On Superpowers

Having grown up with a diet of science fiction and comic books (although the latter were more likely to be Asterix) I’ve always had the romantic notion that we all have a superpower, but only those with relatively mundane ones such as brilliant musicianship and Nobel-level intellects, ever find out what they are.

And yet… I may have discovered mine.

Looking back, I think there are many examples of my superpower, but I can date three.

May 13, 2012 and Man City are playing QPR. If they win, they’re Champions. Now, I have no love for Man City, but the alternative would have been United winning and that, you see, would not be good. I’m watching the game, getting more and more annoyed at City’s inability to win – in fact with less than a few minutes left, they’re losing. LOSING! “Right”, says I, “enough of this, I’m off to walk the dogs”. It was only an hour later that I discovered that they’d come back to win the game.

Hmmm..

So, it’s a week later and Chelsea are losing to Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. Again, no love for Chelsea, but Bayern, well they’re German. Anyway, with minutes to go, I decided it was worth a try. Turning the tele off, I washed up, taking just long enough for Drogba to equalise. Chelsea, as we all know, went on to win and I think I deserve one of the medals.

This brings us to the latest manifestation. England-Sweden.Sweden are 2-1 up and things look grim. Realising my patriotic duty, I switched to a pre-recorded CSI until we decided that it was a bit too gruesome (eyes gouged out, yuk) so we turned back and guess what? Yep, England are winning.

Now, call these coincidences if you like, but I’m not so sure.

The trick with super-powers, of course, is to exploit them. So, if anyone wants to pay me to wash up, walk dogs or basically find any way of avoiding the game, I’m open to offers.

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On Restaurants

I’ve often wondered whether my ideal job would be a restaurant critic, but as I don’t live in London where, it seems, all restaurant reviews are written, that ambition appears to be doomed.

But that may not be the only problem, because I sometimes wonder whether I have much of a palette. Nine times out of ten you see, I find restaurant food bland and tasteless.

I also have reputation, well earned I’ll admit, for always choosing the wrong thing from a menu. I have friends who – and I’m not kidding here – wait to see what I order before ordering something else.

Worrying.

But, having said that, I do like to eat out, and I think it might be fun to review restaurants on this blog.

So to start with, not actual reviews, but my favourite eating places in no particular order:

  • Food – Worthing. Always excellent, last went there early 2011.
  • Crescent Road Café also in Worthing. Went there mid 2011, one of the best meals ever.
  • Earl of March in Lavant, haven’t been there for a couple of years but very, very good.
  • La Coupole, Boulevard Montparnasse. Absolutely love it, but sadly haven’t been for far too long.

The most recent evening meal out was the Swallow’s Return in Worthing. This is a gastropup in a fabulous setting which is well…inconsistent. Sometimes there’s a wow, but more often it’s just ok. This time it was ok, at best. My starter of scallops and pork belly was, yes, ok. The pork belly was undercooked but the syrupy dressing of sweet apple with rocket was excellent, a taste sensation.

Sadly, the mixed grill that followed was poor. The various cuts of meat were tough and tasteless and the ‘rare’ steak was anything but. To be fair though, everyone else seemed to enjoy their mains – from the enormous deep-fried haddock to the calves liver.

Maybe I just chose the wrong thing as usual. Overall not good enough, but not so bad that I wouldn’t try it again.

Far better was breakfast at the Bluebird Café in Ferring. Everything about it is perfect from the setting on the beach to the atmosphere, but the cooked full-English is just wonderful.

 

 

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On SEO Scepticism

I think I’m going to form a new society. It’s called the “SEO Sceptics Society“, but it’s not about being sceptical of optimising sites for search engines, but sceptical about the industry that has grown up around it.

To explain.

Google is by far the world’s most popular search engine with around 80% market share which, as an aside, makes you wonder why competition monitors haven’t had a crack at it yet.

The fact that its very name has become a verb meaning “to search” must suggest that it gives searchers the best, most relevant sites in response to their search, ranking results by relevance to the search term. So how does it do this?

Firstly, it encourages sites to think about the key words or messages which they want each page to convey and to use these messages in the text, the headers and the page titles. This makes it easy for Google to index the pages, preferring them to be clean, well-written and fast-loading.

Great, so far nothing to be sceptical about. But, Google’s real selling point is the concept of a site’s authority.

Let’s imagine that I wrote the best article ever on the 2008 banking crisis. An article so good, so definitive, that Robert Peston and the Bank of England themselves linked their sites to it before giving up their day jobs. Google would already know that their sites are authorities in their fields (because of the sites that link to them) so for them to link to me would be a massive vote and my site’s authority, or Page Rank, would shoot up. Thus, the next time you Googled about the banking crisis, my site would be at the top of the results page. Still no reason for the scepticism. Assuming that my motives for writing the article were academic or informative, then I would have earned links and, therefore, authority.

But what if I wasn’t trying to earn links, but to bait them? What if I wrote articles on my site or blog just to attract links? What if I sought to procure links to my site simply to bolster my Page Rank and, consequently, traffic and possible sales?

Less optimisation, more manipulation.

Although Google frowns on the widespread practice of paying for links, even seemingly innocuous techniques like blogging, commenting on forums and other link-building campaigns have spawned a lucrative industry. By paying specialists to create or bait these links, it is possible, common even, for low quality sites which offer little real authority or value to rank top of Google.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you should not create content or blogs to inform or communicate and therefore earn links. My issue is with the idea of creating content solely to attract, justify or embed links.

Inadvertently, Google has created a monster. An industry that it cannot control and yet which is totally dependent on it.

Illegal? Not at all. Unethical? Not really. Immoral? Nah. Wrong? Just possibly.

Now see why I’m sceptical?

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On Relationships

Relationships, eh? Time was, relationships for family historians were all so simple: Ancestor “A” met Ancestor “B”, they married and begat Ancestor “C” and probably “C.2″ to “C.5″ as well. Nice and easy on the family tree. (Unless we’re talking of my great-grandfather Edward Parsons who had two families on the go at the same time)

But it’s not so easy now, is it? Relative “F” may be living with Person “Q”, and possibly Person “P” before that, but does that make them part of the family? Do they warrant an entry on the family tree? After all, they may have lived together longer than many of the marriages that have been recorded.

Now, obviously, if “F” and “Q” were to add Relative “R” to the World’s population, then “Q” would qualify for treedom, legal relative or not. But if they were no children, I guess “Q” has no blood or legal connection and thus wouldn’t be part of the family in the genealogical sense. After all, if the requirement was simply co-habitation, what would be the minimum qualifying period: a month, year, seven years?

I think I’m going to leave this to the genealogists of the future to unravel.

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Looking back at the World Cup

And so the World Cup is now a fading memory and, let’s face it, it was a bit disappointing wasn’t it? For a number of reasons, it really didn’t sparkle, and not just because the English and French let us down.
FIFA spoilt the competition with the ball. Why on earth did they introduce such a different ball in their flagship competition? While I’m sure that every player there would have go the hang of it eventually (ok, maybe not Robert Green), where were all the spectacular long-shots or free kicks? How many freak, wildly swerving goals were there? Madness, utter madness which ruined the spectacle.
And then England. Oh we had such hopes, such expectations! This time, this time we had the players, the coach, the winning mentality and, best of all, we thought the Germans would be rubbish. Oops.
Were they tired? That was the official excuse, after all. Nonsense, don’t insult us with that. Many of the Germans and Brazilians played at least as many games.
Were they motivated? Well, we all saw the videos made by the chaps in Afghanistan willing them to win it and, if that that wasn’t motivation enough, they didn’t deserve to be there.
So, was it Capello’s fault? Partly, I think. True, his chosen formation was archaic and too rigid, and his decisions not to take Walcott was inexcusable. What worried me more was that he had no plan B. When it wasn’t working (ie all the time) he could only bring on like-for-like replacements. But, worryingly, I think Capello’s problem was deeper than that. Far deeper. Capello’s credibility and track record are outstanding, so I’m not convinced he would have chosen that formation without a reason. And that reason is that our players are simply not good enough to play the modern, free-flowing, passing game.
But surely, some of them are “world class”? Really, who says? If anything good comes out of England’s appalling showing, it has to be that English football is rotten. To the very core.
Let’s start at the top. Uniquely, as far as I can tell, English football is run by three organisations: The FA, the Premier League and the Football League. So, who is in charge? Someone recently described the FA as “unfit for purpose” and he may have a point. The top clubs are foreign owned and rather suspect that their business plans are simply to make as much money as possible (ok, nothing wrong with that) and win the Champions League at any cost.
While watching one of the early games involving Honduras, I was intrigued by a late Honduran substitute. So mediocre was he that I can’t remember his name, but the commentator announced, without any hint of incredulity, that he’d just signed for Wigan. What? Why would Wigan buy an unheard of Honduran substitute? There can only be three explanations:
  1. This Honduran substitute is a better player than any home-grown talent Wigan can either buy or develop from their own academy.
  2. He is cheaper than any home-grown talent
  3. The stakes are so high that Wigan dare not bring young talent through the ranks. Far better to buy mediocre, experienced journeyman from abroad.
Wow. In fact, I think all three of those are true. I’m convinced that there are some great, young English players out there, but top clubs only play them in the League Cup. Look at Walcott and Wilshire at Arsenal, Sturridge at Chelsea etc. Last summer, Germany beat England in the final of the European Under 21s. Five members of that German team played in the World Cup. Want to guess how many of the England team did? Not one of them even made the squad.
But, the fact remains that our top players simply do not measure up against the Germans, Spanish or Brazilians. Think about it – how may of our top players play in the Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga? None. They are just not as good as we thought they were.
But, think about this: how many of the really top players of the World Cup play in the Premier League? Very, very few, and those who we consider as Galacticos here – Fabregas, Torres, Drogba – either spent most of the competition keeping the bench warm or were hugely disappointing.
Look, it’s simple. England will never do well in competitions while the development of young players and coaches is so poor. The fact that we couldn’t find a competent national coach is a tragic indictment of the state of English football. While the top teams are allowed to buy young talent just for the minor competitions and play entire teams of foreigners, young players will not develop into true world-class players.
The short term solution? Well, Gerrard, Rooney et al proved they weren’t up to the task, so they’ve had their chance. Build a new young team around Walcott, Wilshire, Johnson, Agbonlahor, Bale, Hart etc. Forget the 2012 European Championships, we won’t qualify for them, build a new team for 2014.
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A propos du Coupe du Monde

Yay, it’s nearly World Cup time!
I love the World Cup. I love that there are games every evening and I love the way the country seems to remember that it is a country. I love the way we’re proud to be English rather than British and that we can be smug (but in a very repressed, English way) that we’re there and the others aren’t.
And we’ll fly the cross and wear our t-shirts and dream that this time, just maybe, we won’t lose on penalties.
But I have a problem. Not a big one and, if I’m honest, it’s a nice problem to have. You see, I am very proud to be Anglo-French. It means I can be English in England and French when I’m in France (sadly, not often enough). It means I have two teams to support and thus twice the chances of winning. For me, you see, it’s only been twelve years rather than forty-four, and that’s great.
Until…
It doesn’t happen often, and it may not happen this time, but if both win their groups and round-of-sixteen games, wanna guess what happens in the quarter finals? Yep.
Actually, the reality is much more simple. I live here. I follow the English game and can name my own choice of starting line-up (which, Mr Capello, if you happen to read this, you should take note of). If I’m honest, while I can pretty much name the ’98 winning side, I know very few of the current French team. So I promise to sing both God Save the Queen and La Marseillaise and then get behind the English.
It’s even possible that they’ll meet in the final, so I couldn’t really lose. Great.
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On not being a Terrorist

Writing this, sat in my office, I’m pretty sure that I’m not being watched by ‘them’. Yeah, I realise that Google records every search I make, that all my e-mails are scanned and stored and that my ISP logs every site I visit, but I meant actually watched, you know video and stuff.
But, if I venture out of my front door, things are very different. As many people like to say, we are the world’s most watched citizens. The level of daily surveillance in our lives would shock George Orwell and make the Stasi throw in the towel.
Which is odd, because if we want to take photos, we have to watch our step. I remember, maybe twenty years ago, taking some photos at my nephew’s under-16, Sunday morning football game. If I tried that now, I’d be chased out the park by torches and pitchforks. Last August, at Worthing’s Bird Man event, a man was arrested and subsequently charged with photographing children. Think about it… in a public place, at a public event attended by tens of thousands amongst whom, surely, were thousands of cameras and camera phones, one man was pointed out and bundled away. For what? When did taking photos of children in a public place become a crime? OK, at the trial it became clear that the nature of the pictures were sick, but not in any way obscene or illegal. So this time, the Police caught a bad guy. Who’s going to be brave enough to take a camera to this year’s event?
Ok, fair enough, photographing children is now a crime. So, sorry Grandma, no more photos of the grandchildren, because anyone who would want to photograph a child must be a pervert.
At least we can still photograph Britain’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Err, no… because then we’d be terrorists. There is a worrying trend for amateur and pro photographers to be confronted by police under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for taking photos in public streets and public buildings. Some have had cameras seized or have been forced to delete images, neither of which the Police are allowed to do. Photography magazines recommend photographers carry “bust cards” explaining what they should do when their collar is felt and reminding the Police that there is no law against taking photographs in public places. Yet.
What worries me is that our society is becoming suspicious. Whatever we do, we are being watched and someone, somewhere is wondering what we are up to. Your average Joe, the perfect law-abiding citizen, fears prosecution for driving slightly too fast. We fear being suspected of being terrorists, paedophiles or racists for making an inadvertent comment or gesture. Or for taking photographs.
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” – Yoda
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On Democracy and the Phoney Election

And so, as of today, the nation is officially on an election footing as Brown admits the worst-kept secret ever and announces the date of the election.
Now, I have no political affiliations – I belong to no party and I would never dream of supporting or endorsing a party, so I thought it would be fun to blog day-to-day on how the local candidates are doing in my estimation. Who will I vote for, did so-and-so have a good day on the campaign trail or did he commit political suicide?
Yeah, it would be fun. But it’s not gonna happen. No point, no point at all.
You see, for election purposes, I live in West Worthing. In 2005, the Conservative chappie got 47%, ahead of the Lib-Dem chap who got 26%. The result was exactly the same in 2001, but in 1997 it was very exciting because the Lib-dem guy got 31%! The ward was created in 1997, when Worthing was split into two. Up until then, the Conservatives had won every election going back to 1945.
So, quite honestly, if my Labrador was to somehow wake up as the Conservative’s prospective parliamentary candidate, she’d win. No problem.
So where is the incentive for new voters to vote? We talk about people’s democratic right to vote, but the tragic fact is that, if you live in Worthing and many, many other similar towns, you cannot influence the outcome of the national election.
The UK is world’s largest democracy in which the political head of state, and therefore the ruling administration, is not elected to that post. He or she is chosen by a mixture of the elected Members and un-elected committees – party members and Trade Unions. Brown has been Prime Minister for three years, but we have never been given the chance to elect him.
In a Country which likes to gloat about being the father of democracy, the electoral system is rotten to the core. At the last election, Labour won 35% of the overall vote, yet were rewarded with 55% of parliamentary seats. The Conservatives won only 3% less votes, yet only got 30% of seats while the Lib-dems got 22% of the vote and 9% of seats.
So will I vote? Yes, of course. Will it make a difference locally? Probably not. Will my vote have a bearing on who governs the country?
Sadly, no.
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Please don’t follow me…

I’ve said before that I like to do my own thing. That doesn’t mean that I’m anti-establishment, but I cherish my own views and opinions and don’t feel any need to impose them on anyone else. I’m not religious, don’t belong to any political movement and don’t even support a particular football team. In short, I’m not a follower and have no desire to be followed.
Maybe that’s why I don’t get Twitter?
Now don’t get me wrong… I quite like Twitter and have an account (@voisardparsons). As I write this, I have Tweetdeck open watching for Tweets about Worthing or from people who sometimes have interesting things to say or share.
When I first signed up, I was flattered to receive notifications that strangers were “following” me. Great. I had no idea who these people were, but they seemed interested in me. Err, no. They expected me, out of courtesy, to “follow” them and that was their thing – having as many followers as possible, irrespective of who they were. Eeek.
Now, Twitter is a one-to-many medium. For example, I write something deeply profound and all my “followers” see it as can anyone who watches for keywords which I may have included. Some use it brilliantly: Chris Evans asks questions during his show, Duncan Bannatyne found his wife’s dress and, of course, Stephen Fry shares his life online when he’s not hibernating. Others use it badly – the BBC spams out headlines at a machine-gun rate, others “Tweet” their entire day in minute, banal detail. Twitter can be a great way to rapidly spread a rumour, news (Iran, for example) or a viral video.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but Stephen Fry is, of course, a national treasure. He is genuinely interesting and passionate about technology but the idea of “following” him, or anyone else, bothers me and, if I’m honest, I don’t really want “followers”.
What I’d really like is somewhere where I can choose “friends” and share the odd thought, cool link or photo with them, maybe chat occasionally and read what they’re up to. Wait a minute, that’s Facebook isn’t it?
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Desert Island survival.

I suppose it’s the done thing for every writer or blogger to do their own “Desert Island” list of tracks, so I’ve been giving it some thought…
The easiest thing would be to write down your ten favourite tracks and be done with it but, actually, if this really were a desert island, and if you really only could ever listen to ten tracks, you’d want to choose tracks to cover every mood and every style you like.
So…
Easy one to start with – Jacques Brel’s “La Chanson des vieux amants”. Rarely heard in English, but this wonderful lament to a lifelong lover and partner is so warm, so touching, so clever. Why isn’t Brel better known? I would choose Alison Moyet’s version every time.
Another easy one, the awesome “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd, preferably from “Pulse”. Simply the best rock track ever, with the two best guitar solos of all time.
Just occasionally, I need to relax to something choral. I’d struggle to choose between the 1st movement of Dvořák’s “Stabat Mater” and the “Sanctus” from Fauré’s Requiem. Go with the Fauré.
I’d also need some opera. Tough one this… could choose “Vesti la Giubba” from I, Pagliacci or Bizet’s Pearl Fisher’s duet but I think I’ll take “Va, Pensiero” from Nabucco.
Now, as a confirmed and proud prog-head, we need an epic. Nothing short of 20 minutes will do, subject matter may vary, but apocalypses are always popular. Choice is between “Close to the Edge” by Yes, “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis and Marillion’s “Grendel”. I think I’ll take the Yes.
Now a mini-epic or two. Many more to choose from: “Evergreen” or “Heroes Never Die” by the amazing Mostly Autumn, “The Awakening” by Mystery, Rainbow’s “Stargazer”, “Breathe it in” or “The Illusion is Freedom” by Darwin’s Radio. Decisions… Ok, “Passengers” by Mostly Autumn and Genesis’s “Firth of Fifth”.
Another easy one, a song that I’ve loved since I was six years old, Simon & Garfukel’s wondrous “Bridge over Troubled Water”.
Quick count. We’re up to eight.
Actually, the last two are quite easy as well – Bowie’s “Word on a Wing” and Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky”.
Interestingly, only three of those chosen feature in my top twenty played tracks on Itunes.
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