Michael Wharton There Is Always A Theory: politics, anarchy, religion, atheism and science. now with poetry!

22Jul/150

Mike’s Playing Ingress!

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Mike’s Playing Ingress! Are You?

For the past few of months, I have been playing a great new game on my mobile phone called Ingress. At first I knew relatively little about the game, other than my sister and her boyfriend like to play it, and that they recently went to Cardiff to play with others in a large scale battle called an Anomaly. Well that was three months ago. I am now level 9 and ready to rumble! I got all geared up for another large scale battle called Persepolis, an Anomaly in Liverpool which was lots of fun!

I shall start at the beginning, for all you people not already playing Ingress, it began in 2012 with a company called Niantic Labs, who are made up of ex-googlers.

If you want to find out more about Ingress check out the wiki:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingress_(game

I would recommend the main website, https://www.ingress.com/ but it is a little story heavy, to just find out the basics and see if it is for you, I suggest you read the wiki. Essentially, it is a GPS location based game that is a turf war between two opposing factions, an MMORPG where the player is struggling for personal growth as well as team scores as is the case with other RPGs. Each team must capture either uncaptured portals, or those held by the opposing team, either way you gain experience (AP) and a little bit of local notoriety. Anyone on your team coming across your portal will know that you captured it, and either add modifications, or upgrade resonators or hack it for items (read the wiki if this bewilders you, or for more info on in game terms check out http://izziebytes.net/ingress-slang-lingo-terminology-guide/ ). If someone on the other team happens across it, they can also hack it for items, but they get zapped and lose XM (Exotic Matter, the "Energy" in the game)! They can also use weapons called XMP Bursters, or Ultra Strikes to neutralise your portal and then capture it themselves. You can link portals to each other into little triangles called fields and these are what determine the team scores. There are also lots of acheivement badges, which aren't essential to the gameplay, but help keep track of your progress in increments rather than simply having AP and levels.

New Portals are user submitted, and are usually places or structures of some historical or cultural interest or importance. Even particularly interesting graffiti is considered “portal worthy”, and good graffiti does tend to stay where it is, especially in cities like Manchester, where I live and play. I have had a lot of fun playing the game, and get a real kick out of submitting portals, and missions as this is a digital legacy that will live on long after I’m gone (in theory!). 

What I like most about the game is the social element, I have met up with dozens of people all thanks to being out playing a game on my phone, which is usually a solitary and isolationist experience.  Much like golf has been for hundreds of years, it is a great way to network and a great icebreaker to talk about with strangers. https://xkcd.com/1143/

 

 You can chat with other players on either team in the comms, and find out about local players by checking activity on your scanner, or if you play for a while, you may get invited to chat on a third party app (most commonly used is hangouts, which links well with Google plus).  You can even DATE other Ingress players! http://ingresssingles.com/

Other games like this, such as Facebook games, have an element of social chat, but mostly, this is so that the makers of the game can make more money, however, there is very little money involved in Ingress. So far, there have been various deals with high street shops that have not gone well, and some sponsored items in the gameplay, such as the AXA shield, or the MUFG capsule and the Soft Bank link amp. These are the ONLY ADS IN THE GAME! It is not a freemium game, or a game that lets people, who can afford to, level up faster or buy better gear. It is open to anyone, and also available for Android and the Apple iPhone IOS.

When I first started playing, I was unemployed, and only able to afford to play for half an hour a day on the FreeBee wi-fi you can get in Manchester for free for 30 minutes. Now I am working, I can afford to buy data bolt ons and it does tend to end up costing a fair amount every month, so I would recommend a decent data plan for people who play a lot.

If you would like an invite to play, leave a comment with your email address and I will send you one, you don’t need one, but I will get my recruiter badge if I invite you first!

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13Jul/150

Ironing: Why do we still do it?

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I don't iron any clothing and haven't for about 10 years now. Why do people iron their clothes? It certainly isn't to make them last longer, or to save time, or to make sure that people know that they washed them. Is it to make the clothing appear as though it is brand new out of the packaging? It could also be to make sure people are aware that the person wearing the ironed clothing is wealthy enough to afford to iron their clothes; and certainly wealthy enough to not have to work hard enough physically to crease said clothing. At least, that's why the Victorians still ironed their clothes.

People sometimes point out my creased shirt and ask questions, such as "Did you forget where your iron is?" or give advice like "If you roll your shirt up it won't crease up as much in your bag after you've ironed it!". I usually placate them with throwaway lines like "Well, I cycle to work and change when I'm here, so I don't bother.", but this is not the whole truth. I vehemently disagree with ironing on an ethical and ecological level. I am not just lazy...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironing

After reading about the history of ironing, I am still bewildered why this custom and tradition is kept up. It is clearly a class issue, those of the upper classes used to be the only ones with ironed clothes, now the lower classes can buy an iron for less than two hours wages. However what is the ecological impact ironing has on the planet, and don't we all hate doing it? I am clearly not the only one out there with such questions:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2011/sep/02/ironing-save-energy-electricity-consumption

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/my-fashion-footprint-is-your-wardrobe-bad-for-the-planet-887027.html

An excerpt from the 2nd article in the Independent sums up what I had already felt on a more philosophical level, I always assumed that ironing used more energy in joules than even the mechanical energy required to spin them in the washing machine:

"A couple clicks of the mouse, then a figure appears at the bottom of the screen. Our household EDUs is 1,282. A breakdown shows that our actual clothing EDUs is quite low at 558. But then there's the laundry, which at 724 EDUs is slightly alarming. It includes 324 from washing and a whopping 400 from ironing.

The ironing is what did us in, more environmentally damaging than our washing. "It's like having the kettle switched on for seven hours straight," says Phil. But more shocking, if we add seven tumble-dryer loads a week. The figure more than doubles..."

Obviously the excerpt and the full article, (well worth a proper read) allude to the fact that tumble drying is also pretty ecologically harmful. I don't tumble dry myself, but I may on occasion have been tempted to as it is a functional device. We don't like to wear wet clothes, we may be forced to wear something soon after washing it, and it won't dry naturally quickly enough. I plan around the fact I don't have an iron or a tumble dryer by washing my clothes before I need to wear them by a few days (usually...). the article then goes on to give bulletpoint advice on improving the ecological impact of your wardrobe:

"iron only where necessary..."

When is ironing necessary? I can't imagine.

I am clearly not the only person writing about this issue:

http://community.babycentre.co.uk/post/a20837015/anti-ironing_campaign

http://h2g2.com/entry/A361522/conversation/view/F44694/T105842/page/1/

http://davewalker.cc/stop-ironing/

http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/housekeeping/a1840119-How-to-give-up-ironing-without-crunchy-towels-etc

If there is one thing to take away from reading this webpage, STOP IRONING!

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3Jun/152

Are You A Proper Cyclist or a Just a Bicycle Owner?

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What is the real difference between a cyclist and a "Pseudo-Cyclist"?

As a passionate cyclist, I take to the roads frequently and am amazed by the amount of other people who happen to own bicycles, who ride them like idiots. I must preface this with the fact that as a teenager, I did my cycling proficiency test at school. I learnt how to ride a bike safely, how to make sure drivers don’t kill me due to my own lack of care and attention. I check behind me and indicate each and every time I make a turn, often for up to 20 metres before the actual turn and use the appropriate signals to pull out or slow down to stop at lights. I don’t hop on and off the pavement at my own convenience and I don’t run red lights. I wear high visibility clothing; I have a front and rear reflector, front and rear lights, and a helmet of course.

I say of course, but the majority of "people who ride bikes" I see are riding around aren’t even a wearing a helmet. I use the term "people who ride bikes" instead of cyclist, because I believe that these people are not cyclists. In fact, they make cyclists look bad. We who make every effort to be seen, and to ride safe are undermined by these lunatics. My personal checklist for finding out if you are a cyclist or not, is as follows:

1. Helmet: If you are not wearing a helmet on your bicycle then you are a fool.

2. High-Visibility Clothing: If you are riding a bike on the roads, it makes a lot of sense for you to stand out to drivers, who are going to kill you if they don’t see you. Don’t let them get away with saying they didn’t see you. Not "essential" unless you enjoy being hit by cars.

3. Lights: I try to avoid riding my bike at night in the dark, but it is not always possible. I have a light set that cost very little compared to replacing a bike that has been mangled under the wheels of a car. Of course I will include front and rear reflectors, pedal reflectors and spoke reflectors here too, these are LEGALLY MANDATORY!

4. Bell: By law, all new bicycles are sold fitted with a noise making device or bell. If you do not have one on your bike, get one, fit it and ring it at pedestrians who walk in the bike lane and whenever you are about to overtake a fellow cyclist out of courtesy. I have a polite ding bell, and a klaxon for when people are still in my way after their second bell.

5. Bike Lock: I have seen obnoxious bicycle owners take their bikes into shops and fast food places and leave them in other people's way because they can't be bothered buying a bike lock. Inconveniencing others for the sake of one's own convenience is what narcissists do. Let alone kids who leave their bikes sprawled across the pavement outside shops while they go in to shoplift sweets. If you don't want your bike stolen, lock it, don't bring it everywhere you go.

 Why Do I Care So Much?

I do care. I care too much really; because I feel like I have to explain myself to everyone I tell that I cycle to work. People immediately think I am part of the growing majority of bike owners they have seen on the roads/pavements. I just told a colleague that I bike to work and her immediate response was "You're not one of them annoying obnoxious £#%@s are you?”.  I had to explain, that no, I am not; I am one of the good ones. I should not have to do this, I'm not saying proper cyclists should be revered or honoured in some way (medals would be cool...) but certainly not disrespected due to the bad behaviour of a few members of our peer group. I'm talking about anti-cyclist discrimination! I have heard drivers talk about the fact that we don't pay road tax therefore should not be on the roads, and that we don't deserve our own special lanes and why do we get so much publicity (aherm, we were on the roads first!). As if we are a nuisance! I have encountered nuisance bicycle owners; they have nearly knocked me off my bike! Hopping from pavement to road without taking the time to look behind them and check to see if I would have to brake hard and swerve dangerously to avoid rear-ending them! That is what prompted me to write this blog. Then it happened again. Then I noticed how many of the people I would have previously considered "Proper Cyclists", run through red lights, or pavement hop to get through them. I couldn't believe how few cyclists seem to signal and indicate properly, or even know which side of the road to ride on.

If you want to drive a car, you first must obtain a license and insurance and tax the vehicle. To ride a bike on the road, you just buy a bike and are let go on an unsuspecting public. I am not insinuating that there should be a test, there already is a test, it is called the cycling proficiency test, but there should be some form of governance. It is clearly not just their own lives they are risking, I have experienced my own life being staked on the ignorance of these pseudo-cyclists swerving in front of me like lunatics!

Other bad cycling habits I have covered in other blog entries such as wearing headphones, not using the handlebars on the road, texting/using the phone, there are plenty more I haven't covered as I had thought they were obviously wrong. Carrying shopping on the handlebars, trying to walk a dog whilst riding a bike (illegal by the way!), or trying to have a coversation with another pseudo-cyclist, cycling two abrest or worst of all, cycling the wrong way on a roadside bike lane.

There are also people who own bikes who are beyond "pseudo-cyclists" and have earnt themselves the title of "Suicyclist", people who are clearly trying to get themselves killed.  Wearing all black clothing at night with no lights or high visibility clothing, no/obfuscated reflector, like some sort of bike ninja. Invisible to the naked eye, these cretins are definitely self nominated Darwin Award candidates.

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27Apr/151

Renewing An Irish Passport in the UK

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I am a British citizen; let's get that out of the way. I lived in Ireland for many years in my teens and moved form Ireland to Manchester to attend University, and before moving I applied for an Irish passport. There were several factors in making my decision; cost, ease and timescale. I may have left it a little late, and living in Ireland makes it very difficult to apply for a British passport, which is more expensive to apply for your first passport than the Irish one. As my mother is Irish and my father is English, I am eligible for either, so I decided to go for the Irish option.

Fast-forward to ten years later and I am now living in England, trying to get my Irish passport renewed. As it turns out, the Irish embassy has provided a handy guide to how to do this, which is all relatively straightforward until you come to the part where you have to get your photographs "endorsed" by someone.

https://www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/great-britain/passports/top-passport-questions/how-to-get-your-passport-application-witnessed/

Unfortunately, of the people on this list produced in Ireland, many seem confused as to the social responsibility they signed up for when they pursued their career initially. I myself would relish the opportunity to flex my community muscles, as it were, if I were one of those on the list. If I were a police officer, it would make my day for a young person to come into my station and I could help him with his forms, stamp and sign and feel like an authoritative member of society, which is why I would have become a police officer or bank manager or, lawyer in the first place. Maybe that's just me.

I thought I would get my MP to do it, but due entirely to my own foolishness I left it too late, and parliament dissolved, rendering my MP powerless to help me as he is now just some guy I met last time he was campaigning. Wanting to get it done sooner rather than later, I first tried the police station. On the weekend I cycled all the way from Withington to Didsbury only to find out that Didsbury Police Station is a Police station in name only, no actual police inside. So after work, I cycled to Lonsight police station which was manned by two female PCSOs who initially seemed not to know for certain what to do, discussing various reasons why they wouldn't endorse it. One reason they mentioned (with a straight face) was that they wouldn't endorse it in case I was actually a wanted criminal in Ireland. They followed this up by theorising that if the newspapers found out that a Manchester police officer had endorsed my application it would cause a scandal. They touched on the fact that they believed that I have to have known the individual for at least 2 years, as it is with an INITIAL UK passport application; this is not the case. I explained the facts of the case and they seemed to think it over before confidently claiming that they had seen them get rejected in the past, when UK officers filled it as it has to be a member of Garda Síochána and that I should "Google it". Well I did "Google it", I even tweeted my Embassy and they have reassured me that they would not reject the application if a UK police officer had endorsed it, and that unfortunately they can't force people to live up to their end of the social contract they agreed to when they applied for their career path.

Shortly after my less than helpful encounter with the police, I decided that maybe my local Reverend would be helpful and full of Christian charity. I may have been wrong about this, she turned me away without listening to me very well, insisting that she had to have known me for 2 years, the same story I was to hear again and again, despite it not being the case at all. She did have someone with her and I can understand her desire to get back to that person quickly if they were known for their petty theft when left unattended for periods longer that 3 minutes.

The following day I didn't start work until 12:30 so I cycled into Manchester City centre to visit as many High street Banks as I could, to get my application endorsed by a "bank official". I arrived at my own personal bank, believing that I had the best chance with the Co-operative; they have it in the name! Unfortunately the branch manager was unavailable so I had to try Halifax, who point blank refused, without going into any actual detail as to why. They will only Endorse or stamp internal documents. Full-stop. Okay, on to Barclay's, who were bend over backwards helpful, but unfortunately their branch manager was at the same meeting that every other bank manager was at that day. Santander and NatWest point blank refused, Lloyds had nobody to speak to. I had zero faith that I would genuinely get any help from a Bank, but still didn't think that they would quite be so obstructively unhelpful. I headed into work and on my lunch break went to the nearest doctor's surgery.

I walked in and confidently approached the counter asking if the Dr had any free time to take 5 minutes to endorse my form. The receptionist gave me 3 mutually exclusive excuses as to why this would not happen today; 1 this Doctor would not endorse my application because I am registered with a different Doctor, and he has to have known me for two years... 2 The Doctor doesn't get a spare 5 minutes as he has to do lots of admin work between patients, so I should book an appointment if I want my Doc to sign and endorse my form, 3 There is a £20 administration fee to pay. On the list of authorised professions, is accountant, lawyer and notary public, all of whom I expect without even asking would charge me to do this, but I really did not expect the Doctor to charge. I didn't even want to get the Dr to do it as he has sick people to deal with, who are his priority. For all I know my appointment will be cancelled to deal with a real patient, or emergency.

So the story is not over, I am still looking for someone to do it for me!

If you are an Irish Passport holder and have been through this; then please leave a comment with tips for me and others on how to get around this bureaucratic headache.

With as little expense as possible!

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30Mar/150

Bloggy blog

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So, I used to be proud to have a website. I used to bring it up in conversation with strangers, shamelessly link back to it from other sites. A blog, a place to vent my opinion, creativity and wisdom. Alas I seem to have completely forgot about it. My password was lost I couldn't log in and I lost interest. I think maybe because I was never putting in enough effort. This time will be different.

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