth is purely a journal of my life, and the responses on Facebook and Twitter are far too ‘gooby pls’ for any sort of mature discourse. This place will effectively be a notepad for the confusions of my mind that I try and write to solidify and work through.

The final reason for the return is that I am flying out to India in June, to work for three months on building semi-conducting nano-films. This in itself will be an exciting experience, and one that I hope to record in video and text to preserve the memory somewhat. But being in India will also put me away from my ‘home base’ with all the people that I usually chat and converse with. While I am sure the people that I will be working with will be fine people, to talk to them like a do with my friends will be unlikely. This place can act as a vent to the little trinkets of crap that are floating around in my head.

So I am back, maybe for a while, maybe not. I have decided that a philosophy of not expecting things to last, but instead enjoying them as they come, and not missing them when they don’t, has lead to a far more zen existence. But I have University examinations right now, and will be occupied with them until the end of May, so this may have not been the best time to try and restart this blog’s activity.


Morality vs. Legality

During the Debating Competition that was held over the weekend we were presented with a motion discussing whether ignorance can be used as a legal defense in court. Somewhere along the table (I think it was shortly after being called a group of ‘stupid little shits’) the debate became dragged down by the discussion of morality and legality. Those opposing allowing ignorance to be used in court as a defense said that by comitting a crime you were being immoral, and therefore you couldn’t claim ignorance. This is annoyed me on many levels.

The first reason is the fact that morals are completely subjective. They are based on the way you were raised, the culture you grew up in, the way you consider the outside world and personal experiences as you grow. What’s considered normal/acceptable in some cultures in completely looked down upon in others, a prime example of this is the Idol system in Japan. In Japan you teen and pre-teen popstars are idolised, where many of their biggest fans are middle-aged men. The idea that this would be considered acceptable in the Western World is very hard to imagine but it is a norm there.

The very nature of intellectual process, and the way it varies in people, will cause morality to change from person to person. Everyone is aware that people excel in different areas, some people are scientists, others aritsts, some excel in business and others have a way with words. The logical processing of the outside world gives people their different abilities, and if you rationale the world in a different way to someone else, you are unlikely to have a same set of belief standards as them.

Morals are also context sensitive. Most of us would agree that in a general killing is wrong, yet many do not look negatively at service men. Lieing is generally not the greatest of things, but no one would say that little white lies are immoral. The law however is really as subjective (though I know murder had varying degrees of intent).
There is also the nature of religious indoctrination of certain moral standards, but I am going to stray away from that area as I don’t really agree with the way religion decides its moral standing.

The second reason is that there is no direct correlation between what is considered moral and what is legal. There are the obvious examples of what is illegal as being immoral, such as murder and stealing, but there are as many examples in reverse (for example, adultery).

The laws of the land in general appear to act in the general good of the society, that which is detrimental to society is illegal while acts which aren’t damaging, are not.
To consider what is illegal as being immoral is equatable to the logic of a pre-schooler. To think that the entirity of our complex and convoluted laws is based off simple moral beliefs is stupid, and your only defense for thinking that, is ignorance.