I’m more excited by Formula E than Formula 1 at the moment

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The first Formula E race is due at the week­end. On paper the FIA’s elec­tric series isn’t a match for Formula 1, and the F1 racing has been good at the front. However when Virgin announced their driver line-up for Formula E, it under­lined F1’s big problem.

Virgin Drivers

Virgin Racing press material.

The one on the left is Jaime Alguersuari. He was quite good racing in F1 in Toro Rosso and was sacked at very short notice for two even younger drivers. With a bit more notice he might have found another team and still be racing in F1 today. The driver on the right is Sam Bird. He came second in the GP2 cham­pi­on­ship, miss­ing out on the title in the last race to Fabio Leimer, who also isn’t in F1. It’s hard to tell if he’s good enough for F1. Marcus Ericsson, 6th last year in GP2, has a seat with Caterham, where he’s doing noth­ing much — but that could be partly the car.

They are good drivers, and while F1 fans might say they’re not the best in the world, if you were draw­ing up a list of the best avail­able drivers, these two would be on it. The Formula E teams seem to be hir­ing the best they can. In con­trast if you look at the F1 grid, half the F1 teams have at least one driver who is the most prof­it­able a team can hire, not the best. What keeps Alguersuari and Bird off the F1 grid is a lack of money, not talent.

You can say that about a quite a few of the drivers in Formula E. There’s a few ex-F1 drivers like Trulli, Heidfeld, Senna and Chandhok

Formula E testing

A Virgin car chases an ABT at Donington testing.

I’m not sure about the cars. They look the part, but it’s hard to be sure about speed. The times at the first test were slow, but there was almost a road­b­lock by the Old Hairpin. Buemi fin­ished day five of test­ing 1m31.792s, and for com­par­ison the lap record for Formula 4 is 1m31.603s. However, the Formula E cars won’t race on GP cir­cuits, so head­line speed might not be the issue.
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The Marathon Conspiracy by Gary Corby

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MarathonConspiracy Digital Review: 1.

The Marathon Conspiracy is the fourth out­ing for ancient Greek proto-sleuth Nicolaos, and the first since his debut to spend much time in Athens. I was inter­ested to see how this went as the first time I thought Gary Corby’s Athens wasn’t quite as grim as I’d ima­gined it.

Either I’ve lightened up, or else this time round Athens is a little more cyn­ical. Not a lot, but it feels more like a func­tion­ing city. One of the reas­ons is that the book has a bit more depth in the lives of the cit­izens, par­tic­u­larly the women. The story is that the body of Hippias, last tyr­ant of Athens is found by two girls stay­ing at the temple in Brauron, in the east of Athens’s ter­rit­ory. However it seems that a scroll found with the body has gone miss­ing and one of the girls is found murdered. Nicolaos is put on the case to find out what the truth about the body is, and if the other girl is dead or captured.

The set­ting at the sanc­tu­ary in Brauron means that the female side of Athens is an import­ant part of the story. This poses a couple of prob­lems. One is that female his­tory for the period is poor. History was writ­ten by men, for men, about men. Women don’t appear much in it. Gary Corby has done an excel­lent job nego­ti­at­ing his way round this, but he also has another big­ger problem.

Being female in ancient Greece was lousy. It was effect­ively a life­time of being treated like a child. A good woman would be indoors weav­ing. It doesn’t sit well with mod­ern sens­ib­il­it­ies. So for example Nicolaos is get­ting mar­ried in the book to long­time squeeze Diotima. They’re both roughly 20s. In real­ity a Greek man 30+ would get mar­ried to a fif­teen year-old. In the books it’s clear that Nico and Diotima’s rela­tion­ship is highly irreg­u­lar. The slightly freak­ish social pos­i­tion of Diotima means that she can take a far more act­ive role in the story than real­ist­ic­ally you’d expect. It works. However while Corby bends real­ity for his heroine, many of the other women in the story have a worse time.

The domestic start to the story made it feel a little slower than the other books for me. Also the set­ting in Athens this time round made the place feel like more famil­iar ter­rit­ory. Nico wasn’t as isol­ated as he has been in The Ionia Sanction or Sacred Games. On the other the con­tinu­ity of the place sug­gests that Nico’s actions could have long-term con­sequences for him, which might add more peril in fol­low­ing books.

The book is a grower and the con­clu­sion works well. The threads are laid out before Corby pulls them together and there’s no dra­matic volte-face so that someone isn’t found to have wildly implaus­ible secret after all. There is per­haps one rev­el­a­tion that the reader doesn’t know about, but it doesn’t affect the main mys­tery. Finishing up, I got the sense that a story with Nicolaos as a Columbo-like fig­ure har­ry­ing and cajol­ing a sus­pect would play to Corby’s strengths of intrigue, social inter­play and his­tor­ical detail.

There could have been a danger that The Marathon Conspiracy would be a retread of The Pericles Commission. It’s not and it looks like the series could build impress­ively. I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing Death Ex Machina next year.

You can read more reviews of The Marathon Conspiracy at Goodreads.

The Listener

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He never meant to throw her from the bal­cony. In a panic he looked round. There was no one else in the dimly lit theatre other than him­self and the girl who had con­fron­ted him.

Duncan Smith was used to meet­ing young women after shows. Women were the bulk of the audi­ence for his “Crossing the Divide” shows. Many did noth­ing for him, but he was often happy to offer com­fort to his younger female fans if they had someone. If they were will­ing enough, he’d sched­ule private time after a show to attempt a per­sonal séance with the depar­ted, and maybe some more intim­ate sup­port afterwards.

He’d thought the young woman hanging around on the bal­cony after the show was one of these. Lighting was handled from the pro­jec­tion box on the upper level, so often someone would be wait­ing for a per­sonal moment. What he hadn’t expec­ted was a young woman by the pro­jec­tion box with a micro­phone. She claimed she had a record­ing she claimed revealed all his tricks. Unlikely, he cheated in so many ways, but no one needed the illu­sion shattered.

He’d never meant to push her. He simply wanted the record­ing. She’d struggled but she didn’t have to. If she had given him the record­ing none of this need have happened. She retreated to the bal­cony edge, and after a tussle for the record­ing she was over the bar­rier. It was almost like she wanted to jump.

He stared down at the fig­ure below, broken across the seats in the stalls, look­ing back up at him. She’d won. She’d jumped out of spite to end his career, and show she looked back up, gloat­ing in death. She’d won. She had the recording.

He looked by the seats and found her bag. Sure enough there was a small micro­phone, plugged into a phone. He tried unlock­ing the phone to delete the record­ing, but he didn’t have to the code. Damn.

He looked up from the phone, guilt driv­ing him to check if she had seen him tamper with the phone. He looked down to the stalls below and saw only her dead blue eyes. This could look bad. He needed to show he’d done noth­ing wrong. He’d tried to stop her from jump­ing, and now… He took out his own phone and called the emer­gency ser­vices. “I need an ambu­lance at the Meridian Theatre. There’s been a ter­rible acci­dent.”
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Chromebooks, revisited

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I put up thoughts on the HP Chromebook 11, after hav­ing one for a couple of weeks on Google+. At the time I said I liked it, and I still do, but it’s not per­fect. I’m happy with it, but if it dis­ap­peared I don’t know if I’d get a new one or some­thing else.

What I’ve found is that it’s mainly a tab­let replace­ment for me. The HP Chromebook 11 is light enough to do that. What I really like about the machine is the dis­play, which is Mac-like. It’s 1366 x 768 pixels, which is the stand­ard res­ol­u­tion for all Chromebooks (and the same at the MacBook air I think). The smal­ler dis­play you have on your Chromebook the bet­ter it will look.

I also like the key­board. I bought an iPad, think­ing I’d type into it. I really don’t like doing that. The HP key­board on the other hand is per­fectly usable. I’m sur­prised, because I thought an 11″ machine would be a bit too small for ser­i­ous work, but I have hap­pily sat down and typed for a few hours. For me, the dis­play and key­board are crit­ical. The HP 11 is the best of the Chromebooks for that.

Where the HP 11 lags is with the chip. The HP 11 and Samsung machines use an ARM chip. This means they’re fan­less, but also they aren’t as fast as the Intel based machines (like the HP 14 and every­one else). This caused prob­lems with YouTube videos, which seems to have improved since I got the machine, but there are still lags on the laptop. Some of this is my poor inter­net con­nec­tion, but I also won­der if some of it is the machine being a bit under­powered. It really isn’t by a lot, but it’s not quite seam­less.
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Valerian

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For a minute Rudolph McMurdo had been wor­ried. He was hardly old. At the age of eighty-two he was still a year short of another media mag­nate, and his own news empire sup­plied him with the best health care money could buy. Yet he had been warned by med­ics that he had car­diac prob­lems and the crush­ing pain in his chest had felt like the end. It wasn’t entirely com­fort­ing to real­ise it was. At least he had the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing his demise proved he wasn’t has heart­less as the smug bas­tards in the lib­eral media claimed. Nevertheless, it was cruel that death had finally come on his hon­ey­moon night with his fourth and pre­sum­ably final wife.

It was a sense of injustice over this that gave him an anchor in this new place. It was hard to tell exactly where he was. It was black, but well lit — though from no vis­ible source. It cer­tainly wasn’t dark. He could see him­self well enough, a curs­ory exam­in­a­tion of the back of his hand revealed the usual mottled. That was another thing someone would have to sort out. If he was dead then there was no need for him to be old.

The noise from behind was quiet, but was the only sound in the oth­er­wise silent place. Rudolph spun round in sur­prise. Some dis­tance away an old man in what may have been a robe, or pos­sibly a toga, was sham­bling towards him. His gait was hindered by the need to avoid his over­grown beard that could have slipped beneath his feet as he walked. His head was stooped, like the most fas­cin­at­ing things in the world were his toe­nails. The image was everything Rudolph asso­ci­ated with reli­gious nut­ters. Christ! You can’t even escape the bleed­ers in the after­life. The man seemed to be mut­ter­ing to him­self. As the fig­ure got closer it wasn’t what Rudolph had expected.

…and then someone says ‘let’s have some religiously-inspired gen­o­cide.’ It would be nice if, just once, they thought of the poor sods who have to pro­cess every­one after­wards. I told him ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and ‘Turn the other cheek’ were too ambigu­ous, but would he listen? Ooof!”

The final syl­lable punc­tu­ated the man’s col­li­sion with a fas­cin­ated Rudolph. The man looked up and into Rudolph’s face with benign incom­pre­hen­sion. Rudolph waved his hand in front of the man. “Hello? D’yer work here?” Rudolph asked.
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My first Geocache find

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I star­ted with Geocaching at the week­end. It’s some­thing like hide ‘n’ seek for people with a GPS or smartphone.

So how does it work in prac­tice? I looked for geocaches near me, and one that caught my eye was Welcome to the Withybeds. I’ve joined Radnorshire Wildlife Trust, but I hadn’t been to Withybeds yet. I made it the first cache on my list of things to find, and found it pretty much where I expected.

The river Lugg at the Withybeds.

The river Lugg at the Withybeds.

The Withybeds reserve is small but pleas­ant, on the north side of Presteigne. I’m not sure how much longer it would have taken me to find the time to visit, if it hadn’t been for the geocache.
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