What I’ve Been Doing – Episode 2

So, more in the ‘what have you been up to?’ segment…

The past couple of summers, I’ve been to a couple of major RC (radio-controlled model) car racing events around Europe, so I’ve been doing a little extra travel as a side-job and reporting for a site called RCRacing.TV

Basically this entails taking pictures, talking to the top drivers at each event, doing various race reports and posting the reports and pictures online. Pretty geeky, yeah, and very few people realize how seriously many of these racers take their racing – most of them pay hundreds of (pounds, Euros, whatever) to drive or fly hundreds of (miles, kilometers) across the continent to race in front of very few spectators for no other glory than to try to do better than they did last year. Those that haven’t paid their way are there because there are companies that actually sponsor them (with money!) to do well and promote their products – the top guys are actually paid a salary to race toy cars for a living – and if the sponsored guys don’t do well, they know their sponsors might be tempted to look elsewhere when their contract is finished. So there’s a lot of pressure involved and it usually means some good racing.

This year I was asked to try to do race commentary, which, if you’ve watched motorsports before, consists of some guy who thinks he’s a know-it-all about the race and the drivers (‘some guy’ being me in this case) and babbling over the practice, qualifying heats and races. It was my first time doing it at the European Championships for electric buggy (there being two classes: 2WD and 4wD), then the following week I was scheduled to announce for the Championships for the much larger and cosmically faster 1/8th scale on-road class.

Here’s the race edit of just the fastest 10 guys (the A Final) in the 2WD electric buggy, with my commentary (the other voice you’ll hear is my friend and colleague during the trip, Mat):

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Film project under way!

So my podcasting partner and I are finally about to start actually FILMING instead of TALKING about filming. Various things like vacations, work/kid/family schedules, etc., have all conspired to make the filming not happen yet, and as it stands we’ll have one weekday night every two weeks to do some filming, then talk about the next bit that we want to do.

So…hopefully we’ll have some videos on YouTube in the next couple of weeks!

Brilliant (I think) Minecraft idea: Minecraft Wars!

I play only survival single player right now but this would definitely get me REALLY interested in SMP. I posted this on Reddit and Something Awful but it’s not getting much traction in either place, so I’ll waste some more space on the internets and post it here.

Here’s the idea:

Groups of people like to build stuff on shared servers

Most servers have a home web forum where members chat and discuss whatever

None of these server members have any way of crossing over and killing each other

So…make a central website called MinecraftWars.com or whatever so there is one site where members of various servers can call out groups on other servers and choose a date for a battle.

This combines several things: FPS combat; building defenses, traps & dungeons; the need for quick, targeted crafting by the attacking team & lots more!

Here’s how I see it working:

  • The group leaders agree terms and a time (after lots of smack-talk of course)
  • For example two back-to-back Capture the Flag battles take place, for a certain amount of time (say 1 or 2 hours max), one battle on each server, one right after the other.
  • Another example couple be a single battle of attack & defense, such as a raid for a hidden block of wool or whatever, once this hidden block is destroyed the game is one, etc. – the possibilities are endless.
  • The server admins are able to allow a certain number of members and a certain number of non-members (like 16 on a side) this is one part I’m not sure about, but there must be a mod that can do this
  • The home group build up defenses, traps, dungeons, towns, whatever, and place a ‘flag’ block in the fortified area, or hide The Block That Must Be Destroyed somewhere
  • The visiting group spawn in an area chosen by the home group, but they are not to be attacked for, say, 5-10 minutes to allow for scouting, crafting, etc. The visitor spawn must be in an unmodified, unbuilt-up area, etc., basically a safe zone. The spawn point must be a certain number of blocks away from the fortifications, for example the maximum draw distance at max resolution, but the attacking team must find the fortress.
  • The terms of the battle could include details on arms & armor that must be supplied by the home group (see below), to speed things along. Once the supplies have been accounted for and the visiting team is ready, the visiting leader announces in chat that the battle is on.
  • Negotiations could be made for respawns in the case of death, etc.: no respawns (hardcore!), 3 respawns, 5, unlimited, etc.
  • The visitors must locate the home group’s fortifications, destroy the block that has to be destroyed or find the ‘flag’ block and get back to the spawn point as quickly as they can
  • Lowest time wins in the case of CTF

There must be mods that can be written up for this, if they don’t exist already: new server world for each new game, turn off mobs (optional), visitor spawn area for users logging in using a certain ID/password, countdown timer to be shown on everyone’s screen for the safe time at the beginning of the game, the ‘flag’ block, the detection of the flag block in the area of the visitor spawn, etc.

Supply Chest
For the chest of supplies that the visiting group can negotiate for, I was thinking it would have a certain pre-agreed number of suits of armor, swords and basic tools to get started. For example, for a squad of 10 attackers the negotiation could be: 5 shovels, 5 picks, 10 swords, 5 suits of armor, 2 crafting tables – and that’s it.

I can imagine a well-disciplined group of attackers would have everyone with a pre-arranged role right from the start, so like in the first couple of minutes a couple of team members build basic fall-back shelter (a hole with a wooden door) while the others are scouting and the leader is taking in all the info and generating a map (not with a server mod, I mean ‘getting the lay of the land’), then deciding to send scouting parties out to find whatever, etc.

…so, what does anyone think?

Learning Tagalog (Filipino language)

So after online chatting with an RC buddy from California, he convinced me I should try to learn a bit of Tagalog, which is the defacto language for the Philippines (at least the northern part).

He linked me this video on Youtube (which, as random as it can be, is chock-full of ‘how to’ videos like learning various languages):

So here goes some learnin’!

Day Zero Project

So here is something I thought would be cool to take part in: the Day Zero Project.

The idea is to skip short-term, easily done things or New Year’s resolutions and complete 101 goals in 1001 days. That’s roughly 10 days to complete every task, whether it’s climbing a mountain or sharpening all the knives in your kitchen.

So here’s the gist

The Challenge: Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days.

The Criteria: Tasks must be specific (ie. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (ie. represent some amount of work on your part).

Why 1001 Days? Many people have created lists in the past – frequently simple challenges such as New Year’s resolutions or a ‘Bucket List’. The key to beating procrastination is to set a deadline that is realistic. 1001 Days (about 2.75 years) is a better period of time than a year, because it allows you several seasons to complete the tasks, which is better for organising and timing some tasks such as overseas trips, study semesters, or outdoor activities.

The official web site for the Day Zero Project isn’t working as I type this, but their Tumbler blog is working OK and has a lot of great ideas to start with.

I added a new page to my website that will compile all the goals I have added, so they’re easier to find than spread out on a bunch of blog posts.

In the market for a new camera!

So my Canon A95 is dying a slow death. Too many drops, I guess.

I was really thinking about getting a nice fat superzoom camera (600mm lens and full HD recording? yes please!) because every now and then I like to get a little more serious about taking pictures – but then slip back into ‘simple mode’ – and sometimes I like to play around with the manual settings. The brand new (as in not yet released) Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 was what had caught my eye recently.

But now I’m thinking a superzoom  will be too big for simple snapshots and possibly not techie enough for when I want to take serious photos (which isn’t that often these days and I’m happy with what I get from the A95). If I wanted to get properly into photography I’d just get a digital SLR, but that’s a minimum £600-700 investment right off the bat for a used 20D body, cheap wide angle lens and halfway decent telephoto lens.

So I’m looking at the ‘prosumer’ top-level  compact cameras, the ones designed for ‘advanced amateurs’ (ahem) and professionals or DSLR owners who don’t want the bulk of their big camera on a trip, but want much of the control of their fully-featured DSLRs.

These are the models I’m thinking of:

  • Canon G11
  • Panasonic LX5
  • Samsung EX1
  • Canon S90
  • Canon Ixus 300 HS

The S90 doesn’t do HD video but is very highly regarded by photographers, the LX5 and I think the G11 have tilt-swivel LCD screen, and they all have loads of manual controls and good megapixel counts.

If anyone has other suggestions or opinions on any of these, let me know!

Goodwood Festival of Speed pictures and mini-report

Result: very cool!

Google photo album from Friday

Google photo album from Saturday

Google photo album from Sunday

Just to illustrate the ridiculous types of things you can buy there, it’s like a damn motorsports swap meet almost, but here’s the stuff I got:
F1 carbon brake disc, probably Honda, £20, gonna be a spiffin’ clock if I get around to it
Honda F1 ‘chimney top’, painted white, £5 (was going to have Button sign this, I’ll bring it next year) – they had boxes full of random carbon parts, plus wheel nuts, etc.
Super Aguri T-shirt, looks cool, huge logo wraps around the side, size M but still fits me fine, £2
2009 McLaren ‘rocket red’ ‘victory’ shirt, £15 (cheaper than exercise shirts I just got recently)
Rossi blue/yellow #46 shirt, £20
Red Bull cap, £25 – the official team stands were selling all the current season stuff at full whack, I was hoping to get this signed by Webbah

Stuff I wanted to get but didn’t have the money:
Targa Florio history book, £95 for out-of-print English
Honda F1 wheel, £50 (better examples were £95+ or £300+ for tire/wheel combo)
old mechanic’s shirts, £15 and up, pot luck on the size/team/condition
Gulf Aston Martin T-shirt
Porsche 917 T-shirt (the shop wanted £45 for it because they sell a bunch of Steve McQueen branded stuff!)
Lotus cap (but I rarely wear my caps anyways)

Also saw and kinda wanted:
‘orginal’ Renault Turbo black/gold jackets from the 70’s
Spyker team hat (to put in the back of my Saab, since Saab is owned by Spyker now)
West T-shirt (was trying to find old-school McLaren mechanic’s shirts, this was the closest I could find)

F1 drivers that were there over the weekend (probably missing a couple):
Saturday: Hakkinen*, Trulli, Senna*, Chandhok*, Button, Rosberg, Surtees, Bell, Stewart*
Sunday: Hamilton*, Heidfeld*, Kovaleinen, Gene*, Fittipaldi, Surtees, Bell, Hakkinen, Senna, Chandhok, Stewart

* means I got their autographs, cool

Other folks I got autographs from: Ken Block, Kevin Schwantz, Chris Vermuelen, Kerry Earnhardt, James Toseland, quite a few others.

Normally on Sunday the GF and I go to the hilltop area to grab autographs, but we didn’t realize that Button and Webbah were there for Saturday only. Last year Button was there both days but he’s teamed with Lewis so I guess the McLaren PR people had them there for a day each and that was it.

Meeting Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok was really cool, they aren’t as well known as the other drivers like Hakkinen and Hamilton, so they were walking around without a horde of people shoving things in their faces.  I was able to have a very short chat with Lewis, which was nice. The first time he came through, in the modern F1 car group, I gave my GF a copy of F1 Racing magazine with him on the cover, and he signed it and said, “What’s this? I haven’t seen this, I never get to read these.” I told him he should get a subscription. I should have added McLaren could set him up with one – one of those ‘stair wit’ moments.

He then came up in the next batch driving the new McLaren road car (which looks awesome, have pics of the bare frame display, saw the same car on a country road on Thursday…was awesome) and the crowds were much much less and he came through and signed more stuff. He was taking his time signing a mini helmet (the lady behind me was nearly crying with pleasure, like a tiny dog about to piss itself) and he signed the programme for me next and I told him “Keep sticking it to Alonso, Lewis, we love to read about that stuff in the press.” By ‘we’ of course I meant us goons.

He gave me a smile and said something like “I’ll keep trying” and had to move on. Everyone around us laughed, so…I think he was being diplomatic. You never know where these conversations will end up online. As last year, though, he was very cool and calm about the whole thing. His brother came up the hill with him in the McLaren, too.

Hopefully that counts as ‘chatted with’…it’s easier to say “I met Mika Hakkinen” than have to explain I had to get in a paparazzi scrum surrounding him as he walked to the paddock with a press lady saying “He’ll be back! He’ll be coming back!” as some old duffer gets almost knocked off his feet and he PUSHES the wrong dude back as he’s yelling “Watch where you’re going!” – then Mika made a fist and said something like “now we have to fight for autograph!”…then he signed my programme and said “And now I must go”. *sigh*

The ‘go bag’

No I’m not a survivalist, I don’t live in Idaho and I don’t hate ‘the gub-mint’. I just take my Boy Scout ‘be prepared’ motto a bit too far sometimes…maybe. But when the zombie hordes come for me, I want to be ready.

So what the hell is a ‘go bag’? Some call it an ‘apocalypse bag’, others may call it a ‘GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) bag’ or a ’72-hr bag’, but basically it’s a short-term supply of stuff that can keep you warm, fed and watered. People who live in tornado-, hurricane- or flood-prone areas may have these (and should), I think it’s become more common after 9/11 and maybe the recent recession has prompted more folks to consider it.

Anyway, this is what I have, and stuff I’m getting to complete the supply. Feel free to suggest things I may be missing. I usually carry a shoulder bag so I keep a couple things in there, plus I have a small Swiss Army knife on my keychain, etc. I keep some water and a thick wool blanket in my car already, and I also have a backpack for walking in my car, where I keep a Moira bushcraft knife, flashlight, Mylar emergency blankets, survival and edible plant books, etc. – basically, what you might need if you get lost for a night or two while backpacking. The bulkiest stuff will be kept in a bag at home.

in the MAN BAG
small mirror
refillable lighter
solar flashlight
duct tape (wrapped around a short pencil)

in the CAR
wind-up/solar flashlight
emergency sleeping bags (basically thick huge garbage bags)
wind-up radio
warm waterproof jacket
large scale atlas – UK (substitute your state, province or country)
folding map – county
full street map – city

in the CAR (backpack)
wind-up flashlight
long knife
fire rod starter/sparker
glow sticks
Mylar emergency bags
water bag (Platypus)
book – SAS survival guide
book – edible wild plant guide
refillable lighters (2)
survival cards

water filter
fuel tabs
shredded paper (for tinder)
Kelly Kettle
refillable lighters (3)
hard plastic or metal canteens (Sigg bottles)
bandage wrap
light sleeping bag
flask of whisky
warm clothing: thermal underwear, gloves
water bags (Platypus)
waterproof bivy
book – Ray Mears bushcraft
Trekker tarp
water purifier tablets
covered metal pot
plastic bowls
plastic utensils

shortband wind-up radio
freeze-dried meals
£££ and €€€ (I live in the UK)

You might notice the total lack of guns and ammo, which many survivalist types have in their go bags, this is because I live in the UK and also I think a complete collapse of society won’t be happening any time soon. At the moment I have a distinct lack of food as well, I’m slowly stocking up on stuff online. MRE’s are pretty damn expensive, so a few freeze-dried backpacking meals and maybe some tins of Spam-type meat will have to do until I can get a few MRE’s.

The books are a somewhat poor substitute for the knowledge required of what to do in a real emergency. I’m no bushcraft or survival expert, but reading through the books once or twice and storing them where they’ll be most useful is maybe the next best thing.

So, for anyone who thinks this is a bit mental, is it? Not necessarily, there have been stories even in the UK (which doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of ‘wild’ places as North America) of people stranded on motorways for many hours and even overnight. Having a car crash in the middle of a rural area could mean you’re miles from help with no cell phone reception. In the US, there used to be frequent power outages in rural areas, and I’ve already mentioned tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding, plus I remember the story of a woman who drove off the road in a massive blizzard, emergency crews had to track her down over a few days by her cell phone signal. An even more extreme but recent example was the story of CNET’s James Kim and his family missing in late 2006. So it isn’t entirely unreasonable to think you might need emergency supplies in your car or backpack.

I don’t stockpile food, which is kind of an extension of this preparedness mindset, but it’s not that hard to store up a supply of rice, beans, water, powdered milk and powdered drinks.

Second meditation class tonight

So tonight was the second class in meditation from the nearby Buddhist centre. It didn’t go as well as the first class because a guy’s phone went off during the first meditation, then another guy was super fidgety and scratchy and coughy and…well to make it simple he was really distracting.

We got through it OK, basically you have to accept that not every meditation session will be quiet and peaceful and all that, some people are just fidgety and, well,  annoying.

But like any distraction or thought during meditation, you let it pass, gently bring your focus back to your breathing or whatever you’re meant to be meditating about, and you move on. Like someone replied on a forum thread I started, you treat the distraction or thought like a puppy that wants to play: you acknowledge it and then let it go on its way. I really liked that way of putting it.

Still, I found it difficult to meditate properly, but that is part of it anyway.

Today’s teaching was on giving, and how much happier you can be if you give as much as you can. It was a good talk, and afterwards in the discussion I brought up Freecycle, which I participate in, and of course the amount of ‘stuff’ I’ve ended up getting from it as well.

Apart from the distractions it went fine, but I have to work on the whole focus thing. And giving more stuff away!